Finally done…It took me quite a while, and I deeply apologize for the irregularity of the length for this chapter…I simply couldn't pass up the chance to showcase Dan a little more. Sorry for the long wait and please do read and review. If, by any chance, there are any good remarks or criticism as well as a review of quality compared to previous chapters, please do tell me. Thanks again!

On with the chappie!

Disclaimer: No money, no reputation, no expertise. Don't get me involved in a lawsuit; I hate those stuffy outfits.

Breath of Fire 2: Chapter 10-A Whale of a Tale

"So…" Sten looked at the slab of whitish-blue with undisguised contempt on his platter. "Can someone tell me again what are we doing here?"

Ryu looked at him in exasperation and stopped chewing, putting down his utensils at the same time. "That's the umpteenth time you asked, damn it! We're suppose to go to Tunlan, look for this Grass Man who's said to be widely versed in the ways of the world, and look for answers as to what we need to do next, which results in us looking for a boat at Whale Cape-"

"-And our search has produced nothing so far." The Highlander continued monotonously, stabbing viciously at the slab in front of him as though he was trying to kill it, even though it was technically dead.

"Do you really hate whale cakes that much?" Katt snickered. It was a strange thought…almost criminal, really, that the Highlander who would be the first to dive straight into the meal was losing his appetite due to the nature of his lunch.

And he was really hungry…At least from what his friends had heard from his bottomless pit.

"I hate fish."

"Well, whales aren't fish, Sten."

"I-I knew that! I was just testing you, darn it!" He threw the fork onto the table, embedding it slightly on the surface and turned away to sulk. Katt sighed and placed a plate of fruit in front of the monkey, to which his eyes widened. Several minutes later, the plate was empty save for a few seeds.

"Ahh…That hits the spot." He patted his stomach in satisfaction and turned to look at the intrepid leader of their group. "Hey Leader, what are we going to do now? There isn't a single boat here that's free…'He' wouldn't have anything to do with those coincidental sinking of ships, would he?"

Ryu fell into grim silence. The last time they had seen Andaroy Darksoul was in SimaFort. There had been no sighting of him ever since, though they only took around four days to reach Whale Cape. His suspicions were aroused (as usual) by the rumors that the surviving fishermen had seen 'leviathan waves emerging from the depths of azure, crushing their fishing boats mercilessly, crumpling half of the harbor like paper.'

As far as his knowledge of Asparia was concerned, he knew that waves-tsunamis like those could only be created by a large scale earthquake…One that should have been felt by the Earth and Air mages hired by the fishermen. According to them, the two magicians were usually accurate on where and when any disturbances would occur, which saved the whaling crews a lot of trouble-and their lives.

So how was it that they were unable to discover anything out of the ordinary when the waves hit?

"Hello! Earth to Ryu! We're waiting for your erm…orders?"

"Ngah!" The Ranger almost fell back when he snapped out of his trance and found the Woren's face inches away from his, looking every bit irritated as she always was when she had to wait. He sighed and ran a hand through his blue locks. Nobody had really asked for his approval when the whole 'Leader' thing came about. He had not asked for it, neither did he really want it.

"You know, I'm not really cut out to be the person in charge of this group. This kind of position should go to people with more experience in leadership, for example, Nina…"

"What are you talking about? It's been decided ever since we knew that there was some sort of a rivalry between you and Andaroy."


"You know, everyone gets the feeling he really hates you…And he seems as though he's not being serious in fighting us, like he's playing with us."

Ryu's expression darkened. He did not like any talk about the 'obsession' that Andaroy seemed to have with him, but what the latter had labeled him has had him grudgingly admitting that he was intrigued. Did it have anything to do with his lost memory of what he really was and the many questions that only led to more. What exactly were the Broodlings? What were they to the world in ancient times? Even the Elder had refused to answer the question after things had settled down in Hometown. Anyone who might even have a clue to what a Berserker or Broodling was either shunned him or simply politely refused to answer his questions.

It was most ingratifying, wasn't it, Broodling?

I'll have you know that that's the seventh time you're trying to persuade me to go on a killing spree-

-Which you pointedly refused. What's wrong with you, eh?' The voice hissed in his voice tauntingly. 'What's wrong with spilling a little blood?

Taking lives is wrong.

Even if it's for a good cause?

