AN: Greetings. I have been concocting this story in my brain and working out the kinks for a very long time. I was never certain whether or not I was prepared to take on such a project, but I thought I needed to stop second-guessing myself and just give it a GO. So I bring you the beginnings of a story that is likely to be lengthy, but also hopefully engaging enough to keep readers interested. I hope you will enjoy it.

Summary: It is one's desires and choices that lead them on the path to find and prove themselves. And for some, it is an endless, restless, and exhausting journey. Fate can intervene and make many ends meet, but it is we who form the ties that bind.

Disclaimer: Ragnarok Online does not belong to me. I am merely borrowing the world and concepts to play with.

Wild Rose: Chronicles of the Eight Seals

Chapter One: Be Careful What You Wish For

Payon was beautiful. Vast woodlands lay scattered in every direction, full of life and the green and budding blooms of springtime. And while there were many beautiful places in Rune-Midgard, the subtle and natural beauty of this land stood out above the rest.

Or at least it did to the captivated aqua eyes of the young woman on the outskirts of Archer Village, seated cross-legged on a stump near a cliff that overlooked the forest nearby. She was decked out from neck to waist in armor of goldish-white and adorned with red, similarly-booted legs crossed in front of her and pleated white skirt rumpled between, shoulder-length salmon-colored hair dusting just over the shoulder braces of her armor on either side, and with a red cape fanning out behind her to complete the ensemble. Upon her head sat a rather cute pair of ear muffs - the single and only headgear that she adorned.

The outfit that she wore would be easily recognized as that of a Lord Knight - or in her case, a Lady Knightress. And the unscuffed state of her armor and attire suggested that it was new, or at least very well taken care of.

Either way, the young woman seemed content to soak up the slim rays of sunlight that filtered through the treetops, taking a deep and refreshing breath of the springtime air. This was her 'spot', in a way. The serene scenic view was not something new to the female knight - she had grown up here. And after being away from it for so long during many years of grueling training, she couldn't wait to return. It was the closest thing she had to a home.

Thus once she reached Lord Knight ranking in the Pronterean Guard, she wasted no time in submitting a formal request to be stationed at the Payon dungeons in Archer Village. And headquarters approved almost without a second thought, as there was never a shortage of help welcome within the dark reaches of the caves and very few of the knights wanted anything to do with the area. They preferred to leave the caves to a few overseeing priests and those more fit to take care of undead monsters.

Zombies? Ghosts? She nearly snorted at the thought. What place in Rune-Midgard didn't have dark creatures like that nowadays? She certainly wasn't going to let stupid superstitions get the best of her. And her fire claymore would more than suffice for dealing with those pesky, moaning ghosts and other apparitions.

Yet despite how heavily haunted and filled to the brim with undead the caves and labyrinths were, there was rarely a lack of adventurers that came in search of treasure or rare items. It wasn't even uncommon to see a timid acolyte make their way in for training in the first level. So of course, it was of the utmost importance that she be ready and waiting for any sign of trouble. She inwardly vowed that the (admittedly small) number of disappearances of trainees and adventurers within the dark reaches of those caverns would decrease to zero now that she was here.

And she would prove...

No, what mattered were the lives of the innocents. Protecting people is what she strived to do and she would do it to the best of her ability. Nothing would hold her back from that! Ever since she set foot in the bustling and intimidating city of Prontera all those many years ago, she knew what she wanted to do - what she had to do. And from then on it was hard work and determination that led her to where she was now.

She would not take that for granted. One thing she would never allow, was for her fears and doubts to hold her back. No matter what.

'Tiny Terror'... Hmph. She'd show them. She might be short and accident-prone, but she could pack a punch. And far too many of her comrades already knew that if they ticked her off enough. Whether she caused a few mishaps or not, she was still a formidable Lady Knight! One day, she would earn their full respect.

Break time was nice, however. The sunshine and the lush treetops were far more inviting than the dank and dark insides of the Payon caves. It did start to wear on you after awhile. And there was also dirt that would cake into your clothes and hair and the disgusting smell of death that permeated the air within...

