bang, bang

And to think that it had begun with a gun.

One of his lieutenants had found the strange contraption in the Asgard ruins, and Yuan had spent the better part of his week researching it in the libraries of Sybak and contracting the stragglers that remained in his employ to courier older books from private libraries.

A week later, and he still had found very little of use. This was, in part (an unfortunately large part) because Sybak's chief librarian and supervisor of the Restricted Collection had seized the contraption the moment that he walked into the library and refused to hear his explanation as to why he was carrying it. It didn't help that she was not easily swayed. Or intimidated. Or convinced of the legitimacy of his claims. Or worried, for that matter, that a single spell of his could leave the library an ashy memory at their feet.

"It's just," Librarian Sage had told him, smiling coolly over her glasses, "that I can't see how your interest in a weapon reputed to be so dangerous in ancient times could be strictly academic. Given our history, surely you have to understand, Yuan."

He had frowned, surprised. "Given our history? I recommended you to this post, given our history."

"And I thanked you, I believe," Raine replied. "Can't you take interest in something with less incendiary potential? I hear," she added, "old men are usually quite interested in gardening."

Never mind Welgaia, Yuan had thought. This is hell.

The snap of his pen (he sighed; it was the third nib he'd replaced this week, thanks to that woman) brought him back to his current reality. The knock on his study door further frayed his nerves. The nervous and bloody mien of his (usually) most trustworthy lieutenant on the other side of said door indicated that whatever It was, It was Not Good.

"Sir?" the lieutenant ventured. "It's the book; the one from the Librarian's collection we were bringin' back. It's gone, sir. There were thieves on the road who ambushed us, and apparently, one of them was literate enough to see its value - Astraea near-lost her arm tryin' to protect it."

Not Good, indeed. And yet - "Inform Librarian Sage of this development immediately, Lieutenant, and then go clean up. I assume she will want to know."

"Sir." The soldier spun around - and nearly collided with Raine, who jumped back nimbly even as her nose wrinkled at the sight.

"News travels quickly, I see," Yuan intoned dryly.

"When news leaves bloody footprints on my floor, yes," Raine replied, rummaging through her jacket pocket and pulling out a carefully wrapped Lemon Gel. "Here," she said to the soldier, eying his head wound, "this will help, although next time I kindly request that you avoid bleeding on my books." Turning to look at Yuan, she frowned. "Why, exactly, is one of your associates bleeding on my books?"

"For them might be more adroit, Professor. Shen and his partner were transporting a text I requested from a friend's library; a friend who had borrowed another of your books, and who had offered to return it as well as we are in the same part of the world. Unfortunately, they were beset by ruffians and the texts were stolen."

"...Stolen?" Raine's voice was icy. "Was there any indication of where these thieves might be headed?"

"They - they had mentioned heading north to pawn it, and you'll want to hurry, ma'am. They hit me first - the head wound you saw - so I was pretty disoriented, but I'm sure one of them joked about using it for kindling." Seeing the look she gave him, Shen stepped back. "I'm sorry, ma'am."

Raine nodded. "Yuan? Please accompany me."

"As the Librarian wishes," he replied, following her out and up the wide stairway. This wasn't a perfect opportunity to prove to her that his interest in the archaic weapon they were studying was purely academic, but he would take it.

Much to his amusement, she had much the same idea. "I propose," Raine said, "that we track down these - these miscreants - and recommend they return our texts."

"Can it be that you miss the adventurer's life already, Miss Sage?"

"Rarely," Raine dismissed his comment, shaking her head. "Especially the part that involved sleeping in tents."

"Might I convince you to lend me the reason our books are missing in the first place?" Yuan asked.

Raine scoffed. "If you think that this situation applies to your academic interest, you've failed spectacularly, Yuan. But, as it seems to have a pitifully limited attack, and we'll be outside my domain once we leave the library, I suppose so." Unlocking a secret panel in the floor (he would have to remember that), she stood and handed him the gun. "May you use it wisely. I believe the attack is triggered by the lever in the handle, and for Luna's sake, don't aim that open part at any part of you. Or me."

Yuan smiled coolly. "Indeed."

Once cloaked and armed, they headed for the northern edge of the city, and had barely crested the rolling hills that heralded the start of the Gaoracchia Forest, when the sight of campfire smoke winding up through a copse of trees caught their eye. Yuan gestured towards the trees, and Raine followed him as they approached the forest. Soon, they were able to see beyond the trees - it appeared that a group of armed men had piled a stack of what could only be called 'treasure' beside their fire and were examining it gleefully.

