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"Oh no oh no oh no no no-" Lotte wheezed, dragging Henry somewhat as they ran.
The Resistors were yelling from behind them, demanding them to stop and Lotte swore several times that something almost hit him in the back. 'If we get caught like this, they'll see that I'm infected! They might blame Henry or-!' Even worse.
The yell was accompanied by a bang, and Lotte only sped up. 'LIKE THAT EVER WORKS IDIOTS!'
"Oi, we'd be better off if we got someone to help us." Henry stated calmly, watching the Resistors behind them. "Unless you stop and let me handle this myself."
Lotte turned his head. "Engaging in whatever you're thinking of doing to them wouldn't be smart in the least bit! They've seen our faces!"
"I'll erase their memories then." The Chachaoong's mechanical limbs emerged, Lotte lifted up from the ground by a hook. "I don't really have a sense of pride, but these are just human children with toys they don't understand how to control."
As the stunned human watched, Henry swung his hand like a conductor for music, and his limbs easily took out the Resistors like bowling pins, several crashing into and atop cars parked on the street and a few flung into dumpsters. "H-Henry I understand this is an irritation to deal with but please be gentle thoSE ARE HUMANS-!" Lotte's voice rose shrilly.
"Hmph." Henry was quick, if nothing else, and as the last of the Resistors was knocked out cold, Lotte breathed a sigh once lowered to the ground. He examined his shoulder, and felt his body go numb as he saw the now huge mound of rock covering his shoulder like a plate of armor. It felt...odd, as he poked it; like a very thick scab. He bit his lower lip and contained a frustrated and fearful whine, swallowing the noise as he turned to Henry. "It's progressing, then. Unfortunately I can't see the seed, so I'll have to take you to the Kings."
Lotte smiled weakly. "At least I can count on you." Henry watched as the human's cheeks reddened. "Since you're here, even though I feel afraid, I'm also reassured by your presence. Heh, being like this is quite confusing."
The human blinked. "Eh?"
"You're the one that's confusing." Henry repeated, a suddenly icy stare pinned on Lotte. The human backed up, feeling his arm start to shiver, and grabbed his limb trying to tug his shirt sleeve back down to no avail. "You're always far too calm. Always watching, always having what seems to be the right words to say in a situation. It's suspicious."
Lotte flinched as he felt the rock spread down his skin, like a bunch of centipedes marching all at once down his arm towards his elbow. He wanted to claw at them at the rock scabbing over his skin, at Henry's damn mouth for acting this way when Lotte needed him. "Ah-!"
"This is the first time I've seen it." Henry's glasses glinted, the broken lens reflecting Lotte's cracked fear-ridden face. "It's strange you've never made this face before."
The human could see his face in Henry's glasses, his dilated eyes, how pale he'd become. "H-Henry please...What do you want? Please, I need help-" The Chachaoong's eyes narrowed once more, and he tilted his head. "Please stop acting this way!" Lotte begged, his arm now two thirds stone, the gray creeping down and devouring the normal tone of his skin.
"It was fascinating for a while, having met a human who thought like a Chachaoong. I thought if I studied you, I'd find something that made sense. Working for BiGak, everything was simple and easy to understand. He gave me fresh corpses and I made dolls from them. I never needed to really think about other things. Then things got harder when everyone left for the Kings' side." The squid doll's eyes were staring at Lotte even though Henry had turned away.
The human felt his bones starting to deaden with the weight of the Infection.
"Then, even Mano Teacher became fond of them. That human doctor, and the girl and boy who visit the Kings. I couldn't understand why Mano Teacher of all people would suddenly like humans." Henry lifted his doll to stare at it, as if the blank face of the squid would have answers for him. "I thought if I could understand why the Kings liked humans so much, maybe I'd find something easy to understand and I wouldn't have to think so hard."
Henry glanced at Lotte from the corner of his green eye, the acid in his gaze making Lotte cower.
"I thought if I studied humans I'd find out why, but that human doctor and the girl and the boy were all too confusing. Then you came along. You, who didn't think like them, like a human, but instead like a Chachaoong, like me...I thought you were the subject I needed to study for understanding. But...It was a mistake, investigating you. I don't like being the one under scrutiny. From the moment we began to interact, I thought I was the one studying you. But more than once I came to realize you were scrutinizing me." Henry stated.
