Author's Note:

Voila, Chapter 24 of Demi-human Students of Beacon is here. Slightly shorter than the previous two, but no less interesting I hope.

I hope you enjoy this one.

Clash with Lightning

"You utter fool," scowled Abaddon. The man on the other side of the screen cowering at the words.

"Your Excellency, please, I-"

"Silence." Abaddon snapped at the man, he remained even-toned despite his inner rage, yet the utterance of that one word alone was enough to frighten him. "Say nothing more unless prompted to, or else your troubles shall further compound."

That silenced him, but wrath still consumed Abaddon. For the past few days events had not gone well for him and his allies, and learning one of his own subordinates had failed in the task he personally assigned them darkened it even more. Over fifty brothers and sisters of the New Moon Cult had been sent on this mission, yet even with such numbers they had failed.

The first mistake the fool made was to give his target a day's grace period instead of simply storming in and taking their objective by force. If they could not retrieve the objective, ensuring its destruction was the next best thing. They had the manpower to do either, but they opted instead for what had been done and failed their task in spectacular fashion.

Abaddon should have known something such as this might happen. The man he was speaking to, the mission leader, was weak leader. A member of the Vale cell that had bought his rank in the Cult instead of earned it. He hoped they could handle a low-risk mission like this and prove they possessed an ounce of worth, yet Abaddon had been sorely proven wrong. Well, once all this was over, he would ensure they never held any meaningful authority ever again.

"It was the most optimal time to strike and retrieve Steropes' journal. The village's Huntsman was away and the chaos in Vale was a perfect distraction. Instead, you did this." Abaddon poured as much of his disappointment into his voice as he finished, letting the mission leader grasp an idea of how much he had failed.

"Your Excellency, please, it was by the Shăndiàn Unit's suggestion that we do this. I argued against such a course of action, but by then they already sent one of their number to alert the village of our presence and give them demands." The mission leader pleaded his case once more, pointing a finger behind him to the individual standing in the background.

So, it was the Shăndiàn Unit that was behind this mission's catastrophic failure?

The Shăndiàn Unit possessed great potential, and if that potential was nurtured correctly, they could become paragons of the New Moon Cult's ideals. Yet, it was squandered by the Unit itself through their numerous insubordinate actions during missions.

Abaddon selected them to join this mission to Hearth with the hope that it would teach them valuable lessons on listening to their superiors. However, it appears he had overestimated the will of the chosen mission leader, as they allowed the Shăndiàn Unit to do as they wished. Now he could just be lying to save his own skin, the mission leader, but Abaddon would not be surprised if his excuse was the truth.

Shifting his eyes onto the person stood in the background behind the mission leader, Abaddon fixed his wrathful gaze upon them. Unlike the mission leader, they did not shrink or show fear. Instead they stood tall and matched his gaze with their own.

"What say you on this matter? Is it true you alerted the village and gave them a day to prepare themselves?" Abaddon questioned them as he leaned back onto his chair and rested his hands on its arms.

"I did," the Shăndiàn Leader replied without hesitation.

"Explain to me why you endangered not only the lives of your brothers and sisters, but also the Cult's secrecy."

"It was out of a wish to prevent unnecessary losses of lives that we approached the villagers," the Shăndiàn Leader replied as quickly as she had done earlier. "Attacking the village made little sense to us, so we demanded they leave the journal and several other items outside the village for us to retrieve the next day. We went under the guise of bandits, and ordered they give us a few more items to aid our ruse."

Yes, it seems the Shăndiàn Unit had learnt little since he last met with them. One of the biggest problems with the Unit was how they all obeyed their leader over the commands of others, Abaddon being one of the few they listened to. Even so they had the audacity to openly display reluctance when obeying any orders issued by him.

If their leader thought one course of action was better than another, they would unhesitatingly follow them down it without a word of complaint. Such loyalty was commendable, yet highly troublesome when it caused problems such as this.

"Did it not occur to you and the rest of the Shăndiàn Unit that the villagers would rather fight than surrender their goods? Or that the grant of a single day to prepare themselves would give their Huntsman time to return?" Abaddon said to the Shăndiàn Leader, pointing out a couple of the major flaws in their choices.

The Shăndiàn Leader did not answer him, but turned their eyes away from him and looked to another part of the room they were inside. His words found purchase on their mind, and he hoped they stuck. There was only so much of this insubordination he could handle, and he would not tolerate it further if it constantly led to complications like this.

"Your Excellency-" the mission leader began, but was forced to be quiet by a gesture of Abaddon's hand. He had begun to calm down from the initial rage he experienced when first hearing of their failure, and keeping that snivelling fool silent was of great help.

He now had to think of what was to be done next, and possessing a cool head was required for him to make the right decision.

The inability to retrieve Steropes' journal was disappointing, and the Cult would probably not get a better chance to claim it until his allies in Vale enacted their own plans. No great secrets that might cripple the New Moon Cult were held in the journal, Steropes was not high enough to know the Cult's most sacred mysteries, but it still posed a threat to the Cult if retrieved by the minions of the vile Heretic's Order. Abaddon's own identity would not be exposed, so that was one concern he need not worry about.

Abaddon spent a minute to silently contemplate on this event and needed to be done next. Finally, having come to a decision, Abaddon sat up on his chair to reach his full height and spoke again to those on the other side of the Scroll.

"Hear my decree. You are to evacuate from your position immediately. Operations here will be too dangerous to enact for the heathen Order will be keeping an eye on this area and that of Mountain Glenn. Go, see my will done."

Without delay the mission leader saluted Abaddon and prepared to disconnect the connection. In the background, he saw a flash of dissent cross the Shăndiàn Leader's eyes before the screen turned blank. Leaving Abaddon to look upon the reflection of the white clay mask covering his mask.

The call over, Abaddon removed his mask and took off the heavy black robe embroidered with silver, freeing the great snow-white wings sprouting from his back. This panoply was uncomfortable to wear, yet udonning it was ultimately necessary to conceal who he was. Off to the side, a red-skinned Imp wearing a wide belt decorated several bells strode up to Abaddon and bowed low to him.

"Your Excellency, your car waits for you outside." The Imp informed Abaddon as he hid away his New Moon garments.

Pushing the matter at Hearth away from his mind for the time being, Abaddon fixed his appearance and mentally prepared himself for what was to come. He was not yet finished with Vale, a few more finishing touches and his people would be ready for the Vytal Festival. Abaddon could not wait for the day all this preparation bore fruit, and while he would not be here to see it personally, the Goddess willed it so and he lived for her.

Soon, soon all of this subterfuge and secrecy would be proven to be worth it.

Night had truly fallen, yet both Faen and Yasmin continued to chase after Odori's trail.

No foe assailed the two as they made their way through the woods. Neither beast, Grimm, nor Man seeming to have the will to impede them if they were spotted. So the two pressed ever onwards after the trail, constantly ready for when their luck turned and a foe appeared to challenge them.

Little discussion happened between the two as they cautiously walked through the woods. Both were more focused on the task at hand than making idle chit-chat, and when the two did speak it was only of anything pertaining to their current endeavour. The Elf was quite fine with this silence, for not only did it mean they could hear an approaching foe more easily, he also felt more comfortable and focused this way.

