Disclaimer- I don't own Star Ocean. It is the property of the great Square-Enix and Tri-Ace.

Author's Notes

Now, this is hugely important.

I'm taking a lot of the romance element out. As in, no more love triangles or anything like that. There will be a pairing, but just one.

Before you kill me, let me explain. This story has a lot of heavy overtones, and tries to set a darker mood than a light hearted romance can take. Now, if you still want something like that, please check out my other Star Ocean fic, which is my apology to all of you.

Okay, that's done. Onto the long delayed chapter.

Chapter 7 Cross-Purposes

Sophia blinked slowly, her eyelids unusually heavy. Her arms were being carried roughly on two unfamiliar shoulders.

She lifted her head up, and barely suppressed a scream. The deathly pale faces of the Vendeen stared emotionlessly down at her. Before she could struggle, a door opened with a sudden whoosh, and she was hurled into the darkness.

For a moment, she simply laid there, in the quiet dark.

And then two arms encircled her, and drew her into the shadows, ignoring her screams.

It was with fierce determination that Fayt stepped out of Arias. For the first time since he landed, he was going where he wanted to, doing something he wanted to do. He wasn't running for his life, or hiding from people he'd never heard of till that day.

He was taking the fight to the enemy.

It was a refreshing feeling, to say the least.

Cliff noted the suddenly renewed vigor of the Earthling with amusement and admiration. A kid after his own heart, really. One who did what he wanted to do and nothing would stop him from doing it.

They passed through the way to Kirlsa easily, which made Fayt realize how easy everything would have been if they hadn't been forced to pass through the mines.

Before they reentered the town, Fayt felt a twinge of worry however, and paused within viewing distance of the gates.

"What's up?" Cliff asked, noticing the sudden stop and the frown that dominated the teen's face.

"What if they're waiting for us in Kirlsa?" Fayt questioned worriedly, biting his lip and clenching his fists.

The Klausian paused, cursing himself. He had been too caught up in wondering how Fayt would react and how they would rescue Nel to remember that an entire army was searching for them. "Good point... we'll have to move as quickly as possible through it." He paused, and then smirked at Fayt. "Of course, with your luck, we'll end up in the middle of their training ground..."

He laughed as the younger man took a swing at him.

"Any word from the Eagle yet?" the young woman asked, seated in the command chair.

A brown haired bridge officer shook her head. "Not yet ma'am." She turned towards her. "Do you think they hit a snag?"

The commander sighed deeply. "Knowing Cliff, it's likely." She frowned, and cursed under her breath, rubbing her temple.

Just as he was in her grasp, the damnable Vendeen decide to drop in and make their appearance.

Quark didn't have the resources to battle that sort of enemy... this was going to be tricky.

"Any further orders, ma'am?" the officer asked, glancing back at her somber faced commander.

"Continue monitoring all channels and scanning. We have to find them."

Fayt's instincts proved to be correct as a patrol of guards wandered the streets of Kirlsa, eyeing each and every person on the street with cold suspicion. Before they could spot the teen, Fayt ducked his head back into the alley.

"We could take them." He muttered, reaching for his sword, but the blonde gripped his hand tightly.

"Don't be an idiot." Cliff hissed reproachfully, "We can't risk fighting in the middle of a street."

Whirling on him, the Earthling asked harshly, "Then what do you suggest?"

Instead of getting angry, the Klausian grinned, and reached over to a loose brick that lay on the ground. At Fayt's perplexed look, Cliff tossed the shale, and caught it in one movement.

Then he got it.


Kaji Ryouji hated grunt work. He much preferred spending his days in the local tavern, drinking and having his way with the local women. But unfortunately, being part of the Black Brigade was not all about slaughter and mayhem.

Which was why he was out here, in full armor in the blazing sun, watching out for two escaped prisoners.

"Why are we bothering? Those damn cowards are probably hiding theirs tails in Aquaria by now." His partner, Hiei grumbled, shifting his spear slightly.

