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Light In the Darkness

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1.1

The town was flood with both young and old. Those dreaming of being picked to join the Magic Knights and those wanting to wish them well and maybe, just maybe catch a glimpse of a future Wizard King. Teris Nova allowed herself to be herded by the other hopeful recruits who were queuing up outside the large arena.

“Teris!”

Teris turned to see Fuegoleon waving at her. Though she had just seen him three days before she smiled excited to see her distant cousin. She waved back and waded to him noting the distance the crowd kept from her. “Fuego,” she greeted.

“What are you doing?” Fuegoleon asked bristling slightly at the childhood nickname Teris still insisted on calling him. “We can enter the side door to watch.”

“And why would I do that?” Teris questioned brows furrowing.

“You’re still not thinking of trying out like the rest of them. Are you?” Nozel asked coming up behind her.

Fuegoleon gave Nozel a glance before raising his brows at Teris in question.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing. I thought I told you both this already.” She said knowing full well that she had, several times.

“But why? You’re royal. You don’t have to.” Fuegoleon said, his argument unchanging from the last time.

“Just because we don’t have to doesn’t mean we shouldn’t,” Teris rebutted.

“There’s a reason for it,” Nozel said. “If royals were to try out the same as nobles and peasants they wouldn’t be able to compete with our magic and would loose heart, give up, and never try out. Though Lord Jorah only recently opened the Exams up to peasants we always needed the nobles to participate. Like it our not, the Magic Knights cannot be comprised completely of royals.”

“And who would like that?” Teris questioned.

“Nozel has a point,” Fuegoleon said. “Especially against your rare light magic. Who could compete. Besides, as royals we can pick whatever squad we want to join. I picked the Crimson Lions.”

“Of course you did,” Nozel said dryly. “Do you really think you’ll have an easy go of it under your sister. Mereoleona will rip you to shreds.”

“And it’ll make me all the stronger for it,” Fuegoleon said. “How else am I to become Wizard King?”

“As if you have a chance of beating me,” Nozel huffed.

“Who did you pick to join?” Fuegoleon questioned.

“The Silver Eagles,” Nozel answered.

“Didn’t they rank third last Star Awards?” Fuegoleon teased knowing full well that they had.

“They were one star behind the Crimson Lions,” Nozel said his ire rising. “By next Star Awards we’ll be above all the squads.”

“Even the Azure Deer?” Fuegoleon laughed. “Doubtful.”

Someone bumped Nozel into Teris. Nozel caught hold of her elbow to steady her. Through that simple touch a feeling of warmth permeated throughout him. “Are you alright,” he asked her gazing down enjoying the rare moment of contact.

Teris who was looking at the newcomer glanced at Nozel before pulling herself free of him. “Of course.” Looking back at the tall figure she commented. “You look lost. Can we help you?”

The black haired boy looked their way seeming to notice them for the first time. “Uh...is this where we try out for the Magic Knights?” He asked jerking a thumb toward the lines of people.

“It is,” Teris answered with amusement.

“Aren’t you going to apologize?” Nozel demanded.

Teris held a calming hand above his arm. The near touch sent a jolt of wanting through Nozel who yearned to lift his arm ever so slightly to complete the contact.

“No harm was done,” Teris said waving the boys apology off, though he looked far from preparing to give one. With a gesture to multiple lines of hopefuls she went on, “They’ll take your name and tell you what to do from there. Good luck.”

“I don’t need luck,” the boy said. “I just need one of them to put their prejudiced aside and take me. Then I’ll show them all.”

Mildly amused Fuegoleon chuckled, “You sound pretty sure of yourself. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how you preform. Who knows,” his eyes slid to Teris, “you may even find yourself up against a royal in the final portion. If you manage to survive that. That will sure show everyone.”

Seeming not to have heard, the black haired boy gave a wave to Teris and started towards the masses. “Thank you pretty lady.”

Nozel sputtered while Teris blinked. Shaking off the weird encounter she told them, “I should be getting in line myself.”

“You can’t be serious,” Nozel called as she stepped away.

“I’m happy you’re going,” Fuegoleon called. “Try to team with that boy for the final challenge.”

Teris turned back to them laughing at Fuegoleon’s sudden change. As she continued walking backwards she looked to Nozel and smiled, “When are you going to learn? If say I’m gonna do something I’m going to do it.” She gave them one last wave before turning back and joining a line.

1.2

Inside the arena Teris’ nerves made her start to doubt. What if despite having light magic she wasn’t good enough and none of the squads wanted her? What if this was where her dream of becoming Magic Knights Commander ended? Someone bumped into her.

“Eh. Sorry.”

She turned. “You again.”

Yami looked down. “Pretty lady?”

Teris blushed. “My name is Teris if you please.”

“Please what?”

“Stop calling me that other thing,” she said looking away feeling a completely different kind of nerves set in.

“If the truth bothers you that much you should ugly up yourself,” Yami told.

“Excuse me!”

“What are those?” Yami asked pointing at the birds swarming everyone else.

Thrown off by the change of topic it took Teris a moment to realize what he was talking about. “Those are anti-birds. They’re repelled by mana and sealed in with us to see who has high or low magical power.”

“They’re not any near us,” he commented leaning against a pillar.

Teris was about to say that that was cause he was standing near her but she realized she’d sound like her fellows in the nobility and kept silent.

“What about those,” he pointed to the broom she and everyone else was holding.

“It’s one of the first tests. To see if you can fly.”

“Never owned one. Didn’t know we were suppose to bring one,” he said looking almost disappointed.

“They hand them out over there.” Teris pointed to one of the archways near the main entrance.

“Oh? Guess I better go get one.” He pushed off of the pillar and walked away.

Teris watched interested to see how he would react when the anti-birds began flocking around him. But, to her surprise they fought to get clear of his path.

1.3

The nine Magic Knights Captians entered their loud blousterous voices echoing about the viewing room. Nozel and Fuegoleon stepped to the side of the windows making room for them.

Mereoleona grinned at her brother and his friendly rival. “You two looking forward to seeing what this group has to offer?”

“I hope there will be a few adequate candidates,” Nozel affirmed.

“Well, we can’t all be royal,” Jamie Lisous of the Golden Dawn said coming beside Mereoleona. “But we nobles are known to offer up some exemplary contenders now and again.”

Nozel eyed the Golden Dawn Captain coolly. “As you say.”

Jamie looked to Mereoleona. “I’m the Captain of the fourth ranked Magic Knights squad. How is it that some snot nosed first year recruits snide comments can sting so much?”

“You care too much about rank and power,” Mereoleona told.

“Something we would all be better off forgetting about,” Julius put in joining the group.

“If it isn’t the Captain of the Azure Deer,” Mereoleona sing songed. “The most humble top ranking Captain in the history of the Magic Knights.”

“I’m just hoping some of his luck rubs off on me,” Jamie said.

“It isn’t luck,” Julius said firmly. “It’s merit.”

“Well we’ll finally get to see about that with your sister joining the Knights this year.” Jamie looked about the room. “Where is she by the way?”

“Down there,” Fuegoleon answered looking through the window at the arena floor.

Jame’s brows rose. “Down there?”

“She aims to try out with the rest of them,” Nozel told.

Mereoleona turned to Julius surprised. “Did you know about this?”

Julius scratched the back of his head smiling nervously. “She may have mentioned something about it saying how she didn’t want to assume or receive any special treatment just cause she was a royal.”

“Well then,” Mereoleona breathed. “Score one for the little Nova.”

The Magic Knights Commander entered loudly inquiring of the Captain's, “Are we ready to see the kingdoms offerings?” Outside the horns blew getting the attention of everyone below. “Captain Julius. I’m glad to see you came even though your squad has a full compliment and you cannot participate in this years selection,” Greywright commended.

“Even if it was not my duty as a Magic Knights Captain I would have still come.” Julius said. “The chance to see new types of magic...”

“And then there’s your little pet project who’s trying out today too,” Win, Captain of the Green Mantis, taunted.

Nozel turned to see who had dared speak of his Intended in such a way.

“That’s right! Julius’ little foreigner,” Pyter, Captain of the Silver Eagles, mocked clasping Julius on the shoulder.

Nozel relaxed realizing they weren’t speaking of Teris.

“His name is Yami Sukehiro and I think you both will find his magic quite impressive,” Julius told.

“Impressive or not no one is going to choose a foreigner for their squad,” Pyter said.

“Even if his magic was on the same level as the Wizard Kings,” Win agreed. “Taking in a remarkable peasant is one thing but a foreigner? Never!”

Julius pursed his lips and looked ahead at the Black Bulls Captain. I’m counting on you to give the boy a chance, Jax, he thought silently pleading with his friend who had looked past such stigmas before to take in a second generation Spade Kingdom immigrant who still carried a notable accent

Mereoleona tisked. While she would never take in a foreigner either at least she had the tack not to proclaim it. She looked back at her brother and Nozel. “You two stay here and enjoy the show,” she instructed as she straightened her cloak and shoulders following her fellow Captains and the Magic Knights Commander out onto the balcony.

1.4

Yami Sukehiro had found the first two phases of the exam easy, if not boring. Then again, between his Ki, physical strength, and natural magical ability anything they could throw at him would probably be a piece of cake. Especially when compared to Julius’ rigorous training exercises.

Yami recalled the royal becoming impassioned during one particular training session when Yami tired and having a bad day wasn’t giving his best.

Do you think it will be easy? Julius had demanded raising his usually kind soft spoken voice. Do you think that because you are tired they will go easy on you? Let you have a rest or allow you try another day? They won’t. They’ll laugh, spit, and take it as a chance to get rid of you for good; all the while saying: ‘I knew it. What do you expect. He’s a foreigner.’ Is that what you want?

Yami had become filled with anger at that. Channeling the emotion he had used it to complete the days training meeting Julius’ high standards. As the sun set they both had sat on the ground tired and sweating, him much more so than Julius. The royal had then handed him an olive branch in the form of a water skin.

While Yami drank Julius had told him. I don’t care who you are or where you came from but unfortunately most people do. While there are some in places of power that many look passed rank, they are very few and far between and many of them don’t care enough to want or help you succeed. Lord Jorah is the first Wizard King to allow peasants to compete to become Magic Knights but the stigma and class divide will take a lot longer to fix than that simple allowance. Everything and everyone in this world will try to limit you for their comfort and benefit. It’s up to you to surpass any and all limits if you want to better yourself and get where you want to be.

Looking up at the Azure Deers Captain Yami’s hands clenched as he remembered the mans words. I will not shame you Lord Julius, he thought. Nor will I allow anyone to tell me who or what I am.

1.4.2

Teris had been surprised at how easy the exam had been thus far. Was this really all it took to become a Magic Knight? Were a royals magical capabilities really that much greater than the rest of the populace? No. That was the kingdoms hierarchy whispering its lies again. All she had to do to prove it wrong was look at the dark haired boy she had met earlier. He seemed to find it all too easy as well and he wasn’t royal. In fact, if the whispers of those around her were true he was a foreigner. Likely the one Julius had told her about. Though she could hardly be expected to remember the names of all her brother’s fascinations.

It was time for the final phase of the exam and she had yet to find someone to team with her. They all probably knew who she was and didn’t want to go up against a royal. If only they’d give her a chance. She’d show them that not all royals were cruel snobs who looked down on everyone. Though she certainly wouldn’t go easy on anyone. She had looked forward to finding a friendly combatant who would also do their best. She scanned the crowd and saw him again, standing alone.

“Having trouble finding a partner too?” Teris asked coming up beside him. “Why don’t we team up?”

“Eh?” Yami looked over at her. “You again. I forgot your name.”

“It’s Teris Nova,” she said. The butterflies in her stomach calming when he, thankfully, didn’t call her pretty lady again.

His brows raised. “Nova?” He repeated looking at her fully for the first time.

“Yes. Julius is my brother.” She sighed rolling her eyes. “But, don’t let that fool you. I’m better than him in every way.”

Yami chuckled at that. “Is that so?”

“I can guarantee it.” She affirmed her own smile growing.

“Well I know your brother and he’s pretty amazing.”

“So you are--”

“The foreigner.” Yami interrupted closing up again. “Yeah.”

She watched as he slump slightly yet somehow seemed to grow bigger at the same time. “I was going to say dark magic user.” She blinked heckles raising. “But if you want to judge yourself by rank then be my guest.” She snipped turning to go.

“Wait!” He called.

She turned back looking at him with a fierceness in her eyes that made him both cautious and excited.

“I’m Yami by the way. Yami Sukehiro. I’d be happy to be partners with you.” Something made him flush. It was either the waves of warm mana coming off her like sunlight, her strong yet gentle Ki, or the fact that he just agreed to go up against Julius’ sister in the final challenge; and if she was half as strong as her brother… What it most certainly wasn’t was that she somehow became even prettier when she was angry. “For this challenge I mean.” He said rubbing the back his neck looking away.

It wasn’t as if they had been talking about any other sort of partnership but when he clarified it made it feel as if they could have been. Teris felt her cheeks heat. “Of course. For this challenge only. Well then, good.” She stepped a good arms length distance from him and spun on a heel to face the already battling candidates.

1.4.3

“Next is Teris Nova of Castle City and Yami Sukehiro of—the Land of the Rising Sun.” The Announcer proclaimed his voice going up an octave at the end.

“Was he questioning where you’re from?” Teris joked.

“They always sound like that when they talk about my homeland,” Yami said. “I thought Julius said he was from Rizon. Do you two not share a childhood home?”

Teris shrugged not wanting to go into the details of her family’s living arrangements. “It’s a general thing they say. I think they do that so everyone doesn’t know where a royal resides.”

“Afraid the hungry masses will storm the gates and loot the place?”

“Likely their fear and reasoning.” She huffed with distaste. They stepped into the center of the arena and faced each other. “Well then, Yami Sukehiro. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

“With pleasure, Princess.” Yami said unsheathing his katana.

A number of candidates gasped taking a step back. Teris grinned stepping forward. “It doesn’t matter what you sheath your dark magic in, it won’t be quick enough for my light magic.”

1.4.4

Though they had seen the young mans sword, both Fuegoleon and Nozel had tensed when he had drawn it. And who could blame them? Such a crude but deadly weapon being brandished within Castle City. It was unheard of. It hardly had mattered that such a weapon posed no threat to Teris under such circumstances. The shock of it had left Fuegoleon fighting against his instincts to protect his cousin.

During that moment of everyone's initial surprise Julius’ laugh had echoed through the arena. It was then that Fuegoleon realized it must be some sort of gimmick the foreigner used.

It turned out that it wasn’t so much a gimmick as a clever method to speed up what was likely a normally slow moving form of magic. Even without using mana to boost his physical abilities the foreigner was capable of tremendous strength, which wasn’t surprising given the size of him, and speed which was a surprise considering his height and muscle mass.

The battle had already lasted much longer than Fuegoleon would have imagined given the fact that Teris was a royal with very rare and powerful light magic; and the of amount of time and effort she had put into training. More surprising still was the fact that the battle didn’t appear as if it would end anytime soon.

1.4.5

They had been fighting for what felt like hours. Though Teris knew that couldn’t have been right. Still, as she grew tired her magical attacks had begun to slow. Likely impeccable to most, she knew that the watching Captains, Vice Captain's, and Knights Commander would be able to tell. It was enough to make her change her tactics in an effort to put an end to the fight.

She created a magical sword. It’s bright glowing light intensifying as it clashed with Yami’s dark magic sheath katana. Looking over the crossed blades their faces inches apart she panted. “Tired?”

“No.” He breathed soaking up this moment of rest. “You?”

She blinked the stinging sweat out of her eyes. “Not in the least. What do you say we take it up a notch?”

Yami gritted his teeth as his katana and her blinding white hot blade ground against each other in an effort to push the other back. He quickly took in her mana cloaked arms and legs impressed than she could keep her footing against him. “Why just one? What do you say to three?”

Teris laughed breathlessly, finding that the once soothing coolness that had come off of him and his blade at the start was now so cold it bit and burned just being near them. “I’m fine with a short fight if you’re alright with loosing this soon.”

“I wouldn’t count yourself victorious yet, Princess.” Yami said channeling more manna into his arms and forcing them apart.

1.4.6

Seated two chairs down from Julius, Win of the Green Mantis sat forward in excitement. “This is the most interesting candidates battle I’ve ever seen. It’s making me want to fight.”

“You always want to fight, Win.” Breigha, Captain of the Blue Rose, commented.

“And you don’t my lovely Giantess?” Win quipped.

There had been a building sense of pressure while the two candidates blades had locked, their wielders fighting to over power the other through seer use of mana. Whether Yami had won that time or Julius’ sister had simply jumped away to try another tactic Pyter could not say. Nor could the Silver Eagles Captain be sure that the half second sense of gravitation towards the two combatants had indeed occurred. “Did anyone else feel that?”

“Ask Julius.” Jamie smirked. “It’s his sister and pet foreigner battling down there.” He turned in his seat giving the Azure Deers Captain his full attention. “Tell me Julius. Who are you rooting for? Or do you even care if that foreigner humiliates your own sister. Or more likely that your sister humiliates your little dog.” The Golden Dawns Captain began barking garnering a few chuckles from a number of the other Captains and Vice Captains.

Eyes on the fight below, Julius tamped down his annoyance. “Not now Jamie. I beginning to have a growing concern that--”

“That what?” Jamie asked loudly laughing. “That--”

Light and dark hit. The building mana pool drawing everyone's attention as it vibrated the air pulling inward.

Greywright’s heart skipped a beat knowing they had moments before the force built and exploded. “Julius!” He commanded cloaking himself in mana skin. His fingers leaving indention's on the arms of the chair as he shot from his seat.

Julius was already acting; opening a bubble of stasis big enough to encompass the two candidates and the already effected area.

Commander Greywright used his army magic to create men who shielded the other candidates and pushed them back to relative safety.

“I will not be taken out by a mere candidate and a foreigner.” Jamie gritted using his rope magic to lasso Teris and Yami, pulling them apart and breaking whatever spell they had been using against each other.

“It’s warping my stasis and sucking my mana dry!” Julius yelled through the deafening silence hoping someone heard and would work to help save them. If the shock wave from the explosion that his stasis magic could not stop but only slowdown didn’t kill them the black hole that the explosion seemed to be feeding surely would.

“I got you,” Bronn, the Black Bulls Vice Captain, hollered beside him.

Julius more read the mans lips then heard the words and had a moment to wonder how silence could deafen sound. Then all the surrounding mana began to vibrate.

Using his rock magic Jax formed three thick, tall walls around the worst of the oncoming blast. From behind him, Bronn used all he had to transport what he could of the force as high above the arena as he was able. Even then the Spatial Mage wasn’t sure it would be enough. But it would have to be, he didn’t have the time or mana to transport it any further.

Pyter muttered a curse. His smoke magic could suck the mana right out of these two upstarts but even a dense cloud would take time to siphon off this amount of mana and there was no time. He cast out a cloud of ash above the arena while Danise, Captain of the Coral Peacocks, threw out flower blossoms, both hoping to siphon off enough to keep them all from being killed.

At the last moment Mereoleona blanketed the area between them and the explosion above with a wall of fire hoping that the flames would eat up some of the forces air protecting them from the worst of the shock wave.

It was over so fast that none of the Captains were certain of what each of them had done. The candidates below certainly didn’t know all the effort and magic that had been used to save them, and only just barely at that. All they knew was that light and dark magic had clashed to devastating effect and the Magic Knights Captains had protected and saved them.

A cheer went up from the crowd, weak at first but quickly growing in strength. A couple of the Captains smiled and waved.

Jamie fell back into his seat. Looking up at his fellow Captains he suggested. “How about we call that one a draw.”

“For them or for us?” Heath, Captain of the Purple Orcas, chuckled nervously.

“Still think Yami isn’t worthy of being a Magic Knight,” Julius asked.

From his seat Jamie gestured to the young man in question. “Considering he almost killed us all. Yes. One has to wonder.”

“He didn’t almost kill us.” Breigha hushed playing down the threat they had just faced. “You’re being dramatic, as usual.”

“Really?” Jamie asked leaning forward to eye the towering woman. “Then what would you call what just happened?”

“An interesting, all be it destructive, combination of magic,” Greywright responded.

Julius looked to the Magic Knights Commander and gave him a small nod of thanks for his understanding.

Jamie opened his mouth to argue but Greywright silenced him.

“Using your logic one could just as easily say that Teris Nova attempted to end the lives of everyone in this arena and decimate the surrounding area.” Greywright scrutinized the Golden Dawns Captain a moment before asking. “You wouldn’t be insinuating that with such a comment would you, Jamie?”

Jamie could feel the cold gaze of the three royals on the balcony. They weren’t great in number and often bickered mightily among themselves but when the need arose they banded together and could make themselves overwhelming felt. “Absolutely not, sir.”

“Good to know.” The Magic Knights Commander said before turning to address the candidates below. “It has been decided that the match between Teris Nova and Yami Sukehiro will be considered a draw. If any of you have been injured, please, see the healing mages. Yami. Teris.” Greywright said looking a the two candidates who had been thrown to opposite sides of the arena by Jamie in turn. “Well met. Please exit the battle stage.” He looked to Jax to order him to put the area floor back to rights. But the Black Bulls Captain was already working to collapse the walls he had created and level the cobbled floor. With a nod Greywright took his seat the remaining standing Magic Knight Captains doing the same. With a glance at the Attendant the Knights Commander ordered. “Announce the next candidates.”

1.4.7

For the longest time Teris stared dumbly at her hands as if she had never seen them before. Finally, she looked up and scanned the arena for Yami and found him studying his own hands. As if he had felt her gaze upon him, his eyes snapped over to her. Her own eyes widened a chaotic mix of thoughts and emotions welling up inside her. Who was he? Was it simply their opposing magic that had been the cause of this or something more? Could it have to do with where he was from? Never mind the silly foreigner label petty people called him. But his land, his people. Was there something about either that had caused such a volatile reaction when clashed with magic from the Clover Kingdom?

She looked away scrapping that last possibility. Julius had been training him. Far as she knew nothing like this had ever occurred during that time. If it had Julius would have said something. At least taken precautions. It had to be their magic.

“Teris.” A voice called from behind. “You have yet to see the healing mages. Are you alright?”

She took stock of herself for the first time. “Quite alright.” She answered. In fact she noted with a bit of surprise, she felt better than ever. She turned and looked up at the voices owner. “I know you.” She said finding him familiar.

“I’m the Vice Captain of the Azure Deer. My name is Jon Jace.”

Teris nodded at that remembering him; or rather his half-siblings who she unfortunately knew from being placed in their company at countless events due to their similar ages. “Is something the matter?” She questioned fearing that after what had occurred neither she or Yami would be considered for the Magic Knights and that Jon had been sent by her brother to soften the blow before they were kicked out of the arena.

Jon fought the urge to squint. It wasn’t that she was physically giving off light, more like her mana was. It made him feel as if he was looking at the sun. Sensing its heat. She was definitely telling the truth when she said she wasn’t injured. An uneasiness began to bubble up in him. Then he noticed the look of fear in her eyes and reassured her and himself. “There is no need to worry. In fact,” he went on, “that is why I am here. Captain Julius wished me to come down to assure you and Yami that your draw in the battle will not adversely effect your attempt to join the Magic Knights.”

Teris released the breath she had been holding. “That’s good to know.”

“I need to inform Yami of the same. And make certain he is uninjured. Where is he?”

She threw a glance in the dark magic users direction. “Over there.”

Jon was about to ask for better direction than a glance but he didn’t need to. As soon as he looked across the battle stage his senses were drawn to Yami like gravity. While Teris blinded with a feeling of white hot light, Yami blinded his senses with cold almost palatable darkness. It was then that he noticed the other candidates watching the two. Jon wondered if the candidates youthful unskilled ability to read mana made it better or worse on them. From the way they tried to stay as far away from the light and dark magic users as possible it was clear they were afraid. Jon could hardly blame them there. With effort, he pulled his gaze away from Yami and looked back at Teris asking. “Will you come with me.”

Teris balked. “What! No!”

“It’s not as if you’ll be using your magic against each other again. It’ll be alright. I promise.”

Teris stared at him unsure.

“Come on.” Jon urged unable to keep the image of a frightened animal been coaxed from his mind. “Your brother wouldn’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” she said.

As soon as Teris took a tentative step toward him, he turned making his way around the perimeter to Yami knowing that her upbringing and hopes of being a Magic Knight would make her follow.

1.4.8

Yami watched the Azure Deers Vice Captain and Julius’ sister head his way with a sense of foreboding and excitement. He wanted to see what, if anything, else their combined magic could do. Yet he was concerned that those in power would throw him out in fear.

“Yami.” Jon greeted.

“Jon.” Yami had met the Vice Captain twice before during his lessons with Julius. He thought the man friendly enough all be it lacking in humor. From what Yami had pieced together from Julius, Jon was the bastard son of a noble family. Recognized and brought in by his father but not given the mans name. Julius had commented that though Jon had proved himself countless times his step-mother and half-siblings continually made things especially unpleasant for him. In Yami’s opinion, that alone was reason to have a great sense of humor. “Am I being banished?” Yami asked.

“Are you injured?” Jon questioned already knowing the answer.

“No. Am I being banished?”

“No,” Jon answered. “Though I make no future promises on that regard. Do the wrong thing. Annoy the wrong person.” He took a long glace up at the balcony and viewing rooms. “No doubt there are plenty who would jump at the chance to see you gone if you give them one. Especially after this.”

Yami gave a wolfish smile. “Let them try.” He looked to Teris pointing. “You. You were amazing. We were amazing!”

“I—I suppose so.” Teris said caught between smiling and furrowing her brows.

“Suppose?” Yami tisked shaking his head. “You royals. Always got to downplay everything. Come on, Princess! Admit it. We work well together.”

“We were battling, not working together.” She said.

“What’s the difference. Think of what we could do.”

“Possibly annihilate half the city if not the city itself.”

Yami huffed. “You worry too much.”

Jon eyed the two thinking that Teris didn’t give their opposing magic enough credit. If not for the Magic Knights Commander and the Captains their clash of magic could have easily taken out the town and decimated the surrounding area. And to think their strength and magical abilities would only grow. With that in mind, Jon morbidly wondered if there would come a day when their opposing magic would be capable of ending the world if not everything beyond it. He shuddered just as the horn blew announcing the end of the final phase.

Yami patted him on the shoulder. “A little jumpy there Jester.”

Jon tensed at the burning cold that seared his shoulder from the quick touch. Bristling he glared at the younger man. “Don’t call me that. And don’t touch anyone till your mana levels out.” He looked at Teris. “Either of you.”

“When your name is called, step forward. The Captains will raise their hand if they would like you for their squad...” The Announcer began.

Jon glanced up at the balcony then back at the two candidates. “I should be getting back. Good luck.”

“Don’t need luck.” Yami told. Then muttered to himself. “Just need someone to judge me on me and not my status in the hierarchy.”

Yami and Teris stood together wrapped in their own thoughts as name after name was called. After a time, Teris looked over eyeing him. The bitter, burning cold that had been coming off him during their battle had lessened. Normally running warmer than most she reveled in the cool relief his presence filled her with. “So, it’s just a thing you do then.”

Yami turned to her pleased to sense her worried nerves over their battle were almost gone. “What do I do?”

“Give people nicknames.”

Yami shrugged. Leaning against the pillar he basked in the light and warmth she brought. “I call it like I see it.”

“Then why call me Princess?”

“You’re royal aren’t you?”

Teris raised her brows and questioned. “You want to know how many families would have to be wiped out for my father to be king and me princess? Whole houses--”

“You’re still royal.” Yami said cutting off her words. Closing his eyes he stretched his neck from side to side. Her presence. Her mana. It relaxed him. It felt as if he was laying out under the sun on a warm summers day.

“It doesn’t work that way.” Teris argued.

Yami pushed his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “I don’t say it as a bad thing.” He looked down at his boots. “At least not to you.” He muttered wondering at his feelings. Would he still feel this inexplicable closeness to her if she wasn’t Julius’ sister? Likely. Given how strong it was.

She stuck her thumbs in her pockets and leaned against the pillar beside him trying to ignore the relief she felt at hearing him say the name wasn’t a bad thing. She had been called far worse before and it hadn’t bothered her.

“If you don’t like it, I’ll stop,” he said.

“Teris Nova.” The Announcer called.

She pushed away from the pillar giving Yami a nervous look.

“What do you look so worried for? You got this, Princess.”

She couldn’t help but smile at his fierce certainty. “You too.” As she made her way to the center of the arena she noticed how it was nearly empty. When did all the other candidates get called, she wondered. How many of them got picked for a squad?

“The Captains who would like you for their squad will raise their hand. If more than one Captain raises their hand you will be free to choose which squad you want to join.” The Announcer informed.

Though Julius couldn’t raise his hand, Teris looked to him. Her greatest desire. No. Her greatest need was to one day become Knights Commander and becoming a Magic Knight was the first step toward accomplishing that. A wave of fear welled up inside her. What if no one raised their hand? Why did she risk her future on the chance that she could impress a Magic Knights Captain? She should’ve just done as Fuegoleon and Nozel had. Choose a squad and let the elder family members make it happen. No! She would not use her status to achieve this. She would earn it the same as anyone else. Even if it meant she had to try out again. Even if it meant she’d have one less year to prove herself and achieve the position of Magic Knights Commander.

She heard the remaining candidates begin to mummer. Then saw the proud smile that crept onto Julius’ face. With a fortifying breath she scanned the line of Magic Knight Captains blinking in surprise. Each one of them had their hand raised.

Her own hands began to tremble. Closing them tightly into a fist she stood to attention. “I humbly accept the Black Bulls offer. And vow to always do my best and bring honor upon the squad, its Captain, and the Magic Knights. I promise to serve and protect the people of this kingdom and the Clover Kingdom itself. Even to the point of giving my life.”

She took in the surprised looks of the Captains including that of Jax, the Black Bulls Captain. Seeing Julius cover an amused smile she grinned. The Black Bulls might be the worst of the nine squads now. But, by the time she was through they’d be besting her brother’s Azure Deers. Then no one would be able to deny her the chance at Magic Knights Commander and none could say she got there cause she was a royal.

1.4.9

Yami wasn’t surprised to see all the Captains raise their hands. They’d have to be fools, or have a full complement like Julius, not to vie for such a powerful mage with such a rare form of magic. He was mildly surprised that Teris choose to join the Black Bulls though. From his lessons with Julius he had learned that they had been the lowest ranked squad for years. A band of misfits who collected as many black stars as other squads actual stars. “Princess is full of surprises.” He muttered to himself.

Finally, his name was called.

After he had stepped to the center of the stage the Announcer intoned. “If any of the Captains would like you for their squad they will raise their hand. If none of the Captains raise their hand you will leave the arena. Immediately.”

Yami had noted that those not chosen by any of the Captains had made a quick exit. Still, to be told of the rules in such a manner. He glared at the Announcer wishing for at least one Captain to raise their hand just to irk the snobbish man. Looking down the line of Captains starting from his left Yami felt a wave of angry disappointment. Not that he was all that surprised to see none of them raise their hand.

Yami clenched his jaw and stared at Julius. He wasn’t sure if he was more upset that he wouldn’t be a Magic Knight or that he had failed his teacher. There was movement to Julius’ left. Yami’s eyes snapped to the other Captain. He swallowed a whoop of joyous victory.

“The Black Bulls have accepted Yami Sukehiro.” The Announcer said in studied monotone.

Yami fought the urge to point and call the Announcer out for doubting him. Instead he looked to his new Captain and saluted. “I vow to do my best and bring honor to the Black Bulls, its Captain, and the Magic Knights. I swear to protect and serve the Clover Kingdom and its people. Giving my life if I must.”

Chapter Text

2.1

The Wizard King signed his name to yet another letter. Setting it in the done pile, he stared at the obscene stack of paperwork that he had allowed to pile up. At the sound of a knock Jorah set down the inked quill opening and closing his hand stretching out the cramping muscles.

“Enter.” Seeing the face of his Advisor the Wizard King greeted. “Ellara. Perfect timing.”

“I doubt that.” Ellara said, eyeing the towering pile of logs, reports, and letters requiring the Wizard Kings attention. “But there has been--”

“--a great and interesting magical occurrence during the Magic Knights Exams.” Jorah finished.

Ellara raised a well manicured brow. “Correct.”

“It never ceases to amaze me how you seem to know of every grand magical happening.” Greywright said, pushing his way into the office passed the Wizard Kings Advisor.

“It’s my job, Commander.” Jorah told as he stood and came around the desk. The paperwork already forgotten. “Tell me everything.”

Closing the door Ellara stepped beside the Wizard King. As she listened to the Magic Knights Commander her heart began to hammer. Even though her Master had told her in his latest letter to expect them, she had doubted. Even now, hearing Greywright tell about them she could hardly believe it. The ones chosen by Light and Darkness really did exist. More than that, they were here. In this very building. They had faced each other and shown the first glimpse of their power. Even from where she had been, she had felt the surge of mana.

Her excitement grew as Greywright went on. She could hardly wait for him to finish his telling so the two could be brought in and she could see them for herself. Yami Sukehiro and Teris Nova. The Lord of Destruction and Ray of Annihilation.

2.2

Yami and Teris weren’t given a chance to talk as they were quickly and unceremoniously shown into a room within Magic Knights Headquarters. Upon their entering the nine Magic Knight Captains turned to them, falling silent. The Captains fierce undivided attention was nothing compared to the waves of mana coming off them. Teris fought the urge to turn around and exit the room. She wouldn’t have been able to if she had tried as Yami had leaned against the door staring back at the Captains.

“Can we just be patient and wait to see what the Wizard King has to say?” Danise, Captain of the Coral Peacocks, said while giving the two new recruits a welcoming smile.

“Flowers is right.” Breigha, Captain of the Blue Rose said.

Danise’s smile tightened. “Thank you Miss Mammoth.”

With that, the other Captains resumed their arguments.

Yami pushed away from the door and leaned closer to Teris. “Looks like I’m not the only one who likes giving out nicknames.”

“I think they’re arguing about us.” Teris said, trying to pick out and follow some of the voices.

“Of course they are. They saw what we could do together and are frightened. Even more so now that we’re on the same squad.”

Teris’ eyes widened. She turned her full attention to him. “We are!”

Yami’s eyes danced over her. “Is that joy and excitement I sense from you.”

She looked back at the bickering Captains crossing her arms. “No. And with all this mana how can you tell who’s is who’s.”

“I’d know your mana anywhere.” He told her. “Even if I didn’t, I can sense your Ki.”

“Ki.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “I remember Julius mentioning you have some weird seventh sense.”

“Ki isn’t weird. And knowing that magic loving freak he did more than mention it.”

“You’re right.” She huffed. “He wouldn’t stop talking about it for weeks.”

“Only weeks, huh?”

“He’s been known to have a short attention span. Never fully understood what he was talking about. What is Ki exactly?”

Yami saw Julius making his way to them with the Black Bulls Captain, Jax, in tow. “I’ll explain later.” He told her.

“Sorry about all this.” Julius apologized. He gave his sister a smile and Yami a nod. “Some are making a fuss and demanding that the Wizard King be notified to give a verdict.”

“Wizard King?” Teris questioned.

“Verdict?” Yami asked.

“It is nothing.” Julius assured. “Truly.”

“They’re just out of sorts cause I got the two best candidates.” Jax said, patting Yami heartily on the shoulder. He jerked his hand back shaking it. Inspecting it, he said. “Jon wasn’t kidding. Boy’s still shedding mana.”

Julius looked at his friends hand. “Barely a burn. You should see Jon. I sent him to the healing mages.”

Jax’s brows rose. “Really. That bad?”

Julius nodded. “He looked like a bruised lobster. Skin red and pealing. Lips, nose, and eye lids blue. And his shoulder.” Julius shook his head. “Lucky the contact was brief. Frostbite.”

“Seriously?”

Julius nodded.

“Excuse me.” Teris said, looking at the two Captains. “What are you talking about?”

“You and Yami of course.” Jax told.

Julius looked at them a smile tugging at his lips despite the gravity of what had happened. “You two over filled each others mana pools. Well, as far as we can guess.”

“Far as you can guess.” Jax told Julius. “I’m just taking your word on it.”

“Even after you were pulled apart.” Julius went on.

“And we Captains saved the day.” Jax added.

“The two of you were smoldering. Well,” Julius gestured to Teris, “you were smoldering.” He looked at Yami. “I don’t know what to call what you were doing.” He turned to Jax. “What’s the opposite of smoldering?”

Jax eyed the Azure Deers Captain a moment brows quirked in amusement. Realizing Julius was truly looking for an answer he shrugged.

Julius turned back to Yami and Teris. “Suffice it to say, the result of your two magics clashing in such a way left you with so much excess mana that it was coming off you in waves effecting those near you.”

“I was near the Princess before they called her up. I’m not burned.” Yami thought of the relaxing warmth he had felt just being near Teris. Even now, she was like a light in a darkened room. Soothing and calling to him.

“Another interesting effect the you two have on each other.” Julius guessed.

“On each others magic, or in this case mana.” Teris clarified.

Yami looked at her and grinned. He didn’t need to read her Ki to tell she had become flustered by Julius’ words.

Julius noted the slight color in his sisters cheeks and nodded. “Of course. I must say, now that it’s over with, I’m fascinated by what happened. And am interested in what, if anything, else your combined magic can do.”

Jax rolled his eyes. “Of course you are you magic loving freak. But they’re my Knights. You can’t play with them.”

“They might not be your Knights for long.” Pyter said, coming up behind the two Captains.

“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Jamie added.

“And what makes you think anyone would give a damn what you have to stay in this or any other matter.” Jax questioned.

Before Jamie could respond a door at the opposite end of the room opened.

Ellara didn’t have to scan the room for Yami and Teris. Their excess of mana was still coming off of them in soft wispy breaths. She stared a moment taking them in. Scrutinizing them. “The Wizard King will see the new recruits.” She said at last.

When the Captains stood or turned to follow the Advisor clarified. “Just, the new recruits. When Lord Jorah is done talking with them the rest of you will be invited in.” Her gaze having never left Yami and Teris she beckoned. “Come along.”

In that moment they both appeared so young and helpless to Julius that when they looked at him their expressions uncertain he wanted nothing more then to tell them that he’d go with them. But he couldn’t. More over, with all the Captains watching he couldn’t give them a word of encouragement least the others see it as weakness and use it against them. Instead, Julius simply stepped out of the way and watched them go.

2.2.2

“Teris Nova and Yami Sukehiro.” Ellara announced closing the doors behind her.

“Yami. Teris. Good to met the two of you.” Jorah greeted.

“This is the Wizard King?” Yami breathed for Teris’ ears alone.

“Yes.” She whispered back.

“I thought he’d be bigger.”

“Physical size isn’t everything.” Jorah told.

Teris’ eyes widened in horror.

“My apologies. Was that a private tete a tete? My hearing is above average and I can’t always tell.” Jorah smiled and beckoned. “No matter. Come in.” As they made their way to him at a painfully slow pace, the Wizard King studied them. When they finally stopped before him he asked. “What am I to do with you two? You nearly destroyed Castle City. My Captains are up in arms and fighting among themselves. Honestly, that’s nothing new. The Captains fighting I mean. The other.” He tilted his head taking them in. “It isn’t everyday that two youngsters nearly destroy a city by concussive shockwave before pulling said city into another dimension. Or was it a black hole?”

“We’re—sorry.” Teris said, her apology sounding more like a question.

Jorah waved her off. “Never apologize for being powerful. That’s my motto. One of them at least. Isn’t that right Greywright?”

“It is, Sir.” Greywright nodded.

“But in this case, Sir. I would suggest, at the very least, a warning not to do it again.” Ellara said.

Jorah pointed his Advisor. “Ellara’s right. We’ll get down to those rules and guidelines in a bit.” He sat on the edge of his desk and crossed his ankles. “First, tell me about this little battle you two had. You first.” He pointed at Yami.

Yami told the Wizard King of every move, attack, block, and counter he had made. At Jorah’s behest, he had taken out his grimoire showing which spells he used. He even allowed the Wizard King to hold and inspect his katana and explained Ki. It had pleased him to see understanding dawn on Teris’ face. He answered all the Wizard Kings questions and even asked a few himself; which Jorah answered or happily speculated about. He found he enjoyed Teris’ undivided attention as she listened to his account and was somewhat disappointed when it was over.

Jorah remained silent for moment as he looked at Yami thinking over what he had said. Then he turned to Teris. “And you, young lady?”

As Teris told her account Yami found he like watching her just as much, if not more than, having her eyes on him. Though she had never appeared overly nervous he had sensed it in her Ki. As she went on he sensed her nerves dissipate and courage grow. Looking her over he found her even cuter when she was focused. By the time she reached the end of her side he decided that he was going to marry her. Many would think themselves crazy for having such thought. They’d probably argue with themselves that they had just met this girl and knew next to nothing about her. But, not Yami. He had learned to trust and follow his gut instincts. On the few occasions he had not, things had turned out badly.

“Bring the Captains in, Ellara.” Jorah commanded.

As Ellara did as she was told the Wizard King considered the trouble that would ensue from the other kingdoms once they heard of the incident. Then there was the interest from the zealots this would garner Yami and Teris. It would likely be a prudent idea to double the Sentries that patrolled near the Black Bulls base just in case one or more of these groups attempted to make a move on them.

As the nine Captains entered Teris made to moved out of the way.

“You’re good where you are.” Jorah told her.

Teris didn’t like the idea of a bunch of angry Magic Knights Captains standing behind her. Especially when she could feel their heightened mana. She glanced at Yami telling herself that she’d have to get him to teach her how to use Ki.

“Thank you for joining us, Captains.” Jorah welcomed. “Commander Greywright has told me everything, including your concerns. And, I have just finished hearing Yami and Teris’ personal reports of their battle. So, let’s get to the explanation of what happened. Shall we.” The Wizard King pointed at Yami. “It appears that your black hole spell fed on your,” he pointed at Teris, “solar flare spell only to have your solar flare spell somehow in turn feed on Yami’s black hole spell as it was being compressed by said black hole spell. The compression of your solar flare spell and building of mana energy seems to have turned it into a sort of explosion which may have birthed a tiny very short lived star. While this was happening it appears as if the black holes growth was accelerated by the excess mana and fusion energy the solar spell was making turning it all, I would assume, into what the astronomy mages call a super nova.”

“What?” Ellara blinked.

“I believe it’s one word, sir,” Greywright said. “Supernova.”

Julius nodded once in agreement as he rubbed his chin finding the whole thing intriguing.

Jorah’s face twitched at the correction. Ignoring the Magic Knights Commander, he explained. “An explosion followed by implosion.” He looked at the two recruits. “Does that sound about right?”

Teris stared mutely at the Wizard King, while Yami simply shrugged.

“Well it’s your magic.” Jorah said. “If you don’t understand it you’re going to have to work together till you do.”

“Sir.” Ellara began.

Jorah held up a silencing hand. “All be it slowly and far away from civilization while under competent supervision and guidance. Look. I’m going to be completely honest with you two.” He looked above their heads at the Magic Knight Captains. “With all of you.” His eyes returned to the recruits. “I can’t say exactly what happened, or why it happened. I certainly can’t say if or when it will happen again or to what extent.”

“Sir--” Jamie began.

The Wizard Kings eyes snapped to the Golden Dawns Captain, silencing him. “What I can say is it would be a great waste and to our shame if we pulled you two apart and forbade you from ever working together simply because we don’t understand this or are afraid.”

Yami tensed as he stared at the Wizard King. Never had he imagined that pulling them apart, never to see each other again had been considered.

“We’re not afraid Sir.” Pyter said. “Merely concerned.”

“Well I suggest you concern yourselves with your own new recruits and allow Jax and Greywright to concern themselves with these two.” Jorah said.

Greywright straightened. “Me, Sir?”

“You don’t expect me to oversee their work together do you?”

“No, Sir. But--”

“I could do it, Sir,” Julius offered.

“No.” Jorah said. “You are too close to them and I don’t like that glint in your eye. We’re aiming to learn and have them learn, not say ‘try this’ cause you want to see what will happen.”

A number of the Captains chuckled under their breath.

“Sir, If I may.” Pyter tendered. “What of pulling Teris from the Black Bulls and placing her in another squad? She and Yami could still be trained by Commander Greywright.”

Teris sucked in a breath and spun around pinning the Silver Eagles Captain with a fiery stare.

Pyter smirked at her temper. Looking her up and down he continued. “I am sure we would all sleep better knowing their light and dark magic wasn’t under the same roof getting up to who knows what.”

Julius and Yami’s mana flared to which Pyter gestured to the dark magic user. “See what I mean. The boy can barely control his mana.”

“Well, what did you expect from a foreigner.” Jamie put in.

Jax stepped between the other two Captains and Yami and Teris. “Hands off my recruits.”

“We have yet to see if they are both still yours.” Pyter said.

“Pyter has a point.” Jorah said.

They all turned to the Wizard King. Teris looked distraught, while Pyter and Jamie smiled victoriously.

“But, correct me if I’m wrong.” Jorah went on. “Each of you, save for Julius, raised their hand for Teris?”

The eight Captains nodded.

“And she choose to accept the Black Bulls offer?” Jorah looked at the Magic Knights Commander. “Greywright?”

Greywright swallowed a smile knowing where this was headed. “Correct.”

“Then I don’t see how she can be pulled from the Black Bulls.” Jorah said. “Now if any of you wish make Yami an offer and see if he accepts.” He looked at seven of the nine Captains in turn. When no one spoke up or raised their hand Jorah pushed away from the desk. “Well then, that settles that. Teris and Yami are yours Jax. Congratulations. Captain, please don’t kill them or allow them to destroy the kingdom. Dismissed.”

Before anything had a chance to change Jax ushered his recruits away and out of the building.

2.3

Jamie followed in Pyter’s wake as he stormed through the halls of Headquarters. For a such a slender, shorter man the Silver Eagles Captain could out pace anyone and make it look effortless. Finally he stopped, the Golden Dawns Captain able to catch up with him. Taking a moment to steady his breathing Jamie noted Pyter’s newest recruits standing with Mereoleona’s.

Jamie grabbed hold of Pyter’s arm and spun him around not caring about the young nobles presence. “You’re not giving up are you?”

Pyter’s already heightened mana intensified. “Don’t. Touch. Me.”

Jamie release his sleeve.

The Silver Eagles Captain straightened his cloak. Taking a step to Jamie he hissed. “What would you have me do? Go back in there? Argue with the Wizard King?”

Jamie stood mutely.

“That’s what I thought.” Pyter smoothed his hair, sighing. “We’ll just have to accept that that light magic royal jewel will not be adorning either of our squads crowns.” He gave a harsh barking laugh. “Who would’ve thought Julius’ little sister would degrade herself, and what it is to be royal, by choosing to be a Black Bull? On the bright side it makes us nobles look better to have a royal with such a lack of care for what is good and proper.”

“Nothing could make you look better, Pyter.”

“Mereoleona.” Pyter turned giving the Crimson Lions Captain a large fake smile. “It isn’t polite to listen in on others conversations.”

“Explains why you’ve never struck me as a polite person.” Mereoleona said dryly. “And, I wasn’t trying to listen. I was trying to collect my recruits and get them as far away from you two scheming snakes as I can.” She glanced over at her three new Magic Knights and turned away. “Come, Leon. Randall. Nalorie. Let’s get three to base and introduce you to your comrades.”

Randall and Nalorie followed quickly, Randall turning back when Fuegoleon didn’t.

“See you.” Fuegoleon told Nozel.

Nozel looked at the new Crimson Lions member wondering how their friendship would hold up over the years. Now that they were officially members of different squads of Magic Knights their rivalry would most certainly grow. Nozel inclined his head in farewell.

Fuegoleon’s lip twitched. He gave his friend one last, almost sad look before turning and walking away.

“Oh. And a word of advice.” Mereoleona said over her shoulder to Nozel. “From one royal to another. Though it would behoove you to take it as well, Margery. Be mindful of picking up any of your Captains ways.”

2.4

Outside Teris soaked up the last ray of light from the setting sun. She felt like a prisoner who had been locked away for days and by some miracle had been pardoned. Jax was speaking with his Vice Captain, Bronn, a man with a scruffier appearance than Captain Jax and Yami combined.

She noted Yami staring at her with an expression on his face she couldn’t read. “What?”

“You didn’t think we would make it out of there.”

“It’s not like I thought they would lock us up in a dungeon or something,” Teris said. “But—you heard them. They wanted to put me in another squad.”

A troubled look passed over Yami’s face so quickly that Teris wasn’t sure if it had actually been there. He shook his head.

“I wouldn’t have let them take you if you didn’t want to go.” He said, then grinned. “You’re stuck with me, Princess.”

“And what, may I ask would you have done if she had been ordered to another squad?” Another female voice asked.

Teris turned wearing a huge smile. “Leona!”

“Hello, Bright Eyes.” Mereoleona greeted. Her expression became stern as she crossed her arms and demanded of her cousin. “What’s the big idea? Did you not see my hand raised? Choosing this lot over family. Over me.”

“Oui! Lioness! Leave our recruits alone.” Bronn said, pushing his way between Teris and the Crimson Lions Captain. “We won them fair and square.”

“You make us sound like cattle or money.” Yami complained.

“Oh. Hush you!” Bronn ordered. “Mouthing off to your superiors. I’ll fix you of that right quick.”

“I wasn’t mouthing off.” Yami told.

Bronn turned grabbing Yami roughly by the back of the neck. “What did I tell you.” He looked to Mereoleona and shook his head pointing at Yami with his free hand. “Kids these days. No respect for authority.”

Yami winced at the painful, vise-like grasp. Looking at Bronn, he said, as calmly as he could. “That smarts. A bit.”

“It’s suppose to.” Bronn told, cursing the youths strength and squeezing harder.

“Easy there.” Mereoleona smirked. “You’ll hurt yourself, Bronn.”

“Let the boy go, Bronn.” Jax ordered.