Faen did feel an urge to ask about what happened in Vale, maybe Yasmin had been there to help contain the breach, but ultimately put the thought aside for the time being. What mattered most right now was finding Odori and bringing her back to the others safe and sound. They would have time to discuss anything they wished as soon as they returned to Beacon.

In time the pair reached the hills south-east of Hearth and scaled up them for some time. Again, apart from brief, necessary exchanges the journey up the hills was quiet.

They were exposed up here. There was no tree cover for them to hide in, and though there were sizeable rocks jutting out from the hill's dirt, none were large enough to provide sufficient cover from an attack from any direction. Still they climbed the hill, in spite of such danger.

He trusted in his own skill as a warrior, his ability to sense an attack coming and respond appropriately to it. Whatever and whenever it may came.

In an odd sort of way, he trusted Yasmin to do the same. The Elf had fought her enough times to know she too was watchful for any assault, and could very well be predicting the numerous places an assailant might strike from and how. He could see it in the way she gripped her weapon, Amlug-nor, and tilted her head at the smallest of noises.

It was when they reached what felt to be a third of the way up the hill they were climbing did Faen spot something above. For a fraction of a second did the Elf see it, but he saw it nonetheless. A hooded shape had spied them from a rocky edge above Faen and Yasmin, and retreated from view as soon as they were seen. Yasmin had seen them too, and with a nod wings emerged on her back and she shot after them while Faen was left to run.

Yasmin reached the edge first, and the sounds of a struggle were heard as Faen rushed up the hill as fast as he could. By the time Faen reached the edge, which turned out to be the entrance to a small cave, the struggle had ceased and his companion stood over the beaten form of a bandit. An Avaloni Spear lying discarded on the ground a short distance from them.

Said bandit was half Faen's height, and his lowered hood and mask showed to be a Halfling. That, or he could be a clean-shaven Dwarf. No, definitely a Halfling, he had the characteristic plumpness of the race and lacked the long nose Dwarves had.

"Keep him there. I will look around," Faen ordered Yasmin in Elven. A very deliberate choice meant to hide what his exact words were, and to put the fear of the unknown in the Halfling. She complied by taking Amlug-nor's carbine form and aiming it at the Halfling's face, causing the bandit to freeze where he lay.

Free to search the cave, he saw there to be nothing out of the ordinary, at a first glance. The bandit appeared to have been alone in here, but the mingled scents of several individuals lingered here, Odori's among them. It was most fresh at the very back of the cave, but there was no entrance to be found. Only a rock wall that showed no sign of any Human or Demi-human having ever laid hands on it.

Looks could be deceiving though, and the Elf examined the cave more closely. Using the torch function of his Scroll to better his chances of finding anything out of the ordinary.

Even with the addition of his light, Faen could not see anything that might indicate where else the trail went. Remaining calm despite having run into this apparent dead end, Faen turned from the inner cave and looked back to Yasmin and their captive.

"Well? Any sign of where your teammate is?" Yasmin asked him, not taking either her eyes or weapon away from the Halfling who still remained on the ground.

"The trail leads here, seems to end her too, but there is no sign of anything else in this cave. Best thing we can do now is to ask him where the rest of his tribe and Odori are," Faen told his companion as he walked back to her. As he did, he looked down at their captive and glared at them, his hand resting on Gwaedh's pommel as he did.

"Where are the rest of your ilk? Talk," Yasmin immediately spat at the bandit as Faen finished talking. She pressed the barrel of her carbine right against the spot between his eyes in a threatening manner.

Fear could be seen in the Halfling's eyes, yet he defiantly chose to remain silent and kept his mouth shut. Yasmin pressed her gun against his head even harder, the blade of her axehead bayonet threatening to break through the skin of his face, but still no words escaped the Halfling's mouth. They did not have time for this, the longer they delayed the more danger Odori could be in.

There were ways to break someone's resistance and make them talk, Faen and Yasmin just needed to think of one that worked quickly and ensured the information they pulled from the wretch was correct. Yasmin was trying the old method of threatening the subject with death, but that was obviously not working. Something else was what the two needed right now, something more than waving a gun or sharp blade in front of their captive's face.

One idea arose, yet he smothered it before it could properly pollute his mind. The idea would have been considered torture, and he refused to stoop that low.

"Hey Rivers, any sign of the Minotaurs or anyone else from the teams we sent out? New orders came in, we've got to leave this place." A voice said from the walkie-talkie on the bandit's belt. The Halfling made to grab it, but Yasmin pushed her carbine harder against his face while Faen shot a Fire Dust bolt next to his hand.

With the Halfling subdued again, Faen walked up to him and took the walkie-talkie away from the bandit. Closely examining it Faen saw it was, as Friesian might put it, a proper piece of kit. A newer model compared to the one Bisonte had given the Dullahan, and less used in appearance.

"Rivers are you there?" Whoever was on the other side asked. They must be getting suspicious, and Faen did not trust the Halfling to lie if he held the radio close to him to convince his fellow bandit that everything was alright. He would probably use the opportunity to alert his comrades of Faen and Yasmin's presence, and he could not allow that.

"So, 'Rivers', let us ask you again where the rest of your comrades are. Where exactly is this coming from?" Faen questioned the Halfling, holding up the walkie-talkie to make clear what he was referring to. "I would rather things not turn messy, but I am not sure whether or not my companion here has any qualms against it."

Their captive was getting more and more agitated the longer he was under Yasmin, but still he refused to crack. Perhaps he hoped his comrade speaking on the walkie-talkie would save him. They must not be far then if such a foolish hope could be held by this wretch.

Speaking of the walkie-talkie, it had gone silent, the person trying to communicate with the Halfling having not made a third attempt at it. They knew something had happened to the Halfling, they must by now. With luck they would investigate what happened, revealing to Faen and Yasmin where exactly their band of brigands were hiding. That was Faen's hope though, and if it did not go that way, he was not sure what to do.

Fate, as it turns out, saw his plight and decided to act in his favour on this instance. For after half a minute, something did happen.

The sound of shifting rock was heard at the back of the cave, as well as the movement of metal mechanisms. Turning to investigate, Faen watched as a rectangular section of the cave wall swung like a door to reveal a doorway. Standing at said doorway was another bandit carrying an Avaloni Spear.

Not wasting a second, Faen rushed at the bandit and grabbed the front of their suit as soon as he was close enough. With a firm grip on the bandit, Faen pulled him round and threw him at Yasmin's direction, trusting in her to know what to do.

Thankfully she did, for the Elf-Dracon responded by kicking the bandit as they flew to her, sending them to slam hard against the cave's wall. The force the impact enough to knock them unconscious. The Halfling, seeing his comrade fall, tried to lunge for his Avaloni Spear, yet Yasmin knocked them unconscious too by delivering a swift punch to the Halfling's face.

Pleased by how well that had gone, Faen peered into the doorway and saw a neatly carved tunnel that led down into the hill. The tunnel was wide enough for three people to walk abreast, and he could hear faint sounds echoing up from wherever it led to. The craftsmanship of the tunnel and the hidden door were way beyond the work of simple bandits, and could not have been made in a short amount of time. Entire months, years even, must have been dedicated to creating this tunnel and fashioning the door, and judging by the look of it all they had been here for a good long while.

How long this could be did not matter though, what was more important was how he could detect Odori's scent leading down into the tunnel.