Kaji shook his head, and with a condescending voice, responded, "You just don't get those Aquarian wenches, Hiei. We've got two of theirs, and they'd rather kill themselves then leave someone behind."

The man snorted loudly, snickering. "Imagine Lord Albel... I doubt he would even realize he left someone behind."

"No, he'd probably kill them himself, call them 'weak worms.'" Kaji said, mock sneering in the way that their commander would.

Before the two could breach military protocol any more, a loud shout of pain caused them to stop.

The culprit, a burly, tall man, glared at another man. "You bastard! You threw that brick at me!"

"You're crazy!" the other, lankier man shouted, and the villagers began to crowd around the two men, sensing a fight.

"You threw it because you're jealous of me! You've always wanted my money!" the taller man snarled.

"Jealous, like hell!" with that, the smaller man hurled himself forward, tackling the burly one and the fight was on.

In unison, Kaji and Hiei rolled their eyes and moved in to break up the fight, not noticing the two figures slowly sneaking off in the direction of the gate.

As soon as they were out of sight of the Kirlsa gates, Fayt finally burst out laughing, holding his sides. "That... was brilliant, Cliff."

The blonde grinned. "See, if you'd just listen to me, then we'd be much better off."

Rolling his eyes, Fayt merely replied, "Sure..."

After an hour of traveling in the dusty, hot road, they arrived at a massive stone structure. Cliff eyed it warily, glancing in every direction before stating cautiously, "No one's here. I wonder if we're too late?"

"Don't say that." Fayt snapped worriedly.

In a sort of odd reassurance, a trio of armored soldiers appeared at the entrance, swords raised.

"Get them!" the lead one snarled, and they charged.

"Well, look's like someone's home." Cliff shouted, and launched himself forward, propelling his fist into his opponent's skull, driving the metal of the helmet inward.

Even as the Klausian's foe dropped, Fayt had dodged a sword thrust and rammed his own blade into the guard's stomach. He winced as the blood flowed over his fingers, finding himself strangely numb.

The last one, upon watching his comrades fall so quickly, ran back inside.

"What a bunch of pushovers. It'll be smooth sailing if they're all that easy." Cliff said, brushing his hands off nonchalantly.

"One of them got away, remember? They know we're coming." Fayt warned.

"I know, I know! Who do you think I am, anyway?" the Klausian responded, annoyed.

"You're Cliff, of course."

"And just what does that mean!"

Deep within the fortress, a man raged and stormed. Shelby, second in command of the Black Brigade, was furious. "Where is the other Crimson Blade spy? Capture her, you bumbling fools!" he grabbed the collar of the other man, his face shadowed as the torches whipped wildly, corresponding to the commander's ire.

"We're sorry, My Lord. We had her cornered, but she put up quite a fight…" the knight responded hesitantly.

"I ordered you to apprehend her, not admire the bitch!" Shelby snarled, shoving him backwards, and looked as though he might strike the other man. "Go and find her!"

"Yes, m'Lord!"

As the first knight left, a second guard ran into the room. "Sir Shelby!"

"What is it? You've got the Crimson Blade spy?" the commander asked eagerly, eyes glittering with dark anticipation, mood changing entirely.

Stuttering quietly, the newcomer reported, "No, Sir…a report—and a missive from Duke Vox."

Pausing, Shelby rubbed his beard thoughtfully. "From the Captain of the Dragon Brigade?" with a dismissive snort, he ordered, "Give me your report first. I'll hear what the old man has to say later."

"Our sentries have spotted two suspicious men within the compound. Based on our intelligence, they might be the two escapees…" the knight trailed off at the look on the commander's face.

"Hmm…so they've come to the rescue, too? This is unexpected. I thought sending only one Crimson Blade was a bit light. The compassion of these followers of Apris is really playing into our hands. Find and capture them all. Or you will find just how little mercy I hold." Shelby's voice was colder than an Airyglyphian winter.

