Untitled Document REBUILDING

Present Version (9/30/99)

Author's note

To clarify, speech are quoted "..." while thoughts are '...'

Flashbacks are




Stars *** mean a change of scenery, another event, or a different story viewpoint.

Anyone who hasn't played or hasn't finished the game "Xenogears" is advised not to read this fic as there are spoilers and events referred to in the original story line.


This is a non-profit work. The characters and such are the property of Squaresoft and Electronic Arts, except for some individuals and plot line ideas, which I created originally. Other than that, this is wholly a Xenogears fanfic.

Five years after Episode V

Location: Bledavik, Aveh

It was a splendid day for a celebration. The newly planted grass gleamed in the sunlight. The specially engineered trees about swayed in the gentle breeze, which brought in cool air from the nearby sea, keeping at bay the heat from the surrounding desert. Bart had been right in his enthusiasm for a picnic in the recently terraformed portion of Aveh. His close companions though busy with their respective duties in the New World order were disinclined to refuse his invitations.
Elly smiled, unable to help herself, as she watched Dan, Midori, Primarea, Maria, Emeralda and Chu-chu look for hiding places while Billy counted to a hundred. 'I'm so glad everyone is here.' She thought, glancing about. 'We're so busy with rebuilding what Deus had destroyed that we often forget the simple pleasures of life.' Elly eyed Fei carefully as he downed another glass of whatever alcohol he and Bart were daring each other to drink. With them was Rico, looking amused and refusing Bart's invitation to join the contest. 'All right, perhaps some pleasures are best left alone.'
Near the trio, Citan and Sigurd were discussing about some important issues. Though Sigurd looked slightly sick whenever he happened to see Fei and Bart drinking. Elly remembered the first time she found out about Sigurd and his incapacity to hold his alcohol. She fought the giggle that threatened to come out of her throat. 'Now is not the time to give anyone the impression that I've gone crazy or something.' She wound coughing instead.

"Are you alright, Lady Elhaym?" Elly turned and saw Maison behind her, balancing a tray of drinks expertly. "I'm fine, Maison. Just a little cough, that's all." She then eyed Maison and his load closely. "Maison, for goodness' sake, put down that tray. You're here to relax as well. Besides, your days as a butler are over, Chief Advisor of Internal Affairs." She removed the tray from his hand and handed it to a passing waiter. "That is no job for a man of your position, and please call me Elly."

Maison sighed, "I do wish you people had not appointed me to that blasted office. I was quite content being the young master's gentleman and," he lifted his bearing slightly, "I'm still the best man for that job."

Elly grinned at him, "Sorry Maison. At least they don't call you the Great Lady of Nisan." She shivered slightly. "It makes me sound so old. Besides, from what I hear, you do still attend to Bart, despite your additional duties."

"Lady Elhaym, The day I let another take over my job as the young master's personal manservant is the day I die."

"Whoa, don't be so serious, Maison. Besides, " Elly looked towards the city of Bledavik, "we need you."

Maison followed the direction of her gaze. " I suppose you are right, Lady Elhaym." Elly turned back to him. "But when will our duties be finished?"

Elly's eyes closed as she breathed in deeply. 'Does he expect an answer from me? ...I suppose so. He does know who... or what I am, but won't he and many others ever realize that Fei and I are just like them? Human.' She opened her eyes and found that Maison was regarding her with a smile. She was about to answer when he interrupted her, "I am sorry, Elly. I do not mean to burden you with my concerns." He raised his hand when she protested. "I suppose," he said carefully, his eyes suddenly devious; "I would not mind letting another take care of the young master, providing that he has been properly wedded."

Elly's eyes widened, "Are you suggesting," she said just as carefully, "that perhaps we should assist the young master in this matter?"

Maison tilted his head slightly, considering his charge downing yet another glass. "Well, he is certainly taking his time, isn't he?"

Billy was busy trying to find his charges' hiding places. The youngsters had been placed under his care during the picnic. The former Etone didn't mind the duty. He did always have a fondness for children. His friends knew him well. Maria, Emeralda, and Chu-chu could hardly be considered as needing a babysitter, but they hadn't refused when the others invited them to a game of hide-and-seek. Billy had been unanimously voted as "it."
'Where, in all that is holy, are they hiding?' Billy thought as he searched through the tents and tables that had been set up for the party. He pulled up the flap of the last tent and looked inside, surprising Yui, Margie and Sister Agnes.

"Oops, excuse me."
Margie smiled at him. "Oh, hello Billy, Please come in."

"Thank you, but I'm looking for someone."

Yui replied innocently, "Would that someone happen to be my daughter?"

Billy grinned, "Yes, I'm looking for Midori."

Yui stumbled slightly forward, looked behind her and turned back to Billy. "I'm sorry. I don't see her right now." Margie and Sr. Agnes continued their conversation, pretending not to notice Billy as he went around them and tagged Midori, hiding behind her mother. "Gotcha, Midori."
Midori scowled at him and her mother. Not saying a single word yet conveying her thoughts. She didn't retain her grudge for long however as she suddenly smiled up at them and went out the tent. Billy sighed. "Well, that's one. Only five more to go."

Yui laughed and Sr. Agnes commented with a smile. "Looks like you'll be spending the whole picnic looking for them, Billy."

Margie giggled as Billy scratched the back of his head with an rueful expression on his face. "Well, it won't take him that long if he has some help." She turned to him. "Do you mind some company, Billy?"

Billy returned her smile. "Not at all." They both exited the tent in search of the remaining fugitives.

Sr. Agnes sighed as she went to the tent opening and followed their progress intently.

"Is something wrong?" Yui asked, standing beside her. Sr. Agnes turned to her with a weary smile. "I just wish that Bartholomew would pay as much attention as William does to Marguerite."
Yui placed a comforting hand on her shoulder in reply. "Don't worry, Sister. Bart has been quite busy. No one's has had much free time on hand." Yui, as well, looked at Margie. "Besides, Margie is lovely. I'm certain Bart can't ignore her for long."

"That is what I said to Marguerite five years ago." Yui looked back at Sr. Agnes. "And Bart still hasn't even invited her to a function as her escort." Sr. Agnes sniffed indignantly. "Even now, he's escorting that woman to the ball tomorrow, instead of Marguerite."

Yui had a good idea of whom Sr. Agnes was referring to. That woman was Sabela Casn, one of the direct descendants of a member of the former Shevat Council. Yui had met her before. The red-haired beauty had the ambition of being the consort of the Fatima heir. So far, it looks like she was succeeding.

"What does he see in that woman?" Sr. Agnes seethed, glaring at Bart. "She doesn't compare at all to Marguerite, all she wants is the throne, and..." Yui shushed her, calming her companion down.

"You worry too much. You know as well as I that Bart is too smart to fall for a woman like that. Besides," Yui gently made Sr. Agnes sit on the stool she had placed behind her; "Bart didn't invite her to this picnic."

"Well, it's a good thing he didn't. Maybe there is hope for him yet." Sr. Agnes suddenly was quiet and Yui patiently waited. "I'm sorry. I don't know what..." Yui reassured her. "It's all right. I have an idea of what you're going through."

Sr. Agnes smiled gratefully at her, but shook her head. "No, I know that Bartholomew knows what's best for Aveh." She looked down at her clasped hands and sighed. Yui listened carefully. "It's just that..." She stood up suddenly and went to the tent opening, looking at Margie as she and Billy found Chu-chu. Yui stood up as well and went to her side. "It is about Marguerite. She has... changed."

Yui frowned. "What do you mean?"

Sr. Agnes looked sadly, almost guiltily at Yui. "She no longer cares about Bartholomew. No!" She said, seeing Yui's startled expression. " I don't mean she does not love him anymore. She still does. It's just that..." She turned back to watch Margie. "She no longer goes after Bartholomew or calls on him like she used too. She barely asks about his welfare and when she does ask about him..." Sr. Agnes wrung her hands worriedly. "She seems so unconcern, like a stranger."

"Maybe, she's just playing hard to get." Yui suggested, but Sr. Agnes dashed the theory away with a shake of her head. "It is not like that at all. She is still happy and enthusiastic to see him, but at the same time she is withdrawing herself from him." Sr. Agnes looked at Yui tiredly. "Oh Yui, you should see her expression the first time Bartholomew escorted Sabela Casn. I... I expected her to be jealous, angry even hurt by it. But Marguerite... she just looked content about it." Sr. Agnes turned her gaze back to Margie. "She even said that they look well together."

"That's two down, four to go." Margie laughed as Billy pulled Chu-chu from under the buffet table."
"Hey, not chu hard." Chu-chu complained as she stood up and shook her fur back in place. Billy smiled at her. "Sorry about that. Now why don't you and Midori stay right here while we find the others."

"It's not fair. There are chu of you." Midori seemed to agree with Chu-chu.
Margie grinned. "Sorry, no rule says we can't have two "its." Billy nodded in agreement, but decided on a compromise. "All right, how about in the next game, you two be it?"
"Hokay." Chu-chu replied and Midori nodded as well. The two them proceeded to go into a dialogue consisting of no words at all. Billy shook his head in fondness of them and looked at Margie. "Shall we go, Great Mother of Nisan?"

"Don't call me that, Father Black." They both laughed, drawing some attention from their friends around them. Billy shallowed his laughter and grinned as Margie attempted to do the same with little success. Margie, nearly doubled over with mirth, grabbed Billy's arm and pulled him to a nearby copse of trees.

"Those two seem to be having fun," Rico commented, watching Margie and Billy disappear into the trees. He looked at his two companions. "More fun than the two of you are having."
Fei was dead drunk on the ground with Bart barely standing on his two feet. "W-what?" Bart slurred before he dropped with a thud.

Citan sighed as he and Sigurd approached them. He commented to his companion. "Your bloodline seems to have a poor affinity for alcohol." Sigurd glared at him as he and Maison struggled to get Bart up. Elly was on her knees with Fei's head on her lap, trying to get him to wake up.

"I see this party has ended before it has even begun." They all turned as Jessiah walked towards them. Citan greeted him. "Jessiah, I'm glad you could come, despite your schedule."

"Hell, Hyuga, you know I won't miss a chance to drink." Jessiah looked closely at Fei and Bart. "I'm surprise that's Bart instead of Sigurd." He turned to look at Citan and Sigurd. "Oh well, this is even better. C'mon you two. Let's do what we used to do back in the old days."

This time both Citan and Sigurd looked uncomfortable as their mentor started mixing something at the minibar. Sigurd murmured, "Something tells me Bart and Fei are about to have company." Citan replied, "Well, it is not going to be me."

Elly, Rico and Maison looked at one another. "This does not look good." Rico said obviously. Maison headed for one of the tents. "I'll go get the alcohol suppressant." Elly nodded. "Good idea," she watched as Jessiah handed both Citan and Sigurd each a glass with something green in it. "I think I'd better go get reinforcements."

Billy watched as Margie pulled herself together. He coughed slightly, trying to keep from laughing again. Margie finally took in deep breaths. After a while, she glanced up at him. "We certainly lost some time, didn't we?" Billy shrugged in reply, fighting to keep a grin of his face.
Margie finally stood up. "I think that someone may be hiding somewhere around here.
Billy sighed, looking at the thick foliage, "Well, if they are. It won't be easy finding them." He stretched, easing the kinks out of his shoulders. "Next time, I'll think twice before accepting a challenge to play hide-and-seek with them."
"Hmm... What we need is a strategy." Margie said thoughtfully, tapping her chin with a finger.

Billy glanced at her. "A strategy? The only strategy in hide-and-seek is to figure out where they're hiding."

Margie shook her head in reply. "That's the problem. We should try to make them come to us."

"Just how exactly are we going to accomplish that."
Margie smiled at him. "Well, they have to be around here. This is the only place left. We've searched all the other areas.
Billy nodded. "If that is so, then the rest of them should be here." He glanced about him. "So, where are they?"

"They're around here all right and chances are they can hear us talking, too. This place is not very big."

"So, what's your strategy?"
"We talk."

Billy looked at Margie. "We talk?"

"Uh hmmm..." Margie nodded as she settled herself comfortably on a flat rock. "So Billy, who are you going to escort to tomorrow's function?"
"Huh?" Billy stared at her.
"You know, the anniversary gala tomorrow. So, who's the lucky girl?"


"What are they talking about, Emeralda?" Maria asked her friend as they balanced carefully on a tree branch just above Billy and Margie."
Emeralda looked back. "Margie is asking Billy who he is escorting to the function tomorrow."


Primarea nudged Dan who was in front of her. Dan turned to her. "Stop pushing, Prim. I can't concentrate on what they're saying." He turned back to listen. Primarea nudged him again. "All right, I'll tell you what they're talking about. Just stop bothering me."
Dan listened carefully to Billy and Margie's conversation. "Seems like they're talking about who's Billy's date for the bash tomorrow." Primarea's eyes widened.

Billy blushed slightly. "I don't really have a date, Margie" He shifted uncomfortably. "I'm just going to go with the others.
Margie looked at him thoughtfully. "I'm surprised no girl has asked you to escort her, Billy." She smiled at him teasingly. "I bet it's that title of yours, Reverend Black."

Billy glared at her. "I suppose you have a date too, Mother Margaret."
Margie sighed. "Same here. Everyone expects that only Bart can escort me."


Margie looked up at him. "You don't know? I guess no one has told you." Margie stood up and looked up at the sky, what little that can be seen through the trees. "The Kings of Aveh always had for their consorts the Great Mothers of Nisan."
"...But you and Bart are cousins!" Billy protested.
Margie glanced at his flabbergasted expression and laughed. "Don't worry, Billy. We don't commit incense or anything like that. Unions between the two countries are only permitted if lineage allows it. Grandmother was Bart's grandfather's sister. My mother was then Bart's father's cousin. In truth, I am Bart's cousin in the second degree. Thus, marriage between Bart and me is allowable."
Margie herself also stretched. "You see, unions between the King of Aveh and the Great Mother of Nisan only happen once in three generations. However, though not required by law; it is an accepted tradition." She blushed as well. "In fact, it is highly encouraged. I think that my ancestors planned it in order to strengthen the Fatima line and insure that its descendents would always possess the Fatima Jasper."

Margie looked at Billy, who all the while had listened to her intently. "Now, of course, such practice is no longer necessary since the Fatima Treasure has already been retrieved. The Jasper is no longer needed."