Lotte gawked, his hand clenching around the somehow still flexible stone encasing his arm. "Scru- I'm getting close to you! It's not as if I have an ulterior reason! Why are you being so paranoid?!" He demanded, staggering a bit as he felt the stone encase his fingertips and began to spread up around his chest. "You- You actually LOOK at me, like there's something TO me, am I not allowed to want to be close to someone like that?! Like you?!"
"...No. You aren't." Henry replied simply. "Humans are humans, and we are different. This hasn't gone the way I wanted. And now the Infection's going to take over and make things even more complicated." He turned away and began to walk. "I'll send Mano Teacher to find you, since it seems you won't have your rational thoughts much longer. If he doesn't cure you I'm sure the Kings will."
The human had fallen to his knees from the combined weight of his arm and the shock of Henry's dismissal.
"It was at least interesting, for a while. But this is the end of the experiment." Henry lifted his free arm and waved his hand vaguely towards Lotte. "Goodbye."
Lotte jerked, feeling something like fire in his arm as the rock spread further and crept around his neck. "---!" He gritted his teeth. "I HAVE FEELINGS FOR YOU!" The shout bubbled out in a disorienting haze of manic energy, and he heard Henry's footsteps stop. "Maybe you don't understand or maybe you can't understand it, but I know that's the truth! I won't deny it!" His glasses had fallen off by now, his eyes watering. "I like to be around you! I like to listen to you, and when you listen to me and talk to me, I feel happy!"
The gobsmacked look on Henry's face could've been funny at another moment.
"Maybe you don't or can't feel the same way, and I can't tell you in words how it feels or how you're supposed to feel about me but-!" The human's jaw clenched hard enough he pondered in a brief second if his teeth might crack, "-But even so! Even if in this moment I'm not a human, that doesn't mean I never was one! And it doesn't mean I was never close to you! Because I know I was!"
The caves, walking around with Henry, being held tightly to him by mechanical limbs over and over and over-
"Being a human, being around humans-! Sometimes that means things won't make sense!" Lotte snapped, struggling up onto one knee in a crouch. "Because being a human, or being a Chachaoong, or even being a person means there's things that won't make sense! But that's okay! Not everything needs to make sense Henry! It's fine not to understand it all!"
He focused his slightly blurry gaze on Henry's stunned own.
"It's fine not to understand why the Kings like humans, or why your friends all went to the Kings' side, or why people like certain things and don't like other things." Lotte braced himself and stood back up, his left side sagging. "And it's fine if I don't understand everything about you, like why you don't like humans but you like me and I know you do-" He added as he saw Henry about to retort, "-But what isn't fine is running away from it all when you can face things nobody else could."
Logan and Seo Jun and Ji-U. The attack on the island. The Infection.
"If I know anything about you, Henry, it's that you don't run from things that don't scare you. And if this-" Lotte gestured to himself then the the Chachaoong now facing him with owl-like eyes, "-Scares you, then make ME understand why. Don't run. If you do...How can either of us understand?"
The rock closed in a ring around his throat, and Lotte gagged at the feeling of numb-hot-wrong invading his skin. Henry's arm twitched and lifted-
"It's an Infected!"
Lotte shrieked as gunshots rang in his ears, curling his transformed arm and using it to shield himself as the Resistors caught up to them and opened fire on him. He curled into a ball, the shards of rock protruding from his changed skin sharpening and growing as if in response to his distress, as Henry numbly watched.
'I can understand that.'
He jerked, his doll slipping free as his arms left his sides to quiver violently.
'Surely there's something you're afraid of?'
His jaw clenched. Why was his heart suddenly pounding? Gunfire wasn't a new sound.
He smelled wisteria. He smelled the salty ocean breeze. His brain was short-circuiting. His mouth felt dry and tasted sweet.
"Get away." Henry took a step forward, watching as Lotte's tears rolled down his red red cheeks, his glasses gone in the frenzy of the moment. "Get away now."