"Subtle," Yuan snorted. Just then, a twig snapped. He spun around to lecture Raine on the Importance of Being Subtle Whilst Approaching Unknowns, only to realise that they had been effectively surrounded. "Ah."

"Y'look a little lost, milady," one of the men said, smiling widely at Raine.

One man ran a hand through greasy hair. "Y'know, she'd be pretty if she weren't a four-eyed elfling. Check out them curves, Boss."

Raine's grip tightened on her staff, and her eyes narrowed.

Yuan yawned. "Do you have any idea who she is, you troglodyte?"

"Like I said," the man drawled, "a four-eyed elfling. And who're you? Her eunuch prettyboy?"

Yuan winced. He supposed the indigo cape and bright armor hadn't been the most stealthy attire choices, but his old cape was comfortable, and even if Raine didn't miss the 'adventuring life,' he thought, it had felt good to put on his old armour again. "Hardly."

As one of them lunged towards Raine, saber extended, Yuan's double-ended blade was in his hands to parry a strike from his left as Raine blocked the saber with her staff, swinging it upwards to catch its wielder under the jaw with a solid crack and then jabbing the butt of the staff backwards to send another marauder flying. He dispatched two of the thieves moments later, his sword spinning in a well-practiced arc. "Remind me," he asked Raine, ducking a cudgel's swing and tripping up the man who wielded it with a low, sweeping kick, "why I shouldn't simply incant Indignation and put these inferior miscreants out of their misery?"

"Because," Raine said, her steps beating a furious, swirling tattoo as she worked her way past an opponent and beaned another whose sword was poised to strike at Yuan's back, "I've spotted the book, and your spell might damage it."

"You spotted it?" he asked, mid-parry. "In that mess?"

"It's bound in Ocka'naughan Lake Dragon hide," Raine replied. "Which are, yes, long extinct, and there may have only been one of them in the first place, so it's a little distinctive and therefore yes, I did. And there's a strap around it still, which gives me hope your book is attached to it." Clunk. "The last one's yours, if you'd like him," she said, as another opponent tumbled to the ground.

Yuan looked over to where Raine was pointing: a single figure was running back towards the fire. "As you wish," he said. "Permission to utilise the artifact?"

"Granted. Just don't break it."

"I don't plan to." His eyes narrowing as the thief lifted the book, and held it tauntingly over the campfire, Yuan steadied his arm and fired.

And missed. Twice. One bullet lodged itself in a nearby tree; the other ricocheted off of a gaudily ornate silver gauntlet and pierced the thief's leg. Said thief clutched his calf with a howl of pain, sending the book flying (and Raine flying towards the book to prevent its incineration.)

Yuan holstered the revolver with a curled lip and surveyed first the artifact and then the damage. "No style, no class, and I know amateur spellcasters with better accuracy than this. I presume I've convinced you, Professor?"

Raine smiled. "It's not exactly your style," she agreed. "I can't fathom how entire civilizations depended on something so rudimentary." She looked down at the last of the thieves. "We can't carry all of these men back to the city."

Yuan nodded. "I've...arranged for their transportation. We should get back to the City, in the meanwhile." At her puzzled, wary look, Yuan sighed. "Contrary to public opinion, Miss Sage, you did not destroy my empire completely; you simply - shall we say - made it mobile in nature."

"And the men?"

"My contact within the jail will ensure their return to Sybak, where they will be met with the strictest justice, of course. I can speak to him about allowing you to provide the week's catering menu, should you desire it." Sweet Aska, he thought, watching her smile grow, I'm almost enjoying this. As Raine's expression became calculating, Yuan was increasingly glad to be a free man. "To the library, then?" he asked.

"To the library," she confirmed. "I have loads of research to catch up on, thanks to this adventure."

"One hopes," he said, "it was worth the time invested?"

Raine shot him a Look from where she stood on the hill, cradling the dragonskin-bound book, and stomped onwards. Homewards.

Yuan hid his smile, and followed. Perhaps I was wrong, he thought: this is, in fact, a far cry from hell.

. o .


. o .

Sabe's Scribbles: written from Pearl's prompt: "Yuan in the Library with a Revolver." Raine snuck in, because that's kind of what she does whenever the word "library" is invoked. That said, I really grew to like these two as reluctant adventurers and might have to come back to this, one day. In the meanwhile, your thoughts are welcome!

Disclaimer: the realm and characters herein belong to Namco Bandai (although I did name Astraea and Shen), and no Ogopogos were harmed in the making of this story. Honest.