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Phoenix

Return of the Emblem Chapter Eight: Affairs of the World

1359 posts in this topic

[b]The Mission[/b]

[spoiler]Once Amon and Haythem arrived, High Priestess Lulu gave them a briefing. There were numerous others present for the meeting, all looking like potential candidates for the mission. Among them was a young rexian similar in appearance to Amon, but boasting deep red hair and clothing. He had a small collection of weapons at his sides and rear. He seemed ready to do just about anything. He and Amon initially never made eye contact, but the young man was eying him constantly throughout Lulu’s briefing.

<”The objective of this mission is to destroy the supplies the Tide infiltrators are using and destroy any documented charts and maps they possess as well as any and all forms of communication they might have. If they have carrier birds, I’m afraid you’ll have to capture or kill them. We are trying to capture these people without a fight, so I expect there to be little to no bloodshed unless your lives depend on it, understood?”> Everyone nodded or saluted or did both. <”Haythem, I want you and two others to fly up into the mountains and find the Tide encampment. You won’t have long, so get in and out as quickly as possible. Amon is the first one chosen for the mission, but I’ll be picking a second.”>

<”So I’m ‘the ride’. Understood, Lu.”> Haythem nodded with a serious look on his face. It was mission time.

<”Who else did you have in mind, High Priestess?”> the red rexian inquired.

<”We need fast, agile, and stealthy individuals for this, so a man who fits these would be ideal.”>

<”Why have Haythem accompany us, then? He would probably jeopardize the mission with how much he yammers on.”> the red rexian replied. Haythem didn’t even bother looking his way, but Amon gave an annoyed glare.

<”Haythem doesn’t need to get as close as Amon and the other operative. He’ll wait at an extraction point of your group’s choosing with Isis while the two operatives go in on foot and handle the mission objectives. It shouldn’t be a problem.”> Lulu clarified.

<”Huh. Very well I volunteer. This mission is important to Sancturan security and I’d hate to leave it in the hands of an outsider like Amon and the Commander’s pup.”> Suddenly Haythem shot the red rexian a very angry look and spoke up.

<”Amon is not an outsider! Get it through your head, he didn’t have to be born here to be a Sancturan. He’s one of us, Malik. Get a clue.”>

<”Call him what you want, but he’s not the most reliable choice either way …”> Malik replied, conceding just slightly.

<”Alright, Malik. You can go with them since you are so bothered by Lady Aisha’s preferences. There is one more thing …”> Lulu stated, taking out a note from her cloak. <”This is a letter from me to the Tide faction’s expeditionary forces, the people you are about to engage. It will also show them the location of Sanctuary …”> she paused to let that sink in. Many were at first shocked, but it did make sense that they would need to be guided if an escort wasn’t sent. <”Make certain that they are left with absolutely no means to call for help or send information. Leave it in their encampment where they’ll easily find it, but don’t bother if it’s too risky. In the event you can’t plant the letter or it’s destroyed, we’ll have to send out a force to retrieve them. I want them to surrender to us. It will be easier if they know we don’t aim to kill them.”> She handed it to Amon, who gave it a good once over and then put it into his vest. <”As for everyone else, you are to spread the word that if any Tide forces show up, they are not to be attacked on sight. Our usual policy must be put aside here for their safety and ours. That’s it. Amon, Haythem, Malik, you should all leave immediately.”>

<”Right now …?”> Haythem asked, feeling a bit rushed all of a sudden.

Lulu nodded. <”Yes, right now. There’s no time to waste.”>[/spoiler]

[b]Strength[/b]

[spoiler]Raquel managed to fall asleep quickly upon returning to her room. All of the walking tired her out and her fullness had been burned off. She would be hungry by morning for certain. Before long she opened her eyes to find herself submerged in the deep blue sea and choking on water. [i]WHYYYYYY DID I LET MYSELF FALL ASLEEP?!!! I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN I WAS GOING TO GET DROWNED FOR THE THIRD TIIIIIME!!![/i] she mentally cursed her situation while covering her mouth. Being a poor swimmer was scary for her, but the unnatural speed of her descent into the depths was scarier. She doubted she could have escaped, even if she did know how to swim. This was just awful. She reached the bottom a lot sooner than she expected though, feeling her butt bump into a pitch black surface. The landing was soft and she almost forgot that she was drowning for a moment. Eventually she lost her struggle [i]again[/i] and a torrent of bubbles escaped her mouth as she seemingly passed out. [i]I hate this …[/i]

When she next awoke, she was in the same place, barely able to move, but with the emblem in hand she quickly recalled the previous lesson she’d learned in that place. Like before, it took several minutes, but soon she was able to move her body again, and her lungs being partially filled with sea water was somehow negligible. She had no idea where the dragon head was, so she sat idly for a while, trying to figure out a way to regain her voice. Despite herself doubt, lack of confidence, and fretting, she managed to learn to speak underwater a second time. Now she could focus on her real goal, finding the dragon head.

“Hellooooo?! Dragon! Are you heeeeere?!”

“Oh that’s where you were? I was looking all over for you. It seems I forgot to check above my own head. Imagine that.” That voice was back, and it came from below Raquel. That was when she realized she had been sitting on top of the dragon head’s … head for what may have been an hour or longer.

“W-why di- … why didn’t you [i]say[/i] anything?!”

“Sharks.” the dragon replied simply.

“You’re afraid of sharks? But you’re … huge …” Raquel was baffled. She stood up and wandered carefully onto the dragon head’s snout, his eyes crossing to focus on her.

“Doesn’t everyone have at least one fear, Discovery, whether rational or irrational?”

“Well … I guess. I’d ask you what you are if you’re afraid of anything but you’ll probably just dodge the question with your ‘dragon head’ claim, again. Besides, I hardly believe you anyway since you’re talking, now. Either you’re not afraid of talking with me around or you’re not really afraid of them.”

“You have the emblem so there’s really nothing to fear at all with you around … not even Lilith~”

“What? You’re a gigantic dragon head, and I don’t care what you say. You’ve probably got incredible powers of some kind just waiting to be unleashed.” Raquel shot back.

“I hate to belittle myself so, but I’m somewhat irrelevant to begin with. Why, without you here I probably wouldn’t even exist. Before you arrived, I was all alone, just like the last few times. No one was around to hear anything I had to say. Now you’re here and I can … interact. I enjoy it, really.”

“Umm … it’s … not so bad, when I’m not being stabbed, dragged around, imprisoned, executed or drowned multiple times …” Raquel pieced together her thoughts and gave an awkward expression.

“I’m glad to hear it. I thought these trials might hurt your opinion of me.” The dragon head’s statement ended and there was a long pause. No one said anything for a moment, and then the dragon head spoke up again. “So … the fire emblem’s strength or Amon’s strength. This Aisha person wants you to choose, yes?”

“How did you know about that?”

“I know a lot of things I probably shouldn’t … like your first love.” Raquel flinched and pulled back, blushing bright red. “So what will you do? Will you keep your emblem intact, or lend part of its strength to Aisha?”

“Wait, so if I share it with her, it actually [i]will[/i] get weaker?”

“Mmmm, slower, not weaker. I’ve never heard of a ‘weak’ piece of the fire emblem. That just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

“It doesn’t? Mine’s already kind of small, though …” Raquel replied examining the fused emblem on her cloak.

“If size truly mattered, I think that handsome fellow Obelisk would have won the war.”

“Handsome?” Raquel echoed. Another moment of silence went by.

“… … so the choice is the strength of your emblem piece, or the strength of your companion. I don’t think I should tell you which to choose. I will ask you to consider some things before deciding, though. Ask questions. Always ask questions. Is the piece you carry truly going to kill you? Is it truly wise to keep the emblem pieces separate?”

“So … just keep asking questions? Not that I ever get answers, but I guess that wouldn’t be too hard.”[/spoiler]

[b]The Waking Hours[/b]

[spoiler]Raquel’s dream ended way too soon. She couldn’t remember what happened after the dragon head advised her to ask questions. Did it end right there? Was that conversation ended only seconds ago, or had dreamless hours passed before she woke up? She couldn’t tell and for the first few waking minutes, it bothered her. She tried to remember anything else that happened in the dream, but nothing came to mind.

Meanwhile Rasha and Amina were up bright and early and already making their way toward the guest quarters. Rasha was taking over Amina’s guest sitting task, now, but Amina came along at Rasha’s request. To her, it was a good opportunity for Amina to be more directly exposed to Common and help her pick it up faster. Amina would have preferred to spend the morning practicing on her qanun. They arrived at the guest quarters shortly before they expected to see anyone else up and about.

Raquel eventually got out of bed and gathered her now clean outfit and took it with her to the bathing areas. She was hoping to take another bath and then change back into her normal outfit. She wasn’t the first to make it to the baths though. She found Gabbie down there getting ready to take a bath as well. “Oi!” Gabbie greeted.

“… what does that word even mean?” As soon as Raquel asked the question, she thought to herself. [i]Well at least his advice is easy to follow … asking questions is just a natural thing in life.[/i]

“Whatever ya want, really.” Gabbie replied shrugging. “You look toired.”

“Frustrated. I’m trying to figure out this weird dream I had.” Raquel replied. She began preparing to bathe right along with Gabbie while they talked.

“Ugh, dreams are annoying as all hell. Last one I had was about Zel turnin’ Connor into a rat. It was cute and a noice gesture but I had to explain the whole thing to Weyland and it was just a noightmare … literally. What’s worse is it felt so real. I didn’t realoize it was all bullshit until I woke up and remembered Zel is [i]not[/i] an all-powerful mage.”

“I … I’ve been getting … counseled … in my dreams … by a gigantic talking dragon head.” Raquel explained in small parts.

“Dragon head? Didn’t you have an ‘episode’ the other day about a dragon?”

“Yeeeeah, I thought he would be there, but apparently he’s ‘shy’ …” Raquel explained, looking unconvinced by the dragon’s excuses. The two finally finished getting ready. Raquel wandered into one of the women’s baths and unexpectedly, Gabbie followed. Raquel didn’t notice her until after she got in. Gabbie’s submerging leg appeared in the corner of Raquel’s eye and her gaze shot to the other woman. “We’re sharing?!” she exclaimed.

“How else are we gonna to talk? I’m not shoutin’ to ya from one of the other baths; they’ll think we’re bein’ murdered down here.”

“… I guess.” Raquel conceded, sinking into the water a bit.

“So tell me about Mister dragon. Is he one of those hideous bleeding heads or is he one of those ghosty heads?”

“His neck sort of … it fades to nothing, and it’s really thick and short. He’s enormous, way larger than a dragon should be. About the size of a house. He’s got big red eyes with these scary irises … no pupils, and his mouth is really flexible; I’m not sure how else he could make those expressions …. He talks in about ten different voices all at once, too. His … well I guess it’s a he? I don’t really know.” she said, stopping to shrug. “His emotions are always on the surface for some reason. He’s so strange. I can never get a straight answer from him and he keeps bringing up the flaws in my assumptions as soon as I reach a conclusion on something.”

“… dick. Sounds loike a silly mage instructor. Anyway magical Zel is a real charmer. His horse is a bit snooty, though. Connor didn’t let bein’ a rodent stop him from transmuting things, eoither. If not for that, Weyland moight’ve been royally pissed.” The two of them laughed, Raquel’s laugh being nervous at first, but quickly fading into genuine laughter as the weight of the dream began to lift away with the rising water vapor.[/spoiler]

[b]Conviction[/b]

[spoiler]Mansur awoke in his bed, regretting doing so every single time. His body was throbbing in pain. Even in its lighter phases, the pain was too much to cope with, and he feared he would eventually go insane if it didn’t pass. He spent the entire night like this. Finally morning came, and though he was still hurting all over, he was able to ‘function’. He sat up in bed, trying to keep his aching body from going into random spasms, and he even managed to eat the food his caretakers brought him. Given his progress in a mere day, they were confident he would make a full recovery within the week, but something else was wrong with Mansur. He thought back on the situation and what led to it. He had pushed Lilith too far and yet … it was she who made such a cruel example of him. It was she who tore him to pieces and tortured him. It was she he allowed him to believe he was powerless. These sorts of things eventually convinced him that he was in the right and Lilith was in the wrong. He became so convicted of it, that his hatred for her began to fester and grow with each passing minute. If only he could give that evil woman a piece of his mind without being ‘omniforged’ for it.[/spoiler]

[b]Goddess and High Priestess[/b]

[spoiler]Lulu entered Aisha’s chamber to find the Rexian queen sitting sideways in her throne in a relaxed manner, both legs resting over the edge of the right armrest, and left arm supporting her body on the left. Her left hand was left to support her head while her right rested near her lap. Only her eyes wandered to investigate when Lulu arrived, and they didn’t do so for long. After a short glance, Aisha returned to staring at nothing.

<“Milady.”> Lulu greeted Aisha and bowed.

<“Good morning, Lulu. Tell me what’s bothering you.”> Aisha immediately replied.

<”W-what’s bothering me …?”> Lulu echoed, coming up from her bow with some reservation in her eyes.

<”I know you. Your feelings call out to me as if they were shouting with a voice of their own. So tell me, what’s bothering you?”>

<”Well, aside from this Lilith business, I’m worried about Amon. I was nervous about sending him out into the world like that to begin with. I’m glad he gained so many allies but … well … I don’t know how to put it into words.”>

<”You fear his ‘friends’ possess an equal share of his heart?”>

<”Not equal! Certainly not! But … enough to have me worried. What if he wants to continue traveling with them?”>

<”… I’ll allow that, in exchange for a piece of the fire emblem. I’ll need it in order to remove this despicable curse of mine, and once it is gone, Amon will never be beyond my reach again. Unless the girl hopes to actually wield the emblem’s power herself, it’s a mutually beneficial exchange. I honestly wish for Amon to remain here, but I won’t treat him like a pet. If this Raquel is going to depart from my holy city with one of my people, she’s going to have to make it worthwhile for us. All of us.”>

<”All of us?”> Lulu echoed.

<”When my curse is removed, I’ll be free to move about as I please. What benefits me benefits all Sancturans … and all Rexians, whether they realize it or not.”> she explained in a somewhat bitter tone. <”We’ll wait. We’ll wait and see what she decides to do.”>[/spoiler]

[b]Welcomed Outsiders[/b]

[spoiler]It was longer than Lulu had ever hoped, but she eventually returned to Asad and his companions and explained the laws of the city to them. After that, she had them taken to the low quarters and seen to by the locals there. Their group of five was large enough to be given a family sized home, a large apartment on the second floor of a seemingly random complex. Random or not, it was still an absolute paradise compared to where they came from. Clean floors and walls and well maintained furnishings. It wasn’t as lavish as the palace, but it was the perfect healthy environment for Asad and his companions. They were allowed to keep what few belongings they had brought with them and settled in quickly for the night. Little did they know that all of these very well furnished surroundings came with a price, a fair price, but a price nonetheless.

Asad awoke to some prodding by one of his former subordinates. The man was standing over him with a panic stricken face. <”Ugh, what is it?”>

<”We have to get out of here … they’re going to enslave us all!”>

<”… what …?”> Asad was certain he wasn’t going to be getting another moment of rest, so he bit. Getting out of bed, he followed his man to the living room where Tamina and the remaining two rexian charters were standing in line like soldiers while being addressed by a Santuran officer. Asad raised an eyebrow and was quickly motioned in line with the others by a couple of other soldiers that were inside the apartment.

<”Well, good morning, [i]Asad[/i]. Welcome to the low quarters. I hope you had a good night’s sleep.”>

<”So close, but you know how that goes.”> Asad replied with a grin.

<”Indeed. Now as I was explaining to your friends, here, this is not your run of the mill society where the poor get stepped on. Yes you are the lowest of the low, but you will not live like the lowest of the low. You will work; you will have food and board; you will live prosperously, just like everyone else.”> he explained.

<”How do you people manage that?”> one of Asad’s men asked. It was a nice sounding society, but it was also tough to believe.

<”We are not governed by human beings. We are governed by a goddess, a goddess who has overseen our city since its founding over five thousand years ago. She knows what she’s doing, people. Her autocracy insures fairness and balance. Everyone works, everyone eats, no one quits. If you don’t like your job, convince us you’re better suited to something else, and you’ll be reassigned. Those who can’t obey the law will be sent back to where they came from. Today you’ll be assigned your new occupations. You’ll have these assigned positions until we find you’re better suited to some other sort of work, or you kick the bucket. I’m the officer in charge of this neighborhood, Captain Rahj. Did you people catch all of that?”>

<”Oh boy … we certainly did.”> Asad replied. This was a bit inconvenient, but looking at the overall picture, he was actually happy that they were enforcing such positive activities. They didn’t have guns aimed at them either, so this was very much appreciated treatment. They weren’t completely distrusted it seemed, which meant he would have to make sure his companions stayed in line. This might be the only chance for a relatively happy and peaceful life they had left, though thoughts of home and what was left of his family still floated to the surface throughout the officer’s briefing. [i]Maybe someday I can bring them here, as well … someday.[/i][/spoiler]

[b]Reflection[/b]

[spoiler]Her talk with Raquel didn’t seem to help the girl with her decision much, but helping her decide wasn’t her intention. Some feelings from the past inevitably came up, nearly to the surface as a result of all the talk of allies and power. Lilith found herself standing alone in an almost alien world, and her tough exterior only masked her sadness until she was alone. Finding a balcony on one of the higher floors of the guest quarters, Lilith spent much of the night reflecting on the past, all of her fights, all of her friends and allies lost to a war that should have never come about in the first place.

