Criticality 8: Blood on a Cartilage Canvas


Billy and Sylvia twirled in a manner more deadly than a do-si-do with fists and feet flying in every direction of Shokan who were seemingly coming out of the woodwork.

From the walls, the corners, the forefront, the sky – anywhere darkness existed, an enemy emerged and traced their steps through disturbed puddles of water as they advanced. But this enemy was different than the one first faced in the ring.

Staring a moment at his fist after having clocked one of the Shokan – and floored the adversary, Billy sensed an amped up power level far superior a threat from what Sanjuana had originally posed. Snapping him out of his thought, he caught the sight of Sylvia launching into a jump kick from over his shoulder and dropped down to a gymnastic split in order to allow her to propel forward.

“It’s like attacking a steel wall!” Sylvia cried as her kick hit its target striking the face of a Shokan – pushing the adversary’s chin uncomfortably backward before causing the person to buckle under the sting of the blow altogether.

“We’re still scoring some hits,” Billy said while popping up in avoidance of a sword strike that just dotted his last known presence, “barely.” But from the ferocity of these attacks, he wondered if Glove even wanted him taken alive anymore. Nothing on the Shokan’s part was being held back, and everything was being thrown at the Djibouti Clan student and Sylvia.

Literally everything, the blow darts and shuriken were being launched from all directions. Billy forcefully pulled Sylvia down by the collar of her shirt while removing his own and performing a roundhouse kick while she sat startledly on the ground. In a moment of three hundred and sixty degree mastery, he used his shoe to strike down all of the shuriken that had been flung and his shirt to ensnare all of the darts that had been blown.

Once clear of Billy’s controlled flailing, Sylvia sprung up from her protected position back into the open where she met a Shokan’s double sai thrust, meant for the Djibouti Clan student’s back, at the assailant’s wrists with a crossed arm block causing the attack to be deflected wide of mark. From there, grabbing onto those wrists allowed her the balance she required to send a side kick in the direction of the throat of another adversary approaching for what must have been hoped was going to be a clear shot at a hacking away with a sword. The gleam of the blade flickered as the weapon was liberated from harmful fingers and came plopping down into a puddle that welcomely soaked it up like the incessant rain that continued to pour.

Thrusting ahead of Sylvia, Billy delivered a punch combination of a right and a left fist to a Shokan’s chest before delivering a turnaround elbow to a disagreeing face sending that adversary face down unconsciously to the floor. In following this up, the Djibouti Clan student put his foot through the chest of another sending the assailant flying into the hood and windshield of her car – spiderwebbing the glass.

Sylvia wasted no time in ducking behind the wheel of the car and starting it up as she floored the accelerator on path of Billy. There was no time for him to use the door as seen by the numerous Shokan converging on the position so he leaped onto the hood and slid through the spiderwebbed glass into the passenger side while tossing the adversary aside who had made a resting place out of the dented front of the car.

Gritting her teeth as she drove offensively through any Shokan who were not nimble enough to flip out of the way of the car, Sylvia asked, “Are you alright?”

Shaking his head in the negative, Billy warned, “We’re not out of this yet,” while rolling down the passenger side window and sliding his bare torso outside.

Taking the sound of feet plopping down on top of the roof of the car as a message that she should focus on her driving, Sylvia mashed down on the accelerator to make Billy and herself as hard a moving target to hit as possible. The Shokan was perfectly balanced and unaffected by the rapidly increasing speeds at which she drove, so the Djibouti Clan student felt the need to intervene with a powerful palm sweep to the ball of the adversary’s right foot causing the assailant to tumble backward caving the roof in upon impact.

A backward roll as a result of the momentum of the purposely reckless speeds at which Sylvia was driving was inevitable by the Shokan, but the attempt at recovery was going to prove to be fatal if Billy did not react. The adversary unsheathed a sword and went to thrust it down atop the driver side portion of the roof, and as that occurred, the Djibouti Clan student used a front push kick that skimmed the top of her head and broke the sword off upon entry with such a force that the blade blasted outward shattering the driver side window glass. Enough of a portion of the broken weapon dangled through the roof to give the assailant a secure hold, but at least the driver and passenger were safe from that attack.