Not that she would ever shirk her duties, of course, no matter how unpleasant the atmosphere was. She chose this area to be stationed and to protect with the honor of the Pronterean Guard. Enjoying a few minutes to soak up a few rays, have a bite to eat, and bask in the springtime air wasn't a criminal offense.

With that thought, she leaned back on one arm with a sigh, procuring an apple she had bought in town earlier that day and taking a bite into the luscious red fruit. Chewing slowly, she let her eyes wander up into the trees, where birds could be seen and heard frolicking in song together.

If she was being entirely honest with herself, the lady knight would admit that she expected a little more... excitement after having made it this far in her chosen career. She had yet to fight any extreme battles or encounter life-threatening situations. In fact, since she had started work at her post here, things had been rather dull.

It was a terrible thought. Almost the moment she thought it, she banished it to the back of her mind. She should be grateful that there was nothing like that going on! Helping out a few adventurers and assisting some first classes was not something to take lightly. It didn't matter if her skills weren't all needed or if she could cut down zombies and skeletons in her sleep. What mattered is that the cave-goers were safe.

And it had only been a week since she transferred here. In that time, the few mysterious disappearances had stopped. She should feel like she had achieved something! ...Right?

Still, a slight note of disappointment remained, no matter how much she tried to bury it. Her own stubbornness had led her to being part of the Guard. She had her reasons. And she would never, ever forget those reasons...

It was just... sometimes, she almost wished she had taken the path of an adventurer. While her job allowed her to assist others with their quests, she wasn't to take on any of her own. And it wasn't the treasure that she was really aching for; not special items, either.

In truth, she felt like she had accomplished little during all her time in the knighthood.

Nonsense, or so she should have written it off as. She was one of the youngest in her ranking at nineteen and completed her training with flying colors. And it was her own fault that she chose to come here in the first place. She could have requested for more dangerous territory to protect travelers upon.

Lip quirking with the beginnings of a wry smile, she stared at the bitten apple for a moment before taking another chunk of the fresh fruit with her teeth. Maybe, if this didn't feel like enough, by the end of the week, she could take a trip to Prontera and have herself added to the list of bodyguards for hire from the Pronterean Guard. Only the most brave of warriors put themselves up for that. Adventurers had some of the craziest ideas and if they were hiring a bodyguard, their task or quest surely wasn't meant to be easy.

That might just put the spark back into her that she felt she was missing. And getting someone to cover for her here would be a cinch - if they even bothered to at all.

'Selfish', she thought with a slight lurch in her stomach. What right did she have to believe she was standing to defend this place so honorably and protect and help others when part of her itched for much more? She was already openly considering options to take her further and deeper into the world and more dangerous places. And the Guard would certainly require a formal statement as to why she requested the sudden change so soon after she had taken this post. She didn't have anyone with her right at this moment who required her assistance with a grueling quest to speak on her behalf, either. All she could think of were empty excuses.

After the third bite of her apple, the young woman couldn't get any more of it down. All too abruptly, her appetite had diminished to nothing. And just as she was about to rise and find a bin somewhere to dispose of what remained of the apple, she heard some soft chittering and tittering from down below. Blinking, she rose from the stump and peered over the edge, where it sounded like the noises were coming from. And her eyebrows rose just a little at the sight of two smokies, who looked to be... fighting over a torn tree root?

The laughter bubbled out before she could stop it, and she tossed her partially-eaten fruit down to the two critters, mouth quirked into a smile. "Go on, take it. I'm sure that'll be much tastier than tree roots."

Both creatures sniffed at the apple and then glanced up the cliff-side at her briefly, ears twitching. And not but a second later, the two smokies started growling and swatting at each other and fighting over the fruit, instead, the tree root forgotten. With an amused shake of her head, the lady knight backed away from the cliff's edge and straightened, brushing a couple remnants of apple from her armor. It was about time to get back to work. She was almost surprised that no one had come to-

"-ona! Farona! Oh, there you are."

A man who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties came to a halt, clearly a lord knight as well from the armor and clothing he adorned. The woman called Farona offered a sheepish smile and a wave of one hand.

"Ah, sorry, sorry... I was just on my way back! Really. Did the other team come back out yet, Sir Malcom?"

