Tony: So then. I'm back a week late again. I apologize, but the second half of this chapter just didn't want to come out. I blame Ellie. Especially since it took an argument with Kairi to get the second half of the chapter rolling, and Ellie is the only one of her characters that pops up in this chapter. So, everything else at the bottom. Read and enjoy, because I don't own TotA!
Sirris sighed as she spotted Jade and Guy on the balcony overhead. The expression on Jade's face was one of horror, and Guy was terrified. General Nordheim and his soldiers had surrounded her the moment they had realized it was her. Jade let out a choked cry as they forced her into chains, and she shot him a cold, lime-green glare.
"Don't," she said quite simply. The duo watched, shocked, as the military took Sirris away. As the doors closed, Jade stepped back and slumped to the floor. Guy opened his mouth to say something, but then realized that there was nothing he could say.
Jade had tried to fix things up with Sirris… But now there was no way he'd have a chance to do it. Guy kept looking between the colonel, who was trying to regain any control he had, and the door… where another figure was standing. Guy couldn't see him clearly, because the sunlight was shining in behind him, but the young noble could have sworn that the man was staring at Jade.
Guy took a deep breath and headed down the stairs, with a still-recovering Jade on his heels. The colonel had noticed their visitor as well.
Guy and Jade stopped once they could finally see who it was. Brigadier General Aslan Frings looked an awful lot like Jade did at that point. Shocked, confused… and guilty. Jade's face slowly morphed into an emotionless mask as he stepped toward Frings.
"You told them?" he asked simply. Frings nodded, unable to make eye contact with Jade. The colonel closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and turned to look at Guy. "Go to Daath and inform Anise and the Fon Master, and grab Tear, Asch and Natalia on your way back here. I'll find the others," he ordered. Guy nodded, but Frings looked uncomfortable.
"Jade, if you—" he started, breaking off when Jade's crimson gaze came back to him.
"You can inform Peony that we'll be back shortly," he told the general before walking past him. Guy sighed and headed out to the port, while Jade headed back to his office. He knew where the files were now, which meant he should be able to figure out where the Guild Headquarters were.
Less than an hour later, Jade found himself walking down a hallway that was barely lit by the candles spaced evenly along the walls. There was a door at the end, and he knew he was risking a lot more than just Sirris's life here.
He opened the door quietly and slipped inside, noting the large, arena-like practice area he now stood above. Down below, two faces he wanted to see and one he did not stopped and looked up at him.
Valon's expression was one of confusion, while Arashi's was relatively blank. Raven, on the other hand…
"And just what do you think you're doing here?" he spat at the colonel. Jade took a deep breath, and, ignoring him for the time being, looked directly at Valon.
"I need your help… Sirris has been arrested," he stated. Valon and Arashi exchanged a glance before the latter headed for the stairs. Valon, skipping the stairs altogether, launched himself off the floor and caught the balcony, flipping himself over the railing to land next to Jade.
Down on the practice arena floor, Raven rolled his eyes and retreated into his office.
Arashi and Valon looked at Jade expectantly. "General Frings told the emperor's council that Sirris was at my manor. They arrested her just earlier today. If we don't find some way to save her, she'll be executed within the week," he told them. Valon crossed his arms as Arashi spoke.
"Do you think if enough of us vouched for her they'd let her go, or at least not kill her?" he asked. Jade looked over at the Ion replica, who was deep in thought.
"I'm calling Ellie. She's good with this legal stuff, she'll be able to find a loophole," he muttered. "In the meantime… Gathering everyone we can to vouch for Sirris is all we can do," he added. Jade sighed.
"You wouldn't happen to know where Luke is, would you?" he asked. Valon frowned.
"No," he replied. "But I can pick Raven's brain." He then looked over at Arashi. "Do you think your sister would be of any help?" he wondered. Arashi sighed.
"That's if I can find her," he stated. "But I'll try." The silverette ran out of the arena, down the hallway Jade had come down. Valon had jumped over the railing and was headed across the sandy floor to the doors that led to Raven's office.
Jade sighed and braced his elbows against the railing as he buried his hands in his face. "Damnit, Risa, I'm trying!" he muttered. Then he let out a hoarse laugh. Knowing his luck, this was probably happening as revenge for all he had done wrong where those two were concerned. He sighed. There was no use in trying to avoid it. He had screwed up. The Necromancer had made a mistake. A really, really big mistake.
"St. Binah," Valon's voice rang out. Jade raised his head to look at the green-haired boy. "He left for St. Binah last night, by foot. You might be able to catch him by horse."
