“Isos, Pasos, my most trusted friends. I need you to obtain something for me…”

The two lieutenants exchanged a look before turning back to Elpizo, something didn't seem right.

“Deep within the forest of Dysis,” Elpizo continued, “There is an old ruin. Inside it is a cyber elf of great power, it is the twin of the elf in Miss Ciel's labratory…”

“Sounds simple enough,” Isos commented, “Will we be leading your team for this one then?”

Elpizo shook his head, “Many of them are still recovering from the latest mission. And I'd like to involve as few people in this operation as I possibly can. You'll each take a team of resistance members and travel through the forest. I'll provide you with coordinates to ensure you don't get lost. There shouldn't be too much resistance when you get inside either, most of Neo Arcadia doesn't even know the place exists, its hardly a military base. But to make sure all attention is diverted I'm going to send the two guardians out to harass a line of factories, it should limit through troops and pave way for the Operation.”

Pasos nodded, “That would definitely cut down the time until we can attack Neo Arcadia directly. You've thought of everything commander.”

“Yes,” Isos agreed, “When do we leave?”

“As soon as you can assemble your troops,” Elpizo replied, “It'll take some time for you to make the trek through Dysis, by the time you reach the ruin it ought to be dark. At that time I will signal Leviathan and Harpuia to begin their attacks, then you'll move in.”

Elpizo was about to dismiss the pair when someone rapped on the door. “Come in,” he called.

The door opened and in walked Flash and Sorrum.

“I remember you,” Elpizo said as Isos and Pasos walked out, “You used to be part of my unit until you stopped coming on missions.”

Sorrum blinked. “That's true sir, but I've finally been given a clean bill of health, I should be able to fight again.”

“Me too!” Flash broke in, “There was a nurse named-”

“But speaking of fighting,” Sorrum overrode him, “We've just heard about a tournament going on in Neo Arcadia. Anyone can enter, no background checks required.”

“The prize is 10,000 crystals!” Flash interrupted.

“Anyway,” Sorrum continued, “We wanted you to transport us a mile or so outside of the city, we can enter through an aqueduct and make our way in through the sewers. Getting back will be no problem, there's a public access terminal that can transport us back to base, they'd have no way to trace it.”

Elpizo considered, this tournament could add to the distraction element and greatly help his plan. Finally he nodded, “I'll make the arrangements then, be sure to let everyone else know.”

“But 10,000 crystal- wait, did you just say yes?” Flash questioned.

Elpizo nodded again, “I don't have a problem with it, I'll make sure the command room attendants know.”

“The thing isn't until tomorrow,” Sorrum added as he walked out of the room, “But I'll be sure to let the others know and give them a chance to tag along.”

“Medical leave was my excuse,” Sorrum said to Flash as the door slid shut.

“Mine too,” Flash argued, “The nurse believed me when I said my chest hurt and-”

“That nurse was half retarded, she'd believe anything. Plus she died when we left the first base, didn't you know? Think up a better excuse next time, you're lucky he bought it.”

Flash said nothing as he and Sorrum split ways to go inform the others.

-The next day-

“Commander, we are in position.”

“Good,” Elpizo replied, “I've just instructed Harpuia and Leviathan to begin their attack on their first base. Once they're finished with that I've a list of other military targets I can have them jump around to. Should keep the military occupied.”

“Understood,” came Pathos' reply, “We've just received the coordinates, we'll begin moving through the forest immediately.”

“I'll monitor your progress from here,” Elpizo finished, “There is a large gorge I'd like you to avoid.”

“Commander?” It was Isos. “Did your brother go with the others to that competition in Neo Arcadia?”

“Yes I think he did,” Elpizo remarked. “It occurred to me that I might send him along with you both, but I actually think that the tournament thing might be more beneficial to him. But speaking of that, they should be arriving about now…”

“How much further?” Flash complained again.

Rai grunted but decided against telling him to shut up. They were up to their knees in sewage and the smell just wouldn't quit. He had a point for once.

“Will you all stop whining?” Sorrum grumbled, turning to face the group, “I told you we'd be going through the sewers to get to the place, I told you it wasn't exactly a picnic.”

It was at that moment that a pantheon hopper sprung from the sludge and flew at Sorrum. Before it could land on his back however, it was destroyed by a quick repulsor blast from Stark.

“Fourth one,” muttered Sorrum shaking his head, “There've never been pantheons down here before either. Its no matter though, we're here.”

The group had come to a short ladder. Sorrum climbed up and pushed the manhole cover back allowing the group to emerge into a small alley. Across the street they could see the arena.

