I don't own anything except Chris Keon, Kristov, and Paul Fleming

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As his companions began to recover from the surprise of seeing him effortlessly annihilate a Virage after being nearly killed by it, Chris examined his blade with a critical eye. "Hmm," he murmured. "Perhaps throwing it into the Virage's eye wasn't the best idea." He raised the rapier, revealing its badly corroded edge. "I think whatever fluid Virages use for blood is badly corrosive. This thing is useless now."

"I see." The wizard Paul walked over to him. "Try this," he said, pulling a scabbard from under his cape.

Chris took it, frowning slightly. It was curved, a little over three feet long, and had a twined handle with a metal pommel cap. "I've seen something like this before," he said softly, and drew the sword with a smooth, swift motion.

The revealed blade was breathtaking, mirror polished with a cloud pattern along the edge. Near the hilt, just above the round handguard, were several markings that he realized were Japanese. "It's called a Murasame," Paul said. "I obtained it in the land of Wutai, about the only place in my adopted homeland that wasn't quite taken over by the Shinra Corporation." He pointed at the markings. "Those read-"

"'En gozen za ken sokkyou nyuusen hitotsu'," Chris interrupted. "'I am the blade of the chosen one'."

"Er, yes," Paul replied, taken aback. "How did you know?"

The martial artist smiled. "I don't know how, but that language is identical to the Japanese of Earth. I happen to be fluent in it." He admired the weapon, careful not to touch the blade. "Murasame was a swordsmith, several centuries ago, in my world. It looks like examples of his work found their way to this 'Wutai' somehow, because this is without doubt a katana. The craftsmanship is beautiful." Carefully sheathing the blade, he held it in one hand, returned the now-useless rapier to its scabbard, and turned to the lava pit. "I commit thee to the fires from which thou was born," he said in a strange language, and threw the sword into the molten lava, where it disappeared.

Dart looked at him curiously as the youth tied the Murasame to his belt. "What language was that? I don't believe I've heard it before."

"Yupik," the Alaskan replied. "A tongue spoken by some Alaskan tribes. I'm fluent in that, as well."

"Full of surprises, my friend," Lavitz said with a grin. "You never mentioned you were a linguist!"

He smiled. "I did study more than just martial arts, Lavitz. I'm fluent in English, Japanese, Yupik, and Hebrew; I have a good working knowledge of French and Latin, and I can curse quite well in Russian and German." He shrugged. "I'm also something of a historian, and have enough math to navigate a ship."

"Ah! A scholar!" Paul laughed. "You'd have fit right in with some of my classmates at the Gariland Academy. Particularly the Oracles; Yin-Yang magic requires patience and study to master, and that breeds exceptional students."

Chris' eyes narrowed. "And, in case you've forgotten, I'm sixth-degree black belt in a very nasty martial art. I should also inform you that I dislike being teased. Just a friendly warning," he added with a thin smile. "But when I lose my temper, things have a tendency to be damaged. People get killed when I get angry. Understand?"

The magic user flinched from the biting tone, and then his eyes widened as he gazed into the younger man's, for they glowed green with an inner light...

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Following the strange exchange between wizard and warrior, the small group left the vicinity of the now-dead Virage and resumed their journey to the other side of the volcano.

For the first time since Dart and Lavitz had known him, Chris seemed fully at ease with his blade, deftly using variations of the rapier attacks Rose had taught him with the Murasame. Rose was satisfied with the change; unlike the others, she understood why his proficiency would differ so radically: some types of blades suited some more than others, and Chris Keon was in his element with the long, curved weapon.

Paul, for his part, was disturbed by what he had seen in the martial artist's eyes, for he had seen it before in the eyes of Cloud Strife and the madman called Sephiroth. It doesn't make any sense, he mused. The lad has no connection with Midgar or Shinra. And yet the facts remain. There is only one thing that can produce that effect. Only one. But how?

