Chapter 8

"Rasmus!" Sylphiel gasped as she watched him crumple to the ground, landing face first on the cobblestones.

Leaping down from her perch, she levitated over to him and dropped to her knees. Several other people came dashing out to join her as she carefully rolled him over. His nose was bleeding, but he was still breathing, eyes closed. "Rasmus," she cupped his cheek. "Please wake up..."

Twitching, he opened his eyes and smiled at her. "We did it..."

"Dean," someone in the school uniform said, worry in their voice.

Sylphiel looked up, finding a sea of students.

Slowly, Rasmus pushed himself up and dabbed at his nose with a shaking hand. "Used a bit more power than I should have, I think," he said softly to Sylphiel. "Help me up please?"

"You shouldn't..."

"Shouldn't and have to aren't always the same thing."

"That made no sense."

"Sorry."

Reluctantly, she assisted Rasmus to his feet. He wiped the blood from his face as he stood and if it hadn't been for her steadying him, he would have been back on the ground again. Lina landed next to him then grinning, "Nice work!" she said cheerfully. Thankfully, she refrained from slapping him on the back.

He gave her a look, then glanced around the crowd. "Teachers, faculty, students," he said loudly. The murmuring of the crowd silenced. "The city of Sairaag is in danger. We are under attack by two forces who, while not working together, are at least benefitting from the other's presences. Being that I am only one person, I can only do so much, thus I must ask for your help and cooperation. I'm sure you have heard that there is some illness going around that has caused several deaths in the school. I assure you, it is no illness. However, whom it will strike next is not known except that it will go for those who are the magically powerful and make themselves available for attack. This is the first of Sairaag's attackers; an ancient energy vampire. I have appointed Lady Sylphiel and Lord Rezo as leads on the investigation and defense against the vampire. You are all to cooperate and obey them as you would me for the time being.

"Our second attacker is Crown Prince Kayel for Wytheria. I'm sure you've all heard of that country before." There were some discontent noises from the crowd. "His attack is in retaliation of my expelling Marron. As such, I will deal with him personally, along with Lina Inverse. I have activated a shield over Sairaag to protect the city from further damage until the threat is dealt with. Lina and I will endeavor to resolve the issue quickly."

Rasmus looked around the area, then nodded, "Return to your classrooms now in a swift and orderly fashion. When you are needed, you will be called upon. Professors, you are to implement lock down procedures once you have accounted for all your students. Now go."

Immediately, the courtyard began to empty, and Rasmus's grip on Sylphiel's shoulder began to slip.

Lina and Gourry stepped in, catching him before he hit the ground.

"Thanks," he said.

"You should have Rezo look at you," Lina said, "After using that much power... That was about the same amount you used er... well, back then."

"Twice as much," Rasmus said faintly, "If we want to get technical about it. Half of it went to that damn vampire." He managed to straighten and pushed his sleeve back slightly. His wrist looked almost charred. Sylphiel gasped. "David helped, though, and Flagoon is running the shield for now. We need to get the situation with Wytheria settled quickly. I don't want to put too much strain on Flagoon, given the situation." He looked down at Lina. "Best course of action, since the golems aren't easily destroyed would be to take out the one controlling them."

She nodded. "Right. I'll go do that-"

He grabbed her hair as she was about to turn away. "Hold it, Lina. Do not kill him! He's a crown prince and if just expelling one those idiots gets Sairaag attacked, I'd hate to see what killing one of them gets me."

"Fine. I'll take him prisoner. How's that?"

"You're not taking care of my business either, Lina. I need to deal with it."

Lina sighed, rolling her eyes, "Haven't you ever heard of delegation?"

"Yes. But do you delegate the settling of your grudges to someone else? Or do you punch their face in yourself?"

She broke into a grin, "Ohhh! Yes. I see what you mean."

Sylphiel frowned at him. "But-"

Looking down at her, Rasmus smiled slightly, "I'm leaving it to you and Rezo to deal with that part of things, Sylphiel."

She flushed, hands going to her cheeks. "I - I should get to that then!" she said and dashed up the front steps of the university and inside.

"I see you gave it to her, how'd that go?" Lina asked.

Rasmus frowned at her. "I'm not sure. However, we need to take care of that," he pointed up at the giant rock rolling down the shield.

"Can we get out of the shield?" Lina asked.

"Yes. I built a door in at the Path to Flagoon. I figured if I ever needed to use the shield, I'd need a way out to remove the threat." Rasmus turned and began walking.

"Ras," Gourry said as he hoisted one of the mage's arms over his shoulder, "You should probably sit down or something. You can't even walk straight. Have you been drinking?"

