Chapter 15: Good Dog, Best Friend

Yuri knew he was regaining consciousness when he could hear the familiar clang of steel against steel echoing around him. He slowly opened his eyes, reaching up to grab his head in attempts to stop the raging headache he now had. The first thing to enter his eyesight was Karol's body to the left, the young boys arms above his head.

"Nice Aid Smash!" he yelled, starting to bring his oversized sword down.

Yuri panicked. With a yell, he jolted upright, curling to the right to escape the blade. The sword clunked on the floor, healing runes sprouting from the impact. That was something he had seen time and time again, and didn't hold his attention. What did grab it was the lime green transparent light that surrounded him and Karol, and his friends in the distance dancing around the hooded man in battle.

"Yuri are you sure you should be moving so quickly?" the worried voice of Estelle said from behind him.

Yuri turned to focus his attention on her. The princess was glowing and her hands were clasped together. He then realized he must have had his head in her lap while he was out.

"Geez Yuri! I wasn't going to hit you!" Karol shouted, looking over at him.

Yuri just coughed to cover his mistake. Of course. Karol never actually hit anyone while performing a healing arte.

"What's going on?" he asked quickly, changing the subject.

"You got hit pretty hard, Yuri," Karol started, "You didn't respond for a while. Estelle set up a barrier to protect you..." the little boy looked out through the magic barrier at the ongoing fight. "Rita got really scary after that...she, Flynn, Judith, Repede and Patty have been out there, fighting him ever since. He looks strong..."

Outside, the five-on-one fight raged on. The battlers were far away, so it was difficult for Yuri to clearly see who was where. Not to mention the swarm of elements flying around. Yuri growled.

"Why are we not out there already? They need help!" he yelled.

"We wanted to make sure you were okay first, Yuri," Estelle said calmly, looking up at him, "I...We were worried about you. You weren't moving and..." The princess trailed off, putting her hands to her chin. "Can you rest a few more moments? Please?"

Yuri took another look at the fighters and frowned. "I can't just stand around while they're out there," he said sternly.

The other two were silent for a moment. Finally, Estelle stood up, the barrier flickering as she did so. She approached Yuri and took his hand in between hers. She closed her eyes and performed a quick First Aid on him. The action caused their defense to fizzle out.

"I'll be here to support you, Yuri. And I'll fight with all my might as well," she said. Yuri felt her squeeze his hand tighter. Estelle glanced in the direction of the battle. "You can do it, Yuri. They need you out there," she continued. The small smile she sported grew a bit when she added, "Rita needs you."

Yuri was at a loss. He blinked a couple times at her before smiling as well. He put his other hand over hers. "...Thanks, Estelle."

The pinkette blinked rapidly as her eyes began to water. But she kept smiling up at him.

"Come on, guys!" Karol called, "we have a butt to kick! And we have to go rescue father!"

The young boy ran off to join the fight with his oversized blade drawn. Yuri and Estelle watched him for a second before looking back at each other. Estelle removed her hands from his and the two of them started for the fighting grounds.

"We have to go save Raven!" she said determinedly.

"That's what I've been saying!" Yuri yelled back with a grin.

Just as the three entered the battlefield, an airborne Judith dropped next to Yuri, Brionac brandished defensively.

"Oh good, you're alive," she greeted before using her weapon to deflect a fire ball, "for a moment there I thought you were dead."

"I don't die that easily," Yuri replied, readying himself for a charge.

Now that he was closer, he could see his enemy clearer. The man was tall. Taller than him. If Yuri could guess, he would say about 6'5". His face was square and large with his blood-red hair slicked backwards. He had a light beard that covered his entire chin and cheeks. And he was twisting constantly, defending himself from the rest and sending countless spells towards the attackers.

He waited for just the right moment, then the ex-knight ran forward with his blade ahead, right for the mage. With a roar, He thrust his sword forward, aiming right at his chest. And so he did. Yuri pierced who he assumed to be the leader right through his chest. Yet...he didn't flinch? He didn't cry out in pain? There simply was no reaction. This had happened before, and Yuri had forgotten. He had just made a crucial mistake in plans.

"Your stupidity astounds me," the taller-than-him mage said with a small chuckle.

From one of his long robed sleeves, he produced a rather large and ornate staff with a large, red sparkling blastia core fastened to the end of it. With one powerful swing, he smacked Yuri with it, sending the swordsman flying. His sword, which he still held tight to, moved with him and slashed through the enemy. But it exited as if it were never there to begin with.

"Yuri!" Estelle celled from behind.

Yuri growled and looked over his shoulder at the approaching Estelle.

"Stay back!" he yelled to her.