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They were near the exit when the Firebird finally chose to contest their passage, leaping out of the lava to confront them with its flames.

"I guess we've got no choice," Dart muttered. "Let's go!" He charged the monster, not bothering with his Dragoon Spirit; he knew full well fire magic would be counterproductive.

Rose, on the other hand, was immediately enveloped by a black sphere, emerging in the armor of the Black-Burst Dragoon. Without hesitation, she dove on the beast, rapier swinging with the ease of millennia of practice.

Lavitz and Chris glanced at each other, then simultaneously moved in, pirouetting with different styles. "Die! Hard Blade!" Chris called out.

Paul stood off to one side, arms raised. "Scatter your chilly sharp blades!" he chanted. "Ice!" He blinked as he noticed how little the low-level spell had done, and began preparing another.

In the meantime, an aura had developed around Rose. "Death Dimension!"

"Flower Storm!"

"Madness Hero!" Dart shouted, then grunted in anguish as his skin came into contact with the flaming avian. It was nothing more than an annoyance for him, though, since fire was his element. It didn't even burn him.

Behind him, the wizard was becoming increasingly frustrated. He'd tried everything up to Ice 4, and nothing had worked. Only one option remained to him, distasteful as it was. "Fine," he muttered, "if that's how you want to play it, I'm game." He drew his sword and closed his eyes, concentrating. Soon, the patterns on the blade began to glow with power, and his eyes opened. "Wind, fade to silence and light, give us power! Shiva!"

The massive ice summoning turned the flames to ice crystals in an instant, then shattered to pieces, which quickly melted in the heat.

"What... the..." Chris managed, staring at the older man. Rose, too, was staring, but in suspicion.

The mage smiled slightly. "I said I didn't have any use for summoning; I never said I didn't know how to use it." He nodded at the space the fiery bird had recently occupied. "Even Summoners have their place. They just need to learn that in most places, it's overkill of the worst kind."

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Unnoticed by any of them, a figure in a gray cloak watched from a higher level of the volcano. Chris was the target of his narrow gaze, and the man chuckled to himself. So... The Dragoon of Darkness has found the successor to the role of Void Dragoon, has she? I will have to test his power, once he comes into his own. Until then, good luck, young one. I shall be waiting. Silently, the cloaked man strode away, out of the heat.

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Below, Chris was the first to rush out of Volcano Villude, cursing the heat at the same time. "I really, really hope that's the only time I ever have to go through a volcano," he muttered. "I'm from Alaska! True children of the North shouldn't have to deal with this kind of thing!"

Paul brushed by. "Relax, lad; from what your native friends have said, that's about the only one in this world." Surreptitiously, he took another, closer look at the young man's face. Something seemed familiar...

Only years of experience kept the shock from showing on his own face, and he quickly moved away, pulling out some kind of printed material from a belt pouch.

Chris looked after him quizzically, then shrugged. I wonder what's with him?

Once they were all on the move once more, Rose walked at his side. "I see you have found a blade that suits you, Chris," she said. "Generous of the sorcerer," she added in a suspicious tone.

"Thou still dost not trust him, dost thou?" he asked, speaking the strange, old language that they had spoken that night in Hoax. "Even after all the aid he hath given us?"

"That aid is precisely why I suspect him," the warrior woman replied. "It is far too convenient. And..." Her eyes narrowed. "There is something about thee that has disturbed the magician. I think he knows something about thee, more than he is telling."

"Maybe," Chris replied in English. "But Paul hasn't shown any hostility or anything."

"That's what worries me." She gazed after the wizard. "I still think he may be a Wingly. If he tries anything against you..."

"I'll kill him." He laid a hand on her shoulder. "Look, Rose, if he's up to no good, if he attacks me, I can handle him. While he does have that sword, I've noticed he prefers magic, and that appears to have a weakness: Those incantations. While he's busy muttering, I can rush him, maybe cover his mouth so he can't cast." He shrugged. "But I don't think it'll be necessary; I really don't believe he's up to anything."