He waved one hand as though mimicking her. "I told you just to call me Mal..." The male knight seemed to shift almost uneasily then, looking at some point beyond her shoulder. He appeared as though troubled about something. "Yeah, they did. I know you should still have a few minutes of your break time left, but...they left the caves a little early, since we called for them."

Farona blinked twice. That wasn't natural. Why would they be calling the Guard out of the cave instead of in? Her brows furrowed inward. "...Did something happen?"

"Oh, nothing pressing!" he assured with a bit too much force. One hand raised to scratch at his hair beneath his iron helmet. "Just... strange, I guess."

The female couldn't stop from rolling her eyes at this point, hands finding her hips and the fingers curling over it with irritation. "Well, Mal, are you going to tell me what's going on or do I have to go and find out for myself?"

"Undead," he said at last. "In town. We don't know where they came from. It's broad daylight! And they're not much of a threat at all like this. The rest of the Guard is taking care of them."

That... was odd. It seemed unthinkable that those creatures would come out to walk and attack in the daytime. Though there had been stories about adventurers crossing blades with a Wanderer deep in the forest, this just wasn't the same. The sun was high - it was midday! A zombie infiltration was bizarre.

Reaching for the sword strapped to her back with a shoulder holster, Farona's blue-green eyes narrowed. "I'll go and help them. Tell me where the attack is."

"Actually," the other knight spoke with a measure of hesitance. "I came here to ask if you could watch the caves. There's no one on duty there at all right now. And the zombie problem is handled." With her slightly disbelieving stare, he raised his hands up. "I promise, okay?"

Unable to take that pleading stare any longer, she sighed in defeat. "Fine. I'll head back to the caves." She was about to go back on duty there, anyway. It didn't really matter. With a nod of thanks, the lord knight took his leave.

'What if a big monster shows up in town and those zombies had only been a diversion?' that same, opportunistic and thrill-seeking part of her brain seemed to whisper as she watched the man disappear into the thick of trees. 'What if while you're standing stupidly doing nothing at the mouth of the caves, you miss all the real action, where you might actually make a difference?'

No. It was wrong. That stupid part of her annoying inner voice was wrong! She had a job to do. She agreed to it.

And she would do it, dammit!

With a huff, before her feet could try to take her in search of the commotion, she trudged her way through Archer Village and back over to the caves as directed. Once she was near enough to see the opening, it was clear that the area was completely devoid of people, as expected. They had all gone to help with the sudden midday zombie invasion.

Nonetheless, even wearing a rather sour expression, she took up post at the mouth of the cave. She knew the schedule by now. Wait outside for ten or so minutes for any wounded or weary adventurers coming out, then patrol the first floor, on to the second, third, and make sure that the entrance to the fourth level was still blocked off and that no one had breached the barrier. Then, work your way back and repeat.

Releasing another sigh out through her nose, Farona stood to the left of the cave's opening, leaning back against the rock formation behind her and crossing her arms petulantly. If she strained her ears, she could almost hear yelling and the slashing and metal clatter of weapons in the distance.

They would come to seek her aid if the battle became more intense with more ferocious monsters, wouldn't they...?

Swallowing down her doubts, she shook her head almost violently. What was with her today? She wanted this post for the sake of staying in Payon. And now, she was expected to do her duty! There shouldn't have been 'ifs' or 'buts' about it.

Even if she had the nagging feeling for ages that she just wasn't trusted among the knights and a bit of a joke due to her clumsiness and habit of bringing about small disasters and property damage, this wasn't the time to be thinking of that. She should be alert and prepared, both for cave-dwellers and for the Guard to come back in need of help.

When only about five minutes had passed, Farona had begun pacing out front of the mouth of the Payon caves, unable to stay still. Perhaps the Guard was taking their time cleaning the zombies out, or calming the citizens, but she did so hate waiting. Sir Malcom's words had seemed more worried than his plea of confusion let on. And the more she thought about it, the more her own unease was settling in and constricting in her gut.

Coming to a slow stop, her gaze moved off into the distance. Could they begrudge her just a quick look to make sure that everything was alright?