Billy considered her carefully. "You seemed rather solemn the way you said it all."
Margie's eyes widened, taken aback, then she glanced downward. "I suppose I was."

Billy considered the girl, no the woman in front of him. 'She has changed. She used to be so... so enthusiastic where Bart was concerned. I remember the time when she made it quite clear how she felt for Bart. Of course, he didn't notice. I used to think how lucky he was to have Margie care for him that way... What happened to her? She doesn't seem angry or disillusioned... She simply seemed to have accepted it.'
"What happened, Margie?" Billy asked suddenly.
Margie's gaze snapped back to his. "Huh?"

"What happened? What made you change your feelings for Bart? You used to... to care for him so much."
Margie returned his look intently. "I...I didn't change anything, Billy." She turned away from him for a moment. "I think my feelings just changed by themselves." A small smile lightened her serious expression. "Make no mistake. I still care for Bart very much. I do still love him. It's just... I don't feel that way about him anymore." She laughed lightly. "I really didn't notice the change right away. It just happened." Margie grinned at Billy. "I'm not sure, but I think I got over a crush on him or something."

Margie's expression turned reminiscent. "Now, that I have thought about it clearly. I did kind of act silly over him. I guess I couldn't help it. I owed so much to him. For everything that he had done for me." Realization flooded her features. "Oh God, I really didn't make it easy for him, did I?"

Billy laughed at her last statement. "Well, I did thought you were kind of sweet on him." He turned serious. "Are you sure his dating that other woman didn't have anything to do with this change?"

Margie considered his question carefully. "I haven't really met her personally yet so I cannot be a judge of her character, but she is beautiful and Bart seems to be taken in by her." She paused for a moment. "They do seem to complement one another."

"Physical beauty is not a true indication of a person's character, Margie." Billy replied.

"Maybe not, but I know Bart knows how to judge people. He thinks well before he acts, Billy."

"Yeah right, like the time he shoot down the Goliath with Fei and the others on board." Billy muttered under his breath, but he shook his head when Margie looked at him quizzically. "Your feelings for him have really changed, haven't they?"

Margie shrugged. "I guess so." Then she suddenly smiled at him impishly. "So are you going to ask me to be your date?"

Both of them stared at the heap that was Emeralda and Maria. The two were trying to untangle their arms and limbs from each other's. Billy glanced up to where they had come from. "So that's where they were hiding." Margie smiled and tapped each of them on their heads. "Gotcha, I knew that last question was going to get something out of the trees."
They all turned towards the source of the shout, Dan suddenly appearing out of the bushes. The young lad made his way towards them with Primarea in his wake. "Are you telling me that all that was so that you could find us?!" Primarea was also asking the same thing, of course all she said was, "Billy?"
Billy looked questioningly at Margie, who in turn regarded the four youngsters. "It depends whether you consider me and Billy sneaky enough to pull off such a ruse."

The foursome regarded Billy and Margie for a few moments, before dashing away from them.

"I gotta ask Doc and Yui about this."
"Kim and Elly would know."

"Good, you ask them. I'll question Maison and Sigurd."

Billy stared in shock. "Good Lord, I clean forgot about them."
Margie patted his shoulder. "Don't worry about it."

Billy glanced at her. "Aren't you even worried about this? With those four, the entire city of Bledavik would know about it by tomorrow.
"There is nothing to be concerned about. It isn't important. Besides, it's not as if people haven't notice where Bart's affections lie."

Billy considered her unconcerned visage and what she said thoughtfully. "I suppose you're right, Margie." He grinned at her, suddenly rakish. "So what time do you want me to take you to the ball?"

Margie looked at him fondly, with a warm smile of her own.

Citan looked at his wife carefully. "Are you sure?" Yui nodded in reply as she removed her husband's shirt. "Hmm... So that was what Dan was trying to tell me." Yui smiled at him teasingly. "I suppose you really couldn't think clearly with five glasses of Jessiah's special potion in your stomach."
Citan laughed as he held his wife closer against him, remembering how Dan had tried to get through to him. At least he had better luck than Maria and Emeralda trying to wake up Sigurd and Fei respectively. "Poor Dan, he really thought I had lost it when I told him that he looked like a girl with that hair style of his."

Yui punched him in the chest lightly. "That was a mean thing to say. Dan's wearing his hair down now."

"Well, you have to admit it is a change for the better." Citan grinned at Yui, suddenly he winced as his head throbbed with pain. "Ugh, My head is spinning again."

Yui helped Citan to the bed, seating him carefully. She knelt on the bed behind him and massaged his temples. "Is that better?" Citan nodded as he relaxed against her. Yui shifted her stance slightly and murmured. "At least, you're not in the condition Fei, Bart and Sigurd are in." She grinned against his hair. "Those three haven't woken up yet."

Citan smiled in reply, his eyes closing sleepily. "I really do not know how Jessiah manages it." His smile turned to a grin. "Sigurd dropped after the first glass, I barely managed with five, and he is still at it." His eyelids flickered as his breathing slowed. Soon, he was asleep with his wife barely able to hold him up.

Yui gently rested his head on the pillow and carefully arranged his legs on the bed. 'Poor dear, You've had quite a day, haven't you?' Yui's sapphire eyes were tender as she brushed Citan's hair from his face and placed a kiss on his forehead.

Sigurd rubbed his temple wearily as he reviewed the reports on the city's status. It was not easy being a Prime minister, especially with a splitting headache. Sigurd groaned and buried his face in his hands. 'That Jessiah!'
"I see you had a good time at the picnic yesterday, Prime Minister."
Sigurd looked up to see his aide standing in front of him with a smile on his face, a sheaf of documents in one hand and a glass of steaming hot water in the other. "Wipe that smile of your face, Daniel."
Daniel's smile widened into a grin as he walked around Sigurd's desk and handed his boss the water. "Here sir, this should help." His expression turned apologetic as he placed the folder on the table. "Of course, this won't help your hang-over, but we need your seal on it."

Sigurd nodded, his face in a frown as he slowly drank the water. "What is it about?"
"A group of citizens wishes permission to cross Blackmoon Forest, and rebuild Lahan Village."
Sigurd looked up. "Lahan? Isn't that where Fei and Hyuga lived?"
Daniel nodded. "Yes, that was the Contact's and Dr. Uzuki's home." He opened the document and flipped to a certain page. "The group mostly consists of survivors from the Lahan Disaster as well as some Dazil and Bledavik citizens. A good number of them are farmers."
Sigurd nodded compassionately. "I understand how they feel. I too would want to rebuild my hometown, and Aveh is not exactly a choice country for agriculture. Even with the terraforming project, it will be some time before we have ample farmland."

"I must add too, sir, that though Nortune and Nisan are supplying us with foodstuffs; it has been quite difficult to keep down the prices. It has been a strain on the other cities' stockpiles as well." Daniel concluded. "It won't be long until we would need to find an alternate supply of food."

"What about that fishing project conducted by the Thames Captain?" Sigurd asked as he perused the proposal."

The former Captain of the Thames had recently presented to the Council his idea of establishing a fishing fleet off the coast of Aveh. The main task of the fleet would be of fishing and ocean culture, but they would be salvaging as well. There was much debris and fallout from the days of War, and recycling and reusing old equipment has been a worthwhile procedure in the Rebuilding.

Daniel shook his head. "Though the project has begun a year ago. It will take time for a sufficient number of ships to be launched as well as a transport system to be established between the shipping port and Bledavik."

On the continent of Ignas, the only area suitable for ships to enter was at the southeastern portion of Aveh, a good distance away across the desert from Bledavik. The rest of Ignas was surrounded by sheer cliffs and boulder-strewn beaches. Sigurd knew this well, having to pilot the Yggdrasil in the days when it couldn't fly, only able to cross through sand. Later, the ship could travel by water, but could only reenter land where there was suitable shore.

Sigurd leaned back against his chair and considered Daniel. "So you are in favor of Lahan's rebuilding?"

"I believe it will benefit all of us, sir. Not only will there be another source of food for the people, it will also raise the spirit of the populace to know that the first town destroyed would now be rebuilt."

Sigurd steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them. "I do not know if it would be wise to rebuild another area so soon. It has only been two years since Bledavik's refounding. It may be stretching our resources too far in such a short time."

Sigurd stood up and picked up the document. "Still, it bears closer examination." He looked at Daniel. "Thank you, Daniel. I will inform the others of this and your recommendation. Is that all?"

Daniel suddenly smiled. "Well, there is the matter concerning Head Master Black's suggestion for additional beverages at the function tonight."

Sigurd glared at him as the latter quickly exited his office. "Yes, well. I better go now, sir."

Sigurd sighed as he slowly sank back into his chair. 'I better remind Maison to prepare more of that suppressant for tonight... First though,' he thought as considered the pile of papers in front of him, 'I have to inform Hyuga and Fei about this.'

Rico grimaced as Billy adjusted his suit. "Stop squirming, Rico. You're not the only who has to be endure this, you know."
"You don't need to remind us, Billy." Fei said as he turned toward them, tugging at his collar. "Why do we have to wear these monkeysuits anyway."

"Stop complaining, you guys." They turned as Bart entered the room. "At least, you don't have to wear a chestful of metal junk." Fei, Rico, and Billy grinned at Bart's full regalia. He was wearing the traditional Fatima dress uniform complete with medals and insignias. It was the more formal, severe version of his favorite suit. In fact, Bart's old suit was his father's, that he had converted to suit his taste and circumstances. One of the few items they had managed to take with them when they fled from Shakhan's grip.

"Why did Old Maison have to remember every detail of what the King of Aveh has to wear to formal occasions?" Bart groused as he went to stand in front of the full-length mirror. "I feel like I'm about to fall face flat to the floor."

"Like the way you did at yesterday's picnic?" Rico grinned, catching the pillow Bart threw at him.

"Say Fei, I hear Elly's still sour at you for getting drunk yesterday." Billy evaded Fei as the latter lunged at him.

"That's it! Pillow Fight! C'mon Fei, let's show these straight-laced fellows how to have some fun."

"I wouldn't call falling down on your face and getting a hang-over fun!" Billy laughed as he and Rico teamed up against Fei and Bart.

Feathers were flying when Maison, Sigurd and Citan passed by the open door.
"Good Grief!" Maison exclaimed as he ran over to Bart. The other sheepishly stood at attention as his butler cast a disapproving once-over on him. Fluffy down was caught on the medals and such of his suit. His hair was in disarray where Rico had given him a good hit with a pillow. "Young Master! Just look at you! The guests will be arriving soon and the hereditary heir to the Fatima throne looks like what a cat dragged in!" Maison was definitely having a conniption fit.
Both Sigurd and Citan sighed as the latter went over to pull Fei to his feet. Fei blushed slightly as his former guardian looked questioningly at him. "Hello, Doc ahh..." He glanced at Rico and Billy for help, but the two were beating a hasty retreat.

"Well, I better go over and pick up my date."
"I promised I'd help with the party. So I better go too."

"Cowards..." Bart muttered as Maison busily repaired the damage. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. "Did I just hear Billy say he has a date for the ball?"
No one answered him.

Zephyr, the former empress of Shevat, now a senior member of the Council; looked approvingly at the way the large function room in Bledavik Castle had been decorated. The large chandelier at the center shined a brilliant soft light that though illuminated the space did not cast harsh shadows. The orchestra band played a tune that suited the ambience of the occasion. Bledavik had a lot to be proud of. In the two years of rebuilding the old desert-city, there had been little or no major obstacles. Unlike the hurried reestablishment of Nortune and the pressured re-colonization of Nisan, Bledavik's reinstatement was the least difficult of the three, almost light-hearted in its pace.
Zephyr turned her attention on an excited Maria Balthasar as she ran to greet Wiseman Balthazar, otherwise known as Old Man Bal. "Hello, Maria." One of the Three Wisemen of Shevat smiled as he hugged his granddaughter. He, too like his colleagues, is a member of the Council located in Nortune. Like many others, he had been invited to join the celebration in Bledavik. He, like Zephyr and his close friends, had also been invited to the private picnic held the day before and was just unable to make time for it. 'Besides,' Zephyr thought. 'Fei and the others needed some time for themselves, just by themselves. After all, they did all the hard work.'
"I can't believe we weren't invited to yesterday's picnic." Someone murmured behind her. Zephyr sighed silently. She recognized who was complaining. 'Casn, that pompous shark,' she thought. Casn and others like him in the Council had the gall to presume that they too deserved the title of heroes. 'It's people like him who caused the trouble five hundred years ago. I can't stand his bragging that young Bartholomew Fatima has been with his offspring.' Zephyr mentally hoped that Fatima would soon see through Sabela. 'She is even worse than Casn himself. The only real difference between those two is that she's prettier and a great deal more cunning.'

Beside Zephyr, Balthazar suddenly exclaimed, "What?!" She turned her attention to him and watch as he listened intently to what Maria was whispering in his ear. Gaspar and Melchior on the other side of him waited just as curiously.

When Maria had finished, Balthazar thanked her and watched Maria fondly as she went back to her friends.

"Well?" Taura Melchior said rather impatiently. "What did she say?"
Balthazar looked at his friends with a devious gleam in his eyes. "I hear that yesterday's picnic has been quite interesting."
Zephyr, Gaspar and Melchior listened quietly as Balthazar relayed the information Maria had told him.

Afterward, Melchior said, amused, "I see they are using that suppressant I developed rather extensively."

Gaspar turned to him. "You should have developed that years ago, Taura. Maybe then, we didn't have to carry you back home each time we went to a party."

Balthazar laughed at Melchior's indignant expression while Zephyr smiled at the three of them with affection. 'I'm glad the three of you remained with us. You all may have been angry at our folly, but you still didn't give up on mankind. Thank you.' Zephyr then turned her mind to other matters. 'Now what about this matter about Bartholomew and Marguerite Fatima?'

Fei grinned at Elly appreciatively. "You look stunning tonight, Elly." He said as he offered his arm to her. Elly smiled, blushing slightly as she slipped her hand into his. "Thank you, Fei. You don't look too bad yourself." The couple talked comfortably with each other as they headed for the function room.
"Fei, have you seen Bart yet?"
"Yes Elly, the last I saw him, he was headed for Casn's suite."


"Thinking about him and Margie?"

