Just got Resident Evil: Village so I figured I should update something before I completely lose it. Another talky chapter, but I tried to advance the plot, backstory and the character relationships after the rather fighty previous chapter.

The next few days were an odd return to the norm. Or as normal as things could be, all things considered. After Ciaran's loss of composure and subsequent possession she had expected some kind of punishment, or at the very least a warning of some kind. While she held no loyalty to this Queen she had compromised and threatened them with her actions.

But there was nothing. When she had returned with Ma- Raziel it was with no fanfare. The Queen hadn't even acknowledged her absence, as if her actions hadn't mattered or surprised her in the least. All she'd asked was if she was still willing to fight for this world. A simple yes or no, the same choice Raziel had given her.

Once she'd said yes it was as if her previous outburst had never occurred. No apologies came from either side and she was told the next task would come in due time. She was torn between feeling grateful and insulted. She felt like a child who had thrown a tantrum despite her centuries of seniority towards everyone present.

She hadn't asked the Queen about this Alsanna...not yet. She needed time to clear her head, to...understand. While she'd finally accepted that Raziel was not Manus any more than the priest was Lord Gwyn it was still difficult to let go of her wariness. Centuries of fighting against the abyss couldn't be undone with simple words. Although she did agree with him in one regard - petty sniping and insults was beneath them both.

Raziel had told no one of their conflict. As far as everyone else was concerned they had reunited in-between the days of her absence and return and come to a resolution of their own. She was content to keep up with the deception. Her moment of weakness was both embarrassing and a risk. To think that she would be so desperate for revenge that she would willingly throw herself under Velka's thrall.

Ciaran slashed at the wooden dummy with a soft grunt. Ever since their numbers swelled to include the Oolacilian mercenary the queen had given them a building to gather in. Solas had grinned and called it a 'secret base' but it was more an unoccupied building that they had moved some supplies and basic creature comforts in. A few training dummies, seats, bedrolls, weapons and even a cask of wine for the humans.

She tightened her grip on the wooden daggers before continuing her training. They had all gathered here in preparation for the next task the Queen assigned to them. A part of her thought that perhaps she should have abstained. While he possession had ended she couldn't be sure there weren't any lingering effects. She'd even searched her back for any sort of scarring and found two messy slits from where the blackened wings had protruded.

Raziel had suggested she stay close. If she truly was still possessed it was better he was nearby to curb her before anything came to pass. She agreed with the sentiment. It was the same logic she'd used in case he ever lost control. In a sense they were each other's collar and chain. A familiar circumstance; she simply had to be used to it being mutual.

Ciaran weaved left and did a circling swipe aimed at the dummy's neck. The wooden daggers were heavier than her tracers and it took a moment to get used to their unfamiliar heft. After so much time using them they felt more like extensions of her body than mere weapons.

The rest of the assembled group were doing much the same as her, honing their abilities whether they be spells, melee or ranged weaponry. Even with her reservations of this land, she had to admit that the magics these Halkeginians possessed were something otherwordly even to her. Despite the decades she'd spent here she was no closer to understanding the true origin of their powers any more than when she had first arrived.

One such example was the time displaced chevalier. Like her she was taken away from the land she called home, though in the younger woman's case it was just time rather than her land entire. The rose haired teenager flicked her rapier and Ciaran watched as the limbs of the training dummy were cleanly sliced apart with no trace of the wind blade that did the deed. That done she casted another spell to levitate the chopped blocks of wood and stacked them into a neat pile.

Precise, controlled and lethal. Impressive, if rare. She'd fought her fair share of mercenary mages and most couldn't match the young chevalier's level of magic. It was a twisted irony that weaker mages were far more likely to fling sharp bursts of wind rather than the unseen, silent blades. Their attacks weren't nearly as sharp or powerful, easily blunted by her armor before they could piece skin.

To the chevalier's right was Manus'...child. Even with their tentative peace she found the idea of Raziel breeding to be a particularly disturbing thought. Though, his child didn't seem to have his father's abilities. There was no trace of abyssal taint to be found in her and her level of strength and durability seemed to better than the average human of her physical condition aside from how she handled her bow.

Ciaran watched as she ashen haired teen emptied her quiver of arrows to the dummy's chest before she moved to recover her arrows. She'd seen self-confessed archers before and it was difficult not to see those with true training from the pretenders after having spent so much time Ghough.

And despite her young age she was definitely no pretender. Even from a glance it was clear from her stance and fingerwork that she was trained. She plucked and nocked each arrow with surprising dexterity and hadn't missed a single arrow despite the speed with which she volleyed each shot.

