Those who fight and run away…

Shadow of Zero LI

They found them, and I cursed my slowness, there was the head of one of the prisoners nearby, a ruined golem. I listened, and heard battle. "The blond man." I got out. "The one with one hand, protect him." I fought for breath. It was not exactly easy to breath after two rapid fire teleports with injuries like these.

I got to my feat, forcing down the nausea. I had tanked about six 'unholy blights' so far, and more instances of transport magic then I cared to think about at the moment. The effects while not directly cumulative had been battering on me repeatedly, and if I had depth perception at the moment I was pretty sure I would have been cross eyed.

Damn it, no choice then. "Cure Moderate Wounds"

Skin restiched, bones fused, and sinew tightened back into place. My wings all but locked back into their proper place and I let out a choked out scream. At least the ring made sure they went into the proper place this time. I flexed them, and blinding pain surged down. Great, all I did is turn a catastrophic fracture into a hairline one. No chance in hell they'd be supporting weight. I folded them back, and took stock of the situation, head infinitely clearer with that load off my back.

My right eye was still blind, my throat wasn't gushing anymore, and the lightheadedness bloodless brought had eased up. The whole in my chest was pretty much sealed; wings were a mess but no longer an active negative. My sword arm… I flexed it, workable.

I looked for the sound of combat, and moved.

Now darastrix'sjach do not have a lot of claims to fame compared to some of our brethren. We are small for dragons, physically weaker and less robust than most, we spend a lot of time underground so our flying speed is far from impressive and unlike others doesn't ever really improve all that much as we age and grow bigger.

But we are smart little devils, easily on par with silvers or golds in regards to mental might. We are easily the sneakiest members of our kin as well, with numerous abilities to allow us to outmaneuver or hide from threatening foes.

And for all that our airspeed suffers for our habitat of choice, our land speed gains from it.

On a good day I can outrun a thoroughbred race horse at a dead sprint, and unlike the horse I could hold that speed for hours on end.

I charged the location like a hound of hell, ironic, considering I was about to clash with one of said hounds most common enemies.

Fidelis had his sword out. A big gleaming thing of cold iron forged and wrought with more magic then metal. He was holding off the Marilith with a grace and skill that would leave the best mortal swordsmen in history weeping with envy.

Now I might not like the guy much, but I'd give the old mutt credit. He's freaking scary as hell when he's doing his paladin thing, all righteous fury and divine wrath. The fact that the snake was missing an arm, had taken a sallow cut to the chest, and was giving ground, while all she had managed to tag him with was a light cut to the forearm, kinda hammered down that point.

I tagged the bitch with a dimensional anchor for petty spite, and then moved on. Her curses at my daily activities, favored foods, ancestry and sexual preferences (all in the same line… abyssal is a really good language to curse in), were music to my ears, giving me a much needed moral boost.

I spotted Gramont, he had taken a bad hit to the side, and was on the ground, three of his golems were holding off the glabrezu.

Well they were trying to.

Apparently whatever mix of metals made up there structure contained enough iron to hurt the thing, but it was a losing battle, one was already missing am arm, and had a crippled leg. Another was missing its head, though this didn't seem to be hindering it at all, while the third was disarmed, and forced to really on its fists.

Judging by the shivering form of Gramont he and how he was visibly fighting for consciousness, I doubt it'd be getting anything else to work with.

The demon hit the headless one with a chaos hammer, rending it to scrap, the other two filling in the gap before it could charge through.

I plowed into the side of the wolf like a battering ram crashing into your typical light wooden fence. Knocking it to the ground for what had to be the third time that day, teeth clamping down on it's face as I shoved Delfinger right into its chest. I wrenched the blade to the side and unleashed my breath weapon point blank.

The glabrezu screamed. It wasn't anger, it wasn't surprise, and it was simple outright pain and fear.

I wrenched the blade further, and then pulled it free, breaking the thing's neck with a violent jerk.

I turned to Gramont, he gave me a look, exasperated, but relived… then he passed out.

The golems collapsed.

"Vobit!" I was over at his side in a moment, checking the injury. It was bad; the thing clipped him in the kidney, organ damage. "Cure Moderate Wounds!"

The wound sealed up, but he still looked pale, still definitely hurt. "Xsiol! Hold together man! Cure Moderate Wounds! Cure Light Wounds!" I was running dry, my mind burned from the strain. I hadn't used this much magic all at once in a dog's age. I didn't have the energy for an emergency transformation, I didn't have the energy to fix my own bleeding eye!

"Fidelis!" I called out, and carefully picked up the earth mage. I slung him across my back, between my wings, bunching up the damaged limbs as best I could to shield him, before taking off back for the scene of the fight.

The Hound of the Heavens' had just finished stabbing his blade through his opponent by the time I got there.

"Fidelis, you have any healing spells on tap?" I asked him.

He rolled his eyes. "Wait for the morning."

I growled. "Not for me you arrogant rube!" I eased Gramont down to his side. "It got his kidney before I could take it out. I've sealed him off but I've got nothing left in me."

He knelt by his side, and looked him over, sucking a breath, he gave me a shake of the head. "This is beyond me. I wasted most of my power fighting the fiend."

I bit a curse. "Right, hop, on, and keep him stable. My wings are useless, I'll have to run us back. You see the other survivor?"

He shook his head. "There was no other survivor." He informed me grimly.

I bit off another curse. "Here, hold Delfinger. I need my hands free to run full speed with passengers."

He accepted the blade, and I ignored the ache of a hundred small injuries. It was only a few miles. I could make it. I surged ahead, and broke into a full run.

Shadow of Zero LII

I ran, long and fast, with wings veiled and two passengers, one of which being in far from the best of shape, hard wasn't much of an option.

I still would have kicked the ass of any blasted horse out there, even if it didn't have a rider.

I was relying mostly on memory to aim us, we were miles out from the academy, and I'd never traveled directly from one to the other. Still I had a basic idea, and figured once I got close enough, sent might do the trick, for added insurance, I was routing shallowly towards the road that lead between the school and the town.

Gramont was still out of it, but he was making definite unhappy sounds. I glanced back. "Hit him with a remove poison!" I called over.

"What?" Fidelis asked looking over at me.

"He lost a kidney, the bleeding's fixed, but he his body's having problems adjusting, it'll over toxify! Purge his system and you'll buy him time!" I explained, as I twisted around a tree. I could out corner a horse too, like to see one of those stuffy things try and do that!

"I didn't understand half a word of that!" he yelled back in complaint.

"Just do it you stubborn old mutt!" I yelled back looking ahead of us again.

I felt rather then heard the burst of magic. At once the blond man's groans shifted to relief from pain.

We needed to get water into him. It'd be a good few hours rest minimum before I could change him into something that considered injuries like he had taken as a flesh wound. My body was on the recovery, thank you ring of regeneration, but my mind was on fire, I was drained spiritually to the barest drops, I had maybe a cantrip or two in me tops. Maybe one more weak healing spell if I was willing to knock myself out for a few hours from casting it.

And Mott was still out there.

This was the main reason I was pulling the shadows deep and tight, if someone out there spotted us, they freaking deserved to take our heads.

Not that I had any intent of going quietly if they did.

I heard a shift in breathing, and noted that Gramont had managed to slip into a deeper sleep. That was good and bad. Bad in that it signified that he was well and truly messed up, good in that his body was doing what it could to minimize damage while it worked on that.

