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TheSilverFox says...

Chapter 2D: Unfortunately, Alive (And/Or Drunk)

He was back to his essential visa work, having failed to deliver his version of justice or dispose of the town’s thieving problem. That wasn’t too significant to him right now, however. All he could think of was family. It was always family. They made life unnecessarily complicated and dramatic. Or, that’s what Ziafar assumed, given how Valon had responded to his father’s letter

Ziafar didn’t know much about family. His mother and father had pushed him into his homeland’s local academy when he had been old enough to walk, talk, and obsessively read. And then, when he had passed the entrance exams, to the next academy. And the next, and the next, and however many he needed to go through in order to become a powerful, high-ranking mage. Enough to become a subordinate to one of the leaders of his country’s High Council, where he would then receive his legal knowledge and overwhelming pride. He had been even plotting to have that leader deposed and eliminated (secretly, of course); unfortunately, that leader took care of the problem for him by jumping from the walls of the collapsing, magic-less city. By then, of course, who would want to be a member of a memberless Council? Who would want to be a frail shell of a once powerful man in a ruined gathering of equally ruined men and women? That had been when he left, by which point they had fallen into a symbolic, but effectively powerless, group, picking up rubble to rebuild something that could not be.

The elf stopped himself; he was reminiscing again. Regardless, he had not seen his parents for years. Did they know he existed? Did they know he was still alive? Did they care? Did he care? If caring would make him turn out like how Valon was acting right now, he wasn’t interested in it. Besides, he read through a letter a few times, and it treated Valon almost like a child. Mosquitos were the least of their problems, annoying as they were, and hard as they were to kill. It was hard not to want to set fire to the letter, but it was clearly important to them and their cause, and posed an opportunity through which they could boost their own reputations and increase their likelihood of getting a visa. Ziafar preferred his own self-interest above all else, and so he kept the letter on hand while he read through the rest of Valon’s notes. He needed identification papers for all of them in order to register properly for a visa, after all. Thankfully, Valon’s own unexpected knowledge of the legal system had made this process far easier, as much as he hated to admit it. Now Ziafar was writing down an elaborate letter on the events of their preceding trip; entering letters of correspondence with Yliev’s ambassadors for rewards and legal aid, thanks to his dismantling a Glavin scheme; and reading through the Pontifex Statutes and Espergale Convention texts to prepare for what would be a brilliant case against Glavin’s military actions. He felt professional, humming a tune to himself as he multitasked in his reading and writing of several documents. This wasn’t magical power, but it was still power - especially against an entire nation - and it satisfied Ziafar. With luck, it would not take too long to build a case that would get him the visas he needed to enter strange lands in search of the mana he desperately craved.

And, if he were to succeed, what then? Could he take over his homeland with a power that nobody else could dream of having? Rule the Council? Crown himself---

The elf spied a strange-looking envelope stuffed in between several papers. Somebody – Valon, it looked like – had written a small note on the cover. What really matters to you? Curious, Ziafar opened the envelope and pulled out its contents. Scouring through them, he realized they were his identification papers, complete with notes on his arrival and joining of Valon’s group. Normally, he would be elated to see such documentation, pitiful as it made him seem. Unfortunately for him, that was right before he spotted another horrifically familiar name. Ziafar ripped out the paper in question and read through it frantically, eyes darting over the page as they tried to grab as much information as possible. Astrid, who had just asked if anyone would join her in the Manablush Festival, watched him warily; everyone else in the room did the same. All of his energy was devoted to keep his hands from ripping the page in two and flipping the table. Particularly when he saw where the person in question was located. Memories spun through his head, urged on by rage.

“I know that I am charming,” boasted Ziafar to the man opposite him. They were sitting in a clay-walled sauna with a wooden floor. Draped in only a towel, Ziafar was smug and proud as he leaned back and stared upwards at the light fog hovering over him. Sweat dripped down from his face as he continued. “She sees my talents, my charm, and my ambition; she sees me for who I am, and loves it.”

The other elf – a burlier man with a warm smile – replied, “Why not give some love back? Unless you appreciate yourself too much to do anything other than take it.” As usual, he was sarcastic, though with an odd, bitter edge to it. His smile was not resolute, and he seemed more annoyed than anything else.

“I…,” stammered Ziafar, caught off guard, his little façade of pride broken. “…want to know if she…will show in the palace when I join the Council before I decide if…”

His companion laughed. It was laced with a little spite, but Ziafar was too unobservant and surprised at the time to notice it. The other man stopped after a few seconds, explaining himself as he looked at the ground and wiped a tear from his eye. “What kind of lady would wait for her boyfriend to become a secretary before he takes interest in her? Go for her, as soon as possible, because you never know how long you’ll have the chance.” He glared at Ziafar; the smile never reached his eyes.

Eye twitching, arms trembling, Ziafar drew his lips into a tight frown and set down the paper. Tynan raised an eyebrow as the gathering of people stared at him intently, ears waiting patiently to catch any response, if one would come. He looked straight back, all the way through the well-furnished office room, with its not-too-shabby couches and lamps and cabinets, and sighed. A long, drawn out, exasperated sigh. If it wasn’t for the fact he wanted to keep his nails clean, he would be clawing at his face. Peeking through the paper one more time, trying to assure his knowledge of the location was correct, he squeezed past the large desk

“I’m going down to town to visit a winery,” whispered Ziafar. Any louder, and he would feel the overwhelming impulse to shout at something.

“That had better not be a joke, you--” began Valon.

“I assure you, it is not.” Admittedly, Ziafar had wished he’d made up such a joke intentionally. He didn’t smile, but his eyes betrayed him for a brief second before reality crashed down on his head and left him dour.


Ziafar had forgotten this was the time of year for the Manablush festival. Their local area lacked the resources and spirit to make the most of this time to year. A few papier-mâché butterflies floated on a light breeze, while a frustrated man attempted to imbue magic into them, likely with the hopes of turning them to life. However skilled he had been in the past, though, the mana drought had sapped most of his strength, and the most the butterflies could do was act dead and flutter slightly.

Still, a long series of shops extended in front of Ziafar and all of his (eager or otherwise) companions, vendors hawking various love-themed goods under wooden roofs imbued with the vine of hearts (both the realistic and paper kind). The markets were active and crowded, with young and old couples walking to and from the stores, pointing at various items, and buying old relics and artifacts that may have served their true purpose in the past, but had worn with age and the drought. Ziafar was always startled by the way in which people were so excited about a festival that was nothing like what it had been when he had been a child. Every young boy or girl waving a small kite about or throwing one/both kinds of the vine of hearts over their parents earned a confused stare from him. The people stared back at Ziafar, who was wearing a brand-new set of green and black clothes he paid for with his own money. If it wasn’t for the fact that Astrid had taken his money and had made him allow them to buy their own clothes, else they would have bought some for him, they would likely be dressed similarly. Nevertheless, the grim sentinel, energetic girl, jaunty leader, and rather grim druid, as well as him, were already enough of a sight to behold.

This was a spectacle, as every curious or alarmed face indicated, and the kind of attention Ziafar despised; it made him uncomfortable. Still, he couldn’t help feeling some form of pity when he noticed that Valon, at the head of the procession, still looked depressed. He was trying to bury it in his usual color and energy, but there were noticeable holes in that disguise, especially when they came across fathers doting on their children. Neither of them were normally this emotional, and Ziafar wanted to say some word of encouragement or aid. Yet, everything that came into his head never left his mouth. What was he thinking? He wasn’t good with feelings, he wasn’t good at giving some benevolent piece of himself to others, and he certainly wasn’t good at consoling somebody on a topic he had no experience with. This level of self-doubt was infinitely frustrating, pestering and nagging at Ziafar by taking shots at his pride and confidence. He had to say something, it demanded of him, no matter how terrible it might sound.

The only thing Ziafar could think to say was, “This town knows about as much what a proper festival looks like as a man who’s buried his head in the dirt would know what a sea looks like.” He was lucky that he said it quietly; being at the back of the group, they only faintly heard it.

No laughter. The crowed parted out of their way as Ziafar barked wrong directions to the winery and slipped into the crowd as the others turned around a corner, finding the winery where it was located among the larger stores in the center of town. It wasn’t that hard to see, what with the massive sign, tables, awning, and vines elegantly wrapped around the wooden frame of the place. The title, “The Remean Winery,” left a bitter taste in Ziafar’s mouth. He proceeded anyway, Ziafar resisting the willingness to kick down the door as he pushed it open and entered it.

The place was empty, thanks to everyone participating in the festival. Light streamed in from windows to the side and back, shadows cast by the mildly-shuttered windows and vines stretching on the outside of the walls. A few oak wood tables and chairs were scattered about on a polished floor, with a bar to the corner. The bartender was there, her calloused fists on the darkened wood as she scanned the newcomer with narrow eyes. Behind her were rows of fancy wines stacked on the shelves and cabinets, displaying their brands and identities proudly. A door beside the wine appeared to lead into the kitchen. The lady opened a drawer under the counter and pulled out a few clear glasses as the Ziafar stepped into the space.

“Where is the proprietor of this place?” asked Ziafar, eye twitching, though it was hard to see in the space’s lack of light. His anger was now a bonfire churning within him, threatening to set him ablaze and cast fire upon his surroundings. All he wanted to do was see that stupid, ugly face of his wretched enemy, grab his neck, and be done with this nightmare. At least the room was mostly empty, save for the bartender, whom he might also have to remove for the sake of leaving behind no witnesses. Plots, egged on by egotism and wrath, grew in his mind, but he tried as much as possible to indicate he was only asking a simple question. It would’ve appeared as such, if not for his scowling face and the clenching of his fists.

The bartender raised an eyebrow, but didn’t voice her curiosity. “He’s gone to Silverlake. There’s a man at Howlengale who thinks he can restart the country’s wine industry with a…a…what was it again? …ah, a greenhouse.”

Ziafar waved his hand dismissively, instantly looking tired and weathered. That voice and statements sounded and behaved real. His fantasies, on the other hand, remained as such, and died where they stood upon the realization that they truly did not exist, taking the bundles of rage they were attached to with him. He felt stupid and ashamed, more that this plan had been all for nothing than the prospect of murdering someone. “…Fine,” he muttered, sitting down at the bar and tracing the impressions and holes in the wood.

Now the person across from him shifted from curious to tense. “Why do you want to speak to the owner?” she asked with suspicion after wasting a minute watching Ziafar in his own misery.

“He’s a…friend,” he said after a few seconds. He couldn’t say any other word to describe it that wouldn’t make the bartender kick him out of the store.