[i]I keep wondering now … if perhaps I could have done something … anything to put an end to this struggle forever way back then. The fire emblem fell from the sky and … there was just no time left for anything else. I’m afraid I won’t be able to find the help I need to put an end to this once and for all. After all, the ones that helped me before are all dead … well … one of them may still live. I don’t know what exactly transpired in that battle, or what happened to Sylphy afterward ….[/i]

She grimaced and looked down toward the Sancturan skyline as the darkness overtook the land. [i]There were actually several human beings that I cared for deeply, and they aren’t here with me now because they’re long dead. I can understand Aisha’s longing for her people better than she knows. [/i] Finally she lowered her head and her hair fell in front of her eyes, veiling the pain on her face. [i]I genuinely hate this place … and every time I hear the name Valcyn, I cringe inside.[/i][/spoiler]

[b]Revelations[/b]

[spoiler]The ruins of fortress Danton lied desolate in the Flats of Purgatory. The air still and stagnant, the sky black as an abyss. A lone avian flew down into the abandoned complex and landed hard, kicking up dust. He wore a blue head band and no shirt. His chest bore a very large blue and white tattoo and his black hair ran down his black, blending in perfectly with his wings. His white eyes scanned the ruined surroundings with caution. He was on the lookout for living people. To his surprise, no one was there.

“Are they dead? I don’t smell death here.” He said to himself. There was no choice but to search more thoroughly. He hadn’t searched long before finding their scent trails leading to and around the main building. His exploration of the ruins left him with a hanging jaw at the sight of the forgotten shrine. “That idiot … she warped them here right on top of the tomb ….” He quickly ran inside and was further shocked to see the inner tomb breached. There was no living or dead thing inside the place. The open tomb the legend’s body would have been placed in was empty and the entrances left wide open. He quickly made for the exit upon realizing there was nothing left to investigate there. He flew off into the sky and left Danton far behind.

Somewhere else in creation lied a recreation room that was surprisingly well kept and full of ‘the ordinary’ given who was occupying it. Everything seemed in its proper place, save for the two dark figures taking seats on separate couches. Burke was leaning back on a couch with his arms out over the back rests and his left leg crossed horizontally over the right. Naomi was sitting politely on the edge of the couch eating a few cutlets of pork, using both of her hands covered with a small white cloth and taking needlessly small bites. One other thing seemed to be out of place in the room … the Coffin of Spears was lying up against the wall in the corner almost like a decoration. The other seven coffins were nowhere to be seen.

“Volya? You’re back a little early … did they whoop you that badly?” Burke inquired, not changing his position beyond looking over at the panting man.

“Perhaps they would have if they had any true strength, or at least if they had bothered to stick around. They escaped, Burke.”

“… whaaaat? Do you mean they ran out into the wilderness or they actually [i]got out[/i] of Purgatory?” Now he was uncrossing his legs and sitting up so he could more easily turn to face Volya.

“They. Got. Out. There was no scent trail leading into the wilds, and little Naomi is to blame for this.”

“What did I do wrong?” she asked looking innocent as could be.

“What did she do? Other than stealing an Ursian landmark, warping it and a bunch of mercenaries to the land of the dead, and then losing to them in a battle, she didn’t do a damn thing.” Burke commented. “Bad Naomi … do more, next time, please ….”

“That ‘landmark’ she took from Ursium landed right on top of the tomb of Lilith and they freed her!” Volya exclaimed, his wings expanding a bit in conjunction with his arms.

“… oops.” Naomi uttered, dropping her cutlet back onto the plate along with the cloth.

“They [i]freed[/i] the Maiden of Consolidation? Ohohohohohoooooooshiiiit! Wait til he hears about this!” Burke bellowed in humor.

“He won’t be mad at me, will he? I didn’t mean to! I swear!” Naomi pleaded shaking her head rapidly and closing her eyes.

“I’m still wondering how they even got to her, let alone woke her up. Shouldn’t the doors have crushed them or something? Also the waking her up thing; I don’t get that, either. Did they smack her with a plank until she came to or what? We weren’t supposed to do that but maybe it’d work …? Oh wait, that damn fire emblem is probably behind this, somehow. Yeah that’s it. Fire emblem. Definitely. We never tried smacking her with one of those before.” Burke concluded, nodding a few times.

“I don’t want to get in trouble …”

“Well don’t cry to me! Go hide in one of your flying killer boxes or something. Besides, the maiden getting free isn’t the worst thing that could happen. No use getting upset over spilled … spilled vasili. Just see where it leads, then take swift advantage~”

“What?” Volya chimed in.

“Let’s move on to a more interesting topic, shall we? Our little one has been successfully birthed. Congratulations, Volya. You’re a mother. A very masculine looking mother … yes.”

“A mother?” Volya raised an eyebrow.

“Heheh, sorry but you don’t get to play the father. You know that, light boy. Would you like to go see her? She’s asleep upstairs.”

“I’m no one’s mother, and she means nothing to me.”

“Please, spare me your semantics and lone wolfing tripe. Anyway, if you’re not going to go check on her, do something useful. You should still be out there beating up on those mercenaries but since they escaped, you’ll need a different assignment. Hmmmm … oh I know. Go find out where they are and report back. They escaped, but we don’t know where to, yet. Try not to get yourself vaporized by the rogue vasilus while you’re at it. It’d be difficult to receive a report back if that happened ….”

“Very well ….” Volya conceded. He turned to leave, which left Burke and Naomi alone.

“Well?” he half asked her something. “Are you going to go off and hide or what?” Naomi looked over to the Coffin of Spears for a few moments, and then the coffin’s door slowly opened. Naomi shook her head and it began to close again.

“This is my fault. I’ll … take responsibility for it ….” She replied, putting her head down.

“There ya go. That’s how a real woman handles things. Speaking of women, Volya might not give a shit about the girl, but we really [i]should[/i] check on her to make sure she’s stable. We don’t want to leave any issues unchecked and have to deal with an emotional wreck crying for ‘daddy’, after all.” Burke got up and left the recreation room and Naomi quickly followed. The two of them eventually arrived on the second floor of the building they were in and stepped into a room lit by just one candle. There was someone sleeping under the covers, apparently a woman, her only discernible features being pure white hair, darkened by the dim lighting.

Burke lowered his head just slightly and then crossed his arms. “… please don’t be a catatonic mess. I hate ‘do overs’.” he muttered as Naomi carefully approached the bed.[/spoiler]

[b]Gathering Forces[/b]

[spoiler]Somewhere in a deep valley in the north, there was a large rundown ghost town. Its only purpose now seemed to be serving as a meeting place for those who worked with Sardis. He and the remains of his forces arrived at the city in the morning and entered what must have been a serviceable tavern at one point. There were plenty of faceless goons of a similar sort waiting for them inside, but one of the people inside stuck out and somehow towered over the rest of them. He had a commanding presence and bore a striking resemblance to the assassin Gabriel. His face donned a mustache, beard, and large scar under his right eye, however. He also wore thick and sturdy armor on his left shoulder. He was the first to greet the arrivals.

Putting on a mocking smile, he said “So good to see you screw ups alive. I hope it wasn’t too difficult to find this place … way out here.”

Sardis ignored the man’s tone took a position for himself by the wall, crossing his arms and legs and closing his eyes so he could think. “Is there some reason why [i]you’re[/i] here, Zerachiel?” he asked.

“In the very likely event that you get yourself killed I would have to take on all of your duties.”

“I am not so easily killed, Zerachiel …” Sardis shot a glare at the man, and his eyes immediately shifted to black. They reverted back to normal once he looked away, and this Zerachiel chuckled.

“Easily? Didn’t they try to blow you up with a division of tanks and then sic an Ursian dragonslayer on you? I don’t think it was meant to be easy. They knew that, I’m sure.”

“You’re awfully well informed, though these events are fairly recent.”

“A few of your men have been keeping me ‘well informed’ of your regress. I need to know what you’re doing and just how you’re being beaten, so I don’t make the same mistakes. From what I’ve gathered …” Zerachiel paused to quickly take out his blunderbuss and aimed it at Sardis. “… you’re too soft. What’s the girl’s name? Raquel? You should have killed her when you had the chance, not hand her over to those lunatics. Second, you should have killed [i]everyone[/i] by your own hands since you train completely incompetent fools.”

“Raquel may be a great asset to us. She has a unique connection to the emblem. I’m not going to butcher her just because it’s convenient. Senseless slaughter will gain us nothing.”

“We haven’t even been senselessly slaughtering people and we still have all of nothing, dumbass. If you start prattling on about your ‘waste not’ nonsense, I’ll waste [i]you[/i]. It’s perfectly fine to try and recruit new muscle, but it should have been obvious to you that it would never work out after your first screw up. Instead of blowing up Weyland’s tanks, you should have been killing the people who really mattered, not hoping they’ll see the light and join us. They’re too alienated to ever join our cause, so we need to get rid of them. I won’t be so shortsighted; I promise you that, Sardis. When I see her, she dies.” He smirked and held his shotgun up.

“No she won’t.” came a voice from behind him. A silver blade quickly appeared at Zerachiel’s neck. The man holding the sword was dressed in medium sized armor and had dull red hair.

“Hm? Oh it’s you ….” Zerachiel muttered, barely interested.

“… Jethro?” Sardis recognized the man.

“She’s my daughter. [i]I’ll[/i] convince her.” Jethro declared in a very calm tone before sheathing his sword.

“… you people are just too much.” Zerachiel said with a heavy sigh.

“What’s Jethro even doing here? Did he truly come arou-“ “Of course. We wouldn’t let him run around with a weapon if we couldn’t trust him … not that I do. I’ve got a bad feeling about this father daughter garbage.” Zerachiel explained.

“That’s why I’m going to be keeping an eye on him.” came the voice of a woman. She stepped out of the crowd and stood by Jethro. She appeared to be a sage and had navy blue hair. “Jethro is loyal to us. He’s proven that much already … but he’s still a loving father and there’s nothing wrong with that. She’s merely on the wrong side. Frankly, if he was willing to cut down his own little girl, I wouldn’t be comfortable keeping him alive.” she explained.

“That’s why you have someone like me do the killing. The rest of you people need to get off the front lines before you undermine the entire organization.” Zerachiel cut in, again. He shook his head. Sardis and his moronic tactics. His sword toting underlings can’t win a single fight on their own. Alexis and her disgusting laziness. Having this ex-military doter walking around like he’s a wrathdamn lieutenant. You think this isn’t hurting us? Think again.”

“We win fights, sometimes … I beat Amon~” Silvia shot back with a playful accomplished look on her face. Zerachiel either didn’t catch it, or didn’t bother to respond. Colin was ignoring the conversation from the onset, and Hayato was standing not far from Sardis and practically snarling at Zerachiel and Jethro.

“Arguing isn’t going to help. We need to decide what to do next.” Sardis interjected.

“Well that’s simple. We need to deal with these mercenaries once and for all.” Zerachiel answered firmly and crossed his arms.

“They … may or may not already be dealt with. I haven’t had contact with Burke since the battle at Danton.” Sardis explained with some hesitation in his voice.

“Get a hold of him so we can finish this, assuming they haven’t already taken care of it. And find a way to talk them out of the fire emblem piece she and those mercenaries had. We’re the ones who should be holding those.”

“Who’s Burke, and where did he take my daughter?” Jethro cut in.

“He took her to a realm we cannot reach, unfortunately. He’s likely taking care of his end of the bargain, though I don’t know what his plans were.”

“What?”

“It’s not important at this point. All I can do is contact him and try to find out what’s going on ….”[/spoiler]

[b]Altena’s Training[/b]

[spoiler][i]Hold steady … find my target … hold steady … release![/i] Altena let loose an arrow that struck through a dome shaped shoulder plate. It appeared to be good quality armor resting up against a practice target. Good quality or no, Altena’s shot pierced right through it dead at the center and rocked the whole target. [i]Well that wasn’t so bad. I just wish the face of a real enemy was behind that plate, and not just a bullseye.[/i] She sighed, and then quickly readied another arrow and fired. The shot was hastily fired, and so the odds of hitting dead center again were close to zero, but it still came frighteningly close, striking the plate at almost the same spot the first arrow did, its shaft sticking out from the plate leaving the tails of both arrows a mere five degrees separate. Altena smiled.[/spoiler]

[b]Graceful[/b]

[spoiler]“Iiiiiii’ll beeeee someone-the only one-the number one-the time has come.”
“The Phoeeee[i]eeeee[/i]niiiix must pass the torch along-but preferably through song.”
“If one’s defeat must come-it must be gracefully done-and now the man’s engaged-it’s time to leave the stage … beeeehiiiiiiiiiiiind~”
Alice bowed to a small applause from some of her deli patrons. “It [i]is[/i] true, though. Rodrigo is going to be a family man soon, so he shouldn’t be leading all of those swooning young ladies on. Besides, once he fades from the public’s attention, it will be my time to shine. It’s time to bring back the classical performances!”

“Hear hear! I do miss the classics. This new era of singers and performers is just … lacking something.” One of the older gentlemen spoke up.

“It lacks Alice Grace, but not for much longer!” the woman herself announced.

“Hahaaaah, well put!”[/spoiler]

[b]Crackdown[/b]

[spoiler]“Who the hell do you think you are, huh?!” a husky bandit leader yelled down on a familiar form. He grabbed Boris by the collar and hauled him in really close. Everyone in the cave became tense. Then he began spraying his point and elaborating. Boris turned to the side to keep his face dry while his hair shielded him from the droplets. “You think you can barge on in here with your puny goons and tell us what to do?! Do you have any idea who we are, boy?!”

“You’re days or less from being overrun by a very proficient Ursian battalion. They cut down bandits like you for a living in an effort to make Ursium a safer place to live. They’ve been following your trail of destruction for a while now and so have I. To them, you’re nothing but bandits, but to me, you’re potential strength, and instead of letting you be destroyed by them, I’d rather recruit you into my organization.”

“You run it? Hah! If you’re in charge, then I’ll be calling the shots from now on. I’m the strongest, so I should be in charge of your whole operation!”

“You fool, I’m not as soft as I look … and no I don’t run the entire organization, only a small part of it. The people I answer to are more powerful than you can possibly imagine, and they wouldn’t approve of premature promotions. You’ll start out like I did, a simple grunt, with plenty of opportunity to show both your strength and your competence.”

“… hmm … I’ll think about it. Doesn’t seem like it’d take long to reach the top of the ladder if people like you are allowed to go outside without a helmet on, hahah.”

“Think quickly. I don’t want to be here when they find your hideout.” Boris replied, crossing his arms.

The bandit didn’t think quickly, but eventually made a decision ... [i]three hours later[/i]. “We’ll have to relocate by this time tomorrow, anyway, so let’s head south … to where your ‘base of operations’ is. Provide us with food and board and we’ll … be more than happy to consider your offer.”

“… huh.”

Suddenly one of the other bandits came flailing into the cave screaming. “RUN AWAAAAY!!! THERE’S A SKY FULL OF PEGASUS KNIIIGHTS!!!”

“What?? They’re here, [i]already[/i]?!” the bandit leader inquired. He was ignored as the bandit ran past him to grab his things. As far as that one was concerned, it was every man for himself.

“I told you to think quickly. You decided to waste three whole hours. Colonel Langley makes good use of pegasus knights and she can scout out potential threats quickly. Now we’ll have to [i]fight[/i] our way out.” Boris explained with some bitterness in his words.

“Urgh! Don’t pin this all on me! Your organization should have sent someone more convincing!”

“… I just had to pick the stupid bandits instead of the remnants of the Farsiders or Revenants. Well watch closely, and you’ll see what I can do …” Boris replied, unsheathing his sword. “Men, prioritize your escape. Use the escape routes through the forest we had picked out, but don’t head out until their full force appears, or you might run straight into an ambush.” The bandit leader was surprised to see Boris taking charge of the situation. He hadn’t even thought to give his own men orders yet, but Boris seemed to already have his every move planned out and issued his orders in advance. He shook his head to focus.

“Alright boys! We’ll charge straight at them! Cut their battalion right down the middle and escape south during the chaos!”

“Are you trying to lose all of your men? Colonel Langley specializes in dealing with people like you. If you charge at her directly, you’ll be flanked on both sides by pegasus knights … after they unleash one or two volleys of arrows at you. Frontal assault is suicide.” Boris scolded him.

“Urrrgh! Don’t lecture me! We do things our own way! Like your plan’s going to work! Tch! How do you even know so much about this Langley wench?”

