FAMILIAR OF ZERO

The ground around Francisco shattered and caved in on itself. A reverse tidal wave of sorts, as the earth imprinted a large circle into itself, sending the guards flying to different sections of it. The blast traveled many meters away from the epicenter, several students nearly being sucked into the earth as they ran for their lives away from the massive cave-in. Moments seemed like hours as an actual tidal wave of dust kicked itself upwards, careening its way towards all sides.

Saito's first reaction was to leap in front of Louise to protect her from the dust and force of the blast. The wind created by the powerful magic sent him and Louise nearly a meter away from their last position, the rest were left to fend for themselves.

Through the darkness of dust, they heard Francisco taunt them.

"This could have gone so much quieter! No one would have had to have been hurt, not a single one of your students would have been forced into this! You brought this on yourself, Osmond! You and the rest of your pitiful school will suffer for your insolence! God commands it!"

"We can't fight like this!" Guiche yelled, "Not even I can see through this dust!"

"Let me take care of it," a very familiar voice responded from the darkness. From the corners of the world, everyone felt the air pick up. At first it was a gentle breeze that caused the dust to dance, it picked up some more, sending skirts and grass swaying frantically. Then, a hurricane of sorts descended on them, whipping the dust and grime across their skins and clothes. Women screamed and men grunted as the force of the wind increased, nearly lifting them off of their feet.

All of a sudden, it was quiet. The dust was gone, and Osmond stood in the caved in Earth that Francisco had created.

The hole was quite large, it had reached the stairs of the school and had swallowed up a small section of the wall that guarded the school from the outside. Nearly two dozen students found themselves caught at the very reaches of the sinkhole, most of them were already making their way upwards the large slope, some using magic to help themselves and others reach the top. But they were slow.

Closer to the epicenter, Romalian guards were pulling themselves from the dirt, liters of it pouring off of their armor. They already had their swords drawn and ready to fight.

"What do you hope to accomplish with this Montgomery?" Osmond asked, "You are terribly outnumbered. You know what level I am, and both of my mages are triangle-class. Then if you'll take into account your own 'guards' if I can call them that, they will never let you leave here. Stop this foolishness right-!"

One of the guards had latched onto Osmond's arm, his grip tightening on the frail old man. Osmond's eyes widened in shock, "Have you lost your mind?!"

"I-I am sorry Headmaster! I…cannot control my body!"

"You cannot-? Francisco!"

"Funny thing, Osmond-sensei…" the old man grinned wider, "When earth becomes wet, it turns into mud. Mud, of course, cakes when it comes into contact with most surfaces. It is quite simple for a square-level wizard to be able to moisten, then immediately suck the moisture out of the earth. And when that happens to men clad in armor that weighs a great deal…" he held his hands out wide, and the foray of guards had begun to twitch and yell curses at Francisco, "You have a Manikin Golem."

The guard who held onto Osmond slipped his free hand into his robe, and tearing some clothes, pulled out the vial that contained Tiffania's blood. It was undamaged and glistened in the light.

Francisco held up his hand and spread his palm wide open, with a quick pitch the guard threw the vial into Francisco's hand, landing seamlessly into his palm. He rubbed the vial, caressing it like a newborn child, "You…you are the final piece of the puzzle…My Lord…I am coming for You."

He slipped the vial into his robe, and with his other hand reached down to grab the decorated staff that had just been thrown onto his perch in the middle of the giant sinkhole. With a wave of his hands, he commanded his guards, "Golems! Hear my command! The elf, the tiny long-haired sorceress and her human familiar are not to be harmed! The rest…" he twirled his large staff in his hands, "…are expendable!"

All of the guards yelled out in panic, "NO!" But they were powerless, their armor, their bodies belonged to someone else now.

Four guards turned in opposite directions and rushed towards the students who were pulling themselves out of the crater, who screamed in panic as they saw the sword wielding men charge them. Two others charged towards the group that stood high on the stairs, while one held Osmond tightly still.

"Don't you dare harm the children!" Chevreuse yelled as she chased two of the guards who ran after the children. She did not see Francisco weaving a spell.

"Sleep forever in thy restful solitude. The life in which you are granted is at an end. The earth's tomb…" his glare shot towards Chevreuse, "…will forever seal your body in blissful slumber."

