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[Book I]

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#1 Secret Igshar

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 01:52 PM

Space Theater : Episode I
Outwards! The Lotus Kingdom's Finest Exodus!

Co-Authored by:

Chapter I
Soundless Morning

"Gosh, Mom, I'm up, I'm up," the young girl cried as she rolled out of bed.

Her mother chastised, "I see that you're up, Evelynn, but you're nearly an hour late!"

Evelynn blinked and rose to her feet, stretching, "Eh? How'd that happen?"

"The bells! They haven't rung today."

Evelynn then noticed she was sporting her oversized T-shirt and a pair of underwear, so she shooed her mother from her room so that she could get dressed, "That's odd, but give me just a moment to get ready, would you?"

Her mother exited the room and Evelynn quickly swapped into more appropriate clothing for leaving the house. She pulled on a pair of khaki pants along with a blue sleeveless shirt. She wrapped a cyan scarf about her neck before pulling on arm warmers which alternated between the deep blue of her shirt and the cyan color of her scarf. She plopped her naked feet along as she tromped out of her room and addressed her mother, "So why haven't the bells rung?"

"We're not sure, dear. A messenger from the castle should arrive in the square shortly to elaborate on the situation. Your father is swamped with work, due to his delay this morning, so I would ask you to go to the square in his stead and bring us back news of what has happened."

Evelynn nodded, "As you wish, mother." She hugged her mother and headed down the spiral staircase to the first floor of her mansion. By the front door, she slipped her feet into her silver traveling boots and made her way outside. It was a relatively nice day, though a sense of dread hung heavy in the air. She knew exactly why, too. Those bells were rumored to keep evil, dark spirits at bay. An old tale spoke of a doom which would descend upon the Lotus Kingdom if the bells were not rung on any given morning.

She arrived in the square shortly, surprised at the large group of people already assembled there. Out of the corner of his eye, she spotted one boy who seemed incredibly bored of being there already. She recognized him from somewhere, but couldn't quite place his face. She hadn't the time to address him before the arrival of the messenger atop a black Chocobo.

The man atop the Chocobo commanded the attention of the entire crowd assembled there in the square with the sounding of a bugle. Silence proceeded his decree, "Hear ye, hear ye. As ordered by the King's high court, each able bodied citizen must report to the castle courtyard in order to witness a new royal decree that must be implemented immediately."

Evelynn cocked her head to the side and patted her own body, curious as to if she would be considered "able bodied." The boy she had noticed previously approached her and laughed, "I think you'd be included, too, if you would want to go."

She looked into his face and nodded, "Oh, thank you. I'm not quite used to that particular term."

"Uh huh..." the boy continued before waving to her, "Well, see ya there." He rushed off towards the northern end of town. Evelynn, having forgotten about her parents in light of this peculiar boy whom she knew she recognized from somewhere, rushed off after him, following close behind. Several others from the city followed suit while others headed towards the western edge, where the train was situated.

Evelynn only caught a small bit of the boy's discussion with the Chocobo stable manager, "Chuck." The boy seemed to purchase a slightly overweight yellow Chocobo before rushing off atop the beast, heading for the castle. Evelynn procured enough coin from her purse to rent one of the birds and took off after the boy. The ride from the outlying town of Goldruby towards the towering Lotus Castle was a relatively short one, with the boy arriving just a few seconds before Evelynn herself.

The boy's chocobo seemed quite exhausted from the ride while Evelynn's Chocobo was still in a chipper mood upon arrival. The guards stopped the both of them, proclaiming, "No Chocobos within the Courtyard... We'll have to take them to the stables."

The boy seemed quite upset by this, but acquiesced with little argument. Evelynn, not wanting to fall behind, handed over the reigns to one of the guards. She thought she caught a small hint of a toothy grin from the man to whom she handed the reigns, but dismissed it as her overactive imagination. This small delay, however, caused Evelynn to lose the boy in the rather confusing courtyard. She sighed and searched for a place to sit while she awaited the decree. She ended up dropping down onto a bench beside a girl dressed in rather raggedy clothes.

The girl smiled and addressed Evelynn, much to her dismay, "Hello! Are you here for the decree as well?"

Evelynn nodded and scooted away from the girl, afraid of catching her filthy.

The girl giggled and adjusted the mask on her face, "No need to be afraid, I'm not sick with anything. My name is Stylix, what's yours?"

Evelynn felt slightly comforted by this, but was far too shy to say a word.

Stylix nudged Evelynn, causing her entire body to shiver with disgust, "Come on, we're just two girls having a little chat!"

Evelynn's face turned bright red. She pushed herself up from the bench and rushed off into the crowd to hide from those who would attempt to converse with her. She did not look back towards Stylix as she pushed through the crowd. Before she could find another spot to sit, the chaos was put to rest when the ground guardsmen began to play the Kingdom's Anthem.

Lord Commander Hark Glory stepped out onto a balcony far above the courtyard and grinned wickedly. From his lips spilled, "As some of you are aware of, the Mythril bells were not rung. This has not happened before in all of Lotus Kingdom's history. What this has done is pure chaos to our economy. Right now, our royal economists have analyzed the situation and estimated that we have lost thousands of gil worth of production. That is why we have decided to implement conscription, in order to cope up with the loss. As per decree of the king, we have here signed in paper with the royal seal and his Majesty's approval. Everyone in the square right now is now an honorary member of the Militia Brigade. This grants every member certain rights and privileges. Details will be provided inside the Barracks. Lastly, welcome to the Royal Army. That is all." He turned and marched back into the castle without another word.

Shortly after this, the entire courtyard erupted in something which bordered on the scale of a riot. Evelynn found herself caught up in the middle of the group, unable to wiggle free. A friendly voice called out to her, "Madame!" A rough hand grabbed at her wrist and yanked her from the chaos, pulling her along towards the side entrance to the castle, where their briefing would begin. As soon as they both were clear of the crowd, Evelynn formally thanked the stranger who had saved her. She looked up into his face and noticed that his eyes were green just the same as hers. He smiled and patted her hard on one shoulder, "No problem." He then held open the door for Evelynn to enter before him. She inquired as to the boy's name, to which he simply replied, "Viktor Saréna."

Once they were inside the barracks, Viktor found a spot alone against the wall while Evelynn took the first seat she could find near the back. To her surprise, the boy from earlier entered shortly after her and took the seat immediately beside her. He placed his hand over the seat to his right, the only empty seat directly adjacent to either him or her, and erected a bed of ice spikes atop it, dissuading anyone from sitting there. He sighed and slouched in the chair. His head fell to the side and he smiled at Evelynn, "Hey, you."

Evelynn raised an eyebrow, "Why...?" Her words remained caught in her throat. A cold sweat began to form on her brow.

The boy shrugged his shoulders, "I don't like people much, but you seem nice." With a smirk, he continued, "I also recognize you from the library in Goldruby. You studied there just as much as I did."

Her heart beat faster, her breath accelerated. She began to wheeze.

The boy's eyes widened as he snapped his finger in front of her face, "Whoa, whoa, calm down!" When she continued in the same vein for another several moments, the boy placed his hand upon her bare shoulder.

She felt a cool energy course through her body and slowly felt a sense of calm overtake her. Her face turned red and she looked down, "Sorry..."

The boy rolled his eyes and returned to his awful posture from previously, "Geez, I'm not that handsome." He flicked a lock of his blonde hair and grinned when she looked.

She giggled slightly and tucked her auburn hair back behind her ear, "I'm Evelynn Rydell, by the way."

"Oh boy," the boy replied, "Rydell? Those rich snobs?"

"I am not a snob!" She took great offense to the implication.

"Sorry, sorry. I'm Artemis Aurum. Nice to finally meet and talk with you, study buddy."

A gentle smile unwillingly crossed Evelynn's face, "Likewise."

Their moment was abruptly interrupted by a greasy man taking position up at the front of the room. Artemis' eyes widened, "That guy served me tea!"

The man cleared his throat and addressed the room, "Greetings, my new charges. I am Lieutenant Steward, and I am, as of this moment, your commander. I'm sure you are all itching to get right down to business, so I won't hold you any longer than necessary. To my left, if you'll look, is the Mission Board, where we have pinned up several different missions for you all to choose from as your first charge under my command. I implore you to choose carefully, as bad choices could prove disastrous for your personal well-being." Steward let his hands fall gently atop his hips as he finished, "And be sure to stop off at the Master Mason's room on your way out, as he has a fine selection of gear to aid you new recruits."

The moment he finished, the room erupted in a frenzy. People ran towards the mission board in a bid to grab the most desirable missions first. Evelynn noticed Artemis remaining stoic in his chair, so she kept her composure as well. Several other new charges remained behind. Stylix sat just a few rows ahead of Evelynn and was looking around the room. When she caught Evelynn, she smiled and waved. Evelynn laughed uneasily and waved back to the peculiar, dirty girl. Viktor also remained behind, though he sat atop the bar, at which Evelynn figured they served tea on normal days.

Much to Evelynn's surprise, the greasy Steward approached her shortly after giving the decree and handed her a piece of paper titled "Wanted: Chocovores." He explained, "I plucked this mission from the board in order to avoid any unnecessary loss of young life..." He glanced to the seat beside Artemis and grinned, "I think you two should be able to handle this. Give it a look and let me know what you think." He then righted himself and addressed Artemis, "I trust you enjoyed your tea, good sir?"

Artemis shrugged his shoulders, "I've had better, but it was certainly tasty."

Steward nodded happily and then rushed off to talk to several other people. He seemed to have several copies of the paper in his hand... Artemis leaned over and read the paper as Evelynn did:

Wanted: Chocovores
Threat Level: Moderate

Enemy Intel:
Chocovores are creatures which feed on Chocobos, usually while they are still alive. In a biological sense, Chocovores tend to be Goblins, though they often masquerade as humes in high standing with commoners in order to gain their trust and thus steal Chocobos without getting caught.

Mission Briefing:
There have been several reported sightings of Chocovore Goblins in the past few hours along with many people reporting that their Chocobos had gone missing with nary a single Guard having any idea where they could have gone to.

Current thoughts by experts in the field of Goblins and their habits have estimated that no fewer than twenty Chocovore Goblins have made their home in nearby sections of the Lotus Forest and have been taking shifts as they impersonate the Castle's gate guardsmen.

There are three Chocobos within the Castle's stables which are available for use as bait to lure the Chocovores out of hiding and subsequently discover their lair, if you choose to use them.

The only expression Evelynn could show off was complete and utter shock. The Castle's gate guardsmen. She had given that poor Chocobo over to them! A brief flashback of that peculiar smile aroused her suspicions. She voiced them to Artemis, "I think those guards we met on our way in..."

Artemis snatched the paper from Evelynn's hands and gritted his teeth. He nodded and whispered, "I'll save you, Howard."

He rose from his seat and rushed off towards the Armory. Evelynn quickly reacted, grabbing his cloak to hold him back. He fell flat to his back, slamming his head on the ground. She dragged him across the floor over to Steward, where she swallowed hard and said, "Y-yes. We'll... take the mission."

Steward grinned widely and exclaimed, "Great, great!" He then addressed the room, "Everyone on the Chocovore Mission should rendezvous with these two," he pointed to Evelynn and Artemis, "out in the courtyard near the South Gates in ten minutes!" He turned back to the two and lowered his voice, "Private Chambers will meet you there and get everything set and ready. Please don't rush into anything, and good luck!"

Evelynn helped Artemis to his feet and the two headed towards the Armory at a slightly slower pace, due to Artemis still being woozy from hitting his head. Evelynn approached the counter and asked about the wares which the man had available. The man behind the counter replied gruffly, "We've got Calcic Blades an' Wooden Rods along wif light leather armors."

Evelynn grabbed a blade and armor while Artemis opted for a rod and armor. Once the two of them were dressed in their new duds, they headed out, Evelynn following behind her new friend. They shortly arrived at the designated location and Artemis immediately threw a fit, "No one is here yet!? We have to get moving. Those goblins won't wait for us before they start eating Howard..."

Almost as though they heard him, six others filed out of the barracks and headed towards the South Gate. When they arrived, Private Chambers addressed the group, "Is this everyone?"

Artemis quipped, "It's everyone we're waiting for."

Chambers sighed, "Cool. I'll need your names..."

Artemis replied, "Artemis Aurum."

Evelynn said, "Evelynn Rydell."
Stylix then shot, "Stylix Phyre."
Viktor was next, "Viktor Saréna."
A large, hulking man standing behind the others replied, "Lexaeus Legio."
The quiet girl at the back let slip, "Breanna Shain."
The rather handsome man up front confidently quipped, "Hisoka Lucifer."
The peculiar boy with yellowish eyes then finished, "Dion Ester."

Chambers jotted down the names and sighed heavily, "And I need a name for the group of you all together..."

Everyone looked around, unable to come up with a good idea. Evelynn shrugged her shoulders. Artemis shook his head at the lack of creativity surrounding him. He lifted his chin and announced, "We'll be the Valiant Fighting Division."

Edited by Rumbleroar, 22 June 2010 - 03:17 PM.

#2 Valor



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Posted 22 June 2010 - 04:18 PM

Chapter II
The Valiant Fighting Division

"Valiant Fighting Division... Why'd it have to be so needlessly long?"
grumbled Chambers to himself as his pen lazily trailed over the paperwork.

His dull brown eyes scanned the paperwork newly filled out and shrugged slightly. He glanced up only to see the same sixteen eyes staring at him, waiting for further instruction. He sighed - heavily - and shook his head.

"That will be all. Please... go away." With that he turned and left through the Southern Gates, shoulders sagging slightly under the delicate strain of the paperwork carried underarm.

Evelynn shook her head slowly as she watched the man stumble away. She smiled and leaned over to Artemis, "Boy, even getting out of bed must be a huge to-do for that guy, don't you think?" When she looked over to the blonde boy however, he was gone. She spun around on her heels to see him storming off towards the stables. "Hey! Wait up!" She called, rushing after him.

The rest of the group watched as the two hurried off towards the stables.

"Who do they think they are, going off on their own like that?" Dion quipped to Hisoka, tossing his head to the side in an effort to remove his black hair from his eyes.
Hisoka merely shrugged, "Maybe they're wussing out."

Breanna scowled at the two, narrowing her silver eyes at them, "Don't you get it? We're after Chocovores. Y'know, goblins that eat Chocobo? They're heading to the stables because if there were any Chocovores nearby then that would be the first place they'd go!"

Dion and Hisoka exchanged slightly skeptical looks.

Breanna grumbled, "Fine! Stay here! I don't care!" And with that, she was off like a bolt after the two.

Stylix looked to the others and took hold of Viktor's thick wrist, goading him to follow Breanna with her.

The others soon acquiesced as well, and the group would soon be following the two as they approached the stables.

"Howard!? Howard!" Artemis called out, his hands cupped around his mouth. Evelynn was biting her lip hard trying not to laugh as this rather serious fellow was going to such childlike behavior over the loss of his feathered friend. When she noticed the rest of the Valiant Fighting Division coming nearer she looked away and took a few steps towards Artemis.

The rest of the group arrived at the wooden stables, each noticing the rather un-doorlike angle the door to the stables was hanging at.

"Sh-should we go in there?" Breanna asked, noticing specks of what could only be blood dripping from the stable door.

Stylix pushed Viktor forward and nodded with a smile, "Don't worry, we'll check it out."

Viktor looked back at the shabbily dressed girl volunteering his services, "We will?"

Artemis sighed and placed a hand to his forehead and grumbled something under his breath. He walked up to the stables and pushed the second door open. It swung open easily, then promptly flew off of its broken hinged and thudded to the ground.

Evelynn held her hand to her mouth and looked away, feeling her stomach do a somersault. The stables were gruesome. A man was facedown in a pool of blood, covered in dust. Through some miracle he was still alive, and barely breathing. Behind him was a black chocobo, looking a bit worried as it nudged the body of the beaten man, cooing softly.

In front of this touching scene was one of chaos, as four small foul smelling goblins were frolicking and playing in the blood spattered stable. Two were throwing globs of what could only be hopefully considered mud at each other, and a third was obsessed with licking a blood stained wall. He seemed to be enjoying it. The fourth had found a way to fall asleep somehow, snoozing against a small bale of hay. The thud of the door startled the four goblins, and all of them were now staring into the faces of the Valiant Fighting Division. The one licking the wall still had his long tongue firmly pressed to the blood stain, however.

Hisoka and Dion drew their Calcic Blades and pointed them at the ridiculous sight. Stylix rushed past the goblins and knelt beside the beaten man, the chocobo backing away from them slightly. Artemis grabbed the goblin who was snoozing and shook him violently, demanding Howard's whereabouts. The goblin freed himself from Artemis' frail grip and dusted himself off.

"Hume scum! Where's the headdress of our Grand Poobah!?" The goblin demanded.

"To hell with your Poobah, where's Howard!?"
Artemis roared back, raising his staff over his head.

"Howard? Don't know any hume by that name. That guy over there is Hale, and... HEY! Get away from him!" The grumpy goblin growled.

He trudged over and shoved Breanna and Stylix away from Hale who was sputtering and picking himself out of the pool of blood. He grabbed his jaw and moaned in pain. He looked up at the Valiant Fighting Division and turned around to see the black chocobo. Tears streamed down his face as he smiled and called out in joy, "Jessica!" He threw him arms around her long neck and hugged her tightly, "Oh, I'm so glad you're alright."

"Hey! You bastard! Give us the location of the Grand Poobah's headdress or we'll have to mess you up more!"
the goblin said, grabbing Hale's pantleg, trying to pull him away from his loving embrace with Jessica.

Hale fell back to the ground, flopping around onto his back, sputtering, as if suddenly reminded that he was beaten within an inch of his life. "I told you already... I don't know what you're talking about..." Suddenly Hale struggled to sit up, his hand stroking the neck feathers of Jessica, "Unless it was that filthy feather... thing... that I found this morning. I threw it in the garbage."

The goblin leapt upon Hale's chest and pressed his stubby thumbs into his throat screaming into his face, spittle flying everywhere, "YOU DISCARDED AN HEIRLOOM WHICH HAS BELONGED TO THE POOBAH FOR CENTURIES! YOU HAVE DISHONORED OUR ENTIRE CLAN! I SHALL HAVE YOUR EYES IN MY SOUP TONIGHT FOR THIS!"

Lexaeus stormed into the stable and easily plucked the comparatively bite-sized goblin from Cadet Hale's chest, flinging him back towards the rest of the Valiant Fighting Division. Hisoka and Dion aimed their blades towards the fiesty goblin, seeing as the other three resumed their previous activities with renewed fervor.

Stylix and Breanna helped Cadet Hale to his feet, both of his arms still firmly locked around Jessica. They struggled to lead him out of the stables. Once outside, Artemis knelt beside him and performed a basic curative spell on the beaten man.

Hisoka, Dion, Lexaeus, Viktor, and Evelynn stood at the entrance of the stables. Evelynn pressed a closed hand to her mouth, worried about the chocobos.

"Should just kill these filthy goblins." Hisoka grumbled, shooting a glance to Dion.
Dion nodded, "It'd be easier than reasoning with these horrible things."

"We have ears, you know." The goblin reminded them. Dion replied with a boot to the side.

"Grand Poobah?" Lexaeus remarked, looking over at Viktor, his arms folded across his chest, "I kind of like the sound of that."

Viktor merely shrugged, busy watching the other three mentally challenged goblins run around in circles playing in chocobo feces.

"Bring Chilblain over here." Artemis demanded, finishing his curative magick.

Lexaeus plucked the goblin off of the ground by the collar. He thrashed about in Lexaeus' firm grip, "My name is NOT Chilblain! It's K-"

"Your name is Chilblain," Evelynn said with a smile, "Artemis said so."

With a huff Chilblain hung limply in Lexaeus' grip, unable to really fight back. He glowered menacingly at Hale, who tightened the grip on Jessica.

"Chilblain, you're going to lead me and Evelynn to the Poobah."

"We're going with you, you know."
Breanna said, stepping forward and looking at Artemis. The others nodded.

"We ain't going nowhere without the Grand Poobah's Headdress!" Chilblain hollered.

"Fine. One of you go get the feather thing out of the garbage. Hurry it up. Howard is counting on us."

Puffy clouds floated lazily over the sandy shores just outside of the Lotus Kingdom. The sun's rays warmed the body of the resting boy sprawled out on the sand. His body stretched out as far as possible, giving off a very happy sigh as the waves crashed upon the pearly sands. Something cast a rather wide shadow over him, causing his emerald eyes to flutter open.

"Ugh what do you want?"
The boy groaned, shifting over onto his side.

A boy with shaggy brown hair and light green eyes stared down at his lazing friend. A wide brimmed straw hat sat upon his head and a lone stalk of wheat pressed between his thin lips. A white tank top fluttered gently in the gentle breeze, his heavy boots sunk deeply into the beach. He kicked some sand over his friend.

"Get up, Force. We have to report in thirty."

Forcystus coughed sand and picked himself up, towering over the smaller boy. He bent over and picked up his dark armored shoulderpads and pulled them on, locking the armor piece in place, "You sure are eager today, Galen." Force noticed, brushing remnants of sand from his otherwise pristine armor.

"Yep." was all Galen replied, his gaze fixated on the white crested waves crashing into the shore a few meters away.

"Gonna tell me why? Where's your armor anyway?"
Force asked, plucking his spear from the sand and walking past Galen.

"Later. Over there." Galen said, pointing off in a direction behind him. He turned and followed Force up the beach, plucking his own chest plate and shoulder guards from beneath the tree where he placed them before their sandy vacation.

"Feels like today is going to be a pretty good day."
Galen said, snapping his armor into place. He picked up the sheath of his sword and fastened it to his hip.

"That's uncharacteristically optimistic of you, Mister Austad."

Galen shrugged, "I'm gonna try something new I guess."

Force laughed and slapped Galen on the back, causing him to stumble forward a bit, "We'll see how that goes. If we don't hurry, we're going to be late."

Edited by Valor, 10 October 2010 - 02:06 AM.

#3 Secret Igshar

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 11:48 PM

Chapter III
Grand Poobah, Zeke

After an intense match of rock-paper-sword, it ended up falling upon Evelynn to grab the headdress from the garbage. Her face cringed at the thought of getting that dirty... She tromped back into the building and found the can. She pulled the arm warmer off of her right arm and tucked it into her pocket before fishing down within for some sort of feathered... thing. She eventually felt feathers and pulled out what appeared to be a crown made from Chocobo Feathers of all colors. She spotted among them yellow, black, red, blue, and green feathers. She walked back out with it and tossed it towards Artemis, who immediately slid out of the way and hollered, "Watch where you're throwing that thing!"

Evelynn scowled, "I was watching." With a sigh, Evelynn held her left hand over her filthy right and caused a gentle stream of water to cascade over her arm, washing off the filth. She approached Artemis, who was busy at work, cleaning the headdress with a shard of ice, and dried her arm on his cloak. She left Artemis to his busywork and looked to Chilblain.

Lexaeus frowned, "So... What do I do with him?"

Chilblain shouted, "If I'm to be your guide, I'll be treated with some respect!"

Breanna scowled at the prospect, "We can't trust him! What if he leads us the wrong way, huh? What then!?"

Stylix voiced concern, "Breanna's right... We can't trust he'll lead us the right way. He is a Goblin, after all..."

"What's that gotta do with anything!?" Chilblain howled, clearly upset. He struggled in Lexaeus' grip, still unable to so much as cause the man to budge.

Lexaeus pointed to the tiny Goblin, "Can I knock him out...?"

Artemis jumped to his feet and plopped the freshly cleaned headdress atop his head, shouting, "No! If he's unconscious, he can't possibly help us save Howard!"

Breanna added, "What about Maria!? She's in trouble, too!"

"Who's Maria?" Artemis poked.

"She's MY Chocobo!"

"Oh, good luck saving her without a guide. Come on, Chilblain."

Lexaeus protested, "I'm Lexaeus."

"Whatever, bring the Goblin and let's go."

A fireball hurtled past Artemis' face, singing his hair. Hisoka raised a fist and near cursed him out, "Who died and made you leader?"

Viktor chuckled to himself, "You mean Poobah."

Chilblain again struggled, his patience wearing quite thin, "HOW DARE YOU MOCK THE GRAND POOBAH'S NAME."

Artemis chided, "Now he'll never lead us the right way..."

Dion added to the insult, "Dude, we're supposed to be a team. We have to work together. In-fighting isn't gonna get us anywhere, right?"

Hisoka sighed and dropped his hands into his pockets, "Yeah, you're right. Let's just get going. You want to save your uh..." He stole a glance at Hale and Jessica, "Chocobo, right?"

Artemis nodded, "Right, let's stay on task people. Chilblain will be leading me and Evelynn. You all can follow behind if you want."

Stylix grabbed Viktor by the arm and pulled him in so she could whisper in his ear. Evelynn couldn't quite hear what was said, but Viktor then announced, "We're all going together. Anyone who doesn't want to come can stay here."

No one opposed. Chilblain grumbled and spat, "I'll take you to the village, if it'll shut you all up." He narrowed his eyes at Viktor, "Hopefully the Poobah will kill you himself."

Stylix shook her fist at the pint-sized annoyance, "I'd like to see him try!"

Lexaeus took the lead, holding the scrawny little Goblin up as he pointed them in what they all hoped was the right direction. Evelynn trotted close behind Artemis, still quite peeved that the boy wore the headdress that SHE had retrieved from the garbage. Hisoka and Dion held back, discussing potential strategies for handling any hostile Goblins they might come across. Stylix kept poking at Viktor, asking him questions about his style choices. Breanna and Lexaeus remained mostly quiet throughout the trip and Evelynn was unsure as to what they were pondering, exactly. The forest all around them was eerily quiet.

It wasn't too long before the Valiant Fighting Division arrived in the Goblin campsite. They were stopped at the entrance by three Goblins wielding pikes. They narrowed their eyes as they surveyed the intruders. "What business have ye Humes got wif us Goblins?" the tallest one pried.

Chilblain struggled, "They've captured me! They're here to k-" Artemis' hand fell over the small Goblin's mouth and Artemis then spoke in his stead:

"I've come to challenge your Poobah for his title."

The Goblin glanced to the headdress which sat atop Artemis' head and nodded, "Very well. You kin come in." The Goblins raised their pikes and allowed the group to enter the village, inexplicably allowing them to retain their captive.

The Goblin village was nothing more than anyone would expect from a village nestled in the forest. Several huts formed a circle around a fire pit, with a much larger hut sitting off towards the back, next to a large, fenced-in area. Artemis immediately noticed Howard was sitting there in the pen, looking quite dejected. He shouted for his bird, catching the attention of the near fifteen other Goblins who were about the village. They all turned their attention towards the humes. Artemis' joy at seeing Howard caused him to pull his hand from Chilblain's mouth...

Chilblain hollered, "They're enemies!"

Within an instant, the Goblins converged upon the Division's position. Lexaeus dropped Chilblain to the ground and instantly erected a dome of earth around the entire Division. Hisoka instinctively snapped his fingers, lighting a small flame just above the palm of his hand. Artemis went off on the brute, "What the hell are you thinking!?"

Lexaeus puffed his chest out, causing the significantly smaller Artemis to flinch. He explained, "We need to formulate a plan, don't we?"

Dion immediately began working a mile a minute, "Well, we're surrounded on all sides by hostiles. We need to focus on crowd control, get them separated and work our way into an advantage."

Artemis went about punching at a wall in an attempt to bust his way out.

Evelynn looked to the others and was at a loss for words. She had no clue what they should do and she felt her abilities would be all but useless in this fight. Dion snapped her out of her daze by announcing, "You there, quiet girl."

Evelynn and Breanna both looked up and pointed to themselves simultaneously.

Dion shook his head, "Yeah, both of you. What can you do?"

The two explained their basic control over their elements and Dion nodded, happy that they had one user of each element. They all collaborated on the plan, with Dion taking the lead. He elected to not attack at all, not wanting to injure the Goblins too badly. If the plan worked successfully, the whole group of Goblins would be knocked out, but not dead. They all agreed with the exception of Artemis, who still toiled away, trying to chip his way out of the dome. Chilblain was not in the dome, as he had managed to escape the Dome's influence before it was created. On three, their plan commenced.

Lexaeus gave Viktor a boost to launch him up out of the top of the dome, taking chunks of earth up with him. He swung his sword as a baseball bat, knocking one of the clumps directly towards a Goblin, incapacitating it. His feet fell firmly atop the sturdy dome and he slid down the side of it, launching off and rolling when he hit the ground. The Goblins turned attention towards him just as Breanna received a similar boost. She hurtled a chunk of ice at the back of one Goblin's head, knocking it out. She slid down the dome similarly to Viktor, but in a different direction. The Goblins were now confused, unsure as to where the next attack might originate from. Next was Hisoka, who pulled a similar stunt to Breanna, though he also fried a second Goblin as he flipped on over them and off in a different direction. Rounding out the four directions was Stylix, who sent a wall of wind, wiping her side clean to the ground. As she leaped over them, a second gust rendered four Goblins unconscious. As it stood, eight of the fifteen Goblins were unconscious. The Goblins all decided to congregate around the edges of the dome, weapons drawn to face the four on the outside.

Just then, the dome collapsed to dust, blinding the remaining Goblins for a fraction of a moment. Lexaeus and Dion dropped to the ground while Artemis stood up and covered his eyes, unaware of what was about to happen. Evelynn spun around in the center of the dome's influence, spraying a burst of water out in all directions. One Goblin was perfectly lined up with Artemis and so he avoided the assault. The others were knocked out by the display. When the dust settled, Artemis found himself facing off against the remaining Goblin. Now thoroughly pissed off at everything around him, Artemis simply crafted an icicle and sent it flying at the Goblin, spearing it through the chest, killing it instantly.

Artemis then stepped forward and howled, "Poobah, show your face this instant! I'm here to challenge you for that title so that I may free my good friend, Howard!"

The Valiant Fighting Division regrouped just outside the ring of writhing Goblins and looked towards the large hut near the enclosure. The door creaked open and a gravelly voice rose from within, "What did you call me...?"