The Black Bulls Captain had walked off to flag down Greywright and Julius who had exited the building and returned to this. Though it was hardly surprising.

Bronn released Yami with a shove. He gave Mereoleona a smile making sure she didn’t see as he put his hand behind his back shaking the feeling back in.

“Mereoleona. Anything I can help you with?”

“Calm yourself, Jax. I’m not here to cause trouble. I just wanted to wish my distant cousin the best and congratulate her on surpassing me in bucking expectations.” She looked at Teris and huffed. “You may have joined the Black Bulls but you’re more of a Black Sheep. Aren’t you?”

“I like that.” Bronn said. “I’m gonna steal it.”

Teris tried not to bristle. She knew Mereoleona meant it all in good fun but given her brother, Fyntch’s, expectations it was hard not to get riled by her comment. When Fyntch heard of her choice of squads he would no doubt write her a long, angry letter that told her how she was good for only one thing; and he couldn’t wait to marry her off to Nozel and be rid of her. Her expression darkened at the thought of Nozel. No doubt he was embarrassed and angered at her decision to join the Black Bulls too. As only her Intended, their fathers having agreed that their children would one day wed, he had no right to chastise her. Still, given their friendship, such as it was, he would likely feel that allowed him to tell her what he thought of her actions.

“Whoa there Black Sheep.” Bronn hollered jumping away from her.

Having been lost in thought Teris hadn’t realized her mana had flared.

“It was only a joke.” Mereoleona told.

“I’m sorry.” Teris apologized. They were all staring which only added to her heightened emotions making it that much more difficult to get her mana under control.

Jax watched her, giving a nod as her mana calmed.

Wearing a mildly concerned expression, Julius asked his sister. “You alright?”

Embarrassed, Teris nodded barely able to look at her brother. She hadn’t lost control of her mana like that since the first few months of learning how to use mana skin.

“You have instructed them how to control their mana?” Jax questioned Julius. “Please tell me you taught them how to control their mana.”

“It looked like they could during their battle.” Bronn commented looking down at the new recruits.

“They know how to control their mana.” Julius said. While he hadn’t been there to give Teris much instruction, he knew Mereoleona’s parents would have seen to it. Teris’ letters had even mentioned such training. As for Yami. The boy had hardly needed any instruction on such control. Which he had found interesting given Yami’s short temper.

“Well, she is a young girl.” Bronn said. “Maybe she just over emotional.”

“As if there aren’t over emotional men.” Mereoleona huffed.

“There’s another possibility.” Greywright said, eyes sliding from Teris to Yami.

“Great.” Jax laughed, without humor. “I don’t know whether to be happy or afraid by the days events.”

“Both.” Mereoleona said. “If you’re really scared, which you should be, you could give me Teris.”

“It’s alright boss. We’ll beat them into shape.” Bronn cracked his knuckles as he looked over at Yami. “I’ll handle that one myself.”

Having silently watched the scene, Fuegoleon spoke up wondering why no one had taken his sisters words as a true option. “Can’t they simply be--” He faltered when they all turned to look at him. “–separated.” He finished straightening his shoulders and lifting his chin under the attention.

“No.” Greywright told, and turned back to study Yami and Teris.

“The Wizard King wishes them to be kept together and instructed.” Mereoleona explained. Taking a breath she looked to Greywright. “Well I’m glad that’s not my job. Good luck, Commander. Hope they don’t kill you. Fuegoleon. Randall. Nalorie. Let’s get to base.”

Fuegoleon looked at Teris, silently asking her if she was alright. She gave him a small, stiff smile and nodded.

As the four Crimson Lions began walking away Teris called. “I’d watch your back if I were you Fuego. The Black Bulls are coming for that second place you inherited.”

Fuegoleon looked over his shoulder and smirked. “Just you try to take second place from the Crimson Lions.”

Chapter Text

3.1

Commander Greywright, Julius, and Captain Jax had talked well into the night to the point that Teris had consider joining Yami and Bronn who had long since fallen asleep propped up against a tree. Thankfully they hadn’t needed to fly. Once Jax had woken his Vice Captain, Bronn had used his spatial magic to transport them to the Black Bulls base.

The place had been dark. Given the hour they had arrived, all the other members were likely in their rooms fast asleep. Jax had instructed Bronn to show Yami and Teris to their rooms as he made for his own. Left alone with them Bronn had given them their squad cloaks and told Teris that he wouldn’t dare enter the girls wing for fear of the traps the girls set every night meant to keep boys out. Instead, he had said she could sleep on any sofa or chair she fancied in the great room.

After Yami and Bronn had headed upstairs, Teris had plopped onto the nearest sofa. At times in the past she had had difficulty getting to sleep, but not that night. After her system had burned off the excess mana, she had been left exhausted and could likely have slept anywhere.

“What are you doing here?” A girls voice demanded.

Squinting up at a too close face Teris informed. “I’m one of the new recruits.”

“I gathered that much.” The girl said, stepping back as Teris sat up. “I’m not stupid.”

“That’s debatable.” Said a male voice.

“Shut up Gendry.” The girl said. Looking down at Teris she went on. “I’m Abril, by the way. That idiot over there is Gendry.” She crossed her arms. “You still haven’t explained what you’re doing sleeping out here.”

“I--”

“Get away from that girl!” Bronn ordered, descending the stairs with Yami in tow. “She might kill you.”

“Me?” Both girls questioned pointed at themselves.

“Not you.” Bronn told. “Her.”

“I might kill her? Now why would I do that?” Abril asked the Vice Captain placing her hands on hips.

“Don’t be daft. Not you.” Bronn said to Abril. He grabbed a hold of Yami and pushed him into the sofa beside Teris. “These newbies are dangerous. Or prodigies.” He scratched his neck under his chin. “It hasn’t been decided yet.”

“I’m surprised you know what the word ‘prodigy’ means.” Teris muttered.

“What was that Black Sheep?” Bronn asked loudly, cupping an ear.

Teris stared up at him. “When’s breakfast. I’m hungry.” She would have been embarrassed at the sound her stomach made, if Yami’s hadn’t been so quick to echo. She didn’t know if the Captain or Bronn had had supper last night, but Yami and she hadn’t.

“Me too.” Yami said.

“When’s breakfast?” Bronn repeated. He looked back at the growing group of newly awakened Black Bulls members. “Hear that! The Black Sheep and Lord of Destruction what to know when breakfast is.”

Teris’ eyes turned to Yami. “He gave you a nickname too?”

“Yep.”

“Not bad, if you ask me.”

“I kinda like it too.” Yami admitted.

From behind Bronn, Abril asked. “When is breakfast?”

“I could definitely eat.” Gendry said.

“You can always eat.” Abril shot back.

“Hush. The lot of you.” Bronn hollered.

“Try taking you own advice.” Jax complained entering the great room.

The Captain squinted at the mornings light that entered from the lower windows. He was disheveled and had dark circles under his eyes.

Teris imagined she appeared much the same.

“Captain.” Teris said, standing.

Yami looked up at her, and with reluctance slowly got to his feet as well.

The other Black Bulls parted and watched as their Captain made his way to the newest members. “How did you two enjoy your first night in your new home?”

“A little drafty.” Yami told.

“I slept on the sofa.” Teris informed.

Bronn glared at them.

Jax turned to his Vice Captain. “You left her down here?”

“The girls had already turned in and set their traps.” Bronn explained.

“And what if our beastly menace had paid a visit last night?” Jax questioned, to which the other Black Bulls members shuddered.

Bronn shrugged. “What was I suppose to do?”

“Not leave her where that destructive, pilfering thing could happen upon her and maul her to death.” Jax suggested.

Bronn waved a hand. “She would’ve been alright. You saw her power.”

“So the chance of my bases destruction and all our deaths seemed like a reasonable risk to take.” Jax said.

“What? The lad was up in his room well away from--”

Jax silenced his Vice Captain with a slice of his hand.

“Sorry, boss.” Bronn muttered.

“Go see to breakfast.” Jax ordered. “I’ll see to the introduction of this lot. Abril! Introductions.”

Abril shook her head and tisked at Bronn as he passed her; skittering away when he moved as if to strike her. “I already told her who I am.” She said pointing to Teris. “But for your sake,” she looked at Yami, “I’m Abril Pelson, Junior Magic Knight 4th Class--”

“She’s rather proud of her new rank and will remind you of it every chance she gets.”

“Shut up Gendry!” Abril snapped. Looking back at Yami and Teris she went on. “That idiot is Gendry Hunt, Junior Magic Knight 5th Class.”

From behind Abril, Gendry struck a pose similar to hers and used his hand to imitate her talking.

Knowing he was making fun of her, Abril transformed to look like Gendry and proceeded as if him, “I’m a stupid big lug who uses iron magic. I like iron. Iron is strong. Strong like Gendry.”

“Captain! She’s doing it again.” The real Gendry complained.

Abril transformed back to herself and looked at Gendry innocently. “What? Don’t like it when I make you look smart?”

Jax closed his eyes and sighed as pinched the bridge of his nose. Maybe he should have seen to breakfast and left Bronn handle this lot. Then again Bronn wasn’t any better. Half the time he was worse.

“Introductions.” Jax intoned trying to keep his patience.

Abril spun back around and stood to a sloppy attention. “Right. Yes, Sir.” She pointed at a red haired girl with a mass of freckles. “Next we have Venice Mytir. Her mirror magic is amazing. Then there’s Tobin Giantsbane.” She indicated a tall, bearded man with a wild mass of orange hair. “Coincidentally, his magic is giant magic. There’s Olsen Bain.”

A tall, slender man with short black hair and a meticulous mustache bowed slightly.

“He’s a flirt.” Abril pronounced. “But don’t take it seriously. There’s only one woman for him and he wouldn’t do anything to loose her. Or so he says. None of us have actually seen this so called love of his life. Oh. And though not as pretty as his words, his water magic is a site to behold. You already know Bronn. He’s a spatial magic user. A pretty darn good one too. Though don’t tell him I said so.” She looked at Teris. “He’ll threaten to hit and harm you, but he never would. He saves all that for the boys. The worse us girls get is yelled at. Let’s see. You already know Captain Jax. His rock magic can beat out all the other Magic Knight Captains. Just don’t bother him in the morning. He is so not a morning person. Other than that, he’s the best.”

“Thanks for that.” Jax murmured tiredly.

“Aren’t you forgetting someone?” A man sing songed stepping out of a shadowy corner.

Abril jumped. She avoided eye contact with the man as he beside her. Crossing her arms, she bit back. “When all you do is hide in shadows it’s easy to forget you, Iban.”

Iban smirked down at her. “You’ve never forgotten about my presence in this place, young one. Though you’ve no doubt tried.”

In an effort to get some separation from Iban, Abril took a step forward. She sighed sounding bored, though the tremble in her voice was unmistakable. “This is Iban Halvor. Blood magic user and Intermediate Magic Knight Second Class. There happy?”

“Completely.” Iban said, looking down at her.

Abril flinched. She hadn’t realized he had come up beside her again. She took a step sideways before turning around to join the others.

Iban inspected the two new members as he explained. “My grandparents found refuge in the Clover Kingdom having left the Spade Kingdom for fear of their lives. Even after two generations, I still resemble the appearance and mannerisms of their homeland, as well as bare a notable accent. It can sometimes make others uncomfortable.” He looked at Yami. “I’m sure you understand.”

“How do you know I’m a foreigner?” Yami asked, studying the man in return.

“I’ve kept up on your whereabouts and tracked your progress of course.”

Yami’s eyes narrowed.

Iban reasoned. “We foreigners must stick together, Yami. Good work on finding Julius Nova, by the way. A native patron goes a long way to assisting in our acceptance.”

“He found me.” Yami corrected.

“So he did.” Iban raised an eyebrow his lips curling upward. “Your accent. It’s barely noticeable.”

“I pick things up quickly.” Yami said.

“Don’t listen to him.” Abril said. “The Black Bulls have no issue with where a person’s from.”

“The fierce, dirty faced girl is correct.” Olsen said.

Abril scowled, not cause Olsen was being rude but cause he was likely right. She had forgotten to wash up before bed last night, and then again this morning. Using her sleeve she scrubbed her face in an effort to clean it.

“Even after being here for six generations I still come across those who see me as foreign and scorn me. But not here. Captain Jax would never allow it.” Olsen scanned his comrades. “The Black Bulls have accepted me and treat me no different than they would any other member. Though most times I wish they would. Violence and crass talk are not my thing.”

“Oh, hush you.” Venice silenced.

Iban, who had been using his blood magic to get a feel for Yami, concluded. “You’re looking as deeply within me as I am you. How? Dark magic shouldn’t allow you that capability.”

“You’re right.” Yami said. “I’m not using my dark magic.”

Iban eyes lit up intrigued. “How then?”

Yami crossed his arms and smirked. “Guess for all your tracking you don’t know everything about me.”

Jax looked over at Teris. “Introduce yourself, girl.”

Teris couldn’t stop the glare she gave the Captain for his way of addressing her. She looked at each of her new comrades. “It’s been nice to met you. My name is Teris Nova. And--”

“Nova!” Tobin exclaimed. “As in Julius Nova? Captain of the Azure Deer?”

“He’s my brother.” Teris said, trying not to bristle. She wondered how long she would be known simply as Julius’ little sister. Then again, this was her first day as a Magic Knight. She hadn’t even been on a mission yet. She could hardly expect to be known in her own right.

“I’ve heard Jon talk about you.” Venice said. “You’re a light magic user.” She smiled. “I look forward to seeing how your light magic does against my mirror magic when we get to spar.”

“I didn’t realize your were royal.” Abril said.

Teris found herself liking Abril simply for her words, thinking it the best complement she had gotten in a long while.

“With Julius’ little sister we’re bound to get some stars this year.” Gendry said.

“We have stars.” Abril said.

“Actual stars.” Gendry said. “Not black ones.”

“Light magic, eh?” Iban inspected her. “To my knowledge the last known light magic user was Harrow Ryder of the Spade Kingdom. My grandmother told me her great-grandfather had met him once as a young boy. It had been a few days before Harrow died at the grand old age of a hundred and seventeen. It is said Harrow left everything, including his body, to the Spade Kingdoms Mage Guild, hoping that even in his death he could continue to aid their efforts and experiments.”

“Breakfast is ready.” Bronn called from the doorway.

“Then on that disturbing note we shall convene in the dinning hall.” Jax said.

Yami had yet to introduce himself, but Jax knew his squad would pester the two new members with questions anyway.

“What about the danger?” Abril asked, looking up at the Captain.

“Danger?” Jax questioned.

“Bronn said those two were dangerous.” Gendry said, throwing a glance at Yami and Teris.

“They don’t look dangerous.” Abril said “That one,” she pointed at Yami, “looks too big and burly to be a kid, but muscles alone aren’t dangerous.”

Jax looked over their heads at his Vice Captain, spearing him with a glare. “They’re not dangerous.” He told Abril. Looking at the rest of the Black Bulls, he went on. “We may need to be careful for a while till things get sorted out. But, they aren’t dangerous. We’ll explain over breakfast. After, one of you can give our new members a tour of the place before they have to meet Greywright for their first lesson.”

3.2

Nozel had been mildly concerned about the state of the Silver Eagles base given that the Captain was a mere noble, but he had worried over nothing. Sure his rooms were smaller than even the guest quarters of his family’s smallest summer cottage, but he supposed that was to be expected. He was a new recruit after all. At least a personal maid and servant were provided, and the breakfast and lunch tables properly set. Though both meals had been a bit salty for his taste, it was nothing a word to the chef wouldn’t fix.

“Nozel.”

Nozel turned to see Danior, a noble of similar age who had joined the Magic Knights last year.

“Where are you going?” Danior questioned.

“Why?”

Danior shrugged. “We have no orders from the Captain. I thought we could hang out. Get to know each other a little better.”

“Do we know one another at all.” Nozel questioned.

“Well, there was that one dinner at the Mathis’ and the garden party at the Royal Castle for the King. Oh! And the winter feast at the Vermilion's.”

“I do not recall speaking to you at any of those events.” Nozel said.

“We didn’t actually talk.” Danior admitted. “But I listened in on a number of group discussions you were a part of.”

Nozel released a breath thinking how tiring nobles were and wondered if he should have joined Fuegoleon in the Crimson Lions. At least there he wouldn’t have Danior pestering him right now.

“If you must know. I am going to the Black Bulls base.”

“Why?” Danior asked.

“Because his Intended is there.” Neyres said, coming from the opposite direction with Margery Mathis, the Silver Eagles other newest member, following in her wake. “Teris shocked us all with her little stunt yesterday. And I’m not referring to her and the foreigner almost destroying the place. No doubt Nozel here wishes to make sure his Intended is still in her right mind. Or maybe you believe she is being coerced in some way.”

Though she was royal, Nozel barely thought of Neyres as such. House Norward might be the largest amoung the royal houses, but over-breeding didn’t make up for being well bred in Nozel’s opinion.

“Minimal as it may be. As my Intended, Teris’ actions reflect on my family.” Nozel said.

“I was hardly implying that you were going there out for concern for her.” Neyres said. “You forget, your Highness, I’m royal too. I know there is no care or love involved in these things. Only duty. That is why we are going with you.”

At Nozel’s quizzically raised eyebrows, Neyres explained. “As a royal, Teris’ actions reflect on all royals. And therefore concerns all of us. Well, you and I. I suppose possibly Margery. But she is only half royal, thanks to her mother.”

Nozel’s blue eyes fell on the girl behind Neyres for the first time.

Margery gave him her best smile.

Looking back to Neyres, Nozel allowed. “Very well.”

There were times when it was difficult to keep his care for Teris hidden. Having watchful peers there would force him to strive all the harder to not express his true feelings.

3.3

It was a few hours before sundown by the time Greywright was done torturing them. Using a transportation charm the Magic Knights Commander left them where he had collected them, in the Black Bulls sparing field, saying that he would meet them there at the same time tomorrow.

As Yami and Teris trudged up the wooden path back to the main house Teris complained rubbing her neck. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this exhausted. Even my knots have knots.”

“Let me see.” Yami said, stepping behind her.

Teris began to step way as she turned. “What are you--”

“Just--” He grabbed her shoulders and turned her so that her back faced him.

Too tired and achy to do anything more she submitted, allowing herself to be positioned.

Yami leaned over her shoulder and whispered. “Now relax.”

Teris tensed further wondering how he expected her to relax when his breath was tickling her ear.

Yami smirked as he took at her profile sensing a rise of a different sort of tension in her. Stepping back he rubbed his hands together, not to warm them but to cool them with his mana. Placed his hands on her shoulders he glided them slowly up to her neck, and back down keeping a firm but gentle pressure.

“Breathe.” He told her.

Teris sucked in a breathe of air having momentarily ceased that simple function. Her eyes closed as she exhaled slowly finding her muscles were slowly releasing as well. She lost track of time, but when he pulled away it felt as if the massage had gone on for too long, and yet too short a time. She was still fatigued, but she could move without everything aching. Turning and tilting her head from side to side she smiled. The tense angry muscles in her neck were no longer tense or angry.

“That’s—amazing.”

“Glad you feel better.” Yami said, stepping beside her. “Care to do me?”

“I have no idea what you did.”

“I cloaked my hands in mana to cool them and gave you a light massage. Your neck was the worst. You sure keep a lot of stress in there, huh.”

“You used mana?

“And there’s that stress. You’re gonna undo all my work on those muscles.”

“Yami!”

“What? It was easy.” He turned his back to her. “Now do me. You’ll give off heat, but it’ll have a similar effect. Besides, I prefer hot to cold.”

“Greywright distinctly told us not to use magic or any form of mana skin when in contact with each other.”

“I guess that means you’re not going to give me a massage.” Yami said, looking at her over his shoulder.

“We just got permission to use our magic, so long as we don’t use it on one another, and here you are doing exactly what Commander Greywright told and trusted us not to do. What if something like yesterday happened? What if the Commander learns about this and we’re back to not being allow to use any magic at all. Or worse we get kick out of the Magic Knights for not obeying.”

“What if. What if. What if.” Yami droned. “You won’t live any life worth having if you keep on asking what if, Princess. How’s anyone gonna learn about it anyway? We’re alone and I’m not gonna to tell. Are you?”

Teris calmed at his reasoning, all be it begrudgingly so.

Yami continued up the trail grinning when Teris followed without further argument. “I’m hungry. I wonder what’s for supper.”

“Don’t care.” Teris said, thinking she could eat almost anything at this point. “So long as Bronn didn’t cook again. If you can call that char he produced cooking.”

“At least there was plenty of it unlike the half a sandwich that Greywright offered.”

“The Commander had a point though. We should have brought our own lunch. At least he was kind enough to share his. Bronn on the other hand. There’s no excuse for that monstrosity. Not to mention the waste. I almost feel bad for the pig. To loose your life only to be burnt to the point of being inedible.”

Yami had to agree there. He did feel for the pig.

“Abril mentioned that there’s a chore rotation. I’m telling you now that if ever Bronn’s up to cook again, I’m relieving him of the task.”

Yami looked over at her. “You can cook?”

“Of course I can.” She stopped and turned to him. “What? You think that because I’m royal I don’t know how to do anything for myself?”

“There you are.” Olsen called, seeing them down the path. “As the ranking senior, I got the pleasure to come look for you. And trust me. Under the circumstance, it’s a pleasure.” He looked to Teris. “You have guests.”

“Me?” Teris asked.

Olsen nodded once. “One group got here shortly after you two left. Thankfully they didn’t stay to wait out your return, but they’re back. Most of the Black Bulls aren’t well versed in hospitality. And with Captain Jax and Bronn gone, I’m afraid they aren’t on their best behavior.”

Not sure who had come to see her, but knowing having them alone with her new comrades wasn’t a good thing Teris cursed under her breath hurrying passed Olsen up the trail.

“Thank you.” Yami told the Water Mage knowing that if left he wouldn’t have come up with a good response to Teris’ question. “I owe you one.”

“Don’t know why, but I’ll take it.” Olsen said.

Yami passed Olsen. When Olsen didn’t turn and follow Yami looked back. “Aren’t you coming?”

“No. I have dinner plans elsewhere.”

3.4

When Julius had asked Jon if he would stop by the Black Bulls base to see how his sister and Yami had fared their first day of training with Commander Greywright, Jon had readily agreed. It was a chance for him to see Venice. Now, faced with not one but both of his half-siblings Jon was beginning to regret his hasty acceptance of this task.

“You’re not a Black Bull.” Jesper, of the Crimson Lions, said upon Jon’s entrance.

“No. He’s the Azure Deers Vice Captain.” Danior said, from Nozel’s shoulder eyeing his half-brother.

“Though how he earned such a rank is a mystery.” Nalorie said, from her seat next to Randall. “It must be true. Captain Julius has a soft spot for unwanted, broken things.”

“I earned my rank same as anybody.” Jon told his half-sister.

Jesper stood. Pointing at Jon he breathed a laugh, asking the Crimson Lions new recruit. “This isn’t the bastard, is it?”

Nalorie looked at her comrade and nodded.

Jesper stepped up to Jon, inspecting him. “But he looks nothing like you or your Father. I never would have guessed.”

“Thankfully.” Nalorie breathed.

“I guess he resembles his whore mother.” Danior remarked.

Jon started for his half-brother only to be stopped by Tobin’s massive hand on his chest.

“It’s not worth it.” The orange haired Black Bull told him. He had never cared one way or the other for Jon. Once Venice had begun dating the Vice Captain the scales had tipped strongly against him. Still, he knew that the atmosphere was already ready for a fight. Much had he liked fighting, as the Black Bulls most senior member present, he knew he’d be the one answering for it. “Besides,” he said, “the Captain would rip us a new one if we allowed you to destroy the place. Only we’re allowed to do that.”

“No we’re not.” Venice said pushing Tobin's hand off Jon. “But he isn’t wrong.” She told her boyfriend. “Now’s not the time.”

“You on the other hand.” Jesper shook a finger at Danior. “I would know you’re related to our Ice Queen Nalorie without being told.”

Danior smiled at his sister. “Still think you made the right choice picking the Crimson Lions now that it has three fire magic users?” He asked gesturing a chin a Fuegoleon.

“My ice magic is powerful enough to take the heat.” Nalorie told. “Though I must admit I’m a bit jealous that Margery has Nozel on her squad.” She glanced at the fair, bronze haired girl before resting her eyes on Nozel.

“Seems you’re rather popular with the ladies.” Neyres smirked eyeing Nozel. Looking away she went on. “Don’t for once think that I’m one of your fawning followers.” Out of the corner of her eye she watched Jon with Venice cursing herself for falling for someone as unattainably low born as a bastard. Worse than that, Jon was too upstanding for a secret tryst. Too bad. He likely would have been fun to play with.

Nozel looked straight ahead ignoring the attention of Margery and Nalorie. They had to both know that he was already meant for another. Granted their families words of intent were not as binding as a betrothal contract. That would have to wait till he and Teris reached the legal age to wed. Still, when an intent to wed was announced it was rarely, if ever, gone back on. Especially if both the families were royal.

Jesper gave a loud clap his hands and suggested. “Let’s play a game while we wait.”

“What kind of game?” Margery asked.

“No.” Fuegoleon said, looking at his comrade. The Jesper may be the senior ranking Crimson Lion, but that didn’t mean he had to go along with whatever the young man was planning. And from the wild glint in Jesper’s eyes. he was obviously planning something.

Jesper shook a finger at Fuegoleon. “As a royal you might be use to calling the shots. But here, I out rank you. So,” he turned back to the others. “what game we shall play?”

Margery clapped excitedly.

“Your games are boring Jesper.” Neyres complained.

“Not this one.” Jesper assured the Silver Eagle. “You will like this one. I promise.” He jumped on top of a bureau that was set against a wall.

“Oui! What do you think you’re doing.” Abril shouted.

Jesper reached up and plucked a spear that had been hanging from the wall. Nalorie sat up moving to the edge of her seat.

“Who wants to find out if Jon can dodge this without the help of magic?” Jesper asked the group.

“I do.” Nalorie said, raising her hand.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing that.” Danior put in looking from his sister to his half-brother.

“Will you be using magic to throw it?” Margery asked.

Jesper lowered the spear and scratched his jaw in thought. “That’s a good question.” He scanned the gathering below. “What do you all think?”

“I vote yes to your using magic.” Nalorie said, watching the way her half-brothers girlfriend stood protectively in front of him.

“But that wouldn’t be fair.” Margery said. “If Jon’s not allowed to use magic and Jesper is, he’ll hit him for sure.”

“Exactly.” Nalorie said.

“We need someone to break the tie.” Jesper announced.

“I vote--”

“No.” Fuegoleon barked, interrupting Danior. He stood and made his way to Jesper. “No magic. No game. No more.”

Jesper pointed the spear tip down at Fuegoleon. “Maybe you should have a go at dodging too, First Year.”

Uninterested till this point, Nozel’s eyes slid over to take in the two.

“Get down from there and behave.” Fuegoleon commanded. “You are embarrassing our squad.”

Jesper jumped down. “You’re the embarrassment here, Lion Cub.” He said, placing the spear tip under Fuegoleon’s chin.

At the feel of a prickle Fuegoleon lifted his chin. “Point that somewhere else befor--”

“Before what?” Jesper grinned, green eyes dancing in the last of the days light that came in from the windows. Using his kraken magic, green scaled tentacles appeared. They reached up and wrapped around the shafts of the other spears pulling them from their wall hooks and pointing them at Fuegoleon.

From the entryway Teris said. “I don’t know what I expected to walk in on, but it certainly wasn’t this. You,” she eyed Jesper, “put those down before--”

“Before wha--”

Spears of light flashed. One struck and incinerated the weapon in Jesper’s hand. The other shafts of light magic hit Jesper’s magic formed tentacles. The tentacles disappeared, the spears they had held falling to the ground.

Jesper gave a yelp shaking his hand and dancing in pain. While his palm was blistering with a burn, what had hurt the most was when her magic had taken out his. For a moment it felt as if his whole body had been engulfed in white hot flames as his tentacles were burned away.

Fuegoleon turned, irritated that his cousin had stepped on a matter that hadn’t concerned her.

“--before I assist you in putting them down.” Teris finished Jesper’s cut off words.

Having sensed her magic Yami had sprinted up the three wide stairs that led to the houses main entrance. Now, standing behind her, he took everyone in. “Did I miss the fun?”

As Teris closed the door behind them she wondered what to say or do next. Apologizing to her comrades seemed a must but... What were members of the Silver Eagles and Crimson Lions doing here anyway? Sure, she knew Neyres and Randall well enough and was acquainted with Danior, Nalorie, and Margery but she certainly wouldn’t call any of them friends. Not to mention she had no idea who the boy who had the spears was. As for Fuegoleon. She had seen him for a few moments last night. Any concern he had had about her well being, or her being allowed to stay on as Magic Knight had been put at ease then. Her eyes traveled to Nozel and darkened. She was all too aware of the likely reason he was there, and it made her bristle. Didn’t he realize chastising her would do no good. It was done. Despite the horrified nobility. she was a Black Bull.

Nozel stared back at Teris refusing to be the first to look away, wishing for the first time that she would look at anyone but him.

“Who said you lot could have a party.” Bronn demanded, entering the room.

“We weren’t--”

“Hush you.” Bronn ordered Abril.

“Oh well,” Bronn shrugged. “Greywright sent over plenty of food. Guess he thought he worked you two fairly hard.” He said looking at Yami and Teris. “Either that or he thinks we don’t feed you seeing as neither of you thought to take a lunch. In any case, you kids may as well stay else it’ll all go to waste.”

“But--” Venice tried.

“We really should be headed back to the Crimson Lions base.” Fuegoleon said.

“You’re staying.” Bronn ordered. “I’ll escort you back to your base myself. Just in case that Lioness Captain of yours tries to give you a hard time for staying out late.” He winked at Fuegoleon like he was doing him a favor. “You’re welcome to stay as well Jon. You can hear what Greywright said about those two,” he indicated Yami and Teris, “from Captain Jax’s own mouth. I’m sure that would make Julius happy.”

When no one moved Bronn clapped his hands loudly. “Get moving. That Castle City Chef was adamant that his creations be consumed at the height of their flavored temperature, or some such nonsense.”

As they began to move Bronn held a staying hand up to Jesper. “Put those back first.” He said, jutting a chin to the spears. “Rude as it is to play with anothers toys, it’s even ruder not to put them back where you found them.”

3.4.2

The delicious smells would’ve beckoned them all to the dining hall even without Bronn leading the way. Upon entering they found four buffet tables overflowing with food. Bronn stood at the dining halls entrance ushering everyone in and shoving the slow movers. As Yami and Teris passed him, he reached out grabbing a hold of Yami’s neck and placing a hand on Teris’ shoulder.

“You two made the Captain look bad. Showing up to training without a lunch. Greywright wondered if we had even fed you breakfast.” Bronn looked from Teris to Yami, squeezing the later's neck as tightly as he could.

Yami gritted his teeth against the pain, careful to show none of it on his face.

“I hope you told the Commander that you didn’t.” Teris said.

“What?” Bronn demanded.

Without bothering to spare the Vice Captain a glance, Teris brushed his hand of her shoulder saying. “Cause I wouldn’t call that dried char you served food.”

Bronn watched Teris walk off, his grip on Yami loosing. Yami took his chance and made his escape chuckling at the dumbfounded Vice Captain.

Teris joined the line at the serving table behind Fuegoleon. “Why are you here? And what possessed you to bring them.” She looked at Nalorie and Jesper who had already plated their food and were taking their seats. Glancing further down the line at Randall she decided that his presence would have probably been fine, all be it, like Fuegoleon’s, unnecessary.

Without looking at her, Fuegoleon picked up a plate from the stack and said. “They invited themselves. What was I to do? Forbid them. They’re my comrades. I need to gain their trust and respect.”

“I doubt that one trusts or respects anyone but himself.” Teris said, eyeing Jesper.

“He’s arrogant due to his family’s newfound wealth and power among the gentry is all.” Fuegoleon said.

“And you?” Teris asked Nozel who had joined the line behind her. “What’s your excuse for bringing a raiding party to my squads base?”

“You’re being dramatic.” Nozel dismissed.

“Am I? Well you’re being a jerk.” She closed her eyes and took a breath.

Arguing was what she and Nozel did best, but it never got them anywhere. They probably would have been better friends if that had been all they were. But Nozel was a dutiful son and she was the unruly daughter. He didn’t understand or believe her when she told him that she wasn’t going to marry him. That she refused to be tied to someone who didn’t love her or that she loved in return. While her parents marriage had been contracted by her grandparents all she had seen was the love they had had, not them learning to love. Teris wanted that. More than that she didn’t want what every other contracted noble marriage had. Tolerance and civility but nothing else.

Opening her eyes Teris looked at him. “Why did you come? You’ve embarrassed me.”

Nozel stared at her wondering how she could find his concern and presence embarrassing. His blue eyes hardened. “Doesn’t feel good. Does it? To be openly humiliated by someone you call friend.”

Teris’ temper flared, as did her mana. She cursed silently trying to calm herself and control it.

Nozel and Fuegoleon stepped back physically feeling the heat coming off her. Everyone else in the dining hall looked over at her sensing the heightened mana.

Despite Commander Greywright explaining the likely reason for this new lack of control, Teris felt weak and stupid. It took great effort, but she was able to reign it in. Giving Nozel one last glare she served a spoonful of whatever was before her and left the serving table to find a seat.

Nozel tried not to watch her go, but his eyes followed of their own accord.

Yami squeezed between Nozel and Margery bumping Nozel as he grabbed a plate. Nozel turned glaring at the foreigner, further annoyed when Yami paid him no mind. He watched as Yami made his way to the gap in the plating line that had widened while Fuegoleon, Teris, and he had talked, and began serving.

3.4.3

Teris wasn’t sure where to sit. She certainly didn’t want to join Neyres and Danior of the Silver Eagles or the three Crimson Lions that had come with Fuegoleon, but given the trouble her callers had caused, she wasn’t sure any of her fellow Black Bulls would want her next to them.

“Teris. Over here.” Abril called, giving her a beckoning wave.

Teris blessed the grimy, short hair girl and made her way to her.

“Saved you a seat.” Abril told as her sat.

“As if you had to shoo anyone from trying to sit next to you.” Gendry said before Teris could thank her.

“You’re sitting next to me. So shut it,” Abril snapped.

“I’m sitting across from you,” Gendry corrected.

“Same difference,” Abril shrugged.

“No it isn’t,” Gendry said.

“Yes it is.” Abril shot back. “And if you don’t like it go sit somewhere else.”

“I’m already here,” Gendry said. “You move.”

Teris picked up a fork and halted, noticing for the first what she had served herself. Heaving a sigh she put down the utensil.

“What’s the problem.” Abril asked around a mouthful of food.

“There’s watercress in this,” she said.

“Don’t like watercress uh?” Abril asked.

Teris shook her head pushing away her plate. “I’ll get something else in a bit.” She said more to herself then Abril.

“No worries.” Abril said pulling the plate over. “Here you can have mine.” She offered pushing her plate in front of Teris. “That steak is amazing.” She told picking up her fork and pointing at the piece of meat now before Teris. She dug into the vegetable noddles. “I’m gonna get me another one when I’m done with this.” She took a bite and wondered. “Why did you get this if you don’t like what’s in it?”

“Oui.” Bronn barked still standing at the door.

Everyone looked at the Black Bulls Vice Captain save for Jax. Bronn pointed at Yami who was about to sit across from Teris.

“Other side of Gendry,” Bronn instructed.

Yami hesitated.

“Now!” Bronn muttered to himself as he made a fist and took a step forward.

Yami rolled his eyes and did as he was told, plopping onto the bench to Gendry’s left.

Teris looked over at him giving him a weak smile.

“I knew you were hungry.” Yami said noting the plate before her. “But you can sure put it away, uh.”

Teris looked down at the half eaten plate of food and back up at him. “No. It’s—I—We--”

Yami couldn’t fight his amusement any longer. Smiling he chuckled.

“You.” Teris picked up the mostly eaten roll from the plate in front of her and threw it at Yami.

He dodged easily, laughing all the harder.

“Oui! No food fights,” Bronn yelled. “And you!” He snapped his fingers till Nozel turned around. “That’s right. You. Other side of the Lion Cub, Braids.”

If non-magic looks could kill Bronn would have died at the hand of Nozel’s ice blue gaze. Instead Bronn kept on breathing and Nozel moved from the space in front of Teris to the other side of Fuegoleon. Margery happily took the place to Nozel’s right, accepting his assistance in stepping over the long bench seating.

Pushing her waist long hair back behind her shoulders Margery commented. “Rather inconvenient to the ladies to have bench seating. I mean, I’m sure the men don’t mind us having to lift our skirts a bit in order to step over but it’s unseemly. Not to mention a hassle. Am I right?” She asked looking at Teris.

Teris' eyes moved right and then left. Pulling the fork from her mouth she swallowed. “I wear pants,” she answered.

“As do I,” Abril said.

Margery glanced back at the serving table seeing that the only other Black Bulls girl was also wearing pants. “I see.” She gave a brittle smile. “Then I suppose it isn’t an issue unless you have female guests.”

“Don’t like it, don’t come back.” Tobin said on sitting to Yami’s left.

“Jon.” Jax called as Jon was about to sit to Teris’ left leaving enough room for Venice, who was following, to squeeze between.

Jon eyed the place of honor the Black Bulls Captain was gesturing to and back at Venice mouthing ‘sorry’.

As Jon walked to the head of the table and sat to Jax’s left, Venice tucked in beside Teris.

Fuegoleon and Gendry tensed as Bronn set his plate down in the space between them. Stepping over the bench he sat and looked across the table at Teris finding he didn’t care for the look she was giving him. “Got something to say Black Sheep?” He asked.

“Bronn. Get over here,” Jax called.

Bronn tossed the piece of chicken he was about to eat back on his plate and did as his Captain bid, but not before reaching out to smack Yami on the head.

“He’s really not that bad once you get to know him.” Venice said as they all watched Bronn take his seat to Jax’s right.

“Really?” Teris asked, disbelief dripping from her voice.

“Naw. He’s a total tosser.” She and Teris shared a chuckle. “But seriously,” Venice said. “You’ll be hard pressed to find a person more loyal to Captain Jax.”

“Or one more then ready and willing to fight beside you or for you,” Tobin added.

“What about against,” Yami asked.

Tobin nodded. “That too.”

“So has Bronn tried to push his chores over on you yet?” Venice asked Teris.

Fuegoleon looked at the two girls. “Chores?”

Ignoring him Teris answered. “I doubt he’s had the chance.”

“That’s right.” Venice looked over at Yami and back to Teris. “How’d it go?”

“Easy enough,” Yami said.

“It was tough.” Teris said at the same time.

They looked at one another.

“Oh. You’re talking about the second half when all we had was half a sandwich to sustain us,” Yami said.

“Sure,” Teris drawled. “That’s it.”

“So what did the training with Commander Greywright entail?” Fuegoleon asked.

“A lot of repetitive stuff and yelling on his part.” Teris answered not wanting to get into the details.

“You’re going to have to work on that if you’re serious about becoming Magic Knights Commander.” Yami told her. “It apparently requires some impressive vocal cords.”

“You want to be Knights Commander?” Tobin asked.

Feeling scrutinized Teris only nodded hoping no one asked her why.

“And your brother wants to be Wizard King,” Venice said.

Teris nodded again relaxing a bit.

“Is he really as perfect as they say?” Abril asked.

Though Teris loved her eldest brother dearly and found him nearly perfect in many ways, Julius was far from perfect in just as many others. Taking a breath to consider her response she said. “Julius isn’t perfect but is pretty awesome in my opinion.”

“And mine,” Yami agreed.

“So why don’t you want to be Wizard King,” Venice asked. “Did Julius call dibs or something?”

Teris put down her drink and swallowed. That was an easy answer, even if becoming Wizard King wouldn’t have taken more time that she didn’t have to achieve. “Too much paperwork. What about you?” She asked Venice trying to take the focus off herself.

Venice shook her head. “Nope.”

“Not even interested in becoming Vice Captain so you can be the same rank as your boyfriend?” Tobin teased twisting the proverbial knife in his gut.

Venice balled up a piece of bread and tossed it at him. “Shut up you. And no. Don’t want to be Vice Captain. Though I’d help any Black Bull that wants to get there just to see Bronn replaced.”

“Speaking of Vice Captains.” Jax said loudly from the head of the table.

Venice and the others looked guiltily at Bronn not having realized those at the head of the table had been listening to their conversation.

“There’s gonna be hell to pay.” Tobin muttered underneath his breath chancing a glance at the Black Bulls Vice Captain and back to Venice.

“Have any plans for Julius’ seat, Jon?” Jax questioned the second ranked Azure Deer, eyeing his squad out of the corner of his eye.

“Oh! No, sir.” Jon laughed nervously shaking his head. “I had a hard enough time getting promoted to Third Class Senior Magic Knight to be eligible for the position of Vice Captain.”

“And it’s a wonder you’ve been promoted since, let alone that far, ” Nalorie uttered twirling her fork on her plate.

Lips twitching upward Danior looked across the table at his sister.

“Your sister’s right Jon,” Jax agreed.

“Half-sister,” Danior corrected.

“It’s a wonder you’ve seen any promotions given how you consistently allowed your brother to steal the credit for a number of your achievements since he joined the Silver Eagles two years ago.” Jax went on without missing a beat.

“I didn’t steal anything.” Danior stressed face flushing.

“Didn’t you?” Jax asked. “What about the skirmish outside of Hage? Or the labyrinth near Balky? And then there was that battle with the Diamond Kingdom.”

“And don’t forget the tussle with the Spade Kingdom that Jon personally prevented from turning into an all out battle,” Bronn added. “That one alone could have seen him ranked as a Grand Magic Knight. The Clover Kingdom would have had ten Magic Knight Captains. Something we haven’t seen in at least three generations.” Bronn rubbed his chin. “I wonder what he would have named his squad.” He leaned back shaking his head. “Too bad Jon’s too generous.”

Nalorie looked from Jax to Bronn and back. “My brother never stole anything,” she insisted.

“Oh, hush lass,” Bronn ordered. “What do you know of it. You’re just a first year recruit. Why don’t you ask that Lioness Captain of yours. See if we’re telling the truth.”

Danior glowered at Bronn and the Black Bulls Captain.

Bronn leaned forward, hands splayed on the table. “Wipe that scowl off your face before I give you something to scowl about boy.”

“What’s that even mean,” Neyres asked.

Danior stood. “Come on, Nalorie we’re leaving. Jesper, if you will.” Danior offered his hand to Neyres who had been seated to his left.

“Margery.” Neyres called as took her comrades hand and was helped from the bench. “We’re leaving.”

Jesper, who had been sitting between Nalorie and Bronn, did the same for Nalorie then escorted her around the table, behind Jax, and towards the exit.

Randall looked down the table at Fuegoleon unsure at what to do when he saw that his friend made no move to stand. He likely would have stayed if he had been sitting next to Fuegoleon but he had been near the head of the table next to Nalorie. Stepping over the bench he followed Jesper and Nalorie.

“We know when we’re not wanted.” Danior said looking at Bronn and the Black Bulls Captain.

“Good,” Bronn said. “Remember that if ever the urge to visit again strikes.”

Danior and Jesper looked over at their still seated comrades. Neither Fuegoleon or Nozel acknowledged them choosing to stay facing forward. Jesper’s expression hardened, while Danior only nodded before making his way to the door. Neyres eyed Margery brows raised. Looking at Neyres, Margery glanced at Nozel and back trying to convey her desire to stay with him.

“Now,” Neyres hissed loudly.

Margery tossed her napkin onto her plate and stood. Without looking at her, Nozel stood offering her his hand in assistance.

“You’re coming.” Margery asked placing her hand in his.

“No,” Nozel said. “Please watch you don’t catch your heel on your hem.”

Once they were gone and Nozel had retaken his seat, Bronn apologized. “Sorry I offended your brother, Jon.”

“Half-brother.” Jon corrected softly.

“But if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a bully.” Bronn went on.

Yami’s laugh echoed throughout the dining hall at that.

Bronn shot out of his seat. “Silence you! Before I silence you myself.”

“Bronn,” Jax said.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Sit.”

Bronn sat. He looked over at Fuegoleon. “Oui! You. Lion Cub. Don’t leave for your squads base without me.”

Jax smirked at how his Vice Captain took every chance he had to see Mereoleona. Looking at Jon he asked. “Out of curiosity. Why did you let Danior lie and take credit?”

Jon shrugged. “He’s my brother.”

“Half-brother,” Bronn corrected.

“It’s because no one would believe a bastard over a noble. Isn’t it.” Jax said.

The three continued talking, the conversation turning to what Greywright had said of the days lesson with Yami and Teris. Further down the table silence still reigned.

Finally, Abril whispered. “Why are they still here?”

“Don’t know.” Gendry shrugged mopping up his plate with the last of his roll. “But there’s still plenty of food. I’m gonna go get me more of that chunky, thick, white soup.”

“It’s shellfish roux,” Fuegoleon told. “It’s meant to go over noodles.”

“Why would I want to fill up on noodles?” Gendry asked.

Fuegoleon blinked as if he had never looked at it that way. Teris smirked standing as well. “I’m good for seconds.” She looked around the table. “Can I get anyone any thing?”

“Steak,” Abril said. “And some of that stuff they were talking about with a roll or two.”

“Please,” Venice reminded.

“Please,” Abril added.

Teris nodded. She noted Nozel’s disapproving look and stormed off. Why had he stayed? At least Fuegoleon was making an effort. A poor one but at least he was trying. All Nozel was doing was sitting there judging her and everyone else. Couldn’t he do that to his own squad back at the Silver Eagles base. He could judge her and the Black Bulls for all she cared as long as he went away.

“You’re angry.” Yami said from behind making her jump.

“You bet I’m angry,” she said.

“You’re undoing all the tension I released in your neck,” he told.

“Sorry.” She apologized.

“You really shouldn’t bottle your emotions like that. It isn’t good for you or your relationships with others.”

“What do you know of me and my relationships?” She asked serving Abril’s plate.

“Only what I see and sense with Ki,” he admitted.

“And what have your eyes and Ki told you,” she wondered.

“That you want your royal friends over there to respect you and accept you for who you are.”

“And if I told them that you’d think it’d make a bit of difference?”

“Who knows.” Yami shrugged thinking it wouldn’t. “But at least you would have gotten it off your chest.”

“Why am I talking about this with you?” Silently she wondered. Why do I feel like I can? And., why do I want to?

“We did spend most of the day together, bonding over being tortured by Greywright,” he said.

“They do say that experiencing shared hardship deepens bonds.” Teris agreed half joking.

“In that case, within a weeks time we’ll be closer to each other than any other two people in existence,” Yami grinned.

Nozel had gotten up and made his way to the serving table under the guise of getting a second plate. He was interested in what Teris and the foreigner could be talking about for such a time when the surely had nothing in common. He never expected to hear her being verbally harassed. He called forth his magic, mercury sprang out for behind him, ready to strike. “How dare you presume--”

Teris turned unable to comprehend her friends behavior. Stepping in front of him she fumed. “How dare you presume to threaten a Magic Knight in their own base when he’s done nothing to provoke you.” She took a step back shaking her head. “First that demented Crimson Lion with the spears and now you. I’ve had enough of this. Out!”

Confused. All Nozel could do was stand there blinking.

“I said out!” Teris ordered.

Nozel was forced to take a step back cause the mana rolling off her was becoming unbearable hot. “Teris, I--” Nozel shook his head. How had this gone so wrong? He had expected her to thank him or at the very least, knowing her pride, tell him she could’ve handle it herself. Never could he have imagined that she would take Yami’s side when he was clearly in the wrong for having spoken to her in such a way.

Yami didn’t care for Nozel. Particularly cause the snobbish royal didn’t care for him solely because he was a foreigner. But, mostly because Nozel’s Ki screamed his feelings for Teris and as the man who was going to wed her, it was natural that he wouldn’t be keen on anyone who loved her in such a way. Even so, seeing the silver haired Silver Eagle be torn into by the woman he loved was painful. A confidence booster for sure but still pathetically painful to watch. There was also Teris herself. She was shedding mana again. After what Greywright had said, he knew that is was his nearness that was heightening her mana’s activity. He could feel his own begin to churn as his mana and hers stretched. Reaching to make contact with the other. To fed and fed off of each other as they had done during the Magic Knights Entrance Exams.

Yami hated seeing her like this. Though he sensed no romantic feelings for Nozel from her, he could sense a deep care and yearning in her for him. Likely the desire to be accepted that she had talked about.

“Teris.” Yami reached out.

Jax, Bronn, and Jon shot up from their seats.

“No!” Jax ordered.

“Down!” Bronn yelled at the others seated at the table as he opened two portals. He knew that even if he managed to transport Yami and Teris out of the house Nozel’s proximity to them might still kill him.

The explosion blew out two walls and part of the ceiling above but thanks to Jax’s quick work with his rock magic everyone behind the wall he had made appeared unharmed.

“Everyone alright,” Bronn called. He turned to look for Nozel. He had manged to transport the Silver Eagle to safety behind Jax’s protective wall but hadn’t been able to close the portal quick enough. The front end of the shock wave had traveled through with Nozel and thrown him against the stone wall.

“Aw kid.” Bronn bemoaned seeing Nozel’s state. “I wasn’t fast enough.” He stepped over fallen plaster and made his way to the Silver Eagle cursing himself.

“You did well.” Jax told him as he too made his way to Nozel.

Bronn helped Nozel stand asking. “You alright?”

Nozel nodded dumbly, blinking dust out of his eyes and sense back to his mind.

“His hearing is probably shot.” Jax said turning to see if any of the others appeared injured. “I know my ears are ringing like a church bell.”

“Mine too.” Jon admitted picking up the end of a fallen beam and moving it out of the way.

“Where’s Iban,” Jax asked. “He’s no healing mage but at least he can check the boy for injuries to see if he needs one.”

