Lloyd: Okay, what do I have to do now?
V: Say the disclaimer.
Lloyd: Is that all?
V: No, you must also wear Lederhosen.
Lloyd: What?
Li: *Randomly wanders in* Guten Tag~!
Lloyd: The hell?
Li: I'm two-thirds Swavish German, leave me be, dumkoff! *hits Lloyd with clipboard*
V: Well Lloyd... we're waiting...
Lloyd: *sigh* Fine! *Puts on Lederhosen* Hey... these are almost exactly like my suspenders... wait... Oh no! I wear Lederhosen! *T-T*

Chapter Six: Beyond the Borders

(Dread Isle)
"Lord Nergal, the experiment you sent out to capture that traveling Lordling was destroyed last night." A cloaked man appeared, speaking to Nergal while the teleport magic still hung heavily in the air. The dark druid ignored the newcomer as he poured over a large, ancient tome that seemed to be making a constant, low hissing noise in his gnarled hand. At length, Nergal looked up from it, his permanent scowl growing deeper as his messenger continued. "The girl has allies… powerful allies."

"Hmph; I shall simply have to send out a stronger one next time." Nergal scoffed and went back to his reading, seemingly disinterested in anything else the man had to say. As if in agreement, or just to emphasis it's dislike for Nergal, the book made a popping noise before it continued with its hissing. "No matter how powerful her friends are, they're no match for one of my stronger morphs." The cloaked man shifted and let out an uneasy noise. The uneasy silence and the continued presence of the messenger irked Nergal until he snapped, "What is it now, Ephidel."

"Sir, I cannot be certain but … I think that young man you pulled through the gate, before the siblings, is traveling with her." Ephidel flinched away from Nergal as the dark druid stood up suddenly. His sole good eye darkened in fury as he stalked to a small rounded orb on a table nearby. He cast his hand over it and looked for any unusual quintessence that popped out at him from the swirling mists suddenly erupting inside.

Indeed, the moment he found Lyn's quintessence, it was accompanied by the same brilliant light quintessence that had radiated around Lloyd. The light began overtaking the orb, illuminating the dark room beyond where Nergal was comfortable. With a flourish of his hand, the orb went dark again. "So… that explains it…" Nergal growled, trembling in rage. "I have yet come up with a proper way of disposing of that… mistake. And it doesn't help that he is strong. Especially against you Morphs. Fatally so."

Nergal looked back at Ephidel. The construct was looking down at the floor, what seemed like the emotion of shame or fear upon his face. Perhaps just a reaction to the brush with the strange white quintessence, he thought. After all, this one didn't have emotions. "Especially ones as strong as you and Sonia," Nergal continued, "if he burns the two of you, there is no doubt that any Morph made in the same way will burst into flames. You'd both burn from the inside out if you made contact." There was a long, uneasy pause before Nergal eventually scowled and shook his head.

"We will have to change our methods on dealing with the Lordling then, with that sort of alliance." He backed away from the crystal and faced Ephidel fully. "In the meantime, we need to continue to influence the Black Fang in our favor, go about getting into Lord Darin's good graces, infiltrating as many other Lycian states as we can, and there are very few worthy creations that I can spare in the meantime. Not only that, but we have to chase those siblings down and bring them back here; contact Sonia and tell her to have the Black Fang take of those two. In regards to the Caelin matter, let us watch and see what happens without interfering."

"As you command, Lord Nergal." Ephidel nodded, leaving to do his master's bidding even as he spoke. Nergal waited until he was gone before turning back to his tome. The book began hissing and popping loudly, the hissing sounding oddly feminine for a genderless book.

"Shut up!" Nergal barked. The volume of hissing and popping decreased greatly, but did not stop entirely. "It's not like you have a choice in the matter. Now… Let's see what the ancients had to say about angels…"

Lyn's eyes popped open and she instantly became fully awake. Her whole body tensed as the feeling of being under attack gripped her and she reached out for her sword. Then she remained still, listening through the calm morning sounds of birds chirping and a light breeze playing with the leaves attached to the tree branches above her for any indication of the bandits that she could practically feel just beyond her sight. After a few moments, her memories caught up with her.

Groaning, she sat up, trying to relax her body of the tension with a vigorous shiver. It felt like she'd only slept a couple hours, yet the world contradicted her biological clock by providing a sunrise on the horizon. She felt a small, tired smile crawl its way onto her lips as she quickly realized that she'd not be going back to sleep this morning.

To her right, on the far side of the camp, were Kent and Sain. Both were out of their armor, leaning against their horses. They looked cute, the way they shared a blanket and leaned in on one another. Like the closest of brothers despite the way they bickered when awake.

On the other side of the small clearing was Florina. She was asleep in almost exactly the same position as Kent and Sain, except she had her hands draped around Huey's neck while the winged horse had a wing cast protectively over her body. The look on her face was tranquil, if slightly euphoric. It brought to mind a memory of when she first met the Pegasus Rider, back when she and Huey were still getting used to each other. They hadn't been the closest of rider and Pegasi back then, to say the least.