Off to the side were the Queen's bodyguard and the Oolacilian mercenary. Given the scarcity and expense of ammo Solas was being given training in how to handle a shortsword. Ciaran understood the practicality of it. While she preferred to use her tracers for combat she'd also trained in the usage of a variety of weapons such as bows, throwing knives, daggers and even cestus. To rely on a singular weapon was a fool's errand.

Speaking of...

Her gaze trailed over to the last occupant in the room. Raziel was training like the others were, though to call it that would be generous. If she had to describe it plainly she would describe his attacks on the sandbag dummy as more feral than anything. Unlike the chevalier and his daughter there was no finesse or technique to his movements. Each and every strike was strong and powerful but also careless, meant more to inflict as much damage first with the actual accuracy coming second.

Yet he had survived thus far, and she couldn't deny that strength could suffice in the majority of situations. Giants, dragons, the Undead and various other creatures needed no technique in order to be dangerous.

She continued her own training till a loud snap echoed across the room. Ciaran turned her gaze back to Raziel and raised a brow when she saw the wooden training sword in his right hand snapped in two, "Tch..." He picked up the fallen piece and quickly replaced it. It was clear that he'd done his crude training only because staying and doing nothing while they awaited the queen would've been even more mindnumbing.

She should've left well enough alone but instead she found herself speaking, "Your strikes lack technique," she said.

Ciaran had half expected him to not reply, especially given current events, so she was somewhat surprised at his grunted response, "I have never needed it so far." He swung the next training sword experimentally. Even now it had too much strength for a practice swing, "You are an assassin, you should be well aware that prolonged combat is not favorable."

"Agreed, but neither is sloppy technique." When she'd executed her targets she'd done it neatly. Quick blows to the neck or head, preferably without them being aware. It was a small mercy. As much as her role involved taking the lives of others she was no brute. She did not cut people apart and leave their mutilated corpses behind.

"Ending fights quickly is my priority, Ciaran." She still found it somewhat odd hearing her name on his lips. Before it was always assassin or some other title or derogatory insult.

"So is mine, but there's no need for the amount of strength you put into every blow." Off to the side she saw Raziel's daughter pause from her training to look at them. She paid it no mind, "When you fight a human there is you do not need to use the same strength as you would a beast or a golem. Strength is needed, but only as much as it is necessary."

Raziel looked back at the dummies, "Hm..." he hummed.

"Furthermore, you place more importance in the strength of your blow than the accuracy. It does not matter how powerful a strike is if it's so easily dodged." She'd moved closer before she realized it, memories of training previous Lordsblade recruits coming back in full, "I see it in your stance. You grip the weapon too tightly and you put so much force into the blow that you leave yourself open for retaliation. A fatal mistake for a normal human."

"I am hardly normal." Despite the scoff there was no bite in his words like she expected.

"Neither am I and yet I can see the benefit of proper training." She crossed her arms.

He sighed and raised the word, "Alright then, teach me." Ciaran blinked. It...was not the response she had expected, "Or if you wish to simply complain about my lack of technique then do so in silence."

A part of her was tempted to return to her own training. Still, refining his combat capabilities would be practical. For better or worse they were now allies and she would prefer a competent combatant watching her back.

"Fine." She placed the wooden short swords down at the ground and moved to Raziel's right side as he stood in front of the dummy once more, "Adjust your grip on the sword. You hold it too tightly and it affects the momentum of your swing." She waited for him to loosen his grip before continuing, "As I said before, you do not need to put so much force into every single blow. Too much strength and you leave yourself open if an enemy dodges."

"So I am to weaken my strikes in combat?" he asked back.

"Only use as much strength as necessary." She picked up a wooden longsword of her own and made a deliberately too-strong swing, "Put too much strength in a blow and you lose your balance and momentum. Movement becomes difficult before you regain balance and any half-decent opponent can capitalize on that opening. Even if it wouldn't be fatal for you it would still be an unnecessary injury."


"Place as much strength as needed and this can be compensated. Now, dodge my strike and counter me." She aimed a stabbed at his chest and he dodged to the right. Before he could counter she twisted the blade and struck him in the gut, "See? Control your strength and you can correct your movements far easier. No stumbling, no overcompensating. And in your case it should be easier given your enhanced physicality." As much as she hated to admit it, the Undead were far stronger than they were given credit for. Despite their emaciated and rotted appearances they had the strength of at least three men.

Although, was he truly still an Undead?

"I hope you understand that unlike you I have not had decades of training. I fought to survive, no more no less."

"Considering how close we are to the brink, this is still survival." She crossed her arms again, "You are not as inexperienced as your lack of training would suggest. After all, you killed Manus in the past." And Artorias as well, she thought bitterly, "You must have some capability given that you survived Lordran at least long enough to kiln the first flame."