"This is the way," the Elf notified Yasmin immediately after determining his teammate's scent and that of the bandits led down there.

"Bold what you did. Honestly surprised it succeeded the way it did," Yasmin replied back to him. Looking over his shoulder to see what she was up to, Faen saw she had taken the rope that hung from both of the unconscious bandits' belts and dragged the two together. "You cannot think we should leave them unbound? They might regain consciousness while we are done there, and I would prefer it if they did not get in our way in the future."

She was not wrong, the two could cause them trouble if left lying around. As such, Faen helped her by searching the two bandits for anything useful and by removing an weapons on their person. Soon the bandits were tied and bound together, the ropes Yasmin took fro them restraining their own hands and feet. Faen contributed by throwing their weapons and a couple other weapons out the cave's mouth and down the hillside.

With that business out of the way, the two of them turned their attention back to the doorway and what might await them inside.

Down there was potentially the bandit lair, meaning it could be teeming with the scum. Though he refused to say it aloud, Faen hoped that much of this tribe's strength was spent in their raid on Hearth, and only a handful remained inside. Not out of cowardice, but because Faen wished to be done with this place.

Nodding to each other, the pair began to descend into the tunnel, walking side-by-side and with weapons drawn. If Odori was truly down here, he would find her, this the Elf swore.

Silently as possible did Faen and Yasmin walk down the steps of the tunnel, electric lights fixed in regular intervals onto the wall to their left guiding them down. The sounds were getting louder, and the two could hear voices if their speakers were loud enough.

Finally, after a few minutes in the tunnel, Faen saw an end to it. An open doorway that led to where all the voices and sounds were coming from. Treading more carefully down the last few steps, the two discovered the tunnel led to a large square chamber with perfectly cut walls and high ceiling that could fit two houses inside it. Another tunnel, one much wider than what Faen and Yasmin had used to get here, was on the other side of the chamber.

Of what was inside the chamber, Faen saw it was filled with an assortment of stuff. From here he also spotted six more bandits working as busy as ants, one of them being the leader by the way he incessantly bossed the rest around. They were moving equipment and wiping information from any electronics that could not be brought with them. From what he heard them say to each other, the entire group was leaving this place, the failed raid on Hearth being the cause.

He could not see Odori from where they were, and sitting around here any longer would not help. With how focused the bandits were on their task, the two of them could sneak in and see more of the chamber from behind a sufficient hiding spot.

Looking to Yasmin, it appeared she was of like mind to him, and pointed to a crate a short distance from the doorway. Seeing no other viable options, the two moved behind the crate as quickly and quietly as possible. Now behind it, the pair listened for any sign that they had been spotted, fortunately there was no change in the bandit's activity so they were safe to continue.

Now at a new position, Faen resumed his search for his partner while being ever mindful of the bandits. Repositioning turned out to be a good idea, for in seconds he spotted the Kitsune, though he was equal parts relieved and angry when he saw her.

She was alive, which was a good thing, but she had indeed been captured and shackled to one of the walls. From behind the crate he could see her left cheek had a dark bruise, and a line of dried blood fell down from her head. Her weapons were nowhere to be seen, and her outfit was tattered in places and had a few tears where there had not been previously.

Tapping Yasmin's shoulder, he pointed a finger over to where he spotted his partner. Neither of the two dashed forward to where Odori was, that would simply be foolish. Instead they took a quick minute to check on the bandits and whether she was being guarded. The five bandits in the chamber were almost done packing things up, and, as far as Faen saw, no one was guarding his partner.

That... did not seem right. Why would they not leave someone to guard her? Even incapacitated as she was, Faen would have left someone to keep an eye on the Kitsune if he were in their place.

Yasmin shared his thoughts and cautiously looked around in case there was a guard, one purposefully hiding or just out of sight, yet there did not appear to be one at all. They really had left Odori on her own. Faen could hardly believe it, but if the bandits had indeed forgotten to leave a guard in their rush to leave, then this would make their task easier than expected.

So, seeing nothing stood between them and Odori, the two dashed out of cover towards her. Sticking to the shadows and moving from cover to cover, both Faen and Yasmin reached his partner in no time.

Odori did not register their presence, doing nothing but continue to lay apparently unconscious against the wall. She looked worse up close, and it was now that he noticed a scorch mark on Odori's coat. Beneath his mask Faen bit his lower lip as he fought back the urge to rush at the bandits and put them to the sword, for seeing his teammate in this state lit a fire inside him that would not easily die.

It was not too late to enact vengeance on the scum in the chamber. They were completely unaware of his presence, and it would feel so very sweet. Yet Odori's health overrode such desires for the time being, for though he did not know the extent of her injuries, the sooner she received treatment for them the better. With his heart urging for one thing, while his mind called for another, Faen looked to the shackles that held his partner and moved to free her from them somehow.

His gloved hand barely touched the shackles that held Odori when he heard sounds right behind him and Yasmin. The flutter of cloth followed by the sound of boots falling on the ground close by.

Ah, so there were the guards.

Already moving, Faen spun round and swung Gwaedh at the nearest enemy. Yasmin doing very much the same with Amlug-nor in its axe form.

The foe he swung his sabre at blocked his strike, the sound of metal striking metal echoing across the chamber, and punched his side. He recoiled only slightly at it, and responded by grabbing them by the wrist and pulling them in front of him, before striking the back of their head with Gwaedh's pommel. They lurched forward, but apart from that the blow did nothing, and retreated away from Faen.

Directing his attention over to Yasmin for a second, he saw she had pinned a bandit against the wall. That did not last long, for her opponent was able to push Yasmin back and tried to stab a long bladed stiletto knife at the Elf-Dracon's throat. Yasmin twisteded away the attack, and landed a crushing kick to their back as she moved beside them, throwing them over to their companion. Again, that had little effect on their new foes, as they both recovered very quickly.

More able opponents. More hard work and trouble than he wanted right now.

The brief exchange of blows did not go unnoticed, and Faen heard the bandits moving equipment cry in alarm and speed up their efforts to pack the essentials up. Their leader visibly panicked at the sight of the students, and responded by loudly ordering his subordinates about with even greater vigour than before.

"They're here! Hurry up and get all of that gear out of here. You, hold them off until we're gone!" Said leader then sprinted for the other tunnel and disappeared down in a matter of seconds, leaving the rest of his group behind. What an 'inspiring' leader he was.

His eyes fell on the two bandits who thought they could get the drop on him and Yasmin, and saw they were alike to the rest, with a couple exceptions. Both were attired in much the same way as the other bandits, but wore gas-masks over their faces, had a yellow lightning bolt design on the cuffs of their sleeves, and wielded different weapons.

Yasmin's female assailant wielded a pair of slender stiletto knives, was of similar height to the students, and appeared to possess greenish-white skin. The one who attacked Faen had a metal cane with a spherical top, and he noticed they had short curved horns and one leathery wing sprouting from the left side of his back.

He had no idea what exactly the stilleto-wielder was, but he knew the race the cane-wielder belonged to. A Demon, possibly an Incubus judging by the shape and length of his horns.