Ryu jolted, always slamming his head into Katt's face who was peering at him most curiously. He opened his mouth to argue, forgetting that he was actually talking to an entity in his body when he realized that no words came forth. Since the day he had became a Ranger, he never had a great yearning or need to take human lives, especially if his jobs concerned mostly lost trinkets and small monster infestations.

He had never thought about going on a journey with a slew of companions from different races, fighting together and talking about Asparia's greatest circuses.

He had never thought he would be killing humans, be they vagrants and 'evil' people.

"Killing is wrong!" Was what he wanted to say…But after all that he had been through; did he have the right to say anything now?

See what I mean? You can't escape your fate, Ryu Bateson. We are bound by the chains of destiny, and nothing you do or say can release you from me.

Ryu bit back his reply, feeling a different kind of heat compared to when Bow forced him to ask his crush out those years ago. Feeling a light tap on his shoulder from the back, he turned furiously, feeling a sudden craving to give a tongue lashing or do something violent to whoever he or she was…

And felt his anger dissolve almost immediately as he directly faced the worried expression on Nina Wyndia's face.

"Ryu…Is something wrong? You don't look too good…"

"…I…" He stared at Nina, different emotions swirling about his head. All were intense, none could be interpreted properly. One side of him seemed to thirst for violence, while the other was restraining him. After several more awkward seconds, Ryu gritted his teeth and swept away from the group, striding out sullenly. The former princess turned to look at her companions, a mixed expression of worry and inquiry on her face, but all she received in reply were shaking heads and shrugged shoulders, indicating that they had no idea what was wrong with their friend, though only Rand seemed a little more nonchalant about him.

"I'm going after him."

"No, Nina." She felt a giant hand gripping her gently, holding her back before she could take off to find the blue-haired youth. "He needs to solve this by himself this time…There isn't much help we can provide him…Especially if he doesn't tell us the whole story himself."

"But-!" Even Katt looked ready to go, though Rand believed that there would not be a need to stop her as well.

"Give 'im time…I believe in 'im…And I believe he'll tell us everything in due time…For the time being, we need to find a way to get to Tunlan. The governor did tell us that the circus was due to stop there next with the Grass Man."

"But I wonder…Can we trust the rumors that this bunny-hugging man would actually be as wise as they say? It just seems too good to be true." Sten lazily countered, slouching on one of the two beds in the room.

"I have no idea…But it's a lead nonetheless, and we can't let Kilgore's gift go to waste, can we? Might as well take a break from all that traveling and fighting and explore the City of Music." Bow replied with as much enthusiasm as he could spare. As much as he wanted to believe that Ryu needed him as a best friend and confidant, what Rand said made seRyu seemed out of sorts-moody even-for the past few days, as though tormented by an unseen being, prodding and touching his hidden emotional scars offensively, trying to pry them open once more.

"Indeed! Perhaps a little exploration of Tunlan vill lift his spirits, no? After all, music does heal ze soul…I zink."

Katt snorted. "That's real assuring, Prince. While you're at it, we need to discuss our progress in finding a means of transport to Tunlan.

"I'm on it." Bow stood up and cleared his throat; something which the group had gotten accustomed to whenever he wanted to made himself heard. "I got the information from an old geezer that during times of need and crisis, they would take their 'makeshift cruiser' to hide in some island caves nearby whenever a hurricane brewed and things like that."

"So what is this 'makeshift cruiser' you were talking about?"

Bow grinned at her despite their endless differences with each other. "Oh, I'm sure you'd love it, Katt Chuan."

Moments later, Bow found himself on the wrong end of a crazy bow staff with its equally irate owner. The Grass Runner knew he should have died several times over if looks could really kill.

"You brought us here without even asking him whether this 'cruiser' was available? That's really intelligent of you, Bow Doggy."

"Hey! I resent that, you-" He stopped short of an insult as the bow staff was pointed aggressively into his face and stumbled back, falling inevitably on his rump. Katt snorted and turned back to the wizened fisherman, who looked on in mild amusement.

"So what are we suppose to do? Where's the cruiser you've been talking about?"

He chuckled, a low and hoarse sound, though nowhere near raspy like an old scheming wizard so often personified in fairy tales. "Come right this way." Without another word, he strolled over to a building, as dilapidated as they come. The moment he touched the wooden gate, it fell to the ground with a loud bang, while dust filtered into the surrounding air.