The right side of his mouth twitched at the reminder, "It was less skill and more tenacity." He sighed, "Bonfires were prevalent and I avoided Hollowing just long enough to accomplish the role Gwyndoline duped me into taking. Unfortunately, I am unsure if I still have the same benefit as our new ally does given my current...condition." Ah yes, the other Undead that he and the Vampire 'found' while they returned from Gallia. Another one who chose to kiln her fame, apparently.

"All the more reason to hone your skills. You cannot hope to rely on Manus' powers forever."

"I see your point." He sighed once more and turned back to the dummy, "Fine then, let us train."

Training was...adequate, if she had to use the right word. Raziel took to the instructions quickly and without complaint, much to her surprise. It was clear that despite his words and prior showing that he was capable of combat in his own way. Feral but experienced. She had to concede that under normal circumstances his way of fighting would've more than sufficed against most opponents.

It was only after the hour ended that she finally proposed a sparring match. Nothing serious; she simply needed to gauge how he fared against an opponent that could actually fight back. They made their way to the center of the room and she ignored the uncomfortable throb at her neck when he raised the sword in the taught stance. Even now the flesh was scarred from where the chain had wrapped around it.

A reminder of her fall into temptation. And perhaps a fair exchange given the scar she gave him prior.

Raziel made the first move, slashing the wooden sword at her mid-section. Ciaran took a quick step to the side and successfully slashed his waist, "Too slow. Control your momentum." She was vaguely aware that the others had stopped their own training to stare at them. She paid it no mind, "Remember, you must account for the possibility of needing to adjust the arc of your swing."

"I am aware." He let out a soft breath and faced her once more.

They continued to spar for the next few minutes before she noticed it. While his movements remained unrefined - one didn't simply change their fighting style after a brief lecture - her own attacks were connecting less and less. At first it was just a dodge or side-step at the last second that left her swinging through air but eventually he managed to block the majority of her stabs and slashes.

It culminated in parrying her right dagger with his free hand and pointing the tip of the wooden longsword at her neck before she could stab him with the remaining blade, "...Is this satisfactory?" She raised a brow as he pulled the sword back then let it drop to the ground.

"Adequate." She dropped the remaining dagger and hummed, "The way you fight...you were predicting my moves." She hadn't imagined it. He'd raised his hand to parry the blade a split second before she'd made to slash him. If he hadn't done so before then she would've succeeded. In terms of speed she easily outpaced him.

"Was I? I was not aware." He shrugged.

"Do not play coy. How did you accomplish this?"

"Would you believe me if I said I guessed?" Ciaran crossed her arms and looked him silently, "...It was a trick I learned in Lordran. More often than not I would perish at least twice against certain opponents. Since I could not overpower them I had to understand their patterns and movements."

"And do I have these...patterns as well?" That was troubling. The last thing any combatant needed was an obvious tell.

"To an extent. The pointer fingers of your hand twitch before you do certain attacks and you adjust your right foot whenever you need to use both blades." He put a hand on his chin, "This is not foolproof, however. You are not a golem and these patters are not consistent. Or perhaps it is because I have gotten rusty. It has been months since I found myself having to use such observation."

"Why have you let such a skill stagnate?"

"Mostly because I kill opponents as quickly as I can. There is no need to try and gauge a pattern when a fight lasts no longer than a minute or two." She could see the logic in that. She hardly paid extreme attention to her assassination target's patterns, "Given the troubles we face, however, it would be prudent to re-learn. Not every opponent we face will fall to brute strength alone."

"It appears you have learned something after all." She let a small smile slip before hardening her expression once more, "But that is not the only thing we should train. How capable are you with ranged weaponry?"

"I have used bows and flintlocks before. I have not had a chance to use a musket, however."

"Too obvious. Have you used throwing knives?"

"I had back in Lordran, though only ever to lure enemies out of their groups."

"Show me."

Show her he did. Ciaran almost physically recoiled when she saw him throw the (blunted) throwing knife at a wooden dummy's chest, "That was...terrible." She shook her head and ignored his look of offense, "You throw it less like a knife and more like a like a ball or a bottle. I'm sure even a half blind drunkard could easily dodge it."

"Careful, Ciaran. Our alliance has its limits."

"Just...let me show you before you accidentally injure someone."

She showed him the proper form and was about to check how well he did when the door opened. Ciaran looked back and grunted when the Queen entered, quickly followed by Julio, the two Vampires and the red-haired Undead. Chevalier de Milan immediately bowed while the rest of them sheathed and put away their weapons. It would appear they would finally receive their tasks.

"Thank you all for coming." The Queen said once they were all gathered. Instead of her normal gown she wore a thick brown cloak over a set of commoner garbs. If not for her hair and fine features she could've easily passed as a village woman, "The task I require for you all will be...severe."

"It is doubtful it will be any worse than any you have sent us on so far," Raziel said.