There are few things as nerve wracking as running across a woods weakened, with a known predator on your tail. I speak from experience in this, as this exact scenario was one I'd played through about six times now. Ironically the one before last had been at the hands of the celestial riding on my back.

The last had been from a bunch of pissed off drow that had found out I was a dragon, shortly after I, ahem 'liberated' a spell book from the first boy of one of the lesser known noble houses.

Maybe I shouldn't have tried to pin it on his youngest sister…

Well at least the confusion had bought me the time to find the portal, and hopefully let the slave's in the house's primary keep escape.

I'd hate to think all the effort I took in bribing those guards, sawing those bars, and weaving all those illusions went to waste when they damned near cost me my life.

I really needed to invest in another ring of wizardry. I hated the one I had, and frankly it was looking more and more like I'd need the ammo.

What is it about being exhausted that makes me so introspective? You'd think the threat of life and limb would help ease off on that part.

I noted a brake in the tree line and slowed, the moons were high and full, as the things never seemed to cycle here. The open road would strip us of the shadow's protection

I sniffed the air. The scent of dirt, dried blood, smoke, and sweat was strong. It looks like the main group of refugees had made it through by now, good.

I twisted around and ran through the woods to the side of the road, giving a bit of distance between it and us.

"What the hell you think you're doing snake? The roads right there!" Fidelis complained.

"To bright." I explained. "It's slower to move through the brush, but a lot safer. We're almost there and I do not feel up to getting ambushed."

He opened his mouth to complain again, when I shot him a Look.

That I did it with my just barely working, newly grown eye, seemed to add to the effect.

He closed his mouth, and held in place. "The man needs healing." He stated simply.

"He'll get it. But only if we make it back in one piece, now shut up so I can make with the stealth." I spat back, and focused ahead again.

We burst to the wide clearing moments later, and came upon the sight of Tristan Academy fully lit up and ready for war. Mages and a few able men with bows stood on the walls, and once I came into view, a challenge bolt of fire lashed out by us like lighting.

I slowed to a stop, and waited.

A minute ticked by, and eventually one of the doors opened.

Professor Colbert was the one to step out.

The bald man made his way towards us, staff firmly in hand, he ended his approach about twenty yards from us, a good bit out of range of my breath attack, but still well within pouncing distance.

Not that he knew that.

"Levethix'moxt?" He called over.

I exhaled in relief and nodded. He actually got my name right. I knew I liked this guy.

"We have wounded!" Fidelis called over.

I slumped slowly down, and laid on my stomach, painting lightly. That had not been fun.

It'd likely been even worse for Gramont.

Colbert nodded and moved over, and moved to help, he kept a subtle eye on Fidelis, and I almost grinned at that. Hah! How do you like it Mr. Literally Holier Than Thou?

"You've made a friend?" He questioned giving me a look.

I snorted. "Hardly… called up an old ally when I realized what I was fighting."

The hound shot me a look at that. "Don't associate yourself with me Boy."

I rolled my eyes, the right one actually hurt from the action. It was worth it to get my point across. "Associate then?"

Colbert seemed to understand the situation, which bumped him up a further notch in my book.

Fidelis seemed to accept that. "Close enough."

I nodded. "He's lost his left kidney, I can fix him up but I've burn up all my willpower, I don't even have the energy to change back."

I ignored the amusement that brought someone.

Colbert, eyed me. "Do you need any help?" he took in my injuries.

I'm not sure how bad I looked at the moment, but I wagered it wasn't pretty, a few holes in me, a ton of cuts and scrapes, heavy bruising all over, burns, I was still favoring my left foreleg, and my face was a mess… and that was disregarding the fact I was showing as much blood as scale at the moment, even if only a chunk of it was mine.

I exhaled. "Him first." I stated firmly.

He gave a small nod of approval. "Of course."

He trusted me with his back. More than I can say for Fidelis.

I let out a sound of exhaustion, and then got back up to my feat.

Shadow of Zero LIII

I made it inside easily enough, fortunately for me, though I was long enough to support two grown men, I was also short enough to slide in through a human sized door with minimal difficulty. My shoulders grazed the sides, and one of my wings got stuck (which with the still healing brake hurt like an absolute Ixen'siyanc'erekess'sauriv), but I managed it easily enough.

There were people in the hallway, most well armed, and ready to defend, old man Osmond stood near the center, his own long staff helping to support his weight.

He looked frail, old, and ready to kick my ass if I so much as budged an inch out of line.

I'd seen elder magus do stuff like that before. Physical ability was a perk to a mage, but not typically what really made them dangerous. I had no idea what the heck the old man had packing, but I didn't want it pointed at me.

I gave him a tired look, and made a dismissive sound not unlike a large cat, before pawing my way down the halls to Louise's room.

I was halfway down the hall when I finally felt my alarm spell trip. It actually took me a moment to realize what it was.

The next moment I made a set of new groves in the floor as I took off full speed down towards the room.

Most people wisely chose to get the heck out of my way as I broke into full sprint, wariness forgotten. Had I been fallowed back?

Something entered the vision of my bad eye, a black and white blur, and I grunted as I made to jump over the foolish person who had gotten in my way.

I didn't get a chance as said blur jumped up onto me first.

I stumbled. I'm not a big thing by dragon standards. Even for shadows I'm a bit of a runt, there's a reason I sought magic as my primary method of self defense. The sudden addition of a good ninety or so pounds to my already rather abused neck was more than enough to unbalance me.

I twisted into a roll, catching the figure even as I fell. I didn't do a very good job, but it had a good firm hold, so I ended up taking the brunt of it.

Twin spears of fire shot down my back, as my wings crashed down with our full combined weight on them, and I let out a very manly shriek of agony.

The figure cried out, and I turned my head to get a better look at it.

Siesta stared up at me as an absolute mess, her eyes were red, her cheeks puffy, and tears were streaming down her face with no sign of letting up anytime soon.

I blinked, and brought myself back into control. "Siesta! Are you a right? I felt the alarm trip!"

She sobbed and barred her face into my neck.

I sat there for a moment helpless, wings throbbing behind me, my tail slapped the ground in agitation, and then I was blindsided.


I caught an image of pink before out of the corner of my eye my master slammed into place beside the maid. She wasn't openly sobbing, but she was breathing heavy, and squeezing more than a little tight.

Ok that was a good blow to the ego. Two little girls managed to sneak up on the big nasty dragon with no shape shifter's excuse of dulled senses or anything.

I sniffed the air. No blood, both seemed find outside of being sobbing wrecks… so I did the only thing that came to mind and put my arms around them, giving as gentle a pat as I could with these tiger paws. "Sh… it's ok… tell me what's wrong? Who broke the ward?"

Siesta sobbed even harder, and began tugging at my neck frills, the thick fine hairs parting in her grasp.

"We thought you were dead." My master told me, in a quiet voice. "You just left. Even like that, you just left!" she did not sound happy.

I relaxed my tone a bit more… well this was a novel experience. They just found out I'd been lying to them all this time and, had Fidelis to fill their heads with stories of how much of a manipulative deceitful bastard I was, for several uncontested hours.

And they still actually gave a damn about me.

Huh. That was new.

I felt something well in me, it was an old thing, I didn't recognize it, but it sapped much needed energy from my lungs, so I instinctively fought it, worked to suppress it as I could.

"I knew what I was doi-" I started, and then was cut off as Louse smacked me hard at the base of my jaw.