Faen did not get to ponder long on the nature of his opponents, for the two charged at him and Yasmin as one. They responded in kind and ran with weapons raised at the bandits. As he ran at the Incubus, Faen fired a bolt from his wrist-bow, yet he darted below the projectile and thrust the end of his cane at Faen as he rushed forward with unexpected speed.

The Elf dodged the attack and swung Gwaedh down to cut his hand off at the wrist. His foe moved his arm away in time, and thrust his cane at Faen's stomach with lightning quick speed and accuracy, succeeding in landing the blow this time around. Pain shot up from where the cane struck, but Faen did not let it distract him, and slashed his sabre in a horizontal sweep intended for their chest. Much to his annoyance, the cretin leaned backwards and avoided the attack by the skin of his teeth.

Stepping away from him, the Incubus stood up straight before spinning his cane around for a second and assuming a fencing stance. Through the clear visor of his gas mask, the bandit sent Faen a taunting wink and gestured for him to make the first move.

"Hmph, bastard." Faen muttered to himself as he rolled his shoulders and advanced forward.

Soon as he drew close enough, Faen thrust the tip of his sabre at the Incubus' face, and, as predicted, they dodged it before the steel could strike. What Faen also expected was his opponent to try score another attack on Faen, and he stopped it this time by clasping his free hand around his wrist. With the Incubus where he wanted him, he took great joy in punching the bandit across the face and then drove his knee into the Incubus' gut.

That knee strike threw the Incubus backwards and he landed amidst some boxes. With a couple seconds to spare, Faen looked over to see how Yasmin was doing, and saw she could use a hand.

Her opponent was not as fast as the Incubus, their movements even less graceful, but they forced the Elf-Dracon to stay on her toes regardless.

Leaping into the fray, Faen joined his sabre with Yasmin's axe, and the two immediately started to push her challenger back. Their combined skill, speed, and strength quickly pushing the bandit to the limit of their's.

She parried his sabre a couple of times with one stiletto knife while using the other to stab at the unarmoured parts of his body. The butt of Amlug-nor's haft struck the side of her head, preventing the attack from succeeding. Against their combined might, this bandit would not last long.

An opening for Faen to drive Gwaedh into the bandit's side presented itself when they were forced to block Yasmin's axe with both her stiletto knives, legs almost buckling under the attack. Wasting no time he lunged forward and nearly went through with it, until that damned Incubus got in the bloody way. He heard the accursed creature approaching, and turned his sabre in time to block a blow from his cane meant for Faen's face.

Annoyed even more that the Incubus chose to prolong this fight instead of simply lying down and surrendering, Faen engaged him in battle once more, leaving the other bandit to Yasmin. The Incubus could match Faen's speed and was more than capable of countering or dodging Faen's attacks, and had wisened up a little, always keeping an eye on where both his hands were. Only a little, for the Elf was the better and more cunning fighter, and he would prove it.

Faen allowed the Incubus to land a few more hits and slowed his own movements to make the Incubus believe he was tiring, growing weak. A necessary sacrifice to achieve an ultimately favourable end. A sacrifice that was working. The Incubus danced to his tune without thinking, believing he had Faen on the back foot, and rashly pressed his 'advantage'.

A faked stumble, intentional openings in his defence, and the decision to retreat backwards. All those little additions to his ruse would help him pull this off successfully.

If not for the need to disguise his plan, and the seriousness of the situation, Faen might have openly laughed at the Incubus. A cold and mocking laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. They had skill and speed, but their inexperience shown through with how readily they were falling for Faen's trap.

Finally, the Elf reached his desired position and threw off the illusion he put up. Parrying another thrusting striking from the Incubus' cane, Faen shot his free hand forward with lightning fast speed and grabbed him by her wrist, catching his opponent off guard. Only now did the bandit realise the ruse and it was too late for him to stop what came next.

With all his strength Faen pulled the Incubus' over himself before throwing him onto the ground. To stop him from getting away, the Elf stamped his foot down on the Incubus' stomach, the pain he caused a sufficient enough distraction for what came next. Left vulnerable by what he had down, Faen stood over the Incubus and rose his sabre above his head to deliver the coup de grace.

The blade fell in a flash of silver, yet it did not meet flesh. Instead, Faen's delivery of the Incubus' deserved punishment was interrupted by the interference of the other bandit. He heard her coming and turned to counter her attack, throwing his free hand out as he spun, allowing him to grab the leg the other bandit aimed at his back. With an irritated growl he pulled the bandit through the air and tossed her at the same boxes he sent the Incubus.

Quickly he turned back to the Incubus beneath him and prepared to finish what he had started. Soon as he looked back down on the fool, Faen's eyes were assaulted by a blinding flash of light that sent him reeling backwards.

Cursing in his head, the Elf blindly swung where he thought the Incubus might be, but hit nothing at all. In his vulnerable state he took two rapid strikes from the Incubus' cane, one to the chest and one to the throat. Sounds of gunfire soon filled the air as Faen's vision began to return, feet running from him following immediately afterwards.

At last Faen's eyes recovered from the flash, and in time to see Yasmin walk beside him while firing a few more rounds from her weapon's carbine form. Looking over to where she was shooting, Faen saw the Incubus had retreated to his comrade and the two were now behind the boxes he threw them at, Yasmin's bullets impacting against the top of the boxes.

"Flash device hidden in the top of his cane, that is what blinded you." The Elf-Dracon said to him as she ejected her the now empty magazine from Amlug-nor and slammed a new one in.

A hidden device in his weapon that could blind an opponent?

Admirable. Very admirable. Faen looked forward to crushing said device under his boot before dealing the final blow to the Demon.

Sending a quick look over at Odori showed her to still be where they left her. Certain of her safety, if not health, he rolled his right shoulder and prepared to throw himself back into the fight. Beside him, Yasmin unfolded her weapon into its axe-form and spun it round before taking up a ready stance. Together, with weapons held firm in their hands, the two charged forward at the two bandits.

As he and Yasmin charged at them, a female figure descended from above and landed between them and the bandits. Both Demi-human students halted their advance at this new arrival's appearance, and were quick to analyse her.

They stood about the same height as Faen, give or take a few centimetres, and had a modestly slim build. They themselves wore the garb of the bandits, yet this one's attire was practically identical to that of the Incubus and the stiletto-wielder, although a single yellow stripe ran down the front of her mask to mark her out from the others. For weapons they had appeared to only have a sword with a red tassel hanging from the butt of its grip, but remained in its sheath on her back.

What drew his eye the most were the pair of deer-like antlers sprouted out from her hood, and their possession of a tail very much like a horse's.

Faen believed himself highly capable of identifying different Demi-humans races, and though he recognised those features, he had a hard time believing what stood in front of him. Yet she and the defining characteristics of that species were there. Disbelief still clinging to his mind, Faen accepted that he may very well have encountered one of the rarest of the rare.

A Qilin.

Awed though he was to meet one of such a legendary yet tragically near extinct species of Demi-human, Faen put such away for now and readied for combat. She wore the bandits' gear, so she could only be any enemy. A terrible shame, but at least this gave him an opportunity to cross blades with one of her kind. Not many could boast of that.

Of the Qilin, they waved a hand to the two bandits behind without looking, and they obeyed the unspoken command that the gesture meant. Together, both bandits Faen and Yasmin battled bowed respectfully to the newcomer and took several steps away from them all.