"Perhaps." She smiled, though there was no warmth in it, "How do you consider your chances fighting an Elf?"

The mood in the room shifted. The two chevaliers gasped, the older one looking at her liege as if she'd just misheard while the younger gaped like a landed fish. Manus' child appeared uncomfortable while Solas simply whistled, "Huh, hell of first job." he said with a weak grin. To the monarch's left and right, neither Vampires showed any sign of worry while the red-haired Undead simply looked on in confusion.

"Elves are...very powerful individuals, my lady." Julio said to her. He was as calm as always, "Moreso than their usage of spirit magic is the specific spell of Counter. So far there has been no countermeasure that has proven effective against it."

"I'm not sure if I'll good for this," Raziel's child said, "Elves were gone in my time and the Corrupted were the same no matter who or what they once were."

"I do not plan to send all of you," The Queen said, "Despite my words, fighting the Elf is a last resort. The mission is a rescue." Ciaran raised a brow. She'd been on her fair share of rescues before, "Lady Charlotte - or Tabitha, as some of you may know her -" Her eyes flicked to Raziel for a moment, "has had her mother kidnapped. Some of you are already aware of this, others are not. Regardless we need her aid and her mother's safety is the price."

"Why is this girl so valuable?" Ciaran asked.

"Because she is the Void Mage now that King Joseph is dead." Most of them understood the severity of the statement. Solas and the red haired Undead simply appeared confused, "It matters not if you aren't aware of the significance. Outside of her role as the Void successor she is also part of the Gallian royal family. If we have any hope of averting Queen Isabella's planned invasion then we need Lady Charlotte."

"Void Mages and invasions? Starting to feel like I should've asked for more money upfront..." Solas muttered.

"It'll be fine, Solas." Raziel's child smiled. Normally Henrietta would've frowned at the idea of a mercenary being privy to such details but from what she'd heard from the younger teen Solas was one of their more steadfast fighters despite his origins.

"You will be split into two groups. One group will go to Gallia in order to rescue the Duchess de Orleans. Another group will stay here and help me ferret out spies. Given the attempted assassination almost a week prior I cannot discount the possibility that there are more spies amongst our midst." The Queen frowned, "I'm aware this is hardly an ideal task to focus on given what we face, but Queen Isabella has made it clear she is a threat that cannot be ignored."

"I suppose the only thing left is to determine who will go with which group," Raziel said.

"I've already determined that," The Queen replied, "Sir. Ciaran, Lady Daphne and Lady Amethyst, Raziel and Twi will be going to Gallia. The rest will stay here." She paused briefly, "Oh, excuse me, but for the sake of convenience we will refer to her as Twi from now on." She gestured to the red-haired Undead.

"I wanted Raziel but it was taken." 'Twi' grinned at the other Undead(?). Raziel paid her no mind.

"The only guy, huh? Man, I can't tell if I'm jealous or wanna pray for you. Elves are vicious bastard. I should know." Solas whistled.

"Feel free to swap places if you wish." Raziel scoffed.

"Oh no. No one hates Spirit magic any more than the Elf who can't use it." He winked, "Good luck, though."

The Queen clapped her hands together, "Remember, your priority is a rescue. Sir Ciaran, given your capabilities it is my hope that you should be able to rescue the Duchess de Orleans without attracting attention. Should that fail, however, the rest of the group will hopefully be enough to be combat capable. I do not expect you to kill this Elf. If it should prove unfeasible then I want you all to leave. We cannot afford to lose even a single one of you."

"Yet neither can we afford to fail in this mission," Amethyst said, "Do we have a precise location on where this duchess is to be held?"

"Lady Charlotte has given us a location that she is most certain of." The Queen pulled a furled map from her cloak and offered it to the Vampire, "She listed down three locations, which means that your and Lady Daphne's charm magic would prove most useful."

"Perhaps Tabitha should come? It is her mother, after all," Raziel said.

"That's not possible. Lady Charlotte is too valuable to risk in a task such as this. If she perishes then this mission is all for naught," the queen replied.

They had their tasks now. Ciaran waited till the others sans Raziel had left before she moved to leave, "Actually, Raziel, could you please stay? I believe we have something we must discuss." At the entrance, his child looked back for a moment before a tug from the pink haired chevalier bade her forward.

"Indeed. Ciaran should stay as well, then."

"Pardon?" She looked back at him with furrowed brows.

"We have our own matters to discuss." He flicked his left hand, the chain corroding briefly before turning back to a dull gray, "And you have questions of your own, do you not?"

"I suppose that's true."

"Very well." The Queen nodded. She waited for the door to close fully before casting a silence spell, "There, that should ensure our privacy for the time being. Should we discuss your matter or mine first?"

"Royals first, your Majesty."

