Admining has eaten into my writing time... hopefully now all the big forum changes are done I'll be able to get back in to things? After two and a half chapters mainly focused on Chirch and Rose, it's time for a quick change of focus. I'm sure the title is a dead giveaway with regards to who this chapter is about, but hopefully there's still a few treats in here for you guys. Enjoy the chapter! * KINGSGUARD Chapter 63: The Indomitable Mr. Pink! April 15th, 2256. 9:54pm. Grinnington is on the phone with Kingsguard Commander Leon Moss. “I’m sorry, Leon. I haven’t found anything yet.” Grinnington said, his tone somewhat frustrated. “If Swann is our guy, he’s done one hell of a job at covering his tracks. I’m going to have to dig deeper in to my list of contacts.” “Do you think it’s wise to rely on that? Why not just go straight to Judge?” Moss asked. “I could, but… if Judge himself recognised Swann, he would have said as much already.” Grinnington replied. “Can you be sure Judge isn’t double-crossing us?” Moss asked. “I’m positive. If he were to conspire with his underworld contacts to bring us down, he wouldn’t invite us down here in the first place. It’d be illogical, especially for someone as intelligent as him. Besides… he wants something from me. Or rather, his father does.” Grinnington answered. “That’d be Hades, correct? Why not go straight to him now? If he’s already marked you as a person of interest, you might be able to get information out of him.” Moss suggested. “It’s too risky.” Grinnington replied. “I’ve dabbled in interrogation these past few months, and even the grunts down here pose a lot of danger. Going straight to the top dog without knowing his motives for wanting to meet me is dangerous to say the least. Besides, as of right now there’s no rush. Our cover is still intact.” “Very well. I trust your judgement. If anyone can get results in that world, it’s…” Before Moss could finish his sentence, he cut the line. The door to his office opened, and in walked Swann. “Not interrupting anything am I, Commander?” he asked. “No, no. You’re quite alright, Swann. It’s not like you to be in the office so late. Finally taking your paperwork responsibilities seriously?” Moss joked. Swann laughed. “Nothing like that. I just finished training with a few of my subordinates and came back here to pick up a few things.” Swann began to rummage through his desk drawers. Moss did his best to look busy reading e-mails, avoiding Swann’s gaze wherever possible. Taking his belongings, Swann turned and headed for the door. “’Night, Commander.” * April 25th, 2256; The day after Chirch and Rose’s promotion in the underworld fighting ring. 12:45pm. Mr. Pink’s Lab. Grinnington walked past Zeta and Eve’s work benches, briefcase in hand. “Oh… going somewhere, Boss?” Zeta asked, momentarily raising his head from his work. “I’ve got a meeting.” Grinnington answered. “I’ll be gone for the rest of the day. You two, lock up once you’re done with today’s orders.” Without another word, Grinnington exited the lab and walked on to the main street. Opening his phone, he confirmed the location and meeting time. Tapping a button on the earpiece in his left ear, he opened up a holographic screen. “Call Hope.” Upon hearing Grinnington’s voice command, his phone rang the number saved under Hope’s name. “Took you long enough, bozo.” “Hope. Can you see my screen?” “Affirmative. I’ve got the meeting details and your location up on my visual unit right now.” “Did you manage to run a background check on our client?” A new set of information took over Grinnington’s screen. “Our client goes by the codename Logic. Male, 28 years of age. Is a low-ranking grunt in Persephone’s faction, having joined 6 months ago. Threat level is minimal; however, if he brings backup that threat level rises.” “Excellent. Thank you, Hope. I’m approaching the venue now.” “I’ll be watching closely in case anything happens.” “Roger that. End call.” Hanging up the call, Grinnington entered the meeting venue; a small restaurant down a back alley. Mostly furnished with plastic chairs and tables, it served a range of street foods. Grinnington seated himself at the back end of the restaurant at a table with four chairs. As he waited for his client to arrive, a message from Hope came through his earpiece. “In position. I’m sitting at the table in behind you.” Although the table behind him appeared empty, Grinnington nodded confidently. “I’ll be counting on you, Hope.” After waiting for a few minutes, his client arrived with two imposing looking friends. Grinnington stood up to greet them, extending his hand to the man in the centre, who was dressed all in black, a beanie hat covering his shaved head. “You must be Logic. I see you’ve brought a couple of friends.” Logic shook Grinnington’s hand. “Well… I was