Pathfinder

"Figures you guys do the stupid Naruto run."

"This unit is unaware of the significance of that statement."

Diana slows for a moment, and presses her finger to her newly grown earpiece while catching her breath, opening comms. "The stupid run you do where you lean forward. Naruto running."

"Characters in the animation 'Naruto' leave their arms extended backwards. The Knights, when forced to run, simply adopt a lower center of gravity; giving us the aerodynamic advantage. We still use our arms for balance. Evidently this is more effective than your technique, as I haven't needed to stop since we left the base camp."

"I thought you said the significant of 'Naruto' eludes you?" She takes a swig of water out of a black canteen, dropping it to the floor and resuming her light jog.

"Touché."

The reality of the situation was much different. While the armor had grown a significant amount over Diana's body - across her chest and up her neck, to be exact - it still hadn't provided her a helmet. That helmet was providing Knight 783 with a higher percentage oxygen, requiring it to take far fewer rests while using its silly running technique. At least, this is what Diana had been able to glean from the hand signals J had given her, describing how he was outpacing her too. There'd also been a caveat about his time in track & field, but it certainly didn't account for his blinding speed on the way to the rendezvous.

She was slowly creating a theory, and she mentally tacked "knows about Naruto" underneath "breathes oxygen". These Knights were becoming less and less of an enigma, and a known enemy is a weaker one for it. Despite the insistence from "Unit 783", she didn't trust it as far as she could throw it, which was an additionally worrying sentiment, given she supposed she could throw it a lot farther than she reckoned she should have been able to.


"Before we leave, I need to assess your combat potential, strengths and weaknesses. If I'm to direct you in battle, I need to know your cababilities."

"You, direct me? Why would I trust you to do that? You did little more than kidnap me. I don't even know where we are. What's a safehouse protocol, anyways?"

"Irrelevant. What matters is the mission. Don't get distracted."

Diana stands, pushing her chair back and pointing at the table. "Mission? What mission?! You haven't explained shit since I got here, and as much as I agree with your position about the Knights, I'm about three seconds from getting up and walking out that door if you don't start speaking in English, rather than in riddles."

The Knight raises his hand as if to assuage her. Diana can't read it's face, obviously, but that's the assumption she makes until that hand slowly clenches into a fist and twists. The gauntlet glows blue, and the several locks that she'd heard undone to let them both into the saferoom are re-engaged. "Contemplate the following. You shall let me know what I desire, and following this, you shall know what you desire. Satisfactory?"

"Or I cut that arm off, just the same as the one I found, and use it to unlock the door. I already beat one of you once, and I'll do it again."

"You may try." And that was that. Diana, leaning over the Mantell family dinner table. Knight 783, sitting calmly, fist raised. J, sitting like a gargoyle on a single chair propped in the corner. The fight had begun.

Diana lept over the table, going for some form of a tackle, but the armored individual simply leaned right, rolling out of the chair and around a full 360 degrees before coming up kneeling. She scrambled to match, keeping her hands behind her. "I'm gonna make you eat that helmet," she said, tapping out the code to summon what she'd come to call the Buckler; that same blue energy shield from before. It wasn't necessarily even threatening smack talk, but it would keep the thing she was fighting distracted while she whipped the jagged edge out from behind her and plunged it towards the chest of her would-be captor.

Or, it would have been the chest, if it hadn't stood. Still kneeling slightly to brace, the point of the energy blade struck it in the stomach, just below the breastplate, a better shot than her initial one actually. A gut punch instead of a strike to the solar plexus wouldn't be a very good strike in a street fight, but since that area was less armored, she'd have a higher chance of piercing, or so she thought. The point stopped dead at the threshold, and her bare hand contacted the armor. The Buckler, hovering over her hand, didn't actually prevent her hand from moving forward if it was halted by, say, an effect of the armor.