“Know your enemy, but also know third parties who may become your enemy. As for my plan … well it isn’t perfect. We might have some casualties but we will escape. We would have been long gone if we didn’t make the mistake of patiently waiting for you laggards.”

Outside the cave, the bandits that were standing guard there were scattering like roaches, and Colonel Langley’s snipers were getting into position while swordsmen were covering their approach. Pegasus knights were flying around all over the place and the area seemed locked down. The only hope of escape seemed to be north through the woods. The bandits quickly realized that the battalion wasn’t moving in to attack them just yet and some of them rush inside the cave.

“We have to stay here! We can wait them out!” a bandit from outside said on arrival.

“Gaugh, you people are idiots … if only Silvia were here ….” Boris muttered.

Meanwhile outside, Colonel Langley sat atop her pegasus. Her second in command was standing close by, leaning up against the pegasus and looking rather bored. “So, do you think they’ll surrender?”

“They’ll run. Unless we cut off all escape routes. I don’t want this to get too bloody, though, so try not to get in over your heads.” Langley replied.

“Understood, ma’am.” Miguel, quit leaning on the pegasus and ran out to the front of the battalion. He came upon a group of soldiers and tapped the shortest one on the shoulder. The girl turned around and her eyes lit up.

“Lieutenant Colonel Taylor, do you need me to do something for you?! Anything?! I’ve been waiting for a chance to prove how much stronger I’ve gotten!”

“Easy, Grace. Don’t underestimate the enemy.” he replied simply. “Let’s see how they respond, first.”

Meanwhile Fletcher led the line of archers and positioned themselves within shooting distance of the cave’s entrance. A few bandits were bunkering down there and getting their own bows ready. “Don’t fire until they do, or we get the order from Colonel Langley or Lieutenant Colonel Taylor. This is going to be either a very short skirmish or a very long standoff. These must be the dumb bandits since they’re scrambling like that. That’s good. I was worried that this might be one of our bad days, heheh.”

“You never know, Lieutenant … they might have a ballista or two set up at the entrance of that cave just waiting for us.” One of the other bowmen spoke up.

“Hmmm, good point. If they don’t come out, we’ll have to go in there, shields first. Trying to ‘turtle’ our way past siege weapons is risky business ….”

“Well it’d be better than that one hideout that was completely mined.” the bowman added.

“Ugh, don’t jynx us by bringing up that explosive nightmare.”[/spoiler]

[b]The Avatar[/b]

[spoiler]Not all were present, but Worthington had gathered many of the church’s representatives into his office. The morning light pierced through the large window behind his desk and illuminated it beautifully. Worthington himself stood in front of the desk, ready to address all of those present. “I was hoping to hold this meeting at a later time … preferably after laying Bishop Bradford to rest, but the Order of Wrath and its supporters have requested we do this now.”

“Indeed, Bishop Bradford will be laid to rest, but there is no need to stall these proceedings, in my opinion.” General Capaberra spoke up.

“You see, General, Disciple Desmond was being trained to succeed Bishop Bradford, but I do not feel that he is … ready for the position just yet.”

“And why is that, Archbishop Worthington, if you don’t mind me inquiring?”

“Regardless, he will be assuming this position at a very early age. To add to this, the Order of Wrath has recently had members of the order involved in various incidents that I believe are connected to a certain artifact.” Desmond winced slightly at Worthington’s words, remembering that the man was more observant than he appeared. Was he going to get in their way? Well … more than he already was? “Desmond is not focusing on the faithful. His focus is on those capable of finding the artifact and bringing it into the hands of the Order. I want him to take the time to correct this imbalance in his judgment before I will feel comfortable letting him take up Bishop Bradford’s position as head of the Order of Wrath.” He then looked to Desmond and added “Desmond, you have a great responsibility ahead of you, and you must approach it humbly. You must always remember the people. Always.”

“I know that ….” Desmond bitterly shot back.

“Knowing this and living it are two different things, Desmond. Please, do not divert the Order of Wrath from its purpose of instilling justice in the hearts of the people.”

“Worthington … I am a devout follower of Lord Wrath, but because of you and your secretive ways, I am deprived of his words. I cannot hear the voice of the gods as you do. I cannot fulfill the will of my own lord because I must go through [i]you[/i], the man who insists on impeding the entire order. I have no intentions of leading the people toward justice as we understand it. I will lead them to where Lord Wrath dictates, and nowhere else. [i]His[/i] justice is what we’ll follow, not mine, and [i]not yours [/i].

Capaberra nodded slightly in agreement with Desmond as he spoke. Clover held both of her hands together during his rebuttal, and Prince Athrun nodded a single time toward the end of it. “Desmond, there is a reason only one person can ever hear the voice of the gods. It is a sacred duty that prevents instability within the four orders. It keeps us united through a single head. Like it or not, Lord Wrath, Lady Mercy, Mother Nature, and Lord Truth, have all agreed upon using me as their vessel through which the people of Ursium and the Four Orders are taught and guided.”

“Forgive my harshness, but I do not see you as a guide and voice of the gods. You work more as a keeper of peace and a keeper of secrets. I don’t approve of that and will not remain silent on the matter a moment longer.” Desmond replied. “You may have spoken with Bishop Bradford on matters that were not meant for anyone else, but I am the man he trained to take his place. You share nothing with me, not the word of Lord Wrath, and certainly not true guidance and direction. You continue to hide behind your own title and stall these proceedings for as long as you can. I’m tired of it.”

“Desmond, you are clinching your fits …” Worthington noted, trying to point out that the man was no longer composed and should calm down. So they were.

“What would you expect of a Wrathite denied his own purpose in this life? I’m here to be promoted to Head Wrathite. You’ve no reason to deny me.”

“Insubordination is reason enough, but I am willing to look past that if you will simply hear me out.”

“This is your last chance, Worthington.” Desmond threatened.

“My last chance? Are you threatening me?” Worthington looked astonished and leaned back a bit.

Desmond quickly snapped out of whatever was holding him in such fury and recalled his own words. “… what did I just say …?”

“Do you see?! He is too focused on the personal endeavors of the order to be bothered with its purpose! Desmond, I think we should end this meeting here and now. You are clearly not ready to succeed Head Wrathite Bradford.”

“Uuuuurgh … no … no we won’t. The voice of Lord Wrath should be delivered to the Wrathites! Not withheld from us!”

“Desmond …” Athrun tried to speak up, but felt powerless at the moment.

“Desmond, calm yourself.” Capaberra advised, reaching out with his hand in a similar manner to some others. Desmond was fuming at this point.

[i]This … hatred … it isn’t mine …[/i] “I won’t let you hold the order back, Worthington. I … I won’t.” [i]I don’t know what’s happening but I … I must act now. I must put a stop to Worthington’s oppression.[/i]

“Desmond! Come to your senses!” Worthington pleaded.

“This … ARGH!!!” Desmond fell to his knees with a look of blind fury on his face. That was when he realized. “This is too much … for me … this … this wrath ….”

“What are you saying, Desmond? Are you losing your grip on reality? Being the most enraged does not make you a suitable successor to Bradford. Please, stop this … for your own sake. I don’t’ want to have you excommunicated from the order ….”

Desmond picked himself up with some help from Athrun and then looked up to the ceiling as he began to sweat. “Don’t go … please … I will … I will deliver your words to the people, milord.”

All eyes widened at those words. “It’s not possible …” Worthington uttered, taking a step back.

“I’ll carry this burden. I’ll carry it … even if my body crumbles to dust …” Desmond pledged.

“Even unto death …” a voice echoed out through the room. The source seemed to be Desmond’s own lips. He quickly took on a heavy and dark aura that everyone could see. “If you wish to carry my voice … so be it.” Desmond’s body curled up and Athrun backed off quickly. A good decision, since Desmond floated up off of the ground a foot or two and began to flail as his body was overpowered. Violent energies overcame the room and forced everyone present to back off. Desmond’s eyes disappeared behind a piercing yellow light. When he came back down onto his feet, he was eerily calm.

“L-Lord Wrath … what is … what is going on?” Worthington asked pleadingly.

“Lord Wrath?!” Capaberra asked Worthington with great urgency in his voice. Was he serious? Was Wrath truly present with them and speaking through Desmond’s form? Without waiting for an answer, the general kneeled before Desmond’s saturated form and took the Prince’s wrist urging him to do the same.

“They have kneeled. Why haven’t the rest of you?” Desmond asked, his voice being overlapped by a second. Worthington quickly corrected his error and kneeled. Everyone else in the office did, as well, though Io spared the whole situation an eye roll first. Remiel, Ilan, Lyle, John, everyone present kept a knee to the floor. Only Desmond remained standing. “Look on this man and know him. From this moment forth, he is my vessel, my avatar.”

“L-l-l-lord W-Wra-th … y-y-you can’t be serious. This is not how the Four Orders function.”

“I am working out a special purpose. My people will require more direct guidance than what you, the Archbishop of Ursium, can provide.” Worthington was just about to speak, but was cut off. “No, Michael Worthington.” Desmond held out his hand. “You questioned me once. You will never do so, again. I have chosen my vessel. Desmond Langley will serve as Avatar of the Order. His rank is now equal to that of Archbishop.”

“Y-yes, milord.” Worthington lowered his head to keep his face hidden. He couldn’t believe what was happening or why. Soon the energies began to fade and Desmond’s eyes, voice, and body returned to normal. He fell to his knees, still conscious. “Desmond ... are you alright?”

A teary eyed smile appeared on Desmond’s face as he examined his hands. “Thank you, Lord Wrath … you’ve answered not just mine, but all of our prayers.”

“Desmond?” Worthington tried a second time.

Desmond quickly got on his feet, this time without assistance. He looked to Prince Athrun with a joy no one had ever seen from him before. “We’re … finally free, my prince.”

“Free to what? Go and hunt down ancient artifacts and neglect the people?” Worthington interjected.

“We’re free to do the will of our god, not the will of a cryptic managerial holy man such as you. From now on, we will never be cut off from his words. I have no intention of withholding his will from the order, and so we are finally free. Free of [i]you[/i]. You heard what the Lord said. I am his holy spokesman. You needn’t go to Worthington a day longer. You can come to me ….”

[i]Lord Wrath, why?! Why are you doing this?! Why?![/i] Worthington anguished in his mind.[/spoiler]

[b]Questions[/b]

[spoiler]Sabina sat at the center of a room with her hands cuffed in irons and sitting on her lap, and her legs bound in chains, just lose enough for her to walk or cross her ankles, the latter of which she did while sitting in a rusty old metal chair. Four stone walls, and a door at the center of the southern wall. The room had absolutely no windows, so a light rune was the only source of light available, and it seemed to be very old, giving off only a faint light compared to normal ones. The floor was well paved, but the blood stains on the ground told a thousand tales of a thousand rough interrogations. This wasn’t a prison cell, it was an interrogation chamber. Sabina honestly didn’t give a damn.

The door eventually opened revealing a rather casual looking woman. Major General Patricia Belo, one of Ursentius’ defense force commanders, and iconic ‘action officer’. “Morning.” She greeted, obviously pretending to be cordial.

“It’s morning? Tch. Like I’d know.” Sabina replied and then looked away dismissively.

“Yeah, time sure gets funny in a cell, doesn’t it?” Patricia stood a short distance from Sabina with her arms crossed and leaned to one side. “I’ve got some questions for you.”

“I”ve got answers, but you’re just some Ursian bitch with no coin, so good luck getting those answers.”

“Oooo feisty~ The tough act is very impressive but you Skotian’s aren’t the only ones with some horribly cruel torture methods. I suggest you reconsider. You were hired by people who tried to resurrect the artificial human project that was shut down seventy years ago. I just want to know everything else you know about them. They might be connected to others and this is a problem I want to deal with once and for all.”

“You people blew up their labs and destroyed all of their work in one night. It’ll be decades--maybe even another seventy years--before anything like this ever happens again. Long after your career days are over at any rate … so why do you care? Trying to earn a more important place in the history books or something?”

“Maybe I just take my job a little too seriously. I don’t like to wait for obvious problems to make it to my doorstep. When you’re trying to keep a garden healthy, you get rid of the weeds the moment you spot them, and then you search the whole garden for any others you might have overlooked and get rid of those too. I wouldn’t expect a loner type like you to understand, but I also don’t see why you would protect your old employers. Do you still have a contact who’s willing to pay for your silence?”

“Tch, of course not.” She shot back, looking away again.

“Then why protect any of their secrets? That’s not worth me kicking your ass over, is it?” Patricia had a worried look on her face, fearing the possible answer she might get back from the supposedly self-serving mercenary.

“Either way I’m in prison. May as well stick it to you people however I can.”

“… sheesh, haven’t you ever heard of ‘early release for good behavior’? No? Well, let me give you an example. Unless a miracle comes down from the heavens or something, you’re going to be behind bars for a looooong time. But if you give me some information I can put to good use … it might not be as long as you think.”

“Early release, huh? How early?”

“Well, that depends on what you can offer me in exchange. You’re just a mercenary, and I’m after [i]real[/i] criminals, dear.”[/spoiler]

[b]Status Quo … the New One[/b]

[spoiler]Lyra’s eighth or nineth or twelfth--she couldn’t remember anymore—missed vacation day was off to its usual start. She had three primary objectives to take care of once she was properly dressed. She had to sift through a mountain of arrest warrants that she hadn’t yet finished before her promotion, she had to check on the indentured servants from Neviskotia, and she had to oversee a weapons shipment that was coming sometime later in the afternoon. It was probably best to make certain the Neviskotians weren’t up to no good before worrying about the paperwork, and the weapon arrival wasn’t due for hours.

Her first stop was the kitchen of the fortress’ main building. It was larger than one might expect, but Lyra knew a few of her charges would be there since they were specifically assigned to ‘kitchen duty’. She didn’t know what those duties entailed on this particular day but she also didn’t care so long as they didn’t burn the area to the ground. She spotted them immediately upon entering. Liza and Liliya were washing and drying dishes respectively while Olga was sitting on an island counter wearing a huge apron and feeding her sheep with one hand while chopping carrots with a knife like an assassin with the other. Lyra grimaced when she saw what Olga was feeding the poor sheep. It was alcohol in a bottle. Light alcohol but what difference did that make in principle? She sighed heavily. “Olga, please don’t intoxicate the sheep.”

“Oh good morning, Lyra~”

“Great … it’s the buzzard, come back to check on us.” Liza muttered.

“[i]Don’t call me that[/i].” Lyra quickly ordered. Noticing that Nico still had a bottle held up to his mouth, she instructed Olga again. “Olga, stop making the sheep drink your extra booze and focus on your work, please.”

“Nico’s a free spirit. I give’em just enough of a buzz to keep him from getting too adventurous. That way he stays nice and calm while I work. Just ask the chefs. He’s never a handful when he’s got enough in him~”

“… whatever. It’s your sheep, but this is why we wanted him kept somewhere else. It doesn’t matter if he’s adventurous if he’s locked in a pin.”

“Tried that back home and he almost got sent to the slaughter house by mistaaaake~, no thanks~” Olga replied.

On to the next one. That really only left Bron. Where was he? She tried to recall what duties he had been assigned. It took a moment but she eventually remembered that he was handling janitorial matters. He was the least troublesome of the group to her, so she felt some sympathy for him. Tracking him down didn’t take long. He was wearing worker’s clothes and carrying around a mop, a broom, a bucket of water, and a several pairs of gloves. More sympathy surfaced. “Bron?” came her one worded greeting.

“Morning, Lieutenant. How are things?” he replied with a bit of a forced smile. He wasn’t enjoying his duties, but tried not to let it show too much.

“Things are … ironic. I suppose you haven’t heard about that incident at the museum last night?”

“Incident? No, not at all. What happened?”

“Some avian showed up, overpowered the guards, and stole Ascension. They haven’t been able to track her down.”

“Whoa …”

“Crazy … the sword you and your girlfriends came here to steal gets stolen by a woman claiming to be the original owner. A pity you didn’t get here a few days later. You could have been beaten to the punch and still had your freedom.” she noted thoughtfully.

“Or you could have been a nice avian and not gotten us arrested …” Bron prodded.

“Sorry, but you’ll just have to take solace in the fact that one of you is still free roaming about somewhere.”

“Hm? Oh … Robin.” Bron paused a moment, and then shrugged. “She’s probably back home by now … or close to it. Good for her, I guess. Maybe I’d care a bit more if she didn’t leave thinking we betrayed her. I can’t help but worry she might take a shot at me if I ever see her again.”

Lyra looked at Bron like he was being silly. “If she’s willing to shoot you, she’s just a brute. Besides, you’re working in a fortress and I’m sure she’ll be staying away from Ursian forts at all cost from now on, don’t’ you?”

“Yes, maybe she would keep her distance … well I should get back to work. These halls won’t clean themselves. Thanks for … checking in, I suppose.”