“Hit the brakes!” Billy ordered.

Obliging, Sylvia slammed on the brakes while attempting to maintain traction as the car began to skid. She knew this would not be enough to shake the Shokan as seen by Billy crawling out of the passenger side window for the roof of the car.

Persistence was starting to turn into annoyance as the Shokan swung a right kick in the direction of Billy’s ascent. He pushed briefly away from the car allowing the centripetal force of Sylvia’s skid to keep him from flying out and then reached his right arm around to latch onto the area between the windshield wiper blade and the hood opening. Pulling himself completely out of the car, the Djibouti Clan student performed a rigid handstand on the front of the car with the veins popping out of his ripped arms as he strained to balance against all factors – the moment, the momentum, and the momentary car accident that occurred when she accidentally slid the car into oncoming traffic.

Airbags took care of Sylvia, and the car luckily did not flip over from the passenger side impact, plus sturdy construction kept it from shredding – only buckling under aptly engineered crumple zones. Billy, however, needed to take to the air to survive this and did so with a vengeance as the Shokan who had been out of position in attacking him was thrown from the car and still on his mind. The Djibouti Clan student pushed high off of the car in the opposite direction of the collision and curled into the fetal position as he completed a forward one hundred and eighty degree somersault catching the adversary in midair and ringing the assailant’s neck before spiraling, himself, in the same motion used to snap the neck to the ground.

The Shokan was going to die in either one of three ways. The impact of the landing caused by the car crash would have been the first. If the adversary had survived that, the sliding of Sylvia’s car or one of the panicking cars from the oncoming traffic would have struck the assailant as the second. But Billy was no longer so merciful and chose to end this match before either of them hit the ground – just to make sure it was done. Cars sped into alternate lanes in an attempt to not hit him. Gaper’s delays and emergency calls being made from smartphones were now plentiful.

Raising a fleeting left hand up as Sylvia’s car slid to a halt in front of him, Billy was able to make subtle contact with the door in a perfectly timed landing that saw the car bump uneventfully over the Shokan before stopping at his crouched position. He opened the door to help her outside, and they continued onward – hit and run.

The Second Earth Special Police Force Base
“So what’s the plan?” Vim inquired as he exited the building into the motor pool followed by Murk and Chico.

Any trace of the parking lot scuffle had vanished along with the bodies of supposedly defeated Shokan. The fact that the base was not lit up by some sort of Red Light Mode meant that the cameras had mysteriously not picked up on the battle either.

“Nothing elaborate,” Murk admitted, “we simply want to go to the Shokan Dojo and ask a few questions. I doubt anything significant will come from an information standpoint, but they’ll be served with notice that the Space Force is now watching their activities.”

“That’s usually enough to stifle most groups’ criminal leanings,” Chico explained. “Space Force clout is there for a reason and helps to tamp things down before any laser pulses need to be fired.”

Nobody seemed to be overly concerned with the warm rain as seen by the nonchalant manner in which they walked over to Murk’s car. Passing by the vacated space of Sylvia’s car, he realized that they just must have missed her leaving for the evening. She probably was not going to be in much of a mood to exchange pleasantries after the night the newly suspended Police Force Officer just had.

Vim sat in the back seat and asked, “You guys believe us, don’t you? It was unreal – like something out of a movie I couldn’t turn off. I’ve never seen people wield so much power without any sort of weapons before.”

After clicking on his seat belt, Chico replied, “Actually, we do believe you and Police Force Officer Lenorox both. You see quite a few things in the Space Force, I’m afraid, so I wouldn’t put anything past your account of the events at Cipher Coliseum.”

As Murk pulled out of the motor pool and drove a ways to the main roads, it felt like he turned out of one parking lot into another and remarked, “Must’ve been a pretty bad accident up ahead.”

Shokan Dojo
The complex was massive with at least three different sparring areas of varying sizes. Bleacher seating sparsely surrounded each, but every area was overlooked by high-standing tower-like structures toward the front. These were just the normal fighting areas as the overall dojo featured a full service training facility, exercise facility, spa, offices, and plenty of other amenities befitting of a large-scale organization capable of churning out such a lavish and special ceremony such as this evening’s student commencement.