"..." Rasmus closed his mouth and sighed.

Lina slapped her hand to her forehead.

...

...

It wasn't more than a few hundred feet out past the front gates that mage students began flying from the university's front steps, heading out to various places in town.

"Wow, where are they going?" Gourry asked.

"Plan Alpha, probably," Rasmus said, looking up and watching the pattern. "They're going out to make sure that the people are safe and get everyone calmed down and inside, out of the way, in case a fight breaks out in town."

"Cuts down on crime during the crisis too," Lina said.

"That was the thought," Rasmus said and tried to limp a little faster. Another boulder hit the shield above and rolled off, landing outside the city.

"You sure you should be going out to do this, Ras?" Lina asked, "You can hardly stand."

"You expect me to just sit by and -"

"I expect you to be mature and intelligent!" Lina interrupted, but didn't release him as she helped him along. She sighed. "I understand. I really do. You don't want anything to happen to Sairaag, or Sylphiel, but if you die... There'd be a real big hole left in a lot of people's lives."

"Rezo's here."

"You're not Rezo! And Rezo isn't you! It wouldn't be the same at all!" Lina shook her head. "I guess you giving him an important task didn't really mean anything after all."

"He was suited to the task and he was available, and had already volunteered," Rasmus said, "I'd be stupid to not take advantage of that. Whether it benefitted me or not. If I hadn't been marked, I'd still have put Rezo to researching the vampire."

"What's it going to take for you to realize that there's no comparison between the two of you?" Lina demanded.

"I..." He lowered his gaze.

"I'm absolutely serious. You've got nothing to prove when it comes to Rezo. You're two different people now. Everyone knows it. Sure, Rezo's going to be respected as the Red Priest, but you're Dean Rasmus! These people know you, and have seen everything you've done for them. They don't treat you with respect because you're Rezo's copy. They treat you with respect because of your own actions!"

"What about this current mess?"

"How were you to know that the brat would call in his asshole brother?" Lina snorted. "Besides, I think you're right about those golems having to have taken time to be called in. I wonder whose property they walked across. I'm surprised no one's attacked them yet!"

Rasmus kept his mouth shut as he thought on that for a time.

"Hey, Lina. You think Amelia and Zelgadis might show up?" Gourry asked.

"Maybe," Rasmus said, "Especially if Kayel took those things over land." He tried to walk a little faster as they reached the arch that began the Path to Flagoon. It was glowing slightly, with runic symbols shimmering on the stones.

"Ras," Lina said and slipped out from beneath his arm, leaving him to stagger against Gourry. "You can't fight like this."

Closing his eyes, Rasmus sank down to the bench beside the arch as Gourry led him there. "Maybe I can distract them."

"You'll get clobbered," Gourry said, looking Rasmus over.

Bracing his hands on his knees, Rasmus sat for a moment, eyes closed.

"Look, Ras," Lina said, "You put up that barrier. Lots of people saw you do it. If you sit out now, no one's going to blame you or say that you didn't do what you could to protect people."

"But you can't take those things on by yourself," Rasmus said.

"I'll figure out a way." She put her fists on her hips. "This guy's really pissed me off, you see! And no one pisses off Lina Inverse and gets away with it!"

Rasmus snorted, opening his eyes and looking up at her.

"So sit this one out, Ras. Sylphiel would seriously be upset at me if I let you fight and something happened to you."

He sat back a little. "Why?"

"Because she loves you," Gourry blurted.

"Gourry! You yogurt-brain!"

"What?" he winced back as Lina slapped him with her slipper.

"That was for Syl to tell him herself!" Lina huffed.

Rasmus stared between the pair, clutching the edge of the bench. "But - she... she's always yelling at me."

Lina shook her head. "You and her need to sit down and have a talk," she rolled her eyes. "I've done more than I should have, telling you to give her a gift like that. And don't tell her I told you to!"

Unable to help it, he smiled. "I didn't think she'd accept something so... personal."

"A girl likes to feel special. Grand projects for the city are awesome, but something just for her..." Lina smiled. "You stay here, I'll go see if I can get rid of Catapult guy at least!"

"Wait. I have to unlock the door first," Rasmus said. Shoving himself to his feet, he swayed and moved to stand in front of the arch. Closing his eyes, he called on his powers, igniting a circle on the flagstone beneath his feet. A crackle of magic went up the arch, turning the runes there from blue to red. "Go quickly," he said.

Lina reached out. Gourry's hair was the first thing she caught and hauled him through the portal.

