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"Don't be ridiculous. We'd use you for...whatever people use geckos for." Shifting into a sprint, Buffy took about three running steps towards Chris before suddenly vanishing with a whumph. Reappearing directly behind him, she lashed out towards his back with the edge of her hand.


He must have heard her, because at the last second, he twisted aside, striking out at her with a blow of his own. She ducked, but her attack was ruined, and she danced backwards. "Hey, you're quicker than you look, old man."

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Chris easily ducked under Buffy's blow, spine nearly bending backwards as he brought his leg up in a rolling kick. Buffy's swift reversal left him harmlessly bringing the movement to an end onto the crash mat. "Old man's a compliment. I've been doing this a long time.


He quickly crossed the remaining distance in an almost-blur, knee coming up swiftly to jab into Buffy's side before pushing quickly off his other foot, regaining the short distance between them. "I mean, I told you, I was going easy on you. The big question is..." Chris shot Buffy a wide, cocky grin. "Were you actually trying?"

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Buffy couldn't keep the sudden flash of frustration from showing on her face as she recoiled from Chris's strike. As much as she liked him, he was very good at getting under your skin when he wanted to. In the back of her mind, the more sensible part of her warned that that was exactly the point, but her mouth had already taken over. "Oh, you want to see me trying, huh?"


She leaped forward. As she jumped, her form blurred, and she spun in midair, her feet lashing outwards in a series of impossibly rapid kicks. Most of them struck only empty air - to the left of Chris, to the right of him, above his head. But the very last one tapped him with surprising gentleness directly in the center of the forehead.


Triumph filling her stomach, she landed, stumbling ever so slightly as she eased her hold on the laws of physics. "See, I'm trying now," she said as she raised her hands back into a boxer's pose, making no attempt to hide her smugness. "Want me to stop?"

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"No, this isn't due to my winter aspect," Min said with a shake of her head.  "Maybe."


She reached out to one of the plants on the window sill and it in turn reached out toward her, curling around her finger and creeping across her hand.  "I do not believe this was the House of Swords attacking us," she continued.  It was a small display with the plant, one the others had seen Min perform before but this time her actions seemed to be more deliberate, as if she were drawing attention to what she was doing.  After a few heartbeats the flower withdrew from her hand and returned to its original form.  "Based on what they have said, it was a splinter faction.  No, the real House of Swords I think has learned its lesson."


Min turned away from the window and looked down at her seated sister-in-law.  "They were augmented, changed to suit the whims of someone else.  Just as I did with that flower.  But unlike the flower what she did corrupted the humans, like a candle lit from both ends they burned brightly and quickly."


"They weren't meant to survive the encounter," she added with a sigh.  "And they did not, despite my efforts."

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This was not a conversation Steve had wanted to broach himself - but now that it had, there was no reason to avoid it. .


"I sensed unusual energies as well." That there was only one particular unusual energy that his cybernetically enhanced senses could detect he needed not explain - his allies knew that well enough. Instead he ate more popcorn, letting the others chime in. 


Perhaps the weight will be less grave when it is shared. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Talya let out a sigh as she dropped back to a seated position, without Steve to tease and with the match in full swing, there was very little to occupy her attention. "He's baiting you, Buffy," Talya offered in her cool, clipped tones. "Mind you don't overextend."


Talya's gaze flicked from one opponent to the other, absently braiding her blonde hair back with quick fingers. "Next time I say we give them nerf guns and make them fight blindfolded." It was debatable how much use that would be for ACTUAL training and how much of her suggestion was geared towards wanting a blind physics defying dart gun battle to watch.

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"Wait, time out," Ellie interjected, forming a capital T with her hands. She looked quickly between Min and Steve before turning to Mara to confirm that she had been following what the other two were saying. "When you say they were changed the way you change plants, you mean specifically that way? Like there's another dryad running around turning Aych Oh Ess goobers into suicide troops? And using Terminus radiation to do it?" The medic gestured emphatically to her sister in law and their taciturn friend in turn, expression somewhere between incredulity and mounting horror. Min was supposed to be the last of her 'sisters' left but then again it wasn't like they'd ever seen any bodies and the white haired woman certainly made the case for her ilk being the next best thing to indestructible. "How does that even make sense? The Gorgon's whole deal was that it -- she, whatever -- was up for doing anything to keep the Terminus from grabbing planets, yeah? And not in a subtle, shadowy mastermind sort of way, either."

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Mara frowned, turning her eyes - but not her head - away from her holographic screen for a moment. "Dislike the implications of that," she noted, one of her security designs reconfiguring into something that was less "passive threat detection" and more "active threat elimination". It only took a moment for her to get her mad weapons scientist brain back in order, but it was a moment too long, and she dismissed the screen with a reflexive scowl.


"Implications of an anti-Minerva, bad enough, clearly," she said, drumming a finger against the table. "Tactical considerations aren't great. Suicide troops and mind control are only good for deniable operations - things you don't want traced back to you. Fear, caution, testing waters. If they can last a while under control, mildly concerned about someone....stockpiling. Should probably keep an eye out for any groups, gangs, populations losing numbers suddenly. Imperfect, hard to get numbers, but better than going blind. Choice of pawns can't be coincidental, though. Luxury of choice implies carelessness, raw power, or both. Really don't like that."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chris took a step back and rubbed at his forehead.  "Look, c'mon, this is a training thing, so really, if you win, doesn't it really mean I won at training you?" He shrugged and went to turn, making as if to concede and pick up a towel he'd slung nearby for afterwards.


But in one quick springing step, he bounded backwards, crossing behind Buffy and throwing a loose looping punch, which was predictably easy to dodge. Chris stumbled forwards, tripping on the mat as he appeared to lose his balance, shoulders and head tilting to the ground. Before he suddenly executed an elaborate twisting maneuver, bringing his knee in to bounce off Buffy's left shoulder blade, all in a sudden blur of movement. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Min looked at her sister-in-law and sighed.


"Do you recall when my sister, the Gorgon, arrived and asserted her command authority?" Min asked.  "Well control was broken because, despite being little different from one of Mara's machines, I still have some measure of free will.  So I circumvented my own directives, inserted Erik into the command structure, and was free."


"So it's likely whomever is attacking us also broke her programming."  She frowned and turned back to looking out the kitchen window.  "At least the Gorgon's actions made sense, I don't know why one of my sisters has turned on me, on us all."

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Steve looked uncomfortable for a moment (a look so familiar on his features that the lines in his face seemed set like stone), then set aside his popcorn. 


"A dryad-entity would fit the pattern of those recruited in the service of the Terminus - and a being with your abilities would be a powerful tool in the service of entropy." He would not call the unnamed woman an Annihilist until he had no other options. Saying such a word out loud, even in speculation, would have dire consequences - if he named something an Annihilist, it would suffer an Annihilist's fate. He paused, and considered comfort - something he could barely manage with the woman who shared his bed every night, much less his friends. "You should not blame yourself," he finally guessed. "It is possible for any being to fall to the forces of the Terminus."

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