And she might have stepped off to follow that urge if something else hadn't caught her immediate attention - namely, rushed footsteps. And just a moment later came the appearance of a young green-haired acolyte boy that suddenly barreled out of the cave, panting wildly and all but falling onto his face as he reached her. Farona was filled with a sudden bad feeling as she hurried to the frightened acolyte's side.

"H-Help! My friends-!" He reached out to yank on her cape. "A-a-a merchant and a thief-we were leveling together on the first floor and-and-!"

Farona quickly knelt down to help the poor boy back up as he dissolved into a small coughing fit. "Breathe," she instructed, pulling the trembling acolyte to his feet. Kids could certainly make mountains out of molehills if they went in there unprepared to fight what lied within, but the boy was sweating so hard that it was even leaking down to his neck. Her voice turned urgent. "Tell me what happened to you and your friends!"

"I-I don't know what it is!" Now that she could see him up close, his honey-colored eyes looked nothing short of terrified. "I didn't think there were monsters like that on the first floor! But you gotta help them! I warped out to get help but that thing is fast and chasing us and-please!"

Whether the boy was exaggerating or not, Farona didn't think twice about it. Prying the acolyte's grip from her cape, she dashed straight into the cave. "Wait there!" she called from over her shoulder as she disappeared into the darkness beyond. "I'll bring them back safely!" The young acolyte responded, but she couldn't make out the words-and it didn't matter, anyway. There were two others to save and time was too precious to lose.

Although she was clad in armor, it didn't slow the lady knightress's pace down at all. Not only did she know these caves like the back of her hand by now, but she had rather impressive speed for her short legs. And besides during her extensive training, she had never really had much of a use for it before now. This was the first time there was anyone in the caves in need of very fast help.

The scenery went by almost in a blur as she sprinted, keeping her eyes pealed for any sign of movement and ears alert for any cries or sounds of distress. Bats flapped their way into her face, but she swatted the familiars out of her line of vision, paying no attention to their shrieking squawks as they hit the cave walls or the flooring with heavy thuds. There was no time for these weak things. Where were those kids!

And then, it was as if her silent pleading was answered: somewhere to the south of her came a noise - a scream. Instantly, she turned on heel and ran back the way she had come, looking for the nearest path that would take her south toward the vocal cry.

Damn, speed or not, she should have thought to have some fly wings handy...

Growling under her breath, Farona made to unsheath the sword from her back, picking up her pace even further. There were some faint scuffling noises against a wall that she could barely hear-but they were there. This was the right direction.

"I'm coming for you!" She shouted openly, hoping to get one of them to respond to her and hoping beyond hope that neither of them had been hurt or worse. "Please resp-"

The knightress came to a sudden sharp halt along with her words, hair whipping against her face and jaw falling open. It seemed that the acolyte boy had not been mistaken. The dread King Osiris certainly did not belong in the first floor of the Payon dungeons! And he had already summoned two ancient mummies to assist him!

Her eyes darted around and quickly landed on the merchant and thief, who were trying in vain to ward off one of the ancient mummies in the far corner with axe and dual knives, the second one closing in fast. "Get down!" Farona yelled out, eyes blazing as she charged at the monster. And when the boy and girl ducked, she swung her blade neatly into the monster's back, forcing a guttural, inhuman sound that reflected its pain.

"Get out of here! Now!" she shouted to the cowering duo, pulling back and ripping her blade from the monster's back-just in time to swing it in an arc straight around to her right and slice the other one straight in the chest. "I'll take care of this! Go!"

The thief girl nodded her head of thick violet hair and moved to grab her frightened merchant friend's hand to hoist him to his feet. His axe fell with a thud, and he made no move to pick it back up. Farona could only spare them one peripheral glance as they dashed away. She would just have to trust that they could handle the bats and zombies they might encounter on the way out and make it to safety. The lady knight couldn't follow them - there was no way these horrible monsters could be left here to run loose here!