Bronn shrugged.

“He’s not here.” Venice told the dust making her squint.

Jon looked to her and made his way to her side giving her and once over. “Are you alright?” He asked softly his hand on her lower back.

She nodded.

“He went off to his labs sometime after lunch.” Tobin said slapping the derby off himself.

“I’m alright.” Nozel assured still looking out of it.

“Quit putting up a front. She’s gone.” Fuegoleon told him wondering where the Black Bulls Vice Captain had transported Teris and Yami.

Nozel thought he heard Fuegoleon’s voice but it was too soft to be certain. He swallowed causing his ears to pop which changed the pitch of the deafening ringing.

“What happened here?” Came a voice from what use to be the dining halls entryway. Iban saw Jax and held up his a hands. “I swear, Captain. I didn’t do it.”

“Get over here and check this boy for injuries.” Jax ordered the Blood Mage.

Iban picked his path to them carefully, slipping on loose rubble and shellfish roux. Once in front of Nozel he and his magic gave the royal a once over. “He had some bleeding in the inner ear but it’s stopped now. And the front of his brain has mild bruise the size of a pea. Nothing serious.”

“You call a bruised brain nothing serious,” Fuegoleon exclaimed.

“At that level and size he may notice a slight sensitivity to light for a day but even that’s doubtful.” Iban looked to his Captain. “I wouldn’t even bother seeing the healing mages for it.”

“Well, we’ll do so just to be thorough. Then I’ll take you two boys home.” Jax said looking from Fuegoleon to Nozel.

“Captain Pyter will use this to argue his case before the Wizard King again,” Jon said. “And no matter how minor, Nozel’s injuries may just be what he needs to win this time.”

“Why do you think I’m escorting them home,” Jax asked. “Pyter owes me. And as much as I’ve enjoying swinging that over his head these past few years, I might be inclined to free him of his debt this evening.”

3.5

One moment they were in the dining hall. Next they were outside. In the moment, that lasted less then a second, Teris wondered what had happened that she and Yami were there. Then came the sound of two explosions. Jumping., she turned in a circle to see massive trees, some as tall as the Royal Castles towers fall away from them. The trees hadn’t even hit the ground before they started to rise again as if time was reversing. She felt a moment of horror knowing that they would fall in crushing Yami and her. What was it Sir Jorah had said, an explosion followed by and implosion.

Yami unsheathed his katana. Cloaking it in darkness he sent out three quick slashes that cut each of the incoming trees across the middle. Teris, having the same idea, did likewise for the other half of trees cutting them with a beam of light. Moving near her, Yami used magic to encompass them in a protective sphere. The two halves of each of the trees fell in towards the sparing field. Yami’s cocoon stopping them from being crushed by the upper most branches of three of the trees. Teris used her magic to burn off the branches pushing against Yami’s protective sphere. Then Yami let it dissolve.

“It seems we do work well together.” Yami said smiling at their seamless efforts as he sheathed his blade. He took in the devastated area. “We did this.” Yami gave a low whistle in awe.

“A mere touch did this.” Teris said nearly breathless by the destruction around them. “We weren’t even trying.”

“You were pretty angry.” Yami told looking at her.

Teris recalled Nozel’s royal idiocy feeling her ire at him renew. Then she recalled his nearness to them before this occurred. Bronn must have used his spatial magic to transport Yami and her out of the dining hall before the explosion. The explosion. Hadn’t she heard two of them? What happened to everyone in the dining hall? She looked over the splintered trees her horror growing. Were they even alive?

Apparently thinking along the same lines Yami said. “Between Jax, Jon, and Bronn I’m sure they staved off the worst of it and protected the others. This was nowhere as strong as yesterdays and the Captains pulled together to save everyone then. I’d be more concerned about us. Can’t imagine they’ll go easy on us when we get back.” He looked at her grinning. “What do you stay we make a run for it. I hear the Heart Kingdom is nice this time of year.”

“No it isn’t.” She said looking him up and down. “None of the other three kingdoms are as beautiful as the Clover Kingdom.”

“Spoken like a naive that loves her country. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a royal.”

“Got to enjoy this place while I can,” she said.

“What’s that mean? Going somewhere?”

She glanced at him before raising a hand and sending out a burst of light that incinerated a good portion of the tree barring their way back to the path that led to the main house. “Not if I can help it.”

3.5.2

By the time Yami and Teris made it back to the main house Jax, Jon, Fuegoleon, and Nozel had already left. Leading Teris to think the worst.

“Fuego, the Captain, Nozel, Jon?” She asked wide-eyed.

“Well and being taken home by the Captain.” Venice said appreciating the royals concern for Jon.

Before either Yami or Teris could inquire further Bronn hollered. “Girls. Show Black Sheep her room.” Not taking his eyes off Yami, the Vice Captain stretched out an arm opening a portal to the girls wing on the third floor.

“We already did that this morn--”

“Do it again.” Bronn snapped cutting Abril’s words off. Staring Yami down he pulled his top lip in scraping it with his bottom teeth feeling and tasting bits of grit, ash, and plaster. “And while you’re at it. Set your traps for the night. That’s enough fun for today. Time to turn in.”

Tobin huffed thinking Bronn’s fun was just beginning. He looked over at Yami. There was little doubt in his mind the new recruit would be able to handle whatever Bronn dished out given his obvious physical strength. It was Yami’s temperament Tobin worried about. He got the feeling that Bronn wouldn’t be as forgiving with this one and wondered if Yami would be able to keep himself from fighting back. Lashing out at a superior, physically or magically, was cause for discharge if reported.

Venice waved Abril through the gateway. When Teris didn’t move Venice went over and gently took the girls arms. “Come on, Teris. Let’s go.”

Teris allowed herself to be slowly shoved to the portal by Venice, eyeing Bronn fearfully as she got closer to him. Closer to leaving Yami alone with him. The Vice Captain had the same dark excited glint in his eyes that she had seen in Jesper’s; though Bronn’s was far more controlled.

Bronn rolled his neck silently urging the girls to hurry. He was struggling to keep the way open. He could transport people all day but relocating an explosion. That took a lot of mana. And he had done so twice in as many days.

“Step to it girl. Dawdling won’t do your Lord of Destruction any favors.” Bronn told Teris eyes still glued to Yami.

Teris looked back at Yami.

Yami gave her a small encouraging smile. “Go on. Get some rest. Who knows what fresh hell Greywright will have in store for us tomorrow.”

Still looking back, Venice had to all but pull Teris the last few feet.

“Don’t worry.” Tobin told her. “I’ll make sure Bronn doesn’t kill him.”

Bronn let the gateway close, his arm trembling as it dropped to his side. Hopping down from the sideboard the Vice Captain shook his head laughing humorlessly. “You.” He said pointing an accusing finger at Yami as he made his way towards him. “You just don’t know how to listen do you?”

Though Bronn showed no interest in him, Gendry remained as still as possible least the Vice Captain turn his attention to him. Iban, who had silently been watching from his seat on a sofa continued to do so his interest growing. Tobin tensed prepared to keep his word, impressed that Yami showed no signs of fear, though he knew that would only infuriate Bronn further.

Bronn grabbed Yami by the back of the neck, Gendry flinching in sympathy. “Think you’re a big man. Huh?” Bronn asked clenching his hand as tight as he could. Seeing Yami give no reaction Bronn’s nose wrinkled, lips curling. “What did I tell you this morning? Keep your filthy, foreigner hands off the royal girl.” He looked up at the others asking. “Is that too hard to understand?”

“I still don’t understand all this kingdoms sayings and colloquialisms.” Iban answered kicking out his legs and leaning back. “But that seems pretty straight forward.”

Tobin continued to eye Bronn.

“Quit looking at me like that or I’ll give you your own taste when I’m done with this one.” Bronn warned the bearded man. His grip having loosened while he had been distracted, Bronn tightened his hold turning his attention back to Yami. “Your comrades agree with me. Hands off. Means exactly that. Hands. Off.”

Channeling mana into his grip Bronn squeeze Yami’s neck even tighter, pulling him up and backing him closer. Bronn leaned over his shoulder nearly cheek to cheek as he and Yami looked straight ahead at the stairs that were positioned across the great room from the front entrance.

“What were you thinking?” Bronn asked. “That all this business with your two magics afforded you some kind of exemption? Cause I know that if it wasn’t for this mess you’d know in your head,” he knocked on Yami’s head with a fist, “and heart,” he pounded on Yami chest, “that there is no getting near that girl. So why did you think touching her would be acceptable? Not to mention the way you were looking at her during dinner, before you two went and destroyed the dining hall that is. You’re lucky those two royal Princes didn’t gouge out your eyes or cut off your hand. Or cut off something else.” He finished softly into Yami’s ear. Bronn gritted his teeth carefully tightening his grip till Yami’s knees buckled, an audible breath of pain escaping his lips. It wasn’t as if he wanted to kill the boy after all. Jax would have his ass if he did that.

“There it is.” Bronn smiled releasing him. “A crack in your tough guy facade.”

Resting a forearm on a knee, Yami caught his breath, blinking the sweat out of his eyes. He looked straight ahead fighting the urge to massage circulation back into his neck. It took every bit of effort he had not to speak up or lash out. But he knew that he did he wouldn’t stop and no one would be able to save him from being thrown out of the Magic Knights, not even Julius. He sensed Bronn preparing to kick him and lay him out completely onto the floor. His hand made a fist of its own accord. Yami glared at the disobedient appendage. His arm trembling as he fought against his instinct slowly forcing his hand open one finger at a time. Yami let the Vice Captain have his way and didn’t roll away when the kick to his lower back came. He wasn’t sure if he would’ve been able to get back up from the blow if he hadn’t been expecting it and prepared himself. As he pushed himself back to his feet he sensed the punch to his stomach coming but cloaked in mana skin Bronn was too quick for Yami to do anything to ease the contact this time.

Tobin watched as Yami was sent sprawling onto his back thinking that if Bronn continued to use mana skin to beat on the recruit he would have to put an end to the Vice Captians fun sooner rather than later. Yami spat out a mouthful of blood, groaning softly as he rolled to his side. Tobin had to hand it to the newbie. He wouldn’t have had the self control to take Bronn’s punishment so, dare he say, gracefully. In fact, during his own first year as a Black Bull he fought back a number of times. More than a third of those times saw him laid out even worse than if he hadn’t fought back but he had gotten a good hit in once or twice pulling Bronn up short. Back then he had feared Bronn would use his self defense against him and see him discharged from the Magic Knights for striking a superior. Later, Tobin had realized that he need not have been concerned. But this was different. He could see it. Sense it. Bronn wanted Yami to fight back. He wanted Yami gone.

Keeping his right arm folded against his side, Yami pushed himself up to his knees and left hand. He knew he was leaving himself open but hoped to deflect the worst of the coming kick with his right forearm. The aim was to tire Bronn out, getting this over with as quickly as possible. All the lessons and instructions his cousin had given him as a boy, before the storm had taken him from his family and homeland, flinted through his mind.

Knowing how to take a punch is just as important as giving one, his cousins voice echoed in his head. First, use your Ki to know how and when the strike is coming. Not everyone down at the docks is lucky enough to have some long dead ancestor who was a ranking member of society before being disgraced and cast out. Meaning it’s likely the people you’ll be fighting against won’t know how to read Ki themselves. And, if you’re unlucky enough to be set upon by anyone in the Emperors Army they won’t be expecting that some filthy wharf boy can read Ki. So be mindful of when and how you let your ability to do so be known.

Yami obviously hadn’t considered his cousins later words when he had told Julius, Teris, the Wizard King, and almost anyone else about Ki. Even so, he doubted Bronn understood enough about Ki to realize he was using the sense. Prepared as he was, when Bronn’s mana charged kick came it only knock half the air out of his lungs.

Yami’s knees and hand failed to bare his weight and he collapsed to the floor. Pinning both arms to his side Yami shielded his torso with his forearms making sure they weren’t tucked in too tightly so the force from the coming kicks didn’t travel straight through to his already bruised ribs.

“Think you’re a big man taking your licks all quite like/” Bronn asked giving Yami two quick kicks. He stepped back and gave another kick smiling wickedly as his boot broke through Yami’s defensive forearms and hit home.

Tobin winced, then cursed as Yami began to rise again. He moved to stop Bronn but not before the Vice Captain got another good kick in sending Yami sliding a few feet into a table leg.

“Enough!” Tobin yelled stepping in front of the perusing man.

Bronn stopped short. Looking up at the taller Tobin he asked. “You want some of this, big boy?”

“If it means getting it out of your system without further harm to him. Yeah.” Tobin fisted his hands cloaking them in mana skin. “But be warned. I’m not gonna take it all good and nice like he did and, unlike you, I’ve barely used any magic today.”

Bronn wavered, thinking about how tired he was. He let his mana skin dissolve and suggested. “Bare knuckled.”

Tobin grinned releasing his mana skin. “Fine by me. Either way I’ll work you over and put you down.”

Bronn circled laughing. “Come on then you ginger giant. Let’s see if you’ve learned anything since last time we danced.”

Bored, Iban watched Tobin and Bronn trade blows, hug each other, separate, circle, and repeat. With all the closeness and contact, magic-less fighting was not all that dissimilar to acts of affection in his eyes. Looking over a Yami, Iban watched as he refused Gendry’s attempts to assist him. He found it interesting that the young dark magic user appeared more distressed watching Bronn and Tobin fight than when he was being beaten.

Bronn got knocked to a knee, his foot resting on something hard. Taking a quick glance he saw it was a broken spear tip. Acting as if he was having trouble with his balance he reached back, palming the blade cutting his hand in the process.

Yami sensed what was about to occur but before he could warn Tobin, Bronn cried out tensing. Jerkily Bronn rose to his feet, wincing as his hand cut itself further as it was forced to clench the spear tip before dropping it.

“While I’d be interested to see what happens next, I think you’d regret it in the morning Vice Captain.” Iban said hands out controlling Bronn’s movements.

Tobin looked from Bronn, to the fallen blade, and back. He stared at the Vice Captain brows raised in accusation.

“What?” Bronn panted still being held in place but Iban’s blood magic. “It’s not like I was gonna kill you. Just end the fight.”

As soon as Iban released him, Bronn contracted his overly stretched muscles. Resting his hands on his knees he breathed deeply. His cheek began spasming.. Bronn close an eye in an effort to try and make it stop. Looking up at Tobin with his other eye he found the giant magic user still staring at him so he explained. “It’s like you said. I’ve used a lot of magic today day and am tired. But I sure as hell wasn’t gonna loose to you.”

“So you want to go some more,” Tobin asked. “I’ll even let you cheat and take up that piece of scrap.”

“Naw.” Bronn breathed waving a hand. “I’m done. Thanks for the offer though.” He stood up, placing his hands on his hips. “Shall we agree that was a tie?”

“I’d say Iban won that one,” Tobin said.

“Fair enough. Well, I’m turning in. You lot should do the same. Captain’s no doubt is having a lot less fun then we’ve been having. He’ll be will be ornery as hell come breakfast time.” Bronn pointed at Yami. “You. Stay away from that royal girl unless you’re ordered otherwise. You hear. Next time I won’t go easy on you.” He took in Yami’s defiant stance and shook his head muttering about bull headed, overly muscled, idiots as he headed up the stairs.

Yami allowed his posture to crumble as soon as Bronn was out of sight. He gingerly felt his bruised neck and tried to take a deep breath, wincing at the pain both actions caused.

“You held up well.” Tobin commended stepping to him.

“You didn’t have to step in,” Yami told. “I was prepared to wait him out.”

“No doubt you were,” Tobin said. “But, this was more than the average rookie beat down.”

“He’s done this to all of you?” Yami asked not at all surprised.

Gendry nodded. “Though not to the extent you suffered. I’ve never seen him use mana skin in a one sided beat down.”

“What about the girls.” Yami asked having his doubts that the Vice Captain would sink that low or that Jax would allow it but wanting to make certain.

“He’d never touched the girls,” Gendry said. “Whether he knows it wouldn’t be accepted or it’s not his style I’m not sure.”

“It’s not his style,” Tobin told. “Bronn might be a crass ass who bullies everyone below him and loves a fight. But he’d never physically raise a hand to a woman. He can barely stand using his magic against the opposite sex in an actual battle.”

Yami was surprised at that. While he wouldn’t strike first, if the enemy happened to be female and started the fight he had no qualms about ending it. Learning that Bronn had principles made Yami respect him for it which subsequently made him hate the Vice Captain even more.

“So, is he really into the social hierarchy or simply afraid of what Teris and I can do using our combined magic?” Yami asked, thinking either reason could easily explain Bronn’s anger this evening.

“Neither,” Tobin said. “Well, I’m sure he is fearful of what the two of you are capable of. To be honest, after that display, I think we all are to varying degrees. But that’s not the reason he was so angry and over worked you. Before Teris began shedding mana and you touched her destroying our dining hall, Bronn was to take that Fiery Royal Lion Cub back to his base.”

“Why would Bronn want to go to the Crimson Lions base?” Yami asked.

“To see Captain Mereoleona, of course.”

Yami looked at Tobin surprised. Lowered his gaze he huffed supposing he had been too focused on other things to notice that last night or this evening.

“Guess you’re not the only one who has wanting of the finer things.” Tobin smirked looking at Yami.

Yami’s head jerked up. He grunted, wincing as his bruised muscles complained about the quick movement.

“Yeah, I noticed,” Tobin said looking down at him. “You got it bad for that ‘Princess’ of yours. No doubt you’d take a repeat of tonight if it meant you could stand near her and touch her again for that second before you two blew out a ceiling and a couple walls. And you’ve only known her for what? Two days. Think of how bad you’re gonna have in a weeks or months time.”

Yami stared at Tobin thinking that the bearded man sounded as if he was speaking from experience.

“Too bad your mentor, Julius Nova, isn’t our Captain. You could ask him to use his time magic to do just that. Relive today, over and over. Thankfully he’s not cause my knuckles and face wouldn’t appreciate it.” Tobin noted Yami’s change in expression and

Chapter Text

4.1

Tired as she had been, Teris barely slept wondering what Bronn had done to Yami and how he fared. As soon as the sky had begun to grey she had gotten out of bed and dressed unable to hold off going downstairs any longer.

“Teris? Come help me with this.” Venice called, hearing her exit her bedroom.

Teris stopped. With reluctance she turned away from the direction of the stairs and went to Venice’s bedroom which was next door to hers. Poking her head into Venice’s room she took in the awkward angle of the girls arm behind her head.

“Don’t just laugh. Do something.” Venice said.

Pressing her lips together to keep from laughing Teris did as the other girl commanded freeing the bracelet that had caught in Venice’s mass of wavy red hair.

“Thank you,” Venice breathed. “For a moment I thought I was going to have to yank it free.”

“No problem.” Teris told her before turning back to the door.

“Hold on. We’ll head down together.” Seeing the royal girl fidget Venice smirked. “It’s not good to let a boy know he has you under his spell. At least not this soon.”

“Spell?”

“Well what do you royals call it then? When you like someone?”

“Fancy,” Teris answered.

“Well isn’t that—fancy.” Venice giggled, having amused herself.

“I don’t fancy Yami,” Teris protested.

“And who said I was referring to your Dark Lord?” Venice teased.

Teris blushed. “Well—who else could you be referring too?”

“Don’t know,” Venice shrugged. “We have some fine, strong, lads bedding down on the second floor. But only one tall, dark, muscular, katana wielding--”

“Stop.” Teris ordered, fighting a blushing smile at the other girls good natured razzing.
Teris had never made friends easily. Certainly never in a single night. Yet she had made two dear ones in Venice and Abril last night when they had stayed up talking with her; taking her mind off her worries for Yami and what, if anything, would happen to them cause of this second explosive event between their magic.

“Then admit you like him,” Venice said. “Telling someone will give you a sense of release so your face and actions won’t scream it when you see him. Trust me. I know. Beside,” she shrugged, “it’s not as if you’d be telling me something I didn’t already know.”

Teris huffed looking away. Finally she asked. “How can I say it when I don’t even understand it?”

“Of course you don’t. Know one understands love.”

Teris turned her head slowly back to face her new friend. “I don’t love him.” She said her tone and expression serious.

Venice grinned at her and sang. “But you like him. You like him a lot.”

Teris squeezed her eyes shut and admitted. “Fine. Will you shut up about it now?”

“Say it.” Venice told. “If’ll make you feel better. I promise.”
“I like him.” Teris said, blushing unable to look at Venice.

“Who do you like?” Venice asked, smiling.

“Yami Sukehiro.” Teris laughed the butterflies in her stomach and heat in her cheeks dying. Maybe, she thought, there was something to Venice’s theory.

4.2

Olsen entered the great room from outside at the same time as Venice and Teris had reached the bottom of the stairs. Not caring that the two girls had seen him just now getting in from the night before, Olsen took in the devastation commenting. “Given how I left things last night with you lot and the members of those other two squads, I’m hoping our beastly menace paid a visit.”

“You and I both.” Venice said giving Teris’ arm a comforting squeeze.

“This place is a mess.” Olsen said stating the obvious. “We’ll have to get the building mages to send someone over again.”

“That’s how we can know which it was.” Venice said an idea striking her.

Olsen and Teris looked at each other as Venice turned walking away. Shrugging Olsen followed her, Teris doing the same.

“I don’t think it Bronn and the boys.” Venice told Teris as the two girls taking in the restored dining hall. “The building mages would have fixed up the great room if it was a wreck when they came by.”

“Am I missing something,” Olsen asked.

“A lot,” Venice told. “You should try staying home sometime.”

“When my Beauty calls, I must answer,” Olsen said. “You know how it is, not knowing when you will see your love again.”

“Jon is my boyfriend. Not my love.” Venice corrected. “Though I do know what you mean.” She eyed Olsen suspiciously. “But Jon’s a Magic Knights Vice Captain with numerous duties befitting his rank. Anyone of lower rank would have more off time.”

“Nice try my flame haired beauty. But I will not reveal my loves identity.”

Venice studied the Water Mage. “I’ll figure it out Olsen. I’m narrowing it down.”

“You’re not even close my speckled kissed lass.”

“Only you can make freckles sound beautiful.” Venice smiled twirling a strand of hair around her finger.

“You can make anything beautiful.” Olsen said placing his hand to his heart giving her a slight bow.

“See what Abril meant about him being a flirt?” Venice asked her eyes turning to Teris.

Teris nodded.

“I do it with Venice cause she plays back.” Olsen told. “If it makes you uncomfortable I won’t do it...much.” He shrugged. “Sometimes I can’t help it. It’s who I am.”

“While I’m not one to ask people to change who they are, I request you endeavor to leave me out of your flowery words.” Teris said as politely as she could.

Abril entered carrying a stock pot almost as long as she was tall. “You and Yami just had to ruin any hope I had of getting out of my cooking chores.” She told Teris hefting the pot onto the serving table. Wiping her brow she went on. “We could’ve eaten for days off of that stuff.” Shaking her head she headed back to the kitchen.

Olsen peaked under the lid and sighed. “Looks like she made biscuits and gravy again.”

“Of course she did,” Venice said. “That’s about all the girl can make.”

“Make well, at least,” Olsen agreed.

Venice turned green. “Don’t remind me. I was sick for days.”

“I’d be happy to cook,” Teris offered.

“You.” Venice said.

“Yes.”

Venice looked doubtful. “You know how to cook?”

“Why does everyone find that so surprising?” Teris asked.

“Cause you’re royal,” Venice said.

“As if I could forget.” Teris brumbled. “What with two of my friends visiting to remind me of the image I must uphold for the sake of all royals and judge me for my decision to join the Black Bulls. Not to mention that my comrades mention the fact quite often and seem to think that because I’m royal I’m incapable of doing anything for myself. You might find this surprising, but I can also dress myself and brush my own hair.”

Venice stared at her, brows raised and smiling.

“As amiable and sweet as you first appear, you got some strength and sass. I like it.” Olsen commented.

“I’m sorry.” Teris apologized remembering herself.

“Don’t.” Venice told her almost sharply.

Afraid that she had already lost one of her newest friends Teris apologized again. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Venice told. “Not when you’re right. We did judged you based on your rank. Something, we all hate and complain out being judged on. It wasn’t fair.”

Abril pushed between them carrying a massive baking sheet of biscuits. “Don’t mind me. Just struggling away here.”

Olsen rushed to help her with setting the baking sheet on the table.

“Thanks Olsen,” Abril exuded. “I don’t know how I would’ve managed those last few inches without you.”

“Glad to be of service.” Olsen smiled inclining his head.

Abril scowled at him. Jax entered followed by Bronn.

“If you ladies will excuse me.” Olsen said and made his way to the Captain.

Abril’s glared followed him.

“I told you. He doesn’t understand sarcasm very well,” Venice told Abril.

“Quit covering for him.” Abril frowned. “Just cause he makes you feel pretty. He understands as good as anyone. He just pretends he doesn’t when it suits him.”

Venice picked up a plate grinning. “Biscuits look delicious by the way.”

4.2.2

Entering the dining hall Yami’s eyes immediately found Teris. He sensed the effect his arrival had on her Ki and smirked pulling his gaze away. Looking around the room he commented. “They did a good job rebuilding everything.”

Bronn rose from his seat. “Shut your trap. Serve. And eat your breakfast in silence. Oh. And remember what I told you last night before I sent you boys off to bed.”

Yami stared at the Vice Captain a moment before making his way to the serving table.

Munching on a biscuit, Jax eyed Bronn scrapped up face and knuckles. “Is that what happened to your nose, lip, and eyebrow? Talking to the boys before sending them off to their rooms.”

“Naw, Captain.” Bronn said retaking his seat. “Just clumsy is all.”

“You did burn through a lot of mana the last two days.” Jax commented not believing the Vice Captain for a moment. “Guess it over tired you. Huh?”

“That must’ve been it,” Bronn agreed.

“What happened in the great room.” Tobin questioned entering.

“It wasn’t you lot?” Jax asked, noting Tobin’s scrapped knuckles and scabbed cheekbone.

“No sir,” Bronn answered. “I made sure these kids didn’t do any further damage to the place.”

“So our beastly menace visited again,” Jax said.

Looking at Teris, Abril said. “Good thing you didn’t arrive for the first time last night. Who knows what that thing would’ve done if it came across you.”

“Good thing indeed.” Jax agreed eyeing Bronn.

Bronn had the decency to look chagrined.

“What does that make, eight times it’s broken in?” Olsen asked.

“Nine,” Tobin corrected.

“What is it?” Yami asked, setting his plate in front of Teris, to sit across from her.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Bronn said, curling a lip and making a fist. “What did I tell you? Get away from that girl. Now!”

“It’s alright.” Jax said, gesturing for Yami to sit.

Yami did so before Bronn could change the Captains mind.

“Greywright thinks more contact, not less, might be the key.” Jax told Bronn. Quieting his voice even more he went on. “And the sooner they get control of it the better. Greywright mentioned that the Wizard King received letters from both the Diamond and Heart Kingdoms concerning those two. And, Win reported that his Green Mantis’ happened across a team of six from the Spade Kingdom.”

“Other then the fact they made it this far into Clover what’s so special about that?” Bronn asked.

Leaning closer Jax whispered. “When the two that were killed in the fight were searched it was found that they both carried a map to our base and description of those two.”

Bronn managed to not look in Yami and Teris’ direction. “The Green Mantis’ paroling territory borders ours.” Bronn said, cursing Win’s Magic Knights for letting the other four get away.

“The Sentries have been instructed to double their patrols of the area--”

Bronn made a noise of disgust. “Sentries are good for nothing, barely competent watch dogs. There’s a reason they’re Sentries and not Magic Knights.”

“--and I’ve heavily added to our security spells in and around the house and property.” Jax went on.

“Which apparently a hungry, mindless beast can break through,” Bronn remarked. “No offense, Captain.”

“None taken.” Jax forgave feeling much the same way.
The bases protection spells were set for people not animals. Jax had only recently begun setting a few traps around the house to catch their beastly menace. He had hoped that the reinforced windows and doors would have been enough to keep the thing out. It hadn’t. So, when he remembered, he went through the trouble of nightly setting traps to catch the creature should it try to enter the house. Since he had begun setting the traps the thing had entered twice. Once never happening upon his traps. The other somehow managing to get free. Though the trap had been set to capture and incapacitate, not kill, the amount of blood left behind had made them all wonder if the beast had run off somewhere and died. Like last night, the last time the creature had visited Jax hadn’t set the traps for reasons he could no longer remember. Tobin wasn’t the only one keeping count. Needless to say, the Capatain’s ego had begun to take a hit as the number of visits grew.

Bronn sat forward, leaning closer to the Captain. “Shouldn’t we--” He stole a quick glance at other Black Bulls. “Shouldn’t we tell them? We’d be able to protect our own if they but knew of the threat.”

Jax shook his head. “The Wizard King wants this quite, for now. He wants Yami and Teris to focus their time and energy on learning how to control their magics combination rather than on some possible encounter or abduction.”

Bronn eyed his Captain. “What do you want?”

“My preference wasn’t asked for or given,” Jax replied.

“So you don’t agree that this is the right course of action,” Bronn surmised.

Jax’s expression hardened. “We do as ordered without question. It’s the job. If you can’t do that, hand in your cape.”

“You know me, Captain. I’ll go along with anything you say, but I think the Wizard King has it wrong.”

“Then don’t think of it as Sir Jorah’s order. Think of it as mine.”

“What of Julius?” Bronn asked. “What does the Wizard Kings favorite Captain have to say about keeping his little sister and pet foreigner in the dark?”

“He hasn’t been told either,” Jax said.

Bronn cursed. Shaking his head he declared. “This is some ugly business, Jax.”

Jax remained silent thinking the same. Surely Sir Jorah had his reasoning, though Jax hadn’t the faintest what it was. It wasn’t as if being a Magic Knights Captain afforded him the right to know everything.

Bronn tisked shaking his head again. Leaning closer he questioned. “I can understand letters of concern being sent. But what would the Spade Kingdom want with them?”

“You saw what they could do. And they weren’t even trying. Like the Diamond Kingdom, the Spade Kingdom is obsessed with testing and augmenting grimoires and magic. Knowing that, do you find it all that surprising that they would want to get a hold of those two.”

“Guess not.” Bronn muttered.

“What I find disturbing is how quickly they found out about them and have acted.”

“And how close they’ve already come.” Bronn put in.

Jax looked down the table at Yami and Teris laughing as they conversed with their fellow Black Bulls. “We have to protect them. From the weight of knowing about all this and from whoever comes for them.”

4.3

Greywright was waiting for Yami and Teris at the Black Bulls sparring field. Given the rebuilt dining hall, Yami wasn’t surprised to see that the felled trees had been cleared away.

“Looks like one good thing came out of last night.” Yami said, looking about as they made their way to the Magic Knights Commander.

“What’s that?” Teris asked.

“We tripled the size of the Bulls training field. I like it.”

Teris glanced at him huffing. “I doubt those we put in danger would agree.”

“Don’t care who agrees or disagrees with me.” Yami said.

“You’re late,” Greywright told.

“We brought our own lunch this time.” Yami said, lifting the tied cloth he carried containing his and Teris’ food.

“I heard about what you two did last night,” Greywright replied staring them down.

Yami stared back, while Teris looked down guiltily. Yami wondered at her shame. It wasn't as if they hadn’t known the Commander would have been told. Greywright was likely even informed last night.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do.” Greywright said, taking out the transportation charm. “Let’s go.”

They appeared in a barren valley.

Pocketing the charm Greywright told them. “Today you’re going to be going at each other using mana skin and whatever magic you are capable of without your grimoires.”

Teris looked at the Knights Commander confused. “When asked yesterday, you said it would be weeks before you would even considered allowing us to use our magic against each other. That we were to focus on control and pinpoint accuracy first”

“Or you complaining?” Greywright asked. “Want to take it slow and repeat yesterdays training for weeks on end?”

“No.” Yami said, unsheathing his katana.

“But--” Teris began.

“Come on, Teris.” Yami pleaded softly at her side. “This isn’t gonna get any better training side by side. Not to mention it’s boring.”

Teris eyed Greywright, silently wondering why he had made the change. If anything, last nights incident should have made him more cautious not less.

“Why do you look like you’re considering this when you don’t have a choice.” Greywright questioned, looking at her. “Your royal brain not accustomed to taking orders yet?”

“No, sir.”

“No sir, what? You’re not accustomed to taking orders?”

“No.” Teris shook her head. “I wasn’t considering. I’ll do as you say.”

“Yes. You will.” He looked to Yami. “And you will too. Without question or delay.”

Yami didn’t respond. He preferred not to lie. And though he’d certainly try, he wasn’t the best at following commands.

Greywright stood back and told them to begin. At Yami’s first offensive swing Greywright’s eyes narrowed. Something was off with the dark magic user. Even with mana skin his dark magic cloaked slash didn’t have enough strength behind it. Teris cast out a half hearted curving strike of light apparently still afraid of another magical reaction. Despite the lacking power behind her attack Yami’s sluggish movements saw him barely deflect it. Now positive that something was wrong with Yami. the Commander held up a hand.

“Stop.” Greywright called, waiting till both had stood down before stepping out into the field. “Come here.” He ordered gesturing to Yami.

Though not beckoned Teris made her way to the Commander as well.

“Are you hurt?” Greywright asked.

“What?” Yami asked, shoulders tensing.

“You nearly dropped your sword blocking that sorry excuse of an attack.” Greywright said, glancing at Teris in disapproval. “Now tell me the truth.”

When Yami hesitated the Magic Knights Commander poked him in the ribs. Yami’s faced twitched in a studied controlled wince of pain.

Greywright ground his teeth in disgust. No doubt Bronn had had his way with the boy. The least the idiot could have done was make sure the kid saw a healing mage. It wasn’t as if the Black Bulls Vice Captain wasn’t aware that Yami would been training today.

“Thought so,” Greywright sighed. “We’re done for the day. You’re no good injured. I got so much more to do than train the two of you that it isn’t even funny. So thanks for wasting my time.”

“I’ll be alright,” Yami protested.

“No. You won’t.” Greywright told him taking out the transportation charm.

“I’ll-- “ Yami paused thinking. “Use that to send me to Healers Hall.” He said, pointing at the transportation charm. “Soon as they fix me up I’ll return.”

“No.” Greywright said flatly.

The Magic Knights Commander hadn’t been kidding when he had said he had loads of work. As important as it was that these two got a handle on their reactionary magic as quickly as possible, their safety was more important. With four Spade Kingdom Sorcery Lances possibly still roaming around out there, he had to oversee the additional patrol of Sentries, meet with the Magic Knights Captain's to inform them to have their squads keep an eye out, and suffer through a meeting with the Wizard Kings Advisor and her Chief Investigation Mages. It would be so much easier if he could tell the Sentries and his Captains the reason for the heightened security instead of having to field the questions they would no doubt ask.

He closed his eyes already exhausted. Between learning about the Spade Kingdom’s agents, and Yami and Teris’ second explosive reaction, his evenings work last night had lasted through to the morning, again. At forty-one years of age he was still able to pull an all niter with little ill effects, but not two of them in a row. You’re getting old, he thought to himself. What bothered him the most was he couldn’t understand why Sir Jorah was so adamant that no one be told of the Spade Kingdoms interest in Yami and Teris. Even after all his years of service, the Wizard King often did things that made little sense to him; but Sir Jorah usually explained his reasoning or at least was patient with his questions. Not this time. It could be that the Wizard King was also feeling stressed and over worked and was short tempered cause of it. In any case, Yami’s injury gave Greywright a reason to cancel the days training and focus on everything else. Who knew? He might catch up on enough back logged work to get one or two hours of sleep tonight.

He activated the charm and they were back at the Black Bulls sparring field.

Looking them both over Greywright instructed. “Go back to base. Get healed. Rest up. We’ll begin again tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir,” Teris said.

Greywright tilted an ear to Yami. “What was that? I didn’t hear you.”

“Yes. Sir.” Yami clipped, clearly unhappy.

The Knights Commander hardly cared how either of them felt about his decision. Looking at Yami, he realized that he’d best have a word with Jax about Bronn’s excessive behavior, again. Great, he thought, yet another thing I have to do today. If only he had known about Yami’s condition when he had met with the Black Bulls Captain before sunrise this morning.

4.4

Fuegoleon and Nozel made their way to the refreshment table. As Fuegoleon poured the both of them a glass of water, Nozel picked up a towel patting his face and neck dry of sweat. It never ceased to annoy Nozel how little Fuegoleon sweated compared to him during their sparring sessions. It always made him feel as Fuegoleon hadn’t had to try as hard even though he knew that wasn’t the case. At least his friendly rival wasn’t an ice mage, then he’d be left sweating and shivering.

“Thanks.” Nozel said, taking up one of the glasses and drinking.

“I got to say, I wasn’t sure you’d show.” Fuegoleon said, mopping his brow with a fresh towel.

“Why wouldn’t I? We agreed to this weekly sparring session while we watched the Magic Knights Entrance Exams. It’s not as if I was assigned a mission or had any other reason for not making it today.”

“Didn’t you though?”

Nozel’s eyes narrowed. “You were taken to the healers last night, the same as me.”

“Only because Capatain Jax wanted to make certain I had no injuries before he saw me home and faced Leona,” Fuegoleon said. “You, on the other hand, were obviously injured.”

“You heard what the healer said. I’m fine.”

“Yes. I heard what the healer said. For you to take it easy for the next day or two.”

Nozel took another drink of water.

“Seriously though. How are you?” Fuegoleon asked.

“About to send you to the healers if you don’t stop talking about it,” Nozel said.

“So, clearly still upset,” Fuegoleon muttered.

Nozel set the glass down. “You didn’t hear what he said to her. And then she gets mad at me? She sided with that filthy foreigner. Over me.”

And there it was, Fuegoleon thought. Before he had realized that Nozel had actual feelings passed that of friendship toward Teris he would have joked that Teris always got mad at him, always sided against him, but not anymore. He didn’t know when Nozel’s feelings for Teris had developed. Only that one day, not long ago, he had noticed that his friends care and attention toward his cousin was more than that of mere duty. Since then Fuegoleon had wondered if Nozel had realized the truth himself. That Teris was more than the girl Nozel’s father said he would one day wed, but a girl he wanted to marry.

Sighing Fuegoleon said. “You know how she is. Her favoring of the common. She was probably trying to prove to the Black Bulls that she was worthy of their trust. That she would side with and defend them no matter what. They are her comrades after all.”

Nozel turned away.

“What do you have planned for the rest of the day?”

“Magic Knights wise? Nothing. Captain Pyter wasn’t happy with me, or anything, last night or this morning.” Nozel said, recalling the mans chilly demeanor during breakfast. “He used the healers suggestion that I rest to get me the day off, telling me he didn’t want to see me. I was going to stop by Magic Investigations once we were done here.”

“Why?”

“To do a bit of research.” Nozel said, avoiding Fuegoleon’s gaze.

“What kind of research?” Fuegoleon pressed.

“Into different types of magic.”

The Crimson Lion raised an eyebrow. “Those types of magic wouldn’t happen to be light and dark magic. Would they?”

Nozel’s head spun to face him. “There has to be a reason their magic is reacting the way it is.”

“And you think that there’s something in the Magic Investigations library that the Wizard King, Knights Commander, or Advisor Ellara don’t know about. That they hadn’t thought to check to see if there was something. Or somehow missed something. And that you might find the answer.”

“This is why I don’t tell you things.”

“No,” Fuegoleon said. “You don’t tell me things cause you’re a stuffy, closed off person who’d be perfectly happy if he didn’t have to speak or deal with a single person for the rest of his life.”

“Who are you calling stuffy?”

“Is that the only bit of what I said that you take issue with?”

“I admit I can, at times, be closed off. While I’m not sure about the rest of my life, there are certainly days I would prefer not to have to speak or deal with anyone. But stuffy?” Nozel sniffed at the offense. “I am not stuffy.”

Fuegoleon was about to comment that he and Nozel obviously had different understandings of the word but thought better of it. Instead he said, “I’ll go with you.”

“Why ever for? You’ve made clear how futile you think the idea is.”

“Futile in discovering why Teris and the foreigners magic react to each they way they do. Yes. But maybe there’s something in a previous light magic users file that may give me an edge against her in our next sparring session.”

“Fine.” Nozel allowed.

“I hadn’t been seeking your permission,” Fuegoleon said. “When I said I would go with you I was informing you.”

4.4.2

It had been a relatively quick walk from the sparring fields at Magic Knights Headquarters to Magic Investigations. Upon entering the buildings main entrance Nozel and Fuegoleon made straight for the front counter where a rather bored looking man sat behind a desk reading a book.

When the man showed no sign of getting up Nozel’s eyes slid to Fuegoleon, the two young men sharing a look. It wasn’t as if the man hadn’t heard them enter or was aware they were at the counter waiting. Another second passed, Nozel loosing his patience.

“Excuse me.” The Silver Eagle called.

The man held up a finger and continued reading.

Scowling Nozel demanded. “Do you know who I am?”

The man looked over his book at them and sighed. “Looks like two young Magic Knights to me.”

Fuegoleon couldn’t help but grin at that. It wasn’t often that he happened upon people who didn’t know who his was on sight. Annoying as the delay was, it was refreshing.

“What are you smiling about,” Nozel demanded.

Fuegoleon turned to see his friend glaring at him, which only made his smile grow. “He doesn’t know who we are.”

“Obviously,” Nozel bristled. “But he’s about to.” Raising his voice to once again speak to the the man, Nozel told. “I am Nozel Silva.”

The mans eyes once again lifted over the cover of the book. “Good for you. I’m the Counter Clerk Manager. Let me finish this chapter and I’ll be right with you.”

Fuegoleon pressed his lips together.

“You think this funny. Don’t you.” Nozel accused the Crimson Lion.

“A bit.” Fuegoleon admitted grinning.

Nozel gave a sharp sigh turning away from the Vermilion.

“We’re first year Magic Knights,” Fuegoleon said. “We’re going to have to pay our dues. Earn the respect of others.”

“That doesn’t mean we have to do without common courtesy.” Nozel said, eyes forward.

Fuegoleon shrugged. Maybe if they had been in a hurry or on official business he would have cared. As it was, it was an amusing novelty. But as the minutes ticked by the novelty wore off.

Finally, the Counter Clerk closed his book. Looking at the two Magic Knights, he sighed heavily before slowly sitting forward and pushing himself out of the chair.

Nozel watched as the man took his time walking around the desk and to the counter. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak the man held up a finger.

“Forgot something. Be right back.”

Nozel watched the Clerk turn and head back to the desk at the same laborious speed.

The Counter Manager plucked his cape of office off the back of his chair and put it on. Turning, he made his way back to the Magic Knights. “How can I help you two?”

Fuegoleon glanced at Nozel. Seeing the Silva struggle to keep his temper he said. “We’d like to see any and all records you have on previous light magic users and, if one ever existed, dark magic users.”

The Clerk pointed at a paper sitting on the counter two feet to Nozel’s left. “You’ll have to fill out a request form. Call me when your done.”

Nozel’s right eye twitched as he watched the man turn and head back to his desk. “You could have mentioned that earlier,” he clipped.

The Clerk took off his cloak and hung it on the back of the chair. “How could I? I didn’t know why you were here.”

Not taking his eyes of the man, Nozel reached out to his left his palm smacking the counter loudly. Pulling the paper to him, he looked down at the form. At least is wasn’t lengthy.

After a time Nozel set the quill back in its holder. “Finished.”

At least the Clerk got up to serve them right away this time Fuegoleon thought. But as the man moved away from his desk he noted the Clerks forgotten cape. “Your Magic Investigations cloak,” Fuegoleon called.

The man smirked at the Crimson Lion eyes dancing brightly.

That proved it, Fuegoleon thought. The Manager was having a laugh at their expense. He could hardly blame the man. It wasn’t everyday that one could leave two royal princes standing around awaiting at their mercy. But he had had enough of it. His amusement at it all had vanished.

The Clerk took the request form from Nozel and looked it over. “You don’t have the clearance,” he declared.

“Come again.” Nozel questioned, nearly trembling with anger. Fuegoleon had told the man what they wanted. If they didn’t have clearance why had the Clerk made him fill out the form.

“As of yesterday, only Magic Knights Captain's, Senior Investigations Mages, or higher are allowed to view those files.” The Clerk said.

Thinking the same as Nozel, Fuegoleon was seriously considering making a complaint about the man. “Can I have your name.” he requested.

“Axus. Counter Clerk Manager.” The man answered. Setting the paper down on the counter-top he pushed it to Fuegoleon. “Can I have your signature on that.”

“What for?” Fuegoleon questioned.

“You were the one who initially made the request,” Axus said.

Fuegoleon’s eye narrowed. “And?”

“And we here at Magic Investigations like to keep exacting records,” Axus said.

“Why?” Nozel asked, finally trusting himself to speak.

Axus looked to the Silver Eagle. “Why do we like to keep exacting records? Because--”

“No. Why the sudden change in who’s allowed to see those files?”

Fuegoleon turned to Nozel, chastising himself. In his ire at the Clerks games he hadn’t picked up on that.

Axus tapped the request form nudging it closer to the Crimson Lion.

Glaring at the man, Fuegoleon picked up a quill and signed his name next to Nozel’s.

“Don’t know.” Axus said, taking up the paper. “I’m just a counter clerk. You want answers like that you’d have to ask someone higher up.” His eyes flicked passed them to the opening entrance door. “Someone like the Magic Knights Commander.”

“We’re not going to bother Commander Greywright with this,” Fuegoleon said.

“Bother me with what?” Greywright asked, from behind them.

Nozel and Fuegoleon turned.

Crossing his arms the Knights Commander questioned. “What are you two doing here? You do realize that this is the Magic Investigations building, not Magic Knights Headquarters. Right?”

“Yes, sir,” Fuegoleon answered.

“They were asking to see the what we had on any past light and, or dark magic users,” Axus said.

Greywright's eyebrows came together as they rose. “What for?”

“To see if we could find a reason why Teris’ and,” Nozel swallowed looking as if he had tasted something bitter, “Yami’s magic are reacting to each other the way they are.”

“Why didn’t I consider doing that?” Greywright said, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “I should inform Sir Jorah. You’d think he, being the Wizard King and all, would have thought of such a thing.”

Nozel lowered his gaze, his jaw clenching. Never in his life had he suffered the disrespect he had been shown in these last twenty minutes.

“Access to those files is restricted.” Greywright said, sobering. “As Fifth Class Junior Magic Knights, neither of you have the rank to be able to see them.”

“Neither does any other Magic Knight save for a Captain.” Nozel said, his eyes lifting to look at the Commander. “At least as of yesterday. Tell me, sir. Why the change in who can view those records? Or is that knowledge restricted as well?”

“I’d watch your words and tone, Junior Magic Knight. In that cape you are not a royal prince of the second family of the Clover Kingdom. You are one of my Magic Knights. No different and no better than any other of my Magic Knights. While I strive to earn my Knights trust and respect, I do demand a basic level of both. This is the first and last time you will get away with showing me neither.”

“I didn’t--”

“Didn’t mean to disrespect me or insinuate we’re hiding things from you?” Greywright interrupted the Silver Eagle. His gut twisted at that last bit. In truth things were being hidden. While Magic Knights of Nozel and Fuegoleon’s rank were hardly privy to everything, he had just come from a meeting with his Captain's where he had been less than honest. He hadn’t flat out lied, but seeing the way Jax and Win looked at him as he skirted the truth had bugged him.

“I meant neither of those things, sir,” Nozel said. “I only wanted answers.”

“Well, I can give you none,” Greywright said. “And until you become at least an Intermediate Magic Knight it’ll likely stay that way for most everything; so you’d best get use to it or work your ass off and get yourself promoted quickly. Axus.” Greywright stepped passed Nozel to the counter holding out a hand. “They were never here.”

“Commander?”

“Let me have that request form,” Greywright said.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t--”

“This is my fifty third hour of being awake. Do you really want to be the person I let loose it on?” Greywright questioned, struggling to control his temper.

The man slowly handed over the page.

“Good man.” Greywright breathed tearing the paper into quarters. “What are you two still doing here?” He questioned Nozel and Fuegoleon without turning. “Waiting to be dismissed? Off with you.”

The Commander listened to their footsteps retreat and the opening and closing of the door before telling the Counter Manager. “I’m well aware of Investigations protocol, but they were only looking to help a friend. If their request for restricted files gets sent to an Agent, their Captain's and I would have to be notified. They would have to be questioned as to why they wanted to see the records. Their Captain's would have to write up a report and I would have to review it. You see where I’m going with this?”

“More work for you,” Axus said.

“Exactly. I won’t go three nights without sleep, Axus. I’m telling you now, I refuse to do it.”

“Mana forbid I be the cause of another working night for you, Commander.”

“I appreciate that.” Greywright said, handing him the torn request form. “See that destroyed.”

4.5

“Ellara. Hold up.” Greywright called, to the Wizard Kings Advisor.

Marx paused with her awaiting her instructions.

“Go on ahead.” She told the Senior Investigations Mage. “Get started on reviewing the Green Mantis’ reports. I want you and your team trying to match up the descriptions they gave and the type of magic they said they use with any Spade Kingdom Sorcery Lances we have on file. Having a name. Even just one. Will go a long way in getting the Spade Kingdom to desist. Otherwise they could, and likely will, deny it all.”

Marx nodded, hurrying away.

“I’m rather busy, Commander.” Ellara said, turning to face him.

“You and I both,” Greywright said.

“Your presence at this meeting was a courtesy. If you have issue with how I’m going about my job, I suggest you take it up with the Wizard King.”

“Well, seeing as how they are my Magic Knights I think my presence more as a necessity than courtesy. But it doesn’t really matter how either of us view it; that’s not what I wanted to talk about.”

“Forgive me, Greywright.” Ellara sighed, forcing her shoulders to relax. “I haven’t gotten much sleep since those two Magic Knights of yours nearly destroyed half of Castle City during the Entrance Exams. I’m afraid I’m a bit on edge.”