Not wishing to allow them to bring out their blade, Faen and Yasmin shared a quick look and nod, before simultaneously dashing forward to end this entire affair quickly. Odori needed treatment, and the only way she could get it was when no one stood in the Elf's way.

Reaching the bandit at the same time, Faen let Yasmin launch the first attack where she swung her axe diagonally at the Qilin's left shoulder, while he thrust Gwaedh at her stomach. The Qilin did not draw her sword, instead she sidestepped both their attacks. Gripping Gwaedh with both hands, he slashed the sabre at her chest yet again the Qilin evaded him, this time by leaping right over the pair of students.

Yasmin had swung her axe sideways at their new opponent's legs when they jumped off the ground. Acting quickly she turned it into an overhead strike as she spun round to face the Qilin.

Also turning around before the Qilin bandit attempted anything, the Elf turned in time to watch their foe raise both hands for the first time and catch Amlug-nor's axehead between her hands. Most impressive, yet it left her open to an attack from Faen. Gwaedh raised for an over head swing of his own, he closed in and attacked.

His strike was anticipated however, as the the Qilin moved to the side and let Yasmin's axe fall while also evading Gwaedh's blade, before shifting her attention to him. She struck his outreached arm with a palm strike from her left hand and then attempted to do the same to his face. Faen took a step backwards, narrowly avoiding the bandits arm, then proceeded to slash Gwaedh at the Qilin's face.

She got out of the way, grabbed his arm and threw Faen over herself, tossing the Elf to the ground. Soon as he was down, the Qilin punched at his head, though only ended up slamming her fist against the stone floor as he rolled out of the way.

Faen's Elf-Dracon comrade lunged forward from behind the Qilin and brought her axe down on their back, and cut only empty air as their foe twisted away from the attack. Still refusing to take out any weapon, the Qilin struck Yasmin four times in the side with her bare fists before retreating again as Yasmin attacked again with a wide sweep of her axe.

Did this bandit really think she could defeat them with fists alone? He would teach her how gravely mistaken she was if that were the case.

Dodging another swipe of Yasmin's axe, the bandit performed a low angle kick above Yasmin's knee and followed it up with a high kick to the side of his companion's head. Fortunately she caught the leg by the ankle with one arm, while using the other to lift her axe and strike at the bandit. They in turn caught the axe by the weapon's haft, leaving the two in a brief lock that Faen moved to exploit.

Running at them with his sabre raised, he watched the bandit lift her other leg off from the ground and kick Yasmin in the face, forcing the Elf-Dracon to let go of her limb. This freed the Qilin and let her turn her attentions to Faen. Undettered, he closed the distance and swung Gwaedh diagonally at the bandit's left shoulder. A feint was what the attack was, as his free hand was ready to attack while they were distracted by his sabre.

As she did with Yasmin, the Qilin rose her hand and caught the wrist of his sword arm, allowing Faen to jab his hand at her exposed throat. His hand never reached its intended target for they batted it away with their other arm. She had seen through his feint.

Oh, she was good, Faen had to give his foe that.

After batting his arm away the Qilin responded by thrusting the same hand that stopped his attack at his face. Her index and middle fingers forming points aimed at his eyes, not meant to kill, but to blind.

Reflexively he moved his head to avoid the attack, her arm scraping against the cheekguard of his helmet, and grabbed her arm below its elbow in return. In a lock of their own, Faen moved instantly to break it as did the Qilin. He felt her leg kick his side, and while painful, was too late to stop him from moving close and headbutting the bandit as hard as possible.

Protected as she was by her gas mask, the bandit recoiled at his successful attack, giving Faen the moment he needed to break away from her. Not only that, it gave Yasmin an opportune moment to strike, which she took full advantage of.

Rushing in before the bandit had time to recover from Faen's headbutt, Yasmin rushed past him, gripped her axe with both hands near the bottom of its haft, and aimed a mighty swing at the bandit's stomach. The axehead struck home and hit the bandit right where Yasmin had aimed for. Instead of being bisected as any normal being would be, instead, the bandit was launched off her feet and sent crashing behind a foldable table.

Ah, so she truly was an Aura-user too. He had guessed she might be one and this confirmed his prior suspicions.

Pleased they had scored hits on this bandit, Faen sent a sideways glance over at the two others. They remained where they stood, though they looked ready to leap in any moment to assist what he assumed to be their leader. He learnt his mistake from earlier and would keep his eyes and ears on them.

In this brief pause, it was then he finally took note of the absence of all the other bandits. The only ones that remained in this chamber were the three here. Quickly he deduced they must have escaped through the other tunnel with all the equipment they could carry.

Back to the bandit he and Yasmin were currently fighting, he saw her jump onto her feet and give them what might have been a respectful nod of the head as she reached her right hand over her shoulder and gripped her sword. In a single fluid motion she pulled the weapon free from its scabbard and assumed a ready stance.

The weapon was a dao similar in design to his own, but not exactly the same. Its single-edged steel blade, which alone was near abouts the length of her arm, was wider and had nine rings adorning the back of the blade.

A fine looking weapon in Faen's opinion, and a sign this bandit was going to take them much more seriously.

After a tense second spent in a silent standoff, the Qilin sprang forward, jumped atop the table and launched herself high into the air.

The Qilin fell like a comet and raised her sword over her head to deal an overhead swing. Yasmin stepped forward and blocked the bandit's strike with the haft of her axe when she brought it down. With a certain level of flair, their foe landed her feet on the haft of Yasmin's axe and kicked off it, jumping back into the air and doing a backwards somersault before landing both feet perfectly on the ground.

'Now that is just needlessly showing off,' Faen thought to himself. Whilst he said that in his head, the Elf raised his left arm and shot a bolt at the Qilin as he sprinted forward.

She evaded the bolt and parried the attack he made with Gwaedh, the steel of their weapons meeting with a loud ring. They pushed against each other and held a blade-lock for a couple seconds before retreating and reengaging. Their steel flashing as blades swung and met each other for a second then third time.

It was when both Faen and the Qilin's blade clashed thrice that Yasmin rejoined the fight. Ducking low, the Elf-Dracon leapt over Faen and thrust the bottom of her axe's haft at the Qilin's face. Annoyingly she dodged to the side and slashed her sword at the side of Yasmin's midsection, the blow landed and he heard his companion grunt in response to it.

Gwaedh and the nine-ringed sword met again as their owners clashed once more. He blocked a blow aimed at his neck, and shot his wrist-bow point-blank at the Qilin. While the bolt hit, the bandit only slightly flinched at it, before then kicking his right leg and forcing him to one knee. She tried to bring her sword down on his head, but was interrupted by Yasmin who blocked it with her axe.

Recovering quickly, Faen aimed to cut at the Qilin's legs, though she moved back in time to avoid his sabre's blade. In her retreat she reached into one of her belt pockets and threw a spherical object at both Yasmin and Faen.

He had an idea what the object was and used an Aura-enhanced jump to the right to get out of the way. Yasmin did the same, though she went the opposite direction. Either way, it was fortunate the two had done just that, for the sphere shattered in an ear-piercing explosion that flung bits of shrapnel flying in every direction. Grenades, one more thing to watch out for with this individual.