"Chevreuse!" Osmond shouted as he struggled with the guard, but it was too late. One step more and she found the earth crumble around her. The once soft, mounded dirt had been transformed into pillars of stone and marble that stretched outwards of five meters. As she felt herself fall forward, the pillars of stone shot upwards and together, slamming in a deafening roar.

Students everyone screamed out her name, caring little about their own safety as the guards closed in on them. Francisco looked pleased with himself.

"I told you…you should have let things be Osmond."

With a quick apology, Osmond gripped his staff with his other hand and whipped it around, catching the guard in the chin and sending him to the ground. He had worse things to worry about than his teacher, the guards were upon his students.

One fallen first-year found himself physically too weak to climb the steep bank, and one guard had set his gaze on him. He turned around just in time to see the guard raise his razor sharp sword, intending to bring it down on him. Too afraid to face his own mortality, he screamed and turned away.

A cold blast of air and water washed over face, and he barely peeked out of the corner of her eye. The guard had been blasted with a wave of frozen ice that sent him barreling away from the rest of the students. With the realization that he was no longer in harm, he turned around completely. Tabitha had descended upon the guards, her staff raised in defense of her and the other students. The other guard that had charged that section of the crater found himself waste deep in frozen ice, and she continued to chant a spell that spread the ice over the body and armor of the other guard.

On the other side of the crater, the two guards never made it to the children. Halfway towards them, their feet stepped into a pit of mud that was deeper than their waist. Montmorency continued to pour gallons of water over the area, making it a muddy mess, while Guiche, the partners in crime, hardened the earth around them to seal them in for good. Working in tandem, they had successfully trapped the guards.

Two guards remained standing as they charged for the group of students on the stairs, and with a powerful leap had crested over the bank of the steep cliff and came descended on Saito, Louise, Tiffania and Beatrice. From the bottom of the crater, Colbert raised his staff to the guards and began to chant a spell of his own.

"Ah ah ah…" Francisco scolded him. With a tap of his staff to the pillar of earth, the crater around him began to rumble violently. Beneath Colbert's feet, the earth rose just enough to where it interrupted his spell, then in one massive upheaval, a large chunk of earth launched into the air. Around the crater, three other large, cylindrical sections of earth began to lift into the air as well.

The guards landed in front of the group, and immediately set upon them with their swords at the ready. Through their cries, the others could hear them apologize for their actions, unable to control their armor. One guard dodged past one of Saito's swings, and set upon Beatrice, who clung to Tiffania. She screamed as the guard readied his attack.

All it took was one swift kick and Saito sent the guard skidding across the ground. After his first attack missed he twirled around on his foot and flung himself at the guard, catching him in the chest with one of his legs. The kick was well placed and extremely hard, which unfortunately caused Saito to fall onto his other knee. He cursed his unusually frail body, and out of the corner of his eye saw the other guard raise his sword at him. Whether or not the golem was ignoring Francisco's orders or it had something devious planned, Saito did not know. But it did not matter either way.

"EXPLOSION!"

An ear shattering boom rocked Saito's head, as the guard mysteriously disappeared in a large cloud of smoke. It cleared almost immediately, at the guard was left a twitching mess on the ground in front of Saito. Only one person was reckless enough to use a spell like that.

"Saito!" Louise yelled as she ran up to him, "Are you all right?!"

He nodded, "I'm fine, but don't you think that was bit much?"

That verbal blow nearly knocked her back, pupils shrinking in size, "A bit mu-you ungrateful hound! I just saved your life!"

"You could have really hurt him! They can't control their actions you know that!"

"Why I-But you-How dare-!" Louise, having been reduced to a bumbling mess, twitched violently.

"Just stay here and don't get in trouble! I'll make sure none of these guards-!"

"EXPLOSION!"

Never knowing when to keep his mouth shut, he had accidentally brought the wrath of his master upon him, as the magic caused an indentation of himself to be buried in the ground. Poor Beatrice and Tiffania, who were too close to Saito at the time, were accidentally caught in the blast, their hair blown backwards by the explosion. They just laughed nervously.

The antics quickly disappeared as the guard raised himself up, rubbing his head.

"Hey…" he said, "I can move again!"