"Yes, I really can't help it." Elly glanced at her escort. "I guess I am a bit concern about them."
Fei returned her look. "Don't worry Elly. Things will work out for the best."
"Fei, we are talking about Bartholomew Fatima here, and I really don't like that Sabela." Elly seethed, remembering the first time she and Fei met Casn.
"Oh, I'm very please to meet you Fei Fong Wong." Sabela simpered to Fei, suddenly clutching his arm. "I so wanted to meet the legendary Contact, the leader of the heroes who saved us from Deus and that awful Krelian.
"Uh," Fei replied, nonplussed. "I'm please to me you too, Ms. Casn"
"Oh please, call me Sabela." Casn said, ignoring Elly by Fei's side. "Can I call you Fei?"
"I guess so." Fei turned to Elly with a panic look on his face. "May I introduce you to Elhaym van Houten?" Elly by then was fighting the urge to rip Sabela's hands off Fei. "Please to meet you, Sabela." She managed to force out.

Sabela gave her an once-over before turning her attention back on Fei. "Oh, I do love the way you are so magnanimous to our enemies, Fei." It was so obvious who she was referring to. "Even those dirty Solarians."

Elly's mouth dropped at the thinly veiled insult, and Fei, seeing her murderous expression, was suddenly concerned with Casn's continued existence. "Thank you, Ms. Casn, but..." he said, pulling his arm from her grasp and taking Elly's hand. "Elly and I have a date with Doc and his family for dinner. So we have to go now." Fei managed to get Elly out of the room and out of earshot before she exploded.

"Fei, don't you remember how she tried to get at you?" Elly returned to the present as they neared their destination. "Honestly, I don't know what would have happened if you didn't get me away from her."
Fei smiled tenderly at her as he suddenly pulled her into the shadow of a column. "Elly," he whispered into her ear as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into an embrace, "she's not worth losing your temper over. Besides..." Fei murmured against her hair, "you know I love you."

Elly gazed into his eyes, a loving smile on her lips. "I love you too, Fei." She said before she kissed him.

"I wish those two would be a bit more discreet." Citan commented to Yui as they passed Fei and Elly. His wife turned to him with a teasing look. "You mean, just like you, Hyuga?" Citan smiled in respond and started when Midori pulled at his hand. "Yes, Midori. What is it?"
Their daughter directed their attention to a small colorful bird perching high on the ornate capital of a column framing the entrance to the ballroom.

Yui smiled in delight. "Oh, what a darling creature. It must have flew in here by mistake."

The bird chirped musically as it too returned their stares. Citan glanced down at his daughter, reading the request in her eyes. "You want me to get it for you?"

Citan sighed as Yui giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. Yui managed somehow to keep her face blank when her husband glanced at her. "I suppose you want me to get it for her too?"

"Well, you do have the longest reach, Hyuga." Citan glared at her as he kneeled in front of their daughter. "Midori, Let me buy you another bird from the pet shop tomorrow." He reasoned, "That bird up there is most likely untamed. I doubt it will let me catch it."

"Ah, there you are." The family turned to see a slender, dark-haired man walking towards them, his eyes intent on the bird. "I've been looking everywhere for you. Get back down here, you naughty fella."

The bird seemed happy to see the stranger. It chirped once before gliding down to land on the youth's outstretched finger.

Citan stood up and approached him; Yui and Midori following close behind. "Excuse me, young man." The lad regarded him with a friendly blue-eyed gaze. "That is your bird?"

"Well," the young man glanced down at his pet; "I rather think he thinks I'm his pet." He smiled suddenly at them. "Pardon me. Prism here got a bit bored waiting around, so he decided to take a tour of the palace."

"Prism?" Midori murmured, her eyes intent and very serious.
The man returned her gaze with the same intensity. "That is right, young Midori. Prism is the name I gave him, because as you can see, he has all the colors of the rainbow."
"You know our names..." Yui mentioned, regarding him curiously.
"I should, Prime Minister Harcourt has told me all about you." At their startled expressions, he said, "Oh please forgive me. I forgot to introduce myself." He held out his hand. "My name is Daniel Saren. I am the Prime minister's aide and secretary."
Citan shook his hand. "Ah yes. Sigurd has mentioned you though we never had the opportunity to meet you, Daniel."

Daniel shook his head with a weary smile. "I'm afraid I have been rather busy preparing for the festival." His eyes suddenly brightened. "But it will be a great party." He declared. "A lot of energy has been put into it." He then gestured at Prism. "Even he will be part of it."

Yui glanced down at their daughter. "I'm afraid Midori has taken a liking to Prism."
Citan too looked down at Midori, who was still regarding Daniel and Prism very seriously. "I do not suppose you would consider selling Prism afterward," the doctor asked Daniel.
In response, Daniel knelt down before Midori. "I'll make a deal with you, Midori. I'll give Prism to you if you do me a favor." Midori looked at him with widened eyes. She seemed to be asking what favor.

Her mother too was concerned. "What favor do you mean, Daniel?"
Daniel looked up at Midori's parents and was about to answer, when he suddenly decided otherwise. "You'll all know at the ball soon," he said as he stood up, Prism chirping and balancing on his hand. He smiled at them. "But I have better go now. I still have many things to do." He nodded good-bye and took his leave of them.
Yui placed her hands on Midori's shoulders and looked at Citan. "Don't worry, Midori. Daniel seems to be a very nice person." Midori looked up at both of her parents and seemed to say that she knows that too.

A good number of guests had already arrived by the time Bart and Sabela made their entrance. The red-haired woman clung to Bart's arm, posing herself seductively. Fei shook his head, wondering if Bart was really that blind. 'Maybe I should tell him that Casn tried to seduce me before she realized that I would never betray Elly.' Fei took a careful sip of his drink. Definitely no alcohol for him tonight. 'Maybe I should talk to Bart about Margie.'
Fei had been surprised when Elly told him what Emeralda had found out. 'I guess Margie had to change sometime. Still, I can't believe she's not in love with Bart anymore.' He regarded his friend and his date carefully. 'Well, the way Bart's been treating her, it's not surprising Margie would become disillusioned. He'd better do something quick.' Fei again swallowed some Ariberry juice, deciding to ask Elly for a dance.

Yui, Sr. Agnes and Elly were having a conversation when Fei interrupted them, asking if Elly would dance with him. Yui and Sr. Agnes smiled as the young couple went to the dance floor.
"Those two are so right for each other, aren't they?" The sister commented. Yui nodded in agreement when she noticed Billy and Margie entering the ballroom. "Oh look, there's Billy and Margie."

Sr. Agnes looked in the same direction and smiled. "Marguerite looks so lovely."
Margie indeed looked beautiful in the blue-white gown she wore. Billy, in his formal Etone wear was her match. Billy looked at his date. "Would you like to dance, Margie?"
Margie smiled in return as she accepted.

Citan, Sigurd and Jessiah were at the bar. The former two having been dragged to it by the latter.
"Here Hyuga, Sigurd." Jessiah said, as he began preparing his potions. "Wait til you taste this new recipe I made. It will really kill you!"

"Literally, I suppose. "Citan murmured softly while Sigurd discreetly swallowed a capsule of alcohol suppressant.

'It is fortunate,' Citan thought, 'that I have an ironclad excuse to get out of this situation.' "Uhh Jessiah, I am afraid I must have to take a rain check on this."

"Hmm..." Jessiah looked at him, a bottle in each hand.
"I promised my wife that I would have the first dance with her." '...and the second and the third...' Citan thought as he stepped back from the bar. Jessiah frowned at him. "Well, you come back soon. Sigurd and I will be waiting for you." Sigurd glared at his fleeing companion. "Okay Sigurd, It's just you and me."
"That reminds me Jessiah, my aide told me that he had something for me to do..."

The gala was already in full swing when Daniel stepped unto the stage, signaling the band to fade the music. "Ladies, gentlemen, everyone, please take your seats." He waited for most to have found a place before continuing.
"Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, welcome to the Anniversary of Bledavik's Refounding. I am Daniel Saren, your Master of Ceremonies for tonight." "We all know that it has not been easy rebuilding our shattered civilization. Time is a commodity, which each one of has little of. So we, of Aveh, are honored by your presence in this occasion. We thank you for sharing in our pride and joy." "Now, let me hand you over to his Excellency Prime Minister Sigurd Harcourt..."

Bart was surprised to see Sigurd on stage. 'I didn't know Sig was making a speech tonight.' He suddenly felt a hand on his thigh, and he glanced at his date. Sabela smiled enticingly at him, running her hand up and down his leg. "Why don't we go somewhere private, Bartholomew?" She whispered, leaning closer to him. "This party beginning to bore me."
The young King of Aveh grinned in respond. "Don't you think it would be impolite if I just simply disappeared?"

Sabela shrugged, fingering the medals on his chest. "You can do whatever you want, Bartholomew, after all, you're the king. Besides, you can let Sigurd handle everything else."

The way she said it made Bart uncomfortable. "Just because I am king, doesn't mean I can do whatever I want. I have responsibilities, Sabela." He frowned. 'Now why do I suddenly sound like Old Maison.'

Sabela flounced away from him angrily. "Don't be so stuffy." Suddenly, she was coy again. "I just want to be alone with you."

Bart laughed. "Don't worry. We'll soon be alone after the party." He turned his attention back to the stage. "Besides, I know the MC. He knows how to throw a party. So relax and enjoy."

Yui watched as Sabela simmered, disappointed at her failure to lure Bart away. 'She may be cunning but that pride of hers may prove to be her undoing.' Yui glanced up the ceiling. 'What does she plan to do with Bart? No, it's obvious what it is she wants. The question is how she's going to do it... Hmm that's obvious too.'
"What are you thinking about?" Yui's musings were broken as her husband regarded her. "Hyuga! You surprised me." Citan took her hand and lifted it to his lips, his dark eyes looking at her curiously. "Forgive me, so what were you thinking about?"

"Oh, just a woman's thoughts."

"You know what Elly, I don't think Bart has even seen Margie yet." Fei commented with an exasperated look on his face. Elly shrugged. "He can be rather dense at times."
"What say you and I do a little matchmaking?"
Elly looked at him questioningly. "What do you have in mind?"


"Thank you, sir, for your wonderful address." Daniel said to Sigurd as the latter stepped down from the stage. He turned to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, I promise you there will be song, dance, food and drink and entertainment tonight." He gestured and the lights dimmed to a more intimate setting. The band sounded again as waiters suddenly appeared carrying the banquet's menu. "Enjoy."
Maria, Chu-chu, Emeralda, Dan, Midori and Primarea were seated together. Chu-chu, the oldest of them watched her companions carefully. She had promised Billy that she would keep an eye on them. Maria and Emeralda were chatting together. Emeralda mostly asking and Maria mostly answering, while the three children concentrated on their meals. Suddenly, Elly arrived at their table. "Hey, how would like to help Bart and Margie get together?"
Rico was at the service entrance, observing the affair proceeding along. He preferred it this way. He had volunteered to help with the preparations. He recalled Daniel's expression. "But Rico, you're a guest. I can't let you do manual labor. You're a council member, for goodness' sake." "Daniel," he had interrupted, "I just want a little exercise. That's all. Being behind a desk all the time has made me gain some weight." The lie was so obvious and Rico felt that Daniel saw right through it. Thankfully, after a while, Daniel agreed.
He didn't want to cause any tension with his presence in the gathering. 'It was hard enough in Kislev with the way the people there felt towards mutants like me.' He took a deep breath, tugging loose the collar that Billy had so carefully fixed up. 'I don't know why they voted me into the Council. If it weren't for Fei and the others' supporting me, I wouldn't have lasted long as a member.' It had become harder when their group split up, leaving only Rico, Billy and Emeralda in Nortune. 'If it weren't for them, Zephyr, the Three Wise Men and a few others; I would have done nothing at all.' Rico sighed. 'I really should tell them how much their friendship means to me. ...I'm just not good with words.'

"There you are, Rico." Fei approached his friend with a relieved look on his face. "I've been looking everywhere for you. What are you doing back here anyway?"

"Uh, just looking for the bathroom."
"Well, it's right over there. C'mon, I have something to talk to you about."


"...let me present to you, the Bledavik Actor's Guild with their play entitled "The Fatima Jasper."
Margie laughed, suddenly choking on a piece of food. Billy quickly handed her a glass of water. "Here Margie, drink this." She took the glass and hastily swallowed some water, after which she remarked to Billy, "Did you see the actor they chose to play Shakhan's part?" She giggled, wiping tear-filled eyes with the back of her hand.
Billy chuckled as he handed her his handkerchief. "Yes, they choose well."
"Well, I have to say that this Shakhan has a trifle bit more hair than the original."

The two of them turned their attention back to the play, which was based on the search for the Fatima Treasure, abet portrayed in a more humorous fashion, the bad guys especially.
Billy felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see Fei and Rico behind him. "Oh hi guys, Is there something wrong?" Margie turned as well. "Hello Fei, Rico."

"Same to you, Margie. Uh, do you mind if we borrow Billy here for a second?" Fei asked.

Margie blinked, a bit puzzled and curious. "It's all right."
"Great, thanks Margie. We'll return him soon."


"Alright, you two. What's going on?" Billy said when they ended up in the men's comfort room. Fei locked the door while Rico checked the stalls. Finally Fei confronted his friend. "Billy, are you serious about Margie?"
Billy stared at Fei and Rico in shock. "Serious?"
"You know, serious, as in til death do we part serious."

Billy regarded them for a few seconds. "Fei, Rico, I like Margie a lot. But she's like a sister to me."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Yes, Fei. What I feel for her is totally platonic and," he cut Fei off, "before you ask, what she feels for me is nothing more than friendship either."
"How would you know that?" Rico finally said something.
Billy looked carefully at Fei and Rico before replying. "We talked about it before we came to the party, but that's all I'm gonna say. The rest remains in strict confidentiality."
Rico nodded and Fei finally smiled at Billy. "Sort of like a confession thing huh?"
Billy glared at Rico while Fei laughed. "All right, I said my part. Now it's your turn. What is this all about?"
Fei and Rico looked at each other before answering.

Yui glanced at Citan as he suddenly rose from his seat. "Hyuga?" She turned to look at whatever it was he was staring at. "What is it?" All she could see were the doors to the comfort rooms.
"Fei, Rico and Billy just went inside the men's toilet."
"Uh hmm, something wrong with that?"

"Yes, especially since Fei and Rico just went in there a while ago."


Daniel had just stepped backstage when he ran into Elly. "Oh Lady Elhaym, pardon me."

"It's alright. Daniel, I need a favor."


"I need to know what the rest of the shows are."