'Ah, it's just...' Lotte, whose cheeks were so pink as soon as he'd realized he'd been talking the whole time. 'You're great at listening.'
"Get the hell away from him." Henry's order was icy, quiet, but it seemed to connect with every person on the street, Lotte shivering as a light began to coil around the Chachaoong.
"Gaaah, of all days we have run into you annoying fuckers-" Noah griped as he, Mano, SaeHa, ChoYi, and Ho dodged the Resistors chasing them. They had their Masks on, but even with two beasts the TAL were finding it hard to completely avoid the Resistors. "Ahhh where's back-up when you need it?! Didn't we make allies?!"
Ho glanced over from the fight to empty air, his chibi getting a large sweatbead on his head. "Sad to say, it looks like they prefer dealing with the ones who are still against us." His zoomed in vision allowed Noah to see their allies trying to barricade unruly and aggressive Chachaoongs from getting into the city. "Bunny look out!" Ho swung his weapon around and solidly clocked a few Resistors in the jaws, sending them spiraling down to the street below.
"Syankyuu~!" Noah chimed with a wink, Ho landing and allowing the Rabbit's back to collide with his own. "Well it's a good thing the others are handling the Infected. Though they've been wearing out the baby Kings a lot."
SaeHa panted, surrounded by yards and yards of his medical sleeves now exhausted of their needle supply. "I hate this. A lot." He deadpanned as Mano swung his leg to ram his heel into a Resistor's jaw. "Quit dancin' around and help for real! Ya only take out one or two any time ya fight!" The SunBi snarled at his student.
"I'm used to poison and knives!" Mano replied as he righted himself. "But I got told not to do that anymore because 'wehhh it kills people!' MAKE UP YOUR MIND!"
SaeHa gripped his head. "Lord Jack, grant me patience from wherever ya are, ya lucky bastard."
"Oi, Puppy, can't Shade do something?!" Noah called as he grabbed a Resistor in a headlock, wincing as he recalled the guy from Jin's class. The Kings had been keeping track of the students who'd slowly stopped talking to them, not wanting to out the two to the Resistor 'bigwigs' but at the same time not wanting to cause trouble by associating with them.
The ones Ho was dealing with were somehow getting distracted by his hair flying by them, their eyes drawn to the long, silvery, fluffy streamers of hair just in time for them to get clocked hard by his weapon's blunt end. "Sorry, he's too nervous around this many people!"
"Honestly?" Noah deadpanned as his father went flying behind him to avoid a spear-like weapon from cutting him open diagonally.
Thankfully ChoYi had dodged back, as the moment he lifted his head, the Resistor's back was stepped upon by a familiar black toed boot. "Looks like you need some help." The Tiger commented nonchalantly as his perch hit the ground with both of Hiljo's feet planted on his back.
"Tiger-Oppa~!" The elder TAL grinned behind his Mask, highfiving Hiljo as he stepped off the Resistor.
The faux tail on his back whipped around as two more tried to surprise-attack him, Hiljo easily sidestepping them and bringing his arms up to clothesline them both. "I noticed you were having trouble. The others are dealing with the idiots still opposed to the Kings." He tilted his head as he watched SaeHa's graceful movements with his needle sleeves. "Hmm. Can you teach Je- Er, Sheep I mean, how to do that?"
"If that youngin' ever gets any amount of balance, sure." The SunBi replied dryly.
The Tiger sighed, knowing Jenna's clumsiness tended to make her a dangerous apprentice. "Yeah, yeah, I know..." The TAL and Resistors suddenly found themselves knocked off their feet by what felt like an earthquake. "WHAT THE FUCK."
"UH, GUYS?!" Noah, seated on ChoYi's shoulder pointed high over the buildings in the distance.
A massive shadowy thing was rising from within a cloud of dust and steam, and for a fleeting moment, Noah dropped into his father's arms in shock that Gip-Yun was attacking them just like before. Then, clanking, metallic hollow and familiar clanking, resounded from the mass as it moved, and the cloud covering it drifted away from what looked like-
"No way." Ho gawked along with everyone else as a giant metal snake towered above the city.
