He groaned as the sun's rays finally reached his eyes. It was just after the gruesome night's battle, the broken rune satisfied, therefore all his doings and injuries finally took its toll on him. 'Spirits I hate this feeling… the feeling of being weak and helpless…' The boy thought bitterly. He suddenly leaned over to the side, bringing his face over a bowl on the table and vomited, his face already pale.

"If she saw me now…but then… this is the price to pay… I promised her. I swore an oath to myself…" he threw up again.

"Are you alright Hugo?"

He suddenly smiled softly as he saw an Alma Kinan villager enter the room. "Hehe…dé jà vu…"

"So this is what happened to you…" he suddenly heard a woman chuckle. "The great 'Keeper of the Flame', bedridden and unable to see…"

"Oh you…" the bedridden man said, cheeks flushed in anger and embarrassment. "…Just you wait till I can fully recover!"

"I'll try." The Alma Kinan woman said with a slight chuckle. Though he couldn't see it, he felt her smile grow. "C'mon." he felt a warm, soft hand grab his own. "I was assigned to take care of you."

"Where are you taking me…?"

"For a walk." She helped him stand up. "We need to exercise those muscles of yours."

As soon as he stood, he almost fell down. Luckily, the woman caught him in her arms. "Don't push yourself. Here, lean on to me." She said kindly.

"Thanks…" Hugo blushed beet red.

"You know…" she started slyly. "You're really cute when you blush like that."

Sadistic Lunatic Presents:

Indefinite Potential: Piper's Plan

"Yeah I'm feeling okay." Hugo lied. His stomach hurt, his head was spinning, and to top it all off, his injuries hurt real bad. Though they won the skirmish without any casualties, the injuries the warriors sustained were severe.

"If you say so." the Alma Kinan raised her left hand, balancing a tray with her right, as the symbol of a water rune appeared. "Kindness Drops."

Hugo's body suddenly felt a lot better as the water rune worked its soothing magic on his body. "Thanks, Yumi."

Yumi nodded and smiled, placing a tray of breakfast food on his bedside table. "Here, you better eat up to regain your strength. We'll be gathering at the briefing room after breakfast. See you there."

"Yeah, thanks…" Hugo nodded as she exited his room. Hugo sighed and lay back down on his bed before groaning as he stared at the True Fire Rune. "What in Spirits' name did I do last night…?"

Hugo arrived on the briefing room, albeit weakly, using his staff as an extra limb, in his usual red attire. He remembered why he started wearing these clothes. To put it simply, he outgrew his usual Karayan clothes. It seemed that, during the months of his recovery, the True Fire Rune in his right hand lay dormant; allowing him to actually grow . . . and grow he did. He was surprised that, when his eyesight finally returned, courtesy of the broken rune on his forehead, he had actually grown much taller. Though an added true rune had numerous advantages, he wasn't looking forward to receiving another. The process of forcibly attaching even a shard of the rune was painful enough.

He sat in his usual place; a couch beside the center table in the room. He lay down again, trying desperately to remember what he did last night that made him feel so weak. 'Let's see…I got into position. When it was time, I started fighting. I remember feeling the energy the Beast Rune provided me with. And then that knight challenged me . . . I got hurt, I remember. After that . . . what happened . . .?' Hugo furrowed his brows in deep concentration before sighing, twirling his red staff in the air with one hand. 'Why can't I remember?!'

"You okay?" a voice suddenly broke his train of thoughts. He opened his eyes and saw Nanami's worried stare.

"How do I look like?" he sighed exasperatedly.

"Like crap." She answered plainly.

"Exactly." He turned to face the other way, accidentally falling on the floor. "I meant to do that."

A light giggle escaped the woman's lips. "You better get back on the couch. Riou and Jowy are already on their way."

"Sure." Hugo propped himself up with his staff, his head spinning. Nanami seemed to have noticed as she helped him up.

"Take it easy." A more feminine sounding voice soothed, placing a wet towel on his forehead. Hugo was able to make out the outline of a figure and semi-gasped.