Without losing her stride, she followed up with her other hand. Sure, the first punch hadn't done anything, but maybe that was just because the buckler didn't work on this Knight, and her bare fist wouldn't be any good against armor. Her left hook had a whole gauntlet attached, surely it would be more effective. The results determined that to be false, as her second fist made a more solid impact and certainly didn't hurt as much, but that same stoic posture showed through on the Knight.

She watched it's language, and seeing as it didn't seem to be fighting back, she started from the top. Right jab, left jab. Right, left. She tried to remember what she could from that class she'd took in a mall in 2014. Right, left, right left, right left right left rightleftrightleftrightleft and both. That final simultaneous punch, in C shape form, was the last straw, and she was glad to see it'd worked. For all her punches until that, the being in the armor hadn't moved, but with that extra leverage, the metal sabatons skidded slightly across the linoleum of the kitchen, leaving the knight a meter or so away.

Panting slightly, she asks "How… are you doing that?"

It dodges the question. "Taekwondo. The way of the punch, in the Sipjin stance. A Korean fighting style developed during World War II. An average performance of the art at best."

"Are you going to copy my moves like the last guy? Bring yourself down to my level by co-opting my less than championship martial prowess?"

"Sentinels copy. It's the only thing they retain from the Knight programming. More proficient units…" it begins, drawing a black blade from a scabbard on it's hip. "… have more sophisticated methods.." Spinning the sword like a baton, it slinks towards Diana to close the gap. Twirling the weapon isn't exactly the most productive maneuver, but it certainly does what the Knight intends: keeps Diana from guessing exactly when the strike is going to come. After all, if it's twirling the blade, it couldn't possible be ready to sw-

In an instant, she stumbles sideways, more of a fall than an dodge, out of the way of a sword slash she couldn't possibly have seen happen. Maybe it was a timing thing, maybe it was reading its body language: whatever it was, if she hadn't moved, she'd have been just like the corner of the dining table, which was the only thing it had actually contacted. The ornate walnut detailing clattered onto the tiled floor. Unfortunately, the 'miss' doubled as yet another way to divert her attention, and with her combat-induced tunnel vision she missed the full-body tackle from the Knight. J leaned in closer, seemingly concerned.

Her back was against the wall now, with the flat of a blade pressed against her throat and the edge pressing into the underside of her cheek. Her… associate turned captor stood in a horse stance, palms flat against the hilt and the other flat, attempting to crush her windpipe. "Why are you allowing me to beat you, Diana Evelynn?"

She spits, trying to blind it, before contemplating the futility of spitting on a faceguard. "It's not exactly like I'd like to let you win! You-… you're too fast…"

It forces the edge up slightly, nicking the skin and drawing blood. "Then do not. Do you think my speed is determined by… muscles? How fast electrical processes occur in my brain? Here, in this place? No." Perhaps that was the end of the discussion, perhaps not. Diana wasn't here to find out, and she swiftly lifted her leg to catch it between the thighs with her shin. Like most things on two legs, the Knight handles that poorly, and crumples momentarily, allowing her some breathing room to slide out from under the blade threatening to take her head off and to the side.

Unfortunately, it's all for naught, as the Knight seems to have been somewhat feigning a pain response, all the while positioning itself to kick out, sweeping Diana's legs and knocking her completely over. By the time she righted herself, her chin was propped up under the tip of a sword once more. Realizing the gravity of the situation, she raises her hands in surrender. She hears something shift behind her: J leaned back in his chair once more, palm-to-face. The Knight looks at the back of its hand, and then the underside of its fist, as if to inspect nonexistant fingernails. "How did I beat you?"

"Oh, come on. Don't give me that, that's the most generic-"

"Sentience begets failure. All intelligent creatures would do well to assess, and indeed scrutinize, events of defeat."

She leans back, one leg outstretched, one bent, and puts her palms flat to the floor behind her, dropping all pretense of combat after coming to terms with the situation. "Alright, wiseguy. If you're so smart, you tell me."