Not that I actually felt pain from so light a blow. "Idiot! Idiot familiar! Worthless dog! How could you do that!" she raged, tears in her eyes, as she looked up at me. "You didn't even listen to your mas-s-st-er." She fought to steady her breath visibly. "H-how." She took a breath. "How dare you!" she glared up at me.

I felt something wet on my face as I looked into those burning pink eyes. Damn it, did I rip open my eye again? No, the other one was leaking too.

I blinked and shook my head slightly trying to get rid of it. "I had it under control." My throat was tight. I wish they'd give me a bit more slack. "This isn't the first time I've fought them." I tried to explain.

That seemed to make things worse. I exhaled, and gave up on trying to explain any further.

Louise smacked me again a few times, but refused to let go.

We just laid there for a minute, blocking up the hallway, until I heard a sound behind me.

A blond boy, about as old as my master, and with blue eyed tinted red with stress looked up at me. He was a mess, his clothing smudged and ruffled in places, lips dry, and hands dirtied. His features seemed familiar to me. "Excuse me, Sir." He started, and took a breath. "Would you be the Elf who helped at the town? The familiar of Vallière?" he questioned.

I adjusted my neck to bring my master into view. And nodded.

"Ah, good…. Then… you were the one who lead the hunt for the monsters" He questioned.

Ah, I recognized the features now. I closed my eyes, and exhaled. "He'll live." I said. "He took a few bad hits. Check the medical wing."

His eyes flashed in gratitude, and he was off at full pace at once, back down the hall as fast as his legs would carry him.

The interruption was all I needed to wake back up. We were blocking the hallway, and neither girl showed any signs of letting go, though both of them had their grips now weakened by fatigue.

I felt a surge of feeling again, and my throat tightened again, eyes stinging. I swept my left arm, still sore from the flail strike earlier, over both of them, and began carrying the three of us back to our room.

Siesta tightened her grip lightly, but trusted my arm, Louise I think, was ether asleep or near it, her grip slacked slightly.

I somehow found the energy to get them both onto the bed. The slight brunet did not want to let go, and I had to sacrifice a hair or two to get her off my neck. With the rest of the soreness in my form, I barely even felt the additional sting.

Completely exhausted, I curled as best as I could onto my overly expensive bedroll and finally let my eyes close.

I dreamed of wastelands and cities of old. I dreamed of caverns, of shadows both real and not, of monsters and demons.

And I dreamed of Louise. My tiny master, floating in the air beside me, watching it all alongside.

Shadow of Zero LIV

I woke a good bit of time later, both eyes opened, and I noted with some pleasure that I could see fine out of the left one again.

I tried to rise, and noted a weight on my side, Louise had apparently abandoned the bed at some point in favor of pretty much sleeping on me, she even had one of my wings pulled over her like some sort of blanket.

I lifted the improvised cover and saw her shiver, then eased it back down and let out a breath. I let my eyes lazily rake over the room for a minute, blinking as I noted a familiar sword resting in a corner. "Delfinger?" I questioned.

"Ah! You are up then!" it greeted.

I gave a wary nod. I was still a bit more banged up from the injuries suffered before I'd slipped on the ring of regeneration.

The ring could only heal injuries that occurred after it had been dawned. It was a frustrating limitation, but a logical one. The ring itself worked under the simple principle of 'remembering' what any missing or damaged tissue was, then fixing it. It couldn't mend what it didn't know about.

Of course now that I'd healed myself a bit, it was updating its records.

I let out a dragonish yawn. "How long?" I eyed the shadows.

"It's been about five hours since you got here Partner." It informed me. "The Maid went out to get something, didn't say what."

I adjusted myself so my left hind leg would start waking up, the lazy limb had fallen asleep at some point in the night it seemed. I eyed the sword, and nodded. "When did you get back?"

"Few hours ago." It somehow gave the verbal impression of a shrug. "That friend of yours tried to organize a search for the mage working with those things."

That could be bad… if he had pulled it off. These people weren't ready for something like that.

I rolled my shoulders, both sets, and adjusting my wing to keep hold of my little master, rose up. "He get any luck?" I questioned.

"Some." The sword commented. "There were a few willing, but the old man shut it down until he could get a better understanding of what was happening."

I nodded at that, and set Louise carefully into her bed again, pulling the covers over her. "Polymorph Self" I muttered and felt myself shift and shrink, the basic of a drow scholar settling into place, shoulder-cape and all. I tucked her in with nimbler softer hands, and then looked over at Delfinger. "They've been talking?" I questioned.

"Nod." It replied.

I grinned at that, taking the humor where I could. I'd healed a bit more in the shift, though I still had a rather nasty scar over my heart I'd need to fix up when times were more stable. I sighed. "Right, better go chip in a bit there. I'm the only one who knows both the field and the enemy to any reasonable degree. Let Siesta know where I've gone when she gets back alright? Or Louise when she wakes up" I questioned.

"Sure thing partner." It agreed.

I liked that sword. I really did. I'd have been happier if I could have just researched him for a month and not needed to draw him at all, but he was good people. Most artifacts in his league would have a head bigger then there blade.

I started out the hall, and walked down it with purpose. I'd have to swing by the medical wing as soon as I was done in the meeting, I had a full tank again, and I was willing to bet they could use another healer.

There were guards at key points, and I saw a pack of students move around with a mix of curiosity and fear in their eyes. One saw me, and whispered, the others joining in shortly.

I visually ignored it, continuing on my path, inwardly taking in what details I could.

"…Just ripped 'em apart..!" "…he turned into a dra…" "…o way, the familiar of Zer…?" to many voices to get a clear read, but I got the general idea.

I continued on, to the main office, and kept my ears strained.

"This isn't some fortress young man." A familiar voice sounded. Old man Osmond.

A equally familiar growl of a voice replied. "Young man, young man, I was gutting fiends back before your ancestor decided to op-!"

I chose that moment to open up the door and step in. "Is there a problem?"

Fidelis was sited across from Osmond, he had his normal scowl on his hound like face, and shot me a look. "You're awake." He grunted out.

"You're a grouch." I countered. "Now that the obvious is out of the way, what in the nine hells is going on?" I demanded.

I'm rather proud of my interpersonal skills; I've been honing them for more than a century you see.

He snorted. "These men refuse to go out and hunt the traitor before he can recover his forces."

"And I tell you again I don't have the authority for that." A man to Osmond's right, portly fellow, brown hair, late thirties to early forties, everything about him screamed 'bureaucrat'.

I rolled my eyes. "Authority's not an issue, ask for volunteers. Has anyone sent message further up?" I asked, hunting down a seat and taking in the players.

Gallingly I was forced to sit with my fellow native of the Realms, to our opposite sat Mr. 'no authority' Osmond, his shapely secretary, and a tall fellow who looked like he hadn't eaten a good meal in a few days.

That reminded me, I was hungry enough to eat a horse.

Well at least the better half of a deer.

I frowned and thought over things. "That might not be the best idea however." I mused.

Fidelis rolled his eyes at me, "Should have known you'd vote to running and hiding."

I shot him a glare. "No. We should hunt him. Or rather one of us should. People need to stay here to defend the academy. But we need to find out how this happened. Mott's still the best source we could use." I frowned. "If he's even there."

The celestial looked at me.

