Chapter 41: Epilogue

A/N: I bet you'll hate me for this...

The world is a place of suffering. Even if, at some short moments it can become enjoyable it will in the end be an all too fleeting experience, all too soon drowned in the gray wastes of actual life. Hopelessness and despair at humanity's constant bedfellows and every day is nothing but a dark abyss, one you can only endure. At least, that's how it felt for the young boy, a boy around fifteen with sandy-brown hair and gray eyes, who was currently suffering through the worst torture imaginable to him, history class.

"I must have been Hitler in an earlier life…" the boy, Brian Harrison, muttered to himself and looked away from the teacher as he glanced at his friend, a pudgy boy with red hair and green eyes who sat next to him, names John Michaels. This boy however had his eyes firmly fixed on the teacher, or rather, their teacher's generous body. Despite being almost forty years old she carried her age well and was still widely considered the most beautiful woman in the school. Brian snorted at the sight, causing his friend, who almost had started to drool again, to glance at him.

The sandy haired boy noticed this and carefully picked up a small bag of sand from his pocket, discretely waving it a little he caught his friend nodding as he took out a similar bag. They both carefully poured a little of it out on their benches and pocketed the bags.

"Dancing sirocco of the desert storms," Brian muttered as silently as he could with his gesturing hands hidden under the table, "On my command, form the desert sands after my bidding and bring forth my message across the world. Scriptures of sand." He completed the spell and carefully let the energies flow forth.

Their teacher suddenly looked up from the book she was reading from and looked around the room, her brow furrowing for a second and making both the boys hold their breaths. However she eventually shrugged and turned back to the lecture and the boys could breathe again. Brian turned back to the sand on his desk and focused on it. On his friend's desk the sand begun to move.

"Don't you too feel like you want to stab yourself with the pen so you can go home?" the letters in the sand said and John nearly snorted with laughter before he focused too.

"Nope," he answered his friend "with hot stuff like her dancing around in front of the blackboard I'm more concerned with passing out with a bleeding nose."

"Pervert." the sandy-haired boy shook his head.

"So are you." the pudgy boy pointed out.

"No I'm not."

"Then I suppose that you're not interested in coming over to my place this weekend to start going through the full five seasons of Nekogami Love Love?" Now Brian tensed, how the hell did he get hold of all five seasons?! "Come to the hentai side," the sand reshaped itself again, "We've got tentacles."

"Okay I yield," she sandy-haired boy gave up, you had to stick to what you believed in but some things weighed heavier than your morale and principles, sixty hours of catgirls and heavy fanservice was one of these things, "You win." He told his pudgy friend and looked to the side to give him a smile. It was due to this that he didn't see the eraser that flew through the air before it was too late.

The projectile collided with his head at full speed and knocked him backwards, off the chair and down on the floor. A yelp of pain escaped him as his head smacked into the floor.

"Am I interrupting something mister Harrison?!" The young boy froze in a second when he heard teacher's voice cut through the air like a knife. At the front of the classroom their teacher, Anya Cocorova, also known as the "Russian Firestorm" and "Burning Ice Queen", was currently standing with anger rolling off her in waves. There were a few rules that everyone in her class knew to obey, these were amongst others:

1: Always pay attention, those not doing that will be punished.

2: Remember rule number one, Professor Cocorova doesn't do the 'forgiveness' thing.

3: Never EVER start passing notes to each other; if you do, it is best cured with writing lines.

4: Substituting the notes with a spell is not an incentive for extra points due to clever usage of magic, it's a proof that you got too little to do and is best cured with writing even more lines.

"Ho-ly SHIT!" the young boy thought when he realized how screwed he was. He slowly sat up and gave professor Cocorova, in a desperate attempt to salvage the situation, his best grin. "Ehehehe…" he began, "Sorry Professor, I just got so caught up in my notes." He lied while desperately thinking. "Plausible lies pulled outta the butt, hop to it and get me outta this trouble like NOW please. Fooling the Teacher spell!"