On the other side, Lina looked back to see the runes turn blue again and Rasmus crumpled to his knees.

"We'll finish this quickly," Lina said to him and grabbed Gourry beneath his arms, taking off.

Rasmus watched them go and sighed. "Why'd I have to go and get marked before all this started?" he muttered, rubbing his eyes. Slowly, he staggered back over to the bench and dropped down to a seat.

"You surprise me, copy."

Lifting his eyes, Rasmus looked at the tall, elegant man that stood before him. "Not only are you more powerful than I had anticipated, but resourceful. None of my victims have ever lasted as long as you have, especially not after using as much power." The man looked up at the shield above them. "Amazing work... It's almost a shame to kill you."

Rasmus remained where he was, watching what he assumed was the vampire as the handsome man smiled coldly.

"I had expected to only get a few minor mages here, but instead I found a buffet! With some wonderful prizes like that lovely tree and yourself." The man threw back his head and laughed.

Rasmus looked up at the man that stood before him; long dark hair, tied back in a tail, white coat and black robes trimmed with red. He quirked a brow and closed his eyes briefly to look at the vampire's aura. "So, this is what you really look like? Or what you choose to look like now?"

"My true form, of course," the vampire said with a haughty grin. He casually strode closer, looking down at Rasmus. "You should have died by now. Given how much power you've been using, and how unstable your form was to begin with. Honestly... With an entire research facility at your beck and call, you've spent no time at all enhancing or repairing yourself? Pitiful..."

"My reasons are my own," Rasmus muttered and pushed to his feet.

"Regardless, you're power will be mine, and with it, everything you know."

"Everything?"

"Yes. The mark I put on everyone else was a simple one... Yours, however, I made special." He grinned. "And because of you, I know how to tear down that shield you erected. As beautifully master crafted as it is. I'm afraid it's in my way."

Rasmus looked down at the slightly shorter man. "Are you working with Wytheria?" he asked.

"No. Their plots are a happy coincidence." Black energy gathered in his palm, and Rasmus threw a shield into place as the vampire released the black globe. His shield weakened and cracked, disintegrating shortly after its use, but it was enough to stop the blow. "Oh, thank you for that lovely shield spell!" the Vampire chuckled.

'Shitshitshit,' Rasmus thought frantically as he kept his impassive mask in place. 'I haven't got the power to fight this guy. I can't even stay upright for too much longer...' He highly doubted he was going to be able to call on David again either, the city shield had drained them both down to about nothing and David was probably, sensibly, sitting down and staying out of trouble while Syl took care of him. 'Fuck. he's probably at work, for that matter...'

There was little Rasmus could do about it at this point, though, so he threw himself to the ground as the vampire fired another blast of darkness at him. Struggling to his hands and knees, he looked up at the vampire.

"So, you're just going to stop fighting and die?" The vampire sneered.

"I suppose if it keeps what I know out of your hands."

"I'll just go mark Rezo when I'm done with you. I'll have what you know either way."

"You can go to hell." Rasmus said, watching the vampire's aura. He could see a sizable amount of Flagoon's power flowing into him from the direction of the tree. Then there were lighter, thinner streams of auras he recognized as some of his students. Then, there was the dried-blood-red shot with healer green aura he recognized as his own. 'If only I could tell Rezo how to recognize the vampire...' he thought bitterly, then shoved to his feet and dived into a roll as the vampire shot off several blasts of darkness at him. 'There's no way I can tire him out. So the only thing I can do is possibly use a Raagna Blade on him. But if I miss, or don't kill him, he's got that spell... and I don't have the power to cast it either. I need to get him outside the shield at least. It's keyed to me, so he can't get back in unless I let him. ...or he uses my power to do it.'

"Such a delightful taste your energy has, Dean Graywords," The vampire chuckled. "It tastes like that of a murderer. You're one very complicated man... I was given to understand that you're no more than four years old, and your time has been accounted for... so who did you kill?" he chuckled.

Rasmus ignored him in favor of staggering to his feet and dashing away from another set of black bombs.

...

...

Rezo opened his eyes and stood back, lowering his hands.

Sylphiel looked up at him. "You couldn't help him?" she asked, voice soft.

The Red priest looked towards her, "No," he said regretfully, noting the crestfallen faces of the other students standing guard in the room. His gaze returned to the boy he was standing beside. "His power, and life, are being drained from him and that is the root of the problem. I can't boost his power with mine, since that would merely entangle mine with his, marking me by proxy."

She looked ill as she stared at the floor.