It was built like one of the Colosseums of old, and it had an aura of authenticity to it. Probably because nobody bothered to keep the place up.

“You guys can probably tell that we're nowhere near the populated parts of Neo Arcadia,” Sorrum explained, “Here on the edge of the city is the only place they'd be able to have a competition like this, especially one where anyone can enter. Here nobody cares if you're a convicted criminal, they just want to see a good fight. And the Neo Arcadian government doesn't care. In fact, a lot of times they have officers here trying to draft the better fighters into the army, regardless of background. This is where you can really get a leg up in the world. If you're good enough.”

Everyone entered the building, Sorrum entered their names onto the list of combatants and everyone was ushered into a basement where they were to wait until called for. On the wall was a list of rules.

1. Entrants may at any time tap out, yield or otherwise surrender. Fights to the death are certainly allowed (and encouraged by the crowd) but if the opponent gives up fighters are obligated to spare them. 2. The crowd MAY NOT be harmed. Be mindful then, when using attacks that affect a large area. Any combatant that harms a spectator will be immediately disqualified and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Neo Arcadian government. 3. Participants may not leave the arena.

“They're randomly pairing us now,” Sorrum explained. “The first round is usually a one on one to weed out the weak, but after that they may to team battles or alter the arena in some way, its always different.”

The ride chaser let out a few last purrs before it was left behind, falling on it's side into the dusty ground with a faint thud. Shirley wandered around, looking to her left and right, pretty much at her toes all the time, what with being unarmed and everything. Especially when she knew how the person she was to meet here usually behaved. Which is why the sight of a multitude of blue figures in the distance wasn't quite what she had been hoping for. The red faces quickly allowed one to verify them as pantheons. Shirley hesitated for a moment, about to jump over to a hiding place, until she noticed their slightly… Faulty movement patterns. Resembled dancing. Breakdancing, for those in the know. They had some mad skills, too. Anyone else would've deduced that they had entered a super-secret location of some high-class pantheon dance-offs… But Shirley knew better.

She stopped by one of the partially standing walls, a few five meters distance from the cluster of dancing pantheons, leaning against the said wall while speaking up: “I assume that this show is here just so you can oh-so-subtly let me know of how long you've been waiting?”

A rash, slightly nasal voice came out from the other end of the wall: “Three hours and counting. The big wigs are going to have my hide if - and when - they find out that I'm not at my post.”

”…Something positive for a change.” Shirley replied coldly, watching as one of the pantheons met it's limitation of flexibility and maimed one of it's legs trying… Something. Some dance move, apparently, which required quite the extensive knowledge to be named. Included lots of momentum, that's for sure. Which was the obvious undoing of the recently lost leg.

“Can we move, by chance? I don't like keeping the boss waiting.” Shirley said, moving away from the wall. Some dragging noises came as a response. The pantheons stopped dancing. Some footsteps came out as the rash voice went on: “Hah…! My, my, aren't we eager? I thought you-” Shirley proceeded to interrupt him: “Spare me of your tedious vocal waste. Nothing's final as of-” The favor of interruption was returned: “Scrap the optimism. It's not quite your forte.”

It looked like a reptile. A reploid, obviously. Walked on two feet, with a somewhat hunched over posture. Sharp long maw with the upper jaw covering the lower one completely. A pair of nasty appearing long jagged teeth pointing downwards came out from each side of the front. The eyes were at the sides, which would explain why it turned it's head around when looking at something. The tail was at least twice the reploid's length, and far thicker than any of it's limbs. Lots of grey color as paintwork, with few lines of dark-green here and there, with scale-like patterns painted all over them. Looked to also have a few bits of homemade “tattoos”, consisting of random enough writings and a couple of somewhat profane images. Vain enough reploid, seeing from the rest of it's… accessories. It had shiny, long light-brown hair hanging around it's shoulder-level, probably a wig. It was wearing an amass of shiny necklaces hanging down to it's chest-level. Along with a thick fur coat, gold in color, torn a bit from here and there, mostly dragging on the ground thanks to the way it stood. Much of it's claws were hidden in the sleeves of the coat. Unnerving grin covered it's mug permanently. Gila Shaleshicka. Weird name, with the latter part hardly meaning anything at all. Based off a gila monster, naturally. Representing the least pleasant of trash reploids walking the planet.

The two walked on, leaving the pantheons behind, standing there aimlessly with no purpose left for them as of from that point on.