Estelle stopped in place and Yuri turned his attention back to the mage's chief. Karol had darted to Yuri's side, helping to defend Estelle. Repede leapt in front of his master, growling and barking at his foe. Judith Rita and Flynn rushed him from behind, hoping to each blindside the man. He simply tapped his staff on the floor. Under all three of them, three stone stalagmites shot up, hitting them or tripping them up. All three fell. The older mage then spun around, sending a swarm of icicle bullets in Patty's direction. The young girl screamed as she tried to deflect them. There were too many, and she ended up falling back, getting trapped between the magic ice like it was a prison cell. This was the last straw for Repede. The dog let out a howl and charged forward, his blade held firmly between his teeth and facing his enemy.

"Repede, stop!" Yuri called out, scrambling to his feet.

He was too late. Repede had jumped in the air, aiming right for the lead mage's face. There was no possible way he could have missed.

But the mage was faster.

He held up his free hand in the way of Repede's blade as if to block it. And then, Repede froze in mid air. It felt like that to him, at least. The reality of the situation was the dog being suspended by thick vines that had silently risen up to grab him. Yuri picked himself up and ran towards his closest companion, ready to slash at the vines and free him. He was knocked backwards by a rather large fireball that came from the chiefs staff. Yuri was winded and a little dazed, but he stood and charged again. He had to save Repede! He had seen what those vines were capable of doing to anything caught up in them. But every time he tried, he was knocked away by some powerful spell. Anyone else who tried to rescue the dog wound up with the same fate.

"Hold on, Repede!" Yuri called out one last time,

He stood once again and started to run to save the dog.

"...You all are meddlesome. It's hopeless to concentrate with you getting up all the time." the chief sighed.

The core on his staff glowed brightly and sent out a shockwave. Yuri collapsed to the ground, his sword clattering away from his reach. He tried to get up and found it impossible. Anyone else who had been standing or attempting to stand were knocked down as well.

" this?!" Flynn asked breathlessly.

"A new spell we have been able to master. Gravity Well..what a wonder it truly is," the mage said with marvel, "and you have your genius friend to thank for it. Your notebooks that survived the fall of our glorious city proved quite useful in the advancement of our plans, Rita Mordio."

"My...notes?" Rita asked.

Yuri managed to turn his head to the right to see her. She looked like she was in pain on the ground, but her face held a shocked expression as well. But he didn't look at her for long. His attention was grabbed by a loud series of pain-filled yelps. He focused back on Repede...or what was once Repede. The ivy rush spell had been completed. The long and sharp thorns had exposed themselves and jutted out of the vines. Repede lay in the tangled mess limply, blood dripping off his fur and the vines that held him there. Soon, the vines vanished and the dog dropped like a rock to the ground. He didn't move.

The party stayed silent, unable to move from their gravity trap. Yuri was the first to speak up.

"Repede...hey, Repede! You're okay, Repede! Come on! Repede!" he shouted.

The dog continued to lay motionless on the ground.

"Repede..." Estelle started calling to the dog from her spot on the floor.

Yuri couldn't move to see her, but he could tell by her voice that she was crying.

"He's fine! Repede is fine!" he yelled back, "He's-!"

"Dead. As a doornail," the mage leader finished.

The cloaked man took a long step towards the fallen dog and picked up the body by the back of its neck, holding it to his eye level. He stared at Repede for a long moment as if contemplating what to do with it. Yuri wasn't going to have any of that. He struggled and did his best to pick himself up. It was difficult and painful. It felt like a mountain was on his back, trying to crush him into the ground. He fought the weight, getting himself to one knee.

"You bastard...!" he growled, his body shaking as he moved to rise.

The mage looked at him, turning his head ever so slightly to face the long-haired fighter. He pointed his staff at Yuri and send another shockwave from the core, casting a second Gravity Well spell. This was too much for Yuri. He cried out and fell to the ground, the weight having doubled on his shoulders.

"What a pity it had to die. I could have used some of that energy," the mage said quietly. He raised Repede's body up and flung it away like a piece of garbage.

"You fucking're next. I'm going to beat you senseless." Yuri growled.

The mage chief walked over to him and put the end of his staff to Yuri's cheek. "Are you really in a position to make threats?" he asked calmly.

Yuri didn't say anything else. He glared as best he could into his foes eyes, his upper lip curled up in a snarl. The chief moved away from him, satisfied with his silence.

"Who even are you?" Karol choked out.

The older mage stood still for a moment, looking as if he didn't hear the young boy's question. "...Simon," he answered with his low and raspy voice. He looked down at them for a moment with a blank expression. From the ground, Yuri's view wasn't the best, but he could have sworn there was a smile on the mans face.

"Wh-what are you...planning to do?" Estelle asked, her voice breaking with strain.

"Wh-where's Raven?!" Rita barked, "where's my dad!?"