“True. Take care, Bron.” Lyra left him those parting words and went to her office. There was the mountain of paperwork she needed to finish up. She sat down in her chair and leaned forward, staring at the pages for a while. “I should be relaxing at home, right now. Or at a spa ....”[/spoiler]

[b]Lunch[/b]

[spoiler]It was a strange time in Joanna’s life. She was still trying to find her true place in the world. She was still trying to figure out relationships with other people, and improve her social life. That was the only reason she agreed to this. That’s what she kept telling herself while she sat at a small round table outside of a restaurant, waiting for someone. Not in her usual gown, she was sporting a knee high spring dress of the same color, with short sleeves, a matching choker, and white slippers. She sat alone at the table with her arms and legs held close, and her head down between her shoulders. She was like this for all of five minutes before the person she was waiting for arrived.

The man who approached the table was dressed more casually than she was; he was wearing what appeared to be simple pants, some relatively good boots, and workman’s vest. Dressed in this simple clothing was a smiling young man. He waved over to her to get her attention before sitting down. “Glen.” She called him by name with a slight smile.

“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long …” he said apologetically as he took a seat across from her. She immediately shook her head. “Are you …feeling nervous? I kind of am too. I usually don’t have the courage to do something like this. Uh, so … Joanna … while we wait for the waitress to notice us …”

“Huh?”

“Err-tell me about yourself.” The man found himself constantly holding his breathe and he was too distracted to bother correcting this. “Where are you from? Where’s the rest of your family?”

“… my family …?” she seemed saddened by the question, and this he [i]did[/i] notice.

“Oh you don’t’ have to answer, I was just curious! I’m sorry! Uh … well I’ve got relatives in Sergio. I’m here in the capital because I want to perfect my art.” he hastily changed the focus from her to himself.

“Your art?” She looked up a little out of curiosity.

“Yep. I’m a forger. I’m still a novice, though. Oh right, can’t expect you to know what that is, can I? Well what I forge are magic tomes. Particularly anima tomes; those are the interesting ones.” he explained, leaning forward and going on with some natural enthusiasm. “You see, anima is the real gem in the magical arts, because it takes on so many forms. Did you know that even though you might be carrying around a fire tome, you could still cast thunder if you were proficient enough? The various tome types are necessary guides to learning to cast type of magic, but they’re only guides, and the energy tucked away inside them is all the same. The real masters can cast they’re preferred type of anima with any anima tome available. I’ve always found that so interesting~”

“Hmm, it is …” Joanna noted to herself after taking a moment to think about it on her own.

“All of you avians can use magic, right? What kind do you use? Is it light, like most I hear about or do you know some anima arts?” he inquired, seemingly hoping her answer would be anima.

Joanna lowered her head a little. “I only know how to wield light.” She could tell he was hoping for the latter to be the case, so she worded it gently for him.

“Ah, I see. Well that’s still amazing. I mean light magic is the power of healing. You’re a Mercinic, right? So it’s more fitting for you.~”

“… yes.” She nodded and smiled. The tension seemed to be going down now and she felt more comfortable. “You asked about my family … well they live far away. I’m alone in Ursium.”

“Alone? Did you leave your home?”

She nodded. “Yes. Around two years ago. You see … I’m from Aria.”

“Aria?” he echoed. He’d never heard of a place like that before.

“It’s a name shared by seven great cities. People from elsewhere only know my homeland as Aquila.” she explained in soft words, trying to keep her voice down.

“You’re an … avian? I mean an AVIAN avian, not a dark avian.”

She quickly and repeatedly shook her head, even as he asked. “I’m a dark avian. That’s why I had to leave. Most dark avians grow up outside of Aria, but I’m originally from there.”

“Why is that? Are dark avians considered evil, or something like that?”

“It’s difficult to explain to humans. Dark avians aren’t evil. They’re … they’re actually a lot like humans.” She began her seemingly lengthy explanation. Glen blushed a bit at the comparison to humans. He was making no attempt to hide that this was ‘technically’ a date. Did Joanna know this was a date? Had he implied it enough when he asked her to lunch? He was beginning to doubt it and winced a bit. “Humans have no direct connection with the great goddess Mercy. Neither do dark avians … neither do I, anymore ….” He came back down from the blushing and warm feelings when it was clear she wasn’t exactly making a compliment with the comparison, and she also seemed to have upset herself in the process.

“You use light magic, of course you have a connection with the goddess.” He tried to reassure her, all the while trying to find a way to ask her if she knew this was a date without actually asking her. What a horrible distraction this was.

“Even a fallen could learn to wield light magic if they put their minds to it. My connection was deeper … but once I lost it, I had to leave. All dark avians who lose that connection have to leave. Children of dark avians don’t have the connection either, and so no one ever returns.” she explained gloomily.

“Well that’s dumb-I-I-I-Iiiiiyamean … it’s just a bit unfair, I think. I’m not trying to insult your culture or anything. It just seems unfair to kick you out.”

“I was required by law to leave, but it was [i]my[/i] choice, and in some ways, I’m helping my people, still. Avians can never leave Aquila, but dark avians can, and they do. I lost my connection to Mother Mercy, but like so many others in the past, I can use what remains of my life to aid those out in the world. That’s all I ever really wanted anyway. I miss home, but this is not a curse and I don’t like moping over it. It’s a duty and I’m going to do my best-oh! … I’m rambling. I’m sorry.”

“You were on a roll!~” Glen replied. “The avians live one place, the dark avians go off into the world and … spread goodness. Nothing wrong with that, though I do have to wonder why the avians confine themselves at all. I used to read about history with the avians and it’s pretty dark. It even led to the fallen, but is that reason enough to isolate themselves for good?”

“Avian teachings aren’t compatible with human teachings. The Order of Mercy has made concessions where the avians, the goddess’ own people, would not. All four orders have made compromises to coexist, and avians don’t compromise.”

“I see …”

“They say I’m stubborn too …” she added as an afterthought, looking a bit sad again. “Um, Glen?”

“Yeah? What is it?”

“So, what do you think? Of the avians, I mean. I usually keep things like that to myself. I keep it to myself because there aren’t people in my life that I … trust. I also keep it to myself for my own safety. Most people assume any dark avian they run into is from Ursium, Neviskotia, or Kigen. A dark avian showing up directly from Aria is very rare, and some people want to … learn more about Aria by questioning or … interrogating dark avians originally from there.”

“That’s cruel …” suddenly a thought occurred. [i]Wait, does she trust me?! That could be a good sign![/i]

“I hate keeping all of this to myself, though. I’m just, looking for an honest opinion. If I don’t tell [i]someone[/i], I’ll … I’ll start talking to myself, again ….”

[i]Oh, she’s just desperate. Aww.[/i] “Well …” [i]How to word this …[/i] “The avians stick to their principles. You have to give them credit for that. Seems like they can’t let go of the past though.”

“… the past is glaring at them from south of Kigen …” Joanna quietly noted, speaking of the Fallen. “Those people are … a great shame to avians. We all have the potential within us to become fallen, and it’s difficult to accept that.”

“… well it is hard to imagine you as a raven winged monster that eats children and moves through walls.” Glen admitted as he pictured it.

“I’m a good example of how an avian should be, then~ … if you can’t imagine me as anything else, that is. Thank you.” She cheered up immediately and put on a wide smile.

[i]Progress![/i]

OoC: [spoiler]Will this Glen fellow continue down a zigzagging path to Joanna’s heart? Will he win the love of this somewhat altruistic winged maiden of suicidal tendencies? Find out next time on RotE!

Now please move along to the next segment. I’m tired of writing about this, and the latter half is just not coming to me right now.[/spoiler][/spoiler]

[b]Northward Bound[/b]

[spoiler]Sailing along the West Sardian Channel was a small unmarked vessel; destination unknown. A woman dressed in a dark crimson dress and a veil stood mostly alone in the shade of the main mast. A small black raven was perched on her shoulder; Naoki. “You. Woman.” One of the skinny crewmen tried to get her attention. “You should not be here. Passengers need to stay below the deck. No exceptions.”

“I am not spending another moment down there with those … people.” Chie replied. She seemed to have had an incident or was made uncomfortable at the very least. It made the crewman wonder what happened down there to ‘chase’ her up here, but it was more important to enforce the ship’s rules than worry about things like that.

“You need to go back down below. I don’t want to have to bring you to the captain.”

“… no, you don’t. Hear my case. Several of the people you are bringing to Sergio Port are borderline brigands. I’ve been pestered by these individuals repeatedly since we left Kigen. If they continue to harass me, I’ll be forced to deal with them. Harshly. I am hoping we can avoid a needless confrontation by staying up here.” she explained.

“Your problems with other passengers are none of our business. You paid for passage to Ursium, not luxury or protection.”

“Very well. I’m sorry for trespassing. I also apologize in advance should the screams of the fools down there reach your ears and distract you from your work.” She turned around and headed for the lower deck at a brisk pace.

“Screams …?”

Surely enough, sometime within the next five minutes … “SNAAAAKES!!! WHOOOOOOOOAAAAAGH!!!”

“What, snakes?!” the same crewman asked anyone willing to answer. He was looking all over the place but saw nothing but other crewmen. It must have come from below the main deck. “… did that woman smuggle a bird AND snakes onto the ship?!” he realized and he along with several others quickly headed down below. When they arrived at the source of the screaming, they saw every last passenger save for Chie backed up against the walls of the ship. That was no sanctuary from the four snakes slowly slithering toward them, several of them took the time to hiss at some of the men as they drew closer. Chie was standing roughly at the center of the room and had an additional two snakes on her body; one climbing along her right arm and onto her shoulder, and the other coming out of her left sleeve and wrapping around her arm.

“As you men can now see with your own eyes, the only things that await you underneath this dress are venomous fangs.” she then noticed the crewman from earlier and gave him a blank stare. “As I said before … I apologize for the screams.” Having addressed him, she returned her attention to the fearful men who appeared to be ready to try their hands at climbing up to the ceiling just to escape the approaching serpents.

“We get it, okay?! We get it! Just call them off, already! Please!” one of the men pleaded.

“Very well, but do not speak to me, again. I do not carry any antidotes with me; I believe people should pay for their foolishness, harsh though it may be.” With that, the snakes turned around and Chie knelt down to receive them. The four snakes slithered up her arms as she stood up, they all vanished into her sleeves, much to the disgust and dismay of the men watching. “Perhaps the rest of this voyage will be quiet and peaceful. I had almost given up hope.”[/spoiler]

[b]Plans[/b]

[spoiler]Staying at the Weyland estate and helping fill out security for the past few days had been almost worthwhile, but if not for the letter Weyland told her about, she would not have stayed. The estate was holding five fallen, after all, and only three of them were captives. The other was a would-be empress, and the other was a would-be emperor. That was just too much for her. The gold to support her family and those of her fallen brothers had already been sent off and she had little reason left to stay. After writing a short letter and sending it off hoping it would reach Katsu, she prepared to depart for Kigen.

She had the misfortune of running into Siv of all people before reaching the front door. She was wearing one of the estate’s many maid outfits, only one in her size, and with some modifications made to account for the wings. She was dusting things left and right, and doing a poor job of it, but she stopped when she saw Atsuko trying to walk by her. The door wasn’t too far away, so she hoped she could make it by the fallen without an interaction, but Siv spoke up in her own language. <”Where are you going?”>

Atsuko stopped in her tracks, looked down at her feet and sighed. <”I’m going back to Kigen. My family … all of our families should be well off for quite a while, now. That’s good, but I can’t stay here, and I need to see Katsu. It’s because of him that I even survived.”>

<”I won’t be here much longer, either. Lord Valdimarr will come for me.”>

<”He sent those other fallen that got captured. He’s probably too busy to come himself.”>

<”It’s not just me, anymore. Norn is here too. He’ll come for us.”>

<”And fall right into whatever trap Steinn has planned.”> Atusko amended.

<”Lord Valdimarr will … think of something ….”> Siv tried to assure both Atsuko and herself while she slowly lowered the duster.

[i]Part of me hopes he doesn’t let her down … even though that would be disastrous. On the other hand … Ursium and Neviskotia would have to open their eyes and pay attention to what’s going on in the south if fallen start rampaging up here. That might actually be worth it in the long run.[/i] <”Goodbye, Siv. For what it’s worth, you aren’t … bad person, I just think you grew up in the wrong society. You might even make a decent human being.”>

<”You too!”> Siv replied quickly, hoping to catch Atsuko before she left. <”You would be a good fallen … I think …”> Siv was only trying to be polite but Atsuko cringed at the thought.

<”… t-thanks.”> She then left the estate behind, possibly for good.[/spoiler]

[b]Recovery[/b]

[spoiler]Katsu had sent off his letter hoping it would reach Weyland and eventually reach Atsuko, but some days had passed, and he had reached a point of hopeless wondering. With the pain from his injuries still clinging to him like a bad reminder of his battle with the White Devil, he was unable to train or do anything else that might take his mind off of Atsuko. All he could do was wait in bed. He was in an infirmary in a Kigen barracks, he recalled. Breakfast was waiting for him too, it seemed, but he wasn’t hungry just yet. For the moment he was content to exercise his hearing and listen to the various sounds around him … mostly soldiers chatting in other areas, though at one point, he could hear the morning drills. The soldiers could train and get stronger, but he couldn’t, what a bother.[/spoiler]

[b]Passage[/b]

[spoiler]Searching for a ship was Gabriel’s goal in heading east. Not just any ship, but one willing to brave the waters of the Far East. His best chance for accomplishing this would be to search for Neviskotian sailors or those that frequented Neviskotian waters. It would be difficult to cross into Neviskotia with the blockade set up in northern Central, but fortunately for him, he managed to find a ship on the Ursian side of the blockade. The name of the ship was the Al-Lyrae, a large treasure galleon with blazing red sails and gold trimming throughout the hull. The captain was none other than Giovanni Devlin. It seemed the terms of the agreement were still being discussed on the main deck. The ship was docked and had its loading ramp down with the crew carrying quite a bit of supplies to and fro. Rico and Fira were standing close by while Gabriel and Giovanni talked.

“Right, we may need you to be at a certain place.”

“Hmm …” Giovanni stroked his beard a bit. “Do you have any preferred ports, or will this be completely random for us?”

“We may need to bypass the Neviskotian blockade, so Urquium is a good bet. Sergio if we can’t leave from Urquium for whatever reason.” Gabriel replied.

“You know this is going to cost you a small fortune, right, Gabriel? Asking a captain to keep his ship just ready and waiting for up to a month when he could be pursuing his own dreams is a lot to ask. Forget the fact that there’s some potential danger in where you’re asking us to sail.” Giovanni pointed out with his arms crossed.

“I figured it would be expensive, but it can’t be helped. Just tell me how much you need, and I’ll see how much I can pay you up front.”

“One hundred thousand. Can’t go a copper lower.” Gio said sternly.

“.. yikes. I’ve only got twenty … and not all of it with me of course.”

“Sorry to hear that.” he muttered.

“Don’t be. There’s still time to make up the difference, and if you’ll work with me, you might come out of this with more than a hundred thousand.”

“What are you getting at?”

“We don’t do I.O.U.s, Gabriel.” Rico warned, crossing his arms and giving the white haired man a bit of cold stare.

“I was thinking of actually making up the difference in various ways.”

“How?”

“Well it wouldn’t be long term, but I could work off some of the payment. I’m also told I’m a decent fighter if you’re looking for an extra. If you’d rather be more direct about it, I could also enter a local tournament and try to win some of the money that way. There are a lot of options so I’m not all that concerned with your price. It’s just the difference of ‘when’ I can pay you.”

“Heheh. You really want our boat, don’t you? Well I won’t say no to that. Let me see what you’ve got, Gabriel. Then we’ll see if you’re worth hiring as a mercenary.” Gio declared. Rico, Fira, pretend he’s a pirate or something and let’em have it.” Both of them nodded. “If you can take on both of them and win you’ll have me convinced, Gabe. I’ll even double your credit toward the payment, but I’m sure you’ll just have to settle for ‘staying conscious’, heheheh.”

“We’ll see.” Gabriel smiled back and then turned to face his opponents.

Gabriel
HP: 9 STR: 6 MAG: 0 SKL: 12 SPD: 18 LCK: 2 DEF: 3 RES: 3
Weapon 1: Xion
HP: 27 MT: 6(24 D or D) Hit: 12 Evade: 20(+10 vs Range/Siege and Guns) AS: 18(14=x2 atk if Xion; 9=x3 atk if Xion) Defense: 3 Resistance: 3

Rico
HP: 6 STR: 0 MAG: 11 SKL: 9 SPD: 7 LCK: 3 DEF: 3 RES: 6
Weapon 1: Centauri
HP: 18 MT: 11(22 if A)(18 if FP) Hit: 9 Evade: 10 AS: 7 Defense: 3(14 if AWT) Resistance: 6

Fira
HP: 9 STR: 2 MAG: 12 SKL: 10 SPD: 15 LCK: 0 DEF: 4 RES: 12
Weapon 1: Fire Blast
Weapon 2: Blaze
Weapon 3: CQC
HP: 27 MT: 2/12(21 if FB) Hit: 10(20 if B) Evade: 15 AS: 15 Defense: 4 Resistance: 12

“Let’s go! Fight!” Gio ordered. Rico went first, pulling out his fire tome. Rico rolls 5,3,2!
MIS-“Uh nope.” Gabriel interrupted me to point out the Myrmidon class ability. Gabriel rolls 3,2,2!
CRITICAL HIT!
-10 hp!
Gabriel doubles! Rolls 2,4,4!
CRITICAL HIT!
-14 hp!
KO!