Artemis stepped forward and bellowed, "Give me back Howard, you Choconapper!"

The door violently swung open and a Goblin stepped out from within. His skin was as black as charcoal, his eyes burned red with fury. He wore what appeared to be steel claws on both hands. His eye twitched as he stepped down onto the ground. He let loose a deafening roar before proclaiming, "Who is it who dares challenge ME!?"

Artemis attempted to step forward, but Lexaeus held him back as Stylix snatched the headdress from atop his head. She placed it on Viktor's head and announced, "Viktor would like to challenge you!"

Viktor wheeled about to face Stylix and protested, "You gotta stop volunteering me against my will!"

The Poobah seemed upset as he lifted a heavy foot up from the ground and slammed it down, causing a tremor beneath the Division's feet. The vast majority of them fell flat on their behinds. Lexaeus and Viktor managed to keep their balance while Viktor helped Stylix stay on her feet. When Viktor saw the rest fall, he nodded to Stylix, agreeing that he should face the Goblin.

Viktor turned to face the Goblin and stepped forward, proclaiming himself as the challenger.

Lexaeus then, seemingly randomly, snatched the headdress from atop Viktor's head and planted it atop his own, proclaiming the same as Viktor.

Evelynn raised an eyebrow at this as she pushed herself to her feet. Before she could take even a single step forward, however, those outside of Lexaeus and Viktor were shoved backwards by some sort of force within the ground beneath their feet. An arena of spikes soon erupted around the three combatants, locking the others out. Viktor turned around and called out to the others, "We'll keep him occupied while you all get the Chocobos!"

Lexaeus continued, "It's fitting that our two Earth Magick users would do battle with this Earth Magick using Goblin, isn't it, compatriot?"

Viktor grinned and returned his gaze forward. He rotated his left shoulder and took a couple practice swings with his sword after, "We can take him."

The Grand Poobah flared his nostrils and howled, "Even together, you two will NEVER be able to hold a candle to myself, the Grand Poobah, Zeke!"

* * * * *

Galen took a few practice swings with his sword as he and Forcystus made way back towards the Crystalline Hounds' current base camp, located just outside Silverwinds. Force chided, "Hey, don't tire yourself out, now."

Galen continued his lazy swinging, "So d'you have any idea what's up next for us?"

"No idea. Probably more routine defense, I'd wager. We're not at war at the moment, and the Kingdom's been mostly peaceful recently."

"Heh," Galen said, sliding his sword back into its scabbard, "Hopefully it's something a bit more interesting. I'm getting bored of routine."

"Here's hoping."

After a bit more walking, the two arrived back at the current base of the Crystalline Hounds, and were greeted immediately by their commander, Colonel Brylant. The man stood a full half foot taller than even Force, and was much better built than either of them. Held on his back was the massive Elemental Cannon, a monstrous rocket launcher capable of propelling his own natural Aether out of it as explosive shells of flame. With a grin and a firm handshake, he acknowledged them, "Just on time, Gale Force. A missive from the castle just recently arrived for us. Come on over to the main tent." His grizzly voice commanded respect.

Galen and Force looked to each other and grinned. A missive from the castle could ONLY mean that they would soon be seeing some action. They rushed off after their commander, heavy armor clunking around as they went.

#4 Valor



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Posted 24 June 2010 - 12:03 AM

Chapter IV
The Bigger They Are...

Force and Galen were giddy with anticipation as to the contents of the missive that their Colonel held. They followed as quietly as possible, but could hardly contain their excitement. Suddenly Colonel Brylant turned around to face the two stone faced recruits. "Please, have a seat within the tent Austad, Heimdall."

Force pushed the tent's flap aside and wandered in, taking a seat in a rather comfortable oak chair. Galen sat beside him. After a few moments the Colonel entered as well, throwing the missive onto his desk in a huff. His hands folded behind his back he clenched his teeth tightly.

"Is... everything alright, Colonel?"
Force offered after he exchanged a worried look with Galen.

"It's fine, Heimdall, really. I just..." He sighed and took a few steps closer, "I mean do I look alright? The missive came by chocobo and I mean today was just a bad day. I didn't have time to use conditioner at all. I barely even ran a comb through it too. It's so... unprofessional." Colonel Brylant said, slamming his fist into the desk. The wood creaked loudly, pleading to give way, yet it held firm. Galen swallowed hard, "Your hair looks wonderful, sir."

"My hair? Who cares about that, Austad? I mean the moneymaker! The lip caterpillar! My moustache!" Brylant cried, pointing to his upper lip. Galen noted the peach fuzz that likely inhabited the space was quite fine, but it couldn't really be considered a moustache. He thought about pointing that out, but decided against it. Not with a missive from the castle on the line.

"Sir, it looks great. I think there are at least four new hairs today that sprouted, I'm sure." Force offered, taking quick glances at Galen to make sure he didn't say anything wrong.

Brylant beamed, "Heimdall, one day you'll be able to grow your own, I'm sure. You know what they say; the moustache makes the man."

"I don't think anyone says that." Galen muttered under his breath.

"What was that, Austad?"

"The missive, sir."
Galen said, not skipping a beat.

"Oh! Right! That. Yes. Well, it seems that I've got a pretty special mission lined up for you two boys. Seems Captain McCoulough's gone missing in the Underground Tunnel. You two are going to head down there and find him, got it? When you do, you know where I'll be. That comes directly from the castle."

"Sir, you're not telling us that our orders are to... investigate... a sewer... right?"
Galen whimpered, sliding down in his chair.

"Dammit, Austad, you need to grow a pair and quit bitching. Orders come from over my head. Nothing I can do about it but make sure you two actually do it. So get your scrawny ass down there and find that damn fool. Get out. Now." Brylant roared, kicking the chair from under Galen. He stumbled to his feet and rushed out of the tent, being sure to distance himself from the Colonel.

"He heard what I said, didn't he? About how no one says that about moustaches?"
Galen wondered, pacing back and forth frantically.

"I'm sure he'll get over it. Come on, we have to get ready."
Force said, grabbing Galen's shoulder pad and dragging him over to their armory.

* * * * *

Lexaeus wasted no time. He rushed the small Poobah and unleashed a devastating right hook aimed for the Poobah's face. He howled in laughter and in a flash a stone pillar appeared underneath Zeke, lifting him into the air. Lex's fist took a sizable chunk out of the pillar, and it fell to sand. Zeke flipped backwards off of the pillar and landed easily on the ground, sending a tectonic shift out towards Lexaeus, causing him to stumble. He turned to look at Viktor and had to duck under a swipe of Viktor's Calcic Blade.

With a cackle Zeke struck back, slashing at Viktor's chest with the steel claws affixed to his hands. Viktor evaded the surprisingly agile strikes, using the earth beneath to make steps for him to jump backwards onto, giving him a height advantage. Once on the second step he swiped again at Zeke with his considerably longer reach, but Zeke was able to step backwards and send a tremor that turned both steps to dust.

He ducked under a jab from Lexaeus' fist, and slid to his right as the right hand of Lexaeus came crashing down into the ground. Zeke shot towards Lexaeus' and raised his claw, ripping Lex across the chest. Lexaeus stood his ground and batted Zeke away with his forearm, revealing the crumbling Terra Cocta Armor that had been affixed to his torso. Zeke raised a quizzical brow at this technique. He then shrugged and lifted two fingers into the air. Two large earth spikes narrowly missed piercing Lexaeus' feet as he hopped backwards.

Viktor readied his blade and charged the half pint goblin again, raising the sword over his head. Zeke sent a tremor through the ground, but Viktor ran right through it, never wavering thanks to all of the years he spent patching rooftops as a mason back in Goldruby. He swung mightly at Zeke, but only caught a rocky spike he had erected just in time. The blade was lodged in the spike most firmly, and even with Viktor's strength he couldn't pry it from the dense rock. Zeke snickered and raised another spike from the ground aimed at Viktor's hands. He quickly released the blade and watched in horror as the Calcic Blade was snapped like a twig by Zeke's earth magicks.

Lexaeus rushed Zeke once more, causing the minute goblin to evade the barreling hulk of a man, less he be trampled most flat. He hopped away and called forth a rather large pillar of earth underneath Lexaeus. Even with Lex's size, the earth magick was strong enough to throw Lexaeus up into the air two feet while Zeke constructed two sharp spikes to greet Lexaeus when he fell. Lexaeus couldn’t dodge, as he was falling. He did the next best thing and minimized damage. He rolled onto his left side, catching the sharp edge of a spike that left a nice long gash down his left bicep. He staggered to his feet, wrapping his arm in tight Terra Cocta to stop the bleeding, "You sure could teach me a few things about the workings of earth." Lexaeus said.

"Complimenting the enemy? You'll never be Poobah at that rate." Viktor said quietly, slamming his hand into the ground. Zeke and Lexaeus both watched in awe as Viktor tore a wide sword made out of rock from the earth.
Zeke grinned, "Oh hey, not bad, but still not good enough."

Viktor rushed Zeke, swinging the sword valiantly as Lexaeus recovered. Zeke didn't even bother to dodge. The sword caught Zeke in the neck, causing Lexaeus to let out a holler of triumph. Zeke's grinning face remained intact as the sword crumbled to dust upon touching Zeke's skin. "Your control leaves much to be desired, hume," the goblin sneered.

Viktor grunted as a spike shot from the ground and pierced his left arm.

Lexaeus assaulted Zeke next, again swinging his large fists towards the diminutive man. Zeke laughed and sent another tremor through the ground, causing Lexaeus to stumble slightly. Zeke leapt up onto Lexaeus' head and raised a claw overhead, ready to strike. "And you thought you could be Grand Poobah?" Zeke sneered.

Just then a fireball slammed into Zeke, causing him to fall off of Lexaeus and onto the ground. He coughed, not expecting a sneak attack like that. Lexaeus looked outside of the spike ring to see Hisoka standing there with a scowl on his face, "If that's all you got then you two should tag us in," he said confidently, his fist burning with intense flames.

Lexaeus held up a hand to Hisoka, "Appreciated, but we can handle this. Viktor?" He said, looking to his comrade who had just pried his arm from the spike.

"Yeah?" He winced, looking at the damage done.

"I think we're going to need to cooperate a bit more effectively." Lexaeus said, walking over to him. With a touch he concocted a Terra Cocta cast of a sort. "A temporary measure. You should be able to use that arm now."

"I'm left-handed." Viktor said flatly, flexing his hand.

Lexaeus looked down at Viktor and shook his head, "That complicates things."

"Enough! I've had enough!" Zeke growled, approaching the two.

"I want my damn headdress back and I want you two either dead or so far away from me I won't be able to smell your disgusting hume scent. However, I will settle for both." He said, showing off his claws again.

Lexaeus grabbed hold of the spike that had once been lodged in Viktor's arm and snapped it in half, handing it to the unarmed man. Viktor hesitated, but accepted the gift, "Uh, thanks?"

"You'll need it soon."
Lexaeus said with a heroic smile and thumbs up.


He rushed towards the two, claws outstretched. Lexaeus rushed towards Zeke as well, forming Terra Cocta guards on both of his forearms. Zeke jumped up, aiming for Lexaeus' chest again and slashed viciously with his claws. Lexaeus blocked the strike, absorbing the power of the spikes into his armor. He grinned and summoned another earth dome around himself and the Poobah.

Viktor hollered as the two were enveloped.

Zeke chuckled inside of the darkened dome. "This place cannot hold me, hume. I will tear you apart piece by piece within your own sanctuary. I will turn this place into a pin cushion and skewer you with spikes."

No answer came from the man in front of him. Zeke tugged at the claws that were stuck in armor, but they didn't budge. Suddenly he was flailing through the air as Lex smashed Zeke into the wall of the dome. It was unexpected and painful; Zeke didn't have time or the state of mind to change the consistency of the dome. He coughed, "OHHHHH You'll pay for that!" He warned as Lexaeus swung the tiny Goblin upwards into the roof of the dome.

Zeke phased right through the roof, turning the entirety of the dome to sand as he soared into the sky. The claws on his hand had been snapped in half, but Zeke didn't much care at the moment. He plummeted towards Lexaeus, who was looking around for the Poobah, having lost sight of him.

Evelynn covered her eyes, not wanting to watch what was going to befall poor Lexaeus. Artemis cast a glance into the arena for just a moment; unsure who to root for.

Stylix cried out in joy, seeing the mason from Goldruby off to the side, out of Zeke's sight. He held up the spike of earth from the short end, wielding it like a club. Zeke was so focused on tearing Lexaeus' face off he didn't notice the deceptively quiet steps of Viktor setting up. Zeke was within range. It all happened in a flash.

Lexaeus dove out of the way of Zeke as Zeke slashed at Lexaeus' head. Viktor ascended the steps made of stone, club overhead, poised to strike. Zeke stared in bewilderment as the apparently stupid Lexaeus gave him a look over his shoulder, a knowing grin creeping across his face.

The stone mallet smashed into the small, defenseless goblin soundly. The sound of obliterated goblin spine echoed throughout the open area. Zeke slammed into the ground, bouncing a little bit from the overwhelming force of gravity combined with a heavy blow from Viktor.

Lexaeus raised his arms over his head, looking back to the Valiant Fighting Division. Viktor smiled, tossing the cracked stone club aside. The rest of the Division cheered, even Hisoka and Dion, who were only mildly impressed. Evelynn breathed a huge sigh of relief, glad to see that neither of them were badly injured.

“The Grand Poobah has fallen! All glory to the Valiant Fighting Division!” Lexaeus beamed.

Artemis covered his face in his hands in embarrassment.

Edited by Valor, 10 October 2010 - 02:04 AM.

#5 Secret Igshar

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 12:29 AM

Chapter V
...The Harder They Fall

The arena of spikes crumbled to dust as Stylix raced across the small village and threw herself at Viktor, screaming her praises as she squeezed him. Viktor patted her on the back as he stole a sideways glance at Lexaeus, who stood with a stupid grin on his face, hands on his hips, and nodded curtly with approval. Evelynn shuddered, glad she wasn't in Viktor's shoes. She muttered, "Dirty girl..."

Artemis' jaw dropped as the previously unconscious Goblins approached Lexaeus and Viktor. They dropped to their knees and bowed to the two, proclaiming them as the new joint Poobah. Viktor waved his hand nonchalantly and relented, "Look, Lexaeus did all the work..."

Lexaeus chortled with glee as he lifted Viktor up by the collar of his jacket, "Nonsense, comrade! It was you who delivered the finishing blow!"

Artemis shouted over the rest of them, "Wait just a minute, you guys!" He stormed over to the group and demanded, "What is the meaning of this? These two nincompoops just killed your leader and you're WORSHIPPING THEM!?"

Chilblain spat at Artemis before explaining, "Zeke did not deserve to wear the crown."

Artemis poked a hole in his story while kicking up dirt in the Goblin's face, "Then why did you want his headdress so badly?"

"It is a treasured artifact! We're peaceful, really! Zeke was the crazy one..."

Artemis rubbed his temples and sighed, "Give me Howard."

"I told you before, I know no Hume named Howard, ya deaf old coot!"

Artemis' eye twitched, "Give me the key to the Chocobo cage. Now." He extended his hand and waited.

Chilblain spat in Artemis' hand. The boy's face contorted with disgust as he screamed at the top of his lungs. Viktor pried Stylix off of himself and stood upright. Before he could get a word across, Lexaeus approached Chilblain and lowered himself to one knee, "I apologize greatly for mistreating you earlier, Chilblain. It would please me greatly if you would hand this young boy the key. He means no harm, I don't think."

Artemis' lip curled, "You think wrong, blockhead."

Evelynn slapped Artemis upside the head, "Artemis! Calm down! They're not going to eat Howard! There is no need to be rash!"

Artemis grumbled curses under his breath as he wiped the Goblin spit off on Lexaeus' back. Slapping Artemis felt much better than it should have for Evelynn. It was just one little way which she could get back at that boy for what he made her do back at the stables.

Chilblain scowled at Lexaeus and spat, "If you weren't the new Grand Poobah..." He shook his fist at the man before he stormed off into a nearby hut. The rest of the Goblins crowded around Viktor and Lexaeus, pushing the others back as they bombarded the two with questions, hugs, kisses, and peculiar touches.

Hisoka grumbled, "Coulda handled that in half the time, myself."

Dion agreed, "We should have stepped in. Those two got beat up pretty badly."

Breanna rubbed her left bicep with her right hand as she cooed, "I hope they didn't get too injured... Does anyone know first aid?"

Evelynn pointed to Artemis.

Artemis cringed, "You can't be serious..."

Breanna rushed up to him and grabbed his wrist, "Please? They just fought so bravely! You could at least tend to their wounds..."

Evelynn's mouth curled into a grin. Delicious revenge. Make a dignified girl dig through trash, will you? He should have just made that dirty Stylix do it.

Stylix wore a smile wider than any Evelynn had ever seen when she approached and exclaimed, "Isn't it exciting!? Viktor did it! He really did it! I knew he could!"

Evelynn scowled at her and spat, "Stay back."

Stylix retracted her arms, deciding that a hug wouldn't be the best option right now. She instead turned to Breanna, who willingly accepted the friendly embrace. Artemis frowned, "I guess I'll do what I can for those two..."

Breanna squealed with joy, "Oh, thank you! If you could just teach me some first aid, too, then I wouldn't have to ask you to do it!"

Artemis shook his head and stormed away from the others. Evelynn figured he must be seriously peeved, now that he apparently had no one in his corner. Next time, he would think before making gross demands of his followers, she hoped.

Chilblain rushed back over to the group, Chocobo cage key held tightly in his hand. He shooed the Goblins away from Viktor and Lexaeus and handed the key to the latter, complaining, "Don't make me talk to him, please."

Lexaeus smiled, "Anything to make it up to you, little buddy." He patted the small Goblin on the head, causing him to grumble in discomfort. Lexaeus then hurled the key at Artemis as he stomped up to them, but he didn't notice it in time.

Evelynn cringed when the thud resounded through the air. The key hit Artemis squarely in his forehead, causing the boy to stop dead in his tracks. He caught the key when it fell from being stuck to his forehead. His eye twitched. He looked over his shoulder to the girls and shot them a deadly look before he turned back to face Lexaeus and Viktor.

Hisoka's hand heated up. Dion's fist crackled with lightning. Hisoka turned to Dion, "You ready?"

Dion nodded, "Did he just ignore me when I mentioned being a team?"

"I wouldn't doubt he did," Hisoka chided.

Artemis exhaled for a long while before extending his hands, "Where are you injured, good... f... friends...?"

Viktor narrowed his eyes. He noticed Hisoka and Dion getting ready to charge in, so he felt a little safer, knowing his companions had his back. Lexaeus dispelled the Terra Cocta armoring on both himself and Viktor, revealing their wounds. Artemis sighed heavily and mumbled swear words under his breath as he cast his simple curative spell on the light wounds. He grimaced at the hole in Viktor's arm and nearly wretched at the sight of it.

He groaned, "Oh for the love of... That's revolting." He covered both sides of the hole with his hands as he stared straight into Viktor's eyes, his upper lip curling slightly with disgust. He wasn't proficient enough to heal the wound immediately, but the spell accelerated Viktor's natural healing ability, allowing the wound to actually heal on its own. Artemis then released the arm and stepped backwards, shaking his hands to his sides in a futile attempt to clean them of the blood. He grumbled, "That's never gonna wash out..."

Evelynn suddenly felt a pang of guilt and ran up to Artemis. She took his hands in hers and conjured up a stream of water to coat his hands. The clear water slowly became pink and then red as it collected the blood from his hands. She then pulled the water off of his hands and dropped it to the dirt. She smiled at him.

He grimaced in response, "That doesn't change the fact I had to touch that filthy mason. Let's just go save Howard and never speak of this again, okay?"

Evelynn nodded in agreement. Artemis tossed the key in his hand up in the air and caught it before trudging off toward the cage, not caring if anyone followed. Breanna rushed after him, desperate to see Maria again. The others, not having personal Chocobos, were rather unfazed by the idea of saving this flock. Evelynn kept a good distance behind Artemis on the walk, not wanting to offend him anymore. Hisoka and Dion quelled their Magicks and followed along with Viktor and Lexaeus, bringing up the rear.

Stylix walked alongside Evelynn, and asked, "So what's with you?"

Evelynn cringed, "You're filthy."

* * * * *

Galen and Forcystus arrived in the Castle's courtyard shortly, since their camp wasn't too far from their destination. Upon arrival, they were greeted by a lazy voice coming from a man who sat slumped against the wall saying, "Yo."

The pair approached the man, who barely even waved to them.

He sighed, "Gale Force, right?"

Force nodded, "That's us, yes."

"Great, much shorter than the other one..." Chambers scribbled down notes on his pad. He then looked up to them again and tilted his head to the side, motioning towards a closed off sewer grate, "McCoulough went down there. Enjoy." He slowly, deliberately pushed himself to his feet and sauntered across towards the castle.

Galen and Force exchanged looks before heading over to the designated sewer grate.

Chambers spun his clipboard on his pen as he made his way back to the castle. He stopped before reaching the door when Steward came bounding out toward him. He grumbled, "Oh, what now...?"

Steward stopped before Chambers and took several deep breaths to catch his breath before loosing in one breath, "We must redirect the Valiant Fighting Division at once. The Lord Commander has gone mad, I tell you, he sent the Elemental Knights off with a new technology called a Siege Tank to attack the Goblin Metropolis of Emeraldroot and their mission is to eradicate the entirety of the Goblin race and if we don't do something NOW, it will be too late because he has also tasked the vast majority of Brylant's Hounds to take part in the mission as well and I'm telling you, this is completely nuts and we have to do something about it as quickly as possible!"

Chambers rolled his eyes, "What'll you have me do?"

Steward blinked and pointed towards the Chocobo stables, "Grab a steed and meet up with the Division in the field and redirect them! Give them this missive, as well! It's the missive given to the Elemental Knights and Brylant." Steward shoved the paper into his subordinate's hands.

Chambers stood there, reading the missive.

Steward shouted, "Make haste, Private! There's no time to lose!"

Chambers raised his gaze to look at Steward. He grumbled, "Aye, Captain." He turned and walked at a brisk pace towards the gates. He was in rare form now. He had an urgent mission and would finish it with haste unlike he had ever finished any mission before in his career. His feet moved nearly thrice as quickly as they normally did, though it was still a small bit slower than the average person's walking speed...

#6 Valor



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Posted 10 October 2010 - 01:58 AM

Chapter VI
Worst Mission Ever

"I don't like this." Galen said for a second time.

Forcystus beside him merely shook his head, "I know. Aren't you going to say something else?"

"You don't seem to understand," Galen said slowly, his voice devoid of emotion, "I don't like this at all."

"It's just a sewer."
Forcystus said, kneeling down and grabbing hold of the sewer grate. With a tug the sound of stone scraping against stone shattered the awkward air.

"Just a sewer? Do you have any idea what's down there?"
Galen asked, taking a hesitant step backwards away from the hole.

"Yeah. Down there is the objective of our mission. Did you forget already?"
He sighed.

"What would he be doing in such a terrible place?"
Galen groaned, pinching his nose as the first essences of the sewer greeted his nostrils.

"I'm not going to argue with you. Are you coming or not?"
Forcystus asked, grabbing hold of the first rung of the ladder and carefully positioning himself on the ladder.

Galen remained quiet, just staring past his friend into the sewer. He didn't blink.

Forcystus sighed, "Whatever, weirdo. Go explain that to the colonel." He climbed down the ladder. Galen groaned and followed suit hesitantly, pulling the sewer grate shut behind him.

The smell of raw sewage washed over them in an instant. Galen doubled over and struggled not to throw up. Force didn't appreciate the smell either, but he was taking it better than Galen. "Man up for once in your life."

There was a sound behind the duo. They turned, but there was nothing there. Force looked over to his partner who was folding his mustard yellow cape into a cloth to cover his mouth, "You heard that, right?"

Galen nodded enthusiastically, cautiously looking past his friend, "Let's find McCollough and get out of here. Fast."

Galen whipped a small compass from his pouch and flipped it open. HIs eyes narrowed on the needle and nodded, showing it to Force. They began to head down the rather wide walkway through the odious depths. The walls of the sewer were tiled bricks evenly spaced and free of any dirt or grime, which was surprising considering what these tunnels housed. There was a relatively narrow straight walkway down the center of the tunnels with sewage running along either side. It was paved stone and the echoes of their footfalls resounded down the empty corridor. Along the walls there were a few lit torches which illuminated the subterranean passage.

"This is the worst mission ever."
Galen said through clenched teeth.

* * * * *

"You're rather rude."
Stylix replied in surprise, staring at Evelynn.

Evelynn turned her eyes away from her and continued walking at a faster pace. Stylix would have none of it and stormed up next to her, "So just because I look like this you won't give me the time of day?" She asked, a bit of an edge to her voice that Evelynn hadn't heard before. Evelynn turned her head to look at Stylix, staring at a stain on the girl's shoulder. She couldn't place the origin, but she didn't like the look of it. Her eyes wandered back to the strange girl's face, covered by a peculiar mask that was unsurprisingly also smudged with dirt. Evelynn stared at it for a while and then, aware of her lingering gaze, she averted her eyes.

"Does my mask throw you off?"
Stylix wondered, placing a slender finger to her chin.

Evelynn looked around desperately for someone to save her from the unwanted conversation, but everyone else was busy chatting away. Her only hope, Artemis, was plugging away at the terrain, likely spurred on by thoughts of caressing his dearest Howard once more.

"I have this deformity from birth,"
Stylix explained to the silently frantic girl, "a strange disease really which deteriorated the skin around my eyes."

Evelynn's eyes widened and she started walking even faster. First this girl looked as if she had awoken in a trash heap and now she had some sort of flesh eating bacteria!? Why did she always attract the weird people?

"So I wear this mask,"
She continued, running her fingertips along the smooth contours of the plain once white mask, "because I'm rather ashamed of my appearance, as you could no doubt guess. I really just want people to see me for who I am." She finished, a bit quietly.

Evelynn tried to smile politely at Stylix, but her expression was one of contorted horror. Stylix sighed, "Alright. I get it. I'll leave you alone." Stylix fell back in the pack and walked next to Viktor who was talking away at Lexaeus. Evelynn felt a twinge of remorse, and sighed quietly. She pushed the thought from her mind and continued on towards the captive chocobo pen.

Hisoka looked over to Dion.
Dion returned the gaze.

"Worst mission ever."
They said in unison.

They arrived at the locked up cage, and Dion quickly held his nose and coughed loudly, "How did we not smell these filthy birds?" He managed to sputter.

Artemis stopped dead in his tracks. He turned to Dion with a cold stare that could kill. Dion exchanged worried looks with Hisoka. Viktor could only shake his head.

Breanna called out, grabbing hold of the thin bars of the cage. A rather elegant looking chocobo cooed at her. She reached in and tussled her soft feathers, "I'm so glad you're safe!"

Lexaeus beamed, "That's quite a lovely chocobo, Breanna. She's beautiful!"

"Thank you, Lexaeus. She was the only offspring of my father's pride and joy blue ribbon chocobo. She has wonderful genes!"

Evelynn smiled quietly. It was a touching scene to see the two ladies reunited once more. She looked to Artemis. In fact, they all did. Howard was all the boy would talk about, and they were all a bit intrigued to see this chocobo. Evelynn remembered riding into the castle earlier that morning behind Artemis and Howard... she quickly turned away and bit her lip hard.

Artemis slammed the key into the lock and tore the cage door open, throwing his arms out to the sides, "Howard!" He called out in a loud and happy voice. The other chocobos tilted their heads to the side quizzically and looked to the back of the cage. Hisoka peered around the wide Lexaeus to get a better look. There at the back of the cage was a rather plump and tired looking chocobo. He picked his head up slowly, eyelids half closed. His feathers were ruffled and unkempt. It gurgled out a throaty greeting that made Evelynn gag a little.

Artemis ran up to the chocobo and threw his scrawny arms around its fat neck. The feathers quickly covered any visible part of Artemis' arms. Dion stifled a laugh.

"I'm so glad you're not goblin food! Those ugly little fat gremlins won't hurt you anymore, Howard."
Artemis said with a content moan, rubbing his cheek into the chocobo's meaty breast.

Howard whimpered weakly and pushed himself to his feet. Breanna clutched Maria close to her as she stared at the strangely disproportionate chocobo. Artemis lead the lumbering Howard from the cage and climbed atop the chocobo, taking the reins firmly in his hands. He smiled genuinely for the first time since the group had seen him. He turned to face the group who had helped him rescue his beloved companion. He felt a word swelling in his throat. One he had been pining to utter since they left on the mission earlier. Finally, he felt the time was right to voice it...

He said as the duo turned and started off in the opposite direction.

"You're leaving!? Just like that?"
Stylix called out, shocked.

Artemis looked back over his shoulder, "Yes...?"

"Good riddance."
Hisoka mumbled, growing bored quickly.

"No, damn it."
Dion said, placing his hand to his forehead, "You're a part of Valiant Fighting Division and as much as we might not like it, we're a team."

Artemis stopped. He looked at the ground. Slowly he looked back at the group, looking at each of their faces. "You're right. We need to stick together. We started this thing, and we'll end it."

"You really mean that, Artemis?"
Breanna asked, a wide smile spreading across her face.

Howard began plodding away.

"A leader cannot abandon his squadron, Artemis."
Lexaeus' strong voice rang out.

Artemis didn't look back, "I'm not your leader, you neanderthal."
Suddenly he felt something strangely soft touch the top of his head. He looked up to see the Poobah's headdress.

"You are now. You gave us our name, and we will recognize you as our Poobah."
Lexaeus said. The rest of the group gradually nodded along with him.

Artemis groaned, "Fine. Let's gather up the rest of the chocobos and bring them back to the castle."

Breanna smiled, and the entire group seemed more or less enthusiastic about the crowning of the new leader of the Valiant Fighting Division.

Just then three men on chocoback rode up to the newly unified Division. "Finally." The lead man said, slumping over his strong armored chocobo slightly.