In the back of her mind, as she continued hacking and slashing at the two ancient mummies, she couldn't help but think this was some kind of karma for wishing she could be doing something more thrilling. She had definitely never taken on a creature like this before. They were only meant to be handled in parties of the bravest, strongest, and most skilled of Rune-Midgard. Taking on one alone was... stupid. It was inviting death to knock at your door and then opening it blindly to let him in.

With a spark of surprise beneath her raging adrenaline as she fought off the mummies, however, the salmon-haired woman vaguely registered that Osiris himself was... missing. Had he never spotted her or the others?

Finally finishing the two ancient mummies off, she heaved for breath, her brows contorted with puzzlement. Even if Osiris had warped somewhere else in the first floor, she couldn't very well just leave it to do as it pleased! There might be more adventurers or even simple mushroom harvesters that could have a fatal confrontation with the monster!

The smart thing to do would have been to leave and get help first, but the knightress was too stubborn to consider that for more than a fleeting second. They obviously didn't want her help, so why would she want theirs? She could do this-and then she could prove just how strong and capable and reliable she was!

With a new flash of hard-headed determination, she took off in the opposite direction the merchant and thief had fled, keeping her sword at the ready. A couple of ancient mummies were easy enough, but Farona knew that it would get worse. And she had to be prepared. She had to-there he was!

And this time, he certainly noticed her presence. No sooner did she spot Osiris before he had summoned no less than six ancient mummies all around him-all of which immediately went straight for her. Holding her ground, the lady knight braced herself, rearing her sword back and-shlick-buried the heavy blade into the first. And only one miniscule breath was taken before she yanked it free and slashed it into the next, and then one to her left, another from behind the first, in an arc, left, right, up, diagonally downward-!

Bandages and rotting flesh littered everywhere, but Farona couldn't bring herself to stop until every last one of them lay at her feet in pieces and piles. Her stomach quaked with a wave of nausea from the sight and smell, but it was buried beneath the frenzy that guided her movements. She had to keep going, she had to let the adrenaline push her forward and keep swinging, keep attacking-!

When the final of the six fell, she didn't even think - she just moved. Releasing something akin to a battle cry that cracked her voice, aqua eyes wild, she ran straight for the waiting Osiris, blade poised to slice into the undead king with every ounce of strength she could muster. But before her blade could come down onto the monster, she felt herself slow and stop-but not by her own choice. Panicked, she tried to trudge forward, straining every muscle in her body to close that distance, but no matter how she struggled, it was as though she were trying to run and move underwater. It was...

Green. A spell. Quagmire.

"Rrrrrrrrgh!" Her teeth clenched tightly, bared, and sweat rolling down her brow. But no matter how much effort she exerted, the bandaged king was out of reach! Even as she heaved the blade down from overhead, she missed entirely, the sword falling and now unbearably weighted, just like her legs and arms in the thick of the spell.

And then, to her horror, Osiris summoned six more of his ancient mummies-and she couldn't even lift her sword to stop a single one. In mere seconds, heavy, putrid fists had knocked her clean down into the ground, still trapped within the quagmire. One punch then hit her square in the jaw just as another stole her breath by impacting right into the armor covering her stomach. The protection didn't break, but she could feel the curved edges of it digging down into her skin painfully.

She had to get out of the quagmire! If she could do that, it would be just as easy as before! But the positive thoughts were doing little when she was surrounded and being beaten on from all angles by the summoned lackeys. To die here would be embarrassing, indeed. She hadn't even faced the boss monster himself yet.

It couldn't be helped, though. All she could see was green and her bastard sword was still like a steel ten-ton weight in her grip. And with another sock of a rotting fist right into cheekbone, she almost saw stars. Slowly, she tried to scoot back, but the bruising attacks were coming from all directions and her body was too sluggish, sapped of speed and everything inbetween.

Too much. It was just too much. Her own stupid pride kept her from seeking assistance from the others and led her to running headfirst into something she knew she couldn't handle. She was feeling dizzy and light-headed, only stabs of pain with impacts reminding her that she was still conscious.

And she almost wished not to be. She almost wished she could just black out already and...


Farona might have thought the unfamiliar voice to be a figment of her imagination, if not for the sudden shield of pale green light that erupted into being around her when the next mummified punched aimed for her, the brilliance of it momentarily blinding her completely. Moaning groans of what might have been either surprise or frustration erupted from the creatures all around her, the pounds of their deteriorating flesh smacking solidly against a barrier one after the other.