"You did not believe you could beat me."

"Yeah, no shit. You're like a… Terminator… robot… knight… soldier… thing. You have training expertise, and-"

"All irrelevant. Look around you. No, do not see. Perceive. "

She feigned derision, mockingly pretending to look around in awe, before settling in to a good, clean gander at the locale. Diana inspected the floor she was sitting on, the walls of the room, the table missing a corner, the chair propping up her mute compatriot. Unfortunately… the Knight had something valid to say rattling around in that tin can. She stood slowly, and began creeping closer to mundane objects in the room.

"That is it… it came to you quickly… perhaps too quickly, but that's not relevant. Do you see it? Feel it? Comprehend what I am conveying?"

"It's… not real." She takes a few paces back in shock.

"There it is. You cannot precisely articulate what it is, not yet. Do not attempt to and waste your breath. But… it's there." It grabs her by the forearm and pulls her closer, eyes to eyeholes. "You feel it too now, don't you? That it all ends somewhere before becoming microscopic? A rendering of reality just short of perfection?" Its hands are on her shoulders now, and she cannot tell if it's trying to steady her or itself. "It's maddening, but you need to stay calm. You can convince yourself it isn't happening if you don't focus on it, all you humans can. You can excise this… this… paraesthesia of the mind. With this."

It holds out a canister, like the ones she'd recovered from the crate not so long ago. It's open, and the liquid inside spills slightly due to the Knights insistence. The amber fluid beads up on the floor: Almond Water. Diana recoils. "No! I can't-!" she starts, but is cut off.

"Oh, but you can. We Knights live on this, in part. It's in our blood. But our tolerance… no concentration is enough anymore, for any of us. For the humans, who aren't born into it, you can…" It trails off, looking to the corner of the room. With the distraction in front of her, she hadn't noticed J move up swiftly behind to put up a hand in front of Knight 783, as if to deny the beverage for her himself.

In the lull, Diana speaks up. "I… can't drink Almond Water. I have an allergy." She can swear she almost senses eyes narrowing behind the mask.

"An allergy… you've never ingested this?"

"I did. Once. I lost my one epinephrine pen to it. It may not be related to any nuts I've ever come across, but my body certainly thinks there's something that grows on a tree in there." Sensing deflation in the scenario, J carefully extricates himself from the situation to return to his corner.

"Fascinating… how do you stay sane, in this place?"

She scoffs. "How did I stay sane in the real world? I didn't."

"Good. That makes you human. Cherish it."


The three compatriots kneel on a ledge, looking down at a shadow creeping across the tiled floor and listening to the echo of something slowly creeping through the halls. J dangles a single leg over the edge, swinging every once in a while, lost in a daydream while Diana & Knight 783 pay closer attention to the events transpiring. The Knight is perched with the toes of its sabatons poking out slightly over the edge, right hand placed between and curled around a lip for stability, while inspecting the display on the back of its left. An arrow hovers ominously over the back of the gauntlet, and it sits inhumanly still as whatever the arrow is tracking comes ever closer.

"Am I the only one who has no idea where the hell we are?" Diana asks. The head of the Knight whips around and locks eyes with her, and it raises a finger to where lips might have been under the mask. After Diana acknowledges the signal, the finger turns to point to J. She turns to look, and he holds up one finger, then three, and finally his hand in the shape of a zero, before mirroring the Knight by first shushing her, and then turning it into a point back down towards the hall with whatever is making the noise.

Something seems to have aggravated it: could have been Diana talking, could have been a scent it picked up, who's to say? Regardless, instead of aimless movement, it now seemed to have an objective, and it was inside this room. The shadow was decidedly not humanoid, and the clicking on the pool tiling were unlike any footsteps she'd ever heard before. It stopped just short of her sightline, a guttural growl reverberating down the chamber. She craned her neck forward, crouched on one knee with a hand on the wall next to her for stability.


