Ten years the war continued, on one side: Myria's forces, on the other the Alliance, comprising of Woren, Forest Clan, Black Dragon Clan and the remainder of the Light Clan who chose to fight. As Myria's campaign continued west, they found themselves trapped between the hammer that were the Winlan forces to the east and the anvil that were the Alliance forces to the south. Despite their advantage due to their numbers, Myria's forces could not advance to the south without risking an attack from the east; also the Alliance forces could not attack Myria's forces because they lacked the numbers to do so and the Winlan army could not make an attack because of the Nameless Clan, who were Myria's allies, to the north. As none of the world's Clans could advance and attack another it seemed a stalemate as each faction waited for another to make the first move. However, all communication and travel to and from Winlan ceased and there were stories of how the kingdom city was completely abandoned. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Myria's forces advanced upon the Alliance army, forcing them back across the Kroile Plains, where the Mole Clan and Plains Clan then took up residence. The Alliance was forced to move around the mountains of the valley of Spring, passed the city of Carmen and the Chronos Tower (1) and then through the mountain pass called the Dragon's Maw and into the Valley of Dragons where the fortress of Scande lay. It was there the Alliance army found sanctuary for now the size of Myria's army was its disadvantage; the small pass through the mountains forced them to go through it in fewer numbers, those that came out the Dragon's Maw were easy prey for the Alliance army. Myria's army was forced to retreat and regroup, but they did not go far to keep the Dragons and their allies from leaving the valley. The Woren and the Forest Clan, however, had their own ways of escaping the valley and parted ways with the Dragon Clan to strike at Myria from different points. Though it seemed like a stalemate once more, Myria was slowly winning, witling down the dragons forces with each strike. Ten years had passed and even though the majority of Myria's army remained near the Dragon's Maw, She had other means of keeping the 'peace' throughout the world.
Ryu walked into Liem's office. In ten (2) years he had matured, both physically and mentally. An upstanding youth with potential leadership abilities, though he grew up in the more peaceful part of the war-torn world he would and did fight when it was necessary. His long, sleeveless trench coat was more than a simple coat, but cloth covered chain mail and his white, sleeveless shirt and red pants had leather padding. He had grown his hair long, binding it in a ponytail and he still kept the bandanna to conceal the draconic birthmark on his forehead. The well-maintained long sword that was slung on his back ensured that he was always prepared for combat.
Liem hadn't changed much in ten years, but he had been leaving Ryu and his friends to do more patrols as he was getting on in years. He sat at his desk in the one time home for orphans of the village, reading over a report as Ryu walked in.
"You wanted to see me sir?" Ryu asked.
"Yes, I have a job for you. We were supposed to receive some footmen for the village militia, but they have yet to arrive. I need you, Rennard and Lionne to go on patrol down to the Fairy's Forest and see if anything happened."
"Why us? And for that matter, why are you going to outside sources for the militia?"
"We have to, farmers and hunters aren't sufficient to defend against a Forest Clan attack. They do have a fortress in the northern forest, if you recall. The soldiers have been trained and since this village will be their home, they'll have a reason to defend it. As for why you, well there have been rumors of bandits. If the group has been attacked or is under attack by bandits and if these bandits are associated with Bleak's Thieves Guild, you and your group will keep casualties on both sides to a minimum. We don't need trouble with the Thieves Guild."
"I understand, I'll get the others together and we'll leave right now." Ryu said, starting to leave.
"One more thing, Kuroki was already out on patrol, so I sent him word. You'll meet up with him near Mt. Zublo (3)."
Ryu hurried his pace, for if Kuroki found and attacked the bandits before Ryu, Rennard and Lionne got there, it could get very messy. Ryu supposed it came from the years Kuroki spent as a mercenary. Nobody had known what had happened to Kuroki when he left at thirteen years of age, only that he had changed greatly when they saw him again when he was eighteen.