"Ahh…So sorry about that. Right this way, right this way." He stepped under an arch which looked as though it would collapse had the wind been slightly stronger and came to a deep hole in the centre of what seemed to be a hall of the building. "What you seek lies down there. It just depends on whether all of you are determined enough to go down there." He slipped into the shadows expertly after leaving them with a parting grin. "I'll see you down there…That is, if you actually came!"

"Hey! Old man!" Sten bounded after him, but he was gone in an instant, as though he had vanished into thin air. "What the heck…" With no one left to occupy their attention, the party automatically turned to the said opening in front of them.

"So…should we go down?"

"For all you know, it might be a trap."

"But ze people here seem so friendly, how could it be a trap?"

"I don't know if we can trust 'im, but at least we might get some answers if we head down."

"Nina, what about you?"

"I could float down, so it won't be a problem for me…"

"But-" Katt was abruptly cut off as someone brushed past her and looked at the hole. She turned and almost gasped in surprise at the sight of a revitalized Ryu Bateson, with a most interested expression on his face.

"Looks deep…" Was all he said before he jumped straight in without as much of a second thought.

"Ryu!" Nina darted into the hole immediately, and despite Katt's attempts to follow, she was being held back once again by the giant armadillo.

"What the heck are you doing, trying to stop me? Ryu might be hurt!"

Rand chuckled, a deep, rumbling sound like the waves caressing the shore gently in the morn. "Ya girls worry too much. Ya gotta have more confidence in Ryu. I couldn't stop Miss Wyndia 'ere since she was a little too fast for me."

Katt felt infuriated, despite being pacified by Rand's words. It felt as though she had lost again…And losing was definitely not on her cards, most definitely not more than once.

"Hey!" a voice rang out from below, recognizable as Ryu's. "It isn't too deep. Don't worry about it…Though you might want to let Rand come down first."

Rand nodded, knowing in simple understanding that if he had been the last to go down, it might spell the end of some of the party…or at the very least, one or two pancakes made first-handed from different races in a split second. Rand slowly lowered himself into the hole by pressing his hands against the sides. As his whole body was in it directly, he released the pressure and touched the ground below after several seconds of darkness and speed. The others jumped in as well, though all using different methods each. But the one thing they unanimously did was to turn and look at the Ranger questioningly.

"…I'm fine now. Don't worry about me. We need to focus on the task at hand. I've solved the problem, really." He smiled, hoping that it would somehow convince his friends that there was nothing wrong with him at all. He never knew whether it truly worked, though, as the old man appeared once more.

"I see you've made it. Look at your left and wait for a little while, will you?" They turned, somehow see the surroundings of a cavern of some sorts, its walls tinted a purplish pink with an eerie glow. In front of them was a vast pool of water, reaching out into the darkness beyond what they could see.

"Is it just me, or does it feel like we are inside something?"

The old man grinned at Nina and blew a whistle. It was a high sound, but neither shrill nor harsh. The sound was carried across the waters by the echoes off the walls and seemed to vibrate back. Within moments of the old man blowing the whistle, two small currents, both fast and unnatural for a cavern with still waters came straight at the group. They stopped, and all at once two dolphins popped their heads out.

"Oh look! It's Old Man Jack!"

"Hiya geezer! What's up? What's with the people? Oohh, I know I know! Is it a party?"

The old man, otherwise known as Jack laughed, half at the comments of the dolphin and the other at the incredulous faces of the group beside him. "Enka, they are the party. A party of adventurers who needs Gramps' help. Can you wake him up?"

"Again? But why does it have to be me-Oww!" The grayish dolphin grimaced as the bluish one poked it with its snout, indicating its displeasure at its comments. That did not stop him from continuing with his sentence, however. "Why can't Enko go? She's the faster one, isn't she?"

"It's not a matter of whether I'm faster than you in waking up Gramps, stupid. You haven't been doing your rounds, have you? That was why Gramps complained about having bugs in his stomach the last time round." She turned accusingly in his direction, and Enka cowered back slightly.

"Now, now, children. This isn't the time to quarrel. You do know that Gramps has been sleeping an awfully long time for now, haven't you?" Two nods affirmed his question. "Well, well…" Jack stroked his chin thoughtfully, and turned to the party, who was awaiting his response. "I'm afraid you'd have to wait for Gramps to wake up…Or at the very least, find the cause and take care of it."

"Take care of…it?"