"Private Chambers?"
Viktor questioned.

He said flatly, as if the word was ripped from his lungs by force.

"Why are you... here?"
Hisoka asked, thinking the man was about to keel over.

Chambers groaned, the questions relentlessly tormenting him, "Just... listen." He said. "I have a new mission for you guys. You are the Val..." He sighed heavily as his eyes trailed over the name of the group, "VFD, right?"

Edited by Valor, 10 October 2010 - 02:11 AM.

#7 Secret Igshar

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Posted 10 October 2010 - 11:43 AM

Chapter VII
Unexpected Complications

The group of newly-recruited soldiers gathered around Private Chambers, anxiously awaiting his explanation of their mission. Chambers' eyes slowly scanned the group for a time before he let out a heavy sigh, "So eager..." He motioned for Evelynn to come closer, as Artemis was behind the rest of the group, absently contemplating if he should stay or take this chance to flee.

Evelynn approached Chambers and swallowed hard.

The man atop the armored chocobo handed her a missive, explaining, "You're gonna counter that mission."

Evelynn read it over silently and raised an eyebrow, "Why us?"

Chambers sighed, "Don't question orders?" He was unsure how best to respond without being forced into a long-winded explanation of why they were the only viable candidates. He only wished to return to the castle and relax again. This whole excursion was quite troublesome.

Evelynn shrugged her shoulders and handed the missive to the others. They gathered around and read it over silently.

Goblin Genocide
Threat Level: Urgent

Enemy Intel:
Woodland Goblins of notable Magick and combat efficiency. There is no room for error when battling these particular kind.

Mission Briefing:
This is the first step in our campaign against the Goblins. They had favored guerrilla operations against our domain but we will retaliate with some of our finest soldiers in an attack against their capital.

You will assemble two strike squads. We will send supplies and mountables to your camp for use via Black Chocobo reinforcements. Exterminate all opposing forces and leave no survivors.

A prototype Siege weapon will be sent momentarily to the battlefield as well as Magick capable Red Chocobos and necessary rations.

As they finished reading, Breanna piped up first, "Those poor Goblins! We gotta help them, guys!"

Hisoka gingerly touched his finger to the bottom of the page and read aloud, "A... prototype siege weapon? What the..."

Dion folded his arms across his chest, complaining, "Bah, whatever it is, we can handle it if we work together. Guaranteed."

Lexaeus balled his hands into fists and slammed them against his hips as he puffed out his chest, "We must make it up to those Goblins after so rudely injuring them before!"

Artemis ran his hand along his face. He didn't need to see the missive to know the information contained within. He nodded, deciding that leaving now would be the best option... Before they could stop him again.

Just as he turned to leave, Stylix piped up, "So, fearless leader, lead the way!"

Artemis cursed under his breath. He turned a disgruntled look to the idiots behind him and waved for them to follow him, "This way to the place we gotta go."

Evelynn contemplated for a moment as the rest followed him. She stopped them and explained, "That way leads back to Goldruby..."

Artemis hunched his shoulders. Damn that girl, throwing a wrench in his plans...

She pointed off in nearly the opposite direction, "That way leads to Emeraldroot..." She looked down when the group turned their attention to her. She immediately regretted speaking up.

Artemis hastily corrected himself, "Yeah! I was just testing you guys. Good job, Evelynn," you piece of trash. He narrowed his eyes at her as Howard plopped along, leading the group through the trees in the direction indicated by Evelynn.

She turned to Chambers and waved to him.

He flashed her a half-smile and rolled his eyes. He motioned to the men behind him, "Get the Chocobos, would you?"

The Valiant Fighting Division followed a path vaguely outlined by Evelynn as they made their way toward Emeraldroot.

Hisoka soon stopped and questioned, "Why are we headed straight for Emeraldroot? I figure we should try and head the enemy off before they get there. Once they get to the city..."

Dion finished, "... it'll already be too late. He's right. We should try and... Hmm..."

Lexaeus raised his right hand high into the air, pointing one finger up as he exclaimed, "Well! The castle is that way!" He pointed off into the woods. He then continued, "Emeraldroot is over there!" He again pointed into the woods in a different direction. "Assuming they travel in a straight path to get from the castle to the city, we should head in that direction," he pointed in a third direction. "To head them off before they reach the city!"

Artemis widened his eyes, surprised that the lumbering sack of stupidity actually said something remotely intelligent. The group all turned their eyes to him, waiting for command. Lexaeus confidently folded his arms across his chest. He wasn't completely sure he had the direction correct, but it was the best guess he could make given the circumstances and lack of pencil and paper to do scratch work.

Artemis grumbled, "Fine, we'll listen to the giant." He pulled Howard's reigns, changing his course to head off toward Lexaeus' random guess.

As random as it may have seemed, it proved to be correct when the entire jungle began to rumble as they continued to march forward. They broke out into a clearing and the rumbling suddenly stopped. Artemis' eyes flicked back and forth. Breanna petted Maria's soft feathers, calming the bird down when she got a bit antsy.

Hisoka shattered the silence by screaming, "Heads up!" Everyone then noticed a ball of fire which hurtled towards them. The group all scattered, but Hisoka stayed. He swallowed hard and threw both his hands, palms forward, out in front of him. The fireball kept moving, but Hisoka was confident in his abilities. It slowed and dissipated just before crashing headlong into the boy, sending small puffs of flame in all directions which caused little damage. A grin splashed across his face.

Breanna pulled Maria's reigns, taking her into the forest once more to hide her from whatever it was that shot at her. She called out to the group, "Maria and I will run recon, you guys just stay safe!"

Artemis hopped down off of Howard and cackled, "KWEKEKEKEKE!" Howard seemed startled by the noise and raced off into the forest, out of sight of the group. He clenched his fists and readied for the next assault.

Breanna willed Maria to run as quickly as she could around the edge of the clearing, towards the source of the fireball. She raced past the base of the siege weapon and slowed down for a bit to take it all in. It was a two-story building on wheels, essentially, with a square base that measured at least three meters by three meters. It was huge. The building tapered slightly to a top which was only about two meters by two meters and had a shallow cap atop it. It was constructed of wooden panels affixed together by steel joints with a myriad of bolts. The upper panel in the front, however, was completely steel and had a large cannon jutting out from it. As she ran past, she noticed a ball of ice get fired from it towards the group again. She kept running past it, along the rim of trees as she headed back for the group.

Artemis rolled forward as the ice ball skimmed just over him, barely missing crushing his bones. It slammed into the ground at Lexaeus' feet. He looked at the chunk of ice and grimaced, noting, "I don't think even I could lift that."

Viktor wandered over and kicked it, causing it to budge a little. He laughed, "Not as heavy as it looks."

They heard the cannon fire again, but this time saw no projectile. Suddenly, the group was thrown in all directions, scattering away from the chunk of ice. They each tumbled end over end and collided with the trees. Viktor righted himself quickly and cracked his back. Lexaeus had barely been affected by the wind gust and merely stumbled back a step. Maria even felt the gust, almost toppling as she ran at full tilt. The chocobo skidded to a halt beside Stylix, who was laughing maniacally. Breanna raised a brow as she dismounted Maria. She helped Stylix to her feet and commanded Maria to get a safe distance away. She then asked of Stylix, "Are you alright?"

Stylix grinned, "They shot a compressed ball of wind that exploded and pushed us in all directions! It's incredible! I must learn more! I'll be back!" She rushed out into the clearing.

Hisoka, Dion, and Viktor all watched as the insane woman darted towards the opposite end of the clearing with no inkling of what might be beyond the trees. The cannon again fired a fireball towards the group at the back, but this one changed course before Hisoka could dissipate it. It looped around and chased after Stylix. Stylix felt the heat of the fire hot on her trail and threw a blast of wind at the ground in order to flip up and over the ball of flame as it flew harmlessly beneath her. A wild cheer flew from her lungs as she shot a second gust of wind, propelling herself up into the trees. She caught hold of one branch and looked down upon the siege weapon. Her eyes widened with glee as she loosed, "Amazing!"

Hisoka shot a glance to Viktor, "Make some pillars for cover so we can get across there without getting killed."

Dion charged his fists and sent his electricity racing through his body. He grinned, "Hisoka and I will go first, guarded by Viktor. The rest of you go with Lexaeus. He should be able to do similarly well in blocking these assaults."

Viktor nodded in agreement and darted out into the open. A ball of ice lunged at him, but he erected a pillar of stone before him, stopping the blast. He ran across the field to a different position and erected another pillar when he heard the cannon fire. He felt wind rush around him, but did not get pushed back by it more than he could handle. He darted out and pulled up a third pillar. Dion and Hisoka were now behind his second one.

Evelynn turned to the rest of the group, "Let's get moving, too. They seem to only be able to fire one shot at a time. With two targets, the thing will be unable to get all of us."

Lexaeus nodded in accord, "Indeed, that seems to be the case."

Just then out of nowhere, a peculiar boy darted out of the forest into the clearing, shouting, "I'll save you guys!"

A fireball dissipated against Viktor's pillar and he then turned his attention to this newcomer, contemplating, What is he thinking?

The boy shouted, "Hey, cannon! Over here! HAHAHA!" He planted his fists on his hips and stood confidently there in the clearing.

The cannon fired a large ball of ice towards the boy. He laughed and shot several fireballs at it in an attempt to melt it. His fireballs did little to slow the projectile down. His eyes widened as the ball of ice slammed hard into his chest. With an "URK!" the boy was laid out flat on his back. The ball of ice rolled over him and he lay there, bleeding profusely from his nose. His body twitched uncontrollably. He weakly pointed his hand into the air and proclaimed, "Believe in me who believes in you!" Then he passed out.

Artemis covered his face with both hands and dropped to his knees. He began to sob uncontrollably, clearly upset as to his current situation. Evelynn went to comfort him by rubbing his back as Lexaeus darted out of cover with Breanna close by his side. Lexaeus charged through Viktor's first two pillars, transferring the stone into Terra Cocta armoring for himself. Viktor, Hisoka, and Dion had made it to the other side safely thanks to the peculiar boy's horrible distraction.

Evelynn patted Artemis' back, explaining, "We can sit this one out, if you want."

Artemis shook his head, "These people are all useless..."

The cannon fired and Lexaeus stopped dead in his tracks, commanding, "Get behind me, Breanna!"

She did as she was told as Lexaeus braced for the impact. He felt a ball of air slam hard into his chest, but he only stumbled back two steps, his armor shattering from the force. He heaved and then broke back into a run, gathering up Viktor's final pillar for earth to replace his broken armor. He broke the tree line, but saw Breanna nowhere.

She was undefended out in the middle of the field. She had shielded her eyes when Lexaeus stopped, and had not moved again when he did. She blinked and opened her eyes just as a fireball came hurtling toward her. Her eyes widened and she screamed. The next thing she knew, she was sitting safely in the forest at the foot of a tree with Dion standing over her. He ran his hands through his hair, complaining, "Geez, are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"H... How...?"

"It's kinda what I do. I can run nearly eighty miles per hour, y'know, at full exertion. Come on, let's take this thing down." He extended his hand and helped Breanna to her feet. She nodded in agreement.

* * * * *

"How much longer do you think it'll be?" Galen shot as he gagged a little. He looked down at his compass to ensure they were still heading the correct direction.

"We could be close, or it could take quite a while. Just suck it up already." Force replied with a hearty pat on Galen's shoulder.

"If he's been down here so long, he's probably dead by now..."

Force dropped his hands to his hips as they marched forward down the dimly lit corridor, illuminated barely by several small torches hanging on the walls. He nodded, "Why would you say that?"

Galen groaned, "Is your nose working properly, Force?"

Force nodded, "Smells like shit."

Galen narrowed his eyes and looked to his comrade. He shook his head.

Suddenly, the torches along the walls began to blink out, starting from off down the hall. Galen held his breath and stuffed his folded cape into his armor as he gripped the hilt of his sword. The darkness washed over them and suddenly their sight was gone. Galen called, "Force?"

Force replied, "Yeah, Galen?"

"Now it smells like shit and it's dark. This mission just keeps getting better."

#8 Valor



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Posted 10 October 2010 - 01:37 PM

Chapter VIII
Doctor McCoulough, I Presume

"Save your complaints for later." Forcystus hissed as the final torch giving off its saving light finally blinked out.

The sound of their iron weapons sliding along their respective scabbards was the only sound in the tunnel. Everything else was pitch black. Galen took a hesitant step forward. Forcystus would follow suit. Their training had taught them to keep moving in situations like this. Slowly and methodically. Up ahead there were some torches that were still lit. If they could make it there they may be able to be safe.

The sewage next to Galen sloshed rhythmically, churning his stomach slightly as gruesome images of what would happen if he took a misstep flashed through his mind. A loud, thundering extended creaking noise penetrated the air behind them. Both men instinctively looked to the sound, but saw nothing.

Galen adjusted his grip on his blade, each finger delicately finding a new spot on the leather, wrapped handle. His palms were sweaty, but only slightly. A hissing sound rattled along the gentle breeze of the sewage tunnels, but whether it from from the intricate pipe work or from something entirely different was anyone's guess.

They continued along the darkened path slowly and methodically. Neither dared to breathe - Galen because breathing meant inhaling the noxious fumes of human excrement. A myriad of clicking sounds whispered just behind them. Forcystus felt hot air on the back of his neck. He turned slowly, but in the darkness nothing was visible. He took a few hesitant steps backwards, following along with Galen. He backed into something solid. Both of them jumped. Galen's heart nearly exploded as Forcystus' back touched his own.

They calmed themselves down and shimmied along the silent path back to back, watching the rear and front simultaneously. There was little to see. Up ahead Galen saw the torches that were lit. A faint outline of... something stood just beyond the saving light of the torch. Something that looks distinctly bipedal. He gripped his sword tightly, his fingertips trembling slightly, perhaps out of anxiousness.

"Get over here!"
A voice called out. Galen blinked. The figure he saw in the distance was indeed a person after all. A relieved smile washed over his face. He turned to say something to Force, but his jaw dropped as he saw what his friend did.

There was a sickening wet sound of something solid scraping across the smooth stone of the walkway, and deep, hollow gasps of air in the darkness. Gentle pulsing lights rose from the water, at least a dozen of them. Soft amber hues mixed with delicate crimson, they flashed in rhythm and beat quietly. Creaking sounds were heard from the plethora of creatures standing before them. They hissed in unison, the faceless creatures clouded in shadow.

Force said, sliding alongside Galen and bolting for the open doorway. Galen took a few steps away and followed suit. Their armor clattered gently against their bodies as they ran, the sound of sickening wet footfalls rapidly approaching behind them. The figure ahead stood to one side of the door as the two boys roared across the threshold and tumbled to the ground, the heavy door slamming shut behind them with a resounding thud. The sickening sound of scratching at the door and guttural growls was heard from the other side. Galen's heart was beating out of his chest as he looked up into the face of the man who nearly gotten them torn apart by whatever those things were.

"Are you boys alright?"
The man asked, staring down at the exasperated duo.

Galen exclaimed, feeling bile rise in his throat.

Force punched him weakly in the arm. The rose to their feet slowly.

"Can't you be serious for once?"
Forcystus said once he caught his breath.

Before them stood a tall yet lanky man with wild unkempt dark brown hair. His tired looking eyes gazed at them, and his once pristine uniform was smudged with stains from unknown origins. Galen was caught staring at the man's intensely large mustache. His bottom lip was not even visible beneath the bushy forest of lip hair.

"You'll pardon my appearance, I haven't shaved since yesterday morning."
He explained, feeling Galen's eyes upon him.

The two exchanged incredulous looks.

"You have me at a loss. You wear the armor of the Crystalline Hounds. Are you two here to rescue me?"
McCoulough inquired, looking between the two.

Forcystus nodded, stepping forward, the clawing at the door seemed to stop for a moment. They took a moment to inspect the room, seeing three rather shaken soldiers clutching large oak bows. There were a few lifeless soldiers against the wall, their armaments scattered along the ground.

"We're here for you, yes. My name is Forcystus Heimdall and this is Galen Austad of the Crystalline Hounds. We were sent here to find you and return you to the castle unharmed. It appears however,"
He said, looking to the six bodies propped against the far wall, "that we are too late. Thankfully you are in good shape. Don't worry, we'll take it from here. You and your men should rest easy."

"That sounded good, buddy."
Galen whispered to Force.

"Not now."
He snapped.

"Ah, yes! Brylant's boys, are ye? That man sure does have a beautifully clean face, that he does. We're glad to have you here."

A loud thump came at the door. The three guards drew their bows and trained them at the door. Galen and Force placed their hands on their weapons, "It's dangerous," Galen said, "we need to go. Now."

The group acquiested to his gentle plea and they raced down the pathway. A short while down the road, McCoulough suddenly slammed to a halt, a grin sliding across his face, hidden beneath the dense foliage.

"There's a back entrance to the castle just up ahead. We'll make our way out that way in just a bit."

"With all due respect, sir," Galen said, looking back at the door as it buckled heavily under the advancing threat, "but what in the hell are we waiting for?"

"That!" McCoulough hooted as the door burst open and darkness flooded the hallway. Throbbing yellow sacs illuminated the path behind, deep raspy howls filled the air. Beady red eyes shimmering in the darkness, lit with rage and lust for violence. Nearly a hundred beasts lumbered behind the band of brothers. Galen nearly dropped his sword as the stench of them overwhelmed his senses. His eyes teared up a bit.

McCoulough threw his arms to the side, "Get behind me boys! Don't worry! Enjoy it! Drink it in!" He shouted at the top of his frail lungs, a deep laugh resonating in the narrow hallway. The swarm began to advance. "That'll be the end of that!" He cried out.

Time seemed to stop. The tunnel grew eerily quiet for just a moment. A faint beeping sound sent chills down the groups' collective spines.

A series of lights blinked on sequentially down either wall of the tunnel. The beasts seemed to halt, confused as to what was going on. Small flashes accompanied the strobe like effect as the rumbling sound of explosions filled the air. Each charge planted on the wall erupted in a brief fiery explosion. Again each brief flash of light the group was able to finally see the creatures stalking them, but only for a moment. Galen's stomach lurched as the view of the skeletal figure came into full view. The next moment the rushing sound of death filled the tunnel, causing the group to shield their eyes instinctively. The darkness of the tunnel remained, but there were no lights from the beasts left. Dust wafted past them in the aftermath of the crashing stone ceiling, and the group coughed loudly.

McCoulough was cackling a bit madly, "How was THAT!? Awesome, I know! Brylant would have loved it!" He chuckled as the torches were instantly re-lit as if by magic. Finally able to see the now insurmountable pile of rubble before them, they continued down the pathway until they reach a few iron rungs welding into the stone wall of the sewers.

McCoulough's troops went first and climbed the ladder, opening the hatch and pulling themselves out. McCoulough himself went next, followed by Galen and Force. Once topside Galen slammed the hatch shut, pressing down on it as hard as possible, "This smell is never going to come out, I swear." He moaned, slumping to the ground.

They found themselves in the middle of a long corridor in an area that resembled a dungeon, more or less. Galen finally pushed himself back to his feet. "It appears we're back at the castle. Mission accomplished, yes? Thank you for your assistance, Hounds." McCoulough said with a nod before turning and walking off down the corridor, leaving the two alone.

"He was a bit..."
Forcystus began, searching for the correct phrase.

"Batshit insane?"
Galen offered.

"More or less."
Force shrugged.

They heard a quiet moaning sound off down the opposite corridor McCoulough had traversed. They exchanged worried looks and set off down the hallway, searching for the source of the disturbance.

* * * * *

Breanna and Dion both turned their attention back to the massive siege weapon before it. It seemed nearly indestructible at first, but Breanna's sharp mind quickly went to work. She clenched her tiny fist and looked to her savior.

"I need to get close to that thing."
She said to him.

"Why don't you just... sit here and... try not to get yourself killed instead, lady."
He said coolly.

"Fine. I don't need your help then."
She grumbled, pushing past him with her shoulder.

She rushed towards the siege weapon, dodging between trees, coming up on its right flank. Luckily for her it was focused on pummeling Lexaeus and Viktor with another large chunk of ice and didn't seem to be ready for her approach.

She pressed her hands to the steel joints at the base of the weapon and exhaled calmly. The siege weapon was stationary, taking aim at Lexaeus, who had narrowly evaded being crushed by the previous boulder of snow. Frost gathered on the steel joint of the weapon, and it was quickly spreading. Keeping her hands firmly planted to the weapon, she continued to lower the temperature of the steel. She called out, "Hit the joints now! I made them-"

She felt funny suddenly. Her fingertips tingled. Her words got caught in her throat. Her heart began to beat faster, her mouth hanging agape, unable to move. Her body convulsed wildly, being thrown far from the siege weapon with tremendous force. Her mind was woozy, she was close to blacking out. What had happened? She wasn't sure. She landed in the soft arms of Dion once more who laid her down, pressing a hand to her forehead. He pulled as much of the flowing electricity out of her skin as he could, easing her pain. Her muscles kept twitching uncontrollably.

Dion turned to see Viktor ripping a large slab of earth from the ground in the shape of a club. With a mighty swing he smashed into the joint where Breanna had touched it, shattering it like glass. It crumpled inwards without issue. He repeated the strike once more in a different place, slamming the joint into the wheel and impeding its movement. Finally Hisoka sprang into action once the machine was stationary and unable to move freely. His hands lit on fire, and they burned wild and bright. With a straight jab he slammed into the wooden side of the siege weapon, burning a hole straight though. He rose his fist for another strike when a rush of water slammed into his chest from the hole he had punched though. He stumbled backwards, "What the...?"

The machine rumbled to a halt. The turret pointed straight down. Everything was still and calm.

"Did it... work?"
Breanna asked, looking up at Dion, her words coming a bit stuttered.

He grinned and nodded, "You're a bit tougher than I thought. Relax. We'll take it from here."

#9 Secret Igshar

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Posted 11 October 2010 - 03:30 PM

Chapter IX
Harlequins and Destiny

The group stood at their guard as they closed in their positions around the machine. Hisoka cautioned, "Something's not right here..."

Lexaeus approached the front of the machine and wrapped his knuckles on the wooden panel there. He shrugged his shoulders and dropped his fists on his hips, "I think we did it!" A loud creaking noise above him caused him to look up. The metal panel holding the cannon began to lean forward. Lexaeus rolled out of the way just as it crashed into the ground where he had previously been standing.

Hisoka threw his hands in front of his face as the side panel he had punched through flew outward from the machine, followed by a massive torrent of water. He found himself slammed with it. He was sent hurtling backwards into a tree. Luckily he braced himself, so he managed to stand up again, though pain coursed through his body.

Dion had pushed Breanna out of the way of the wooden panel before it flew, disallowing him to defend himself. He, too, slammed into a tree, but he fell unconscious. Breanna began to breathe heavily as she readied her fists for whatever would come next.

A man donning a bright yellow cloak with a hood darted out from within the machine faster than Dion moved. He rushed right up to Hisoka and clenched his hand around the boy's neck. He cocked his head to one side and released his grip. He turned around but was unable to say a word before a woman in a similar red cloak leaped from behind the cannon and slammed her fist into the ground, sending a rush of flame in all directions.

Stylix saw this from atop her perch and she leaped from the tree, diving toward the ground. With a wave of her hand, she redirected the flames away from the group, sending them washing out over a small grove of trees.

The red one stood up and looked to the newcomer, "Huh?"

One in a light blue cloak leaped down after the red one, followed closely by a green one. The light blue one called out, "Hey, you said they were Goblins!"

From within the machine, a young female's voice cried, "Sorry! It's hard to tell the difference between Goblins and kids from in here!"

The yellow one laughed. He walked up to Lex and patted him on the back, "You couldn't differentiate Goblins and this guy?"

The voice shouted, "Shut up! I'm sorry! I messed up!"

The yellow one shook his head. He motioned to the clearing as he explained, "Look, sorry for the confusion. Let's talk this out."

Breanna pointed to Dion, "What about our friends you just injured!?"

The yellow one cocked his head to the side and sighed, "Sammy? Would you help those two?"

One in a dark blue cloak hopped out and let loose, "Sure, Al." She looked to Breanna and nodded, "Sorry, I got a bit carried away." She skipped over to Dion and placed her hand on his forehead. His body glowed faintly green and consciousness flowed back into his body. She then hopped over to Hisoka and patted his shoulder. He suddenly felt the pain wash away from his body. Breanna continued to look upon the girl with a scowl. As if healing them made it alright that they attacked.

Al looked the group over and asked, "Are you guys our backup?"

Lexaeus and Viktor exchanged a look, unsure how best to respond. Stylix did it for them. "Hey! Hey! Are you the one who shot that wind bullet!?" She screamed as she ran up to the man wearing the green cloak.

The man rubbed the back of his head and nodded, "Yeah, that was me."

"You are my hero. Will you teach me what you know?"

He patted the girl on the shoulder, "No."

"Not fair!"

Artemis and Evelynn arrived shortly, having made their way over when they heard the machine whirr to a halt. Artemis threw his arms to the sides and explained as confidently as he could muster, "Hey! Good of you idiots to finally show up!"

The light blue one tilted his head to one side and repeated, "Idiots...?"

Evelynn nodded in agreement with him. They had discussed a plan of action from just within the clearing before coming into view of the rest of them. She thought it was quite brilliant.

Dion groggily pushed himself to his feet and asked, "What do you mean, Artemis? They..."

Artemis laughed, "Oh, you. I, being the leader, was the only one privy to this information. You see, we, the Valiant Fighting Division, were the advance troops to the Goblin assault. In fact, we just came here from the Goblin camp, the first stop in our campaign, and destroyed their leader, Zeke. He was just one bad seed with a silver tongue who convinced a horde of other Goblins to follow his lead. Fear not, fellow Soldiers, we have handled the problem. We can now all rejoice and return to the Castle with cheers of victory."

The red one threw off her hood, revealing her long, red hair and brilliantly red irises. She shook her head and folded her arms across her chest, "You expect us to believe that load of crock?"

Al had been leaning forward, amazed by what was being said but immediately righted himself when his comrade announced what she did. He scoffed, "Yeah! Come on, now. Do you think us dense?"

The one in the light blue pulled his hood off, revealing his short, brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses. He reached into his cloak and pulled out a missive. He adjusted his glasses as he read it over and explained, "The missive does not mention anything other than directly attacking Emeraldroot. I believe this kid is attempting to trick us."

The green-hooded one sighed and shook his head, "Why can't you guys just pretend they're telling the truth? Kid sucks at bluffing, sure, but I thought we were all in agreement on how horrible this mission was..."

The red one shouted, "Shut it, Reynolds. Personal misgivings do not trump direct orders from a superior under any circumstance."

The light blue one tucked the missive away back in his cloak and nodded, "Chandra's right. Aside from that, these guys destroyed the prototype... They're technically criminals now."

Al rubbed his chin and nodded, "Huh, y'know, Josh is right. You guys are criminals."

Artemis contorted his face into a sneer, "You lot of idiots really want to question me and the authorities behind me? Lord Commander Hark Glory," he had gotten the full name from Evelynn before stepping out, "directly told me about this mission and sent us out here to stop you. He came running as we were about to leave for Emeroot to tell us that he had gotten new information related to the situation which named Zeke as the source of all of the problems."

Evelynn nudged Artemis, "It's Emeraldroot."


Josh sneered at the boy and spat, "You really must think me a totally oblivious oaf, you little twat! Do you even listen to yourself? We left the castle after you, you..." He rubbed his forehead and attempted to cool off a bit, "You lot are a batch of insignificant whelps who just wish to seem important."

Chandra echoed his sentiments, "Do you really think that you can pull rank on us?"

Evelynn decided to step up to plate and support Artemis. She had no idea where the courage came from. "I don't think we can pull rank. I know we can. Our orders came right from the Lord Commander's mouth. You guys have a paper signed by him. We had direct contact with him before we left."

Al's eyes flicked between the sides locked in the argument. His heart rate began to accelerate. He nodded, "Look, guys..."

Josh spat, "Stay out of this, Albert. These children insulted me directly."

"Oh, come off it, Josh, you're not a damned genius," Albert retorted. He turned to the boy who continuously derided the group. He sighed, "Look, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on this. You lot don't seem to be the type that would openly lie to us..."

Viktor justified Albert's remarks, "We don't have a reason to lie..."

Dion shook his head. He refused to get involved in the hole Artemis had dug for himself. Hisoka kept himself at the ready to jump in to protect his comrades, but made no supportive remarks, as he did not believe in this particular tactic, either.

Lexaeus agreed with Viktor, "I guarantee our honor. Zeke was slain by Viktor's hand and has ended the Goblin threat effectively."

Reynolds then shouted to the girl who incessantly nagged at him, "Look, I'm no teacher. Leave me alone and go hang out with your friends, please."

Stylix released him and frowned behind her mask. She cried, "Fine! Jerk!" She kicked him in the shin and stormed over to the rest of the group.

As she marched back over, Chandra groaned, "That's not the point of this. That Zeke guy wasn't the cause of all of this. Our target isn't..."

Stylix stood before Chandra, making her be quiet. She extended her hand, clutching the Chocovore missive in her hand. She tilted her head to the side, "This was our mission."

No. Artemis dropped his jaw. It was working... It had all been working so well...

Chandra glanced down at the Chocovore missive and cracked her neck, inquiring of the honest girl, "Oh, was it, now?"

She nodded and smiled, "Yup, we had to stop these Chocobo-eating Goblins that were kidnapping Chocobos from the stables."

Chandra nodded and asked for clarification, "So your mission had nothing to do with Emeraldroot?"

Stylix shook her head slowly, "Not until we were told to go stop this other mission... She has that paper." She pointed to Evelynn.

Chandra procured her own missive from within her cloak and showed it to Stylix, "Was this the missive?"

Stylix nodded and then stepped back, suddenly realizing what she had just done. "Oh, booger..." She loosed as she stumbled back away from the woman.

Chandra's eyes narrowed as both papers in her hands lit aflame and burned to ash in less than a second. She turned her attention to Artemis and smiled sweetly, "Care to explain yourself?"

