Yes, I update. I lnow, it's been a while… writer's block and new video games tend to hinder my productivity. Oh, and let's not forget finals. And final papers.


Chapter Four: Ninth Period

Last period. A period in which teenagers one and all usually zone out, their brains going to after-school activities, thoughts of sports or dreams of sleep as their instructors try in vain to reign them back in…

Lyn once again ducked under Hector's blunted practice axe. She knew from long experience that if she tried to parry, she would succeed in nothing but numbing her arms for the effort and might lose her weapon. Already, she'd been forced to parry once, and both her arms still hurt from the impact, although she'd been able to shake the deadness from her limbs after blocking the hit. And she'd kept her katana. For about half of last year, whenever she'd parried him he'd knocked her sword out of her hands by sheer force. So she was getting stronger, at the very least. At least he doesn't hold back on me because I'm a girl. Chivalry is all well and good, but I am a fellow warrior, and I expect to be treated as such.

But, damnit, Hector was going to leave for a couple days this afternoon, and she was going to win one before he left!

She pushed forward with the thrust patterns that Karel had shown her (the man was creepy, and entirely too interested in her and her fighting style, but he knew swordcraft) and finally, after what seemed more like a complicated dance than fighting, her dull practice katana struck the flesh between armor plates on Hector's axe arm.

"Point to Lyndis," Karel said, ignoring the cheering and groans (it seemed that they'd gained an audience somewhere along the line…). "Pay more attention to defense, boy. Armor is well and good, but it has weaknesses. If these were real weapons, you probably would have lost an arm. And you, Lyndis. More exercises for your upper arms. You did well, but you still lost feeling in your arms when you blocked that hit in the opening exchange. In a real battle, with more than one opponent, you would not have had breathing time to recover from that."

Both Lyn and Hector murmured their thanks, and even though she had been sent to strengthening exercises for what would probably be the rest of the period, hearing praise from Karel almost made everything worthwhile.

Hector came up to her, rubbing his shoulder. "Good match," he said, grinning, holding out his uninjured hand.

"You too," she replied, taking it and shaking it, smiling back. Hector was a great deal larger than her, and surprisingly fast for hisbuild and the weight of his armor. It wasn't every day that she got a win off of him, but since Karel had started coaching her in those new lunging patterns, the score was inching up towards 50/50…

So she went across the room to the weights and watched everyone else practice. Eliwood and Hector seemed especially focused today, although considering what they were planning, maybe that was unsurprising…

Okay, now you're thinking like Nadia. They're just going to see Lord Helman. They'll be gone for a day or two, and probably nothing will come of it. They'll be back in time for the Halloween party.

And Fiora and Farina's Halloween party was going to be great this year. Since Halloween was a Saturday this year,she had offered to let themhave it at Castle Caelin. Since Caelin bordered with Ostia, and both capitals of the provinces were surprisingly close to the borders, the ride would be two or three hours, nothing too strenuous for a weekend. She already had her grandfather's permission, and the castle was being decorated accordingly.

Lyn's smile was only slightly marred by her worry that three of her closest friends wouldn't be there to enjoy it with her.

Eliwood had won his bout with Hector, and now they were changing partners again. Eliwood was squaring off against Lowen, and Hector…

"Raven," Karel said in that emotionless tone of his. "Come. Since you were so eager to start picking up the axe, perhaps you would benefit from fighting against someone who specializes in it…"

Lyn swallowed. Why would Karel pit Raven against Hector, for whom he had expressed his clear loathing on several occasions? Unless…

…unless Karel was having one of his bad days. He seemed to be having them more often since Harken had gone off with Lord Elbert, and had stopped teaching the class with him. Of course, that was probably because now that there was no other teacher in the class with them, Karel felt less inclined to control himself.

Lyn glided over to Wil and pulled him aside, "Go get the nurse, one of the ones that can use healing magic if you can manage it. We're probably going to need her."

Wil's eyes widened. "You don't think Senior Raven would…" Lyn shot him a look, and he swallowed his sentence, continuing instead with a weaker, "Ah… I mean… surely Karel would stop them before…?"

"If he's letting them fight, he'll let them injure each other. Didn't you hear him when he suggested axes for both of them? He's already been needling Raven, and we both know that Hector won't hold back if Raven starts fighting for real. They're really going to hurt each other, and having a trained healer on hand would be… beneficial. Unless you'd like a repeat of the last time they got into a fight? Actually, this time'll be worse, last time they only had their fists…"

"All right, I understand! I'm going! Coming, Rebecca?" he asked his girlfriend.