Louise and Saito looked at each other, and their minds connected, nodding. The other guard, who was just now easily pushing himself to his feet, would soon be free from Francisco's control. Saito sprinted towards him, and using Derflinger as balance, vaulted over the man and grasped his arm on the other side. Another swing of his arms, and Saito had him in a Full Nelson.

"Now Louise!" Saito yelled.

Magic curled into the tip of her wand, her lips whispered the spell she was most familiar with. When her magic had reached its peak, she pointed the wand at the guard, and yelled, "DISPEL!"

A bright beam of light encompassed Saito and the guard, though this time there was no explosion. As the light died down, Saito released his grip on the man, who fell to his knees.

"Th…Thank you…" the guard mumbled, "Something awful could have happened, thank you."

Saito nodded, and then turned his attention to Francisco and the remaining guards.

Four humongous chunks of earth circled Francisco and the thin perch he conducted the battle from. The pillar itself had turned into a brilliant white slab of rock, thicker and harder than any material before. The chunks of earth proved a viable shield, protecting him from the torrents of fire casted by Colbert and Kirche, and the powerful blasts of wind by Osmond. Offensively, Francisco had started to use new tricks. Pillars that were not being used to shield his body would break off into sections and be launched, either in size or quantity, at Osmond and the others. Although they could not dodge them, they had resorted to using their respective magic to stave off the attacks, either blowing them to the wayside or melting them before they had a chance to touch them. Francisco would also cause large eruptions of earth, a snaking trail of moving earth that chased one person of the other. Sometimes the earth crumbled in further, sometimes it created a pillar that threatened to knock them away or throw them upwards.

But there attacks were not as specific as the chunks of earth he lobbed and threw at them, they almost seemed to follow a set pattern, and it proved more of a nuisance than an actual method of attack.

"You're stalling Francisco," Osmond commented as he casted another powerful torrent of wind at him. A pillar jumped in front of Francisco and took the brunt of the blast, scattering shards of dirt and rock. With a wave of his hands, Francisco launched those shards towards Osmond, impaling the earth around Osmond with sharp chunks of shrapnel.

"You…have no idea Osmond…"

Francisco looked up to see Saito far in the sky above him, Derflinger poised to strike across his body. He waved his staff in front of him and yelled out.

"Winds of earth and magic! Scatter the shield which protect my body! Send a hailstorm of stone and rock against my enemy, so that they may see the strength with which I possess!"

He slammed his staff into the ground at his feet, and all at once the pillars of earth exploded into tiny fragmented shards of what they once were. Unlike before, when the pillars moved slowly, the shrapnel of earth spun around Francisco like a rampant tornado, nearly too fast for Saito. As he fell closer to Francisco, he sacrificed his powerful swing to break apart a set of rocks. Then another. And another. Three more times he batted away the rocks, chipping them away and preventing his body harm, but that was all he could see, before he felt the left side of his body explode into fits of pain. Fragments of earth and rock tore into his side, forcing his trajectory away from Francisco. The storm of earth even managed to pick up Saito and carry him away, spinning him around Francisco's pillar once until letting go of him, throwing him halfway between a group of observers and the smaller group of Tiffania, Louise, and Beatrice.

Multiple people yelled his name, though only Louise and Tiffania found themselves running towards him. Tabitha, who had taken her eyes off her foes to see in horror, Saito being thrown like a rag doll, heard Kirche call her name out in panic.

Turning around, she saw the guard she had trapped in waist-deep ice having drawn the golden bow he carried at his backside, an arrow already notched into its string. Her mouth fell open, and the guard released the arrow.

In midair, Tabitha witnessed the arrow burst into flames, even upon impact, shatter into tiny bits of stinging ash and charcoal, a far better feeling than if Kirche had not intervened. Landing with her back to Tabitha, she held out her wand at the guard and lit the bow on fire. Though the bow itself did not burn, the string that made it a weapon quickly burned up. Kirche turned around, giving Tabitha a wink. Emotionless Tabitha nodded.

Then the earth around them crumbled, and they found the earth on either side of them had turned into massive pillars of stone and granite.

"Never take your eyes off the enemy," Francisco mocked, and made a fist with his hand. Much like Chevreuse, they found themselves caught in the inescapable grip of Francisco's Montgomery's Stone Tomb, and another deafening roar claimed two more lives.

Or not.