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"Diana Evelynn, 24, American intern from Arkansas. The files say you're quite the specimen. I need you to surrender control, now. It's the only way."


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When she came to, she was falling. Diana lost her grip on the slippery tiling while unconscious, falling headfirst over the edge and onto the hall below. Unfortunately, the hand covered in a soft nylon fabric glove was incondusive to grip strength. J moved as if to follow and assist, but Knight 783 placed a hand on his shoulder. Looking over, J could see that it was giving the "eyes on her" sign. As Diana scrambled to get her footing back on the tiles, she caught her first glimpse of what they'd been tracking, and froze halfway through righting herself. The creature was backlit by a set of overhead lights, but she could make out eyes, barely slits, glowing bright blue: the same as a Knight. This was, however, no Knight. Standing on three legs, it waved around what at first Diana assumed was a tail, but after some attention was decidedly a whip of some sort, a sharp knife-point tip at the end dragging across the floor with the distinctive sound of a sword against a grindstone. Despite the low light, she could make out a black, or at least, a dark grey coloration coating it's form, with bug-like pointed feet & an elongated cranium. Worst of all, it was beginning to crawl closer, growl evolving into a screech of rage. As it broke into a full sprint (or gallop?), Diana dove to her right, into a deep pool of water and out of the way of the beast.

For but a brief moment, it was quiet. She could only hear the sound of her own heartbeat and the rush of the water. That was broken by an earsplitting crack as she made out the blurry shape of the whip breaking the surface of the water above her, the spine glowing a bright blue & ridged every so often with a black bladed edge. Diana was beginning to panic. She'd never fought a… whatever this thing was, let alone fought one and won. Fear bubbling to the surface, she relied on the same trick she'd used in the last few scraps she'd been in. She was grateful she'd practiced punching it in without looking, because she's not sure she could've made out the top of her hand in the murky water.

If dodging the whip on land was hard enough, now she lacked mobility in the water. With no way to attack and an inability to defend herself, a small part of her was resigned to defeat. This is how it ended, wasn't it? She'd had a good run, down here in the Backrooms, but at a certain point you get in over your head. This time, it just happened to be water over her head. Best she could do was summon the Buckler and try not to get struck best she could. It was then that an option that had gone unconsidered reared its head: the fourth or fifth strike of the whip struck the surface of the water and slowed considerably, wrapping itself around both her arm and the Buckler, and in response the creature pulled back on the tension in the whip, bringing Diana's head and the rest of her body up and over the edge of the pool.

Carried over the lip by the strength of the beast, she landed with a wet thwap in the hall. She looked up to her companions, ready to berate them for abandoning her, before she understood what was going on: they were testing her. With weapons at the ready, they were certainly prepared to assist her… if and only if it turned out she needed it. With this steeling her resolve, she took a quick look around to ascertain her surroundings. The thing had dragged her out from under the surface and onto the edge, and she could make out more details as it entered the light. Beneath the warped eyes of a Knight's mask, a hole: more carved than grown, a gaping maw dripping to the floor with a plip, plip, plip that marked the slow passage of time as it stood still. Across what could be construed as a chest, a glowing mark, faint.

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As she tried to make out the pattern, it moved, erratically, arms long and spindly like a vestigial limb but with no such correlation with the strength congruent with said assessment. The whip, still buried in the underside of her armor, barbs digging into her skin, pulled with enough force to lift her off her feet. With no leverage, she braced for impact as it pulled her into the wall, cracking the tile and sending dust spraying out into the silent waters of the pool. With inhuman speed there's yet another pull, opposite the first, careening Diana once again into a wall, this time just across from the one she'd impacted, and again she struggles to catch her breath with the swirling clouds of what could have once been cement.

Her mouth fills with a fluid, coppery & metallic. The single tone lighting does nothing for her ability to make out color, but it's quite clear the impact did no favors to her lungs. She feels the whip pull taunt once more, and before she can respond: a loud noise, and the line goes slack. The beast screeches in pain, and she looks up to see the end of a swing, an arm donning platemail holding an ornate sword extending from the shadows, but it's gone as quickly as it came.