The knight saluted. "Yes, m'Lord, and here…the missive." Hesitantly he pressed it into the large man's palm.

Lazily, Shelby's eyes scanned the parchment, narrowed, and crumpled it up with a loud laugh.

"What is it, Sir Shelby?"

"Aha ha ha ha! This is rich! It seems our esteemed captain will not be back for some time." The commander's eyes glittered with cunning.

"Our Captain? But why?" the soldier asked, confused.

"Seems the Captain of the Dragon Brigade has little love for our captain…Albel is being detained a while. We're supposed to take care of things in the meantime." The grin made it clear what sort of things he would take care of.

"By capturing the two escapees before Sir Albel returns, m'Lord will get all the credit. With such accolades, you might even be promoted to captain yourself!" the knight could not help but be excited. Power hungry as Shelby was, he at least knew friend from foe, unlike the bloodthirsty Albel the Wicked.

"Exactly. Our prey is now within grasp. We must act quickly-before he returns! Don't kill the escapees. They must be taken alive!" Shelby insisted, his fist clenching and waving in the air to illustrate his point.

Meanwhile, the escapees in question were ducking through corridors and generally tearing through any and all opposition they encountered, not having the problem of taking any prisoners.

However, even the mightiest warriors get tired, and after fighting their way through three floors of relentless guards, Fayt and Cliff were tiring (though Cliff was in far better shape).

So it was with great apprehension that they heard the loud metal clanks and clunks of yet another squad of soldiers, this group far larger than the previous ones, judging from the amount of noises and cursing the knights were creating.

"Shit. We don't have time for this!" Fayt swore, clutching his blade in calloused fingers which were stained with red. "We can't waste any more time!"

Cliff, meanwhile, was keeping his head, craning his neck for any way of escaping this battle. After a moment, his eyes fell upon a small wooden door.

"There! Move!" the Klausian barked, grabbing Fayt's shirt and hauling him into the room.

With careful ease, he shut the door behind them, keeping his eyes forward, hoping he hadn't led them into a trap.

Luckily, their stream of bad luck seemed to have finally broken, and only a nearly deserted kitchen awaited them, the other occupants too busy hustling about to notice them, save a single young woman.

Flushed at the young man who was a notch above the crude, battle scarred knights who normally frequented the kitchens, she shuffled slowly towards them, face flaming red.

Fayt was also a great deal more naive than the knights, and glanced at her with mild curiosity. Seeing as she wasn't acting afraid or hostile, he took a chance. "Have you seen a woman with red hair anywhere around here?" he asked.

Behind him, Cliff rolled his eyes. Someone has got to teach this kid the ropes.

Nodding earnestly, she replied eagerly, "Oh yes! I saw someone heading for the rooftop earlier. You'll need this key to access the elevator. Please take it!" she pressed a shining brass key into his palms, smiling winningly.

The rather dense Fayt looked absolutely perplexed. "You sure I can have it?"

With another nod and adoring eyes, she nodded again.

As they left, Cliff muttered, "Kid's as dumb as a rock sometimes..."

A hiss, like a serpent's breath echoed throughout the bridge.

"What is it?" the voice was harsh and demanding, expecting total obedience.

"Captain. We've tracked the location of the boy to a planet by the name of Elicoor II."


"Will you go yourself, sir?"

"Of course."

A feral, shark-like smile crossed Captain Biwig's face.

"Set a course for Elicoor II."

"So where do you think the elevator is?" Fayt asked, glancing at Cliff, who was busy checking around the corner.

"I saw a locked door back where we came in. I've got a hunch that's where it is." The Klausian replied, keeping his eyes peered around the corner.

"A hunch, huh?" Fayt said disbelievingly, but said nothing else, gripping the handle of his blade tightly with calloused hands, slightly blistered.

They avoided, through Cliff's excellent hearing and reflexes, any confrontations with the guards on their way back down through the third and second floors, but, as with everything, luck runs out.