"But that would ruin the surprise."

"It's important, Daniel."

Daniel looked at Elly, wondering why it was so important to know the rest of the performances. "Umm... there are only three programs left. A dance routine, a clown act and a magic show."
Elly all of a sudden was excited. "A magic act? Who's the magician?"
While Daniel looked flustered. "He... hasn't arrived yet."

"When do you think he'll come?"

Daniel finally asked, "Lady Elhaym, please, what is all this about?"


Margie looked at Billy as he took his seat. "That certainly took a while. You missed most of the play." Billy smiled at her. "Why don't you tell me all about it?"
Sabela yawned as the audience applauded the end of the story. Bart glanced at her. "Man, it sure takes a lot to get you interested. What excites you anyway?"
She smiled seductively and ran her fingers down his chest. "I could show you back in my room."

Bart laughed appreciatively, but pulled her hand away from him. "We can do that later. What I want to know right now is what shows you like to see."

His date pouted as she pulled her hand from his. "All right, I'm into the hard-to-get shows. The ones that cause an arm and a leg."

"I wouldn't call the Bledavik Actor's Guild peanuts, Sabela."
Sabela shrugged. "They are when compared to some of the performances I've seen."

"Like what?"

"The Magician."

"The Magician?" Bart repeated. "Sounds imaginative."

"That's only what his audience calls him. He never gives a name and only the best agents can contact him."
"Daniel has a lot of connections."
"Hmph, I doubt he'd be able to get an act like The Magician."


'That's funny,' thought Maison, 'now where did the children go?'


"That is it," Citan declared standing up. "I am going to find out what they are up to."
Yui pulled him back down. "Hyuga, you're too suspicious. I'm sure there is nothing to worry about."

"Oh really," her husband said, looking his wife carefully, "what if I tell you I saw Midori and the other children heading for the service entrance as well."

Yui's eyes widened.

"All right, you all know what you have to do, right?"

"Elly, are you sure about this magician?" Fei asked worriedly.

Elly shrugged. "Daniel promised me that he'd go with the plan. Besides, we have little choice in any matter."
Rico grunted.
"Uh, guys." Nine heads turned up as Daniel, who was on a catwalk, waved at them in a frantic manner. "Citan and Yui are heading in your direction."
"Oh God, Scatter!"

Sigurd frowned as two of the flowers in the dance routine went in the opposite direction as the other dandelions. 'I didn't even touch Jessiah's concoction.' He moaned softly, rubbing his face. 'Don't tell me even the fumes are enough to get me drunk.'
Margie's mouth dropped as one of the fake trees on the stage tottered unsteadily on its base. "What's going on?" She turned to Billy, who was not there. "Billy? Now where did he go off to?"
'Good God, what are they doing?' thought Billy as he hurried through the passage that led to the backstage. 'What could they possibly be think...'
"I am quite sure they headed this way."
'Yipes, Citan!' Billy ducked back into the corridor.

He carefully peeked and saw Citan and Yui looking around the backstage. The crew of the show continued working around them, professionally ignoring the game of hide-and-seek. Suddenly, two dandelions appeared from behind the curtain, heading for the exit. Billy grabbed them as they passed by.
"Ugh..." One of the flowers said. "Shh," said Billy, revealing Dan and Midori. "It's me, Billy. Where are the others?" Dan shrugged, shaking his head. "I don't know. We got separated, looking for hiding places."

Billy took a deep breath. "All right, the two of you head back to your table. I'll look for the others."

The two youngsters nodded, but before they went, Midori whispered something in Billy's ear."

Billy nodded. "Thanks, Midori."
Midori nodded back at him before she and Dan went off.

'Okay,' thought Billy as he prepared himself. 'This is only Citan and Yui, not even Wels and Reapers. I've faced worse problems than this.' He straightened and walked out into the backstage. "Citan, Yui, What are you doing here?" He said loudly.
Citan turned to him with a suspicious expression on his face. "Billy, I might ask you the same thing."

"Ah, Billy. So glad you could come." The three of them turned as Daniel climbed down the ladder nearby. Unnoticed, Elly sneaked out from under a large piece of canvas covering a pile of backdrops. She headed for the exit.

"You asked Billy to come here?" Citan asked, not noticing Emeralda, Maria and Primarea sliding down a rope from the catwalk where they had been hiding. They wasted no time making their escape.

Nearby, trapped behind a large trunk, Fei and Rico listened carefully.
"Yes, I did, Dr. Uzuki. I wanted to ask a favor of him."

"A favor?"

"Uh hmm, the magic show scheduled last needs a volunteer, and I was hoping that Billy wouldn't mind."
"What do I have to do?" Billy sounded relieved.
"Oh, nothing much. Just stand still, while the magician throws knives at you."


"Don't worry. He's a professional. So far, his record is clean."

"And why is that?" asked Yui.

"Well, no one has dared volunteered yet, but I'm hoping this would be an exception."

"I think I'll pass this honor," said Billy.

"Well, okay Billy. How about you Dr. Uzuki?"

"I don't think so," Yui replied instead. Fei peeked over the chest and saw Yui dragging Citan away. "Besides, Midori still needs her father."
Billy called after them. "I almost forgot. Midori was looking for both of you."
"Thank you, Billy." Yui answered as she and Citan disappeared into the exit.
Billy gave out a big breath of relief. "That was close."

"You said it." Fei and Rico got up and walked over to them.

Daniel sighed theatrically. "I still don't have a volunteer."

Fei and Billy started. "I thought that was just a ruse to lead Citan and Yui away." Fei said, immediately adding afterward, "No, sorry Daniel. I'm not volunteering either."
"I'll volunteer." The three of them stared at Rico in shock.
"Are you sure?" Daniel said carefully. At Rico's nod, he broke into a wide smile. "Thank you, Rico. I promise you won't regret it." He went off, clearly excited.
"Oh sure, of course you won't regret it, Rico. You'll be dead!" Billy exclaimed.
Fei stared at his friend. "Do you have a death wish or something?"

Rico slowly smiled at them. "Do you want to live forever?" He said before walking away.
Rico slowly paced back and forth, as he waited for the clown act to be finished. He shook his head. 'Maybe I do have a death wish.' He sighed softly then started when he heard a thumping sound from one of the fake trees behind him.
"Hmm?" He carefully approached the suspicious prop, and reaching out flipped open the small trap door built into its side.

"Finally, it was chu hot in there." Rico looked in surprise as Chu-chu pulled herself out of the tree. The pink and white furry creature looked up at him. "Thank you, Rico."

Rico nodded and watched as Chu-chu ambled off the backstage. 'How could she remain so cheerful and... so full of life, knowing that she is the last of her kind left?' Rico wondered. He stood still for a while, musing. 'I wish I had that kind of attitude towards life."

"Rico, having second thoughts?" Rico turned and saw Daniel regarding him solemnly. The other then laughed and reassured him, "Don't worry. Nothing is final or anything. You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

Rico looked at him intently. "No, I'm still going through with this."
"Is it because you feel like you'll lose face if you back out?"

"Do I look like I care what other people think of me?" Rico said with a chuckle.


Rico stared at him silently and Daniel sighed. "Look Rico, I promise nothing will happen to you. I know the magician as well as I would my own brother. I don't want you thinking this as a test of character or as a coin toss on whether you live or die. Relax, enjoy yourself and life. If you don't want to do it, then just don't do it. I promise you, no one who truly cares about you will hold this against you."
He waited for his answer.
"I still want to do it."

"All right then."


Elly stared at Fei in shock. "He what?!

Fei sighed. "Rico volunteered to have knives thrown at him."

"We can't let him do that!"

"Elly, This is Rico we are talking about. No one tells him what to do."


"We have to stop him!" Margie exclaimed, rising out of her seat. Billy quickly pulled her back down. "Fei and I already tried. That Rico can be a bit pig-headed sometimes."
"Well, we still have to do something!"
Billy let out a sigh and cupped his chin with a hand, thinking hard. "Daniel told me that everything was set. He even has medics standing by."
"That's not very reassuring, Billy!"

"...now for the last act of the evening, it is my greatest pleasure to present to you The Magician!" The audience gasped collectively as white smoke suddenly enveloped the stage. Fans were activated, sucking the smoke away, revealing a white shrouded figure at the center.
The Magician was a tall sharply featured man, an albino. His silver-white hair, neatly kept in a ponytail further accentuated his nearly translucent skin. He raised his head and regarded his audience with a faint smile.

Yui looked closely at the performer, her eyebrows wrinkled in thought. 'He's a mutant.' It was clear from the way the man's ears elegantly curved to points. 'A demi-human. Just like Rico.'
Bart smirked in triumph. "See, I told you Daniel knows a lot of people."

Sabela was staring at the Magician. "Why?! He's a mutant!"

Bart glanced at her. "You didn't know? I thought you already saw him perform."

"Yes, but he always wore a head band before."


The magician stepped closer to the front. "I see some of you are surprised by the ears," he said in a deep voice, his hand reaching up to finger one of them. His eyes, the only feature of him that was not pale, seemed to twinkle as his smile broadened. "I've actually been always quite proud of them." He grinned. "I promised my friends I would keep them covered. They say they give me an unfair advantage over women."
Several of the female spectators giggled appreciatively, and he laughed. Behind him, stage hands began assembling what appears to be a man-sized bull's eye. "Anyway, your MC persuaded me to reveal them to you." He walked over to a small table with an ornate chest on top, and opened it.

From the box, he lifted and arrayed on the table knives of all shapes and sizes. The audience leaned closer him as he showed them one by the one, holding and handling each expertly. "Actually the real reason why I cover up my ears is so that I would be less intimidating to my volunteers. Especially," he threw a dagger dead center in the bull's eye, "volunteers for this trick." He walked over and retrieved the weapon. "Unfortunately, I never had the chance to show this one."

"Oh my God..." Fei couldn't stop staring at the dagger in the magician's hand. 'Rico...'
Billy stood up and quickly headed for Citan's table. Margie looked after him worriedly.
"This is going to be good." Bart murmured as he paid close attention. 'I wonder who would be stupid enough to volunteer. That guy may look good with those things, but still...'
The magician tilted his head slightly, the dagger gleaming in the light as he tossed it casually in his hand. "Saren assured me however that I would have a volunteer tonight."
"Sure, I'll volunteer."

Heads turned as Fei walked towards the stage. Whispers and murmurs could be heard as he stepped unto the stage, facing the magician. The other regarded him closely. "What is your name, sir?"

"Fei? That is not the name Daniel told me."

Fei shrugged. "You wanted a volunteer. So here I am."

The magician considered him for a while, before walking back to the table. He smiled at Fei. "The audience tonight seems to be rather exceptional. Please prepare yourself, Fei and remember not to move."
Fei nodded, took a deep breath and headed for the bull's eye.

'That Fei,' Rico thought, glaring at his friend as the he walked towards the bull's eye and positioned himself against it. 'Should have known he'd pull something like that.' Still, Rico was touched that Fei would be so concerned about him. He shook his head, bemused. 'Well, I shouldn't have worried them like that. I guess I was... being reckless.' Rico sighed heavily and began thinking for a way to get Fei out of this mess.
"Are you ready, Fei?"

Fei swallowed hard and stilled himself. 'I can handle this. This should be easy after battling Deus, right?' "R-ready."
The magician took careful aim as the atmosphere became deadly silent.

The magician frowned and lowered his arm as a lovely young girl stepped unto the stage. "I would like to volunteer to be thrown at with knives too," she said, her emerald eyes solemn as she met his questioning gaze.
He regarded her with a somewhat puzzled expression. "I'm sorry, young lady. Fei here, has volunteered before you."

Emeralda turned her attention from him to Fei for a moment. "Kim always said to let ladies go first."

The audience tittered with amusement as she went over to the bull's eye. Fei stared at her in shock and was about to say something, when Rico appeared and pulled him into the wings. Emeralda calmly took his place and waited as the magician regained his composure.

"Well, this has been quite an interesting experience."

Elly, Citan and Billy met Fei and Rico backstage. Elly's first action was to punch Fei in the arm. "Ouch!"
"You idiot!" Elly scolded. "Don't you ever do anything like that again!"
"Well, I had to do something!"

Citan sighed and adjusted his glasses while Billy looked like he was about to strangle Fei were not for the fact that Elly had first priority.
Rico grunted and the four of them looked at him. "Fei, next time you think I need help, don't bother." He walked away from them, then stopped and glanced back. "Thanks anyway."

They watched Rico as he disappeared into the corridor. Citan was the first to recover. "Hmm, I think everything is all right now. I should go back."

Billy nodded as well. "Yeah, I'm sure Elly can take care of Fei from here," he commented as he accompanied the older man, leaving Fei and Elly to settle their problem.

Maria, Chu-chu, Dan, Midori and Primarea watched in awed silence as another blade narrowly missed their friend's throat to lodge into the wood beside her neck. Maria swallowed nervously. 'There's nothing for me to be concerned about. Emeralda's a nanomachine colony. Even if one of those knives hit her, she can just regenerate.' She couldn't help but winced however as another dagger flew to bury itself just above her head. 'Even so, she is my best friend. I don't know what I'd do if that was still Fei over there.'
The audience held their breath again as another knife was aimed and released, hitting with a thud below Emeralda's wrist. Most of the spectators didn't know about Emeralda's unique composition. However, even that didn't make the act any less dangerous.

"Wow, he's really good," Dan commented, his eyes wide, following the magician's every move. "It takes a lot of guts and skill to do that, especially with a stranger." He paused then added, "Unless, of course, he's a homicidal maniac."

Midori punched him. "Hey, what was that for?" Dan glared at her. Midori stared back, her eyes angry. "Sheesh Midori, I was just joking. He seems to be an all right guy."

Maria smiled slightly as Midori seemed to accept that from Dan. 'Looks like the magician just got an admirer.' She giggled softly. 'Well, I can sympathize with her. Those ears are really quite becoming.'

A shadow fell over their table and they glance up to see Elly, clearly still angry. Maria smiled at her. "Elly, is everything still on?"

The auburn-haired woman nodded with a sigh. "Yes, despite male suicidal tendencies."

The audience applauded hard when the last dagger finally passed harmlessly between Emeralda's limbs. The magician smiled as he went over to assist his volunteer in extricating herself from the pattern of blades. He then led her to the center of the stage.
The applause grew louder as he bowed towards them, with Emeralda uncertainly following suit. He then gave her formal bow as well. When the clapping finally subsided, he looked at her warmly. "You are a very brave and exceptional young lady, miss. May I know your name?"