"Yuiri…?" he shook his head, clearing the cobwebs in it. "Oh…it's you."

"That's not very nice." Yumi smiled humorously at him before her eyes darkened slightly. "Besides . . . you should know better."

"Alright already." Hugo snapped, rubbing the towel harder on his forehead. ". . . Sorry. . . " me muttered and Yumi's smile returned when she heard it. "And besides. . . my head hurts."

"We can see that." Both women spoke and giggled at the same time.

More commanding officers started entering the room as the three continued to chat.

"What are we going to discuss about anyway?" Nanami whined. "It's still too early. We just fought a hard battle last night. Can't those two give us a break?"

"Well…" Hugo started. "They ARE our strategists, you know."

"True, true." Yumi agreed. "I think we're going to discuss which village we're going to liberate next. Safir or Duck." She paused before adding. "Also, from a strategic viewpoint, it's best to keep on the offensive and gain momentum. We have to attack while the Ironheads are uninformed of the recent loss of their forward army."

"Keeping the element of surprise?" Hugo half-smirked.

Just as Nanami was about to say something, the two bearers of the Rune of the Beginning entered the room, pulling a large sack that made clanking sounds. Everybody started sitting down on the chairs around the table, recognizing the bits of Ironhead gear the poked out from the sack. The meeting proper started as Hugo was, once again, was left to his own thoughts.

"So…" the Karayan boy began. "Since I can't see…" then he tried to walk by himself again, still failing as his legs wobbled. "And since I can't really move around too much, would you mind telling me about what's happening?"

"I'm not sure if you'd really like to hear it." She answered back softly. "The news isn't good, believe me."

"But I really want to know…" Hugo whined. "All Riou and the others told me was that a barrier was set-up to protect this village and Chisha. They also told me the . . . method of keeping the barrier strong." Hugo didn't know what to think of the fact that the elder Alma Kinan willingly sacrificed themselves just to keep the Zexen Federation at bay. He shook his head slightly before continuing. "And also that Le Buque sealed their mountain path with a landslide and that the Duck Clansmen fled to the Great Hollow for protection. Then Nanami told me about what they believe are the Ironhead's plans."

She smiled at him. "That's good enough then."

"But I want to know what happened to my village!" Hugo nagged in a deadly tone.

She looked up at hearing his tone, eyeing him and judging whether he was ready to hear about the genocide or not. Finally deciding that Hugo, the Flame Champion, needed to know about what happened as he was going to be a future deciding factor in the war she acquiesced.

"If you insist." She guided him to a near by rock, helping him sit on it while she sat beside him, holding his hand to show that she was still there. "There is no longer a Karaya Clan." She felt his body tense at her blunt words. "During your 'burial', the Ironheads entered your village. From what I've gathered, they claimed that they came to mourn your death, since relations between the Grasslands and the Federation were friendly. Since it seemed plausible and the Karayans didn't want to fight during your burial, they were allowed entrance. Then, in the middle of the ceremony, the Ironheads attacked. Your villagers didn't even know what hit them; they didn't realize that from the beginning of the ceremony, more and more Ironheads gathered until it was too late. Sergeant Joe and your pet, Fubar, were able to save three children as they fled to the Duck Village to inform the rest of the Grasslands. I'm sure you already know what happened next." She said, feeling Hugo's body shaking. She felt very guilty having to tell him about his village's fate. She hoped he would be able to steel himself since the road ahead would only get harder to pass. "Nobody was said to survive that massacre."

She immediately held his body close to hers, bringing his head to rest on her breast, like a mother comforting her distressed child. "Shh…" she soothed, massaging his back. "It's okay to cry."

"W-who…said… I…w-was…crying…" Hugo weakly said, holding back his tears.

"I know this is hard to accept but…that is the reality of war…" She started drawing circles on his back while her other arm brought his body closer. Hugo finally let loose and cried. "It's not entirely your fault, Hugo. Noone ever expected the Ironheads to stab us in the back, not when peace was finally achieved."

