-- Exuent All --

Otrant looked over his shoulder.

He had been so absorbed in his book - a leatherbound tome that contained many an eldritch rune and arcane incantation - that he had completely failed to notice his best friend walk into the library. His long lost best friend, who hadn't been seen in the grounds of the Academy for thirty years. And then he had only returned very briefly on some matter relating to the Shining Force and the progress of their quest.

"Need a hand there, old boy?" he asked. The old man was looking up at a book on the very top shelf. Being a half-Goblin, he was roughly two thirds as tall as he needed to be to reach the book. As usual, there was no stepladder in sight. There never was when you needed one.

"No need, no need." answered the old man with a sad but gentle smile. His furry eyebrows narrowed as he pointed his arm at the book. It sprang from the shelf and levitated slowly down into his outstretched hand.

Otrant walked over to him so that he could see the title of the book.

"'Practical Everyday Travel Magic' by Broomsteps?" he read out, "Going on holiday, are we? If you ask me, a horse and cart is much safer. Even the simplest of apportation spells can have dire consequences if it goes wrong and travel magic is an imprecise science."

"Exactly." replied his friend. He walked briskly over to the table and placed the book down, open at the first page of 'Chapter 5: Egress'. For a man as old as me, thought Otrant, he's in remarkably good health. That time in the military must have done the trick. He took a pen out of his robes and started making notes.

"What in the Light's name is this about, Novander?" demanded Otrant, using the man's full name. Novander al Verios. Nova for short.

"If you really must know..." muttered Nova, "I'm doing some research on the Egress spell. About the things that can go wrong with it. Especially... especially in the middle of battle."

"Is this for him?" asked Otrant.

Nova nodded gravely. Otrant could see the grim determination in his eyes.

"How long have you been searching?" he asked.

"Ever since it happened." replied Nova.

"That long?"

Nova nodded again. Then, his hands clenching so tightly that he broke his pen, he spoke.

"The others abandoned him to his fate." he said, "All of them. Even Lowe. Lowe, the primary healer. I found him in the Church, praying for his soul. Like he was already dead. That's when I left them to do whatever the hell they wanted to do."

"Novander!" said Otrant sharply, "This is NOT how the Academy taught you to behave!"

"Neither is it how I taught the Force to behave." said Nova, "Never, ever abandon your leader. If your leader dies on the field, it is as if you're all dead. The basic tenet of Guardiana warfare. What happened to that, Otrant?"

"Neither does the strategist abandon the party in their direst hour of need!" replied Otrant harshly.

"What do they need me for now? The battle's over." said Nova, "We won. Mission accomplished."

"Do you really think that the Shining Force do not grieve for the loss of their leader?"

"MAX... IS... NOT... DEAD!" screamed Nova, his piercing shriek shattering the sanctimony of the library's silence. I'd forgotten how high-pitched Nova's voice could go, thought Otrant, that used to scare the shit out of sleeping students in lectures.

"Then he will come home." said Otrant, "Lead the party in his absence. He'll be grateful that its you in charge and not one of the other clueless morons."

Nova regarded him a look of utter, primal animosity. He picked up the book and put it under his arm.

"Egress." he hissed. Then he was gone.