"He didn't fight." I reminded. "If he was strong enough to call up something like that Marilith then he should have been able to hold his own with her, but all he did is call up some rock projectiles. He didn't even use them cleverly… I think we might have been taken in by some sort of thrall."

"A deception?" Osmond questioned.

"If it is, it was a bad one." I muttered. "None of this makes sense. The attack out of nowhere, Mott's behavior. Even the assortment of demons we fought. That was a full combat group, relatively well organized. How the hell did he keep something like that under wraps, and why use it like that? We need answers."

Fidelis rolled his eyes "Then. We. Should. Go. Out. And. Get. Them." Toned in an annoyed pointed manner.

"I already agree with you, but this could all be some sort of mad trap or lour." Though if it was I didn't understand even half of it. Maybe Mott had just snapped? It could explain the why, but not the how. Damn it, I was trying to put together a puzzle with only a handful of pieces.

"Reinforcements should be here within a week's time." Osmond informed me, stroking his weird/awesome beard. "Provided the message is not intercepted."

I bit off a comment on that. It was a calculated risk, and one that could pay off too well not to try.

"Come on Boy." Fidelis said quietly. "We almost got them all last time on our lonesome. We could do it. You know we could."

Provided this wasn't all some sort of trap, yes, we likely could.

Was it worth the risk?

I felt like it was a trap of some sort. It was some dark pit in me, maybe just paranoia, but then paranoia had kept me alive until then. As the expression went, there are old dragons, and there are bold dragons, but very few old bold dragons.

I remembered the town, and clenched my fist.

"I can set up a few basic alarms to trip in case of emergency." I mused. "And I can carry two grown men or maybe three women alongside Fidelis in a teleport." Noting the look. "Instantaneous travel to locations I've known. Think of it as a very short lived portal." I explained quickly. "If we kept the group small, I think we could do it with minimal risk."

The Archon grinned.

"But!" I stated quickly. "If we do this I want authority." Fidelis was better suited to it by far, but he was a carrier solider, he was too used to spending lives for my tastes.

The grin turned into a scowl, and I gave an inward cheer.

Osmond considered it. "If the party was volunteer only…" He mused.

Holy crap, this was seeming more and more like something an adventurer would do. "It would be." I stated firmly, while feeling my stomach drop.

"Alright then, you ma-"

"Stop!" A familiar voice called out.

I looked over and saw furious pink eyes, bore into me.

"Familiar." She ground out. "What do you think you are doing?"

Shadow of Zero LV

I spared the assembled 'war counsel' a glance, then got up. "I'll be back in a few minutes." I muttered, then got up and walked out the door.

Louise shut the door with a slam and looked at me. "What the hell do you think you're doing!" she cursed.

I've never heard her curse before… this was more serious than I thought.

"We need to find Mott now, his forces are depleted, and even if he's been getting the mushroom treatment he'll likely know something of value." I explained the necessity quickly

"Mushroom?" she blinked. Then shook her head. "No. You almost died last time. I will now allow it." She stood firmly.

"Keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit." I explained in a lecturing tone. "That time was different. Last time there were a lot more lives on the line then my own." I grimaced, recalling the two faces that hadn't escaped the demon's little 'party'.

The metaphor didn't seem to translate that well, but she ignored it in favor of another thing. "And what if someone else gets in danger? Will you throw yourself between them?"

I growled. "If I could survive it, and save them yes. I'm not some fragile pet Master. I am Darastrix'sjach, of the Darastrix'vis, and a powerful mage, it'll take a lot more than a few scrapes to put me in the ground." I reminded her.

She didn't back down. "A few scrapes? A few scrapes! You had your eye carved out! There was a hole the size of my head in your chest!" she ranted.

I held up a hand to stop her. "And I'm fine now. Do I look injured to you?" I questioned.

She summarized me and glared down, despite the full inch I had on her. "Yes."

I winced slightly internally. Right, I was still a little roughed up. "But do I look maimed?" I questioned again.

She grabbed my hand, and pulled it and my ring of regeneration into view. "No. But only because of"

The hand flashed up and covered her mouth, I shot her a look. Ignoring her muffed fuming "Because I am magi." I stated. "I know what I'm doing master." I said in a calmer more reassuring voice. "I know what it might cost me, and what it could cost others if I do nothing."

She bit me, and I released her mouth in a flash.

Don't look at me like that. Human teeth might not be optimized as weapons but they can still freaking hurt!

I flicked my hand out and shot her a look. "Was that really necessary!" I questioned, eye twitching.

"I couldn't breathe idiot!" she yelled back.

I sighed. "Sorry." I was still tired and hungry and just wanted to get this blasted argument over with. "But I have to do this master. It's the only lead were going to get."

She shook her head. "What if you die? Who will teach me?"

"It's not going to happen." I stated firmly. "Like the old Mutt said. I'm a coward really." I smirked at that. "It's why I got command of this little hunt. First sign things are going bad I'll pull us out, and trust me, I'm very good at running and hiding at this point."

She looked down, away, anywhere but my eyes for a moment, then steeled herself and bore right into them. "Then I'm coming with you." She stated forcibly.

I blinked. "What?"

"I'm coming with you." She took the idea and ran with it. "You said it yourself. I have more power then I know what to do with!"

I needed to get this idea out of her head ASAP. "No, you're not. And that's exactly the reason you can't. You don't have any idea what you're doing!"

Rather than replying she grabbed my hand and started dragging me somewhere.

It took a second to register this. "What are you doing?" I asked.

"Shut up." She muttered dragging me still, she got out to one of the windows then drew her wand.

That got me cautious, I looked outside to see if she had spotted any threat.

"Fireball!" She called out her tone firm, strong, and baring the echoing [b]power[/b] arcane casters tended to throw into their spells.

What fired out of her wand was not a fireball, not at least as I'd term one. It was an orb, white, glowing.

And the size of my true forms fist.

The orb screamed as it flew forth, naked plasma leaving a visible ionized wake before it impacted into the ground a good hundred yards down with the force of a cannon shell.

Then it exploded into a sixty foot wide sphere of power that was so bright I could see it through my eyelids.

Thunder boomed, a loud rumbling roar, that must have been heard damned well to the other side of the building.

Then the shockwave hit, and I had to fight to keep on my feet, as it was I was knocked back a step, with a loud ringing in my ears.

What in Bahamut's breath was THAT!

I gaped openly.

Even Louise seemed surprised, and she was shaking lightly in the signs of mild willpower withdrawal, but she stood firm, hard, eyes boring into mine.

I verbalized my confusion. "Tiamat's teats since when can you do that!"

The fact that Tiamat was a dragoness and therefore did not have such body parts should help empathies exactly how much this had caught me off guard. I seriously did not see that one coming.

"Since now." She stated still painting lightly; she ran halfassed through a breath exercise I had shown her earlier.

Now? What the hell did that mean? I know she studied a bit on her own despite my warnings, (though never with lightning, the distinctive sent of ozone was hard to cover up after all) but that… that.

By the god's I knew the girl had power, but THAT.

Fidelis was over at us before I could say anything else. "Where's the enemy? Did a Balor just go off?"

I blinked, again and looked out the window at the strike zone.

It was a glowing crater, still molten in the center were the glass, what little that had actually survived merely being liquefied that was, was pooling. The majority was outright vaporized. The entire thing gave off deep vacuum of power, like every drop of wyld magic in the area had being called up, catalyzed, and used to fuel that explosion, leaving nothing but a void.