Wil lay against the side of a partially destroyed brick wall. It might also have been partially worn away, she couldn't tell. The archer though looked troubled in his sleep. This was out of place for Wil, he was always the carefree one when he was awake. Part of her wondered what Wil had to be troubled about.

Besides him was the empty spot that Dorcas once occupied. She quickly discovered the towering man off a ways from the rest of the camp on a slight incline. He was faced toward the growing warmth of red in the sky with his shoulders hunched forward. Every now and then she'd see him glance up at the sky before going back to whatever it was he had in his hands.

This brought her gaze to rest upon the sleeping form of Lloyd, who lay prone on a blanket between her and the axe fighter. Frowning, she crawled over to Lloyd and lifted the stiff, dry rag from his forehead. The night before it'd been wet and pliable as a handful of worms. Lloyd didn't seem to have changed much over night. He was still just as pale and just as unconscious.

Deciding that worrying about Lloyd was going nowhere, she stood and moved over to the fire. Some embers were still alive in the pit, so she tossed a few twigs on. Then she pulled out a knife and shaved some wood onto the embers until a flame grew up. After the flame was large enough, she tossed the last of the firewood in and stood back.

A bright light suddenly grew from behind her. Her shadow became long and stark, stretching across the campsite to the other side and into the trees. She turned and felt herself gasping slightly as the sun rose over a very picturesque scene. She had the privilege of witnessing many sunrises in the plains, but the mountains casting their own long shadows, the rolling hills, the stretches of forest and the patches of grass somehow seemed to make the event more intense.

As the sun's rays warmed her face she saw Dorcas start moving in her peripheral vision. She looked away from the sunrise and saw him nod at her over his shoulder before he went back to doing whatever it was he was doing. With a resigned sigh, she turned her back on the sun. The cool air caressed her skin where the sun had warmed it as she moved toward her pack and started digging through it.

After pushing aside a couple vulneraries, she found what she was looking for: a map and a bright red apple. Sticking the apple in her mouth, she bit down on it and stood up. With the fruit lodged in her mouth she moved past the sleeping group, cast a worried glance at Lloyd, and moved to sit next to Dorcas. As she sat, she used both hands to fully open the map.

"Good morning," Dorcas said.

"Such a wonderful morning too," she responded after she completed the bite she started on the other side of the camp. As she chewed, she watched the sun for a bit more. Dorcas continued to fiddle with what she could now see was a small piece of wood and a whittling knife. At this point it still looked like a gnarly stick. "I've seen plenty of sunrises, but these mountains are simply spectacular.

"The Bern Mountains are renowned for their spectral beauty," Dorcas said. "At least, that's what I've heard the tour guides telling the Lycian nobles as they passed through my village."

"The Bern Mountains?" Lyn looked down at the map as she took another bite out of the apple. Its juices were sweet and left a tang on the sides of her tongue after she swallowed the meat of the fruit. "Where's that?"

Dorcas paused in his whittling and used the knife's point to indicate their position on the map, amongst the artist's rendering of a mountain range. "That's about where we are. This map looks rather old though, so some of the names may not be the same for the places that are on it. There's a pass through the mountains up ahead where we can slip through a part of Bern. On the other side is Lycia."

Lyn hummed to herself and took another chunk out of the apple as she traced a path from where they were at toward the path and back down toward the southern part of the map labeled "Lycian League." Then she went back and tracked the path back to where they'd started out in the plains of Sacea. When she traced the line again, there appeared a shortcut.

"That's odd…" she said, swallowing the apple bite in her mouth.


"No, it's not that I'm confused," she said through the next bite. "Actually I understand why Kent is taking us this way. See-" She pointed at the map, outlining the different routes. "-we're going on a detour, away from the beaten path. But even though we'll take longer to reach Caelin, we're less likely to run into anymore bandits."

"You're pretty good at reading maps if you could see all of that," Dorcas said, going back to his carving. "Can you tell how long it will take us to reach Caelin?"

"Hmm…" Lyn traced her finger over the map a couple times, taking steps with her fingers from where they were to the castle symbol drawn to depict the capitol of the Caelin Canton. "If I am reading this map right then it should only take a day and a half from where we are now. And that's with the detour. Had we gone straight there, we would be there this afternoon, is my guess."

"Actually, I figured it for two days," Kent said, walking to stand next to the both of them. He had one of the plates from his armor in one hand and a polishing rag rubbing it with the other. "We have to leave time for weather related delays. Not to mention any more run-ins with those bandits."

"Good morning," Dorcas said. Kent nodded back and continued to polish his armor. "Speaking of bandits, what do you believe the Bern soldiers will do when they see us leading a bunch of them into their territory?"

"If we can get an army to help us wouldn't that scare off the bandits?" Lyn asked. "Maybe we should go and ask them for help."