On these days in Shokan history, Glove took overwhelming pride in delivering the student masses to the next level of their training. Their graduation signified the furtherance of his believe structure as the class would go forth throughout the universe to spring up additional dojos and continue the spread of those deadly teachings. The additions of competent and lethal numbers to the clan’s forces were also a welcome bonus.

Beginner, intermediate, and master Shokan from every corner of the universe had to have been present to witness this occasion. Thousands made up the audience as they packed into the bleacher seating around the largest sparring area while hundreds of students of recognition sat lined up across the fight floor. It was a grand, momentous night for all of them, but for Billy and Sylvia, they were playing witness to a travesty in the making.

Huddled together atop one of the high-standing structures, it had not been difficult to break into the facility because of the lack of security surrounding the night’s festivities. Honestly, who would attack one of the most powerful martial arts clans in the universe? There was not much need for any type of security that the masses in either the audience or the graduating class could not instantly fill. Killing everybody and breaking out of the complex, however, would be the challenge. For now, they watched and waited.

“Sitting before me as I had once sat before Master Claw in this same position – young and ready to clutch the world as if it were my very own, know that the universe is infinite, but our time is not. Not only have you been granted the tools but the skills to be able to go forth and wield them effectively which puts you among the elite as far as preparedness is concerned. Your next step may take you within the chamber behind this area for the imbuing of our ultimate virtue, but your continuing steps will be to destinations of your choosing – in directions only you can perceive.

Life without purpose is but a slow, meaningless death, and our goals are clear. The blood feud between Shokan and the Djibouti Clan must end on our terms. Wherever a proprietor of the Dyoogie Discipline flourishes, they must be shut down. Wherever they run, they must be hunted down. Wherever they hide, the cowards must be executed with the thousand furies they have brought upon themselves through arrogance, disdain, and shame.

With impunity, I say that peace cannot be achieved until those who have started this war are brought to their knees and summarily executed for daring to cross the Shokan!” Glove paused to receive and accept a raucous roar of approval from the crowd.

“Do you know what any of this means?” Sylvia whispered.

Nodding, Billy answered, “Some of it. Bottom line, Glove is sick, and the Shokan are following blindly from his cult leader status as their head.”

In an attempt to clear up some confusion, Sylvia stated, “But he’s your father.”

“Unfortunately,” Billy countered, “but only biologically.”

“How did it get to be like this?” Sylvia honestly wanted to try and make some sense out of this. “Your, Djibouti Clan, stole you away from the Shokan and raised you with clear knowledge of the happenings between both clans?”

Looking Sylvia in the eyes, Billy said sincerely, “I don’t mean to sound cold, but the Shokan struck the first blow – in a major way to the people I call my family, and they never stopped there. In attempting to stop them, the Djibouti Clan was all but massacred throughout the universe. Most people handle custody cases in the court system, but that is not how martial arts clans play.

I am the grandson of the Shokan founder and the son of their current leader – being raised under the Dyoogie Discipline. There is not a larger slap in the face which can be dealt outside of that. It’s the ultimate insult.”

This had been where Sylvia originally got lost in the lightning fast happenings back at Cipher Coliseum, “But why? You may not agree with his beliefs, but that man is your father. The Djibouti Clan seems to be at fault here for stealing you from him.”

“The Djibouti Clan protected me from being programmed with that madness,” Billy pointed at the scene below while defending his clan, “plus their taking me from the Shokan was the response to the Shokan taking Glove forcefully from the matriarch of the Smith family – Erica’s grandmother and my true dad’s mother.”

“Taken how?” Sylvia was horrified. It was one thing for this to be clan on clan, but clan versus normal family was unbelievable.

Words were not minced when Billy explained, “Master Claw, that those lunatics below hold in such esteem; killed Erica’s grandfather and raped and killed her grandmother in order to ultimately gain a bastard son, Glove – male heir to all of the Shokan. There’s other factors that go into the background which have to do with Erica’s grandfather’s involvement in the Space Force.