"For your sake, I hope you're right." Rose paused, then smiled, very slightly, very coldly. "And if you're wrong, there is no possibility he'll escape me."

The look in her eyes was chilling.

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The forest where Rose believed the Dragon's Nest to be was an eerie place, and there was a sickly-sweat scent in the air.

Chris sniffed carefully. "Rose, isn't that...?"

She nodded. "Yes. The air is heavy with Dragon poison, just like the Seventh Fort." Rose glanced at her companions. "Dart and I shouldn't suffer any ill effects, being Dragoons, but the rest of you should be careful with your breathing. Especially you, Shana," she cautioned the archer. "We may need your arrows."

"I can take it," Lavitz said determinedly. "Nothing is getting between me and that Dragon."

"I'll be fine," Paul interjected. "During my stay in Midgar, I was infused with Mako energy; most toxins don't effect me."

Rose shot him a look that said "nobody asked you", then proceeded to ignore him. Her distrust was obvious.

As they moved farther into the forest, Chris looked at her curiously. "I'd have thought Shana's health wouldn't matter much to you, Rose. After all, she's not really a proper warrior. I'd have thought you'd consider her a burden."

She glanced at him. "As I said, her arrows may prove useful. Also..." she paused. "It's obvious Dart wishes to protect her, and I do not believe he looks at her just as a 'little sister'. Just as she does not look on him as a brother. It would be... difficult, if anything happened to her. Dart would have difficulty fighting, I suspect."

Chris chuckled; he figured that was as close as Rose would come to admitting she cared about other people's feelings. "That's true."

He stopped abruptly, looking down at a large web covering a section of the ground. Is this...? He drew his blade, walked to the middle of the web, and cut a circle around his feet.

Shana let out a startled yell when Chris dropped from sight, and Lavitz rushed to the edge of the pit. "Chris! Are you alright!?"

Rose smiled to herself as Chris' voice came back up. "I'm fine, Lavitz! And I found the Dragon's Nest!"

Of course the young one is fine, she thought to herself. Did none of you notice he did that deliberately, knowing perfectly well what was about to happen? She nodded to herself. You are not the frightened, confused young man you were when you arrived. If this group did not contain a Dragoon, we would leave now, to search for the Divine Dragon. You are ready for the challenge. But I don't want to leave Dart until I'm satisfied he no longer requires instruction.

"Come on down," Chris continued. "It's only about a twenty-foot drop."

"'Only', he says," Dart muttered. "But then, he is the one who can break down doors and snap thick chains with his bare hands..." He shook his head. "Okay, we're coming down." Taking a deep breath, he jumped into the hole.

Shana was next, dropping into Dart's waiting arms, followed by Lavitz.

"Aren't you going?" Paul inquired of Rose.

She narrowed her eyes. "You first. If you survive it, I'll consider it safe."

"Very well." The mage closed his eyes. "Land of mercy, loosen tight fists! Float!" With his feet hovering about a foot off the ground, he floated down the hole.

Observing his safe landing, Rose at last leapt down.

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The cave system Chris had located had its entrance near a healing spring. "Wish they had these back in Alaska," he said wistfully. "Might have saved me some frostbite problems."

"They're like the rock fireflies we found in the Limestone Cave," Dart said. "These have saved my life more than once."

"The Dragon can't be far from here," Lavitz said. "But how do we get past these barriers?" he added, indicating several walls of foliage.

Chris shot him a disgusted look. "Lavitz, they're plants. Our blades will cut through them with ease."

"Let me," their resident wizard said. Raising his arms, he began another incantation. "Smoldering flames far below, punish the wicked! Fire 4!"

The huge wall of flame killed every single plant, leaving the path clear.

"What I wouldn't give to know how he does that," Chris muttered to Rose. "I still prefer blades, but that kind of magical power has got to come in handy."