The tomb shattered before it could complete its press, causing waves of dust to scatter around them, clearing to an unharmed Tabitha and Kirche, who were surrounded by a smaller, less architectural shell of earth. They looked around confused, until they saw the cause of their continuing lives.

"Chevreuse-sensei!" They both yelled. The tiny, chubby lady had her wand raised at her students and with a smile, assured their worries.

"Phew!" She sighed, "That's two close calls! I don't think we can afford another one of those."

Tabitha noted the guards, there was no way they would escape, and the one would not be able to use his bow should he be able to get to it. Happy that they could turn their attention to more pressing matters, her and Kirche ran towards Chevreuse and took up a fighting stance near their teacher. All three of the women started casting spells at Francisco.

The hailstorm of rock and earth proved just as an effective shield as the larger sections they were born from, preventing all but the harmless of fire, wind, and water from touching him. But the shield was wearing down, the pieces were becoming fewer and fewer by the second.

A section of earth roared towards the group of three women, and they all dodged out of the way. It slammed into the face of the newly formed cliff. He had managed to cut off everyone, the largest group inside the crater being Tabitha and Kirche, the others were singled out by themselves, though that did not stop them.

On the top of the cliff, students looked on in amazement as the battle continued on in front of them. Too afraid to fight in defense of their teachers for fear of retaliation from the earth mage controlling the battlefield, they found themselves cheering on their teachers and classmates who fought him diligently. Elsewhere, Saito found himself struggling to get onto his knees.

"Saito! Are you alright?!" Louise yelled into his ear. One eye closed to suppress the pain, he looked up at her and smiled.

"Yeah…I'll be fine…" his words did not correspond with his statement, and he found himself unable to pull himself to his feet. He had not realized how hard, or how many times he had been hit.

"Here…let me help you up Saito-san!" Tiffania said as she pushed her head underneath his arm, he grunted as the tall elf helped him onto his feet. He was in a lot more pain than he realized, from the moment he was able to stand on his feet.

Louise was beyond furious; she would end this fight in one blow and embarrass this imposter. Knowing full well the spell needed to end this battle, she waited until Francisco's attention was turned away, then she started to cast Dispel again.

Saito was the first one who saw it, being forced to do nothing else but watch. Francisco, whose mind was so engrossed with the five mages who were currently engaged with him, should never, could never have seen Louise. An evil smile spread across his face as he commanded his element, he should never have seen it coming.

Yet he did. As if someone yelled out to him in warning, his eyes widened in shock and he jerked his head towards Louise, who was only halfway finished with the spell. In an instant he knew that this would spell trouble for him and he made a fist and flung it towards them.

"LOOK OUT!" Saito yelled, and found the strength he had once lost. In one swift motion he grabbed Tiffania by the waist and lifted her to his side. In the next motion, he sprinted full-speed towards Louise, grabbing her by her side, and despite her protests, running along the other edge of the circle. Shards of rock embedded themselves mere centimeters behind Saito as he ran, a woman being held in both arms. Francisco had used a large amount of his shield and weaponry against one person, somehow, Francisco had known that Louise could have ended the battle in a second.

He stopped just in time to see a wave of fire wash over Francisco, and the elderly man yelling in pain. He had used too much of his power, too much of his weaponry. Saito rested on one knee, the women still in his arms, and he found himself panting heavily. Pain had begun to crawl back up the left side of his body.

"Ano…Saito-san…" Tiffania whispered. He looked down at her and saw that she could not look him in the eyes, the tips of her ears red with embarrassment with her hand covering the tiny smile on her face. "Your…hand…"

Raising his eyebrows, he squeezed the object in his hand. It was large, soft and caused Tiffania to tremble a little. He even thought he felt something tiny and hard at the very apex of the squeeze.

"Ah!" He yelled, dropping Tiffania, "I'm so sorry Tiffa! I didn't mean to-!"

"Sai~to~!" The demonic voice came from behind him, apparently she had been present for the whole thing. With the gentlest of touches, he set Louise on her feet and looked up into her eyes.

"Now Louise!" He begged, "Now isn't the time to get angry, we should wait until-gerk!"

Louise had grabbed the hair on his head and pulled upwards, lifting him until he was eye level with her, "After this."

"Yeah…after this…"

"Saito!" Tiffania yelled, "Look!"