Although it may not be the Djibouti Clan’s sworn duty to stop them, it is an important goal. And the Shokan stops with me.”

Not being surprised by the part about the Space Force’s involvement in this whole mess, Sylvia chose to instead empathize with Billy’s plight, “Will your clan be able to stand against…all of that down there?”

“In our founder’s travels,” Billy said, “Master Dyoogie seeded the universe with three of his mightiest heirs to carry on the lineage. He sanctioned them by the status of a lethal Crimson Red Belt level they had each achieved under his teachings. The first, my Master Acro, was tasked with shielding me from the Shokan as well as my training. I’ve never met the second, but I hear she is just as skilled although I’m not sure of what her specific task is – probably just as great as any of the others I’d imagine. The third, is Master Dyoogie’s own son, Dyoogie LaCroix, and he is tasked with protecting the Djibouti Clan Dojo back on Earth.”

“I’m literally floored that there are others that are even more powerful than you,” Sylvia announced, “but even still, it seems like you can count the Djibouti Clan’s numbers of resistance on all of one hand.”

With a smile, Billy quipped, “Quality over quantity.”

Returning the smile, Sylvia suggested, “Speaking of which, I’m no longer interested in listening to Glove’s speech any further. Let’s see what else we can see.”

“Cool,” Billy agreed while following Sylvia down a set of steep yet awkwardly winding stairs.

One of the largest parts of their infiltration guise was to play the background in areas where Billy and Sylvia would have been crazy to be found. Their movement was so unexpected that it was not expected. Written differently, nobody would have expected them to be hiding out, now, in the middle level of the tower-like structure directly behind the speech being given by Glove, so this type of movement was in fact unexpected.

Dual sets of those awkwardly winding stairs led either up to the upper level or down to the lowest level below, so Billy and Sylvia had four entrances and exits with which to be concerned with, but as it appeared, everybody was outside attending the speech – not worried about this back area in the slightest. Keeping the rain out had to be some sort of shield generator which kept the masses from being doused but allowed an outward visual of the opened up sky. State of the art almost did not apply to the construction of the Shokan Dojo. Some of its décor was outright and almost…alien.

Entering a luminescent crystal chamber which did not seem to match much of the rest of the complex, Billy and Sylvia perceived the room’s amassed value alone to be enough to break any bank at least on Earth and give the financial institutions of Second Earth a run for their money. The noticed wealth mattered not to them as their focus was drawn to a crystal cage in the center.

Feeling the bars of the spherical confinement briefly, Billy asked, “You’re the one with the Space Force connections – any idea what this technology is used for?”

“No,” Sylvia shook her head while repeating, “none.”

From there, Billy and Sylvia made their way over to the spaciously wide window slit of this middle level and crouched covertly down before peering outside. With backs pressed tightly up against the wall, they each took a brief successive gander over the window sill’s ledge.

“Apparently, it looks like the party’s over,” Billy said while watching Murk, Chico, and Vim walk through the masses of students on path to the podium where Glove stood at the head of the floor.

Surprisingly none of the thousands of Shokan made a move against the intrusion which was almost assuredly perceived as disrespectful in motive, but that did not stop Sylvia from worrying about her recently acquired Space Force comrades and Vim, in particular, “Oh no.”

Shooting a glance over toward Sylvia, Billy sought to get to the bottom of her concern, “Friends of yours?”

Glove was not animated in any way of his rebuke, but his voice carried the turgid projection of a person aware of their own importance, “What is the meaning of this…impudence?”

“The name’s Wreosir and this is my partner O’Reilly – of the Space Force,” Murk announced. “We’re sorry to bother you, but we need to corroborate some stories from the Second Earth Special Police Force about the incident at Cipher Coliseum earlier tonight.”

“Just a few quick questions,” Chico assured, “and we’ll be out of your hair.”

Vim was turning an even whiter shade of pale and did not say a word as he stood in the midst of thousands of Shokan plus the man the rookie had witnessed all but single-handedly engaging in the destruction of Cipher Coliseum. He was paralyzed by fear and frozen by uncertainty – following completely from Murk and Chico’s lead who conversely showed no fear in the slightest. Could there have been something to this Space Force clout after all?