"What noisy people you all are," Simon said with a shake of his head, "and what annoying questions. But Mordio, haven't you figured it out by now? You were always smarter than the rest of us." He finished his sentence with a slightly condescending tone as he turned to face where she lay. "and you have brought them to us. The Rizomata Subject, the one with the Heart...they're tools to people like us. They have the power to rewrite the world...combined with your research, of course. I must thank you.

"Through all your research notes and personal journals that we scavenged after our great cities collapse, we were able to piece together a new technique. One that will restore this land to it's former glory. One that will give you a job again, Mordio. It will give us all jobs again. All we needed were the final two pieces to the puzzle."

"Restore the land...?" Judith asked, struggling to push herself upwards, "rewrite the world? What are you...talking about?"

The mage chief didn't answer her. He stayed still for a moment longer before moving to the left, approaching the pinned Estelle. The princess, frozen due to the gravity spell and her own fear, could only stare up at him from her spot on the floor. Simon waved his staff over her body before kneeling down to pick her up.

"No! Stop! What are you doing?!" Estelle yelled, panicking. She flailed desperately in his one-armed grasp as she was flung over his shoulder effortlessly. "Put me down! Stop it!" She turned her attention to Yuri, who was trying his best to lift himself up. Even though it felt like he weighed a ton.

"No! Estelle!" Rita yelled, also trying against the odds to get up from the floor, "give her back! Estelle!"

When he deemed he was far enough away, Simon stopped and turned his head slightly to view his prisoners behind him. "Soon, Mordio, you shall see. The old age reborn anew. And you will be ever grateful for us doing this task."

With that, he raised his staff in the air and brought it down to the floor with a loud smack. Yuri felt the spell lift from his body, the invisible weight that had been keeping him down vanished. As fast as he could, the swordsman sprung up and darted for his fallen sword. He straightened up and targeted Simon. He roared and ran forward to attack, just as a bright light engulfed the mage chief and Estelle. They vanished in an instant. Yuri slowed himself to a halt, stopping just a couple feet past where they had been.

"Damn coward..." he growled at the spot they had been.

He had to get to them as soon as possible. But first...

Yuri lowered his sword and started walking to where Repede's body had landed. The dog lay in a crumpled heap, completely motionless. Yuri was the first to arrive, followed soon after by Patty then the rest of the party. He knelt by his companion, putting his free hand on the dogs shoulder.

"Alright, Repede, you don't have to pretend anymore," he said, forcing a small smile.

Repede didn't respond. This made Yuri frown.

"Hey. Repede. Didn't you hear me?" he asked, giving the dogs body a shake, "come on, I know you can't go that quickly."

"Repede, buddy..." Patty said softly, kneeling on the opposite side of Yuri.

The rest of the group gathered around their fallen friend silently, save for the quiet sobs that started to come from the young pirate.

"Repede. Pal. Come on," Yuri could feel his voice straining to stay even. It couldn't be true. Repede was tougher than that. He couldn't believe it. He continued to call his companions name, his voice getting louder and shakier by the second. It wasn't working. Yuri was getting desperate. He gripped his sword hilt tightly and stood up. He began to go through the actions he had done a million times before.

"Guardian field!" he called, jamming the tip of his blade into the ground.

Nothing happened. Yuri went through the motions again, trying to use the only healing Arte he knew to save his friend. But no matter how many times he went through the actions, there was no effect. The blastia around his wrist had stopped working the day the Adephagos was removed from the world. And with nothing to channel the remaining Aer, like Estelle's natural power, the move couldn't be performed. This didn't stop him from trying. Again and again, Yuri failed to perform Guardian Field. After his 20th time, he was halted by a light touch on his upper arm. He turned to find Flynn, who was shaking his head, a solemn look on his face.

"Yuri, it's not going to work," he said.

Yuri frowned. "So what? You're asking me to give up on him?" he growled.

He didn't wait for a response. But he did lower his sword. Yuri began digging in his pockets, madly searching for something. During his travels, he learned to always hold on to a couple emergency gels. Just as he was beginning to think he dropped them somewhere, he found the gel in his vest pocket. Removing it quickly, he knelt by Repede again and gently moved the dogs face upwards.

"Here Repede. Just eat this and you'll be better in no time," he told the dog, placing the gel in his maw.

He waited for a second, moving quickly to catch the item just as it rolled out of the dogs mouth. The swordsman tried again, gently closing Repede's mouth, then rubbing his throat making him swallow. Still, nothing happened. And the reality of the situation was forcing its way into his mind. A strange hollow feeling rose up from inside him. Repede. His best and only companion for five years. Gone.

From his spot on the ground, he lifted Repede into his lap, almost cradling the animal. "Damn it...I'm so sorry Repede," he whispered, bringing the dogs cheek to his nose, "I couldn't do anything. I'm sorry."

A silence filled the air as Yuri held tight to his best friend. He sat like that for a few more seconds before setting Repede's body on the ground and standing up straight. The party watched him without saying a word. None of them knew what to say anyway.