". . . I know. . . "

"And so that's the plan." Jowy concluded. "We leave tonight so we may arrive at our designated places by tomorrow."

"Hugo. Nanami." Riou called as the two stood, ready to leave. "Pick your troops. You two will be in charge of the Duck Village's liberation. Yumi," said person stopped at the mention of her name. "You'll be in charge of the villages' protection. Jowy and I will take command of the Safir Clan's liberation."

"Roger that." Hugo said and mock, saluted.

"Aye, aye, cap'n." Nanami smiled playfully.

"Oh, Sis!" Riou called back to her as she exited. "Can we have a word with you."

"Sure." She re-entered the hut. "What's up?"

"Well…it's about last night." Jowy started seriously.

"You mean it's about his behavior?" she pointed out.

"We've arrived at many reasonable explanations." Riou said sullenly. "Remember that day in Muse? The time the Golden Wolves attacked? Remember what started it?"

"What do you…OH!" Nanami gasped. "You mean-"

"Yes." Jowy said. "I'm afraid so. Keep an eye on him, Nanami. There isn't much known about the True Runes but it is know that they have 'wills' of their own."

"Yeah…" Nanami agreed. "But what should I do if ever…you know…?"

"Hold it back. Do something." Riou suggested. "Keep an eye on him . . . and yourself."

"If ever he shows signs of instability," Jowy closed his eyes. "Knock him out as hard as you can."

"We're counting on you."

Hugo recounted the battle plan. "'The key to this liberation is surprise' Jowy says…but still! This is stupid! This is crazy!"

Hugo sighed and paused to think. Well…what other way was there to ambush a village suspended above water without actually tearing it down…but then again, this plan would require each of them to fight like twenty knights. No easy task for long-ranged fighters…long-ranged WOMEN fighters to boot. Still, Jowy did say that they should begin the attack at early noon.

"Wonder why…?" Hugo sighed as he flopped back down on the bed. He was too tired to think. He turned his head to look at the tray of food on his bedside table. He barely touched it. 'Might as well return it' he thought as he stood up, clutching his head as his world started to spin again. He chuckled mirthlessly once more, remembering something she once made him do, just to help him walk again . . .

"I am not going to do this."

"C'mon." she pouted cutely. "For me?"

"No." Hugo said firmly. "Definitely not."

"What could it hurt?"

"My body if I fall." Hugo sighed. "Can't I just lean on you a bit longer?"

"Pervert." She accused. "Besides, you need the exercise."

"But I can barely see!"

"But you still can see."

"It's blurry!"

"And I've cleared the path." She sighed. "C'mon, do it." Then she added something just to get a rise out of him. "Or are you too much of a baby, afraid of having a little boo-boo?" She taunted.

"All right! I'll walk!"

"Good." She beamed, something very unlike her. "Ahem…one, two, three go! Baby steps. Ba-by steps!" she started singing, her arms wide as she saw him walking slowly towards her. "See, you're doing it!"

In Hugo's blurred vision, he was able to see the outline of her figure. 'Gotcha' he smirked. The Karayan suddenly tackled her to the ground once he was close enough.

"Eep!" she yelped as she fell against the grassy ground, Hugo propping himself up with his arms to prevent slamming against her with his full weight.

"Who's the little kid now?" he teased.

"Mmm…you are." She smiled. She cupped his face with both hands, bringing it down as she brushed her lips chastely against his. Hugo didn't move for a second before his mind registered the sensation and he slowly returned it just as she pulled back, missing due to his vision, as he kissed the corner of her lips shyly.

"You missed…" she stated mock-sadly.

"A little help would be greatly appreciated."

"You're really interesting, Hugo." She brought his face down to hers and kissed him again, this time more boldly.

Hugo smiled at the memory of their first kiss. He shook his head slowly, remembering he had to return the tray.

"Okay." He fired himself up. He turned from side to side cautiously, checking if there was anybody near by. Seeing as there wasn't, he began to move.

"Baby steps. Ba-by steps."

Spirits, he was going to kill himself if anybody saw him like this.