Emeralda returned his regard with a small smile, her eyes serious and observant. "I am called Emeralda. He nodded appreciatively. "I can see why." He helped her down the stage. "Thank you, Emeralda, for a fine performance." There was applause again as Emeralda made her way to her seat.

"Some show, huh Sabela?" Bart commented, resting comfortably against his seat.

She glared at him, then suddenly softened, leaning against him. "Hmm, you're always right, your majesty." She said murmured, twining her fingers with his.
Bart smiled at her and looked back at the show. "Wonder what the next act is?" 'That Fei better not do something stupid like that again,' Bart found himself thinking, relieved that nothing happened to his friend.

"Now for my next trick, I again need a volunteer." Silence greeted his statement. "No, nothing dangerous, I assure you." He smiled brilliantly and produced a packet out of thin air. "I just need help feeding the birds."
Yui watched in delight as Midori observed the man in front of her carefully. He had been producing a variety of birds from out of nowhere for some time. The audience laughed when Midori finally patted his clothes to see where he was hiding them. Their feathered companions fluttered and moved about the stage, as if waiting for something.
"Midori, I think our little friends want their dinner now." The magician laughed, interrupting his young volunteer's intent search. "Here, hold this." He gave her some seed and immediately, the birds gathered around her. Some of them flew to land on her shoulders and arms.

'This must be what Daniel meant,' thought Yui. Citan, beside her chuckled as the two tried to give the seed fairly with little success. It was turning into a feeding frenzy when the magician finally shooed them away.

"All right, there's no more left, you free-loaders." The birds then all flew towards the clerestory windows that had been opened for them. The audience clapped and cheered as they disappeared. Midori headed back for her table, but the magician stopped her, suddenly kneeling in front of her. "Wait Midori, I have something for you."

He showed his hands to her, palms first then back; then gently took her hands in his, cupping them together. Midori just stared at him as he covered her hands with his own. He smiled at her serious face and blew into their hands. He tightened his hold for a moment then released it. "Open your hands."

The young girl's face was in wonder as she opened her hands to find... a feather?!
Her companion stared at it just as surprised and stood up, looking around the room. "Now, where did that bird go off to?!"
A musical chirp answered him from above. A small form suddenly darted from the chandelier, zeroing in towards them. Everyone started as a little bird landed on Midori's shoulder, singing happily.

"Prism! You poor excuse for a...," the rest of his scolding was lost as the audience laughed and applauded the performance. When it was quiet again, the magician sighed and shook his head at the truant avian. "You're lucky you belong to her now." The little fellow chirped in agreement as Midori smiled at both of them. There was an appreciative response from the house as little girl stepped down from the stage.

'Lucky Midori,' Elly thought as her friends surrounded her, wanting to touch her new pet. 'Lucky bird, too.' Fei leaned toward her. "Are you still angry at me?"
Elly glared at him. "What do you think?"
He sighed and looked at her pleadingly. "I'm sorry, Elly." He rubbed the back of his head, looking shamefaced. "It was a spur of a moment thing. I was out of ideas."
Elly regarded him for a few moments before bending towards him. She looked seriously into his dark eyes. "Fei," she closed her eyes for a moment, "you're the... sweetest man I know." She kissed him tenderly. "Don't you ever do anything like that again without at least giving me fair warning!"

Fei lifted his head and pressed his lips against her forehead, holding her close. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you." After a while, Elly withdrew herself from his embrace, smiling at Fei, before turning her attention back to the show. 'I know you were only trying to help others, Fei. Just be more careful next time.'

"Uh Elly, I didn't tell you also because... I knew then you would have volunteered too."

"Now, "The magician clapped his hands together, rubbing them briskly. "I need... another volunteer." He grinned as his audience groaned dramatically. "Please bear with me. I have to beg a lot of audience participation since I don't have permanent assistants of my own."
"Why don't you?" Someone called out.
He shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed. "It's a weakness of mine." He glanced to right then left suspiciously. Then leaned toward them, covering a side of his face with a hand as if telling a secret. "I don't like anyone to know how I do my magic," he said in a loud stage whisper.
As they laughed, he smiled then proceeded to roll back his sleeves. "Alright, now about that volunteer." He looked closely at his viewers, one finger tapping against his chin thoughtfully. He grinned suddenly. "How about we have one of the royal family for a change?"

"Him, he's royalty!" Everyone turned as a young blonde-haired man was dragged out of his seat by a red-haired boy, a pale-haired girl and a pink teddy bear?!

"Dan, Prim, Chu-chu! What do you are you doing?!"
Dan turned toward the stage. "He's Bartholomew Fatima, the King of Aveh." He announced loudly with a theatrical bow.
Everyone laughed as the young sovereign glared at him. The magician smiled and bowed as well. "Would you care to volunteer, your majesty?"

Bart sighed as he walked towards the stage, the people around him cheering. "As if I had a choice," he said as he stepped unto the stage. The magician chuckled and gestured for him to stand beside him.

Citan leaned towards Yui with a smile on his face. "I do believe I know what Fei and the others were up to," he whispered into his wife's ear. She turned to him with a mischievous curve to her lips. "Bart and Margie," she stated.
"Uh hmm, they have always been romantics."
"Aren't we all?"


"Your highness, I have heard that you are quite handy with a whip."

"Yeah, that's the weapon I prefer to use."

"You often carry one around with you?"

"Sure, but I don't have it with me now. This is a party, you know."

"Then, what is this?" The magician pulled coiled whip with an ivory handle from behind Bart.
Bart stared at it in shock as the audience laughed. "Hey, that's mine!" He grabbed the weapon from him. An intricate BF was carved into the white surface of the grip. "I left this in my room." He looked suspicious. "Where'd you get it?"

The other raised his hands in innocence. "I didn't steal it, sire, if that's what you're thinking. You had it."

Bart stared at him, thinking fast. "Daniel! That's it! He put you up to this, didn't he?" He looked at the audience, but couldn't locate the other man.

The magician straightened with indignation. "Sir, I work alone. No one does my magic but me." Then he smiled at Bart. "Who took your weapon from your room is unimportant. You have it now anyway."

Bart looked back at him and relaxed as well. "All right. What did you want me to do with it anyhow?" he said, an accepting smile also on his face. 'I'll go along with whatever trick he's planning. Besides,' he admitted to himself, 'I'm curious too.'

The magician nodded in response and produced a large gold coin, the size of a fist. "Can you strike this if I toss it high up?"

Bart looked carefully at him and the coin. "Sure, no problem. But can I see that thing for a minute?"

Margie laughed as the magician handed the coin to him. "Bart is so suspicious," she remarked to Billy. He grinned in reply. "Well, I'd be suspicious if it was me up there."
She looked at him. "How do you suppose he got Bart's whip?" Billy shrugged. "I don't know, but I'm checking to see where my guns are after this." Billy watched as Margie smiled and turned back to the show. 'Hmm, Either Fei or Elly must have taken the whip.' He smiled inwardly. 'Or Rico or any of the others. Whoever it was, let's hope Bart doesn't decide to have his whip analyzed for fingerprints.'

'Looks solid to me.' Bart thought as he examined the coin. He resisted the urge to shake the damn thing. 'I really shouldn't make his job so hard.' He handed it back to the magician, who smiled as he took it back. The audience watched in anticipation as he held up the coin for them to see. He even rapped it against the table. 'Wonder what will happen when I hit it. That thing seems like solid gold. It's even quite heavy.'
"Ready?" The magician asked as he prepared to throw the coin up. Bart nodded and stared at the shiny disk as it flew upward. There was a distinct metallic sound as the platinum tip of his whip struck the coin. Suddenly, a bright light shined from it, blinding Bart. When his vision cleared, he looked in surprise as large brightly colored butterflies fluttered about him.

The audience as well was in shock as the beautiful winged creatures danced around them. Their wings were a bright gold with azure patterns on them. "They are Fatima Monarchs." Bart turned his attention back to the magician. "Name as such because of the shade of blue they have on their wings." He nodded at him. "In honor of Bledavik's Refounding."

The guests cheered, standing in applause as the magician waved his arm. The butterflies as if trained flew towards the windows as well, disappearing the same way as the birds had. Bart shook his head in amazement as he congratulated the other man, shaking his hand. 'Can see why he's so famous? He's quite a showman.' He turned to leave when the magician stopped him.

"Wait your highness." Bart looked at him. "A little more of your time, please." He snapped his fingers and a large container was brought out. Bart stared at it then back to him. "Just what are you planning this time?"

The other man grinned at him. "Well, no magic show is complete without a disappearing act."

Elly leaned forward in her seat. "This is it." She looked and spotted Maria, Emeralda and Midori heading for Margie and Billy's table.
"Wait a minute. Aren't you afraid I'll know how you do this trick?"

"Nope, you'll be blindfolded."

Bart was taken aback. "Blindfolded?"

"Uh hmm." The magician opened the front of the container, revealing the interior to be divided by a partition.
"What are you going to do? Put me at one side and have me reappear on the other."
"Oh, I can do that, but it won't be as interesting."

The older man turned to the audience. "I need another volunteer please."

"Hi Margie, Billy." Margie was startled as Maria, Emeralda and Midori appeared around her seat.
"Oh hello." She smiled at them. She didn't see Billy carefully positioning his champagne glass in front of her. "What are you all doing here?"

Maria, who was behind her seat, indicated Midori by Margie's side. The younger girl smiled at Margie and showed Prism to her. The little bird chirped happily at her as well. "She wanted to show off her new pet." Margie laughed as Billy grinned, reaching his hand pass Margie to pet Prism. His arm brushed against the glass, tipping its full contents over.

Margie gasped in surprise as she instinctively stood to avoid the spill. Emeralda reacted lightning fast, reaching over and catching the falling glass with one hand while transforming her other hand into a bowl-like shape to keep the champagne from staining Margie's dress.

"Thank you, miss, for volunteering." Margie looked up from rescued gown to see the magician gesturing at her to come to the stage. "Huh?! Wait I didn't..."

"Looks like you just did," Billy interrupted her, standing as well, with a teasing smile on his face. Margie looked to him strangely as he led her through the tables. She glanced behind her but three youngsters were nowhere to be seen.

"Bull's eye," Fei murmured with a pleased smile. Elly looked at him with a frown. "You have to bring that up again?"
Fei looked at her, startled, but Elly had already turned her attention back to the stage. "Now Elly, wait a minute..."

Bart watched as Margie and Billy approached them with a curious expression on his face. 'Margie is Billy's date? Now why didn't anyone tell me?'
His cousin looked uncertain as she glanced at Billy before stepping unto the stage. The magician gave her a reassuring smile as he took her hand. "What is your name, young lady?" Margie blushed faintly at his intent regard. "My name is Marguerite."

"A beautiful name," he commented. He led her to stand beside Bart. "Do you know his highness Bartholomew Fatima?"

"I should," she smiled at Bart, "he's my cousin." Bart smiled back at her. "Hello Margie."

"Hi Bart."
The magician laughed as the audience applauded. "Well, this is quite a coincidence."


"Not as coincidental as it appears to be," Citan murmured under his breath, amusement clear in his eyes. Yui glanced at him. 'Others are not as amuse as you, my husband.' She looked back at Sabela. The other woman was frowning, clearly not pleased with the situation.
"Quite an interesting show, sir." Maison said to Sigurd, seating in the chair beside his.
Sigurd nodded, his expression intent. "Funny though how things turned out this way."
Maison shrugged. "Who knows what forces are at work out there?"


Bart and Margie stood in the box, both blindfolded and clearly uneasy.

"This won't hurt a bit I promise you." the magician was saying, poised to shut the container. Both his victims shifted uncomfortably.
"Oh, I almost forgot." The audience watched in silence as he suddenly punched out a metal circle in the partition. The piece fell with a clang on the bottom of the container.

Bart started and removed his blindfold. "What was that?" Margie did the same as well.
The magician glared at them and produced two pairs of handcuffs. "Added insurance." He made them stand back-to-back with the partition between them. Then, he handcuffed them together running the chains through the hole.
Bart tugged at the chains as he was blindfolded again. The audience shifted in their seats in anticipation as Margie was blindfolded.

The magician finally turned to them with a devious look in his eyes. He slowly swung the door shut. Metallic bolts could be heard locking it in place. He raised his hand, snapped his fingers and smoke poured out of the container through the door's edges.

That was when a scream tore through the silence.

Billy was among the first to recover from the shock. He quickly stood up and glanced at the large windows. The scream had come from outside. He ran quickly towards the others as people started to rise uneasily from their seats, asking what was going on.
Sigurd's commanding voice cut through the noise. "Please everyone! Do not panic and remain in your seats!"

Billy reached Fei and Elly. Citan and Rico were already there. Maria, Emeralda, Chu-chu and the others close by. "That was a Wel's battle cry." The former Etone said, his face worried and alert.

The others stared at him in surprise. Citan frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I've heard enough of those to even recognize it in my sleep."

"But Wels and Reapers are hardly ever around in Aveh." Elly said, her eyes thoughtful. "The desert climate keeps them at bay, and the few that stumble here would certainly not start a fight."
Citan nodded. "Yes, the heat and lack of moisture weakens them. They have a serious disadvantage in desert environments."

Billy shook his head. "I know what I heard. Even if it sounds impossible, I'm sure they're attacking."

His companions looked at him and nodded. They turned as Sigurd approached them, his expression angry with disbelief.

"I've just been told by one of guards that a large group of Wels and Reapers are attacking the city." He shook his head, his eye narrowed. "The security force is holding them at bay, but it doesn't look good." His hands tightened into fists. "Without a shield generator, we are at a disadvantage. I have already issued a citywide alert. All civilians must remain in their houses and secure them.

Fei frowned. "It sounds as if this was a planned attack. They know that Bledavik does not have a generator."

"We never considered that we would need that much protection."
Rico clenched his fist against his chest. "Well, they chose the wrong time to attack."
Maria nodded, her eyes gleamed in anticipation for battle. "It's been a while since Siebzehn and I have stomped on someone."

Emeralda lifted her chin, her green eyes serious as always. "I and my Crescens are ready."

Chu-chu jumped up and down. "I will do my churansformation again!"
The others looked down at her with smiles, her enthusiasm was contagious.

Fei nodded and looked at each one of them. "Let's go."