“Sleep? What’s that?” Greywright asked.

Ellara gave a humorless huff.

“And they could have destroyed the entire city and then some,” Greywright added. He shook his head in wonder, remembering. “You weren’t there, Ellara. It was--”

“Amazing,” she supplied.

“I was going to say frightening. But I suppose, in a way it was amazing.”

“I wish I could’ve been there,” Ellara breathed. “Seen it for myself.”

“No, you don’t,” he said. “I was there and I wish I hadn’t been. There’s nothing I’d like more than to forget the power those two kids displayed. I completely understand why Sir Jorah’s been inundated with letters of concern. Those two haven’t even begun to stretch and grow their magic. I think it’s a fair assessment to say that given time they could probably take out an entire kingdom together.”

Ellara looked at the Magic Knights Commander wondering if he was short changing Yami and Teris’ combined magical power because he was afraid of the truth, or attempting to spare her from it. Maybe he simply wasn’t aware or misjudged what the two would be capable of. She knew their power. Her Master had told her of it long before she had come to Castle City to join the Clover Kingdoms Magic Investigations. Back then, the coming of Chaos had been but an eventual promise. Now, with the arrival of the Light and Darkness, it was upon them. She couldn’t help but feel giddy at what was to come. What she would witness. And help bring about. The rebirth was coming. It was near. And only the worthy would enter the new existence.

“Speaking of Sir Jorah.” Greywright said, breaking into her thoughts. “You wouldn’t have happened to advise and encourage him to keep all this quite?”

“I advise the Wizard King on a great many things,” Ellara said. “It’s my job. It’s even my title. But no, Commander. I did not advise Sir Jorah on this matter. Nor did he seek my advice.”

“Did he happen to tell you his reasoning for his decision?”

“No. Nor did I ask.”

Greywright looked away heaving a sigh.

“You have a problem with Sir Jorah’s commands?” Ellara questioned

“Not a problem,” Greywright said. “I just—I wish I understood his reasoning is all.”

“Sir Jorah has often done things we didn’t understand at the time. It’s always turned out for the best. I see no reason why it wouldn’t this time around.”

“I just don’t like having to deceive my Captain's.”

Ellara make a noise. “You’ve deceived your Captain's in the past with little issue. Don’t pretend that’s your problem with this. You forget, Greywright. I know you better than most. You have a problem with this because Sir Jorah hasn’t taken the time to explain his decision to you. You’ve become accustomed to the leeway and favoritism he’s given you and your Magic Knights over the years. And now that he isn’t doing so, in this one thing, you’re unhappy. Forgive me if I don’t sympathize with you for being treated like the rest of us.”

“You don’t sound bitter in the least.” Greywright remarked dryly. He made for the rooms exited before they began arguing in truth. Exhausted as they both were, it wouldn’t take much to have them saying things best left unsaid.

As the Magic Knights Commander exited, Ellara closed her eyes trying to calm herself. She had been trained for this since the day her Master had taken her in and saved her. Still, despite his words she had never thought it would actually happen. The arrival of Light and Darkness. The interaction between Yami and Teris’ magic proving that they were the ones who the Master of Masters had written about long ago. It was exciting. Justifying. But it was also scary and daunting. So much of what they had planned rested on her. She had served as Sir Jorah’s Advisor for seventeen years. Before that, she had earned her comrades trust and respect as she worked her way up through Magic Investigations. After she had become the youngest person ever to be named Wizard Kings Advisor, she had continued to work hard to prove herself and had earned the respect and trust of countless others cause of it. She had long since proven herself a loyal servant of the Clover Kingdom. And to a large degree, she was. But she was her Master’s servant first and foremost. His tool, to be used and wielded as he willed. She owed him her life. And once they were done, she would owe him her very existence.

Chapter Text

5.1

Tobin picked a clearing for them to set down for the night, giving Yami and Teris the task of making camp. It had been just over three months since they had joined the Black Bulls and they had finally been allowed to go on their first mission. Unlucky for Tobin, he was the one that got to lead them.

Tobin had picked up on the Captain and Bronn’s curious protectiveness of the squads newest members long before Yami complained to him that the Black Bulls leaders were acting like worried mother hens. Asking where he and Teris were going and when they’d be back. Instructing them to be mindful of their surrounds and not to stay out past sundown.

At first Tobin had thought Jax and the Vice Captain were merely concerned that the two would have another magical incident and wreck a place, or worse kill someone. But he had tossed that notion aside when the Captain and Vice Captain asked the same questions and gave the same instructions even when Yami and Teris didn’t go out together.

Even after Commander Greywright had deemed the two capable of controlling their magics combination enough to lessen their training sessions with him to once every two weeks, the two had still been barred from going on a mission.

Two days ago the Black Bulls Captain had returned with a feast, a great grin, and no explanation for his good humor. Not that any of the squads members had complained. Later that night Yami and Teris were given their first mission and told they’d be heading out the next morning after breakfast. It was a mission Tobin easily could have handled himself. Then again, during his first year, his first few missions had been simple things his attending superior could have easily handled by themselves.

“I don’t get why we can’t get a room in town.” Yami complained, dropping wood for the fire near the stone circle Teris had formed.

“Cause.” Tobin said, pulling a piece of salted beef from a food pouch.

Yami sighed and squatted to help Teris tent the wood.

Looking up at them Tobin explained. “If we went to town we’d be noticed. Someone would tell the poachers that Magic Knights had been seen, and they’d make their escape. Do you really want your first mission to be a failure?”

“No,” Yami said.

“Didn’t think so. Besides,” Tobin said, kicking out his legs, pillowing his head as he leaned back against a tree trunk, “I’ve camped around here plenty of times. The surrounding scrub brush shelters us from the hilltops winds and acts as an early alert for beasts or men trying to sneak up on us. It’s a good place to camp.”

“Some of this wood is wet,” Teris said.

“Didn’t think it’d be an issue with the heat you can produce.” Yami said, looking her over.

“It won’t.” She snipped feeling his eyes on her and tensing. “But it’ll be smokey.”

“So heat it up and dry it out before you light it up.” Tobin ordered impatiently.

Tobin was annoyed that the girl was yet again treating Yami so coolly. He didn’t understand it. Far as he could tell, there was no rhyme or reason to it either. He had told Yami one night a while back, after she had begun to distance herself from him again, that she was toying with him. That girls like that weren’t worth it. But Yami had replied that that wasn’t what she was doing. When pressed for answers Yami had closed up and Tobin had since left it alone. Still, it bothered him that Teris’ treatment of his friend swung so wildly. He couldn’t imagine that it didn’t sting Yami either.

Using her magic Teris lit the fire and began drying out the stack of wood that would be used to light and warm them throughout the night.

“I might poach something myself if we don’t catch these guys by tomorrow night and get a real meal.” Yami said, doing sit ups.

“We had a huge breakfast before we left this morning,” Teris said. “I made sure of it.”

“And?” Yami asked, pausing mid-sit up to look at her.

Teris’ eye traveled down to Yami’s chest and abs of their own accord. When her eyes lifted back up to his, she saw him smirking at her, holding the pose as if waiting for her to have her fill before continuing.

Feeling her cheeks warm she turned away asking. “Why do you bother doing all that anyway? By now you should have enough magical strength to cloak yourself in to aid in your style of combat.”

“The more physical speed and strength I have the less mana I need to cloak myself in,” Yami told. “Who knows,” he shrugged, “there may come a time when we won’t be able to use our magic. I bet you’ll be grateful for my strength and physical training then.”

Teris laughed. “Not be able to use our magic? Unlikely.”

Yami eyed her reveling in her smile. He didn’t like it when she pulled away from him, though he knew it wasn’t malicious. He didn’t know why she was so confused and tormented sometimes, only that her Ki told him she was. Resting his forearms on his knees he told her. “Come over here. I could use your help.”

She got to her feet but hesitated going to him. “With what?”

He rolled onto his stomach. “Sit on my back.”

“What! Why? I’m not sitting on your back.”

“I need your added weight. It’ll shorten the workout and make it more challenging,” Yami said.

“Tobin weighs more than I do.” Teris said, looking over at the bearded man.

“I’m not sitting on anyone.” Tobin muttered, without opening his eyes.

“Come on, Princess,” Yami pleaded. “I’ve been using most of my spare time building a cage and enclosed training field for that beast that keeps breaking in. I’ve hardly been able to work on my strength training.”

“Do you really think you’ll be able to catch and train that thing?” Teris asked, hoping to change the subject.

“Catching it will be easy. Training it will be the difficult bit. But yeah, I’m pretty sure I could. Though I’ll need to be in top shape to do it.”

Teris heaved a sigh and made her way towards him.

Yami positioned his feet atop a boulder and hand on a mid-sized rock he had found and brought to camp during his search for wood.

“What are you doing,” Teris asked.

“Getting some height so you’ll be less likely to rest your feet on the ground. The height difference will also let me to go lower than my feet which work my arms that much harder. Ready?”

“But you only have one rock for your hands,” Teris said.

“Yeah,” Yami nodded. “You’ll sit on my right side and I’ll do that arm and then we’ll switch to the left.”

From he resting place against a tree Tobin peaked at them through his eyelashes.

“Ready?”

“I guess so.” Teris said, and perched on him.

“Are you leaning or sitting on me,” Yami questioned, knowing the answer.

“I’m sitting.” Teris told looking down at her feet which were still on the ground.

“Then lift your feet.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“If I lift my feet I’ll fall off.”

“Then you’re not sitting on me. Move back till you’re at my center,” Yami instructed.

Teris released a growling sigh and scooted back. “There.”

“Can you lift--”

She raised her legs and waved them back and forth which caused herself to loose balance. She grasped his shoulder steadying herself.

“You good?” Yami asked.

“Just do your thing so we can get this over with.” She told, letting him go.

“You might want to hold on a bit,” he suggested.

“I’m fine,” Teris drawled.

“Alright then.” Yami lowered himself fully. Exhaling he rose up and lowered again.

Unbalanced, Teris squealed reaching out at anything to steady her. Her left hand once again grasped his shoulder, while her right clutched his pants leg just below his butt. She blushed beet red, her hand jerking away as if burned. Stealing a glance at Tobin she exhaled, relieved to see his eyes were still closed.

“You alright.” Yami asked, pausing.

“Yes,” she barked.

“I told you to hold on,” he said.

Shaking her head clear she held onto his shoulder and looking down at his lower half she tentatively reached out hooking a finger through his belt. “Just—hurry up and get this over with.”

Tobin was surprised that such an obvious tactic had worked. Through slitted eyes he watched as Teris eventual relaxed and became more at ease with Yami for the first time in days. She laughed claiming that she was only trying to help when Yami caught her pocketing rocks as she moved around to his other side. Tobin saw her sit on Yami’s left side, grip his shoulder, and hook her finger though his belt without hesitation. As he watched Teris run her fingers through Yami’s hair telling him it was time for a cut, Tobin remembered Venice doing the same to him. Their flirtation had ended the day she had told Jon Jace he was cute and that he should take her out to lunch. If only he had been as persistent with Venice as Yami was with Teris, Venice might’ve been with him instead of Azure Deers Vice Captain.

With Yami’s exercises done, they ate a meager dinner of rations and Tobin assigned them watch shifts. He wasn’t all that pleased about leaving the fire going all night, but it was early December; and even sheltered as they were, the wind cut. So with the admonishment for them to be watchful and not fall asleep during their watch, Tobin nestled by the fire for the night, not looking forward to the early rise he would have for the final watch of the night.

5.2

The sky was barely beginning to grey when Tobin heard a rustling of the surrounding scrub to the southeast. Waking Yami and Teris he ordered. “Ready yourselves.“

“It could just be a beast.” Teris said, after listening a moment.

“Attracted to our fire? That’s not a beast I’d want to tangle with,” Tobin said.

“They’re human and there’s more then one.” Yami said, unsheathing his katana.

Tobin’s lip twitched. He hadn’t completely understood it when Yami had explained Ki to him. To be honest, he barely grasped its basics. But he did need to know how it worked to be grateful for its usefulness.

Yami tried to focus. But he couldn’t tell how many there were for certain. Six, maybe eight. It annoyed him that his sense of Ki was lacking, but like his magic, it took practice and training to hone. Training that he had, for the most part, neglected since he becoming a Magic Knight. Vowing to right that wrong after this mission he readied himself as the sound of the lead person grew closer.

A bloodied man with torn clothes broke through into the clearing. Upon seeing them he praised. “Thank mana! Magic Knights. We’re--”

“The men who have been poaching.” Tobin finished. He relaxed, but didn’t lower his guard. “Why are you so pleased to see us? Dumber than you look? Here to turn yourself in.”

“Yes! Yes. Whatever. Just please don’t let that thing kill me.” The man pleaded.

Another man broke through, followed by two more. “Or me!” They yelled in unison falling before the Black Bulls.

“I thought this would be harder.” Yami commented, looking down at the poachers in disappointed disgust.

“How many more of you are there?” Tobin demanded.

“I think the more immediate question is, what are you all afraid of,” Teris said.

Tobin glanced at her, then eyed the dirty, frightened men. “Answer us.”

“There’s one more.” The first one told.

There was a scream from the scrub beyond shortly followed by a beastly call of triumph. The gang of men began to tremble. A couple of them covered their ears and began to cry. One wet himself.

“Please!” One of them begged reaching up to Tobin. “We’ll do anything. Even give the half payment we received for the job back.”

“We’ll give it to you.” Another tempted.

Tobin scowled.

“We’ll confess and go to prison.” The first one said. “Anything!”

“Anything.” The others echoed.

“Well you’re in our presence.” Tobin grumbled. “We can’t let that thing harm you. And you’re definitely going to lock up and likely prison. Teris. Bind them up.”

Teris nodded, her grimoire flipping to the correct spell.

As Teris’ light magic formed bright glowing ropes that coiled around and secured the men Yami said. “From the sound of it the last one won’t be joining us.”

Tobin nodded in agreement. Glancing back at the men he asked. “What is this thing?”

“A Saber Cat.” One of them answered.

“What were you idiots doing messing with a Saber Cat?” Tobin wondered. “I thought you were poachers.”

“We were paid to steal it,” he answered. “Half up front. The other half after.”

“Steal it? From who?” Tobin questioned.

“His Royal Highness.”

Teris closed her eyes silently cursing. The Silva’s country manor wasn’t far from here.

Tobin’s eyebrows rose thinking that the men were certainly going to prison for this. And for a good long while no doubt. “Silva’s or Vermilion's?”

“Lord Silva’s prized Saber Cat.” The man told.

“You are all sorts of stupid. Aren’t you,” Tobin said.

He looked up innocently at the Magic Knight. “We were going to buy land with the money. You know, so we wouldn’t have to poach any more.”

Tobin eyed him and huffed. “Yeah. Right. I know your type. You don’t poach to eat and stay alive. You sell all you can of the animal to those willing and able to pay.”

Casting aside the facade the man shrugged. “It’s a living.”

“It’s stealing twice over since your prices are so high,” Tobin told.

“Not higher than the price of meat at market.” The man shot back.

“When it’s available.” Another said. “Which is less and less these days.”

“Then there’s the fact that you’re making innocent people accessories to your crimes.” Tobin looked them over in disgust. “If this wasn’t a royals beast, I’d leave you. Let it have its fill, and come back for whatever’s left.”

“He said Silva.” Yami said to Teris.

She nodded once, taking in a breath. “Lord Nathyn. Nozel’s father.”

“Any chance you’ve had dealings with this beast?” Tobin asked her.

Teris looked to Tobin nodding. “Lord Nathyn has a pack of Saber Cats. He uses them as one would hunting dogs.”

“To be royal.” Tobin muttered, shaking his head.

“If the prized cat he mentioned is the one I’m thinking of, it’s the lead male. An albino.”

Yami lifted an eyebrow. “Never known of an alpha albino. Thing must be huge and fierce.”

“It is, “ she nodded.

“Think it knows you well enough of obey your commands?” Tobin asked.

“Pretty sure.” She said, eyes flicking back to the brush hearing the Cat draw closer.

5.3

Tobin had taken the prisoners in while Yami and Teris took the Saber Cat back to the Silva’s manor home. Teris hadn’t been pleased with Tobin’s orders, but she could hardly argue. Not just because he was her superior, but because the Cat wouldn’t have obeyed anyone else. Tobin need not have bothered instructing them not to tarry at the Silva’s. Teris had no plans of even entering the main house.

Having released the Saber Cat to the Beast Master’s care a footman appeared informing them that Lord Silva wished see them and to please follow.

Before entering the house Yami was instructed by the doorman to wipe his feet. Yami would have said something had he not seen Teris wipe her boots clean on the rug before stepping inside. Yami jerked away when the doorman began accosting him with a brush. Seeing, Teris pressed her lips together fighting a laugh. When Yami saw another footman brushing out Teris’ cape, he relaxed and submitted to having his brushed out. Next they were offered warm moist towels, Yami doing as Teris did wiping his face and hands. He begrudgingly admitted to himself that getting the grim off his neck and face felt good.

As they followed the footman up the stairs, Yami complained. “Never been this fussed over in my life.”

“Rest easy. It probably won’t ever happen again.” Teris calmed, thankful for his distracting words. She was dying to ask the footman why Lord Nathyn wished to see them, but she knew any Silva servant who wished to stay a Silva servant wouldn’t answer.

The footman opened the doors to Lord Nathyn’s personal receiving room. Stepping aside he bowed to them as they entered. “Is there anything I can get my Lady while you await His Highness? Some pear cider perhaps? I believe Miss Maple had just finished baking those little cakes my Lady is so fond of.”

“Thank you, but no.” Teris smiled polity, chastising herself for not remembering the young man when he obviously remembered her. Or maybe there was some sort of file on previous guests preferences somewhere below in the servants area. She fought a shiver at the thought. Though if any household would command their servants to keep such a thing, it would be the Silva’s. “We won’t be staying long.”

“Very well.” He bowed again and made to leave.

“Wait,” Yami said.

The footman halted tensing. “Yes...sir?” He asked. His tone, while still polite, much cooler than it had been when he had addressed Teris.

“I’ll take a glass of cider and some of those cakes you mentioned.” Yami said.

The footman's eyes looked to Teris for the briefest of moments before he inclined his head. “Yes, sir.” He bowed once more and left, closing the double doors behind him.

“Not use to dealing with my sort. Is he?” Yami asked, plopping into a sofa.

“I’m sure deals with your sort plenty.” Teris told slapping his feet off the coffee table and sitting beside him. “He’s probably not accustomed to having to treat people of your station with respect is all.”

“I know being a foreigner makes me the lowest of the low but he doesn’t know I’m not from around here.”

Teris shrugged. “I’ve seen it before. Servants of royal and noble houses growing long noses. Thinking that the House they work for raises them up. Affords them the ability to look down on others not in the employ of a great family. It’s a petty little game and really no different than the one those of rank play.”

Yami kicked his feet up again. “You’re not very good a being royal.” He tilted his head considering. “Let me change that. You’re either one of the best or worst royals in the kingdom depending on what standards a person is judging by.”

“Doesn’t really matter since there are only a handful of people whose opinions I care about.” She said, leaning forward and nudging his feet off.

Yami’s feet hit the floor loudly. “Am I one of those handful?” He asked, leaning over into her space.

It took effort not to lean away and create some space between them, but she managed to hold her position and look him in the eye. “You’re my friend and comrade. Of course your opinion of me matters. The opinion of all the Black Bulls does.”

“We’re friends?”

“Aren’t we?”

His face inched closer. “With the way you sometimes avoid me I wasn’t sure.”

“Avoid you? Up until three weeks ago we were spending all day together for six days out of the week.”

“That was time you had to spend with me training under Greywright. I’m referring to how you’re open and friendly one day, one moment even, and closed off and rude the next. What’s the matter, Princess? Haven’t made your mind up about me?“ His fingers brushed her hand. “I thought you were more decisive than that.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Teris jumped to her feet. “Your Highness.”

Having noted their nearness and Teris’ almost guilty reaction to his entrance Nathyn Silva forced a cool smile, now certain that he had made the right call. “Lady Nova. Well if this isn’t a welcomed surprise.”

“Did you not ask to see me, my Lord?”

“I said I wished to see the ones that found and returned my Saber Cat. I had no idea it was you.” Lord Silva lied. His eyes traveled to Yami. “And who is this?” He needlessly questioned, well aware of who the troublesome young man was.

“My friend and comrade.” Teris said, kicking Yami’s boot as stealthily as she could.

Yami slowly, got to his feet. He already didn’t like the man. He didn’t know why the Silva was lying or what he was hiding, but he instantly suspected him of no good.

“Yami Sukehiro.” Yami said, introducing himself before Teris could.

Nozel’s father eyed Yami’s offered hand with a raised brow raised. “Lord Nathyn Silva.” He said, smiling tightly as he shook Yami’s hand fighting a wince as Yami’s grip crushed his fingers against his signet ring. “Please. Sit, my Lady. Mister Sukehiro.”

Yami and Teris did so. Nathyn sniffed when Yami did not wait for her to sit first as common courtesy dictated. He took out a handkerchief wiping the hand that had shook Yami’s.

Just then the footman entered carrying a tray. He set a plate of finger cakes down on the coffee table along with two small plates, and two glasses of cider.

“That will be all,” Nathyn dismissed.

Once the footman had left closing the doors behind him Nathyn sat saying. “Truly, I must thank you for finding and returning the Saber Cat. I’m sure bringing it back was no easy task.”

“Then you don’t know Teris.” Yami said, picking up a finger cake and taking a bite not bothering with a plate.

“That’s right,” Nathyn said to Teris watching the crumbs fall onto the rug, ignoring Yami’s worded slight. “You often visited the beast pens when you and your family paid call.” He leaned back in his seat crossing his legs. “No doubt Mercury felt as if he was back home, seeing you and hearing your commands.”

“Mercury?” Yami repeated.

“Named after my eldest sons magic. Mercury was acquired shortly after Nozel’s magic manifested.” Lord Silva turned back to Teris. “How is Nozel getting on?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Teris said. “I haven’t seen him since the day after the Entrance Exams.” At his cool gaze she went on uneasily. “Things have been rather busy. No doubt his letters to you have told you how he’s been.”

“Of course.” Nathyn lied. He had yet to receive a letter from his son since he had joined the Magic Knights. “Speaking of letters. I received one from your brother, Fyntch, not long after the Magic Knights Entrance Exams.”

Teris’ eyes lowered. She could only imagine what that missive had said and promised.

Yami finished the cider and set down the glass.

Nathyn glanced at the clock. “Well then. As much as I would like to keep you, I am sure you have further Magic Knights duties to attend to.”

“Yes.” Teris said gratefully, quickly getting to her feet.

The two men stood, Yami scooping up the remaining cakes.

Eyes moving from Yami to Teris, Lord Silva said. “I’ll be sure to mention in my next letter to Nozel that I had chance to see you and meet your,” he gave Yami a glance and smiled stiffly, “colleague.”

“Please, give Nebra, Solid, and Noelle my best.” Teris said, ignoring the barb.

“They will be most disappointed they missed their eldest brother’s dearest friend.” Nathyn replied, escorting them to the door.

“I believe Fuegoleon is Nozel’s dearest friend.” Teris corrected politely.

Much to his distaste, it was true that the Vermilion heir was his sons closest friend. But they were talking about who was dearest. “Then why, in your absence, does my son speak most frequently and highly of you?” Nathyn asked.

Teris blinked surprise clearly written on her face.

“Perhaps Nozel is more like me than I give him credit for.” Nathyn sighed thinking about how Acier had never understood how dear she had been to him, even after they were wed. He blinked away the memories of his late wife and looked back to Teris. “A trait that will do him well in life but not in this instance I suspect.”

“I don’t--”

“Understand?” Nathyn finished for her. “Of course you don’t, my dear. You wouldn’t be a royal lady if you did. And unconventional as you may be, you are and will always be a royal.” He said looking pointedly at Yami as he finished. “Now, allow me to repay you for returning Mercury unharmed.”

Yami and Teris shook their heads.

“We are Magic Knights, Your Highness,” Teris told. “It is our duty to protect and serve the citizens of the Clover Kingdom.”

“Very well.” Nathyn allowed noting that Yami had shown no interest in what he might have offered. He knew then that he had definately made the right call. Low and poor as the foreigner was, he was clearly too proud and stubborn to be bribed away. “But, I will be speaking to both the King and Wizard King about your fine efforts. And you cannot stop me from doing so.”

“As you say.” Teris replied, inclining her head.

“Then I bid you farewell, my Lady,” Nathyn said. “I hope you will agree to accompany Nozel on his next visit home. It would please Noelle to no end to see you. Poor child. She has had so few joyful events in her short life. Naturally, I and the rest of the household would enjoy having you by as well. Mister Sukehiro. It has been an, enlightening introduction.”

“How so?” Yami asked.

Nathyn’s smile tightened. “Phlex will show you out.”

5.4

It wasn’t till they were half way to town that Yami finally broke the silence. “So that was Nozel’s dad. Can’t say I like him much.”

Teris gave a humorless huffing laugh thinking Lord Silva would say the same of Yami.

“Though I do see the family resemblance.” Yami went on.

“In their appearance, attitude, or mannerisms?” Teris asked.

“Yes.” Yami said, taking a bite of a finger cake pleased that she was speaking again.

“Why did you even take those?”

“Where I was, before Julius found me, you ate when and where you could wasting nothing. Guess being out in the field, on rations for a day brought that old self out in me a bit. Besides,” he shrugged, “they’re good. Want one?” He asked holding out his hand. When she hesitated Yami started to pull his hand back. “That’s fine, more for me.”

“No!” Teris dashed for his hand. Stepping into a divot in the road she lost her balance.

Arms wrapping around her, Yami caught her crushing the cakes a bit in the process.

“Easy there, Princess.” He said looking down at her. “You must really like these things.”

Teris could feel his heartbeat thud strongly against her hand as it rested on his chest. She thought she could even hear it, but it was more likely her own racing heart pounding in her ears.

“Only cakes better are the ones the Kings baker makes.” She said softly noting his body’s warmth where they touched. It was only natural that his body gave off warmth, but given the refreshing sense of shaded coolness she felt when near him it surprised her.

Yami was content to continue holding her like this the rest of the day. In fact, he was about to cast aside the sugary treats in favor of caressing her face and brushing back the lock of hair that had fallen across one of her eyes. But he sensed her rising unease as she came back to herself. Even so, he waited till she made the first move to separate, before easing his hold as she stood on her own.

“Second best cakes in the kingdom you say. Now I regret offering to share. What do you say we have a seat over by that wall and finish these off.” Yami suggested.

“Tobin told us not to dawdle,” Teris said.

“No. He told us not to linger at the Silva’s,” Yami said. “Besides, if we reach town before we’ve finished these off we’ll have to share with him.”

He moved to the side of the road smiling when he heard her follow. They sat against a stone half-wall that buffeted them from worst of the winter wind that was beginning to pick up.

Picking a cake out of Yami’s hand she took a bite savoring the mild sweetness. Yami watched her close her eyes as she chewed. After finishing a couple cakes Teris looked out into the distance at the darkening horizon.

“Storm’s headed this way. We’ll have to get moving soon.”

“Afraid of a little rain?” Yami teased.

“No. But I don’t like the idea of walking in the mud. You just had to break both those brooms over those poachers head.”

“They had it coming,” Yami said.

Teris couldn’t disagree there. She recalled the two men's bloodthirsty cries for her to kill the Saber Cat and the slew of curses and names they had called at her when she hadn’t. Given Tobin’s expression and lack of rebuke for Yami’s actions she wondered if he would have done something similar if Yami hadn’t.

Yami put his hand of cakes between them encouraging her to have another. After she had picked one he asked, even though it was easy enough to suss out. “So who’s Noelle?”

“Nozel’s youngest sister. Lady Silva died bringing her into the world nearly three years ago.”

“Sad.”

“It is.” Teris said, thinking of the equally sad fact that the Silva’s seemed to blamed Noelle for Lady Acier’s death. “Enough of that.” She said giving her head a shake.

“Agreed. Let’s get back to--”

Suddenly there was a group of men standing before them. Teris had a moment to think that they must have used spatial magic from a rather powerful Spatial Mage, before one of the men grabbed her pulling her roughly to her feet.

The other four focused on Yami, tackling him they pulled him away from the wall and into the center of the road where there were less rocks that Yami might grab to use as weapons. As they held him down another appeared and pulled Yami’s sheathed katana free from his belt. He was obviously the Spatial Mage cause as he tossed the blade he opened a portal transporting it few hundred meters away.

Teris managed to slip her hand free and reach behind her to unlatch her grimoires case. The Spatial Mage smiled at her look of confusion when the tome didn’t fly out of its holder at her summon.

“Care to try again?” The Spatial Mage offered.

“I don’t need my grimoire to burn you to a crisp.” She spat squirming against the man that held tight enough to bruise.

“Then go on.” The Spatial Mage taunted. “Annihilate me with your consuming Light.”

Teris tried. Nothing happened. In fact, the man holding her should have been screaming and writhing in agony from sever burns, but he wasn’t. She tired again. Looking down at herself she cloaked herself in mana only there was no mana cloak.

The man holding her grinned at her look of disbelief and, never letting her go, shoved her roughly against the half wall. Teris’ knees buckled.

Seeing this Yami growled, trying once again to cloak himself in mana skin. Weak as it was, at least it had worked this time. He fought to his feet and charged the man holding Teris captive, his mana skin already failing. He only made it three steps before he was taken down again. The four attackers seemingly having no trouble with their own mana cloak.

“Let her go!” Yami seethed, spitting out dirt and grass as he looked up at the Mage.

“Big man.” The Spatial Mage chuckled looking down at him. “Why don’t you come over here and make us?”

Three of the men did their best to hold him while the fourth beat on him. Yami managed to make it half a foot toward Teris and her captor before the blows finally stopped him.

“You’re an impressive specimen, Yami Sukehiro.” The Spatial Mage commented covering his breath of relief with a smug smile. “But rest easy. I won’t hurt your girlfriend. Much.”

Yami yelled as the Spatial Mage turned back to face Teris. “Leave her alone!” When that did work he tried another tactic. “Some man you are, going for the Magic Knight who’s magic you’ve some how negated. Why not set your sights on the one who can still put up a fight. Or are you that afraid?”

Standing before Teris the Spatial Mage looked over his shoulder back at Yami. “I never claimed to be any sort of man. Principled or otherwise. Now if you will wait patiently. I will get to you in a moment.”

Teris kicked, bit, and squirmed against the man holding her. Funny how her mind traveled to the conversation Yami and she had had yesterday about physical strength and prowess.

The Spatial Mage produced six cork stoppered vials. “Unfortunately my dear, some of this will hurt.”

Yami roared. He was as angry with himself, and his weak and faltering magic, just as much as he was at the gang of men. Anytime he managed to get an arm or leg free, he punched and kicked till they got hold of him again. He broke loose again just as the man was uncorking one of the vial. He made it five steps away from the Mage, Teris, and her captor when one of the men trying to manage Yami proved himself a Water Mage.

He created a sphere of water around Yami’s head. Holding his breath Yami fought off the other three. By the time Yami grabbed a hold of the Spatial Mage bubbles released from his mouth. His hand tightened a moment before loosening, and then falling completely from the Spatial Mage.

“Stop!” Teris yelled, struggling all the harder as Yami began to drown. “You’re killing him! Stop!”

The man holding her struck her twice across the face blooding her lip.

“Please!” Teris begged. “We won’t put up a fight. Just. Please! Stop!”

The Spatial Mage gave the Water Mage a nod. But the Water Mage kept the sphere in place as he glared at Yami wiping the blood running from his brow and nose.

One of the other men moved to the Water Mage reminding him in a whisper. “The Master wants them relatively undamaged.”

With a flourish the Water Mage released Yami, who fell to the ground coughing out water and sucking in hungry lungs of air.

As the men dragged Yami further away and held him down, the Spatial Mage informed. “Your lady friend promised that neither of you would continue to put up a fight if I let you live. You can thank her later for your life. For now, I will hold you both to her word. Be warned, if you decide to break it she will be the one to pay the price.” He turned his attention back to Teris. “Now, where were we?”

Teris eyed the glass vials fear showing in her eyes despite her efforts.

“Shall we start with the easy ones?” The Spatial Mage asked.

Teris glared.

Taking out a small set of shears the Mage snipped off a lock of her hair, collecting it in one of the vials. A different vial was held in front of her nose and mouth.

Suspecting what he wanted, Teris held her breath watching him.

“I can wait. You on the other hand, must eventually exhale.”

Unable to hold her breath any longer she did as the man wanted.

The Mage corked the vial and opened a third. “If you do not do as I ask, this one may be a tad unpleasant.” He held the vial beneath her lips. “Spit for me.”

Teris did as he bid all too happy to comply.

The man holding her struck her again, before roughly grabbing her jaw.

Taking out a rag the Spatial Mage wiped his face clean of spittle. Putting the vial to her lips again he said. “I require a clean sample. Please comply.”

Teris spit in his face again. The man holding her backhanded her then forced her mouth open. Teris struggled. Her cheeks and tongue cut by her teeth. The man’s pointer finger presented itself and she bit down on it with all her might. The man cried out. Cursing he struck her three more times.

When she had regained her senses the Water Mage had formed a sphere of water directly above Yami’s head.

“I have been overly patient, my Lady.” The Spatial Mage said staring down at her. “But if you will not stand by your word I will give the order for them to kill him. Now spit.”

She did as she was bid.

“There.” The Spatial Mage smiled. “Was that so hard? Now, I’m afraid, it’s time for the not so pleasant parts.” Taking out a set of pliers he grabbed her hand.

Instinct made her pull away.

The Spatial Mage gave her a stern look. “Hold still or your boyfriend dies. I won’t say it again.”

A tear escaped as she looked at Yami bloodied and barely regaining his senses from the first drowning and subsequent beating. She felt the pliers touch her finger and flinched. Whimpering she forced herself to keep still. A sharp pain erupted in her thumb causing her to grit her teeth against the cry that threatened to escape her throat. Breathing out in short heavy bursts she squeezed her eyes shut against the throbbing pain. Sensing movement her eyes opened, widening when she saw that the Mage had taken her entire finger nail.

Yami began to struggle in full again, railing a stream of curses and threats at their tormentors. He hadn’t seen what had happened, but Teris’ Ki screamed her fear and pain. Even if it hadn’t, her bloodied lip, swelling eye, and cheeks were enough for Yami to kill the six men as soon as a chance presented itself.

“You will not like what comes next.” The Spatial Mage informed them both. “But if either of you struggle the other will be killed instantly. Understood?”

Teris glared back at his questioning gaze, but gave a tight nod of understanding.

The Spatial Mage looked back at Yami. “Once we get what we want we will leave and you can go on your merry way. You have my word.”

“Your word means nothing,” Yami rumbled.

“Well I hope for her sake you change your mind about that; cause if you continue to test me and my men by putting up a fight you have my word that she will be killed.” The Mage turned to face him fully. “Continue struggling, Yami, and you will be the death of her.”

Yami ceased, his muscles trembling with the effort.

“Why not release your mana skin while your at it.” The Water Mage said, glancing accusingly at the one that held Teris. When Yami didn’t comply, he produced a sphere of water over Teris’ head. “It wasn’t a suggestion.”

Yami looked at Teris who gave him a nod.

With a growl Yami did as he was told.

“Should you dislike this next bit overmuch, the sphere will stay above her as a reminder of what will happen should you put up a fight.” The Spatial Mage said. He turned back to Teris and produced a knife. At her widening eyes he quietly calmed. “All I need is some skin and blood and then we’re done. With you that is. Unfortunately,” he said cutting the top tie of her shirt, “the skin and blood must come from near your heart.” He made sure to block Yami’s view with his body certain that he would not like seeing his girlfriends clothes or flesh cut. And for all their blustering, killing them truly wasn’t an option. Which was something they would quickly discover if Yami saw what he was doing and was unable to stop himself from playing hero.

This would have been so much easier if Calen had been able to dampen Yami’s magic completely. Who would have thought that Yami was so powerful already. And the time of Darkness wasn’t even upon them. He wondered if the same would have been true for Teris had Calen not been physically holding her.

Placing the blade at an angle against her skin the Spatial Mage sliced taking about the size of a coin. He then uncorked the last vial and cut her deeply apologizing as he allowed the vial to fill. “Forgive me, but the blood must come from as close to your heart a possible.” Vial filled he corked it and turned to Yami. “Your turn.”

Producing another six vials the Spatial Mage quickly went about collecting the same from Yami. It was right before the final vial could be positioned to collect his blood that Yami’s dark magic had built enough to be released knocking out three of the four holding him. The Spatial Mage having managed to transport himself and one of the others away in time.

Yami rose and charged, but the Spatial Mage transported Teris and Calen a quarter mile down the road. The other man showed himself to be some sort of plant Mage, producing vines that wrapped around Yami’s legs taking him down. The vines proceeded to twine themselves around him. Yami’s mana skin grew in strength letting him brake through many of them, but there were always more. The Spatial Mage moved to make his final collection as the other continued to bind and beat Yami down.

To Teris’ eyes to looked like the beating would never stop. Afraid they were going to kill Yami now that they had what they wanted, Teris struggled all the harder. Screaming for them to stop and calling out Yami’s name. Suddenly, she was at Yami’s side. There was a moment of shocked confusion where she, the Spatial Mage, and other man stared at each other. Someone was wailing in the distance, but she didn’t pay them any mind. She felt her mana skin appear and raised her hands striking out with her light magic. The Spatial Mage transported himself away to where the man that had held her was. The other Mage wasn’t so lucky as he was incinerated on the spot. She barely even registered what she had done as she looked back down the road to where the Spatial Mage and the other man were then around at the other three that Yami had laid out. By the angle of his neck, one of Yami’s tormentors was clearly dead. The Water Mage looked to have suffered a broken arm, and the other might’ve had a broken leg.

Yami got to his feet cursing as the Spatial Mage and the one that had been holding Teris disappeared. By the time he looked down around them the other three bodies were gone too. He turned to Teris, his hands gently taking hold of her face. “You alright?”

She nodded, trembling. “You?”

He looked her face over. His fingers lightly caressing her swollen cheek and brow.

Teris closed her eyes fighting back the tears, reveling in his cool yet warm touch that felt like the lightest of kiss.

His thumb softly wiped the blood from her split lip. His other hand dropping to clasp her right hand, careful not to bump her throbbing thumb. Then his eyes fell to the wounds at her chest. The anger in him burning full again as he reached up and retied the cut laces of her top.

Entranced by his ministrations, it took her a moment to come back to herself.

“And you?” She asked once more, placing her hands gently to either side of the two wounds on his chest.

They hadn’t been as careful when cutting open his top or getting the samples him. His wounds were deeper, bigger, and much more jagged. The white sleeveless shirt had been cut all the way and laid completely open. In the back of her mind she realized that she was touching his bare chest, but was too stressed and concerned about him to care.

Yami placed his hand on her left hand his lips twitching as he tried to a smile. “Take more than that for me to complain.”

Despite the circumstances, or maybe because of the wave of relief that it was over, she gave a small smile in return. Lowering her gaze she saw the missing thumb nail of his right hand as it rested on hers. Turning her hand in his, she lifted his hand almost kissing it before she caught herself.

“What would they want with such things?” She wondered instead.

“I’m more concerned with who they were.” He gritted hating how he hadn’t been able to protect her. Never could he remember being so helpless. Not even during the storm that had brought him to this strange land. Back then he had at least been able to do something even if all it had been was to hold on for dear life. “If only my dark magic wasn’t so slow.”

“That’s what your katana’s for,” she said.

“Lot of good it did.” He said, glowering over at the blade. That’s enough, he scolded himself. It’s done. Over. Stop complaining and feeling sorry for yourself over things you would or could have done. Move on. Take the lesson. Get better. Get stronger. Don’t like how slow your magic is? Surpass your limits and get faster. Thinking never got anyone anywhere. Doing. Action. That’s what makes things happen.

“At least you were able to use magic and mana skin,” she said.

“Did one of them have some sort of negation magic?”

“Maybe.” She said, feeling weak and guilty that she had been unable to do more. Yami being able to still use his mana skin and build up his dark magic for an attack proved, in her mind, just how much she was lacking.

Sensing her guilt and shame Yami said. “But you managed to use your magic to travel over to me. That was pretty amazing. I didn’t know you could do that.”

“Neither did I.” She said, recalling the mans screams and him yelling that he couldn’t see. “But I didn’t do anything. All I remember was thinking that they were going to kill you--” She look up at him unable to go on and burrowed into the right side of his chest.

From what Julius had told him, it sounded as if she might have learned a new spell. He would have told her to check her grimoire if he hadn’t been so selfish in wanting her to say right how she was. The thought that she had gained a new spell because she had felt such a need to get to him when she had thought he would die...

Yami had only just wrapped his arms around her when she tensed seeing something in the distance. He turned looking down road tensing for a moment himself before squinting. “Is that--”

She nodded. “Lord Nathyn.”

“What’s he doing here?”

Flying on an eagle of ice, Nathyn Silva set down before them. “One of the farming men saw you being attacked. I came as soon as I heard. But I see, I needn’t have worried. Are you injured?” He questioned Teris.

“Only slightly.” Teris answered feeling small under the Silva’s stern gaze.

It took her a moment to realize the reason he was staring so wasn’t out of concern that she might be belittling her injuries but that she was still being held and holding onto Yami. Cursing her slow, muddled mind she swallowed nervously.

Yami felt her begin to pull away and tightened his hold. There was something about the mans Ki. A sense of guilt, relief, and anger that didn’t seem to fit together. If he had told anyone they would have found a way to easily explain such emotions. But his gut told him that something more was at play.

A gateway opened, Jax, Bronn, and three other Black Bulls stepping through. They took in the scene of Yami and Teris. Jax clearing his throat before scanning the surrounding area having noted Yami’s missing katana.

“Bronn. Yami’s sword.” The Black Bulls Captain said pointing at the item.

Giving Yami a steely look Bronn produced a small portal collecting the weapon.

Venice grabbed a hold of Teris’ elbow and tugged, pulling her away from Yami. Looking her friend over she fussed. “What did they do to you? Who were they? With your combined magic how did they ever manage--”

“All questions we will have answered back a base.” Jax silenced, glancing at Lord Silva taking in the royals stiff stature and cold eyes that watched Yami.

Feeling as if this was all his fault, Tobin opened his mouth to apologize, but Lord Silva spoke first.

“Silva Manor is at your disposal Captain Jax,” Nathyn said.

“I thank you for having your men inform us of the incident, but we will trouble you no longer,” Jax said.

“I insist.” Nathyn said, his expression and tone leaving no room for argument. “The Wizard King has already been informed. Your Commander Greywright is likely already waiting at my home.”

“You have the Black Bulls thanks.” Jax said stiffly seeing no way of denying and cursing the royal for it. Turning he ordered. “Venice. Tobin. Olsen. Stop fussing over those two and give them some space to breath. Bronn. If you will.”

“Home or to the Silva’s,” Bronn asked.

Jax struggled to give the royal a polite smile. “Given how Lord Silva has been so generous in his offer, we cannot refuse.”

“Alright,” Bronn sighed. “But if you want to go home. I can be quick about it.” He whispered for Jax’s ears alone.

The Black Bull Captains silence told Bronn all he needed. Bloody royalty dictating everything, the Vice Capatain thought opening a gate to the front door of the Silva’s country estate.

5.4.2

The great double height, double width front doors opened. As they entered, Greywright took in the state of Yami and Teris.

“Whoever set upon them were long gone when we arrived.” Jax informed, sharing a communicative look with the Magic Knights Commander.

“Same for me and my men, unfortunately,” Nathyn told.

Greywright turned to the Master of the House. “Your Highness. You have the Wizard Kings and Magic Knights thanks for reporting the attack so quickly and for going out with your own men to aid our Knights. Not to mention allowing us access and use of your home.”

Nathyn waved him off. “The late Lady Silva and I were Magic Knights once. My son and heir is a Silver Eagle, and his siblings will follow suit. We respect the Order and know all too well the dangers Magic Knights face to keep the Clover Kingdom and its citizens safe.”

“Still, Your Highness. You have our gratitude.” Greywright said. “Now. As much as I hate to impose upon you further--”

“You have need of rooms. Of course. Igna, come with us.” Nathyn called as he personally showed them to one of the guest quarters.

Tobin and Venice marveled at the grandness of the house as they followed. Upon entering the guest chambers Tobin questioned in a loud whisper. “All this for one person?”

“For two children to be precise,” Nathyn told. He gave Teris and Yami a cold look saying. “I didn’t think it proper for the two of you to convalesce in the same bed.”

Teris did her best to ignore his censuring gaze. Sitting on the edge of one of the beds she said. “Such care truly is not necessary, my Lord. The wounds are small and will not require much to recover from.”

“I will be the judge of that, my Lady.” Igna said, grabbing a hold of Teris’ ankles and lifting them till she had no choice but to lay back.

Teris had never had cause to need the Silva’s family healer and was greatly surprised by the woman's forwardness.

Yami stood at her bedside looking down at her, his eyes dancing in amusement.

Teris’ eyes narrowed at him causing her to flinch at the pain the movement caused. Holding the side of her swollen face she said. “She’s gonna do you too so you may as well lay down in the other one.”

Yami turned and got into the other bed sighing as he relaxed his head on the too soft pillow.

Igna began with the wounds on her chest then moved on to her face. Teris blinked making various expressions as she felt the swelling in her face go down then disappear all together.

“That’s better.” Nozel said, from the bedrooms doorway seeing Teris’ face return to normal. “You look like you again. Any idea who they were? It’d make finding them that much easier.”

“I already called the right to kill them.” Yami said, staring at the ceiling.

“You had your chance and failed.” Nozel said coolly.

“The task of finding and bringing these people in to face justice will be assigned by Sir Jorah.” Greywright said, looking from Nozel to Yami. “Magic Knights do not call the right to kill, no matter how terrible the crime.”

“Why don’t you find Lady Teris some clean clothes and a fresh shirt for Mister Sukehiro.” Nathyn told his son watching as Igna set about healing Yami’s wounds.

Knowing Nebra’s clothes would be too small Nozel said. “Some of mother’s--” He paused, taking a moment to control his emotions. “--may fit.”

“Have one of the maids go through the trunks.” Nathyn instructed.

“As for him.” Nozel threw a glance at Yami. “Nothing we have in house, for us or any of the staff, would fit.”

“Send one of the footmen down to the stables. Have them take the shirt off one the outdoor workers backs if they have to.” Nathyn looked back at Yami laying there without a care that his chest was exposed. “Anything would be better than this.”

Nozel nodded once and left.

“Forgive my sons presumptive words, Commander. Nozel and Teris’ close ties and care for each other may have gotten the best of his emotions.” Nathyn glanced at Yami wondering if the foreigner picked up on his words or was too dense. “I assure you, he never would have acted without approval from his Captain or Sir Jorah himself.”

“Teris is a Magic Knight,” Bronn said. “The lass can take care of herself. In fact, when combined with that ones,” he indicated Yami, “magic they could very well en--”

“Vice Captain.” Greywright called loudly silencing him.

“All fixed up.” Igna said, smiling at Yami. The old woman hadn’t wanted to like the young man. Especially when it was obvious Lord Silva and his heir did care for him. But, there was something charismatic about him. And those muscles. In her youth, Igna had always fancied men who looked like they could handle a good days hard work and get up the next morning for more.

“Thank you.” Yami said winking.

“Oh stop.” Igna laughed slapping at him playfully. Her hand rested on his bicep. “Oh!” She breathed squeezing.

Smirking in amusement, Yami flexed the muscle giving the old woman a thrill. He thought is was the least he could do after she had fixed up Teris and himself.

“Oh my!” The Healer breathed again placing her other hand to her heart.

“Flirt.” Bronn muttered shaking his head.

Teris stared at Yami brows raised, but was unable to keep the stern, scolding expression she was trying for as her lips twitched into a humored grin.

“You may go, Igna,” Nathyn said.

“Actually.” Greywright said, turning to Lord Silva. “If you both wouldn’t mind leaving. I would like to receive Yami and Teris’ reports.”

Nathyn blinked in shock.

“I am aware that this is your house, Your Highness. And you have my greatest apologies. But this is Magic Knights business.”

Nathyn stared at the Magic Knights Commander a moment before saying. “Of course. In this instance, I am am at your service.” He held a directing hand out for Igna and followed.

“I thought we’d never be free of him.” Bronn said as soon as the doors were closed.

“Not so loud,” Jax warned.

“Let’s have it you two.” Greywright commanded. “What happened?”

Silence followed for a sizable moment after Yami and Teris had finished.

Bronn cursed as he ran a hand through his hair rubbing his head. Looking over and pointing at the Knights Commander he said. “I blame you and your Wizard King.”

“Our Wizard King.” Greywright corrected dangerously.

“No,” Bronn said. “I obeyed Jax who was your good little Magic Knights Captain following and ordering me according to your Wizard Kings wishes. Which, as I said from the first was a stupid and ugly business.”

“Captain Jax, you and your squad have been through an ordeal. I understand that. But I can only forgive so much and your Vice Captain is nearing my limit.” Greywright told struggled to keep his temper. It didn’t help that he had wondered at Sir Jorah’s orders and questioned the Wizard Kings reasoning only to be told to obey.

“Bronn,” Jax tried.

“No! These two kids where set upon because--”

“Bronn!” Jax snapped his mana flaring. The stone walls and floor in the room trembled a moment before Jax regained control.

“But it’s our fault Captain.” Bronn uttered softly.

“I know.” He whispered placing a hand on his Vice Captains shoulder. “But we have our orders. It won’t do anyone any good to have you dishonorably dismissed.”

“If it meant something like this wouldn’t happen again to those brats, I’d gladly loose my commission.”

“I know.” Jax breathed dropping his hand. “But I won’t allow that. I won’t loose you my friend.” He stepped back and ordered. “Wait outside, Bronn.”