The lady pulled out a fine wine bottles and sent them on the bar’s counter. “I’d think he’d tell me if he had a friend what looked as odd as you.”

Ziafar grumbled, but avoided glaring at her. “Well, I must be a special friend, as we know each other incredibly well.”

“The last time I heard “special friend,” it was somebody from the ma—”

“I didn’t come here to argue semantics,” Ziafar shouted in a completely genuine, angry voice, “I came here to get drunk!”

The room grew quiet, consumed by a thick and invisible tension that bore its way through the minds of the building’s occupants, only beaten by a sense of despair and depression hovering above Ziafar. A drinking mood. Ziafar set down a small pile of cash earned from his diplomatic negotiations with Yliev. The bartender grabbed a bottle opener and yanked out the cork of a wine bottle that she had selected, seemingly at random.

“Danzata del Coberino,” she explained as she poured it into the wine glass. “Very potent stuff. It’s said to have been created from fermented grapes imbued with magic before the drought. It’s probably all hogwash; I don’t remember the wine here aging for that long. It’ll work anyhow.”

Of course, it was about when he put the glass to his lips that his companions kicked down the door.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.

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Lumi says...

Chapter 2E: It's All The Rage (With Preteen Elves)

"Where in the eighteen burning hells is my Ziafar?!" Valon walked into the winery onto the broken door lying on the floor and up on an unfortunate table, where he brandished his rapier.

"Gods, Valon," groaned Ziafar from the corner. "Show some restraint for your theatrics once in a while."

Valon's chest deflated, but he looked about the tavern at the lowly scragglers. "All of you. Out. Out before I burn those winestains onto your chins."

The winery evacuated, and Valon turned to Tynan, who was wearing his festive hat from the Manablush festival. "Can you watch the door for me?"

Wordlessly, his brother nodded and crossed his arms in the doorway, daring anyone to cross him and his flushed pink hat.

Valon sat in front of Ziafar and pulled the bottle of wine away from him. "I think you've gotten our roles reversed, bright eyes."

Ziafar rolled his eyes away from Valon and closed his eyelids in quiet determination. "There's a quest I must needs attend to while we are in the north. I'd prefer you not to be involved."

Valon raised his considerable eyebrows and poured a bit of wine for himself, kicking his boots up on a nearby chair. "Now I'm just that much more curious, Ziafar." A slug from his glass. "But regardless, I don't give a golden shite whether you have ulterior motives for accompanying me." Glass on the table. "As long as you do come with me."

Ziafar slowly nodded. "What form of master of the house would I be would I not accompany you to cliff's edge and beyond?"

Valon grinned. "We'll be certain to buy you better teas while we're in Howlengale. Or take some of Father's. He's always had fair taste in bitterness."

Ziafar stood and addressed the others rather morosely. "Comrades, for shirking you, I do not apologize; but for missing whatever sweet malevolence brought about Tynan's new fashion statement, I eternally regret."

Tynan scowled over his shoulder. Valon grabbed Ziafar by the shoulder with a wide grin, whispering the story to him as they walked to the carriage that would take them to Dragon's Dive.
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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RippleGylf says...

Chapter 2F: The Dragoon Awakens

For some reason, higher-ups always enjoyed sending Fyfa to Dragon's Dive, since the joke was so original.

"For this mind-numbing task, you need to go to Dragon's Dive... Oh! Isn't that funny? You're a dragoon, and you're going to Dragon's Dive? That's hilarious!"

"... You should feel right at home at Dragon's Dive! You know, since you're a

"... maybe they should call it
Dragoon's Dive! Ha!"

Blasted nobles.

Nevertheless, a dragoon was bound to her orders, and her orders demanded a trip to Dragon's Dive. The town itself wasn't terrible. It had some nice eateries, parks, taverns, and whatnot. She just resented the person who named it.

On this occasion, her orders were to escort the idiot's son, along with his friends, through Silverlake. Not that sending a fully trained and battle-ready dragoon was remotely necessary. They could probably take care of themselves just fine. Fyfa sighed. This is what she spent her entire life preparing for: the chance to do errands with absolutely no purpose or value.

As she rode into Dragon's Dive, the Manablush festivities greeted her with open arms. Flutes chittered sweet melodies. The smell of freshly baked pastries filled the air. Couples linked arms as they strolled along crowded streets. Fyfa, lacking a suitable companion for such things, turned away from the celebration and headed to the nearest tavern.

Compared to most, the Flying Lizard was among the finest Dragon's Dive had to offer. Good drinks, somewhat respectable bartenders. It even had chairs. As she entered, the grizzled elf at the counter caught her attention. Gunnar, wasn't it?

"Fyfa! Our fav'rite Templar! Back in Dragon's Dive again?" he called out.

"Of course, Gunnar." She winked.

"Any chance of a drink? A nice ale, perhaps?"

"Just some water, thanks. Can't be blatantly drunk on the job."

"Ah, no one'll notice!"

"Someone always does." A smile flashed across her face.

"Fine. 'Ere y'go." The glass thudded on the counter, its contents sloshing around.

Fyfa nodded in thanks, and sought out a table. Soon, she was lost in thought. Hopefully Owyn was doing alright on his mission. If there had been time, she would have loved to go to the festival with him... but that was a pointless fantasy. Besides, it would never go anywhere. Dragoons didn't have relationships, didn't need relationships. Too busy for such things. A twitch of jealously coursed through her. At least he went to investigate something important. While he got to search for missing troops, she had to babysit a Fire Knight. A noble cause, to be sure. Why, they ought to be here by n-

"I swear by the Pontifex's left buttock, if you're drunk we're never letting you leave us."

The remark shattered her thoughts. She spun around to see the group, with Balessan in the lead. The fire knight drew a rapier from his side and went about poking Fyfa's ornate armor, testing for gentle spots. When there were none to be found (so he believed), satisfied, he backed down off of her table. He cleared his throat.

"I am Valon Louisent Balessan, and these are my comrades--"

"Tynan of the Templars, Ziafar the majordomo, Astrid the druid, and Zoey, who is a peculiar magenta mage." The dragoon rose from her seat and straightened Valon's red hat on his head, then his broach. "I'm not in the business of serving clients of whom I know nothing."

"Then I'm certain you'll appreciate my refusal to work with someone until I know them capable of actually working. The lithe elf crossed his arms and stared at Fyfa from under his hat stubbornly. "Ten paces out this door, you will find a battle standard rented from the Manablush Battlemaster. It will grant us a one-on-one spar in the festival grounds." He turned on his heels and held out his arm towards the door. "And since Tynan lost our honorable game of Sword, Shield, Spell--"

"--I lost only because the hippogryph blew my hat away, you conniving bastard!"

"...I will be your opponent."

Outside, a small crowd had gathered to see the spar. Some had tossed heart-shaped candies on the ground as payment for the show. "So, Fee," he said as he hopskotched around the candies, drawing his swords, "We will play by Fire Knight basic sparring rules." A heel-face-turn. "Are you familiar?"

"I am of Silverlake, Balessan. I'm familiar with customs from top to bottom."

He nodded to her, then his referees. "First one to singe the other's boots is the victor."

The Majordomo stepped forward into a Manablush-pink chalk box that had been drawn for him by...someone? Something? "Twas I, Dragoon, who drew the box, afore you mistake me for an unprepared master of the company." He scoffed and donned a Manablush-pink whistle.

Fyfa rolled her eyes beneath her helmet. "That's a very low-key mystery solved, Ziafar. Thank y--"

"On my mark, challengers!"

They both took their stances (albeit disgruntled), swords and lance drawn.

"And..." He blew the resounding whistle, bargaining snow from nearby rooftops.

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Fyfa leapt into action, scraps of flame swirling around her lance. It would have been a sight to behold, before the mana crisis.

Strafing to the side, Valon flexed into his fiery aura, licks of blue flame mingled in with the rest. From the crowd, there was a murmur.

Astrid raised an eyebrow and looked to Tynan. "Where in the literal blue blazes did that come back from?"

Tynan smiled, arms crossed. "You all were so antsy to flee the Chimera's den...not even Valon saw the Simulacrum had activated."

Astrid and Zoey were aghast. Zoey jumped up with her arm in the air as Valon and Fyfa clashed steel in the air around them. "So you knew he got stronger and didn't tell us?! That's cheating! That's so cheating!"

Tynan's grin turned into a smirk. "I wasn't going to say anything until I had the chance to fight him myself." His head shook as a tent caught fire behind them. "The outcome was not as substantial as we'd hoped, but the potential is there."

Valon swung his rapiers down along the shaft of Fyfa's lance, bounding off her shoulders as she produced a heat wave from her armor. Blue waves engulfed Valon as he landed, repelling the magics off in cinders.

Astrid scoffed. "Valon with a defensive magic. I believe a foregone bet mandates I proceed to eat my shoes."

Zoey shook her head, pointing. "Can't you feel how much mana that one force field demanded? He's doomed if he overuses it."

Tynan nodded. "Which is why I won our fight back at the Marbletree."

With both combatants in new stances, heavy breathing masked under their sheer want to seem stronger than the other, Valon couldn't help but to grin. "'re bloody good, aren't you?"

"Is that a concession of defeat?"

The fire knight laughed. "It means I think we will make you stay with us."
"Eternity, I hear you calling, but you will not have me yet."

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Sheyren says...

Chapter 2G: A Story of Companions (And Trespassing)

They had been walking down the path for hours. Valon silently watched the sun set before deciding it was time they set up camp. “I think we should stop here for the night.”

“About time,” Ziafar grumbled.

Astrid began combing the nearby area to decide on a location to stop, but was challenged by the lack of natural light. “We should've stopped an hour ago. Now it's too dark to see anything past our hands.”

Valon smiled. “No, I had a plan. I always have a plan.”

“You wanna elaborate, or are you still figuring out the plan?” Tynan asked sarcastically.

“No, I have a real plan. Follow,” Valon said, beckoning for them to do just what he said. He crossed to the woods, and pushed some branches aside. After treading through the woods for several minutes, through darkness and complaints from Zoey, they arrived at a tangle of trees. Valon kicked it, and swung around to reveal a huge lake.

Valon hopped down the bank of the lake and landed on the shore, and the group followed. Now that she was closer, Zoey realized the lake was frozen over. A mist hung over the lake, and the whole valley glowed a beautiful light blue. It seemed to come from deep within the lake. The magical feel of the scene was boosted by the northern lights shining in the night sky.

Everyone was speechless. The scene was breath-taking. Finally, Zoey broke the awkwardness but running up to the ice and sliding onto it. She began to dance around, and her ability to skate surprised the companions. They watched her in awe (and though he denies it, Ziafar did too) as she flipped in the air, spun in circles, and showcased a skill none knew she had.

