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Big Eyes, Small Mouth (BESM): Nexus Earth - Pilgrims on the Path of Light


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"The path of light leads through shadowed places and flows as a winding river back to where it began."

- Tanharukan Aman, First Philosopher, and Most Honored Sifu of the Path

Even flying, Lily was a bit behind Georgi and Yua when they reached the hangar. The sight of the room seething with demonic hounds as an old corpse might with maggots brings her up short in midair. Then Yua charges in, blades whirling like a bloodthirsty tornado...and she hears the sharp report of Georgi's rifle.

You going to let them do your fighting, Princess? mocks an inner voice.

With a battlecry, Lily dives into the very center of the room, shining like a falling star. When she hits the ground, the shockwave radiates out hard enough to send demon dogs flying back into the pack. It buys her exactly enough time to create her energy sword as she pulls herself out of the hole in the concrete floor. Then the snarling, slavering hounds POUNCE!

...and slam into a wall of energy that appears around Lily. Some are deflected and bounce off into the throng. Others suffered broken teeth and jaws from trying to bite through it. Then they suffered more, as Lily whirled and slashed with her blade, severing claws, necks, heads, tails, midsections... The first wave of counterattacks were completely blocked by her energy defenses.

Then they tried something new.

Feeling something off, Lily whirled around to see hellhounds forming a pile of fetid, demonic flesh. It surged forward like a tidal wave of hellish creatures, literally covering up her force dome with a living ocean of monsters. For a moment, all that was left of her was a flickering blue glow glinting between the bodies of the hounds that piled on her.

"From the moment you set foot in the Academy, your every moment will be a battle, Princess," Old Shouya, her tutor at the palace, had warned her. "A battle with those who bow and scrape and respect you because of your father, who cut your corners, who weaken you by currying favor and denying you the chance to improve yourself. A battle with those who wish to prove themselves against you, to shame you and boast of defeating you. A battle with your father's many enemies, who want to hurt him through you. And a battle within yourself; between your honor and loyalty...and your wish to be unfettered. Between your compassion, and the grim necessities of war." Shou, who's full name was long even by Dalaraan standards, due to his many accomplishments and nuanced life, was many things...head of the servants of the Emperor, tutor of the Emperor's children, seneschal, castellan, and the best of friends. He was in earnest, Lily decided, but was reassured that he did not sound -worried-. He was warning her as a matter of course, but she could tell without asking that he believed she was up to it. She gave him a cocky grin and reached up to tweak his nose.

"I can handle it," she assured him...then the call rang out. The shuttle was waiting...she had to go.

Even under the press of demonic dogs, Lily crouched, swinging her sword wildly and carving away gobbets of monstrous flesh with each blow. It wasn't until several small creatures were flung away that Lily realized they'd just been buying time. Time to feed. The new creature was bigger, meaner...it had feasted on its brethern, and now attacked with many times the vigor. Her protective energy flared brightly, and blocked enough of the blow that the massive claws drew only a line of her blood.

But the damage was done.

The shield, now weakened, wasn't enough to hold the smaller ones off entirely. Even as the gash healed over, Lily's force barrier began flickering erratically as demon after demon attacked. She tried to retreat, only to find herself tripping and falling backwards. The larger one pounced, pinning her down and arching its tail over to lash out with its stinger. She managed to twist aside, even under its paws, but couldn't move enough to avoid when it reached down and took her shoulders and neck into its jaws and shook her like an old sock. The last of her protection vanished under that assault, leaving only her own native toughness to fend them off.

The pain of the large dog's attack wrings a cry from Lily's lips, but before it can start to chew or pull her apart or any other horrible things, the Dalaraan vanishes in a blaze of waste energy as she d-jumps right out of its jaws. For a moment it looks confusedly around, wondering where she went. A second later she answers that by falling atop it, sword first, from above...driving it through the beast's skull with a hoarse shout.

But there's no end to the sea of demons that she's overconfidently dived into. And now they can hurt her. Not much...each one maybe scores a thin trickle of blood. But a dozen...then a score....each clawmark sealing up, but not as fast as they're coming. She has to teleport again, to escape a massive knot of them and get some freedom of movement. Each time the effort of it leaves her momentarily panting and breathless.

Another stinger hurtles in, forcing her to stumble forwards, then whirl to face the new bigger demon. With a blinding riposte, she severs the stinger from its tail, only to be struck across her belly by a horribly strong clawed forepaw that sends her flying back and impacting a smaller knot of demons, sending them scattering and momentarily stunning her...

"Next up is Aksan."

Molo, the Hiroga instructor looked up from his pad as Lily came forward onto the large, wide-open mat. She was wearing the Academy jumpsuit; light cyan with grey highlights and the symbol of the Academy over the heart. She looked different than on Earth. Her hair was a natural blue-violet, and she'd been younger then.

"Now, who's going to fight her?" Molo asked. The students of Lily's class looked uncomfortably at one another, but no one else came forward.

Molo bared his teeth at them. "No one? Why? Because of her father? Aksan!"

Lily snapped to attention.

"Are you going to run and tell your daddy if someone hurts you?" he sneered.

Lily's cheeks burned. "I've never hidden behind my father, or asked him for anything I couldn't earn myself," she replied...perhaps a bit hotly.

"Bullshit!" Molo roared at her. "You've been living in the Imperial Palace! Tended to by an army of servants! The finest food! The softest cushions! You're SOFT, Aksan! You're WEAK!"

Throughout the tirade, Lily slowly lost her at-attention stand to glare at Molo directly. "With respect, sir," she growled, "I'd like a chance to prove that wrong."

The canine Hiroga grinned, showing his sharp incisors. "Oh, you will have it. Over...and over...and over again. Koji!"

The students parted as a tall Hiroga boy carefully stepped through them. Also canine, he gave the impression of a wolfhound...strength and speed and bestial eagerness all wrapped up by the string of loyalty. Untie that string though...

"You're fighting Aksan. Take your place."

Lily gaped. "He's not even in this class! He's two years ahea..."

Molo fixed her with a baleful stare. "Whining already? Should I call a servant to help you with this?"

Lily opened her mouth again, to protest the unfairness...then closed it grimly. So this was how it was. Well, she'd been warned. "No."

The instructor nodded. "Begin!"

Lily prepared to launch into the air...and that's when Koji slammed into her with unbelievable speed...

The Imperial Princess snapped out of her momentary haze just as demonic claws grabbed her and held her up, pinning her legs and an arm. With incredible strength, the monster, who had eaten of its smaller kin, started to pull then. Through the blinding wall of pain, Lily raised her free arm and pumped energy out with everything she had.

She hit the floor with an agonized grunt. A moment later, the demon's body did too, sans head. There was no time to recover her breath, no time to pause and feel relief. More were coming.

Yet, by now, their numbers were thinning, and she caught glimpses of the others as she fought. With one hand swinging a beam sword, and the other blasting demons, she cut a swath towards her fellows through the attenuating horde.

Finally, after what felt like hours, but was probably less than a minute, the demons slowed...and stopped. Heart slamming, lungs burning in her chest, Lily ran to try to help Georgi. She was covered in a hundred wounds, only a few of them serious, and all of them slowly pulling shut. Blue blood stained her skin and jumpsuit, large portions of which were now in tatters. Still...for now at least, the battle was over.

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