...And the thick, sickly green beneath her had dispersed. The quagmire had-!

Wasting no time, the lady knight dredged up as much strength as she could to lurch back up to her feet distance herself from the mob. She thought she saw a blur of brown and white moving somewhere in the background.

"You-I mean-" she couldn't seem to form words. Dimly, she registered that it must be a priest, but even a priest wouldn't be able to handle a battle like this! "You should get out of here! This is dangerous!" Completely hypocritical, but she paid it no mind, returning to slashing at the monsters around her-though not quite as strongly as before.

"Turn Undead!" One of the ancient mummies before her was promptly obliterated in a cross of pure white light. "Kyrie Eleison! Blessing! Increase Agility-!"

It was all happening so fast-magic surged all around her, filling her limbs with raw power and boosting her senses. She felt... amazing. Never had she received outside magical support before.

"Hey, now-don't stand there and gawk!" Was it just her brain going haywire, or did he actually sound a tad amused? From beyond the bright green and white barrier, it looked like he was gesturing at her. "Take them out!"

Her cheeks colored with embarrassment when she realized she had just been standing there. Raising her blade with more speed than before, she arced it right down with a slash through two ancient mummies, the precision and force so much less sloppy than her own frenzy had been prior. And with another few swift swipes of her trusty blade, the last ones fell to the join the others upon the very littered floor.

"Distract Osiris! I need only about five seconds!"

While the male's voice was commanding, there was still almost a light-hearted tone to it that made no sense to Farona given the situation. Nonetheless, she did as he wanted and went straight for the undead king once again, blade raised just as before. But this time, she skirted off to the side and then aimed to slash from behind, narrowly missing the new pool of quagmire that he left in her wake.

"Take this, you-!" Her blade hit true to its mark this time, pulling a groaning roar from the monster when it lodged into his shoulder. The lady knight yanked back, trying to free her sword for another strike, the building of magic from the vicinity of the nameless priest growing stronger and stronger...!

"MAGNUS..." The light grew almost blinding, tendrils of magical power swirling and collecting like wind, fluttering her skirt and hair. "...EXORCISMUS!"

The deep voice rang throughout the cave as light - much brighter and more intense than the simple barrier - erupted from around the ground at her feet and completely engulfed her with warmth. Simultaneously, the mummified monster's voice exploded with what must have been nothing short of agony.

Pulling her sword free, Farona stumbled back, panting and watching wide-eyed as the monster quaked and writhed and screeched out with its inhuman voice. And beyond Osiris, she finally got a somewhat decent look at the priest - who wasn't just a priest. The High priest sported a smile as he continued to ravage the undead king with his powerful spell, the blinding light reflecting off of a thick pair of sunglasses that rested on the bridge of his nose.

And he might have struck her as looking cool, if not for the ridiculous pair of bunny ears that flopped almost comically as his clothing rippled with waves of magic.

Well... it just served to show that you couldn't judge a book by its cover. He was obviously a very powerful and skilled high priest to be handling Osiris with that level of confidence and without even breaking a sweat. She was awestruck, feeling the power of his magic roll over her in waves, the form of the dread King Osiris completely obstructed from view, his cries growing softer and softer...

Until they were no more.

When the last bit of light faded, there was a heap of treasures where Osiris once stood, laying in a haphazard pile. Farona watched with blinking blue-green eyes as the unknown high priest came forward and gathered the items up, stowing them away in a leather bag at his side.

"It was already wounded," he informed her, turning back to look in her direction. Or at least, she assumed he was looking in her direction. With those black glasses on, she couldn't tell just where his eyes were focused.

...And who on earth would wear sunglasses deep inside of a cave to begin with? It was plenty dark inside already. Did he need to block his eyes from the brilliance of his own spells...?

The man's head cocked to the side as he approached her, an easy smile working onto his lips. "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?"

Something inside of Farona gave an uncomfortable jolt, but she quickly quelled it. And her mouth worked soundlessly, opening and closing, but unable to form any words in her dry throat - which only seemed to amuse the nameless brunette all the more.