“Good grief you look weak!” Gila exclaimed, trying to spark some form of conversation in his own oh-so-annoying way. What with the most irritating childish voice of his, it felt as if someone was digging a dagger through one's head with each moment they had to listen to him. “Well, that could work as one of the reasons as to why this tin-can happened to get killed in the first place.” Shirley replied, trying to look anywhere else but at the travelling companion of hers. “Heh. Yeah, I suppose it sort of explains why you failed to carry out your assignments, as well?” Gila said, the grin growing wider and wider. Shirley provided no reply to that one. After a brief silence, and after the grin had grown into immeasurable magnitude, Gila went on: “I mean, from what I read out of your scammy reports, you sort of pride the concept of competence…! Just how do you explain the fact that you, after all the crap expelled about efficiency, fail in such grandiose manner to-” “When are we there…?!” Shirley said, loudly enough, perhaps unintentionally. As much as she hated to admit it, the scaly creep was getting on her nerves. Which was, without a shadow of a doubt, just what he was trying to accomplish. Gila glanced behind them at the ruins they had left, then ahead at the wasteland, making a loud sigh of some sort prior to replying: “Humm… I'd say 15 minutes and we'll be there… What? Aren't you enjoying the company?” Shirley granted him the nastiest glares ever, hissing a response most suitable to come out of her: ”…You should be thankful that I forgot my weapon. I swear if I had something to work with here, I'd chop you into chunks a thousand times over before we'd get there.” Gila snickered softly, holding a whole 30 seconds pause before the rambling continued.

About 20 minutes later, the two could see some buildings in the horizon. The reptile had been yanking Shirley's chains through the entire trip, almost managing to get her to throw a punch or two at his way once. Reason kicked in before she managed to go through with it, though. Took another five minutes before they reached the buildings. Another abandoned place in the middle of nowhere. Some factory, perhaps. Gila would lead on into one resembling a warehouse, with it's door left wide open.

”…What's the point of residing in this rat nest?” Shirley asked, her voice echoing in the empty warehouse.

Gila walked on to the center, where the floor let out some clunk, until it began to descend into the basement areas. “Ehh, this is only temporary, I hear. Allegedly the computers of this facility had some databanks which are of interest to D-Gits. Doubt there's anything left, though, but he's just making sure of that.”

The floor below was another warehouse, with some crates still in it. When the place was cleared out, they had probably just stored the waste materials down here, out of sight. Some handful of rules and regulations that were being ignored. The pair walked on across the underground warehouse, through a couple of hallways, past a few more rooms, until they reached the control room. Or what was one a control room. The screens that had been displaying the security cameras of the factory had long since turned black. Some were shattered. Vandalism, perhaps. A few more fresh cables were slithering across the floor, with some laptops scattered around the tables and dated control desks. Some figure was standing around admits them, doing nothing in particular but glancing at the laptops occasionally.

“Hail, lord D-Gits! I bring you this measly sacrifice, in the form of a worthless flimsy female!” Gila announced upon entry. Shirley snarled at him, only because of the lack of respect displayed here.

The man, D-Gits, didn't bother turning around. Far less responding to the pointless blatherskite of the subordinate of his. Looked like a run-of-the-mill scientist, excluding the fact that his lab-coat had been converted into a jacket, simply by ripping bits off.

“Let's just cut the ceremonies and get to the point, shall we?” The man said, sounding like just about any normal man. “I can't quite decide wether to off you or not, F. All things considered, this whole Resistance seems to be somewhat lackluster of a show as of currently. So, it's not such a big deal if one fails to find out what's happening in there… If anything is happening at all.”

Shirley held her breath. Metaphorically, seeing that she's a reploid. All she could really do here was to wait for whatever fate she'd end up with.

“I would think that Genia could do a better job out there. But still, I don't quite have the heart to dispose of you for such a tiny reason.” D-Gits went on, holding brief pauses here and there. Nothing was added into the conversation, though. “I have, however, come up with a solution. Most amusing solution. After all, human beings have the right to entertain themselves from time to time, correct?”

“Right on!” Gila shrieked, already thinking of how he'd get to tear the nearby 'comrade' of his apart.

“I believe you already know of the tournament taking place, F?” D-Gits asked. The pause went on as Shirley realized that she was to answer to that. The first reply was a nod, followed by an uncertain, accepting hum.