Gabriel hp 27/27
Rico hp 0/18
Fira hp 27/27

“ARGH!!!” Rico went sailing to the ground, Gabriel having somehow struck him from two different directions in a fraction of a second. Fira prepared an attack of her own(Blaze), but Gabriel beat her to the punch as well. Gabriel rolls 4,5,6!
HIT!
-7 hp!
Fira counters! Rolls 5,4,3!
HIT!
-13 hp

Gabriel hp 14/27
Rico hp 0/18
Fira hp 20/27

Gabriel quickly struck Fira, but holding back so he wouldn’t cause a serious injury proved a costly mistake when she went all out, surrounding him in a ring of fire. She almost burned him alive, and would have had he not leaped away in time. Fortunately, only his boots and coat tails were damaged, the boots a bit cooked and his coat tails thoroughly charred. “Careful, Gabriel. Fira here is the real deal.”

Gabriel +2 hp
Gabriel hp 16/27

Gabriel rolls 5,2,3!
HIT!
-4 hp

Fira counters! Rolls 3,6,3!
AUTO HIT!
-15 hp

Gabriel hp 1/27
Rico hp 0/18
Fira hp 14/27

Fira’s healing factor activates! +13 hp
Fira hp 27/27

“… you’ve got to be kidding me.” Gabriel forced out a heavy sigh. His latest attack was even weaker than the last due to his insistence on not causing an injury she would need to see a healer for, and then she suddenly blasted him at close range and then healed herself. Gabriel shook his head. Her initial wounds were just plain gone. He wasn’t beaten in earnest, but that healing factor had set him back quite a ways, and he knew it was time to forfeit the match. “Okay, Fira, you win.” he declared, using his sword for support.

“Not bad, Gabriel. You lost, but you didn’t draw those fancy pistols of yours on my crewmen, either. I respect that. I get that you’re strong, but [i]that[/i] kind of restraint is just as important. I think you and I can work something out, after all.”

“Well that’s good, I was starting to get worried there for a second, heheh.” Gabriel replied, panting a bit. [i]Wow, I am getting rusty. I’d better consider getting back in shape before someone who’s actually dangerous decides they don’t like me …[/i]

While Gio congratulated Gabriel, Fira held up Rico’s barely conscious form and rested his head on her lap. “Tell me you gave him what for …” Rico asked her. She nodded. “… good.” Having confirmed the match results, he promptly passed out.[/spoiler]

[b]L.F.G.[/b]

[spoiler]Meeting the assassin Gabriel had been a wondrous event for Simon, but he was soon forced to face a grim reality once the man had departed. ‘What next?’ He was only an information broker, and soon Cecily and Clara would drop him back off at his mother’s house. He didn’t really want to go back. He wanted desperately to remain active … to remain out and about. He thought up excuse after excuse of why he had to continue traveling with them long in advance so that when the time came and either of them made it obvious that they planned to dump him soon, he could quickly counter and make his case.

The time came when they made it back to the Ursian mainland and crossed over the lower edges of the mountains. “Well, another day or so and you can tell your mother you shook the hand of an assassin. You may want to just stick with that part, by the way. No need to tell her you also tried to make out with the assassin ....”

“It was not an attempt to ‘make out’! I was simply trying to give an appreciative kiss on the cheek! Have you never heard of such things?!” Simon was so concerned with defending himself that he forgot to use the opportunity to bring up his grouping woes. “It is not strange for a man to kiss another man on the cheek …”

“Sure, but … why?”

“Never mind that! There is something I should bring to your attention, ladies. I um … I think it would be best if I did not return to my mother’s house at this time.”

“… huuuh?” Cecily was suspicious already.[/spoiler] Edited by Phoenix

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[b]The Secret of Emperors [/b]

[spoiler]The hallway leading to the throne room of the Spire were empty, save for a single fallen making his way toward the throne room. Valdimarr. Instead of his usual clothes, a longcoat with simple pants and boots, he wore an open black and gold colored silk robe that almost dragged on the floor. His only other clothing seemed to be the same boots and a softer pair of pants, also black in color. The most unusual thing of all was the fatigued expression on his face. When he arrived at the throne room doors, he found no guards there and closely examined the area. <“… well that’s not right.”> he mumbled before forcing the doors open with both hands. He marched into the throne room and it seemed to be completely empty. <”… that’s definitely not right.”> He headed around the corner to see if the throne itself had anyone nearby. Finally he found someone … but once again, something wasn’t quite right. A lone woman with sharp fleshy wings was sitting on the throne with her hands on the arm rests and her legs crossed. Aside from her wings, she looked like most other naked tailed fallen, only her tail had a sharp stinger protruding from it, and her eyes were shifted black even though there didn’t seem to be a reason for it.

<”Who the hell …?”>

<”Prince Valdimarr Devlinos … soon to be Emperor Devlinos if he proves to be as strong and cunning as I think he is.”>

<”I’d ask who the hell you are but … I honestly don’t care. Get your ass off of the throne.”>

<”Just keeping it warm for you, dear. Despite what you just said, you’ll be happier to know who I am.”> She slowly stood up and strolled over to him. The woman didn’t seem to know how to wear a blank face. Every expression was a smile to some degree and Valdimarr didn’t like it.

<”I’ll be happier, will I? Then out with it.”>

<”I am Ragna, Architect Fervor, and head of the Sanjana clan.”>

<”Architect Fervor … never heard of you, only more notable ones like Fury or Glory.”> Valdimarr replied, crossing his arms, putting a hand to his chin and examining her more closely.

<”You may have never heard of me, but you’ve seen my work~ Do you know of the great digger that prowls the edges of the desert? Do you know what its name is, milord?”>

<”The digger? You mean that demon that was unleashed in the south that we’ve never been able to recover? Yes, I know all about it. I wasn’t aware the creature had a name, though.”> Valdimarr admitted, giving Ragna a dubious look.

<”Its name is Regios~ Regios the Digger.”>

<”Re- … you named a gigantic tunneler after my grandfather?”>

<”No no no, dear Valdimarr, no one named the creature upon its creation. The name was already there. I created that marvelous beast, and I unleashed him into the desert. There he could remain until he is needed~ Regios was created from your grandfather’s dying body and mind. A gift from me to grant him the immortality he so desperately craved. His father before him accepted my offer as well … and so has your father~”>

<”W-what?! You’re going to turn my father into a demon?! Are you insane?!”>

<”Not just any demon … the two demons I forged from deceased emperors are the strongest in existence. Generation after generation of emperors fails to witness the destruction of the northern countries but through me and my brethren they will not only witness our victory, but they will be the heralds of our coming. Listen to me … your father has chosen to be my third. Like his father and grandfather, he will not be taken by death at this time. I will transform him into my third and final archdemon.”>

<”What in the hell is wrong with you?! You’re going to turn my father into one of your pets?! The emperor’s body is sacred and you would dishonor it by turning it into a demonic ingredient?! Who else knows about this?!”>

<”The emperor is not a mere ingredient … he is the core, the emperor always forms the heart and mind of my archdemon … it is his right as a sovereign. It is why we refer to the late Emperor Regios Devlinos as ‘Regios the Digger’~ Your father too will form the heart and mind of my third archdemon~ Also, I hate for you to find out this way, but your father is an old old man, and I’m afraid he doesn’t have much time left. The secret has always been explained to the children before the deed is done, and I would hate for you to learn of this before you had a chance to speak with your father about it.”>

<”Where is he?!”>

<”In the undercity … where all the demons are forged~”>

<”… I will speak to him about this. Count on it, Ragna.”> Valdimarr glared down at her, his eyes shifting to accent his restrained fury. [i]That smug look of hers … she’s been doing this for who knows how long, and my father, grandfather, great grandfather all just went along with it. Why? For immortality? What is the point of living in such a lowly form as a demon? What is my father thinking? What were any of them thinking? Grrrrrrrr-[/i] <”… and wipe that smirk off of your face before I do it for you.”>[/spoiler]

[b]The Burden of Emperors [/b]

[spoiler]After a bit of prodding, Valdimarr succeeded in getting Ragna to take him to his father, but they wouldn’t make it there before another incident swooped down upon him. Heading toward the both of them from the other end of the hall was the current head of the Finnian clan, Helga. She boasted very large wings and immensely long hair. She wore long black dress with blood red patterns crossing over her chest, and her head was decorated with white feathers as well. Whether these were her own feathers or someone else’s was difficult to tell. Flanking her were Svanhildr on her right, and an unarmored, unarmed Brynhildr on her left. In place of her lance and armor, she had only a dark high cut gown and a robe covering it of a similar make and style to Valdimarr’s. Svanhildr was dressed as usual.

<”Valdimarr.”> Helga addressed him firmly.

<”That’s ‘Lord Valdimarr’ to you, Finnian … and what in Tartarus do you want?”>

<”I see you ‘get around’ fairly quickly. I’ve come to you seeking an answer to a question that has plagued me for some months now.”>

<”… well … here we go. Out with it, you old hen.”>

<”Have you decided whom you with to make your wife, yet?”> It was a straight forward question, and even though everyone who knew her(Valdimarr, Brynhildr, and Svanhildr) was expecting something blunt and intrusive like that, it still got ‘surprised’ reactions from all of them. Brynhildr leaned away from her a bit, Svanhildr winced and looked away from both Helga and Valdimarr, and Valdimarr himself raised an eyebrow.

<”Not yet … why?”>

<”I see … so I can assume you only intended to ‘test’ my daughter. And what is this? Are you so frequently aroused that you must turn to demons for company, Valdimarr …?”>

<”Dem-what?”> Valdimarr was stumped for a second and then realized Ragna was practically on his arm and she did not bare the appearance of a true fallen. <”She’s no demon, Helga. She’s a forger. An architect of the Sanjana clan.”> he explained.

<”I see … so you plan to mate with numerous women until you find one you would prefer for the long term. Typical royal brat.”>

<”Mother …”> Brynhildr tried to get Helga to drop the subject but that clearly wasn’t going to happen.

<”Ohhhh, is this about Bryn and me? Heheh … “>

<”Do not laugh, you royal nestling! It only serves to insult me further.”>

<”… Svan? Do you know what she’s on about?”>

Svanhildr lowered her head. <”We have been arguing about this ever since she discovered Bryn in your chambers this morning. My mother birthed each of us for an express purpose; Brynhildr to wield the clan’s sacred lance, myself to become the clan’s spokesman, and Siv to wed the next emperor and unite the Finnian clan with the Devlinos royal family. Your sexually liberal behavior has her doubting Siv’s chances with you. She Is not happy about it.”>

<”So what?”> Valdimarr shot back, aiming at Helga now that Svanhildr had filled in the missing details. <”If I decide to marry Siv, then I’ll marry Siv. If I choose someone else, then I choose someone else. I don’t give a damn about your predetermination for your offspring. The Finnian clan belongs to me, so if I want to repurpose you people, I’ll do it and you’ll deal with it.”> he declared in a steadily rising voice.

<”Unacceptable. If you do not wish to have Siv as your wife, then I have no use for her any longer. You waste my time on deciding what to do with her by claiming you’ve yet to make up your mind. More than enough time has passed and you should have chosen a wife by this point. Instead you insist on-“> <”LORD VALDIMARR!!!”> a panic stricken voice came from a nearby window.

Runa came flying in through the window and rolled instead of landing properly. She was tired … and holding a blanket with Norn’s rabbit inside. <”Lord Valdimarr … it’s … it’s Lord Steinn … he’s captured Princess Norn.”>

<”… Steinn did this? Steinn’s behind this?! He took Siv and now Norn?!”>

<”Yes …”> Runa quietly confirmed.

<”… it’s just one thing after another today. Just one thing after another. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take before I just level this place ….”> he muttered to himself. <”Alright, all of you, listen up. Helga, don’t you say another damn word before I finish or I’ll put you through a wall. I’m going to go see my father about something … personal. After that I’m going to go to Ursium and bring back my people … and kill Steinn while I’m there. No point in waiting for the battle proper. He’s earned an early death sentence for this ….”>

<”Perhaps I could be of assistance with that … though we shouldn’t discuss the details out in the open~”> Ragna chimed in.

<”Fine. Let’s go then.”>

<”Valdimarr.”> Helga addressed him quickly to make sure he didn’t wander off just yet.

<”What?”>

<”You clearly intend to put an end to Steinn and rescue Norn and Siv, but I ask that you simply kill Siv, instead.”>

<”M-mother!”> <”Quiet, Svan.”> Helga immediately shut her daughter up. <”Siv’s purpose is to be the wife of the next emperor. It is quite clear to me now that she is simply too young and far removed from someone like you, and Steinn was a poor choice, as well. I have no use for her beyond that original purpose, and so I ask that you save me the trouble of having to do it myself.”>

<”Heh, you’re forgetting that Siv belongs to me … and I like her [i]alive[/i]. Your opinion is worthless to me, and your request falls on deaf ears, Helga. Siv’s mine, so I’m bringing her back here, along with Norn and whoever else got captured in Steinn’s little trap.”> Valdimarr responded with a cocky grin.

<”Valdimarr, if you do not do it, I will. She had great potential, but like the others, she did not live up to my expectations. There is no reason for her to continue on in this world.”> Both Bryn and Svan were struggling to simply stand there and hear it, but they wouldn’t challenge their mother. Despite her looks, she was quite powerful, too powerful to ever take on in a straight fight. Still Svan had to say something at this point.

<”Mother … please reconsider. It is true that my sister and I are more … mature than Siv, but that does not mean she stands no chance at all.”>

<”Steinn was quite taken with you, Svan.”> Helga replied. Then she looked to Brynhildr. <”… and Valdimarr is quite taken with you … Bryn. I was lacking some foresight and had another daughter as a result. It was not something I should have done. With the two of you here, I have no need of her. Allowing Siv to live in your shadows is pointless, and it is a waste of resources better placed elsewhere. So Valdimarr, I implore you to end her life. You may feel that having as many servants as possible is a good thing, but not on principle. What a good emperor requires is strength, conviction, and courage in his followers. Siv lacks all of these, surely you must see that.”>

<”… ‘I was an egg once’ … that was something my father told me and my brothers over and over again. And then he’d attack … and almost kill us … he’d show us just how terrifying his power truly was … so we would know that we could be just like him, someday, ruling over this whole damn country and carrying the crown that belongs to [i]only[/i] the strongest. I see that potential in all of us, not just myself. Keeping that in mind … I don’t care how hopeless you think Siv is. For all we know she’ll become the strongest fallen in the world. If you think it’s not possible, you’re a fool. I’m going to rescue her, because until she dies, she’s not finished growing yet.”>

<”You would deny my one request based on some philosophical nonsense. Strongest fallen in the world? No, Valdimarr, she will not even surpass Svanhildr in power in her lifetime, I assure you. Your avarice makes you too blind to see the true limitations of a given individual, and so you foolishly assume they all have the same universal potential to become something great. You’re young, and with any luck, you’ll learn better during your reign as emperor. Siv’s only purpose is to unite our two clans through marriage and beyond that she is nothing. If you care for having her as a pawn so much, you should just take her as your wife. That would solve everything.”>

<”I might, but if I don’t take her as my wife, you’d better just live with it, because if you do [i]anything[/i] to her, I’ll have you stripped and put on display for months.”> Valdimarr threatened. <”Ragna, let’s go. Take me to my father. Runa, put that creature in Norn’s room. I’m assuming it’s hers …”> Runa nodded and then ran off. Once Valdimarr and Ragna were gone, that left the Finnians alone in the hall.

<”Mother, that was … so … disgusting!”> Bryn yelled. Immediately she was slapped across the face by Helga in response.

<”You sound like a human, right now. Don’t ever let me hear you say anything like that again, Bryn. We are of noble blood, but we should never take such gross advantage of the law. One child per pairing … outside of nobility I would have to choose which of you lives and dies. Svan, Bryn, you are not entitled to be sisters, for one of you should otherwise be dead. Because you are [i]Finnians[/i], that law is not forced on us, and you take your sisterhood for granted. I do not wish to have more children than what I deem absolutely necessary for increasing the influence of Clan Finnian, do you understand?”>

<”Of course … but it doesn’t make either of us feel any better about it. I’d go rescue Siv myself if Lord Valdimarr would just let me ….”>

<”It is partially my fault … your familial bonds have grown too strong for you to let go of her. I will not be making such a mistake in the future.”>[/spoiler]

[b]Dealing With Things[/b]

[spoiler]<”… noboooody knooows the trouble I’ve seeeen … nobooody knooows but Lokiiiii …. Hey how come Siv gets to roam around and we get to molt in here like chickens?”> Gunnar spoke up after singing his little prison song and embracing Loki.