"I told you it was wounded, right? Why do you look so startled?"

He laughed lightly and the salmon-haired young woman swallowed down, trying to find her voice. "I... I just..." Gods, she must have sounded like an idiot! She should at least thank this guy for saving her life! "You-I... thank you?"

"My pleasure," he mock-bowed, coming to a halt before her and extending a hand. "Name's Yune Hiraze. High priest rank A, Prontera Parish."

Almost in a daze, she reached out to dumbly shake his hand. So he wasn't just any high priest, either; he was an elite. She really had lucked out that he happened to be here when she was in grave peril. If not for him, she would have been done for.

This now marked the second time a priest had saved her life.

Once her fingers were close enough to grab, the young man shook her gloved hand heartily with his own. "Yes, a pleasure indeed. Now are you going to tell me your name, or just keep staring at me like I've turned into a mummy?"

"S-Sorry!" she stammered out, cheeks flushing enough to almost match her hair color. She need to get a hold of herself! "I'm auh-Fa-Farona. Lady Knightress, newly inducted to Lord Knight ranks, Pronterean Guard. Nice to make your acquaintance..."

"The Guard? Ah, so you were patrolling." With a squeeze, he released her hand, which she quickly pulled back as she nodded mutely to affirm his words. "I must say, that was some pretty impressive sword work you managed without any back-up. I thought someone so short would have a much tougher time wielding such a large blade."

Farona's cheeks turned a hint darker, but with irritation this time, which was clearly reflected in her tone as she replied, "What does being short have to do with anything?"

"Nothing, nothing!" He laughed rather jovially once more and she looked away. Being mocked was something that she couldn't stand. "Looks like you did get injured, though. Let me help you with that."

Her eyes riveted back on him. "But-"


The knightress's jaw snapped shut as warm and comforting green light surrounded her, easing up the sting in her jaw and side, the bruises and scrapes all disappearing from her skin, leaving only the dented armor and frayed leggings to show that she had been harmed at all. "Thanks..."

He let his smile speak for him, and Farona was forced to set her gaze elsewhere again, self-consciously swallowing with uneasiness. It wasn't fair that friendly male priests set her so much on edge. And it just didn't make any sense! Of course they helped people - that's what their class and their skills were mostly for! She was being stupid. It wasn't like they actually knew-

"That should about do it," Yune reported matter-of-factly in a self-satisfied manner. "You might want to see the smith about tuning up your armor a bit, but I've taken care of the rest. Feeling better, I hope?"

"Yeah-I-much-I should... I should go and let the rest of the Guard know what happened." Something about him just made her feel rather unsettled inside. Farona couldn't explain it. There was more to it than just having been saved by one of the elite clergymen. She had a strange urge to run clear away from the man.

He gave a short nod, tapping a gloved finger to his chin. "I suppose I should come along. I'm sure they'll be wanting a statement from me, as well."

The high priest was correct, of course. After the sudden appearance of a monster like that, the Pronterean Guard (and likely Payon's forces, as well) would want a full account of what happened with as much detail as possible. The two of them would likely be sitting cooped up in one of those stuffy offices for a good couple of hours giving accounts of the events and answering questions.

Farona was not looking forward to that in the least. With a resigned sigh, she started off to the west end of the caves and the quickest path to the entrance. She could tell Yune was following - mostly because she could hear him humming a rather chipper tune that echoed behind her. It still amazed her that he wasn't the least bit shaken after having come face-to-face with Osiris and battling him on the fly. Or perhaps he was just hiding his true expression behind those huge glasses of his.

"Not very talkative, are you?" he quipped brightly, breaking her from her thoughts. Her frown deepened as she huffed before replying, "There will be plenty to say when we speak to the rest of the Guard. Save your breath."

The brunette high priest continued on as though he wasn't even acknowledging what she said. "You know, your form and skill might have looked more impressive if you weren't wearing those cutesy earmuffs." He chuckled. "Rather made me want to say 'awwww' the moment I saw you."