Ryu made his way to where Lionne and Rennard waited. Rennard had endeavored to make himself more like his kinsmen as he matured, wearing hunting garb like theirs, designed to blend in with forest surroundings. His fur was still white which made him stand out all the more and even though his eyes always appeared to be closed, he was a peerless archer with uncanny eye sight; he could spot prey from much farther off than anyone else among the hunters of the village.
Lionne had not changed much either, being of a child-like nature, energetic and happy, she brightened many people's spirits. She took to wearing dear-hide shorts and vest from a dear she herself had killed and skinned and wore her golden hair in a long braid, with feathers and beads strung in; a style that was quite common among Woren women, but Lionne didn't know that.
Upon seeing Ryu approach, Lionne perked up, knowing that something was up just by looking at his stance and concerned expression. If there was something wrong it could mean they were about to have fun, of course Ryu would groan if she mentioned the word 'fun' and Rennard would remind her that her sense of 'fun' was not the same as other's definition.
"Ryu, what's up?" She asked clearly eager to be doing something.
"We've just got to do a little patrol, that's all." Ryu said sternly, trying to discourage her excitement.
"To where?" Rennard asked, unwilling to encourage or discourage Lionne's enthusiasm.
"Down to Fairy's Forest, were to check for bandits and perhaps escort a group of foot soldiers back to the village. Kuroki will meet up with us around Mt. Zublo." Ryu said, walking towards the stables, Lionne and Rennard behind him.
Lionne smiled mischievously and dashed towards the stables mounting the nearest horse. Cursing, Ryu ran after, grabbing a saddle and quickly saddling and mounting his own horse. Rennard calmly did the same, seemingly in no hurry to catch up to Lionne, knowing that while she would get a good head start, she would have to slow down so as not to exhaust her mount and they'd catch up to her eventually. And they did catch up to her about half way to the volcano, Mt. Zublo. Rennard looked out into the distance towards Mt. Zublo.
"What do you see?" Ryu asked.
"A group near Mt Zublo... might be bandits." Rennard replied.
It was indeed the bandits and they had surrounded the foot soldiers that were on their way to the village of Tuntar. The soldiers made no move to attack, for they were ordered to protect the woman they were traveling with and a break in their defensive formation would leave her vulnerable. The bandits were eager to relieve them of either their zenny or their lives and the fat thief that was their leader was about to do so when they were interrupted. They turned to see an approaching figure, Kuroki, a man six and a half feet in height with short spiky black hair. He was heavily muscled and wore heavy breastplate as well as lighter, but durable armor on his left arm. His right arm was bare save for the blue runes that covered it. The scar on his nose, the scowl expression on his face, his size and his appearance, all were designed to intimidate his opponents and these thieves became nervous.
"Hey! Beat it before we beat ya!" The fat thief snarled at the new comer.
He said nothing, but laid a hand on the hilt of his sword.
"So, ye're going to throw yer life away for a group a strangers. What a load of heroic crap. Kill 'em." The fat thief said motioning to one of the other thieves.
A thief advanced on the new comer, brandishing a knife. Kuroki drew his blade at a surprising speed. The blade was named Ogre Blade due to its size being about six feet long, it was not sharp, but it was designed with its weight and shape to part armor, flesh and bone. The runes on his arm glowed blue as he brought the sword down on the thief's head. The sword parted flesh and bone easily as it descended through the thief's cranium. It stopped at around his sternum. With a motion he wrenched the sword free, hurtling the thief corpse to the ground where his blood pooled on the ground. The stranger rested the blade tip on the ground and seemed to wait for the thieves' reaction. The thieves grew increasingly nervous and restless; many of them appeared as though they would run at any moment. The fat thief leader looked at his cohorts in fury.
"Ye goddamned cowards! He's only one man! You three, kill em!" The fat thief said pointing to three of his men.
"So eager to throw your lives away." Kuroki said as he hefted his blade into a ready position.