The other Black Bulls watched expecting another outburst from their Vice Captain.

Instead, Bronn simply nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Jax watched him go. When the door closed he turned to the Magic Knights Commander. “Is there anything else you need, sir. I’d like to take my squad home.”

“I’m afraid it will be a while yet,” Greywright said. He looked at Yami and Teris then back at Jax. “I am going to have to call for Ellara to come here.”

Olsen’s head jerked up. “Ellara.” He repeated.

Mind on other things, Venice didn’t notice Olsen’s reaction at the mention of the Wizard Kings Advisor. The Black Bulls Captain and Knights Commander whispered among themselves for a while. Yami watched the men intently. Finally Greywright left the room.

“What sort of mess are we in Captain?” Teris asked.

“You’re not in a mess.” Jax sighed rubbing his forehead. Looking up at the royal girl he told her part of the truth. “But we’re taking what happened very seriously. An attack on any Magic Knight, especially when not actively doing their duty is a serious crime.”

“Especially when that attack was planned, I’d imagine.” Yami said eyeing the Captain.

“I won’t comment or speculate without knowing more,” Jax said. “And I suggest all of you don’t either.”

“But you heard their report, Captain,” Olsen said. “The attack was obviously planned.”

“What would they want with their hair, skin, spit, breath, nails, and blood?” Venice asked.

“Sounds like some Iban type magic to me,” Tobin said.

“Iban didn’t do this,” Venice said.

“No,” Tobin agreed. “But he might be able to give us an idea what they’d such things for.”

“Tobin’s right,” Olsen said. As the Blood Mages closest, actually only, friend within the Black Bulls, Olsen knew better than most what Iban got up to in his lab. If anyone could tell them what such things would be wanted for it would be Iban.

“See,” Tobin said. “Even Olsen agrees.”

“Enough.” Jax ordered. “All of you. I want you to stay here. While I’m gone, don’t speculate. Don’t even talk about the incident. Understood.”

5.5

Nozel stood looking out over the barren frost covered garden from the second floor observation room. His mother had loved her gardens. Often she had sought refuge in them when his father was expecting too much of her or she missed her time as a Magic Knight, both of which had been regular occurrences. Sighing he turned away from the cold, sad view. He would not be that kind of husband to Teris. He would treat her better than his father had his mother. He would be kind and patient. He’d allow her to be who she was and do as she pleased, within reason. No doubt it would take some time for her to adjust once she became Lady Silva, but he was certain he could make her happy. Win her returned love and affection.

He recalled the sight of her. Swollen. Bruised. Bloody. His fists clenching. If only he had been there with her. If only that foreigner had fought harder. If only she hadn’t made that senseless decision to join the Black Bulls. She had done so to spite him. He was sure of it.

He exhaled feeling defeated. If only she wouldn’t continually think of and treat him so poorly. If only he had the courage to tell her how he truly felt. He knew she was bitter and angry having someone decide who she would wed, despite that being the norm for all royals. Most of the time the two of them were fine, and got along well as friends. It was when she was reminded of the fact that she was his Intended that things turned sour. She had said that she refused wed someone that didn’t love her and who she didn’t love in return. She had grown up seeing the love her parents had for each other and wanted that for herself. She didn’t seem to understand Lord and Lady Nova had had an arranged marriage only falling in love after they were wed.

At least his father had sent a message informing him of the attack. Images of men touching her, holding her down, and striking her flooded his mind. His mana flared. Mercury formed around him lashing out at any and everything in the room.
Spent, Nozel took a couple of unsteady steps to what remained of a settee, resting his hands on it. It was then that he saw two maids standing in the entryway. Frightened, one turned to go but he stopped her with a word.

“Wait.”

The other, more senior maid, ignored the surrounding destruction and stepped into the room as if there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Recovering his naturally cool demeanor Nozel questioned. “Have you found suitable attire for Lady Teris?”

“We have, Your Highness.” The maid said waving the fearful younger maid over. “In fact we have three options.” She gestured to the other maid who offered a semi-formal gown.

“No.” Nozel dismissed.

A day dress was presented.

“Nice,” Nozel admitted. “But, Teris would not appreciate it. Next.”

The Senior Maid nodded and produced the simplest blouse she had found within the chest of clothes that had belonged to the late Lady Acier Silva.

Nozel nodded.

“The day dress.” Lord Silva said entering. He ignored the state of the room as he made his way to his son. “If she is to be the future Lady Silva, she must look the part. May as well start now.” He waved the maids off. “You must learn to control yourself, Nozel,” Nathyn told.

“I’m sorry about the room. I will reimburse whatever it costs for it to be set to rights out of my pay as a Magic Knight.”

“This isn’t about the cost.” Nathyn said almost offended. “Nor is it about the mess.” He gestured. “It is easily hidden. And though the servants may whisper among themselves down below, they wouldn’t dare breath a word about it off of these grounds. Your behavior in the guest quarters, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. I was forced to apologized on your behalf to your Commander Greywright. The man is barely a noble.”

“Your Highness.” A footman bowed from the entry.

“What is it?” Nathyn asked his tone short but controlled.

“The Magic Knights Commander is requesting a moment of Your Highness’ time.”

“Now he wants my presence.” Nathyn muttered crossly. Looking at his son he commanded. “Go. See to your Intended. Remember what I told you.”

“Yes, sir,” Nozel said.

 

5.6

Teris sat quietly on the sofa wrapped up in her own thoughts while Tobin, Olsen, and Venice talked among themselves on the other side of the room. Venice was bouncing on one of the beds while Tobin bounced on the other, Olsen swaying from his seat on the edge of the bed Tobin was abusing. The three had thankfully realized that both Yami and Teris could use some space and gave it to them. Which, in a room this size, was easy.

Sitting on the opposite end of the sofa from her, Yami slid closer. “You’re quiet,” he said. “Not being stupid and replaying the events wondering what you could’ve done differently. Are you?”

“No,” she said. Looking over at him, her eyes clearing from wherever her mind had been she asked. “Are you?”

Though he hadn’t been, his jaw tensed the urge to do so presenting itself once again.

“Go easy on yourself, Yami.”

“How can I? I’m suppose to protect you. You’re my Princess.” He had regretted his words as soon as he had spoken them and tensed waiting for her outburst.

Instead, Teris gave a thin almost sad smile. “I’m no ones Princess.”

Her mournful expression confused him.

Before he could inquire about it she said. “We’re alive. Isn’t that enough?”

He wanted to tell her no. That he needed to find these men and kill them or at least beat them bloody before bringing them in. That he needed to surpass his limits that had been made painfully obvious during the attack and get better. Stronger. But he didn’t say any of those things, instead he asked her. “Is it for you?”

“No.” She scowled. She turned in her seat to face him going on in a hushed tone. “They knew who we were. They wanted specific things from us. It was all planned and thought out. They even knew to keep us separate.”

Yami looked down at her right hand. Igna had regrown both their thumb nails but his mind could picture it still missing with ease. While he wanted to act, she wanted to understand. He smirked thinking them the perfect team. Reaching out he grasped her right thumb between two fingers rubbing the newly grown nail. Though he wondered at what they weren’t telling Yami trusted them enough to say. “Greywright and the Captain will sort it out.”

“What if they already have?” Teris questioned. “What if they knew there was some sort of danger before this mess and didn’t tell us?”

“Bronn was about to tell us.” He said, his fingers slowly traveling over more of her hand without thinking.

“Do you think he still might? If we waited and went to him later?”

Yami shook his head. “He’s too loyal to Jax. And you heard what Jax told him.” He looked back at the doors. “No doubt he’s already pulled Bronn aside and had a nice long private talk reiterating what he told to him in here.”

Teris sighed, eyes lowered. She watched as Yami’s fingers danced slowly over the back of her hand. Tempted as she was to let him continue it was wrong. Much as she wanted to, she couldn’t give into her feelings. Leading Yami on would only see them both hurt. There could never be any relationship with him passed that of mere friendship. Not because she was Nozel’s Intended. There was no possible future where she would submit to being Lady Silva. But Yami had already lost a home and been through so much. There was no way she was bringing him into her mess.

Yami could barely keep track of her turbulent emotions. Most of them were too complex for him to sense what they were anyway. He watched her as she watched their hands wishing she would make her mind stop and just be. Feeling her begin to pull away, he grasped her hand.

“Yami--”

“We might be on our own in figuring this out.” He said over the start of what was likely a complaint or censure. “But together, we will figure it out.”

She stared at him, her eyes hopeful. “Do you mean that?”

“Wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t”

Her head lowered as she exhaled relaxing slightly, relieved that she wouldn’t be going through this alone. She didn’t know what worried her more. That Julius had known about whatever this was and hadn’t told her. Or that the top Magic Knights Captain and likely next Wizard King hadn’t been informed of whatever was going on.

Yami sensed her Ki begin to spin again. “Hey.” He said reaching out with his free hand to gently lift her chin till she faced him once again. “There’s no need to worry. When I decide to do something, it gets done. It may take time, but eventually I’ll see it to fruition.”

“I have no doubt,” she smirked.

“Are you teasing me?” He asked leaning closed as he hung his arm over the back of the sofa.

“Are you kidding? I have absolutely no doubt that you’re capable of doing whatever you set that stubborn head of yours to.”

“There was a complement in there somewhere. I’m going to focus on that.”

She shook her head smiling. “That is so like you.”

The hand that was holding hers tightened while the other fell off the back of the seat onto her shoulder. Though he had understood her perfectly he asked. “What was that? You like me?”

Brought up short, Teris blinked. “I--”

“Lady Teris, I am terribly sorry to interrupt.” A maid said from just inside the doorway glancing nervously behind her. “But I have your and Mister Sukehiro’s change of attire.”

Teris’ eyes traveled passed the maid stopping on the figure of Nozel who stood just outside the door. They stared at each other a moment before Teris slowly pulled her hand out from under Yami’s as if hoping that the unhurried movement would keep Nozel from noticing what he had so obviously already seen.

“Thank mana.” Venice said jumping off the bed and making for the maid. “Not that he isn’t fine to look at but Yami’s practically naked.”

Teris sprung from her seat coloring from neck to crown. “No he isn’t.” She got to the maid before Venice did and grabbed the shirt tossing it at Yami. “Put that on.”

Yami took off what was left of his top and did as he was told complaining. “It stinks.”

“I apologize for that, Sir.” The maid said. “It belongs to one the Beast Masters boys who also of a larger—stature. So it might not be the cleanest garment. But at least it is whole.”

“So there’s a boy running around outside without his shirt?” Yami asked.

“Actually, he was sent home for the day.” The maid informed.

“Even outdoor staff must be properly attired.” Nozel said stepping into the room at last.

Yami stared at Nozel wondering if the Silva's were too uncaring to pay the lad they sent home a full days wage.

Thinking the same thing Teris looked at the maid and said. “See I get the mans name before leaving so we can personally send our thanks.”

As the maid began to curtsey Nozel told the servant. “That won’t be necessary. Return to your duties.”

The maid looked down at the day dress she held then at Teris before returning her gaze to her Master knowing that Teris would need assistance getting into it.

“She won’t wear that.” Nozel said eyes looking down at his mother’s gown softening.

“But, His Highness--”

“Dismissed.” Nozel clipped lashed fluttering in annoyance.

“Yes, Your Highness.” The maid said giving him a curtsey and departing.

A somewhat awkward silence followed which Olsen broke by teasing Yami. “To think there’s someone out there larger than you.”

Looking mildly offended Tobin said. “I’m larger than him.”

“But for how long?” Venice asked eyeing Tobin with a toying smile.

“Perhaps you should meet with the man so you can learn his routine and catch up.” Teris played smirking at Yami.

Yami made a deal of sniffing the overly large shirt. “From the smell of sweat and beast I can surmise why he’s the size he is. Don’t worry. I’ll be doing the some sort of work once I catch our bases beastly menace.”

Teris shook her head still unable to comprehend how Yami planned on catching and training the creature.

“You should change.” Nozel said stepping toward Teris holding a blouse out to her almost reverently.

It was one of the fanciest shirts Yami had ever seen. Eyes moving from the garment to Nozel and back he wondered if it belonged to the Silver Eagle.

“It was one of mother’s favorites.” Nozel told Teris looking down at the white and silver threaded garment. “Due to it’s plainness she never get to wear if much.”

“Nozel.” Teris breathed, hand hovering over the top. “I—I can’t—I couldn’t—“

“It would have pleased her to see you wear it.” Nozel said giving a small mournful smile. “She often told me she hoped I wouldn’t try to change you over much when—” He stopped and looked away fighting a surge of emotions. “Please.” He said still unable to look at her.

“Thank you.” Teris said softly, not just for the loan of the garment but for him trusting her enough to let her use it. She knew what Nozel’s mother had meant to him. If anything, Lady Acier had become even more beloved by her eldest son after her death. She gently took the blouse from and disappeared into the dressing room.

Tobin hopped off the bed and strolled halfway to the sofa Yami was sitting in. He didn’t understand how Yami could relax so in his seat with the royal prince staring daggers at him.

As Nozel stepped over to the sitting area Tobin, Venice, and Olsen joined them. Venice and Olsen sat to either side of Yami while Tobin chose to remain standing just in case.

Seeing the wary way the other Black Bulls were watching him, Nozel wondered just how rough a squad Teris had joined. Did those three truly think he would attack Yami with Teris in the next room? Granted he had lost control earlier and destroyed the upstairs garden viewing room but that hardly meant that he would start a fight in his own home.

Sinking into a chair Nozel asked Yami. “What can you tell me of the attackers?”

“Nothing,” Yami said. “My Captain ordered us not to speak about it.”

Surprisingly abnormal as that was Nozel saw the other Black Bulls nod and believed him. Curious he inquired. “Ordered you to not speak about it anyone else or at all?”

“At all.” Yami answered.

“Looks like you find that as upsetting as as I do,” Nozel said.

“No. I find it far more so.” Yami said.

Given that Teris was his Intended, Nozel found that doubtful. He wondered if any of this was related to the sudden change in clearance of the records he and Fuegoleon had requested to see at Magic Investigations a few months ago. An idea struck him. Eyeing Yami he asked. “Did your Captain also order you not to write about it?”

Yami smiled crookedly staring back into Nozel’s cunning eyes. Not that it was an easy thing to do what with the Silver Eagles bangs hanging down the center of his face in a braid, Yami thought. He pretended to try and remember then shook his head. “Don’t recall Jax mentioning anything about that.”

“So you could write it all down and send it to me,” Nozel said. “You can write. Can’t you?”

“Well aren’t you the sly one.” Yami said ignoring the royals slight. “I suppose there’d eventually had be one small thing I liked about you.”

“So you will do it?” Nozel prompted. “Send me a written account of the details, and description of the attackers.”

“Why would I do that?” Yami asked.

“So I can find and deal with them.” Nozel said, his barely controlled temper beginning to slip.

“I told you I was going to do that,” Yami said.

“And I told you, you had your chance and blew it,” Nozel said

“Do you think that if you manage this you’ll win Teris’ affection?”

Nozel took a moment to calm the wave of outrage at Yami’s words. Glaring, he clipped. “I would never presume upon a ladies affections. But since you apparently do, is that why you refuse to send me the information? Because you are afraid that is what will happen?”

Yami huffed, smirking. Sitting forward he said. “I would ask that you find out why they took what they did before you end them, but since you’re going to fail it hardly matters.”

Nozel straightened in his seat. “Why? What did they take?”

Yami opened his mouth to respond, then closed it as the dressing room door opened. Teris exited changing chamber running a hand through her damp hair. She hadn’t realized just how much dirt and blood she and her top had been covered in till faced with a mirror. It was then that Commander Greywright, Advisor Ellara, and Captain Jax entered.

Olsen stood at the sight of the Wizard Kings Advisor but the action wasn’t noticed cause Venice and Nozel had stood as well.

“Good.” Jax said taking in the fully clothed Yami and cleaned up Teris.

“Everyone but Yami and Teris out,” Ellara ordered.

“Expect it tomorrow.” Yami said quietly before Nozel moved to obey.

Yami enjoyed the slight widening of Nozel’s eyes as the royal looked at him in surprise; it only lasted a moment before the Silver Eagles normally cool and distant expression returned. He gave Yami a single nod before exiting the room with Venice and Tobin.

Pausing at the door, Olsen asked his Captain and the Magic Knights Commander. “Aren’t you two leaving as well?”

“Don’t be daft.” Jax snapped pushing Olsen the last couple feet out of the room and closing the door smartly behind him.

Yami and Teris slowly migrated to stand together in front of the three, Teris’ eyes on Ellara.

“Don’t know what more we can tell you that we haven’t already told Greywright and Jax,” Yami said.

“Plenty.” Ellara said looking Yami over.

“Only we won’t be using our words. Will we.” Teris said staring at the Wizard Kings Advisor with scornful fear.

Ellara gave Teris a small sympathetic smile. “Given what happened to Lord Nova upon Lady Nova’s passing, I understand your apprehension.” She said as delicately as she could.

“You understand nothing.” Teris said scowling.

“It must be done.” Greywright told her.

“Good luck doing it,” Teris huffed. “I’m the daughter of a Memory Mage. You think my Lord Father wouldn’t put a block in place to bar other such mages from forcibly--”

“No one’s forcing anything,” Jax interrupted.

“No.” Greywright agreed glancing at the Black Bulls Captain. “No one’s forcing anything. But, it must be done.”

Seeing the way the Knight’s Commander had looked at him, Jax’s jaw clenched. “I will not order one of my Knights to submit to such a thing.” Jax said having reached his limit of disagreeable compliance. His friendship with Julius might have meant he knew more details of the tragedy then most but both the Magic Knights Commander and Advisor were aware of what had happened.

Teris eyed the Commander and Advisor seeing their determination. Even if her Captain refused to order her, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be ordered by either of them. Distasteful as it was, if she wanted to continue on as a Magic Knight she would have to submit. But she wasn’t giving in that easily, not without trying to get something out of it first.

Eyes on Ellara, Teris said. “I am aware of my duty as a Magic Knight and will comply. That said. May I request something in return?”

“You will make demands before you submit?”

Settle down Ellara, Greywright quelled. “The girl said request.”

The Wizard Kings Advisor turned to the Knights Commander. “Is this how you manage your Magic Knights? Bargain with them instead of issuing orders and expecting them to obey?”

“When the order is as distasteful and, dare I say, intimate as this; yes, I allow my Knights a bit of leeway.”

Ellara opened her mouth but Greywright continued on silencing whatever she was going to say.

“I’d be careful, Advisor. You wouldn’t want me showing up at Magic Investigations questioning how you do things. Would you?”

Ellara’s eyes narrowed.

A corner of the Commanders lip twitched ever so slightly upward. “Didn’t think so.” Turning back to Teris he said. “I make no promises, but if it is in my power and doesn’t go against any standing orders I will endeavor to see your request fulfilled. So let’s have it young one. What do you want?”

Teris glanced at Yami before turning back to the Knights Commander and saying. “For whatever reason, you are keeping things that concern us from us. And though neither Yami or I care much for it, we do understand it.”

“We do?” Yami asked looking at Teris. At her quick pleading glance he turned back to their superiors and nodded. “We do.”

“As first year, Fifth Class Junior Magic Knights there are a great many things that we will not be privy to; even things that may directly involve us.” Teris finished saying.

“But?” Greywright prodded already knowing what she would ask. He wondered what she thought. That they hadn’t informed their best Captain of this threat to two Magic Knights because they didn’t care. That they had forgotten the she was Julius’ sister. Did she not know of the troubled emotions he had battled these past few months? The constant questions for explanation that he had pleaded Sir Jorah for. Of course she didn’t. Nor should she.

“But,” she went on, “Julius is a Captain. He’s the Captain of the highest ranking squad of Magic Knights. He’s the most powerful and achieved Magic Knights Captain in decades.”

“Thanks.” Jax grumbled.

“You can stop selling us on your brothers accomplishments. What is it you want?” Ellara questioned.

Teris turned to her. “I thought that would be obvious by now. It’s clearly obvious to Commander Greywright and Captain Jax.” She tilted her head blinking at the Wizard Kings Advisor. “I suppose, since you can enter peoples minds and take whatever information you want you haven’t bothered to hone the skill of deduction.”

“Careful, Princess.” Jax warned finding Yami’s nickname for her apt in that moment. Just because Teris wasn’t the typical mean spirited, arrogant royal didn’t mean she couldn’t be if and when she wanted to.

Yami felt a surge of possessiveness despite himself and shook it off. Just because he was going to marry her one day didn’t mean she belonged to him yet.

“I will speak to the Wizard King and suggest that, given what has occurred, we inform Captain Julius.” Greywright said wondering if Sir Jorah would relent this time.

“And tell him of any prior or future information concerning or related in any way to this incident,” Teris added.

Greywright smirked at the girls thoroughness and nodded.

5.7

Enjoying the calm and quiet after a turbulent day, Lord Nathyn Silva sat behind his desk looking out over the moonlit lawn breathing a sigh of relief. He had feared the men had hired had struck too soon in their eagerness for the second half of their pay when an out of breath farmer began pounding on the manor doors going on about having seen two Magic Knights being set upon the road to town. His concern for his sons Intended had been true enough. But that hadn’t been the reason why he had opened his country home insisting that the Magic Knights Commander use it as he would. He needn’t have been concerned though. For as the reports from his guards careful monitoring came in Nathyn discovered that some other group had gotten to the foreign boy first.

“Your Highness.” Came the voice of Nathyn’s valet.

“Send him in.” Nathyn said rising from his set and coming around his desk to stand in front of it

The valet bowed allowing the man entry and then closed the door behind him leaving the two men alone.

“You failed,” Nathyn accused.

“It’s not my men's fault those two have a line of people wanting at ‘em.” The man said.

“Who were they?” Nathyn questioned.

“Never seen the likes of them in these parts before.”

“So not of the Clover Kingdom?”

“I hardly know every member of every gang in the kingdom. But they not from around here. Possibly someone looking to expand their territory and thought taking it to a couple Magic Knights would make a splash.” He shrugged. “As Magic Knights those two have likely thwarted a lot of plans making lost of enemies. Maybe someone was looking for revenge.”

“Simply put, you don’t know,” Nathyn said.

“Right.” The man nodded. He put his hands on his hips and looked about the room sniffing. “Look. The way I see it. We were paid to take out that foreign Magic Knight and he got it handed to him. It’s not our fault someone else did the doing.”

“So you’re saying you want the other half of the payment,” Nathyn said.

The mans shoulders moved along with his nodding head. “Yeah. Job was done. Wasn’t it.”

“Other then the fact that the brief was to take the foreign boy out and he wasn’t; and leave the girl unharmed, and harmed she was.”

“No doubt a healing mage was able to fix the little royal right up.”

“As well as the boy.” Nathyn said dryly. “Both are good as new.”

The man pulled a frown and shrugged.

Nathyn produced a pouch full of yules that had been concealed within his cloak and tossed it to the man. “I don’t tolerant failure. Don’t count on being in my employ again.”

“Going to start doing your own dirty work, Your Highness.” The man asked drawing out the title.

“Forget me and the way to my residence,” Nathyn commanded.

The man gave an overly expressed bow. “You will be easy for me to forget. But I fear that once you experience the way other gangs operate I won’t be so easily forgotten by you.”

Chapter Text

6.1

Though it was hardly the first time Greywright had broached the subject with the Wizard King, the Magic Knights Commander kept his word to Teris and suggested that Captain Julius be brought in and informed of the situation. Apparently, yesterday’s attack on Yami and Teris proved the tipping point; cause Sir Jorah agreed.

Impressively, after an initial expression of concern and consternation, Julius had shown no grievance at being kept in the dark. More impressive yet was that the Azure Deers Captain had kept his queries professional, steering clear of any relational questions that would have shown more than a common care for Yami and Teris. This undoubtedly, Julius’ reaction added to the ever growing list Sir Jorah had on why the Captain would make an excellent candidate to become the next Wizard King.

While lineage and merit were the main focus of who got the position, close ties to ones family that couldn’t be put aside was a hindrance. The Wizard King belonged to the kingdom and its people, and as such gave up their family name, ties, and title. Teris might be Julius’ little sister now, but if Julius became Wizard King she would be just another Magic Knight. Seeing the Captain able to put aside his brotherly concern and focus instead on the issue, not the person, likely went a long way in showing Sir Jorah that he was serious in his desire to become Wizard King; and capable of holding the position if and when the time came.

Having been dismissed from Sir Jorah’s office along with Julius, Greywright walked down the hall with the Captain.

“You took all that rather well,” Greywright commented.

His emotions still a jumbled mix, Julius paused and looked at the Magic Knights Commander. “You think so?”

“Other than a fleeting first expression, you were a calm and collected Magic Knights Captain asking pertinent questions. You should be proud. I’m sure Sir Jorah is.”

Despite what he had just learned, Julius couldn’t help but grin at that. It was nice to know his continued efforts had begun to pay off. That Sir Jorah had seen that he could separate his familial concern and behave as he would if this were about any other Magic Knight and not his sister.

“Your look of gladdened relief tells me you felt the opposite and thought it showed.”

“I felt a great many things,” Julius admitted.

“One of them being anger that your sister and Yami have been under threat watch since early September and you are only now just learning about it?”

Julius took a moment to tamp down his emotions. It wasn’t anger he felt per say. He had had his suspicions for nearly as long. He knew Greywright well enough to know when something was troubling the man. And then there were the orders for extra Sentry patrols in and around the Black Bulls radius. Not to mention Jax being tight lipped and more ill tempered than usual. Today had only verified that some kind of threat did indeed exist. No. Anger wasn’t the right word for what he felt.

Looking at the Magic Knights Commander, Julius said. “No doubt the Wizard King, Advisor Ellara, and yourself are constantly working on things that we Captains know nothing about or ever will.”

Greywright watched the Captain knowingly and questioned. “Where are you going?”

Julius paused before answering. It wasn’t as if he would be telling the Commander something he didn’t already know. “To the Black Bulls base to see Captain Jax.”

“And your sister and protege,” Greywright added.

“If they happen to be in house. It would be rude not to.”

“I don’t need to remind you that sharing what you have just learned with Yami and Teris is forbidden.”

“No. You do not.” Julius said, his tone tightening for the first time as his control began to slip.

“And you’re okay with that?” Greywright asked, knowing he wasn’t. How could he be? Even Bronn wasn’t alright with keeping this from them and Bronn had beaten Yami so badly his second night that the boys ribs had been cracked.

“They’re first year Junior Magic Knights.” Julius said, with studied restraint. “Why would I, or anyone else, expect them to be given any information? During my first year I was barely told anything that didn’t directly effect a mission I was on. I’m sure the same went for you.”

6.2

It was afternoon the day following the attack before Yami woke up. He was surprised Bronn hadn’t burst in yelling at him to get up and be useful while grabbing him painfully by the scruff of the neck. In the few months he’d been a member of the Black Bulls, Yami thought he had noticed a slight thickening of his neck from the muscles used every time Bronn grabbed him by it.

Yami looked over at small desk to the left of his bedside and considered writing up the descriptions of the mages and details of yesterdays attack to send to Nozel, but his stomach distracted him. Getting out of bed he got dressed and headed down stairs nearly bumping into Julius as he reached the first floor.

Julius laughed at the near miss. “With your sense of Ki I wouldn’t have thought you capable of bumping into people on accident. Where are you headed to in such a hurry?”

“Ki takes focus.” Yami told. Answering his mentors question he said. “Kitchen. Hungry.” He moved to continue on his way, but paused and questioned. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s good to see you too, Yami,” Julius chuckled, good naturally. “I just finished a long overdue discussion with your Captain.”

“Jax was disagreeable last I saw him.” Yami commented remembering the Captains broody silence after returning from the Silva’s country home last night. “Was he still?”

“No. Captain Jax, was welcoming upon my arrival.” Julius said, stressing the mans rank for Yami’s benefit, not that he had much hope of Yami complying with the subtle hint.

“And when you left him?” Yami wondered. “How was his temper then?”

“I’m not sure whether to be amused or offended by that.”

“You could try answering the question.” Yami prompted.

“No, Yami. I did not upset or distress your Captain.” Julius told.

“Good.” Yami said, passing him as he continued on his way to the kitchen.

“Wait up.” Julius called, following after him.

Yami gave the Azure Deers Captain a sideways glance as they walked down the hallway.

“We haven’t seen each other in a while. Don’t you want to catch up? I know I would.”

Yami shrugged. “As long as we can do it while I eat.”

6.2.2

Not far from the exterior kitchen door, Julius sat cross the table from Yami watching as the younger man ate.

“This brings back memories.” The Captain said, pulling his cloak tighter against the chill breeze.

“Of what?” Yami asked.

“Of our first meal together.” Julius said, wondering how Yami could sit out there in nothing but a sleeveless shirt and his squads cloak.

When Yami didn’t comment. Julius prompted. “When we first met I suggested you come back with me so you could learn about the Magic Knights. You only agreed when I offered to buy you a meal.”

“That’s right,” Yami said, smiling crookedly. “You saw me on the shore using my dark magic and came running at me hollering like a crazed person.”

Julius laughed uncomfortably. “I wouldn’t call it crazed.”

“I would.” Yami deadpanned. “But,” he went on kicking his legs out under the table and crossing his arms, “if it wasn’t for you and your weird obsession with magic I would probably still be on that shore.”

“I’m sure you would have found something to do. A place to belong.” Julius said.

“I may have found something to pass the time,” Yami admitted. “But I never would’ve found something meaningful to do. At least not to the extent that being a Magic Knight allows me to be. And I sure wouldn’t have found a place to belong. Certainly not like I do with the Black Bulls, you and--” Yami stopped.

“Teris.” Julius finished.

If he had been honest with himself, Julius would have figured that there was a chance of such a thing happening. Still, he was surprised and slightly uneasy at what Jax had just told him about how Yami and Teris had been holding each other when found after yesterday’s attack. Julius could only imagine what Nathyn Silva thought and felt at such a sight. Worse yet, what the Royal would do if he believed that Teris might embarrass the Silva’s by fraternizing with Yami so.

It was Yami’s turn to be a bit uncomfortable. Scratching the back of his neck, he looked away.

Julius stared at Yami. “Look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t like my sister.”

Yami steeled himself and turned back to meet his mentor’s eyes. “I like your sister. In fact, I more then like her. I’m going to marry her.” He breathed out panting a bit. Well, he had said it. Now it was up to Julius to kill him or accept it. He found that he couldn’t look the man directly in the eye anymore as he waited for his reaction. Instead he stared at the Magic Knights Captains forehead.

“Marry!” Julius repeated eyebrows raised. His thoughts in a swirl, he struggled to find his voice. When he finally did he was only able to put together one question. “Does she know this?”

“Not yet.” Yami admitted.

Julius scratched his head and blinked. After a time he was able to put together another query. “You are aware that in order to wed both man and woman must knowingly agree to it?”

“I’m going to ask her and give her the choice.” Yami said. “Eventually.”

“Well.” Julius gave a dazed smile of relief, still in shock. “That’s good to know.”

Yami scowled.

“We never talked about such things in your lessons. I don’t know how they do things where you came from and since we never went over how we do things here—” Julius stopped and cleared his throat. Marry. His mind spun.

“But you’re fine with it?” Yami asked, his expression changing to the hope filled kid Julius had known after Yami had realized Julius meant what he said and would show him how to get on in this strange land and build a worthwhile life. “You’re okay with Teris and I marrying.”

“Let’s slowdown there.” Julius said, holding out his hand. “Why don’t we start with the two of you courting and see what happens?”

“What’s courting?”

“Dating. Being an item. Boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“That would be the first step.” Yami nodded.

“I’m glad we’re in agreement there.” Julius breathed, amused despite himself.

“And you’re okay with that?” Yami asked again. “Me,” he made a face trying to remember the word, “courting Teris.”

Julius chose the simplest answer. “I’m okay with whatever makes Teris happy.”

“So if being with me makes her happy?”

“Yami. My thoughts and approval is hardly the one you have to worry about here.”

“But, other than Teris’, it’s the only one that matters.” Yami said.

Julius smiled sadly. Much as he appreciated Yami’s show of respect, the young man had it all wrong. His approval mattered the least, at least familial and legally speaking. “Yami. There are those who won’t be okay with your pursuit. And I’m not just talking about those in the hierarchy who would see this as you reaching passed your station.”

“Mister Ball of Pride.” Yami nodded.

Drawn up short, Julius questioned. “Who?”

“The Braided Little Birdie. Nozel Silva.” Yami answered.

Julius sighed at the nicknames, but nodded. “Yes. Nozel would be less than pleased. As would Lord Silva himself. And my younger brother, Fyntch.” Choosing to forgo mentioning the ways in which Lord Silva would try to put an end to this, Julius said. “Fyntch could make things very difficult for Teris, and even you if any of this were learned.”

“But you’re the eldest,” Yami said. “What does it matter what your younger brother says?”

Julius’ expression became something between embarrassment and sadness. “I’ve all but legally signed over the my family’s rights and heir ship to Fyntch.” Heaving a sigh he looked away and explained. “Not long after my mother died I quit returning home. I threw myself into chasing my dream of becoming the next Wizard King and roaming around looking for new and interesting magic. Fyntch wrote me a letter confronting me on the negligence of my duty as heir and eldest. So I wrote him back saying he that since he had been doing my part for the family he should have my family title and benefits too.” Julius shrugged. “If—when, I become Wizard King it would all be his anyway. I saw no reason not to let him have it early. It meant he’d have an easier time of doing what needed to be done for the family and estate, and I could continue focusing on pursuing my dream and interests without having to think about or return home.”

“What about your father? What did he say about all that?” Yami wondered.

Julius shook his head a look of anger, disgust, and hurt playing on his face. “My father isn’t fit to speak or decide for the family. Hasn’t been since my mother’s death. In all but name, Fyntch is head of House Nova. And as such, he decides Teris’ fate. Including who she’s expected to wed.”

Yami blinked at that.

“There’s a whole mess you don’t know about Yami. I’m sorry, but I lost the right to weigh in on or talk about it long ago. It’s not my place.”

“You’re Teris’ eldest brother.”

Julius shook his head. “Not in this I’m not. It’s true, I want her happy. I’m rooting for her and will do everything in my power to help her achieve what she must to see she isn’t faced with an impossible decision. But when I left all those years ago, I left her too. Things between us might have healed to an extent, but there are a number of matters, especially those personal to her, that she would say I have no right to speak of, and she would be correct.”

Yami wanted to ask what Julius was talking about but knew it was pointless. The mans Ki was weighed down with so much guilt and regret it was difficult to sense anything else.

“I will say this.” Julius said, having shaken off past demons. “Fyntch would not approve of your friendship with Teris, never mind anything more.”

“What are you two boys gossiping about?” Teris asked, exiting the kitchens.

Julius rose from his seat. Nodding to his sister in greeting, he answered. “Hopes for the future, memories of the past, and girls.”

“So, regular guy stuff.” Teris smiled. She turned to Yami. “Thought you were going to sleep all day.”

“Probably could have if my rumbling stomach hadn’t woken me up.” Yami said, sliding over to make room for her.

Sitting back down, Julius purposefully sat in the middle of his bench giving her little choice but to take Yami’s silent offer, which she did.

“What are you doing here?” Teris asked, looking across the table at Julius.

“Can’t I visit my only sister?” Julius asked.

“But I found you sitting here talking with Yami.”

“Jealous?” Yami teased, returning to his forgotten meal.

“I came by for a number of reasons.” Julius told. “Only one, possibly two, involving you.”

“Involving or concerning?” Teris questioned.

“You royals and your convoluted way with words.” Yami complained, pushing away the mostly clean plate. “Just say what you mean and say it plainly.”

“Did Greywright keep his word?” Teris asked, doing as Yami requested.

“I don’t know.” Julius said. “What did you managed to get the Knights Commander to agree to do? And how?” Julius shook his head. “Forget that last bit. I don’t want to know.”

Yami raised a brow somewhat surprised that Jax hadn’t told Julius about Teris bargaining her compliance yesterday. Then again, he could see why the Black Bulls Captain wouldn’t have. Julius likely wouldn’t have found it something to be proud of.

“I asked that he’d try to convince the Wizard King to let you in on whatever they’re not telling us,” Teris said.

Julius gave his sister a stern look. “You are a first year Junior Magic Knight. What possessed you to make such a demand? Let alone think of doing it?”

“They wanted the Wizard Kings Advisor to use her Memory Magic on us.” Even now with the deed done, Teris trembled slightly.

Julius’ lip twitched, his nose wrinkling slightly. “I know.” He said softly.

A moment of silence passed before Teris said. “So did Greywright kept his word and the Wizard King agree?”

“Commander Greywright.” Julius corrected. “Come on, Teris. You know better.” He glanced at Yami not sure if it was the young mans influence or all of Jax’s squad that was to blame. “And I can’t tell you, either of you, anything.”

“That’s fine.” She said. “So long as you know everything.”

“What good does Julius knowing do us?” Yami asked her.

“Other than now knowing it’s not so dire they think our lives are at stake. Not much.” Teris said. She looked at her brother. “I doubt you would be able to keep an order of silence, or at least look as unconcerned and calm as you do, if whatever this was was life and death.”

Julius eyed her thinking she thought herself clever. After what the two had been through yesterday. With pieces of them being taken. The beating of Yami and blows to her face. As well as the attackers threatening to kill them if they didn’t comply. Julius had to wonder at his sisters thought process. Did she, like Greywright, Jax, and he, think that their attackers wouldn’t have killed them? And if so, what did she think the mages wanted?

Apparently the Wizard King, Knights Commander, and Advisor had believed the threat had ended a week or so ago. Julius didn’t hold the misinformation against them He had helped in his share of investigations over the years. He knew how difficult it was to get intel. And that intel wasn’t always accurate. He even understood why Sir Jorah didn’t want to burden the two first year Junior Magic Knights with the details of everything. But to not have told them that there had been a threat at all… Julius couldn’t help but feel that the attack might have not happened if Teris and Yami had been aware that there had been a threat in the first place.

While the Wizard King wouldn’t say whether he believed that the threat was now over. He had ordered patrols doubled near the boarders of the Spade and Diamond kingdoms, the two most likely perpetrators of the attack. The Wizard King had also ordered an added patrol of Sentries near the Black Bulls bases radius.

To Julius’ mind there was most certainly still a threat. And after speaking with Jax, he knew he wasn’t alone in that thinking. While Julius didn’t want his sister or Yami to be held back from preforming their duties as Magic Knights he wasn’t so keen on the Wizard King ordering Jax to send the two on missions without hesitation or worry concerning possible future attacks.

Though the Wizard King might not have liked it, Julius saw nothing wrong with commenting. “If the two of you, with your combined magic, have proven anything it’s that what would be life and death for you carries quite a bit more peril than what would be considered life and death for any other first year Magic Knight.”

6.3

The low sun cast long shadows onto the rug as Nozel paced before Fuegoleon. Eyes moving from side to side the Crimson Lion watched his friend wondering if he was going to tire himself out before he stopped and started talking. Glancing at the clock Fuegoleon sighed.

“Are you going to join us for dinner?”

“No.” Nozel said without pausing his steps.

Fuegoleon sat back the in arm chair crossing his legs and resting his cheek on his knuckles. After another while, he questioned. “Are you going to tell me why you’re here? If it’s to break in a new pair of sandals on that rug I could leave you to it. As entertaining as it is guessing how many steps you’ll take before you turn about, it’s not like I have nothing else to do.”

“Will you hush.” Nozel commanded. “I’m trying to think.”

Fuegoleon brought his head back and blinked. “Alright then.” He said, pushing himself out of the chair. “I’ll leave you to it then.”

“Wait.” Nozel called at Fuegoleon’s back, finally halting his pacing.

Fuegoleon turned back to see Nozel holding out a folded paper. “What’s this?” He asked, stepping closer and taking it.

“Just—“ Nozel sighed, turning away. “Just read it before I loose my nerve.”

The Vermilion did as he was bid eyebrows coming together, lips pulling downward as he read. Finished, he looked back up at Nozel. “What is this?” He questioned again. There were no names. Only descriptions and a few details of what was surely some kind of assault. “Hair, breath, spittle, right thumb nail, skin, and blood—“ He jerked at the aggression in which Nozel snatched the paper back.

“It’s what they took.” Nozel said, trembling with fury.

“Who took?” Fuegoleon stepped to the Silver Eagle. “Who sent you that?”

“Yami.”

“Yami? The foreigner who joined the Black Bulls with Teris? What is he doing sending you—whatever that is?”

Nozel folding the missive back up and put it in his cloak pocket. “I asked him to.”

“Clearly I’m missing something.”

“Teris was attacked yesterday.” Nozel informed.

“What! How—where—is she alright?”

Nozel nodded not trusting himself to speak any more about her. “I don’t know why. But, they were ordered not to speak about it. I convinced Yami to write the details and descriptions.”

“Nice little work around.” Fuegoleon commented. “But who made the order? Their Captain?”

“That’s what they said but from the way Commander Greywright, Advisor Ellara, and Captain Jax were I’d say the order comes for the Wizard King.”

Fuegoleon’s breath caught. He understood why Nozel had had such a time deciding, nearly pacing the pattern out of the rug. “What is this about?”

“That’s what I’d like to know.”

“But with the order of silence all you’re left with is that.” Fuegoleon looked at Nozel’s cloak where the letter had disappeared. “Do Teris and Yami know what’s going on? I mean they were the ones set upon. But passed that?”

Nozel shook his head.

“So you obviously want to find these people. Hopefully discover why they did and took what they did before meeting out whatever you’d like to see done to them. Why show me? I mean, Teris is as dear to me as a sister and you can bet I’ll be looking to find whoever attacked her. But—”

“The sudden change in clearance.” Nozel cut in over Fuegoleon.

It took the Crimson Lion a second to realize what the Silva was speaking about. “The records we asked to see at Magic Investigations.”

Nozel nodded.

Fuegoleon shook his head. “I don’t like where you’re thoughts are going.”

“Neither do I, but can you blame me?”

The Vermilion gazed at his friend, his mind a whirling mess. The two events could be connected or have nothing to do with each other. There was just too much they didn’t know. He shook his head again. “Nozel.”

Irritated at the entire situation Nozel took it out on Fuegoleon, snapping. “I’m not asking for your help or theories.”

“Then what do you want?”

“To know if I should tell Teris.”

“Tell Teris what?” Fuegoleon asked.

“About the change in clearance of the records we requested to see.”

“What good would that do her?”

“I don’t know.” Nozel sighed. “She might know more. This knowledge may be something she could use to piece things together or tell me it’s nothing and to stop worrying.”

“Or, more likely, you’ll be helping lead her into trouble.” Fuegoleon said. “You know her as well as I do. She can’t stand a mystery. Her mind never stops. You tell her this and it’ll drive her mad with curiosity. Tempt her into looking for answers the Wizard King clearly doesn’t want any of us having.”

“This is about her. She was—“ Nozel gritted his teeth.

“This is about them.” Fuegoleon corrected. “Our request also included any records on previous dark magic users, if there had ever been one. They were both set upon. What was taken, was taken from the both of them.” He paused as Nozel turned away, struggling with the truth. “Do you really want to tell this thing you know and see her get drawn any closer to a foreigner who is obviously nothing but trouble?”

6.4

Teris made her way down the path from the house hoping Yami would agree to the favor she intended to ask of him. Shortly after Julius had left, Yami had gotten up saying he was going to re-check the holding cell he had built for the bases beastly menace. Teris still couldn’t comprehend how he planned on capturing and somehow training a feral thing into a tame and useful creature.

With Commander Greywright sending word this morning that their scheduled every other week, day of training would be delayed till next week, Teris had thought there would be little reason for Yami to deny her request, at least labor and time wise. As excited as she was to resume their training with Greywright, the Commanders message saying that they would be focusing on trying to control the level of destruction and direct it, along with testing what if anything else their combined magic could do, Teris was grateful for the reprieve.

Stopping a few feet behind Yami, she asked. “What makes you think the beast will visit tonight?”

Yami gave one last tug of the pens entry before turning to her. “My tracking of it has shown that he roams farther as the moon fills. While the base isn’t the furthest he travels, he seems to break in three to four nights before the moon’s at its fullest.”

“So you’ll have a sleepless couple nights staying up trying to catch it.” Teris said, more to herself. She turned to go deciding to hold off on asking him.

“Hold up!” Yami called, dusting his hands off and following. “What was it you wanted?”

She looked at him as he walked in step with her. “What makes you think I wanted anything?”

“You came all the way out here.” Yami replied. He smiled. “I suppose it could have been that you just missed me.”

“Sure.” Teris rolled her eyes. “Even though it’s nearly supper time, I just couldn’t wait those thirty long minutes to see you.”

Yami wiggled his eyebrows at her, his smile growing. “I knew it. It was only a matter of time before you were hopelessly in love with me.”

“Love? Give a girl some time to get there, will you.” Teris said, giving a huffing laugh. She had been trying for a jesting demeanor, but felt a telling warmth creep into her cheeks and looked at the ground letting her hair shield her face from view.

“But you feel something?” Yami pestered.

“I came out here because I wanted to ask you something.” She said, overly loud, rushing to change the subject.

“Yes.” Yami said.

“Yes?” Teris repeated. “You don’t even kn--”

“Yes, I return the feeling.” Yami interrupted.

A look of confusion crossed her face. “What feeling?”

“Yours.” Before she could ask further he went on. “Your infatuation with me. I admit that I too am infatuated with--”

“Yourself?” She put in quickly.

“To a certain extent, I suppose.” He grinned allowing her, her wish to skirt his confession. After what Julius had said this afternoon, Yami was even more set on allowing her to dictate the pace things progressed between them. That wasn’t to say he would stop pursuing; but if she ignored, asked him to stop, or, like now, continually sought ways to avoid or direct him else where then he would comply and not push.

They walked a ways before Yami broke the silence asking. “So what can I do for you?”

“Pardon?”

“Why were you looking for me?”

Teris shook her head. “It can wait. You have plenty on your plate what with staying up to try and capture our beastly menace. Not to mention the work you’ll be faced with if you do manage to catch it. Who knows what kind of homework Greywright will give us. Or when will be put on a mission.”

“Those are future possibilities, not an answer to my question.”

“I said it can wait.”

“And say I want to know.” He took large turning step that positioned him in front of her, bringing her up short. “It’s obvious that it’s about or involves me since you came looking for me. What? Are you gonna start acting like our superiors and start keeping things from me too?”

“That’s not fair.” Teris said.

Yami shrugged. “What else am I suppose to think.”

“That I would never do that. I would have hoped that you knew and trusted me well enough to know I wouldn’t do such a thing.”

He hadn’t seen how his attempts to get her to tell him could so easily backfire. Stepping closer to her, he said. “I trust you without question. I was only joking. Trying to get you to tell me what it was you wanted.”

“And I was only trying not to over tax your time and energy.” She said.

“If I feel whatever it is will take too much time or effort right now I’ll tell you.”

She smiled playfully. “Yeah right. You can’t deny me anything.”

She might have been joking but she wasn’t wrong, Yami thought. Granted he had decided he was going to marry her the day they met; but still, he was amazed at how quickly his feelings for her had grown. How in just three and a half months she had come to be so important. “Talk to me, Princess.” He pleaded.

She shook her head sighing and turned walking a couple steps back down the path. For a moment he thought she wasn’t going to tell him. Then she turned back around.

“You were right.”

“Of course I was.” Yami grinned, crossing his arms.

Her eyes closed, head shaking slightly as she smiled.

“About what?” He asked.

Looking at him, Teris said. “About physical strength and ability being important.”

Yami sobered. “Where’s this coming from?” He asked, stepping directly in front of her once more.

“You know where it’s coming from.”

Images of her being held, slammed against the stone half-wall, and struck repeatedly looped in his mind. His jaw and fists clenched.

She watched him struggle with his emotions regretting that she had come out looking to ask for his help. It was too soon. The attack had been yesterday. She should have thought this through from his perspective and waited. “Yami--”

“I know I failed you--”

“You didn’t fail--”

“--but I promise I’ll die before I let something like that happen ag--”

“I don’t want you to die.”

They stopped and stared at each other.

“Yami.” She began again taking a step, closing the last foot between them. She took his right hand into hers and brought it up, holding it between them. “I don’t blame you for what happened. I don’t think less of you. Or trust you less. Or hold any other kind of ill thought or feeling toward you. You didn’t fail me.”

He looked from her earnest eyes to their clasped hands his eyes wandering to the flat of her chest. The image of her cut top, the patch of missing skin, and deep bloody cut unwillingly came to mind filling him was anger and shame. He turned, unable to look at her and pulled his hand away.

Teris gripped his hand all the tighter lifting her other hand to hold in both of hers. “Will you listen to me! You. Did. Not. Fail. Me.” She leaned closer and bent under his lowered gaze trying to catch his eye. “If anything, I failed you.”

His head lifted, eyes snapping to hers. “What! No.” He stated firmly with a shake of his head.

“If I had known how to physically defend myself--”

His right hand resumed holding onto hers as his left lifted to gently grasp her arm. “Don’t be stupid, Teris. You didn’t fail me.”

“That strong, fierce certainty you’re feeling. I feel the very same about you.” She told.

He looked at their hands the image of her skinned, bloodied chest returning. Pulling her closer still his hands tightened as he fought the image away. “It just--” He swallowed. “I never felt so helpless in my life.” He released her arm lifting his left hand to caress her cheek as his eyes moved about her face. “I never wanted to protect anyone more than I wanted--still want, to protect you.” The attack replayed in his mind, his hand pulling away from her face and fisting. “I’ve never wanted to kill anyone so badly.”

“I know.” She said feeling the same. Her right hand reached up to caress his face but stopped just short of doing so, instead lowering to rest on his chest. “You think it was easy for me to see them hit and kick you? And then when that Water Mage--” The hand holding his tightened. “I would have done anything to make him stop. To get him to let you live.” She looked up at him a fire in her eyes. “I never want to feel that helpless again. Help me make certain I’m not. Please.”