Judging from professor Cocorova's steely expression, the spell fizzled. Glancing to the side he noticed that John had already gotten rid of his sand and was now sitting with his eyes fixed on the blackboard like the little worm he was. Brian swore that he'd get vengeance if he survived this before professor Cocorova's voice cut through the air again.

"You're not fooling me mister Harrison." She said and in just one second Brian felt like he wanted to crawl in under his desk and hide there. Perhaps he could get away by jumping out of the windows? "Now," professor Cocorova continued, "Perhaps you would do us all the favor of coming up here and kindly inform the rest of the class what you and mister Michaels were so engrossed with?" the question was asked with a mild and curious tone but Brian knew enough about his teacher to realize how incredibly screwed he was.

"Screw this," he thought to himself, "If I'm gonna die I'm gonna go out with a bang!"

"Sorry professor!" he said loudly, drawing every eye in the room to himself, "But I mean, this stuff is utterly useless!" the instant chill that settled over the room told him that his death sentence already had been proclaimed. John especially had a look of pure horror on his face. "What use could we possible have for knowing what some old beardmeister thought about magic bonds two thousand years ago?" Brian continued, "You might as well teach us knitting, at least we'll use that once in a while. Has this stuff been used even once for something practica…" professor Cocorova's glare made him falter as the Russian woman glared at him.

The young man fell silent as he sat down, awaiting his death. As he sat down he felt an odd sense of calm settle over him and he idly wondered if this was how you felt when death was approaching. He took a deep breath and looked up at professor Cocorova again, fully expecting a giant fireball to devour him. However when he looked up he begun to stare. The professor had, out of nowhere, gotten a look no one had ever seen her have before, on her face, amusement… the "Burning Ice Queen" was smiling!

"It has, mister Harrison." she said, suddenly the male half of the class was reminded of how beautiful their teacher actually was as she looked up at them with a smile on her lips. "Only twenty years ago the works of Merlin nearly caused the end of the world." Now professor Cocorova had, in only a few seconds, gotten the class' undivided attention. "Anyone care to guess what I'm talking about?" She asked and one of the teenagers raised her hand.

"Do you mean Mahora, professor?" the girl said, referring to the cataclysmic battle in Japan twenty years ago where one of the greatest dark mages of all time had nearly managed to destroy the world. Said incident was legendary due to the fact that said dark mage, none other than Negi Springfield, son of the Thousand Master Nagi Springfield, apparently had rebelled against the taint that had possessed him and even managed to kill the demon god that had enslaved him, thereby landing him in the history books forever.

"I do indeed." professor Cocorova told them, "The writings of Merlin were integral to the method Negi used to kill Malfeas."

"Professor…" another student asked, "How do you know that?" That kind of knowledge was hardly the kind that people would be told just like that. Professor Cocorova looked out through the window for a few seconds before she turned to her students.

"Because Negi was my closest childhood friend." She admitted bluntly, causing the entire class to gasp, "Furthermore, a few months before he left for Mahora I was the one who helped him with his research." The woman said it all calmly and frankly, dropping one of the greatest bombshells ever. "Even if I know only bits and pieces I dare say that I know more than almost anyone about the ritual that was cast there."

Now the class was in a state of complete shock: their teacher, Anya Cocorova, the Russian Firestorm, widely considered the last person on earth that would have anything to do with anything exciting, had been a childhood friend of one of the most awesome mages ever! She had even done research with him! Brian was currently hyperventilating, trying to wrap his mind around this fact and failing miserably. He grabbed his head as he saw a miniature version of his teacher bossing around a tiny kid in black robes.

It was now that one of the students raised her hand. Professor Cocorova looked to the side and nodded towards the young girl, the blonde class rep in fact, who rose from her seat.

"If it is not too much to ask for professor," the girl said, "Would you mind telling us a little more about this? When it comes to that which happened at Mahora most of us have only a vague picture of what kind of person Negi Springfield in reality was. We all know the numbers and what happened, but I don't think anyone of us know what kind of man Negi Springfield really was. Perhaps you could tell us the real facts?"