"Um… I think I want to stay," said Rebecca. "Besides, only one of us needs to go, and Karel might notice if we both disappear."

"Okay… if you say so…" Wil left, looking slightly put out.

"Um… something going on between you two?" Lyn asked.

Rebecca snorted. "I think I want to break up with him. Now that I've finally been able to move out of that little hamlet in Pherae, I sort of want to… branch out, you know?"

"Mmm," Lyn replied, not really paying full attention, instead watching as Raven and Hector circled each other, axes brandished. If that lummox managed to get himself seriously hurt...

"I mean, he got to travel around alone for a whole year, I bet he met loads of pretty girls when he did. I want to get that chance too. Not to meet pretty girls, of course, but you know what I'm talking about, right?"

"Yeah," Lyn replied. Hector ducked a roundhouse blow that probably would have given him a concussion if it had hit, looking pissed.

"What the hell are you doing, Raven?"

"What's wrong, Hector? Scared?"

"I hate being right," Lyn groaned. "I really hate being right."

"You sound like that girl you hang out with," Rebecca said, making a face. "The one who wears that green windbreaker all the time."


"Yeah, her." They turned back to the fight, Lyn trying not to bite her lip and Rebecca looking increasingly interested. "Hey, I didn't know Raven was so good. He's actually holding his own against Hector."

Lyn looked askance at the archer. Rebecca's expression could only be described as… dreamy.

"Rebecca… you don't have a crush on Raven. Please tell me you don't."

"Of course I don't, I'm going out with Wil. For the moment. However, that doesn't mean I can't look at other guys. And you have to admit he's handsome…"

"Yeah, if you like the ones who need anger management."

"What's wrong with you, Lyn? It's not like they're really fighting!"

Lyn snorted. "Oh, really?" she asked as Hector managed to disarm Raven. Whereas normally the sparing would have ended here, Karel said nothing as Raven kicked at Hector, nearly hitting the blue-haired boy in the place that no male ever wants to be hit. As Hector jumped backward to avoid this, Raven scrambled for his weapon. Eliwood motioned for Lowen to stop and strode angrily over to their teacher, opening his mouth to protest…

"Don't bother, Pherae. Why don't we let them get a taste of what things would be like if I wasn't here to baby the lot of you all the time?"

"Okay, so they are really fighting," Rebecca conceded. Lyn allowed herself a fleeting smirk, and then went back to being worried about Hector. Raven had already tried one dirty trick. Who was to say he wouldn't try anything else?

"Oh, by the way, did you hear the rumors?" Rebecca asked.

"What rumors?"

"I heard that Hector and Eliwood had an argument in fourth period, and now there's all these wild stories flying around. Apparently, Nadia was mentioned, and there are some people saying that she's with either Eliwood or Hector and that the other one's jealous. There was this one really wild story I heard that said that Hector declared his undying love for Eliwood and that Eliwood turned him down for Nadia." Lyn snorted and doubled over, trying very hard not to laugh. "Yeah, that's what all the people that person told did. One of them was drinking a soda and it shot out of his nose, he was laughing so hard."

"That is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard," Lyn giggled. "It sounds like the plot of a bad romance novel… not to mention the fact that… Nadia? Neither of them have even looked at Nadia twice, and it's so obvious that Ninian and Eliwood are going to go out at some point…" her laughter died as she looked back at Hector and Raven's duel, as Hector just barely stopped a strike that was aimed straight at his head. This… is not going to end well…

"Nils… I'm going out of town for a few days."

There. That hadn't been so hard to say, had it? She'd only been worrying about how to say it since she and Nadia had convinced Eliwood that it was important for her to come along. Although, what she had had scripted in the back of her mind was a bit more… subtle than that had come out sounding.

Nils blinked. "Where? Why? You're the one who wanted to stay so… wait a minute. Why am I not going with you!"

"Because I'll be coming back in a few days, and you're dropping farther and farther behind in your schoolwork!"

"So? It's not like I care about school anyway!"

"Oh? And who was just complaining about when he asked a question in history about the end of The Scouring and had someone complain loudly about how he had 'spoiled the ending'?"