"Says the guy wearing a fluffy pair of rabbit ears on his head," she mumbled under her breath, cheeks slightly heated. The ear muffs, of course. She got teased about them before during her training and steady rise through knighthood. But they were important. It didn't matter what others thought of them.

"I'll have you know, women find my bunny ears very charming," he stated almost proudly. Unseen ahead of him, Farona rolled her sea-colored eyes. So he was one of those, was he. She couldn't quite mask the snort that escaped her.

"Now that's not very lady-like," the priest tsk-ed from behind her.

Coming to a halt, the lady knightress turned around sharply, brows creased and cheeks still hinted with red. "Can you just shut up? Maybe I don't want to talk!" Much less be mocked by this young man she'd only just met, even if he had saved her life. She thanked him. And the Guard would probably give him a reward of some sort for coming to her aid. That was more than enough!

His brows rose somewhere just above his sunglasses. "Whoa, I was only teasing. Maybe if you lightened up and didn't take everything so seriously, you wouldn't look as though an enchanted peach tree just used you for target practice."

Farona shot the man a weird look. Of all the... Enchanted peach tree? That was the best analogy he could make? Shaking her head, she continued onward. That didn't even merit a reply, as far as she was concerned. This was a matter to be taken seriously. And he was the one waltzing about like a child at Christmas in the Toy Factory.

...Alright, so that wasn't the greatest analogy either. So what.

Finally, she could see a formation up ahead that marked the weaving path to the cave's mouth, and the knightress's booted feet quickened, intending to head straight out without any other further distractions. And as if some higher power was playing cruel tricks of their own, she felt a squeaking familiar smack right straight into her face with a resounding screech.

"UGH! GET THE HELL OFF OF ME, YOU-!" Barely thinking straight any longer and irrational rage taking a hold of her, Farona swiftly yanked her sword free of its confines, slapping the bat-creature into the side of the cave wall simultaneously. Then, with all the speed and strength she could gather, she impaled the familiar mercilessly, running the dirtied blade straight through and deep into the rock beyond.

Crack. Crick. Crack. Crickcrickcrick. Almost in slow motion, spiderwebs of cracks ran up through the rock from the point of where the sword was lodged, higher and higher, and there was a slight rumble just before-

"Watch out!"

Farona felt a rough shove to her shoulder just as she pulled her bastard sword free, sending her and the blade flying off to the side and out of the way as a large portion of the cave walling collapsed in a huge heap of heavy rock and dirt. It crashed down like thunder, shaking the ground and clouding the air with puffs of dirt and aged mold, obscuring everything from view. Coughing slightly from the ingesting of the soiled, dank air, the lady knight lifted herself back up to her feet, peering through the mustiness. Where did that annoying high priest go? He wasn't... caught in the falling rocks, was he? Her chest tightened as she struggled to find her voice.


There was only a brief pause before she heard him clear his throat. "Hm, this is going to complicate matters a bit, isn't it?" As the dust began to settle, she saw that the high priest was perfectly fine. He was merely standing next to the vast wreckage with a tilted head.

Did nothing phase this guy?

Both of the bunny ears hung down over Yune's sunglasses as he peered over the damages. "...Well, now. I can only imagine whose salary that's going to come out of." He looked up again to flash her a smile. "You should learn to control your temper."

Farona groaned loudly, trudging the short way that remained to reach the entrance, her sword's tip dragging on the ground behind her. This was going to have to be part of her report, unfortunately. And not only would she be expected to cover the damages and assist the manpower it would take to clear the caved-in area and blocked passage, but she could almost already hear the laughter.

She'd caused another small disaster. The 'Tiny Terror' strikes again...

Her comrades were going to have a field day with this. And the added addition of this happy-go-lucky high priest with the rabbit ears on his head only made her dread the imminent report all the more.

Farona cursed herself for ever wishing for more excitement in her job. This definitely wasn't what she had in mind.

AN: This is basically just setting the stage for things to come and introducing two of the main characters, but it was a lot of fun to write.

I would love to hear what you honestly think of it so far. Are the characters interesting? Was there enough action? I just really want to make an engaging story that hopefully readers will enjoy.

Thank you very much for reading!