When she put it that way, he couldn’t deny her. Who was he kidding? He couldn’t deny her anything regardless of how she put it. “I won’t go easy on you.” He said.

“I don’t want you to.”

“Alright then. Under one condition.”

“And what’s that?” She questioned releasing his hand and pulling away from him.

“You have to train with me.”

“Won’t we already be doing that with this and whenever Greywright sends for us?”

“Not physical training or whatever Greywright has planned. But regular training.”

“Sparring?”

Yami nodded. “It’s not like there’s fear of our magic interacting and destroying anything any more.”

“Why me? I’m a first year Junior Magic Knight same as you. Surely you could learn more from sparring with Tobin, Olsen, or Venice. Even Abril and Gendry have more experience and would be better sparring partners.”

“But only you and your magic will force me to work on increasing the speed of my dark magic. If I can keep up when pitted against your light magic I can best anything else. At least in speed.”

He had a point there, Teris thought. “Deal. You train me in the ways of physical combat and I’ll spar with you.”

“Should we start now?”

She blinked.

“I can show you some basics. That you can practice in your own time. Like how to stand. How to hit. A couple ways of getting out of a hold.”

“Let’s do it.” Teris said, excited to begin learning.

“Great.” Yami smiled, moving behind her and placing his hands on her hips.

Chapter Text

7.1

Captain Jax Benjen entered the dining hall holding a letter from the Wizard King. It had been four months since the attack on Yami and Teris; the two seeming to have settled into a comfortable routine. Jax didn’t know what the two got up to out in the woods all afternoon for four days out of the week, nor did he want to. Julius had seemed to have little problem with wherever their relationship led; and even if the other Captain had, Jax was no ones spy.

So long as the members of his squad preformed their duties, Jax didn’t much care what they did on their off time.

“What’s that boss?” Bronn asked, looking up from his breakfast glancing at the paper the Captain held.

“A letter of summons from the Wizard King for Yami and Teris.” Jax said, taking a seat.

Bronn looked down the long table at the two Magic Knights, demanding. “What have you done now?”

“Nothing,” Teris insisted.

“Leave them.” Jax ordered his Vice Captain.

Bronn looked away Teris relaxing.

Venice glanced at Yami then turned her gaze to Teris questioning in a teasing tone. “What have you two been up to?”

“Indeed.” Olsen said, leaning forward to look across Venice at Teris before looking at Yami who sat across from the royal girl. “Whatever have you two been doing out in the woods all alone?”

“Not the woods. The training field.” Teris said.

Noting Teris’ discomfort Yami told Olsen. “It’s not like that.”

“Though you’re hoping it soon will be.” Tobin grinned, clasping Yami’s shoulder.

“Enough.” Jax ordered, getting up from his seat, Bronn doing likewise. “Yami. Teris. You’ll be coming with me to Headquarters. Meet me in the great room at noon.”

“We didn’t do anything. I swear.” Teris said, turning back to the Captain.

“That’s nice,” Jax said. “Great room. Noon. Don’t be late.”

7.2

Yami had just finished another training session with the beastly menace he had aptly named Pilfer in honor of all the destruction and theft of food the Saber Wolf had done before his capture. Latching and locking the holding pen he stepped back wondering what the Wizard King wanted and how much he should clean up before it was time to met the Captain in the great room.

“Spending what little free time you have today with that thing instead of your girlfriend.” Bronn commented, startling Yami.

Even with Pilfer locked up in his cage the beast could still reach a clawed paw through and do some damage. With Yami’s focus on the Saber Wolfs Ki, he hadn’t sensed the Vice Captain’s arrival. Taking another step away from Pilfer’s kennel Yami turned to Bronn rubbing the back of his neck, already imagining the bruised, sore muscles the encounter would undoubtedly leave him with.

Bronn noticed the action and stated. “I’m not here to tear into you boy.”

“Then what do you want?” Yami asked, wondering if there had been a time since his joining the Black Bulls that the Vice Captain hadn’t sought him out solely to yell at and abuse him.

It was four months after the attack and still Bronn couldn’t shake the guilt and need he felt to explain himself. Annoyed with himself, Bronn snapped. “I owe Jax everything. My position. My still being a Magic Knight. Even my life. My life more than once in fact.”

“And?” Yami questioned, when Bronn stopped there.

“And cause of that I am, above anything else, his man.” Bronn sighed and looked away. “Even above my own wants and distaste.”

“I can respect that,” Yami said.

Bronn looked back at him, a brief glimpse of hopeful surprise on his face before his usual surly expression took over. “Good,” he sniffed. “Cause you’ll get no apology from me about doing as the Captain bids. Even if it’s just following Jorah’s orders about keeping certain things from you and Black Sheep.”

“I wouldn’t expect one,” Yami said.

Feeling better about himself Bronn changed the subject. Jutting a chin out in the direction of the holding pen he commented. “Our beastly menace seems to have taken well to your training.”

Yami shook his head. “He’s learned who his food comes from and does what he must to get fed is all. If anybody else were to get too close he’d rip them apart. He’d do the same to me if I let my guard down I’m sure. Still,” Yami looked back at Pilfer sighing, “we’ve made it through the first hurdle.”

“What are you going to do with it after you’ve trained it?” Bronn asked. “If you released back to the wild it would just revert back to it’s old ways. Wouldn’t it?”

“Within a few days,” Yami said.

“So? What’s the plan here?”

Yami shrugged. “Haven’t really thought that far.”

“Then why--”

“Cause it was either this or put it down, and a beast like that didn’t deserve to die for doing what must to survive.”

“Suppose not,” Bronn allowed.

They headed up the path back toward the main house.

“What are you and Black Sheep doing out in the woods?” Bronn asked, unable to silence his curiosity.

“Like Teris said, we’re not out in the woods. We’re in the training field. Gee, I wonder what we could be doing out in a place called the training field.”

“Smart ass.”

“Then don’t ask stupid questions.” Yami tensed, tolerating Bronn smacking him sharply on the head looking forward to the day when he wouldn’t have to.

“I hadn’t realized Greywright had--”

“This has nothing to do with Greywright.” Yami said, grateful their lessons with the Magic Knights Commander had lessened to once a month again. Granted the Commander gave them plenty to work on. And Greywright expected results. But it was far better than being yelled at by the man all day.

“Then?”

Yami eyed the Vice Captain a moment before answering. “After the attack back in December with her magic being useless cause of that magic negation mage, or whatever it was, Teris asked if I would teach her how to physically defend herself and fight. I agreed so long as she agreed to spar with me so I could work on speeding up my magic in battle.”

“A fair trade.” He looked Yami over. “Surprisingly wise on your part.”

Yami stopped and stared directly into Bronn’s eyes as the Vice Captain ceased walking and turned to face him. “I said I respect where you’re coming from in your loyalty to Captain Jax. And I do. I understand more than you might think. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna stand around hoping that you all start telling us what’s going on so Teris and I can better protect ourselves. I’m gonna do all I can to protect her and to hell with your secrets.”

“Good.”

Yami’s brows furrowed slightly. He hadn’t been expecting that response. In fact he had been readying his neck for another cuffing.

“You train that girl as hard as she can take it, and have her do the same to you,” Bronn firmly told. “Get as strong as you can as quick as you can. Protect yourselves and each other.”

Yami studied the other man wondering what was going on that they weren’t telling them. First Julius, and now Bronn, had hinted at a danger while referencing their strength or need to get stronger.

“Go on. Get.” Bronn ordered. “Clean yourself up before you’re expected to meet with Jax. You reek of beast.”

7.3

Yami heaved another bored sigh as he stood beside Teris in the Grand Hall of Magic Knights Headquarters. The two of them were stuck in back in the back of the room, behind everyone else, with Nozel Silva of all people. Mister Ball of Pride had given Teris a nod in greeting but hadn’t so much as looked in Yami’s direction which had been fine by Yami. The sole interesting moment thus far had been when the Wizard King had promoted Fuegoleon from Fifth to Fourth Class Junior Magic Knight. As the Wizard King had praised the Crimson Lion and told him what he needed to work on to continue to get better, Yami had sensed Teris’ pride and Nozel’s jealousy. While there were a number of other Magic Knights being promoted, Yami didn’t know any of them and wondered again why they had been called here.

Finally, the Merits Conferment Ceremony was finished and the Wizard King dismissed the newly promoted Magic Knights and their Captains with the exception of Danior Denwulf of the Silver Eagles who had been promoted to Junior Magic Knight Third Class, and the Silver Eagles Captain.

Pyter instructed Danior to fall in line next to Nozel, as the Wizard King turned his attention to them.

“Nozel Silva of the Silver Eagles. Teris Nova of the Black Bulls. And Yami Sukehiro, also of the Black Bulls. The three of you have preformed some impressive fetes since joining the Magic Knights. But those efforts will be all but forgotten come the night of the Star Awards Festival and you will have to begin again.” The Wizard King looked at each of the three in turn. “A labyrinth opened early this morning leaving me to decide if I would allow the three of you one final chance to distinguish yourselves this year, and perhaps earn a promotion before the slate is wiped clean.”

Barely able to breath, Nozel and Teris waited for the Wizard Kings to continue, Yami already grinning.

Sir Jorah’s eyes glinted. “Make your Captains proud.”

Nozel, Yami, and Teris smiled. They watched the Wizard King exit the Grand Hall then looked at each other. Jax moved to Yami and Teris, while Pyter pulled Nozel and Danior aside.

“Given all that’s happened, you two need to be double--” Jax shook his head and amended, “--triple-ly watchful.”

Yami gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to make any quips about secrets and dangers.

“I want you two to succeed,” Jax went on. “But I want you to return even safely more so. Be careful. Look out for each other. And if it’s required, you take out anyone who feels like a threat and ask questions later. You hear.”

Teris nodded. “Yes Captain.”

“Don’t worry, sir. I won’t let any harm come to her.” Yami said.

“After failing royally at that already, I don’t feel very assured.” Nozel said for behind.

Yami turned. “Well look at that. You using the word ‘royally’ when speaking about me, a foreigner. I’d be flattered if I didn’t care one lick what you thought.”

Nozel’s eyes stilted. “I will see that Teris comes to no harm.”

“I can see after myself.” Teris said, scowling at both young men. “And if you even think of telling me I failed royally at that too, you’ll be going to the Healing Mages instead of the labyrinth.” She told Nozel who looked away without another word.

“If this isn’t a positive start to your mission I don’t know what is.” Pyter said, looking from Teris to Nozel a humored smile tugging at his lips.

“We don’t have to work with them do we?” Danior asked his Captain.

“That’s up to the four of you,” Pyter said. “Work together the entire way and share the glory. Or not at all and take it all for yourself. Work together part of the way and split up. I don’t care. Just find the vault, bring back the treasure, and bring honor to the Silver Eagles.” He handed Danior a piece of paper. “That’s where the labyrinth is. Try to comeback alive and see that Nozel stays that way too.” With one last look at his two Magic Knights, Pyter turned and walked away.

Jax gave Yami and Teris a nod and did likewise.

Danior opened the seal and read. He handed it to Nozel who looked it over and passed it to Teris.

“Don’t--” Danior made a face. “We could have kept the labyrinths location to ourselves and left on our own. Then we could’ve taken our time with no fear of them finding the vault first.”

“The Captain told us to bring honor to the Silver Eagles,” Nozel reminded. “Where is the honor in such an act?”

“The honor comes in wining.” Danior said, snatching the paper back as Teris tried to pass it to Yami. “Or do you not want a promotion?”

“I guess we’ll be working separately from the start.” Teris said. She looked over at Yami. “Let’s go.”

“Wait.” Nozel called after her. He gave Danior a chilly look before stepping to Teris and Yami. “The three of us are the ones whose promotion depends on this. Why don’t we work together so we all receive the promotion we want?”

“You want to see me promoted?” Yami chuckled.

Ignoring Yami, Nozel looked at Teris waiting for her response.

Teris turned to Yami in silent query.

“I’m okay with whatever you’re fine with.” Yami told her not worried about Nozel twisting or going back on his word so long as it was to Teris.

Eyes traveling back to Nozel, Teris studied him.

“I’ll set aside squad rivalries, and any other disputes and play nice.” He promised figuring her main concern was how little he thought of Yami and how that might effect the mission.

“What of him?” Teris asked tilting her head to Danior.

“It’s my promotion that’s on the line. I’ll make sure he doesn’t cause any trouble,” Nozel said.

“The moment either of you do we’re going our separate ways,” Teris told.

At her agreement, Nozel’s lips thinned into his form of a small smile. “Understood.”

“I’ll let you speak with your comrade.” Teris told Nozel turning away. “We’ll be outside the city walls at the north entrance.”

Once Yami and Teris had exited, Nozel turned to Danior. “You will do as I say and follow my lead on this mission. Is that understood.”

“You think because you’re royal you can give me orders? You may be the heir of the second family of the kingdom; but where the Magic Knights are concerned, I out rank you.”

“My promotion hangs on this yours does not.”

“Considering I just got my second promotion in as many years I’d say I know a thing or two about achieving one. Are you sure you don’t want to take my lead?”

“Absolutely,” Nozel answered without hesitation.

7.4

Teris didn’t know why she had agreed to Nozel’s suggestion of them sticking together. It wasn’t that she doubted Yami’s and her capabilities. Though, if she were honest, she did have a slight fear that luck would favor the two Silver Eagles. With all the had occurred during her few months as a Magic Knight, she never would have imagined she’d be this close to earning a promotion. As far as she was from being a candidate for Magic Knights Commander, she knew receiving a promotion within her first seven months as a Magic Knight would look good on her record when it was looked through if, when, she was up for the position.

They entered the labyrinth and dealt with the first handful of traps with easy, before making it to the first chamber.

“Didn’t Captain Pyter say this labyrinth was a small, easy one?” Danior griped looking at Nozel as he shook debris and damp from his hair and cloak.

“We’ve yet to reach the difficult bit and you’re already complaining. Maybe you should head back and wait outside.” Yami said.

“I’m merely stating that this many need more effort than Nozel and I were led to believe,” Danior said. “This may be your first labyrinth but it’s not mine and I say that they might have been wrong in the level they ranked this one as.”

“You nobles are your need to rank everything,” Yami dismissed. “If we’re going to get a promotion out of this it should require a bit of effort.”

Tone and expression contemptuous Nozel stated. “You’re missing the point Foreigner. Danior is saying that this labyrinth may be more dangerous than our superiors initially thought.”

“And you’re missing Yami’s point.” Teris told Nozel. “It doesn’t matter. We have a mission and we’re going to complete it. Don’t like it. Want to call for assistance. You and Danior can go back.”

Nozel blue eyes slid to Teris. “Don’t be foolish. I’ve never left someone behind while on mission and I’m not about to start now.” Nor would he leave her down here with only Yami as back up. He cast a glance at the her comrade wondering if she would have argued to stay if Yami hadn’t said anything. Of course she would have, he thought. Her stubborn curiosity and prideful independence would have seen her coming down here alone.

“Will you stay or head back?” Teris asked Danior.

“I’ll forgive your question because your a Black Bull, but Silver Eagles don’t abandon their comrades while in the field,” Danior said.

“Then quit wasting time. Let’s move on.” Yami said, taking the lead.

7.5

They entered another chamber, though identical as it was to the previous seven it would have been impossible to say it was another chamber and not the same one if it hadn’t been for the blazes they had been setting into the wall. Upon entering Danior had triggered a trap which had thrown him back several feet and left him unconscious and vulnerable in the ensuing fight. If it hadn’t been for Teris’ light magic highlighting the Shadow Beast with every attack she made, Nozel and his mercury magic would have been about as much use as Danior. As it was the outline of the creature, made visible through Teris’ magic, dissipated so quickly that Nozel’s strikes missed more than hit leaving him to protect Danior while Yami and Teris went on the offensive.

Nozel gritted his teeth cursing his inability to sense the creature wondering how Yami could. With the way Teris followed Yami’s lead he figured she couldn’t sense the Shadow Beast either but was trusting and working mostly by Yami’s cues.

“There.” Yami pointed to rough hue rock wall that looked like all the others.

“You sure?” Teris panted giving the wall a glance.

Yami gave her a look before sending out a series of dark slashes that saw the beast gradually move toward where he wanted it.

Teris resumed her assault joining Yami in the effort.

The shadow beast, now glowing from continuous light magic strikes, stopped a few feet away from where Yami had pointed. Teris threw out a hand a beam of intense light flying out forcing Nozel to shield his eyes and squint.

As the light diminished Nozel blinked the spots in his vision away and looked up. The shadow beast was still there its glow fading. Nozel had a breathless moment as he stared at the gaping hole Teris had made in the wall wondering how she had missed the creature.

Their assault picked back up, doubling in speed. Yami’s dark magic flew from his katana striking the shadow beast who released a howl of pain. Before the cry had even ended, Yami and Teris’ magic hit the beast once more.

Nozel realized what they were doing and left Danior’s side to join them on the offensive. Using his mercury magic Nozel pulled the beast the last few feet in front of the hole Teris had created. The three of them then attacked as one forcing the beast back. There was another echoing howl that diminished as the beast fell. The three stood at the mouth of the hole and looked down into the inky blackness. Teris shot an orb of light down the exposed shaft but partial cave-ins and roots eventually swallowed up the light and made it difficult to see what was at the bottom.

“At least the it’s out of sight.” Yami said, stepping away.

“I don’t know if I’d call that a good thing. But at least it’s no longer an immediate threat,” Nozel said.

“How is he.” Teris asked, turning to look at Danior.

Nozel went to his comrade who was just coming to. “He’ll be fine.”

Yami sheathed his katana and looked at Teris. “You questioned me.”

“It was the heat of battle.”

“Exactly.” Yami stepped near her continuing. “A time we shouldn’t question one another, if we do so at all.”

She glanced over Yami’s shoulder at Nozel who wore a cold, disapproving expression as he watched them.

Yami sensed her discomfort but wasn’t about to let her off so easy this time. Looking down at her, he asked. “Don’t you trust me?”

He was close enough that she felt the warmth of his body over the coolness of his mana but there was no stepping back; not unless she wanted to join the Shadow Beast down the shaft. Though given what she was faced with, that option was sounding better and better. “Of course I do.”

“But?”

“But nothing.”

“So you aren’t clamming up and pulling away because one of your friends is here judging you? Disapproving of us?” Yami asked.

Teris stared up at him unsure what bothered her more. That he thought she cared what Nozel thought or that he had just insinuated they were together when they weren’t.

Nozel’s eyes travel from the length of them, taking in Teris’ slight scowl, Yami’s twitching hand, and their toes touching.

“She’s clearly learned a thing or two from him.” Danior said to Nozel, eyes on the two Black Bulls. “I’ve seen the Foreigner wear that same expression she has on, all to often. The one that’s clearly wondering, should I kill you now or save the effort for later.”

Nozel’s eyes slid to his comrade thinking how little Danior knew Teris. She had been using that expression for years. All to often directed at him.

“You can be such a presumptuous, stupid ass.” Teris hissed, her scowl deepening.

“You’re just figuring that out?” Yami chuckled at her temper. Damn, she was cute when she was mad.

“No,” she snapped. “I’ve—“

A tentacle wrapped around Teris’ ankle pulling her down the shaft.

“Teris!” Yami yelled, reaching out for her. Close as they had been. As on alert as his senses had been to a threat. He hadn’t been quick enough.

As Yami rushed to the wells edge, another flash of tentacles forced him back. They struck out wildly, hitting the wall and causing the opening to collapse making it impossible for him to follow. Though Yami’s instinct was to unsheathe his katana and try every spell in his grimoire to open a path. His Ki told him it would be a pointless task. The creature had closed in the way, creating further cave-ins as it traveled down the shaft. He took a breath harnessing his mana, before using it to seek Teris’. Even with the concentrated effort, he struggled to reign his mana in as it pulled trying reach out and make contact with hers. Sensing her mana pool, he exhaled in relief. She was alive.

No longer caring about getting to the vault, Yami stepped back. Between his Ki and his sense of her mana it would be an easy task to navigate through the labyrinth and get to her. And heaven help anything that stood in his way.

7.6

Teris dusted herself off and closed her grimoire. Her ankle was bruised and swollen. It wouldn’t be able to bare much weight if she didn’t do something about it soon. She kept her grimoire out just in case something else decided to show up and attack and, using her light magic, sliced off two spines from the tentacle creature she had fried. She looked about wondering if the Shadow Beast had fallen this far down, hoping that wherever it landed that the cave in caused by the squid-like creature had crushed it.

The last thing she needed was something attacking her from behind, so she hobbled to a protected corner and half fell, half slid to the ground. She winced as she better inspected her ankle which had already swollen to the point where her boot was painfully tight. If only Yami were here she thought, his cool mana cloaked touch could help with the swelling. And his presence would help distract you from the pain her mind added.

“Shut up.” She told herself aloud, tearing the sleeves off her blouse.

She tore the sleeves further, opening them at the seem that went from pit to wrist and did her best to tear each again from shoulder to wrist, leaving her with four pieces. She loosened her boot laces some and then positioned the two spines on either side of her ankle for support before snugly wrapping her ankle with the four pieces of fabric. She put the injured foot down and leaned on her knee testing how the ankle took the weight. Deciding it would do she got up and looked around.

It appeared as if she was at the bottom of the shaft, whether that meant she was on the lowest level of the labyrinth she couldn’t say. She knew that the others would come looking for her, but staying put seemed a silly idea. Focusing on Yami’s mana she figured he, Nozel, and Danior were still quite a ways from her, depending on how much the labyrinth twisted and turned. At least she hoped the three had stayed together. She didn’t like the idea of Yami traveling this place alone. With only one route available to her, she followed where it led using her magic to light the way.

7.7

Since going their own way, they had faced five more beasts and barely averted getting caught in numerous traps. Granted if he and Nozel found the treasure they might get something out of it, but it wasn’t guaranteed. Anything of worth found in a labyrinths vault belonged to the Clover Kingdom. The only way they would be able to keep anything was if some spell or power entered them or their grimoire, and such things rarely happened. But even the prospect of some great spell or ultimate power provided little incentive for Danior to want to go on.

He sat on a rock and tried to catch his breath.

Nozel looked down at him and ordered. “Up.”

“Are you sure it’s worth it?” Danior asked.

“This mission--”

“I don’t mean the mission.” Danior said, though he thought that too was a lost cause. “I mean the girl? She obviously has a connection with that foreigner. Both magically and--”

“If you are referring to the Lady Teris. She is my Intended.” Nozel stated, cutting off Danior’s words. “As such, it is my duty to see her safe. Even if she wasn’t, as a fellow Magic Knight it is our obligation to help each other when and where we can.”

“When and where we can,” Danior repeated. “In a deadly labyrinth with no clue where they are I hardly see how we can help.”

“You said you wouldn’t leave them.”

“No. I said Silver Eagles don’t abandon their comrades,” Danior said. “As Black Bulls, they are not my comrades.”

“What of the mission?”

“What of it? You agreed with me from the start that this labyrinth was likely mis-ranked and more dangerous than our superiors initially thought.

“What are you suggesting?” Nozel questioned. “That we retrace our steps, get out of here, and inform Captain Pyter that we not only failed in our mission but lost our fellow Magic Knights?”

“I doubt the Captain would be overly upset with us about loosing a pair of Black Bulls,” Danior said. When Nozel didn’t say anything, he tried a different tactic. “I’m certain the Captain would send more Silver Eagles to assist if we but went back out and informed him what we’re up against.”

At that Nozel wavered. “What of Teris and--” his nose wrinkled at having to feign concern, “Yami? We just leave them down here to fend for themselves? Hope that Teris wasn’t injured, or worse by that fall?”

“At least until help arrives.”

Nozel made a noise of disgust. What were they? Weak commoners in need of someone to come save them? Even Yami, a peasant foreigner, was more Magic Knight than they were in this moment as they considered retreat.

7.8

Yami found Teris battling a beast in front of what appeared to be the treasure rooms entrance. He called up a spell, the pages of his opened grimoire flipping to the correct page, and cloaked his katana in dark magic while cloaking himself in mana skin.

“Mind if I assist?” He called, stepping into the overly large chamber.

“Happy to share the fun.” Teris said, thankful for the friendly face and help. “Be mindful of traps. Just in case I haven’t managed to find them all.”

“So your luck continued.” He said, noting her wrapped ankle and numerous other scrapes and bruises.

“You have no idea.” She huffed.

“Take a rest. I’ll handle this.”

Though her ankle was screaming there was no way she was standing down. “Like hell I will.”

Yami grinned and muttered to himself. “That’s my girl.”

Teris had a moment to wonder where Nozel and Danior were before the beast demanded her full attention once more.

They worked together as Greywright had taught them. Using their magic separately while keeping a firm hold on their mana as it strived to reach out and connect with the others. While they had gotten pretty go at letting their mana close enough to brush but not completely touch, Teris was too exhausted to make such an attempt. As much as she could use a mana boost that the near contact gave that allowed their mana to slowly fed and fed off of the others, she was having a hard enough time keeping control of her mana. It was as if she was fighting on two fronts, the creature and her own magical source.

Gritting her teeth against the pain, Teris cursed her injured ankle which made her foot work clumsy and severely slowed her ability to move around. While she could stand in place and shoot off her magic at the beast, the creature wouldn’t allow it, constantly making runs at the both of them. Even if the thing had cooperated, Yami’s fighting style was more direct, revolving around his cloaked katana and quick movements.

As Yami skidded to a stop in front of her, a slicing cut of darkness left his katana and struck the beast holding it at bay. “You alright?”

Teris growled. “It’s this damned ankle. It’s about had enough of baring my weight.”

“Then let’s quit playing and finish this thing,” Yami said.

“Well there’s a suggestion.” She drawled sarcastically as Yami set out two more cut of darkness, “What do you have in mind?”

Yami looked over his shoulder at her, wearing a wicked smile.

Teris shook her head. “No.”

“You wanna keep on fighting indefinitely?”

“No,” she answered. “But Greywright--”

“Greywright isn’t here,” Yami said.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to keep my mana in check. How are we to control such a thing?”

“You got me there.” Yami conceded having the same trouble.

All they needed was the briefest of contact between their mana. The problem was that once they connected it required an extreme about of effort and energy to pull their mana apart. Fatigued as they were, their best and safest bet for separating their mana was an intense emotional reaction.

“I’ve got an idea. But you’re going to have to trust me.”

Teris stared at him wondering if he was testing her because she had questioned him earlier.

He sent out two more cutting slices of darkness before casting a glance in her direction and asking. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes! I told you already. Yes.”

“So, we’re doing this?”

Teris hobbled closer to him. “Alright. But we have to push away as soon as it starts to build, else we may not be able to.”

“Fair enough. I’ll leave that to you.”

“What!” Teris exclaimed.

In that same moment Yami took two quick steps back till he was beside her. Turning to her, he swooped into her space and wrapped an arm around her, leaning in. If she didn’t stop him, chances are the charge to their mana cloaked bodies would be something similar to the day they fought during the Magic Knights Entrance Exam. If not worse. If she didn’t stop him they’d likely die. But oh, what a way to die.

Whether cause of the consuming pain from her ankle, or the fact that romance in the mist of battle was such a far fetched notion Teris couldn’t say; but it took her a moment to realize that Yami was leaning in for a kiss. After an initial balk of surprise she felt herself leaning forward too. Distantly. she registered that the thunderous sound wasn’t her pounding heart but the beast rushing toward them. They were about to died in front of the labyrinths treasure vault. But oh, what a way to die.

“No!” Her mind and voice shouted as she pushed him away with all her might. There would be time enough for such things later. No. Her mind said again. There wouldn’t be. Couldn’t be. If she was to have any hope of becoming Magic Knights Commander by the time she was twenty she had to focus on getting better. Stronger. Obtaining such a position was the only hope she had of not being banished from the Clover Kingdom when she refused to obey Fyntch’s command to wed Nozel. Whatever her desire for Yami may be, she had to focus on her desire to stay in her homeland and what that would take to achieve.

“When I left the pushing away to you, I gotta admit, I didn’t expect such a forceful push.” Yami winced, rubbing his lower back and shoulder as he got to his feet. He looked back at the wall he had been thrown into. “I think there’s a me shaped dent in that rock.”

“Yami!” Teris gasped, sorry and surprised she had shoved him so hard and far away. She made to go to him but on the first step her ankle gave and she fell.

“You were right.” He said, chuckling his own pain away as he made his way to her. “Your ankle has had enough.” He looked down at her offering a hand. “You alright there, Princess?”

“That’s suppose to be my question.” Teris said, looking up at him concern, ire, and amusement playing over her face.

“Well, I think that shove and landing would’ve killed anyone else, mana cloak or no.” He looked down at her and smiled. “Lucky for us, I’m not anyone else.”

“You’re an idiot.” She told, placing her hand in his.

“I’m the idiot?” He asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes.”

He pulled her up and steadied her against his body, his hands resting on her hips. “Who’s the one who took forever to realize what my plan was?” He questioned softly, his face lowering to hers. “I mean, I almost kissed you there.”

She looked up at him, their faces inches apart. Blushing she turned her head every so slightly and looked just over his shoulder. “You did pick the least expected thing to try in the heat of battle.”

“Did you have to push me away so hard?” He asked, trying to ignore the sharp, throbbing pain in his back and shoulder. “Would kissing me really be that bad?” When she didn’t answer he placed a finger under her chin and turned her head back till her eyes returned to his. “Would it?”

Fighting the urge to melt into him, she held onto her ire and stoked it. “If it meant dying and killing who knows how many people as we destroyed the surrounding area. Yeah.”

“Is that the only thing that made you stop me?” He asked, inching closer.

She forced her gaze away from his and saw the open doors of the treasure room.

“The vault doors are open,” she said.

As her eyes looked anywhere but at Yami, Teris noticed the strange pattern of the creatures remains which were either splatter around the chambers perimeter or in a tight, mushy little ball where it had last stood. There was no blood, guts, or pieces of animal anywhere between. As for Yami and herself, they were ick free. As if bits of the creature that might have landed on them had been completely burnt away. Even the part of the wall Yami had cratered and a few feet surrounding it was free of beast. All together it made a curious, all be it bloody, scene.

Yami didn’t move, watching her a long moment. Straightening, he stretched his back and rolled his injured shoulder. Deciding that he could manage it he scooped her up into his arms.

Teris let out a yelp of shock but easily relented relishing the lessening pain as the weight was taken off her ankle. There was an awkward moment where she didn’t know where to place her arms. She settled on resting the one that pressed against him on his shoulder while leaving the other on her stomach. “I’m not too heavy am I?”

He bounced her easily in his arms. “I could lift you for days.”

“Yeah. Let’s not do that.”

“Agreed. You’re too light to be part of my physical training routine.”

“I’ll remind you of that if ever you want me to sit on your back again.”

“That was different.”

“Nope,” Teris shook her head. “You said I was too light to be part of your physical training routine. Good luck convincing Tobin next time.”

He stopped walking. “I can drop you.” He said quickly lowering his arms just enough to startle her.

She jumped, her arms wrapping around his neck. “You wouldn’t.”

Yami merely grinned. He stopped in front of the vaults doors. “That was the last of the excitement, right?”

Knowing he was asking about the traps and beasts she stared into the treasure room warily. “Should be. I’ve never heard tell of labyrinths having any dangers within their vaults.”

“And how many labyrinth tales have you heard.” Yami asked, eyeing her.

She paused.

“Yeah. I’m putting you down and going in.”

“You’re putting me down and we’re going in,” she corrected.

“You can barely stand.”

“And you didn’t defeat that thing alone.”

“I’m not claiming I did. I have no idea how long you were fighting it before I showed up. So it’s more your kill than mine.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.” She looked at him pleadingly. “I need this promotion, Yami.”

“I’m not going to take it from you.”

“If you go in there without me you will.”

“How would they know?” Yami asked. “I’m not gonna tell them.”

“You don’t understand. I have to become Knights Commander.”

“Have to?”

Teris took a breath. “It’s a dream of mine.” She said, which was technically true. “Like Julius has of becoming Wizard King. Don’t you have any dreams or long held desires?”

“From before or after I washed up here?”

“Either.”

He chuckled realizing that his desires from before weren’t all that different than what they were now. Though before the storm had deposited him in this strange land, that was finally beginning to feel like home, he had been well on his way to becoming the leader of his own group, but had only seen the Princess he planned on marrying in paintings and on the face of money.

He smirked and set her down, keeping an arm around her waist to steady her. “We’ll save the telling of that for another day. Let’s go in together.”

“Thank you.”

They entered the vault. She would have been embarrassed if anyone else had been watching. The way she had to lean on Yami to stand and have him bare most of her weight as she took a quick, small, shuffling step with her bad ankle. It was nowhere close to heroic and something she knew he’d tease her about later.

Slowly but surely they reached the center of the vault where a lighted pedestal stood, though she couldn’t tell where the light was coming from.

“Congratulations!” A voice boomed.

They both jumped. Yami turning around in a circle, cloaked katana ready. Teris letting out a curse as she teetered on one foot hoping that she could at least defend herself and not be a burden should Yami have to fight.

“The item on the pedestal contains the complete history of Chaos. From Chaos’ beginnings, reign, and all the way up to Chaos’ difficult restraint.”

Realizing the voice wasn’t coming from an actual present person Yami put his arm back around Teris’ waist and turned back to the pedestal, keeping his katana out just in case.

“Must be some previously made message set to go off upon our entering,” Teris said.

“But what is it going on about? There’s nothing there.” Yami said, leaning closer and squinting as if that would help him see what the voice was referring to.

“Maybe cause we’re not the first ones in here,” Teris warbled.

Yami saw her tensed. He knew Teris well enough to know that there wasn’t much that would drain the color from her like that. He scanned the room and felt the blood drain from his face too. Scattered all about the vault were bodies in various stages of decomposition. The most recent being a shriveled dried up husk of what, going by the size of the shoes, might have been a man.

“We should get out of here,” Yami said.

Teris mutely nodded.

“We still get credit if we don’t explore the vault or accept it’s treasure, right?”

“I don’t care.” Teris said.

“I thought you wanted that promotion?”

“Yami!”

“But wait! You say.” The voice went on. “There’s nothing on the podium.”

“Well there isn’t.” Yami commented, sheathing his katana so he could pick Teris up and leave.

“That’s because the history of Chaos is so vast it can’t be housed in a written book. It must be transferred magically.”

“Wait!” Teris said, grabbing Yami’s arms before he could scoop her up.

“I thought you wanted to get out of here.”

“Julius has mentioned something like this before.”

“Good for him. We’ll let Magic Investigation have at it and that crazy magic freak can harass them.” He moved to try to pick her
up again.

“Yami, please. Just wait a moment.”

“Fine.” He grumbled, turning back to the empty pedestal, once again wrapping a steadying arm about her waist.

“So what must you do to receive the history of Chaos?” The voice asked for them.

“Is it just me or did it wait for us to finish and agree before speaking again?”

“I’m wondering if the voice sounds more happy congratulatory or crazed murderer.” Yami muttered.

“Well I’m glad you asked!” The voice said.

“See! It waited till we stopped talking.” Teris said.

“Simply hold your grimoire in one hand.” The voice went on. “Do not open it. And place you other hand over the pedestal. They history of Chaos will be magically transferred to your grimoires. Make sure to keep your grimoires closed.”

“Maybe more happy, crazed killer.” Yami decided aloud. He felt Teris looking at him and slowly turned to her. “What?”

“Do you want to do it?”

“Do what?” Yami asked.

“Receive the history of Chaos.”

“You heard happy, crazed killer voice. The history of Chaos is so vast it can’t be--whatever. I don’t what my grimoire bulked up with boring, unnecessary history.”

As if correcting Yami the voice said. “The History of Chaos will add a single page to your grimoire. Do not worry. This is not a mistake. When you want to read the history simply open your grimoire to the added page. You must have on open mind if you wish to begin at the beginning. If you think about an era of Chaos or any particular event, aspect, date, or such the page will access and present the desired information. Keep in mind that this is the history of Chaos so thinking of the history of anything not related to Chaos will result in a blank page. Also, this is not the Future of Chaos so trying to access any of those events will also result in a blank page. If you are interested in the Future of Chaos please check labyrinth number 297,353.”

“I think happy, crazed killer voice was trying to be helpful but it made him even creepier.”

Teris nodded in agreement.

“Yet you still want to do this?” Yami asked.

She nodded again giving him her most pleading look.

“Stop that.” Yami didn’t think it possible, but her expression became even more pitiful. “If that pouty lip of yours starts to tremble I’m leaving you here,” he threatened. He looked at the empty pedestal and then over his shoulder at the open doors. “Alright,” he sighed. “But only because if we don’t have proof Nozel and Danior will likely claim they opened the vault.”

At their names Teris wondered again where the two Silver Eagles were. But she didn’t get a chance to ask as Yami reached behind and unlatched the case strapped to his belt that held his grimoire.

She did the same, calling it forth from it’s leather pack and into her waiting hand. Tightening his arm around her he lifted her and took a step closer to the pedestal. Lowering her back down he waited for her balance herself before slowly letting her go.

Teris’ hand hovered between herself and the pedestal while the other became sweaty as it tightly held her grimoire.

“On you signal.” Yami said, looking at her.

She took in a breath and slowly released it, then gave him a nod. Yami and Teris thrusted their hands over the pedestal. For a second nothing happened. Then everything happened at once.

It felt as if the palm of their outstretched hands were being branded. The searing pain making them both cry out. It felt as if fire and ice were running through their veins. And as soon as the fire and ice reached their heart it would burst.

Teris squeezed her eyes shut. Even then the intense white light radiating from her could be seen as it penetrated her eyelids and bled in from the corners of her eyes.

It was more than just light coming off of her, Yami realized as he tried to pull away and stop wherever was happening. It had substance and it was incinerating all there ever was and would be. Later he wouldn’t be able to say how he knew that, but in this moment he was certain that he would be the last soul in existence, forever stopping the Light from consuming itself.

Teris was afraid to open her eyes again. When she had gotten a glimpse of Yami, his eyes had been bottomless black holes sucking everything in existence into them. How she managed to not be pulled in too, she had no idea. But by the time she had forced her eyes shut, nothing else existed but her and those two black holes. No Clover Kingdom. No world. No stars. No sun. Nothing. And she knew with utter certainty that nothing had ever, nor would ever exist again. That for the rest of eternity there would be nothing more than Darkness, and her fighting not to be drawn in.

Somewhere in the far back of her mind she noticed that the vault doors were closing. No! A small part of her thought. We can’t get locked in here. But the rest of her screamed locked in where? There is literally nothing but the ever hungry Darkness.

She heard Yami roar, somehow seeing him try to pull his hand free, despite her closed eyes. It was as if there were two active paintings. One of the vault and what was happening. Another of eternal, palatable Dark and her dim, flickering Light fighting not to be drawn in.

Finally, they were released and in their efforts to pull themselves free, they ended up staggering and falling backward.

Yami recovered first. Sitting up he demanded. “What the hell was that!”

Teris shuddered, teeth chattering.

Yami tried to stand, quickly realized that he didn’t have the strength to and crawled over to her. “You got some frostbite, Teris. You alright?” He pulled her to him wrapping his arms around her rubbing her back in effort to warm her. Anything to take his mind off what had happened. What he had seen. And his fear for her.

“You should look at yourself. Visited any good furnaces lately?”

He forced a small smile telling himself that if she could joke she couldn’t be that bad off. Looking about the vault which was darker now that the doors were closed, but still lit by an unseen light over the pedestal, Yami thought about what he had seen, commenting. “Looks like the world survived.”

“Uh huh.” She shivered against him grateful that what she had seen hadn’t come to pass.

Yami found himself holding her closer, rotating his arms on her back as he held her. She was like an icicle and felt good on his burned, blistered, peeling skin.

“Yami.” She mumbled into his shoulder. “Are you using me to cool down?”

“You’re using me to warm up. It’s only fair.”

She couldn’t argue with that. “Stupid voice,” she muttered.

“Who’s the one who wanted to do what it said?” He asked, extending his neck over her shoulder and sighing in relief.

“Are you calling me an idiot?”

“Will you pull away your icy body if I say yes?”

She burrowed deeper into him and his warmth. “You agreed to do it too.”

“Only after you gave me that face. No man could resist that much pitiful cuteness.”

“I know.” She smiled, wincing when her chapped lips cracked and bleed little. “It works on Julius every time.” She nuzzled him till her cheek rested on his chest and sighed. “You’re so hot.”

Yami’s smile could be heard in his response. “I know.”

“Shut up. Idiot.”

His smiled grew. “Would you have preferred me to say, ‘thank you’.”

“Not in that tone. No.”

“Teris.”

“Yes.”

“Are we locked in here?”

“I think so.” She muttered becoming increasingly drowsy to the point that she was too exhausted to care.

“I hope Braids and his colleague didn’t head back up for ask for help. I’m starving.”

“Braids.” She laughed, laying down.

Yami laid beside her pulling her against him chuckling. “We should get up and try to get out of here.”

“In a bit.” She yawned, wiggling back, tucking closer into him.

Her bottom rubbed against him. Yami tensed sucking in a sharp breath.

She looked over her shoulder heavy eyelids blinking slowly. “What’s the matter?”

Yami swallowed, pulling his hips back and away from her. “Just a small nap, Princess. Then we got to work on getting out of here.”

She laid her head back down on his arm. Grabbing the hand of his other arm, she pulled wrapping it around her waist. Without a pillow Yami’s head was at an uncomfortable angle but he didn’t care. Let future him deal with a sore neck. Right now he was going to soak up Teris’ nearness and the coolness radiating off of her.

“You’re so warm.” She breathed, falling asleep.

“What happened to being hot?” He muttered, drifting off.

7.8.2

The echoing sound of scraping woke them with a start. Yami sat up first gripping the hilt of his katana. Where was he? He felt Teris rise beside him, a smile flinting across his face till he remembered happy, crazed killer voice and the rest.

“What is—how long were we—Yami! The doors.”

He looked over. She was right the doors had opened.

A filthy Nozel and Danior stood on the other side. Nozel’s relief at finding Teris alive and what looked to be relatively unharmed was overshadowed by finding her on the floor snuggled up against Yami. The sight had brought him up short. He blinked as if in doing so he would open his eyes to a different image. Coming back to himself, his mana flared, his anger boiled over. Taking a step forward he demanded. “What--”

“Stop!” Yami and Teris yelled, holding out a staying hand.

Nozel and Danior stopped, more out of surprise than obedience.

“What--” Nozel tried again, but was silenced by Teris.

“Don’t. Move. A. Muscle.” She told Nozel. “Yami.” She lifted her hands.

Getting to his feet, Yami grasped Teris’ hands and pulled her to her feet mindful not to pull her too close. He didn’t care one lick about the jealous anger he sensed raging in Nozel’s Ki, but he did care about the worry and discomfort he sensed from Teris. After quite literally getting so close to her, he didn’t want to ruin it all by pressing now.

“Can you walk?” Yami asked quietly.

Teris nodded glancing at Nozel out of the corner of her eye. Any fool could tell the silver haired Silver Eagle was furious. As much as that raised her heckles, Teris wasn’t about to challenge him. Not with the chance that he would say something to his father or write Fyntch directly telling what he had just seen. The thought of either of those things happening was almost as bad, if not worse, as the possibility of getting trapped in the vault again.

Yami wrapped his arm around her waist while she place a hand on his shoulder. With his keen sense of Ki Yami could almost hear Nozel’s teeth grinding till the royal saw Teris take a step and noticed her injured ankle.

Instinctively Nozel took another step forward. Danior held an arm out staying his comrade.

“I’d listen to their command to stay put. They both seemed rather serious and scared on that point.”

Nozel’s eyes slid to pierce Danior with a cold glare, but he didn’t move any further.

Yami’s Ki sensed the doors beginning to close before the others eyes or ears picked up on it. He rolled and stretched his injured shoulder which had only gotten worse for having a stiff neck and nap on it. Curse his past self for his selfish soaking up of Teris’ form and frozeness.

In one, not so smooth, motion Yami scooped Teris up over his good shoulder. This time she made much more of a fuss than a simple squeal of surprise. Yami instantly felt his injured lower back tweak; it’s muscles rolling in great spasms. He growled both at the pain and effort to make his muscles submit to his will. Cloaking himself in mana made the six step trek to the other side in just one lunge.

They hit the floor skidding, just as the doors slammed shut with the quickness of a trap. Yami did his best to shield Teris from the worst of the hard landing, but was only marginally successful in doing so.

It was all over in a matter of seconds, and Nozel and Danior were left staring at the closed vault doors. Nozel spun around to see Teris’ butt sticking up in the air, face planted in Yami’s hip. While Yami rolled from his right side onto his back holding his left shoulder laughing and moaning all at once.

“What the hell was that?” Nozel demanded, storming to Teris.

Yami’s humor disappeared seeing Nozel charging at them. He tensed, prepared to come between the Silver Eagle and Teris, more then happy to fight the royal ball of pride and teach him a lesson or two if it came down to it. But Yami needn’t have worried.

As soon as Nozel reached her, his angry, hard, fast movements became smooth, gentle and almost sweet. Bending to a knee Nozel helped Teris sit.

Yami’s watchful eyes noticed that, unlike him, Nozel didn’t take the nearness and incident as a chance to get handsy. Where Yami’s own touch would have lingered and roamed, Nozel’s touch wasn’t any more or longer than necessary. Yami huffed looking away, embarrassed for the royal and his lacking ways. No wonder the Silver Eagle was always so pent up and angry. Not only did Teris not return his affection, but Nozel never allowed himself the chance to try and change her mind, or at least let her know how he felt. Not that Yami wanted that or would have sat by and done nothing if Nozel have tried something. Still, as a fellow man, Nozel was a cringe inducing embarrassment.

“Are you alright? Can you stand? What happened?” Nozel asked, giving her no time to answer between questions.

Teris gave no sign she had heard Nozel as she sat staring at the shut vault doors making him worry further. Finally, she turned to Yami feeling guilty when she saw he was still holding his injured shoulder. “You did good. Sorry if my fuss made it more difficult.”

“There’s no difficulty I wouldn’t surpass for you, Princess.” Yami said, his eyes and tone implying all sorts of things. He gave Nozel a look as if to say, that’s how you do it moron.

Temper once again rising, Nozel cut an end to their banter. Getting to his feet he stood over them. “What, the hell, was that?”

Teris’ fiery eyes lifted to look at Nozel as she questioned in a cold slow voice. “What, did it look like?”

Yami gave a small shiver. Teris’ tone alone, not even spoken to him, made Yami want to slowly slink away.

“It looked like you were cuddled up with the foreigner taking a nap.” Nozel clipped back.

Yami had to hand it to Nozel. The Silver Eagle might not have known what to do to woo Teris, but he certainly knew how to further anger her. Yami felt the urge to cheer him on, but figured that would focus Teris’ wrath on him.

“Yes Nozel, that’s exactly what we were doing. Cause what else would one do in a deadly labyrinth but have a lie down and catch some shut eye.” Her tone made it sound preposterous, and it really was. Teris could scarcely believe that’s exactly what Yami and she had done. Though after that vision, or whatever it was that she seen, she could still scarcely believe that the world was here and she wasn’t an orb of tangible white hot light fighting not to be sucked in and devoured by a black hole.

At her words Nozel blinked, questioning what he had seen. “Wha--” He stopped and shook his head. “When--” Looking down at her with her stern, impatient expression. “I’m sorry.”

“For assuming things, or not being here to help Yami and me?” She questioned.

Yami looked up at Nozel enjoying the royal ball of prides wounded expression.

She pointed to the two distinct sections of dead beast. “That thing was huge and tired as we both were it forced us to something I would’ve rather not done.”

Nozel’s eyes snapped to Yami at that. “Like what?” He asked his tone dangerous and soft. So soft Teris didn’t seem to hear, though Yami heard it and the threat behind it clearly enough.

“Yeah. What’s with those remains?” Danior asked. “Were there two creatures or--” he looked at the beasts remains scratching his head in confusion. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He muttered to himself.

“Where were you?” Teris asked, looking up at Nozel. Despite their current difference in height levels, Nozel was the one getting talked down to. “I thought we were working together. What happened?”

“You--”

“I know what happened to me,” Teris interrupted.

“You were attacked..” Nozel began again voice rising. “Taken who knows where by who knows what. He,” he glanced at Yami, “wanted to go the wrong way.”

“Obviously not the wrong way,” Yami commented.

“And?” Teris prompted.

“And he finally wised up enough to agreed to head back out to call for help.” Danior finished, gesturing to Nozel.

Yami and Teris accused Nozel in unison, “You went back up?”

Nozel had the decency to look ashamed. Unable to meet their eyes he explained. “Only to contact Captain Pyter and inform him that the labyrinth was far bigger and much more dangerous than was initially believed.”

“And that we lost the two of you down here and needed help finding you.” Danior put in. “We were told to stay put, but Nozel insisted on coming back down here to search for you. Well, you.” He gestured to Teris. “Neither of us could’ve given you one lick if you were never found and died down here.” He said, giving Yami a glance.

Yami shrugged, thinking that at least the noble was honest. He glared at Nozel wanting to tear the royal apart for going out and leaving Teris down here, especially when he had had no idea what state she had been in.

Nozel turned away from Yami and looked at Teris. “Captain Pyter gave an order I simply could not obey. I never would have left you down here alone.”

“But you did. ” Yami rumbled.

“I wasn’t alone.” Teris said, placing a hand on the stone floor next to Yami.

Yami swallowed a smile savoring how Teris had so easily wounded the Silva without even knowing it. He watched Nozel’s battled reaction as the royal fought to control his hurt, jealousy, and shame while striving to keep the mask of prideful indifference that he constantly wore. The tortured anguish Yami sensed from Nozel’s Ki didn’t make up for the royal leaving Teris behind, but it certainly was amusing and slightly enjoyable.