Sigurd watched as they headed out. 'Thank you, my friends. Bledavik will not fall with all of you fighting for her cause.' He frowned suddenly. 'Why do I feel that's something is missing?'
The magician cursed as his head struck a beam. He shook his head and rubbed the bruised area. 'This wasn't part of the show!' He ducked down and continued until he reached a large container, which was all but identical to its twin still above on the stage. He quickly unlocked the bolts and opened the door.
Bart and Margie turned to him, still blindfolded and handcuffed.
"What's going on?" The young man demanded. Margie nodded silently in question.

He took off their blindfolds and proceeded to unlock the handcuffs. "Some monsters are attacking the city."
Bart looked at him in disbelief, rubbing his wrists. "Monsters?!"

"Yes, Wels and Reapers."
Margie glanced at Bart. "That's impossible! Mutants don't come to Aveh."

The magician shrugged at both of them. "Tell that to them," he said as he reached to the top of the container; "I know a Wel's war shout when I hear it."
"Damn!" Bart cursed as he headed for the exit, "I have to get out there." Margie nodded, following him.

"Wait!" They turned to him as the container top suddenly swung downward. A metal sheet fell through the opening, collapsing into folds automatically against it. The partition where they had just been recently handcuffed to had folded just as easily into the metal floor. "You'll get out faster this way."

Bart looked up the hole, seeing the insides of the box they had been in. He turned to the other man, who was bending slightly and holding his hands together for a step up. Bart grinned at him as he stepped into the magician's hands. "So that's how this trick works."

The older man glared at him as he hoisted him up the opening. Bart quickly heaved himself unto the stage floor. He reached down and grabbed Margie's hand as the magician lifted her up. Both of them then bend to help him up, but he shook his head. "Go on ahead. I'll be fine."

They nodded at him and turned away, heading for the steps.

"I trust you'll both keep this secret to yourselves."

Citan stopped by Yui and Midori on his way. His wife gave him concerned look. "Be careful, Hyuga." He smiled reassuringly at her. "Everything will be fine."
Yui nodded. "I'll be with the medics." She finally returned his smile and Citan looked down at their daughter. "Take care, Father." Midori said, her eyes serious but confident of his safe return.

He nodded and continued on his way.

Yui let out a heavy sigh and knelt down to look at Midori. "Midori, I want you to stay here, okay?" Her daughter nodded and placed her hand on her shoulder. Don't worry mother, she seemed to say. Yui smiled and kissed her forehead.
She stood up and spotted Dan and Primarea heading toward them. The other guests were already exiting the ballroom, heading for their rooms. Some of them were even surrounded by their personal guards. Yui shook her head at their presumptuousness and led Midori to her friends.

"Dan, please take care of Midori."
The young lad nodded, taking his responsibility seriously. He had wanted and still did to go with the others.
"Dan!" He turned to see Billy and Jessiah heading toward him with Primarea in tow. "Please take care of Prim for me," The younger man said. Jessiah patted his daughter's head and headed for the exit. "I'll meet you at the gears, Billy."
Billy nodded at his father and turned back to Dan. The red-haired boy shook his head at him. "I'm going to fight too, Billy!" He raised his fist. "I'll show those mutants a thing or two!"

The other man smiled at his bravery then shook his head. "I know you're a strong fighter Dan." He looked at the other seriously. "But I really need someone to watch over Prim. Please!"

Dan gazed back at him and finally sighed, lowering his hand. "Okay Billy, I'll stay." Billy nodded at him thankfully and hugged his sister before going off. "But next time, I won't baby-sit anymore!"

Billy grinned at him, waving his hand. "Let's hope there won't be a next time!"

"Thank you, Dan" Yui looked back at her daughter. "You follow what Dan has says, okay Midori?" The little girl looked at Dan then at her mother and nodded.
Yui smiled and turned to go when Margie and Bart came running.
"Margie, Bart!" the older woman exclaimed in surprise. "I forgot all about you."

Margie smiled while her cousin snorted. "So I've noticed."

"There you are!"

They turned as Sigurd approached them. Bart walked quickly to his brother. "Sig, what's going on?"
Sigurd hurriedly filled them in on the situation. Bart frowned and headed for the exit. "I'd better get to Andvari."

Margie turned to Yui. "We have to help them."
Yui nodded at her. "I was on my way to the rescue teams."

"Great, I'll come too!"

"They're positioned at the Square." They turned to look at Sigurd. "I had Maison set up a temporary command center there." He nodded at them. "I'll escort you both over there."
Dan, Midori and Primarea watched as the three adults walked away. He sighed and looked at his charges. "It's not fair being a kid." They nodded back at him, their eyes solemn and in agreement.

Bledavik's troops faced the horde bravely as the mutants charged them. Despite the supposition that Aveh would have no or little trouble with Wels and Reapers, unlike Nisan and Kislev; Sigurd and Bart had made sure that the city was well protected. There had been difficulties with the Sand People, but never on the scale as this attack the city was now facing.
The mutants had the advantage of surprise and superior numbers. The battle turned steadily to their side as one by one the Aveh soldiers fell back, unable to hold the line. Some of the enemy had already broken through the city walls and were rampaging in the streets of Bledavik, their larger kin waiting behind when the Contact and his companions ambushed their forces in the rear.

Fei knew better than to fight inside the city. Lahan flashed through his mind. 'Not again!' Fei slammed his Xenogears into a large Sufal Mass. He stared as it turned toward him. He frowned. 'Where did you come from?' He thought as he avoided a punch from the massive thing. 'I thought all of the Masses were gone.' Like the Seraph Angels and unlike Wels and Reapers, the Sufal Masses couldn't reproduce by themselves. They required Soylent Systems just as the Angels needed the Merkava.
Fei glanced about him as his comrades battled with several other Sufal Masses. 'There must be at least twenty of them with a lot more Wels and Reapers helping them.' He turned his attention back on his foe as it charged him.

The Xenogears jumped back as the Mass missed, crashing instead into Bledavik's walls. Before it could recover, Fei slammed his fist hard against its spine. He could hear it snap as the amalgamated mass of flesh howled and reared back. It fell towards the ground, its head turning towards Fei. He could see a small smile on its face as the light went out of its eyes.

"I'm sorry." Fei whispered, giving the fallen creature a sorrowful look before turning to face another of its kind, its brother perhaps. 'This shouldn't be happening,' he thought as the other cast an Ether spell at him. The Xenogears instinctively protected its pilot from the fireball as Fei charged the monster, snapping its head back with an uppercut. He drove his other fist into its stomach, causing the Mass to scream in pain. It shoved the Xenogears back and launched itself high into the air to land on the gear's shoulders and head. It clawed at its armor and tried to get at Fei when all of a sudden, it was thrown away. The Xenogears glowed with a bright white light, ready to fight and defend its master. The Sufal Mass hissed in defiance and readied itself for another attack. Fei looked at him sadly, his eyes moist but determined. "You shouldn't have existed at all!"

Citan was a whirling dervish as he fought in the middle of the Bazaar. Even without his katana, he was a foe to reckon with. He slammed a snake-like Reaper into the ground. It had been foolish enough to attack him from behind, thinking he had not noticed it.
The doctor straightened, breathing hard, his stance in battle style. 'Too many,' he thought, quickly adjusting his glasses. 'So many mutants and in Aveh as well?!' He kicked a Well in the mouth as it lunged at him, its fangs bared. 'It is as if someone is leading or controlling them.' He cast a quick look around. Aveh troops were battling in close quarters with the invaders. Guns fired and blades flashed. Even some of the civilians were fighting with crude clubs and kitchen knives. They weren't about to give up Bledavik without a fight.

Citan smiled grimly as another Reaper circled him, its grotesque face serious. They had underestimated the seemingly handicapped have. It frowned at Citan's glasses and hissed commandingly. Citan frowned as well as several of its companions turned toward his foe. It considered him for a few more moments before pointing a finger at him.

'A command structure!' Citan realized as he was suddenly surrounded. 'Interesting, they have evolved that much?' He looked carefully at them. They were not attacking him. Another hiss and Citan found himself staring at the leader Reaper. He shifted his legs, preparing to jump. 'Whatever it is they are planning, I am not staying here to find out.'

A bright flash blinded him and he instinctively leaped as high as he could. He felt hands claw at him as he flew over his enemies. He landed, rolling automatically on the ground to absorb the fall before leaping to his feet, blinking hard to clear his vision.

"Heads down!"
Citan immediately ducked down as Andvari passed by at full speed just a few meters off the ground. Stalls and anything not firmly fastened to the ground collapsed, pulled apart by the ensuing vacuum. The mutants panicked and scattered as Bart landed his gear in the middle of the street.
"Citan!" He looked up and saw Bart jumped out of the gear. "Are you all right?"
Citan nodded as he stood up carefully. Bart sighed in relief. "Great, I thought you were a goner when I saw you surrounded like that."
"I believe they intended to capture me."
Bart's eye widened in surprise. "Capture you?! They would sooner eat us than hold us hostage."
"Nevertheless, that was their plan." Citan sighed heavily. "They were following orders from one of them."

Bart stared at him carefully. "Are you su...," he broke off, slapping his whip against his hand. "Damn! What the hell is going on around here?!"

Citan suddenly raised his hand. Their enemies had returned. "They are well-organized this time," he said as he shifted into battle stance again. "They did not stay frightened for long."

"Shit!" his companion cursed as he ripped the medals from his clothes and flung them away. He snapped his whip at their enemies, producing loud cracks as it weaved through the air. The mutants backed down til they heard a hiss from their leader. Bart stared at the Reaper as it too regarded him intently. It pointed and they stalked forward again

"You're right." Bart murmured as he and Citan stood back-to-back, watching carefully as they were surrounded. "They've got some smart ones this time!"

Billy ran through the halls of Bledavik Castle. 'Why did this place have to be so big?!' He thought as he rounded a corner. 'I had to get my guns! I can barely fight without them.' Billy hissed in anger at himself. 'Should have trained more in hand-to-hand combat!'
The former etone never considered that he might have need of his weapons tonight. He wished he followed his father's example. Jessiah always carried his guns no matter in what situation. Guns were weapons that were just not so discreet as to what their purpose was, unlike Elly's rod for example.

He suddenly slowed as he neared the Uzukis' suite. 'I might as well get Citan's sword,' he decided, opening the door. 'He's gonna want it even if he doesn't really need it.'

Dan, Midori and Primarea listened nervously to the sounds of battle coming from the city. The lad looked down at the two girls holding tight to his hands. He could feel them trembling.
"It's all right." They turned to look up to him. He smiled reassuringly at them. "No one can fight better than them and you know that too!"

Both their eyes were wide, one pair golden brown, the other, crimson rubies. They stared at him for a few moments before nodding simultaneously.

Dan breathed easier when they stopped looking at him. 'I don't know what is it about them, but they always seem to know a lot more than I do.'

He felt Midori squeezed his hand while Primarea glanced at him. He sighed inwardly. 'They also seem to know what I'm thinking.'

Some distance away from the besieged city, a lone figure stood on a sand dune. He was once known as Nathan when he was a have. Now as a have-not, he went by Seth. He smiled grimly. 'I always did like that name.' He turned as his second-in-command approached him.
"S-seth," the other hissed, his mouth misshapen by mutation. "The others-s are in pos-sition."

Seth nodded. "Tell them to proceed."
"Yes-s s-sir!"


Yui suddenly turned back to the castle, a frown wrinkling her forehead. Margie glanced at her. "Yui, What's the matter?"
Her companion shook her head and started running back to the palace. "Something is wrong." Margie stared at her. "Yui?!"

Midori tugged urgently at Dan's hand. "What is it, Midori?" Primarea was also looking puzzledly at her. Midori glanced towards the large clerestorey windows of the ballroom that had been left open. Dan followed her gaze. "What are you looking at?"
A grappling hook flew through the closest window, falling back to catch against the sill.

"What the...?" Dan stepped closer, staring at it. He heard hissing and grunts and quickly retreated, horrified realization on his face. 'Those things are climbing up the back?!'

Bledavik Castle was built on a hill that sloped gradually toward the city proper. Walls surrounded the whole of Bledavik with guard and watchtowers as well as the constant security patrol, except for the rear end of the castle, which was a sheer cliff from the desert up. The extruding portion of the castle, which happened to be the function area, was located adjacent to it.

Dan cursed as he grabbed Midori's and Primarea's arms, running for the exit. 'They split into two groups. One force distracted and held up the defense on the front end while the other attacked on the defenseless rear!'

A large red Wel landed right in their path. They stumbled as they halted, staring in shock as the monster turned and regarded them with blood-red eyes.

Dan immediately placed himself in front of the girls as they slowly backed away.
"Well, What do we have here?"

The children turned in horror as more mutants jumped down from the windows. Some didn't even need ropes, using their claws instead to gouge handholds into the walls. They hissed and growled. Some turned over the tables and chairs. Others greedily devoured the food left uneaten from the banquet. One of them suddenly hissed sharply. Dan stared in shock as the Wels and Reapers turned in unison to that one mutant. 'A leader?! They have commanders now?!'
The commanding Wel stepped toward them. He looked human-like except for the large bat-like wings on his back and the long fangs the curved out of his mouth. He smiled at them, revealing sharp pointed teeth. "Appetizers? Or maybe dessert?"

Dan pushed Midori and Primarea behind him, backing away towards the wall as they were surrounded. Dan glared at the Wel and stepped forward. "C'mon, I'll give you a knuckle sandwich!" He raised and clenched his fist. Ether flowed from him, outlining his form with red light.

The vampire-like Wel laughed at him, his followers doing the same. "Such spirit!" He stepped closer as well. "I will enjoy drinking your blood." He then turned to the red Wel and hissed a command. The other nodded and led the majority of the monsters out of the room, leaving only a dozen mutants left.

The children glanced at them and the vampire laughed. "They will take care of your companions." His eyes gleamed red. "After we have what we came for, we will burn this fortress to the ground!"

He snarled, extending his fangs. His minions watched intently, some of them licked their lips in anticipation. Dan braced himself as the monster lunged at him, aiming for his throat. The vampire slammed into a barrier that suddenly materialized in front of him.

Dan stared at the luminous shield that had protected him. He glanced to his side as Midori stepped forward, her face in concentration. Primarea behind her had her eyes closed. Both girls shined with Ether power, Midori with green Arcane magic, Primarea with blue Holy magic.