Joshua cut across Artemis, "I can explain it perfectly. That kid tried to trick us into betraying our own mission in order to accomplish his own. Quite the valiant soldier, if I do say so myself."

Evelynn grumbled, "We should have just left the smelly hobo behind..."

Artemis couldn't restrain his chuckles.

Chandra's anger flared. A sudden aura of flame erupted about her as she shouted, "And just what the fuck is so damned funny, you little shit?" The flame dissipated when Albert dropped his hand on her shoulder.

He explained, "Come on, the kid was just trying to finish his mission without violence... You gotta give him some credit for that."

Joshua shouted in retort, "Sure, I'll give him credit. That was a really good plan and it almost worked. I commend you. Now, I condemn you, you lying piece of shit. Chandra, if you would do the honors." He shot a glance to Artemis and Evelynn, "I think you should get rid of the both of them. That girl put words in the Lord Commander's mouth."

Artemis stumbled backward. Lexaeus and Viktor both took up arms and attempted to run to assist, but they were stopped by a sudden wall of ice erected before them. Hisoka rushed the wall and attempted to melt through it. He felt a wash of water rush over him. He slipped and slid into the wall, not even denting it. He pushed himself to his feet and attempted to ignite a flame, but his clothing was far too damp now to start even a spark.

Joshua laughed, "Oh, no. This doesn't concern you."

Chandra pushed Albert back and approached the two and shot a deadly glance to Evelynn. She cooed, "Which one of you wants to be first?"

Artemis mustered as much courage as he could and pulled Evelynn back behind him. He narrowed his eyes and shouted, "You leave her out of this! She was only backing me, her leader. Your beef is only with me." He slammed his thumb into his chest to add emphasis.

Chandra cracked her neck. She flashed a smile, "Fine, just you and me. But look, kid, I'm not gonna take it easy on you. You can just drop to your knees, admit your mistake, and move on. I won't chase you. I'll let your whole gaggle of little troublemakers leave with nary a punishment."

Artemis contemplated surrendering. He could get out of this fight and get out of any repercussions for breaking the prototype...

Breanna's high-pitched voice shattered his dreams, "Do it for the Goblins, Artemis! I believe in you!"

Evelynn dropped her hand on his shoulder to show her support. His eyes scanned the rest of the useless idiots with whom he was forced to share this air. Staring back at him were six pairs of eyes which showed the same emotion throughout all of them. They believed in him, or at least wished to. He knew they really had not considered him their true leader, and this one moment could make it or break it. He shut his eyes and pushed Evelynn aside gently. She stepped back from him when she was pushed.

Artemis unhitched his heavy cloak from about his person and tossed it to Evelynn, commanding, "Don't get it dirty!" Beneath the cloak he sported his leather cuirass atop a fitted black t-shirt. He was unsurprisingly scrawny and had little muscle to be seen. He looked decidedly less intimidating without his cloak. He twirled the rod in his hand and inhaled deeply. He motioned behind him, "How about we take this to the clearing back there? I wouldn't want you to hurt these trees anymore than you already have."

* * * * *

The moaning grew louder as Gale Force approached the cell towards the end of the long dungeon corridor. They came upon the only cell in which someone sat. A cloaked man sat slumped against the wall in a pool of what could only be assumed to be the man's own blood.

Galen approached the bars and looked to Force. The two shrugged their shoulders. The man gurgled, "Hello...? Is someone there...?"

He turned his hooded head to face the two. Beneath the hood, his blank eyes could clearly be seen. He was blind. Galen answered immediately, "Yes?"

"B... Brilliant..." The man struggled to his feet.

Force commanded, "Hold that a moment." He pulled Galen back and chastized, "This man is behind bars for a reason, Galen. We shouldn't be so quick to trust him."

Galen nodded in accord, "We should at least hear him out. He's still a Hume."

Force nodded, "Fair enough."

Galen turned back to the man, "Why are you in here?"

The man hobbled up to the bars and gripped them with his cracked, bleeding knuckles as he coughed, explaining, "Betrayed... I am... Salem."

Galen recognized the name, but couldn't place it. He swore under his breath as he attempted to recall the origin of that name. Force could not remember, either.

The man's wrinkled, distorted face came clearly into view as he continued, "He... He's gone mad... You..." His eyes locked with Galen's, "You must stop him. You must protect this kingdom..." He grabbed hold of Galen's armor and shook him, "He's betrayed His Majesty! The man is insane!" He coughed out a lump of clotted blood onto Galen's chest plate and stumbled backwards, falling to his behind. He groaned and continued, "The Mythril Bells... Calamity follows their silence... The legends..." He swallowed down the blood that had pooled in his mouth, struggling to maintain his slim grip on life, "Steward... He... knows." Salem swallowed again and smiled as he lowered himself to his back and moved no more.

Galen stumbled back from the cage. Force blinked and wheeled his friend about to face him. Galen's eyes were blank. He did not blink. Force shook him, shouting, "Galen! Galen! It's only blood, it'll wash right out!"

Galen shook his head and gently pushed Forcystus back from him, a fire in his eyes. He inhaled deeply and exhaled, shutting his eyes for a moment. When he opened his eyes, he reached into his armor and retrieved the folded yellow cape from within. He whipped it out before him, extending it to its proper length. Upon hitching it to his armor once more, he proclaimed, "I have to find the Colonel."

#10 Valor



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Posted 12 October 2010 - 12:48 AM

Chapter X
Artemis Enters the Fray!; Galen's Determination

"You think I give a fuck about trees?" Chandra spat, her fiery eyes lit up with anticipation. This was all too easy. This little weakling versus her? No contest.

Artemis flexed his fingertips gingerly. His white-knuckle grip began to stiffen on his magicked rod. He shot a look to Stylix. He would never forgive that filthy street urchin. He was forced into this position. Now what? He couldn't just surrender anymore. This girl was a bit too enthusiastic about the idea of separating his head from his shoulders. He would likely get more seriously hurt taking a dive than actually fighting her.

This was the way it had to go, he realized. A small, knowing smirk appeared on his face. Time to show these morons just what he was capable of.

Chandra looked around as the boy began to smile, "Don't get any ideas, you piece of shit pervert." She tore the crimson cloak from her body and tossed it to the ground without a care. She was a bit more muscular than Artemis was, wearing a similar black tight fitted shirt and rather boyish jean shorts. Curiously she wore nothing to cover her feet or her hands. She didn't appear to have any weapons on her person.

Artemis's expression grew stoic. Josh's eyebrow arched a bit, noticing the change in the boy's demeanor, "It seems we share a bond." He said to himself. Albert looked over, but then quickly back at the fight as Artemis made his move.

He whispered a few words and waved his wand in a wide horizontal motion, creating four seven inch long ice spikes in the wand's wake. Chandra put her hand on her hip and laughed, "Oh boy, this is gonna be quick."

Artemis rose his rod above his head and slammed it into the first spike, firing it rapidly at Chandra. Her eyes widened as the surprising speed caught her off guard. She ducked under the icicle as it embedded itself in a tree behind her, penetrating it by at least five inches.

"So much for giving a shit about the environment, you fucking hypocrite."
She said with a scowl.

Artemis didn't reply, and merely slammed his staff into the second spike, sending it speeding at its intended target. Chandra stepped to the side and plucked the spike out of the air, tossing it up and catching it before crushing it in her strong fist. Water splashed from either side of her fist, but it quickly vaporized in the presence of her exceedingly hot aura.

"Fucking sad, kid. You shoulda finished me with the first one. Not a single one of those shitty things are gonna touch me."
Chandra smirked.

Artemis stole a glance to Lexaeus, who was watching intently. Yeah. Take notes, you dull lummox, he thought to himself. Two more quick strikes sent the last two spikes towards Chandra. He watched as she nimbly dodge each of them. "My turn, asshole!" She called out before zipping towards him. Artemis took a step backwards and held his staff out in front of him in a feeble attempt to block. Realizing he was putting his trusty weapon in harm's way with a fire user on the other end. He ducked as a fiery left hook flew just over his head. He stumbled backwards, his cuirass taking a glancing blow from the straight right palm she attempted to drive through his chest.

He scampered backwards and resettled. Chandra hopped up and down impatiently, "Hold still, you little shit! This will only hurt a lot!"

"I'm not going to lose."
Artemis said, waving his weapon in front of himself, hoping to believe in the words he spoke.

She stopped hopping and shook her head, "Kid, you don't have a snowball's chance in hell."

"Watch me!"
He replied, striking his rod downwards, creating a larger spike measuring nearly a foot long and four inches in diameter.

"Oh no!"
Chandra chuckled, waving her hands in front of her, "Not another shitty ice toothpick!"

Artemis paid her no mind and grabbed hold of his rod like a baseball bat. With a mighty swing he connected fully with the icicle and slammed it towards her again.

Chandra slid to the si... what? She pulled her left foot. It didn't budge. She looked down to see two small icy hands gripping her ankles tightly. She was frozen to the ground. She ducked under the icicle, taking a glancing blow on her left shoulder, leaving a beautiful gash in her once flawless skin. She howled in pain and grabbed the ice shackles, tearing them away and crushing them into bits, "You worthless sack of shit, I'm gonna pound your fucking face in so that not even your whore of a mother would recognize you!"

Artemis swallowed hard. She sounded like she meant it. He cursed himself silently. That was supposed to be the final blow. Now he had to think of something else. She roared towards him again.

Nimbly he ducked and slid to her right as her left hand rocketed towards his face. He whacked her in the waist with his rod. This only pissed her off. She slammed her elbow into his chest, knocking the wind of out him and sending him tumbling to the ground. He scrambled to his feet, wheezing as she assaulted him again. She kneed him in the stomach and slammed him into a tree. She charged and reared back her right arm.

Evelynn called out surprisingly. He opened his determined eyes and ducked under the strike as she skewered the tree with her fist, searing a hole through it. She ripped her arm from the tree and turned to face Artemis again, who had fled a few feet behind her.

He stared her down, more determined than ever. "Last chance to give up." He panted, his bottom lip a bit bloodied. "Just shut the fuck up and die." She yelled back.

Artemis shut his eyes and began whispering again. Chandra gathered her strength for her final assault. She charged. The Valiant Fighting Division looked on, wondering if their leader was about to bite it. Hisoka took a step forward, but was restrained by the thick hand of Viktor. Breanna hid her face. Evelynn clutched Artemis' cloak tightly. Even the others from the siege weapon were watching with anticipation to see what would happen. Joshua stared intently at Artemis' lips, reciting the words quietly to himself.

"Prepare to die, shit!"
Chandra screamed at him as she neared him with the final strike. Artemis' azure eyes shot open as he finished his incantation, "Lord of Frost! Ymir!" He called out, putting his hand forward, palm outwards towards her.

Brilliant white speckles of light appeared before Artemis and suddenly solidified into a blisteringly cold hand which mimicked his own's form. A cold wind swept across Artemis, blowing his hair gently, but his expression remained firm and determined. Chandra blinked a few times as the ice solidified into a rather thick wall. She braced herself for impact a bit late as she slammed into the solid ice and stumbled backwards. She grabbed her nose which was spewing blood like a faucet, "You son of a bitch, I'm going to fucking tear your throat out!" She shrieked in anger. She rose her head to find herself staring into Artemis' ocean blue eyes. "Eh?" was all she managed as Artemis slammed his forehead into hers, bringing Chandra to her knees and forcing her consciousness to slip away.

She fell limply to the ground as the icy hand vanished into sparkling specs of ice shards and was carried away on the soft winds. Everyone was silent as the scrawny man returned to his feet. He approached Evelynn and took the cloak from her, pulling it around his person again. "That was... incredible." She said as he tightened it.

He didn't say a word. Then he collapsed as well, finally losing consciousness. "Artemis!" She cried out, as the Valiant Fighting Division assembled around him. The crew of the siege weapon were standing in stunned silence.

"Damn. Did Chandra just lose?"
Albert wondered, in awe of the events that transpired.

Josh looked over at Artemis, a smile on his face. "Not bad for a kid."

"Give him some air!"
Lexaeus commanded, shooing the group away from their fallen leader.

Hisoka said to no one in particular, "that guy has more guts than I gave him credit for."

"What was that spell anyway? Incredible!"
Stylix said in awe.

Evelynn made sure to avoid eye contact with the girl. She simply nodded, her eyes fixated on Artemis. He was amazing in that fight. She sighed heavily... maybe she was the weakest of the group. Everyone else stood up when called upon, but Evelynn... she was useless.

She withdrew from the group as they continued to talk about the battle. She glanced over at the people tending to Chandra. Her eyes lowered. Tears welled for a moment. Even now, even in this place, she was just as useless as ever.

* * * * *

"Galen..." Force started as his friend stormed off. He looked down at the dead man in the cell named Salem. He stood there for a long moment, contemplating all that was said. He turned and followed after Galen, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Galen stormed up the stairs and nearly ran over McCoulough who was on his way back down into the dungeon.

"Oh! You startled me! I was just going to fetch you boys and make sure everything was alright."
He said with an estimated smile. Galen couldn't tell under the forest of facial hair.

"I need to speak with Colonel Brylant immediately. Where is he?"
He replied.

"Are you off? I've been underground all day! I have no clue where... he is..."

Galen pushed past him without another word, searching for someone with information. Suddenly a rather unenthusiastic voice called out, "Hey, who's there?"

McCoulough and Galen turned to see Chambers sauntering in from the stables. "Yo, I had h... thought you blew up down there in that explosion." He said flatly, his eyelids half closed.

Forcystus climbed the stairs from the dungeon and watched the scene unfolding.

McCoulough laughed heartily, "Naw! That was the plan all along!"

Chambers said with a stifled yawn, "Busted up a bit of the square what with the cave in. I'm not fixing it."

"Ha! I'll get my men on it right away."

Forcystus and Galen exchanged looks. Maybe it was time to get out of here before they were on construction duty.

"So... you're up to speed?"
Chambers said again, rather quickly.

"Up to speed on what exactly? I've only just returned."

"Ugh. Goblin Genocide. The LC sent Brylant and the Hounds off with this new weapon to level the Gobs at E-root because of some nut job named Zeke. Steward sent some kids to counter the order..."

"The Colonel is en route to Emeraldroot? When did they leave?"
Galen asked Chambers excitedly.

Chambers let loose a long sigh, finally creaking the words out, "Left a while ago. Probably half way there by now."

Galen looked to Forcystus.
"I have to talk to the Colonel..."
He said.

Force nodded, "I'll work on things at this end."

Galen turned and rushed out of the castle, looking around quickly and whipping his compass out. He had been to Emeraldroot once before, but it had been a while. Luckily he still knew the way. In a flash he took off to the Southeast, hoping to intercept Brylant in time. He flew over the lush plains and weaved between narrow trees at high speeds due to his innate wind element and his rather impressive knowledge of practical magickal use.

He ran as fast as his feet and the winds would take him. He only hoped her could find the Colonel before it was too late. Goblins were one thing, but a plot against the crown was another matter entirely. The situation dire, Galen tapped into his secondary element. His feet gathered strength and with a gush of water behind each stride he flew even faster towards Brylant. Nearly fifteen minutes later he spied the Hounds ahead of him marching on towards Emeraldroot. His heart jumped into his throat. Found them! He thought with a smile. He struggled to remember all that Salem had said. He hoped that the Colonel would believe him...

#11 Secret Igshar

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Posted 12 October 2010 - 11:19 AM

Chapter XI

Evelynn fought down her tears as she made her way over to the forest to lean against a tree on her own. She couldn't let the others see her cry. Once she was safely tucked away from the rest, she loosed slow, gentle sobs as she admitted how utterly useless she had been this entire time. Never had she ever been useful or necessary to anyone. She had stood by and watched while Viktor and Lexaeus handled Zeke. She stayed by the wayside as Hisoka and the others handled the siege tank. She stood back while Artemis threw himself out there, putting his own life on the line.

When given a chance to stand up to them and do something other than cower, she allowed Artemis to step in and save her from having to do anything. Then, she stood there and watched Artemis nearly get killed by that woman. All she could do was watch. Stand back and watch. She hadn't noticed that her sobbing had grown into full-blown bawling now. She pulled her knees to her chest and cried into them.

A sweet voice interrupted her self-pity with a gentle, "Hey, what's wrong?"

Evelynn sniffled and held her crying back as best she could as she loosed, "It's just that I'm completely useless to all of them! All of them... They'd be better off if I just stayed here and let them go on without me."

"Aww, I'm sure that's not true," the voice said. A girl in an orange cloak took a seat beside her. She was short, shorter even than Evelynn was. She had short, black hair, and peculiar, yellow eyes. She smiled at Evelynn and explained, "You shouldn't get so down on yourself. I'm sure they value you a lot more than you think. I didn't do anything during that whole situation and I know my friends value me."

Evelynn sniffled again and wiped her eyes. She nodded, "Thanks..." She hugged her knees tightly as the girl got up and ran off. Evelynn shook her head. Regardless how she attempted to glorify it in her head, she just seemed useless... expendable, even.

The group had set Artemis up against a tree and backed away from him. Hisoka nodded in approval of his actions. Dion shook his head, "He did great for fighting alone. I just wish he hadn't gone and passed out on us."

Stylix chimed, "Beggars can't be choosers!" She sighed and spun herself around rapidly using her wind powers. Reynolds took notice.

He came up behind her and dropped a hand upon her shoulder. His voice caressed her ears, "Hey, sorry about before. I'd be glad to show you a couple tricks."

Stylix' eyes widened and she wheeled about to face him, shouting, "Seriously!? You'll teach me!? Oh boy!" She threw her arms around Reynolds, knocking him back a bit.

He laughed, "I hope my little boy's as energetic as you when he gets to your age."

"You have a kid!?" Stylix asked, pushing back from him. She pressed, "Tell me more!"

Reynolds smiled and led her away from the group, going off about his son and all sorts of odd tidbits of information he could think of about the boy.

Breanna smiled, "Aww, that's sweet." She then looked around and tilted her head to one side, "Hey, where did Evelynn go?"

Viktor looked back and forth from face to face and shrugged his shoulders, "I didn't see her leave..."

Lexaeus folded his arms across his chest, "Maybe she wanted to let us have our time with Artemis so that she could come over later and have time just for him and her?"

Breanna rolled her eyes, "Sure, Lexaeus. That makes sense. I'm gonna go look for her."

Albert rested Chandra's head on his knee and brushed her hair out of her face. He pressed his hand to her forehead and shook his head, "She's going cold... Come on, Chandra, hold on."

Josh paced back and forth behind him, wondering, "How did this even happen, though? He didn't even freeze her or anything."

"She overexerted herself, probably," Samantha uttered from over Albert's shoulder. She shook her head, "I wish I could do something to help her..." She wheeled about and brushed her brown locks back behind her ear. Her deep blue eyes locked with Joshua's as she said, "Maybe we could ask that fire user they have to help us."

Albert sighed, "It's worth a shot..." He ran his hand through her hair once more and frowned, "Hold on just a little longer, we'll get you back to us."

Samantha jogged over to the group and gazed from face to face before stopping on Hisoka. She smiled sweetly and asked, "Hey, Chandra is kind of out of it... Would you mind helping us a little...?"

Hisoka narrowed his eyes, "Why should I help you guys? She wanted to kill our leader, and she almost succeeded."

Samantha's eyes showed utter despair as she stumbled back a step. She nodded, "I understand." She turned to leave as Viktor shook his head. She wheeled about and tried again, "We're desperate. She's slipping away from us and... she may die." She looked to Artemis then back to Hisoka. She forced the tears not to come as she begged, "Please... Not like this..."

Hisoka rubbed his temples and rose to his feet, acquiescing reluctantly, "I guess I'll try and save Artemis that guilt when he wakes up, huh?" He walked behind Samantha over to the unconscious Chandra.

Samantha explained, "Her heat is leaving her rapidly..." She motioned to Chandra's blue lips. She shook her head, "She overexerted herself against Artemis and now she's dying... Can you try to... heat her up?"

Hisoka rubbed his hands together and shook his head, "I make no promises." He placed his left hand to Chandra's forehead and the other on her stomach. He shut his eyes and conjured the power he usually used to combust matter up to the palms of his hands. His hands let off a hot aura as he attempted to push his own energy into the fading body of Chandra. Her color slowly returned and Albert felt her warmth returning. A smile flashed across his face as a tear rolled down his cheek.

Albert genuinely smiled at Hisoka when he pulled his hands back. He nodded, "Thank you. I owe you one."

Hisoka shrugged his shoulders, "Eh, don't mention it. It was really nothing."

Samantha gave him a hug before pushing him off back towards his group, "Sorry for pulling you away."

Breanna located Evelynn and sat down beside her, questioning, "Hey, why so sad?"

Evelynn shook her head, sniffling, "It's nothing, really."

"I won't tell anyone, I swear. You can tell me anything, Evelynn."

Tears welled up again in Evelynn's eyes. She threw her arms around the much needed body of Breanna. Breanna rubbed her friend's back and shushed her, trying to calm her down. Evelynn cried, "I just want to be useful to you guys..."

Breanna patted Evelynn's back and hushed her, whispering, "Hey, I think that, if it wasn't for you calling out his name, Artemis would have lost that fight." She giggled, "Plus, you held his cloak while he fought! That's gotta count for something. You also really helped back in the Goblin village when we handled all those goblins... Come on, Evelynn, you're not useless."

She smiled and hiccuped, clutching her friend tightly as she apologized, "I'm sorry for this..."

Breanna smiled, "Take your time."

* * * * *

Galen raced up to Brylant and slowed to a halt barely in time. He exhaled deeply and pulled his colonel aside. Brylant raised a brow and asked, "What's the matter, Austad? Did you find McCoulough?"

Galen nodded briskly, wanting to be past pleasantries, "Yes, we got back to the castle and..." He leaned in and whispered, "Force and I found something."

"What are you on about, Austad? Spit it out already!"

"We met a man in the dungeon who died after telling me something. He said I have to stop him, to protect the kingdom. He didn't mention specifically who it was, but he mentioned something about the Mythril Bells and a legend that goes along with them. Said it was true. That Steward knows it."

Brylant rubbed his upper lip as though he were stroking a bushy mustache for a time before replying, "The Bells, eh? Hmm... This isn't good news, Austad. I haven't studied up on the Legend in some time, but I only remember that it's definitely not good, what's rumored to follow the silence... Look, you came at a bad time. We're off to help the Knights with a mission."

Galen looked to the group and down to his feet. He noticed how remarkably slowly they were moving. He inquired, "If it's so important, why are you moving so slowly...?"

"Well... We're moving as quickly as we can, Austad. Isn't that right, boys?" The group of Hounds all shouted "hoo-rah" in unison.

Galen understood. He explained, "A group was sent out to stop the Knights, I heard from Chambers. He said they were kids, probably rookies."

"We'd best hurry, then, and make sure the Knights aren't injured!"

The Hounds picked up the pace as they headed onwards towards Emeraldroot. Galen pressed further, "Salem was the man's name. Does that ring any bells?"

Brylant nodded, "Master Salem. He's the head Seer at the castle... Or..." He shook his head, "No, you said he was in a dungeon cell and that he's... dead?"

"Yes." Galen nodded. That was where he recognized the name from. He was glad that he had not gone mad.

"This is troubling news... Who would have thrown the Grand Seer in the dungeon and... why...?" His eyes widened, "The bells... It all goes back to those blasted bells that didn't ring today..." He bit his tongue, "No, Austad, we cannot speak openly of this. Just uttering these words could be considered treasonous." Brylant pushed Galen away from the group and whispered, "You do what you feel is right, Austad. That's an order. I can't investigate these matters myself, so it falls to you. I suggest you find Lieutenant Steward when we return to the castle and find out what he knows. Keep your circle of trust as small as possible."

Galen nodded and agreed, "Yes, sir. I'll get to the bottom of this." Brylant nodded and headed off to lead the rest of the Hounds onward. Galen looked down at his hands and clenched them into fists. This was his destiny. The fate of this Kingdom now rested heavily upon his shoulders. He shut his eyes and exhaled slowly, accepting the weight before he jogged ahead to catch up with the rest of the Hounds.

Brylant stepped out into the clearing and looked around to the people assembled. Albert looked up and sighed, complaining, "Geez, old man, think you can be slower next time?"

Hisoka pushed up off of his tree and rushed out to see the Hounds. The rest of the Division gathered behind him. Hisoka swore under his breath. They had waited too long for their leader to come around. Now it was too late. He contemplated fighting his way out.

Dion's hand grabbed Hisoka's wrist as he cautioned, "Those are the Crystalline Hounds, Hisoka, we can't take them. They're more seasoned and they outnumber us."

Hisoka spat through clenched teeth, "I know, but there's no way I'm gonna just let them arrest us after what Artemis did."

Dion shut his eyes and nodded, "Figured you'd say that."

Hisoka felt a sudden surge of electricity course through him. He heard Dion apologize before he passed out. Dion caught his friend in his arms and laid him down gently.

Brylant addressed the crowd, "What happened here?"

Joshua explained the events that had just occurred perfectly accurately. When he finished he shrugged his shoulders, "Not sure what you would want to do about that..."

Brylant rubbed his upper lip again as he thought. Galen inquired, "Orders, sir?"

Brylant nodded, "We have to take them in, boys. Those guys did bust up a prototype."

Viktor revolted, "What? Are you serious? We're defending an entire race of creatures and you're arresting us?"

Lexaeus added, "How can we be punished for doing the right thing?"

Brylant simply spat, "Defying Lotus Kingdom is never the correct course of action. Under no circumstances is it ever correct to head out and directly counter an order given directly by a higher authority within the Kingdom. Now, I trust you all will come quietly." He reached across his person and clenched his hand around the hilt of his Spellblade. His eyes scanned the group of children before him.

Evelynn and Breanna wandered out from where they were as Breanna announced, "I found her!" She then noticed Brylant and threw her hands up.

Evelynn giggled and pushed her way to the front of the group. She looked the man directly in the eyes and swallowed hard. There were so many people watching her... At least twenty. Her body began to shake wildly. She shut her eyes and thought of Artemis' bravery. She spoke up, "We'll go quietly. This will all blow over when they review the case. They'll realize we did the right thing and let us go. Just promise you guys will take care of Artemis..."

Brylant commanded his Hounds to apprehend the entire group of the Valiant Fighting Division. Galen approached the girl who had addressed Brylant and inquired, "Who is this Artemis? I'll see to it he gets care."

Evelynn smiled and pointed to the tree where Artemis was propped up.

Galen nodded and headed off to scoop Artemis up onto his back.

Voltaire, another member of the Crystalline Hounds, made his way across the clearing to a boy who seemed to be sleeping on the ground. He looked down at the boy and tilted his head at the comical appearance of the boy lying there, pummeled into the ground. He kicked the boy in the side and shouted, "Oi, get up."

No reply.

Voltaire rolled his eyes and raised his foot above the boy's chest. He kicked down, sending a jarring jolt of electricity coursing through the boy's body. His eyes snapped open and he yelped with pain. He sat up and rubbed his head. He groaned and looked up at Voltaire. The man's hard face and dull, grey eyes caused the boy to cower away slightly. He whimpered, "Uh... Who are you?"

"The name's Voltaire, I'm with the Crystalline Hounds, here to arrest you," he recited with his naturally thick Australian accent. He reached down and lifted the boy up by the collar of his shirt. He plopped him down on his feet and shook his head, "Pretty impressive to get so clobbered and still be breathing."

He laughed and placed his fists on his hips, "Ha! That's me, for you! Dariosal Giha!" He wiped his thumb across his nose and grinned, "The number one Cartographer of the Lotus Kingdom!"

Voltaire rolled his eyes, immediately regretting his decision. He nodded, "Yeah, whatever. Let's get going."

"Wait, why am I being arr-"

Voltaire pulled the boy by his wrist and delivered a quick chop to the back of his neck, knocking him out again. He swore, "Damn, this kid's annoying." He slung the boy over his shoulder and made to follow along with the others.

Once every member of the group had their hands tied behind their backs, Reynolds and Stylix wandered back out from the forest to see what was happening. Stylix shouted, "Hey! What's going on?"

Joshua silenced her, "Your friends all just got arrested for defying the Kingdom."

Reynolds dropped his hand on her shoulder, "You can stay here with us if you want."

Stylix shook her head, "No, they're my team." She raced after the Hounds and surrendered herself as well. Reynolds tilted his head to one side and shrugged his shoulders. He decided he would never understand that girl.

Albert got Chandra onto his back with the help of Joshua and Samantha and the Knights then headed off after the rest. Jenny tugged on Albert's cloak and asked, "Al? Is sis gonna be okay?"

Albert laughed and smiled down at his younger sister, "She'll be fine."

Jenny smiled up at him, "That's good. I would miss her."

Evelynn's confidence in them getting off free was high. She knew that the officials at the castle would see things their way. They would certainly understand the err in their judgment of the Goblin Genocide and realize that Steward and Chambers were in the right in sending them off to stop it. She nodded silently to herself. They were going to be okay...

#12 Valor



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Posted 12 October 2010 - 03:15 PM

Chapter XII
The Adventures of Gale Force

"What's eatin' ya, Austad?"
Voltaire called out once the Hounds began to march once more.

Galen looked over at Voltaire and shook his head, "None of your business, Sparky."

"Whoa, hey there! A bit touchy aren't we? Spend too much time in the shit hole?"
His comrade teased.

Galen didn't bother to respond. He looked at each of the Division. These were the people that Steward sent to stop the siege weapon? He shook his head in amazement. They didn't do that poorly of a job. Even this scrawny little kid apparently bested Chandra. Not that she was all that spectacular, really, but for a no name to even be able to damage someone of her rank spoke volumes in his eyes.

A girl clad in filthy robes wearing a worn and beaten mask was chittering away about how amazing Reynolds was at controlling the wind. She was talking the ear off of another girl who seemed repulsed at the very idea of even breathing the same air as the homely one.

The disinterested girl was the one who spoke up to the Colonel. That took some serious guts. Suddenly she turned to look at Galen. He quickly averted his eyes. She slowed her walking, going unnoticed by the other girl who continued to ramble on, her mouth moving a mile a minute and her hands waving about wildly.