He sighed, tapping his foot somewhat impatiently as though he was needed somewhere else. "Enko and Enka here have reported to me a few days ago about seeing something strange float down Gramps' throat. It looked like a statue of some sorts, but both of them felt something ominous from it and dare not approach it. And Gramps was fine before it appeared, too. Hmm, hmm…Too much of a coincidence."

"So you're saying this statue might be the cause of his unnatural slumber?"

"Yes, and I do believe it's still in there somewhere, probably at the centre of Gramps' brain, causing all his brain cells to fall into a hibernation condition, thus making him fail to respond to any of our calls."

Ryu scratched his head meaningfully. The idea of going into a whale's innards in order for them to continue their journey was not very pleasing at all. "So how do we get into this…Gramps' body?"

"Oh," The mischievous glint in his eyes practically told Ryu all he needed to know. "We're inside him."

"Are you really alright?" Ryu turned at the sound of her voice, as they wandered through the massive insides of the old whale, though one might believe that they were within a strange granite cave of gargantuan proportions, with a certain Woren and Highlander still shivering over the fact that they were actuallyinside a living thing. As for Nina...he knew he was asking too much for them not to be still concerned for his emotional state.

"It's nothing…I think I'll get used to it soon enough." He smiled, though it seemed that it was not convincing enough for the winged enchantress to stop her worrying as she lowered her voice considerably, just enough for the two of them to hear.

"I-If anything, you can always talk to me about it. I'll be here all the time."

He turned in somewhat light-hearted surprise and replied her smile with genuine one of his own. It was surprising how a small reassurance like this could put his heart at ease…Even if it will be for a short while. An audible gasp and the sound of weapons being drawn robbed his attention away immediately, however, as he drew his own. "What's wrong? Monsters?"

"Yeah…Never thought a whale's insides could contain that many." Sten pointed to the numerous J-Fish closing in as well as at least a dozen Catfish, closing in on them.

"Well, it's not as though we've never been vastly outnumbered and came out alive before…What's the issue?"

Sten screeched, some panic creeping into his voice. "Don't you think I've already taken that into account? It's the rate at which they're appearing…It's endless!" He paused for a while to throw a Bomb spell at another group of Catfish, literally vaporizing them. "What's more, they seem as though they were possessed by something, judging from their movements and expressions."

Sten was right. Even the gentler creatures such as Amonicas seemed to have murderous intent of their own, tentacles raised in as menacing a manner as possible. Even as Ryu racked his brains on what to do, they were all closing in. He had to make a decision quickly.

"…Make a break for it."


"Run, damn it! Who knows how big Gramps' stomach is! There could be more monsters here than in any particular dungeon you might have come across!"

"Can't you use your Dragon form? Blow these little critters away like they were nothing. That might save us a lot of trouble than trying to re-memorize the route we took."

Ryu shook his head furiously, feeling his hair stand as he felt the electrical pulses from Nina's close-ranged Sonic Boom spell. "I'll just be injuring Gramps internally, with the magnitude of power for my Dragon form, that is. Now, we need to run. At least it's better than standing our ground to fight them off while we slowly get surrounded!"

"Che." The monkey relented, though unwillingly, as did Katt. The others complied soon enough and fell back with Ryu in the lead. They did not know how long they ran or where, but judging from the change in the coloring of the 'cavern walls', they knew, at the very least, that they were going deeper and given some grace from Lady Luck, the right direction…Or so Ryu hoped.

"I think we might have lost them for the time being." He panted, bent over with his hands on his knees. "We can travel safely for the time be-huh?" He looked over his shoulders and saw only half of the original group with which they started out with when they made their frantic escape from the frenzied group of monsters. He momentarily forgot his weariness and turned to the closest person next to him. "Where are the rest?"

"I…believe we got…separated…from the rest…" Rand struggled to catch his breath. "By the way…It…occurred to me…How are we…going to get to Gramps'…Gramps' brain?"


"Think about it…There will probably be blood flowing in and out, denying us entry to his brain. If ya think about it, it ain't easy."

"No worries about that. All we need to take note of is to travel as fast as possible to his brain." Bow picked himself up and beat some dust off his clothes. "I've already taken that into account and asked Jack about it. It seems that Gramps is in a state of stasis due to whatever has happened to him."

"And that means-?"

"He's temporarily dead…All the nerves are not responding, and it seems that there is something keeping him alive…Though it would be safe to conclude that whatever caused him to be in such a state is also keeping him alive for some purpose and that there would be a lower possbility of having blood rushing in on us suddenly." Ryu concluded, answering Katt's question almost immediately. His weapon was out of his sheathe again as he glanced around. "There could still be things lurking around here, so be on your guard."