The glass rep was, even if she had a great rack and a cute face, usually near the top on Brian's shit-list. A nosy and stuck-up bitch that would rather die than miss a chance to wave her authority around, Brian could nevertheless have kissed her for those words. Professor Cocorova stood silent for a moment and in the end she nodded.

"Okay then," she said and the class almost cheered, "But make sure to take notes, this will be on the test!" the old woman snapped and the class piped down immediately, "Now… how do you think he was as a child?" she asked, making the class stop up and think. Eventually John raised his hand.

"A weirdo?" he said carefully, "A guy who never really fit in, like, sat in the corner and glared at everyone and everything?" It was just a wild guess, how were they supposed to know that? Still, that sounded like the most plausible guess to him. professor Cocorova shook her head however.

"Wrong," she said, "He was a crybaby in fact." The entire class looked at her with skeptical looks on their faces. "It's true," professor Cocorova continued, "He was the most timid and overly polite little kid I knew, it wasn't a matter of him being repressed either, he just was like that." professor Cocorova fell silent for a while. "Due to the fact that his mother died in childbirth and that his father didn't even knew about his existence Negi lived with his Uncle and his cousin Nekane, the latter became the only mother-figure he ever had."

"Even if he, from an early age, showed that he was extremely intelligent and eager to learn he wasn't material for a dark mage at all, he was always a humble and kind person; power hunger was a foreign concept for him. If things would have continued like they were then… then he most probably would have remained in the village, perhaps gone on to become a teacher like me."

"But then he left home, right?" John asked, he was a Negi-fan of the highest degree and knew almost everything about him.

"Indeed," professor Cocorova said, "Due to prophetic visions of the village's destruction he fled when he was only ten years old. The following seven years are shrouded in mystery though. It's known that he traveled the world, many times under assumed identities, and that he visited nearly every corner of it, but little more. It's when he returned home again, after these seven years, that his journeys became documented again."

"Wow…" one of the girls said, "So he was, like, a seer too?" she asked, "I mean since he saw into time?"

"He can't have been an especially good one?" Another girl said, "I mean the village never got destroyed, right?"

"It's called "The Phytic Dilemma"" professor Cocorova said, "Did he stop it by leaving or was it a false vision? There's no way to know since the only one that really knows if he even really had visions were him."

"Was he still a crybaby when he came home?" one of the young boys said and the question made professor Cocorova stop for a second and think. After a while she looked up at the class.

"He had become like his father." She said, "And then I'm not talking about being afraid of responsibilities or a glory hound." She ignored many of the shocked expressions that covered her students' faces when she badmouthed the great Thousand Master and continued. "It was his strength, both magically and personality-wise. Whenever I saw him devote himself to something he became like a tidal wave. He was a juggernaut whenever he became serious. When he hovered over the books in the library the very air almost crackled with intensity around him, it's a sight I've never seen after him," professor Cocorova looked at the class, "and I probably won't get to see it again." She added dryly.

"Anyway," She continued, "When his research was finished he left for Mahora, the location of the only clue he had to his father's whereabouts. Who knows what I'm talking about?" several hands shot up into the air immediately, Brian's amongst them. Professor Cocorova pointed at him with a wry smile, "I do believe this is the first time you have raised your hand in my class, mister Harrison." Brian chose not to say anything about that, she was right anyway.

"It's Asuna the Great, the dusk princess" he said, "I think that she traveled with Nagi Springfield after he rescued her during the great war, when they destroyed her kingdom."

"Yes," Anya said, "Princess Asuna had, due to her lineage as a member of the royal family of dusk, a very powerful affinity for magic. This affinity existed in every member of the royal family, manifesting in different ways. In Asuna it manifested as a natural skill in demon summoning. However when the Megalomesembric armies made the push against the Twilight Castle during the war they deployed a new type of weapons against the magically superior dusk army. Wild magic generators."

"Aren't those forbidden?" a student asked with a start and Anya nodded.