"You better take care of him."
She told him in a serious manner.

"He's not going anywhere."
Galen replied, looking dead ahead.

They continued walking nearly side by side in uneasy silence. The frail boy over Galen's shoulder flopped a bit with every step taken. After a few minutes passed he looked back over to her.

"You want something?"
He asked in a rather abrasive manner.

She said finally after a lengthy pause.

Suddenly a shadow loomed over Galen. He blinked a few times and looked to his other side to see a mammoth of a man striding beside him.

He said in a rather careful way, "What kind of meals can we be expecting once we're incarcerated?"

Galen stammered, looking around for assistance, "I don't know anything about that."

"Ah, I see."
the mountain replied, rubbing his chin with his thick fingers, "I do hope it's something good. We've been out here all day."

Galen wasn't sure what to think, he merely looked over at the girl, but she had vanished, being scooped away by the last girl from their troop. They had locked arms and were whispering off near the back of the troop near the Colonel.

"As long as there's meat I won't complain."
Another gruff voice spoke. Galen looked up to see another huge man who was a bit dirty walking alongside him as well.

"Why are you all talking to me?"
Galen griped, staring at the ground.

"You're carrying our Poobah, silly. We have to make sure you treat him correctly."
The first said matter-of-factly.

Galen questioned.

"Aren't we in enough trouble without you two pissing off the Hounds?"
A man with jet black hair groaned as he walked past.

"We have very legitimate concerns, Dion."
The smaller of the men said.

"There are more pressing matters than filling those bottomless pits you both would call stomachs."
The man named Dion snapped back.

"You lucked out,"
He continued, looking to Galen, "You get the lightest of the unconscious people."

"I suppose so."
Galen said since he was expected to reply.

"Will you all just cram it and leave Austad alone?"
Voltaire said sternly.

Obediently the two huge men fell back, and even Dion turned around and began walking in silence, hurrying to catch up with the Hound who had the other boy slung over his shoulder.

Galen said to Voltaire, who merely shrugged.

"Eh, they were buggin' me too with their prattlin'"
He explained.

Galen took a glance back at Colonel Brylant, his mind racing. He wondered what he would do once he was back at the castle. There were a lot of questions he needed to find the answers to.

"Makin' eyes at the captives?"
A sultry voice beckoned. Galen's cheeks flushed and he turned his head to see a rather pretty girl walking beside him with a long lance in hand.

"Not at all."
He said, glancing down.

She flashed him a smile, "Oh really? Which one was it, hmm? I saw you talking with the brunette. Fraternizing with the enemy? I thought you better than that, Austad."

"Will you shut up?"
He growled, looking over at his flaxen haired tormentor. "I was looking at the Colonel."

"Didn't know you were like that, Austad."
She chuckled.

He rolled his eyes, "Always the professional, aren't you, Iz?"

"More professional than you, hero."
She said with a grin.

"Can the chatter."
Colonel Brylant called out. Iz smiled and walked quietly beside Galen.

His mind wandered again back to Forcystus. He felt bad abandoning him like that... but the situation called for action. He hoped that his friend was getting on alright back at the castle.

* * * * *

Galen had left in a hurry, causing Chambers to shake his head and sigh very audibly, "Going to on call room. If you have questions, ask someone else." He wandered away from Forcystus and McCoulough.

McCoulough turned to Force and nodded, "Thank you very much for your assistance, Mister Heimdall. I should report back to make sure everyone knows I have returned safely." With that, he turned and walked down the long corridor towards the private quarters of the higher ups.

He stood there for a moment, watching the man go. What was he to do. He turned in the direction Galen went and then took a glance back at the stairwell leading to poor Salem's body locked in the cell. There was a mystery afoot, and Force knew he had to do his part. Not for Galen, but for himself and for his country and commanding officer. With that, he tailed McCoulough.

The man was quick, but Force was highly trained in stealth operations and good at keeping a low profile. McCoulough seemed distracted by something or other and kept plodding along at a brisk pace. He passed the meeting hall where the leaders of the factions conducted their business. This surprised Force a little bit. Where was he headed?

They continued down the lush red carpeted hallways, past the golden framed pictures of generals that founded the Lotus Kingdom and spearheaded its rise to greatness. Small crystal chandeliers lined the ceiling and cast a gentle yellow light on the hallways. They passed many heavy oak doors with nameplates engraved with the officers who resided within. Force passed Colonel Brylant's room, immediately thinking to Galen while hoping he was able to find Brylant without issue.

Finally McCoulough stopped. Force scrambled behind the corner of the bent corridor and looked around. There was a glass case just outside the door where McCoulough had stopped that had a well worn sword on display. He immediately recognized the place. Lord Commander Hark Glory's chambers!

He rapped his knuckles on the door three times, and after what seemed like an eternity the door creaked open. There was silence for a long moment before the silky voice of the Commander spoke, "Grey? I didn't expect to see you."

McCoulough bowed before Glory, "The sewer bombing was a smashing success. Unfortunately I lost six men in the process. It seems that there were more Shados than were estimated in the report."

"Unfortunate, indeed,"
the Commander replied, "please come in and tell me more about it."

"Certainly. Have you made up any tea?"
McCoulough asked, pushing past him into the room.

"I'm afraid not."
Glory replied, "I wasn't expecting any visitors."

He took a step into the hallway, causing Forcystus' heart to skip a beat. pressed against the wall tight, daring not to look back out.

Hark Glory's azure eye peered down the hallway in either direction. His hands smoothed his olive green uniform, causing his medals to jingle softly. He adjusted the gold rimmed monocle set before a heavily scarred left eye and turned to enter the room, closing the door behind him.

Force settled his breathing slowly and gathered the nerve to peer back out. The hallway was empty. He scampered up quietly to the door and pressed his ear against the thick wood.

"I must say, Grey, I am quite surprised to see you alive."
Glory said from the other side of the door.

"You underestimate me, Glory!"
McCoulough laughed loudly.

"Who else knows of your return?"
The Commander asked.

"I was retrieved by two of Brylant's boys, Austad and Heimdall were their names. Also I saw Private Chambers just a few moments ago. This was the first place I headed since leaving the underground."

"A wise decision."
Hark Glory said.

"Anything else on the agenda or can I take my leave to my quarters?"
McCoulough asked. The sound of footfalls approaching the door grew louder. Force pulled his ear away and took a few steps back down the hall.

"No, there's one more matter I must attend to."
Force stopped dead in his tracks.

"You see, I was filing this paperwork, Grey."

"What paperwork is that, Lord Commander?"

"It seems that a Captain died this morning. This is the official report."

"Oh, that's dreadful news. What happened?"

"It appears as if he and his entire squadron of nine were killed. What's more, two of the Crystalline Hounds had been sent to lend aid, but they too have not returned and are thought dead."

"I... I don't follow, Lord Commander. What are you saying?"

Deliberate footsteps could be heard clattering against the hardwood floor of Lord Commander Hark Glory's chambers.

The muffled sound of a blade being pulled from its sheath could be heard. Forcystus pressed his ear closer to the door.

"Hark... put that thing down. What is the meaning of this?"

"Why couldn't you have died like a good soldier, Grey?"

A bloodchilling scream was heard, and the sound of steel sliding along the ribcage of a human. Forcystus fell backwards and fumbled to his feet, taking off full speed down the hallway.

He stumbled and fell in the wide open foyer of the castle, his stomach lurched heavily. He threw up, coughing and sputtering. Hark Glory just killed Captain McCoulough! Force's head was spinning, reeling. He clamored to his feet once more. He had to find Galen. He had to warn them. Salem was dead, and then McCoulough! From the sound of it, the three under McCoulough were also in danger, not to mention himself and Galen! This was too much. Far more than he had anticipated.

Chambers! Private Chambers was also named! He ran off quickly in search of Chambers, bursting into the on call room. The man was motionless propped against the wall. It was Chambers. Force approached him slowly, falling to his knees. They already got Chambers. He put his hands on the man's shoulders, "Damn it. I was too late... I'm sorry, Chambers."

Chambers lifted his head and narrowed his eyes, "Why are you touching me?"

"You're alive! Private Chambers! You're not dead! Haha!"
Force shouted, shaking him violently.

He pushed Force's hands off of himself, "Wish I was dead right now. What's going on?"

"Hark Glory, I think he just... you have to hide. He killed McCoulough, the Commander did it. I heard it, he stabbed him and killed him and McCoulough named you and me and Galen and his three other soldiers who survived the sewer bombing. Hark Glory is going to try and kill us all I just know it. You have to hide, Chambers."

The Private stared at Forcystus as he explained all of this. He didn't say a word afterwards. His tired eyes looked downwards, deep in thought. "McCoulough is dead?" He finally managed with a heavy sigh, "I can't believe it..."

"I know, I'm sorry to have to break it to you..."
Force said sadly.

"Think of the paperwork I need to fill out for the death of a Captain."
He groaned.

Force shoved him into the wall. "Gah! You're useless!" he screamed, running off.

He rushed out of the castle, looking to the southeast.

"Forcystus Heimdall?"
A familiar voice said sternly behind him.

Force turned around to see himself face to face with Hark Glory. He had been dreaming of being recognized by the Lord Commander his entire military life, but not like this!

"Lord Commander..."
He stammered, giving a salute.

"Why are you not with the Hounds? You know they were headed to Emeraldroot to quell the Goblin Resistance, do you not?"
He said, his one open eye tearing through Force.

"Of course. I was on a..."
He thought quickly, his eyes glancing to the spellblade at the Commander's hip. He wondered if it was dripping with Captain McCoulough's blood. "I was on a different assignment, I'm waiting on them to return."

"I see."
Hark Glory replied flatly.

"Have you seen Private Chambers? I wish to speak with him."

"Chambers? Uh... no. No I haven't seen him anywhere at all." Force said, his eyes fixated on the spellblade. He didn't dare look the Commander in the eye.

"Very well. Inform your Colonel that I wish to speak with him when he returns." The Lord Commander said, turning and walking away.

Force collapsed to the ground once he was gone. He laid on the uneven stone pathway leading from the castle, staring into the clear blue sky. How did things turn out this way? What had he gotten himself into. Off in the distance he heard a familiar "hoo-rah!"

He sat up. The Hounds were approaching the castle. Much earlier than expected. He gathered his courage and headed out to intercept them, not really wanting to be in the castle by himself. He took a look back and thought of Chambers, hoping that all Hark Glory wanted was a quick chat, and not anything more.

The Hounds poured past him, and Force took notice of a few odd people who were in the midst of their group. Must have been Steward's men. He spied Galen at the back walking with a man dressed in blue slung over his shoulder. He wormed his way through the Hounds, "How did it go?" He asked quietly.

"Not so good. You?"
He whispered back, staring off the jeering gaze of Iz.

"Worse. I think that..."
He started, looking around as the rest of the Hounds and prisoners passed them.

"I think that Hark Glory is going to try and rub us out."
He said.

Galen peered at his friend, "Rub us out?"

"You know..."
He drew a finger across his throat.

"Why would you say that?"
Galen wondered.

"Lord Commander..."
Force started, unable to come to terms with the fact he was saying this, "just killed Captain McCoulough."

Galen nearly dropped Artemis from his shoulder, "What!? Are you sure?"

"I heard it. What's more, Glory said that everyone in that tunnel was dead."

"You and I are clearly not dead. Three others survived too."

"Yeah. Pretty sure that if Glory has his way we won't see the sunrise. All I'm saying is we gotta watch our asses." Force hissed.

"Thanks for the heads up, Force. Come on. Let's deposit this guy in the cell. Then we'll figure out what to do." Galen said, adjusting the weight of Artemis on his shoulder.

Force watched Galen walk off towards the castle and let loose a sigh. Things had gone from bad to worse. He shook his head and followed Galen into the castle, his mind buzzing with countless worries and thoughts at once.

Edited by Valor, 12 October 2010 - 09:25 PM.

#13 Secret Igshar

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Posted 14 October 2010 - 12:33 PM

Chapter XIII
Very Forcibly Detained

The Valiant Fighting Division in its entirety was placed carefully in cells in the castle's dungeon. Through a bit of pleading from Dion and Breanna, they managed to get two to a cell. Unfortunately, that left one member all on his lonesome. Their fearless leader, Artemis, lay on his back in a cell by himself. His cloak hung from a nail in the wall and a healer from the castle knelt before him, attempting to fix his mind and pull him back to consciousness.

Unfortunately, the members were disallowed from choosing their own cell mates. Evelynn was forced with Stylix, Viktor with Hisoka's unconscious form, Dion with Dariosal, Breanna with Lexaeus. The last set of them were thoroughly enjoying each other's company.

Breanna chuckled, "You bake!? Seriously?"

Lexaeus folded his arms across his chest and puffed out his chin, "What's so wrong with that?" He adjusted his standing position, shifting his weight to his left leg.

Breanna laughed and pulled herself up to a more comfortable sitting position against the only stone wall of the cell. She shook her head. "You just don't seem the type," she admitted.

Lexaeus chortled and explained, "It's one of my favorite hobbies. I love baking pies the best."

Breanna smiled, imagining the hulking man sporting a "kiss the chef" apron as he flew around a kitchen ten sizes too small in an effort to make the most delicious cupcakes he could make. She wondered aloud, "How good are you?"

Lexaeus admitted, "Well I've only just started learning to bake..." His stomach grumbled and he groaned, "All this talk of tasty treats seems to have awoken my appetite. I wonder when we'll get food..."

Evelynn leaned in the corner of her cell, where the front bars met with the bars that were not adjacent to any cell containing other members of the group. She chose that corner because of Stylix' apparent love of the stone wall on the back and chatting with their neighbor, Viktor. Evelynn pulled her knees to her chest and watched Stylix retell Viktor the same "Palan" Reynolds stories she had told to Evelynn not an hour ago.

She sighed heavily, "An hour ago..." She slammed her head into the bars. It had been an hour ago that they were all tossed into these cells. That was the last they had heard of from anyone outside of the healer. Evelynn glanced over to make sure the healer was still working on Artemis. She smiled, happy that she was. Evelynn then hugged her knees, wondering if they would ever receive word that they were free to go.

Dion was enjoying himself in his cell as well. Dariosal lay in a crumpled heap on the floor in no small part due to Dion sending small jolts of electricity to the different parts of his body, causing him to twitch in certain parts but not others. His expression was blank as he did this, as he clearly would rather have been messing with Hisoka. Right as Dion shot another charge at the unconscious man, Dariosal snapped out of his funk and sat upright. Dion nearly jumped out of his skin. He leaped into the air, slamming his head into the ceiling. He cursed loudly as he did so.

Dariosal rubbed the back of his head and looked at Dion innocently, "Hey, why was I arrested?"

Dion dropped down to sit across from him and shrugged his shoulders, "I have no idea. Not like you're a part of the group or anything."

"Guilty by association, I guess..." He lay down on his back and sighed, "You know, I mapped out this castle once. Best map of the castle ever made. They still use it today."

Dion wasn't sure if the man was bluffing or telling the truth. He honestly did not care which. Dariosal then began to rattle on about other things important only to himself. Dion pretended to listen as his thoughts and eyes wandered to the other cells.

Viktor laughed and poked at Stylix, "So you really like that guy, huh?"

Stylix exclaimed, "He's awesome! He's funny, exciting, always happy! He's just a really cool guy. You should meet him when we get out of here."

Viktor smiled, "You can introduce me."

A gentle groan broke up the moment. Viktor looked over his shoulder and noticed Hisoka pushing himself up from the bed. He opened his eyes and immediately loosed, "Oh, damn it. Seriously?" His eyes scanned the area around him. Each cell had three "walls" made of naught but bars while the fourth wall, at the back of the cells, was made of bricks. His eyes flashed to Dion and he narrowed his eyes. Dion lifted one shoulder in an indifferent shrug.

Hisoka's gaze then wandered to little Evelynn sitting alone as far from Stylix as possible. He laughed and waved to her. She noticed the gesture and waved back happily. Her gaze immediately switched back to Artemis. Hisoka followed her gaze and saw that Artemis was still unconscious.

The healer sighed and stood up, proclaiming, "There. He should come around any time now. None of you better yell at him or get him upset! His mind will be a little fragile when he wakes." With the warning, she excused herself from the dungeon, closing and locking Artemis' cell door as she left. Evelynn kept her attention fully on Artemis, waiting impatiently for the boy to awake.

A familiar, though largely unwelcome voice then echoed through the dungeon, "Hello?"

Lieutenant Johnathan Steward made his way into the dungeon and glanced across the eyes that peered at him. He noticed an air of distinct contempt coming from a few pairs of eyes, as expected. He sighed and shook his head as he whispered loud enough for the whole group to hear, "Look, I haven't much time. I'll make this quick." His eyes scanned the group, "You all are scheduled to be executed in the morning for treason."

Evelynn blinked once and her head fell limp to one side. She was unsure what to say to that. Hisoka's cells bars clattered as the boy charged them and shook the door, screaming, "What do you mean, executed?"

"Treason is a serious offense, Hisoka."
Steward replied nonchalantly.

Dariosal jumped up to the bars and hollered, "Hey! I wasn't even a part of your group! Am I off the hook?"

Steward squinted at the man and shook his head slowly, "Can't say I remember you, but... The Lord Commander asked them to set up nine nooses out there, so you're going up too. Sorry about that. Now, I really need to-"

Dion spat, "You sent us on the mission, ya greasy old badger. Aren't you in any trouble...?"

Steward silenced the cries of contempt, "That is of no import! Listen to me!"

Artemis roused from his sleep, still a bit woozy. He held his head and replied, "And why should we listen to you?" Artemis pushed himself up off of the bed and made his way to the bars of his cell, staring daggers at the man, "First you're a humble tea salesman, then you're some... lala military something or other..."

"Lieutenant," Steward corrected.

"Irrelevant," Artemis argued. "Listening to you got us into this mess in the first place... Why should we listen again?"

Steward commanded, "Because I am still your commanding officer and you are still members of this military. You will do as I say, understood?"

Not a single one voice a complaint.

Steward sighed, "Good. Now, as I was saying... You are slated to be executed in the morning, nearly twenty-four hours after the Mythril Bells were not rung. Should they not be rung again tomorrow, and I fear they shall not be, well, it won't be good." His eyes flicked to everyone and sighed, "It was an honor to be your commanding officer, and may Carbuncle watch over you tomorrow. I believe his plans for you extend beyond the morn." He clenched his right hand into a fist and tapped it to his chest. He turned and left, leaving the group there to contemplate what just happened.

The dungeon was soon in an uproar with everyone freaking out over what happened. Evelynn narrowed her eyes and sat up against the corner of her cell. A knowing smile crept across her face. Artemis noticed it and shouted, "Guys!"

Everyone soon quieted down and looked to Artemis. He motioned to Evelynn and they all looked to her. She was lost in her own little world at the moment. She did not hear Artemis' call nor did she notice the scrupulous eyes staring her down as she began to rattle off, "There's only one reason that the Bells wouldn't be rung... If a member of the Host Constellation is still visible in the morning... Tomorrow... If the bells ring tomorrow while that star is still visible... A messenger of death will come down from the heavens and wipe the world clean. I wonder... If that happens, our execution couldn't be held, but then the end of the world would come... Ugh..." She ruffled her hair, unable to come to a logical, mutually beneficial conclusion.

Viktor remarked, "Well if that messenger does come down, I'm sure we can kick his sorry ass."

Hisoka laughed, "Definitely, let's go fight a messenger from the heavens, since that's no different from beating up a super goblin and a military chick..."

Stylix grimaced at the comment, "Hey, leave him alone. He's just being optimistic. You should try it."

Hisoka spat, "We're sitting in jail cells, awaiting our execution in the morning. What the hell is there to be optimistic about?"

Lexaeus poked, "What about those Hounds people? That guy carrying Artemis seemed nice..."

"Like they'd help our sorry asses. I can't believe you guys didn't even try to resist this crap." Hisoka dropped down onto his back on the bed upon which he sat and sighed, "I'm gonna get some rest. I'd like a nice nap before my neck gets snapped."

Evelynn hugged her knees. This was her fault. She had volunteered the whole group to surrender peacefully... Maybe they could have fought their way out... She shook her head. No. But at least they would have gone down fighting rather than sitting here, waiting for their turn to die. She sighed heavily and hugged her legs tightly.

Just then, a small ice sculpture of a penguin waddled into her cell and looked up at her. It was a bit more plump than a real penguin and looked more like the stuffed ones they gave away at carnivals. Evelynn couldn't restrain her smile upon looking at it. The little penguin puffed into steam and she looked over her shoulder to see that Artemis had been the puppet master behind it. He tilted his head to the side and frowned at her, as if to tell her to cheer up.

She smiled and giggled, trying her best to get back into a happy place so as not to bring the rest of them down.

Dion then whined, "Hisoka's completely right. We should have fought back. We should have died valiantly rather than in a public display of shame and treason like we will in the morning. Bah."

Breanna reasoned, "We can at least enjoy our last night together, the last night of the Valiant Friend Division."

Artemis groaned, "It's the Valiant Fighting Division, number five. Has anyone tried to break out yet?"

Dion sighed, "I would if I could, trust me on that. Brylant said his hounds are taking shifts watching us, so we'd be screwed before we even make it up the stairs."

A sultry voice rang out from just up the stairs in reply, "Damn straight you would!" Izabel felt the need to ensure that those down below were aware that they could be heard upstairs.

His gaze shot to Lexaeus who was... playing patty cake with Breanna. He shuddered for a moment before shouting at the lummox, "Hey, fattass."

No one replied.

"Hey, neanderthal," he called. Lexaeus still did not look. "Hey, bigger earth freak," he shouted. Lexaeus looked up. Artemis motioned to the stone wall, "Can you shift this at all?"

Lexaeus shook his head, "The stone is too dense to move with my Magick. Viktor tried it earlier."

Artemis grumbled. He was perplexed. Breaking out was clearly not an option, but there was no way he would let himself be hanged out there in the morning. Ugh, just the thought of that rope around his neck gave him chills. That was when it hit him that he could actually die tomorrow. He dropped down onto his bed and looked at his hands with his usual, bored expression, belying his inner turmoil. The only way out was through the Hounds, but them winning hinged entirely on being able to break out a sufficient number of the division before the sounds were heard from above. He ran his hands through his hair. This just... It couldn't be happening, not to him. Not now. He was much too young to just be snuffed out like this.

Silently, he made a plan just for himself, which he considered for a moment to extend to the rest of his crew, though he dropped that idea shortly after. He could probably break himself free once they were outside in the morning, so he could get the jump on whoever was the one pulling the lever and stop the whole situation from happening, but... That was crazy. Too many swords. He shuddered again.

Evelynn sighed and finally announced, "I think we should just get some rest, guys... The most we can hope for is that maybe some miracle will happen and we'll all magically be breathing by this time tomorrow." She tried to laugh but found herself unable.

The others reluctantly relented, retiring to their individual beds for a good night's rest...


Lord Commander Hark Glory slammed his fist down on his desk and commanded the silence of the Seer who dared question his orders. The authoritative man hissed, "I don't care if the whole Host Constellation is lit tomorrow morning, those damnable bells will be rung. We already lost far too much in just one day of a slow start. Two days will increase the loss."

The seer stood her ground. She shook her head and pleaded, "If you force those bells to be rung, you endanger this entire Kingdom far greater than a small economic setback would..."

Hark adjusted his monocle and spat, "Did I stutter?"

The woman remained silent.

"That's what I thought. Now, run along and see to it that those bells chime with the sun's rise on the morrow or it'll be YOUR neck next."

#14 Valor



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Posted 14 October 2010 - 03:48 PM

Chapter XIV
Military Dogs

"Damn straight you would!"
Izabel yelled out down the dungeon staircase as the two entered the castle from the mess hall. They exchanged confused looks.

"Your friends are sure a chatty bunch, Austad."
The girl goaded, flipping her short hair from her hazel eyes.

Force looked over at his friend, "Friends? What happened out there?"

"Nothing. You know how she is."
Galen replied, glaring at the girl.

"Hey now, what's with that look? Sheesh, you're touchy today. Where's your sense of humor?"
She said, seeming a bit hurt by his callousness.

Galen sighed, "I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me."

"It's alright. You can make it up to me you know."
She said with a sly grin.

"I already told you, I'm not interested."
Galen said firmly, folding his arms at his chest.

"A bit presumptuous, aren't we?"
She chuckled. Force looked on between the two clearly bewildered.

"Then what?"

"You'll just have to relieve me of my shift."
She grinned.

Force looked over at Galen, "You two? Really?"

"Not now, Forcystus."
Galen snapped. He shook his head, "Fine. How long is your shift?"

"Only until about four in the morning. Buh-bye~"
She giggled as she tossed Galen the keys and wandered off, presumably to bed.

Force watched her leave and then looked back to Galen, "You sly dog."

"Don't get any ideas. Who could ever be interested in someone like that?"
Galen said flippantly. He sat down in the chair she had occupied, leaning back and folding a leg over his lap.

"Want some company?"
Force asked, taking a glance at the door.

"That's alright. You can get some sleep."
Galen said with a shrug.

"Well how about I check on them for you and then head off?"
Forcystus asked, wanting to be a bit helpful.

"Knock yourself out."
Galen replied, flipping the keys to his friend.

Force unlocked the door and descended the stone steps. He heard a bit of banter going on before entering the cell area. Upon his arrival, he instantly had the attention of everyone in the area.

"Who the hell are you?
" A rather angry man said, opening one eye.

"He's clearly one of the Hounds,"
A massive man chimed in from the side, "look at his armor."

"It looks similar to that man who was carrying the boss."
Another masked figure added, putting a slender finger to their chin.

Silence descended on the room, each prisoner looking at him expectantly. Forcystus rubbed the back of his head, a bit embarrassed by the attention, "So you guys know Galen, huh?"

"If that's the fellow who had Artemis over there draped over his shoulder,"
The large man said, pointing to a frail looking boy cloaked in blue, "then yes, I'd say so."

"He's actually going to be guarding you guys overnight. You're in good hands." Forcystus said with a pleasant smile. "I'm sure in the morning we'll have this whole matter cleared up."

A loud slam on the metal bars demanded attention, as the angry black haired boy grabbed hold of the bar. Suddenly the length of it glowed a brilliant orange as he growled, "Yeah, I'm sure you bastards will have it all cleared up!"

Another boy spat on the ground, "Military dogs."

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but you see this is just how we operate. Protocol dictates that-"

"You kill people who didn't even do anything!?"
A rather energetic child piped up.

Forcystus stared in confusion. He glanced at each of the faces, "Wh... what are you talking about? Kill you?"

"Oh ho! Looks like this dog is out of the loop!"
The fiery boy said again, "Death by hanging ring any bells?"

"I... wasn't informed of this."
He replied, hanging his head.

"Bullshit! You're all the same!"
Another voice called out in the same cell as the energetic one.

Forcystus turned, he shoulders sagging. Hanging children? How could anyone pass that order down? "I'm genuinely sorry," Forcystus said, his back to them, "I'll leave you." He began to walk away.

A gentle, yet strong voice from the back spoke up, "Wait!"

He turned slowly to see a brown haired girl looking at him.

"You're serious, aren't you? That you had no idea of this."

Forcystus was at a loss for words. He stared at the ground and just shook his head slowly.

"My name is Evelynn. What's yours?"
She spoke, her voice wavering slightly.

"My name is Forcystus Heimdall."
He replied, unwilling to look any of them in the face.

"Isn't there someone you can talk to? Anything you can do? What about that man in charge. The one with the mustache? I think he was the Colonel."

"I can make no promises that what I say will work. I can promise you all that I will do whatever I can to right this wrong."
He vowed solemnly.

"Don't believe him!"
The angry one yelled out, "more lies! More bullshit!"

A fragile voice called out, "Stop it! Can't you see he means it?" A girl said, tears trickling down her face.

The boy named Hisoka took a step back and stared at the ground.

"Break us out."
A voice came from the back.

Everyone turned to see Artemis standing at the bars to his cell, his hands in his pockets.

Forcystus stammered.

"Break us out. You want us freed, open the cells. You must have the keys."
He said coolly, his expression blank.

"Artemis, you can't ask him to do that!"
The masked girl said in shock.

"Quiet, Four."
Artemis said with nary a glance.

"Four!? What does he mean by that?"
She asked the quiet man in the cell adjacent.

"Do you not even know our names?"
The crying girl cried out.

"Guys! Shut up!"
Another called out. He turned to look at Force, "So how about it? Let us out."

Forcystus held the keys tightly, wondering what to do, "I'm sorry. I just can't. It's too dangerous. Diplomacy should be the first attempt at righting a wrong. I can't just take matters into my own hands."

"At least can you bring us some food?"
The large man wondered, not noticing the quietly sobbing girl beside him.

"I can do that, yes. I'll send Galen down with something for you all."

"My hero."
Artemis said grumpily, sitting down on his cot, back facing the rest of them.

"Thank you, Forcystus."
Evelynn said as Force ascended the stairs.

He closed the door firmly behind him and looked at Galen, who was already staring at him.

"Sounds like it went well."
He said with a smile.

"They're going to be executed."
Force replied, his face hidden in the heavy shadows cast by the overhead lamp.

Galen narrowed his eyes, "What? Executed? When?"

"They said tomorrow morning."

"The Colonel!"
Galen said, leaping to his feet, the chair clattering to the ground in his haste.

Forcystus placed a hand on his shoulder, dropping the ring of keys into Galen's hand. "I'll speak with him. Go get them some food from the mess. They're hungry. Especially the big one."

"G-got it."
Galen said, eying his friend. Force was usually pretty serious, but he had never seen him like this.

Forcystus wandered off down the hallway in a daze. His mind was racing. What was going on in this place? In one day his entire world had been turned on its ear. He wasn't watching where he was going and ran straight into a rather large man.

He blinked and looked up, "S-sorry about tha-" His eyes widened, "Colonel Brylant!"

The Colonel looked down at his soldier curiously, "Are you alright, Heimdall?"