Their enemy stumbled backward, holding the side of his mouth in pain where a fang had broken off. Anger flared in his eyes as he raised his own hand. A lethal icicle of Ether appeared, glowing menacingly. "Let's see if that shield can stand up to my frost magic!"

Dan took aim as the icicle flew swiftly towards them. 'No, I can't shoot! The barrier!' He shielded Midori and Primarea as the projectile pierced the shield, shattering into dangerous shards. Dan cried out as the pieces plunged deep into his back.

The mutants howled with sadistic glee as Midori and Primarea helped Dan to his feet. Dan clenched his jaw as he went again into battle stance, ignoring the pain. "Is that the best you can do?" he said sarcastically. The laughter ceased as Primarea cast a healing spell on him. Midori, eyes determined, formed a protective dome over them.

The vampire narrowed his eyes and raised his hand again. Electric charges danced on his fingertips as a lightning ball formed in his palm. "You will die this time!"

A bright flash and he screamed as a dagger pierced his palm, burying itself to the hilt. His subordinates glanced about nervously for the thrower.

"Pick on someone your own size!"
Dan smiled in relief as the magician appeared, glaring at the Wels and Reapers.

"Leave them alone, you poor excuses for monsters!"

The vampire pulled the knife from his hand with a hiss, black blood staining the steel. He cradled his injured palm against his chest and pointed at the magician with the other. "Kill him!"
The children's relief turned to horror as the mutants charged the lone man. The magician ran quickly towards the stage with the horde at his heels.

"Hooboy, looks like I got them mad." He jumped through the hole in the container and headed backstage. His pursuers followed him.

Billy ran into the courtyard, heading for the gear hanger. 'I hope Citan doesn't kill me when he sees his room.' He had practically turned the Uzukis' suite upside down before he found the katana behind the bedroom door. 'What a place to put his weapon! I always put my guns under my...' He collided into Yui and promptly turned red. "Yui!"
"Billy, I'm glad you're here. Something feels wro..."
Billy's embarrassment vanished as Wels and Reapers poured out of the ballroom. He gasped in fear for his sister. Yui sobbed. "Midori, Dan and Primarea are in there!"
The young man growled as he unholstered his guns. He glanced at Yui and held out the katana to her. "Do you know how to use a sword?"

Yui's eyes were hard with determination as she took the weapon. "Watch me."

Sigurd looked at Margie carefully. "Are you sure?"

The young woman nodded. "I think we should check the palace. Yui looked very worried when she went off."
The silver-haired man sighed. 'Could be that she's just concerned about the children or...,' he gestured at Maison, 'the situation has just gotten worse.'

"Yes, sir?"
"Maison, have twenty troops follow us to the castle." He grabbed his whip and nodded at Margie. "We'll go on ahead."
The vampire smiled. 'That have will soon be dead.' Something hit him in the back hard, slamming him into a table. He twisted and glared at his attacker.
Dan grinned as he lunged at his opponent. "Take this, you oversized bat!" He delivered a hard right into the Wel's stomach followed by an uppercut to the chin. The mutant fell across the table, hissing in pain and anger; but before Dan could follow through, he flung a large silver platter at him.

Dan avoided the improvised discus easily, but it had distracted him long enough for the vampire to get out of his reach. Using his wings, he hovered above them with a furious expression on his face. "This has gone long enough," he stated as he readied another lightning ball.

Dan cursed and fired Chi bolts at him. 'Can't let him throw that thing at us!'
The vampire avoided the shots with ease and threw the ball at his shooter. Dan leaped out of the way as lightning struck the spot where he had been standing. Electric arcs brushed against his body as he hastily rolled away. Midori and Primarea ran to his side as he slowly got up.
The mutant laughed maniacally as another barrier was formed over his victims. "Do you really think that puny shield can stop me?!" He shouted at them as another ball formed in his hand.

Dan winced as Primarea helped him up. Midori nearby concentrated harder, the dome brightening in intensity. "Midori, Prim, You have to get out of here!" Primarea shook her head as she healed him. Before he could say another word, everything around them went white, thunder roaring in their ears.

"Damn!" Sigurd cursed as he and Margie ran into the courtyard. Halfway to the castle, they had heard the sounds of battle.
The Prime minister uncoiled his whip with flick of his wrist and radioed Maison. He watched as Margie's form flickered with Ether.

"Billy and Yui are fighting in there." Fatima eyes looked at one another as both owners nodded in agreement and joined the fray.

Zephyr gasped as she looked from the balcony overlooking the courtyard. Wels and Reapers were everywhere, breaking into the rooms. She could hear the sounds of screams and curses as the guests fought back.
She heard a hiss behind her and slowly turned around. A large crimson Wel regarded her intently. Taking a deep breath, she slowly backed away from it. It howled suddenly and lunged at her, its claws gleamed in the moonlight.

Zephyr, former Empress of Shevat, had waited for death for a long time. She closed her eyes peacefully and waited.

And waited... and waited... She opened her eyes, surprised at the delay. Gaspar was in front of her, holding the Wel's neck in a chokehold. Balthazar, beside him, gripped the mutant's arms tightly behind its back. The Wel squirmed in their grasp, and Zephyr could see that they were having difficulty with their prisoner.

Gaspar turned his head back, sweat glistening on his forehead. "Taura, for heaven's sake, hurry up with that tranquilizer!" He tightened his grip as the Wel struggled harder. Balthazar grunted in agreement.

"Be patient, you two." Melchior answered from his room. "Haste makes waste, you know."

"Well, if you don't hurry up, it's going to waste us!"
"Don't tell me one little mutant is too much for the Great Martial Artist Gaspar!"

Zephyr giggled at Gaspar's expression and both men looked at her. "Could you kindly assist us, your majesty?" inquired Balthazar.
Yui slashed savagely at her foe, making it back away in fear. She breathed hard and leaned against Billy who protected her back just as she did with his.
"Are you alright?" he asked, glancing at her with both concern and admiration in his eyes. 'I didn't know she could fight that well!' He blasted another Reaper who lunged at him.

"Yes." Yui's eyes narrowed as she looked at the mutants. "Strange, it seems as if they're trying to take us alive."

Billy nodded, frowning. They had been surrounded early on in the fight, but instead of overwhelming them right away, they had been approached almost cautiously. 'These Wels and Reapers are not after our flesh and blood?!' "They want hostages!"

Yui stiffened. "The children?!"

The vampire smiled evilly as he landed, waiting for the smoke to clear. 'Too bad I had to roast them like that. They could have been tasty.'
He frowned as a blue light flashed and stared in shock as the smoke revealed the dome still intact and the children inside alive. 'How can this be?!' he cursed as he took off. 'They're mere infants!'

Dan blinked hard, his eyes watering from the blast. He looked up and saw Primarea cast a healing glow on Midori. He stood up and limped over to them. Midori was barely standing, and he caught her as she fainted. The dome around them shimmered then disappeared.
"This time, you do not have that girl to protect you!"
Dan looked up and quickly lifted Midori. Primarea helped him as they ran from their enemy. They heard him laugh. "You won't be able to escape this time!"
The boy turned as he heard the unmistakable sound of another lightning ball charging. 'No! I can't let him hit the girls!' He quickly lowered Midori on floor and grabbed Primarea. "Prim, stay here!"

Her crimson eyes widened and she grabbed his arm as he walked away, shaking her head. Dan looked at her. "Please Prim! Please..." She looked at him and hugged him suddenly. "Dan..." Dan hugged her back. She loosened her hold as Dan smiled at her. "Thanks Prim." He turned towards his enemy.

"Hey, you yellow-bellied, chicken-faced freak!" He shouted, walking towards him. "You're nothing but a coward, flying about like that. You're scared to face me on the ground, aren't you?!"

The vampire growled and Dan continued. "What?! You're scared of me? So you rather pick on girls instead!"

The monster gave a loud hiss and landed in front of Dan. "Very well, We'll do it your way." Dan went into battle stance. The vampire smiled. "But first we take care of some loose ends!" He fired the ball at Primarea and Midori.

"No!" Dan screamed as he turned, seeing the ball explode on the area where the girls were. He stared in shock and suddenly tackled his enemy. "You monster!!!" He slammed him into the floor and straddled his chest, plummeting the vampire's face with savage blows one after the another.

His enemy tried to protect himself, slashing at Dan, but the youth didn't notice the pain or the many cuts he was already sporting. He continued hitting him even after the vampire had gone limp. "You bastard! You should have hit me! Not them!" He sobbed, wanting to cry but his eyes remained dry. 'Not again! I've lost them just like I've lost Alice and Timothy!'

He looked up and spotted the dagger the magician had thrown. He stood up and went over to pick it up. The blade was dirty with the vampire's blood dried on it. Dan gritted his teeth as he raised it over his enemy. 'It's gonna be a lot more messy.'

"Dan!" He looked up, arm poised in mid-plunge.
Daniel ran to him, his face concerned, with Primarea beside him, alive. Dan's jaw dropped in wonder, the dagger falling from numb fingers. "Prim, you're alive!"
Dan grabbed her, staring in disbelief. "You're alright?!" He took in a deep breath suddenly very tired. Daniel and Primarea caught him as he collapsed.

As strong as the surprise attack was on Bledavik, the battle soon turned over to the city.
Sigurd stared as one by one, bodies of dead Wels and Reapers were removed from the courtyard. It was incredible how many of them they were. Sigurd sighed. 'I don't understand. Why here? What did they have to gain by attacking Bledavik? A desert city is unsuitable for them.'
He shook his head and coiled his whip. It was sticky with dried blood. He squared his shoulders and headed for the function room where the others were.

"Is Midori alright?" Fei asked when Citan arrived at the meeting. The others turned toward him, concern in their faces.
Citan nodded, his eyes relieved. "She is fine. My wife is with her now." He glanced at them. "She simply needs to rest and regain her strength."

Billy looked down at Primarea, holding her close to his side. His sister yawned and leaned sleepily against him.

Jessiah smiled at his children. "Looks like Prim is exhausted too."
Billy glanced at him as he picked Primarea up. "I better put her to bed." His father shook his head and took her away from him. "No Billy boy, I'll do it. You need to stay here and discuss this with the others." He turned away before his son could protest, cradling his daughter protectively in his arms. He murmured, "You can tell me all about it later."
Billy nodded and turned toward the others. "How's Dan doing?"
Citan nodded with a smile as well, adjusting his glasses. "Dan is doing well." He glanced at Daniel. "He received excellent first aid right away so even with the multiple lacerations and loss of blood, he is expected to recover soon."
Daniel smiled at Billy. "Your sister did most of the work, Billy. Her Holy magic is admirable. She will be a fine healer."

Billy smiled with pride as the atmosphere of the gathering lightened. Fei nodded. It was time to start the meeting.

So far we are fortunate. The army had few fatalities and serious casualties. A number of citizens though have suffered loss of property and life.
Damn! It couldn't be helped when those things got into the city. This wouldn't have happened if we had a shield generator!
Bart, it couldn't have been helped. No one ever thought the Wels and Reapers would attack Bledavik. It was so improbable!
Well, it happened!
Perhaps what we should be concern about is why they attacked in the first place.
I can answer that though I don't know why. They were trying to take prisoners.
You too?
Yes, lucky for us too. That's why they held back. If it weren't for that, we would still be in trouble.
But they tried to kill the children!
They weren't holding back with the army and the civilians too. If it weren't for their training, the troops would have been slaughtered.
Wait a minute! The Council members and officials! They were after them too.
Is anyone one of them missing?
No, Emeralda and I checked. But if it weren't for Billy and Yui distracting those mutants, and Sigurd and Margie arriving in the nick of time, I think things would be a lot more different.
None of the guests was severely injured.
But some of their personal guards were not so lucky.
So it seems as if this attack was staged to kidnap some important people.
For what? Ransom?! When did Wels and Reapers ever need money?
No! Not money! Something else! Elly, wasn't there a group in Nisan who wanted more rights for mutants?
You're suggesting that someone planned to kidnap high-ranked officials and exchange them for political rights?
Like a terrorist group? But that won't work. It's not as if a law can simply be handed to them like a sack full of money.
Hmm... It has to go through the Council and be ratified. But they know that laws can be changed or revoked. They'd be trading for an unsure thing.
What if they made the Council promised those rights in public?
They could be exposed afterwards.
Maybe they were just desperate.
An impressive number of mutants coming into Aveh, hiding in the desert and waiting for nightfall to attack are more than acts of desperation.
Oh dear, its sounds like part of a devious plot.
The purpose of which we have little idea of.
Something is bothering me.
What is it Rico?
It's those Sufal Masses.
Sufal Masses? There were plural Sufal Masses?
Yes, there were about two dozen of them.
That is impossible. That could only mean they have found a way to reproduce or...
A Soylent System is functioning.
But we destroyed the Systems. Maybe those Masses were just survivors.
Five I could understand, maybe even ten. But more than twenty survivors of those huge things? It sounds farfetched.
I saw Seraph Angels.
The Angels too? Great!
But there were only a few of them, about three to five.
Hmm... Angels I can understand to be present around here. It is those mutants that concern me.
You mean those smart mutants?
The Wels and Reapers Bart and I fought in the Bazaar were lead by an individual Reaper.
Those things followed its orders like it was a god or something.
Were you able to kill that Reaper?
No, it never attacked us itself, only its followers did.
It ran off when it finally figured it couldn't get us.
The mutants that attacked us didn't have a leader.
That's cause it was busy with Dan knocking its head off.
Wels and Reapers are basically human. Maybe they were trained.
They acted more like trained pets than soldiers.
Like they were programmed or something.
I do not like the sound of that.
Neither do I. Were we able to capture some alive for questioning?
Grandpa and the others were able to take one prisoner.
Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior?
How'd they do that?!
Those things didn't give us a chance!
They say it was not easy.
Excellent! We can question it then.
Tomorrow. We'll do it tomorrow. I'm exhausted.
Today, Fei.
Tomorrow is today, Kim.
Uh hmm, We will adjourn if no one has anything to add.
I think Chu-chu just made an excellent suggestion.

As they stood up from the improvised meeting table, several maintenance workers arrived to clean up the mess in the ballroom. Their uniforms were already crusted with gore and blood and they were exhausted. They proceeded to remove the body of the dead vampire. One of them grunted at its weight as a blade fell from the corpse. The dagger struck the floor with a sharp ringing sound.
Fei and his companions turned as the vampire kicked himself free from the cleaners. He landed on the floor, bending down to grab the knife. The workers backed away as he slashed at them. He spread his wings and leaped into the air, hovering as before. His hands glowed with Ether. They scattered as he flung his magic at them.