"Thank you," Jade said quickly as he turned and left, running down the hallway now rather than walking. He was thankful that his adoptive parents still had horses, because if they didn't that would mean going to Peony, and he really didn't want to run all the way to the palace to get a horse.
He was riding out of Grand Chokmah less than an hour later. Guy had long since left to gather up the others, and knowing that Arashi was at least going to try to find Amai was something that relieved him greatly.
Two days later, Jade led his tired horse into St. Binah. He figured that trying to find Luke on the road would be a difficult task, so he settled for waiting in St. Binah. He knew he didn't have a lot of time, though. He had to find the redhead, and soon.
Jade left the horse in the care of the innkeepers before he went to speak to Elder McGovern. He confessed that he hadn't seen Luke since the replica and Sirris had been through before the destruction of Akzeriuth, something that worried Jade greatly. He decided that the platform on the Soil Tree would be his best bet at finding the young man.
Two hours later, however, and he was left with no traces still. Jade sighed and leaned back against the trunk of the tree, watching as the sun dipped below the horizon.
He stayed up there for a while, though he wasn't for sure why exactly. Jade had a sinking feeling that he knew the answer to that, but that he simply didn't want to acknowledge it.
Regardless, he decided that it had probably been for the better that he had remained in the Soil Tree.
Down below, darting through the streets, was a familiar red and black blur.
Jade allowed himself a smile as he climbed down the ladder and set off in the same general direction that Luke had been going. He wasn't certain where the redhead was bound, nor did he reason he wanted to know why he was about at this hour.
He was simply happy that he had finally found him.
As the houses around him became slightly larger and more decorative, however, Jade began to have his doubts. Had Luke gone a different direction? Had he turned somewhere? Or worse, had he realized he was being followed by someone and deliberately gone a different direction to get him off his trail?
Jade stopped and took a deep breath, then backed into a doorway. He was certain Luke had come this direction. Now it was simply a matter of figuring out where exactly he was.
A muffled but short scream caught Jade's attention, though had he not been listening so hard, he wouldn't have heard it. Likewise, quiet curses in a familiar voice also reached him.
The colonel was unsurprised to see a dark figure jump out of an open window less than a block down from him just minutes before someone screamed. He rolled his eyes. "I hate it when I'm right," he groaned before taking off after the now-running figure. Jade had no difficulty figuring out that Luke was leaving town. He would too, if he had almost gotten caught.
The older man didn't quite have the stamina the replica did, however, and Luke managed to disappear ahead of him in the forest. He groaned quietly and slowed to a walk. Hopefully, Luke had been running straight for wherever he had set up his camp.
Jade decided that he should count himself lucky as he spotted firelight ahead of him. It was a small fire, but a fire nonetheless.
He stepped into the clearing and immediately found himself reflecting that it was an idiotic idea to startle an assassin, as he had a long, thin sword held against his neck almost as soon as he passed the trees.
The first thing Jade noticed about Luke was the blood that was dripping off of his hands. The second was the half-terrified, half-self-reprimanding look on his face. And then Luke sighed and sheathed his sword.
"Hello, Jade," he greeted the colonel. Jade took a deep breath and attempted to distract himself from the blood Luke was now wiping off his arms. However, unable to suppress his curiosity, he found himself asking the question that had been nagging at him for a while now.
"Was that your first assignment?"
Luke paused, then continued cleaning his hands up. "No. He was my third," he answered. Satisfied that he wasn't going to get any more of the blood of off his hands, he turned back to Jade and smiled bitterly. "Lightest sleeper though. Or maybe I should have waited longer. Either way, I botched it."
Jade sighed. "Judging from the woman's screaming, not entirely," he said grimly. Luke sat down next to the fire and examined his hands, stained an ugly brown from the blood.
"I take it you saw me leaving?" he asked. Jade nodded.
"I've been trying to find you all day," he admitted. "I caught sight of your hair from the Soil Tree and headed in the same general direction. Then I lost track of you and stopped. Next thing I know, you're jumping out of a window, someone's screaming, and I'm trying to keep up with you."
Luke chuckled. "That sounds a little backwards… Like me trying to follow Sirris half the time," he said. He looked up from his hands and examined Jade's face, from its unnatural paleness to the dark circles under his eyes. "Something happened," he realized. Jade closed his eyes.
"Sirris has been arrested," he informed the redhead. Luke clenched his fists as he glared at the fire.
"Two and a half days ago."
"You came by horse?"
Luke nodded. "I'll head back in the morning," he said. Then he looked back over at Jade. "You go back in the morning as well. You'll beat me back to Grand Chokmah, but I'll be there by nightfall on the second day. Have everyone at the Assassins' Guild Headquarters by then."