"That would be a bad idea, milady," Sain said. He appeared next to Kent, holding a half finished biscuit. Crumbs were scattered on his shirt and mouth, indicating where the rest of the biscuit had gone. "Think of how it would make Canton Caelin look if its heir apparent had gone to another nation outside the Lycian League for help. Not to mention that Bern is a competitor of sorts with the League. They would call us power hungry, back stabbing, no good scoundrels. We'd be quickly outlawed from the League's lands and you'd be stripped of title and disowned from your grandfather's family." Kent pursed his lips grimly as he went back to get another plate of armor to polish.

"What?" Lyn shouted. "How could they do anything like that? Just for asking for help? What kind of place is this League if asking for help with a real back stabbing, power hungry scoundrel is punished so severely?"

"I didn't mean to alarm you, milady," Sain said. He clasped his hands together in front of him, as if begging. "Please forgive me. I only meant to give you an idea of what the consequences of that decision would bring."

"I don't think I want to become the heir of Caelin if this is what it means," Lyn snarled. "Who the hell do they think they are?"

"They're also backstabbing, power hungry, no good scoundrels," Kent said. "Their goal is to get more power within the league or what have you so they can control its destiny. Currently, the Canton of Ostia is the most powerful, through no small effort of similar means and a sizable army." Kent paused when he saw the dark look on Lyn's face. "However," he quickly added, "there are other ways to get help from them, and from Bern for that matter."

"But I thought you said-"

"He's talking about the Bern Rangers," Dorcas said. Lyn looked at him quizzically. "They're a group of armed men who guard the borders of Bern," Dorcas explained.

Kent smiled as he lowered the piece of armor he was holding. It was a dark smile, as if he was daring the bandits to attack them. "They're not an official branch of the Bern military or part of any militia there. The emperor picks them personally for deeds of great valor and strength. They're not as powerful as the infamous Black Fang, mind you, but they're strong enough to keep the borderlands clear of bandits. If those following us try to enter Bern, the Rangers will catch wind of it eventually, track them down, and take them out."

"So… we're using Bern without them knowing it?" Lyn asked. "That's not a very honest thing to do."

"Most certainly not, milady," Sain said. "However, it would be worse to lead the bandits through farmland and the unprotected villages of Lycia, would it not? Not to mention Lord Ludgren won't be expecting us to cut through Bern. He won't know where we'll come from, which should allow us to sneak past his defenses."

"You two have really thought this out, haven't you?" They all looked behind them at Wil, who yawned and flashed them a grin as he walked into the clearing. He stretched one of his arms over and behind his head before switching to the other. "I really didn't think you had it in you."

"Oh my dear Wil," Sain said, feigning distraught pain. "You wound me. Have you no faith in the intellect of the great knights of Caelin?"

"He's talking about you, Sain," Kent said. He lightly knocked Sain upside the head with a balled up fist. "If you didn't goof around so much, people would take you more seriously."

Sain grinned and rubbed the back of his head. "Alas, if I were as serious as you, dear Kent, we'd all die of boredom before ever being captured by Lord Ludgren."

"I am no-" Kent stopped his retort when Lyn, Wil, and the now awake Florina burst into laughter. Dorcas was failing miserably at hiding his grin. And Huey seemed to be laughing, though it was only his eyes that shone with mirth.

Sain spread out his arms and gestured to the others. "Kent," he said, "it's a miracle. You've made them laugh." The last thing Sain saw that morning was a plate of half polished, orange armor flying at breakneck speeds toward his head.

"Oh look, an exit!" exclaimed the excitable girl. Her twin pigtails of pink hair bobbed quickly as she ran to the exit of the cave. "I think I found a way out. I told you not to fear, for I have the divine sense of direction." She spun around and thrust her staff at the valley below the cave opening. Her white clerical robes floating in the air for a moment before settling back down again.

"Serra," gasped the mage trailing behind her. He paused a moment to lean against the wall and catch his breath. "I thought you said you-gasp-knew the correct path. Instead you lead us-gulp-into the den of a bear and-gasp-then disappear after waking it up. I barely escaped with my life and I find you here, wandering around as if nothing was wrong."

"What's your point, Erk?" Serra asked curiously. She cocked her head to the side. "What are you trying to say?"

Erk's eyes bulged. "Wha- I- Ugh! I swear you are NOT the woman I agreed to escort!"

"What?" Serra frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Erk ignored her and started pacing back and forth. "I heard there was someone who needed an escort. A frail Lycian priestess who needed help getting to Ostia-"

"Yes," Serra said, nodding matter-of-factly. "That's me. I am that priestess."

"Frail! You!" Erk rounded on Serra and leaned forward, jabbing a finger at her. "Serra, you have no need of any escort to protect you. Even the most hardened criminal would flee in terror after five minutes in your company."

Serra regarded Erk carefully for a few moments before she gradually pushed him away, muttering, "Have you ever heard of personal space?"

Erk sighed and turned around. "I'll gladly return your cursed money. Now, will you please go on to Ostia alone?"

"No!" Erk cringed at the squealed exclamation. "You are MY escort, Erk! MINE!" Erk turned and tried to pour as much acid into his glare as he could. Serra ignored this and continued. "You're so clean and tidy too… A noblewoman such as myself can't be seen without proper escort."

