One Autumn Leaf felt more and more fatigued. That Elder Shadow Cat was sturdier than it looked. The battle was already stretching and he felt his muscles burning from exhaustion. The Battlemage could snarl and growl in frustration all he wanted but no amount of it phased the cat. For as he loathed to admit it, Lord Grim’s tips were valuable. From time to time he would hear an exasperated: " Go left.”, “Jump.” “Higher.”, “Dragon Tooth, you idiot.” and it was grating on his already shattered nerves. However, the most annoying was the fact, that he felt weaker than before. Only when he noticed Su Mucheng not far behind Dancing Rain did he understand.
One Autumn Leaf needs a great amount of energy to even sustain himself. With a powerhouse such as Ye Xiu, he never had to think hard about it. Now, circumstances had changed.
Ye Xiu had to back not only One Autumn leaf but also Lord grim. The older avatar might not be doing anything and doesn’t even seem to take much, considering that healing oneself has a price in the energy too but...
This was why Ye Xiu told him to be careful.
Well, One Autumn Leaf was never good at listening, even if that someone was Ye Xiu. Now, however, he wanted to go back in time and start the battle with the elder Shadow cat in a calmer manner.
The Battlemage was jumping and twirling out of the line of the monster's range when a shot to his shoulder tipped him sideways. Already in a bad humour, he had no intention to let this slide. With a wave of his hand, he signalled Dancing Rain to take the cat’s attention.
‘Now which fucker did it?’ He trailed his eyes towards the probable source until he saw a very unamused Autumn tree and Sun Xiang yapping something at the Sharpshooter. One Autumn Leaf wasted no time to jump over to them.
“What now.” He snapped at Autumn Tree.
“Create a half-bond with him. You’re low on energy already and that’s a bad sign.”
At the mention of his name, Sun Xiang tried his best to hide behind the Sharpshooter. However, said avatar merely grabbed and showed him forward towards the Battlemage.
‘ Child.’ Piped in Lord Grim.
“Don’t be a child.” Said Autumn Tree.
One Autumn Leaf growled mentally and physically. Autumn Tree was like a big brother he always wanted to have but sometimes, like now, he had an urge to kick him right in the face.
“NO.” He said.
“ Do it, you idiot.” “Do it, you idiot.” Said both Autumn Tree and Lord Grim at the same time.
One Autumn Leaf’s voice died in his throat at that. They sounded way too similar for his liking.
Ye Xiu was unamused. Lord Grim became a little bit bolder and started snatching a bit more energy than before. The change wasn’t much and wasn’t supposed to BE much, however with One Autumn Leaf literally devouring his energy, it began to be a problem. He could sense, that the Unspecialized was doing something in the bond plane but he was too busy holding the door to check.
Holding the door?
Yep, holding the door.
One of the customers got way too cocky and opened the door to let out his avatar. Instead of diving right into the battle, the spirit merely dropped its weapon out of shock and stared in confusion at the Shadow Kittens, before disappearing back into the card. Of course, the cats used this moment to try and get to humans. Ye Xiu was a bit frustrated at this point.
The permission to let out their avatars was only hours old and some people already try to force the spirits out, as if the avatars are supposed to know what to do. A spirit that was never outside, won’t know what to do. Ye Xiu frantically tried to form a plan.
“Lord Grim?” Asked Ye Xiu experimentally through the bond.
“What?” Snapped at him the avatar. He didn’t pay any mind to this.
“Do you think you can take on these cats?”
“Not without a weapon.”
Ah, that was one of the questions he wanted to leave for later but since it came up-
“Don’t bother to ask about it now.” That was one way to end the topic without even starting it.
“The previous spirit dropped a pistol.”
“You can use it? You are Unspecialized and I know that your Umbrella works as a gun too.” Ye Xiu said despite Lord Grim’s annoyance.
“I would be surprised if that crap of a pistol would fire. That’s why the avatar dropped it. It must have been already broken in the game. And before you ask, I can sense everything in a small area around you. This is how I know it’s useless.”