“Now that everyone’s thoroughly angered and annoyed with everyone else. Can we head back up?” Danior asked.

“Who’s angry and annoyed at you?” Yami asked, the noble.

“I am.” Teris and Nozel said.

“What did I do to you?” Danior exclaimed.

“Exist.” Teris said, taking on the typical royal demeanor she hated and seldom wore.

“Great. So only the foreigner’s okay with me.” Danior grumbled.

“I liked your honesty.” Yami admitted.

“What? The part about me not giving one lick if you were never found and died down here?” Danior asked. He studied Yami wondering if the foreginer was daft. “If all it took for you to like me was my being mean to--”

“I said honest. Idiot.” Yami got slowly to his feet. “Idiot or not, he’s right.” He told Teris. “We really should be getting out of here. Who knows if happy, crazed killer voice can close any other doors and lock us in.”

Nozel’s eyebrows furrowed.

“Happy killer voice?” Danior questioned.

“Who’s that?” Nozel asked.

“You lost the right to ask questions.” Teris snipped.

Since she had directed her words at Nozel, Danior asked. “Who’s that?”

“You never had the right to ask.” She said, scowling at Danior.

Teris ignored Yami’s laughter as she put her hand in his allowing him to pull her up.

7.9

Upon exiting the labyrinth they found the Captains of the Black Bulls and Silver Eagles arguing over how the two squads should go about the search for them. Seeing them exit, the Black Bulls rushed to Yami and Teris in hurried concern. Yami gratefully, all be it begrudgingly, allowed Olsen and Venice to take Teris from him while Tobin and Abril saw to him.

Nozel waved off the administering attentions of his two of his squad members, Neyres and Margery, and stepped before the two Captains telling them what he could of what happened while Danior stood by.

Ignoring Bronn who glowered at him, Yami watched as Olsen tisked looking Teris over for less obvious injury while Venice gingerly lifted her ankle and began unwrapping the torn, dirty sleeves Teris had used.

“What is this?” Venice questioned in irate disgust pulling off what Teris had used to stabilize her ankle.

“Some sort of spines or quills from one of the beasts in there.” Teris answered. At Venice’s wrinkled nose and disapproving look Teris shrugged. “There weren’t many options on hand at the time.”

Olsen picked up one of the spines between two fingers examining it.

“You should keep them.” Tobin said, from beside Yami.

“And what,” Venice asked. “Display it as a trophy of her kills?”

“Or make some sort of weapon out of it.” Tobin shrugged. “It was strong and deadly enough to be on a beast.”

“And obviously didn’t do it much good.” Venice retorted. She turned her attention back to Teris. “Are you injured anywhere else?”

Teris looked numbly down at the palm of her hand, the one she had held over the pedestal in the vault, remembering the searing pain.

“Teris? Did you hear me?” Venice asked.

“Maybe her hearing’s gone off,” Olsen said.

“Her hearing’s fine,” Venice snapped.

“How do you know? You weren’t down there. You don’t know what happened. Maybe there was a really loud noise.”

“Maybe you’re the really loud noise and everyone wishes you’d hush up.” Venice told Olsen.

Still looking at her palm Teris opened and closed her hand. Yami looked down at his own. If she had felt what he had it was no wonder she was staring at it. The searing heat had felt like a brand that went all the way to the bone and deeper still. Yet there wasn’t so much as a red spot. Yami rubbed his palm wondering if the numb sizzling heat he could still feel there was real or a memory of the sensation.

“Did you hear me, boy!” Bronn said, cuffing Yami lightly on the neck.

Yami winced causing Bronn to pull his hand away, glancing guiltily around at the others.

“I’m fine.” Yami said, answering the Vice Captain's question. “Shoulder and back a bit sore is all.”

“You don’t know sore, boy.” Bronn said, recovering some of his harsh deportment crossing his arms. “You kids come up calling for help on some small sixth level labyrinth. I tell you, I’ve conquered a fourth level labyrinth all on my own.”

“I thought solo labyrinth missions weren’t allowed.” Abril said, screwing up her face at him.

“Shows how little you know. Quit flapping your jaw and tend to your squad mate.” Bronn ordered, waving her off. He looked down at Yami who had been pushed down by Tobin to sit on a boulder. “Took me two days to find the vault and another one just to get back out. Now you want to talk about hunger and thirst. I was so sore I could barely walk to the crapper unaided for days.”

“Who had that esteemed job?” Yami dared to wonder.

Wrinkling his nose Tobin swallowed, raising his hand.

Yami broke out laughing. With his good arm he tried to pat Tobin’s shoulder but the big ginger pushing him away scowling. Yami slapped the boulder he was sitting on instead, and continued laughing.

“I hope you’re this happy as you give us your report.” Jax said, coming to stand in front of Yami.

Still chuckling Yami asked his Captain. “Braids done with his cowardly side.”

“Yes.” Jax said, smirking over at Pyter who looked like he wanted to contest the subordinates comment.

“I suppose there wasn’t much for him to report. Hung back to protect unconscious comrade while the Black Bulls fought a beast. Ran for help when Black Bulls weren’t there to protect me.”

“That’s enough Yami,” Jax said.

Smirking, Bronn looked over the Silver Eagles and their Captain taking in their hate filled expressions as they glared at Yami. While the Vice Captain was for anyone's inflated ego being taken down a peg or two, after two of Pyter’s own had left Yami and Teris down there to fend for themselves he relished this all the more.

“Ordered to stay up by a so called Magic Knights Captain. Disobeyed. At least you manged to do one tiny, somewhat heroic deed Silva.” Yami called over at him. “Are you sure you’re a Silver Eagle? Maybe you’re--”

In a soft voice that may as well been a roar Jax rumbled. “Enough.”

The boulder Yami was sitting on cracked and crumbled to dust under him, leaving him on the ground. Looking mildly chagrined, Yami rubbed his complaining lower back and apologized. “Sorry, Captain.”

Jax released his fist and ordered the younger man. “Report.”

Yami’s lower back began screaming its disapproval of the hard ground and position of his legs, but he sucked it up and surpassed the limits of his pain threshold knowing that taking the time to get to his feet would only further irritate the Rock Mage.

Yami had just reached the point where happy, crazed killer voice was telling them about how to receive the History of Chaos when Julius and Jon, the Vice Captain of Julius’ Azure Deer, arrived. Though the two newcomers listened silently, Julius was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet by the time Yami reached the point where Nozel and Danior had opened the vault doors. The Black Bull fell silent figuring Nozel would have told the rest.

“The History of Chaos!” Julius exclaimed, unable to keep quite any longer. He rushed to Yami and then looked over at Teris like he was debating whether to pounce on his sister. “Then this labyrinth definitively was far more important and dangerous than everyone believed.”

“How so?” Bronn asked, just to egg Julius on.

Jax gave his Vice Captain a icy look.

“The History of Chaos is—well—it’s the history of Chaos,” Julius said.

“You don’t say,” Bronn quipped.

“Naturally such treasured and powerful information wouldn’t be sealed in a small sixth level labyrinth like we wrongly believed this one to be.” Julius went on.

“Wait. What? Did you say powerful.” Bronn asked, tilting his ear to the Azure Deers Captain. “Oh, no!” He shook his head and a finger. “These two don’t need any more power at their disposal. They’re destructive enough without whatever power this Chaos history gives them.”

“I agree.” Jax mumbled, nodding once.

Julius mimicked Jax’s nod. “That the History of Chaos is too important to be housed in a level six labyrinth? What level do you think that dungeon is?”

“Not with you. You crazed magic freak,” Jax snapped. “I agree with Bronn.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Bronn sniffed.

“But that’s enough out of you.” Jax said, pointing a finger at his Vice Captain. “You encourage this one,” he waved a finger at Julius, “one more time and--” he made a fist the boulder behind Bronn, much larger than the one Yami was sitting on, cracked and crumbled to dust. “Understand me?”

Bronn opened his mouth to respond, but snapped it shut and nodded.

“Julius.” Jax said, turning to his fellow Captain. “What is the History of Chaos, other than the history of Chaos?”

“No one really knows,” Julius said. He balled his hands in excitement and turned to Yami, who had gotten to his feet with Tobin’s help.

Before the Azure Deers Captain could ask Yami to see whatever it was he was so excited about, Pyter placed a firm hand on Julius’ shoulder and turned him back around to face them. “Then pray tell, why do you believe it’s so important and powerful?”

Wide eyed Julius looked from Pyter to Jax and back. “I’m not the only one who believes that. Everyone who has ever studied, let alone read a single volume of Mage Yurist’s work--”

“Damn it all to hell,” Pyter cursed. “I give up.”

Jon Jace stepped in front of his Captain. Careful to keep and maintain eye contact, he requested. “Sir, tell me plainly. As if I’ve never heard of the History of Chaos. What is it?”

“Mage Yurist’s magic was time magic,” Julius began.

“Like yours?” Bronn said.

At Jax’s raised hand Bronn tripped over himself backing away, nearly falling.

“No. Where mine is mostly battle able at this point, Yurist’s magic was strictly clerical.” At Jon’s furrowed brow Julius explained. “He could see time itself. The past. The future.”

“The beginning.” Teris muttered, distantly.

“And the end.” Yami finished, his eyes sliding over to her.

All eyes turned and bounced between Yami and Teris.

Julius merely nodded. “The end of it all. Quite naturally, it drove Yurist mad.” He sighed, shaking his head at the shameful, wasteful end of such a mage.

Yami’s eyes stilted as he looked at Teris. “I told you. Didn’t I say crazed, happy killer voice.”

“We don’t even know if that was Yurist’s voice,” Teris said.

“It likely was.” Julius said, receiving a glare from his sister. “Yurist was able to chronicle much of what he saw before the madness took him completely over. But with the onset of madness came sever paranoia.”

“What would a man who sees everything have to be paranoid about?” Pyter asked.

“Don’t distract him,” Jax hushed.

“It was either an uncontrollable symptom of the madness, or Yurist did indeed have reason to be paranoid. No one knows.” Julius said. “Though our time magic greatly differs, I can tell you with certainty that Yurist wouldn’t have known everything. The closer you are to people and events, the more difficult it is and would have been for him to read. As for things within your own timeline, that is to say closer to the present, and it’s near impossible to tell what’s going to happen.” He waved away their confused looks. “I can try to explain, but I’m afraid I won’t do very well. Besides, you don’t need to understand. What you need to know is, Yurist became obsessed with the end.”

Jax couldn’t help himself. He needed clarification. “The end as in--”

“The end of everything,” Julius finished.

“The end of the world.” Bronn sighed, eyes on Yami and Teris. “Great.”

“Not just the world,” Julius said. “When I say everything. I mean everything. The moon. Th--”

“The stars,” Teris said, looking at Yami

“The sun,” Yami said, gazing back at her.

She stared at him, the vision she had seen replaying in her mind. Not that it had ever stopped.

“Will you two stop doing that,” Bronn snapped. “The subject’s creepy enough as it is.”

Jax studied Yami and Teris another moment now positive Yami had left some key parts out of his report. Turning back to Julius he asked. “How is it going to happen?”

“You mean how did some long dead, crazy mage think it was going to happen.” Pyter corrected, unable to stop a nervous laugh from escaping.

“Please don’t say in light and darkness.” Bronn whispered, to whatever gods might be listening.

“Chaos,” Julius said.

Bronn’s eyes snapped open. “Well hell! That’s no better. Those two have the History of Chaos.” He turned to them and demanded. “Give it back. I don’t know how you’ll manage it. And I don’t much care. Burn your damned grimoires if you have to but you two aren’t keeping that thing.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Julius said.

“I don’t care!” Bronn snapped, turning on him.

“Bronn.” Jax calmed. “It doesn’t work that way.”

“But I wanna live Captain. I wanna grow old and get fat. And have lots and lots of sex with a beautiful wife.”

“Whoa!” Teris exclaimed.

Yami and Tobin both grinned, nodding their heads.

“I hope that’s with your own eventual wife and not someone elses,” Venice said.

Olsen voiced what Yami and Tobin were thinking. “I too wish to get married, grow old, and have lots of sex. Though,” he added, “I can’t say I agree on the getting fat.”

“I could go either way,” Tobin shrugged.

“I don’t see me getting fat,” Yami said. “Especially if I’m having lots of sex. That in itself would be a regular workout.”

“Just what are you planning on doing to your woman?” Tobin asked.

Yami gave his friend a wicked grin.

“Mother of all Mana! Can we please stop talking about sex.” Jax stormed.

“I need to wash my eyes out--” Teris said.

“I want to scratch my out,” Venice said.

“--with acid,” Teris finished.

“That’s gonna stick in ones head.” Jon said in monotone as he stared unblinkingly into the distance.

Abril smiled. “I knew not having any sort of imagination would pay off, eventually.”

“Back, to the matter at hand.” Jax said, tightly.

Julius blinked when all eyes returned to him. He picked up where he left off with ease. “I don’t believe that this is Yurist’s work on what he saw as the end. What they found is the History of Chaos.” He looked to Teris for conformation.

She nodded.

“We’ll have to check with one of the many Yurist Specialist in Magic Investigations. to be positive.” Julius went on. “But, I think it’s safe to say that Yurist’s writings on Chaos ending it all would be the Future of Chaos, not the History of Chaos.”

“There’s another volume,” Jax replied.

“Yes,” Teris said.

“Happy, crazed killer voice said as much,” Yami nodded.

“Called the book or page the Future of Chaos. Big surprise there.” Teris huffed. “Apparently Yurist was a plain spoken man.”

“Crazed killer voice said it could be found in labyrinth 297,353.” Yami finished.

“Don’t tell this lot where to fine it,” Bronn hushed. “That one alone,” he gestured to Julius, “will probably go searching for it first chance he gets. As for the rest of them,” he crossed his arms glaring at the Silver Eagles, “who knows what aims they have or what they’ll do to reach them.”

“I told you I want to get married, grow old, and have lots of sex,” Olsen said. “I don’t need Chaos’ help to achieve that and I certainly wouldn’t be keen on hastening the end of everything.”

Tobin nodded. “Same here. Married. Old. And--”

“If you say sex,” Jax warned, “so help me I’ll...”

“Somebody needs some,” Venice muttered.

Still sitting on the large rock Venice and Olsen had placed her, Teris gasped eyes widening.

“Ready to die?” Jax growled, turning to the pale, freckled girl, mana radiating off him in waves.

Venice, who was kneeling next to Teris, suddenly became very interested in the ground. Sucking in both her lips, she bit them and shook her head fiercely.

“One more word out of you and dead you will be.” Jax warned, turning away.

Jax’s back to her, Venice blew out the breath she had been holding. Looking at her Teris, she slapped friends arm. Teris pushed playfully her in return.

“You two ladies better not be rough housing,” Jax warned. Looking at his fellow Captains he said. “If we’re about done here. These children are getting restless.”

Julius nodded.

“I’ll see my own men off the the healing mages and send their report in to Greywright later tonight,” Pyter said.

Jax glanced back at Yami and Teris sighing. “I suppose their injuries require a bit more than Venice and Tobin can manage with herbs and potions.”

“I can see them to the healing mages after sending you and the others back to base,” Bronn offered.

“Good,” Jax said.

“And the report?” Jon asked.

“I’ll have them work on it when they get back and send it in, in the morning.” Jax said, sounding bored.

“But--”

Julius held a hand to Jon silencing his Vice Captain. “I’ll go with Bronn, Teris, and Yami to the healers. There’s a few more questions I want to ask them.”

“You’re not ogling my grimoire,” Yami told.

“Or mine,” Teris said.

Ignoring them Julius went on giving Jax a communicative look. “Then I’ll take them over to the Magic Investigations. and find a clerk that specializes in Yurist.”

“More of a treat for you then work.” Pyter commented.

“It’ll be work,” Julius said. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy it.”

“Want to meet for an early lunch tomorrow to discuss further?” Pyter suggested, looking at the two Captains.

“Why?” Jax asked.

“To share their full reports and find out what Julius learned,” Pyter said.

“No. I meant why would you be there,” Jax said. “Your men didn’t find the vault and receive the History of Chaos. Well, they found the vault, but only after leaving my men behind.”

“To rightfully call for assistance.” Pyter said, voice and temper rising.

Jax remained silent, which furthered Pyter’s prideful anger.

“Captains. Captains.” Julius smiled, coming between them. “The three of us need to eat. So why not meet for lunch somewhere tomorrow.”

“Fine,” Jax relented.

Pyter nodded once in agreement.

Jax turned to Julius and whispered loudly enough for Pyter to hear. “But the two of us are meeting before lunch to discuss the important stuff.”

Chapter Text

8.1

Bronn was still laughing when he closed the portal that transported him, Julius, Yami and Teris to in front of Healers Hall. The Silver Eagles Captain had assumed Bronn would allow him and his two injured hatchlings through the gateway with them. And when Bronn had told the Captain ‘no’, well... Pyter’s face had been priceless and something Bronn would remember for months to come when he needed a good laugh.

“I can’t believe you told them that,” Julius said.

Still laughing Bronn asked. “What? It’s true.”

“But to tell the Captain of the Silver Eagles that his men should see how it feels to get left behind...” Julius fell silent shaking his head.

“What? It’s not like I said it to the Captain of the top ranked Magic Knights squad,” Bronn smirked.

Julius stared fiercely at the Black Bulls Vice Captain. “My Azure Deer would never leave anyone behind.” He stated firmly.

“See. Besides, the Silver Eagles aren’t even the second ranked squad,” Bronn reasoned.

“Mereoleona would burn you to a crisp if you told her something like that,” Julius said.

“No one on that Lioness’ squad would dare leave the meanest peasant behind, let alone a fellow Magic Knight. She’d fry her own people up. Take ‘em to the healing mages and burn them all over again if they did what those two Silver Eagles had. Man!” Bronn shook his head in admiration. “Now, that’s a woman.”

Yami and Teris glanced at each other and back at their Vice Captain. Even Julius picked up on Bronn’s change.

“Do you—like Mereoleona, Bronn?” Julius questioned haltingly.

“Like her?” Bronn exclaimed. “That woman scares the mana out of me.”

“So, that’d be a yes,” Yami stated.

Bronn raised a clawed hand towards Yami’s neck. Yami side stepped away and gingerly rolled his head his tense neck muscles pulling on his injured shoulder causing it to spasm.

Julius looked about noting for the first where they were. “No. No, Bronn.”

“What,” Bronn demanded.

“You weren’t suppose to take us to Healers Hall,” Julius said.

“Then where was I suppose to take these two to get fixed up? The tailors?” Bronn asked.

“Owen’s,” Julius answered.

“The Wizard Kings new healer?” Bronn questioned in disbelief.

“He’ll see and set them right in no time,” Julius nodded. “Who knows which healer they’ll get in there. Do you really want to stand around waiting if they’re busy or the mage isn’t swift?”

Bronn thought a moment. He wasn’t keen on seeing Captain Pyter again so soon. And if Pyter used his ash magic to transport the two injured Silver Eagles, they’d likely get to the healers before Yami and Teris were cleared for release.

“You think you can get these two in to see Owen?” Bronn finally asked.

“I know I can,” Julius said.

“Alright. Let’s go,” Bronn relented.

“It’s not that far.” Julius said turning away from the building that housed the healing center. “We’ll just walk.”

Yami and Bronn watched Julius head off wondering how far he would get before remembering Teris couldn’t walk. Glowering at her brother, Teris threw her boot at him. It gave a satisfying thud as it hit Julius in the back.

Julius spun around a flash of anger crossing his face. His temper quickly cooled when he saw that it was Teris who had accosted him. He looked down at her boot as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry. I forgot.”

“Obviously,” Teris said.

“Don’t forget her boot on your way back,” Bronn called.

Julius scooped up the shoe and walked back to them. As Bronn opened up a portal to Owen’s, Teris held her hand out.

Julius look over her hand and shook his head, hugging her shoe to his chest. “No. It’s mine now.”

“Jul’s,” Teris complained.

“You can’t even wear it right now,” Bronn snapped. “Quit being such a bratty little sister and go on through before I send you flying through.”

8.2

Julius had been right. Owen had not only agreed to see them but was happy to have Julius stop by. The Wizard Kings new personal Healing Mage had Yami and Teris fixed up good as new in a matter of minutes. Apparently Teris’ ankle had been fractured which greatly heightened Bronn’s esteem for her and her capabilities. Yami’s lower back had suffered a couple torn ligaments and was severely bruised, and his shoulder had also been badly bruised and fractured, but only three hairline ones. Which had made Bronn shake his head and tisk asking Yami what he had been complaining about if that was all that was wrong with him.

Since it was against regulations to transport within the walls of Castle City unless directly to Healers Halls or the tower of Owens lab and residence, an emergency, or one had the proper credentials to do so, they had been forced to walk to Magic Investigations.

Opening one of the doors to the buildings main entrance Julius grinned like a saber cat who got the hound dog as Teris, still sulking, limped passed without her boot. Bronn smacked Yami’s head gesturing him to get inside when Yami didn’t step to his liking.

“Sir Julius. Back so soon.” A pretty counter clerk welcomed.

Was it just Teris’ imagination or had the girl rushed to prim herself when she caught sight of Julius.

“Ah Leenor, it’s you again. How you must tire of seeing my face.” Julius greeted.

“Hardly, my Lord.” Leenor assured, blushing.

“Now what have I told you.” Julius said, lowering his voice as he leaned a elbow on the counter. “Call me Julius unless your superiors are around and you can’t. You’ll hurt my feelings otherwise.”

“Sorry. Julius.” Leenor blushed again.

“This is my sister, Teris.” Julius said, gesturing. “I’m sure I’ve mentioned her.”

Leenor shook her head. “No my—Julius.” Leenor corrected herself.

Julius rubbed his chin. “I haven’t?”

Teris stepped to the counter beside her brother. “My feelings can handle not being mentioned.” She assured making a grab for her shoe.

“Mine.” Julius snipped as he spun around hugging the boot tighter to his chest.

“I don’t know why you want the thing,” Bronn said to Julius. “It probably reeks.”

“Excuse me?” Teris questioned turning to her Vice Captain, eyebrows raised.

“I mean, after being down in that labyrinth sloshing through the damp, dust, and guts,” Bronn added.

Teris looked him over before turning back to Leenor.

“Nice save,” Yami smirked.

“Shut up,” Bronn snapped.

Leenor watched the them uncomfortably.

Julius gave her a winning smile. “Sorry about that. These two,” he gestured to Yami and Teris, “just came back from a mission to a dungeon.”

“I can see that.” Leenor smiled tightly, giving a sniff.

Teris glowered at the woman before looking down at herself. Her clothes had not been changed so her shirt was still sleeveless and just as filthy as her pants. Her right pant leg had been cut up to her mid-calf by Venice and hung loosely. She had lost her sock somewhere and without her boot, one foot was bare. She looked down at her toes wiggling them.

Yami didn’t look himself over, but gave himself a sniff. Bronn sniffed him as well.

“Yeah.” The Vice Captain chocked blinking watery eyes. “That’s ripe.”

“I know it’s unusual, but I was hoping you’d allow me this favor.” Julius went on. “Considering we’re friends. Though I wouldn’t want to presume.” He hastened to assure holding out a hand.

Leenor patted his hand that rested on the counter. “I wouldn’t mind it if you presumed more often my—Julius.” She blushed, looking down and swaying prettily.

“I may just take you up on that.” Julius smiled thinking of the extra hours he could have pursuing the Magic Investigations. trove of fantastical magical incidents if he asked Leenor to allow him entry when the wing was closed to those who weren’t Magic Investigators or Clerks.

“I’d like that.” Leenor smiled, batting her eyelashes at him.

“Leenor! What’s the hold up? Find out what these Magic Knights want and send them on their way. They’re too busy to be dilly dallying with the likes of you.”

“Yes Axus.” Leenor called back to her superior. Flushing with embarrassment, she turned back to Julius assuming her usual professional courtesy. “What can I assist you with today Captain Nova?”

Julius straightened, no longer leaning on the counter. “My friends and I would like to access the specialized history section, please.” He said, making no mention of Yurist or requesting someone who specialized in the Mage.

“You must be accompanied by a Magic Investigations. Mage for anything above section E.” Axus droned, boredly from his desk as he scribbled on a paper before sliding it into a cubbie. “Specialized history is located in section A.” He looked up, squinting at Julius. “What do you want in there for anyway?”

“As I explained to Leenor, these two just came back from a labyrinth,” Julius said.

“Yeah? They look and smell it.” Axus said, leaning back in his seat. “I still don’t see what’s so special about that, that you’re needing access to section A; without even bothering get those two cleaned up no less. You’re Magic Knights, you’re always off exploring dungeons or fighting and catching bad guys. If not on some mission then you’re somewhere drinking or gambling or both.” He stopped forgetting the point he had been trying to make.

Julius merely smiled politely.

“Aww. Call someone up, Leenor.” Axus ordered, giving in with a waved. “I’m tired of looking at his perfect royal face.”

“Thank you.” Julius said to Axus. He leaned over the counter slightly and whispered to Leenor. “If you could see that we get Marx, I’d really appreciate it.”

Leenor glanced back at Axus. When she was sure her superior hadn’t heard she looked up at Julius with a blushing smile and gave a small nod.

After a few minutes wait, Leenor turned her attention back to Julius and said. “An Investigations Mage will meet you at the library's entrance.”

They followed Julius around, passed the main counter and down a grand but dark hallway.

“I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but you got game.” Bronn declared.

“I don’t know what you mean, but thank you.” Julius said, smiling tightly.

“He means you have a way with the ladies,” Yami grinned.

Julius’ head snapped back to look at Yami. “What? Leenor? No.” He shook his head. “We’re just friends. You heard--”

“I heard. And saw my friend.” Bronn smiled, placing his hand on Julius’ shoulder. “You had that prim, buttoned up little gate keeper all but drooling over the counter-top for you.”

Julius’ eyebrows furrowed.

“So when are you gonna presume upon her again and ask her out?” Bronn asked.

“Ask her out?” Julius repeated. “No.” He shook his head. “It’s not like that.”

“What? You got another fine little piece somewhere else that we don’t know about?” Bronn teased.

“If you mean girlfriend. No,” Julius answered. “I don’t have the time or interest for such frivolous relations or endeavors.”

“What!” Bronn demanded.

Julius pulled away from the Black Bulls Vice Captain. “If I am to be the next Wizard King, I must focus my entire attention on what will help see me there.”

Bronn blinked, surprised. “Alright,” he allowed. “You might not give yourself the freedom to pursue the pleasures of the finer sex but you want to. Right?”

“I want to be the next Wizard King,” Julius said.

Bronn blinked again shaking his head. “Monk King more like,” he muttered.

Yami gave Teris a look that questioned which one of them should tell Julius.

Teris pointed to her bare foot in response to Yami’s silent query.

Yami gave a short, huffing laugh at that, then laughed even more when Teris glared at him.

“If you believe access to Magic Investigations. will help you in your efforts to become Wizard King then I suggest you ask that Counter Clerk out for some tea or something.” Teris said, deciding to be the one that told her brother. “Make sure that you complain the entire time how busy you are and how pressing your duties as a Magic Knights Captain can be.”

Julius eyed his sister petting her boot. “Do I have to?”

“If don’t want to be thrown out on your ear and barred from here you do,” Bronn said.

Julius turned to Yami for assistance. Yami stared at his mentor smirking.

“Alright,” Julius grumbled. “But only for a cup of tea and never again.”

“You’d think we were telling him to drink mud or something,” Bronn huffed.

“Who has time to drink when your aim is to be the next Wizard King.” Teris said, watching her brother open a door to the libraries main entrance.

“Ah, Marx. I’m glad it’s you.” Julius greeted turning his body as Teris made a swipe for her boot.

“You asked for me, I’m sure.” Marx said, looking over the people the Azure Deers Captain had brought with him.

“I need your assistance.” Julius went on.

“Section A, specialized history. I heard the call,” Marx said.

“Yes,” Julius nodded. “But more than that--”

“There’s always more with you,” Marx sighed over Julius’ words.

Julius laughed uncomfortably. “This is my sister, Teris.” He said pulling her to him.

Teris reached for her shoe.

Julius tucked the boot under his wing, opposite her. “I’m sure I’ve mentioned her.”

“I wish you’d quit saying that.” Teris grumbled under her breath, already knowing Marx’s response.

“You haven’t,” Marx said.

“To you? I’m sure I have,” Julius challenged.

“Not even once,” Marx said. “You could have been an only child far as I knew.”

Julius gave another uncomfortable chuckle.

“History of Chaos.” Teris said, looking at the Investigations Mage, tired of waiting for her brother to get to the point. “My friend and I received it in a labyrinth today.”

“From where you obviously just came from,” Marx sniffed.

“We got ourselves fixed up by a Healer first,” Yami informed.

“But somehow didn’t have the time or inclination to clean up,” Marx noted.

Teris took a step to the Investigations. Mage saying. “You can’t shame me bowl cut. I’m a royal. Now, are you going to be of assistance or shall I call for your superior?”

Bronn raised his eyebrows, whistling appreciatively. “Damn if there aren’t occasions I find myself loving a royal.”

Yami’s head snapped to face the Vice Captain, but it was an instinctive reaction more than anything else. There was no hint of amorous affection in Bronn’s Ki.

“No,” Marx said.

“Say that again,” Teris dared.

Marx’s haughty demeanor vanished. Tentatively he reached out to Julius and pulled the boot tucked under the Captain's arm free. Holding the shoe between a thumb and forefinger Marx offered it to Teris, extending the footwear as far away from him as his arm would allow.

“To enter the library one must be fully clothed. Or clothed to the best of their garments ability.” He sniffed looking Yami and Teris over.

Teris snatched her shoe and dropped it. Holding onto Yami and Julius, she shoved her foot roughly inside muttering angerly at both her brother and his friend.

“Satisfied?” She demanded looking up at Marx.

“They’re not my rules.” Marx informed coolly.

“I wouldn’t test her when she’s like this,” Julius warned. “She can be a right old pain, and she holds a grudge.”

“Not to mention this one’s around.” Bronn said, gesturing to Yami. “Offend the two of ‘em and they might take down the building, if not all of Castle City.”

Interest peaked, Marx looked Yami and Teris over again. “You’re the dark and light magic users that I heard about?”

“What of it?” Yami said, crossing his arms.

“Why didn’t you start with that?” Marx asked Julius, lightening.

“Does that mean she doesn’t require both her shoes?” Julius asked, pointing to his sisters unlaced boot.

“Just you try to take it from me,” Teris growled.

“You’re weird.” Marx said, eyeing Julius.

“And just like that, we’ve found common ground.” Teris smiled at Marx.

As Marx escorted them to section A, which was actually an entire level of the Magic Investigations building, he asked Yami and Teris questions which they frustratingly choose to ignore.

“Section A.” Marx said, upon reaching the sixth floor. “Any information we have on the History of Chaos would be in the Yurist aisles; which is most of this level. Wait here. I’m going to see if Elric is in today.” He stepped away from them before looking back and instructing. “Don’t go anywhere. Don’t touch anything. Don’t even move.”

“Sure thing.” Julius said, nodding his head.

Marx eyed Bronn, Yami, and Teris suspiciously before hurrying off.

“So this is Magic Investigations?” Bronn said, looking around. “Looks like a library to me.”

“I’m surprised you know the word let alone what one looks like.” Teris muttered under her breath.

“Oui! You better fix that attitude before--”

“Sorry.” Teris apologized before her Vice Captain could finish the threat.

It took Bronn a moment to realize she was serious and not being snarky.

“What happened in the labyrinth still got you on edge?” Julius questioned with concern.

“It’s not so much what happened in the labyrinth that’s messing with me,” Teris told. It’s what happened in the vault she thought.

“Then what is it?” Julius asked, his concern evident in his tone, if not his expression.

Teris looked at Yami wondering if they should tell them. They hadn’t discussed it, but somehow they had seemed to agree not to go into too much detail about the what happened in the vault; or more directly what they had seen while their outstretched hands were held fast and grimoires bound shut by some unseen magic. Yami had even gone so far as to leave most of the details about how they had received the History of Chaos out of his summary of events to their Captain.

Yami gave her a look that said it was up to her. She both appreciated and hated his doing that. While it felt good to be in control of who was told of the disturbing encounter; it also put a lot of pressure on her. What if what they saw was something important. Like a foretelling they could stop or prepare for. The image of those two all consuming, ever hungry black holes filled her mind. No. There was no stopping or preparing for what she had seen.

She looked at her brother and then Bronn. The Vice Captain had become a surprising ally since the attack on the road near Lord Silva’s house. Maybe ally wasn’t the best word since he hadn’t gone against Captain Jax’s orders and told them anything that the Wizard King didn’t wish them to know. But Bronn had been much more supportive and occasionally almost kind to them. Even the worst of the abuse he dished out on Yami had mostly stopped. Mostly.

Still, there was already so much fear and unknown surrounding the combination of Yami’s and her magic. What would happen if others learned what they had seen? What if had felt like she and Yami had lived through? Little good she was sure. Even in the hands of her brother, such information could cause Yami and her no end of troubles. Whether Julius wanted to or not, as Captain of the Azure Deer, he was duty bound to report any and all threats to the Clover Kingdom and it’s people directly to the Wizard King. It was safe to say that with Yurist’s prophetic time magic what Yami and Teris had experienced could easily be considered a threat. Hopefully a far, far future threat; but a threat nonetheless. Add to that the threat Yami and Teris still posed, even though they were now able to control their magic well enough to not unintentionally destroy things, and Julius was honor bound as a Magic Knight to inform the Wizard King.

“Nothing.” Teris shook her head.

“Ris.” Julius said, using his rarely used childhood nickname for her.

“I said nothing.” Teris firmly repeated.

Julius was about to press the issue when Marx returned.

“This is Elric,” Marx introduced. “He’s the foremost scholar on Yurist’s final works which includes both the History of Chaos and the Future of Chaos.”

“They only found the History of Chaos,” Bronn said. “The future of that bastard can stay buried and forgotten for all I care.”

“That’s highly doubtful,” Elric said.

Bronn came up with a stream curses Yami had never heard before, giving him a newfound respect for his superior.

“Why’s that?” Julius asked, giving Bronn a disapproving glance.

“Yurist was fanatical about writing everything down,” Elric replied. “From what he saw with his magic, to his daily life. Encounters with friends, colleagues, strangers. What and when he ate, slept, and more. They’re called the Yurist’s Journals.”

“No wonder the lunatic has practically a whole floor dedicated to his stuff.” Bronn said, looking around with renewed awe. “And you paper sniffing bookworms have kept every single one of his scribbling's haven’t you.”

“Every one that we’ve found,” Elric nodded. “It is estimated that only one third of Yurist’s writings have been discovered thus far.”

“Yeah well, when you log the time, date, and smell of every butt burp, not to mention how long it lasted and what it sounded like, there’s bound to be a few forests worth of trees that were lost to your constant quill scratching,” Bronn muttered.

Ignoring the Black Bulls Vice Captain, Elric went on. “It is believed that the Clover Kingdom has the majority of Yurist’s found works with the rest spread between the Spade, Diamond, and Heart Kingdoms. Though it is said that the Witch Queen has a prophecy journal or two and is highly desirous for more.”

Teris had impatiently waited for the Investigations Mage to finish talking about who had the most of Yurist’s works so she could steer him back to the more important matter. “Why exactly are you highly doubtful that the Future of Chaos won’t stay hidden?”

“Right,” Elric nodded. “As I said, Yurist wrote everything down.”

“Yes.” Teris growled, giving a tight smile.

Elric balked at her aggression and hurried to say. “Tucked in one of his personal journals between what he had for breakfast and who he expected to pay him call that day was a simple sentence that read, ‘the two who find my second greatest work’, which is widely agreed to be the History of Chaos, ‘and survive, will find my absolute greatest work’ which everyone agrees is the Future of Chaos. Yurist is well known for putting important nuggets of information, such as that, in the middle of the mundane.”

“Say that one more time Bookworm,” Bronn commanded. “The ones who find the history of Chaos will find the Future of Chaos?”

“The two who will find my second greatest--”

“I don’t need you to repeat the quote again,” Bronn hushed. “Tell me this though. Was this one,” he pointed to Julius, “right when he said that the Future of Chaos detailed the end of it all.”

“That is what Yurist said was contained in that tome,” Elric nodded.

“Everything,” Bronn said. “The earth. The stars.”

“The moon,” Yami said.

Bronn pointed at Teris and made a fist, “If you say the sun in that distant creepy voice like last time I’ll--”

“Maybe you should stay here while we find somewhere to sit and discuss this further,” Julius suggested.

“Why should I stay put,” Bronn barked. “They’re my subordinates. You should have to stay.”

“I can’t,” Julius said.

“Why,” Bronn argued. “They’re not your comrades.”

“But they’re my--” Julius paused looking at Yami. He had been about to say family but didn’t know how Yami would have reacted to that. Afraid to scare him away, Julius said lamely. “They’re mine.”

“Why don’t you both stay,” Teris suggested.

Julius and Bronn turned their eyes on her. Bronn’s full of anger and annoyance. Julius’ filled with hurt and worry.

Elric escorted them all to one of the many study rooms situated around the perimeter of the massive floor. Once seated Elric took in first Yami and then Teris, studying them.

While under his gaze, Teris felt like one of the books out on the floor, open for him to read, and found it difficult to keep his gaze.

“You’re afraid.” Elric said, staring at Teris. “Why?”

“I’m not afraid,” Teris lied.

“Of course the girl’s afraid,” Bronn said. “You just said she and the lad were going to find the thing that describes the end of everything there is. If I’m being honest. I’m afraid too.”

“The ones that find the Future of Chaos aren’t necessarily the ones that end existence. In fact most scholars believe it highly doubtful that the ones who discover Yurist’s work on Chaos’ future will even live to see any of his prophecies in that work come to pass,” Elric said.

“You don’t know these two and what they were already capable of doing before this Chaos business,” Bronn said.

“Bronn.” Julius snapped, quietly. His eyes bore into the Vice Captains and then looked over to Yami and Teris who sat together silently.

Elric leaned back looking from Yami to Teris. “Now then, why don’t you tell me everything that happened upon entering the vault.”

Yami watched Teris out of the corner of his eye. Though she hid the turbulent emotions incredibly well he could feel her leg tremble slightly against his. Then there was his mana which strained and fought against his hold, sensing hers storm and wanting to feast and further feed hers. As for her Ki. It was all over the place. He really couldn’t blame her. He was having trouble keeping it together as well. All the stuff with their magic had been one thing, but this Chaos stuff. It was just too much.

Looking to the Investigations Mage Yami tried for calm, almost bored, superiority. “We came to you for answers. Not to give you some. Tell us what you know.”

Marx arched an eyebrow impressed. He would have figured anyone faced with what these two were dealing with would be overwhelmed with fear. Yet here where two first year Magic Knights not only looking unafraid, but practically disinterested.

“Alright,” Elric said. “But it’s not much, and most of it is conjecture.”

“Go on.” Teris encouraged, impatiently.

“The thing you have to understand is that even before the his madness Yurist was obsessed with what he saw as the end of everything. Not because of the apocalyptic tones everyone assumes when they here ‘the end’ but because he saw it more as a beginning.” At their confused looks Elric explained. “Think of it as one of Yurist’s many journals housed here. What happened when he came to the last page, the end of the book?”

“He bought another one.” Teris offered, slowly.

“Exactly.” Elric said, moving to the edge of his seat, excitement beginning to bubble up inside him. “Yurist was obsessed with Chaos’ future because he knew it spelled the end of this journal, so to speak. The end of an age. But the age of everything in existence. Likewise his obsession with Chaos’ history stemmed from his belief that somewhere in it he could discover just how the next age, the new journal, would begin and possibly even what it would appear like. Can you imagine? The end of everything. Every hair and particle of dust. Even air, light, and darkness. Mana itself. All of it gone. Yet somehow. Some way. Something new begins. New life. A new existence. Something we’ve never seen. And could not even imagine. That’s why Yurist wrote the History and Future of Chaos.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.” Teris said, begrudgingly.

“What’s that girl?” Bronn demanded. “I don’t know about you, but the end of air, light, and mana sounds pretty bad to me.”

“Yes. It does,” Julius agreed. “But, something new coming after. I wonder what that would be like.”

“Of course you would you weird freak.” Bronn said. “For me, I’d just rather not imagine, and go on living with this age thank you very much.”

“I’d rather not imagine it myself.” Teris said, her eyes turning to look at Yami, remembering what she had felt and seen.

“Finally. A Nova with some sense,” Bronn said.

Teris looked back at Elric. “Given that you say Yurist was obsessed with it all makes me think he never found out himself.”

Elric shook his head. “As far as we know he didn’t. Every mention of the subject we find within his works is filled with his scribbled question marks. In some cases, he scrawled over his theories to the point that the writing is unreadable.”

“So if what you and most scholars believe is true. That the ones who find the History of Chaos will somehow, someday find the Future of Chaos but not live to see anything from it come to pass. None of this is really a big deal.” At Elric’s aghast expression Teris elaborated. “Not on a cosmic scale, but on a within our lifetime scale.”

“No.” Elric agreed, hesitantly. “I suppose on such a small scale as one persons lifespan this wouldn’t be considered the thing that impels what is known as the Finis Event that sees the return of Chaos. Not unless you’re a member of one of the few impassioned cults that follow the teachngs of Zealot--”

The lights dimmed and a high pitched horn blared in alert.

“Cease. Everyone in section A must cease what they are doing immediately.” The echoing voice they all recognized as Axus, the Magic Investigations main counter manager intoned.

Teris’ head spun to face the rooms interior window that overlooked the rows of towering bookshelves. She sucked in a breath and then told herself that it was probably someone that appeared enough like him for her imagination to fill in the rest. That was until Commander Greywright appeared in the meeting room they were all sitting in.

“Found them.” The Magic Knights Commander said into a communication crystal.

The lights returned to their full illumination and the horns fell silent. The disembodied voice of Axus said. “You may return to your activities.”

Glaring at the seated group, Greywright pocketed his transportation charm. To Julius and Bronn he stormed. “They found the History of Chaos and you come here instead of informing the Wizard King, his Advisor, or myself.”

“Captain’s Pyter and Jax said they were going to send in a report as is customary,” Julius said.

“You view the discovery of the History of Chaos as something that is customary? When has anything having to do with those two been customary!” The Commander shook his head. “And you, Captain of the top ranked squad and one of the lead candidates for Wizard King. You disappoint me, Julius. You’ve disappointed Sir Jorah.”

“I was just doing as my Captain ordered, as were these two.” Bronn said, gesturing to Yami and Teris.

“You don’t need to tell me of your Captains lapse in judgment,” Greywright said. “We’re well aware.”

“I’m the one who offered to take them to the healing mages.” Bronn said, quickly.

“And I tagged along saying that I would bring them by here after,” Julius added.

“Captain Jax actutually did little to no ordering,” Bronn finished.

“So Captain Pyter reported.” Greywright said, looking at the two men.

“Pyter.” Bronn seethed through gritted teeth.

Julius eyed the Black Bulls Vice Captain wondering if they would be in this position if Bronn and Jax had been nicer to the Silver Eagles Captain. Who was he kidding? Of course they’d still be in trouble. Whether Pyter had gone to the Wizard King our not, Sir Jorah was bound to have learned what they had done eventually.

He looked at his sister and Yami, and sighed. So much for seeing that the two of them got what little informative help they could get out of this, Julius thought. Pyter and Greywright had acted too fast and Elric spoken too slow for Yami and Teris to have learn anything of use. Elric hadn’t even gotten the chance to mention the name of the long dead Zealot that had been obsessed with bringing about Chaos’ return; let alone that there were fanatical groups that still followed the mans teachings and they had been interested in Yami and Teris long before they had found the History of Chaos.

Yami and Teris locked eyes, both trying to remember what Yami had said in his short verbal report. Had Captain Pyter somehow figured out that they had used their combined magic to defeat the beast guarding the vault? If one knew enough about how their magic reacted to the other all one had to do was look at the two distinct areas of bloody remains to know what they had done.

Teris was certain that Danior would have told if he had but understood what the sight he had remarked on had meant. But he hadn’t. She was certain. The brown haired Silver Eagle had even wondered at the time if there had been two creatures. Nozel, on the other hand, knew Teris’ magic quite well. The two had sparred too many times to count before they had joined the Magic Knights. He had also seen the effect of her and Yami’s combination of magic. Once at the Magic Knights Entrance Exams. And then again, up close and personal in the Black Bulls dining hall.

She wondered if Nozel had figured it out and said something. She hoped not, but given his distaste for Yami she couldn’t be sure. Then again, it was possible that either Danior or Nozel had made an innocent commented about the strange scene and Captain Pyter had figured it on his own.

“Yami. Teris. Out.” Greywright commanded. He looked over at Marx. “You. Out. Now.”

“Where do we go?” Teris asked.

“Away,” Greywright said, then decided a more direct order was required. “Go to the dining cafe at Magic Knights Headquarters. Get yourselves something to eat and stay there.”

“Where’s the dining cafe,” Yami asked.

Greywright heaved a sigh.

“I’ll take and stay with them.” Julius said, standing up.

Greywright, Yami, and Teris turned to him in surprise. Though the Magic Knights Commander was obviously still furious with the Captain, Greywright was almost solicitous as he asked. “You sure?”

Staring at her brother, Teris shook her head almost imperceptibly. Her feelings about Julius knowing everything that was going on still held firm.

Julius gave her a half wink that to anyone else easily looked like he had something in his eye. “In trouble or not, these are Jax’s squad members. Meaning anything discussed here will have to be relayed to him,” Julius said.

“True enough.” Bronn nodded. He and Julius shared a quick look.

“I’ll just make sure to be present when he’s told,” Julius said.

Greywright eyed the Azure Deers Captain with suspicion for a moment before giving a nod. “Alright. But, nothing has changed.”

Julius was once again overcome with shame which showed clearly on his face. “I know. I’m in trouble.”

“No. Well, yes. Very much so. But that’s not what I meant.” Greywright looked to Yami and Teris. “Everything regarding those two stands. With the add amended warning that if either of you,” he looked from Julius to Bronn and back, “or Captain Jax think yourselves clever and try to find a way to interrupt the Wizard Kings orders to your own liking you will be stripped of your rank, all awards and medals confiscated, and dishonorably discharged from the Magic Knights. There will be no returning or hope of ever serving in any position that is under Clover Kingdom authority.” Greywright waited a beat, eyes slitting. “Try to go against Sir Jorah’s orders again and you won’t even be able to work scrubbing toilets at the meanest prison. Do you understand?”

Julius could barely make eye contact with the Magic Knights Commander.

“Do. You. Understand.” Greywright repeated loudly.

Julius flinched. “Yes, sir,” he hiccuped.

“Vice Captain?”

“Yes. Sir.” Bronn clipped, staring directly back at the Commander.

“And don’t concern yourself with relaying that message to Captain Jax,” Greywright told. “I’ll be doing it myself.”

Chapter Text

9.1

Without word Julius followed Marx down to the main level and out of Magic Investigations

Still not knowing exactly why Greywright had come or what their superiors had been caught attempting to do Yami and Teris followed in Marx and Julius’ wake unable to think of something to do or say that would help ease the sting Julius was obviously still reeling from.

Marx opened one of the main entrance doors for them watching the Azure Deer Captain exit and stop. Yami and Teris simply stood there behind him waiting in uncomfortable silence.

The Investigations Mage tapped his foot silently arguing with himself. Julius could be an annoying nuisance but all in all he was a good guy; one that Marx considered a friend, though he would smartly deny it if anyone ever asked. Marx could understand why the Wizard King would want to be informed about the discovery of the History of Chaos. He could even understand why Sir Jorah may have expected a more immediate notification of its finding than the usual report. But from what he could gather, it wasn’t the discovery of the history itself that had caused the fuss; but rather that the two young Magic Knights behind Julius had discovered it.

Though Julius truly had never mentioned his sister to him, Marx had known that the the Azure Deers Captains had one and that, by all reports, he cared for her dearly. Still, Julius’ near consuming desire to become the next Wizard King was even more well known. Marx wondered what could make the Captain willing to jeopardize Sir Jorah’s favor. He figured it would have to be something extraordinary.

Coming to a decision Marx followed them out letting the door close behind him. If he was questioned about his actions later, he could always say he assumed that the Magic Knights Commander had wished him to go with them. An easy misunderstanding given that the Commander had ordered the two Magic Knights and himself out of the room, and didn’t specify who was to go and wait at the cafe.

“Do you know the way to this dining hall we’re suppose to wait at?” Yami asked softly, glancing at Teris before his light brown eyes returned to his distressed mentor’s stooped back.

Teris shook her head. If they had been near the Captains Lounge, where she had occasionally waited outside for Julius before heading with him to the cafe, she might have been able to lead them there. But she had never even seen this area of Headquarters and couldn’t begin to guess how to get to the cafe.

“Juls.” Teris ventured, gently.

“It’s alright.” Marx sighed, passing them. “I know where it is.”

Yami and Teris looked at each before hurrying to follow the Investigations Mage. After a dozen steps Teris looked back, relieved to see Julius lagging behind.

“At least he’s moving again,” Yami comforted.

“What do you think all of that was about.” Teris whispered, looking at Marx’s back, wondering if he was trying to listen.

“You heard Greywright. They thought they could get around Jorah’s command by taking us to Magic Investigations and letting someone there unwittingly tell us what’s going on.”

“But what does our receiving the History of Chaos have to do with any of the stuff they’re keeping from us?” Teris asked. “It’s not like Sir Jorah knew we would find the thing. Right?”

“They say the Wizard King is aware of a lot of things without having been told,” Yami said. He shrugged. “Maybe our names were scribbled in one of Yurist’s journals somewhere between a mention of Chaos and how many times he sneezed that day.”

“That’s just creepy.” Teris thought aloud. If Sir Jorah had somehow known that they were meant to find the History of Chaos, did that mean that he had assigned them this mission knowing that the history was in the newly appeared labyrinth?