To Murk, these Shokan were people like any other and a series of serious crimes had been committed, so he was simply doing what was necessary in order to get to the bottom of it. That sentiment was echoed by Chico but taken a step further as he flashed his holstered LUNC while moving his hands to his sides in illustrating to Glove how this all could potentially go down if full cooperation was not extended. Three against thousands – the Space Force was just that powerful.

“The Space Force?” Glove questioned spitefully. In a normal sense, yes, three against thousands would successfully hold up their crushing weight of authority, but, as he expounded, “The Space Force holds no jurisdiction over the Shokan. Give my regards to Scott Colossus.”

“Oh shi-,” Billy muttered as he saw Glove extend the fingers of his claw – hidden to Murk, Chico, and Vim because of the podium but visible from high up above where the Djibouti Clan student and Sylvia hid.

And with that, Billy and Sylvia’s cover was officially blown.

“Look out!” Sylvia shouted out of the window before Glove savagely raked his claw across Chico.

Blood sprayed out of Chico’s body as he was spun lifelessly into Murk’s arms with a five-streak slash across his head, face, neck, and torso. Everything, from here, was happening in a blur, so there was no telling what the exact extent of the injuries were, but LUNC’s were pulled and pulses were let off in all directions without exception because the rule was to take at least two along with the possibility of the remaining Space Force Officer and Vim being taken down themselves. They took out many more than six Shokan.

Glove danced easily away from the LUNC pulses before pointing up toward the middle section of the tower-like structure and ordering, “Get them!”

Billy hurried over to the set of stairs that led downward as a rumble of feet tracing up the steps cut off one escape route. The only way out was up, so he backtracked while calling out, “This way!”

Featuring a bit of unexpected trickery, himself, as should have been expected from the leader of the Shokan, Glove came barreling through the window slit as if he had seemingly leaped upward and performed a forward roll upon touchdown stunning Sylvia back on her heels from the surprise attack. Shokan began to rush the room, as Billy did what he could to push through them, but the Djibouti Clan student was going to be too late in saving Sylvia this time around.

A devastating up kick was delivered to Sylvia, that she actually blocked, from Glove as he snapped up to his feet which sent her flying backward into the clutches of the Crystal Cage that a couple of Shokan had made graciously accessible by opening up its bars. The Police Force Officer went slamming back first into the bars in back of the cage before falling forward to the crystal floor.

“Sylvia!” Billy screamed as he delivered a treacherous roundhouse kick of his own leveling a host of Shokan in his way allowing him a direct path back toward the cage which was oh so easily cut off by the simple sliding over into place of Glove.

“It’s over for her,” Glove decided, “my son.”

As the Crystal Cage activated by its bars lighting up, Sylvia let out a short-lived yelp as her body was lifted up from the floor and held floating limply (in a standing position without any feet touching the ground) within the cage – suspended by no visible bonds. She remained docilely in that position with eyes and mouth closed.

Battered and bloodied, Murk had taken some serious damage to protect Vim, and exited the compound in a heavy stagger that keeled over into a collapse. The rookie attempted to hold him up, but firing the LUNC was taking precedent as the Shokan were now outside en masse as well as in a show of force putting a veritable barrier between them and the car.

O’Reilly Household
For spouses of enlisted service people, the Three Hundred Hours alert rarely had anything to do with an actual emergency situation so much as it had to do with the aftermath. There had been no dinner date, no phone call, and neither of the two men standing in Lupita’s doorway were her husband. Bellowing at the realization of the life being ripped away from her, she exploded outward with raw emotion while frozen and quivering physically in place.

Pete did not think. He just threw his arms around Lupita to hold her while Julian watched a repeat performance of a recent scene from the Second Earth Special Police Force time line – eerily familiar.

For what it was worth, Space Force and Police Force were surrounding the block in significant numbers cordoning off the entire vicinity – not only done as a precautionary measure but offered as a visible sign of support. Lupita was not going to be left alone in this – whatever that was worth.

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