“I've already activated Genia… And sent her to join the tournament. Obviously if I won't turn you off, F, I can't quite bring myself to do the unfair act of turning her off, either.” D-Gits said, turning around. Gila's expression signaled that he already figured this plot out. “As such, you'll have the privilege of deciding your own fate. The two of you will head there. F will participate in the tournament.” Some glance was given towards Gila, with a sentence appointed directly to him: “And you won't.” Gila replied with a disappointed groan. Shirley held her ground to try and look as indifferent at everything as possible. Despite how much she may have been boiling inside.

“Both you and Genia will enter the tournament and fight as far as you'll get. I'll be watching, naturally. Only one of you shall come back from there. I don't care wether you are to die by someone else's hand or not… Just go on as far as you'll get, win the thing for all I care. As long as just one of you returns.” D-Gits said, smiling actually as he went on. “Toys are supposed to be played with. I have too many toys for the time being. If you catch my drift.”

Judging from the chuckle, Gila found plenties of amusement in all of this. Shirley, not so much.

“Oh, and seeing how the sight of you in your… cover-form would cause some complications, you are to go there in your primary form, F. Keep your identity to yourself. And that applies to you too, Gila. If you rat her out to her allies, there will be severe consequences.” “Affirmative.” Gila said, grinning on and on. D-Gits clapped his hands, turning away back to his devices while finishing up: “Chop chop! The first rounds are to start in a moment's notice, and you shouldn't be late. I expect you to enjoy yourself to the utmost, F!”

“Y-Yes, sir.” Shirley replied. Gila turned away first, leaving the room, with Shirley following suit…

“Harpuia?” Leviathan questioned.

“Leviathan, GET BACK!”

With a loud crash, the wall fell inward and through the smoke shot after charged shot was fired. Harpuia ducked, narrowly avoiding a large bolt of plasma and ran through the door behind his sister. He slammed it shut and Leviathan shoved a desk in the way before continuing their flight. The building shook and a large reploid crashed through the wall in pursuit.

“Operator,” Harpuia barked into his comm, “Abort mission, get us out of here.”

“Aborting mission,” came a female voice. A fushia colored saber flew threw the air but just before it could fly into Harpuia's throat he and Leviathan disappeared in a flash of white.

“We've reached the Ruins of Dysis Commander.”

“Good work, we're making better time than I'd anticipated,” Elpizo said. “Now I don't have as much information about the inside of the ruins but you can assume that it will be filled with traps, I want you both to be on your guard in there.”

“We won't let you down commander,” Isos told him.

“We'll get you that elf,” Pasos agreed.

“Alright then,” Elpizo said, “Proceed.”

“Commander Elpizo,” It was the operator, “Harpuia and Leviathan have just returned, they're asking to see you.”


Elpizo stormed into the transporter room angrily, “Why are you both back here, you've been through three bases, I've a list of seventeen more I wanted you to ransack!”

“And they caught on,” Harpuia interrupted. “They sent two reploids to intercept us.”

“There's two of you, what's your point?” Elpizo asked, still angry, “Weren't you two supposed to be guardians, aren't you supposed to be powerful?”

The commander glared at Harpuia who in turn glared back. Angry, Elpizo turned and left the room.

“We're not going to have as much time as I thought,” Elpizo explained to Isos and Pasos, once back in his control room. “But we're too close to abort. Please, I need that Baby Elf.”

“Understood sir, we won't return without it.” Pasos said.

“You can depend on us,” Isos said, taking a shot at the former guardians.

“Commander, incoming transmission, unknown origin.”

“Patch it in.”

The screen changed over from the Ruins of Dysis to a cloaked figure, sitting back in the shadows to further hide his face.

“Todd Moniker again wasn't it? Your information about Project Ironclad was helpful.”

“Commander, your men are very badly located,” the one called Moniker said, “You should not be in the Ruins of Dysis.” Elpizo sat bolt upright. How the blazes could he know that?

“They are aware of you now,” Moniker continued, “And it won't be long before reinforcements arrive. They will not let you take what is inside.”

“I appreciate the warning,” Elpizo replied, “I'll have my men out of there just as soon as-”

“Commander Elpizo!” Moniker's voice was very stern, “You are not meant to disturb the Baby Elves!”

“Thank you for the warning, but we'll handle this,” Elpizo said, ending transmission.

“Isos, Pasos,” he said, switching back to the mission at hand, “Finish up, we're running out of time.”

“We should be getting close sir.”

Elpizo watched the screen as his men approached a very old doorway and pushed it open.

“Hisssssss you shall not take the Baby Elf!” That was the last thing Elpizo heard and his screen went black.