Red spikes seemed to be covering the snake's back, the TAL and their allies heading immediately over as it's jaw unhinged and a screech broke the air, the vibrations sending most who heard it to their knees in pain. "TAL-Nim!" Cried one of their allies, a young blond female with her hair in two bunches and wielding a rather large grenade launcher. "What is that?! An enemy?!"
"No...I think it's..." Noah glanced to Mano, who looked horrified as he seemed to be thinking the same thing.
Lotte groaned, his right arm coming up to rub an incredibly sore spot on his head. "Ugh..."
"Yeah, you think you feel like shit? Check out Squidboy." Came a familiar voice.
The redhead blinked, his vision blurry, and he blinked again as he realized his glasses weren't on his face. He sat up, and the specs were handed to him by Jin, who sat beside him looking uneasy. "What...What...happened?" He managed to ask, looking around to find he was at the King's house.
"You guys got attacked...Don't you remember?" Yun asked in reply, at the doorway with Noah sitting beside his leg.
Lotte shook his head. "I...I was walking with Henry...We were..." He paused, eyes wide as he slowly turned and lifted his left arm. Instead of his pale peachy skin, what replace his left hand looked like someone had taken red ruby and made an exact duplicate of his fingers, palm, and wrist. A beat of silence, and he lifted his arm further, his sleeve falling back to reveal the crystalline structure was from his fingertips all the way to his elbow.
"It's actually into your shoulder." SaeHa piped up. "I suggest your don't look too deeply into it." He uttered as Lotte lifted his new limb, staring right through the material. "Unless you'd be okay seeing the inside of your own shoulder socket."
The redhead stared at his limb, looked up to Jin, and promptly turned green in the face.
"Ugh..." Lotte was now curled into a ball on the walkway, under direct sun as Jin and Ara cleaned up where he'd emptied his stomach from sheer hysteria. "Forgive my unruly reaction..."
Mano was poking needles into his back. "Your arm's turned into crystal, if you didn't have some reaction I'd have to accuse you of not being human." Nabi had arrived, and was trying to heal the still unconscious Henry in the other room with Noah's help. "From what he told us before he passed out, your Infection suddenly mutated and went wild." The Fox tapped Lotte's arm.
"...Can...Can I see him?" Lotte hesitated, still shivering as he felt his muscles relaxing with each sudden prick.
Nabi and Noah came out in time to hear the question. "Sorry Class Prez, Snakeboy's still out cold." The Rabbit told him. "Besides, I think you need a bit to uh...process things." He was eyeing Lotte's red limb.
"Please? Just...Just let me sit next to him until he wakes up, then."
Nabi bit her lip at Lotte's pleading expression, and turned to Noah. He sighed, raking back his bangs with his fingers. "Gahhh, fine. Go in. If you start having a freak-out again though-" The Horse placed her hand on his shoulder, and Noah grunted as Lotte shot past them.
Henry was laying on his back, under a thin blanket that smelled heavily of herbs. He looked so peaceful, Lotte felt almost guilty sidling up to his side to wait for him to wake up. Without anything but the slight rise and fall of Henry's chest as he breathed to distract him, Lotte's attention went to his own arm. Now that his focus was sharper, he realized what he'd thought to be smooth and glass-like was actually somewhat jagged, with multiple ridges and small spikes, and that despite being able to see through it, it did seem like the inner core was darker.
"...How did this even..."
Lotte muttered to himself, so deep in concentration he missed the sound of a soft sigh. "You went crazy." However, Henry speaking certainly did not go unnoticed, and Lotte yelped and tumbled onto his back out of surprise. "Sorry." The Chachaoong was sitting up now, watching as Lotte got upright once again. His duel-toned gaze went down to Lotte's arm, and he fixated on the limb for a very long silent moment.
"...I..." The human -was he a human still?- was at a loss for words. "We were...getting lunch?"
He gripped his head. "We were being attacked by the Resistors. Even though I didn't look anything like a TAL, they were still suspicious enough to chase us. I dealt with them at first...But then your Infection began taking over." Henry told him.
"I think I...remember that." Lotte uttered, as flashes in his mind started to piece together the events.