Forcystus explained the situation to the Colonel, talking quickly and moving his hands. When he finished, the Colonel looked at him straight on, his fingertips running over his slightly fuzzy upper lip.

"Heimdall. Get some rest. That's an order. Where's Austard?"

"He's guarding the Division overnight. Took over for Clarant, sir."

"I'll handle this, Heimdall. Don't worry about it. Go to your room and get some shut eye. You had a long day."
Brylant said warmly, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. He nodded slowly.

He watched the Colonel leave behind him down the hallway. He turned and headed to his room that he shared with Galen. He laid his hand on the doorknob and turned it gingerly, the door creaking open. He entered and flipped on a light, noticing that Galen hadn't tidied up the way he promised he would that morning. He smiled to himself, thinking about how predictable his friend was.

He wandered over to his bed, taking his armor off slowly and placing it gently in his closet. He pulled a white shirt on over his rather wide frame and ruffled his silver hair, trying to push creeping thoughts out of his mind. He sat down on his bed and sighed heavily, willing himself to shut the light and try to sleep. The night air whispered through the open window, causing the curtains to flutter softly.

He shut the window, feeling the chill over his newly uncovered skin. He switched the light off and crawled into bed, pulling the sheets over his body. He wondered what Brylant would do about the situation in the morning. If he was a praying man, he would be praying that everything would work out. His soft jade eyes finally fluttered shut.


His eyes shot open. Against the shimmering moonlight a blade of steel could be seen for just a moment before it plummeted to Forcystus' chest.

* * * * *

"Austad!" A familiar voice called out. Galen peered over amidst the boxes of food he was carrying towards the dungeon door.

"Oh! Colonel Brylant!"
He said in surprise, nearly dropping them all.

"I trust Heimdall told you of the happenings tomorrow morning."
He spoke in a hushed tone as he approached the soldier.

"Yes sir. He did."
Galen nodded.

"I want you two to stop it."
Brylant said, his eyes focused on Galen's.

"I'm... not sure..."

"Galen Austad. I could get in a lot of trouble for repeating myself beyond this last time. Stop the execution."

Galen looked at his Colonel, "Sir, I-"

"Don't argue with me, Austad. I won't have a debate with you."

"You weren't going to get one. I was going to anyway."
Galen said, determination in his eyes.

"You didn't tell Heimdall?"
Brylant wondered.

"I was. Eventually. Good to know you have my back, sir."

Brylant looked at Galen for a while. He gave a silent, respectful, nod. "You were a good soldier, Austad."

"Thank you, Colonel."

"Call me Taziel."
He said with a smile.

"Nah, that's too weird. I gotta deliver this stuff."
Galen said, feeling a bit awkward.

"Carry on. Good luck, Galen."
Brylant said, turning and walking down the hallway whence he came.

Galen juggled the keys and pulled open the heavy doorway, taking care not to slip. He entered the cell room and put down the individual boxes of food for the inmates.

The large man called out, his arms dangling between the bars somehow.

"So, your name is Galen?"
Dion asked, reaching out and taking his food when it was handed to him.

Galen nodded, "Galen Austad. Crystalline Hound."

"Your friend is weird."
The boy in blue said.

"Force is a good guy, really. Too good, if you ask me."
Galen said, sliding the food to him.

"So... what are all of your names?"
He asked, finishing up giving each their own personal tray.

"What's it to you?"
An unpleasant boy asked.

"Will you lighten up, Hisoka?"
Dion groaned, "he's a good guy."

"I... wouldn't say that. I'm just..."
Galen said, looking around shyly.

"My name is Breanna."
The girl caged in with the beast said softly.

"This is Lexaeus, and Dion, and that's Hisoka and Viktor. Stylix, Evelynn, and Artemis. Also there's that other boy. He isn't one of us. Dariosal I believe was his name."

"Yep! Dariosal, Master Cartographer and soon to be executed victim of a crime he didn't commit!"
The boy said, picking at the beans on his plate with a fork.

"Ah, I wouldn't worry about that."
Galen said. He realized he shouldn't have said anything.

Artemis turned around slowly, "What's that?"

Galen looked innocent, "Huh? What? What's what?"

"What you just said. Wouldn't worry about that."

"I don't recall saying such a thing."
Galen lied, taking a quick look back at the stairwell.

"You're letting the useless mapmaker get off easy while the rest of us get sent to our untimely demises?"
Artemis said, narrowing his cool blue eyes.

"I liked you better when you were unconscious."
Galen groaned.

Hisoka pressed himself to the bars of his cell, "Just so you know, if I ever get out of here, I'm taking all of you down for this."

"Yeah, you do that."
Galen sighed as he turned and left, leaving the Division to their last meals.

"The Hounds are very odd."
Viktor said after a while. The rest of the group nodded in agreement.

Galen slammed the door shut and picked up the chair from the ground, placing it back on its legs. He heard a bit more chatter drift up the stairwell but eventually it was quiet. He sighed and sat there, his and pressed to his chin, deep in thought.

* * * * *

The sharp blade fell and dug itself deeply into Forcystus' mattress. Luckily he had reacted the right way, rolling to the side to evade the life ending blow. He fell off the bed as his assailant ripped the sword from the mattress, feathers flying through the air, silhouetted by the shimmering moon outside his window.

In a flash he was atop the bed and swung the blade at Force's neck. He fell backwards into a wall. He kicked the man in the stomach, sending them crashing off of the bed. Force tore open the closet and drew his spear just as the blade swung at him again.

In an instant a vicious wind current swept around his body, cushioning the blow of the sword and saving his flesh from its sharp bite. He was knocked off balance, giving Force the time to slam his shoulder into the darkly clad man's chest. A cry of pain sent the man stumbling backwards, but his sword was up and ready for another strike. Forcystus flicked his spear at the man, its incredible reach causing him to have to jump backwards to avoid spilling his entrails on the brand new carpet of the room.

They were at a brief standstill, "Who are you!?" Force demanded, breathing heavily.

"Simply a shadow."
The gruff voice replied, inching closer to Force. He swung his blade, Force deflected it neatly and sidestepped away, keeping his distance.

"Glory sent you, didn't he?"

"As if I'd tell you."
A throaty chuckle shot back.

He swung again, Forcystus dodged the strike barely, seeing a second come quickly. He held up his lance and parried the sword with the tip of his spear. In an instant he whirled it around and slammed it through the chest of his assailant. He stopped, dead in his tracks. A black substance spurt from his covered mouth and dribbled down his chin. His eyes leveled with Force's again.

"Not... quite."
He rose his blade once more. Force tugged on the spear, but it was lodged firmly in the man. The sharp blade fell, aimed at Forcystus' neck. There was no time to dodge. With a small cry a blast of wind magick erupted from the end of his spear, catching the body of the man and slamming him heavily into the wall. It crumpled on impact, sending shards of sharp wood through the man's chest. The sword clattered to the ground, the assassin dead.

Forcystus slumped to the ground breathing heavily. Hark Glory had no doubt attempted to kill him. His spear fell to the ground with a thud, his hands wrapping around his head. The military had betrayed him.

* * * * *

Galen was pacing around the wide open area, unsure of what to do with himself. He was bored. Bored of standing. Bored of waiting. Bored of guarding. He wanted tomorrow to come already. He was ready to leave the military behind once and for all.

He heard the faint sound of footsteps behind him. He turned to see a blade aimed at his chest rip towards him. Instinctually he pointed his finger at the blade and fired a shot of Aero at it, catching it and disarming his black clad opponent. The man watched his sword tumble end over end through the air and clatter to the ground several feet behind him.

"The hell?"
He wondered.

Galen ripped his sword from the sheath. "Who the hell are you?"

"I don't make a habit of speaking to dead men."
His adversary replied with a wave of his hand.

"I suppose I should do the same."
Galen said with a grimace.

He leaped forward and slashed at the man diagonally from shoulder to hip, but with an agile handspring the man remained in one piece. He gathered his blade from the ground and rushed back at Galen.

A clash of metal indicated Galen successfully parried the blow. Another strike was met with a parry. Their strengths were nearly equal, but Galen felt a bit overpowered with the third strike, which he just managed to get the blade of his own sword on. He felt a boot strike him in the gut, sending his back a step.

The man rushed forward and sent a stab forward which Galen slid to the side to evade. He countered with a cut across the man's shoulder, but the other was too quick, slipping out of the way of danger just in the nick of time. He ducked down and swept Galen's legs from under him, causing him to fall on his back.

He watched as the man struck down with his sword, but Galen rolled to the side and got to his feet in a fluid motion, taking a step away from the man. He rose from the downward stab and looked to Galen, running forward once more.

Galen held up his hand and slammed the man in the chest with an invisible shot of Aero. He coughed loudly, unable to catch his breath. Galen fired another shot in the stomach, causing him to double over. He grunted and stood up, finding himself looking into Galen's cold green eyes.

With a sickening sound Galen slid the sword from the man's gut as he fell to his knees. Galen watched him crumple to the ground, dead. He sheathed his blade quickly and shook his head. Force warned him about this. He wished he had taken him more seriously. He gathered up his assassin and headed back to his room with him quietly.

He opened the door to find Force sitting there on his bed while there was a man embedded in the wall. Galen tossed the body onto the floor and shook his head.

"I should have listened to you."

"I'm just glad you're alright."
Force said with a nod.

Galen started, unbuckling his armor for the final time.

"I know."
Force said quietly, his voice far away.

Galen nodded. There need not be anything else said between the two. They both understood well what lie in wait for them when the morning came. Galen sat down and sighed heavily, feeling the weight on his shoulders.

"I thought that this was my mission. My destiny."
He started, talking at, and not to, Forcystus.

"We're in this together, Force. Always have been."

"It's good to know you have my back, Galen. I'm glad we're friends."

"Likewise, buddy. Come hell or high water, we'll make it through somehow."
Galen replied with a nod.

They sat in silence for a long time. The gravity of the situation hung in the air, nearly palpable. This would be the last night they would be members of the Crystalline Hounds. They both took a long while to relish their last tastes of the lives they had lived up until now.

"So... you got a plan?" Force asked after a while.

Galen looked up and cracked his signature smile, "I always have a plan."

Edited by Valor, 16 October 2010 - 12:58 PM.


#15 Secret Igshar

Secret Igshar

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Posted 16 October 2010 - 01:28 AM

Chapter XV
My Hero

Dawn broke, unbeknownst to the young warriors sleeping as peacefully as they could muster down in the dank, dark underground dungeon of Lotus Kingdom's Castle. Only upon the resounding voice of Colonel Taziel Brylant's voice did the group rouse from their slumber.

He shouted, "Let's hurry it up. It's time to go."

The Valiant Fighting Division groggily opened their eyes, slowly rising from their hammocks as their execution drew nearer. Evelynn rubbed her neck and shuddered, wondering absently what it would feel like to have her neck snapped before she slowly suffocated to death... It wouldn't be long now before she found out.

Artemis stared daggers at the mapmaker and wondered aloud, "Should I kill him myself before we get there...?" He was still peeved that the Hound had chosen to save only the throwaway number six and none of the others.

Dariosal heard him and shouted back, "Hey! What's that about!?"

Brylant snapped, "Shut it. This is a silent walk from here."

Artemis spat at the man, "What'll you do if I don't want to shut up? We're already going to die."

Hisoka spat, "Damned military dogs. All of you are so self-serving. We keep quiet so you come across as a great leader. Pfft." He folded his arms across his chest as the door to his cell was opened by a Hound who was clearly a fire user as well.

Each member of the Valiant Fighting Division had heavy metal cuffs bolted to their wrists, which were welded to a single, incredibly heavy chain that tied them all together. Artemis was first. Evelynn had the unpleasant position of directly between Lexaeus and Dariosal. Her hands were held up at her chest due to the tall statures on either side of her. It was rather uncomfortable. Luckily, she did not have the weight of the cuffs or chain pulling down on her arms. She silently thanked the tall men for their assistance in this matter.

The group was then ushered out by Colonel Brylant. Artemis was right up front, being the leader of the group. He grimaced and spat at the colonel, shouting, "How's it feel to usher us off to our deaths?"

Hisoka chided, "I bet he feels great, since this will definitely boost his standing in the military."

Dion added, "Hey, you pulling the lever?"

Breanna warned, "Guys, do you really think he's that heartless...?"

Dion looked over his shoulder to the girl right behind him, Breanna, and laughed, "He's a high ranking military official, Breanna, what do you think?"

Lexaeus corrected, "He's a Colonel, Dion. Look at the stripes on his arm."

Brylant looked back to the tall man and raised a brow. He shook his head and returned his gaze forward as two of the Hounds pushed open the doors leading out to the courtyard.

Commoners had flooded the courtyard, coming from all of the outlying cities and townships in order to see such a high profile hanging of nine convicted treasonous soldiers. Before the group as they exited the castle stood the Gallows. Near twenty feet up in the air, crafted entirely of wood, Artemis wondered how they managed to build such a massive structure overnight.

Brylant leaned over to him and explained, "Impressive isn't it? They've had this thing assembled for years and have never gotten to use it. Ten spots up top for hanging in total."

Artemis chuckled, "Oh, so you'll be joining us as the tenth, then, I imagine."

Brylant's face grew serious as he leaned away from the boy and sighed heavily. The tenth space would be empty today, but Taziel would be up there with them, all right. By pulling that lever, it would be akin to him being that tenth victim. His body shuddered head to foot. He simply could not live with himself if he directly killed these nine promising youths. He shut his eyes and inhaled. He trusted Austad and Heimdall. They would stop this. He had to believe in them as they had always believed in him. Galen and Force would come through for him...

Lord Commander Hark Glory stood proudly atop the gallows with a sly grin pulled across his usually stern face.
He was adorned today with a royal red and gold velvet cape swaying behind his black-and-gold armor-clad form. He extended his left hand out before him as he announced, "Today is a day which will be remembered for all time as the day when the Lotus Kingdom stood up in united defense against the terrorist forces which wish to overthrow them! Soon you will see nine lowlife scum standing here before you, convicted of crimes too horrifying and gruesome to mention here before your virgin ears. Just know that although these ex-soldiers may seem quite young, they are naught more than treasonous dogs soon to be put down by their master." His grin widened as he finished, "Your Lord Commander, Hark Glory."

The crowd erupted in cheers. Not one percent of the crowd knew why these nine people would be killed outside of the word "treasonous" yet they all supported it blindly. Hark Glory relished the control he held over this country. Steward stood just behind Glory, taking long, deep breaths. Glory wheeled about on his heels and whispered to the Lieutenant, "Go, now. Ring the bells."

Steward shook his head, "You said after the execution, sir."

"Fine, fine," Glory relented. He would have commanded the man to go, but he was in a rare good mood today. Everything was going swimmingly. Not only would today be the day that everyone looked back on as the day Lord Commander Hark Glory stomped out the treasonous swine in the Kingdom, but it would also be the day that Lord Commander Hark Glory proved those blind seers wrong about their myths. Ha, he thought, messenger from the heavens. Ridiculous.

As the Valiant Fighting Division was lined up atop the hatches on the gallows, Hark Glory announced to the crowd, "And here they are now! Our nine treasonous dogs and their official executioner, Colonel Taziel Brylant!" The crowd booed at the sight of the Division. Lexaeus smiled on the inside, glad that he had been correct of Brylant's position in the military.

Tears began to stream down Breanna's face as this all became real. How could this happen to her, to them? They had not done a single thing wrong! They followed the truth and stopped needless genocide! Surely someone out there must be on their side...

Stylix kept a confident facade in the face of death, trusting that she would be rescued by her knight, Palan. After all, he told her yesterday that he thought of her like a little sister and that he'd do anything to protect her. She was confident of his sincerity.

Viktor remained silent with his eyes closed. His thoughts fell to Carbuncle as he prayed. He trusted that his destiny would be clearly laid before him. He trusted his life was not meaningless. He trusted that Carbuncle would show him the way.

Lexaeus stood valiantly in his position, ready to die a good soldier, at least in his own mind. While not a glorified way to go out, he never once betrayed his heart and for that he had no regrets.

Dariosal's eyes watered near thrice as much as Breanna's as he bawled, "I didn't even do anything! I'm not even a part of this group!" The Lord Commander shot him a piercing stare with his one good eye, shutting the boy up and turning him to quiet sobs as the noose was draped about his head.

Hisoka's fists were red hot the entire time, transferring much heat to his chains. This was absolutely ludicrous. They should have died soldiers on the battlefield, defying this fate. Why must they be forced to suffer such an indignity?

Dion danced around uneasily, wobbling back and forth, extremely uncomfortable with the itchy rope touching his neck. He groaned, "Urrrrrg... It's really itchy..." He shut his eyes and bit his lip, attempting to push the thoughts from his mind. In the back of his subconscious, he was glad his mind managed to keep itself occupied, ignoring the looming shadow of death that hovered just behind him.

Artemis waited patiently for the cuffs to be removed from his hands so that he could deal with this situation correctly.

Evelynn looked silently out over the crowd of anxious faces. Disgust boiled in her gut. She shook her head, unable to believe that these people would be happy to witness the deaths of nine people. She caught no glimpse of her parents, but her eyes caught a glint. A lance... She squinted and saw that it was Forcystus, standing near the front, facing the gallows with a determined stare upwards at the group. His eyes caught hers and they exchanged a friendly smile. This simple gesture rose her spirits. She did not see Galen anywhere, but seeing Force there made her confident that they might make it out of this.

The cuffs were removed from each of them and their hands were systematically tied behind their backs instead, by rope similar to their nooses. Dion grumbled at the itch then spreading to his wrists as well. Artemis groaned. His plan wouldn't work quite as well if his hands were tied behind his back. He spat at the important-looking man before him, not knowing who it was, "Hey, one-eye! What gives you the right to execute us when we did nothing wrong, huh?"

Hark Glory flinched when the urchin addressed him as "one-eye." Could this boy not even know who he was? He turned about and inquired just that.

Artemis scoffed, "I know who you are. You're some cheap military asshole who gets off on offing kids."

Glory's head snapped to one side involuntarily as he took two deliberate steps up to Artemis and grabbed him by the collar of his leather armor. His breath smelled of spoiled fish as he breathed, "Disrespect me one more time, boy. I dare you."

Artemis gagged, "Use some breath mints. Your breath makes me wanna puke, you sicko."

Glory released the boy and turned back to face his audience. He spread his arms to the sides and announced, "We have a slight change of plans, ladies and gentlemen! Before they are hung by the neck, this group of treasonous dogs shall witness their leader be skewered upon my own blade before their very eyes." The crowd seemed not to be too pleased with such a gruesome act upon stage and did not cheer. Hark Glory ignored their silence.

Glory raised the noose above Artemis' head and led him out to the edge of the platform. He shoved Artemis lightly, causing him to stumble back. His heel slipped off the edge and he began to fall back. Glory's long, bony fingers wrapped around the boy's armor and pulled him back to safety. He again spoke into the boy's face, "I will take great pleasure in this." He then announced loud enough for the crowd to hear, "Any last words, leader of the Voracious Frightened Dogs?"

Artemis looked behind him, noticing not a centimeter of space between the backs of his heels and the edge of the platform. He turned his gaze to the man and shouted loud enough for all to hear, "All I want to say is that you, sir, are the lamest pirate I've ever seen! Seriously, what kind of loserly pirate wears a monocle over his blind eye!?"

A vein popped in Glory's forehead as his entire face flushed red with rage. He stepped back from the boy and closed his hand around the hilt of his Spellblade. He drew it from its sheath and howled an indistinguishable utterance which portrayed only hate and rage as he plunged it through the boy's thin chest. The crowd averted their eyes in unison. Such a young child, impaled by their very own Lord Commander! So monstrous was such a deed that none could fathom the man would resort to this!

A noise rang out throughout the area. A noise that commanded the silence of everything going on around. The world seemed to screech to a halt. The brilliantly loud sound of metal on metal was a welcomed sound to all present save for the Commander himself. His face would contort in confusion and anger as his spellblade was parried and pushed well wide of its mark by the figure now standing before him.

A jet black hooded man appeared instantaneously in the way of the straight blow from the commander, his slender blade catching the spellblade beautifully and parried the blow with ease. Nearly a foot shorter than the Commander, the man stood to his tallest, black cloth swaying the morning breeze. A heavy mantle about his shoulders which included a long cape fluttering in the breeze, brilliantly golden on the inside and jet black on the outside. Knee high leather boots trimmed with gold adorned his feet and nearly touched the ends of the long black and gold robes over his chest, tied with a pair of leather belts that wrapped around his thin waist. The black hood covered most of the man's face, and he stood still, his blade held to the side following the parry of the Commander's strike.

Hark Glory's face went beet red as the cloaked figure addressed him directly, loudly,
"How dare you send these children to the gallows for a crime perpetrated by another. The one whose neck should be broken this day for treason." His voice came slowly as he commanded the attention of the crowd at his back.

His blade's tip flashed to the throat of the Commander, the warm feeling of blood trickling down his neck from the minor cut was all that Glory would feel. His voice rose steadily as he continued, "is you, Commander Hark Glory. Your crimes against the crown and against these people will not go unpunished. I stand for justice, and I do not stand alone."

Steward rushed off the instant the blades clashed, heading out to follow out his orders.

Artemis slid deftly to the side opposite the blades when the cloaked man drew his blade to the Lord Commander's throat. This was his chance. Artemis bolted towards the stairs leading down from the gallows, but inexplicably stopped just three steps down. He dropped his head and thought about what he was doing. He looked back over his shoulder and sighed. They would make good distractions. Safety in numbers, he reasoned in his head. He rushed back, dropping the brittle, frozen ropes from around his wrists as he approached the group. One by one he removed the nooses from his friends' necks. He untied Evelynn's hands, telling her to untie the rest. Once he had freed Stylix, Evelynn, Lexaeus, Viktor, Hisoka, and Dion, he turned to run. Evelynn rushed over to Breanna and freed her as well. The group then ran off together. Breanna was far too excited to be saved to remember to free Dariosal as well.

Dariosal's eyes widened as he screamed, "DON'T LEAVE ME HERE!" Just then, the trap door swung open from beneath his feet...

The cloaked man found himself engaged in a swordfight with the Lord Commander and found himself at a distinct disadvantage. The one-eyed man was vastly superior in swordplay and made it all too obvious by continuously parrying his blows with no effort exerted. The man found himself pushed back towards the edge of the Gallows and felt his foot slip from the edge. He looked over and noticed that the majority of the Division had freed themselves. He flashed the Lord Commander a grin and waved as he chimed, "I win this round." He fired a weak aero bullet into Hark's gut, barely staggering him before Galen Austad fell backwards off the edge of the gallows towards the cobblestone below.

Glory wheeled about and howled with rage. His eyes narrowed on the only remaining treasonous dog. He lunged at him, but the trap door beneath him swung open due to Brylant's intervention. The sword slash missed the boy, instead slicing the rope which never had a chance to pull taught.

Dariosal found himself plummeting toward the ground, waiting impatiently for the noose to pull taught and end it already. He shut his eyes the instant he began falling and did not open them again until he felt his feet lightly land on solid ground. He blinked as he stared into the face of Forcystus Heimdall, who shook the boy, shouting, "Are you okay!?"

Dariosal furiously nodded as Galen rushed up to him, hood drawn back from his head. He had landed easily thanks to his own wind element. He nodded, "I'll go make sure the others get out safe."

The Crystalline Hounds around the base of the gallows chose not to interfere with their two ex-comrades' efforts. Without command from their Colonel, they had no reason or want to fight old friends.

Izabel stepped aside as Artemis led his Valiant Division down from the gallows with no real direction in mind. She glared at Evelynn and whispered in her ear, "Keep your hands off my merch, or else." Evelynn raised an eyebrow to the girl, confused by her comment.

The crowd cheered for their escape. Artemis shook his head at the sheep-like minds of those poor, lost souls. Just as Artemis was about to command his own flock to head into the castle, the previously beautiful skies turned dark...

Glory's Spellblade caught Brylant's sneak attack with a sudden, loud clash of steel. Brylant gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes, "This ends now, Hark."

Glory's eyes widened as a twisted grin grew across his face and he shouted, "You think that you can defeat me, Taziel!? I'd love to see you try!" With a mighty heave, he slashed, sending Brylant sliding back along the gallows. Glory followed up with a series of quick, hard blows at Brylant, all of which were easily parried by the seasoned Colonel.

He laughed, "You're getting rusty!"

Dark gray storm clouds rolled in overhead as thunder was heard, though not a drop of rain splashed onto the cobblestone. The Hounds all drew their weapons, unsure what to expect.

Hark Glory slashed again and jumped back, looking to the sky alongside Brylant. He quickly assumed his guard before Brylant's next sneak attack ended him. Brylant shouted, "Don't get distracted or you'll end up dead!"

Glory narrowed his eye and spat, "The skies... You know what they bring."

Taziel scoffed, "I know, and I have twenty good men and women out there who can keep the commoners safe. Those creatures ain't a match for my boys."

Glory noticed Steward was gone and grinned, "I shall be the hero here today, Colonel."

Galen stopped short of the Division and turned his head when the skies grew dark. He looked towards the southern wall of the courtyard. His eyes widened and his jaw hung slightly open when hordes of Ripper Shados began pouring over the wall into the courtyard full of innocent people... Galen swallowed hard and spun his Mythril Sword around in his hand as he narrowed his eyes. He was no hero, but he sure as hell wasn't about to stand by and watch civilians be needlessly slaughtered.

#16 Valor



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Posted 16 October 2010 - 12:44 PM

Chapter XVI
Heroes Never Run

The clouds overhead grew ever darker as the Division finally reached the paved stone of the courtyard. Dariosal dropped to the ground and kissed it feverishly, thanking Carbuncle for sparing his meager life. Artemis watched him with an upturned lip, clearly disgusted.

Evelynn walked up to the black cloaked Galen and peered at him through his mess of brown matted hair, "So it was you after all." She said with a hesitant smile. He looked back at her and pulled the hood back over his face with a slight nod.

"What are those things!?"
Breanna shrieked, pointing to the opposite wall of the castle.

Several creatures clad in shadow stormed over the pearly walls into the courtyard amidst the screaming civilians. Beady red eyes brilliantly illuminated the horizon, and the faint light in the area glimmered off of their three razor sharp bony claws on either hand. Amidst their chest behind their bare rib cages pulsed an amber sac which radiated much light, presumably collected from their surroundings. Their statures resembled a human skeleton with no flesh on their bodies, or musculature for that matter. The difference was their slightly hunched posture and a very visible sharp beak for their mouths, giving them a disturbingly bird like look. It seemed as if the skeleton for a bird was walking around, tearing large gashes into any fleshy prey who happened across their path.

"Ripper Shados."
Forcystus said, stepping forward into the group. "Denizens of the darkness. Hidden beneath this castle."

The group looked to him and he shrugged, "I read about them. Never thought they would be real though, even after we saw them yesterday. Now there's no doubt."

Galen turned to the Division, "We push back the invasion. Defeat every last one of them or we die trying. Whoever is with me, there's no time to lose."

He spun on his heels, gripping his blade tightly. He gave a glance to Forcystus, who was clad in commoner clothing. Not very protective at all, but neither was Galen's outfit.

"Once more into the howling dark."
Forcystus said solemnly, not looking at Galen.

They were off without a moment of hesitation.

"We need to help. We owe them our lives."
Viktor said quickly, taking a few steps forward.

"Yeah, go punch those things to death. Let me know how that works out."
Artemis said shortly.

"The Poobah is right, we must arm ourselves if we're to be any use."
Lexaeus said, glancing around the square.

"Oi, I've got a Very Fortunate Discovery for you lot."
A voice said from behind. They turned to see Voltaire and Izabel standing there, both a bit annoyed by the look of things.

Izabel pushed the red cloth that guarded the underbelly of the gallows aside and pulled a large trunk from its hidden depths. Voltaire kicked it open recklessly. Within was a stash of weaponry that they had apparently hidden away. It shimmered gently, the metal of the weaponry clearly rare and expensive. Evelynn identified it as mythril.

Hisoka grabbed a blade hastily and quizzically looked to Voltaire, "You're helping us?"

"Not our idea."
izabel snapped, looking past them at the backs of Galen and Forcystus.

Breanna grabbed a long bow and a quiver of arrows. "Thank you both so much." She said with an elegant and polite bow.

Stylix snuck up and took a short sword from the trunk, looking around hesitantly. She didn't see Palan anywhere. It was a bit troubling.

Lexaeus plucked a sword and an axe from the trunk, tossing the latter to Viktor. He caught it clumsily and held it up. Lexaeus hitched the sword to his belt and slammed his fists together, "Ready to go!"

Evelynn picked up a relatively short three and a half foot spear and stared at Izabel, who watched her carefully. Such a strange woman...

Dion grabbed a pair of small daggers with sheathes and slid them into his boots. "Feels nice to be armed for a change."

Dariosal looked at the group and snatched a sword quickly, holding it up in the air, "Dariosal Giha reporting for duty! Virtuous Frightening Depiction! I request to join your ranks!"

"Shut up, Five."
Artemis snapped.

"Five!? Was that for me? Am I accepted!?"
Dariosal said excitedly, running up to Artemis, who met him with a cold stare.

"Valiant. Fighting. Division."
Artemis said, pushing past the tall boy and heading to the trunk.

"You're... going to fight too?"
Evelynn asked curiously.

"Those monsters are blocking the only exit. Need to get through them to get out of here with my life intact. I can't trust you bunch of idiots to handle something that important."
He explained, drawing a long wooden staff from the trunk and slamming it shut.

"You're wastin' time jawing."
Voltaire said, drawing his sword.

Izabel called out, drawing the attention of the rest of their group.

"Assist the Valiant Fighting Division and Heimdall!"
Izabel called out, thrusting her mythril sword above her head. The Hounds erupted in a quick "hoo-rah!" and rushed past the group towards the swarm of Shados.

"What about Galen?"
Breanna asked the girl.

Izabel's cheeks flushed for a moment, but she quickly regained her composure.

"What about him?"
She quipped. Breanna blinked a few times and retreated to her group.