advised to bring backup when meeting with the infamous Mr. Pink. You don’t seem too intimidating, though.” Grinnington chuckled. “Ho ho ho… let’s hope I stay that way.” Grinnington took his seat, and Logic and his cronies sat opposite him. A waitress came around to take their orders, and came back minutes later with four iced coffees. “Now. I’ve had a look at the blueprints you sent me.” Grinnington said, pulling up a copy of the blueprints on his tablet. “I should be able to source all the components needed, but you’ve picked some rare materials here.” “Listen. As long as you make it, I’ll pay top dollar.” Logic replied. “There’s no substitute for quality.” “That’s what I like to hear. Your estimated total cost is… 180,000 chips.” Grinnington answered. “50% of that payment comes up front, the other 50 once the order is complete.” “And how long do you need to complete the order?” Logic asked. “Three to five working days.” Logic thought for a moment, then nodded towards one of his grunts. The grunt placed three wads of cash on the table. “That’s your 90,000 deposit right there.” Logic said. “180,000 seems a little under-priced for a weapon like this one, though. You aren’t some kind of scammer, are you?” “Well. The rest of your payment comes in the form of information.” Grinnington answered. “And I have it on good authority that you can provide it for me.” Logic laughed smugly. “Heh. Sure thing.” Grinnington closed the weapon blueprints, and opened up a hologram of Swann’s face. “Do you recognise this man?” Logic paused for a moment before replying. “And if I do?” “Then you’ll tell me who he is.” Grinnington replied. “Well. I can’t say I know him personally.” Logic answered, avoiding the question. “Can’t say I’d want to, either.” “You’re avoiding my…” Before Grinnington could finish his sentence, Logic and his grunts stood up and headed for the door. “Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Pink!” Grinnington sighed. “Another runner, huh…” Before Logic and company could take a second step, a knife appeared at Logic’s throat, blade pointed straight at his carotid artery. Logic’s eyes widened in fear, and his grunts began to panic. As the grunt on the right attempted to bat the knife away, it disappeared. A powerful force hit the grunt in the stomach, causing him to double over in pain. The left hand grunt instinctively protected Logic, only to have his legs swept from underneath him. As Logic stepped out of the way, he felt something attach itself to his back. The knife materialised once again, the tip of the blade touching his neck. He looked towards Grinnington, who sat quietly and smugly in his chair. “Can we continue our conversation now? I wouldn’t want this young lady’s restaurant to be stained with blood.” Logic nodded nervously. “S-sure…” The weight removing itself from his back, he was able to sit opposite Grinnington again. “Now. Tell me who this is.” “Are you… one of Hades’ top brass or something?” Logic asked. Grinnington shook his head. “I’m simply an engineer.” “Well… If you’re simply an engineer, I’d recommend staying well away from this guy.” Logic replied. “He’s bad news.” “In what regard?” Grinnington asked. “Well… if you’re asking me about him, I guess you know that I work for Persephone.” Logic replied, his tone suddenly hushed. “I’m not high up in the ranks or anything, I just need the money. I do odd side jobs. Getaway driving. Maybe a couple of small robberies here and there. But the people I work with are all crazy strong. Like, they put the Kingsguard to shame.” “And you’re saying you work with this guy?” Grinnington asked, pointing at Swann’s face. “Are you crazy? I’m a grunt. The guys I work with are middle-grade at best. This guy… he’s up there, alright. A couple of the guys I’ve done jobs with have met him. They say that aside from Persephone and her top executives, he’s the strongest guy in our faction.” “And does he have a name?” Grinnington asked. “Python of the Eight Beasts.” Logic replied. “He’s their second in command, behind their leader Kratos, but strength-wise they’re almost equals.” “Python, huh?” Grinnington said, taking a mental note of the name. “And he’s with the Eight Beasts… I’ve heard that name pop up quite a lot.” “Of course you have,” Logic answered, “They’re Persephone’s top squad. Kratos is Persephone’s top executive, and she favours him even over her own children. In a serious fight, they’re unmatched. They’ve got the strength, the intelligence and the weaponry to take down any threat. Not that I particularly care about your safety once my order’s complete, but… if you’re tracking him down, I suggest you stop.” “Thank you. Now, one more question…” Grinnington pulled up an image of Poseidon’s trident, as well as its schematics. “Does this look familiar to you?” Logic shook his