"They are due to what happened there." She said with a grim look on her face, "They made the royal family's gifts go haywire, princess Asuna's power especially. Without any way of controlling her gift it tore open a gate into the ninth hell itself, summoning a titanic host of demons. They tore the entire city AND the attacking army apart, leaving only Asuna alive. The demon god Malfeas then approached her as she came back ton consciousness, surrounded by her butchered family. He told her that he could take away that gift and keep her safe. Asuna, who believed what just had happened was her own fault, was an easy prey for the manipulative demon and the deal was forged. In exchange for her gift and, ten years later, her soul, Malfeas would make her immune to all kinds of magic. Asuna was too broken to do anything but accept."

Now the class had a sinking feeling in their guts. Brian especially felt like crap. He saw in front of himself a little girl standing amongst the bloodstained ruins of her home, realizing that it was her fault.

"It becomes worse," Anya continued, "She was later found by the Megalomesembric army who immediately realized the power in the magic nullifying abilities she possessed. Within only a few weeks they had developed the Spellshatterer."

"Fucking fiends." Brian muttered, that was something he knew of, most people did, and no matter how you looked at it that had to be the lowest thing he'd ever heard of.

"You have to look at it from a bigger perspective," Coban, the Megalomesembric exchange student said, "They were desperate, the armies of Vampire King was almost at the capital's doorstep. If they hadn't done that we might all have worn slave collars now." The boy was a patriot of the highest order and always tried to downplay the atrocities that the Megalomesembric armies committed during the war while exaggerating the deeds of the other sides.

"If you're that fucking low that you do things like that to little kids you don't deserve to win wars!" Brian snapped, "They sucked her soul dry; don't try to justify that shit! Your beloved country won the asshole of the century award with that one!"

"While I'm sure that the princess would appreciate your support I'd prefer that you didn't use that language in class." Professor Cocorova said mildly and Brian immediately sat down. "Anyhow, back to Negi, what happened when he left for Mahora you all already know; instead; if you have any other questions let me hear them." Professor Cocorova said, wondering if she opened Pandora's Box now. Several arms shot up immediately and she let one of the girls ask first.

"Did he have any girlfriends or something?" She asked and professor Cocorova hesitated for a second, remembering the cool spring air, the dark evening and Negi as he reached in to give her a small kiss, the kiss that had been her first. The kiss had made her entire body tingle and had, in one second, made her realize that she had still loved him. As she had walked inside she had only made it inside the door before she had collapsed, sobbing frantically as she realized how futile it all was.

"Any other questions?" She eventually said with an embarrassed look on her face. Brian wasn't stupid, even if his grades sucked, and one thing he knew was how to spot clues to moods and what he just had seen almost made him faint. It couldn't be…. The prof had NOT just blushed., nope, njet and iie, that was impossible! Judging from the looks on the rest of the class' faces, however, it looked like it really had happened.

"Was he gay or something?" John suddenly blurted out and Brian winced, not THAT was an "open mouth, insert foot", moment. However most of the male half of the class nodded, as if trying to make that true. That overpowered freaking superhero had NOT been an item with their teacher!

"Let's not go into that now," the professor said tersely, "I CAN however, tell you that it's hardly appropriate to comment on the sexual preferences' of the dead."

"Then what was his gf like?" John asked.

"He never had any serious relationships," professor Cocorova said, trying to keep her professionalism up, "The closest thing would be his temporary pactio with Kagurazaka Asuna."

"I've heard that he liked brunettes," John said, quietly with a probing voice that was loud enough that the class heard it and transferring the spotlight back to the professor, moving into that area of questioning she did not want to approach

"Be that as it may, I have no real knowledge of these things." Professor Cocorova said with a tone of finality, "Now let's go back to the subject and not what seems to be picked out of "Witch Monthly". Tell me this. What similarities are there between Merlin and Negi Springfield? And motivate your answers." Brian slumped together. Shit, she hadn't stayed off the Merlin thing. However several students did raise their hands.

"They were both the greatest mages of their times?" John said, "I mean Merlin and Negi both mastered dragon magic, that's not exactly usual."

"Maybe," the professor said, "However that is still open to discussion; many would disagree, saying that mastering dragon magic isn't a valid way of measuring power. Anyone else?"