I licked my lips, tasting dust. That was not a fireball, that was something more like a fusion ball. She hadn't simply ignited everything within a set boundary, she had backed together every drop of power she could into a miniature sun, then whipped it at a target.

It was crude, inefficient, wasteful in the extreme.

It was easily the most powerful spell I'd ever seen cast in my life.

"I'm coming." She said firmly, eyes never leaving me for a moment.

I looked at her, then back at the crater, then to Fidelis for a moment. The hound seemed to realize there was no enemy to fight, and was now looking at us in confusion.

I could hear the sounds of panic and confusion stretch out through the school, as people reacted to the huge disturbance.

"Yeah…" I stated not quite hearing my own voice. "I guess you are." I agreed quietly.

Shadow of Zero LVI

It took a second for the implications of what had just happened to hit me, and I promptly snagged both Louise and Fidelis by an arm and drug them out of view while the commotion kicked up. "Alright. We had nothing to do with that." I said firmly to both of them.

Fidelis looked confused, but still opened his mouth to complain.

I cut him off before he had a chance. "Shut it Fidelis. You gave your word to help protect Louise and Siesta." I stated firmly. "If anyone knew Louise could do That she'd be assassinated by the end of the month, and you know it. The truth could cost this world one of its most powerful weapons against enemy invaders." I stated quickly, than thought over our options.

Fidelis glared at me, I'm not sure if it was the insinuation, or that I had just brought his word into it. The old Mutt would still likely screw me over for petty spite if given half a chance, and had a real thing with stuff like lies of any sort. It went against his principals, and being an archon, that wasn't an easy thing for him to be forced into.

Tuff luck to him, at least he didn't have the inherited memories of more unrepentant psychopaths then you could find in a drow settlement.

There was reason most dragons held a strong tendency in certain behaviors. Every bloodline of true dragons held a long and detailed genetic memory, dragons were born knowing how to, walk, talk, and fight the moment they left the shell, actually a they did a little beforehand, they just couldn't implement any of those plans right off the bat.

I had lived a mortal life before I was born a dragon, I had lived, learned, and died a human in a world far more advanced then the Realms, one where there the only monsters were ether men, or creatures of myth, stories, no more.

Some seventeen years as a biped hadn't really stacked up to countless millions of years of accumulated knowledge, but the inherited memories were more a distant thing, like a little mental library. I knew of the skills of my ancestors, of their lives, loves, and pains, but I hadn't actually felt any of them, lived any of them.

So in the end you ended up with a dragon with a much more human sense of morality then most, and one that held a lot more ambition and desire to… well live.

It wasn't on par with true mortality. It still took me years what had taken Siesta days, the urge to just hang back and slack off was a strong one. Why rush? Time would only give me more power, not sap the strength of my limbs like a man.

I had fought that impulse hard for every day of my life.

But I was getting off topic. Wariness and hunger tended to do that to me.

I looked to the pare. "Alright… Master, you stay with me." I shot her a look, and shook my head. "What on earth were you thinking with that? I said keep it to square level tops." I sighed.

She didn't make a protest, but gave me a 'look'.

I'd decipher that one later.

I looked at Fidelis. "Alright, you're on recruiting duty." I stated firmly. "Anyone who works with us, will have to also work with you. If they freak out at the sight of you, then there not up to snuff, likewise if they aren't willing to work beside a non-human, then I doubt they'd ever obey the orders of one. Try to get at least one strong earth mage and a water mage, we might need a backup healer just in case one of us get's tied down and someone gets hurt." I didn't like the idea of both our current healers having to pull double duty as a front, much less if I was one of them. I didn't do team ops nearly as well as I did solo work, but we'd people who knew the lands, and trusted natives to act as insurance for the old men who eventually evaluated all this.

The word of a strange visitor and that of a respected countryman were as different as brass and gold after all. I had to keep the long term in mind while dealing with all of this. Gods know that it was already going to end in a bigger mess then it currently was.

"And what about us?" Louise asked.

I looked to her. "We are going to go help a new friend… and retrieve some things of mine. Have you mastered the art of sensing magic?"

She opened her mouth to protest.

I cut her off, there seemed to be a lot of that going on… "That fireball of yours kinda proves that you've been practicing on your own." I scolded/acknowledged, and sighed. "I wish you'd trust me more in such things, but what's done is done, we best make use of them." I stated.

She gave me a look that was both indignant and embarrassed, and I was reminded of my own aired secrets. "Your one to talk."

I gave her a look. "I did what I felt I had to. I will not call it right, but you would do well to remember to hold any card you could close to your chest if you were alone in an unknown land. I had no idea how any would react to the knowledge of my existence… and if the fate of the Rhyme dragons of this land are any indication, I did so wisely."

She blinked at that. "What?"

"Rhyme dragons." I stated. "The only true dragons native to this land? Wiped out centuries ago?" I asked.

Evidently My Master was not a strong student of history. I'd have to work on that later.

I rolled my eyes. "There were other dragons like me here once, they were all killed." I stated. "When I discovered this, I decided that the belief that I was an elf was a wise one to maintain." I explained.

She fallowed this time, and nodded slowly. "But what could have done that?" she asked, recalling the images I had painted.

I shrugged. "I don't know. It wasn't in any of the texts I read… demons maybe. There is still so much unknown." I shook myself of such thoughts. "Come, we don't have any more time to waste."

Fidelis had been waiting the entire time, an odd pensive look to his face. He gave a snort. "I'll be off then." He stated, turning down the hallways. "Anything else boy?" he questioned in an oddly… none hostile tone.

Well this was a surprise. "Go for quality or nothing, no deadweight." I stated.

He snorted at that, and rolled his eyes, before starting down his path.

I grit my teeth, if the Old Mutt didn't want my opinion then why ask it?

I turned to lead Louise to the hospital ward.

And was promptly tackled Again.

I looked down at Siesta. Delfinger strapped to her back, and sighed. "This is going to be a regular thing with you isn't it?"

Louise let out a giggle.

Shadow of Zero LVII

"Hey Partner!" Delfinger sung in its normal bright and cheery tone… something that shouldn't fit so well on a hollow metallic voice, but somehow did. "I gave them the message!" it informed me happily.

"Ah." I said sucking air back in. "I see that Delfinger. Good work." I let out a cough, and tried to get up.

Siesta wasn't having any of it.

I really needed to figure out Irukuku's shapeshifting trick soon, walking around with the strength of a five foot and small change, complete twig, of an elf, was just really just not working out.

I heard giggling behind me. I twitched.

"Siesta." I started, and shook her shoulders lightly.

She gripped tighter, and I made a manly squeaking sound.

Why couldn't I have come through in the form of a half orc? Or an illithid? No one hugs mild flayer until the darkness encroached on their vision!

"Siesta, I think you might want to let him go now." My master's voice was so distant now, ooooh look at all the pretty dots…

The pressure lightened and air, sweet sweet air sucked into my lungs.

"Mr. Moxt." She said looking up at me eyes hopeful.

"I'm fine Siesta." I told her. "Or I will be once I get something to eat. I have some business in the medical ward, Delfinger said something about you going to get food?" I questioned hopefully.

She blinked a few times, face coloring. "Ah…"

"She left it in the room." The sentient sword explained. "Once she saw you were gone she panicked completely and muff uFf oUf!" He was cut off before he could finish.