"As I said before, the best chance to stop this is to find the vampire and destroy him," Rezo said and gently touched Sylphiel's shoulder. "What you've been doing with them is keeping them stable. Keep it up. I'm going to assist Lina and Rasmus."

Lifting her eyes, Sylphiel nodded. "Please do. Rasmus didn't look very well when they left."

Rezo chuckled. "He is incredibly stubborn... You have far more patience than he deserves."

She flushed and looked away again. "He has his good points..." she said softly, her hand creeping up to touch the comb still holding her hair back from her face.

Turning away, Rezo made his way out of the hospital. Heading down the road, he focused his attention on the aether currents and frowned slightly as he discovered Rasmus's dried-blood-smeared-green aura still within the city shield.

"What's wrong with you?"

Stopping, Rezo turned to look at the person who had spoken, finding a mousey short boy with brown hair and eyes scowling at him, arms folded on his chest. "You're not doing what you promised you would."

Rezo stared at the boy, then closed his eyes, assessing the boy's aura. The boy had potential to be a very low-level mage, but there was nothing worth training beyond that. "Who are you?" Rezo asked finally as he could not recall the boy, though for some reason, the voice was familiar.

The boy's aura flared in fury, revealing a deep well of suppressed magical power. It quickly subsided back to it's original low simmer. "Marron Wytheria!" he snapped, "You stupid old dust bag!"

For a long moment, Rezo thought. The name sounded familiar, but then Rasmus had been having trouble with Wytheria lately too...

"I told them it was a waste of time," Marron said, "Dragging your soul from the Sea of Chaos. You don't remember a damn thing, do you?"

"Perhaps if you reminded me what exactly I'm supposed to remember?" Rezo said finally and remembered to open his eyes again, because he could. He watched the boy's gesticulations as he vented his fury in a stomp and flail of his arms.

"I wasted three fucking years here waiting for you to tell me how to get into your secret labs and now you don't remember what you promised?" Marron demanded. "My family will not accept this failure! Not from me, and especially not from you! Kayel's already moving to take over the city because you're supposed to lead me to your lab and seize the Zanafaar tablet!"

Rezo blinked, then burst out laughing.

"How dare you laugh at me!"

"I'm laughing at the irony!" Rezo chuckled, then sighed, shaking his head, "The Zanafaar tablet has been destroyed, as has my lab, if you hadn't noticed." Rezo gestured towards the south east where old Sairaag used to stand.

"How can you be so sure?" Marron demanded, "You don't know what survived the blast and what didn't!"

"Do you know what caused the destruction of Sairaag?"

"Some weird pagan god-monster, destroyed it."

"No. My assistant and one of her creations used the Zanafaar tablet and destroyed the city. They are dead, as is the resurrected Zanafaar, and the tablet was destroyed."

Marron's jaw dropped.

"So whatever I may or may not have promised you that I don't recall promising, means nothing."

"You'll make a new one!"

"Or what?"

Marron's face turned red with rage.

Rezo smiled serenely. "Prince Kayel is already in the process of destroying Sairaag. You're not likely to be able to tell him to stop."

"I'll kill you." Marron reached beneath his tunic, drawing a stiletto knife and ran at Rezo.

Casting a shield, Rezo deflected the blade and moved way. Closing his eyes, he watched Marron's aura as the boy's sleeping power flared again. It was an amazing trick. The boy was not only powerful, but could easily pass off as mundane, flying beneath the radar of anyone who might think of him as a threat. Rezo was forced to dodge again as the boy tried for another frontal assault.

Deciding that Marron could be dealt with later, Rezo cast a teleport and leapt back into the mist that formed, and stepped out near the head of the Path to Flagoon. He turned, his eyes still closed, and stopped as he found Rasmus, power rapidly dimming as he faced against a brightly glowing figure that was siphoning off power from multiple sources.

Determining that he had not been noticed, Rezo lifted his hands, forming power between them. "Dark mist," he whispered and flooded the area with faintly red vision-obscuring fog.

...

...

Rasmus threw himself into a roll and dodged away as fog unexpectedly filled the area, hiding the vampire from sight. Closing his eyes, he located the vampire again easily. Some distance away, Rezo stood quietly amidst the obscuring clouds. The vampire was flailing around blindly. "How did you do this?" the creature demanded. "I didn't feel you cast this! What is this?"

Pushing to his feet, Rasmus quietly made his way over to Rezo and whispered, "You're supposed to be elsewhere."

"You were supposed to be with Lina," Rezo said calmly, "Regardless, here we are. Why haven't you destroyed him?"

"Any spell I cast, he learns."

"Ah."