The remaining Rand, Katt and Bow nodded simply, readying their arms and prepared to use them whenever necessary. They could never too cautious, especially after their little run-in with the throng of overly-friendly monsters.

It was thus, a surprise that there were hardly any encounters, save for the occasional Amonica leaping out only to find itself outnumbered. More often than he would like to, Ryu found his mind wandering, so whenever a monster came near, it was Katt (who persistently stuck close to him) who did the job for him. He was chided for letting his guard down, but all Ryu could do was apologize and return to his own little world before the whole cycle repeated itself twice.

"Honestly, what's wrong with you? I'd have thought that you would be one to pounce on any opportunity to fight."

"I'm not that fanatical about fighting, Katt." He smiled to the annoyed Woren, the blood on one sharpened end of her bow staff telltale signs of the amount of enemies who had met their end at her hands so far. "It's simply that…"

"Simply what?"

"I wonder how the others are doing. It's been a while since we have been separated from them, after all."

The only one you would really wonder about would be her, idiot. Was what she wanted to tell him, but the mere thought of it brought about some heartache. Why was it that she could only envision them together without being able to smile truthfully, or was it simply her heart teasing her?

She was jealous.

It was already an undeniable fact (with the unwitting assistance of Nina it had been very much so), so much so that she did not even have the energy to argue with that irritating inner voice in her head telling her so.

Somewhere in your heart, you wanted her gone…you don't even want her to exist, do you?

The voice sounded so enticing. It was as though what it was saying was the right thing to do. She clutched her head in frustration and pain, trying to resist the sweet temptations of the eerie tone, echoing off the grottos of her mind.

"You alright?" She turned and blushed at the proximity at which Ryu's face was with hers. "You looked like you were in pain. Is anything wrong?"

That was the part of him that she probably liked the most. Despite having a dark and brooding side to him, the brighter aspects of his personality included his playfulness (sometimes) and compassion for his friends. Her pain somehow lessened as she heard his voice and she put up a false front, topped with a wide grin.

"I'm alright, I'm alright. I was just thinking a little on what we were fighting and had a small headache there."

"You and the word 'think' don't really seem to match."

"Oh, you think so too? Why th-What did you say?" She roared at the Ranger who laughed in her face before running off. Rand simply shook his head in amusement while Bow chortled merrily. Somehow, the atmosphere turned light again with just that mere comment.

Was he the same moody and dark person just several hours ago? That was the first question on her mind. It was surprising how he always seemed to recover, despite seemingly showing two sides of the coin at one time and letting one side slide abruptly…

Who was he exactly?

"Are you sure zis is ze right vay, Monsieur Sten?"

"Yeah, I'm absolutely sure. My sense of direction never fails me." The Highlander smirked, a little two wide and too quick for Nina's liking. She was sweating and gasping slightly right after they had lost their pursuers, despite having the ability to fly.

"Sten…Are you absolutely sure we are heading the correct way?"

"Don't worry Princess! It's all within my grasp!"

"…So I can assume that meeting that dead end up front was within your expectations as well?"

Sten froze upon her statement and turned back to face a solid wall, blank and taunting. He recovered quickly though, laughing it off and sped the other way, retracing his footsteps to see where he had taken a wrong turn. Nina sighed. The insides of a whale were probably going to be bigger than they imagined. Judging from how Sten was helping them find the way, even a mole might fare better. At times like these, her mind could not help but wander…

" Vat are Ryu and ze ozers doing? was what you were thinking, right?" She turned; alarmed that the normally silent frog Prince could somehow uncannily read her mind.

"How did you-"

He smiled, the expression an innocent and honest one. "It's written all over your face, Princess. It seems zat you can't hide zis one from me, at least." He continued as they watch Sten rant and curse, looking for a route that might possibly lead to their salvation. "I hope zis is not too intrusive, but it does seem zat ze Princess is such a person: Compassionate, kind and alvays zinking of ozers."

Her cheeks turned slightly pink, though more from thehint that she had been concentratingmore on the intrepid Ranger more than her other comrades than from the praise he showered her with."You're embarrassing me, Jean. Besides, I'm not really a Princess anymore." Her smile grew sad. "I've been exiled from Winidia for an indefinite amount of time…Judging from the firm belief in the prophecy, there's no way I can go back without any animosity."