"Any speeches, boss?"
Lexaeus asked, looking expectantly at the bored looking Artemis.

His eyes were planted on the creatures roaming at the other end of the courtyard and slowly advancing. He looked to each face in turn, slowly and deliberately. "We've been through a lot." He started. "No matter what, I expect each and every one of you to lay your life on the line to protect me. Don't let me down." He said.

The group exchanged looks and shrugged. It was the most inspiring thing he had ever told them. They rushed off into battle, Artemis staying behind. He looked to the ominous sky, deep in thought. A small icy polar bear popped up on his shoulder. He plucked it from its perch and looked at it in the palm of his hand. "What did we get ourselves into, Grigori?" The bear evaporated into steam and Artemis headed into battle as well, holding his staff tightly.

Galen was directing traffic as more of the beasts stormed over the wall, clutching and tearing at any people who dared to wander too close. Forcystus noticed the Division line up along side them, one after another they filed into place. Izabel and Voltaire appeared next to Galen.

"You still have it?"
Izabel asked Galen, glaring at him.

He pulled a small silver chain from beneath his black robe and showed it to her.

A genuine smile came across her face, but it vanished quickly.

"Let's do it!"
Voltaire said, his fists crackling with electricity.

The Shados noticed the group lined up before them and charged. Their maws opened, revealing spiny teeth. They unleashed a blood curdling roar as their claws gnashed and bodies drew closer.

Galen let out a war cry as their line charged the beasts, even Artemis charged forward after hanging back a step. The world seemed to slow. Their boots clattered against the stony ground, their weapons raised, determinations steeled, and minds sharply focused. No one in the group showed cowardice, not even for a moment.

The Ripper Shados grew nearer.

A gentle, melodic sound drifted over the battlefield, bringing the ruckus to a sudden halt. Evelynn slowed to a stop, looking up at the bell tower, "The bells... they.... they're ringing."

The continued to chime loudly in the standstill. The ominous clouds retreated into the corners of the sky and the bright sun shone forth onto the battlefield. The Division would shield their eyes from the brilliance. When they uncovered their eyes they would see nothing left of the Ripper Shados, all disintegrated into black dust and whisked away in the cool breeze.

The group stood in stunned silence, looking at each other. Voltaire began to chuckle quietly, a wide smile across his face. The laughter proved contagious, as soon the entire DIvision would be laughing, all exchanging smiles; save for Artemis, who continued to look at the sky.

Breanna wrapped her arms around Evelynn and hugged her, and Dariosal slammed his hand into Lexaeus' back, cringing and hopping around afterward due to the solidity of the man's musculature. Stylix and Viktor embraced as well while Galen and Forcystus clasped their hands with wide grins, Galen pulling the hood back from his relieved face.

"We did it."
Forcystus said with a sigh of relief.

Stylix shrieked in glee and rushed up to a man clad in green and threw her arms around him, her mask coming away from her face just a bit as she hugged him, "Oh! I knew you'd come, Palan! I knew it! I just knew it!"

Albert, who was standing next to him couldn't help but smile as well. Palan craned his neck over Stylix and looked to Albert, "I told you everything would be fine."

Albert nodded and flashed a thumbs up, "Well if that's everything I'm gonna go check on red."

Palan pried Stylix from his person for a moment, "Hey, Al... when you guys all head back, tell him that daddy's going to be a little bit late, alright?"

"Sure thing, pops. Don't take too long out here."
Albert said with a chuckle before running off.

* * * * *

Hark Glory and Colonel Brylant each took a step back from their duel upon the chiming of the bells. Glory lifted his chin and grinned at Brylant, "I am the hero. The bells were rung, the shadows dispersed." He said, spreading his arms wide, "the Lotus Kingdom is saved thanks to Lord Commander Hark Glory!"

Brylant narrowed his eyes, blood running down his face, "You've damned us all, you fool!" He said, pointing to the sky.

In the clear sky the stars were visible. The Host Constellation hung in the heavens, looking down on the small castle.

"You believe in those stories too, Taziel?"
Glory laughed loudly, "Remove your head from your ass and see things in reality! I am the saviour, having brought these people from the clutches of the shadows which seethed at our very gates. You, on the other hand have crossed swords with a legend! You attempted to take the life of the hero of the nation! I am a reasonable man. I will let your transgression pass, since today is a joyous day. The birth of the Hero of the Lotus Kingdom!"

Brylant dropped his spellblade to the ground, falling to one knee. His body was betraying him. His energy was nearly spent. He couldn't keep up with the much younger Hark Glory.

"I'm glad that your father is not around to bear witness to this day."
He spoke, his eyes fixated on the ground.

Hark's gaze settled on Brylant once more. He spat, "My father was a fool. He trusted too heavily in legends and myth. He didn't see the world for how it really is. He was blind!"

The earth gave a tremendous lurch, causing the embracing Division to sprawl across the ground. Galen caught Izabel, and the two exchanged worried looks before she pushed him off of her, sending them both to the ground.

Hark Glory stumbled a bit, looking around frantically, "What is this devilry?" He cried out, looking to Taziel. "You! You bastard! What did you do!?" He roared, pressing his spellblade to the fallen man's throat.

The center of the courtyard burst violently skyward, sending rubble and flames into the air. The rocks landed heavily, smashing more of the courtyard without much issue. The Division along with Galen, Force, Izabel, and Voltaire, scrambled to their feet and scattered from the center, heading back towards the gallows.

A massive hand rose from the large pit and slammed into the stone, shattering it once more. With an unearthly groan a large lumbering figure pulled itself from beneath the courtyard, lava spilling out of the wound within the earth. The beast was over twenty feet tall and covered in red hot lava which dripped from his person steadily.

Its skin was a rock colored shade of blueish gray, and aside from its two regular sized arms were two massive ones behind them tipping in sharp earth colored claws. A wild orange mane made up the body of the beast with a humanoid face covered in a brown decorative mask settled in what would be considered the chest of the massive beast. Instead of feet, the beast sported heavy looking hooves which dug into the fragile stone and somehow supported its girth. At the top of its form was a much larger face covered in a similar mask with large spiraled horns that resembled that of a ram.

He rose one hand and slammed the end of a large elaborate staff into the ground, sending tremors through the earth again that knocked everyone off of their feet.

Hark Glory stared in awe at the behemoth, his spellblade dropping from his hands. He stared, unblinking.

"What in Carbuncle's name have I done?"
He wondered, falling to his knees.

The demon unleashed a low, terrifying groan before speaking in dual tones in an octave so low that it seemed to rip through the bodies of the humes standing in its awe-inspiring presence, "Ohhhhh, it's good to be back!"

Galen stared at the beast, his jaw dropped. It felt like something out of a nightmare. He rose to his shaky legs, helping up the people around him. All were fixated on the being before them. He looked to the Valiant Fighting Division, who all instinctively looked back at him. He turned to Voltaire.

"Get her out of here. Keep her safe."
He instructed.

Izabel's eyes teared briefly, "Galen... no..." She started.

Galen turned to the Division, looking directly at Artemis, "You're the boss, right? Give us your orders."

Artemis stared back at Galen, "Orders? You must be joking. We should run. Get as far away from that thing as possible."

The Division looked between each other. It seemed logical.

The beast before them looked to its right, seeing a crowd of huddled civilians. No one seemed to be giving him the reaction he wished for.

"Have you no respect for the Avatar of Destruction? You have greeted Belias most coldly. You will warm up to me soon enough."
Belias said in his deep dual toned voice which sent chills down their spines.

His vacant, armor covered eyes seemed to scan the faces of each civilian. Suddenly a man burst into flames. He barely uttered a scream before dissolving into ash. The group panicked. Another burst into flames with a sickening sizzle. And another. Then another. One by one each of the people burst into flames and burned alive, turning to nothing but smoldering ash.

"Humes are such fragile creations."
Belias lamented, turning his attention to the gallows.

"Running seems like a valid strategy."
Breanna said, her hand to her mouth in horror.

Volatire grabbed Izabel by the wrist and lead her away, she fought back briefly, her eyes transfixed on the Avatar of Destruction before them.

Galen Austad took a step forward, throwing the back cowl from his person to the ground. He took a look backwards, "If you're going to run. Do it now, cowards."

Forcystus stepped up, "Heroes never run."

Galen pointed up at Belias, staring up at his massive frame, "You better enjoy yourself while you can, because I'm sending you back to hell, demon!"

The Valiant Fighting Division stared at Galen. He was either brave, or stupid. Artemis decided it was the latter.

Belias chuckled loudly, an eerie, deep laugh that put everyone on edge, even the Lord Commander.

"Surely, you jest, insignificant spec. I am from Lichon, like you. To call me a demon is to call yourself one as well."
He bellowed.

He gestured to the ash pile that once were humes, "You wish to defy me? The Avatar of Destruction, Harbinger of the End? Futile doesn't even scratch the surface."

He swung his staff to the side, leaving a trail of blisteringly hot flames in its wake that nearly singed Galen, "I am eternal! Death holds no sway over me. I have transcended it eons ago. Behold the scope of the power you so arrogantly belittle!"

The sky above would darker and turn a shade of crimson. A brilliant red glow appeared in the sky as only a glimmer, easily mistaken for a red star.

"Meteor. The signifier of the end of all things. When that fiery star falls, this Kingdom will be reduced but naught but a blackened stain upon this world. Now you know the depths of my power, and my duty is complete. Still you wish to defy your fate?"
Belias questioned the group.

Galen drew his sword. Forcystus ripped his lance from his sheath.

Behind them Evelynn readied her spear and took a brave step forward. Lexaeus slammed his fists together. Viktor stood beside Forcystus, holding his axe at the ready. Breanna, tears in her eyes, strung an arrow on her bow. Dariosal drew his blade with determination. Hisoka and Dion leaped forward, blades drawn and stood beside Galen. Wind roared around Stylix's body as she levitated a few feet in the air.

Artemis shook his head slowly, "Damn cow."

Taziel Brylant struggled to his feet, drawing his spellblade and pointing it at the gigas as well. Hark Glory stayed on the ground, staring into the stones, his body convulsing violently.

Belias slammed the end of his staff into the ground as a circle of flames roared around those who defied him. A few members of the hounds standing in the radius burned alive in an instant as the flames struck them.

"Still you will fight that which is beyond your comprehension. So be it. I shall grant you everlasting respite."
Belias said solemnly.

Edited by Valor, 16 October 2010 - 01:32 PM.


#17 Secret Igshar

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Posted 17 October 2010 - 11:41 PM

Chapter XVII
The Lotus Guardians

Before the group towered the beast which could best be described as terrifying. Everyone's limbs shook uncontrollably as they pondered how to fight the beast. It laughed at their immobility and loosed a wave of heat which washed over the group and forced them all to hunch over briefly, wheezing for a time...

Brylant stood strong against the wave of heat and slashed his sword in the direction of the group, "Let's..." His left knee gave way, forcing him to his hands and knees. The heat wave affected him much more than he let on. His Spellblade skittered across the ground as Hark Glory rose to his feet behind the disarmed Colonel.

Hark Glory then extended his own blade to the beast. With renewed courage, the man shouted, "I shall not allow this Kingdom to fall while I still stand."

Belias laughed with his guttural, dual voice, "You are the one who wished me summoned, Lord Commander."

"I thought you Myth and Legend! Had I known..."

Brylant spat, "We tried to warn you, you dense..." He struggled to his feet and grabbed his spellblade. He raised his blade and got ready to fight. He looked back to Glory and announced, "Together, this time!"

A smile crept across the Lord Commander's face, "Like old times."

"For the last time," Brylant acknowledged.

Hark Glory nodded, "Should this be the end, I am honored to die by your side, Taziel."

Brylant announced, "Stay back, kids! Let us handle this!" He charged the beast and ducked beneath its massive, swinging arm as Glory charged in behind and leaped atop the very same arm. He kept his balance as the arm swung back around and he ran up to the creature's back. Brylant drove his blade through the beast's left knee as Glory stabbed his blade down into the crest of its spine. The creature shook, throwing Glory down in front of him.

Brylant withdrew his blade and stepped back, slashing upwards at the beast, missing on purpose. A gash ran along the line his blade followed, spurting blood. The two jumped back and stood side-by-side for the first time in nearly ten years. Glory charged in, but Belias easily batted him aside with his large hand. He then slammed his staff's end into the ground, causing a pillar of stone to rocket up and slam into Glory's body as he fell. Hark Glory let out a cry of pain as his back was snapped by the strike.

Brylant hollered for his friend and charged in as well, recklessly. Galen warned, "No! Don't!" but his warning wasn't quick enough. Belias grabbed hold of Brylant in his large fist and lifted the man up into the air.

He cackled maniacally, "Pitiful Humes! No matter how hard you try, you cannot compete with a God!" A scream erupted from the beast's fist as flames burst from Brylant's flesh. The charred form of Brylant was tossed aside, through the ring of flame. Glory's pillar dissipated and he fell limply to the ground, unable to move.

Belias then simply addressed the group, "You cannot hope to overcome my might. You are mere Humes in the presence of a God. Bow before me and I might make your deaths quick and pleasant."

Forcystus' hand was clenched tightly around Galen's wrist as he struggled to avenge his colonel. Force commanded, "Calm down! Rush in there and you will suffer a similar fate! Think before you act, Galen!"

Galen relented and turned his head to face the gigantic beast, "I will never bow to an Avatar of Destruction." He narrowed his eyes and extended his arm to aim his blade at the beast, "I swear I will destroy you, beast, and avenge all those whom you have slain!"

"Then I dare you to try!" Belias bellowed with fierce vigor.

Galen suddenly burst into flames and incinerated into nothing. Force's mouth curled into a grin. The rest seemed horrified by this turn of events.

"Aeolus, guide my blade and let it ring true!"

Belias raised his head and shouted in disbelief, "What!? Impossible!"

Galen's sword glowed green as wind rushed around his blade in a chainsaw motion as he fell towards the beast.

Force shouted, "Quickly! Distract it!"

Dion rushed in and slid beneath the beast's larger right arm, slicing its skin as he passed by with both his daggers. Hisoka charged dead on and leaped, driving his blade into the beast's tough chest. Belias dropped his head and roared in anger. He swept his large, left arm across the field. Lexaeus pulled the others back and took up the lead, catching the beast's hand and holding it steady for a moment. Evelynn took the opportunity to hop up atop the arm and race up along it to get to the top of its head. She drove her lance down into its shoulder.

It howled in pain, throwing the frail girl from his back. His left arm tossed the large Lexaeus like a sack of meat into the air just as the beautiful sound of Galen's blade connecting with the beast's upper mask broke through. His blade glanced off the top of his head and slid down along the side of it, catching the notch between the head and his right-hand decoration. The chainsaw-esque blade tore through the stone decoration's thin connections, snapping the entire structure clean off of his head.

Lexaeus landed hard on the ground and was out of commission.

Belias roared in anger as Galen fell safely to the ground and landed flatly on his feet. He leaped backward with the last bit of Aeolus' Blessing he had left in him in order to get out of the beast's massive range.

Viktor's jaw dropped as he patted the man on the back and congratulated, "That was awesome. Now it's my turn." A grin crossed his face. He dropped his axe to the ground and dragged it through the cobblestones as he raced up to the creature and popped up a series of steps as he leaped at it when its roar ceased. He took the Mythril Axe in two hands and swung it downward with all his might. The blade connected hard with the beast's helmet, sending a resounding gong throughout the battlefield.

Breanna saw the beast attempt to close his hands on Viktor as he fell in front of it, so she countered with a hail of Mythril Arrows towards the beast's hands. The arrows dug nearly three inches into its skin, five in each arm. It groaned in anger and Forcystus took the opportunity to charge in.

He shouted for Viktor, calling him by referencing his axe. Viktor looked over his shoulder and quickly rose steps up to help Forcystus get footing for his leap. He flew up over the beast, anticipating his move. The hands closed around his body. He called up an Aero about him, knocking the creature's hands away. He fell down towards his back and readied for a burst of wind. His lance slammed into the same wound Evelynn had started. He shot a gust of wind from the tip of his lance into his wound, shattering the flesh off of the spot. Blood splattered everywhere as Force found himself pushed back slightly by the force of the spell. He jumped down behind the large Belias.

Artemis extended his hands before him and cracked his knuckles, sighing heavily. He looked to the other who had done nothing, Dariosal, and asked him, "So what can you do?"

Dariosal sighed, "I can shoot fireballs..."

Artemis groaned, "Maybe I spoke too soon, making you five." He glanced over to Breanna, who was littering the beast with arrows at every opportunity, hoping they would hinder him enough so the others could handle him better.

"Does that mean I'm out of the group...?" He frowned, "My membership was so short lived."

Stylix shouted at them and tore her mask from her face. Stylix' face was beautiful, smooth, and nearly perfect. She was the prettiest girl either had ever seen before. Dariosal's eyes widened and his jaw dropped as she snapped, "This is no time for chatter, you nincompoops! That thing is trying to KILL us!" She turned and bolted out towards the beast, her bun coming undone as she ran, revealing her long, elegant locks.

The beast swung its arm to attack her, but Palan Reynolds slid in-between her and the strike and sent a massive burst of wind to deflect the strike up over the both of them. He redirected by clenching his hand to a fist and slamming it down onto the girl. Palan tackled her out of the way. He pulled her up with him and commanded, "Stay back! I'll handle this!"

"I won't let you die for our sakes!" She pushed past him and ran at the beast. She flicked her wrist and sent a seemingly solid wind snake out from her hand. The teeth of the faux snake grabbed onto the beast's arm's fur and pulled her forward with breakneck speed. She wheeled about and extended her foot, delivering a powerful kick to Belias' face. He stumbled backward as she ran up his face. Palan sent a gust of wind that caused Belias to nearly tumble over backward. Dion and Hisoka took the opportunity to race in and slash at the creature's legs, rushing across to opposite sides as they did so, so that Dion was in front of it while Hisoka was behind.

Belias again shouted, "Cease your useless defiance, mortals!"

This attack was followed up by Artemis nodding to Dariosal. Artemis conjured a spike of ice and hurled it towards the creature. Dariosal shot a pair of fireballs in its wake. The icicle lodged itself in the creature's shoulder and was then pushed deeper by the two fireballs, though it melted quickly after the second ball hit due to the massive heat emanating from the creature.

A glint caught in Galen's eye. He pushed off from the ground, calling for a second blessing from Aeolus. He leaped from the ground and dove headlong into the beast, blade pointed forward. It lodged in the same wound formed by Artemis. Galen roared as the Gigas tripped and fell backward. Galen rode the beast to the ground before drawing his sword and leaping down off of him. Belias remained motionless.

Forcystus instinctively called upon Aeolus' Blessing and easily dodged out from beneath the falling Gigas. Galen followed along with him and the two made their way over to the rest of the group.

Hisoka glanced over and noticed Evelynn as the only one there behind the beast with him. He lit himself aflame and bolted for the girl, barely avoiding being crushed by the beast as he pushed her unconscious body out of the way with him. He righted himself and took a step back from the beast.

He voiced, "Is it... over?"

Their sustained assault seemed to have defeated Belias. Evelynn lay unconscious at Hisoka's feet. Lexaeus lay unconscious, if not dead, near the group at the front end. Viktor, Galen, and Forcystus felt severe fatigue from being in such close contact with the beast for an extended period. Breanna lowered her bow and wiped her brow as a smirk crossed her face. She jumped for joy, "We won!"

A throaty, dark cackle erupted from Belias as he pushed himself slowly up. The wounds began to heal rapidly as he rose back to his feet and raised his staff high above his head. He cackled, "You insignificant blips truly thought that you could best me? The Avatar of Destruction, the one who will end this world! I cannot be killed by mere mortals!" He slammed his staff into the ground, sending out a devastating wave of fire in all directions. Palan instinctively pushed the group behind him as he stood up at the front, raising a massive gust of wind to deflect the flame around the group. Hisoka shielded Evelynn from the flame. He called up his own heat shielding spell, hoping it would do enough to save him. He howled with pain as the flames seared his skin...

Palan turned his head from the flame as his shield of wind began to wane. A wisp of flame singed the side of his face. A burst of flame charred his entire right arm, burning off the right half of his cloak and burning the flesh beneath to black. He roared with pain but held fast in his position, holding off Belias' attack. This is it, he realized. This is my destiny. Why I'm here. These kids... The flames died down. Palan fell to his hands and knees and then crumpled in a heap on the ground, coughing and wheezing as his flesh oozed pus from the cracked and burning skin. Stylix rushed to his side, bawling.

Belias shouted, "Mortals cannot defeat a God! It is impossible!"

A small, weak voice echoed in from far above the battlefield, "Then maybe you should pick on somebody your own size!" The voice sounded childish and cute. Before the assembled survivors, a small wisp of green smoke rose from the ground and slowly materialized into a man. He stood near six-feet tall and wore a suit of diamond-rimmed pale green armor. A royal red cape flowed behind him with his bleach-blonde, long hair. The voice echoed from the man as he thanked the group, "I'm glad I was right."

Belias scoffed, "Another Mortal!?" Flames instantly erupted about the newcomer's form, but were dispelled immediately by a shining barrier of green light.

The man stepped forward and laughed, "Not quite, Belias." He assumed a powerful stance and extended his right hand before him. A pale green symbol appeared on the ground beneath the Gigas as a barrier of the same hue rose around him. The man raised his hand and apologized, "Belias, I'm sorry. Now is not the time to destroy the Mortals." He looked up and nodded, "Your purpose has been served. Thank you."

Belias hollered, "What!? It cannot be! I was told... You... NO! I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS!" He hollered, filling his green cage with flames so hot they were felt by the group outside his prison. The flames were contained within and spread not a centimeter without.

When the flames died down, the man explained, "Belias, do not fight it. Your day in the sun will come. That time just has yet to arrive!" With that, the green cylindrical barrier began to condense around Belias. The beast within seemed to shrink as the barrier closed until he was but a mere speck. An aura of green erupted from the spot where the beast vanished and the man sighed, dropping his hands on his hips.

Across the field, Hisoka slowly pushed himself to his feet. He had been able to completely shield Evelynn from the attack, but he wasn't so lucky. Had he not been affiliated with fire, he would definitely be dead. He rolled his shoulders and felt his skin crack. Blood oozed down his arms as he dropped back to his knees.

The man vanished in a puff of smoke and appeared beside the struggling savior. He loosed, "Lucifer, Hisoka. I knew I saw the spark in you. You had me doubting my choice there for a while!" Hisoka had no idea who the man was.

He placed his hand to Hisoka's head. A stream of green mist washed over his form. His burns healed rapidly, and Hisoka felt completely refreshed. Evelynn then came to and sat up beside Hisoka. She looked to him and asked, "Did we win?"

Hisoka blinked and pointed to the man, "He did."

Evelynn looked and raised an eyebrow. "Prince Jack Aureacus?"

Hisoka's eyes widened as he screamed, "What!?"

Jack rubbed the back of his head and laughed, "I have not been called by that name in over a hundred years..."

"Over a..." Hisoka then noticed that the man had no pupils. His eyes were pure white. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, making certain he was not seeing things.

Jack then motioned for them to follow, "Come, we haven't much time. Meteor will strike soon, and I assure you that you would not want to be standing here when it hits down."

Hisoka helped Evelynn up and the two followed after Jack as he made his way to the rest of the group.

He extended his arms to his sides as he looked over the group before him with a smile, "You all have easily exceeded my expectations."

Artemis demanded, "What the hell did you just do?"

"I sealed Belias away until such a time arises when he is once again needed."

Dion questioned, "Why would an Avatar of Destruction ever be needed?" He rolled his shoulder as he looked to the others.

Jack smiled and answered, "He keeps the balance of this world. Without him, there would be eternal chaos."

Lexaeus pushed himself up from his lying position and groaned, "Urg, I guess I held on a bit too long..." His eyes flicked to each member of his group and then to the pupil-less prince. Water started flowing from his eyes as he cried, "No! Are we all dead? I... No! It can't be!"

Jack laughed peacefully, "No, dear Lexaeus Legio. We are all fully alive. Please, my friends. We haven't much time. We must away to the Bell Tower as swiftly as we all might muster. I will speak more openly once my chosen have all assembled, as then I will know our time frame more correctly." Jack began to evaporate, but was halted by a screech.

Stylix shouted at him, "Wait! Palan! Can you..."

Jack rematerialized and walked up to Palan. He looked down at the man and explained, "I might be able to restore him, but he is not one of my chosen. I have no obligation or necessity to save this man."

"How can you be so cold!? He saved us all! He... He can't die..." She hugged him as tears streamed from her already bloodshot eyes as she sobbed heavily over his burnt and bleeding form.

A soft smile crossed his face. He extended his hand to Palan. His smile faded, "I apologize, lady Phyre. His time... He has already run out. I am unable to reverse the decisions of Lichon. I am truly sorry."

Stylix cried harder than she had before.

Jack squatted down beside the pair and placed his hand on the back of her head. He whispered, "I can take you to see him once more." Jack vanished and Stylix passed out there, clutching Palan's body.

Evelynn blinked, "W... What did he do!?"

Artemis shrugged his shoulders, "So the Bell Tower, right? Good luck, you guys. I think I'll head home now."

Hisoka cracked his neck and spat, "What? How can you leave, now, after what just happened?"

Artemis shrugged his shoulders, "Well, if that big fire thing is gonna come kill us all, I want to at least try and finish the book I was reading... I only got halfway. I gotta know how it ends, at least."

Dion groaned, "Are you serious? We need to get to the Bell Tower and fast."

Breanna brought logic to the situation, "Why? We don't know that man's motivations. He may strengthen Meteor and destroy the whole world instead of just this Kingdom!"

Viktor folded his arms across his chest and sighed, "We die if we stay here. We should at least see what he wants. There's way more of us than there is of him."

Galen spun his sword around in his hand and called over the squabbling, "Well, I'm headed to the Bell Tower."

Force nodded, "I'll be heading up with him. Stay here and argue with each other like you always do for very long and you'll all just be turned to soot."

Breanna shouted, "We can't just leave Stylix!"

Evelynn held Breanna back as she attempted to run to Stylix, "If we're trusting the Prince enough to listen to him, let's trust him with Stylix, too." She looked around to the group and swallowed hard. This wasn't the time to keep quiet. She had to speak up. "Look, no matter which way we spin it, Jack sealed Belias. We should at least give him the benefit of the doubt. He saved a lot of people already."

Hisoka nodded, "He healed my burns I got from guarding Evelynn during that last attack."

The group mumbled amongst itself for a short while before a greasy man jogged up to them, stopping Galen and Force as they attempted to separate from the group. He explained, "I've been waiting for you! We need to hurry it up! Meteor isn't going to wait for you. Let's go!"

Artemis made his way towards the South Gate, but was grabbed by Evelynn and dragged along by his cloak behind the group as they headed to follow Steward to the castle. Evelynn whispered to Hisoka, "Thank you."

"For what?"

She smiled at him, "For saving my life, of course."

#18 Valor



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Posted 19 October 2010 - 12:26 PM

Chapter XVIII
Until We Meet Again

Stylix's eyes eased open slowly, her head was pounding. She felt the presence of someone familiar and warm beside her. She glanced over and saw the smiling Prince, gesturing to something laid before the girl. She directed her attention there. Her chest tightened as she saw the form of Palan Reynolds walking towards her slowly. She tried to run to him, but her body wouldn't move.

"What is this?"
She wondered aloud, a voiceless question.

"This is a chance to say goodbye."
Jack replied quietly, his mouth never moving. His presence before her faded away into green aether.

"Palan... you're..."
Stylix said, looking at her dear friend.

"I'm gone, Stylix. The Prince has given me peace. I have returned."
Palan said with a smile, a single tear trickling down his face.

"Palan, your son... what about..."
She said slowly, unable to form the words.

"He's strong. He's a Reynolds after all. Things will be difficult, but Albert and his sister will take care of him I'm sure." He replied, his eyes avoiding the young girl's before him.

"Not exactly how I envisioned him growing up, to be sure, but... I protected this world for him. You need to play your part, Stylix. You need to trust in the Prince."

What she would consider her body would tingle slightly for some reason. She cried out, "No! Not like this. It isn't going to end like this! You aren't going to become just another page in history, another name without a face. You gave everything for the Lotus Kingdom, and me. I have to honor that memory."

"Stylix Phyre,"
Palan said, the gentle, reassuring smile still painted across his lips, "those things never mattered to me. I don't do things to be recognized and admired. I do them because they are right. I followed my heart, and it has lead me to the most wonderful of places."

"It lead you to an early grave and an orphaned child."
She shot back, unwilling to accept this.

"All of this needs to happen, my dear. Everything in my life was leading to that point against the Avatar of Destruction. If I had not stepped forth then you and your friends would be in my position. I played my role. I did what I needed to do. I have no regrets." The tall man replied calmly, soothingly.

"What is my role, then?"
Stylix queried, searching the lost man's eyes for answers.

"You will find it on your own. I believe in you. Your friends believe in you. Follow your heart; it cannot lead you astray."

Stylix would nod in her mind and feel sadness, "Goodbye, Palan."

"Goodbye sounds so final."
Palan said, putting a hand to his chin, "How about we leave it as... until we meet again."

Stylix would smile if she could. A genuine, happy smile amidst tears, "I like that very much."

The visage of Prince Jack Aureacus appeared before her, his white eyes looking straight at her, "We return."

* * * * *

Stylix's eyes eased open, looking into the crimson, foreboding sky. She sat up slowly, her hair draping into her unblemished face. She rubbed her wet cheeks slowly and gathered herself to her feet. She looked up to see Viktor standing before her, his face turned away. She noticed in his hand he held her mask, which she had tossed aside in the midst of conflict.

"Your face, Stylix."
Viktor said quietly.

"Why won't you look at me?"
She wondered, her chest feeling heavy with sorrow, "I lost one friend this day, and now another won't even look me in the eye?"

Viktor shook his head, "You wore a mask for a reason. I respect that reason, whatever it may be."

Stylix took the mask and tossed it to the ground, "I don't think I need it anymore, Viktor."