Both Demi-humans had gotten out of the explosion range and shrapnel flew harmlessly past them. As one the two hurled themselves forward in a burst of Aura-empowered speed at the Qilin, giving her no respite from their fight. The Elf thrust Gwaedh's tip at her face the instant he was in front of her, but she tilted her head out of the way and ducked out of the way from another sweeping strike from Yasmin. From her low position she swept her leg at their own in an attempt to trip them over, yet only ended up disrupting the dust on the floor, for both Faen and Yasmin jumped back in time.

Soon as they jumped away from her, the Qilin fished out another grenade from a belt pocket and tossed it at the pair. Choosing not to seperate again, the two stuck close to each other, with Yasmin kicking the grenade while it was stiil in mid-air like how a football (soccer) player kicks a ball headed for them somewhere else.

It exploded off to the side, far away enough that they were not caught by the explosion or by any bits of shrapnel. Odori was also safe from the grenade, for Yasmin sent it in the opposite direction of her.

The two did not like each other, that was undeniable, but Yasmin was wise enough not to endanger Faen's partner. Not while he was present at least.

By the time the grenade blew up, the Qilin sprang into action again and was close enough to attack them herself. Faen stepped in and blocked a blow meant for Yasmin, then parried a second aimed at his left thigh. He backhanded her across the face, which she answered by spinning a full 360 degrees and struck the side of his had with the ball of her foot. The impact knocking him to the side and forcing him to fall on one knee.

"You really like to kick, don't you?" Faen murmured through clenched teeth.

Whirling round to face the Qilin, his sabre already rising to meet an anticipated stroke of the enemy's sword, yet it did not come. The Qilin had tried, another fraction of a second and their steel would have met, if it were not for Yasmin's timely intervention. Once more gunshots from her carbine resounded throughout the chamber and bullets flew at the bandit, who was hit four times before she could respond to them. What damage they could have done was absorbed by her Aura, but he heard a muffled grunt or gasp behind the bandit's mask as they threw themselves backwards several metres.

In her retreat she sliced apart several of Yasmin's bullets with her sword, and blocked a couple more with the flat end of her blade. Her efforts to defend herself from Yasmin's attack left Faen scant few seconds to recover and get back onto his feet.

Thinking it time to switch things up a little, Faen returned his sabre back to its sheath and took out Aglar, turning the shortsword into its spear-form a second later. Aglar in hand Farn broke into a run at the Qilin. Yasmin's gunfire stopped, her magazine completely spent, and heard the sound of her footsteps over to the side. His ears picking up the sound of the Elf-Dracon's weapon unfolding into an axe.

Faen thrust the spear with both hands at the Qilin's gut, his foe dodging to the side, then rose her sword in the last minute to block his spear as he swung it at her head. With the advantage of reach, the Elf started to push the Qilin back, but found her to still be an elusive foe. He did not have to fight her alone for long, however, as Yasmin had arrived.

From above did Yasmin join them, leaping high and bringing her axe down on the bandit's head whilst Faen distracted her. The axe fell and hit, the blade catching the Qilin between the base of her neck and right shoulder. An undeniably lethal blow for an unprotected Aura-less, however, the Qilin was protected by Aura and emerged unharmed from the attack. A louder grunt was heard from behind the bandit's mask as she backed away from Faen and Yasmin though, and attempted to retreat to a more advantageous position.

They refused to let her, though. Like hunting hounds that had caught up to a fleeing deer, Faen and Yasmin relentlessly assaulted her, giving the bandit no chance to disengage from them. She had to stand and fight them here and now.

By their actions, the Qilin had no other choice.

Together now the two pressed on and fought more aggressively against this formidable foe, who, seeing the position she was in, match their aggression. Sound of metal striking metal repeatedly rang through the entire chamber as their engagement dragged on. The Qilin's nine-ringed broadsword whirled and slashed through the air so swiftly, an Aura-less would struggle could track with where it went. As for Faen and Yasmin, they moved with speed equal to hers, their fight becoming all the more intense for it.

He utilised both of Aglar's sword and spear forms in the next phase of the battle, using as many of his tricks, new and old, to get the upperhand. Yasmin did the same, switching Amlug-nor between its carbine and axe forms, shooting at their opponent at point-blank range while using her axe for melee.

The longer and harder they fought, however, the more he felt his body give in to fatigue. Not only that, but his Aura reserves was running low at this point, meaning he could not sustain any more hits or tap into it for much longer.

He was not the only one, for his fellow combatants showed signs of growing tiredness too, even as they all continued to battle one another. Beads of sweat began to run down Yasmin's forehead, and he heard heavy pants come from behind the masks of Yasmin and the Qilin. Yet, both sides were unwilling to surrender this fight, and the three carried on regardless of their gradually weakening state.

The Qilin took a glancing swipe from Amlug-nor's axehead, then deflected a blow from his sabre with a last-minute parry of her sword, and struck his chest with her free hand's palm, sending him back a few steps. Yasmin moved in before the Qilin could try to attack him, throwing a hook punch with her left arm, which the Qilin intercepted with her right forearm. That had been a ploy however, for Yasmin whipped up Amlug-nor in its carbine form, holding it like a pistol in her other arm, and shot her last bullets at the Qilin's torso.

As the bullets impacted against her Aura, the Qilin reeled back and swung her sword down at Amlug-nor. The blade's edge hit the top of the carbine, and it seemed Yasmin might lose grip of it, yet she kept a hold of the gun.

What happened next came as a shock to Faen.

Acting fast, Yasmin switched Amlug-nor into an axe and made to do a two-handed overhead swing with it. The Qilin recovered from the shots she took and pointed two-fingers of her left hand at Yasmin's chest. The next thing Faen knew, a bolt of yellow lightning shot forth from the tips of her fingers and sped straight for the Elf-Dracon.

Yasmin had only a fraction of a second to act, but even with her superb reflexes there was little she could do stop the lightning from striking. When the lightning did hit, Faen winced when he saw it collide with his comrade's chest and could do nothing but watch as she was thrown backwards by it. Smoke trailing from the spot on her chest that it had struck.

He did not see where his companion landed, for the Qilin moved onto him and aimed her fingers at him, and shot another bolt of lightning in his direction. Knowing what would happen if he did not move, Faen dove away from the spot he spot he stood on before she fired again. The crack of lightning followed not a moment after the Elf started to move. He felt the burn of the lightning on his back as it flew past him and struck some other part of the chamber behind him.

Was this her Semblance?

The ability to generate bolts of lightning?

Faen rose his left arm and aimed his wrist-bow at the Qilin. The bolt was unlikely to do much, all it was meant to do was grant him a moment to devise a plan to work around her lightning. He loosed the bolt, yet the Qilin had acted first and shot a third bolt of lightnimg from her fingertips, and there was no evading this one. Before he knew it, the yellow lightning bolt had reached him and struck his outstretched arm.

Pain indescribable first tore through Faen's hand, then up his arm, and then throughout the rest of his body. While no stranger to it, nor the effects of Dust-produced lightning attacks, this was on a whole different level. Frankly, he thought his heart was going to stop right then and there because of it.

It was over as soon as it started, with Faen falling onto his hands and knees once the lightning ran its course. Overcome as he was by the pain, he persevered and remained conscious, thanks mostly to what remained of Faen's Aura and his own willpower.