Erk groaned into the hand he covered his face with. Why did fate have to take a dump on him? What did he do to deserve her?

"You're personality's nothing special," Serra said as she continued to size him up. "But at least you're not bad to look at."

"Gee," Erk said, each word drenched with sarcasm, "what a surprisingly good description…"

"Oh," Serra said with a sickeningly sweet smile. "It's nothing."

"Must I take you all the way to Ostia?" Erk trudged past Serra and out of the cave. She quickly skipped past him along the path that entered into a wooded area. "I only hope my sanity makes it out in one piece."

"What are you mumbling about?" Serra shouted back from ahead on the path. "You're so gloomy!" Serra's head turned to the side suddenly. "Hm? Something's happening over there," she said, pointing off the path with her stave. "Let's go look!"

Without waiting for any kind of response from him, she bound away, almost gleefully, into the underbrush of the wood. Erk rolled his eyes and grunted as he left the path to follow her. He had to navigate thickets of brambles and imposing fat conifer trees with branches bent low to the ground.

"Of course," Erk mused to himself, "the first opportunity to get involved in trouble, and she jumps right in. No amount of money is worth this-ugh!"

"Shhh!" Serra shushed right into his face. She'd pulled him down to a hiding place beneath a bush. Just beyond the roots was the end of the forest where the valley opened up into a wide open plain. A couple houses were visible here and there in the distance, but what attracted the most attention was the group of bandits ganging up on another group of what looked like mercenaries.

"Wow!" Serra breathed. Then she sprung back up and pointed excitedly. "A fight! A fight! Look Erk! A fight! And there are bandits! And they're fighting… a young girl?" Serra paused for a moment. "Wait… a young girl? What kind of bandits are these anyway?"

"Fool!" Erk snapped, "Keep your voice down! And get back into cover before they see you and decide you're a target!"

"Too late!" Serra sing-songed as one of the bandits tore away from the main group and headed in their direction.

"Hurry get back down, maybe they haven't seen us yet-"

"You two!" The bandits shouted. "Who are you? Are you in league with that she-devil?"

Serra quickly walked out of the bushes, strode up to the bandit, and bonked him in the head with her stave. "Who do you think you are? Ganging up on a girl? What kind of honor is that? Have you no shame?"

"Serra!" Erk shouted, jumping from the bushes and rushing forward. "This is so wrong…"

"Whaa!" The bandit covered his head to protected against the repeated bonks to the head before he swung outward with his axe. The flat of the blade knocked Serra back and onto the ground. When she looked back up again, the bandit was standing over her, hefting his axe high above his head. "I'll take care of you with one swift stroke!"


The bandit was suddenly blasted backwards by a ball of fire almost as large as he was. His large form landed on the ground with a loud thud, but he was quickly moving to get back onto his feet. Erk ran up to Serra and attempted to puller to her feet.

Attempted, because she practically scrambled up and onto his back, all the while screeching, "Eeeeeeek! Eeeeeeek! Eeeeeeek! Erk! Help! Help me!" By the time he got her back onto the ground, read: threw her to the ground, the bandit had already gotten back to his feet. He was shaking his head, mumbling about how loud she was when she shouted, "Erk! Behind you!"

He spun out of the way at the last second, barely missing having his arm chopped off. Instead he received along gash stretching from his shoulder to just above his wrist. With a quick dash backwards, Erk put some distance between himself and the bandit. "So you think you can take me on?" he muttered under his breath. The bandit grunted and started advancing again. "Well then show me what you got!"

With the rush that always came with the summoning of magic from the ether, Erk traced the incantation for the fire spell into the air. It was the most basic of all spells, one any mage worth his salt could cast from memory. Few at his level of mastery, however, were capable of summoning such a large amount of Mana to fuel the spell.

He smirked triumphantly as the summoning circle started glowing around his feet. The Mana burst forth and an especially dense fireball formed above his head. With a flick of his wrist he directed it at the bandit. While the bandit could see it coming, he couldn't dodge it, and the fireball exploded on impact, the sudden outburst of Mana and fire engulfing the man, burning him to death.

A short distance away, hidden by a grove of trees, Lloyd stirred, reacting to the high amount of Mana that had just been used nearby. Although he didn't wake up, the familiar whoosh of energy made him moan and move slightly, just enough to catch Lyn's attention from where she stood, locked in battle with one of the bandits.

The vile group of men had ambushed them just a day after they'd emerged from the Bern Mountains. Kent had thought that they made it through to Lycia safely, but then the bandits appeared. And to make matters worse, it had looked like they had plenty of time to dig themselves in. It didn't take long nor many words for the attack to start. Florina had taken to the sky but the bandits had several archers with them so she had limited use. There were many trees and short hills around the valley, so Wil didn't have clear shots more than one hundred yards. Kent and Sain were doing well, flanking the bandits that approached, but there were too many to stop all of them. That left Lyn and Dorcas to pick up the slack and to guard Lloyd's unconscious body. While Dorcas engaged two axe wielding bandits a distance away, Lyn had been standing further back, closer to Lloyd incase the bandits discovered him and tried to use him as a hostage.