Jade frowned. "What about Raven?" Luke smirked.
"Raven may be Guildmaster, but both Valon and I will let you and the others in. Besides, everyone else will be out on assignments for the next few weeks. If there's one thing I picked up from Sirris, it's speed," he replied. Jade smiled, the tiniest flicker of hope starting to rekindle inside him.
Maybe, just maybe, they could pull this off.
Jade had decided, early on, that watching Ion holding a conversation with two different versions of himself, one of whom was female, was… interesting, to say the least. Valon hadn't been joking when he said that the only thing wrong with Ellie was her gender.
She also wasn't a bad fighter, as Luke quickly figured out. She and Valon tag-teamed against him and Asch, and, after the two redheads managed to pull out a combo on Valon that took him out, she had taken down Asch easily before managing to evade every attack Luke sent her way.
Her fighting style, he realized, was very much hit and run. Ellie didn't dare cast artes without backup, instead choosing to stay out of his reach for a while before rushing in to attack him. He rarely managed to hit her on her way out.
So, he was left with few options. One of them included trying to keep up with her, but that involved speed he didn't have. Sirris, on the other hand…
"Someone called for help?" a familiar voice rose over the noise. Luke and Ellie stopped and looked up. Standing up on the balcony were Amai, Arashi, and, shockingly, Cloud. Cloud had been the one to speak.
Arashi jumped down off the balcony, while his older siblings came down the stairs.
Ellie sheathed her sword, and Luke did the same, while the rest of the group gathered in a rough circle. Rue and the Dark Wings were there as well, as were Noelle and Ginji. Even Raven was sitting in on the gathering, though Luke and Valon both seemed to attribute that to the fact that they were holding said gathering in his guild headquarters.
No one seemed to care.
"Alright, so… Sirris was arrested four days ago by the Malkuth military under charges of mass murder and is due to be executed at dawn in three days," Luke summarized. Ellie was sitting on the ground, looking very thoughtful.
"She's not registered?" she asked. Luke shook his head.
"No… How much did Valon tell you?" he inquired. The green-haired girl shot a glare at the replica in question.
"That he had a friend who needed help and that my legal knowledge would be helpful, considering my knack for finding loopholes within the law," she said. "That was pretty much it."
Jade sighed. "Sirris was raised by her uncle to kill. He didn't register her in the Assassins' Guild, so that left her vulnerable to the law. Up until now, she's done fine at avoiding the military, except…" he trailed off.
Ellie raised an eyebrow. "How long has she been working as an unregistered assassin?" she inquired.
"It's been… what? Seven or eight years now?" Asch asked Jade. The colonel nodded, and the green-haired girl on the ground crossed her arms.
"If she's been dodging the military for eight years, then why did they capture her this time?" she asked. Jade sighed.
"I asked her to come live with me. I wanted to try to fix the mess I made by giving her up to her uncle. But the military found out where she was and came in to arrest her," he explained. Ellie nodded, understanding crossing her features.
"I see. She gave herself up instead of fighting, didn't she?" she asked. Jade nodded. "She didn't want to get you in more trouble than I'm certain you're already in."
"Wait, what? What do you mean by that?" Natalia asked. Raven narrowed his eyes, and after a very short but totally silent message was passed between him and Ellie, he sat up, rather than leaning back as he had been.
"Look at it this way. Jade's a colonel in the military. Sirris is an extremely wanted murderer. As it is, he could well lose his position for harboring her," he said. "Had Sirris fought back, of course, he likely would have been spurred into action as well, in an attempt to defend her."
"In which case, they both would have been arrested," Luke realized. "Sirris for murder, and Jade for aiding and abetting."
Ellie sighed. "Jeez, Valon. Talk about a trial by jury from hell. And all things considered, she's probably not going to get even that," she mumbled. "And you expect me to find a loophole. In two days." She flopped onto her back and groaned. "Okay, okay. I'm thinking."
The group stared at her for a moment before Guy, who had been periodically switching between messing with his gloves and crossing his arms while glaring at a certain red-haired replica, finally marched over to Luke, who seemed to be mildly distracted by the sandy floor, and punched him in the face.
Or rather, tried to.
Luke ducked out of the way, drawing a small knife as he did so, before realizing who his attacker was and putting the knife away.
"What the hell were you thinking?" he asked, finally releasing a large deal of pent-up stress. Natalia, Tear, Arashi, Anise, and Ion stared at him in shock, while Ellie, Valon, Jade, Raven, and Rue watched interestedly. Amai and Cloud's expressions were very difficult to read, but they seemed rather bored.