Ye Xiu sighed in defeat, hoping that One Autumn Leaf will finally get rid of the danger.
Sun Xiang wanted to run away but couldn't because of the iron grip the avatar had on him. If a look could kill, he would be already a dead man. One Autumn Leaf looked pissed off. Autumn Tree told them to create a half-bond because Ye Xiu is somehow not enough. After a long second, the Battlemage grabbed and handed him his card. Sun Xiang stared at it dumbly.
'Again, how in the hell did he even managed to lift it and more than that, more around with his own card?!'
“You scratch it and you’re dead. Capisce?”
"Yes." Chocked out, Sun Xiang.
Just like that, One Autumn Leaf dived back down right onto the Elder Shadow Cat. For a second, there was no difference until...
“Oh, shit.” Huffed out Sun Xiang, almost falling down the pit, was it not for Autumn tree’s hand shooting to grab him in the last moment and dragging him away from the edge. He merely looked in question at the avatar through the haze but the other merely shrugged. They stood in uncomfortably stretching silence.
“I heard that...” Started Sun Xiang.
Autumn Tree didn’t even grace him with a look.
"You heard that I died, a long time ago." The avatar said in a monotone voice as if it wasn't about him.
“Yyyh, yeah.” Said Sun Xiang, unsure of what to say further. ‘Great small talk beginning Xiang. Let’s talk about the guy’s presumable death, why the hell not. You can’t fuck it up even more.” He thought.
"Well, I guess they lied." Sun Xiang said after a moment of silence and started berating himself the moment he finished talking.
Autumn Tree finally looked at him, tearing his gaze from the ongoing battle. The way the spirit looked his way made him shiver.
“Not entirely, no.” Said Autumn Tree confusing Sun Xiang even further.
“...The only thing that keeps me alive is... an old promise... of some sort.”
"And what it might be? You made a deal with a devil, heh?" Tried to joke Sun Xiang.
“He might as well be one to some...” trailed off Autumn Tree, visibly stiffening.
Sun Xiang looked down just in time to see a finishing move of One Autumn Leaf. He had to admit that seeing the Battlemage fight from this close was an entirely different experience. He could sense the coiling energy of the dragon shattering into small particles, making his skin prickle at the sensation. A moment later, One Autumn Leaf smoothly jumped up to them, not even looking at Sun Xiang.
"I will go and deal with Shadow Kittens." The Battlemage said to the Sharpshooter. Autumn Tree merely raised a brow in silent question. Sun Xiang scrunched his eyebrows.
“Do you know where they are?” Sun Xiang asked.
One Autumn Leaf snorted at the question and leaving them with “Of course.”, ran away towards the row of buildings across the street.
Sun Xiang looked at the card still within his hand that was sucking up his energy without a care in the world.
"What am I?! A fucking battery?!" He screamed, running down towards the direction the Battlemage went. He scarcely caught a grunt coming from Autumn Tree.
Ye Xiu felt a little lightheaded. No wonder, since backing not only one but two spirits of such calibre ought to be exhausting. But this excelled his expectations. Comparing to Lord Grim, One Autumn Leaf was a power glutton.
Thankfully, a few moments later the sensation subsided.
“Sun Xiang and One Autumn Leaf formed a half-bond. It should be more than enough for you to recuperate.” Lord Grim’s calm, yet a sharp voice almost made Ye Xiu jump.
“These idiots are coming here. They already finished playing around with the Elder Shadow Cat.”
“How do you know?”
“I kept an eye on him.”
Ye Xiu had more and more questions. He could pinpoint One Autumn Leaf’s position but to “keep an eye on him”? Definitely not without fully diving into the bond plane. Was it the action he sensed in the plain before? Most likely.
“And how did you do that?” Asked Ye Xiu.
“I used the bond plain to do it. It is possible for you too...”
“Because I am a midpoint between you and all information between you two goes through me. I figured as much.”