Both he and Louise turned their heads towards Francisco. The beautiful robes he wore were now damaged and dirtied. Tiny burn marks covered his face and arms, and the old man panted and wheezed. Only one spell had knocked the wind out of him, and everyone could tell the battle was almost over.

"Francisco!" Osmond called out to him, "We are done here, there is no way you can beat all of us, me, my teachers, and my students have you outnumbered and outmatched. If you surrender now, I would be willing to forgive you for your attacks on me and my school."

Francisco leaned on the dazzling staff, which told everyone around that he no longer cared about God or his religion. Sweat dripped off of his nose and onto the pillar that now began to crack under the loss of his power. Though he was a square-mage, his old age had caught up with him and fatigued quickly set him. That one blow was all that was needed to bring him down to their level. And in his eyes, he knew he could not continue the way he was now.

"No."

Everyone raised their eyebrows curiously and prepared their weapons, for something unexpected. Certainly unexpected, however, he began to speak.

"I…have been a devout follower of the church for many years! I've done things to promote its god's name that no one, not a SINGLE one of you, could or would ever do in your years! I prayed every day! I attended church during all of the holy days, I never missed a single communion since I was ten!" He stood a little straighter, "I…loved…God. I loved the Pope, for he was the one closest to God, and I thought, that with hard work, dedication, and an endless pool of love, I too, would be able to commune with God. All…I ever wanted…was to be close to God. And that man…the one you call the Pope…he…he…after all the years we've known each other…" slamming the staff into the ground, he stood erect and towered over everyone around him, "He chose HIM over all others to replace him! A Cardinal! A God-damned Cardinal over me! The High Inquisitor! The only other person besides the Pope who practiced God's work! That bastard denied me my rightful place next to God!"

Francisco staggered in place, gripping onto his staff to steady himself, "I was heartbroken. I prayed every night for some guidance, for some form of reason, of acceptance. You know what I received?" He raised his head, tears poured out of his eyes like he poured out his heart to them, "Nothing. Not a word from God. Not even a sign or acknowledgment. I…had been abandoned!"

"Francisco…" Beatrice whispered to herself, the only one who felt closest to him, stood back.

"Do you know what that is like? To feel utterly and completely abandoned? I had no one. Nothing. Not even the Pope would acknowledge me anymore. I was left to wither away and die like an old man. Until…until…" he straightened himself out yet again, and the same devious smile washed over his face, "I heard…the TRUE Voice of God."

Students, teachers, and servants alike, all turned to one another, uncertain of the direction this was heading.

"Yes…you heard me. The True God. The One from which all things were born. He told me the Truth. He spoke to me, while I was asleep, while I was awake, with every second that passed, He stood by me, and comforted me. He proved Himself to me on more than one occasion, predicting the future, performing tiny miracles right I front of my eyes. I was left in wonder. But…with His Love, also came the harsh Truth. He too, had been abandoned. Abandoned by the heretics and worthless beasts from old! And the Pope, the true sinner, was merely a pawn to keep His Love from spreading to the world." The High Inquisitor spun the staff in his hands, "And He…chose me to return Him to His rightful glory."

He slipped his hand into his robe and pulled it out, a fist cupped around a hidden item. Leaning on his staff, one hand glided over the other, chubby fingers curling over each other as they fiddled with a strange object.

Colbert was the first one to see what it was, and though he did not say what it was, he raised his staff towards Francisco and launched a spell at him yet again. This time, a quick revolution of earth batted the spear of fire away from Francisco. For some reason, vitality returned to Francisco.

"You were right Osmond…I was stalling you…" he clasped his hands together, "I would have needed tens more Manikin golems to deal with all of you, students and teachers alike. But I was not trying to defeat you all."

Two more spears of fire shot towards him, but again they were reflected with the spinning earth. Tabitha too, noticed the item and launched air spells of her own to send the debris flying, but it was not powerful enough.

"Osmond-sensei!" Colbert yelled, "We have to stop him!"

"I think that much is certain…"

"You don't understand what it is he has!" Osmond raised an eyebrow, he had thought it was the vial of blood from earlier, but the reaction from Colbert, Kirche and the others warned him otherwise.

"It's the item he stole from Josef…" Tabitha said, the slightest hint of disgust in her voice. Looking towards Francisco, Osmond's eyes came upon the hand that he had been fiddling with. On his fat ring finger was a ring with a spherical red jewel, on his smaller pinky finger…

"The Founder's Ring!" Osmond yelled.