"Vell, just do somezing zat vill make zem grateful. Isn't it as simple as zat?" He gave her a wide grin, and Nina could not help but reply with a smile of her own. Sometimes she envied Jean. He was a Prince, yet knew little of deception and lies, living only in his own little world of innocence, imagination and simplicity.

It would be great if we could all live like that…

"There! Found it! This time, there's really no mistake about it!"

"Ah, Ve'll be counting on you again, Monsieur Sten."

Sten responded with an impatient wave of his hand. "You've to drop the formalities, Frogger. I feel quite uncomfortable with them anyway."

"Very vell…But how is it zat you are sure zat we are heading in ze right direction?"

"Well…" Sten scratched his head. "I listened."


"Faint sounds of a battle coming from the other side of the wall. You need to have really good ears for that kind of thing, Princess."

"Then that means-!"

Sten grinned. "Yeah…They're on the other side. We should hurry up front and wait for them first…Though a few pests seem to be in our way…" He smiled devilishly, turning back to the front to face a few more unknown monsters, each a seething mass of flesh with hardly any distinguishable features. He drew out his Zip daggers and charged, with Jean and Nina close behind.

"So that's where you got your injuries." Ryu spoke, amused as Bow wrapped a few bandages around the Highlander's wounds, who winced every now and then. "You really did charge straight in without thinking, did you? Reminds me of a certain Woren…"


He chuckled. "For once, both of you actually agreed on something." He wiped the grisly remains of a creature off his sword. "Well, since all of us are finally back together again, Let us concentrate on the task at hand."

"It seems there is only one way." Rand pointed to the single, large purplish arch, an ominous darkness waiting beyond. "Come to think of it, that place feels a little creepy compared to what we've traveled through."

"No time to ponder about it. We're running out of time for Gramps." He sped towards the arch, only to ram against an invisible wall and bounce back, dazed and unhurt save for the slight bruise on his arm.

"A barrier!" Bow exclaimed as though it was the newest invention in the world.

"A magical barrier." Nina calmly countered, immediately muttering some incantations. The seemingly invisible surface shimmered, a distortion appearing on its flawless surface. "…It's no good. I can only reveal the barrier. Whoever set up this barrier probably has greater mental power or is a really formidable mage to begin with."

Rand hammered on the wall with his fists, only to meet the same fate as Ryu did: Being smashed into the opposite wall of the entrance. "Dang it! Ain't there no way ta' break this darn thing?"

The Ranger, who had by now recovered and assessed the situation, was quiet. He had an idea…A dangerous one, if one might ask the nature of it, but it was nevertheless probably the most efficient way, if his theory could be proven…


"Yes?" She did not turn to him as usual, concentrating instead on recalling any spell which could break down a barrier from her memory banks.

"To break this shield, you need a spell of an offensive nature greater than its defense or someone with greater mental power, right?"

"Mmm…More or less. Either way would work-Where are you going?"

The earnest smile ceased her protests almost immediately. "Trust me on this. I'll get us in." He proceeded to touch the barrier and to the astonishment of the party, Ryu's hand remained on the wall as though something with great adhesive strength had glued his hand to it.

Are you ready? I'm just going to let you go free for a while for now. Take it as a repayment for saving my life in the caverns then…I'm warning you, no funny tricks.

He could hear the entity laugh, but it was neither raucous nor mocking, but a sincerely amused one. You are a strange one. Few sane men would have taken the risk to let go of a separate entity which seemed to be always hell-bent on breaking free and rebelling against the will of its host.

I was never really sane in the first place, I suppose.

…That was a pretty good comeback for a Broodling of your age.

Keep that in mind. Now, is there anything I need to know before I release you?

…The higher your pain threshold, the better.

That's pretty reassuring…next? Ryu could imagine the entity raising an eyebrow at him for such a statement. Somehow, he was beginning to feel more at peace with the spirit inside of him…Though he could feel that there was still some underlying animosity towards it.

…You ARE a weird one…I cannot remain in the physical plane for more than five minutes without a physical host strong enough to contain me, so you better pray hard, young one.