"They were both enslaved." The class rep said, "Merlin by the water spirit Nimue and Negi by the taint. Both of them were hounded and tormented by something external that irrevocably scarred their souls. In many ways that was what came to separate them from the rest of their peers." God damn it was easy to hear that the class rep's family was professors, all of them

"Good analogy," the teacher said, "And that is true, just like Merlin, Negi never stopped at any one place for long during their travels and the short time where they did stay at one place, Camelot for Merlin, Mahora for Negi, saw events that guaranteed their place in history."

"Tragic endings?" Another student said, "I mean, Negi died and Merlin is supposed to have been imprisoned forever."

"Only difference would be that Thanatos deserved it." Coban said, immediately earning several sour looks from the other, Welsh, students, "Excuse me professor but I don't see why you insist on this hero-worship of the guy who nearly exterminated humanity. It's like… just because Adolf Hitler took his own life that doesn't make him a good guy. How many thousands died at Mahora, how much destruction and death did that guy cause? One second of regret at the end isn't going to undo all the things he did."

"Like slaying Malfeas?" Brian asked sourly, he hated that guy, "Like eradicating the taint from the world for all future by killing its source? Like saving the dusk princess' soul and thereby giving all those guys who lost their homeland thanks to your imperialist greed a hope that their homeland can be rebuilt?!"

"More like accepting the taint!" Coban returned, "Aren't you forgetting that itty-bitty fact? It all comes back to the fact that he sold his soul for power!"

"And that is where you are wrong mister Erathor," Anya said calmly, "I'd recommend that you read "Either was not the only choice" by Fate Averruncus. He addresses just that matter and makes several arguments for how Negi couldn't' have sold his soul."

"I know about that one but I can't see how anyone can expect that one of Thanatos' slaves could ever give an objective viewpoint?" Coban continued. "Seriously," the Megalomesembrian continued, "Isn't there anyone who realizes that he might be just a little impartial?! Isn't it a little too convenient that suddenly the guy who nearly ended the world is a hero since he was just a victim whereas everyone else in his seat was deliberate villains, just because he betrayed Malfeas just like how he betrayed humanity!? What kind of screwed up proof of virtue is that?"

"Newsflash!" Brian said loudly, "All of those people got a clear bill of both mental and physical health after Mahora. When Negi ejected them from his soul right before he died he kept their taint with him, ever heard about that one? And just so you know," he added with a conspiratory whisper, "It was Megalomesembric healers who checked that!" he shouted.

"That will be quite enough." The professor said with a tone that immediately shut both of them up. "Also," she turned to Coban, "If you are saying that mister Averruncus would be anything else than fully professional in his analyses you are demonstrating a sad level of ignorance. I've met the man in question on a few occasions and I can vouch for his credibility."

"Furthermore:" she continued, the fact that she had talked with Fate Averruncus even further impressing the students. "when dealing with Negi's deeds you both have to remember that the word "normal" can't really be applied to him, just like Merlin the Springfields, both the older and younger, remade the world around them. Some people refer to this at "true magic". By combining their powerful magic with indomitable willpower and great visions they changed the world forever. Of course, with results in hand we can always say that "this or that" was wrong but then things were not so easy."

"What do you think then professor?" the class rep said now, "Was he a hero or a villain?"

"I believe that he wanted to be remembered like this." the professor said, "I don't think he ever desired to be known as a hero, not after that things he had to do, but neither do I believe he was a villain. I think; if anything, he wanted to be remembered as a paradox, as a man who can't be judged just like that. He always did like riddles…" the professor said to herself.

It was than that the bell suddenly rung; signaling the end of class. The students got up to leave immediately, almost moving on instinct as the reflex that told them to leave school as fast as possible took over.

"Be sure to have read chapter eleven until Monday!" professor Cocorova said loudly, reminding them of their homework, and was met by a lot of groans from the students who had hoped that she would have forgotten about that. "And YOU, mister Harrison, "she continued, "has a four page essay on the spiritscape of Wales in Merlin's age to do until next Monday." the sandy-haired boy looked like he was about to puke now and his friend came up to put a comforting hand on his shoulder. However the groaning soon stopped as the kids left the classroom with extraordinary speed and the only one left was the teacher. The woman smiled to herself as she picked up her notes and walked off to the teachers' offices.