Finally, she grew tired and lay down on the ice. Around her, the rest of the group walked over and lay down beside her. Silently they stared at the wonderful lights in the sky. Zoey wondered how they happened. Were they magic? Could she do something like that, if she still had so much magic? These questions were soon forgotten when Fyfa pointed out the shooting stars above them.

After the initial impression of such luck – shooting stars to top the amazing scene before them – they began to make wishes. Well, everyone but Ziafar. He complained that a shooting star wouldn't grant a wish, since by the time your done wishing, it was already long gone.

I wish for magic again.

Finally, Valon stood up and stretched. “We really should get going. There's a cabin a short ways up the path which we can borrow.”

“Borrow?” Fyfa asked hesitantly. “So, trespassing?” The rest of the group had already begun the trip. As Zoey passed she patted Fyfa on the back.

“Better get used to it.” Zoey cackled as she walked after them, and Fyfa was left alone to question her new team's morals.
"I give you permission to use 'Sheyster. Sheyfia. Shey Boss. Don Shey.' as a signature quote. XD"

If you somehow didn't already know, I used to be Sheytato.

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Rydia says...

Chapter 2H: Back to the Roads we Walked

So the Manablush Festival had been a total bust but at least there'd been enough entertainment to take her mind off these dark times. Even the contest between Valon and their newest follower was suitably exciting/ eye-roll worthy and Astrid managed to push her ghosts away until the road stretched before them in a sequence of long silences and her thoughts hammered against the insides of her head. Thoughts of her father, or at least the only father she'd ever known. Blood. His head, severed; the light spilling from his eyes until there was only mist.

The memories were circling her head again as she started to get the fire going in the small cabin and hung out the herbs she’d collected, by instinct, only now really taking account of what she’d found.


Astrid looked up and found Fyfa standing behind her, still in full armour – she hadn’t even taken the helmet off. Astrid’s first impression of the woman was that she was almost as stiff and professional as Tynan and if she hadn’t known better, she’d have thought Valon having now found his Zoey was hunting out the perfect match for his brother. Except that she did know better and Valon didn’t select his friends carefully, he just kind of stumbled upon them.

“Yes, for wounds and cooking, trust me, a few days on the road with pack supplies and you’ll be glad to have me along.” Astrid forced a warm smile and found it was easier than she expected as she gestured fondly at her companions who were fighting over the cushiest chair in the room.

“Don’t let them put you off; they’re not as bad as they seem. We’ll leave the place the same as we found it-“ Valon threw a playful fireball at Ziafar which missed and scorched the wall behind them but had the desired effect of making the self-preservationist drop the arm of the chair and harrumph over to a rickety stool in the corner. “Well, mostly.”

“Mostly?” Fyfa shook her head in disgust, probably wondering what she’d let herself in for.

Valon hauled the chair closer to the fire and threw himself in it and Zoey happily bounded on to the arm, though this meant she was half sprawled over the fire mage.

“Tynan’s out there chopping firewood to replace what I use now and we’ll leave some coins behind for anything we can’t replace,” Astrid insisted. She didn’t know why she felt so strongly that she needed to defend their actions – she was used to Valon’s path of destruction by now – but perhaps having the newcomer in the group reminded her of how it must look to outsiders.

“Please tell me it’s your turn to cook, Astrid,” Zoey interrupted. "If I have to eat one more Valon char-grilled special I think I might have to slice his fingers off. You wouldn't let him cook if he had no fingers - would you?"
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~Previously KittyKatSparklesExplosion15~

The light shines brightest in the darkest places.

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Lumi says...

2I: O Stalwart Gale, Be Thy Bulwark For These Thousand Lifetimes Mine

It was morning, Valon had all his fingers, and Fyfa had wrenched her lance from the twelfth monster that had crossed their path to the north face of the mountain where, at last, the blizzard gave a sigh of relief. As each of them looked up at the black, towering blockade before them, Valon grinned. "Brothers and sisters, I'd like to introduce you to my home."

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Proudly, he straightened his tricone and marched forward with Tynan and Fyfa at his flanks.

"Oh dear gods," remarked Ziafar, "please tell me that Valon's ego will not be stroked in this place."

Astrid hesitated. "He left rather disgracefully when embarking for Espergale, but...he is still a Fire Knight, and...quite a high-ranking one if I recall."

Zoey tilted her head to the side. "Someone's gonna die here." She nodded. "I can smell it."

The three followed the natives to the grand gate where Valon was introducing their party and showing papers along with Fyfa and Tynan. The guards stood aside and raised the gate, revealing an enormous elevator mechanism.

They all loaded in, and as the gate closed, Valon took a deep breath. "It feels nice, doesn't it, Tynan? To be home?"

Tynan hesitated. "There are several answers to that question beyond yes and no, brother."

"Maybe you'll feel it after we finish whatever ugly business Alunis has for us."

Tynan grunted. "You shall call him father as I do, or you shan't enter the manor."

"Livid even before seeing his smug face. He'll appreciate that."

Tynan turned away. "I believe I'm cursed to see it each day I'm with you."

The elevator stopped, and the gate opened wide to an enormous, granite, snow-laden marvel of a city-scape; teal in the aurora lighting and bustling with elves in thick garments. Sentries posted at the walls. Long lines for bread and--wait, what?


His knuckles were red from banging on the manor door. "FATHER!" High above the peasant streets below, the Balessan manor was nothing to sneeze at, though smaller than its neighbors. "FATHER!" BANG BANG BANG. "For the Tear's sake, I will burn this door DOWN, Father!"

The door opened to a weary, pale-skinned, wrinkled, old-man twin of Valon, holding a cane. His eyes squinted. "You called me father."

"He called you father," repeated Tynan, arms crossed to the side.

Alunis sighed. "This must be about--"

"The godsdamned bread lines! The shite-poor condition of our nation! Where is our wealth? Where is our power?!" He barged into the manor, followed by the others as Alunis welcomed them.

"Eternal blizzard, eternal nightfall. Nothing will grow." Alunis sat in a prominent chair while Valon steamed by the fire.

"This is wrong. Something unnatural must be causing this."

"Something unnatural is causing this." He sighed. "And I believe I have a clue as to where that something is, if you'll entertain an old man; for the last platoon of dragoons I sent to the Rivenhold did not return, though one of their communique crystals activated, allowing me to record a voice before it was destroyed. It was fuzzy, it was quite eerie; otherworldly. But it was a voice nonetheless."

Fyfa dropped her lance. "The last platoon..."

Valon turned his head. "Your comrades?"

"My..." A sigh. "Yes. Comrades."

"Tynan, if you would, activate the manaceiver in the corner. The recording is inside."

Tynan picked up the diamond pick and readied it over the crystal plate.

"Oh, and Tynan?"

"Yes, Father?"

"You will have to kill her."


As a manasphere grows closer to the Rivenhold, screeching, groaning, and clattering swords are heard from deep within the keep.

"Do the dishes, Bella! Take out the bin, Bella! Conjure up an ETERNAL STORM, BELLA! I swear to me all you ever do is nag at me, Trix."

The manasphere stops atop a tower and focuses on an arcanist floating outwards from the main hall into the training yard, many large disposal bags hovering around her.

"Oh ho ho and you're no saint either, darling dear beloved love of loves heart of hearts! Recall you the strapping dragoon?"

A head jerk to the side.

"Aye, I recall the strapping dragoon. He was strapping! Aha!"

A head jerk to the other side with snared teeth.

"You made us vulnerable by feeding him our fodder! Fodder is for defense! Defense is for survival!"

Each hovering disposal bag hits the concrete flooring. Bellatrix holds up a hand where a sword begins to form from her own mana, ghostly-blue. Then her fist clenches over her chest, the sword shatters and her eyes close tightly.

"No! No! No! There was ice on his throat nigh before it snapped! Nigh before! You struck first, I swear it by me!"

"Poor, guilty girl, hiding behind your dreams. They're coming for you."

"Or you! Best they rid us of the garbage!"

"Oh joy of joys, be not scaaathing...I look out for you; that is all."

A tear falls, and the witch pulls her arms around herself in a tight hug, sobbing.

"We must needs stratagem. "

"We must needs an aaaarmy."

"We must needs to stop them, we must needs to fight them."

"What battlefield? What town? Will we fly? Will we come down on them?"

"Defense is survival, we cannot offend, we cannot offense. Their rules are not made for us."

"Not for you, not for you! They will come and choke our traps, beat our armies, slay you, slay I."

"Let them come! They come from afar and wither and freeze, they will dare not come closer."

"And what if they are foolish, are stupid enough to? Will you turn, turn to me, for your aid?"

"It is as you do best, to fight and ravage and kill on the scenes, so weave your ruin when I have not."

Ha! It is settled! This war might begin, and we will end it!"
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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TheSilverFox says...

Chapter 2J: The Spirit (and Everything Else) of St. Bellatrix

The video stopped, its blue screen vanishing from above the granite fireplace whose shadows cast strange images upon the silent faces of the viewers. Their eyes focused on the dim flames as embers sputtered and coughed, barely able to pour out enough heat and light to warm the gathering. It was dampened by a chill mixed with a tension that spread itself casually over the room, as though it had decided now would be a perfect place to rest and leave its hideous figure clearly visible for all.

Tynan set down the pick, grabbed a poker from beside the burning wood, and tried to stoke the fire. Ziafar looked at everyone else; Alunis seemed to have aged a few decades in his seat. He stared at the ground as whatever was left of his double chin sagged on his chest, he sitting awkwardly on a green sofa as his cane lay on the ground, apparently having been dropped during the presentation. The man’s face was masked by shadows, but the way he quivered ever so slightly suggested to Ziafar shame. Especially as a stone-faced Fyfa, lance at her side, glared down at the old man. Her lips were drawn tightly and into a powerful frown, and the red on her cheeks suggested overwhelming fury. That she simply didn’t slay the man where he stood was something of a miracle, although it may have been Tynan’s warnings shot in her direction.

Zoey, who had been rocking back and forth on her unmoving seat, rose her hand. “Where’s the bathroom?” she asked.

Surprised, Alunis’s face twitched as he blinked a few times, eyes shifting to over where she flashed him a friendly grin. It took him a few seconds to react, but his expression gained some ounce of life when he did, as his mouth opened to reveal badly yellowed teeth and his weary eyes bulged slightly. “O-over…there,” he replied cautiously, turning his frail form to point towards one of the many white-door rooms in the estate.

Humming a tune to herself, Zoey stood up and walked off.