Siesta was bright red "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" she whispered sharply at the blade hand wrapped firmly around the guard that served as its mouth.

I smirked at her. "It's fine. We can pick it up on our way. It'll take Fidelis a while to figure out who to look even before he can start gathering up people." The Old Mutt was an officer and a solider first and foremost, he'd get the lay of the land as quick as he could, likely faster than I could, and I trusted him to know the basics of this place soon if he hadn't gotten it out of someone else already.

That didn't however change the fact he'd only been in this realm for a matter of hours, even asking any who'd answer it'd take a good while to find who he was looking for. More to narrow down the volunteers to the best and brightest.

I could only carry to many people in one jump, and to keep our maneuverability, we'd need to be limited to only that many. I was [i]not[/i] leaving good men and women to their deaths if I had the option.

Besides, I could only cast teleport a handful of times in a day, and I wasn't going to go spending spells like candy if I had the chance not to.

"Who are we seeing." Louise asked. "You said a new friend." She reminded.

"A brave man." I muttered. "Went with me after I helped clear the town to track down the demons who raided the place. Nearly got himself killed holding off a glabrezu and a bleeding Marilith of all things because I could only pull out so many in one go." I grimaced, openly for once, that wound was still raw.

She seemed a bit confused by the name, but read enough from my mood to determine this was a rather big deal.

I turned to her and gave my best aloof smirk. "So I'm going to go turn him into an invertebrate for a minute or two." I explained.

She nodded, then apparently the latter part of what I said hit. "What!"

I kept that smirk firmly in place as we continued the trip, ignoring her continuingly aggravated demands for answers.

Siesta I think got it, fore she never spoke a word, but had this tight, hidden little smile on her face and in her eyes. A naked curiosity burned within her, I could almost feel it.

Louise gave up halfway to the medical ward, and I could tell she was more than a little peeved at me, but I would worry over that later… right now what had me interested was that she had apparently managed to recover entirely from her willpower withdrawal…


I was more and more starting to think my little master held more in kind with a psion then a true arcaneist. Still I knew nothing of training someone in those arts, outside of an academic summation of their abilities, and she was most definitely using magic, and I only knew how to teach the arcane arts of my own people. Maybe she'd manage to take hold of my training and become a truly powerful sorceress, or maybe my little lessons would help her uncover and develop her own art.

I suspected it was more likely to end somewhere between, but then again I was somewhat bias in that.

We entered the wing, and at once a strong dry sterile smell came across me, not the sickly tinge of disinfectant, if anything I'd put the odor more to a faint tinge of char… ah, fire and wind magics cycled to burn out any infection before the air was cooled back down and released back into the ward, clever.

Yes the magics of this world were rather limited in range… but more and more I saw how there users wielded them in increasingly inventive ways. I might have to go back over my summery of the local abilities again soon. There might be more worth learning here then I had originally expected. At the very least I had to determine their method of enchantment. They threw out mystically augmented items like they were going out of style, and Delfinger stood proud testament that it could at least match my own school in power and resilience.

I looked at the men and women strewn across the beds… there were enough for all, an all too rare mercy, but the healers were over taxed, I could see two resting with the infamous shivers of overtaxing their abilities.

Some were missing fingers, or limbs, some shivered with debilitating but not life threatening sickness, and others were simply scared, tired, and worn. With my magic I could help any of these people, mend them to a state an good as they had ever been, with the right resources I could even make them better…

But not all of them. Not now, not with time and energy so limited by need. Even with the little ring on my right hand…

I sighed, then drew in air and let my keen senses lead me to my target.

It was time to pay off at least one of my debts.

Shadow of Zero LVIII

I spotted two sets of blond hair, one old and mixed library with gray, the other young and buried deep into a child sized mass of brown fur.

Little black eyes opened and looked up to me with unnatural intelligence. "Mygu?"

I gave it an apologetic look, and it settled back down with a sigh.

It was a very large mole… or a very small dire mole. And apparently the younger mage's familiar. I recognized the boy, he was the relative of the elder man who rested there, and like his companion he was stirring. "hummmm um?" he looked up at me."Again?" he questioned in a wary voice.

The look on his face, on all their faces…

"Guiche?" My little master asked. "Your new friend is Guiche?"

I shook my head. "No, the elder." I started.

The boy stirred,

I shook off the thoughts without outer sign. "Could you give me some space? I'd like to help Gramont if I can."

He blinked a few times and looked up at me.

"Vallière's familiar?" he asked blinking the sleep from his eyes, as awareness and with them recondition slowly flowed into his eyes.

"My name is Levethix'moxt." I stated in as warm a tone as I could. "Could you give me some space?" I asked again.

He digested that for a moment. "Help?" he asked confused.

Louise looked at pointedly.

I sighed. "As you might have noticed, I know a few tricks about transforming things." I stated. "A human can't regrow fingers, or heal sever organ trauma, but there are a lot of things out there that can." I stated.

He blinked. "You want to turn my uncle… into some creature?" he questioned.

Well at least I got the relation nailed down now. I nodded gingerly. "Starfish in particular, rather disorienting, but there is limited sensory confusion outside of the extra eyes, good thorough regenerative abilities, they can survive extreme organ trauma and toxicity well, and most importantly… It's very hard to hurt yourself by accident if you panic. It's my go to curative form when I need to heal someone of longer term problems… but it's rather draining on myself." It took at least two high level spells and a mid ranker, or one strong, one mid and a lot of weak ones to do it in any realistic speed…

People did not tend to enjoy entertaining the thought of just waiting around as a starfish for days while they regrow a liver or some missing toes after all.

'Guiche' shuttered at the thought. "To turn into such a lowly creature…" he stated.

"It's not the cleanest of ways to recover, that's true." I admitted with a slight grimace. "But it does work. I've been using it for longer then you have been alive. Outside of the occasional odd dream and discovering what it's like to view the world from a new set of eyes, there are no side effects."

"Still." He questioned. "Is there no-"

"How long would this take?" a new voice broke out.

Jean Gramont was awake… he looked like a wreck, his face pale and tinged with green, and I didn't even want to think exactly how much pain he had to be in, losing a kidney was nasty not just because of the massive blood loss that would normally kill you in seconds.

If you were un/fortunate enough to survive the injury, you got to feel the wonderful life of your body poisoning itself in a massive and horrifyingly painful way.

Every action you do, even breathing builds up decay within your body, little waste products, poisons, toxins, and other assorted garbage. You could sweat some of it out, but most of it was cleaned up by two little fist shaped filter/organs known as kidneys.

Now you could live with only one of them. A human has some redundancy in how there body's laid out, but you have two for a reason. With only one kidney, you lost a lot of your body's ability to handy any sort of chemical build up, so drinking was out, you had to watch what you ate, if you were a woman you couldn't risk getting pregnant because one kidney alone wouldn't be enough to filter both you and the child's wastes, and among all that, you had to be very careful how much you taxed your body, because working out also built up nasty chemicals that would send you to the floor faster than you'd think.

Even as an invalid, you could expect a good decade or two to be shaved off your life expectancy.

Like I said, not good.

"Remove Poison" I casted holding out a hand and purging him of the slight build up that had developed over the night. It was reflex mostly, a waste of magic in such times, but I couldn't leave him in such a state.

At once he regained some color, and took a breath. Guiche looked between aggravated at me that I had cast a spell on his relative without permission and angry at himself for not acting fast enough to stop me. "How dare you!"

