Quetzalcoatl's Chain

Disclaimer: I do not own Tales.

Arc One: Discovery

Part Three: Lessons

Chapter Seven: The Sword of Solomon


Raine picked up a piece of plaster and blew the sand and dust from its surface. Giddily, she squealed and thrust the plaster into her satchel before moving onto the next piece. She repeated the process, moving down the wall toward an archway.


"Oh would you look at how wondrous all of these artifacts are. They're… perfect."

"Yeah, perfectly broken. Are you done? Can we hurry up and get that sword before the bad guys do?"

"I will not leave this room without taking adequate samples. You'll simply have to wait." With that, she blew the dust off of a chunk of the wall that had fallen to the floor, squealed when she found a pictures relief carved into one side, and thrust that into her satchel. "I can't believe this large of an archeological find has been lying down here in wait this whole time, right beneath Triet! Mwahahaha! This is utterly fantastic!"

"Okay, I get it, you want to find and catalogue every piece of historically significant material that you can find."

"I'm glad you see it my way," she said, tossing a rock back into the pile she found it in upon discovering that it was, in fact, just a rock. "Hmm, maybe there's some more in the next room." Raine turned and moved toward the archway through which another room was visible.

"Raine stop!" She paused for a moment, several inches from crossing the threshold of the archway. While she waited she crossed her arms and began to quickly tap her right foot. "I get why you want to do this, alright. I get it. But don't you think that the damage those ruffians could do to the Sword of Solomon, an ancient relic of these people with greater value than this training grounds, would be a worse thing to suffer than to have missed a possibly important piece of crumbling plaster?"

"Hmm." She had to admit, the voice did have a valid point. And there was no telling if that guy chasing the old man would find his way in here. Then she'd be cornered with no way out. And she didn't have anything to defend herself either. "You may be right," she said.

"Oh thank God. Now let's go the other way, I think I saw-"

"So I'll get right on that right after I inspect this room here for precious artifacts!" She quickly strode through the archway and into the next room. Her eyes were wide as she searched high and low for anything significant that stood out at her. She also ignored the voice's irate response.

As soon as she stepped over the threshold and into the room, the torches lining the walls went out. The sound of stone scraping over stone started up behind her. She whirled around just in time to watch a slab of stone fill the last of the entrance, cutting off the last of the light from the previous room.

"We're cut off! Damn! I told you to go the other way!"

"Arguing about it won't get us anywhere," she responded bitterly. She knew this was her fault, that if it weren't for her inability to resist ruins, she'd be long gone by now. "Instead, let's try and find a way out of here."

"Yeah, yeah. There's was a door on the other side of the room, let's try over there."

Her heart hammered away in her chest as she slowly scraped a foot forward over the floor. She tried to recall in her mind what the room looked like before the lights went out, but came up with nothing. She was trying to remember so hard that when her foot went over an edge into a hole, she barely managed to pull back before she fell in. In the end, her heart was still hammering and her nerves were still burning, but now she lay on her side.

"That," she gasped, "was too close. I'm never going to make my way out of here if I can't see."

"I was going to ask… never mind. I, however, can see. At least, sort of. The image I'm seeing in here is wavering in and out rhythmically."

"You can see in this darkness? But how? I thought you could only see what I see." She frowned in the darkness and waved a hand back and forth in front of her face. Nothing but pitch blackness, though she felt the air moving over her face. "How can you see anything?"

"Like I said, I'm not seeing like I normally do. It's differing… like radar or something."

"What is ray-dar?" She imagined a Sting Ray and tried to mix it with a dart. The end result made little sense. "No, no matter. It doesn't make any sense, nor does it have to. If you can see, then that will work for me."

"Err… right."

Raine pushed herself onto her knees and carefully stood up. Her legs felt week and her head swam as she attempted to stay up. At length, she was still, though every now and then her body would shiver someplace.

"Can we hurry this up, I feel like I'm going to fall over any moment."

"Yeah, uh… crap…"


"Oh wait… no… crap, not again."


"I think I know what I'm seeing… Amazing. It's like that movie about the blind guy who sees sounds. I'm seeing in sound waves… it's rather odd though."

"So… you need sound to see? Maybe…" She concentrated on her vision, summoning some Mana as she did so to try and boost her sight. Of course, nothing happened. It was still completely pitch black in the room. "No," she said, "I can't see it. Why can you see and I can't?"

"I don't have any answers. But if you want to get out of here, I think I can guide you to the exit. It's open on the other side of the room."

"I have a bad feeling about this." She said this just as she reached her foot forward again. She felt her toes go over the edge again, but this time didn't lose her balance. "Are you sure?"

"Trust me."

"How much longer," Rafleur asked. "This wall can't be that thick. Dig faster."

He crossed his arms as the students he'd brought with him went continuously at the wall before him. On the other side was the Warrior's Training Grounds. Specifically, in this corner of the four quarter room, was the Sword of Solomon. Something his master had been after for many, many years.

"The rats got away." Rafleur turned toward the tall, imposing man that entered the room. "My boys are checking to make sure, but I'm pretty sure they've slipped the noose. Won't matter though, since at the least, they've been kept busy, running, for the last five hours."

"Good work, Yealtan," Rafleur said. "We should be through this wall soon, and then we'll have what the masters were looking for."

"Hmph." Yealtan reached up and rubbed at the crease in his skin under his left eye, where the black patch dug into his cheek bone. "I was hoping there would be more than just security detail on this trip. My boys and I had more fun hunting those damn runaways from A Ranch."

Rafleur frowned. "I know this isn't to your liking, but if I didn't know any better, you sound like you're complaining." He glanced at Yealtan, who was sneering. The facial expression made the scar across his face curl downwards. This made his whole face look like it was frowning.

"I really hate you academic types," Yealtan snarled. "Always sticking your heads up someone higher's ass. Never brave enough to do the dirty work, so you leave it to guys like me. Guys willing to do what needs to be done."

"Don't get the wrong impression," Rafleur said. "I appreciate all you and your men have done. And I'm sure the masters do as well, since they've already rewarded you very well thus far."

"Hmph." Yealtan wrinkled his nose and left the room. Rafleur watched him go before he turned and belted out some more 'encouragement' at his students. The wall, under the constant deluge of pick-axes, was beginning to give. Light could be seen from the other side through cracks.

"Okay, now, jump as far as you can."

Raine didn't move a muscle. Beneath her feet, she could feel where the very thin foot path, barely wide enough to stand on, fell away from beneath her toes and the back of her heel. She wasn't entirely sure how she was even keeping balance. Ever second, in this pitch blackness, she imagined falling backwards or forwards to her death. That's how the entire trip across this death trap of foot paths was.

"Raine, trust me, there's a platform on the other side of this gap. And the door too. Just jump already!"

"You told me to trust you the last four times I nearly fell off of this death trap pathway," she rasped. She dare not raise her voice too loud for fear she'd propel herself backwards. Once again she marveled at how she wasn't falling yet. "I can't believe I'm going to die in here!"

"You won't die. Just jump. The gap is only four feet, at least."

"At least?"

"At most! At most! Look, you can't go back and the only option you have left is to go forward. So jump already!"

She shuddered as she crouched a little, preparing to leap into the darkness. "If I fall to my death, then I'm going to haunt you for the rest of your life." The voice remained silent as she took a deep breath, felt her heart hammering loudly in her chest and inside her head, and leapt.

The moment her feet left the foot path, she gasped instinctively. Her eyes widened as the pit of her stomach dropped out from beneath her. As she reached the apex of her leap and began to fall back down, her eyes popped open to see nothing. A short scream left her lips moments before she smashed into a floor and crumpled to the ground.

Breathing hard, she blinked and looked back the way she'd jumped. As she did, the torches lining the wall came back to life, magically re-igniting themselves. Revealed to her was the twisted, topsy-turvy, veritable death trap that the voice had somehow navigated her through.

"Wow... That doesn't look intimidating."

"I can't believe you got me though that," she said. Carefully, as if she still wasn't sure where she was standing, Raine got back to her feet. After wallowing in her bewilderment, she turned and, finding the doorway just in front of her, walked forward. As she stepped over the threshold, she slowed her pace as she waited for something to change, the floor to drop away or the torches along the wall to go out again. But none of that happened.

In the next room, she found two things. Another door and a glass bladed sword. Walking up to the sword, she kneeled down and began inspecting it.

"This is the Sword of Solomon?" Raine tilted her head to the left, her bangs falling past her eyes "Well this is an unorthodox weapon."

"Try pulling it out."

"But that would ruin its environment," she said, standing back up. "And what if pulling it out sets off another trap? I simply can't... no, I couldn't." Despite what she was saying, her hand reached out toward the hilt until her fingertips were gliding over the grip. "But then again... it does need to be catalogued..."

"And to top it off, those men destroyed a priceless wall of unknown significance. They'd probably break this glass sword by simply looking at it."

Raine's hand was around the sword's hilt before the voice had finished speaking. With a sharp tug, the blade was free of the ground and before anyone could say or think anything, she'd already stuffed the sword, which was only two feet in length from pommel to point, into her belt.

"Now, let us find our way out of here so we can catch up to the old man," Raine said.

She quickly walked away from the former pedestal of the sword and through the door next to it. Through the door was a relatively dark room with only a single beam of light illuminating the center of the room from above. On the floor was a set of concentric rings descending from the largest circle of about three feet in diameter to a small dot at the center.

Slowly walking around the illuminated circle, Raine glanced about the room, but other than the circle, nothing really stood out. Nor were there any other exits.

"Hmm... There are no other exits, but surely they don't intend for the successful warrior to go backwards, do they?"

"What are you talking about?"

"These are the Warrior's Training Grounds. Did you forget?" Seeing no other option, Raine started for the illuminated circle of light.

"Uh... yeah, I remembered. Of course they don't intend for use to go back. There must be some kind of switch or something to trip so we can continue."

"Exactly my thinking," Raine said as she bent over and started to examine the concentric circles. The rings were made of a reflective silver metal inlaid into a polished white stone. She couldn't find a single blemish on the stone's surface nor any corrosion of the metal. "You catch on quick. That's good. I'm convinced the key to this switch has something to do with these circles. However, I have no clue what that switch is or how to flip it."

"Could it have anything to do with that glass sword?"

"The sword?" She pulled the sword from her belt and examined it in the light. Almost immediately another beam of light appeared from the ceiling, illuminating a pedestal with a notch in it's center. Raine breathed out a, "Fantastic," as all of this happened. "This must be what opens the exit. But..."

Raine walked up to the pedestal and leaned in close. The notch was perfectly shaped to fit the point of the sword into. Looking at the sword again and then back at the pedestal, she said, "Could it really be that simple?"

"Only one way to find out."

She shrugged and pushed the glass sword into the notch. It slid in smoothly, without even the sound of glass scraping against the stone that the pedestal was made from. As soon as the sword stopped going into the notch, there was a loud click. The mechanism released closed the door they'd entered through and opened another door.

Above the concentric circles a holographic image appeared of a man kissing woman. The image held for several seconds before it disappeared. Raine stood and watched the space above the circles for several seconds, waiting to see if anything else showed up. But nothing did.

"Well, that was odd," she said. "But it looks like a new path has opened, let's g-" Raine stopped talking she was jerked back by the hand holding the glass sword's hilt. She frowned and tugged on it harder, but it wouldn't even wiggle. "What? It's stuck!"

"Try pulling harder."

"I... am!" She gave up pulling on the sword and settled on glaring at it. The crystal clear blade gleamed in the light, as if it were winking at her, which only served to irritate her. "Fine, if I can't get it out, then those men chasing after us won't either, so I suppose it'll just have to stay here."

"We should let Cho know where this room is though, so he can come back for it after we escape."

She nodded as she walked quickly from the room. A thrill of excitement ran through her as the prospect of getting free filled her. She could finally be out of this death trap and on her way back to Iselia. Not to mention that she had so many new artifacts to share with the world, and she knew where to find more.

The excitement quickly died when she got into the next room only to find it only had one entrance which also served as the exit. There was another glass sword in this room as well, stuck into the ground. Raine turned around quickly to look back into the room, but the other sword was still in there, illuminated from above.

Frowning, Raine moved into the new room and toward the new sword. This room, unlike the last two, was completely devoid of anything but a gritty sandy floor and a light coming from above that she wasn't entirely sure of the source. It was as if the entire ceiling was glowing, which was impossible because the ceiling was made of rock.'

"Weirder and weirder. Do you suppose Cho was right when he said this place was built during his grandfather's generation? This whole area has been far too sophisticated for even today's people to build"

"This..." Raine slowed as she neared the second sword. "I'm not sure, but I'm going to call Extra-magi-technology for the moment. Thus far, if that last room and the room before are anything to go by, this technology is far more powerful than any of the samples of Magi-technology that I've ever seen. It makes me wonder…"

"Why wasn't it used instead of Magi-technology then? A great many bad things could have been averted if there was no Mana Drain to kill the Giant Kharlan Tree." Raine inspected the sword and found nothing different about it from the first one she'd found. "There must be a good reason this kind of technology wasn't used. Maybe no one knows how to build it or the power source was worse than Mana."

"How could anything be worse than using up all the Mana in the world?" she asked as she pulled the glass sword free of the sand. She turned around just in time to see the door begin to grind shut. "Great," she muttered, knowing she didn't have enough time to get back through before it closed. "I think I should have expected that."

"I'm beginning to see a pattern here."

"Be quiet you." She grimaced as she started looking about the desolately barren room. "There must be a way to open the door again. Or just to move on to the next room. However..." She looked down at the sword in her hand. "In the last puzzle I got the sword only after defeating it, but here, I got the sword first."

She suddenly felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up on end. Her body reacted on its own, diving forward on instinct. From her sprawled out position on the floor she looked over her shoulder and saw what looked like an exact mirror copy of herself. The only major differences were the eyes of the clone, which were entirely black, and the giddy grin that this copy seemed unable to get rid of.

"Why hello, me," the clone said. It stooped down and picked up the glass sword she had dropped when she dove for the ground.

"What?" she croaked. The clone tilted its head to the side and pouted. The pout only lasted for a few seconds before the unnatural grin returned.

"I'm happy," the clone said. "So happy that I'm going to kill you! Ha!"

The clone lunged at her, but she rolled to the side and sprang to her feet. Without waiting for the clone to attack again, she ran for the door. When she got to the part of the wall where the door had been, she started searching for a latch or something that would release it. Behind her, the clone laughed as it slowly walked toward her.

"I'm open to any idea's here," she murmured as she continued to fail to find any door latches. "Hello, are you up there?"

"I'm a bit... occupied at the moment. Whoa!"

"Hey, other me," the clone said. The closeness of the voice caught her attention and she turned only to duck as the clone's sword bit into the wall where her neck used to be. "Are you going to talk to yourself and run away all day or are you going to die already?"

Again, the clone smiled that disturbing grin. It wrenched the sword free of the wall and went at her. She managed to duck out of the way at the last second. Rolling to a halt, she scrambled to her feet and ran toward the next corner of the room, her heart hammering in her chest. Fatigue screamed at her from her muscles and chest, her breathing quickened.

In her head, a similar scene was playing out, or at least, that's what she thought she was hearing. The voice was grunting, shouting, and making other unidentifiable sounds. She could only assume that the voice was fending off a clone of itself. That meant there were two voices in her head right now... the thought alone made her slightly sick to her stomach.

Huffing and puffing, she reached the corner and turned around. The clone was several yards away, walking toward her slowly, grinning and laughing like an idiot. As thoroughly disturbing as that was, the voices clone suddenly laughing insanely in her head was more so. She hoped it was the voice's clone's… voice… Now she was getting confused.

"Stop running away, please," the clone said. "I just want to cut you open with this sword and maybe spread your entrails around a little. It won't hurt... much."

Remembering the previous puzzle, she swallowed and muttered, "I've come through too much to give up now. There's got to be a way out of this just like in the other room. But what? This is insane!"

"Let me kill you and then you can be happy too," the clone droned. She lifted her sword high into the air ready to strike as she closed in on Raine.

"Think!" Raine shouted. Though she shouted it at the clone, she was really screaming it at herself. "There has to be something I'm missing here."

"Ugh… that was gross…"

Raine grimaced as a wave of nausea rolled over her. What exactly was going on in her head anyway? As the clone moved in she started jogging toward another corner of the room. The clone grinned and followed after her, its pace quickening, the copy sword raised high above its head.

"Okay… I'm pretty sure that I've learned how to defeat this one… but you're not going to like it."

"Just tell me!" she shouted as she started running faster. The clone was also running now. "I don't think I can run for much longer."

"You have to kiss her."

"What?" Her gait faltered and she almost tripped over her own feet. She caught herself at the last moment though. "You must be insane! She's trying to kill me!"

"Remember that image of the man kissing the woman? That was the clue for this room. You got to defeat your foe with love."

Raine stumbled and felt her legs collapse underneath her. She was gasping for air as she pushed herself up with her hands. Her legs burned from the previous exertion and refused to move. Her brow furrowing, she watched the clone slow to a leisurely pace as she came closer and closer.

"And now you die," the clone said, "isn't that wonderful?" The clone smiled beamingly, closing her eyes.

"I can't believe I'm going to do this," Raine said. As the clone raised the sword over her head, Raine kicked out with her feet and knocked the clone off of hers. As the clone fell, Raine reached out, grabbed the clone by the jacket, and pulled her into a lip locked kiss.

After several seconds, Raine came up for air and blinked in surprise. The clone was gone. The sword was now stabbed into the ground a few feet away.

"Wow… that was kinda hot."

She felt her cheeks burning as she got to her feet. She swiftly tugged the glass sword from the ground and stalked back in silent agony to the now open door. Once inside of the room, she walked into the beam of light illuminating the concentric circles. Another sword pedestal lit up.

"I believe I see where this is going," Raine said. She placed the sword into the new pedestal until it clicked. Once again, the old door closed and a new one opened. Above the circles a holograph of a teacher standing in front of a group of children showed for a few seconds. "As I suspected. And the clue this time looks simple enough to figure out."

"Has anything in this place been simple?"

Ralfeur snarled as the new information sank in. They weren't as far through the wall he'd thought. The light he saw coming through the cracks was actually coming from the rocks on the other side. This wasn't new to him, since his master had some of these same rocks in his office. However, it did mean that he was behind on schedule.

"Hurry it up," he barked, "or I'll take it out of your hides. And you lot can forget about the letter of recommendation." That threat got these students into motion. He could see they were fatigued after several hours of work. But he wasn't going to let their weaknesses stop him. Not this time.

"Yealtan, any luck picking up the trail of the rat who got away?" Rafleur asked as he looked away from the sweaty students wailing away at the wall. "I seem to have run into a wall myself. It won't be that much longer but it has put my schedule back."

"You and your schedules," Yealtan muttered. "No, I haven't found the rat, however, he's been leaving clues and signs of passage here and there. He even led us to one of the secret passages. I have my boys running a dragnet through the ruins right now. They'll capture him or drive him to us. It's only a matter of time."

"I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky for having someone from the family that we can capture," Rafleur bit out. It pleased him greatly to see the scarred man turn several shades of red.

"You pompous- We both know someone tipped the old man off. Don't you dare try and blame that on me. If it was anyone, it was that over grown fatso that did it."

"That 'fatso' is more than trustworthy. He knows we're his only way back home and he wouldn't dare mess up his chances." Rafleur glanced back at the wall, finally seeing an opening through the glowing stones. "Ah, finally. Some progress."

The stone doorway opened to reveal a roiling inferno. From the depths of the flames emerged a running person. She ran into the darkened room and collapsed to the ground, breathing hard.

Raine threw off her smoking jacket and started patting down her body to put out any smoldering parts of her clothes. There were several spots on her shirt and pants where black-edged holes showed the pink, fire enflamed skin beneath. Once she was certain that she was no longer on fire, Raine fell onto her back and loosed a scream that echoed back and forth across the chamber.

"That… was too close. How did you pull that off? I've never seen anyone concentrating that hard before."

"I'm trying," she said between gasps, "to become a teacher. Discipline is key."

Groaning, she rolled onto her side and sat up. Her entire body ached like nothing before. At least the plague had the decency to sap all her energy so she wasn't awake. Dragging herself to her feet, she went through the process of revealing a third sword pedestal and placing the third glass sword into it, opening the next door.

"I hope this is the last room," she grumbled. As soon as she crossed through the door it started closing. She was in another hallway like the one she'd found the first glass sword in. She followed the path until it opened up into a wide open room. Directly on the other side, at the top of a set of stairs with a light shining down from above onto it, was the fourth glass sword.

"I hate this room."

Raine nodded, too tired to voice her agreement. There wasn't anything in this room to stop her from getting the sword except, of course, the floor. Or more specifically, the lack of one. Just a bottomless pit stood between this side of the room and the other.

"What are we supposed to do now?"

"Too bad we didn't look at the picture it was supposed to show us."

"I'm surprised I haven't keeled over already… must be this Exsphere." Raine lifted her arm to look at the gem embedded on the back of her hand. "It's strange. Phaidra and the doctor said I was going to have trouble exerting myself, but this thing makes it all better."

"At a price… Anyway, let's figure out how to get across. Maybe there's a bridge somewhere."

"I don't see one," she said, looking around. The only light in the room was the one coming down on the sword from above. This left the rest of the room in stark relief of lost and found contours and lines. Ceiling looked little better than the hole in the ground, stalactites hanging at odd angles. "It looks like there may have been some other kind of test in here before some kind of catastrophe. After, the ceiling caved in and the floor fell away."

"None of which helps our current situation. Every room before this had a logical, if unorthodox, solution. And there's been three different themes from each of the other rooms. We know this is the Warrior's training ground. So far we've had the kissing room."

"We'll be calling that the love room. There was also the discipline room, and that room where you could see in sound."

"Right, so that's three attributes of a warrior. What's a fourth?"

"Love, Discipline, Awareness, and-"


"Yes… courage. Every warrior needs courage. So then… what would be a courageous thing to do in this room?" Raine leaned forward and looked over the edge into the blackened abyss below. "I think whatever courageous thing that used to be in this room is down there now."

"What if… it's not? What if the courageous thing to do is to leap into the abyss?" Raine continued to look about the abyss silently. At length, the voice said, "Hey! Don't ignore m-"

"I am not jumping to my death," Raine said matter-of-factly. "You can forget it."

"Look, I don't want to die either. As far as I know, if you die, I die. But think about it. A Warrior needs the courage to face death all the time. It's part and parcel to being a warrior. Going to war, facing your possible death at the hand of another man."

"But not at your own," Raine snapped. "Stop trying, you're not going to convince me."

"So… you don't have any courage to do it for yourself, I understand. Then don't do it for yourself. Do it for the others. The old man. Hell, if you don't get that sword, you'll likely never leave this hole. Genis will grow up-"

"Shut up!" She screamed. She was bone tired of this voice. "Just shut up! You think I don't know what will happen? Do you think I even want to be down here? If it wasn't for you and this damn chain, I wouldn't even be here! This is your fault! Just shut up and leave," Raine reached into her shirt and grabbed the chain, "me," and with a sharp tug ripped the chain free of her neck. With a scornful glare, she screamed, "ALONE!" at the top of her lungs as she chucked the chain into the abyss. She watched, her chest heaving with the emotions running through her, as the chain glinted in the light before it sailed deep into the darkness.

She paced back and forth. Sat down and tried to meditate. Even punched her fist bloody on the wall. Sobbed while slumping to the floor. "There's no other way," she moaned. "I don't want to die. But there's no other way." She stood and walked to the edge of the precipice. Her throat felt dry, she swallowed but it didn't help. Briskly rubbing her cheeks and taking a deep breath, Raine made herself still. "I'm sorry, Genis," she said. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her leg, and stepped forward into the abyss.

She fell, the air billowing past her for all of three seconds before she smashed face first into the floor. She choked on her surprised and floundered on the floor as she scrambled to get back to her feet.

"No!" she rasped. She sat up and looked back at the bottomless pit and found it was still there. Somehow, she'd just stepped right over it. "No! I- how? That's… impossible."

"A-are you better now?" Raine looked down and saw the chain sitting in a pile. It's metal glinted at her. "I'm sorry. What I said was… out of line."

She sighed. "No," she said. "You were right. It was all an illusion."

"No, not about that." She frowned. The voice sounded nervous. "I shouldn't have said those things to get you to jump. Especially about Genis."

"Yes…" Raine grabbed the chain and pushed herself to her feet. A sudden wave of emotional fatigue washed over her, but she pushed through it. She turned and started up the stairs while reattaching the chain around her neck and hiding it beneath her shirt. "You're forgiven."

She saw the sword before she reached the top. The blade was glass just as the previous ones, but there appeared to be small green gems attached to it as well. Frowning, she walked up to the sword and pulled it out of the ground. She held the blade up to inspect it.

"That's odd… these look like Exspheres."

"Luchy!" Cho ran burst through an invisible wall. He was bruised over much of his body and had bloody cuts running across his front and arms. Raine frowned and her eyes narrowed when she recognized the wound pattern. This was exactly what he looked like when he ran into his house and told her to go out and wait for him.

"Didn't you have those wounds when we were back at the house?" she asked.

Cho looked at her confused and then, eyes widening in realization, shook his head. "No that wasn't me… rather, that will be me, just not yet. You've got the sword-" Raine held up the sword. "-good. Then let us get to the central chamber of the testing grounds."

"How do you know about that?" Raine asked.

"I have two theories. Time travel and time travel."

"No time." Almost as if in response to the old man's words, the wall next to them suddenly started cracking. Pieces of it started crumbling away and the sounds of pickaxes and voice started wafting through it. "Shoot. We need to hurry."

"This way." Raine turned and hurried back down the stairs. Cho followed close behind as behind them crumbling rocks and shouts of success rose in volume. As they reached the bottom and Raine ran up to and jumped over the chasm, someone behind them shouted back through the hole that they'd made it through. Just as Cho and Raine disappeared into the central chamber, and the door closed behind them, one of the students noticed them and pointed them out to Rafleur.

"That's them," he said. With a smirk, he turned to Yealtan and said, "Looks like I found your rat for you. I don't think we'll be needing you or your men anymore tonight. You can go back and report to the masters."

Yealtan sneered as he turned away from Rafleur and didn't give the researcher a second look as he stepped back through the hole dug through the wall and started rounding his men up to leave. Rafleur chuckled and started down the stairs. When he got to the bottom, he stopped to inspect the chasm between the two sides of the room.

"How do you think they got over there?" A student asked, walking to stand next to him.

"I don't know," Rafleur said. "But why don't you find out." Without waiting for the boy to respond, Rafleur put his hand on the boy's back and pushed him forward into the pit. The boy fell screaming and died in a very audible splat several minutes later. "I suppose there's no invisible bridge then," Rafleur mused. "Boys, break out the rope bridge. We've got a chasm to span."

The students, motivated by the barked orders of their professor and the threat of doing to them what he did to their comrade in the chasm, quickly pieced together a bridge made of wooden planks and knotted rope. The result was a sturdy bridge that could easily hold the weight of two people and long enough cross the chasm. Once on the other side, Rafleur put the students back to mining, this time the door into the central chamber.

As their picks got close to busting through, Rafleur said, "They had the sword in their hands when this door closed." Just then one of the student's pickaxes busted through.

Rafleur pulled the student back and extracted the pickaxe. Then he leaned in close and put his eye up to the hole. On the other side, in the next room, he could see… nothing. No one. In fact, if he eyes weren't deceiving him, he'd swear that by the layer of dust on the floor, no one had been in this room for centuries. Slowly pulling back, Rafleur carefully got to his feet and started pacing back across the bridge with his head down.

"Professor, are we done here?"

"Yes," Rafleur said, not looking back as he slowly ascended the stairs. "Pack up your things. We're going back." The students looked at each other, relieved to be free of this nightmare. If any of them cared about him, they would have asked what the troubled expression on their teacher's face was for.


Part Four: A New Beginning

Chapter Eight: Seven and One-half years

Summary: The time of the oracle has come to Iselia. Colette, the Chosen of Mana, has been called to accept the Oracle. And her guardian, Raine Sage, is to accompany her. But two of Raine's other students have other ideas.