Another minute of silence passed before Ziafar turned and stared down the old man. “How many platoons did you send to Rivenhold?” he asked, head slightly to the side as he maintained a blank expression.

Alunis looked up at Fyfa and resumed staring at the floor in earnest, focusing on the rug beneath their feet. Ziafar stared down to see the entire image – which, though masked by several chairs, their occupants, and a wooden table with a withering potted plant atop, appeared to be an image of Silverlake gleaming with light and splendor in a summer’s late afternoon – and placed his foot over the opening gates. “And yet,” he said, as he searched the landscape for Alunis’s prestigious stone house, “you want to send not one, but both of your sons after her.”

“She threatens to kill all of us,” remarked the old man. Valon found the house before Ziafar did and struck his own foot upon it. The latter elf grumbled and scowled before staring up at the ceiling, as though a gigantic boot would come down and destroy this entire house. That would be an easier mess to clean up. “I have to take risks to survive and keep any piece of my legacy alive. Even if it means bringing in the hammers.”

Valon raised the finger he shouldn’t have and made to say something, but Tynan glared at him. Their father, now struggling to move his weak figure off of the chair, grunted with effort as the rest of the group did the same with ease. “Do I look like I, as a feeble and weak old man with little left to his name, would run out and kill some monstrosity that defeated my best?” He wheezed and coughed as he walked out from his seat and rug and proceeded down the massive living room. All the curtains had long ago been shut, and so it appeared that he was being slowly consumed by the shadows. Now slightly unnerved, each person abandoned their post by the fire to follow him.

“Yet, I would think that you might have been more clever after your first endeavors,” said Ziafar. Zoey opened the door to the bathroom and walked casually over the group, which followed Alunis as he walked through an entrance and into a smaller hallway. It looked more shabbily constructed, as though it had been made by stonemasons who were unsure how to carry on the legacy of something so beautiful and cold, and had just decided to wing it. Mortar was now mixed among the stone, and their combination was random at best. Ziafar could almost liken this construction to a metaphor, but at least the lit torches along the walls provided some sense of light and warmth as they stepped across the red carpet.

The old man laughed. It was raspy and devoid of life, and mixed with his struggling to open a thick oaken door by its metal handle. Ziafar pushed Alunis aside and pulled in the door himself, leaving the latter to give the former vehement stares through tiny eyes. The old man was surprisingly effective at being angry and intimidating, but he only chose to brush off his outfit and answer Ziafar’s question as he marched into the small room. “When they didn’t have strong enough swords, I gave them some. When they didn’t have good enough herbs, I gave them some. I have spent a good part of my fortune on using heavily inflated currency to get whatever I could. What makes you think you know the affairs of my home better than I do?”

Everyone gathered around a blue pillar positioned at the center of the space. Snow blew in from two open windows (clearly, he had not had enough funds for panes), whipped by a cold and furious wind. Alunis held a robe over his face while he beckoned everyone in with the other hand. This room was dreadfully cold, with the flooring even more random in structure and components than it had been before. Somehow, the builders, running out of effective materials, had resorted to wood, a piece of a bedframe, and a few other odds and ends to hastily construct this room. Around the pillar itself, there was nothing but rock, untouched and unblemished by the outside weather. Indeed, as the old man gestured, incoming snow simply vanished when it touched the spire, but also seemed to be spewing outwards into the room. There was already an inch or two of snow upon the floor, and the brooms along the walls indicated that it likely had to be swept frequently. Ziafar pitied whomever would have to do such a task.

“You underestimated her,” said Ziafar quietly, mouth slightly agape as he admired the blue-glowing structure that made his breath foggy. “If your finest dragoons, the way they were, could not make it, you should have called for more adept, specialized help sooner.”

Alunis scowled in response. “Who else would come to a desecrated country and assist a failing, weak noble? And, at that time, I was not that desperate to call upon you, of all people.” He looked at each of them before his gaze fixated on Fyfa. “You, as the last dragoon that I can command, are my final hope. They are not the best-equipped, or best-led, but they are all I have left to fight this creature. This pillar is a teleporter that should take you a short distance outside of the Rivenhold fort; it will not take you long to arrive. That you have all made it here without significant harm tells me that you are already prepared for the cold, but beware of the blizzard that she has likely summoned. And…whatever else she might have, though I know nothing of what it might be. Enter at your own risk.”

“That’s fine with me,” said Fyfa in a candid moment, holding up her lance in preparation to use it. “Know that I only do this for my comrades, which you have sent to their deaths, instead of you.” She walked up to the pillar, pressed her hand upon it, and disappeared in a flash of light.

Ziafar, disturbed by Alunis’s words, felt an additional chill down his back as he saw Fyfa depart. Indeed, given the recording, the portal did work. However, was there another such pillar on the other end? Had it been smashed between then and now? Where would they be teleported to in such an instance? If it was still unbroken, would they live long enough to use it again?

Standing next to him, Valon leaned over and whispered, “That was an amazing exit, but, uh, she’s the only one he likes right now, so we need a confident exit of our own.” Brushing Valon aside, Ziafar sighed and stepped forward. He noticed, out of the corner of his eye, Alunis watching him intently. The old man, realizing something, jumped into action as he rummaged among his pockets and pulled out a white-blue, glowing, spherical crystal. It hummed gently as he nestled it in his hands and handed it over to Ziafar’s outstretched palm.

“This is the communique crystal I spoke of earlier,” Alunis explained, staring out among everyone. “All of my others have been broken or vanished with their soldiers, though your dragoon is equipped with one. It has little mana left within it, so use it sparingly. …I would say good luck, but, in this situation, it is dire enough that I can only say fine luck.”

Ziafar, a foot away from the spire, moved his hand ever-so-slightly towards the pillar. Craning his head back, he commented to Alunis, “First, your dragoon’s name is Fyfa; as she is your only one now, you had best remember that. Second, that you had thought of us at all gives me confidence in our abilities. We will do fine, and this should hopefully boost our visa work. I imagine that we will be able to broaden our horizons and solve the mana problem from here on out.”

In response, Valon coughed in a nervous way. The gesture caught Ziafar off guard as a giant question mark formed in his head, the memory of the letter striking him in full force. However, before he could contemplate the true significance of his visa work and what Valon may have done to interrupt it, as well as what the elf knew that Ziafar did not (always an infuriating thought), his hand touched the pillar, and Ziafar disappeared from the sight of the estate and its occupants.


Rivenhold was not a charming place.

A fierce blizzard whipped up ferocious winds as snow fell in torrents upon the steep, narrow path that winded its way up to the elaborate series of buildings and towers that marked the mountain fort. Ziafar could just barely see the spires of imposing towers in the distance as he trudged his way up the path. The breeze, fortunately enough, scattered the snow at his feet, revealing the paved cobblestone beneath. On the other hand, it was powerful enough to pull him sharply to the right, forcing him to constantly push to keep his balance steady and his path straight. His outfit shook and rustled as he persisted, placing a hand over his eyes and peering ahead at the shadows in the distance. The wind battered his face and left him feeling more freezing in a single moment than he had felt throughout the entire travel to Silverlake. As such, he placed both hands within the folds of his robes and continued, relying on his keen sense of balance to carry him forward, albeit with him tilting a lot. It didn’t help that he felt short of breath and tired, vision shifting uncomfortably as he moved along. Altitude sickness was hell.

Fyfa had been there to greet him when he arrived; in this wind, it was impossible to hear anything she was saying, but she didn’t appear to say much. It was too much time and energy that could be spent heading towards Rivenhold, which hopefully had enclosed spaces. Still, she strode ahead with confidence, undaunted by the height and wind, her lance conjuring small flames to blast aside the falling snow and keep her warm. A few glances behind indicated that Valon had not gotten the memo – he was shouting and raising his arms indignantly as Tynan rolled his eyes and ignored him. It was unlikely that even the knight could hear Valon above the intense roar of the blizzard, and Ziafar was definitely too far away (despite being only a couple of feet away), but the latter assumed that Valon was ranting about either his father, the weather, or some combination thereof. Ziafar was fuming that he could not ask about the truth behind the visa work, but there was nothing to be done about it now. The pillar that had brought them there was already outside of it

So, in these dreadful and deplorable conditions, imagine Ziafar’s surprise when he stepped through one particularly large snowdrift, nearly tripping in the process, and found himself in calm weather.

“It’s like a bubble,” whispered Fyfa as the group entered the tranquil, mild air enclosing Rivenhold. And, indeed, with the way that the outside blizzard struck the walls of the enclosure with little effect, that was an accurate comparison. However, when each pair of eyes glanced the man in padded dragoon armor walking back and forth on the path leading to the mansion-like Rivenhold, Ziafar motioned for them to quickly move and take cover behind the wall of a huge black tower poised at the middle of the path. The light atop the tower provided one of the few sources of such in the otherwise darkened place, but was of little comfort against the group’s overwhelming (and growing) fears. The tower itself was tall, crooked, and apparently empty, as the only sounds they could hear was the marching of the soldier and her…chattering.

Bella, Bella, Bellllla! It will do you no good to let him walk so straightly. No one, no one can fly up to us, you know.

But – but – but! I had taken so much time to stab this fine specimen in the neck with an icicle, and I must see her figure stride with confidence! Looking to the sides is an inherent weakness in character!

Everyone was too terrified to comment. Ziafar, standing near the front of the procession craned his head around the corner to look. He knew he would regret this, as Fyfa was standing in front of him, hand on the wall as she clenched her lance with an intense grip, an aura of flames growing slightly large around it, but his overwhelming curiosity captured his mind. The jerky motions of the arms and legs of the soldier as she walked forward awkwardly were grotesque, like her limbs had been strung through and used by a puppeteer for a show. Its head rolled side to side, drops of blood falling onto the ground from what was a massive piece of ice sticking from her neck. Hands waved widely as the discussion continued, Ziafar transfixed and struck with an overwhelming sensation of fear and disgust.

It is vanity, I assure you, Bella. She is but of many sacrificed to us, given so that we might use their flesh and bones for our devices, as the gods must truly do favor us; you have much more confidence to see among them, them all. This guard is defense – she has taken our fodder, and she must have her eyes.”

There is no fun in it! I have control of our legs, our arms, our head at times, but it is temporary, never permanent, and it makes me weep that I cannot use my talents, never have any fun, never have any life. I should rather remove her eyes than comply with your complications.

Foolish, angry, stupid girl! Leave, go, flee into your hole and think of what you are suggesting! I have helped keep you alive, and you to me, so that we are eternally indebted to each other. As for now, you were the one who dealt the possessing blow, and so I feel it is my turn, duty, payment of your debt in relying upon my strengths, to have control of her. Yesss, she is working nic---hm?