"Nephew!" Gramont barked in a disciplined voice, then sighed in relief and looked at me. "The others?"

I grimaced. "Near as I can tell, the marilith got them while the glabrezu went for you. There was nothing you could have done, with that teleport trick they have, and there shear power…" I sighed "I was worried you wouldn't be alive when we made it back."

"But you did come back." He stated, though he looked disheartened by the news. I could guess his strategy, draw their attention and get the other two to run… unfortunately that tactic relied on your enemy fighting to win, not just to cause the maximum amount of pain they could.

There was a moment of silence among all five of us, and I took a bite out of the sandwich Siesta had brought us earlier. It was long cold now, but I had downed one the moment we retrieved them gratefully. This second I had taken with me and enjoyed as much as you could with survival food. (which I might add is tremendously satisfying, and sweat in ways beyond taste…)

I broke back to the original topic "It'll take about two minutes; it's not long work, just draining." I explained, and fished into my haversack for a small clear glass container. "You'll be in here while I heal you up, you won't have the control developed to hold your breath in that body." I explained.

He considered it, and seemed disquieted. "Could you not think of anything less… venerable?"

I shook my head. "Not the way your thinking, most creatures with potent natural regeneration are ether very simple things like a starfish, or very strong and tough things like trolls… this is your first time shapeshifting, it's a far better idea to be rendered harmless, rather then accidently hurt yourself or others do to reflexes you aren't used to."

He considered that, and seemed to see the wisdom in it, giving me the nod. "Very well. So far my trust in you has proven well spent. I'm willing to gamble on you once more."

Guiche it seemed did not… however he didn't seem to be willing to challenge me on it ether. I couldn't identify the reason, maybe he was just willing to accept his uncle's judgment on such?

"Alright. This will feel… weird." There really was no other way to explain it.

"Polymorph Other"

Shadow of Zero LIX

I dumped a half dozen light cures into him, then dispelled the shift, revealing a healthy (though soggier) Jean Gramont. His color was back, as was his left hand, every finger and thumb accounted for.

He'd have to rebuild a lot of calluses that had become warn away by the much more complete healing a starfish was capable of, but with revitalized muscle and bones, it wouldn't take him all that long.

It did however mean that he wouldn't be able to join us on the second round of the hunt. Jean might have been a skilled fighter, but his body had just become stripped of valuable conditioning, being set into a physically 'perfect' state, with all damage reset, for both good and ill.

At least he hadn't lost muscle mass or tone, that would have taken months to rebuild.

As it was, some intense sparing and he'd likely be in good enough shape to fight in a week, a fact he had taken to with unexpected enthusiasm for a man who had nearly met his end, less than a full day ago.

I wish I could have brought him with me on this. You just couldn't find that level of courage or strength just anywhere. In such capable hands it would have being a highly valuable asset.

As it was I was now facing the brunt of such courage in much less capable hands, and was finding it a considerable annoyance.

"Please!" The blond boy begged as we walked down the halls looking for Fidelis. "I can be of use! I apologies for ever doubting you!"

Somehow in the post healing event Guiche had gotten drawn into the mess, and somehow got the idea that he should 'repay the debt of honor owed by the Gramont line' to me.

Naturally I wasn't having any of it, the kid was flashy, sloppy, boisterous, and glory hungry. If I took him with me he'd be dead within minutes. As it was, I couldn't afford the space to bring him along.

"Now where is that Old mutt?" I muttered aloud. "We've looked through the faculty, the survivors, who the hell is he asking to join up with us? Students?" I questioned.

"You know that's actually not that bad an idea." Louise mused. "A lot of the students are powerful in their own right; I think Zerbst was bragging earlier about casting a triangle spell…"

The younger Gramont perked up at that, ready to throw his pitch again at me.

"No, no more kids." I stated. "It's bad enough you're coming along master. If I didn't know what you were capable of…" I trailed off, only to be cut off by an impetuous voice.

"You're taking Zero!" Guiche screamed in equal parts shock, disbelief, and utter despair.

I shook my head. "You're just lucky you're so small. I can likely squeeze you into whoever Fidelis manages to scrounge up."

"Fit?" Siesta asked, she had kept mostly quite though this, asking questions here and there about what I was doing, doing her best to understand and learn, something I heartedly approved for her to do.

"Teleportation effects general limit themselves to mass carried; I can carry myself and a bit over five hundred and fifty pounds of other things. That includes clothing, weapons, other gear, and any passengers alongside their own stuff." I explained, looking at Louise as a feeling of dread welled in me. Fidelis wouldn't, would he? Hound Archons defended the innocent, and hunted the guilty. It was hardwired into their nature on the same level of a survival instinct in mortal men.

He wouldn't really want to involve students would he?

Louise scowled at that comment. "I'm not small…" she muttered.

"It's an asset." I stated simply. "If you're going to go around swinging swords then being big is fine, but for us spell slingers, good things come in small packages. A small person can accelerate faster in a sprint, they can dodge easier, hide easier, take falls better, and are in general harder to hit in a fight. You'll be grateful for it before too long."

I'm not sure if she believed what I said, but regardless she let the matter drop.

"Please good sir! I will make myself worth the effort!" Guiche tried again.

I was getting sick of this.

I turned to the blond and looked him in the eye. "You want to help?" I asked him tone serious.

"Yes!" he stated composing himself and looking at me with a burning passion. I could see the resemblance a bit better now… the kid might have potential, but not enough to bring into a field like this.

"Then help me find Fidelis. He's a dog man, about this high." I held my hand a depressing distance over my own head. "And built like a brick wall. He might be with a group of others, they'll-"

"Lizard!" A gruff voice called out. "There you are, can't you stay in one place? I've been looking all over this maze for you boy."

I turned and saw Fidelis, and felt a surge of relief, good, we could get this done then.

That relief vanished the moment I noticed his companions.

"Tabitha." I grit my teeth. "What do you think you're doing?"

The short bleunette stood to the left and slightly behind that damned mutt, and flanking his other side was Kirche. Neither of their familiars was in sight, a fact I was grateful for.

"Help." She stated eyes looking into a book she had brought with her.

"And where she goes' I go." Kirche declared proudly, as only a true friend could while volunteering alongside them for something as utterly stupid as this.

I grit my teeth and growled in a decidedly dragonish way, I closed my eyes, and rained in my anger. "Master, Fidelis, Kirche, a moment please." I opened my eyes and did my best to bore a hole right into Tabitha's head with them, if only to see what the hell she was thinking.

Kirche stepped between us defensively. "Whatever you have to say to her, you can say to me." She stated firmly.

"Alright fine." I edited my speech even as I wrote it in my head. "What in the world do you think you're doing?" I asked in an all too calm voice. "Have you even considered the implications of what might happen if you were killed in this? What might happen to those who need you?"

She looked up from the book and I saw a spark of anger in her eyes. "Hypocrite."

Louise gave a small sound of agreement.

I rolled my eyes. "It's precisely the reason that I'm going that you cannot." I stated to her a 'look' of my own.

She didn't back down.

"What crawled up your ass snake?" Fidelis spat. "Were pulling out the moment things look deep anyway." He commented in a bitter tone.

I whirled on the celestial and brought forth every drop of surprised anger down on him. "And you… What in the nine hells do you think you're doing! Bahamut's Breath, they're just kids!"

He gave me a pointed look, and coughed into his hand.