"I suppose," the warrior said reluctantly. "Though as I see it, it was unnecessary at this time. You were right in that swords would do the job."

"Not as quickly, though. And," he pointed out, "we need to save our strength for that Dragon."

"True," she conceded. "But I won't shed any tears if the Dragon makes a meal of the sorcerer."

Ahead of them, where Lavitz had gone but moments before, they heard a snarl of rage, and they hurried after him.

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"You!" Lavitz snarled, pointing his spear at a man across the chamber.

"Well, if it isn't Lavitz Slambert," the other spearman replied. "Still holding that grudge? It was years ago."

"The time means nothing, traitor," the knight spat through gritted teeth. "I swore on my father's grave that I would kill you, you bastard, and now I'm gonna fulfill that oath!"

"You know him, Lavitz?" Chris asked.

"Too well, my friend. That bastard is Graham, the traitor to Basil who killed my father!"

"And now you have come to avenge Servi, I see." Graham shook his head. "You have no idea what you're dealing with, Sir Lavitz."

He reached into his armor, and in the instant before the object was revealed, Chris jerked back as the image of a green Dragon passed through his mind, and with it a man in winged armor, wearing glasses and carrying a spear. "The Jade Dragoon Spirit!"

The traitor glanced at him in surprise, even as winged, jade armor covered him. "So someone in Serdio knows of it? Most unexpected."

Rose pointed her rapier straight at his throat. "How did you get that!?"

Barely contained fury colored her voice, and the martial artist understood completely, for the Jade Dragoon Spirit should still have lain with Syuveil's body, in the fallen city of Kadessa.

"I suppose there's no harm in telling you," Graham said after a moment. "After all, you won't live long enough to tell anyone else." He paused dramatically. "It was given to Emperor Doel by Emperor Diaz. It is all his plan."

"Nonsense! Diaz died eleven thousand years ago, in the Dragon Campaign." Rose snorted in contempt. "Either your precious leader is lying to you, or he's completely lost his mind."

"I go with 'lost his mind'" Chris commented. "Now how about we kill him?"

"You're overconfident, youngster," Graham said with a slow smile. "You've forgotten my companion. Come, Feyrbrand! Show them your strength!"

Startled, Chris rolled away from the Dragon's falling foot with lightning speed, before rolling backwards and coming to his feet with a back flip. A moment later, the air rang with the sound of metal on wood, as his sword slid smoothly from its scabbard. "I hope that's not your only trick, Graham. An arthritic moose could have dodged that." He flowed into his stance, the tip of his curved weapon pointing at Graham's throat. "Are you ready to die?"

Lavitz stepped forward. "Leave him to me, Chris. This is my battle."

The younger man looked at him for a moment, then straightened with a shrug. "Okay, Lavitz. We'll deal with the Dragon." Dropping back, he glanced at Rose. "Shouldn't Feyrbrand recognize Dragoons? Why would he fight us?"

"An unworthy master can force a Dragon to do many things it otherwise would not," Rose replied, eyes fixed on her target. "Besides which, a Dragoon may have need of aid against an unworthy peer. As is the case."

"Yes, but wouldn't it be better if the Dragon was on our side?" Paul muttered. The wizard was already preparing a spell., wishing all the while that his repertoire included earth magic. "Star fire, awake and deliver your judgment! Fire 3!"

Meanwhile, Dart had decided it was time to use his new powers. Drawing on the power of his Dragoon Spirit, he was suddenly engulfed in flames. When he emerged, he wore the fiery-red armor his fellows had seen once before, in Hoax. But this time, he knew how to use it.

He rose into the air, and with a flash, his wings turned to flame. "Final Burst!" Dart shot toward the Dragon, sword pointed at the beast, and slammed into it. When his wings beat again, fire swept across Feyrbrand's body.

Rose, too, chose a spell, hurling her blade into the Dragon's flank. "Astral Drain!" she called out, and a portion of Feyrbrand's life force flowed over the humans, refreshing them and healing a number of minor wounds.