head. “Well… it’s a trident. Unless it’s made of plastic and is part of a cosplay, I’ve never seen one like it. Sorry.” Grinnington sighed and shook his head. “It’s fine. That was a long shot. You’ve told me more than enough. You’re free to go.” Logic thanked Grinnington and left with his grunts. Waiting a few seconds once their clients had left, Hope de-cloaked her invisible armour, suddenly materialising at the table, much to the shock of the waitress. “Good work, Hope.” Grinnington said, smilling. “I think we got a lot of useful stuff today.” Hope took a seat opposite Grinnington, and began browsing the menu. Pointing out a dish that piqued her interest, she looked Grinnington in the eye. “I want this one.” Grinnington handed over a few coins. “Sure. Go up and order it.” As Hope walked over to the counter, Grinnington found himself being consumed by thought. “Even if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll find it. The last gift you left for me… Marko.” * 3 years ago. A few weeks after Marko’s death. Grinnington and Amanda are in Marko’s apartment, helping sort out his affairs. “Man… how did he manage to collect so much junk?” Grinnington moaned as he emptied the drawers in Marko’s spare bedroom. “That’s rich, coming from you.” Amanda joked. “I’ve seen your lab… and Hope’s told me about the state your apartment’s in.” Grinnington huffed. “I’ll have you know, none of that stuff is junk! Each and every item is a key component in my journey to surpass…” Knowing how the sentence finished, he couldn’t bring himself to finish. He felt himself choke back tears as Amanda rushed over to him, pulling him in to a hug. “Arthur… it’s okay.” For a moment, Grinnington thought about pushing Amanda away. He didn’t need any pity. He was the indomitable Arthur Grinnington, after all! To be seen in such a state was unbecoming. However, he didn’t have the strength for that right now. For the first time in twenty-five years, he felt as if he needed to be vulnerable. Resting his head in Amanda’s shoulder, he began to vent. “I’m a fool. The most foolish of fools. A bone-headed, single-minded simpleton. I’ve wasted eight years, blindly chasing a futile goal. If I’d even bothered to look at the bigger picture, I could have been useful. I could have used my abilities to bring the Kingsguard forward, instead of just foolishly trying to satisfy my own ego. If I hadn’t been so selfish…” “Stop.” Amanda said. “You already did more than any of the rest of us.” “But what difference does that make? What am I supposed to do? Pat myself on the back and say I tried? Marko’s dead.” “Listen. If we’ve learnt anything, it’s that he’s always been a hundred steps ahead of us. And based on what he said to you that day… he knew this was coming. But, he wouldn’t have let it happen if he didn’t think we could cope without him.” Amanda replied, doing her best to reassure Grinnington despite her own grief. “And… he trusted you in the end, didn’t he? Of everyone he could have turned to… he chose you. What’s done is done. All we can do now… is make sure we don’t let him down.” Grinnington pulled himself away from Amanda’s hug. “You know… I’d feel more reassured if your voice wasn’t shaking.” Pausing for a second, he realised how ungrateful that sounded. “But… thank you, Amanda. I needed that.” Amanda paused for a moment, her eyes wide with shock. As tears formed in her eyes, she smiled gently back at Grinnington. “Well, even the brightest of geniuses need someone to look out for them.” As Amanda smiled at him, Grinnington felt his cheeks turn red. Had she always been this beautiful? Before she could catch him staring, he walked over to the closet. “Well, we should probably get a move on. We’ll be here for days at the rate we’re going. Oh ho… oh?” As Grinnington looked at the floor of the closet, he saw a trident with two notes attached to it; one addressed to him, the other to Amanda. “Hey, Amanda… I think Marko left something for us,” he said, handing her the letter. As Amanda sat on the spare bed to read it, Grinnington stood by the closet door to read his. Grinnington, Where do I even start… I’ve never been good at talking to you. You’re a real pain in the ass. If you’re reading this, it means something’s happened to me. I’m not sure exactly how this’ll make its way to you, but the important thing is that it has. I’ve probably already told you all the important details, so I don’t need to write my life story down for you. There’s only really three things I need to tell you. First, the trident. It was Poseidon’s. During the beach cleanup, a volunteer found it washed up a few miles down the beach. It’s responsible for summoning the tidal wave that destroyed the village. Don’t ask me how it works, though. It’s your job to find out. Good luck. The engineer who made that is the