As she crossed the courtyard she suddenly felt a gust of wind and looked out over the great forest below, spring was approaching and the trees were starting of bloom, small, almost invisible, dots of green adorning the brown trees. The branches moved as the wind blew through them, making a rustle rise from them. She took of her glasses and closed her eyes as she felt the wind on her face. The forests where life was now awaking from it's slumber, the blue heaven which now was painted red in the dusk, the clear air… everything that was Wales to her, her home. It was that that she reached the statue where she stopped.

Several meters high, sculpted in shining obsidian and with a silver inscription on the pedestal, which she knew by heart, it depicted a young man, one clad in flowing robesk and with the hand that wasn't gripping his staff twisted by dark magic into a set of claws, the figure's face was locked in sorrowful but determined look. She looked down at the gleaming silver calligraphy inscription and read it to herself.

"In memory of Negi Springfield," the inscription said, "The man who fell deeper than anyone else and who, in the very last moment, climbed higher than anyone else."

"Thank you Negi," Anya Cocorova said as she looked up at the statue's face, "For everything." Perhaps it was just a trick of the light but for some reason the light of the dusk made him seem at peace.

"Yes..." a soft voice then said beside her, "For everything." Anya looked to the side now and saw a man in white robes, with red eyes and a face almost as pale as his robes. She recognized him right away.

"Mister Averruncus?" she said with a surprised voice upon seeing who it was. The albino was an old friend of hers, even more than she had made it sound in class, but she did not expect him to come here. In truth, this was the first time she had seen him outside the Megalomesembric heartlands, which nowadays were the centre of the supernatural world.

"Good afternoon miss Cocorova." Fate answered with a slight nod as he turned towards her, "How has life been for you the latest months?"

"Things are well," Anya answered, "How about you? What has brought you to Wales?"

"As straightforwards as ever I see." Fate smiled slightly and Anya closed her eyes.

"Of course," she apologized, "That was quite rude of me, I'm sorry. Would you care for some tea perhaps?"

"Yes please," Fate said. "Tea would be nice."

"Come with me then," Anya said, "We can go to the cafeteria."

They both walked off towards one of the buildings, the one where the dining-room lay. Anya taking the lead and Fate following her. The latter still had his hood up, desiring to be anonymous. Anya showed him into the cafeteria, which lay in the dining-room of the school. It was housed in one of the corners of the large hall and was presently nearly empty, only a few people were there.

Anya and Fate both walked up the the register and ordered a cup of tea each, Anya idly noticed that Fate still took his tea with milk. With their tea in hand they sat down by one of the wooden tables, Fate noticing the dents and graffiti that covered it, and raised an eyebrow.

"If you don't mind me asking, miss Cocorova." he said, "Why do you insist on remaining at this school?" Anya looked up at him with a furrowed brow at this.

"How do you mean?" She asked him and Fate clarified.

"First: You are one of the world's foremost experts on scrying, especially when using sympathetic bonds in items possessed by those you scry for, and your works on it have become standard for almost all universities' courses in it. Second: you are also immensely proficient in elemental magic, your skill with fire magic rivals even miss Lingshen's. Third," now Fate leaned in and whispered, "Without your brilliant argumentation and the aid you gave me my book would never become so successful." he leaned backwards again, "You have the capacity to succeed in any field," he continued, "from battlemage in the Ariadne Valkyrie Knights to loremaster at the Megalomesembric Great Academy. When all these facts are lined up your decision to take a place as a teacher the the academy of Wales which, even though it has a long and glorious history, today is little more that any other academy, seems quite curious."

Anya listened silently to Fate as she took a sip of her tea. As usual, the albino was correct, Anya knew that she was widely considered an authority on several matters, scrying and fire magic being only two of these. But the reason why she had stayed in Wales instead of going to the big academies, where she would have become legendary, was because of what had happened twenty-one years ago. She lowered her cup and told Fate why she did it.