The Green-Tusked Dragon chose that time to attack at last, and Dart whirled in horror as it moved to strike their most vulnerable member: Shana, who seemed unable to decide where her arrows were needed most. Drawing on his Dragoon powers, Dart frantically prepared a spell, knowing that it would take too long...

And Chris finally entered the battle, once again tapping hysterical strength to leap high into the air and deliver a blow so powerful it rent the great Dragon asunder, cutting its body in two.

Graham spun then, astonished. "How did you-"

The distraction proved fatal: Lavitz drove his spear into the traitor's stomach, creating a slow, painful ebbing of Graham's life onto the cave floor.

He fluttered down to his throne, where he collapsed. "Sir Lavitz..." he wheezed. "Thank you."

Confused, the knight stood over him. "Why, Graham? Why did you kill my father?"

"Because no one... could be stronger than Servi. I grew fearful of his power, and... jealous. Finally, I made a deal with Sandora: I would... betray the knighthood, in exchange for power..." He coughed, spitting blood and a pair of teeth.

Chris walked over to him. "You poor bastard..." he murmured. "It was your search for power that corrupted you, yet it was fear that began it. I begin to understand."

Graham looked up at him. "You... Who are you...?"

"I am Sir Christopher Keon, child of cold Alaska, knight of His Majesty Albert. You have fought well, Graham, and you have redeemed yourself in your dying moments." He knelt. "Depart from this life with your honor restored, Sir Graham."

The dying man's eyes widened, and then he nodded and smiled with the last of his strength. "You are... the warrior of legend. The world I leave will be peaceful once more..." He looked back at Lavitz. "I go now to be with Servi. Farewell, Sir Lavitz, Sir Christopher..." His eyes glazed, and his body slowly faded.

"He's lucky to be dead," Rose commented. "Power such as his would only have led to grief."

Lavitz nodded. "But in his final moments, I believe I finally understood him." Then, abruptly, Chris' words registered, and he looked at his friend in surprise. "Wait a minute, Chris. 'Sir Christopher'? 'Knight of His Majesty Albert'? What's this about?"

Chris looked sheepish. "Just before we left Bale, King Albert knighted me. I think it was intended to be honorary, his way of saying thanks, but since it looks like I'm going to be sticking around, it will probably be more than just 'honorary'."

Lavitz stared at him a moment longer, then grinned. "I guess you're right." He clapped him on the shoulder. "Welcome to the knighthood, my friend!"

It was then that the Dragoon Spirit of the Jade Dragon flared to life, and drifted over to Lavitz. "What...?"

Rose blinked. Another Dragoon among us? What does Fate have in store for us...? Then she nodded. "You are a Dragoon, Lavitz. You have inherited the Jade Dragoon Spirit. May you honor it in battle."

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Author's note: Kind of an odd place to end it, I'll admit, but I figured if I waited any longer to update, I'd be hunted down and killed.

Or chained to my word processor until I did update.

I think I introduced a good number of plot twists here, along with a loose end or two. Next chapter should reveal exactly what Paul finds strange about the young martial artist (though those of you who have played Final Fantasy 7 should at least recognize the significance of the glowing eyes). And, of course, the identity of the cloaked man will be revealed at a later time.

I can answer Seriyu-the-ice-dragon and YSYF simultaneously: Yes, Ivalice is from a game, and yes it is the world from Final Fantasy Tactics. The incredible array of magic provided me with the perfect base for a magic-using character. So Paul Fleming was born. (By the way, if you don't have a copy already, I strongly recommend you pick up FFT; it's well worth it.)

Reiko5, I'm glad you enjoy it. Here is the update; perhaps you will remain conscious long enough to read it.

Also, I'm hard at work on the next chapter of The Second Story of the Diamond Dragoon; I hope to have it ready within the next week or so.

I think that covers everything; read it and let me know what you think. -Solid Shark