"There they are!" a loud, harsh voice crowed, and the distinct clinks of blades unsheathed echoed throughout the chamber.

"Crap." Cliff cursed, and whirled around, launching forward before Fayt could make a step, sending his fist crashing into the knight's helm, sending the guard crashing to the floor.

It was too late, even as the heavy thud of the metal armor of the felled knight burst through the corridors, several others had already arrived.

The blade of the first cleaved through the air with a whistling snarl, and Cliff narrowly avoided being sliced, retaliating with a series of powerful blows to the guard's solar plexus.

Fayt crossed swords with another knight, sparks flying dangerously towards his face as sweat rolled down like a heavy rain. The empty metal face of his opponent was like a cruel machine.

Slowly, his enemy's superior strength, experience, and skill began to show through, and the teenager found his feet losing their ground, giving way. Gritting his teeth, Fayt attempted a maneuver he had done several times in simulation; he spun away, letting his opponent's superior strength be a weakness.

The knight stumbled forward, off balance, and Fayt rammed his blade between the guard's shoulders.

Before he could regain his breath, a second knight charged him, lunging forward with a powerful thrust. Again, Fayt reacted, parrying the blow and skewering the enemy.

Cliff dispatched the final two guards with a roundhouse kick and a left hook, respectively.

"We'd better hurry." Fayt said grimly, and the Klausian nodded.

They ran, trying to make sure they didn't wear themselves out by at the same time, hurrying as fast as they could. A paradox, to be sure.

Still, only moderately out of breath, they made it to the elevator room. There, they finally tracked down their missing comrade/captor/friend.

Along with a nice bevy of Black Brigade soldiers, of course.

She fought valiantly, her knives were flashing silver lightning, leaving nothing but crimson rain in her wake. After a moment of tearing through the soldiers, she leapt backwards, and the familiar rune circle of Symbology circumscribed about her hand. "Ice needles!"

Six inch long ice shards tore through the air, stabbing and wounding several more knights, leaving a trail of withering frost in their wake.

"Well, let's be heroes!" Cliff shouted, voice filled with bravado as he charged the first guard, ramming his fist into the soldier's back.

Fayt, meanwhile, lunged forward, sweeping his sword through the back of a knight.

The sudden attack left the soldiers temporarily addled, and Nel was quick to take advantage, slicing the throat out of one unlucky man. "Fayt! Cliff! What are you doing here!" she shouted, looking bewildered.

"Fight first! Talk later!" Cliff responded, crashing a double fisted attack into the chest of his opponent.

While both Fayt and Cliff were tired from their earlier battles, Nel had been fighting much longer and without backup. Her exhaustion was beginning to show through, as a knight sliced her shoulder with a wicked swing.

Nel staggered backwards, dropping one dagger and clutching the bleeding arm with her other hand. The soldier raised his sword for the kill.

"Damn it!" Cliff swore, bulldozing two knights with a charge, but he knew he wouldn't be fast enough.

Fayt watched with horrified eyes, wide and frightened like a rabbit's. "No!" he raised his arm, and again, a surge of power came forth from deep within, filled with divine wrath. Like Nel's, his hand became encircled by a Symbological circle, glowing with power. "Lightning Bolt!"

A jagged bolt of thunder tore through the air, leaving crackling air and ozone in its wake as it slammed into the back of the soldier.

The guard gave one strangled, awful scream before he collapsed, stinking of seared flesh.

Cliff, taking advantage of the surprise created, dispatched the last two with a series of lightning quick combos, sending both crumpling to the floor.

And then it was over, with the three of them reunited above the bodies of their fallen foes.

Sophia struggled, ramming her elbows backwards, her mouth open and trying and failing to scream. Her vision began to blur as panic set in.

Then, a hand placed itself reassuringly on her shoulder, squeezing it gently.

"Shhh... its me, Sophia!" the voice said hurriedly, whispering in the dark.

Her struggles ceased immediately, and she stopped. The arms let go of her, and she turned around, a face coming visible through the darkness.