That's when she was jumped. This bandit managed to break past Kent and Sain, ignored the arrow that Wil sunk into his shoulder like it was an annoying insect, and charged right up to Lyn, axe swinging.

She had little time to think about how he got so close, and really wasn't all that surprised that he had, as she dodged the first blow by merely stepping to the side. True, the impact of the blow into the earth made her jump a few inches from the ground, but she still had her footing, and she didn't intend to give this meat-wall of a man a second chance at attacking.

She took two long, quick steps forward, unsheathing her swords a she moved and spun around, using the her body as a fulcrum to power her blow. The end result was a long, gaping slice through the bandit's midsection out of which sprayed a fountain of blood, putting a red mist into the air.

But the man wasn't dead yet. He roared and heaved, pulling the axe from the earth and forcing more of his life fluid from his side. He completely ignored the wound and swung at Lyn again. That was when she heard Lloyd.

The distraction cost her, her mind going blank when the flat of the ax whipped into her gut and sent her flying into the bushes. She landed rough and slid for a few seconds, sending up dust. When she opened her eyes she saw Lloyd next to her. It seemed the bandit had tossed her right over to him.

"Lloyd?" she croaked, not really expecting an answer. She knew he had over a day left before he said he would wake up, but she hoped that perhaps he'd sense she was in danger, like all those other times, and save her. But what happened instead was she pushed herself up with a grunt and stabbed the tip of the Mani Katti into the earth to help stay standing. Her stomach muscles ached and she was having a hard time breathing since the blow had knocked her breath away, but otherwise she was fine.

"Lyn!" she heard someone screech. But she paid it no mind as she focused to block out the pain and finish off this seething mass of bandit.

The bandit swung his axe, chopping through two solid trees. Lyn ducked, groaning loudly as her muscles cramped and the axe blade whooshed past her head, just missing her ponytail. Reacting on instinct, she pushed up with her legs and swung the Mani Katti upwards, slicing up through the bandit from the side of his leg to the center of his chest where the blade stopped moving.

Her strength sapped, she fell back wards onto the ground next to Lloyd. She watched as the bandit swung his axe over his head to strike, then look down at the bloody hole that the sword standing out from his chest had made. Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell backwards, landing on the ground with a dull thump.

Lyn groaned and released a deep sigh. This was turning out to be a lot harder than she thought it would be. Where did all these vile men come from? A groan from beside her caught her interest. She glanced at Lloyd and then stared in shock as he yawned and his eyes then slowly began to open. Before she had a chance to linger on the miracle she felt she was bearing witness to, another bandit appeared, and the sight of his comrade impaled by the Mani Katti enraged him to the point that he charged blindly forward.

Erk grinned once the bandit had finished burning, but winced and clung to his arm as the wound pulsed painfully. Serra raised her staff above the bleeding injury. "Heal." She stated simply, smiling when the spell healed the wound on the arm. "There. All better. Now, let's go hel-"

"Oh, look Erk, that girl and her companion are under attack!" Serra noticed the writhing brunet male on the ground instantly and began tugging on Erk's arm. "I order you to go help her!" Before Erk could object, the pink haired cleric had already bounded towards Lyn and Lloyd.

"Troublesome ..." Erk sighed as he ran after his charge. He watched, somewhat amazed, as Lyn leaped to her feet, grabbed and pulled the sword from the chest of the downed bandit, and engaged the new one attacking them.

He readied a spell to fire at the man's back, which would at least distract him long enough for the girl to finish him, but he needn't have bothered. Lyn parried the first blow of the axe wielding bandit, with a haphazard counter blow he noted, and then leaped forward and stabbed the man straight into the neck.

He had to admit, even though she was clearly exhausted, she went straight for the man's weak spot and still had enough strength to deliver a killing blow. Those corded neck muscles of the bandit weren't made of rice paper, after all. He stopped his mental chanting and jogged over to where Serra and Lyn were.

"Hello there," Serra said. "Allow me to be of assistance. I am a cleric. Let my healing powers wash over you and cleanse your wounds." Serra muttered her incantation and waved her wand around in front of Lyn. The gem on the end of the staff lit up and Lyn was bathed in a green-white light. When all was done, Lyn looked better than before. Refreshed even.

"Th-thank you," Lyn said. "I didn't expect to find a cleric all the way out here. But we will have time for pleasantries after these bandits are taken care of. Please, can you do something for my friend here? He's not well and needs help."

"Of course. I'm Serra the Great after all. Allow me to work my magic and he'll be good as new. Better even. Erk! Guard me while I work." Serra then knelt next to Lloyd, who was gazing about drunkenly and mumbling to himself. She scanned him over and giggled. "Wow, so handsome," Serra said as she lifted her staff and began her chant.

"Excuse me?" Lyn said, taking a step forward. Erk grabbed her by the arm to stop her.

"I'm sorry about my companion, miss. She can be abhorrently rude sometimes." Erk apologized, bowing to Lyn.