best mind the world’s ever seen. Second, the future. Things are probably pretty bad at the time you’re reading this. They’ll get better. There’ll be other soldiers to take my place. I’ve been training two that I know will surpass anything the Kingsguard’s ever seen. And… there’s an engineer with a maid fetish who I’m betting on as well. He’d better not let me down. Third, a piece of advice. Pay more attention to the feelings of the people close to you, idiot. That’s it. I’m counting on you, Marko. As Grinnington finished reading the letter, he chuckled. If there were a such thing as typical Marko, that letter was it. Closing his eyes, he sighed heavily, the weight on his shoulders temporarily lifting. “If you’re going to put it so bluntly, I suppose I can’t let you down,” he mumbled to himself. Putting the letter down on a shelf, he looked over to Amanda, who had just finished reading hers. Tears were streaming down her face. “Everything okay?” he asked. “This letter… it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever read!” * 2256 – Grinnington is sitting in the restaurant opposite Hope. “Grinnington?” Grinnington suddenly snapped back to attention. “What is it, Hope?” “You’re doing that weird face you do when you’re thinking about the past. It’s gross.” “Oh… sorry.” Hope handed Grinnington a pair of chopsticks. “This ramen is delicious. Wanna try some?” Grinnington smiled. “Sure.” * April 29th, 2256. 9:45pm. Squad Grinnington are having a reconnaissance meeting in Chirch, Rose and Eve’s apartment. “So, Swann’s our guy, huh.” Judge said, having listened to Grinnington’s re-telling of the information he gained from interrogation. “Funny that I didn’t recognise him.” “Well… based on when he left the Kingsguard, he probably didn’t show up in the Underworld until after you joined the Academy.” Eve deduced. “So, Judge. Do you know much about the other Eight Beasts?” Grinnington asked. “Well, I know Kratos is in charge, but I’ve never seen his face. The codenames of his subordinates are Python, who we’ve established is Swann, Cerberus, who’s a new guy that I’ve no clue about other than his name, and the other five are Chimera, Echidna, Hydra, Orthros and Ladon. Of those guys, I’ve met three – Chimera, Echidna, and Hydra. They used to work for my father but quit after having a difference of opinion with him. Great engineers, but they’re dangerous. The other two are likely a couple of skilled muscleheads. I dunno. All those soldier types just blend in to one for me.” Judge answered. “Well, it looks like we finally have some names to target.” Grinnington said. “They’re dangerous names for sure, but between us I’m sure we can handle things.” Hercules began counting on his fingers. “Well… out of the group of us here, me, Fourth, Chirch, Rose and Hope are the main fighters… that’s five. If Python is Swann, and Swann’s with the Kingsguard, then that leaves seven beasts. Will we really be okay?” “I’m not sure.” Chirch replied. “Rose and I have been fighting a lot of people down here recently. The casual fighter here is stronger than a Kingsguard soldier recruited through the draft. The strongest guy we’ve fought is probably more than any of us can handle 1v1 right now. If these Eight Beasts really are the strongest guys in the Underworld, we’re going to have to train, and train hard. Otherwise, we’re getting our asses handed to us.” Rose nodded in agreement. “Hercules, Fourth. We’ll have to schedule a couple of training sessions each week when our schedules allow it.” Fourth nodded. “That sounds sensible. We’ve beaten up our fair share of jobbers these past few weeks, but that won’t help raise our level.” Grinnington thought for a moment, and then spoke. “You raise a good point, Chirch. As of right now, we have to assume we’re at a major disadvantage. Those of us down here will deal with the seven, and we’ll have to leave it up to Commander Moss to deal with Swann. The only other variable here is the number of people who’ve successfully infiltrated the Kingsguard with Swann. We’ve just got to put faith in our comrades to deal with them.” “Judge. How much of your blueprint can you remember?” Eve asked. “Enough to build about half of the components, but not everything. Why do you ask?” “If we’re needing firepower, Hecate might be a key part of that.” Eve replied. “Good point. What about Prometheus?” Judge replied. Eve shook her head. “I can’t do anything until we get the Vulcan parts back.” “I see. Well, then. I guess we should start a rough build of Hecate, then?” Judge suggested. “I’ve got a good number of eyes on the ground for our stolen goods, and we’ve got Hercules and Fourth scouting too. I’ll come down to your lab every now and then to build.” “Sounds like a plan,” Eve replied. Happy with the round-up, Grinnington called the meeting to a close. “It seems like we’ve covered everything. Meeting dismissed!” * May 1st, 2256. 