A very familiar face.

Blinking, completely taken aback, Sophia stuttered, "U-Uncle Robert?"

"Why did you come? If you'd gone to Aquios you would have been free!" Nel shouted, looking at them with angry concern. This was her fight, her mission. Not theirs.

"We know." Fayt replied, causing the redhead's mouth to open and close in astonishment. "Clair told us."

"Then why!" the Crimson Blade argued, glaring at them both with righteous fury.

"You were the one charged with bringing us to Aquios. You were the one who was supposed to take us there." Fayt replied stubbornly, looking her straight in the eye with angry emeralds. "I thought you weren't the type of person to neglect their duty."

As if she had been struck, Nel staggered backwards, unresponsive.

"Yeah, what he said. Besides, I didn't appreciate the fact you left without saying goodbye." Cliff added, looking at her with a mixture of amusement and sincerity.

"Cliff... Fayt..." Nel said softly, looking at each of them in turn.

Shaking his head, Fayt said dismissively, "We'll give you a piece of our minds later. Let's rescue Tynave and Farleen first."

"Now that there's three of us, it'll be cake." Cliff said reassuringly, grinning.

Nel paused, still looking at the two of them. After a moment, she smiled.

"Thanks guys."

"Well, well, well. What's this?" Albel Nox drawled, kicking the corpse of one of his subordinates, turning the body over. The man's helmet had been bashed into his skull, driving deep into his brain.

Nearby, another man had a sword wound in his gut, and was still clinging pathetically to life. "Plea-please... help me..." he rasped pitifully, reaching out for the swordsman's feet.

With a contemptuous snarl, Albel drove his sword into the man's throat, ignoring the blood that spattered on the floor like weak rain.

"I knew these fools couldn't be trusted on their own." He muttered, releasing his sword from the soldier's now open throat and sheathing it.

Still, whoever attacked was gutsy, and obviously had some skill.

Albel's lip curled. "This should be interesting."

At the very least, it could afford him some small amusement.

They made it up to the top floor without incident, thankfully enough. As they stepped out into the now unfamiliar shining, beating sun, Nel spotted two familiar heads of hair, strapped to the wall.

"Look!" Nel shouted, racing towards the two. "Tynave! Farleen!"

They looked decidedly worse for the wear, each of them badly bruised and cut in several places. Tynave had a swollen eye and a trickle of blood down her nose, while Farleen had a nasty gash on her arm.

Cliff hung back, looking around with wary eyes. "Man, this is just too obvious."

Fayt, meanwhile, plowed onward, rushing to their sides. "Tynave, Farleen! We're here to help!"

Farleen made a few indistinct mumbles, and lolled her head to the side.

Tynave looked at them with bleary eyes, a look of disbelief on her face. "What are you doing here..." she said weakly.

"We'll get you out of here!" Fayt promised desperately, looking for a way to get them down.

Suddenly, Tynave seemed to spring to life. "No, run! It's a trap!" she shouted, her voice echoing across the arena.

Farleen looked up with tired, weakened eyes. "She's right… They're hiding…behind those pillars..." she whispered, and seemed to be drained from the effort.

Almost immediately, a trio of soldiers raced towards them, charging with blades held high in the glimmering sun.

"Fayt! Protect Tynave and Farleen!" Cliff shouted, plowing his fist with brutal intensity into the chest of the knight, sending a trickle of blood from the opponent's mouth.

Fayt parried a blow from the second soldier, making sure to be between them and the girls.

"R-run..." Farleen murmured, barely audible from its weak tone. It was like the mewl of a dying animal.

If anything, it made Fayt's resolve stronger, his anger more intense. "You hurt my friends!" he snarled, and shoved the knight backwards with a furious shout and then thrusting forward, impaling the knight.

Nel decapitated the final guard with a single, swift movement, but she panted and fell to one knee, dripping with sweat and out of breath from the effort.