"I am not rude, Erk!" Serra objected through her incantation. She lifted Lloyd's head so that it settled in her lap. Holding her staff so that it rested above Lloyd's head, the cleric cast her Heal spell again. It had little effect on the hammered man. "Hmm, perhaps something a bit stronger… he must have drunk quite a bit to get this bad."

"But he wasn't…" Lyn started, but then she paused and shook her head. "No. I'm not exactly sure what he did. Can you help him?"

Serra nodded, mostly her herself, and said, "Yes, I can help this dashing man. Who better than such a damsel of beauty like myself to do so?" She then set to casting her spell again.

Erk moaned into his hands. "I really do apologize. She's… insufferable." Pointing to himself and then to Serra who was fawning over Lloyd's face, he said, "My name is Erk and that she-devil is Lady Serra of Ostia."

Lloyd's eyes flickered in response to the Mana being cast on his body. "He's mostly conscious, but whatever he was drinking did quite a number on him." Serra stated after the glow diminished, her purple eyes looking the unconscious man over. "He's not hurt physically, though."

"… Ma … Mana …" Lloyd's voice came out as a mumble, his eyes flickering again. "Where … flickering … Uhnnngggg …." Groaning, the brunet raised a hand to his forehead, his eyes slowly opening to reveal their wine red depths. "Where … where am I? This isn't the fortress we were all in last …" Feeling cloth beneath his head, Lloyd blinked again, his eyesight struggling to focus. When it finally settled to show him Serra, Erk, and Lyn watching him, he blinked once more before letting out a tired sigh. "Lyn, I warned you that I would be unconscious for three days before I cast the spell …" He began, only to cut off in a yelp as Lyn pulled him into a tight hug.

"You jerk, you scared me half to death!" Lyn couldn't have felt more relieved if she had tried. Yes, even with the warning from Lloyd that he would be out cold for so long, it had still scared her. "Next time you do that sort of stunt, give me fair warning so I don't have a heart attack when you pass out!"

"I … I did warn you …" Lloyd sighed in defeat, returning the hug Lyn was giving him until it hurt to breathe. "Lungs … can't … get … .air!" Realizing that she was inadvertently crushing her tactician and mentor, Lyn hastily let Lloyd go and sat up, a blush gracing her cheeks for the briefest of moments as Lloyd brushed himself off and stood, looking around. "Where are we?"

"I'm sure you've noticed the bandits by now, so I can skip telling you that we're in trouble," Lyn said. She was about to continue when Lloyd grimaced and gasped a deep lungful of air. "Lloyd! What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Lloyd said as he shook his head and forced himself to stand back up straight. "I… just don't think I can remain awake for much longer. Whatever spell that was… who cast it anyway? I wasn't aware we had any spell casters in the group?"

"That would be me, my Mr. Perfect Knight!" Serra announced loudly. Stars shined brightly in her eyes as she watched Lloyd unflinchingly with a wholly unsettling grin stuck on her face.

Lloyd's expression slowly changed from one of shock to the guarded look one gives to a crazy person who has blood all over them and is holding an axe behind their back. Erk moaned into his hands. He quickly reached out and grabbed Serra's shoulder.

"Would you-"

Erk never saw the staff coming until his nose had burst into an explosion of blood. Serra continued to bludgeon Erk's face with her staff until it was completely crimson. Any attempted to defend himself was swatted away by the attacking Heal Staff.

Once Serra was satisfied with her work, she held the staff out in front of Erk's face. Erk by this time was clearly unconscious. Through the blood that now covered the staff, Lloyd saw a green glow that he recognized as a First-Aid spell. The green glow spread over Erk's face as Serra said, "Heal."

Once the green Mana was gone, Erk blinked a couple of times and once he'd gotten his faculties back, pushed Serra away and scrambled backwards. In his haste to put distance between himself and the insane healer, his foot caught his cape and he fell to the ground. Serra crossed her arms and grinned cheekily down at Erk, who was now scowling most fowl at her.

"See, I'm a Priestess of Elimine.," she said and turned to Lloyd and Lyn, who both stared with wide eyed shock at what had just happened in front of them. Though, Lloyd had to admit, it reminded him of Raine in a disturbing way. "And the gentleman, who volunteered to be my assistant, is actually my bodyguard escorting this wonderful and vulnerable priestess to Ostia."

"Ostia… is in the other direction," Lyn said, pointing back at the cave that the two had come from.

Kent and Sain rode up the four, Dorcas and Wil not far behind them. Most of the bandits in the field were gone, their bodies sometimes visible in the tall grass that covered the valley floor. When they were close enough Kent said, "Sir Lloyd is awake and it would appear we have acquired two guests. Our fortunes appear to be turning for the better."

"Oh my, but what beauty I behold," Sain began. Kent didn't get a chance to smack his partner before Sain urged Romeo toward Serra. "Pray tell, fair maiden, what your name might be?"