The three thieves began to advance reluctantly, the rest of the bandits kept their weapons trained on the soldiers, but their eyes strayed to the swordsman, the soldiers also watched with great interest. Gathering up their courage, the three charged and the runes on the swordsman's glowed blue once again. The three never made it too him as an arrow lodged itself in the first thief's arm, just below his wrist, causing him to drop his weapon; the second had an arrow lodged in his shoulder and the third had an arrow shot into his leg, just above the knee. The force of impact cause the thief to lose his balance and fall forward, which aggravated the pain cause by the wound. Ryu and Lionne approached the group and Rennard, who had fired off the three shots, hung back, prepared to fire more shots.
"Now gentlemen, there's no need to resort to violence. If you bandits would kindly remove yourselves, we'll escort our friends here and you don't need to get angry over the death of one person. I have to warn you though, if you choose to keep fighting, you'll lose." Ryu said to the fat thief.
The fat thief stared at Ryu and laughed, then suddenly charged at Ryu. Ryu drew his own long sword and blocked the blow easily.
"Ya little shit! D'ya think I'm scared of you? Three people ain't gonna make a difference." The fat thief said.
"You'd be surprised." Ryu smirked.
Chaos suddenly erupted as the soldiers pressed forward, attacking the bandits, but without breaking the defensive formation. What few thieves remained broke off to fight the rest of Ryu's group, though reluctantly. Several thieves attempted to kill Ryu as he was busy with their leader; however, several warning shots from Rennard dissuaded them.
Kuroki cut a swath through those bandits who attacked him, wielding his blade like a normal sword, though to much deadlier effect. He had killed his second opponent and was about to run a third through, when someone landed on the flat of his blade. It only took him a moment to adjust for the sudden increase in weight on his blade. Looking he saw that Lionne was balancing herself perfectly on the flat of the blade. She fought her battles with a sort of reckless abandon, as interested in how many risks she could take as she was in defeating her opponent.
"Li, get off." Kuroki growled at her.
Lionne looked back at Kuroki and giggled. The thief before them had stopped his advance mere inches before the point of Kuroki's blade and stood there transfixed by the sword.
"Sooooorrrry, Ku." She said sheepishly as she jumped off the blade, using it like a springboard.
Kuroki turned his attention to the thief before him who was still quivering in fear. Without hesitation, Kuroki ran him through.
Lionne loved fights, they were the greatest test of her abilities and she always got an adrenaline rush from testing her limits. She supposed that it might be due to some primal Woren instinct, but she didn't care really. She did back flips, somersaults and rolls all to avoid attacks by the thieves. She punched, kicked, broke arms, legs and used a variety of submission holds to render her opponents incapable of fighting without using her weapons. She found herself between several foes and she crouched low, preparing to spring into action at any second. The bandits took a step towards her and like a depressed spring let loose, she jumped, twirling like a whirlwind, katar (4) in hand causing multiple wounds to her opponents. Fortunately for them the wounds were small and light, however, they might die from the sheer number of them if they did not get them treated.
Rennard held back from the chaos of battle. He was as archer, his fire was meant to support his friends. Those that did try to attack him directly found that he was more than capable of fighting them as he perforated them with arrows. None of his shots were lethal, but they would keep them from fighting for a long time, if not hampering their combat abilities to the point where they would never be able to hold a weapon again.
From within the protective circle of they received a great deal of support as the one the soldiers protected cast spells to support Ryu's allies and attack the bandits.
Ryu was having a moderately difficult time with the fat thief, for such a large man he was remarkably fast and Ryu did not see how he could defeat him without killing him. Therefore Ryu defended, biding his time, waiting for an opening. The fat thief, though he had a great deal of endurance and agility, was beginning to slow down and tire and then he made a mistake as he leaned in a little to far, trying to cut Ryu down. Ryu took advantage of the thief's misstep, parrying the blow, twisting the sword and forcing the sword out of the thief's hands. The sudden clatter of the sword on the ground caught everyone's attention and fighting ceased as bandit and soldier alike turned to see the fat thief defeated. The fat thief stood there in indignation as Ryu held the sword up to his throat. The bandits looked at each other and, being neither particularly brave, nor particularly stupid, began to quit the field, picking up their wounded and running away as best they could.