"Amusing." She rolled her eyes and sat at one of the empty chairs, hands on her lap, "I shall be blunt. Given the nature of the tasks ahead of us and the risks associated with them, I trust that you have no issue with your daughter being placed in harm's way?"

Raziel sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, "I suppose I should have expected this."

"It is a fair question. She is your child-"

"She is not my child." The reply came back in a biting snarl, "You are unaware, but time in Lordran is rarely ever so straightforward. Certainly a Raziel had a child, but I am not that Raziel. Her father is long dead and I do no claim any responsibility for her, familial or otherwise." The Queen's brows raised slightly at the ferocity of the rejection, "If there is someone you need to ask about the risks it should be her. She is responsible for herself, no one else."


"In any case, this question is pointless. Given what is coming there is no hiding from the end. Sooner or later we will all be involved." He crossed his arms, "If it were your son or daughter would you hesitate knowing what we face?"

"I suppose not," she conceded with a sigh.

"Then you have your answer." He uncrossed his arms and looked to Ciaran, "We have our own matters to discuss. I assume you are aware that Ciaran's absence was not solved without issue."

"Indeed, but I had my focus elsewhere. Perhaps you're willing to give me the details of what transpired?"

"I believe I should explain," Ciaran said. A much as she disliked the idea of relieving her experience it wouldn't do to run from it.

She explained with as much detail as she recalled and when her memories became foggy Raziel filled in the gaps. The Queen's face remained expressionless as they talked of their fight in the burnt village. While they hadn't given her the exact details what they did tell her painted a gruesome enough picture, especially after she showed the scars that remained on her neck.

"I'll admit, I considered the idea of you two coming to blows, but I did not expect it to be quite so..." she trailed off, unable or uncaring of finding the right word to describe their bout, "Regardless, I am glad you both survived your...encounter. Though, I do worry given the circumstances. Are you both certain that you are capable of working together? Perhaps placing you in the same group is not the best idea."

"I can put it behind me. What we face now is too important for old grudges to be laid bare," Raziel said.

"Agreed. I was...a fool for letting myself by controlled so easily." A failure that would linger over her in the coming days. Her fellow knights would have been ashamed.

"I doubt it's as simple as that." The Queen pursed her lips.

"If I did not believe we could cooperate I would have killed her where she lay. Is that good enough?" Raziel asked back.

"It is as he says. I am aware of how repellent my previous behavior was and I intend to to make sure I don't make the same mistakes." She'd become far too emotional ever since she was taken to this land. A knight placed their duty above all else, even their own personal feelings. It was the credo that Ornstein, Ghough and her beloved Artorias believed in till their last breaths.

"And your...condition?"

"I do not know." Ciaran shook her head, "The end of our fight caused me to regain control but I cannot discount the possibility that Velka's influence has been permanently severed. However, she works on temptation and coercion. She used my hatred of Manus to coax me under her control. No longer. I understand now the importance of the task we've undertaken and I won't let honeyed words sway my mind any longer."

"Velka..." The Queen pursed her lips and the hands at her lap balled into shaky fists, "Of all the things we had to deal with...why her? Don't we have enough problems?" For a moment Ciaran saw the Queenly mask crack to expose the frustrated young woman underneath. The Queen's lips curled in an ugly scowl and it appeared that she might have broken down into frustrated tears before the mask returned.

"The cycles care not for our conflicts and this Isabella proves that even nearing the end, spite and greed yet prevail." Raziel let out a frustrated breath, "Velka is an issue, though not one we can afford to focus our entire attention on. So long as we remain wary we should not fall into her temptations."

"I have heard of theories regarding her involvement in the conflict between Manus and the Gods and yet I've never understood her full machinations. I suppose you have the answers?" Ciaran asked.

"In a way. Manus' memories are...fractured, but I glimpsed enough. She was the one that set Manus and the Gods against one another." Ciaran's eyes narrowed while the Queen waited patiently for him to continue, "Manus was a hedonist, caring not for anything but his latest carnal pleasure. When Velka offered him the gift of her wings he couldn't refuse. All he saw was a new blessing for him to enjoy."

"Lord Gwyn believed that Velka was spying on the Gods for her own agenda. When she saw the wings on Manus' back..." Ciaran trailed off.

"He became paranoid and took it as a sign," Raziel said. Ciaran had to bite back the urge to defend her former liege lord, "It is likely those rumors were spready by Velka herself. Regardless, Gwyn sentenced Manus into the abyss. The punishment for traitors. Only he survived, as Velka planned, and after the eternity of torment all that was left was the burning rage against the Gods that punished him unjustly."

"But why? I don't understand what she stood to to gain from that..." The Queen muttered.