Slowly his head turned and his eyes rested upon Stylix's face for the first time. He managed a smile, "Are you alright?"

Stylix looked to where Palan had lay, now naught but green wispy remnants remained, "I will be."

"You should head to the Bell Tower with the others."
Viktor said, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb, "Steward is leading the way. If you hurry-"

She shook her head, "I'm not going with you. I'm sorry, Viktor."

Viktor's face was perplexed, his eyebrows raised slightly, "What do you mean?"

Stylix looked skyward to the Meteor hanging in the sky. "I'm joining the Elemental Knights in Palan's stead." She said confidently, her heart sure of itself.

Viktor's mind raced with things to say, but none he thought were appropriate given her resolve.

"Albert and Jenny are going to be looking after Palan's son. I want to be there too. I want to raise him and never let him or anyone forget the great man his father was and what he gave on this day so that you and I would have that chance to head to the Bell Tower." She said, not sure if she was making sense.

"So then... you're not coming?"
Evelynn asked from behind the girl.

Stylix turned to see Evelynn with Artemis in tow behind her. Breanna was there as well, tears welling in her eyes and her hands clasped before her mouth. The others were there as well, even Galen and Forcystus look a glance back, surprised to see the girl up and about.

"I've made my choice. I want to thank you all for so many wonderful experiences. We had a lot of fun, and I will cherish the time we spent together for the rest of my life." Stylix said, looking to each of their faces in turn.

Artemis sighed, "We only met yesterday." He was met with a hard elbow into his ribs by Evelynn.

"Regardless, boss, this was very precious time to me. Thanks to you all I learned what I think my purpose is. You should meet Jack at the Bell Tower. I need to find Albert." She said with a nod.

Artemis rubbed his head, "Yeah well... be sure you don't slow him down like you did to us." He griped.

Breanna lunged at her and threw her arms around her. Evelynn instinctively turned up a lip at the sight, but caught it and tried to not find it repulsive to hug someone so dirty. She slowly approached the two and daintily draped her arms over them as well.

Stylix laughed, "Wow, even Evelynn is going to miss me?"

"I never said that."
Evelynn replied, her cheeks flushed.

Artemis pulled Evelynn and Breanna off of Stylix and nodded to the girl. "If we're going, let's go so that I can get home sooner."

Lexaeus nodded, "Farewell, Stylix."

"Until we meet again!"
She said happily before shooting into the sky with an excited cry.

"What are you all waiting for! Jack is waiting!"
Steward called out, rushing over to the group.

They began to move, but Viktor remained. Lexaeus turned around, "Hey, you heard Steward. Let's move."

Viktor shook his head, "I can't go."

Artemis groaned and turned back around when the group stopped, "Oh come on..."

"Why aren't you coming, Viktor?"
Breanna asked curiously.

"This country needs people to put everything back together."
He said, looking at his wide, strong hands.

"I don't know what Jack intends to do at that tower, but we need people like me to help rebuild. This castle is all but destroyed and more places will need my services if the meteor falls. I love the Lotus Kingdom, it's been good to me, and now I need to return the favor. I'll see you guys when you get back."
He said, looking at them.

Lexaeus clasped his hand with Viktor's, looking him in the eye, "You are surely a man among boys." He said.

"Some of us are girls!"
Breanna protested.

"Take care of yourself, Viktor."
Hisoka said, slapping him on the shoulder.

"See you soon."
Dion said with a smile.

The group, without Viktor or Stylix, hurried after Steward. They walked past Galen and Forcystus, who assured them that they would catch up. The Valiant Fighting Division entered the Bell Tower.

Galen looked to Forcystus, "This is insane." He said.

"Never thought that we'd be faced with this problem when I woke up this morning."
Force replied, glancing skyward.

Galen felt a tug at his arm and turned to see Izabel standing there. He took hold of the chain around his neck and went to unfasten it.

Izabel shook her head, "You should keep it. You need the luck."

"What'll happen to the Hounds, I wonder."
Forcystus wondered, glancing to where Brylant had fallen.

"We'll be lost without a leader. Lord Commander and Colonel stricken down in one afternoon... it's a loss we may never recover from."
Izabel replied.

"Brylant is still alive."
A soothing voice said from behind them.

The trio turned to see the Prince standing behind them, his eyes skyward.

"He is?"
Galen asked, surprised.

"I don't lie, Galen Austad."
Jack replied, looking directly at Galen.

The three rushed off across the field, dodging shattered rocks and hardened magma until they reached the charred remains of Colonel Brylant. Much of his skin was blackened and cracked, his chest heaving slightly, his spellblade inches away from his outstretched hand. His hair was all but singed completely off.

Forcystus said quietly, dropping to his knees beside him.

"Heimdall. Austad. Clarant."
Brylant said weakly, his dry voice crackling slightly. Blood streamed from the corners of his mouth. His death was clearly inevitable.

"Sir, the Hounds. You need to-"
Galen started, struggling to look upon the once proud Colonel.

"Disband the Hounds."
Brylant said, his eyes half open.


"That's an order, Austad."
Brylant said firmly. Even on death's door he commanded respect.

Forcystus handed the Colonel his spellblade.

"Thank you, Heimdall."
He said, clutching it to his chest.

"I'm ready, Prince."
Brylant said, his eyes fixated on the sky. His body began to glow a gentle green.

Galen looked up to see the Prince standing over Brylant. "You served me most admirably, Taziel Brylant. You will be remembered as long as this world stands."

Brylant's body turned into green smoke and vanished, leaving his spellblade behind. Galen picked up the sword and stared at it. He handed it to Izabel. "This will be placed at the memorial site for Colonel Brylant - hero of the Lotus Kingdom."

Izabel accepted it and nodded her head.

"Are we really going to disband the Hounds?"
Forcystus asked the two, unable to come to terms with what was said.

"Shouldn't disobey orders."
Izabel said with a heavy heart.

Galen turned and walked away from the two.

"Where are you going?"
Forcystus asked, walking behind him.

"To the Bell Tower. Jack is waiting."

Izabel turned, "Jack is right-" she stopped mid sentence, as Jack had vanished again.

"He's fast."
Forcystus chuckled.

"Wait up a minute Austad."
Izabel asked, clutching the sword tightly.

Force and Galen looked at each other and Force headed to the Bell Tower ahead of Galen.

"What's up, Iz?"
Galen asked once they were alone.

"You're going to come back, right?"
She asked, her pretty eyes looking into his.

"Of course I will."
Galen said with a smile.

"Promise me."
She said, her eyes narrowed.

"I promise you that I'll come back."
Galen replied.

Izabel leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "Not like I care." She said with a small smile before turning and walking away.

Galen turned and headed to the bell tower, his fingertips grasping the chain around his neck.

* * * * *

Jack had one last stop to make before he could head to the Bell Tower and instruct his chosen for the final time. He appeared before a man left on the battlefield, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Hark Glory."
Jack said in his whimsical way; his blank eyes fixated on the broken man at his feet.

"You abandoned me."
Glory sputtered, unable to move. His monocle was shattered and laying beside his head.

"I did no such thing, Hark. I would never abandon my people."
Jack replied flatly.

"You told me not to ring the bell. You let all of this come to fruition. You never told me anything after that."

"Did I need to?"
Jack asked, his hands folded behind his back. "Did the great Lord Commander need me to think for him?"

"I made many mistakes, Prince Jack. This is what I deserve. Let me die."
Hark whimpered, his body paralyzed from his severed spine.

"Glory, Hark. Everything that came to pass was my intention. Had you rung the bells yesterday then Belias would have descended without any of my preparations in order. We would have been doomed. You followed through perfectly, testing my chosen and giving me the time I needed to finish what I needed done."

"I've failed the Lotus Kingdom."
Glory said, turning his head away.

"I thought I'd lost you there, when you chose to take the life of Grey. I spoke with him recently, and he is still quite upset about it. if not for that, I would consider you the perfect choice for this country's savior."

Hark Glory coughed violently, shouting to the heavens, "Without your guidance, I needed to think for myself. I rang the bells today to save countless lives. I did what I thought was right."

Jack stared down at him, "Murder is never the correct path, Hark."

Hary Glory shut his eyes. "Do what you feel is right, my liege."

Jack knelt beside him, pressing two fingers to his forehead, "This land will need a strong leader in the days to follow, Hark. You have betrayed my confidence, but I will give you this gift."

Hark cried out in pain as his spine reattached and strength returned to his body.

"With stipulations. Five years, Hark. Five years to show me that you are deserving of this second chance. Fail me again, and you will return to Aether. I would normally send you there now, but the people need a strong leader. Be that leader, Hark Glory."
Jack said before disappearing.

Hark Glory sat up slowly and gazed across the empty landscape. His comrade had fallen, obtained a warrior's death. He put his face in his hands and wept quietly, overcome with emotion.

* * * * *

"Too many stairs."
Artemis said as they continued to climb the stairwell behind Steward.

Hisoka and Dion were at the back of the pack walking in silence.

"Can't believe Viktor and Stylix left the group."
Dion said suddenly.

Hisoka looked over, "As if you never thought of it."

"I'm not denying it."
Dion replied, looking at the backs of the Division ahead of them.

They continued in silence for a while.

Suddenly arms draped around either of their necks and a smiling Dariosal appeared between them, "So you guys never welcomed me to the team. Valiant Fighting Division! Virtuous Friendly Dariosal! What do you think?"

"You're touching me."
Hisoka said, shooting him a look.

Dariosal's cheery demeanor was undeterred, "So we're gonna be ringing the bells, huh? I've heard them a long time but I've never actually seen them! Pretty exciting!"

"Bells were already rung, Dario."
Dion quipped.

"DarioSAL. That's my name! No nickname!"
He said quickly, giving Dion a playful shove.

"Who knows what we'll find."
A voice from behind rang out.

The three turned to see Forcystus and Galen behind them on the stairs.

"Jack will lead us to do what we gotta do to stop meteor. Don't worry so much."
Dariosal said.

"I trust him, of course."
Force replied, "I'm just wondering what will happen to the Lotus Kingdom."

"Only Jack knows for sure."
Galen replied, "We'll find out soon enough."

Edited by Valor, 19 October 2010 - 02:07 PM.

#19 Secret Igshar

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Posted 19 October 2010 - 10:19 PM

Chapter XIX
The End of an Era

Steward's hand closed around the knob which held the door atop the stairs shut and turned it. He pushed the door open and stepped inside, holding it open as the Valiant Fighting Division filed in, followed closely by Dariosal, Galen, and Forcystus. The room atop the stairs was a disheveled cylindrical room with several crates and chests strewn about haphazardly around the room. The only thing which seemed in order was the large, golden throne which sat at the far end of the room. Upon said throne's royal blue plush seating sat Prince Jack Aureacus of the Lotus Kingdom.

Steward approached the throne and dropped to one knee, addressing his Prince, "Your Majesty."

Prince Jack rose from his seat and smiled to the group before him. He placed his hands upon Steward's shoulders and dismissed him with a simple, "Thank you, Johnathan Steward. That will be all."

Steward rose to his feet and took two steps back before bowing deeply. "My liege," he recited before vacating the premises.

Jack then turned his attention to the rest of them. He noticed the lack of Stylix and Viktor and smiled, "I see two of my chosen have found paths outside of what I had originally thought to be their destinies." He looked over his shoulder briefly and returned his gaze to the group, "Now, allow me to explain myself."

Jack strode to one side of the room and sighed heavily, dropping his hands upon his hips. He began, "I've been ruling this country beneath Jack's father, Alizark, for centuries... This is the first time in that long history that my twin, Belias, has risen up and called upon Meteor."

Dariosal wondered why Jack had just referred to himself in the third person, but he did not have the time to voice his concerns before Galen pressed, "Your twin?"

Jack's gaze shot to the group as he nodded, "Yes. I thought you all would have figured it out by now. I am clearly not the man you refer to as Jack Aureacus. This is indeed his visage, but I assure you I am anything but the man." He cleared his throat, "Perhaps we should away to my private chambers to conclude this discussion... I will meet you up there. Simply take this ladder." He raised his right hand and a ladder dropped down from the ceiling. Jack then made his way over to the throne and sat down upon it. He smiled one last time before his eyes closed and his body fell limp. A green mist escaped his form and rose up through the ceiling.

Evelynn rushed to Jack's side and widened her eyes, "Jack!? Are you okay!?" She grabbed the man by his shoulders and shook him, though she received no response.

Artemis groaned, "How much longer is this going to take? I still have to finish reading the last Unfortunate Events..." He pushed past the others and made his way up the ladder, much to the shock and amazement of the others. Artemis!? Taking initiative!?

Dariosal hurried behind, shouting, "No! Don't go on without me!" He scurried up the ladder as well.

Hisoka and Dion went next, followed closely by the others.

Evelynn took a while to notice that everyone had left. Her eyes flicked back and forth before she rushed to the ladder and climbed up after everyone else.

The room above their previous one was decidedly more impressive. The floor was crafted of pure, perfectly smoothed Mythril. The walls of the room were painted the color of Mythril and had veins of what could only be described as crystal running all along them, radiating from the structure at the head of the room. A large, transparent crystalline structure towered before the group. Hovering within the largest segment of it was a small cat-like creature with a long tail. He had a brilliantly blue gem embedded in his forehead. His fur was green. Evelynn approached the Crystal and placed her hand upon its smooth surface. The eyes of the cat within the crystal snapped open and he then began floating and flying around within the Crystal, clearly overjoyed.

His childish voice flowed from all around them, "Yay! You all came!" He slowed down and stopped, hovering back in his initial position. His yellow pupils snapped back and forth between each of the assembled Humes as he explained, "As you now know, I am Carbuncle."

Dariosal let out a gasp. He was the only one legitimately surprised by the revelation. He exclaimed, "What!? So then! I don't get it."

Carbuncle cooed, "I fused my Aether with that of Jack as I had with his father before him, so that I could keep a closer eye on you Humes. Those accursed Bells above me are the cause of all of this. When they were created under Alizark's command, my intervention was required to save this Kingdom from destruction by my brother's hand."

Before Galen could ask again, Carbuncle continued, "Belias is not my brother in the Hume sense of the word... He is the Gigas of this Crystal, the Aether Crystal. I am its Aegis!"

Lexaeus attempted to make logic of the situation, "So being the Aegis makes you its protector, while Belias the Gigas is its destroyer?"

Carbuncle giggled, "Close, Lexaeus Legio! We are both its defenders. I protect from above through use of diplomacy, wit, and intellect. Belias, my brother, defends from below through use of force, might, and destruction. If something threatens the Crystal's power, I reason with it and attempt to peacefully resolve the situation."

"And then Belias would just summon Meteor and kill us all...?"
Breanna questioned.

"Yes and no, Breanna Shain. You see, Belias and I reached an accord when those accursed bells were forged. We disagreed in how the bells should be handled. I thought I could convince the Humes to stop using them while Belias thought we should just destroy all of the Humes and let the Crystal sleep in peace deep within the Lotus Forest. Being brothers, we came to an agreement. Using our powers together, we created what is known as the 'Host Constellation' up in the skies over this Kingdom. When the bells are rung, they vibrate my Crystal and enhance my powers, thus keeping back the beasts of the Dark, as you would call them. This excess power that I give off is lost to me and returns to Lichon's great Aether Vat. Using Belias and my own power, we diverted the lost power to the 'Host Constellation' so that the power would not be lost. With each ringing of the bells, the constellation grew brighter..."

Artemis tapped his foot, "Can I leave?"

"You may leave whenever you so wish, Artemis Aurum. I merely wish you all to be fully informed before you make your decision."

"What decision is that?"
Artemis demanded.

Carbuncle shut his eyes for a time before explaining, "Our accord relates to all of this. We agreed that there would come a time when the dispersion of the Crystal's energy could no longer be ignored. That time would be when the constellation was bright enough to be seen even during the day. When that time came, I would admit being wrong about making the Humes change their minds and I would allow Belias, my brother, to carry out his initial plan..."

Artemis grew flustered and shouted, "Why am I here right now, you little green cat? That Meteor is hurtling toward us and you don't seem worried in the least!"

Carbuncle's eyes flicked to Artemis as he relented, "I am not afraid. That Meteor will not injure myself or the Crystal. In fact, that Meteor is the amalgamation of all of the Crystal's dispersed Aether over the course of near three hundred years. I dare say it is impossible to stop it."

Lexaeus folded his arms before him and shook his head, "You mean to say the world is doomed to be destroyed?"

"This Kingdom will be wiped clean, for certain, though the world at large will be fine." Carbuncle sighed.

Galen stepped forward, "No, I won't let the Kingdom die."

Force agreed, "I'll do whatever it takes. I won't watch the Lotus Kingdom burn."

Breanna dropped to her knees, "But, guys, he said it's impossible."

Dion pulled Breanna to her feet and laughed, "Awh, come on, Bre. Together, we can achieve the impossible."

Hisoka mused, "There's no support for that claim."

Dariosal spoke up, "Yes there is! We're the first Lotus Kingdom citizens to survive an execution!"

The rest of the room fell silent, realizing that he had a damned good point. Evelynn swallowed hard and announced, "Just tell us what we need to do."

Carbuncle's eyes flicked between each of the heroes. He did a back flip within the Crystal and shouted, "I knew I picked the right guys!" His eyes then fell upon Dariosal, "Though I don't remember choosing you..."

Dariosal stepped forward proudly, but Artemis cut across him, "What do you want from us, cat?"

"As I said, the ringing of those Bells has lessened the Crystal's power. By extension, that lowers mine and Belias' power as well. At the peak of my power, I would be able to reflect the Meteor and save the Kingdom. Now, in my weakened state, I would barely be able to keep you all before me safe from the Meteor's inevitable crash... To save the people of this Kingdom, I require your aid."

Lexaeus raised a brow, "Our aid? How might we aid you? We stopped Belias and yet Meteor still falls."

Carbuncle relented, "I planned for all of this, dearest chosen. I accepted my defeat in the accord stricken between we brothers. You were my plan to have everything fall out well and good... In this way, I can destroy this terrible Kingdom while the populace survives."

"What good would that do? We'll just rebuild," Hisoka laughed.

"None who live today know how or why the Bells work. With Johnathan Steward's assistance in the matter, I am certain we can avoid their reconstruction. Without those horrific Bells, this Kingdom can live in peace without fear of Belias' rising."

Evelynn stepped back, "You mean to destroy the entire Kingdom...?"


"What of my parents and all those out in the cities and villages? Are you certain..."

Breanna cut across Evelynn with, "You're insane!"

Dariosal chuckled, "He's a god, five. He's clearly not insane."

Breanna narrowed her eyes at the boy, "Oh, don't you start now, too!"

Artemis corrected, "Eh, fireballs... You're one now. There is no five."

"One? Does that mean I'm the best!?"

Artemis laughed, "Sure." He then continued under his breath, "The best at being useless, maybe."

Carbuncle's echoed voice broke up the chit-chat, "We're short on time. I need your decisions now. In order to assist me, I will need to... assimilate you."

Galen shouted, "What!? Assimilate...?"

"Yes. You will be turned to Aether and absorbed into the Crystal essentially as additional power so that I might extend my Reflect Barriers out over all of the citizens of the Lotus Kingdom. With the vast Aether stores within each of you, my Chosen, I will be able to save everyone."

Galen was first to reply, "I just need to run downstairs and..."

Force gripped Galen's arm, "There doesn't seem to be enough time. You need to make a choice, Galen. Regardless of yours, I will assist Carbuncle."

Galen looked to his longtime best friend as Forcystus' body slowly evaporated into green, wispy vapor. The vapor was then sucked into the Crystal. Galen clenched his fists as his head pounded. He made a promise...

Artemis groaned, "I want to read my book."

Carbuncle laughed, "I'll introduce you to the author."

Artemis' eyes widened, "I'm in." Evelynn looked to Artemis just as his body began to fade into Aether. He suddenly shouted, "Wait! No! Howard! I..." And with that, Artemis was sucked into the Crystal.

Breanna swallowed hard and shut her eyes. When she had woken up yesterday, never in a million years would she have dreamed that she would ever even consider throwing away her own life so willingly. So many others depended upon her. Stylix' smiling face flashed through her mind and she snapped her eyes open. She nodded confidently, "I'll do it."

Breanna felt her body slowly get lighter and lighter until she felt nothing as her Aether was sucked into the Crystal.

Dariosal grimaced, "That doesn't look pleasant."

Carbuncle assured him, "Trust me, it doesn't hurt as bad as you think."

Thoughts ran through his head, but he couldn't make sense of any of them. This Kingdom was about to crash down around him and... He looked up. He realized that he would have to make new maps for the Kingdom if he stayed. With a giant grin, he punched his fist into the air, pointing his index finger up as he exclaimed, "I believe in you, Carbuncle, who believes in me!" Dariosal's form slowly disintegrated into green mist, starting with his extended hand.

Lexaeus inhaled deeply and exhaled, contemplating if this really was his best move. He could stay here and... do what, exactly? The military would be in shambles, and that's the only life he'd ever known. Without the Bells, the city would require more protection, maybe, but... Without the citizens, who would he be protecting? He nodded, his choice made.

With a resounding cry, Lexaeus loosed, "I must do all I can to protect the citizens of this great Kingdom. I will help." His large form dissipated to Aether a bit quicker than the ones before him, though he was gone in the same amount of time.

Hisoka and Dion exchanged looks. The two clasped hands and delivered a hearty handshake. Tears welled in Dion's eyes as he said, "I'm glad to have met you, Hisoka."

"And I, you, Dion."

Dion smiled, "You're the best friend I've ever had." He pulled Hisoka in and gave him a hug as he explained, "I've had a hard time trusting anyone, and you've given me that." He pushed back from him and nodded, "This is my purpose. This is my meaning. I'm supposed to help Carbuncle save this Kingdom."

Hisoka grinned to his short-lived buddy, "I'll see you in another life."

Dion nodded and smiled, "Same to you, brother." Dion announced, "Count me in."

Hisoka watched his newest best friend evaporate into Aether as he smiled. He struggled not to cry.

Evelynn poked his shoulder, asking, "What's wrong?"

Hisoka replied with a shrug, "I don't know if I can go through with this."

"What? Really? I always pictured you as being a lot tougher than that."

"You see... I made a promise a long time ago to myself. I lived by this family of Ice Mages, see, and the oldest sister... I never managed to melt her ice. I promised myself I would go back there and beat her one day. I..."

Galen's hand fell hard against Hisoka's back. He announced, "Buck up, Hisoka. She'll understand if you go through with this."

Hisoka's gaze fell to the floor as he shook his head, "I don't know..."

Carbuncle shattered his trance, "That girl came to see your execution, you know. She watched you from afar during your battle with Belias. I will personally ensure that she knows you are doing this for her. I'm sure she will find solace in that fact."

Hisoka nodded and looked to the green cat, "Thank you. I can go now." Hisoka's form dissipated to Aether as he shut his eyes, hoping absently that one day he would get that chance to melt her ice.

Evelynn turned to Galen and dropped her hands on her hips. She smiled, "So do you wanna go first or should I?"

Galen looked off to the side and said, "I don't know if I'm going."

She stared at him and sighed, "Where's that determination you had back on the gallows?" She seemed legitimately depressed by this development.

Galen rubbed the back of his head, "I uh..."

She shoved him lightly, "You're supposed to be tough. The whole Kingdom needs you and you're just gonna run away?"

"Where is this coming from so suddenly?" Galen asked, taking a step back.

Evelynn groaned and rubbed her temples. She calmed down and relented, "I just expected you Hounds to be a little more selfless." She wheeled about to face Carbuncle and nodded, "I'm with you."

Evelynn looked over her shoulder with an angry stare as she dissipated into Aether. Suddenly her anger left her and she felt peaceful as she floated into the Crystal to be joined with the others.

Galen fiddled with the chain that hung around his neck as his eyes wandered the room. They settled on Carbuncle. He shut his eyes and thought of all that had happened. Brylant, Glory, Palan... All of them had given their lives for this moment. Galen began to wonder if his Aether was needed or superfluous. It was as though Carbuncle read his mind.

"Galen Austad. Your Aether is the most important. You are the link that binds this myriad of heroes together. Around you, they all will gather to raise their swords as one, united against any threat. Without you, they will likely not work together to stop this threat."

Galen shook his head, "So I don't even have a choice in the matter, do I?"

"I did not say that, Galen Austad."

He looked away from the Crystal and shook his head. He looked back to Carbuncle and explained, "I really don't. I either help out or risk the deaths of everyone I care about. If anyone died because of my apathy, I would never forgive myself."

Galen shut his eyes and nodded. He snapped them open and shot, "Let's stop that Meteor."

Galen's body began to dissipate into Aether and he closed his eyes, extending his arms to the side, relishing the relief and peace brought to him. He felt himself sucked into the Crystal and suddenly heard a familiar voice, though he saw and felt nothing.

Evelynn's voice cracked, "You made it!"

~ Fin ~

#20 Valor



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Posted 20 October 2010 - 12:51 AM

Chapter XX

49th Day of 25th year under Aries

Hello everyone! How are you all doing? I miss you all so terribly much. It's been forty days since an incident many people are calling meteorfall. The Lotus Kingdom had been left in shambles from the destructive power Belias called on us all. No one has seen you guys in a very long time. Reports say that you are all dead somehow, but I find that hard to believe. Artemis would never die that easily! He's much too stubborn for that!

I've been writing these letters every week, but I never send them. No one would understand them... no one aside from Viktor I would suppose. He sends his regards as well, of course. He's been kept so very busy since the fall. He's actually pioneered a rather quickly growing construction business which is overseeing the Lotus Kingdom's renovation. Many buildings were destroyed, including the castle. Rubble as far as the eye can see in some areas. Some towers remained standing even with huge chunks of stone taken from them.

When meteor fell... I was so scared. Not for my life, but for all of you. I know Artemis said we were only together for a short time, but so what? Friendships can be forged in an instant and last a lifetime. A rainbow light shot across the sky as the glowing ball fell. This light protected the people of Lotus Kingdom, though the buildings as I said didn't fare nearly as well in some places. Not a single casualty was reported as a result of the fall of the meteor.

Are Galen and Forcystus with you? Their friends miss them very much as well. I see them all the time ever since I joined the Elemental Knights. They were hesitant at first, but Albert put in a good word for me. The Crystalline Hounds were immediately disbanded a few hours after meteor fell. Voltaire wasn't sure what to do with himself, nor did many of the other Hounds. They have taken up guard in rural areas where people gather, pitching in whenever they could. Voltaire was hired by Viktor to be an overseer of many construction sites.

There is a monument dedicated to Colonel Brylant which stands at the very center of the Lotus Kingdom. It was Viktor's first piece of business. His spellblade is lodged into the solid white marble stone which has a beautiful epitaph. "In Remembrance of the hero of Lotus Kingdom - Taziel Brylant. May his courage and sworn loyalty never be forgot." There's more! We have our own memorial as well. It wasn't commissioned, but Viktor and I both agreed that you all deserved it.

Everyone's name is on it too. Viktor came up with the inscription. He's so poetic at times. "May the world never forget the Valiant Fighting Division who gave their lives so that ours may continue. Truer heroes this world will never see." We've made the history books as well. We're thought of as legends. The children who conquered the Lord Commander and saved the Lotus Kingdom from sure destruction. It's a wonderful story, really.

Lord Commander Hark Glory is still alive and kicking, bringing this land back into order. The Ripper Shados haven't been sighted since the meteor had fallen, but their very threat keeps the people on edge. There are many people willing to fight and defend their kingdom, however, and the camaraderie is unprecedented, or so I have been told. I don't know what you all did, but it sure seems to have worked.

Where are you... I thought I would see you again. Viktor misses you all very much. He won't stop telling people about how proud he is to know you all. Even the newcomers to the group. Galen... Izabel misses you very much, though she won't say it. She's a bit upset that you haven't returned yet. You should come back soon, if you are able. I think she understands what I do, however, and you are all no longer with us.

The place I saw when I spoke with my dear friend Palan for the last time... perhaps that is what you have become. Perhaps you have returned the earth the way that Palan did and the way that eventually I, and Viktor, and even Hark Glory will. We will meet each other again. I thought that the Prince could help me find you, but he doesn't seem very helpful. He told me that he was acting as Carbuncle's vessel, and he remembers many of the events that transpired but... he has no idea what happened to you all or where Carbuncle has gone.

The world is being rebuilt. Soon it will seem like this was all just a bad dream. All of the people lost will eventually be forgotten in the folds of time. That sounds a bit dreary, doesn't it? Forget I said that. Happier things!

Artemis! Breanna! Don't worry about your chocobo. I'm taking very good care of them. Aiden is quite fond of Howard and demands to only be seated upon his regal back. He reminds me of Artemis sometimes, I must say. I have no idea if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Artemis would likely scowl at me for allowing anyone to ride upon Howard. I'm sorry, boss!

Dion, Hisoka, Lexaeus, Breanna, Evelynn, Artemis, Dariosal, and of course Galen and Forcystus... we made a wonderful team, didn't we? People called us the Lotus Guardians, and that's what is being taught in the text books at school. Of course they're omitting the parts where we were nearly hanged and had to be heroically rescued by our Hounds.

You were all my very best friends, and you taught me so many things. I hope that I am making you all proud. Not a day passes when I don't think of you all and remember the VFD. I wear a patch on my shoulder that sports our initials.

Artemis! You'll never guess who I saw the other day! Chilblain! He asked me how you all were and I explained the situation. Guess what he did? He laughed! I was so mad I wanted to punch him in his ugly, wart filled face! If Viktor hadn't have held me back I would have socked him!

We are all getting on without you. It's been so difficult at times, but every day I feel is a gift that you all have given me and I live every single day to its fullest as best as I can. I just know that we'll see each other again, be it in this life or the next.

Thank you.

On behalf of the entire Lotus Kingdom, we just have to thank you for sharing your lives and your ability to aid us in our most dire of times. We are living in a new age of peace and prosperity thanks in large part to all of you. I hope we will meet again. I love you all.

Proud Valiant Fighting Division Member,

Stylix Phyre

= End of Part 1 =