<”Siv has been brought under control and is docile around the humans now. They trust her enough to let her roam free. Steinn won’t have us freed for any reason. A smart move.”> Loki replied with a slight analysis of the situation.

<”This is just … horrible, I tell you. Horrible. The bars are just spread out enough to make you [i]think[/i] you can squeeze through them, but then you try and … yeah I don’t want to relive almost suffocating again ….”> he stopped himself from continuing and frowned. <”Then we’ve got that magic seal sitting on top of the case and we’ve tried physical feat known to our kind to get it, but it’s just out of reach.”>

<”It isn’t over yet. Gunnar, quit distracting Loki. If you aren’t going to help us look for weaknesses in this prison that we can exploit, then be quiet and don’t say anything. I refuse to give up and just wait to be rescued. We’ll find a way out of here and then slaughter our way out if need be.”> Norn explained.

“… so … what do you think they’re talkin’ about?” one of the guards asked the other.

“They’re probably just talking about food or how good humans taste, heheh.”

“Do not joke like that. Those things are all caged up but we’ve got two on the loose, already.”

“Yeah, but those are the civil ones … I guess.”

And then as if on cue, Steinn entered the area. The guards went stiff and stood at attention. Steinn wasn’t their superior, that was just how they responded to people randomly showing up in the middle of one of their conversations. Speak of Steinn and he just happened to appear. That’s definitely stiff worthy. As he approached, Norn immediately stood up in the cage she was sharing with Loki and Gunnar and snarled at the man.

<”Steinn! Let us out of here!”>

<”I’m afraid I can’t do that, little sister. Just in case Siv isn’t motivation enough for Valdimarr to finally show up himself, I need you here.”>

<”I’m not going to serve as bait for whatever you’re planning. I will get free, mark my words, and all of your human friends are going to die for your carelessness …”> she threatened. The guards looked over wondering what the two of them were discussing. Different language or no, it sounded typical, what with the calm, cool, and collected captor addressing the captive who’s caught up in hysterics.

<“Just stay put. Once this is all over, you can return to Corvus.”>

<”Never!”>

Steinn sighed. <”I can see why you and he get along so well … farewell, sister.”> Steinn turned around and left, nodding at the guards on his way out. They went right back to guard duty while Norn seethed in the corner of the cage. Once he made it back up to the main level, he began a casual stroll through the estate, eying the repair work as he passed. Eventually he found Weyland. That was good timing; he did have something concerning to discuss with the man. “Weyland, do you have a moment?”

Weyland looked away from the crew trying to remove part of the rubble from near the ceiling of the conference room. He still looked like a sleep depraved mess but was surprisingly coherent. “Yes, Steinn, what is it?”

“The attack on your home was unforeseen, but I had always held concerns about using this location to spring the trap on my brother.”

“Oh not this, again. Steinn, the only way this is going to work is if we cover our bases. Trying to set up anywhere else is dangerous in that we must keep the trap a secret until Valdimarr arrives. It’s also dangerous because we don’t know exactly when he’ll arrive and it’s way too late to take a risk setting up elsewhere, now. I knew the risks in helping you and I’m more concerned with the bigger picture … an Ursium that is not being overrun by the fallen. I can rebuild my home in a year if worse comes to worst. My country would take several life times to recover … if it ever regained its independence at all.”

“I suppose … but Valdimarr is quite cunning. Even if our trap works perfectly, there may be casualties … I only want to make certain that you are prepared to suffer losses in exchange for this perpetually free Ursium.” Steinn explained.

“Heh … Connor’s absence is a blessing for me in that regard. What matters most cannot be taken from me by the fallen. Not at the moment, at least.”

“True.” Steinn nodded.[/spoiler]

[b]Alternative Teaching[/b]

[spoiler]Rodrigo, Caterena, and Reina rode together in a carriage that seemed to be heading out of town. Taking the road westward and heading for Ursentius, all the while Reina was answering various questions inside.

“Now exactly what’s so bad about that one classmate you mentioned?” Cat inquired.

“Jasper is gross, and he always hangs out near me.” Reina answered.

“Well maybe he likes you. Is that so bad?”

“Well I don’t like him … he’s weird and he sets his gas on fire ....” she explained with a disturbed teary eyed look on her face. Rodrigo immediately busted out laughing, but it ended as quickly as it had begun when Cat stepped on his foot. “He also picks his nose every five minutes.”

“Okay … fellow classmates are irredeemable … let’s move on to the teacher, shall we?” Cat replied.

“My teacher is … is … … he’s too bossy. He only lets me read what everyone else reads. It’s hard to learn.” She started off, forming a frown. “I want to learn magic in a way that’s fun. He makes us do everything as one big group … and the slowest students are the ones who … what’s that phrase, mom? ‘Set the pace’?”

“That’s probably it, Reina.” Cat affirmed.

“The slowest students set the pace. That’s why I’m not very good yet, I think.”

“Well I’ve got good news for you, Reina.” Rodrigo interjected. “Your mother and I have been doing some talking and decided that we’re going to try out a different magic tutor for you~”

“Really?!” Reina’s mood improved on the spot.

“You betcha. That’s why we’re heading to Ursentius … it’s not just for Cat’s new custom tome~ It’s for your … ‘custom’ learning~

“Thank you both!” Reina tried to hug both her mother and Rodrigo at once but her arms were just too short for that. They both came closer to help her out and shared a somewhat rocky group hug. The carriage was still moving quite fast, and so once the hug was over, the bumpy ride encouraged them back into their seats.

Rodrigo sighed. “Now if only we could get there a little faster ….”[/spoiler]

[b]01 and 02[/b]

[spoiler]Two of Weyland’s top operatives, Anna, and Craig; they had separate assignments, but had a run in before it was time to go and do those assignments. Craig was tasked with staying by Weyland’s side and helping with the plan to stop Valdimarr. Being on par with many near legendary assassins of old, he was once again the natural choice for a bodyguard. Anna meanwhile had the normally daunting task of keeping up Weyland’s other goal, anti-organization operations. Anna’s task was to go out and track down organization members, but she not only had the task of finding them, she like Raquel’s group was sent specifically to cripple them wherever possible and report back after each successful counter-op. It was a long term assignment at this rate, but like all of her previous duties, it came naturally to her … somehow ….

The two agents sat across from each other at a round outdoor table on a patio on the second floor of one of the other buildings on the estate. Anna had a cup of tea still steaming and Craig had his weapons laid out around the edge of the table all facing toward the center. He looked them over while Anna did most of the talking. “I’ve heard a lot about this Valdimarr from the others, but everything they say is just … hearsay, so I have no idea what he’s really like. He just sounds incredibly evil and dangerous. That’s quite the contrast to Steinn, don’t’ you think?”

“… Steinn’s no saint. He thinks little of taking life … I suppose that makes him true noble material, but where he comes from, I guess you could consider him ‘soft’.”

“Fallen have such a bad rep, and I get why, I mean they’re really giving the Kigenese a hard time, but with Steinn around, my old conceptions have been dropped into the well. It’s probably a good thing, though. I don’t like to think of them as irredeemable savages bent on the destruction of all mankind, etcetera.”

“Any society that has to bring death in order to bring progress is savage, so it’s not like we’re exempt. People just don’t like the ‘extremes’ the fallen are known for.” Craig replied, picking up a knife to examine the blade.

“I heard a very interesting teaching, once. How did it go …? Oh right! Now I’m just paraphrasing. Ahem. ‘We have much in common with those we despise. Often rejection comes when we see something in the other person that we dislike about ourselves.’ I’m not really sure what it means but I think it applies here. Mankind’s been killing each other since the beginning of beginnings and the fallen are hated because they … do it on a much larger scale?”

“Gods, Anna, you are the strangest person … I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something.” Craig replied, putting the knife back down where it was.

“You’re using your ‘I’m casual’ voice so … I’ll take that as a compliment~” she concluded giving a bright cheerful smile.

Craig shrugged saying “You are what you are. Guess that goes for the fallen and humanity, as well. We can hate each other all we want, but if you ask me, we’re all just a bunch of murderous savages with no alternatives or guiding lights.”

“Well there’s Mercy. She’s a guiding light~”

“When’s the last time you saw this light of hers? All I see are some old church philosophies begging for total pacifism. It’s a pretty ideal, but a lot of people have to die for it, on [i]both[/i] sides. I don’t think the gods are helping much.” Craig shook his head.

Anna sighed. “Would it really make a difference if they were here on the earth … bossing us around? I don’t think it would help much.”

“Wouldn’t help [i]at all[/i]. Humans adapt too fast. We get complacent. Then we get stupid. Pretty much how every problem in history starts. Adaptation, complacency, stupidity, and almost always in that order.”

“You are the most insightful person … I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something.” Anna replied playfully.

“Just stating observations.” Craig noted dismissively, reaching to examine a different knife.[/spoiler]

[b]One Wish[/b]

[spoiler]Naddy sat up under the covers of her bed staring at the wall. It was morning, and she had gotten very little sleep. It seemed word of the massacre at Urcenter had reached her town, and she knew that her father might very well have perished in the fighting. It was a terrible sickening feeling that kept her up through the night, and now that morning had come, she didn’t have an appetite, and she didn’t even want to leave her room. Her mother had brought breakfast on a tray, but Naddy didn’t even react to it, so she knew it would be best to sit the food down on her desk and talk with her daughter.

She began by sitting on the edge of the bed, being careful not to sit on her daughter legs. “Naddy, dear … we don’t know what really happened at Urcenter. Daddy could be just fine for all we know. So what he needs from us right now is faith, faith in him.”

“But there were dragons, mommy … lots, they said ….”

“Right … and daddy knows good and well to stay away from dragons, right?” the mother turned the concern on its head, causing Naddy to think on it for a moment.

“Yeah! He would trick them into not noticing him and then he would be fine!”

“Mhm.”

“But still …” Naddy’s tone descended, again. “… I’m worried.”

“Oh me too, but I [i]know[/i] he’ll be alright … and he won’t want to come home to a starving daughter.” she noted, nudging her head toward the food over on the desk.

“… mhm … okay.” Naddy conceded.[/spoiler]

[b]Naddy’s Daddy: The Final Episode[/b]

[spoiler]Survival was their only goal. There were too many dragons for them to have a hope of coming out victorious. The night the mansion was overrun by Neviskotian troops, Jason, Niel, and the others had to fight their way out in order to survive. Through great determination, they managed to escape the estate, but not before encountering a persistent group of soldiers who they had no choice but to engage at close range. Brady, Rayner, and Jenney were the only ones that suffered no injuries during the battle. Everyone else was at least wearing a new bandage around a limb or on the torso somewhere. By morning, a whole new problem had presented itself … a blasted blockade made out of wyvern riders, lancers, and several dragons. They were trying to cut off escape routes so survivors couldn’t regroup with the main force that was surely on its way by now. They all knew that their survival depended on getting past this incredibly large force. They stood at the edges of Urcenter staring out over the land, watching the enemies shift their coverage of the area every so often while dragons and wyvern riders flew overhead. In the several hours they spent observing the blockade, they saw ten individual groups of survivors cut down trying to test the Neviskotian forces. Escape westward wasn’t looking feasible … and it wouldn’t be long before the patrolling units found them, either.

Brady addressed the group, since Rutger was too busy nursing his wounds to play ‘alpha’. “Okay, guys … we got royally screwed, here. The enemy hit us with everything they had and technically they’re still hitting us. This little reprieve of ours is likely the last we’ll get unless we survive this … so if you’ve got anything you want to get off your chest … now’s the ti-“ “Um, Miss Lupo?” Regis interrupted.

“What is it?”

“Well … since we’re getting’ things off our chest … I figured I should let you know that I … … I uh ….”

“Oh my gods, not a wrathdamn love confession ….” Brady muttered.

“I really like y’ur eyes. That’s so hard to say outside of a life or death situation.”

“Oh … why thank you, Private. I appreciate the compliment … even now.” Lupo replied sounding a bit tired.

“Of for … is there anything relevant-no, screw this. The time for last words came and went last night. From here on out we focus on one thing, getting the fuck out of this mess with our lives, got it?” Brady declared, raising his voice just enough to get the group’s attention in earnest.

“Got it.” Jason confirmed with a nod.

“Now here’s my plan …” Brady began. Brady explained the plan to them, and while this happened, several other groups staged escape strategies of their own. As badly as the Ursian soldiers needed each other, they were in the middle of a ‘wipe out’ scenario, and it was every cooperating unit for themselves. The risk involved in forming a larger more formidable group was too great, and the Neviskotians would put more firepower toward the largest groups of enemies assuring their victory. Brady took this into account, and though it bothered him to use his allies in this way, it was the only way to improve their chances of surviving. The enemy forces didn’t have any cavalry, with them, which offered them a better chance at slipping by if the aerial units could be evaded. Now they only had to wait … wait for their other allies to make attempts at bypassing the Neviskotians. Brady and the others only found solace in that they wouldn’t have to watch. Instead they would have to keep on running.

Finally after another half hour of waiting, it happened, the largest surviving group yet came running out from Urcenter both on foot and on horseback aiming to kill as many of the Neviskotians as they could before being killed. Not all of the Ursians thought it possible to escape with their lives and so sought to die honorably. The largest group was among these, and seeing their valiant charge, other groups emerged and attacked as well. Soon, over one hundred Ursian soldiers had come screaming out of the woodwork hoping to deal a critical blow to the enemy in preparation for the reinforcements that were promised.

“Three …”

The three dragons immediately led the wyvern riders into swooping dives, aiming to kill as many as they could on their first passes.

“Two …”

The surviving archers aimed their bows skyward, aiming to kill as many as they could on their first pass.

“One …”

The archers fired their arrows, and the dragons unleashed fire, ice, and wind attacks on the Ursians on the ground.

“GOOOOOO!!!” Brady ordered at the top of his lungs. They took off like professional sprinters, aiming to reach the battlefield and slip through the chaos. The fire dragon caused the most damage, setting an entire group ablaze, leaving little for the wyvern riders following her to do but scatter and look for different targets. The ice dragon slowed the group he was attacking to a mere crawl and some of them even died. Most were killed immediately after she past them by descending wyvern riders. All the while, foot soldiers from the Neviskotian army were stampeding toward them like bulls.

As the fighting intensified, the Neviskotian forces began to spread, both on the ground and in the air. Brady and his group found themselves running right alongside another group that planned on taking on the charging infantry. The next thirty seconds were promising to be the most brutal of their entire lives. Both sides came to within ten yards of each other, and Lupo chucked several grenades before slowing down to evade the blasts. Brady made sure they hit their marks; instead of shooting one soldier, he shot the grenade in the center just as it reached them, and five Neviskotians were killed on the spot by that one grenade. The blast set off the other two and a gaping hole was blown through the wave of soldier. In total, twenty enemy soldiers were killed, and Brady’s group rushed into the breach. A group of wyvern riders swooped down behind them, but Rayner took charge and leaped over one of them, hauling off the rider, and using rotational force to slam him into the ground. His skull was shattered, and his neck broken in numerous places. Rayner then began shooting up fireballs at the other two along with Jenney. They downed a second rider together before starting to run with the others. Wyvern rider after wyvern rider made attempts to run them into the dirt, but the sages kept repelling them with magic and other brutal tactics.

They progressed further and further until finally, the dragons took notice. Jason noticed them too, right when one turned and began flying down toward them at high speed. “Everyone spread out, or they’ll get us all at once!” That was all he had time to say before being forced to dive to the ground, a stream, of flames missing him by inches. The ice dragon came down at them next and tried a broader attack, but was countered by Rayner. Ice met fire and an explosion of mist was the result. The ice dragon still managed to pick off one of the Ursian soldiers during his pass, however. Finally the wind dragon came and unleashed numerous spinning wind blades at them. Rutger and Staggard were both hit, but survived, despite being thrown to the grass in a bloody heap. Jenney abandoned the fight to help them, and Rayner began sending up fireballs at the dragon as it passed overhead. Lupo didn’t see them making it any further than this without these dragons being taken out of the way.

The dragons came back around and formed up. This time they planned to wipe out the entire group in one pass. Lupo ran out in front with several grenades ready to go and Rayner gasped yelling “What are you doing?! Are you trying to get yourself killed, Lupo?!” There was no time. He took to the air to try and catch up with her. The ice dragon prepared to attack her, and just as Rayner caught up, Lupo leaped into the air as if trying to give the dragon a chance to catch her. The dragon opened his jaw hoping to bite her right out of the air, and regardless of what Lupo did, that was the inevitable outcome, but she planned to die crippling the enemy, and activated her last three grenades all at once. Rayner flew up and snatched her away at the last second causing her to drop the grenades. They disappeared into the dragon’s mouth and were too small to catch with his tongue, so they went straight down his throat. The dragon suddenly flinched in time with the explosion and sailed over Brady and the others. He crashed onto the ground belching up black fumes and lied motionless after a moment.