"I'm staying because when Negi came back after the seven years he had spent on the road all I could see was an exhausted young man." she told him. It was the truth, she had realized after a few days what it was about him that bothered her. "Something about him practically radiated exhaustion, even if it was overshadowed by his will."

"To everyone else he was a hero, everyone just saw the strength." she continued, "But I saw the other part of him... how he absently fingered his scars when he was deep in thought, how his entire body was covered in them, how he talked about horrible things like they were nothing... I was just a child back then and I wanted to travel like him, but thanks to what I saw I was cured of that idea. I saw that the adventuring life scars you. Then... as time went on I realized how much I love Wales... call me silly if you please but nowadays I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I feel like it would kill me."

"I don't find it silly at all," Fate said, "Some people just can't settle down, it stands to reason that some people needs to stay where they feel that they belong."

"It's quite strange though..." Anya said, "When we were kids everyone said that I would be the one to break up and move away and Negi the one who would stay. But the roles became totally reverse... he left, I stayed... now he's the great hero and I'm the one who lives quietly."

"There's something poetic about it, true" Fate agreed, "However I'm hardly the right person for putting together something fitting."

"Nor am I." Anya said, "...have we really become that old?" She suddenly asked with a raised eyebrow, "We're sitting and trying to compose poetry about our lives."

"A disgrace." Fate said, his lips curving in a rare little smile now, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen." They both shared a small laugh at this before Fate sobered up quickly. "However, as much as I find these discussions amusing I must address the real reason for my visit." he reached into his cloak and pulled out something wrapped in white cloth.

"Miss Cocorova," he started, his face dead serious, "I am here because I need your help, your sympathetic scrying abilities specifically. Know, however, that if you offer to help me I cannot give you any guarantees about what will happen next. This," he held up the item wrapped in cloth, "is the key that will open a door you never can close again. Seeing as how you value your peace it is only fair that you are warned about this before you decided whether to help me."

Anya looked at the cloth-wrapped item, examining it intently. It was about one foot long, seemingly cylindrical in shape and only as broad that he could reach his fingers around it. After a few seconds she turned back to Fate.

"Tell me something..." she said softly, "You're here because there's something more than just my skill that matters, is it not? I get the feeling there's something personal at stake." Fate only nodded at this and eventually Anya nodded too. "I thought so," she said, "Very well, I'll take it." No matter how much she had changed otherwise her curiosity still remained. Also, Fate's confirmation that there was something personal at stake suggested that she had to do it. The albino handed over the item and Anya looked around before carefully unwrapping it.

Inside was a roughly foot long shard of something that vaguely reminded her of obsidian, but it had a much rougher texture and she could feel the intense undercurrents of magic through it. She looked up at Fate who clarified.

"That is what nowadays is referred to as blood-steel," he said, "The remnants of the results of the tainted magic Negi used at the end. By controlling, expanding, shaping and hardening his blood through tainted magic he created a unique material, one that nowadays is one of the rarest and most sought after materials in the world. After the death of Malfeas it lost the taint and all that remains is a material both immensely strong and capable of storing incredible abouts of magic."

"I see." Anya said, suddenly feeling strange. Was this a part of Negi's blood? The results of the tainted arts he had used just before he died? Suddenly her hands clenched around it and she had to fight to stay calm. "And what is it you want me to find out?" she asked quietly.

"This material is something only Negi could create," Fate said "No one but he, no one, had the skill, knowledge and power necessary. Also, after the taint disappeared for good it became doubly impossible to create more of it. No matter what dozens of alchemists have tried it's impossible, the secrets behind creating it died with him. However this shard isn't from the battle of Mahora twenty years ago..." Anya looked up at Fate at this, wide-eyed. What was he saying? The albino's face was grim, "It was found one week ago in the ruins of the Twilight Castle, buried in the body of a slain elder dragon. It was impaled on a dozen giant spikes made out of this very blood-steel.

The end