"Oh my," Serra said as she swooned. Erk rolled his eyes and stood up from where he'd falling. He kept the distance between him and Serra and brushed the dirt and leaves from his robes. "Two fair knights in one place… Though you cannot compare to my Mr. Perfect Knight."

Sain grinned roguishly. "Tell me who this perfect knight is, and I shall best him, earning your heart and glory."

Serra sanguinely zoomed over to Lloyd, attached herself to his arm, and started rubbing her head on his shoulder. After a moment or two of this, Lloyd pried her off of him with a surprisingly strong grip. Sain watched all of this with a falling expression until he glumly turned Romeo around and sulked away.

"Why didn't I ever think of that," Kent mused. Lyn, who was standing behind Lloyd, had gone from her normal complexion to a very red complexion as Serra continued to try and latch onto Lloyd while he continued to push her away. Before she could make another attempt she inserted herself between the two and unleashed a glare at Serra.

"Leave Lloyd alone," she said. "I'm thankful for all that you've done, but we don't even know you. And besides that, Lloyd's not in the best shape right now, if you haven't noticed."

"Oh?" Serra looked Lloyd up and down again and said, "I'll just heal him again then."

"No, we'll be fine without your help," Lyn said.

"How many more bandits are left," Lloyd asked Kent. Wil and Dorcas walked up next to the two and listened in. Meanwhile, Serra and Lyn continued to argue.

"Oh, but how can you be fine if one of you is injured," Serra argued. "You should let me heal him so he'll be okay."

"Maybe twenty more men, further down the valley," Kent said. "There appears to be a small village of sorts that they've holed up in."

"And I just told you we would be fine without your help," Lyn bit out. "We. Don't. Need. Your. Help."

"Florina is up in the sky right now scouting the area ahead out," Wil said. "She said that during the battle here, she didn't see any archers. There's also a lake to the south of here next the village on the other side of this forest."

"Now you're being foolish," Serra said. "Why would you not want to go into battle in tip top condition? I'm sure my Mr. Perfect Knight would want to be in top fighting form before going into battle."

"I don't think I'm going to be of much help in this battle," Lloyd said. He wobbled slightly but remained on his feet. "I still haven't recharged enough of my Mana to stay awake for much longer. Still, the village concerns me. They could have dug in or taken hostages, which will require a lot of skill to negotiate safely."

"He's not yourMr. Perfect Knight!"

"Yes," said Sain. He rode up to the group of men and halted Romeo. "We wouldn't want a repeat of the last hostage situation, now would we?" Everyone but Erk, who'd edged away from the two arguing women to be included in the more civil conversation, suddenly became tense and distraught at the same time. He arched an eyebrow and let the topic die without asking, assuming that the last hostage situation they'd all been involved with had ended badly.

"Oh, but he's so handsome and gallant! A thousand beautiful maidens had their hearts broken before me, all denied by his stoic grace. But I shall not be denied for he's smitten with the most beautiful Priestess from Ostia."

"Wil filled me in on what happened," Dorcas said, "and I think that this situation might be better. I recalled seeing a group of villagers fleeing as we entered the valley. I'm thinking that they all escaped in time and they are hiding safely."

"Would you get over yourself and leave Lloyd alone! He's not yours to do with as you please. It's not like you were even in his life first. What makes you think you can come up to him and suddenly become so important?"

"Based on what you've told me," Lloyd said. He paused, blinked slowly, and grabbed onto Dorcas' strong arm. Wil went to his other side and helped hold him up. "I don't… have much time left. Wil, you and Dorcas go through the forest while Kent and Sain head around the woods through the plains. Catch the bandits… between the… two sides and take them out that… way…"

"Oh my…. Are you? You like him too, don't you?" Serra watched as Lyn's flush face grew brighter red. Lyn took a step back as Serra grinned maliciously. "You do like him!"

"No… it's not like that!" Lyn said quickly. "He's my master. I'm his student! I'm honor bound to defend him… especially from the likes of people such as you!"

"Oh, I see how it is," Serra said, ignoring Lyn's insult. "You became his student and fell in love? How quaint!" Serra began laughing.

"No!" Lyn shouted. "You're wrong!"

"Oh, don't worry," Serra said. "I won't take him from you right away. But rest assured, I shall win his heart in the end, my rival in love!"

"Uh, ladies," Erk said.

"What?" Both shouted in unison and turned their heads toward the group of men. As soon as they saw that Lloyd was unconscious again, they ran forward. Lyn moved up to Lloyd as Wil and Dorcas laid him onto the ground. She smacked him on his face a couple times, but he was out cold. Serra raised her staff, but Lyn grabbed it and pushed it away.

"No," Lyn said. "He told us that we should wait three days, and there's only one left. You already said there's nothing wrong with him physically, so we will wait this time. Besides, if you heal him again, he'll only fall back unconscious before too long and we won't be able to focus on battle."

Serra sighed. "If you say so. Erk, I order you to stand guard over this specimen of perfect manliness. The rest of us will go and finish off these bandits."

"What?" Erk shouted. "How did I get involved in all this?"