Speaking of Aura, he looked to his gloved hands and saw a gossamer thin sheen of white light envelope his arms and the rest of his body, then fade away with the sound of shattering ice. That was it then, his Aura reserves had been utterly depleted. He was well and truly vulnerable now, and any wound dealt to him could be a mortal one. Well, if that was how things were going to be, then he would meet his enemy on his feet and with a weapon in hand.

Driven by resolve to carry out this perhaps final wish, Faen took hold of Aglar, which he had let fall onto the ground, and struggled onto his feet. Whilst he unsteadily got up, he saw the Qilin remained where she stood, her chest rising and falling as she watched him defiantly stand. She did not raise her hand to cast another lightning bolt his way, she simply watched him assume a ready combat stance.

Seeing he had no plans of backing down, despite his Aura-less state, the Qilin assumed a ready stance and gave him a slight nod of her head which he returned. A worless salute from one warrior to another.

Somewhere out of his field of vision, Faen heard unsteady footsteps come from the direction Yasmin had gone, and also heard metal scraping against stone. It seems she too was not out of the fight. He did not look away from the Qilin, she had earned the honour of receiving his full focus.

Then, rather abruptly, something happened that curtailed their plans to fight for what may have been the last time.

"We're clear of the hill. Shandian Unit, where are you?" Said a voice from the small radio on the Qilin's person, a voice he recognised to belong to the 'brave' leader of these bandits.

For a second, the Qilin did not react to the call, appearing to have chosen to ignore the call from her 'valiant' superior. Faen's guess was proven to be mistaken when she broke from her combat stance, holding her sword in a reverse grip, and took out the radio to answer.

"We are done. We shall be leaving the hill shortly," the Qilin spoke to the small walkie-talkie. Her voice was somewhat muffled by her gas mask, yet there was no mistaking the exhaustion in it.

Beneath his helmet Faen frowned at the Qilin. They were in no way 'done' with each other, and he remained ready to continue fighting her. On the other hand, the Qilin no longer appeared interested in their battle, and went so far as to turn away from Faen and say something to the two other bandits who had remained at the sidelines. Both appeared equally as confused by their leader's choice, but they obeyed her and ran for the tunnel the others had disappeared to.

Just as she were about to follow after her fellows, the Qilin turned around and addressed Faen and Yasmin.

"You fight well," the Qilin complemented the two of them. She then gestured the butt of her sword's grip over to a table at the far side of the chamber and continued. "Your companion's arms are in there. May we never see each other again."

And with that last word, the bandit turned and ran after her comrades, then jog was perhaps a much better way to describe it. Faen felt compelled to attack the Qilin while her backs were turned, but chose to not go through with it. There were more pressing concerns than them that warranted his attention.

Looking over to where Yasmin should be, he saw she was more or less unharmed by the lightning attack, yet seemed quickly as affected by it as he was. Even so, there was no rest for them, as they had a mission to complete. That being to get Odori back to the village as soon as possible.

Probably not soon given the state of them, but they would get there eventually.

"Any sign of them?" Friesian asked his Werewolf partner as he leaned his back against the wall of a house at the edge of the village.

"Nadda. Still nothing," Grey replied as she stopped peering into the dark that surrounded Hearth for well over an hour now. He would do so as well if he could, it was just he did not have eyes that could see in the dark, and the light from the moon was not enough for him to see that far.

The bandits had been bested, and were now disarmed and tied up in the village's main street. They would have been kept at the village square, but an airship from Beacon had parked itself there. Friesian and Grey's reason for not being there to guard them was because they were on the look out for their two teammates.

Both had been gone for far longer than the two Demi-humans were comfortable with, and they were sorely tempted to go out and search for them. The two had brought it up with the Huntsman Bisonte, yet he advised against taking such a course of action. Obviously he and Grey protested against his judgement, this was their teammates after all, and still Bisonte stuck to his decision. Remarking that if the two of them really trusted their fellow students, they would let them handle whatever problems they had gotten in, and trust they would come back on their own.

What he said sounded more like an excuse to sit back and laze around, or so Grey had whispered to Friesian soon as they got out of earshot. He honestly expected his partner to run off towards where Faen and Akagi had gone once the conversation was over, but she stayed, albeit begrudgingly.

Hard though it might be, Friesian chose to stay in Hearth as well. The boss and Akagi were totally able to handle themselves, and those bandits they captured needed more than one pair of eyes to keep an eye on them.

Yasmin was out there too, he guessed. But Friesian was more concerned about his Elf and Kitsune teammates because... well, he liked them more than her.

Minutes quietly passed by as the pair kept watch on the area surrounding Hearth. Again, Friesian was not of much use here, an old flashlight Bisonte gave him the only way he could see something out there. He did not know how Grey saw things, but she sure as hell could see better than him right now.

After sometime, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching them. When the two looked over to who it was, they saw it to be Bisonte, his rifle held in both hands. The casing of the gun possessing a few new dents and scratches created from his fight with the bandit group that attacked Hearth from the east. He took care of them all, and came out unharmed from the fight.

"The Vale authorities are aware we have bandit prisoners. They'll send a transport airship as soon as they can so they can be properly detained," the Huntsman said. "Your airships pilot is keeping watch on them right now, but I'll head back in a soon. No changes?"

"Nope," Grey replied with a shake of her head. "Are things still no different with them? The bandits?"

"They still have not said a word," Bisonte reponded, much to Friesian and Grey's disappointment.

When the Huntsmen-in-Training captured the bandits, Friesian had expected them to fight and yell against their captivity, but they had done no such thing. In fact, they did quite the opposite, and appeared to have accepted their position and sat in the village's main street in pure silence. Even when left alone, Grey remarked that none had even attempted to whisper to each other. Bisonte had gone to get some information out of them earlier, yet all refused to say a word to him.

They all just sat on the ground looking straight forward or downwards, absolutely refusing to utter a word. It was honestly quite disconcerting to be honest.

"Friesian and I should get out there and looked for our friends. Their trail's cold, but I'm sure I can find them." Grey insisted to Bisonte, bringing back up the two's wish to search for their teammates again. Friesian hoped the older Huntsman would listen, but they were quickly dashed.

"Answer's still no. We have nearly forty bandits tied up in the village, and I want as many hands here ready to act in case they get any ideas."

Grey kissed her teeth at the response, and let out a sigh of dejection before turning her back to Bisonte to look back at the lands beyond the village. Making no attempt to hide her dissatisfaction. The Huntsman ignored her, shouldered his rifle and took out a cigarette and lighter. Friesian took a couple steps away from Bisonte as he started to smoke, being not really into smoking himself, but he made no objections against the older man's choice.

Time continued to slip on by as the three silently watched and waited for any sign of the others. Bisonte smoking his cigarette, Grey slowly pacing back and forth impatiently, while Friesian sat down and periodically scanned the grounds around Hearth with the flashlight.

After what felt like ten minutes of waiting, Friesian was sure he could not bear this any longer, Grey less so. Coincidentally, it was when he could barely stand any more of this waiting that something interesting finally did happen.

"It's them!" Grey suddenly cried, her eyes focused in the direction of the woods south of Hearth.

Jumping to his feet, Friesian hurriedly turned the flashlight where Grey was looking. He saw nothing at first, but soon he caught sight of four approaching figures wearily making their way to the village. It took a couple of seconds but Friesian's lips formed a wide smile when he saw that it was indeed his teammates who had come, and quickly thought up of a cool line to greet them with.