11:17pm. Persephone’s Lair – Boardroom. The Eight Beasts are meeting. Around the table are the leader, Kratos, Chimera, Echidna, Orthros and Ladon. “Chimera. Where’s Hydra?” Kratos asked. “Pfft. Hell if I know.” Chimera replied. Wearing a white, fireproof boiler suit and goggles, he scratched his head, ruffling his flame-like hair. “Haven’t seen her in weeks. She’s probably locked herself away in a lab and lost track of time again.” Kratos sighed. “Fuck. It’s the first time the eight of us are meeting in months, and she’s blown us off. Unacceptable.” Echidna laughed manically, her voice sounding somewhat canned through the holes in the gas mask she was wearing. “Ha ha! That’s just like her though. It’s a shame she’s not here, though. She’s a real hottie.” “Must you wear that gas mask all the time?” Kratos asked, his patience thinning. “Have some respect for formality.” Echidna removed her gas mask, revealing her bright, almost toxic, green eyes that stood out, even against her purple hair. “Fine… you’re no fun, Boss.” “We’re not here for fun, Echidna.” Ladon interjected. Compared to the more eccentric, colourful appearances of Chimera and Echidna, he was much more netural; his brown hair and eyes complemented by an equally brown outfit. “This is business, after all.” “Aww, lighten up, man!” Orthros said to Ladon, who was sitting next to him at the round table. “Sure, we’ve got a load of serious stuff to do, but we’re all friends, right?” “You’re too naïve, Orthros. As to be expected of the youngest.” Ladon replied. “Come onnnn! Don’t be like that! I’m only two years younger than you, you know…” Orthros’ blonde, youthful energy did little to ease the tension in the room. Sensing he should stop, he quietened down, laughing nervously. “Now, your this little sketch is over… I’ll be calling Python.” Kratos announced. The room nodded in agreement, and the video feed to Python showed up on the screen. “Took ya long enough,” Python joked. “Was starting to think you’d forgotten.” “When have you ever known me to forget?” Kratos replied sternly. “Alright, alright! Easy, man…” Python replied. “Where’s Cerberus? He should be with you right now.” “Yeah, about that. He’s in the medical facility for testing again. He sends his apologies.” Python answered. Kratos slammed his fist against the table. “For fuck’s sake! What’s the point in us tracking down meds for him if he’s just going to go to those dipshit Kingsguard medics again?” “We shouldn’t be too hard on him.” Python replied. “After all… he was instrumental in getting me on to the Kingsguard Elite.” Kratos stroked his stubble. “I suppose that’s true. It was brilliant thinking on his part, if not a little risky.” “You’ve still got the soldier he took out, right?” Python asked. “Of course. If we let him out of our sight, your cover’s blown…” Kratos answered. “We’re not quite ready to launch our assault yet.” “About that. When’s D-day?” Python asked. “Well. Persephone’s put us in charge of Dreamcorp raids. Whenever the next one is, the six of us down here will secure all the weaponry we need.” Kratos said confidently. “Uhh, Boss? Didn’t you hear about what happened to those grunts that went on the raid a few weeks ago? Some mystery guy chased ‘em down here. And mystery guy aside, I’m sure their security will be way up. They might even have the Twelve on guard. You sure things will go that smoothly?” Orthros asked. “It doesn’t matter who they throw at me.” Kratos replied angrily. “I’ll take them down where they stand. Whether it’s the Twelve, the Kingsguard… or Dream himself. I’ll show them who the strongest really is.” * May 1st, 2256. 11:49pm. Grinnington’s Bedroom. Grinnington sat in his bed, reading an old book. He heard his phone vibrate on the bedside table, breaking his immersion. Picking it up, he saw a text from an unknown number. Congratulations on uncovering your first leads. I’ve been keeping a close eye on you since you entered the Underworld all those months ago. Tensions are rising on all sides, and it will soon be time for you to face the truth. Are you prepared? Grinnington read the message, confused. Who was this? Had his cover been blown? He responded in a panic. Who is this? An instant reply. Worry not, I mean you no harm. In fact, you could say I’m on your side. As for a name… I suppose you can call me “Aristotle”. END Characters Debuted: Logic - A kid with good taste in engineers. Chimera - One of the Eight Beasts. A fiery man with a fiery disposition. Echidna - One of the Eight Beasts. A woman with a fetish for risk-taking. Orthros - One of the Eight Beasts. Their youngest member, who, despite his naive nature, is a dangerous man. Ladon - One of the Eight Beasts. A man of earthly desires. Aristotle - ???