Diana stumbles to her feet, watching the beast gripping a stump. It's single clawed hands wrap around the base of it's whip, severed. A tool once, perhaps, now a part of the creature, with the spine severed and leaking fluid. Darker than the one spilling out from her mouth. Black blood. Holding a single arm, she limps slowly towards the creature, now riding out the last of it's throes of pain and turning it's attention back to her. Before it can finish, her limp, injured as it's pace may be, becomes a sprint, and she body-checks the demon into the wall. Pinning it at the neck with her armored fore-arm, she uses her free hand to force the bucker deep into the gaping maw of the beast. It sinks deep into the mouth, almost guided, as if the hole was made to be pierced, and when it coughs she bathes, although inadvertently, in the blood of her foe.

With a few last twitches, it begins to hang, weight suspended only by Diana's arm. When she removes her hand, seemingly unscathed, she assumes this is because it's three legs had given up the challenge of supporting the seven foot thing. Alas, although this may have been the case under ordinary circumstances, it sank into the floor through a puddle of it's ooze, leaving Diana no satisfaction in victory, never to be seen again.

The hall is silent, and stays that way as she collects herself, her compatriots, and motions to return from whence they came.


She drops her satchel by the strap onto a hat rack, and immediately walks over to the fridge to inspect it's contents personally for the first time. Knight 783, after returning the key to the front door to it's rightful place underneath a gaudy garden gnome on the front step, tilts it's head in what to a socially ept person would consider "mock" confusion: but there is no mockery in play here. J returns to his corner, all the while fiddling with his newly grown gauntlet plates. He begins to put in perhaps the hundredth failed combination of the day while ignoring the other two.

"Two jars of mayonnaise? Come on…"

It places a hand on her shoulder. "What are you looking for?"

She closes her eyes for a moment, scrunching them up, before pointing at the Knight with a snarl. "I'm looking for something to drink in this godforsaken place, okay? A nice beer? Some wine? I'd take it out of a box at this point, you goddamned robot!"

"My… the owner of this house was a member of Alcoholic's Anonymous. There is no alcoholic beverages present in this or the safehouse of any other Knight."

"Oh? Maybe I should check with the other one. The knight that actually saved me today, instead of watching me like I was a freak experiment while I come this close to drowning? I can't believe I almost believed for a brief moment you could be a human being."

"There was no other Black Knight, Diana."

There's a beat, as she looks into the eyeholes of it's mask, and then over to J, still lost in his combinations. Decision made, she looks down at her armored hand, and the back to it, and backhands the Knight across the face. It stumbles back, but before it can recover, she plants a right hook across the other way. As it stumbles backward she places her hand against it's neck, pushing it off the ground and up the surface of the kitchen wall, it's hands grasping at her fingers while it's boots kick wildly.

"Enough with the gaslighting! Enough with the half truths! Who are you people? Why am I being targeted? What's your part in all this!?"

Knight 783 struggles to get it's next lines out. "You… beat… me…"

Diana looks down from it's faceplate to her arm, suspending this 6 foot tall individual in full plate armor several inches off the ground with one hand. She recoils in shock at the discovery of this fact, dropping the Knight to the ground. "What in the…" she begins, but is distracted by movement from behind. J is slapping at the backs of his hands, now glowing a bright gold momentarily before fading away, and looks up at the other two sheepishly.

Her attention turns back to the Knight when it finally regains it's composure and begins to speak once more. "Whatever that was, in the hall… it was not a Black Knight. But you did not win that battle because of him… you won that battle for the same reason you won yours with me: because you believed you could. That is all it takes, here, in this place." Diana feels for a chair behind her and sits down without dropping eye contact.

"I think…" it says, brushing itself off and rising back to two feet. "…we have much to plan."



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