Glad though he was to see them return, his smile and greeting disappeared when saw the state of his teammates. The three young Demi-humans looked as though they came out of one hell of a fight. The Dullahan was shocked in the extreme to see Akagi in such a bad state, Faen had to carry her in his arms.

Grey was the first to rush over to them, with Friesian following close after her.

"Boss, what happened to Akagi?" Friesian asked his team leader as soon as he was close enough.

"Bandits beat and captured her. She is out of Aura and has a head wound that requires treating immediately. Perhaps more injuries than that," the Elf replied. Now that really was a surprise to Friesian.

The bandits that attacked Hearth, while no laughing matter to face, were not strong enough to take out anyone in FFOG. One on one they could not, and even in a large group they did little better. Their current state as prisoners was testament of that. Yet Akagi had not only been defeated by some of these buggers, but also taken captive by them?

Speaking of bandits, it was then that Friesian noticed that the two other people with his teammates were bandits themselves. Tied together by the wrist with a long piece of rope held by Yasmin, the two silently followed Faen and the Elf-Dracon hybrid. She was not gentle with them, as she roughly pulled on the rope, and showed no concern for whether they tripped or fell because of her. Reminded him of his old P.E teacher in a way.

Bisonte came up to them, and was just as quick to note the state of the three Demi-humans.

"Take her to the village doctor's house, it's a house with a sign near the smithy. I'll fetch the doctor from the shelter, he will have a look at her." Bisonte said, then turned to address the others present. "You three, head into the village and deposit this lot with the others. Guard them or keep watch on Hearth's surroundings at your leisure."

With that Faen nodded and left for the doctor's house as Bisonte directed him, while Bisonte took off for the shelter where the villagers were still hiding in. Leaving Frieisan, Grey and Yasmin together with the two bandit captives.

Seeing little reason to stick around here, the trio also walked into the village and went to where the others were being kept. There they found the bandits still silent as when Frieisan last saw them, with the Beacon airship pilot watching over them with a sidearm in hand. They nodded to the pilot in greeting, who returned the gesture, and forced the two bandits to sit with the rest of their comrades.

No words were spoken by the bandits as they saw the Huntsmen-in-Training add two more of their number. Some did not look to them, instead remaining as still as statues.

Job done, Frieisan tried to think of what he could do next.

His first thought was to join the Boss and see Akagi just to know bad her state was. He decided against that though, for it would probably take the doctor a bit to fully diagnose all the injuries she had. That and because he disliked seeing a friend of his in such a sorry state.

Helping guard the prisoners was probably the best thing that not only he, but also Grey and Yasmin, could do. The pilot looked to be as tired as the rest of them, and he felt kind of bad for leaving them to guard the prisoners on their own. That decision was also pretty dangerous if he had to be honest. Well, Friesian would now make up for putting them in danger by standing guard over the bandits with them.

Yes, that was what Friesian felt to be what he should do. Still, however, there was one other option he could do.

While he might not be overly enthusiastic to do it, Friesian felt as though it would be wrong for him to not express his thanks to Yasmin for going out and helping Faen. Granted, he did not know how much she contributed to the effort, but she did something by the looks of it. She was not someone he particularly like, but what sort of person would he be if he refused to express gratitude in some way to those who helped his team?

"Hey Yasmin. Uh, thanks for helping out Faen and bringing Akagi back to us," said the Dullahan after finding the courage to carry out his idea. The words he uttered prompting the Elf-Dracon to turn and face him.

As expected, Yasmin gave him that typical 'I-am-better-than-you' look she must have spent years perfecting, and looked ready to scold him for thinking he could address her. No immediate response came from Yasmin, she just continued to regard him in the aforementioned way for an awkward few seconds. At last, Yasmin looked away from him, choosing to examine her weapon to ensure it was in working order.

"You are welcome," Yasmin finally said in response as she switched her weapon into an axe. With that said, she then spun on the spot and walked off towards where the main street entered the village.

Friesian and Yasmin watched her leave in silence. Waiting for her to be as far away from them before they could say anything. So as the Elf-Dracon stopped at the road's entrance to Hearth, did the two finally open their mouths to speak.

"Geez. Even when she says something like 'thank you', she finds a way to make my teeth ache." Grey snorted as she sent a hard glare at the Elf-Dracon's back.

"Yeah, I know what you mean.I'm kinda expected her to decided not to respond to me for a second." Friesian sighed as he took a second to scratch his back. "Shouldn't we ask what happened out there? They all looked pretty roughed up, Akagi especially."

"We will, but not right now I say. We've all been through a lot today, rest is what we need first. Faen will full us in on the details later," Grey said with a wide, toothy yawn. She was not wrong, they had been up for quite some time, and Friesian was looking forward to getting a good lie down.

"That would be nice," Friesian freely admitted. "We'll probably be forced to wait, though. Gotta keep an eye on this lot before we even think of lying down."

His body gestured a hand over to the captive bandits, reminding Grey of their presence. Bisonte said a transport ship from Vale would come for them, but did not state when they were going to arrive at Hearth. Until that transport airship arrived, they were stuck with them, and it was their job to keep them from causing anymore trouble.

Grey's shoulders fell at the reminder, and, coincidentally, her stomach growled loudly at the same time. This caused the Dullahan to become aware of his own painfully hungry stomach. How long was it since they last ate?

'No rest for the wicked, I guess.' Friesian to himself as he took a deep breath and focused on watching over the assembled group of bandits they captured. Perhaps that would take his mind off how hungry he was.

Hopefully, Friesian thought, things would get better and be calmer when FFOG returned to Beacon.

There we are. That will be it for the events in Hearth, so FFOG will be back to Beacon next chapter. Will not jump immediately to the events of Volume 3, but we are getting close.

I feel somewhat satisfied by the fights scenes in this chapter. I rarely am with most action or fight sequences I write, but I feel good about these, particularly the latter fight. A lot more physical contact between the combatants in them than those before I think, punches and kicks being what I mean, and I think the fights were better for it. I will probably do the same for later fights.

Reference and Meanings:

Amlug-nor - Combination of the words 'Dragon' and 'Fire' in Noldorin, another Elf language created by Tolkien in his fantasy series. I really like Tolkien and his works, okay. The name is an allusion to the Western Dragons' ability to breath fire, and a reference to Yasmin's heritage.

Shăndiàn - From the fifteen minutes spent searching several sources on the internet, I am somewhat confident this means either 'lightning' or 'fulmination'. One definition of fulmination being a 'flash like lightning'. So yeah, the meaning I went for the Shăndiàn Unit's name is basically 'Lightning Unit'.

I'll see you all when I next see you.

A Guide to Demi-humans by David Silver

Qilin - An extremely rare Demi-humans species considered mythical to both Humans and Demi-humans. Contrary to common held beliefs in several cultures in Mistral, Qilin are humanoids with deer-like antlers on their head, horse-like tails, and, in a few occasions, with shimmering fish scales covering portions of their bodies. The exact reason for the more animalistic image held by Mistral people for generations is unclear, though one idea proposed is a mistranslation of a description of the Qilin that became embraced by Humans and Faunus after the Demi-humans went into hiding.