"Oh, and this little trip of yours has nothing to do with Lord Eliwood, does it?" he countered sarcastically. When Ninian blushed, he pressed his point home, "It is! You care more about that… that…"

"For your information," Ninian interrupted coldly, finding her voice. "Eliwood's father is missing. I'm going to see if I can sense anything useful."

Nils almost visibly deflated. "Oh."

"I'm sorry, Nils. But we… I… owe him."

"But why can't I…"

"Because… if something does happen, I want you to be safe." She gave him a quick hug, and then an elder sisterly glare. "Now do your homework. That is an… interesting doodle, but I doubt it has anything to do with math."

"Fine, fine…"

"Master, Illyse has come in from the Talvier Mountains… shall I send her in, or do you wish to see her later?" Limstella asked diffidently.

"Send her in now," Nergal sighed. "If I am to open the Dragon's Gate, I shall need all the quintessence I can muster."

"As you will," Limstella replied, hitting the button to open the door. After a faint buzzing sound, a woman with dark navy, almost black hair glided into the room. She wore the old-fashioned robes of a druid, including a sack slung across her back carrying her tomes. There was a golden Rescue staff tucked into her belt, with one of the three focus jewels darkened, indicating that it had been used once. She was quite beautiful, with fine, vaguely Illian features, and a silent grace. The only thing that betrayed her semblance of humanity was her golden eyes. She was a morph… and yet, she wasn't.

For, unlike Limstella and Ephidel, Illyse had once been human – a result of his dabbling in necromancy. Since she had once had independent will, it was more difficult to control her than his other morphs, which was why he had sent her to the Talvier Mountains… it was harder for her to cause trouble there, and at the same time, she provided a valuable service: harvesting mass amounts of quintessence without arousing public suspicion. At least I learned my lesson about bringing back the soul as well as the body. Amusing though it is to have a former enemy in this condition, completely striping away the will for more than a few hours at a time is more trouble than it's worth. Better to just recreate the body, should I want this effect again. It wouldn't be too hard, all I would need is the quintessence of the person I wished to 'resurrect'. This method is so much more tedious…

"Milord," Illyse said mechanically, with just a hint of what might have been sarcasm. She curtsied respectfully enough, and held up her hands. Pure white energy suddenly blazed into existence and crackled around her body like a halo. He touched her head (It still irked him that he hadn't found a way around the physical contact) and the energy flowed into him, the brightness and radiance of hundreds of stolen lives.

"Have you had any luck cornering another of the Sacaean clans?" he asked her.

"No, Milord. After what befell the Lorca, the other smaller clans have avoided the area like the plague, and the Talvier are too few and too stupid to challenge one of the greater clans like the Kulotah or the Djute. If the raiding range were to be broadened…" she bit her tongue and scowled, furious at herself.

"Continue," he said, putting just a trickle of the power that she had just given him into the command.

"If the raiding range were to be broadened, perhaps another tribe could be captured. However, the Kulotah are already furious, and destroying another tribe might give them enough outrage to get the tribes to band together against the Talvier, wiping out the bandit clan," she said in a tone that indicated that every word was being dragged out of her against her will.

"See, Illyse? And when I first resurrected you, you said that I was 'wasting my time'. After all those years living with a household of career tacticians, I knew you would have managed to pick up something," he told her in a patronizing tone, as a master to a particularly clever dog that had just performed a new trick.

"I am glad to be of use, milord," she replied, ducking her head in another deep curtsy. He knew that she was just using this to hide her grimace, although he didn't mind that much as long as she kept her emotions to herself. She was a useful tool… for the moment. If his plans for Lycia succeeded, well… Once he had a new steady supply of quintessence, there would be no further need for her, aside from removing a certain man in Bern who was in position to become an annoyance…

"Provoke one of the smaller clans into your territory. Kidnap some of their womenfolk or children, whatever you think will best enrage them so that they come immediately without summoning help, and eliminate every last one of them. Once you've done that, bring their quintessence to me immediately."

"Understood." She curtsied and left without another word, knowing a dismissal when she heard one. That was an upside of Illyse and the more intelligent morphs. No need to spell out every little detail.