The soldier, entranced by her new owner, stopped jerking around and stood still, eyes scanning the landscape. They latched onto a white-faced Ziafar and Fyfa before the duo slipped behind the tower. Their panicked looks, combined with the unearthly howl of the controlled soldier, was enough for the group of elves to run from their hiding spot and behind a snowdrift as the possessed soldier hissed, the sounds of some kind of substance emanating out from her and hovering in the air. Ziafar, awestruck by the horrific sight, was caught in mid-run. Paralyzed by fear, he had to be dragged down by Valon and Fyfa as, from out of the soldier’s mouth, came some kind of blue steam, which rapidly traveled in a straight line towards the group.

“Is everyone alright?” whispered Astrid with a voice laced in concern as the blue mist shot over their heads and flew away from Rivenhold. There was a general murmuring of agreement among the other elves. Of course, all save for Ziafar, who gasped as he looked down upon trembling fingers. Frustrated, he tried to will his fingers to straighten themselves, so that they might not express his overwhelming fear and tension – how dare he show weakness to anyone else, especially at a time like this. However, they resisted him anyway, grabbing chunks of snow and freezing themselves as he propped his elbows on the earth and began to breathe deeper. Except, now he doubted it was fear. His head felt foggy, rather than the normal, tense clarity that he had when anxiety consumed him and every second felt like an hour. Rather, it appeared that something was attempting to interfere with his thoughts, corrupting his mindset. In the back of his head, he heard a voice…laughing…from the distance, and coming ever closer, making his thoughts even more ambiguous in the process.

S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.

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Sheyren says...

Chapter 2K: The (Warm?) Welcome of the Insane

“Is that-” Zoey asked, crouching lower as a safe measure.

“Yes, I think it is. Now silence,” Astrid whispered from beside her. Approaching the group was Bellatrix, in a silky blue dress. She wore hideous black boots that didn't match the dress at all.

“Her outfit is a little... Tacky? Yeah, that's how I'd describe it.”

“So it is. Now, silence,” Astrid whispered again. Bellatrix was approaching them, clearly having noticed, and so Zoey didn't see a reason to stay silent. However, she had seen Astrid when Astrid grew angry or tired of Zoey's shenanigans, and decided it was better to listen.

Suddenly, Bellatrix stopped and began muttering to herself.

Oh, look at the little birdies!

Bella, don't let them distract you. Just exterminate them already. Wouldn't want you getting attached to them, would I?

But I want to play with them!

Fine, do what you want. You never take my advice, disobedient fool! Have I ever let you down? No. Have I ever betrayed you? That's up to the interpreter. But I'm the interpreter here! No, no, I'm getting off topic. The point is that you need to get rid of them now, before they cause a problem for you!

I'm gonna play with them first. You can't stop me!
She stuck out her tongue before approaching them.

Hello, little birdies! You must be cold out here. I know I am! Shiver, shiver. How about you come stay in one of my guest rooms for a little while? That should warm you up! She smiled hopefully, and Zoey almost felt bad about declining the offer. Then she remembered Bellatrix was insane, and the feeling passed.

“Sorry, but we, uh, have places to... be?” Valon said to her. Then he turned to Tynan. “Wasn't this supposed to be the part where we have a big battle or something?”

Tynan shrugged.

I'm afraid I wasn't asking you. You're going to stay in the guest rooms. She turned around and walked away, gesturing for her guards to take us away.

“Actually, she did ask us. For the record,” Zoey muttered, being dragged away by the guards.


“Some guest room,” Fyfa said, inspecting the heavy stone walls. “I'd hate to be her guest.”

“I can't imagine she gets a lot of guests,” Ziafar said as Ziafar always says anything, grumpily. For once, Zoey understood why he was so ticked off at life.

Valon inspected the grated door that held them in this 'Guest Room.' “This barred gate almost makes it seem like a prison cell. Oh waaiiiitt,” he said sarcastically. “It is one.”

On the outside of the bar door stood two guards, likely victim to Bella's mind control. “Hey,” Zoey said to them, peeking her head through. “You wanna let us out? I got something nice for ya if you do.” She held up a bag and shook it. Something metal jingled inside.

“No. Orders by the Empress. Can't let you out,” They said in scary unison.

Zoey sighed. “Oh, so she's having you call her empress? Is that what's going on here?! No, no, quiet down Zoey. Take a breather. Shut up! This is not the time to be calm! It is the time for action!” Zoey slumped down the wall by the door and looked at her hands, disgusted. “Dear lords, I'm becoming Bellatrix.” She tossed the bag aside. Tynan looked at it curiously (and maybe a bit greedily). “No money. Its just parts of Alunis's sink. Stole it from his bathroom. Wanted to sell it on the market. 'Rich Man's Sink!' Buy now! Don't ask.

“He'll be mad.”

“I should care why?”

Zoey shook her head and stood up again. She ran over to the door again and beckoned one of the guards over. He happened to be wearing the key around his neck, like all cliché guards do. “Come closer. I've got a secret.” He leaned in, and she grabbed his collar, pulling it towards her and slamming the guard's head into the bars. She ripped the key of his neck as he fell to the ground.

The other guard ran towards her, but Valon came out of nowhere, kicking through the space in the grate, landing his foot right in the guard's soft spot. The guard fell over, unconscious. He then looked at Zoey. “While normally I would complain about you being reckless and that you should have devised a better thought-out plan, I won't, because your recklessness has gotten us out of numerous tricky spots.”

Zoey smiled as the party ran out the unlocked door. They ended up in the torch-lit halls of the castle. In seconds, both sides of it filled with guards, and they were trapped in. “Oh yeah, Zoey,” Valon said again.

“I just remembered your recklessness has also gotten us in numerous tricky spots.”

Zoey smiled again, turning towards the guards on one side.
"I give you permission to use 'Sheyster. Sheyfia. Shey Boss. Don Shey.' as a signature quote. XD"

If you somehow didn't already know, I used to be Sheytato.

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Rydia says...

Chapter 2L: The Land Lost Things Return to

It wasn't like Astrid could explain herself to Zoey: please shut up because I'm focusing on that zombie really hard because I secretly have necromancer skills and if I'm really careful, I might be able to make it not lead them to us without making its master aware that I'm screwing around with it. Because that would make the world too easy. So of course Zoey ignored her request for silence long enough that the scary people found them and now they were sitting in the 'guest room' which was definitely not a cell.

Honestly, what was wrong with the world? It seemed like the only people who hadn't lost their abilities to use Mana were inclined toward horrific necromancer acts which was, of course, the most vile form of magic and banned throughout all of the lands and why using it - even for good or innocent purposes - resulted in awful things like Gregor's death.

But it shouldn't have to be. A whole branch of magic shouldn't be branded as evil because people used it to do evil things. Astrid could hardly think for all the anger threatening to explode from within her. She didn't have enough mana to heal people but these monsters had enough to make people - even dead people - act against their own will and it was their fault that Necromancy had a bad name and their fault that someone as wonderful and life-giving as Gregor was gone. And the men, the ones she'd killed. And now all the dragoons - the world would be a darker place without their strength.

Astrid followed the others out of the cell, still trying to get a grip on her thoughts and trying to channel them into a more useful direction. Like how they were going to stop/ destroy/ let Valon kill the necromancers.

"We can take them," Zoey declared as she launched herself at the nearest guards. "I've got this side and you lot can take the other."

"Fine by me!" Fyfa declared as she raised her lance and it began to shiver with flickers of flame. Astrid realised that they'd been allowed to keep their weapons which was a little scary in itself since it suggested their captors were certain of being able to defeat them and - more worryingly - that they didn't mind if some of their guards were killed along the way.

"We fight to incapacitate, not to kill," Astrid warned softly as she drew the sabre from its hilt on her back.

"We could of course just leave this one to the girls... no? Fine, forget I even spoke." Ziafar let out a disgruntled sigh as both Valon and Tynan charged into battle with Valon happily obeying his girl's wishes and joining Fyfa on the other side and Tynan stepping easily into place beside him, ever the faithful body guard. Ziafar clearly liked his odds better on the side where more people were fighting and only Astrid went to back Zoey up. Or more appropriately, Astrid went to make sure Zoey didn't get over zealous and stick a dagger in where it shouldn't be.

The guards outnumbered them but in the tight confines of the hallway, no more than a few could approach at once so they finished them off quickly without using too much mana. Astrid relied entirely on her sabre but it was too sharp for knocking guards over the head to ground them so she concentrated on holding them back until Zoey could come in with a less deadly means of unconsciousness - often involving kicking them very hard in the head as she used one guard to launch herself at another.

Astrid did try something else as well. She segmented her brain and while her body worked through the familiar dance of combat, her mind latched on to one of the guards near the back. She found his mind and ground her teeth in distaste - unlike the zombie she'd tried to affect earlier, this guard was alive. Alive and blanketed in someone else's commands, like a forest of vines holding him back from even being able to have his own thoughts.
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Lumi says...

Chapter 2M: When A Man Loathes A Woman

"There! Are! Too many! Of them!" Tynan stomped the ground and sent a wave of dragoons soaring off the battlements. As their bodies hit the marble below, arcane dust scattered from their final breaths.

"Ziafar! The witch's dust!"

Majordomo swung his staff around and yanked the scattered starlight into his staff with a gravitational spell as Valon cut from dragoon to dragoon, leaving them in piles of ash, emitting the same stardust. Finally, having fed himself up, he roared in fury, cutting a fiery line across the battle, but making a mistake as a dragoon's leap brought it down for a killing blow over Valon's head--only for Tynan to block the horrific dive with his earthen bulwark.

You taketh away my breath!

They taketh away your soul, Bella!

Nein, Nicht, Non, No! This shall not be entertained!

Valon rose to his feet to see the arcane incarnate hovering in the air, preparing a spell to take them out. "Nor shall you!" he shouted, and, kneeling with his rapiers, flames engulfed his body, launching him in a rocket trail through Bellatrix. She reeled from the blow and materialized her own swords, as well as a simulacrum of Valon's Comet Stream spell.

The first time he'd flown was in this very fortress as a drunken party had turned awry, leading him to fall from the battlements to the ground below; but at the last moment, his mana surrounded him and shot him into a propulsion of energy that had been called peerless at the time. He had then gone about teaching it to his peerless peers. Truly, he was a Fire Knight without equal...key word: was.

The two clashed throughout the air, scattering embers and stardust across the castle with each passing blow. They spun together in a screwdriver high into the clouds before clashing swords, the red and blue trails vanishing beneath them as arcane energy broke through Valon's physical advantage. Still, Bellatrix held him aloft in the air by the throat.