…Alright. Go. Ryu steeled himself, and felt the tension leaving his mind, soul and body. It was a feeling of peace, as though he could finally rest…

Then it was as though something snapped, and the searing agony came rushing into him, into his mind, invading his senses and embargoing rationality from his mental harbors. He must have screamed, for the last thing he saw was a group of worried and shocked adventurers rushing towards him, though he was not entirely sure why he saw several of those blurry figures drop to the ground like puppets before his world turned to darkness…

"What a rough ride…" Dannath Gorath, clad in the full customary armor he always remembered he wore even till his demise shook his head to clear the nausea. He had never gotten use to traveling from one plane to another so forcefully and quickly. Had it been a weaker host, Dannath feared that the latter would have already gone insane, become a cripple or at best, a painful death.

"Heh…How long has it been since I was last here? That fool should have called me out when he was talking to Ladon…Could've settled old scores with that old fool…" He grinned at the thought of that, his razor sharp teeth showing. "But it seems that will have to wait." He turned, the devilish smile literally plastered onto his face permanently, making his draconic features even more beastly, if that were possible.

"You're the one responsible, eh?" The warrior was standing in a great hall, decorated with walls of pulsating pink and purple. He assumed that the dome in the centre was the brain, and at the center of it stood a lifelike statue made of ancient stone. Its eyes glowed, showing an evil crimson color as it turned, as though it had a life of its own.

"Eh? Don't tell me you're surprised. The only one who could break your goddamned barrier around here currently can only be me, fool." He cracked his knuckles and licked his scaly lips. "I might have a fair idea who or what put you there, but I guess there's only so much I can do for now. Besides, breaking one or two of her minions' dolls wouldn't cause her a teensy bit ofheartache, would it?"

He stepped towards the statue when his legs felt as though they had been encased in lead. He smirked, the confidence never fading from his posterior. "A little magic trick won't stop me, fool." He flexed his muscles and concentrated, taking no more than five seconds to throw off the Slow spell. "Here I go!"

The next two Fireball spells barely missed him, while the third one was deflected by his bare palms. The Stone Doll's eyes flashed dangerously, and it teleported itself out of Harm's way just as Dannath's fist was about the shatter it into a million rock shards. The former simply laughed, and before the Stone Doll knew what happened, an arm flew off from its body, courtesy of a back attack from its opponent.

"The only thing that could be feared from you was your mental power…That was why all those runts beyond the entrance are sleeping like logs, eh?" He placed a large portion of the arm into his mouth and crunched it, spitting out some a moment later.

"Pssh…You're tainted, damn it…Not even worth eating. Well, sentient or not, you're just as worthless as the amateur who placed you here. He really doesn't know how to power you up…Of course, not many do nowadays anyway." He cackled and appeared in front of the Doll in a flash, ripping off its arms and legs, leaving only a torso and the head on the floor. "…This is the end, fool. Any last words?"

The light from its gray pupils flared, wailing out a signal which might be mistaken for desperation or simply urgency. Dannath's eyes widened.

"What…? Are you telling me that you don't even know who 'She' is? Who's your master?"

Another series of flashing lights went off.

He nodded in understanding this time, surprise sliding off his face like an eel off a slippery wall. "I see…It has come to that, hasn't it…" He grinned. "Well, for that, I'll grant you the mercy of being my next meal…Even if you don't serve as the best meal for me.

The light in the Doll's eyes died out as Dannath feasted upon its remains as though it was the nectar of the gods. He knew he had to savor every moment he had currently, for if his host was to wake up without him…It was best not to think about it.

The dragon warrior strutted out, looking at fallen group who had yet to awaken from their unnatural slumber. He grinned as he saw the Ranger, face no longer twisted in pain but at peace, as though it had been an uneventful last journey of his life. Dannath grinned, happy to see that his host looked neither a hypocritical crusader of justice nor an evil maestro of magic, plotting and cackling his way to world domination. There was no need to question his personality since he had come to the conclusion.

He scanned the group, and his eyes widened at the sight of the all too familiar black wings. No…How can it be? It's wrong…IT'S WRONG! He growled, backing away from the sleeping Winidian woman. Dannath calmed himself quickly, and took a closer look at the person in question. She was exceedingly attractive, more than the females of any other species he had came across in his entire life. He chuckled for the first time, taking note to torment his host with a few questions here and there about his Winidian lady friend later.

She's a Winidian…Could she be the one? Dannath wondered, but even so, he felt strange, as though his innards were contracting and being sucked out. The time had come for him to return, and despite his mental protests, Dannath knew that staying any longer would endanger both host and scrounger, for lack of a better word. He grinned and allowed himself to be pulled into the eddy of mystical forces.