Arcs of lightning and electricity curled around him as he used his powers to activate the ring. He had begun to feel rejuvenated, life was being restored to his body, he now had access to the Founder's powers.

"Months of planning! Months of collaborating with the most criminal and disgusting of thieves! I did the world two services! Taking back what is rightfully God's! And eliminating the world of a dangerous and skilled thief!" More spells of fire and air collided with the earthen shield that had gathered more pieces of armor from the surrounding area, "Now…I shall do the world one more service…"

Lighting arced and crackled all around him, yet that was not all. The power of the ring had caused the earth around those in its crater to glow with a brilliant, white light. Most of those standing inside and outside the crater yelled and shifted nervously, unaware of what exactly what was happening, or what they were in. It was Tabitha who figured it out.

"This is not a stage he created to obtain an advantage over us." She said calmly, "This…is a massive rune."

The pillars and crevices of the crater glowed with more intensity. An aerial view would have shown everyone what exactly they were standing in, a perfect circle with lines running through its diameter. Sections of earth had crumbled had crumbled away outside of the circle to form, as Tabitha had noted, a massive rune.

Francisco slammed his hand against the ground, and he began to chant.

"Form the Body
Form the Soul
That which was once living
Now soon be whole!"

"Attack the shield," Osmond yelled as the magic around him intensified, "We must get to him before he finishes the spell!" All around him, his students raised their wands and sent their most powerful spells barreling towards the former Inquisitor. But the earth shield held strong, absorbing more pieces of earth from the untouched ground outside the rune to bolster its defenses.

"A master and servant reborn
Brought forth one again
From the bleakness of dark eternal
The resting place of those long forgotten
The unremembered
The forsaken
The abandoned!"

With his free hand, the High Inquisitor reached into his robe yet again, this time pulling out the vial of blood he drew from Tiffania nearly an hour ago.

Unbeknownst to those on the ground and to Francisco himself, a tiny butterfly gently flew through the large, unprotected eye of the tornado that circled Francisco, landing gracefully on his shoulder with a tiny twitch.

"A part of this world once more!
Contained in another's vessel!"

Francisco's face now grinned larger than ever, signifying the end of the spell. Insidious lines creased over his face as he raised the vial into the air, taking every nerve in his body not to laugh at his triumph. The tiny butterfly began to glow.

"Return again!
With complete control, sense, and-!"

An explosion engulfed Francisco and all around the rune, the glow vanished without a trace. Chunks of the earth shield that had surrounded him fell back to its original place as the speed of its rotation decreased an inordinate amount. Students and their teachers took a step back; certain none of them had penetrated his shield. That's when they saw it from above.

An arm escaped the cloud of smoke and aimed itself upward, Francisco emerged moments later, shouting towards the sky, "What manner of sorcery is this?!"

Two needles dug into his skin, one in the blade of his shoulder, and the other caught somewhere between the ribs and his waist. He felt the needles, not painful, but definitely something that had penetrated his skin just slightly. For some reason, it had calmed his nerves, it had pacified him for just a split second, all that she needed.

With a chuckle, his attacker whispered one word in a sensuous voice.

"Puncture."

The needles glowed upon hearing its wielders voice and the moment after the last syllable escaped her lips, the tiny acupuncture-like needles had expanded into elongated spears that shot blood from both sides of Francisco's body. There was no longer two needles embedded in his skin, now two sharp spears had been transformed out of those needles, having impaled Francisco.

He coughed and leaned forward, the strength of his body leaving him completely. The vial of blood in his hand dropped onto the ground, bouncing with a tiny clanging sound. A few more steps, and the High Inquisitor would fall off of his pillar.

Instead, he fell into the waiting arms of his attacker, who cradled him awkwardly.

"Sheffield!" Saito yelled. He heard several of his companions gasp in shock as the mauve-haired beauty brushed aside Francisco's hair.

"How lovely," she cooed mockingly, "He remembered my name."

"What are you doing here?!"

"Hmph…do not worry. I am not here for your precious mage," her fingers ran brushed the wrinkled face of the old man she held, "This man right here, has something that I need."