You seek to overwhelm the gods with your musculature! See now the path laid before you in the desert of bleeding calamity!

Valon's breath left his lungs, his eyes filling with magicked blood not his own, frozen yet flowing as fresh springwater.

He was in the sands of a ruined city where shadows were cast into shadows by the heat pulling in on itself: the breath of eight thousand egg sacs upon the maw of a spider consuming the earth and buildings upon the earth itself. Valon viewed his skin, covered in festering pustules, and to the sky he turned, where a thousand-thousand starlit spiders skittered over one another on a fiery web, dripping acidic magma unto the earth.

This must not be Howlengale. This cannot be Howlengale.

And upon attempting to speak, a shriek came from his mouth; he lunged at a menagerie of six travelers, and was cut apart limb from bloody limb.

You see the world as it is becoming, then. You poor dear.

Hug the earth for us! Aaaahahahaha!

And, above the cloudreach, she let go of Valon.
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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TheSilverFox says...

Chapter 2N: Yo estoy bebiendo los estrellas

After this day, without a final shout or confrontation, Ziafar finally put to rest his childhood dream of being airborne.

Bellatrix – or Bella and Trix? – zoomed down from the cloudy skies, just ahead of the plummeting Valon. From this distance, he hadn’t a clue what she was doing or saying, but it was likely cackling. If he wasn’t struck with the realization that Valon wasn’t conjuring his powers of flight again, he would’ve been more than happy to cast his staff between those perfect teeth and force it down Bellatrix’s throat. Unfortunately, he had a responsibility now, and so dashed forward, aiming the staff towards the space below Valon. By now, the elf, whether out of fear, surprise, or simply a lack of energy, was approaching terminal velocity. Astrid, shouting in exasperation as she tried to prevent Zoe from stabbing several dragoons in the head (claiming that they were alive), waved for Tynan to push aside another few dragoons and rush towards Ziafar’s aid. Tynan, also seeing Valon falling rapidly to the ground, eagerly (as much as a stoic guard could be) accompanied Ziafar, decimating the foes that came in their way.

In the back of his overwhelmed, adrenaline-laced mind, Ziafar had no idea if this would work. It was slightly more sensible than Zoey’s shouting out, “think soft thoughts!” Fear, that emotion that gripped his eyes and ears and pulled them shut, consuming him in chiding whispers and cries to flee. Arguably, he had done and seen worse, as the grotesque creation of the mad scientist being killed in a bloody duel had demonstrated. He had rarely attempted the spell with such accuracy or timing, however, and the thought of accidentally crushing his leader in the process made him worry fervently for both his head and his share of the profits. And, of course, some amount of concern for a man who could honestly be intensely dense, but selfishness was one of Ziafar’s favorite mindsets. There was also the prospect of repaying the man who had brought him the chance to claim the head of his arch-enemy, and that most drove Ziafar’s subsequent actions.

Channeling Bellatrix’s latent power through the staff, Ziafar watched as the space beneath Valon began to compress on itself, as though the space was warping and crumpling. Valon, who had unwisely decided to continue falling head first, watched as he began to slow down, losing much of his force and speed. Bellatrix howled something in surprise, arms waving in exasperation, and immediately shot towards the source of the trouble. Moving his staff in a graceful arc, Ziafar bent the air in front of the creature’s face. She struggled and pulled her way through the sky, screeching as her face sometimes smacked against the makeshift wall. However, the power within the staff was waning, as evidenced by blackened stardust falling onto the ground at Ziafar’s feet, and he could only watch and step back as she grew nearer. He gestured for Tynan to run over to the spot where Valon was now falling, almost gently, to the ground.

Pest! Pestilence! Pox! How dare you ruin this clever fall!

Keep your wits about you, Bella, as it may be your fall soon. He has taken your breath, and methinks that he has the eyes that could swipe your lungs and heart.

I will then see to it that this rude and puny creature could, would, should! perish beneath my step!

His great volume of energy spent, Ziafar could only raise his hands and conjure a barrier as Bellatrix swooped down towards him. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Tynan was successfully able to catch Valon and carry him away. This brief respite did not last. Too cleverly, she stopped abruptly, neck whipping back as her hands clutched the edges of the almost-invisible shield and she laughed maliciously. Ziafar’s eyes shot behind him, and there he saw the grinning figure of one of the dragoons, an icicle through its chest, coughing specks of stardust and wielding a gleaming, beautiful sword. In his own head, her voice emanated in a horrific cacophony, drowning out his thoughts and confusing his mind. Each step now felt unreliable and unstable, and he felt nauseous, afflicted by the way that Bellatrix made to control his body and use it as limply and grotesquely as she used her soldiers.

Won’t he, Trix? Won’t this little fool learn, just like the strapping one?

Oh yes, Bella, he’ll learn splendidly, soon enough, soon enough. His greatest folly was to think that there were only five eyes lurking beneath the earth, or that there would ever be enough bodies to drape over the fires.

Now confused and stunned by the mentioning of those words, images of flames and solemn commands flickered through his head. A pair of haunting eyes reflected in those of the oncoming corrupted dragoon rushing towards him, sword raised. The words of the wide-eyed priest preaching the art of chaos, sacrifice, and self-preservation before bound and gagged victims penetrated and overloaded his senses, so that he was too overwhelmed to notice the rest of the party assembled at the edge of the border, shouting his name in frustration or hitting the barrier with their fists. All he could do was looking down upon his staff and recall the fury of that same priest’s eyes when Ziafar had panicked, set loose the victims, and shoved compatriots into the path of the attacking police.

He struck himself in the head with the staff.

The visions cleared from his mind as quickly as they had come, and he heard Bellatrix gasp in surprise in his mind. Staring at the ground, breathing deeply, he did not feel the sharp pain of a sword slicing through his skull and body, so he raised the staff and hit himself again. The same results. He smiled maniacally, even as the ground appeared to wobble and quake beneath his feet, black spots danced around his line of sight, and his whole body ached and felt unstable and increasingly weakened. As such, he repeated this act, glances at the soldier indicating how it (he/she/them? Ziafar knew not, and so deferred to it in his subconscious) lowered its sword and, with each subsequent strike, took another step back. Bellatrix yelled in pain and began to push against the barrier, weakening it and forcing cracks in the line of defense.

Ziafar, now sweating and tired, began to cough ferociously as something attempted to force its way up his stomach and through his throat. Now realizing the instrumental nature of the stardust that had corrupted him, he raised his three middle fingers from his left hand to a spot above his right eye, and then drew them down to the corner of his mouth. Immediately, he could feel his lips closing and jaws clamping shut. It was a particularly odd spell, devised from old spellbooks during the couple of weeks he had planned for contingencies during the court case. The most adamant member of the defense, a man who had been thoroughly and naively convinced that Ziafar had been the murderer (though such had not been the case), had been suddenly silenced mid-speech and had subsequently panicked. After a nervous breakdown and a brief escorting from court, that member of the defense had been declared too unfit to testify during the trial, and the blame had been shifted upon an old member of the council in attendance who had most studied the texts containing the obscure spell, as demonstrated by the book that she claimed had not been there the previous night.

Regardless, he could still breathe through his nose, and so could see the traces of stardust starting to filter out from them. Disgusted as he was by this, he continued hitting himself with the surprisingly solid staff, the subsequent cries of pain puncturing his senses. Though he could feel his otherwise impeccable face bruising and bleeding, looking up and watching Bellatrix recoil in pain and collapse, falling over and sagging through the barrier that the tired Ziafar was eager to destroy and let her fall to the ground. Her voice echoed in his own throat, so that he was quietly echoing her screaming as the dust swirled inside his windpipe. The rest of the group rushed in, Tynan spearing the soldier as others stood in front of him or around Bellatrix. That threatening soldier collapsed to the ground and spewed out stardust, with Zoey picking up the sword and waving it about. As Ziafar searched and found Valon standing where the edge of the barrier had once been, the former noted the latter’s haunted expression, pale face, and knees that were slightly bending. Valon was watching him intensely and in abject horror, as though he expected a grisly sight to appear soon. Or, far more likely, he had already seen something like such, though the way that Valon’s eyes seemed to be staring far beyond Ziafar led him to believe it was had nothing to do with their fight against Bellatrix.

However, there was no time to think about what exactly had startled the normally-unflappable Valon, as Ziafar continued to see stardust pouring out of his own nose. While Bellatrix hissed and attempted to stand up, though she struggled in the effort, he repeated the gesture that he had used to seal his mouth. Jaws unclenching and aching, his lips parted ungently, ripping up some of the skin in the process. Ziafar then proceeded to vomit out the rest of both his lunch and the stardust.

“Beaten by your own victims,” spat Ziafar, wiping his mouth as he kneeled and stared at the heavily weakened Bellatrix, who herself appeared to be bleeding a strange, icy substance as tears dripped from one eye and a mask of rage descended over her and her hunched body. He gasped and wheezed ferociously, clutching his cheat as sweat ran down his face as his senses still hummed and buzzed in agony. “Isn’t that ironic?”
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.

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Rydia says...

Chapter 2O: El Libro de los Muertos

As the last of the stardust was vomited onto the ground, Bellatrix rocked back like a great wave had taken her and Astrid saw the way. It wasn't an easy way, or one without a chance of failure, but Astrid knew she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she didn't try. And if she tried and things went awry, it was almost certain she'd be finished with the living anyway.

"I need- I need you to buy me some time." Astrid turned to Zoey and fixed the girl with her most steely, determined glare. "Whatever happens, you must not interrupt me."

"Right, sure, even if-" Zoey started to count out on her fingers all of the exceptions she could think of, which mostly involved Valon getting himself ripped to pieces and needing immediate medical attention.

"Tynan," Astrid called with an exasperated sigh. The stoic knight tore his gaze away from his brother in arms (who still looked deeply disturbed, perhaps from almost falling to his death) and regarded her with a flat gaze.

"What will you do?"

"I think I can heal them."

"Okay. We'll protect you."

Astrid seated herself, cross legged on the ground, her slender hands resting palms up on her knees, like she was supporting something. She focused on her breathing: in out, in out and started to close away the rest of the world.

The fool has hurt you, Bella. What will you do? Won't you answer his spit with a thundercloud? Won't you step on him and ascend to the sky on the bones of his spine?

I will, Trix, I will and it's so delicious because he doesn't know. He doesn't, ah how he doesn't yet know there are fires born inside clouds which will burn his world from the other side.

There was a book. Astrid remembered the first time she'd seen it, the first time her fingers danced across its ghostly spine and how long it had taken to turn even one page, for the pages had to be turned with one's mind. It was a book not often touched by the hands of the living, but she reached for it now and felt its weight lean gently against her open palms: El Libro de los Muertos; the book of the dead.