“I am sure that now you will be able to use it without having to focus as much as before... as I... cleared the view.”
He could almost imagine Lord Grim gesticulating slowly in an essentially dismissive fashion as if this knowledge was available for anyone.
“I will take a look once everything calms down.” Said Ye Xiu, not sure about where this is going.
After a few seconds of people nervously talking between each other, Lord Grim started talking again.
“Does the idiot always use so much energy?” The Unspecialized asked with something akin to irritation and pure exasperation painting his words.
“I take that it isn’t the first time you see him doing it?”
“He didn’t change that much in this area but his energy consumption is considerably higher than I remember.”
“And how much is ‘considerably’ for avatars?” Ye Xiu tried to pry a bit.
“Around twice as much.”
“And he is-”
“That’s a... lot.”
Judging how short were the answers, Ye Xiu chose not to dwell deeper right now.
“I am near, give me a few minutes and I will deal with the kittens.” Abruptly said One Autumn Leaf.
“Is Sun Xiang with you?” He asked.
“Eeem...” Was the only answer he got from the Battlemage.
“Please tell me, that you didn’t simply leave him behind.” It was Ye Xiu’s turn to sound exasperated with One Autumn Leaf’s antics.
“He totally did.” Lord Grim piped in.
“I DIDN’T!” One Autumn Leaf roared back. Ye Xiu didn’t know whether to groan or to sigh at this.
Something collided with the doors making them tremble in hinges. Everyone inside jumped in an alert. Some of the people holding the entrance ran in the opposite direction, disappearing inside the crowd.
“What was that?” Asked Ye Xiu through the bond, knowing that One Autumn Leaf is right outside the doors.
“Sorry” Mumbled out the Battlemage.
“Be more careful. These might just be small kittens but-”
"They are faster and more agile thanks to their size. Moreover-"
“If their mother was an Elder Shadow Cat that could breathe fire, then there is a possibility that the mutated gene carried over.”
"Shit!" One Autumn Leaf's voice could be heard from behind the doors as the nearest kitty breathed out scorching hot steam in his direction.
“It seems that they are still too young to breathe fire...”
“Fuck.” The Battlemage said under his nose as he got scratched by flaming-red claws.
“Interesting...” Said slowly the Unspecialized.
“Fuck you and your goddamn comments! You’re not helping!” Screamed One Autumn Leaf through their link.
"Get them out of the café. In here, they have an advantage. They can just leap around you." Said Ye Xiu, already forming a plan.
“And how am I supposed to do that?!”
“This type of Cats loves sweets. There are snacks in the automat nearby...” Said Ye Xiu.
“This should make them gather in one place. I am pretty sure you can sweep them away with Falling Flower Palm.”
"Once they are on the street, you will have those right in the open."
If they could, Lord Grim and Ye Xiu would suspiciously look at each other.
“...” One Autumn Leaf could only stupidly stare at the kittens before him as this plan was actually working. However, from now on, no matter what he said, Ye Xiu and Lord Grim were quiet.
He didn’t like it at all.
Lord Grim was once proclaimed to be a genius and one of the greatest strategists among the avatars. It didn't stop him from making many mistakes but the fact that he did gain this title anyway spoke volumes. The only ones who could keep up with his train of thought from time to time were Swoksaar, Peaceful Hermit and Immovable Rock. Maybe some younger avatars too but he didn't have that much opportunity, later on, to keep an eye on all of them. But humans? Never heard of one that gained a similar title in his time on Earth.
So, meeting one that could basically cut his sentence in the middle and say the exact same thing he wanted EVEN if the plan was one of the most fundamental ones was...
He kept prodding the human and their bond in the bond plane unable to not admire the amount of energy this 'Ye Xiu’ can contain. He will rather die than admit that it is something impressive.
If he is stuck with this human, then it is in his best interest to know the bond's limits. Maybe he will find some miracle loophole that will free him from a nightmare of having to live with his idiot brother 24/7? Poor chance but he can dream once in a while. Bullshitting his way through his life seems to be only One Autumn Leaf's ability.