The fire dragon flew down to the aid of the ice dragon and the wind dragon came around for another pass, having let the first opportunity slip by due to shock. Rayner put Lupo down just in time to be snatched and hauled away into the air by the wind dragon. “Rayner!” she called out.

“Just run! I’ve got this disgusting reptile!” he assured her. He wrestled with the wind dragon’s paws as they tried to get a good grip on his limbs. They found themselves traveling higher and higher and further from the others during this struggle. Brady’s group slipped past the blockade in the meantime. The wind dragon could waste no more time if he was going to put an end to this group. Rayner set his hands ablaze, but the dragon countered by reaching down and biting his entire torso. Before Rayner could do anything else, the dragon pulled him apart with his singed hands and threw away the pieces. He quickly turned around and began a long nosedive toward the fleeing group.

“Guys! They’re both comin’ right for us!” Regis yelled. The wind dragon was obvious, but no one noticed the fire dragon until Regis spoke up.

“Shit!” Brady exclaimed before acting on instinct. He was going to get this dragon to back off or die in the next two seconds. Brady took his shot just as the fire dragon began spraying flames his way. The flames stopped short, and a spurt of blood shot out from the beast’s right eye. Brady had to dodge dying flames and flailing wings as the dragon barrel rolled to the ground, nearly crushing him. As soon as Brady got on his feet and started running, the dragon swatted him with her tail sending him flying over thirty feet in the other direction. The dragon quickly rolled over and tried to crush him in the dirt with her paw. He rolled just in time to escape it, and then her jaws came down aiming to crush him. Brady did the only thing he could think of and thrust his rifle into the dragon’s mouth and using it to hold her jaws open. She immediately lifted up and began shaking her head in hopes of causing him to slip, the only thing keeping the rifle in place was her own forgetfulness. Simply relaxing her jaws would have freed the gun and allowed her to bite him in two, but when she finally realized this, Brady had a new plan. He quickly put his left foot onto her teeth to stabilize himself, and then used the right to kick the rifle free. It fell right into throat, and he just managed to fall out of her jaws before they slammed shut. It was a good plan, but he broke his arm during the fall.

At around the same time, the wind dragon made another attempt to destroy the stragglers with wind blades, but was countered with burst of fire magic from Jenney. She had tears and fury in her eyes and she planned to avenge Rayner, somehow. The dragon flew overhead and she used the opportunity to finish healing Rutger and Staggard. Once they were up, she turned her attention back toward the approaching dragon.

Meanwhile, Jason rushed to aid Brady, who was screaming in pain and trying to hurry away from the fire dragon while clutching his arm. Jason waved him on by and stayed to try and buy time. The fire dragon was choking on the rifle and preoccupied. He quickly ran up to her and rammed his sword into her heel, severing her tendon and causing her so much pain that she immediately kicked him away. He went flying in Brady’s direction and crashed into him. Both hit the ground with a loud thud. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHH!!!” Brady screamed. If his arm wasn’t truly broken before, it was now.

“Niel … we have to get out of here … now …” Jason struggled to instruct the agonizing lieutenant. It wasn’t working so well, and he forced the man onto his feet, putting his arm over his superior’s shoulder to try and hold him steady. They began making their way toward the others, but things behind them were looking increasingly dire. Most of the Ursians had been wiped out, and the ground soldiers as well as the wyvern riders were all turning to face the last dozen Ursians remaining.

The wind dragon circled around for yet another pass, and Jenney prepared to face him head on. Rutger limped to her side and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Jenn … listen to me … Brady told us to survive, remember? Don’t’ do anything stupid.” he explained while trying not to pant. He was tired, and hurting, and this seemed almost hopeless despite one dragon being killed and another being completely incapacitated. Jenney understood what Rutger was trying to do, but she couldn’t turn away. The wind dragon would just make another pass, and sooner or later the other enemies would catch up to them and it would be all over, regardless. She prepared to cast a large fire spell, but Rutger immediately shoved her out of the way and the wind dragon’s attack struck him uninterrupted. He fell onto his back without making a sound.

“Lieutenant!” she cried as the wind dragon flew overhead. “Why did you do that?! Why?!”

“Oh … we shouldn’t both have to d-die …. You’re a … stronger caster than I am … and they’re going to need you. Don’t let them down, okay …?”

“Lieutenant … … … Lieutenant? Lieutenant?! RUTGER!!! Uuuuuuuargh!” she collapsed over his body slammed her fist into the ground. “I’m the only one left. My entire squad has been wiped out, now ….” She didn’t have time to mourn; the wind dragon was already on its way for another pass. She left Rutger and helped Staggard get moving. It was too close and the wind dragon’s attack almost shredded their bodies, and both fell to the ground, injured even further.

Jason and Brady caught up to the group, but that was when it finally came to a head. The wyvern riders flew over them and cut off their escape once and for all. The wind dragon landed not too far from them, and the soldiers caught up, herding the survivors into a semi-circle. The battle seemed to be over, but the Neviskotians hadn’t struck them down, yet. Jason held out his sword in a defensive manner. They all did, save for those who could no longer fight or defend themselves. “… fuck … well it was worth a shot … and it looks like I killed a dragon. I’m going in the history books, heheh. I guess this isn’t so bad … I just wish I’d broken my arm [i]after[/i] dying, not before.” Sure enough, the fire dragon wasn’t moving … she appeared to have succumb to the rifle lodged in her wind lungs. Dozens of soldiers were trying to wake her up, but to no avail. “I killed that one! Ya hear me?! Let it be known far and wide that I took that giant scaly bitch down!” Brady yelled at the approaching soldiers. Jason sighed. They fought bravely but … this was all it led to? He was beginning to feel simply awful by the time the soldiers reached them.

Suddenly a gust of wind overtook the entire area. It was too sudden to be natural; it had to be wind magic, but on an incredibly large scale. The Neviskotian forces braced themselves, knowing the cause and being prepared in advance. Suddenly out of the air itself, a very large dragon appeared. The soldiers broke up their formation and cleared a path for the dragon. It was Boscov himself. He approached the group. “So you are the survivors. You fought well, but this is the end. Don’t resist us any further.”

“I’m not giving you people the satisfaction of making prisoners of war out of us … and I’m sure as hell not going to be executed in public for fighting for my country’s sake. You’re going down. I’ll beat your scaly ass to death with one hand since I have to!” Brady yelled.

“Goodness, stand down, already. You people are an amazing yet pitiful sight.” Boscov insisted.

[i]Naddy … how do I get out of this? I promised her when this war began that I’d make it back to her alive and well … but now what do I do?[/i] Jason fretted to himself.

“COMMANDEEEER!!!” a Neviskotian scout called out, swooping down on his wyvern. “Commander! We have major problem! Ursian army is heading these way as we speak! They are at least fifty thousand strong, Sir!”

“… and so it begins ….” Boscov mumbled to himself. “Men form a line at the outskirts of the city and call in our forces from the city. Leave scouts at all four corners to watch for any second groups that might have gone around to hit us from the south, southwest, or southeast.” Boscov ordered.

“The army’s here? Whoa …” Brady began coughing and Jason supported him. “I still don’t think we’re getting out of this alive, but … even still, it’s good to know we did something right … we took two dragons and a bunch of ground units off their hands for them.”

Jason nodded. “We did our duty as soldiers of the Ursian military … and now we get a front row seat to the benefits.”

“You scumbags are in for it now.” Brady mocked.

“… perhaps.” Boscov replied.

At the head of the opposing army was the man in black and golden armor, General Ridge Remus, the commander of the largest army in Ursium. He sat atop a large black warhorse and was flanked by over a thousand cavalry, riflemen, lancers, archers, the list went on. Over a hundred ballistas were being rolled up through the enormous forces to sit near the front where they would brutally cut down aerial resistance. Remus’ cold expression never changed. “So that is Boscov … the legendary wind dragon. Finally an enemy commander worthy of my steel.” he declared, revealing his sword. “Men … prepare to attack … we will liberate Urcenter from the dragons and drive them back over the channel. Their presence will not be tolerated a day longer.”

“Keep the prisoners out of the way. I don’t wish to kill them over the minor inconvenience holding them has become.” Boscov ordered. Immediately soldiers began herding Jason, Brady, Lupo, Jenney, Staggard, Remus, and the other survivors out of the way. “Such a large army … perhaps it is Ursium’s head general … Remus. It would be a great honor to fight such a general, though I only wish it could be on more favorable terms. Prepare to defend Urcenter!”

“Prepare to reclaim Urcenter!”

“We must hold out until our own reinforcements arrive or we will lose the city and all of our losses will be for nothing!”

“We must purge these dragons and their human worshippers from our lands or all who died defending it will have died in vain!”

“FOR NEVISKOTIA!!!”

“FOR URSIUM!!!”[/spoiler]

[b]Since You’ve Been Gone[/b]

[spoiler]It had been nearly a month since the incident … the exploding ship of the line in the harbor, the numerous robed figures, the gathering of mercenaries, and the disappearance of a somewhat decent friend and part time business partner. It was all still fresh in Ezio’s mind, however … being that there was little else to remember that was quite so epic. Aside from the after effects of a city-wide panic, things had gone back to normal and stayed that way.

Little did anyone know, Ezio had collected a few of the staves used by the robed men in the battle. Originally he intended to sell them long after the heat had died down and the news of robed men swinging staves at innocent people had been lost to memory. In the meantime, he focused on his business, only stopping to learn more about the staves after he closed the shop for the day. As a curator, he found it very important to know what he was selling and its origins. He eventually learned that the staves were a kigenese design which intrigued him, but in the end, he was more concerned with having enough information to sell them with confidence.

One day, a young boy and his mother came into the store. The mother was looking for a vase, the boy was bored out of his mind from the looks of things. Ezio tried to sell the woman a vase while the boy looked around the store, eventually finding one of the staves. He pointed it out to his mother quickly, distracting her from Ezio’s sales pitch. Apparently he wanted the staff and a sale was a sale, so he immediately switched gears and began giving a surprisingly detailed overview of the staff, its origin, and even its composition, strengths, and weaknesses … the man did his homework, and he made the sale, though the mother was reluctant about buying her son a ‘stick’. Ezio just found it humorous that he managed to sell something that was essentially swung around to the same people who came hoping to buy a vase … the type of fragile object often knocked down and shattered by swinging objects. Just another day in the shop.

Meanwhile in Europa, Zach and Thomas spent their waking hours sharing a bath in the beautifully restored baths. Zach was trying to just relax, but Thomas was making it difficult with his insistence on talking the entire time. Once they were finished, the two men dried themselves off and left the baths to head to their room and gather some things for the morning classes.[/spoiler] Edited by Phoenix

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And so morning came. John woke up, yawned and stretched. He rose from the bed and went towards his bag. [i]<Well, a new day is ahead of us, but first, breakfast.>[/i] He thought taking out the rest of the food, and began to eat.

-----

Sophia woke up. [i]Morning already? That's too bad.[/i] She thought, sitting up. She looked around. Chelsea was still sleeping apparently. [i]Maybe I should sleep just a little longer?[/i] She wondered, but then a knock came from the door, and being the only one awake, she had to be the one to answer.

Turned out it was a servant, delivering their clothes. After Sophia took back hers and the servant left, she stood there in the doorway. [i]Well, I'm already up so I guess it can't be helped now.[/i] She sighed. [i]Let's just focus for today then.[/i] So she then actually left the room and closed the door, and then walked in the direction of the baths. Edited by Acacia Sgt

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[b]Nadya[/b]

Nadya was a bit sad to see Haythem go, but she figured there was nothing she could do other than advise him to be careful and go to bed. Waking up the next morning, she decided to get some bagels from the dining hall and got some carrots while she was at it. She figured she could visit Luca anytime she wanted, they weren't prisoners in the palace, right?

[b]Veronika[/b]

Veronika had missed Raquel on her way back from the meeting apparently, and noticed that she was already left before Veronika had woken up the next morning as well. Going towards the baths, Veronika eventually heard Raquel's voice, talking about a dream she had had the previous night. [i]Dreams and visions and relics...bah I'm no good with this sort of thing. I'm curious as to how that meeting with Aisha went though, what does the sand goddess want anyway? I'm glad Lilith was there to help us in Purgatory, but I do not relish being a plaything of vasili for very long.[/i] she stewed from a nearby bath.

[b]Connor[/b]

Connor had some difficulty sleeping, as he was used to having his own room and not dealing with murmurs of "Zel" "rat" and his own name from Gabbie at intermittent points during the night. He really didn't want to know the details and was slightly relieved when Gabbie left so that he could sleep in peace all by himself.

[b]Selene[/b]

Selene was alarmed at first with Desmond's reaction to Worthington, while Desmond was clearly in the right, showing such defiance to the Voice of the Gods was not especially prudent. She was pleased at the revelation...albeit surprised.

"These artifacts will help humanity more than anything else," she said, finally raising her head up to respond to Worthington. "And despite the...unorthodoxy, it is we who act for the will of the gods, not the other way around. Lord Wrath may do as he pleases and we should be honored that he chooses to act so directly in such a troubled time. This is a great moment for Ursium," she said, bowing her head in Desmond's direction once again, shaking slightly in awe of the whole experience.

[b]Clara[/b]

"Won't your mother miss you? And other people who need your information will be looking for you at your mother's anyway. People who want to know...assassin locations and uh, whatever else you do," she said to Simon. [i]Not sure if we can really take him with us, our boss is a bit...fickle, though you think the organization could use informants.[/i]

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When he woke the next morning, the first sensation Norbert was aware of was scent. It was unfamilliar. The light coming into the room registered with his eyes and he could hear that he was somewhere unfamilliar. And then he realized he was in a bed...and not in his own clothes. Memories began to affirm what his senses were telling him as he pushed himself up and rubbed his eyes, shifting to a seated position on the guest room bed he'd slept in the previous night. Things were beginning to make sense again. Valter seemed like he was still asleep. It was fairly quiet outside the guest room. Judging by the light coming through the window in addition to that, it was definitely morning. The pegasus rider stood up and stretched then looked back to his meagar belongings he'd taken with him. Splinter and Crunch weren't with them. No, they were still on the bed. Yes, Norbert had slept with them at his side. It was a precaution he always made and didn't see a reason to change it. [i]Hmm... What should I do? Valter's still asleep... I'll take Riz with us when we go into the town. For now, though... Hmm I wonder how Ranyin's doing... Veronika's looking out for Raquel, so I'm sure she's safe. [/i]The idle pondering left as Notbert's mind slipped into routine only to be disrupted by an idea. [i]Hmm. Why not? I could practice with my poleaxe against Blake. He said he'd like to train against me and it'd be a good break from my normal training by myself. I don't want to leave Valter alone... But if they were going to attack us, it would have been last night or it could be later on in the day. Right now would be inconveniant for them, though... I...think it's safe for now.
[/i]
With that in-mind, the pegasus rider picked up Splinter and Crunch...only to remember his own belt had been taken for cleaning. The borrowed pants had their own string variety built-in and was presently tied but wouldn't do for carrying around his maces. [i]...Blast it. I'll just take my poleaxe. I'm sure Splinter and Crunch will be fine here for at least a little while.[/i] So, with that thought, he set them back down onto his bed, walked over, picked up his poleaxe and quietly headed out the door to ask around and see where Blake was staying. And so, he began wandering the halls, poleaxe resting on his shoulder. [i]Hmm. There's supposed to be some lady around helping us out during our stay, isn't there?
[/i]
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Gytha woke up, the first thign she did, of course, was tend to Maw's eye socket and change the bandages, just as she did every morning. There was a soft knock at the door just as she was finishing up. Synthia was still asleep, so she walked over and opened it. It was one of the Rexian servants. "Your laundry's done," he awkwardly stated as he handed Gytha her duffelbag and Synthia's clothing.

The clothes inside Gytha's bag had been washed, yes, but so had the bag its self! "Harr, thank ye!" she quietly thanked.