Fayt and Cliff quickly untied Farleen and Tynave, trying to do so as hurriedly as possible, lest more Black Brigade soldiers arrive.

"Are you okay?" Fayt asked, concerned as he supported Tynave with his shoulder.

"Thank you so much." She whispered tiredly, looking at him with such gratefulness that, for a moment, his exhaustion seemed to fade away.

"I'm okay. The pain's…not too bad." Farleen added, supported by Cliff and Nel. "Thank you for coming..."

"Don't worry about it. If you're going to thank anyone, thank them." Nel responded, looking at the two of them with thankfulness.

"It was nothin'." Cliff shrugged.

"Our pleasure." Fayt chimed in, grinning tiredly.

"Let's get the hell out of here." The Klausian grunted, and began moving towards the door. However, before he had gotten very far, he paused. As Fayt looked at him questioningly, he said quietly, "I can feel the hairs standing on the back of my neck."

"Someone's coming." Nel agreed, unsheathing her knives. She wanted to use her Healing spell on Tynave and Farleen, as well as Cliff, Fayt, and herself, but chances were, she'd be better off using it to fight whoever was coming.

A behemoth of a man, crowned by dull gray hair and clad in wicked looking armor stepped forward, wielding a massive, double-headed axe that glittered darkly in the sunlight. He was flanked by two more soldiers. "So it's you! The two who were in that strange object that fell in Airyglyph!" his voice was haughty and eager, as though he had already won the fight.

Cliff felt the tiredness in his muscles and knew they were in for a difficult fight. "So what if we are?" he challenged, more to try and stall than anything else.

"Surrender peacefully, and I shall spare your lives." The man commanded, his voice arrogant.

"Who the hell are you!" Fayt demanded in reply, gripping his sword in exhausted arms. It felt like a lead weight.

"I am Shelby." The man said, inclining his head slightly, a malicious grin spreading on his face. "Lieutenant of the Black Brigade, soon to be Captain by the looks of things. You should curse your luck for falling into my hands."

"Damn!" Nel swore, crouching low.

"Is he dangerous?" Fayt asked, not daring to take his eyes off of Shelby.

Nel nodded. "Yeah… He's the Black Brigade's second in command. They didn't leave him here for nothing!"

"I can see that." Cliff agreed tensely, eyeing up the Lieutenant with wary eyes. "He looks way too powerful to be some watchdog. Not like the last bunch."

"Of course, we'll only spare the two men. The women may die." Shelby smiled wickedly.

Fayt stepped forward, glaring with fists clenched. "Over my dead body!" he snarled, placing his blade in front of him.

Unaffected, Shelby shook his head, smirking. "If it comes to that, yes. Now, come quietly…"

"Come quietly my ass! Just try and kill me." Cliff challenged, stepping forward, cracking his knuckles and his neck slowly.

"You'll regret those words." Shelby said dangerously, narrowing his eyes. The two soldiers next to him stepped forward.

"You first." The Klausian replied in a cocky tone.

"Tynave, Farleen! You two stand back." Nel ordered, raising her blades. She frowned, realizing just how heavy her weapons felt in her arms.

"Kill the women. Make sure the other two are sufficiently beaten." Shelby commanded, raising his brutal looking weapon.

Cliff gave a snarl and lunged forward, fists flashing.

With a superior smirk, the Lieutenant merely twisted his wrist, using the massive blade of his axe to deflect the Klausian's assault. The blade reverberated under the assault, letting out a harsh cry of contempt.

A surprised look crossed Cliff's face, and he barely hurled himself backwards, avoiding being cleaved apart by Shelby.

Nel lunged forward, knives flashing, but the soldier on the left intercepted her, meeting her two blades with his one. Airyglyphian and Aquarian strained against one another bitterly.

Fayt charged, blade upraised, only to have his sword parried by the second knight.

"I must say, I thought you'd put up a bit more fight than this." Shelby drawled, twirling his great axe. "Have at ye!" suddenly he was spinning, and the massive weapon tore through the air with an angry whistle.