Meanwhile the tournament had wrapped up. Rioku had defeated Jody Bulldozer and recruited her to the resistance, she'd only fought in the tournament in hopes of getting off the street. Raven defeated Dig Gopher, an old mining reploid who was now permanently retired. Flasia, who had survived the battle at Outer Heaven outmatched Stark, whose weapons could do little against her. Rai prevailed against Zanji after a fierce battle. Flaringo destroyed Cheator Hax whose underhanded tactics didn't pay off. Sorrum lost to Andraia and Flash to Vector in a pair of extremely one sided battles.

After the first round of battles had concluded the tournament was restructured, due to participants dropping out or not showing up to fight at all. The next round would be two against two, with Vector and Rai facing off against Rioku and Flasia. Though Flasia tried to knock Vector out of the ring and thereby disqualify him, he and Rai proved too strong. Flasia was killed and Rioku knocked out. However, having nothing to prove, Vector left himself.

The next battle was between the team of Andraia and Raven against Riot Raquet and Paladin. Though Paladin's armor was formidable, his lack of ranged attacks gave Andraia and Raven an advantage. Riot had pleanty of firepower herself however, and with some assistance from Paladin was able to isolate Raven, whose arm Paladin sliced off. After Raven was knocked out, Paladin turned on Riot, who had grown weary of her bossy attitude.

The final round would be a battle royal between Andraia, Rai and Paladin. It should have included Vector, but he had left when Rioku had been knocked out. The two resistance members worked together against the large sword wielding reploid who, seeing that he could not defeat the both of them dropped out. Andraia and Rai fought an intense battle, but in the end Rai's determination to win proved stronger. Rai was the winner.

“Announce a final round,” commanded an authoritative female voice.

The announcer turned around, behind him was a tall, blonde female reploid dressed in all black. “This was the last round,” the announcer explained, “Crimson Lightning has just won the championship.” He frowned, “How did you get up here anyway?”

The female reploid's lip curled and she reached out to grab the announcer by the throat. “Listen to me you little worm, I've spent all day long chasing a pair of traitors around Neo Arcadia and when I finally caught them they slipped away! And since I've been deprived of my fight with them I'm going to take my frustrations on our little champion down there.”

She threw him back into his seat. “Announce the final fight. Call it a bonus round, call it whatever you want. I'd have been here from the start if I hadn't been called away on business.”

“You- you were the no show,” the announcer realized.

“Well no sh*t,” the female reploid responded angrily. She considered, “Though it might be better that I arrived late, I'll only have to fight the most skilled opponent rather than cutting my way through the entire pack of weaklings.”

“Ladies and gentlemen!” The announcer spoke, “We've saved quite a treat for you all today! There is still one final fighter that Crimson Lightning must overcome, one final hurtle before he can become our champion! The challenger is none other than the mistress of blades herself, the woman of sultry looks and icy demeanor. I give you the demon guardian… ZERA!!”

Zera jumped from the top box and landed on one knee, both of her fuchsia colored blades extended and ready for battle. “Don't fall too quickly,” she told Rai, “You've no idea how badly I need the entertainment.”

“Bring it bitch!” yelled Rai, who was angry about having his prize stolen away by this latecomer.

Zera's lip curled. Bitch? This dirty ruffian would speak to her that way. Well he'd learn.

Zera rushed in, knocking the bolt away with a casual flick of her fuchsia blade and sending it careening into the stands. Rai was clearly reaching for a weapon behind him, but its nature as a chain rod caught the mistress of blades off guard. The spring loaded weapon lurched at the guardian but Zera reacted, quickly jumping once, twice and dashing through the air, quickly narrowing the distance between Rai and herself.

Rai could only scramble backwards as her weapons slammed into the ground, missing him narrowly. Zera drew her hand back and unleashed Raijingeki, a forward thrust with an electrical attack mounted on her wrist. Rai acted instinctively now, bringing up his forearms to protect himself and the attack was actually blocked by the electric shields mounted there.

Stunned but a bit more confident, Rai tried to send out an electrical spread through the dirty arena but what little effect it may have had was negated by Zera, slamming her hand into the ground and creating a more powerful shockwave, Rakuhouha. The powerful shockwave knocked Rai back where he fell to his knees, he'd taken too much damage.

“Its over,” snarled Zera, holding both sabers on high. She brought them together to make one enormous saber and attacked with a downward swipe. A tremendous sword beam sprang forth and streaked across the arena. But before impact, Rai was transferred in a flash of light.

Zera's eyes opened in shock. “Coward!” she screamed into the now empty arena, “COWARD! …this is the second time today!”