The Rexian didn't say anything more beyond nodding before he left. Gytha shut the door and quietly set Synthia's clothes on the end of her bed before changing into her own clothes. Out of her three tunics, she chose the red one to wear today. Unbeknownst to Gytha (who also didn't really care) Maw had slipped out while she was recieving the clean laundry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The previous night's endeavor to sneak food had been a success. So, Maw padded off to the kitchen again. There was less bustle this morning than there had been the previous night, so odds for detection rose. Still, the silver tabby would stealthily attempt to aquire breakfast. And so, she slipped under the kitchen's island, waiting to catch the scent of something particularly enticing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Captain Cecelia's pegasus knights hovered in the air, awaiting orders beyond "keep an eye out for bandits and prepare to attack." The captain herself hadn't recieved much more instruction beyond that, but they all knew the drill. They were just outside of a bandit company's base of operations, after all. Still, her mind kept returning to the battle in Central Sardius. Things there had become quite tense, especially with Urcenter captured. Just thinking about it hardened her fury into something wicked and sharp. But no, no that place was far away. The forces being sent to retake it would do their job and she had to do hers, even if it was just dealing with bandits. [i]No... Not "just" bandits. Bandits. Attackers of the citizenry who work hard to make a living just to be stripped of it. They must be stopped...just as much as those dragon-worshippers and their hated allies. How can any sane human side with such...[/i]creatures[i]?
[/i]
She shook her head to clear it then flew down to Colonel Langley, landing right near her. "My riders are in position, Colonel. Is there anything specific you have for me?" she asked, shoving the distracting thoughts as far to the back of her mind as possible. What was important was there here and now. If you didn't pay attention, it could cost the entire battalion and Cecelia knew it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Another school day. That meant more work, but Tim cheerfully accepted it as he walked to the cafeteria, tome in-hand. It was breakfast time in Europa University and he was hoping for a good start to a good day. Today's breakfast? Apples, toast and eggs! He got a cup of water too. What a grand day and what a fine breakfast this was! The toast was perfectly toasted and buttered and the apples were crisp and juicey -- he could tell already! When he sat down at one of the tables, he happily began to eat. Soon, most of the breakfast was gone. It would still be a bit of time before his first class, however, so Tim decided to get a bit of practice in. After getting another cup of water, he sat at the table again and just looked at the water for a little while, passively honing in on it. As everything else muted, Tim began to slowly, idly make small circles with his free index finger, since the other was busy supporting his head, seeing as he was leaning his elbow on the table. The water in the cup began to churn slightly, flowing circularly within the cup. As his focus intensified and he put more energy into it, the water began to spin faster until it had formed a funnel of air -- a hole in the water -- within the cup. Tim's smile broadened slightly as he manipulated the water, having it spring up and over its self, rolling, springing, falling and spinning. It was easy to repeat the motions again and again, adding a little new part here and there of the endless pattern the water was flowing in. One could easily forget his or her surroundings when so engrossed in a fun little practice like this. In Tim's case, this was true. He also was unaware of the time as it ticked by.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The door was already open, but Daichi decided to give a courteous, light knock on the open door as he stood just outside of it and gave Katsu a sympathetic smile. <"Good morning, Katsu. How are you feeling today?"> he asked as he walked into the recovery room to talk with the mercenary. Edited by Mercakete

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The rest of the night seemed to pass without incident for Robin. Whatever strange force had brought on her weird dreams it seemed to remain away as the young woman slept through the night. Come the following morning, Robin woke up with a uneasy motion. The dream had caused her to sleep in (for her) resulting in her waking up late (for herself). Yet, she noted that she was awake before her roommate, possibly before others still. She quietly looked over to her deerhide clothes as she woke up. She had not turned them over for washing, feeling that they needed her own personal touch.

"<Best get it done now.>" she mumbled through her sleep-worn lips as she stood up. She was a mess. Reddish-blonde hair stood up in the air as a result of sleeping with her face buried in the pillow as grains of 'sand' sat in the corner of her eyes and a general unkeptness covered her face as she arose. Picking up her clothes, she looked over to Nadya, who seemed to be still asleep, and as she walked out of the room, quitely pulled her covers up a bit, to make sure she slept for the final ten or so minutes a bit warmer.

Stepping outside, she looked both ways, looking for a source of water. However, just outside her door was Bert. "Morning Bert." she said with a groggy tone as she rubbed her eyes. "Did you sleep well? Do you know where I can find some *yawn* water?"

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He apparently was passing by Robin's room as she stepped out, apparently not fully awake and asking about water. She was wearing the sort of clothes the Rexians had loaned them and she looked clean, so that meant she'd taken a bath the previous night. Maybe she meant drinking water. No, she'd probably had something to eat the previous night, too. Well, she was carrying her own clothes, so she obviously meant water to wash her clothes with. Maybe she didn't trust the Rexians with them. "I don't know where the laundry's done, but maybe you could use the baths or ask someone who wroks here," he replied with the more helpful information first, then answered her less important question, "And I slept like a rock. I guess I was more tired than I realized... Hmm. I guess I do that a lot." The last part of his reply was more to himself, as it occurred to him that it wasn't really uncommon for him to have a lot of energy then suddenly rest for a moment and be sound asleep a second later. [i]Wierd. I don't think that's something that happens to people normally.[/i]

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John emerged from the room, carrying his bag with one hand, and what was eating on the other. [i]<Well, first things first, I guess I should pay Gil a visit or something.>[/i] He thought, taking a bite from his food. [i]<One problem though, I didn't accompanied the others when they went to the stables.>[/i] He looked around the hallway. [i]<I guess I'll just have to find someone and ask then.>[/i] And so he wandered off.

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Robin looked up, envy in her eyes at the sound of his good nights sleep. "You are lucky, you know that? I had a bad dream, something about me lying to myself. I couldn't make heads or tails of it though. I apologized to Gytha and now I dream of betraying myself. When I was nice to you, I dreamed of drowning and being confused."

She stepped around to his far side. "I do not get it. Why do I seem to think I am betraying myself by trying to make nice to people?"

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"That's...weird," he mentioned, quite confused by her case. He'd never heard of anyone with such drastic...mental trauma? Was that what this was? "Maybe you should talk to someone about that... Like a doctor...or a cleric... Well, see you later." He really didn't know what to make of this, just deciding that it wasn't any of his concern. It was a bit unsettling, but he had other things to focus on.

As he walked along, he eventually came across a couple maidens, one of which he recofnized from the previous day. "Hey," he bluntly greeted as he came up to them, "Do you know which room Blake's staying in? He's a swordsman with our group, about yae tall, blue hair..."

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Robin grumbled as Bert dashed off, obviously desiring to get away from the crazy Skotian archer girl who was having weird dreams related to him. If she had had something in her hands at the moment that she could have thrown at the back of his head, she probably would have. Without such a thing though she could only settle for a icy glare at him as she walked past him flirting with some of the palace maidens.

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It didn't took long, and John came across a hallway to find Bert talking with some Maidens, and Robin walking through. [i]<Well, that didn't took long enough. I can just ask Bert.>[/i] He thought. ''Hi there.'' He called out as he approached.

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He'd only just asked the maidens his question when Robin walked by. She must've followed him, though he didn't notice her until John greeted him and he turned to see who was talking. Robin seemed upset, but he didn't pay it much mind. It was a little irritating, though. [i]What'd I do now?[/i] That was all the thought he gave to it before replying to John, "Hi, John." Though he could've been talking to the maidens, it looked like he was speaking to him, so there was no harm in replying at least that much. He still wanted to know if the maidens knew where Blake was, though, and so still waited on a reply.

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As John stepped out and said 'hi' to Bert, Robin simply made a 'Hmph' sound as she stormed past him, stepping around John as she looked for the nearest hallway that was not part of this one. Beyond John, she spotted one, and turned down it as soon as she got there. As soon as she turned though, she saw it was a dead end, not that it really mattered to her. That was so rude of him, to just blow her off so swiftly and easily! She walked down to the end of the hallway before taking a seat against the wall, trying to calm herself down as she waited to see Bert walk past or something. When he was gone, she could ask one of the workers where she could personally wash her clothes.

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John took note of Robin's behavior. [i]Hm?[/i] He would've asked about, but she quickly went past him and off to somewhere.

Well, there was still Bert. ''What's up with her?'' He asked. ''Oh, I'm interrupting something?'' He asked. Considering the Maidens, Bert had probably been in conversation with them or something.

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"I honestly don't know what's wrong with her. She came out of her room and ran into me, asked where she could find water and how I slept, then when I told her I slept well, she started going on about how she has nightmares whenever she does anyone a good turn, I advised she see a doctor or something about it and went on my way," he answered John, obviously somewhat annoyed by Robin's reaction, "I was just asking these Rexians if they know where Blake is. They haven't answered yet, so I guess it could be considered interrupting, but it's not that big a deal. I still want to know the answer, though."

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[i]<Eh, guess I should ask him later then.>[/i] John thought. ''Ah well, don't mind me then. I guess I'll wait until you finish. Sorry for that then.''

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Within her dead-end hallway, Robin sat down on the ground. What had she expected of Bert in the first place? He was a Urswine! Her first interaction with the man had resulted in them hating each other over simple hunting techniques! Had she really expected him to pay her any attention at all?

Robin stood up. "<Why does it matter to me what he thinks? Bert is just a Urswine anyways. I shouldn't care about him all that much.>" she reminded herself as she started to walk out of the dead-end hallway.

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[b]For the People[/b]

"Major General Alexikis, the search for this artifact has led to the deaths of devoted Wrathites. Innocents have even been attacked over this artifact." Worthington pleaded with Selene.

"The four orders have always been at odds over fundamental issues. Therefore, we stand to gain nothing by having this discussion. Prince Athrun, Major General Selene, Clover, I'd like to speak with the three of you in private once this meeting is over." Desmond spoke up.

Worthington lowered and shook his head. [i]More likely than not plotting their next move ....[/i]

[b]Maidens[/b]

While Bert and John spoke, Amina carefully listened to what they were saying. Rasha seemed to be allowing for this, not trying very hard to answer Bert until there were no more distractions. She decided to do this when she realized all of the repetitions could help Amina learn a new phrase or two. Once the observation opportunity was exhausted, Rasha replied with a simple, slow head shake. "I'm afraid we just arrived, ourselves. Is there anything [i]else[/i] we could help you with?"

[b]Heading Back Up[/b]

Once Raquel finished cleaning herself up, she got out of the bath and dried herself off. She was finally able to get back into her regular clothes, the sleeveless black shirt, the form fitting pants, and the strapless boots. She began to have regrets as she put these on, thinking of how bad it would be traveling back through the desert once they left. It was just awful the first time around. Lastly she put on her cloak and took the towel off of her head so her hair could hang normally. It wasn't dry yet, and being in such a damp area wasn't speeding up the process, but she could deal with it for now. Gabbie opted to stay and soak for a bit longer, so Raquel left without her to go see what she could get for breakfast.

[i]So what happens next ...[/i] she began thinking to herself while ascending the staircase back to the main level of the guest quarters. [i]We have to get back to Ursium so we'll definitely need to stock up on supplies. The crates Weyland sent us will get us out of this desert mess, but not all the way back home. Oh and then there's the actual trading. I need to try and get us some new equipment. The Rexians have to trade to a degree to maintain all of this, so maybe they would be willing to work with me. I'm not sure if a city like this is willing to trade in weapons or not, though. I should ask one of the maidens when I get a chance.[/i] She'd come to at least that decision. She was going to find out if weapons were sold to foreign traders, and if she was allowed to do business here, that was her top priority. She pushed the issue with the fire emblem to the back of her mind for the time being.

[b]Darksider: Stuff[/b]

"Yes, mother will likely miss me very much so ... but I must think about her safety, as well. Besides, I ... I feel it is time to go out and ... explore this world. See what's out there~" Simon half explained.

"It's overrated." Cecily mumbled under her breath.

"My contacts are all still secure ... even the ones in Urcenter, apparently ... so I can still acquire information for you should you need it, I will simply become a more mobile informant ... heheh." Cecily somehow managed the most unamused and distinterested expression of the decade, and made Simon so nervous, he began fiddling with his fingers and sweating again.

[b]Orders[/b]

"Yes, Captain. The bandits are probably going to try to retreat north, and the forest in the area will make it impossible to capture them all if they 'scatter'. If they don't surrender, I want your unit to get as many of them as you can before they ever reach the forest. The pegasus knights will be unable to fight effectively in there and neither will the archers. Only Taylor's men will be able to follow them easily, so the fewer of them make it to the forest, the less chance the Lieutenant Colonel's men have of the enemy turning to face them." Langley explained. "Ideally we would catch all of them, but the terrain advantage is theirs ...."

[b]Barracks[/b]

<"They told me to 'stay down'. I can't win any arguments with these people, and so I'll be in bed for today as well. I would rather be up and training, but ... my injuries still ache, and for them, that's reason enough to keep me."> Katsu shook his head several times throughout his explanation. He understood the concerns of his caretakers, but his only true fears in this situation were getting rusty and muscle atrophy.

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Waking up the next day, Ranyin got up from bed to check on his freshly cleaned green robes. Sure enough, it was delivered to him by the wonderful staff in his sleep and laid neatly where he had told them to place it. Yawning away his drowsiness, Ranyin recalled fondly the comfortable night he had...which consisted of minimal activities such as the bath, eating in silence and sending his laundry to the staff.

Keeping the clean robes in his bag, Ranyin slipped on his blue ones quietly so as to not disturb his companion. With gear all in check, the Kigenese mage made his way outside in search of food.

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[b]For the People[/b]

"More lives will be lost if we leave the artifact alone than if we procure it ourselves. As one who has spoken with the gods I thought you would be wiser- peace is earned, not given freely. Allowing the artifact to fall into enemy hands could prove disastrous," Selene retorted to Worthington before bowing to Desmond in acknowledgment.

[b]Veronika[/b]

Leaving her bath, Veronika headed towards the dining hall only to encounter Raquel on her way to the guest quarters. "Hello there...so how did that meeting with Aisha go anyway? Did she want the emblem or...?" she asked Raquel, quieting her voice a bit as not to broadcast the conversation to anyone within distance.

[b]Mr. Darkside[/b]

"Well...you can ask Layla to continue on with us if you want, it's not really our decision to make. You'll probably have to get a better mount if you want to keep traveling though, your horses seem to get a bit uh, easily tired out," Clara said to him, attempting to phrase things delicately.

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Norbert was a bit frusterated by this, but didn't let the inconveniance make him snappish. "Who do you think would know, then?" Well, she [i]had[/i] asked if they could help in some other way. Through his peripheral vision, the pegasus rider caught sight of Robin leaving from the hallway she'd gone down. It wasn't really an important fact, so he left the observation dormant, instead deciding this would likely be his last question before seeing what John wanted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, if the flee north, would you like us to herd them back south, or should we simply subdue who we can and kill who we can't?" Cecelia asked Colonel Langley. She'd rather make sure she knew what was and wasn't acceptable in this mission before the fighting began. It was only efficient to do so, after all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Daichi sat down in a chair next to Katsu's bed as he listened to the forlorn mercenary. It was good that he was focussing on the present -- seeing the Fallen attack like that could keep a man stuck in the past. <"Well, I suppose there is some good news: you won't have to 'stay down' for much longer,"> the Kigenese soldier replied, <"They apparently think you are recovering well enough to send you on your way tomorrow. It's likely, at least, from what they told me when I asked about you. ... I'm not so sure you should be going back to your work yet, though; you haven't been recovering for long... Where will you go when you do leave?"> As he carefully voiced his concerns, Daichi's fingers absently felt the edge of a letter he was carrying, though it was mostly hidden from Katsu's view at the moment. Edited by Mercakete

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"Know what?" asked Robin as she approached the group with Bert in it again. She wasn't interested in him, rather in the maidens who he had been talking to. She wanted to ask them where she could find a place to clean her clothes on her own.

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John decided to lean against the wall, arms crossed, while waiting. Idling looking around, he noticed Robin emerging from a hallway. [i]<Oh, so that's where she went.>[/i] He thought. Well, time to keep waiting.

But then Robin had decided to come back. [i]<Huh, I thought she was upset with him.>[/i] He thought, finding it a bit weird.

''He wants to know where Blake is.'' He decided to answer.

-----

Finished with her bath, Sophia dressed back in her usual clothes and went back upstairs. With the bath taken care of, she now headed over to the dining hall for breakfast. Edited by Acacia Sgt

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Then, Robin walked up again, apparently curious about what he was asking the maidens about. John answered, though, so he just waited for the maidens' answer. If they couldn't direct him to someone who might know where Blake was, he'd just ask around the group. It was minorly irritating that his training time was being put off like this. The longer he went without it, the more likely he was to get distracted by hunger in the middle of it or something would happen that would require his attention or something. He had plans today, darnit, and he didn't want to have to alter those just because he couldn't find Blake.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gytha had already headed down to breakfast and had told the waitor she'd like something light and so had recieved cereal and milk with little, dehydrated fruit dices mixed in with the crunchy grain. It was sweet and refreshing, which was nice and just the sort of thing Gytha had wanted, though she'd never had cereal quite like that before. It was gone a bit quickly, so she ordered another bowl. When that one was done, she felt full enough to just relax where she was. At first, she just felt happy and content. Then, she got thinking. [i]Hmm... Been a while since I've seen Amon... Maybe he's gone back t' workin' fer Aisha already[/i]. A little sigh escaped her as her thoughts continued. [i]Well, this is his home... Can't realla blame 'im fer wantin' t' stay if he does. I wish he'd tell us though...[/i] A slight grimace formed on Gytha's face. [i]I should talk t' him[/i]. With that thought, Gytha got up and wandered out of the dining hall.

The mariner casually wandered out of the guest building and into the main palace. After a short while of not finding her friend, Gytha walked up to one of the Rexians -- who she noticed wore a dark red wristband -- and asked him, "Ahoy. D' ye know where I can find Amon?"

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