"We can only speculate and in the end it does not matter. Manus and the Gods tore each other apart while she watched, and for whatever reason she attempted to do the same with Ciaran and I." Raziel frowned, "If the end was not so close to looming over us I would suggest going after her. For now we should simply remain wary and remember to keep focus. Velka preys on the temptations you have, no more and no less."

"Yes, I've faced similar in the past." The Queen's hands knotted together in a tight grip.

"And failed at it," Raziel said. The Queen flinched as if she'd been struck but didn't say a word, "There is another we must discuss. You know of what I speak."

The side of Ciaran's mouth twitched as a sudden chill surrounded them. She closed her eyes for but a moment and when she opened them once more the pale, dark haired figure stood to the Queen's right as if she'd always been there. Even now instinct bade her to draw her tracers before she clamped it down.

"Alsanna. How long have you been here?"

"Not long." Ciaran almost rolled her eyes at the vague reply, "I wish I could join you on your mission but I have my own task. Nashandra's movements in Germania cannot remained unchecked."

"Nashandra...another one of Manus' castoffs, I assume." Ciaran pursed her lips. Even through the the locks of dark hair the resemblance she held to princess Dusk was all too obvious. It felt...wrong seeing her face again, knowing where the woman had come from.

This Alsanna seemed to catch her gaze and a sad, apologetic smile crossed her features, "I apologize for any discomfort my appearance gives you. Our...father took to princess Dusk as a source of hope and comfort and we in turn took our form from her. Among all of us Nashandra shared the most resemblance to her. A facto she used to her full advantage."

"Help me understand. What...are you, exactly?"

"We are Manus' children. Children of the Dark."

"Fragments would be a more accurate term," Raziel said, "When I slew Manus his soul shattered into numerous pieces, each bearing a different focus. His lust for power, his anger, his obsession, his fear..." He and Alsanna shared a meaningful gaze, "Or myself, which is what little remained. Manus as you knew him is gone. His fragments would have to rejoin one another for him to return and there are no more eager for that resolution any more than the average person would seek death."

"But what guarantee would I have to trust you?" Ciaran asked Alsanna, "I understand that Raziel has a bond with this world, but what of yourself?"

"I...made a promise. And though the one I swore an oath to has passed it changes nothing." Another vague reply. Still, at the very least she sounded sincere in her words, "And just like my brother I have no desire to see this world fall."

"It will have to be enough, Ciaran," Raziel said.

"I suppose." Ciaran sighed. She had more questions - particularly the nature of that promise - but it would have to wait until their return. Now wasn't the time for that discussion, "I assume we're finished here?"

"We have one final matter to discuss," The Queen said suddenly, "Given recent events we hadn't continued the subject of who Lady Tiffania's Familiar should be. It might be prudent to do the ritual before you both leave for Gallia."


"Ciaran should be her Familiar," Raziel interrupted. Ciaran turned to face him, eyes widened by just the smallest amount. Raziel paid her no mind and continued, "While it should still ultimately be Tiffania's choice, Ciaran is the more practical among the both of us."

"How so?" The Queen asked.

"When I was Louise's Familiar the runes were meant to give me mastery over all weaponry. However, my Undead state meant that this did not happen. Though I am unsure if I am still truly an Undead, the fact that Ciaran does not have this limitation means that, whatever Tiffania's Familiar is meant to do, it is less likely to be hampered."

"Hm, I understand." The Queen nodded, "Then I suppose we shall follow your advice. Sir Ciaran, would you be willing to talk to Lady Tiffania and relay the message to her?"

"I...of course."

She and Raziel both left with barely a word of goodbye to the two remaining occupants in the room. When they opened the door they saw the pink haired chevalier and Raziel's daughter sitting across the building on a bench. The hooded young woman's head snapped up at their approach and she wrung her fingers together nervously.

"Did something happen?" The chevalier asked first.

"Nothing that concerns either of you," Raziel replied. It was clear from her scowl that it wasn't the answer she was searching for, "Be ready for your own tasks. We will be leaving soon."

He turned and left without another word.

Raziel dismounted the horse and gently led the chestnut mare to the stables. It was his, or at least Henrietta had bought it for the sake of convenience. Given that he and Ciaran didn't live at the capital it was only prudent that they have some form of transport available to them. Thankfully the decade old animal was decently trained and required only a modicum of care.

"Hm." He grabbed a sugar cube from his pouch and offered it up, "Good girl." He patted its mane gently and his lips quirked in a slight smile. Animals were something he never truly had the chance to interact with. Aside from the Familiars and Catt's pets he never really saw the point in befriending four-legged creatures.

He gave it another sugar cube before turning to leave. He wouldn't stay long; all he came here to do was to say his goodbyes. Given the journey they would undertake he expected that they'd be gone for at least the next week at a minimum. Saying goodbye...and confessing something he should have said long before.

He was so mired in his thoughts that when he opened the door he didn't notice Guiche till he bumped into him.

The blonde stepped back at the sudden impact and struggled to maintain his balance, "Woah! Uh, my apologies..." he trailed off and looked him up and down, "...my good sir?"

Raziel ignored the distinct feeling of annoyance at how he hesitated. Damn Manus and his obsession with Dusk, "No, the fault was mine, Sir Guiche." He bowed slightly. He hadn't conversed with Guiche since their last meeting in Albion. As far as the noble was concerned he'd perished in Saxe-Gotha, just another casualty among the thousands in that gods forsaken war.

That should've been the end of it, but for some reason the noble continued the conversation, "Hm, are you a new servant? Or an aide, perhaps? I've seen you around the school occasionally."

"Um...a servant." He hadn't actually thought of a story to tell. So far he'd relied on the fact that no one looked twice at someone wearing shabby commoner clothes, "I was...sent by the Valliere family to serve Lady Louise in all her needs."

"Ah, Louise! Of course." He smiled at that before his expression grew troubled, "Um...perhaps it's not my place to ask, but how is she? I'd meant to talk to her myself but ever since we returned from Albion she's been...closed off."

"It has been difficult considering what happened to her." What happened to them all, really. How foolish of them to think that the Mad King of Albion was the greatest threat they'd ever need to face, "But I shall send along your regards to her. Perhaps it will cheer her up."

"I doubt it, but thank you."

"Pardon my curiosity, but why are you here? This is the female dormitory." Even back when he was actually Louise's Familiar many of the students regarded him with wary glances. A male staying there was hardly appropriate.

"Oh...well." He laughed and rubbed the back of his head, "You see I've been trying to talk to my former fiancé, Montmorency. Circumstances happened before the war that put a strain on our relationship. I perhaps thought that we could at least begin to talk again."

Raziel couldn't stop his expression from knotting in distaste, "After what she'd done to you? Finding a cure for your condition was not easy." Nor was finding out about Tabitha's mother afterwards. He was still bitter about the Divine Blessing being wasted after so much work.

It was only when the noble's eyes widened in shock that he realized he'd said too much, "How do you-"

"Ah...Louise told me. It was merely a passing mention, Sir Guiche."

"You speak of it far more personally than someone who knew of it secondhand." Guiche looked him up and down once more and his gaze focused on the faint runes still inscribed at the back of his left hand, "Wait, those runes. Razi-"

Raziel pushed the blonde against the wall, one hand on his chest and another covering his mouth, "Quiet." He hissed. While he'd never truly attempted to keep his revival a secret Henrietta bade them to not draw attention to themselves. And considering how Guiche and his fellow 'knights' adored their spirits the last thing he needed was a drunkard crying about someone reviving from the dead.

Guiche squirmed in his grip before Raziel lowered the hand covering his mouth, "Wait, are you-"

"Whatever you believe, keep it to yourself. Some things are better left buried." He stepped back to put some distance between them. The noble still had the same slack-jawed expression. Seeing Guiche again was difficult, much as he hated to admit it. While they weren't friends in the strictest sense of the word they'd been through enough to engender some form of trust.

Raziel sighed and turned to leave. Dwelling on it wouldn't resolve anything.

He was halfway up the first set of stairs when Guiche suddenly called out, "Do you want to have a drink sometime?" Raziel stopped, "I...I'm not sure of who you are, but if my guess is correct then...well, it doesn't matter. What do you say?"

"I...will consider it." He walked up the stairs out of sight before Guiche could say anything more. What in the abyss was he doing? Trying to make friends again? He didn't have time for that. He didn't have time for anything he wanted. This would be doomed in two years time and even above that he wasn't even sure if he'd live long enough to even see that end. Day by day Derflinger spoke less and less, trying to maintain the seal that kept Manus at bay.

He knocked on Louise's door, "Come in!" He stepped inside slowly and found Louise at her desk with numerous open books scattered across its surface. She looked up from a particularly thick textbook and her face lit up in a smile when she saw him, "Oh, you're back! What did the princess want?"

"Another task. I and a few others are to leave for Albion."

"What for?"

"To rescue Tabitha's mother." Louise suddenly coughed. It was a blunt reply, to be fair, "Apparently Tabitha is a Void Mage now?"

"Oh...yeah, some things happened while you were away," she said, "Still, I guess this means we won't be seeing each other for a while?" She made no attempt to hide her frown. Even after they'd been reunited there was always something that kept them from spending time with one another. This was just another in a soon-to-be even longer list of tasks.

"Yes, I came here to say goodbye." He would have to talk to Catt afterwards but he wanted - needed - to talk to Louise first.

"I got that." Her frown deepened, "Just...make sure to take care of yourself, okay? You need to make sure you're healthy for when we tell the rest of the family about you and big sis Catt." Great. Another conversation he dreaded to have.

"Louise...we need to talk about something." There was no time to hesitate. She had to know; he couldn't keep it from her any longer.

"...Something's wrong." Her frown disappeared and a look of seriousness took its place, "Do you need my help with something? Princess Henrietta and my family want to keep me away from any more risks but if you need anything then-"

"I am dying."

Louise's face went through a multitude of expressions. Shock, disbelief, anger, confusion and, finally, a look of resignation and fatigue. She stood up and, without a word said, walked past him and sat on the edge of the bed, "Louise...?" She didn't say anything. Her face was angled down at the floor and the bangs of her hair hid her eyes from view.

It was disconcerting. He almost would've preferred her anger and rage to this.

"...How long?" she said after a minute of silence.


"How long do you have before..."

"Derflinger said a year was his estimate."

"A year...of course." He almost reached hand out to touch her when she suddenly stood and, with primal scream, flung the nearby chair at the wall. The wooden furniture smacked against the stone with a large thud and she screamed again, "Is this some kind of joke?!" She grabbed another thing - a hairbrush - and flung it at the full length mirror next to her wardrobe. The brush shattered the mirror with a powerful crash and shards of glass rained down on the floor.


"Tell me you're kidding! Tell me this just some sick idea of a prank!" She still refused to face him, "Tell me that we didn't go through all that hel - that we didn't find each other after everything - just for me to lose you again!"

He tackled her in a hard embrace. Louise struggled, desperately trying to escape his grasp and vent her rage once more. Eventually her struggles weakened and her fierce screams were replaced by weak, choked sobs as she sunk to her knees, Raziel still embracing her, "It isn't fair..." she whispered, "We just found each other again and now you're telling me I have to lose you in a year?"

"I am sorry. I should have told you sooner." It still would have hurt, but keeping her in the dark was selfish. They'd been through too much for him to treat her that way.

"Isn't there...there should be a way to help you, right? We can-"

"The water spirit offered a solution. Become an Undead animated by her spirit. She claims it would stave off Manus' corruption and preserve what life I have left."


"I cannot." He shook his head, "The queen has told you of what is coming, Louise. As much as I hate to admit it I need what Manus provides if we are to have any chance of surviving this." They would've been dead many times over if not for its double-edged sword, "My survival is meaningless if the price is you and the rest of this world."

Louise looked down once more and bit her lower lip hard enough to almost draw blood. Raziel's grip loosened and she pulled away from his embrace, "You should-"

She turned and grabbed his shoulders in a vice grip, "Listen to me." Their foreheads were touching and he could see nothing but her pink eyes, "I'm not going to just sit here while you throw yourself to the wolves. I'm going to talk to the princess to see if I can be of use."

"Your family-"

"I don't care!" Her eyes shut briefly to ward away the next set of tears, "You said it yourself, whatever's coming won't spare any of us even if we run and hide. I'm a Void Mage, and that means I won't stand by like a coward while you and everyone else ensure we survive. And...I'm not going to lose you again."


"Remember back in Saxe-Gotha? I was ready to die with you. I was scared and even thinking about it again makes me sick, but you know what was worse? Waking up in that bed to Julio telling me you were gone. I thought I'd betrayed you. We promised each other to be there to the end and I abandoned you. Then I just listened to the princess and my family when they wanted me locked up in my room. But not anymore. Whatever's coming we'll face it together."

This time it was Louise who embraced him. Raziel hesitated for only a moment before he reciprocated the gesture.

Next chapter will have Henrietta's spec ops versus an Elf. Here's hoping they have something good that can break through Counter magic.

Like I said above I'm trying to have the character relationships be less imbalanced and toxic so now Raziel and Ciaran are genuinely trying to work together while Raziel is interacting more with the ZNT characters like the returned Guiche and telling Louise the truth of his condition. Hopefully I can get Louise back some of her screentime since Henrietta's taken her place as the main female protagonist after Albion.

Review Answers:

Jaquan - As Raziel said, it isn't him who's Estelle's father but rather a theoretical alternate version. This Raziel definitely wouldn't sleep with Henrietta.

Remvis - Yeah, Henrietta's the mom. Hopefully neither of them figure it out since it seems unlikely either will take it well.

LioLion - There are multiple antagonists. As Raziel says, conflict doesn't just stop even with a big evil looming over the horizon. As for the theoretical Raziel x Henrietta, the comfort sex theory wouldn't work since Estelle confirms an older siblings. A single night leading to an accidental pregnancy makes sense, but it's unlikely it would happen twice.

Curse Bearer will factor more in the next chapter. As for the Ashen One...not likely. Cramming DS2 lore was already difficult and required re-writing Raziel's true identity.