"I would feel a lot better if someone would stay with Lloyd," Lyn said. "I'd like to personally make sure these bastards haven't hurt anyone in that village. And also, I can't believe that they're just following me on their honor, or lack of it."

"We've already proved more than they seem able to handle," Sain said, nodding as he said so.

"Something must be driving them at us," Wil mused. "I wonder what that might be? I've never seen bandits in these parts riled up so much as to chase one person all the way through Bern."

"Aaaah! Huey!"

All eyes turned to the sky only for everyone to immediately turn and bolt as Huey came zooming by. Florina was nearly thrown as the winged horse landed roughly with a sideways jerk and immediately started trotting forward. He used his wings to push him faster until he was next to Lloyd when he stopped and began sniffing the brown hair on top of his head.

"Huey, you're very bad! I told you Lloyd's not awake yet!"

The white Pegasi snorted, ruffling Lloyd's hair slightly. Huey, deciding that Lloyd was indeed not awake, turned to the side and started munching on some greens growing right next to his head. Florina mumbled something under her breath as she scrambled to dismount and started tending to one of several long red streaks along Huey's flanks.

"I'm sorry Lyn," Florina said as the others, save Kent and Sain, got back to their feet and moved closer. Kent and Sain instead backed their mounts away to give Huey a bit more room. "I couldn't stay up in the air any longer. There were too many archers for me to get any closer than flying over the middle of that lake on the other side of the forest and they were firing arrows and rocks and exploding bombs and-"

Florina stiffened when Lyn placed her hand on her shoulder. Her shaking hands hovered over one of the pulsing wounds on her mount's side. When she looked over her shoulder, she saw Lyn wasn't disappointed.

"You don't think I did the wrong thing do you?" she asked. Abandoning your mission was tantamount to failure in Illia. "I… I failed. I didn't finish scouting the area out. I-"

"I'm just happy that you're safe, Florina," Lyn said. She pulled Florina into a hug and felt the tension release from her friend's body. "I'd rather have you safe than lose you to some stupid arrow. Since Huey's been injured, you should stay here and care for him. And watch after Lloyd. All the bandits in this area have been taken care of so you shouldn't need to worry about being ambushed, but be careful anyway. We're going to go and head out to the village and get the rest of them. Okay?"

Florina smiled and nodded. She turned away from Lyn and started working on Huey again. Huey snorted, fluffed his wings slightly and swished his tail as he continued to munch on the grass.

Lyn turned at the same time as Florina and started walking away from the encampment. Everyone else fell in line, Sain taking up the rear as he flirted one last time with Florina before catching up.

"What did Lloyd say?" Lyn asked.
"He suggested a diversionary force should take the long route to the village through the valley around the forest, picking off any stragglers we missed on the way," Kent said. "Meanwhile, a small strike force should sneak through the forest and attack the village from the other side at about the same time as the diversionary force."

"Any plan that my Perfect Knight came up with is a Perfect Plan," Serra said. "So of course we shall execute it. It is too bad he is not awake now to tell me which force I should join…" Erk quickly grabbed Serra's arm and dragged her to the back of the group.

"Sain and Kent should definitely go on the diversionary force," Lyn said. "Dorcas, you should go as well. Anyone who doesn't pay attention to someone like you bearing down on them with an axe is insane."

"As your body guard I highly recommend not doing this," Erk said quietly.

"It would be unladylike to leave these helpless commoners in such a position, I simply cannot leave now," Serra said. "Erk, I order you to help too."

"Lady Serra, Mr. Erk," Lyn said. "Are you with us, or are you staying here. You're not part of our group so I can't really tell you where you should go."

Serra nodded with a smile, cheerfully hoisting her Heal staff into the air. "I'll be going with you, since I'm awfully delicate. A lady such as myself has no business in direct combat anyway."

Lyn nodded. "Thank you for your assistance," she said, "your healing powers will certainly be useful." Then Lyn turned to Erk. "And what about you, Mr. Erk? What will you do?"

Serra laughed lightly. "It's his job to make sure I'm safe, so of course he'll help as well."

Erk rolled his eyes and grudgingly nodded. "Despite how much I wish it were not, I am in her employ, so I have no choice at this point. Large fireballs flying at you tend to catch a lot of attention, so I'll be of more use with the diversionary force."

Lyn bowed. "Thank you for your assistance."

REKKA OMAKE! Lloyd is normal, Dorcas is bold, Lyn is italic, and Wil is underlined.

"A little much …"

So, what all did I miss while I was gone?
Well, you've met Dorcas, right?
That he has.
Mm-hm. Anything happen besides some bandit problems?
Well, we've finally come up with something to call the group.
The group needs a name?
That was going to be my next question. *facepalm* Dare I ask what it is we're now called?
Lyndis' Legions.
Oh Martel … *exasperated*
Don't look at me, I was gone when they agreed on it. *facepalm*
That sounds more like the name of a mercenary group than anything …

Li: So sorry that this took so long to get out! I blame college for eating MOST of my soul. What little of my soul it didn't eat got absorbed by Persona. … Both 3 (FES) AND 4 …

Anyway, review please!