"COME BACK HERE YA COWARDS! WE CAN STILL WIN!" The fat thief yelled after his fleeing cohorts.
"Get out of here." Ryu said lowering his sword. "You can't win."
The fat thief seemed to smolder in anger but did nothing. Ryu turned to direct his friends in the removal and burial of the bodies. Despite the amount of combat there were not that many dead, more wounded than anything, but leaving unburied bodies was just asking to be attacked by zombies.
"LOOK OUT!" A feminine voice cried out to Ryu.
Ryu reacted with lightning speed, turning around and plunging his sword into the heart of his assailant. The fat thief had tried to take him down with a sneak attack, but Ryu's sword was now buried in his neck. The fat thief slumped to the ground, sliding off the blade, quite dead.
"Dammit." Ryu cursed himself, he hadn't wanted to kill the thief and now there might be problems because of his arrogance and carelessness.
Ryu directed the soldiers to help with burial; he was going to have a word Kuroki. He cleaned the blood off his sword and then sheathed it as he approached Kuroki.
"What the hell were you thinking, taking on all those bandits at once? I know you think you're some kind of god of death with your sword, but even you couldn't have taken them all on. And another thing, you know we aren't supposed to kill bandits; if they're apart of Bleak's thieves guild and we killed them, the guild could seek retrebution on the village." Ryu said to him.
"These were pathetic bandits, they would have posed no trouble for me." Kuroki said in perfect calm. "And IF they were important enough for the guild to concern themselves with them and IF the guild does seek retribution on the village, then I will take responsibility. You wont have to concern yourself over the death of that fat thief, I'll take responsibility for that too."
"That's not what I meant. And what if they want to take it out on the village? What if your taking responsibility for it isn't enough for the guild?" Ryu demanded.
"Then I will deal with it, with or without your help." Kuroki said, turning to join the others in the burial of the bodies.
Ryu sighed in frustration. Did he really have what it took to be a leader? Kuroki acted on his own and Lionne didn't listen to him when he gave orders during battle. Rennard might have been a better choice as a leader for the group. Ryu turned to the cloaked woman who had called out to him before. Her long black cloak had golden runes on the hem, which was an obvious indicator that she was a mage, if her spell casting during battle hadn't been a more obvious clue. She also carried a staff, though it was not to help her walk, but rather as an external source for her magic and a weapon.
"Thanks for the warning before." Ryu said in a friendly tone.
The woman smiled kindly. It was a soft smile, a shy smile, but her expression was more bemused than anything.
"Do I have something on my face?" Ryu whispered to Rennard.
"Its good to see you again, Topaz. It's been far too long." Rennard said, addressing the woman.
'I am such an idiot.' Ryu thought to himself for not recognizing her earlier.
"All things come with a price. The thing is, it is not always a monetary one." - Anonymous.
Music: 'Galvanized Boss" (OC Remix, Final Fantasy 7)
Author Notes: My apologies for not being able to get this to you, my readers sooner. I'd tell you what the problems were, but since I'm sure you guys don't give a rat's hind end about my life or my problems, lets just say the shit hit the fan and leave it at that.
1)- I never liked the name 'Toc Tower', I hope everyone is okay if I use the name Chronos Tower instead?
2)- From here on out Ryu and Topaz are 18 years old, Rennard is 19 years old, Lionne is 16 and Kuroki is 20. So no more complaints about how their age and for the record I was always planning to do this.
3)- That Volcano where the Stone Robot threw itself into was not called Zublo, I'm sure, but I didn't know what else to call it.
4)- Katar are punch daggers. They were the weapons used by the Assassin in Diablo 2, if you need a visual reference. I believe a character from Soul Calibur 2 also used such weapons.