"I'll distract him physically," Rasmus said and moved away. Chimes rang as he pulled his staff from the astral pocket in his sleeve and swung it as hard as he could, striking the vampire in the side.

The monster cried out in pain and staggered away, clutching his shoulder.

Rasmus moved, easily dodging the explosive darkness bombs the vampire threw and attacked from the other side, outright knocking the vampire down this time. He was away again before the vampire could react and came running in from a different angle to slam his staff into the monster's back.

"You can't kill me like this!" the vampire denied, and this time, cast a shield - the same shield spell Rasmus had cast the first time.

Rasmus didn't bother answer, just moved in from another direction, slamming his staff against the shield.

The vampire threw back his head and cackled. "You can't do anything to me now!"

"Neither can you," Rasmus said, then moved as the vampire dropped his shield and threw black bombs where he had last heard Rasmus.

Slamming his staff into the vampire's knee, Rasmus grinned as he heard a sick crack and the vampire dropped to the ground, crying out in pain. The shield went back up, and Rasmus retreated to take a moment and breathe. He could see Rezo's power rising as the Red Priest cast a spell that called upon the chaotic darkness and gold of the Sea of Chaos. The dark mist dissipated as Rezo's attention turned away from it.

The vampire turned, eyes widening as he realized what trap he had completely fallen for and strengthened his shield.

For a moment, Rasmus's breath caught in his throat and he dearly hoped Rezo wasn't casting the Giga Slave, but as he watched, the form of the spell solidified into a long knife, and Rezo ran forward, slashing downwards across the vampire with a shout.

Searing pain tore through Rasmus, and he dropped his staff, clutching his wrist as the vampire attempted to reject the Raagna Blade. The vampire's shield shimmered, then cracked as he threw his arms over his head. Above, the city shield flickered, as if about to wink out. Rezo's Raagna Blade sliced down, unimpeded. The vampire's form wavered, then burst into ash that flew away on the breeze.

As suddenly as the pain had come, it receded and dizzy, Rasmus collapsed to his knees, only to find Rezo's hands on his shoulders, keeping him upright.

"Give me that," Rezo said, roughly pulling Rasmus's hand from his marked wrist. Power flared in Rezo's hand, forming into a dagger of gold and green light, which he inserted and twisted.

Like a shackle coming off, the mark broke, exploding into black flakes of ash and Rasmus sagged in relief.

"Hurry," Rezo said, shaking him. "We have to get back to the hospital."

Grabbing his staff, Rasmus used it to stand, then staggered as Rezo pulled him through a teleport and into the hospital. Someone caught him as he staggered. Finally remembering to open his eyes, Rasmus glanced around, finding that he had practically been dropped on top of Sylphiel. She was casting a healing spell on him.

"I'm fine," he said, straightening.

"You're bleeding," Sylphiel insisted.

He blinked at her, then looked towards Rezo, finding that they were in a room in the hospital. Nine C&CRU students lay on beds with five others apparently assigned as assistance to Sylphiel. Rezo was working through those marked, casting his dagger-spell.

"Are the golems gone?" Sylphiel asked.

"Not that I know," Rasmus said, "But the catapult has ceased fire at least. Lina went back out there alone."

"The vampire is momentarily defeated," Rezo said and drew a breath, gathering his power between his hands. A sudden explosion of light filled the room and Rasmus felt an in-rush of power filling the void within him. It was Rezo's power, he knew, but it quickly blended with what remained of his own, revitalizing him. He opened his eyes again to find the wounded students beginning to stir, waking from their sleep. Rezo reached out, taking Sylphile's arm in one hand and Rasmus's in the other, guiding them out of the room. "Flagoon is the only one marked now."

Rasmus instinctively turned to look in the direction of the tree. "Unfortunately, that's probably more than enough for the vampire. We still have time, even if the shield is draining Flagoon." His eyes flicked towards Sylphiel.

She nodded. "Flagoon says it's all right for now," she agreed.

"Please take care of the students, Lady Sylphiel," Rezo requested, "They're likely to be disoriented. I have need to speak with Rasmus for a moment."

Unable to help his disgusted expression, Rasmus wiped it away quickly. He suspected Rezo caught it anyway. Sylphiel did for sure. She frowned at him. "You're such a coward sometimes," she said, exasperated, and turned, heading back into the room full of chattering students.

Rezo took Rasmus's arm again, pulling him down the hall towards Sylphiel's office.

...

...

AN: I got so caught up writing my Nanowrimo that I forgot to write more chapters on this. Ch9 is half finished as of this moment. I'll get it done before next Saturday.