Nadia sighed, sending a wave of little Luna balls at her target. Six balls of dark magic converged upon the target, causing a small whirling explosion of dark magic, effectively obliterating the target. Luna was one of the more interesting dark magic spells, bypassing all barriers and natural resistance to strike directly at the target's core. Hence, it was a favorite of shamans and druids when they went into combat with enemy magic users, especially those who used light magic. The Luna spell was the one that always came easiest to her, even though technically it was a more difficult spell to master than Flux, which was the basic dark magic spell. (Or, as Canas would say, elder magic. 'Dark magic is a term only used by the prejudiced and the uneducated, neither of which, I hope, applies to any of my students'.) Out of boredom, she directed the next set to each hit a different target. Six little balls of Luna punched neatly through the center of each target. Since they didn't come together, the power of the spell decreased significantly, but if it cut straight through, say, an opponent's heart, that wouldn't matter very much in the long run. She was actually rather pleased with herself. The deviation was working more and more often now, she was getting much better. Although, maybe that was because since she had chosen to give up on her revenge, her mind was less cluttered…

"That's supposed to be impossible," commented Erk, looking over at her work. "I don't know much about dark magic, but isn't it the nature of those orbs to gravitate together?"

"Actually, the whole spell is more about willpower than anything… most dark magic is, unlike Anima, which is strictly governed by a rigid set of laws, or light magic, which takes form mostly based on extremely strong emotions, like faith or love. It takes willpower to focus the orbs… you can tell if someone's a novice if they get large Luna orbs, the smaller they are, the more contained the power is and it does more damage when released…"

"It also takes a strong will to direct the orbs. If you don't have one, they're just as likely to hit you as they are to hit the target," Canas added, suddenly joining the conversation as he often did whenever his students started discussing magic on their own. That was one of the great things about having Canas as a teacher, he encouraged his students to think and form their own opinions, even if they didn't coincide with his own. "Elder magic takes a fine mix of will and control. That's one of several reasons that there are so few Druids."

"So, what Nadia did is something that any Druid could do?" Erk asked, impressed.

"Yes, although it's rare to see the talent in someone so young. Most elder magic practitioners have to train at least ten years or so before they can start doing things like that… if they're lucky."

"I'm not that special, then," Nadia said, trying not to blush under the praise. She was largely self-taught in the area of her own magic, having lost her teacher at a very young age. "I started learning the runes when I started to read, and I've been using da… elder magic since I was ten or eleven. Besides, normally when I try to deviate from the original course of the spell, some of them hit me too. I've really improved a lot in the last year or so."

Canas looked at her in that all-knowing manner of his that always made her feel a little nervous. "This might be a rather personal question, Miss Saharin, but are you self-taught?"

"Um, my mother taught me, but she was killed in an accident when I was six. I've been learning using the texts only since then. You're the first real teacher I've had in over ten years," she said, figuring that Canas knew too much for her to get away with lying to him.

Erk blinked, clearly surprised, and Canas paled. "You're very lucky to be alive, Miss Saharin. I'm not sure you understand exactly how dangerous–"

"Ooops!" Priscilla said.

Of the many, many things that could be heard while practicing with volatile magics, 'ooops' is generally near the bottom of anyone's list. The hairs on the back of Nadia's neck prickled, and her hair started to lift away from her body…

"Down, you fool!" Erk said, knocking her to the ground, just in time for them both to be struck by Priscilla's miscast Thunder spell…

I know, I know, I die around finals time, I resurrect myself midway into summer, and I leave you with that cliffhanger? Yes, well I am rather fond of all my body parts where they are, thank you, but if you must remove some… take my legs. I only need them for DDR…

Okay, and now here's the part where I clear up things for the chapter.

First of all, about Illyse, the Talvier, and the Lorca... after I played the game through a couple of times, my conspiracy theroy side sort of found it to be convienent. Here we have this group of bandits that slaughteres everyone, instead of carrying off the women and killing off everyone else. I sort of thought that Nergal might find a use in that much quintessence being thrown to the winds... especially in my more peaceful, modern Elibe. As for Illyse herself... there's a story there. (evil laughter)

Also, about those rumors Rebecca overheard… do you remember the argument that Eliwood and Hector had in study hall around the second chapter or so? Well, when I was looking over the old stuff I read the one line that Hector shouted to the room, and I realized exactly how many ways that that could be taken when pulled out of context, and I just HAD to do something with it.

Yes, I am evil incarnate. Thank you very much.

Grace the poor procrastinator with a review?