The rock creeping up his neck...The fear in his blood, icy as the Resistors showed up and fired on him...
"I confessed to you."
Henry choked, and when the redhead looked over, Henry was bright red in the face.
"Seriously?! I recall that and YOU act like you're the one who should be embarrassed?!" Lotte reached for Henry's shoulders to shake him in frustration. "You should at least say something about it! Now that I'm remembering it, I called you out for being too chicken to admit you liked me back you asshole!"
Noah snorted from the doorway, he and Nabi watching. "Oi, don't kill him."
"Ah!" Lotte was startled by their presence, letting go of the now dazed Henry. "S-Sorry...But, then, everything's blurry after that, so, what happened?" He tried to think; he could recall being shot at, with goosebumps raising on the rest of his body at the memory.
Henry was rubbing his neck. "I got angry."
"Eh?" Lotte's chibi had question marks floating around his head.
Noah's hand went up. "Actually yeah. He got pissed off. So pissed off he got a Mask for it." The Rabbit pointed to something Lotte hadn't noticed before; a Mask sitting at the side of Henry's pillow. It was very reptilian, and to his surprise, had a small cluster of light blue wisteria flowers painted over the right eyehole which was ringed in the same purple as Henry's right eye.
"...You're a TAL?"
Noah was gawking as they located Henry and Lotte, the two standing just below the 'belly' of the massive snake. Lotte's arm was covered in spikes of red crystal, but as they got closer the air chilled sharply. "It's so cold...Is this stuff ice?" Ho hummed as he chanced touching a shard embedded in the street, likely from the snake moving around. "AHHH! CHO!" He jumped right into his gobsmacked mate's arms, hair frizzed in alarm. "THERE'S PEOPLE! THERE'S A PERSON IN THERE!"
"What the HELL..." SaeHa examined the nearest spire near him, finding that yes, a young woman in the Resistor's uniform was indeed encased inside.
Every spike and giant shard of red ice they found had Resistors inside, as if the snake had frozen them. Mano was attempting to fan away the steam rising from the ice surrounding the two inside, Henry calling out in a growl. "Get back." They felt a chill in their bodies and each TAL backed up in response.
"-HUK-" Lotte choked out a moan of pain, Henry's arms wrapped tightly around him. The ice seemed to be trying to enshroud them both, but the steam drifting off of them was from Henry himself, a toxic glow around him as the superimposed image of a python coiled around them both. It looked as though the ice that they'd thought part of the gargantuan reptile looming over the city was actually piercing through it in a fight for freedom.
Noah bit his lip. "Looks like Class Prez's seed went wild. That ice is from him, but I don't think Squidboy's powerful enough to keep it back for long." He glanced around. "They're Resistors, but they're still people. They won't survive much longer in the ice." He looked at ChoYi.
"We need a plan and fast." The tallest TAL uttered.
SaeHa had gotten enough energy back to summon new needles. "If the youngin's can take on that beastly thing we can focus on getting those two separated. If we knock out the kid, that should make the ice easier to deal with."
"We can do both." The female who'd follow them retorted, glowering when they looked at her. "There's enough of us here to work on the ice and deal with that thing." She hefted her weapon's barrel to point at the snake, now trying to pull free from its emergence point. "This city's mine too, and my favorite coffee shop is just up that street. Like Hell I'm letting it get damaged."
She then jumped away towards the roof of a nearby building, a few more following her after a moment and the rest going to chip away at the ice. SaeHa readied his hand and again approached the ice-nest, Henry once again lifting his head and growling at the SunBi.
The elder TAL bristled, red creeping into his eyes in warning. "Stand down. You two are making that huge thing, and I don't exactly trust your judgement in the moment."
"He's starting to wear down." Henry replied, his voice strained, and it occurred to SaeHa that he really was physically restraining the out-of-control Lotte. "Just let me do this. Back off!" The python's jaws opened as it hissed and the light-created image slithered and encircled Lotte, squeezing him and cracking the ice.
Noah flinched. "You're gonna snap him in half you idiot!"
"Just shut up." The Snake snarled, his head pressed against Lotte's neck as the Infected human continued to choke. "You're not getting this one. Back off, YOU BITCH!" Henry bellowed, his eyes flashing.