And so, he kept tugging, prodding, poking around observing his surroundings for any changes. Just when he was about to poke the human in the cheek, Ye Xiu opened his eyes and looked at him from the corner of the eye.
Lord Grim immediately jumped back, reaching for his weapon, only to remind himself that he didn’t have it. In a second, he straightened himself and turned his gaze away from the human as if the situation a second ago didn’t happen.
“What is this?” He heard Ye Xiu ask.
He turned his gaze back to the human, thinking about the right answer.
“They are our bonds.” Ye Xiu whispered in realization.
“Indeed, they are.” Nodded Lord Grim.
“Why One Autumn Leaf’s looks like this now?” Before Lord Grim could answer, Ye Xiu already answered on his own question again. “Oh, energy consumption.”
The Unspecialized wondered why he even bothered to try and answer.
“You really cleared the view. Everything was foggy before.”
Lord Grim merely shrugged at this and turned away again.
After a few seconds of silence, he snapped his head back to Ye Xiu as he felt a tugging. The Unspecialized stared with wide-open eyes as the human kept prodding both bonds, before focusing solely on his. Swift fingers kept playing with the colourful strands without caring that the avatar is right before him. As the human crept closer and closer to him, the angrier he became.
Yet, when he was about to strike from his anger, he stopped immediately as he watched the bright red streak run towards Ye Xiu and for the human to simply yank it from the bond and yeet it into the aether.
“How... did you do that?” Asked Lord Grim, astonished at what he saw.
Ye Xiu froze with his hands still gripping the bond as if only now understanding what he did.
“Ah, right, sorry, that was rather intrusive.”
“How did you know how to do that?” Lord Grim asked quietly. From what he noticed, it had the same effect as what all avatars once could do. Changing their raging emotions and traumas into energies and releasing them into the aether to leave them calm and collected even while facing all kind of monsters. It was something they all could do before humans invented a substance that disabled their ability to phase between levels of realities.
"One Autumn Leaf told me that you could do it yourself before 'The Purge'. That you're mostly energy-dependent creatures and that the substance used to stop you from phasing through solid objects-"
“Not only disabled it but also cut us off a part of the higher plain we were using to do it.” Finished Lord Grim, staring at Ye Xiu with a tiny bit of admiration.
“Well, yes.” Answered the human a little bit sheepishly.
"That's pretty brilliant." Lord Grim said, still astonished until he reeled back. Knowing what he just said, he immediately scrunched his eyebrows as if the whole world just became his enemy.
"Was that a compliment?"
“The only one I am EVER going to give you!” Lord Grim grumpily exclaimed, turning away again.
Then he peeked over his shoulder to see the human scratch his cheek and still holding his bond. Right when he wanted to berate Ye Xiu for playing around with their bond-
“Ye Xiuuuuu” One Autumn Leaf’s voice carried out with the most irritating tilt to it Lord Grim had ever experienced.
“I have dealt with the big cat and the kittens. What do I get for that?”
“I don’t want your gratitude.”
“Tough luck, you’re not getting anything else from me.”
“Not even love?”
“What a bloodsucker. First my life, then cookies, then energy, now love. What will be next? My body? Speaking of energy, have you seen the bond?”
“I’ve never asked about your body.”
“But you ask about love. It’s only one step further from that. And don’t change the topic.”
“That’s not what I meant! I know nothing!”
“Why do you never ask about normal things like flowers or cigarettes. And you know exactly what am I talking about.”
None of them noticed Lord Grim walking over to the bonds. With just a small twirl of his wrist, he yanked them both forward. It made One Autumn Leaf stutter and bite his own tongue, while Ye Xiu managed to get a hold of Lord Grim’s bond, steadying himself not without raising an eyebrow at the Unspecialized.
And Lord Grim...
He just wanted out and away from everything, especially from their banters.
Now he knew how other avatars felt when he started one with One Autumn Leaf...