"...Hey," Rita started, taking a couple steps closer to him.

"We have to go save Estelle. And the old man." Yuri said quickly, interrupting her, "we can't afford to lose any more time."

Patty, who had remained on the floor petting Repede's body, spoke up. "But..what about..."

"We have to keep on moving."

That sentence came out much harsher than he would have wanted it to. He was fully aware of that. Yuri made a mental note to do something about it later.

"We need to follow this guy. There's no time to waste sitting around," he finished, not fixing his tone.

"I-I'm gonna go check out that cannon-thingy. Maybe we can figure out what it really does!" Karol said quickly, trying to regain focus.

The young leader was the first to leave, his boots echoing as he ran to the oversized weapon. Soon, each party member left to join him, leaving Yuri standing by his companions body. That was just fine with him. He wanted a moment to take in everything. His own thoughts. Just to be alone.

A million thoughts flooded through his mind, each one lasting a second or two. And all of them centered around his best companion. Ah, there was his first meeting with him in the streets. Repede's victory against Little Wolf for the first time, dressing his wounds with Flynn...All up until the end of their journey to save humanity. That's when Yuri felt it. That little trickle on his face. He scoffed at himself and quickly brushed the lone tear away. Not in front of anyone else. Even though the rest had left him alone.


Shit. Yuri stayed still, keeping his back to her. But his turned his head a little, to show he was listening.

"What's up, Rita?" he asked, his voice somewhat hollow.

There was the sound of her footsteps on the stone floor and the next thing Yuri knew, she had grabbed tightly to his hand.

"Come on, I think I figured it out," she said, giving his arm a small tug, "I need you there too, Yuri."

"What did you figure out?" he asked.

"If I tell you without showing you, you're gonna get lost," Rita commented, the smallest of smiles appearing on her face.

Yuri couldn't help but give a smile in return. "Alright, alright. Lead the way," he said.

Rita pulled on his arm again, starting to lead him to the over-sized cannon. Yuri had no choice but to follow her to it, away from Repede. As the two got within a few feet of the rest of the party, Rita abruptly released his hand. The swordsman was, to be completely honest, just a little upset from it. But he wasn't going to complain.

"Alright Rita. What's going on. How do we get Estelle?" he asked.

"This thing, "Rita said, pointing to the cannon, "is no conventional weapon. But it's charging. I can't hack into it. There is a substantial amount of the worlds remaining Aer being channeled into this thing. The mana generation can't keep up."

"In other words, the world is becoming imbalanced again," Judith said to sum things up.

Rita folded her arms and tapped her foot impatiently on the ground. "That's really all I got. The marks left on the floor by that ass are different from the device I patched together earlier."

"Karol and I scouted around earlier. The only entrance to this place has been sealed up tight by some kind of magical barrier." Flynn reported, "one that we couldn't figure out how to break in time to save Her Highness."

"We're out of ideas, nanoja. We were kind of hoping you could think of something, Yuri." Patty said, looking up at him hopefully.

Yuri was quiet, taking in all the information. No ideas, no leads, and they were essentially trapped. Things really didn't look too good. But then...

"Where did that guy take Estelle?" he asked.

Karol ran forward, past Yuri and to the spot where Simon disappeared with Estelle. "Here," he said, pointing to the ground, "right where his gibberish is."

Yuri and the rest met up with Karol at the spot. Sure enough, remnants of a language Yuri didn't understand were tattooed into the floor. It was the same spot, alright.

"What are you doing? Those can't be rearranged at all. I already tried," Rita said.

Yuri frowned. He knelt down by the characters. They seemed to glow, just a little bit. Yuri wasn't too sure. Still, it didn't hurt to try at least. He lifted his right hand and looked at the sorcerers ring that still sat on his ring finger. He pointed the gem at the words and fired a bolt of Aer at them. The ground reacted instantly, the ancient language beginning to glow. Rita nearly pushed Yuri over, kneeling down to investigate.

"It'," she said, surprised. The young mage stood up quickly. "Everyone gather close. It's gotta get all of us, you know."

Yuri stood up as well, huddling together with everyone else. He, Flynn and Judith encircled the younger party members. Somehow, Rita had gotten right in front of him.

….Not that he was going to complain.

"Yuri, hit it with the ring again," Rita instructed.

Yuri moved his arm a bit in the cramped quarters and aimed as best he could at the words under all their feet. Again, he fired a burst of Aer at the glowing letters. The light rapidly shone brighter and soon engulfed them all. Soon, that lighter-than-air feeling returned to Yuri and his stomach plummeted once again. In an instant, they had vanished just like their enemy before.

The cannon room was silent, save for the hum of the weapon charging. From the middle of the room, there was a slight shuffle, a cough, and a quiet whimper.