Cliff realized just how much of a disadvantage he was in this situation as he was again forced to dodge, and then duck and weave. His fists were near useless against the massive weapon, unless he could get under Shelby's guard.

As much as he hated to, he knew he had to have back up. Or even worse, to switch off.

Luckily, Fayt managed to finish off his opponent with a kick to the chest and blade to the throat.

He was getting used to killing, Fayt noticed in a detached manner. It wasn't something he particularly liked.

The teenager intercepted a blow that would have seriously wounded Cliff, staggering backwards from the force of Shelby's strike.

"Don't get close!" Cliff shouted, leaping backwards again to avoid being sliced apart.

Frowning, Fayt too, dodged away, and raised his hand shakily towards Shelby, who was attempting to turn Cliff into shish kabob.

Please work... he pleaded mentally, and closed his eyes. "Lightning Bolt!"

The jagged white line soared through the air to strike Shelby in the back, lighting up the world with ozone and shine.

The Lieutenant screamed, and staggered forward drunkenly. Rage and hatred flickered in his eyes as he turned towards Fayt. There was no longer any arrogance, it was stripped of all propriety. It was the face of a killer.

"You little bastard! I'll murder you!" he roared, raising the axe.

"Fayt! Move!" Nel shouted, still struggling with her opponent and her own exhaustion.

To his credit, Fayt managed a few skillful parries and dodges, but Shelby was an experienced, battle-hardened warrior with years of combat.

Within moments, Fayt was clutching his bleeding sword arm, feeling the warm blood on his numb fingers as it dripped onto his blade.

"DIE!" Shelby roared again, and Fayt's half-hearted block was easily overpowered, sending the boy crashing to the floor, bleeding and barely conscious.

"Damn it kid! Move!" Cliff shouted, running towards the Earthling. However, the remaining soldier kicked Nel in the stomach, sending the redhead tumbling into the Klausian.

Time slowed down again.

A vicious pounding drum beat in Fayt's ears, and he watched in an out of body point of view as Shelby prepared to split his skull open.

-I won't die here-

The man roared, spittle flying from his mouth as the axe pulled back, behind the Lieutenant's head.

-I won't die here-



"BLAZING SWORD!" suddenly, the fires of Hell itself it seemed wrapped around Fayt, forcing Shelby, even in his berserk state of mind, to stagger backwards in fear.

His emerald eyes seemed to burn with divine fury as he stood again, seemingly taller, stronger, as though he were a demigod come crashing down to this earth.

The fire wreathed itself around his sword, flickering indigo and crimson, burning like the sun. "I won't die here." Fayt said quietly, and charged.

"What the Hell are you!" Shelby demanded, blocking with his axe, but suddenly the teen's strength had increased exponentially, and the fires continued to stab at him, seemingly trying to get at him off their own accord. His blade heated up, and he felt his face begin to burn and blister.

Instead of answering, Fayt's eyes narrowed, and suddenly the blaze became an inferno, and with a single push, Shelby's axe was cleaved in half, both metal parts still red hot from Fayt's sword.

"N–" the protest died on Shelby's lips as the sword tore into his chest and scourged the wound with its Hellfire.

With a slump, Shelby, Lieutenant of the Black Brigade, was dead.

Fayt fell to his knees, his blade acting like a staff as he leaned upon it heavily. Once more, the power within receded, an ebb and flow of divine madness.

The final soldier stood there, stunned, until Cliff delivered a stinging uppercut, finishing the fight.

They stood there, victorious, silent and weary, exhausted.

"That was utterly pathetic." A voice drawled, up above, laced with arrogant contempt.

For once, Cliff seemed truly surprised, and his head jerked up swiftly, eyes narrowed at the newcomer. How the Hell did he sneak up on me like that? he wondered, clenching his fists.