Daniel looked around him and grabbed a plate. He ran forward and deflected the lighting ball, causing it to strike the floor a few meters away from its intended target. It was the same method he had used to protect Midori and Primarea. Electricity couldn't pass through ceramic, but the plate provided little protection against the icicle bolt that followed.

He gasped in surprise as it dug into his chest, penetrating to the back. Starring at it in disbelief, his vision faded as he tried to pull it out. He choked as blood began clogging his throat. The last sound he heard as he fell to the floor was the vampire's insane laughter.

"Daniel!" Sigurd ran to his aide with Citan close behind. Fei and the others were trying to bring the Wel down. He skidded to a halt to kneel by the fallen man.
Citan examined him quickly and cast Sazanami. He shook his head and glanced at Sigurd. "We need Billy here!" Sigurd nodded and left.

Citan carefully positioned Daniel's body on his side. 'I wish Yui were here,' he thought as he prepared to pull the icicle out. Sigurd returned with Billy; the younger man's eyes widened and he immediately cast Holy Light.

Yui caressed her sleeping daughter's face. Sighing in relief, she stood up and went to look out the window. She stared at the stars, pressing her hand against the wall, seeking support from the stone. 'Midori is all right. Thank God!' She closed her eyes. It wasn't the first time she had sensed danger for her child. It had happened before. There was a strong bond between them, telepathic in nature.
She leaned her head against her arm, rubbing her face tiredly. 'She takes after me, only her senses are much more powerful.'

A sound from the bed made her whirl. She stared in surprise as Prism stared back at her from Midori's shoulder. The little bird chirped and flew out the window. Yui followed its flight til it disappeared behind the castle. 'Oh, Midori will not like losing her pet.' But another thought bothered her. 'Where did he come from?'

Elly shook her head as the vampire absorbed her Fire Elemental Spell. "It's no good. Elemental Ether only makes him powerful."
Fei cursed as he avoided another icicle from the maniac. He and Bart had been trying to bring it down as well with their own Ether projectiles. "That bastard's too damn fast!"

Rico behind him heaved a table at him, but he just laughed menacingly as he blasted it apart. Fei and the others covered themselves as splinters of wood rained down on them.

Bart's eyes narrowed as he slashed his whip at him. The other end snapped around the vampire's waist. It smiled at its captor and grabbed the whip. They stared in disbelief as ice suddenly formed on the weapon's length. Bart quickly dropped the handle as it shattered. "Shit! You son of a bitch! That was my favorite!"

Elly frowned at the creature. 'It's too powerful! It's been infused with all the Elemental Ethers.'

"It's crazy!" She glanced at Maria. "Why doesn't it try to escape? It knows it cannot defeat us."

Fei frowned. "Maybe it doesn't know that."
Rico glared at it. "Or maybe it thinks it can beat us."

"That is why it is crazy," Emeralda deduced.


Citan and Billy quickly lifted Daniel unto the tabletop. Margie held the makeshift bandage against his wound as Maison and Sigurd carried the improvised stretcher with its patient out of the battle zone. Citan went with them casting another healing spell.
Billy sighed and quickly turned back to the fight. Daniel's wound was mortal, even Billy's Holy magic couldn't close it. 'Only surgery and nanotechnology can save him now.' He ran back to his friends. 'If they could get him to the hospital in time.'

A small colorful bird glided through a open window. It flew right at the vampire and began attacking him furiously.
"It's Prism!" Maria exclaimed as they watch the vampire strike furiously at the new arrival. Prism darted in and out and around, pecking furiously. The Wel shrieked at his tormentor and pursued him.
Elly's eyes widened as she realized Prism's plan. Fei suddenly fired.
The Chi bullet snapped the chain and the vampire didn't have a chance as the enormous chandelier fell on him.
Sometime later

Bart grimaced as the cut on his arm throbbed painfully. He sighed, examining his wound. 'I better get this treated soon,' he thought as he walked towards his room. 'What a day!' After that Wel had been taken down, there was little more he could do. The others had headed for their rooms as well. They were all exhausted.
'I better check on Daniel.' The young king paused and leaned against the balustrade that lined the hallway. He looked out into the courtyard. The bodies had been already removed, but the ground was still stained with blood and gore. 'It's going to take a long time for the smell to go away.' He chuckled and fell silent, resting his forehead in his hand. 'I should have been more careful! Should have thought harder on the consequences.'

Like his friends, he had thought that Bledavik would never need a shield generator. 'Now look at what has happened! Should have been more responsible.'

"Are you okay, Bart?"
Bart turned in surprise. Margie looked at him, concern clear in her eyes. 'Eyes just like mine, so they say,' Bart thought trivially as he straightened. "I'm fine, Margie. Just tired."
His cousin nodded and her eyes suddenly widened as she caught sight of his wound. "Bart, your arm!" He protested as she took his arm and looked at the cut carefully. He fell silent when her form flickered with Ether.

Margie gently touched a glowing finger to the wound. Soothing cure Ether flowed through his arm, closing the gash and leaving no scar behind.

Bart smiled in thanks and relief as he flexed his arm. There was not a twinge of pain. "Thanks Margie. You're getting better at this."

She smiled, looking up at him, her Ether aura glowed briefly then vanished. "You're welcome. As for the other remark, I'll take it as a compliment, even coming from you."

Bart grinned, his blue eye lighting with mischief. "Well brat, you did improved. I seem to recall you not doing as well before."

Margie glared at him as he laughed. "That's the last time I'll even think of helping you!"

"Oh good. Lucky me!"
"You're as mean as ever!"

Bart suddenly sobered when he noticed the blood on her dress. "Margie?!"

Margie glanced down and shook her head. "It's not mine," she whispered. "It's Daniel's."
He looked at her. "How is he?"

She looked back at him with a small reassuring smile, but her eyes were uncertain. "Citan says he's stable for now, but we don't know for sure how long."

Bart placed a hand on her shoulder. "Nah. He'll be all right." He squeezed comfortingly. "Daniel's strong. He'll pull out of it."

Margie nodded, her face lighting up. "I guess you're right."
She smiled at him thankfully before pulling away. "Well, I better go now. Good night, Bart."
"Don't you mean good morning?"
Bart smiled at her as she laughed. He turned back to the courtyard. 'Thanks Margie. I really needed that.' He closed his eyes. 'I always did like hearing you laugh.'
"Bart," He glanced in surprise. Margie hadn't left yet. She looked at him seriously, her eyes meeting his. "Don't blame yourself. What happened was not your fault."

He stared at her in shock as she turned away.

'I don't know what made me say that to him,' Margie thought as she walked away. 'But I know him.'
She stopped and glanced back. "Yes, Bart?"

"Do you remember how we used to go to the tower and looked at the stars?"

She smiled. "Yes." She grinned suddenly. "Remember how Maison would go crazy searching for us?"
She turned to him as he chuckled at the memory. "Yeah, he never did figured out where we went."

He grinned at her boyishly. "What do you say, Margie? Care to go stargazing?"
Her eyes twinkled merrily at him. "Love to. Only there's no more tower."

"Oh yeah..." Margie giggled at his nonplussed expression.

He shrugged. "Oh well, we'll think of something."

Margie shook her head, looking at him with disappointment. "I'm afraid we'll have to do it some other time. I'm heading back to Nisan tomor..., I mean this afternoon."
Her cousin gazed back at her in surprise. "So soon."

"I know, but I am concern over this attack. I think some of the others are thinking of heading back as well."

Bart sighed in disappointed, looked down. He suddenly whispered, "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too, Bart."


Citan sighed as he rubbed his face. In front of him, Daniel floated lifelessly in a nanoreactor chamber. He only wore a loincloth as nanomachines busily worked on the huge wound in his chest. Bubbles emerged from the oxygen mask over his mouth and nostrils. It was the only sign that he was still alive.
"You should get some sleep, Hyuga."
Citan turned as Melchior approached him. He sighed again and nodded. "You are right, Taura." He turned back to Daniel. "There is nothing more to be done but wait."
The Wise Man nodded. "Go to your room and do not worry. I have checked his vitals. He has a good chance of survival. I will stay and watch over him."

"Thank you, Taura."
Melchior watched the younger man exit the room before turning back to the patient. He frowned slightly. 'Do not be concern. He has more than a chance.'
After the attack on the capital of Aveh, it was not long after that a shield generator was brought to and assembled in Bledavik. Citan and Wiseman Balthazar supervised its installation. Elly, Margie and Chu-chu had returned to Nisan soon after the attack as well as Rico and Billy to Nortune in Kislev. They were concerned that the attack in Aveh may be the start of a war with the have-nots.
Fei, Emeralda and Maria remained in Bledavik in case of future attacks while Bart and Sigurd strengthened military defenses and repaired the damages inflicted. Days passed, the generator was completed, but no further difficulties were encountered.

"Are you sure that's all you need, Hyuga?" Sigurd asked his friend, sitting across the table from him. Citan nodded as he bit into his lunch. He and Sigurd were in the dining room of the castle, discussing the Lahan Project.
"Yes, Sigurd. The supplies you've given us are more than enough. Are you certain that you can spare the Yggdrasil?"

Sigurd nodded, his single blue eye regarding Citan seriously. "I want you to take her. She is the fastest ship we have. Besides," He continued, with a grin, "That way you and the others can visit us more often."

Citan chuckled, then shook his head, knowing Sigurd better. "We will be fine, Sigurd. Besides, Fei, Maria and Emeralda will be with us."

Sigurd sighed and closed his eye wearily. "I know, Hyuga."
His friend sighed as well, then smiled. "Before I forget to mention. Fei and I would like to thank you for allowing this project. We all know it has not been easy for you and Bart."
Sigurd glanced at him and shook his head. "Don't thank me. Daniel had already prepared everything." He shrugged, looking down at the table between them. "Somehow, he knew the decision beforehand. All I did was add a few more items and the ship."

Citan looked at him sympathetically. "I'm sure he will awaken soon."
"It's been a month already, Hyuga, and he's still in coma."

"Yes, it is puzzling. Taura said there was complete regeneration, however, he still has not awaken."
Bart sighed softly as he stood in front the communications console. 'Not again. How many times must she call me?' He thumbed the transmitter on. Sabela's image appeared on the screen. "Yes, Sabela, what is it?"
She looked at him, her face surprised at his lack of enthusiasm. Her eyes narrowed and she smiled sultrily. "Bartholomew darling, I just wanted to see you, I miss you."

He resisted the urge to sigh again. "I miss you too, Sabela, but I have been busy."
She moved closer toward him. "Why don't I come over there and help you relax?" she whispered.
"Now would not be a good time."
She glanced angrily away from him and turned back, struggling to control her temper. "I'm lonely. I'm tired of you ignoring me!"
Bart finally sighed out loud. "Look, maybe it's time we ended this affair."
Sabela started and looked at him wide-eyed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you angry."
Bart gritted his teeth. "I'm not angry at you, Sabela. I just do not have time for a relationship right now. I'm sorry if I disappointed you."

"Oh, you do not disappoint me, your majesty."
'But you do to me!' He wanted to shout at her. 'What did I ever see in her?!' He glared at her and shook his head. "I'm sorry, but we shouldn't see each other again." He signed off before she could reply back.
Bart breathed hard, staring at the blackened screen. 'That felt good.' He closed his eye, wondering when it was that he started losing interest in her.

"But I want to be with you, Bartholomew." Sabela clung to him, pressing her body against his.
He gently took hold of her shoulders and pulled her back from him. "Sabela, it's best that you go back to Nortune. The city is not safe right now."

She stared back at him, her eyes confident. "I'm sure you will protect me," she murmured, pressing herself back to him.

Bart shook his head, ignoring her attempts to seduce him. "I wasn't even able to protect Bledavik."

"Then, come with me," she whispered into his ear. "Let's leave this place."

'That was it.' He opened his eye and headed for Sigurd's office. 'When I realized that all she was interested in was herself.'
"We will be waiting for you, Prime Minister Harcourt," Margie said teasingly to Sigurd. Her blue eyes bright with humor, even on a monitor.
Sigurd laughed at her enthusiasm. "I will certainly enjoy the visit, Great Mother of Nisan."

"Hey!" But she smiled at him affectionately. "See you soon, Sigurd."
He nodded at her before turning off the transmitter.

"Was that Margie?"

Sigurd looked up to see Bart looking him intently. "Yes," he smiled at him, "and she said to say hello to you as well." He stood up and walked around the desk to his brother. He and Bart were going to have dinner together as usual.
Bart gazed at him with a curious expression on his face. "What was that all about?"
"Hmm? Oh, I am to officially open the Nisan-Bledavik Transport Route tomorrow."

"Really? It's finished already?"

The Nisan-Bledavik Transport Route was a shuttle system between the two cities. Such a route already existed between Nisan and Nortune, established two years earlier. Even with ships like the Yddrasil and such, travel had been limited to people who possessed means of transportation. It had been deemed wise to provide a permanent transport system.
The technology involved was based off the ancient system in the Babel Tower, what was left of it. The shuttle tracks extended from Bledavik's city proper to go underground through the subterranean caves and ended in the once secret dock of Nisan, which was now a major station connecting Nisan and Kislev.

"It was completed a week ago, right on schedule, despite all that's happened." Sigurd glanced at Bart as they headed for the dining room. "I'm supposed to ride the first shuttle to Nisan, and Margie and the others are going to meet it."

"I see." Bart fell silent as they neared their destination.
"Say Sig?"

"Yes Bart?" Sigurd pushed the door opened and turned, holding it open for Bart to enter first.
"Why don't you let me handle the trip? You've been so busy lately."
"You aren't exactly free yourself, your majesty."

"But Bledavik needs you more than me, your excellency."

"Don't sell yourself short, Bart. Still, if you want to go...?"

"I do. It's settled then." Sigurd nodded as Bart finally entered the dining room.

"I'll notify Margie to expect you instead," he said, following him.

"Don't bother yourself, Sig. I'll tell her myself."


To be continued

Author's note: So what do you think? Long huh? ^^ Sigh... It's gonna get even longer. Please, if you have the time, e-mail me what you think of the story. I certainly need the feedback, bad or good. Be kind if it's bad. Be honest if it's good. That's all I ask and I hope you enjoyed reading the fic.