The ice receded, much to everyone's shock. The giant spiky pillar that had encased Lotte's arm receded differently, however, the crystalline material growing smoother and smaller until it had completely replaced his limb. The Resistor were laid flat on the ground, most groaning in pain as they were shaken to check for signs of life.
"Ugh..." Henry collapsed to his knees, still clutching the now unconscious Lotte to his chest. "...Get us home." He ordered, before passing out.
"Just lemme see." SaeHa urged, Lotte's arm in his hands. The crystal had grown sharp and spiked, and they surmised it was due to Lotte's frazzled state upon finding out what had happened. The TAL had him out on the walkway in direct sunlight, to better see the new limb and study it. "Hmm...Try to make it smooth." The SunBi ordered as he adjusted his glasses.
The human -was he even human still Lotte didn't know- gaped. "H-HOW?!" He squawked, Henry hovering nearby just in case.
"Think about it being like yo regular arm."
Lotte trembled, looking down at his limb. He took a deep breath and concentrated, watching as the jagged edges receded until his arm, albeit still made of shiny glittery red, sat limp in SaeHa's grip. Noah and Nabi both clapped from the doorway, impressed by how quickly Lotte managed to gain control.
"Now just stay like that and I'll get my tools." SaeHa told him, laying Lotte's arm on his lap before bustling inside.
The redhead let his breath out in a slow sigh, Henry watching as Lotte brought his now red arm up and stared at it. "..." He then glanced over to Henry, whom was watching him with wide eyes. "...Heh." The redhead chuckled sharply. "And I'm supposed to be the calm one in the entire class. How can I show up looking like this and stay calm?" He lifted his arm, fingers bending as normally as they ever did.
"H-Hey, come on." Nabi attempted. "You-You can just wear a glove over it! O-Or bandages!"
He sighed. "I suppose those could work."
"You should have some Abilities now too." Noah pointed out. "Given your seed is activated, you should have the same Abilities as a Second Generation. Why not try to disguise it? Practice your mental control 'n' junk."
Lotte hummed in thought, staring at his limb.
"I don't think you should hide it at all." Henry uttered, to their bewilderment. "Your seed was infected, but instead of it taking over, it mutated and turned into this." The Snake pointed at Lotte's limb. "You, something within your own power caused this to happen. You should show it proudly that you managed to Cure your own Infection."
Jin and Yun traded a look. 'Is that really what happened or is he trying to cheer Lotte up?'
"Besides, you look nice like this." Henry scratched his cheek, which had become pink. "Symmetry is for boring people."
Lotte stared at him with his mouth agape, before he snorted with a dry mirth. And the next thing Henry knew his mouth felt incredibly warm. And Lotte was close. So close. The doctor could see every lash, and shiny red strand of hair-
"You really are something." Lotte sighed, smiling at Henry after pulling back.
Henry stared blankly as he processed the moment.
Then abruptly turned red and fell over in a dead faint. "HENRY?!" Lotte yelped, Noah and Mano both breaking into rude howls of laughter.
"Well, that'll be amusin' for about the next week or so." SaeHa deadpanned, Yangban beside him watching as Lotte tried to wake Henry up with minimal success. "Though now I'm curious." He glanced to his lover, blue questioning green. "Where the hell was Chau Yoong in the middle of all that? He's usually the one who steps in on huge-scale dangers like that was."
In said elder's apartment, halfway across the city, Jenna was sullenly watching the stew bubble in the pot on their stove, looking over at where Haje and Mir were cuddled up on the couch. "Yoong-Ji's still not feeling well?" She questioned her brother.
"Nope." The Boar replied, actually watching his father in the doorway of his and Yoong's bedroom. The Tiger was staring at his mate, curled up in a nest of pillows and blankets messily jumbled together on their bed. Yoong had been in bed for the entire day, having complained of feeling ill the prior evening and now too pained to move.
'Make them pay.'
His eyes were clenched shut, his teeth grinding into his bottom lip so hard the skin might've broken and he wouldn't have noticed.
'Make them PAY.'