Astrid turned a page. She had never turned more than one and yet the first page of the book was written differently every time, and every time it was the page she was looking for. This time was no exception. The spell written on page one was written in stardust and it was certainly the very spell Bellatrix had used on the guards and dragoons and Astrid couldn't really heal them, not with that side of her mana anyway. But she might be able to take them and if she could take them, then maybe at the end of it all she could also let them go.

Astrid closed her eyes and read the words from the page.

"Ca'rnmakaoaoa, a'rraoa oaroa osmoa, rauoama' rloau, Sa'ra'rla', hooam rlo! I ask for their souls, I ask for their hearts and I ask for their minds. I seek them be they living or dead, give them to me!"

She could feel them. It normally took a lot more focus and repetition to find a spirit susceptible to her touch but these spirits had already been touched by another and thus were ripe for the reaping. Holding their minds was like skimming her hand over a hundred rows of candles and the living burned hotter than the dead but the dead still burned; all of them burning in a gale of fire, a storm of life, or unlife. Almost life.

"Spirits you may now approach this gate and answer truly to my calling. Bomoarc, Boma'oarc, Boarfaa, Goafa, Goafaa'm, Aghoafaoa! Amaso, I hoamgho oac oarr hoo. Arise in my name, arise in my breath, arise in my mana. Arise, I charge and call thee."

Astrid read from the book and even as she ripped the hoards of the dead away from Bellatrix, she could feel the book ripping the life away from her. It was the cost the book demanded and always in the past she had recovered. But always in the past she had done something smaller: talked to the spirirts, or raised the bones of a buried rabbit. Perhaps this time the book would take her home with it.
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Sheyren says...

Chapter 2P: She Falls, She Crumbles

“How did I end up with you?” Zoey asked indignantly, glancing up at Ziafar. Together they crept behind the mayhem, staying hidden from view of the battlefield. Around them, shouts broke through the air, and Bellatrix's obnoxious voice was audible over it all. Zoey naturally tuned herself out, so she didn't have to hear it.

“I'm not sure. You were supposed to be the distraction,” Ziafar responded drily, glaring at her.

“Yeah, but that's not really the role for me. I let Tynan take care of that.” She hesitated. “Well, by 'let', I mean I led Bellatrix to him, and then took off, making him become the new distraction.”

“Wasn't Tynan with Valon?”

Zoey shrugged. “I'm sure he's fine. He's Valon. In fact, I'll bet he's safe with Astrid... Right... Now.” She stopped and let her jaw drop, before turning to Ziafar in a clearly exaggerated manner. “Ziafar, do you know what this means?!”

“That we need to keep going, so we can finish this battle as quickly as possible?” Ziafar suggested, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

“This means that right now, they could be alone together,” she said melodramatically.

“In the middle of the battlefield,” Ziafar added, but Zoey wasn't listening.

“They could very well be doing anything right now! What if their...”

“Fighting? Getting injured? Beeding?”

“Making out? Or worse! They could be...”

“Don't go there.”

“Hugging!” She finished in a mock-fearful voice. “Ziafar, we need to hurry and end this battle, so I can intervene!” With that, Zoey took off, staying low, but quickly closing the gap between Bellatrix and herself. Ziafar groaned and hurriedly followed.

Peeking up from her hiding spot, Zoey watched as Tynan stood as large as he could in the center of the battlefield, drawing the attention of Bellatrix. Behind his large bulk was Astrid, holding before her the Libro de Los Muertos. Valon was next to her. attempting to stand, but failing miserably at it. Opposite them and Bellatrix, on the far side of the fort, was her army of mind-slaves, being bravely held off by Fyfa. However, they were slowly overpowering her, and she was forced to fall back. Valon drew his two rapiers and assisted her in fending them off, but even together, they were no match. Meanwhile, Tynan nimbly dodged Bellatrix as she swung a metal staff at him (Zoey was still confused as to where she had gotten this). However, as she swung the crude tool, a powerful gust of wind would launch outwards, making it almost impossible for Tynan to dodge.

Zoey turned to a tapping on her shoulder, seeing Ziafar. Silently, he nodded to the left, which led to the back of one of the fort's towers. It seemed to make more sense that they attack from behind, not go left, but Ziafar seemed insistent that they head to the far side of the tower. He nodded upward, to a ledge roughly 20 feet of the ground. It had an ornate design on it, one which included three spikes sticking out from it. In a fluid motion, Ziafar had shown her the path it would take the should the tower fall. The spikes would land directly on Bellatrix.

Zoey glanced at Tynan, who was currently being slammed by Bellatrix's mystical gusts of air. With a concerned gaze, she noticed, Ziafar was also watching the fight. Shaking his head slowly, he led them towards the tower anyway. After a moment's hesitation, Zoey followed.

The tower was small, and in reality was only really wide enough for a single spiral staircase. Ziafar leaned in and whispered to Zoey. “Get inside.”

“What? Are you INSANE?”

“Just trust me, damn it. I've got an idea,” Ziafar commanded.

“I don't take orders from you.” Zoey sighed. “I've reviewed the facts, and the most important thing I've learned from being in this group is that Valon cannot be alone with Astrid alone, ever. But trusting you would probably be in the top five. So, I'm going to tentatively step inside that tower and climb to the windowsill. I am going to wait for the tower to come crashing to the ground, impaling Bellatrix with spikes. Then the tower will hit the ground, likely crushing myself along with Tynan, and if we're lucky, Astrid too. That'll be the only satisfaction in this endeavor.”

“Oh, shut it, Drama Queen-”

“Drama Empress.”

“I am expecting you'll know what to do when the time comes.”

Zoey looked insulted. “That implies you don't actually know what to do.”

Ziafar shrugged. With a groan, Zoey turned and entered the tower, rapidly climbing the steps to reach the windowsill. She stopped when she arrived at her destination, leaping from the stairs and placing herself in the opening. Just as she got there, the tower shifted from a massive explosion, and it began to plummet towards the ground. And still, Zoey had no plan. The ground came closer, closer. Panic surged up in Zoey's chest.

And then she realized what Ziafar had wanted to do. She mentally noted the location of the window before jumping. Drawing an ornate silver dagger, she blocked the swing of Bellatrix's staff. However, the gust pushed her back so she was right next to a nearly unconscious Tynan. He slumped onto her shoulders, and she began to drag him along. By now, she had no need to worry about Bellatrix, cause the (damn fool) woman was now occupied by the spectacle that was a falling tower. Glancing up, Zoey saw the tower approaching them, and with a last effort, threw Tynan under the window. She made a sprint for the window after him, sliding as the tower got lower lower and lower. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as she lined herself up with the window. The last view she got of Bellatrix was three spikes piercing her head, blood trickling down, and her eyes rolling back into her head. Then the tower hit the ground.

Zoey and Tynan slumped to the ground, and Zoey let out the longest sigh that had ever escaped her lips. Blood rolled out from where Bellatrix had been, filling the ground where the windowsill was, and it covered Zoey's pants. She was too tired and relieved to move, however, so she fall backwards instead, covering her back in the liquid too.

Tynan glanced at her, and she glanced back, but neither said anything. They just closed their eyes and fell unconscious.


Zoey awoke in Valon's arms. She immediately closed her eyes, hoping he wouldn't notice. But he had, and he layed her down on the ground. Damn.

“I see your awake. Good job on saving Tynan,” Valon said, and Zoey was filled with joy.

“Oh, it was nothing,” she said, praying that maybe he'd not see her bright red cheeks. If he had, he said nothing.

“Thanks,” Tynan said gratefully, with no follow-up. She then turned to see Ziafar standing by the fallen tower, staring at the blood still pouring out. On the other side of the tower, Astrid was barely visible, also staring at the blood. They waited silently, until suddenly Fyfa's voice came from inside.

“I got it!” She called from approximately where Zoey estimated the windowsill was. Fyfa stepped outside the tower, holding a flat metal disc, dripping with blood. “The seal came out in the windowsill,” came her explanation. The group began to approach the cliff-face that the fort was built onto, and their attention shifted to the lake, barely visible through the blizzard. Just as everyone else turned, Zoey looked back and saw Ziafar picking something out of the blood. It looked almost like a manalyte crystal. He hesitated, and with a glance at Valon (not noticing Zoey, apparently), he pocketed it. Then, he joined the group as they stood on the cliff.

Somehow the lake hadn't been frozen over in the blizzard, a clear sign it was the source of magic. Tynan casually took the disc and threw it off the cliff. It soared through the air, losing elevation slowly, and ultimately landing in the lake. Suddenly, the lake glowed a gentle shade of blue, and from the center, where the disc had landed, a beam of light shot into the sky. The clouds parted as it reached them, and in the seconds, the sky was entirely clear, revealing a beautiful sunset.

They admired the peaceful scene for a long time. In fact, they stood there until the sun dipped far below the mountains on the horizon. Even after it set, they still stood there, until finally Valon turned and approached the front gates of the fort. He pulled out a smooth metal cube.

“What's that?” Ziafar curiously asked as the group approached him.

“I think it run son teleportation magic. Not sure, I got my hands on it while Bellatrix had us captured. We'll see what it does, I guess.” He shrugged nonchalantly. Tapping the surface of the cube, a strange green design appeared on the surface.

Zoey looked out over the lake, catching a glimpse of—was that a dragon? She squinted to get a better look at the flying beast, but then the teleportation magic consumed the group, and her view of the lake was gone.
"I give you permission to use 'Sheyster. Sheyfia. Shey Boss. Don Shey.' as a signature quote. XD"

If you somehow didn't already know, I used to be Sheytato.

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Lumi says...

Chapter 2Q: He's Not Heavy, He's My Brother

They'd arrived back home just as Valon's chief chirurgeon was leaving for the day--and begrudgingly accepted their pleas for medical aid. Astrid pledged to help as well, as in this place of increased magic, new and fresh, she felt at one with nature (her words) as never before.

At the northern point of their curing circle, Tynan cleared his throat. "Everyone?" he begged, "I have something that I need to tell you." He looked off to his right, where Valon was laid out having his ribs rejoined by tiny vines. "Upon returning to Howlengale, I was offered a position of great import in the Sentinels along with Fyfa...and I believe father would agree that having a young set of legs about the manor would assuage his daily stresses quite a bit."

Fyfa nodded. "And it should go without saying that I..."

Everyone's head fell, save Valon. "Tynan?" he addressed.

"Yes, brother?"

Valon thought of the options in his head. But ultimately, he decided to stand, gather his shirt and tunic, and state the truth. "I don't want you to go."