I narrowed my eyes. "That's different and you know it. They are mortal kids, Hound of Heaven. Innocents, and you would have me bring them into a battlefield?"

He shot me a hard look. "Don't play the moral high ground with Me boy. They're willing, they have power, and there blooded." He shot a look at Louise. "Were bringing her along already, aren't we?" he gave a all too human smirk, "Besides, you said we needed a healer who could look after themselves didn't you? That little missy happen to be a 'water mage' alongside a 'wind mage'."

I raged internally, he had a point, but it wasn't good enough.

"Familiar." Louise's voice cut through my anger like a knife. Blasted geas was still doing it's thing, it seemed.

I looked to her, and she did to me.

There was a pause as an unspoken argument raged between us.

I sighed. "I don't like this." I said aloud what I had being verbalizing in every other way but directly up till now.

"No choice." Tabitha stated.

"That man, Gramont, was the only triangle mage to survive the fight in the village." Fidelis informed me. "I figured anything less would be a waste of time."

I thought it over, it was bitter, very bitter, and smart, I freaking hate demons.

Unclenching my hand I sighed again. "Fine, but first we hit up the faculty and see if we can get anyone else. Who knows, maybe some square mage retired to work here." Unlikely but it was worth a shot. If nothing else maybe I could grab one of the healers from the medical ward as an emergency back up to me and Tabitha.

Today was just looking better and better.

Shadow of Zero XL

The group of us started up to the headmaster's office, and found the old man digging into a rather old book. It was well maintained, but like Delfinger it seemed to exclude a potent aura of power and age… a grimore?

"Sir." I said politely and gave a bow of my head. I had retrieved my shadow cloak and ring of bone from the medical wing after healing Gramont, but kept the hood back to keep my face revealed.

He looked up at us, with weary eyes. "Ah." He stated. "You are ready to go then?"

"Almost." I stated. "There is room for one more. I was hoping to fill it with someone from the facility." I stated, looking at my 'troops' with an open grimace. "Someone with a lot of power backing them, as much as possible." It was ham-handed politics at its best, but there really wasn't much time for subtle work.

He paused thinking over things. "I am rather busy as of late, you might consider asking ether my secretary or Professor Colbert to assist you in finding such a person." He stated in that.

I gave nod and turned to leave.

"Professor Colbert?" Kirche questioned, as we started out.

I turned to look at her. "Is that odd?"

She nodded obviously "Professor Colbert isn't very good with paperwork. He tutored me a few weeks ago when I made triangle level. He's very skilled, but his office is always a mess." She explained.

I blinked at that, than smirked. "Ah…" old men and their need for subtle hints. "You know where his office is then?" I questioned intently.

She gave me a nod. "Yes… I could lead you there if you like." She stated throwing a bit of a sensuous air to it.

For some reason Siesta seemed uncommonly hostile to her after that. Weird.

I didn't think I'd ever really understand that girl. At least she wasn't demanding to go with me to go hunt down and pick a fight with bleeding [i]demons[/i] of all things. There had to be something in the water here.

I knocked on the door and waited… I could sense the man inside the room, blindsense was a handy thing, and while diminished in elf form, I could still make some use of it.

He was bumbling about, but made his way to the door quickly enough, opening it to see our rather wide mix of faces.

"Greetings Professor." I said giving again a slight bow of the head, something the dragon in my screamed out at. "May we come in?" I asked as politely as possible.

Fidelis gave me a look, Louise did likewise, though in a different fashion, I ignored both.

"Ah! Of course, of course." He made space, and let us get comfortable.

The place was a mess, half made prototypes of all sorts, a personal library eclipsing the headmaster's own, and slight stains of oil, grease, and wax everywhere. It reminded me of a tinkerer's workshop.

"I'll cut to the chase." I stated. "Were going to hunt down Mott, he was the one commanding the demons that did all this. I hit his manner earlier and with Fidelis and the good sir Gramont's assistance wiped out most of his forces, but if left alone, he'll just call up more."

He blinked at that. "Call up?"

I looked to Fidelis. "You didn't explain?" I questioned.

He snorted. "To busy with other crap, you know how it is." He waved off.

I grunted, "The demons are summoned hirelings, think of them as temporary familiars, just very dangerous ones that demand tribute." I explained. "Tribute that is mostly-"

"People." He cut me off, face grim.

"In one shape or another." I finished with a nod. "They think this land is venerable, an easy source of souls and blood, and as much as I hate to say it, they're right." I explained with a grimace."So we need to cut them off now."

"And you want my help." He exhaled slowly in a bitterly accepting tone.

I shook my head. "I don't want it, but I might need it. Demons are very tough, and strong as hell." Literally, if the blood war was any indication. "You need a certain level of raw power to even make them feel a hit, anything below that threshold might as well be spitting into the wind." I shook my head. "I need triangle mages, anything less is just someone who will draw their attention."

Guiche jerked back at that, maybe I should have simply told him that from the start… no I didn't have the time to waste then, better to just brief them all here. He could be used to explain the situation to others.

"You can't wear them down." I explained. "No fire not hot enough to melt steel will burn them, no cold bitter enough to shatter it will chill them, they can shrug off the blows that will crack boulders, and deal back such strikes in turn. They do not eat, breath, or tire, and the stronger ones can regenerate actively, healing wounds mid combat. All can instantly transport themselves to any place they've ever viewed, any time they wish. Vital organs as we understand them, are not vital to them, I've ripped the heart out of one, and it still fought with no difficulty, they won't bleed out from a slit throat, and gutting them only hinders them if they trip on it. Braining them doesn't work ether, though decapitation does for some reason. It might be tied up in metaphor, the things are more spirit then flesh." I waved off. "And we might be fighting dozens of these things." I stated bitterly. "I'm… relatively strong. I have abilities that can hurt them anyway. Fidelis is of kind born and bred to face such things, but I would like to bolster our odds if I can."

The Louise had paled at all this, and Guiche looked near ready to faint. Kirche was unsettled and Siesta was shivering as her eyes darted, thinking.

Tabitha was as unreadable as ever. Something I actually took a bizarre comfort in.

Colbert looked… different, more serious, his posture had shifted. "And you intend to take my students out to fight these things?" he questioned.

I shrugged. "Not my idea. I don't like it, but I need triangle mage firepower to get through that resistance, the only triangle mage I know is in traction. I can only carry so much weight with me when I teleport, and I'm pulling them out the moment things get dicey." I surmised. "I'd like to bring a couple fully stocked up square mages, or even highly skilled knights, but we need all the help we can grab, and cannot afford to be picky when things are this grave."

He gave me a hard look, and I held it. Colbert had always seemed a kind man to me, reasonable, personable, and in general a fine example of what a human being could be.

This Colbert was a hard man, strong, and willing to do whatever was necessary to fulfill his goals, in this case, that was the protection of the children I was about to lead into battle. He was weighing whether or not to help me, or stop me here.

I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to stop Him if he chose the latter. There was intensity to those eyes, a power to them, I had seen only a few times.

None of them had been in a mirror.

"I'll need a few minutes to prepare." He informed me.

I exhaled a sigh of relief. "You have them. I need time to equip these few as best I can anyway."

He gave me a tight nod and was out the door before we where.

I got up and looked back over my 'troops.' Thinking over my inventory of items and what would be useful for who. We'd need every edge we could get after all.

We were about to head off to war.