"Till then again, Asparia. We'll have more fun when I return."

And with a cackle and a sound akin to the crack of thunder, he disappeared.

"Uh…" The Ranger rubbed his head, feeling extremely tired for some reason, even though the pain had subsided. The dream had been rather stormy and confusing: Dozens of blurry images inserted into his head, a stone statue with a life of its own, black wings…

Black wings? He couldn't have! Ryu turned frantically. Upon seeing an unconscious Nina (as well as the other party members) all safe and sound, seemingly uninjured, he hugged her close out of relief.

"Mn.…" He quickly released her from the embrace as the Winidian opened her eyes blearily. "What happened?"

"It's over…We've defeated the source of the evil behind Gramps' stasis."

"Oh…That's great! But I can't seem to remember anything…"

"You've probably used too much energy spamming magic and concentrating so much on that attempt for your high-level offensive spell."

"You saw?...And knew what it was?" Nina was surprised. She had always thought Ryu's expertise to be in combat, not magic.

"I got the gist of it. It was a Bolt-X spell, right?"

"Yeah…Even though I knew it would damage Gramps from inside…" She hung her head in forlorn and shame. Ryu shook his head.

"It's alright…Everything's over…At least for now. The only problem now is how to carrying these guys back." He glanced in mock horror at Rand, who was snoring away. Nina giggled…and blushed at the position she realized she was in.

"Ryu…" She glanced down, her cheeks getting hotter by the minute. She was sitting quaintly on Ryu's lap, her skirt slightly hiked up while her body was still somewhat uncomfortably close to his. The fact that he was still holding her by her shoulders didn't help her temperature to cool either.

"S-Sorry about that!" The Ranger struggled to separate himself from her, only to fall face forward his arms flailed, and Nina tried to push him away to no avail…

She felt a shock-no, more like a tingle run through her body briefly. It was a pleasant feeling, causing her to shiver ever so slightly but so fleeting that she felt as though she could be addicted to it. She wanted it to last forever and as though sapped of strength, she leaned weakly onto Ryu.

"Nina? Are you alright? You must've been more drained of energy than you thought you were." The former Princess snapped awake from her daydream and reflexively pushed her friend away, putting some distance between them. He grunted in more surprise than pain and chuckled. "Well, it looks like you're well enough to try to assault me with a push." Dusting off his clothes, he smiled a little too quickly. "L-Lets wake the others up, yeah?"

"Y-Yeah." She stammered, unconsciously touching her lips with her slender fingers.

"Is this the place?" The party had awakened, with a little more coaxing from Ryu and Nina for Rand and Bow, who were sleeping as though they had long passed on. Despite the efforts of Dannath, Gramps had yet to awaken, and only when they returned to Old Man Jack did he suggest an outrageous idea.

"Yeah. Just swing like you always-Not so hard, Katt!"

It was too late. The vicious stroke struck the loose muscle hanging from the ceiling heavily and it swung back like a punching bag taking the most powerful punch from a heavyweight boxer, almost hitting Bow in the chin as he stood a tad bit too close. For several seconds, it was as though time stopped. What they expected to happen did not come.

But it did soon enough.

"Did you hear zat?" Jean inquired, to which the whole party listened intently. A loud, rushing sound, seeming to contain the anger at the fact that someone (or something, in Gramps' case) hurt his Adam's apple really badly sounded the roar ever so familiar to Jean.

"Mon Ami! Ve better get out of here on ze double!" He shouted at the top of his voice. It was too little, too late, however, as the torrents of water gushed through and skyrocketed them into the air.

"…I hate flying and fish."

"Whales still aren't fish, Sten."

"Whatever." With that said, he crashed-landed into the inn which they were staying at, hurtling through a window and shattering the glass. The rest either landed through the roof or were simply stuck-Headfirst, no less.

"So, who wants some first class tickets to the biggest luxurycruiser around here?"

The only response he got were several pieces of pottery thrown at him as well as laughter from a certain black-winged sorceress.

I'm seriously sorry about the terrible inconsistency in quality. There have been a few issues with my cruciate ligament, my mental state due to being cooped up in my house for a month (yes, I'm serious. I feel like going crazy any moment) and other minor matters as well as a minor writers' block for BoF. I might shorten the future chapters and increase the number of them, though it would help if there's any feedback, which will be very much appreciated. Thanks for reading my crap and have a good day!