And without response or rebuttal, he left the guest chambers to find Ziafar pacing towards the front door. Spotted, he flushed red and backed away.

"Valon, this is not a good time to talk."

"For neither of us. Let's get a drink." He pulled his tunic over his shirt.

"I'm afraid I have business to attend to, Valon. We can review our woes later, perhaps find Schadenfreude in one another's troubles."

Valon peered at him carefully. "What are you hiding...?"

Panicked, Ziafar grabbed his warp lapis and vanished in a scattering of light. Valon stepped into the stardust and smelled flowers. Many flowers. "The botanical gardens...? The closest manalyte crystal to that place is a 15 minute walk, 5 by griffin with decent fahrvergnugen." He scratched his chin and made way for the stables outside in the melting snow.

Mounting a griffin, he pulled his collar tighter around him and retrieved the matrix cube from his necklace, picturing the manalyte crystal in the Feu Vivant Square. The red glow of the grand towers in nightfall. The smell of radiant flowers drifting down the parkway. The warmth of the Fire Knights' Academy training day and night. The cube began to jitter before light enveloped Valon and the griffin, landing them, wings-flapping, around the brilliant manalyth.

"Let's be on with it, then, Lumière!" The griffin took off through the darkening night, but one florist after the other came up empty-handed of Ziafars.

Only one really remained, entirely on the other side of the city--and Valon considered its location dangerous--in the heart of the tightly-guarded Aethenium. "This won't be fun, Lumière. But we must make haste to save someone dear...for whatever reason."

He'd recognized the look that had been in Ziafar's eyes. He had given that look to more men than he could count, their bodies dust in the wind already.

That mage was hellbent on murder.
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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TheSilverFox says...

Chapter 2R: Cut Yourself Down

Tricking Valon was depressingly easy. It was simplicity enough to retreat to a nearby bar and watch his arrival - on a griffin, which was not at all showy - and wait for him to visit the local florist in Feu Vivant. He could never think to check a winemaker in one of the subsidiary gardens a few blocks away, nor suspect that Ziafar had taken his earlier suggestion to heart. As such, Valon flew off to other parts of the city, completely unaware of Ziafar, face red, beginning to stumble through the packed streets of the city.

Ziafar had also found the mostly empty bar (everyone having gone to frolick in the newfound sunshine and visit the gardens, he was told by the bartender) a great place to get a few drinks. He was familiar, and perhaps good friends, with the concept of murder. But now, with a sword in its scabbard at his side, and the ever familiar, handsome face of the man he was set to kill, Ziafar couldn't believe that he was so close. The prospect, of ending what had buried him in resentment and bitterness for so long, was so impossible to him that he was suspicious. He suspected - and knew, deep inside of him - that this would not be an easy kill.

Drinking kept that spirit of rage boiling within him, and so he pushed his way through the throngs and last bits of dissipating snow, watching as the sky grew ever darker. Lamps began to appear at their lights, along street corners, held in the arms of young children and old men. Some cried, some sang, and some merely sat down and relished in the quiet, airy darkness that enveloped the city. It confused and frustrated the inebriated Ziafar, who began to walk faster.

He hated all of this. He hated that two of the most sensible people in the team were leaving to stay with that dready old man. He hated that Valon, who had given him the letter in the first place, was trying to stop him. He hated that he was the only one in this godsdamned city who wasn't smiling, who wasn't relieved, who wasn't hugging surviving members of their family and spilling out onto the streets.

But it would all be over soon, wouldn't it? He was in the square now, he could see the name of the store (Howling Wines, how original), nestled among others, surrounding benches and trees and so many people. Why were all these people there? Why couldn't they go away? Why couldn't they leave him in peace, and not torment him with their smiles? But it would all be over soon, wouldn't it. He would knock on the stout door, and let some wise-looking old man open the door and smile at him, and they would talk, and Ziafar would ask where his "friend" was, and he would leave. He would go to the location, he would find the bastard, he would cut his throat out with the sword, that sword that he stole from Valon's house, because he could murder with it, because that was the law-

He was at the entrance. Light flickered through the blinds of a long side window, casting shadows of flames over his face. There must be a fireplace, he reasoned as he walked up the few steps, each creaking, and knocked lazily on the door. After some seconds of silence, there were footsteps. Maybe I can ask the old man if I could sit down by it. Put my hands out, let myself be warmed, put life back into these limbs. Anything to help me find--"

The door opened. A tired-looking man, laughing quietly as he held one of the paper lamps in his hand, looked at Ziafar as if reviewing him. At first confused, his face blanched, and his smile dissipated. "I hadn't..." he began, voice diminishing into a whisper while his eyes bulged.

"Revanii Remean," said Ziafar, bowing and almost falling over. "Or, Revan. I am back for you."

Revan stepped aside quietly, out of what appeared to be some sudden decision. Ziafar, struggling to rise up, glared at his stoic expression. "I had expected you sooner," he said, pulling Ziafar's arm around his shoulder and leading him inside. "Why the wait?"

"Those...fools, bastards, at the Council, they would not tell me where you were going - Schadenfreude, I imagine," Ziafar said loudly. He collapsed onto a green couch positioned not far from the fire. Revan let go of him gently before taking a seat on a rocking chair, setting the paper lamp onto the table between them.

Finger steepling, Revan leaned forward. "Even not when you were among them?"

"I was too busy grieving her, you insensate bastard!" shouted Ziafar, lunging forward and falling forward. Revan fumbled for the paper lamp and pulled it out of harms way, as the table nearly toppled onto its side.

"The winemaker is upstairs," whispered Revan sharply, jumping up and prying Ziafar from the wood that he so desperately clung on to, the latter waving an errant fist without effect. "And I believe his young son is listening to us; that child never goes to sleep on time, especially not today, not with everything that has happened."

Ziafar slumped back onto the couch and rubbed his eyes, watching Revan loom over him. "I still miss that smile, and that face, and those arms," Ziafar whispered faintly. "Would one more time be fine, before I kill you? Because I will, and no child is going to stop me."

"I locked his door, so he will not be bothering us. He has run away in the past."

Kicking ineffectually at Revan's feet, Ziafar moaned softly, reaching for his sword. "Could you tell me why? You never gave me that mercy in court; you bowed your head and stared at the floor. I loved her and I loved you and you killed her and I want to hear it in your voice that you did. Tell me this was all some kind of petty revenge. I will not accept anything else, do you hear me? I want this to be simple so I can strike you through the head and go home with a clear conscious, do you hear me?"

Revan watched the fire intently, arms crossed behind him. "You wanted power, honor, and respect. I wanted you to be happy. She was my opponent, sure, but I just wanted to win you the hearts of the Council, and so she-"

"Do you know what you have done?!" screamed Ziafar, yanking the sword out of the scabbard and swinging wildly. Revan ducked as Ziafar knocked the table over, falling swiftly onto the floor. The former snatched the paper lamp and pushed it into a corner of the room, clutching his face as the cut on his cheek began to show. Rekan then attempted to help the other elf, but was awe-struck and horrified enough to fall upon his knees.

Ziafar, a strange, red aura crackling around him, pulled himself from the ground without the slighest hint of weakness, snatching the sword from the edge of the fireplace as he did so. "She died for me!? She died for a worthless position!? I spent weeks in my study, burying myself in my reading, unable to spend a single moment exercising my power. When I closed my heart to pity, and made myself as stone, do you know how little everything meant to me!? Do you know I left the Court so long ago?"

Revan, tears spilling from his eyes, shook his head, instantly looking more horrified and depressed.

"Exactly! The magic bled from all of us, and we were useless. I abandoned those dottering fools, and have done so many terrible things since. I have killed so many people, crushed so many lives under my heel, and every single moment of misery I have lived in and invoked is all because of you. You, you, you, and you! That is what you have done."

There was the sound of scuffling on the stairs. Ziafar turned to see the face of a plump, wise-looking old man, poking his head out from the second floor. The former elf scowled, and the latter ran towards his own bedroom, slamming the door in amazing swiftness and ferocity. Soon, all was silent but the snapping of the flames, dim in the light that emanated around Ziafar, and the distant sound of screaming and weeping.

"My gods, what have I done?" whispered Revan, staring up in despair at Ziafar's returning, furious, flaming eyes. Revan could not look, and so bowed. "Do what you will. Please, I beg you."

Ziafar lifted the sword above his head, channeling pure rage through him. Two tears fell from one eye. "I never did stop loving you, you know."

Revan, turning his face up, nodded and smiled. It was warm; it was gracious; it was accepting. It was everything Ziafar had wanted.

"Fuck you!" shouted Ziafar, bringing the sword down.


Ziafar slept peacefully that night, having wasted his strength dragging the heavy body into an alley, burying it underneath the trash, and resting atop it. He was still weary as he awoke early in the morning and, with the residues of energy within him, stuffed it into a burlap sack and began to drag it through the quiet, empty city streetes.

The gray sky gradually grew brighter as he proceeded. Ziafar was almost to the edge of the city, where it jutted out over the landscape to produce a massive cliff, when he was greeted by the sounds of a griffin flapping its wings softly in the distance. Turning to face the direction of the noise, Ziafar peered and saw a familiar figure waving on the griffin's back. He sighed and let go of the sack, crossing his arms while glaring.

"I've been looking all over you!" shouted Valon as the griffin descended, jumping off before it completely landed. "You weren't even in the Aethenium, and it took me forever to get ground clearance with those guys, even if I could have some Fahrvergnügen in flying around. They were all worried about how active the city got last night. What have you...oh." Valon now noticed the sack.

"Yes," said Ziafar, shaking his head and trying to dispel the hangover. "This is the world's largest sack of potatoes I have here" - Valon gave an incredulous expression, as though trying desperately to cling onto a false truth - "No, you idiot, it's a body, of course. Help me throw it off, will you? I may have already thrown my back."

Valon opened and shut his mouth, nodded, and assisted, losing all sense of humor. With some effor, they dragged the body across one last square and heaved it over the wall. They watched it fall and be consumed by the mist, disappearing in only seconds.

"Who was that?" asked Valon, stretching and yawning as Ziafar continued to look over the edge, slumping. No answer.

"What are you going to do now?" he asked, standing next to Ziafar and following his gaze.

Ziafar sighed. "What would you do if I tried to jump off?"

"I would grab you and pull you back."

"And if I tried again?"

"Same story."

"And over and over and over again?"

"If I couldn't pull you up, I would go down with you."

"...Thank you."

Valon sat down beside Ziafar. They embraced, and watched the sun begin to poke out into the world.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.

Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul.
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening