Author's Notes:

Hey, my first Shining Force I story - except the themes are largely around Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict. Even if you haven't played Final Conflict, though, you should have no problem enjoying this tale. No spoilers for the game whatsoever, believe it or not. Now read, enjoy, and review; as always, both praise and constructive criticism are appreciated.

The milieu and characters of this fanfic are property of Sega. This story is set shortly before Shining Force I.

Update 5/16/2011: Turns out, sadly, that this story is anti-canonical. Recent translations of official material have revealed that Kane and Max came to the state they are in at the beginning of Shining Force I by far different means than I envisioned. In fact, in light of this "new" information, there's no longer any reason to believe Max and Kane are from Runefaust(though they are officially not from Guardiana).

Mind you, I actually like my version of events better than the official one. But for those who care, this story is officially Alternate Universe.

Half False Prophet

plot and script - Martin III

Surprise meetings irritated Lord Kane. He valued his time, and there were few things more aggravating than having to call off a friendly fencing match or a morning ride, or worse yet, having to miss a party that he'd been invited to, all because of some "urgent" business that probably wasn't of any ultimate importance anyway.

Such meetings irritated him even more these days. Meetings were now invariably focused on the war, a subject which had once excited him, but now wearied and depressed him. He had long since realized that Darksol was manipulating King Ramladu into this endless conquest, and it frustrated him that almost none of the other lords and generals could see it. Or perhaps they did see it, and simply didn't care, so long as the spoils of war kept going to their purses. No doubt some of them fell in the first group, and some in the second.

As he walked down the hall, Kane adjusted his new gloves over his hands, appreciating the soothing press of the fabric over his skin. The gloves had cost him enough to feed a decent-sized family for a year, but they were worth every last coin; the material was truly marvelous. Exquisitely comfortable, and attractive to the eye. Though it did occur to him that some gems would heighten their beauty all the more... perhaps a row of sapphires. He'd have to ask a seamstress about having some sewn on.

He was so lost in studying his gloves that he failed to notice the woman approaching from a perpendicular hall until the two of them collided. Kane barely stumbled, but the woman was knocked completely off-balance, and might have fallen on her back if he hadn't instinctively reached out to catch her by the shoulders.

"Lady Clarice!" he exclaimed in surprise, releasing her as soon as he was sure that she would not fall if he did so. "Forgive me for being so absent-minded, my lady - and so impertinent as to lay hands upon you."

"No, not at all, Lord Kane," she said, a faint pink filling her smooth, ivory cheeks. "I was the one who was not watching where she was going... and it was altogether gallant of you to catch me, my lord. That was more than most men would have done."

"It was nothing. It would have been a terrible shame for you to have been harmed." It took an effort to keep his looks polite; Clarice was a willowy, demure flower of a girl, full of charm. She was nearly a head shorter than he, but most women were, and he foresaw no difficulty if he should ever have consent to kiss her lovely mouth.

"Thank you, my lord," she smiled.

He sensed an opportunity, and with no time to form a plan, he seized the first extension of the conversation that sprang to mind. "You will be at the ball tomorrow night, I hope? The one at Lord Gilford's estate?"

"Indeed, Lord Kane, and I look forward to seeing you there. May I rely upon you for the first waltz?"

"You are most gracious, my lady," he bowed his head. "You may indeed rely upon me."

"I shall reserve that spot on my card in eager anticipation of your leading me to the floor, then." She curtsied. "Now I will keep you no longer, my lord, for I suspect that you are here on important business."

"Quite so, my lady," he said, marveling at her keen perception. "I will miss your company every second that I am tending to it."

After watching her depart, Kane resumed his walk to the meeting room in a decidedly more cheerful state of mind. That encounter was quite a good bit of fortune; he'd been longing to better make Lady Clarice's acquaintance, but had never had a good opportunity to do so. Now he had at last secured a spot with her on the dance floor, and had done so without any stammering or other embarrassing antics.

Opening the door to the meeting room, he found another stroke of good fortune: Thus far, the only ones there were the king and some man he had never seen before. A chance to persuade King Ramladu to moderate the war effort without Darksol there to make light of all his exhortations.

King Ramladu nodded at his entrance. "Greetings, Lord Kane. It is good to see that you are punctual for once."

That took Kane aback. "Your Majesty, I have been late for these meetings but four or five times in my life." He did not add, of course, that the king could have no firsthand knowledge of his lateness, since he always arrived at meetings after Kane. It was his prerogative as king to not waste his time at a meeting that might not be underway yet, and so Ramladu almost never arrived before the last latecomer had shown his face.

"Indeed? Then I suppose the reports I've received must be inaccurate."

It was more likely that the other lords had simply mentioned occasions of his tardiness to Ramladu two or three times, and the king's imagination had stretched two or three occasions into a chronic habit. But Kane let that pass.

"Since we are both here early, Your Majesty, there is a matter that I should like to discuss with you. While there is no questioning the immediate benefits of your glorious conquest, I've noted that the political situation of Rune -"

"Is leading towards a united front against Runefaust, yes?" King Ramladu interrupted in a bored tone. "Kane, you never give up, do you? But since we have time before the meeting begins, I'll humor your latest objection. Tell me this, Lord Kane: What glory is there in our conquest if we never face considerable opposition?"

"Your Majesty, forgive me if I am blind, but I see no glory in gambling with the survival of your people. It makes me feel, rather, that we are being irresponsible. Surely you must see that by now, the other nations can recognize that Runefaust will crush them all if they do not act."

"And what would you know of the affairs of other nations, eh, Lord Kane?" Kane looked up to see Lord Tunor enter the room. "From what I hear, you leave the capital rarely, and Runefaust itself, never. I suspect you scarcely know the state of affairs in your own holdings, much less that of foreign nations."

Kane's face went red, but he had no retort ready, as what Tunor said was true. Of course it was absurd that he should spend a significant portion of his life outside the capital; the social scene was far livelier there then in his own domain. If Kane wanted to see a party more than once a month back home, he would have to host it himself, and the attendants would be fairly few in number. Nonetheless, he could not contest that he had firsthand experience with the nations he was speaking of.

"Do not taunt the young man, Lord Tunor," the king said. "Gentleman who are fresh into maturity should not squander their chance to enjoy the good things of life. And after all, that is the real reason why Lord Kane objects to pressing forward in our conquest: He does not wish to lose his life before he has had the chance to live it, and he fears that he will if he is called on to serve in this war. He lacks the courage of his little brother Max."

That was the cruelest blow yet, however politely Ramladu had phrased it - being called a coward. Yet there was a bit of irony to it, for unknown to the king, one of the reasons Max had left to battle in Runefaust's conquest was the same reason Kane voiced objections to the war. He remembered their last talk before he left as vividly as if it had happened but minutes ago.

"Listen to me, Max," Kane said as his brother poured them glasses from his best bottle of wine. "This whole war may be a sham, just a way for Darksol to reach the Gate of the Ancients."

"You've explained your theories to me before, Kane," Max said.

"Then why are you joining Lieutenant Herall's mission? You know that they're going right to the front lines!"

"That is where fit young men like you and I belong," he returned, handing Kane his glass of wine. "Fighting for the glory of Runefaust."

"What you're really fighting for may be nothing more than bringing Darksol one step closer to his personal goals."

"Even if that is so, it doesn't change our duty. There is only one appropriate way to oppose the actions of the Runefaust army, the one you have taken: addressing the problem to the king. Refusing to serve is not an appropriate response. If the king says that the army must march, then whatever our personal opinions, we owe it to our nation, our innocent countrymen, and those soldiers who have already perished for Runefaust's glory, to take up the fight against Runefaust's enemies."

"What about your dream?" Kane said, shifting his posture. "The one with the little girl reading from the book."

"Why are you bringing that up? What-" Max said in confusion, before his face suddenly lit up. "Aha! You think Dark Dragon might be the mysterious something-or-other which lies beyond the Gate of the Ancients."

"It's a natural conclusion. The Guardianans were directed to keep watch over it so long ago that they've forgotten why..."

"...and Darksol, with his phenomenal magical knowledge, might stand a chance of bending Dark Dragon to his will," Max finished. "A good theory. Please don't take offense when I say that it has too much of a paranoid tone to it for me to take it seriously, though I admit it is a rather frightening idea to contemplate."

"If it is not true, then explain your dream."

"It's just a dream. Even if Darksol truly is looking to reach the Gate of the Ancients and revive Dark Dragon, it's still just a dream."

"But if my suspicions are correct..."

"Then my turning my back on my duty to Runefaust will do nothing to prevent Darksol's plans from coming to fruition," Max returned. "I don't like this endless war anymore than you do, but since there's nothing I can do to stop it, I must take the most honorable alternative." He released a frustrated sigh that he seemed to have been holding in for a while. "Besides, I have another reason for going on this mission. I've been hearing some unpleasant rumors about General Balbazak, and how he's been dealing with resistance to Runefaust's advance."

That made Kane start. "Where have you heard that?"

Max snorted. "Not all of us spend our time at operas and dinner parties, Kane."

"I think you should," Kane said, shaking his head sadly. "You're in the prime of your life, little brother. You have all your remaining years to concern yourself with saving the world; right now you should be thinking more of making friends and finding a good woman."

"Those are your preoccupations, not mine. A lot of innocent people could suffer while I frolic with the social heap." He took a sip of wine at last, almost a nervous impulse. "I can't stand the thought of just sitting here while torture and destruction is being visited on good people by our own army. If I go to the front lines, at the least I can step in to put a stop to a few of these atrocities." He shrugged. "Or perhaps the rumors about General Balbazak are just rumors. I'd much prefer that outcome, and it would be worth the trip just to have that fear relieved."

"Would it be worth losing your life?"

"Aha - that's what you're really worried about, isn't it? Not this nonsense about my military service helping along some malevolent plan." Max smiled. "I think you're a lot more emotionally frail than you would have people believe, Kane."

Kane shook his head. "Only as far as you're concerned. And it's not really emotion... I'd be saddened to lose you, of course, but emotionally, I could accept it. It's the tragedy of you being lost to everyone else that truly frightens me. You're a man of honor, Max, in a way that very few people are."

"Then let me act on that honor." He raised his glass. "Come on; enough delays. Let's toast to my mission."

Kane sighed and raised his glass in turn.

"To a triumphant mission," Max prompted.

"To a safe return," countered Kane.

The glasses clinked. As they sipped, Max studied Kane's face. Kane almost choked on his wine.

"Honestly, Max," he chuckled. "For all your jibes, you take life too seriously."

"It is you who does not take it seriously enough," Max returned.

"Life is too good to be taken seriously."

"For those of us who aren't having our homes overrun by foreign troops, yes."

"And who have good brothers to share their wine with," Kane agreed. "Appreciate what you have, Max, instead of slouching about what others don't have. Why should the sadness of some trump the happiness of the rest?"

"It isn't a matter of courage, Your Majesty," Kane said, seating himself. "I am needed here."

"Aye, what would we do without Lord Kane to drink our surplus wine, and keep our young women entertained?" Lord Tunor ribbed him.

"Besides, I'm hardly the only man who doesn't measure up to my brother. Without any fraternal favoritism, I dare say he is an example for us all."

"Indeed. Already his deeds in battle have been enough to impress even my jaded ears," the king commented. "Let the argument drop, my lords. As soon as we have a few more of my ministers in here, we shall start the meeting." As though in response to this prompt, Darksol entered the room.

He didn't know what it was, but the sight of Darksol always unnerved Kane a bit. The man certainly radiated power, and that was good enough so long as it was in service to Runefaust, but there was an unpredictable air about him as well. One thing was for sure: It didn't sit right with Kane that Darksol never took off that damned helmet.

"Forgive my abandoning you, Your Highness," Darksol said, taking his seat beside the king. "I had other business to attend to."

Kane chatted with the other lords while they waited, but he did glance at the stranger who was in the room when he'd first entered. He wasn't dressed in the attire of a noble, and so Kane concluded that he was another messenger with news of the war.

Once there were a good dozen members of the court in the room, Ramladu announced, "We have unfortunate news from the front. I've called you all here to ask your advice as to the best response."

He gestured to the stranger, who stood up and said, "The details are difficult to ascertain, but we believe that Lieutenant Herall and his unit were delivered false orders, which led them into a trap set by Guardiana forces. The trap was set so effectively that they were able to virtually wipe out Herall's unit. Notable casualties include..."

Max. The word rang slowly in Kane's head as he poured himself another glass of wine.

He didn't want to think anymore, but he kept running over how terrible it was, how frustrating and unfair from every conceivable angle. Max had been, above all else, a man of courage and principle. That was a rarity in Runefaust. Who could be courageous when the king himself was licking Darksol's boots? How could one stay principled when the whole nation was engaged in a gluttonous rampage over Rune? Yet Max was. The people of Runefaust needed that... I needed that.

A knocking struck his ears as if it was his head being knocked against the door. Groaning, he got up to answer it.

"Lady Clarice," he said, surprised, but not feeling the relief and elation at her arrival that it seemed to him that he should be.

"My Lord Kane. I just heard," she said softly, her head bent in sombre, respectful fashion. She did not look quite as beautiful as usual, but Kane concluded that that had everything to do with his mood, and nothing to do with her expression. "I'm so sorry."

"That is kind of you." He stepped aside. "Come in if you wish. I must warn you, I am a bit drunk, and more than a bit in a black mood."

"I understand," she said as she accepted the invitation, but her tone told him that she didn't. It was the tone of a naive young woman who doesn't know what she is getting into, and knows that she doesn't know.

He walked to the table where he had set the wine bottle. "Drink?" he inquired.

She nodded. "Thank you. Have you... Have you been drinking since...?"

"Don't be daft. I started not an hour ago." He refilled his own glass, even though he'd barely sipped it since the last pour.

Clarice sat down and awkwardly played her fingers over the table, as though spreading colored beads for a display. "You and your brother must have been very close."

He shrugged, taking a sip from his glass. "Not really. Our parents always encouraged us to succeed on our own, and neither compete with nor become dependent on each other. Before he left, we would sit down and talk with each other perhaps once every three months. Aside from that, nothing more than a word or two over a council meeting passed between us."

"You regret that."

"No." He felt his jaw tense. "I regret that in this accursed country, a hero cannot even hope to live to his twenty-fifth year. And I regret that I've done so little to change that. I lay back in my nice, comfortable lodgings, while a good man marches to his senseless death, sacrificing himself for a madman's conquest..."

She reached across the table to lay her hand on his. "It wasn't your fault."

There was a silence like death, like the absence of his brother's life and breath, as he stared long and heavy at her soft white hand.

Then he jerked his hand away and pushed away from the table. "Get out," he snapped, and when she did not immediately move, he practically bellowed, "Get out! You don't care - you bloody don't even CARE! People like you and I are getting fat off of the deaths of great men like Max, and all you can think about is getting some sort of emotional connection, and maybe easing your conscience by convincing yourself you've got a bleeding sympathetic heart! I don't want one more word of your pious sympathies, you damned hypocrite! Get out!"

Lady Clarice stood up, trembling, but with dignity, her eyes remaining on him. She opened her mouth, and for a moment Kane thought she was going to rebuke him for his callous outburst. Instead, a sob rose to her throat, and she had to choke it back as she turned and fled from the room, tears running down her face.

Couldn't really expect anything better, I suppose, Kane reflected. She's a pretty creature, but not the sort who does anything to change the world. Just like myself: a useless passenger in this world, just along for the ride.

He raised his glass in a toast to a spectre. But I'll do better, Max. I promise you, I'll do everything I can to honor your sacrifice.

He kept his promise, but for months, it seemed he could do little good. He wouldn't do what Max did; there was no sense in him dying as well. Reasoning with King Ramladu was useless as ever. Instead, he focused on gathering support among Runefaust's ministers and officials. Ramladu could dismiss his officials, of course, but he couldn't get rid of all of them; it would be too much trouble to find replacements. If he got enough of them to oppose further Runefaust conquest, Ramladu couldn't reasonably continue it. He did spare a little effort towards his fellow nobles as well, but he knew that they would be at best reluctant to challenge the war which directly fed their purses.

Hosting small parties was one way he could get the chance to speak discretely with Runefaust's ministers. His apartments in the palace were ideal for such occasions: the vast balcony had a very pleasant, soothing view at evening time, and the door back to the interior of his domicile effectively shut out any distracting noise. On one such evening, he shared a glass with the minister of defense, Dorrin.

Most of the party had focused on safe topics: social gossip, abstract philosophy, and debates over one's favorite knights and warriors among the Runefaust trainees. When the talk turned to the war, it was only to discuss how naive and trusting the other nations were; the latest news was that one of Runefaust's most famed fortunetellers was plying her trade through the western nations such as Guardiana and Manarina.

Dorrin leaned over the balcony, arms folded, glass still in hand. "It still sounds like disloyalty to Runefaust, Kane."

"Not at all," Kane scoffed, with a tone that suggested he found Dorrin's claim offensive as well as ludicrous. "Disloyalty is action taken against the good of Runefaust. This war did us plenty of good, but at this point it is only for Runefaust's ill: the loss of many of Runefaust's loyal sons and daughters, a sharp increase in the enmity of other nations towards us, a gradual but irreparable loss in morale and pride in our country. Loyal men and women of Runefaust must take action against such tragedies."

"Aye, that's a point." Dorrin tipped his glass back to his mouth. "Perhaps you're right... We've been focused on conquest for so long that we've forgotten there's a time to stop. Perhaps..."

He was interrupted by the sound of the door to the balcony cracking open. Kane whirled around to see Darksol standing in the doorway.

"I don't recall you being invited, Darksol," he remarked coldly.

The mage strode forward, robes audibly brushing against the floor in an almost menacing tone. "I go many places where I am not invited, Lord Kane."

"That sounds like a childish waste of time."

Dorrin chuckled at Kane's comment, but there was a nervous undercurrent to the laugh.

"I came to speak with you, Kane," Darksol said, coming to stand opposite the two of them. "To share my thoughts on how bold you have been with your opinions lately. Opposing the conquest that will give Runefaust the world is quite controversial."

He looked directly into the crimson spots of Darksol's eyes. "Should there ever be such a conquest, with a real chance of giving Runefaust the world, I'll be sure to keep that in mind."

"Your boldness... It almost matches your brother's," Darksol said thoughtfully. "It would be a shame... if you met as untimely an end as his."

Kane's blood went cold.

He did it. The implication in Darksol's words was unclear, allowing for more than one interpretation, but what Kane saw in his eyes was unmistakable. He did it! I don't know how, but he had Max killed.

Even as Darksol turned away, his robes again brushing against the floor on his way out, it all began falling into place. Ever since I started speaking out against the war, Darksol's had his eye on me and my family. It would have been easy for him to send a spy along on that mission to keep an eye on Max.

"Well, that was rather odd, wasn't it?" Dorrin said.

"Yes." Kane turned and struggled to take a sip of his drink. His hands were shaking, though not with fear.

"You think he suspects you?"

"By what he just said, undoubtedly yes."

"Should we be worried?"

"Darksol obviously isn't worried, so it stands to reason that we should be. But..." He paused, a conversation piece from earlier surfacing in his thoughts. "...I may have an idea. One that won't take me much time to try. I'll let you know the outcome next time we talk."

"Aye." Dorrin raised his glass. "I'm with you, Kane. If I had any doubts left, the fact that Darksol is so eager to snip out any opposition tells me there's something awfully wrong about this conquest."

Telling only his most trusted servant that he was going anywhere, the next day Kane set off alone on a trip to Manarina. As soon as a trader came by, he paid the man a good sum of money for a ride, a set of less than respectable clothes, and a promise to tell no one of the purchases. He changed into the new clothes and smeared some bits of dirt on his face before entering Manarina.

Such discretion was probably unnecessary, but with a man like Darksol having his eyes upon him, one couldn't be too cautious. And he had a feeling that he might have further use for his peasant disguise in the future.

It took him a long while to find the fortuneteller's tent. Besides being unfamiliar with the Manarina market, he had to adjust to not having people politely make way for him, and in some cases even being shoved or jostled out of the way. But at last he came to a rose and purple tent that matched the descriptions he'd been given.

"This is Mishaela's tent?" he asked a man setting up goods nearby.

"Yep, but she isn't ready for customers yet. She had a few things to get first."

That seemed rather odd. It was late morning; the fortuneteller had had plenty of time to do her shopping and set up for business. "Would it be alright if I waited for her inside?"

The man shrugged. "Don't see why not."

He pulled open the flap and stepped into the gloom of the tent, lit by a rose-purple glow as the sunlight was tinted by the tent fabric. The first thing he noticed was a tall dark elf, wearing long robes and a simple headband that immediately caught his eye. She was spreading a cloth over a small table.

"Ah... Excuse me, are you the fortuneteller Mishaela?"

She nodded. "You've caught me just as I was finished setting up," she said in a cold voice.

"The fellow outside actually thought you were still wandering the market," Kane said, trying a friendly chuckle. "I knew he had to have made some mistake." She said nothing, and looking around the tent, he suddenly noticed... "No offense to you, my lady, but this place is a bit threadbare, isn't it?"

There were none of the decorations one associated with a fortuneteller's tent. Mishaela had no jewels or baubles, or intricate-looking instruments, only a stack of a half dozen books behind her. Even the essential crystal ball was nowhere to be seen. Nothing lay on her table but the tablecloth.

"A true prophet has no need of superficial trinkets, Lord Kane," Mishaela said, with a faint but cutting smirk.

He started. "How do you know me?"

"My powers let me know anything, Lord Kane." She planted herself in a small chair in front of the table and twisted about to make herself comfortable. Watching, he realized what an alluring figure she had, as dark elves go. Tall as she was, there wasn't a bad curve along her length. He averted his eyes to prevent his thoughts from turning in perverse directions. "It's just a matter of choosing what I want to know. My people are innately attuned to the knowledge of the world, and I was born with the added vision of a prophet. You can imagine the results. Now, I know you have business here with me, so the fee, if you please. 300 gold."

"Rather expensive for a bit of fortunetelling, isn't it?" he inquired, handing over the coins.

"I'm a genuine prophet, Lord Kane. I have no need to undercharge like the common charlatans." Counting the coins, she prompted, "Sit down. Your question?"

"It relates to... Lord Darksol." Mishaela's eyes perceptibly gleamed with interest at the last word. "I'll spare you the details. I've been involved in the political doings of the royal court for a long time, and I'm certain that Darksol is the only reason His Majesty is pushing forward this conquest of Rune. Darksol's behind it all, and now I know that he's even willing to kill loyal men and women of Runefaust to achieve his ends. Nor am I certain anyone can stop him." He planted his hands upon the table and leaned forward, looking Mishaela in her mysteriously proud face. "I want you to look at Darksol's future. I want you to see what his ends are with this bloody war, what he means to gain, and if the chances of stopping him are better before or after Runefaust conquers Rune."

"That is... an awfully broad question. I'll get your answer, but this will take time."

It felt like it took half the morning, as Kane sat there the whole time in silence while Mishaela passed in and out of trances, pausing only to refer to one of her books. The trances were singularly uninteresting, a simple loss of focus in her eyes, accompanied by long minutes of nothing.

At last she said, "The conquest of Rune will be stopped before it is finished, and Darksol's plans will be ruined by his untimely death." Kane breathed a sigh of relief. "However... Roughly 20 years from now, in a tower far to the east - in an obscure, unsettled place called Grans Island - Darksol will be resurrected."

For almost a full minute Kane sat there, raising one eyebrow and then the other. "...What do you mean by that?" he asked at last.

"Darksol is one of the three Devil Kings of legend."

"No legend I've heard of."

"Think of him as a dark god, then. One bound to visit great evil upon the world after he is revived."

Two decades from the present moment in a place Kane had never even heard of sounded far away. But he knew that's not how Max would have felt about it. "How do I get to Grans? How do I stop Darksol's revival?"

"You, Lord Kane?" She laughed. "I'm afraid stopping Lord Darksol's revival is one task that you'll have to pass on to someone else."

Kane's face reddened with anger. "What are you talking about?"

"Perhaps I should not have said that Darksol's plans will be ruined as if that were definitive fact," Mishaela answered, still smiling. "It is by far the most likely outcome, but it is a conditional future. Darksol's plans will only fail if you die in battle with him."

Kane rose from his seat. "You're a fraud. I think of myself as a good man in most ways, but I selfishly value my own life too much to lay it down for any cause, even stopping Darksol."

"Few people would be unsurprised at the things they would do in a life-or-death situation. Why would I bother with a lie that can only discredit me, my Lord Kane?"

"It can't be true." Kane felt cold sweat stirring on the back of his neck. It can't be. I have too much to live for. Friends, women, good living, the restoration of Runefaust's dignity, the continuation of Max's and my family line...

"Poor Lord Kane. Few people can stand hearing their own death foretold."

"Why don't you look into the future and see where your own death lies, you witch?" he snapped, drawing his sword.

"Impossible. No prophet can read his own future, or anything directly relating to it. His own reactions to what he sees change the future even as he sees it, making it impossible to get a fix on the one true future, or even a limited set of possible futures. But one needn't look into the future to know that you are not fool enough to murder an innocent person in a simple fit of rage."

Heaving in a breath of frustration, he sheathed his sword. Focus. For the honor of Max's memory, I have to do this. "Then tell me how to get to Grans, so that I can pass the directions on to someone who can stop Darksol's revival."

Walking away from the tent, Kane's mind was racing. Twenty years. All of my allies among Runefaust's officials will be too old to battle a dark god by then, even assuming one of them would be willing to make the trip. This is the sort of job a man would leave to his son... if I had one... no, if Max had one...

Mishaela walked casually among the stands and vendors of the Manarina market, but her heart fumed with displeasure. Galling enough that someone had stolen all of her fortuneteller's equipment, but after hours of search, she'd found replacements for scarcely half of them. No one seemed to have any substitute for her treasured headband. Not that she actually needed anything more than her books to do the job, but ornamentation was essential to her image. And of course, this had to happen on the day that the hero who would battle Lord Darksol was destined to come to Manarina in search of a fortuneteller. Without her mystic garments, the hero would never credit her as a prophet. It irked her to think she might have already missed the chance to tell him of his doom - any other prophet would omit that part because it might dissuade him from his heroic sacrifice, while a charlatan would simply tell him whatever he wanted to hear.

Now, on top of all that, the vendor who set up shop next to her tent was again staring at her as if she were some monstrous freak. The ostracism dark elves faced in certain places shouldn't have irritated her, but it did. "Fool, I warned -"

"M-Mishaela!" he stammered. "But you were in your tent - how...?"

"Obviously you were mistaken. I haven't been in my tent all morning."

He shook his head vigorously. "But you were tending to customers! A woman just left the tent a minute ago... and there was a man before that..."

"I told you -" She stopped. The thought of an impersonator struck her, irrational though it seemed. She strode towards her tent, flinging open the flaps of the entrance.

No one was there but a common elf, lying dead on the ground. In the middle of the tent were Mishaela's stolen table, books, and headband.

"What sort of insanity?" the vendor gasped behind her. "That's the same woman I saw leave just a minute ago!"

A trickster. One who took my place for no more reason than to impersonate a fortuneteller for an hour or two. Why?

She shook her head; there was no sense in trying to determine the motives of a madwoman. Or a madman, perhaps. "Your memory fails you again. Though I grant that the murder of a young woman might be called insanity. Keep an eye on the body; I will inform the city guards."

Once back at the little camp where her associate waited, Cameela shifted back to her true form. Frustrating as it was that she and her companion were robbed of their full powers as greater devils, she was glad they at least retained their natural special talents. "Kane showed up," she said, smiling with satisfaction. "Too bad the old prophet guy had to croak two hundred years back. He'd have liked being proven right."

"Hmmph," Oddeye murmured in acknowledgment. "And do you assume then that he was right about the rest of it - about Darksol?"

"Listen to you. You'll never admit to being wrong, will you?" Her tone was amiable. Oddeye really was a stubborn, self-righteous prick, but she liked him anyway. With all Zeon's devils aside from Zalbard, Oddeye, and herself being sealed away, he made welcome company.

"It's not just about the prophet's reliability. Haven't you considered that what you've just done might change things? That knowing the truth, Kane might not fulfill his destined role in defeating Darksol?"

"You can't change destiny," she returned, brushing back her long hair. "Heroes always do what they have to. It just comes down to their being at the right place and the right time."

"As we hope whoever Kane passes his responsibility on to will be, when Darksol is revived."

"He will. Our King will make sure."

"I think we should have told someone else. Someone who could take care of it personally."

"Who else would've believed it? Besides, we don't know how to pick the right hero. Kane will. Have a little faith in our King's judgment, will you?" She took a seat beside Oddeye. "Darksol may have the battlefield right now, but the war, as always, belongs to Zeon."

The midday sun was warm, and it was good to feel it on her own skin, rather than Mishaela's. The soothing heat spread, the faint breeze seeming to whisper the promise that the King of Devils would return.

END