The swordsman was a far cry from the Black Brigade soldiers they had fought before. He was slender, with a slight build and long black hair that had streaks of grassy gold at its tips. A metal arm hung loosely at his side, and his other hand was carelessly gripping the scabbard of his katana. His blood red eyes glimmered in the morning sun, full of malice.

"So this is what Shelby was up to. Arrogant bastard," he sneered, "Always strutting, preening his feathers, but to lose to the likes of you?" the man seemed almost amused, and his face twisted into a sick grin. "Once a maggot himself... now he's food for the maggots."

While Fayt was distracted by how much contempt the man seemed to hold for the dead and for everyone else, Nel sucked in a breath, horrible realization creeping into her mind and her hands flew to her knives.

"That gauntlet… You're Albel Nox!"

Albel seemed even more amused now that his identity had been revealed, raising a single regal eyebrow. "So, you've heard of me."

Fayt turned towards the Aquarians, hoping for answers. "Who the hell is he?"

Nel didn't take her eyes off of Albel for a second. "He's the best swordsman in all of Airyglyph and the Captain of the Black Brigade. A ruthless bastard who kills to prove his strength." Her eyes narrowed and her voice was laced with disgust and hatred. "Better known as 'Albel the Wicked'…"

The man laughed loudly, smirking. "I'm glad you're so well versed in my lore, wench." Albel scoffed, eyeing the group with bored curiosity.

Cliff didn't like how this guy was acting. It was three on one, and he looked like he didn't have a care in the world. "Hey, I'm gonna smack that cocky look off your face!" he snarled, fists raised, but the Captain paid him no mind.

"Bah, the maggot talks big." Albel said dismissively, waving his hand, "You might have some potential, but you're no match for me."

This only seemed to antagonize the normally laid back Klausian further. "What the Hell did you just say!" Cliff shouted furiously, "I'm gonna kick your ass!"

Albel shook his head, chuckling. "I'm not interested in fighting a bunch of tired fools. Easy wins have never been my style. And unlike Vox, I take no joy in trouncing weaklings." He sneered.

"Who ya callin' a weakling?" the blonde snarled, and looked like he would have jumped the swordsman right then and there.

The Captain drove home the final nail in the coffin as he spoke again. "Go back to your own lands. This is your only warning, fools." The sheer arrogance in his tone and stance caused Cliff to try and leap for him.

"Come down here and say that you bastard!" Cliff roared, but Nel grabbed his burly arms, barely holding him back, keeping her eyes on the man known as the Wicked.

"You're gonna let us slip away? That's pretty nice for a guy like you." The redhead said, partly suspicious and partly mocking.

Albel shook his head again. "Don't get me wrong, I just can't be bothered. And taking hostages isn't the way I do business." His lip curled into an arrogant sneer. "Its really a waste of time, a game for old men and fools who can't depend on their own strength."

"What do you call this, then?" Fayt demanded, speaking for the first time since the Captain appeared.

Lazily, Albel's eyes appraised the boy, remembering the magic he used. "Those maggots did this without my consent. I knew nothing about it." He shrugged nonchalantly. "Besides, your escape is his blunder. I've no obligation to clean up his mess." His tone was infuriating, and the conceit in his voice and on his face only made it worse.

"But he was your subordinate! You have to take responsibility for his actions!" Fayt shouted, clenching his fists, blazing with anger.

With one more contemptuous sneer, Albel turned away, his braided hair swishing behind him. "I tire of your lectures, fool. Now leave, or I will kill you."

Nel was barely able to drag Fayt and Cliff away.

Author's Notes

Kaji Ryouji is a nod to Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Hiei to Yu Yu Hakusho. Probably not an Airgylphian name, but I don't what is one. At last, Albel's in the story, and its picking up. As stated earlier, the love triangle humor has been removed to keep the more serious tone of the story. I promise that the other fic will come out soon.

I'm telling no one about which pairing was picked though... let's keep it vague. But don't get your hopes up.

Here's hoping though, that the next chapter doesn't take four months to be complete.