Asch's expression was somewhere between the raging anger that defined Guy's current mood and pride, though no one could fathom why.
Luke's expression stayed very much neutral as he replied, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Guy aimed another swing at him, and again, Luke dodged, putting a bit more distance between them this time. Unfortunately, that left him close to Asch, who, after nodding at Guy, promptly shoved his replica into the next punch the blonde nobleman threw.
Luke, who was now sitting on the ground in shock after having completely lost his balance, stared up at Guy. "What was that for?"
"I'm trying to knock some sense into you!" he rebuked almost instantly. "What happened to the guy that was scared to death of the blood on his hands? You could barely attack a human back then, let alone kill one! And it wasn't that long ago, either!"
Luke's confusion melted away into a cold mask of indifference, one that they all recognized all too well.
It was the same look that Raven got whenever the subject of assassination assignments came up.
It was the same look that crossed Valon's face whenever faced with a human target in real life.
It was the same look that Sirris always had whenever she was battling.
It was the same look that every assassin seemed to develop for situations where they deemed emotions unnecessary or a hindrance.
And it scared them. It didn't scare Valon or Ellie or Raven, or Rue, Amai, or Cloud for that matter. But it scared the rest of them, because Guy was right.
It had only been a matter of months, but the boy who had been so afraid of killing that he didn't want to fight had developed this terrifying capacity for murder.
Asch wasn't certain if what he felt was fear of what he knew his replica was capable of, or anger at him for forcing himself to change so quickly.
"It was my choice," Luke said, breaking everyone out of their stupor. "Sirris presented it to me between Engeve and Grand Chokmah, and I made up my mind after Akzeriuth."
Guy, whose anger seemed to have simmered out, sighed. "Yeah, she said that too," he muttered. "But I still can't bring myself to believe that you would want to become an assassin." Luke stood and grasped his shoulder. No words were exchanged, but none were needed.
The area was silent for some time before Ellie sat up. "Wait a second, I want to make sure I'm interpreting this right," she said, getting everyone's attention. She looked over at Luke. "You said Sirris presented you with the choice of becoming an assassin. Does that mean she's your mentor?"
Luke looked at her in confusion for a moment before nodding. "Yeah, why?" he replied. Ellie held up a hand as she thought for another moment. She looked up at Jade next.
"Who taught Sirris?" she asked. Jade crossed his arms.
"Her uncle, Roran," he replied. She looked over at Raven, who seemed to understand her silent inquiry perfectly.
"He was registered for some time, but after his registration expired the second time, he didn't renew it," he told her. Ellie nodded and started drawing things in the sand. The images were simply crude pictures of abstract items and such, but after a while, she grinned.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she began, looking up at the group around her. "I've found our loophole."
Tony: Thank you Ellie for taking over this chapter! -hugs the girl in question-
Ellie: Um... You're welcome, I guess?
Tony: Now, go get to work on the next one!
Jade: I thought that was my job...
Tony: Whatever! Just go get to work! -shoves all characters out of room-
Leon: That's nice.
Tony: That means you too, Leon.
Leon: -doesn't move-
Tony: -sigh- Oh well. Anyway, reviewer responses!
Leomitch- Hey, that's fine. And about the whole pink tutu scene... Well, you can thank an overly-hyper Kairi and a grumpy Winx for that one. I have no idea how the subject got onto ballet, but it did. And then, somehow, Jade got involved. That was one of the strangest coversations I've ever had... Yes, Luke is part of the Assassins' Guild. (Which is a good thing, because as it's been stated already, if he weren't he'd just be another murderer like Sirris.)
Twili Princess Hyrule Queen- Has anyone ever told you how long your username is? For someone who's up at a ridiculous hour of the morning, it's kinda hard to get typed... Anyway, I will. I am bound and determined to get this finished. And on January 20, no less.
Tony: So, any guesses as to why I want to finish on January 20? No, really, take a guess. We're really close to the end now, which is a bit of a shocker, but hey. That's pretty awesome, if you ask me. Oh, and remember we were trying to get to 40 reviews before chapter 20? It's 41 now (blame Leomitch being half-asleep) but the chapter I'm considering adding will be a nice bit of fluff between the end of Bloody Nightshade and Bloody Heirloom, which will also act as an addition to the bridge chapter that the second part of the chapter will no doubt be.
Leon: Basically, if you want that extra chapter, get reviewing.
Tony: That's right! And we'll be back next week, since we were a week late with this one...