Her hand gently ran down the length of his arm and grabbed a hold of the hand that bore the Founder's Ring. With a swift yank, she pulled the ring off of his finger, and gently palmed it.

"You see…I am on orders here from His Highness, King Josef. He even got permission from Queen Henrietta to allow my entrance into your country, though I was only sent to retrieve this."

The woman who cradled him gently dropped him as if he were garbage, he gasped out a painful moan as he landed on the sides where the spears had impaled him. The vial of blood more than arm lengths in front of him, he began to painfully reach out for it.

"If you were there the whole time, why didn't you try and help us?!" Louise yelled, becoming furious at her late arrival.

"Because," Sheffield said as she brushed her hair aside, "We were not positive that this old sod had in fact been behind the theft of His Highness' ring. My business here was to retrieve the ring, anything else was excessive and would violate the treaty between Gallia and Tristan. Besides, I was quite enjoying myself watching the lot of you lose to a single, withering weed." She slipped the ring onto her finger, and her eyes immediately widened, "What the?!"

Francisco coughed one, blood filled laugh, "Dot type earth spells allows anyone to create a replica of any piece of jewelry, worthless to anyone who has an eye for such a thing. The more powerful the man who casted the spell, the better of a replica it is." The ring crumbled into dust in Sheffield's hand, the dirt sliding off of her ring finger to the ground below. Francisco coughed again, mustering up the last of his strength, "They can also-heh-hide an item's true appearance."

The ring that he had somehow managed to slip onto his larger ring finger crumbled away as well, except instead of dirt, the brilliant jewel of the Founder's Ring was left in its place. Again, the old man had outsmarted everyone.

Sheffield reached into the folds of her tunic and pulled out another magic needle, but Francisco had already prepared himself.

"Come into our world! I, Francisco Montgomery, command it!"

With the last of his strength he brought his hand down upon the vial of blood that he had put himself in reach of. Against the still hardened pillar of earth, it shattered, sending Tiffania's blood everywhere.

The rune began to glow again.

The spell had been completed despite the desperate efforts of all those forced into it. The rune glowed brighter than it had before, its hue shifting between a pure white light and a bright, faded purple. Even Sheffield was too late with her attack, and her body was engulfed in the light that emanated from the pillar.

On the outskirts of the rune, students fled from the massive spell, even Osmond, his teachers, and the students who took arms against Francisco, leapt out of the crater in the ground and stood their ground a good distance away from the rune. Saito grabbed Louise's hand and started to drag her away, only to stop a few paces to find that Tiffania still sat on the ground, her legs spread apart in an awkward manner.

"Tiffa!" He yelled over the roaring of the magic, "Get out of there!"

He looked at her face, something was happening with her.

"Something's wrong…" she said, she brought her hands to her chest, "I don't know what's happening…it feels like…it feels like…" her body crumpled forward, nearly planting her face into the ground. She held her position, but it was becoming unbearable, and finally, she let out one scream, "Ahhhh! Saito! Something's wrong! Something's happening to me! Please! Save me!"

He yelled her name yet again, this time out of fear. But one step forward and he found himself run face first into a wall of magic that he could not identify.

"Onegai!" She yelled as she shook her body back and forth, "Someone help me, someone! Please…" In one breath, she stopped. Her body had frozen in complete stillness, for those outside, it appeared it was over.

On the inside, her heart felt like it was ripped from her chest.

This scream was louder and full of more pain and hurt than anyone had ever heard before. Tiffania's body had been pulled off of the ground and a large, arcing beam of light connected herself to the pillar that was created from the massive rune. Her scream continued as the glow around her chest expanded to cover her entire torso.

Saito continued to push on the crackling wall of energy that blocked his advance towards Tiffania, screaming out her name with every breath he could muster. It could not overpower her own scream of pain, as rays of electricity sparked around her body. No one knew what was happening to her, no one knew of any way to save here.

And in an instant, she was released.

The beam that connected her with the pillar of life let go of her body, and she collapsed onto the ground in a heap. The beam of light absorbed itself into the massive pillar, and from the very bottom where the rune was created, a ball of magic and energy shot into the sky like a gigantic cannonball, reaching an extreme height that no one could make out it from the rest of the pillar.

Just as Saito picked up Tiffania's unconscious body, the pillar, the ball of energy, everything exploded into a white, blinding light.

-----------------

END

---------------