“I know,” Yami agreed. “Who catalogs what their burbs tasted like?”

The corner of Teris lip twitched upward at that, grateful for how he could make light of practically any situation and calm her.

Yami relaxed some. He had gotten Teris to nearly smile. Now if they could only get Julius speaking again, maybe he wouldn’t feel so on edge.

9.2

Julius had gathered himself by the time they had entered the cafe. Looking around he pointed to a corner.

“You two go sit over there.” He told Yami and Teris.

With how hot and breathless she felt even beside Yami’s cool, sheltering mana, the thought of being shoved away in some corner indoors only made Teris feel more closed in and breathless.

Not wanting to challenge her brother, but thinking that she wouldn’t be able to take another few minutes indoors without loosing it Teris said. “I don’t want to sit inside.”

Yami winced. He understood her reasoning. He could feel her screaming, turbulent mana and Ki so keenly it almost felt as if it was his own. No doubt her worsening state had to do with her acute sense of his own swirling storm of mana. Still, to Julius’ ears her fervent plea for space and air likely sounded more like she was being a bratty, whiny little sister.

“Then sit wherever!” Julius snapped harshly, receiving a few stares from others nearby. His hand trembled as it wiped his brow. Tempering his tone and volume he went on. “Just--” he looked at Yami and Teris imploringly, “--stay put and don’t sit next to or talk to anyone else. Please.”

“Alright.” Teris nodded.

As Teris and Yami headed outside, Marx made to follow them.

“Marx,” Julius called.

The Investigations Mage turned noticing how the two young Magic Knights suddenly slowed their step. “Yes?”

“I know this might be asking a lot...”

When Julius didn’t go on, Marx prompted. “If it is within my ability and won’t get me into too much trouble I’ll do it.”

Julius who had paused to think turned his eyes on his friend and gave a mirthless smile. “I think I’ve caused a months worth of trouble for you already.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Marx dismissed. “Let’s go with a weeks worth.”

If only the trouble he was in would be done with so quickly, Julius thought. Sure some other thing would occur that caused a ruckus, but his actions today won’t be forgotten. Sir Jorah wouldn’t forget or forgive anytime soon.

Seeing Julius’ expression become disturbed again, Marx asked. “How can I help?”

“Right.” Julius ran a hand through his hair rubbing his head almost roughly. “Can I used your communication crystal?”

“My communication crystal?” Marx repeated.

“You have one right. Every on duty Senior Investigations Mage is suppose to carry one. Did you leave it in Magic Investigation?”

“No.” Marx shook his head pulling out the faceted clear, hand length item. “But where’s yours?”

Julius held his hand out to receive the device. “I left it at my base.” He answered looking chagrined.

“Aren’t all Magic Knights Captains suppose to have a communication crystal on their person when they go out in official capacity?”

“It wasn’t a mission I or a member of my squad were involved with.” Julius explained lamely. “I didn’t expect all—this.”

Marx placed the crystal in the Captain's hand.

“Thank you.” Julius breathed gratefully. “I won’t forget this.”

“You better not,” Marx said.

“Can you--”

Marx eyed him through stilted eyelids.

“Can you watch them. Make sure they do go anywhere. Talk to anyone.”

“You think they’ll take a runner?” Marx jested dryly.

“After the day I’ve had I’m not taking anymore chances,” Julius told.

Marx gave a thin smile. “Good. I don’t know or want to know why you did what you did. But, it’s good to see you returning to your usual careful, exacting self. It’s what’s going to set you above the others and see you become the next Wizard King.”

Julius watched him turn and go outside. “Possibly.” He muttered to himself. “If I didn’t blown my chances with today's actions.”

9.2.2

As soon as Marx joined them outside, Yami and Teris fell silent.

Taking a seat across from them, the Investigations Mage encouraged, smiling tightly. “Do let me interrupt.”

The two Magic Knights merely stared at him.

After an uncomfortable silence Marx tried again. “Not looking forward to summer, uh?” When no response came he went on. “Sitting in the shade with this unseasonable chill.”

“We’re not suppose to be sitting or speaking with anyone else.” Yami told, after a moments passing.

Teris tilted her head as she stared at Marx. Finally, she questioned. “You don’t like us do you?”

Marx blinked at that. “I don’t know you.”

“Mushroom Head doesn’t like anyone.” Yami said, to Teris. “He can barely admit to himself that Julius is a friend.”

“I--” Marx stopped.

As much as he hated to admit it, the boy had a point. Julius was his closest friend. His only friend really. And he could hardly stand to view him as such.

“The name is Marx. Not Mushroom Head.” Marx corrected, lamely.

“I’m hungry.” Yami expelled, rolling his head back.

“Greywright did tell us to get something to eat,” Teris remembered.

“You’re right.” Yami agreed, righting his head. “He ordered us to even.”

In near unison, they turned to Marx.

“What?” Marx asked. “I’m not your servant.”

“But we were told to stay put,” Teris reminded.

Marx closed his eyes and ground his teeth. “I don’t have any money on me,” he told.

Teris reached into the money purse attached to her belt and pulled out enough for two weeks worth of meals.

“Is that enough?” She asked.

When Marx didn’t answer she moved to pull out more.

“No!” Marx held out a hand. “That’s--” He blinked in disbelief. “That’s more than enough. The menu changes daily. Is there anything you’d prefer or definitely don’t want?”

“We’re really hungry. Just get us one of everything,” Teris said.

Yami nodded.

Marx balked.

Teris tilted her head toward Yami. “He can eat a lot. And I mean, a lot.”

Yami nodded again.

“Alright.” Marx sighed, under his breath. Standing he scoped up the yules and walked off.

“Oh! And keep the change.” Teris called after him.

Yami looked at her eyebrow raised. “Do you realize how much you gave him? He could probably buy all the food this place has on hand with that.”

Teris looked at him. “You over exaggerate. Maybe half the food.”

“So you do know how much you handed over and just told him to keep.”

Teris nodded and shrugged. “He was kind to my brother. And put up relatively well with us.”

Yami laughed. “A royal that knows what their money’s worth to the masses, and is generous. No wonder I love you.”

Teris turned away quickly, suddenly interested in the tabletop.

Yami smirked, enjoying the blush that tinted her cheeks.

“You know, I fully planned on paying for our first date.” He said, stretching out his arm on the back of the bench behind her.

Teris’ eyes turned to watch Yami’s hand hang just past her shoulder.

“This isn’t a date.” She said, unable to look at him.

“We’re out together. Having a meal. What else would you call it?”

“Thank mana you’re here.” Julius breathed, rushing over. He plopped into a chair and looked around the table. “What did you two do to Marx?”

“Nothing,” Teris said.

Julius’ eyes stilted. “Then where is he?”

“He went to get us food,” Teris clipped. “For the love of mana. What do you think we did with him?”

Lightening, Julius said. “I could eat.”

“Then go get your own,” Teris told.

“He’s only bringing enough for us,” Yami stated.

“I didn’t know if you meant one of everything they had on the menu, or just the lunch and dinner dishes so there’s some leftover breakfast items and desserts.” Marx said, wheeling over a trolley full of food. He put the change on the table. “I can’t keep that no matter what you say.”

“No worries, Marx.” Julius said, sliding the change to him and pocketing it. He handed the communication crystal back to the Investigations Mage. “Thanks again.”

“Oui! That’s my money,” Teris scolded.

“Sounded to me like you told Marx to keep whatever was left. Meaning it was his money, which, as my good friend, he gave to me. Now,” Julius turned to the trolley picking up a plate of quail eggs and vegetables, “this smells delicious.”

Teris glared at her brother.

Julius stuffed a forkful of food into his mouth. After a few bites he smiled, swallowing. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was.” He patted a chair. “Sit Marx. Pick a plate. That beef and noodle looks good.”

“Can I have a plate of the food I paid for.” Teris questioned, archly.

“Nope.” Julius said, giving his head a shake.

Marx looked at the siblings thinking that he had been wrong in his belief that Julius couldn’t be any more trying. Reaching to the trolley he began setting plates on the table.

Yami and Teris practically lunged at the first two entrees he set down, pulling the plates to them, and eating without cutlery. Yami in great handfuls. Teris more carefully in three fingered bunches.

Marx slid over utensils and napkins as if he were making an offering to two starving beasts and was afraid they’d try to devour him if he called too much attention to himself.

“Thank you.” Teris said, grabbing a napkin and cleaning her fingers. She passed a set of silverware and a napkin to Yami. “Don’t be a pig.”

Yami grunted and took her offering. Without bothering to clean his hands he picked up spoon. When the saucy noodles and vegetables slid off the utensil he tossed the spoon on floor and picked up a fork, missing the chopsticks of his homeland.

Well, Marx thought unable to look away from the sight, at least they’re not using their hands any more. He took the seat next to Julius’ right and tried to look anywhere but at Yami and Teris devouring their food. He noticed for the first time just how intricate the design on the tabletops were.

“Eat, Marx,” Julius urged.

Marx glanced at the two young Magic Knights and swallowed. “I don’t think I could if I tried,” he said.

Julius shrugged and reached for the plate of pan seared fish with grains and crispy, fried greens; but Teris snatched it up first.

“I wanted that,” Julius complained.

“To slow,” Teris tisked.

“Don’t make me use my magic to reverse time.” Julius threatened, staring across the table at her.

Teris lean forward. “Try me.”

Julius’ shoulders slumped. He scanned the remaining plates trying to decide. Finally he reached for the bowel of sausage and cabbage with rice only to have Yami beat him to it.

Yami gave his mentor a smirk before he dug his fork into the soupy goodness only to see all the savory juices drain between the tines. Glaring at the offending cutlery Yami threw it on the table where gave a high bounce and sat rattling. He looked about before recalling he threw his spoon away and reached for Teris’.

Teris gave his hand a smart slap only to pick up the utensil and hold it up for him to take.

Reminded of his manners, Yami took the spoon and mumbled. “Thank you.”

Once their hunger hand been stated the three Magic Knights sat back restfully.

“What now,” Marx asked.

“We wait.” Julius said, rapping his knuckles on the table.

“How long do you think Greywright’s going to be?” Teris asked.

“Hopefully long enough for your Captain to arrive and give us a chance to talk.” Julius said looking off into the distance.

“That’s what you did?” Marx asked, touching the communication stone that sat in the breast pocket of his cloak.

“We messed up.” Julius said, not hearing Marx’s question. He covered his face with his hands and sighed scrubbing his fingers roughly down his face. “I messed up.”

“What were you hoping to do?” Marx asked.

“Better question, what does this Chaos business have to do with the other stuff we’re not suppose to talk or ask about?” Teris wondered.

Julius raised his eyes to her and slowly shook his head.

“But, I don’t understand,” she complained. “So what if--” she glanced at Marx, “all that interaction stuff happened.” She said referring to her and Yami’s magic. “It’s under control now. Yami and I even managed to--”

Julius’ eyes snapped up. “Managed to what?”

Yami and Teris looked at each other, but neither said a word.

“Teris. Managed to what?” Julius asked, his tone a mixture of scolding and unsettled warning. He watched the two remain tight lipped for a moment, before exclaiming. “Come on guys! I stuck my neck out in the hopes you might learn something without us having to go against Sir Jorah. I may have even lost any hope I had at being a candidate for the next Wizard King for the two of you. The least--”

“And why did you feel the need to attempt such a thing?” Teris wanted to know. “I could see Bronn trying what you did. If he but had the brains to think of it. I could even understand Captain Jax coming up with such a plan. But this was all you. And never in my wildest imaginings would I have thought you’d even consider trying to circumvent an order by clever reinterpretation. That is, unless you believed lives depended on your doing so. So I ask again. Why, Julius?”

“I—don’t— I can’t, Ris. Please. Please, don’t pressure me. Please, don’t make me throw away any remaining chance I have at my dream.” Julius sucked in a halting breath and clenched his teeth.

He shook his head and looked at Teris with the saddest, tortured, most beseeching expression she had ever seen.

“Juls.” She breathed, heart breaking for him. She hated herself. She hated the Wizard King. She almost even hated what she and Yami had. In that moment she would have done anything to stop the torment her brother was so obviously feeling.

“Cause if you ask me again… I’m afraid I’ll tell you. Consequences be damned.” Julius told her.

“I trust you, Juls,” Teris affirmed. “I won’t ask you again. I promise.”

Julius gave her a weak smile wondering if her trust in him was misplaced. In his mind he believed that he wouldn’t allow her or Yami’s lives to be put at any real risk to save his career; but in his heart he questioned if that was exactly what he was doing.

“I got you Ris.” He said, unsure if that was actually true. “Always have. Always will.”

Teris thought of the day he had left Nova House. Had left their father when he was still in a coma. Had left their brother, who was floundering as he tried to run things and quell the swelling rumors. Had left her. She wondered how bad things would have been if the Vermilion's hadn’t opened their home and taken her in shortly there after. No, Julius hadn’t always had her. She wasn’t sure she trusted him to have her back in all things now. But, she trusted him in this. And for now, that was enough.

“I know,” she said.

“Great. Now that you’ve agreed to stop harassing my friend for information you been repeatedly told you can’t have, can we get to the trouble at hand.”

They all turned to see Jax standing at the patios exterior entrance.

“Why is everybody here?” Yami asked his Captain.

“Who exactly is everybody?” Jax retorted.

“The Black Bulls,” Yami responded.

“I didn’t bring the entire squad,” Jax replied. “Only the ones who were at the labyrinth.”

“Yeah, everybody,” Yami said.

“No, it’s not,” Abril challenged. “Gendry and Iban aren’t here.” She looked around. “Neither is Bronn.”

“I’m sure he’ll be here shortly with Commander Greywright.” Jax said, ominously. “Julius. What do you say we go inside and discuss damage control?”

“I’m comfortable here,” Yami said.

Jax looked over at Yami, his eyes sharp and cold. “I didn’t mean we as in you.” He said, his tone just as icy. Opening and closing a fist, he muttered. “Where’s Bronn when you need him?”

Yami rubbed the back of his neck at the thought of the Vice Captain’s vise-like hand. “It’s alright. I understand. You want us to wait here while you and Captain Julius go inside to talk.”

Jax thought the added Captain was a nice touch from Yami’s backtrack. Fact of the matter was, they didn’t have time for him to waste disciplining Yami. He turned to Julius. “Why aren’t you up yet?”

“The cafe is hardly the place to do this,” Julius said. “With workers and customers, someone’s likely to over hear, making this a bigger mess than it already is.”

“Than you already made it,” Jax corrected. At his friends pained expression and lowered head, the Black Bulls Captain heartened. “Come on, Julius. You were only doing what you thought was best.”

“Yeah,” Julius agreed. “How could I think I knew better than Sir Jorah?”

“Caused those two aren’t part of the Wizard Kings family,” Jax said.

“And if I, despite this blunder, somehow become the next Wizard King, they won’t be mine either,” Julius argued.

“That’s future stuff. Right now those ties still bind. And you feel responsible for your little sister and—whatever non-blood tied relation you see Yami as. And rightly so.”

Julius looked at Jax grateful to be told that what he felt was okay for him to be feeling.

“Besides,” Jax went on, “I already bought the place out for today and sent everyone home so we could openly speak in peace.”

“You bought all the food they had for the day?” Julius questioned, blinking in surprise.

“Sure did,” Jax nodded.

Thinking about how his friend usually spent his pay on drink and gambling within the first week or so of receiving it, Julius wondered. “How did you manage that?”

“Put it on your tab,” Jax shrugged.

“What!”

“It’s not as if you can’t afford it,” Jax said. “Now hurry. We don’t have much time before Greywright bursts in and rips us a new one.”

“You’re right about that.” The Magic Knights Commander said from the cafe’s patio entrance.

Jax cursed under his breath.

Julius shot to his feet. “Commander. I want to say--”

“Nothing,” Greywright interrupted. “You want to stay silent and say nothing.”

Julius straightened, almost standing at full attention.

“That was quick.” Jax commented, glancing at Bronn trying to read his Vice Captain's expression. “And you managed to pick up traitors on the way over here.” He glared at Pyter and members of his Silver Eagles.

“I don’t think you know what the term means if you’re using it to describe my actions rather than your own.” Pyter said, doing a poor job of hiding his smug smile.

“Stop,” Greywright ordered. “Both of you.” He looked the gathering over sighing before turning back to Julius. “I’m glad you bought the place out and did some of my work for me in calling Jax and his Black Bulls here. Though if you hadn’t been so impudent and acted with such puerile thoughtless abandon, none of this would have been necessary.”

Head lowered, ears red with embarrassment and shame, Julius wanted nothing more than to use his time magic and go back to do it all over again. But, as much as his friends might jest otherwise, his magic didn’t work that way.

The Knights Commander turned to those who had arrived with him and barked. “Don’t just stand there. Head inside and take a seat.” He looked at Jax and his Black Bulls, then the group at the table. “You lot too. Inside. We’re fixing this as best we can right here, right now.”

“What of passersby?” Julius asked.

Greywright pinned him with a stare. “If only you were this concerned about secrecy before you tried to worm your way around standing orders.”

Julius swallowed, flushing with contrite guilt.

“Who do you think I am?” Greywright questioned the Azure Deers Captain. “My army magic men will see we are free of eavesdroppers and remain undisturbed till I am fully satisfied that we have staunched this unwanted and entirely unnecessary flow. Now get inside.”

As if Bronn’s haggard countenance wasn’t telling enough, Greywright’s rigid stance and barking orders as he ushered them inside and had them sit exactly where he wanted were a sure sign that the Knights Commanders fiery anger hadn’t diminished since his appearance at Magic Investigations

Standing in front of them all Greywright began pointing at the two tables where the Olsen, Tobin, Venice, and Abril of the Black Bulls and Neyres, Margery, and Curtis of the Silver Eagles, as well as Marx had been placed. “Short and sweet for you seven.” Greywright started then stopped eyebrows pulling together at the sight of eight. “Who are you?” He demanded of Marx. “You’re not one of mine.”

“My name is Marx Francois.” Marx answered, hoarsely. Clearing his throat, he went on. “I’m a Senior Investigations Mage.”

“You’re one of Ellara’s,” Greywright accused. “Why are you here being my problem? She’s likely looking for you as she’ll be doing the same as I with anyone Julius involved in his little scheme.” He tossed another fuming look at the Azure Deers Captain.

Marx blanched. Yes Commander Greywright was scary; but he wasn’t Marx’s superior, Advisor Ellara was. And the thought of her angerly standing before him and Elric filled him will a fear the Knights Commander couldn’t hope to achieve.

“I—you--” Marx’s prepared response as to why he had come with the Magic Knights caught in his throat.

“Never mind.” Greywright said, looking away. “As I was saying, for you eight this is going to be short and sweet. Speak of nothing that happened today.”

The Black Bulls and Silver Eagles looked at each other.

“If that isn’t clear enough for you. Let me explain further so there are no doubts or work arounds.” The Knights Commander cast yet another ire-filled look at Julius who seemed to shrink further in his seat with every reference and remark Greywright made towards him. “The Wizard King has commanded that of the History of Chaos. The Future of Chaos. Chaos in general. And Mage Yurist is hereby deemed classified and not to be spoken of, mentioned, or even hinted at without authorization from Sir Jorah, Advisor Ellara, or myself. If anyone mentions, hints, or writes about these topics in your presence you are to come directly to me and report it. I don’t care who they are. Stranger, comrade, Captain, parent. You report it straight away. Along with not speaking of, hinting at, or writing about these subjects; you are not to encourage or, in any way, attempt to elicit someone else to speak of, hint at, or write about these subjects or anything remotely related to them. If you do any of these things the Wizard King has declared that you will be stripped of your rank. Your awards and medals will be confiscated, and you will be dishonorably discharged from the Magic Knights. You may also face a prison sentence, depending on how grave the offense was and what, if anything, happened because of it.”

The Black Bulls and Silver Eagles sat in stunned silence, astound and overwhelmed by the inexplicable escalation of what had already seemed a fairly sever circumstance when they had been gathered outside of the labyrinth.

Marx too had been rendered speechless, too terrified by the magic Knights Commander’s words to think how wrong he had been in his earlier thinking that Greywright couldn’t fill him with the same level of fear that Advisor Ellara could.

Not for the first time, the Investigations Mage wondered what Julius had done or, more correctly, had attempted to do. He turned his eyes to his friend, curious if Julius had given pause before involving him or simply hadn’t cared. As meticulous and thought out as the Captain was, in this instance it was more likely that Julius hadn’t considered what would happen he was caught, if he had even given thought to the possibility of getting caught at all.

“Any questions?” Greywright asked, looking at the four Black Bulls, three Silver Eagles, and Investigations Mage one at a time. When no questions came he encouraged. “If you are uncertain on even the smallest of details concerning these orders, now is the time to ask and make certain. Going against them, even unknowingly or unintentionally, will not lessen the resulting consequences of your actions.”

Marx’s eyes slowly moved to looked over the three Magic Knights seated at the table with him. He then turned his gaze to take in the four Black Bulls at the next table over. When no one raised their hand or spoke up, Marx released a breath of relief.

After a moment Greywright dismissed. “You seven wait outside on the patio for your Captains. You,” he pointed at Marx, “back to Investigations with you. Check in with Ellara. See if she has anything further she wishes to tell you.”

Marx swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. He was not looking forward to that encounter. See what happens when you do people favors, he told himself. The one and only time he had stepped out and tried to be a friend by doing something for the one person in his life he had ever felt affable towards, and this was what happened. Never again, he told himself. Never again.

“Now!” Greywright shouted when none of them moved.

The eight of them jumped up and rushed out.

Greywright waited till the doors to the patio were fully closed before turning to Nozel and Danior. “Those same orders go for you two. If for whatever reason you believe what you may hear next might lead to difficulties in keeping those orders you may join your comrades outside with no ill regard.”

While he didn’t see how or why he would have trouble keeping any order, especially one relayed by the Knights Commander from the Wizard King himself, Danior stood wanting no future part in whatever this was. When Nozel didn’t do likewise the Silver Eagle turned, looking down at the seated royal. “You can’t be serious! You plan on staying?”

Nozel kept his eyes straight ahead, ignoring the noble.

“I don’t know what this is, but it’s some high level, bad stuff.” Danior whispered harshly to Nozel. “What? You think staying and being party to whatever this is will somehow help with your career as a Magic Knight? Cause I can tell you the opposite is true.”

Eyes remaining forward, the only sign Nozel gave that he had heard the other man was a small, tired sigh.

“Fine,” Danior spat. “You’re a royal, and heir at that. You probably don’t care how far you go here, but I do.”

Greywright watched the young noble go. Turning back to Nozel the Commander said. “Your comrade’s not entirely wrong. This is high level stuff.” He paused watching the royal a moment. “If you’re hoping to get answers as to what’s going on you’ll be more frustrated than ever when the time comes and I tell you to leave.” He shook his head. “There are no answers for the likes of you. Just more gag orders on things you don’t even know. Just ask those two.” He gestured to Yami and Teris. “The matter concerns them directly and they know next to nothing.”

“Less than nothing,” Yami complained.

Nozel looked up at the Magic Knights Commander wondering why the man had left the option to remain. Did Commander Greywright want them to stay and get what little information they could to help them in their own secret searching for answers? The Commander was no fool. Surely he had to know that that’s what would happen here.

“If you wish me to leave, Sir, simply say so. If not, I’d like to stay till you do.” Nozel said.

“Very well.” Greywright said wondering if, as Danior had said, Nozel’s desire to stay was out of thoughts of his future as a Magic Knight, or if it was concern and duty to protect his Intended.

The Silver Eagles Captain gave Nozel a small proud nod. Seeing his Captain's approval, Nozel relaxed some.

“I’ve read Nozel and Danior’s full report of the labyrinth's mission,” Greywright began.

“Kiss ass over achiever.” Bronn muttered about Pyter.

“What’d you make the poor boys do?” Jax questioned the Silver Eagles Captain. “Write it up while at the healing mages?”

“Actually, I had them write it on the way to the healing mages.” Pyter said, lacing his fingers. “Considering I don’t have a spatial mage in my squad, there was plenty of time for them to get it done while I personally transported them to Healers Hall.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Who knows when they would have had a chance to get their reports done if you had offered to take us with you, Bronn. So, thank you for that.”

Bronn curled his lip. He wondered, yet again, if things might have gone differently if he had simply played nice with the Silver Eagles Captain and let them come. No, he thought, Pyter was a brown nosed snake. All it would have done was delayed what was happening. But maybe it would have delayed it enough for those two kids to get some answers, the Vice Captain thought sullenly as he looked over at Yami and Teris.

“And questioned them personally.” Greywright continued loudly. If anyone had told him just how much being Magic Knights Commander was nothing more than playing nursery maid to a group of grown adults, he wondered if his younger self would've wanted the job. Turning to Yami and Teris, he said. “I understand that you two have not had the chance to pen your reports what with your more extensive injuries and side trip to Magic Investigations” Again, he shot a glare at Julius.

Yami saw where this was going and said. “I gave a verbal summary--”

“So Captain Pyter said,” Greywright nodded.

“Well, aren’t you just a wealth of information.” Bronn said snidely to Pyter, crossing his arms.

Before the two could get into it again Greywright told Yami and Teris. “But I want one from both of you, now.”

“A written report,” Teris asked.

“A verbal one will suffice for now,” Greywright said. “And not a summary. A full retelling.”

Yami and Teris looked at each other.

“Something the matter?” Greywright asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Just trying to decide who goes first.” Yami deflected.

“Since you already gave bits and pieces of yours why don’t you start again and give it all this time,” Greywright suggested.

“Alright,” Yami sighed and began.

He gave a full but not overly detailed telling. His aim of skimming over the blow by blow, so to speak, or which spells he used was so that when the time came to tell of the final beast he had faced down with Teris, he could skim over exactly how they defeated it. He got to the point where they had entered the vault giving an inward sigh of relief that Greywright hadn’t stopped him to ask for further details. Like before, he left many of the details about what happened when they received the History of Chaos out. He told only of what they had done, not what had happened to them or what they had seen. He also didn’t mention the nap they took, only saying that they were left weakened and collapsed.

Finished Yami waited to see what, if any questions, the Magic Knights Commander was going to ask. He felt as if Greywright was hiding something, but considering that he knew the Commander was keeping things from them it was difficult to tell if it was more of the same or something else.

Greywright turned to Teris. “Your turn.”

This was the first time Yami had heard what she had faced after the creature had wrapped it’s tentacle around her ankle and pulled her down. It wasn’t pretty and angered him all over again. Like Yami, Teris didn’t go into much detail when it came to the fights or traps. In fact, the most detail she gave was what kind of beasts or traps she faced and whether it took effort or not to disarmed or killed. She gave the same treatment Yami had when she arrived to the vault portion of her narration, skimming over the feeling of their hands having been branded and their shared but distinct experience of what had appeared to be the end.

Greywright stood silently for a moment after she had finished. Finally he said. “Nozel, I know I made it sound as if I was done with you and your report, but can you tell me what the chamber before the vault looked like?”

Nozel tensed. While Danior hadn’t known what he had been looking at, Nozel had instantly known. After having witnessed Teris and Yami’s devastating and powerful combination of magic twice, once far closer than he ever wanted to again, there had been no doubt. He felt Teris and Yami’s eyes on him. Unable to look at his Intended, he began slowly explaining the chambers appearance.

“No,” Greywright silenced. “The scene of the dead creature these two faced.”

Feeling hot Nozel swallowed.

Sucking in a long breath through his nose the royal lifted his head, and said. “There was lots of blood and guts.”

“And what did it look like?” The Commander prompted.

“Red and chunky,” Nozel answered.

Greywright gritted his teeth at the younger mans smart ass reply. If the situation were different he might have appreciated the sassed response; but at present, he was not in the mood.

“How were the remains situated?” Greywright pressed.

“Scattered about in a circle.”

“How many circles?”

Nozel paused.

“I asked you a question Junior Magic Knight. How. Many. Circles.”

“Two.” Nozel answered, almost inaudibly, lowering his eyes.

Greywright turned to Yami and Teris. “Did you two combine your magic to defeat that beast?”

“Why ask when you already know the answer.” Yami replied.

“Teris?” Greywright asked, turning his gaze to her.

“Would you rather us die down there?” She asked.

“From the sounds of it, if you had held out just a little longer Nozel and Danior would have arrived to aide you,” Greywright said. “That is unless you are leaving more out for your reports than this one thing.”

Teris’ toes curled within her boots. Did Greywright know there was more to the vault portion as well or was he fishing just in case.

“The Silver Eagles left us down there.” Yami said. “And you expect us to have counted on their aid?”

“You didn’t know they had returned to the surface while you were down there,” Greywright pointed out. It wasn’t so much that they had combined their magic. Given the threat they faced, all that had happened, and not knowing where or if help was coming; he couldn’t fault them for that. But the fact that they had tried to hide it…

“No,” Yami agreed. “But this one insisted on separating--”

“Who insisted?” Nozel challenged.

“You knew I was telling the truth when I said I could sense Teris’ mana and track her down; yet you claimed I couldn’t and wanted to go your own way. The wrong way.”

Nozel turned in his seat to face the Black Bull. “How do you know what I thought or didn’t. The same way you claimed to know where Teris was?”

“Who found her,” Yami taunted. “And no it wasn’t your mana. It was your Ki.”

“Now you’re just making up words.” Nozel accused.

“Either way,” Teris said to the Knights Commander, “how were we suppose to know how close the Silver Eagles may have been. All we knew at the time was that we faced a threat that could very well kill us if we didn’t do something drastic. And given our injuries and depleted mana that something had to be done sooner rather than later if we hoped to survive.”

“So you combined your magic,” Greywright stated.

“Yes,” Teris sighed. “Given the situation, we felt it was the only way. We used the utmost caution that we possibly could given the circumstance.”

She went ahead and told the skimming details knowing the Commander would ask, hoping to avoid having to explain the near kiss. She knew she had pushed the truth when she had said they had used the utmost caution, if anything Yami had been almost flippant; but she didn’t want to see either of them in any more trouble.

“We quickly went over what we would do. It was agreed that I would be the one to disentangle as soon as a reaction began. I did. We, the structure, and everyone surrounding it survived.” Teris swallowed the ‘the end’ that had wanted to follow her words and waited.

“Why did you lie,” Greywright inquired.

“We didn’t lie. We omitted,” Teris said. “And why do you think? After every training session with you, you make it adamantly clear that we should not to combine our magic. We were afraid.”

“I wasn’t afraid.” Yami said, receiving a scalding look from Teris for his comment.

“Especially after the trouble we saw our superiors in and your temper.” Teris went on. “Can you really blame us for our fear now or wanting to survive then?”

“If Julius had reasoned his own disobedience half as well as you just did, he may not have found himself in the trouble he’s currently in.” Greywright said, appraising her.

“Thank you.” Teris said, questioningly.

Greywright hardened. “It wasn’t a complement.” He looked over the three Junior Magic Knights. “Alright. The three of you, out. Same orders given to the others stand for you as well.”

Teris looked up at the Knights Commander. “That’s all?”

“What?” Greywright asked. “Is there something more you left out that you want to confess? Want me to yell at you for combining your magic and then omitting it from both your reports?”

“No. But--”

“You made a good argument. Though don’t you dare think it’ll work again,” he warned her. “It was enough to satisfy me that you and Yami didn’t maliciously disobey orders, unlike some others.” Greywright shot a glare at Julius, Jax, and Bronn. “You,” he pointed at Nozel, “on the other hand could have been more forthcoming. I have no doubt you knew what they had done as soon as you saw the scene in that chamber, yet you did all you could to try and cover for them.”

For her, Nozel thought silently, correcting the Commander.

“There’s no excuse for that,” Greywright told. “If I have to question you like that again just to pull the truth out of you, you’ll be discharged from the Magic Knights on the spot. Understand.”

Nozel raised his chin glaring at his Commander. “Yes, sir,” he clipped.

“But--” Teris tried again.

“But you thought you’d stay longer? Get some answers? Or hear something you could piece together on your own.” Greywright said for her. “I have no doubt you two hypothesize on your own.” He said, waving at her and Yami. “You’re lucky Sir Jorah hasn’t pulled you two apart and moved one of you to a different squad.”

Nozel’s reaction was quite different from Yami and Teris’.

“Not gonna happen,” Yami rumbled.

“No. It won’t.” Greywright said, looking down at him out of the corner of his eye. “Be grateful for that. And get out.”

Yami put his hands on his knees lifting his shoulders. Exhaling heavily he pushed himself to his feet staring at the Magic Knights Commander.

Greywright noted that even this young the boy had an imposing presence. Something that would only grow as his body and magic grew with age and experience. He smirked at Yami in mild amusement, wondering if the kid was actually trying to intimidate him. Not even on your best day when you’re fully grown, Greywright thought. I know your weakness and, given my position, she would be all to easy to use against you.

Chapter Text

10.1

The three Magic Knights exited the cafe relishing the fresh cool night air outside. Teris was startled by the figure standing on the other side of the patio’s enclosure, but quickly realized it was a creation of Commander Greywright’s army magic keeping passerby's at bay.

She looked over her squad members and the Silver Eagles noting the tension between the groups, each squad sitting on opposite sides of the small fenced enclosure.

“Glad to see you haven’t kill any one.” Teris praised the Black Bulls, only half jesting.

“Only just.” Olsen confessed, eyeing Neyres and Margery. “You would think that as royal ladies those two wouldn’t have such vial tongues; but they’re worse than a drunk cutthroat, only they use far more eloquent words.”

“I could’ve warned you about Neyres.” Teris said quietly to him, glancing in the royal girls direction. “Don’t know about the other; but, I suppose one’s bound to pick up things when in Neyres’ circle.”

Margery went to Nozel wrapping her arms around his left one. “I know we’re not suppose to talk about it, but please tell me those two Black Bulls didn’t get you in trouble.”

Nozel glanced over Margery’s head at Teris, wordlessly suffering Margery's fawning.

“When I saw Danior come out and not you, I feared the worst. Didn’t I say I feared for Nozel, Neyres?” Margery said, looking at her friend.

“That you did.” Neyres sighing, bored.

Unable to stand it any more, Nozel pulled his arm free and stepped between Danior and Neyres seeking shelter from Margery’s attention.

“I am still a Magic Knight aligned with the Silver Eagles.” Was all Nozel said on the matter. “Can we change the subject before that is no longer true for any of us.”

“His Highness is right.” Neyres said, violet eyes dancing with amusement. “Does anyone have any celebratory plans for the Star Awards Festival?”

“No.” Abril answered from the Black Bulls side.

“One would have to have something to celebrate in order to have celebratory plans.” Neyres smiled, condescendingly.

Abril put her hands on her hips. “Meaning what?”

Neyres shrugged as if the answer was evident.

“Don’t engage the mean spirited pretty ladies.” Olsen told Abril.

“The what?” Danior demanded.

Even Nozel looked at Olsen in disapproval.

Raising his hands, Olsen said. “If you take issue with my saying they’re mean spirited you are either blind and deaf or don’t know your comrades all that well.”

“Not that,” Danior growled. “The other bit.”

Venice scoffed at Danior’s idiocy; while Teris cringed, sure where this would surely lead.

Abril gave a snorting laugh. “You just agreed they were mean.”

“Do you not agree that they are pretty?” Olsen asked. He leaned forward and whispered loudly, as if imparting wisdom. “Even if you find them hideous, a true gentleman would never admit as much to a lady. Didn’t your finishing instructors teach you as much? Or, as a lower noble, could you not afford one?”

Danior took out his grimoire causing Olsen to reach for his should he need it to defend himself. Nozel stood in front of Danior. Teris placed a hand on Olsen’s shoulder. Olsen relaxed dropping his hand from the leather case that hung from the side of his hip.

“Put it away.” Nozel ordered Danior.

“But he--”

“And what will come of your escalation?” Nozel questioned. “Think.” He muttered in disgust turning away and back to Olsen and Teris.

“Olsen’s a flirt.” Teris said by way of apology. “He means nothing by it.”

“Yeah,” Venice agreed. “He’s already dating his true love. Though he refuses to tell us who she is.”

Olsen smiled at Venice’s sullen look.

Teris looked over to two Silver Eagles girls. “Either don’t read too much into it or take the boost to your ego. Not that you need it.” To Nozel, she admonished. “Control your comrades.”

“Me?” Nozel questioned, heatedly.

“I mean I know that Neyres and Danior out rank you,” Teris allowed. “But you’re the royal male. Isn’t that what you believe you’re suppose to do? Have everything and everyone under your control.”

Nozel stared at her feeling angry and bitter. She was being unfair. His need to restrain those around him and be overly disciplined himself was because of his father’s expectations of him as heir. It wasn’t as if he had a choice.

Nozel’s teeth clenched, eyes slitting as his cool glare intensified. “It is you who should attempt controlling that menagerie of dirty, uncivilized, foul mouthed--”

“You don’t want to finish that thought,” Teris warned.

“--pack of wild beasts masquerading as Magic Knights.” He looked her over, his lip curling in revulsion at the thought of his Intended being part of such a group. “Not that you could if you tried. Even your own Captain can barely manage that lot. Though he’s not much better spoken or behaved.”

The other Black Bulls made for him with the Silver Eagles moving to defend their own. Teris held up an opened hand to Nozel. Seeing the glow both the Bulls and Eagles stopped. Feeling heat and pressure from her begin to push him back, Nozel adjusted his stance and dug in his heels.

Yami stepped back, watching, and waited. He knew that if he got near Teris something bad and uncontrollable would happen as their heightened mana caused a reaction with each others.

Nozel squinted as the brightness as the light grew, wincing slightly in pain as the pressure and heat intensified. The hem and trim of his clothes began to scorch filling his nostrils with their burning smell. Still, Nozel refused to act to defend himself. As angry as he had been at her, he would never do anything that might harm Teris physically. That was why he had always lost to her during their sparring sessions. At least that’s what he had comforted his ego with.

He had expected his words to anger her. That had been the point of it. To wound whatever pride she had in the Black Bulls. But he hadn’t realized just how much she cared; not just for the squad in name but for the members that made up the Bulls. It was a miscalculation on his part and his was willing to stand there and put her care for him to the test against it.

Arm trembling Teris slowly relaxed. The light, heat, and pressure dying as her fingers curled into a loose fist. Her arm dropped and so did everyone's tension.

Nozel released the breath he had been holding. She had stopped and his doubts had ceased along with her building magic. She truly did care about him.

“We’re through.” Teris panted, out of breath from trying to control herself.

“What!” Nozel asked, in shocked disbelief.

“We’re through,” Teris repeated. “Whatever small accord we may have had is over. Do not pay me call or write. Do not presume upon our mutual friendship with Fuegoleon, or anything else.” She said, hating that she had to refer to the intentions of their families to see them wed. “Don’t even speak to me unless you have to.”

“Teris.” Nozel whispered, unable to believe the turn of events. How could she-- How dare she belittle their friendship down to a mere mutual attachment to Fuegoleon.

“That’s more than fine with us.” Margery said, stepping beside Nozel and wrapping an arm around his.

“You never were very good at being a royal.” Neyres agreed, joining them at Nozel’s other side. “Good luck being ostracized from polite society. Hope you find your dirty peasants worth it.”

“They’re not dirty and I already do,” Teris said.

Neyres looked the Black Bulls over giving a tittering laugh when Abril tried to hide her filthy hands behind her back, and Tobin quickly brushed the crumbs of food off his shirt. It was pointless since Abril did nothing about the dirt on her neck and cheeks, and Tobin didn’t notice the food trapped within his beard.

“Keep telling yourself that.” Neyres said. “You may grow to believe. Or worse turn into them.”

“You lie with pigs, you become a pig.” Danior warned joining the line of Silver Eagles. He looked at Margery’s arm laced through Nozel and attempted to loop his through hers.

“What are you doing?” Margery whispered harshly, pulling away from him.

“Oh. Sorry. I thought we were linking arms in solidarity or something,” Danior apologized.

Margery wrinkled her nose. “Not with you.”

Having recovered from his shock, if not his hurt, Nozel ordered. “Enough. Return to your seats and let’s try to forget about their presence while we wait for Captain Pyter.”

“A difficult task given the smell of them but we shall endeavor to try.” Neyres said, turning away.

Danior and Margery quickly followed the platinum haired royal.

Nozel caught sight of Tobin rising an arm to sniff himself. Giving a huff of disdain he quickly tried to think of something to say to Teris that would fix this. He looked to her only to find she had turned her back and was already walking away.

“Try to be more civil when our families met again to further discuss things.” Nozel called after her, immediately cursing himself for making matters worse.

Teris turned. Nozel’s eyes widened certain that he had gone too far in mentioning their eventual betrothal and that she was going to send him to the healing mages.

Yami took a step forward to stop her from doing something he knew she’d eventually regret; but feeling her rising mana took two more back, cursing his insecurity in his ability to control his mana’s thirst for hers. He gritted his teeth battling his own mana as it fought to be released from his restraining hold.

“Wow! There beautiful.” Olsen said, grabbing Teris’ arm before she could lift it. He turned her toward the Black Bulls. “We’ve had our fill of the mass of food you all left. What do you say we save fired eagle for another day? Hum.”

Yami breathed a sigh of relief.

Olsen gave Yami a wink and told him. “I got your lady for you.”

It was likely everything leading up to this point that set Nozel off. Olsen’s flippant comment, and Yami nodding his thanks to the Water Mage sure didn’t help. But, it was Teris’ silence at being called the foreigners lady that truly did it. After she had belittled their friendship, never mind how tremulous it sometimes was. And then, without thought or hesitation ended said friendship as if believing what they had could be so easily ended.

Gathering his mana, Nozel lashed out at Yami with his mercury magic.

Yami landed several meters away, outside the patios fencing.

Rolling to a stop he groaned, wincing. The royal ball of pride had power, Yami begrudgingly thought to himself.

Yami wasn’t certain what shape he would’ve been in if Nozel’s Ki hadn’t told him what the royal was about to do. He was just grateful that the tell had given him a chance to partially cloak himself in mana before the magical blow came.

Yami rolled to sit up. Instantly regretting the movement, he laid back down. Damn. He knew this feeling. His ribs were cracked. But this was way worse than when Bronn had cracked them during his second night at the Black Bulls base.

Man, that seemed like ages ago. Yami wondered how the Vice Captain would react. He didn’t want their superiors to know, and he would shield Nozel as best he could cause that’s what real men did. But, he couldn’t see how they would get around the higher ranking Magic Knights learning that something had happened.

 

On the patio Teris had turned, feeling a rise in Nozel’s mana; but had realized too late that the royals magical attack wasn’t meant for her.

“Yami!” Teris had called, just as Nozel’s strike had hit and Yami had gone flying. “Yami.” She said again, this time in a whisper.

Teris made for the gate, the rest of the Black Bulls doing the same. They had only taken a step before men, formed of Greywright’s army magic, appeared between and surrounding the two squads.

“Mother of Mana and Magic! What the hell is going on here!” The Knights Commander bellowed as he and the Captains exited the cafe.

After a moment of silence, Tobin offered an explanation that sounded more like a question. “Having a bit of fun?”

“Fun,” Greywright repeat.

“Ye—yeah,” Olsen nodded, warming to the fabrication. It just might work as it couldn’t be refuted no matter how much their superiors might disbelieve them. All they had to do was sell it and deny any different.

Bronn jumped the fence to check on Yami, muttering curses the entire time. Olsen, who still held Teris, had to tightened his grip to keep her from following the Vice Captain.

“We got bored just sitting here and, not familiar with each others magic, decided a demonstration was an order,” Olsen said.

“A demonstration,” Greywright intoned.

Teris pulled further against Olsen in an effort to once again make for Yami. Tobin and Venice came to assist. Tobin grabbed Teris’ hand and spun her around, as if dancing, before he and Venice tossed their arms over her shoulders.

“That was some impressive stuff.” Venice told Nozel, an over large smile plastered on her face. “That was mercury magic wasn’t it! I’ve never seen the like.”

With too much left to do, Greywright didn’t have the time or inclination to deal with this and so let them have their lie.

“No more demonstrations.” The Commander said, piercing each and every one of them with a glare.

“You got it,” Tobin saluted.

“Pyter. Jax. Get your people back to your bases.” Greywright ordered.

“You’re just going to take their word.” Pyter challenged, gesturing to the Black Bulls.

Greywright turned to the Silver Eagles Captain. “Considering it was their comrade that was thrown more than dozen meters by one of yours, I don’t see a reason for them to lie. But if you wish, we will stay and I’ll look into it. Do you want that, Captain?”

At that Pyter sobered. “No, sir.”

“Are you sure? I could separate and hear what each of them has to say if you wish,” Greywright offered.

“That won’t be necessary, sir.” Pyter assured, giving the Knights Commander one of his winning smiles.

“Got an issue with taking your squads word and seeing them back to base, Jax?” Greywright asked, looking over his shoulder at the Black Bulls Captain.

Jax, who had been watching Yami and Bronn, turned to the Magic Knights Commander. The kid appeared injured enough to require a nights stay at the healing mages, but otherwise fine. He scrutinized Nozel wondering what had been said or done to make the royal loose control and lash out like that. Granted there had been numerous occasions where Jax had wanted to crush Yami with his stone magic... The boy could be a trying little shit. But to actually give into the urge and act on it?

Nozel waited, eyes lowered, certain that the Black Bulls Captain was going to challenge the matter and demand to know what really happened. He wondered if he would be discharged from the Magic Knights for his attack. He could feel Teris’ hate filled eyes boring into him and knew that any hope he had at rectifying what their heated words had wrought was long past.

“Nozel,” Pyter said. “Apologize to Captain Jax and the Black Bulls for over doing your magic demonstration.”

“That’s not necessary.” Jax said, waving Pyter and Nozel off. “Bronn’s done worst to the boy I’m sure.”

Teris’ eyes flicked to her Captain, displeasure clearly showing on her face. Venice squeezed her friends shoulder certain that Teris was going to demand Nozel’s head and in doing so get herself in trouble. Thankfully none of their superiors had seemed to notice the scorch marks along the edges of Nozel’s clothing.

“Excellent.” Greywright said, to which everyone looked at him curiously wondering if the Knights Commander was referring to Yami having had a tougher go of it at Bronn’s hand or the dismissal of the current matter. “Everyone get going. Not you.” Greywright said to Julius as the Azure Deers Captain turned away.

“I was going to--”

“Come with me back inside.” Greywright finished.

Julius looked over at Bronn and Yami hoping the young Magic Knight was truly alright.

“Now!” Greywright barked.

Julius flinched slightly and hurried indoors.

Teris watched her brother and the Knights Commander disappear back insider. She had never disliked Greywright, but right now she was beginning to. How could he let Nozel and the Silver Eagles leave after what Nozel had done?

“What happened to your clothes?” Pyter exclaimed looking Nozel over.

“It’s nothing,” Nozel assured.

“I doubt it’s the newest rage in fashion.” Pyter said, rising an eyebrow.

“Though if people see him like that it may become one.” Danior said, jealously.

“We’ll talk more after we get back to base.” Pyter said, almost jovially as he placed a hand on Nozel’s shoulder. “There you can tell me exactly what happened here.”

The Silver Eagles gave each other nervous looks before following their Captain out of the patio enclosure and down a pathway.

Nozel and Teris’ eyes locked once more before he turned the corner and was out of sight. As soon as he was she tossed off Venice and Tobin’s arms and made for Yami.

“Hold up there light bug.” Jax said, placing a hand firmly on her shoulder.

Teris turned and looked up at her Captain with a glare that gave him a moments pause.

Regaining his composure, Jax darkened, looming over her. “You better fix your face before I rearrange it for you Princess.”

Unable to do as the Captain order, Teris looked down, letting her hair curtain off her face.

Jax gave a huffing smirk of amusement. “You alright Olsen?” He called.

Olsen held up his hands showing the Captain the burns he had suffered by holding onto Teris while her mana was at its highest. “I believe lovely Venice’s gentle touch and a police will see me to rights.”

Jax shook his head. “Go with Bronn and Yami to the healing mages. They’ll likely want to keep him a while, if not over night. Have Bronn send you to base when they’re done with you.”

Olsen nodded, knowing as Jax did that Bronn would insist on staying at the healers until Yami was released, but that the Captain would want to know how Yami was doing. “Yes, sir.”

Jax watched him make his way through the gate and around to the other two. “Bronn!” Jax called.

“You got it, Captain.” Bronn called back.

A portal opened within the patios enclosure.

“Let’s go home guys.” Jax told Tobin, Venice, and Abril.

Teris pulled against her Captains staying hand trying to get to Yami.

Jax turned her roughly around to face him. “Bronn’s tired and can’t keep this gateway open forever. Now walk through before I throw you through.”

“But, Yami.” Teris said, so softly is was almost a whisper as she tried once again to view him through the shrubs and failed. If only she could see him. See that he was alright. Then she would feel better and do as her Captain wanted without complaint.

Jax looked in the same direction as Teris grateful for the tall shrubs and her shorter height. He probably never would have been able to control her if she could see the state he was in. Jax balked at the pool of blood that began to form around Yami. Knowing that Bronn couldn’t make another portal to take Yami to the healers till they had gone through this gateway Jax half shoved, half flung Teris through before lunging through himself.

10.1.2

“They’re gone,” Olsen said, with unnecessary volume.

“Alright, kid.” Bronn said, as he looked down at Yami. “We’re gonna get you to the healing mages.”

“Don’t want—to go—stupid—mages,” Yami rasped, skipping words as he struggle to stay conscious.

“Too bad. We’re already here.” Bronn said, rising and stepping away to let the healers at him.

He watched as three of them went quickly and efficiently to work taking stock of Yami’s injuries and magically tending to them. While another two went about the task of cutting open Yami’s shirt careful not to bump or jostle the iron stake that had been part of a short decorative barricade that lined the walkway protecting the garden beds.

From what Bronn could piece together of the scene, it appeared as if it had impaled Yami when he had first landed and either the force of the the landing or the momentum of his continued skid had broken the square bar off. By the time Bronn had gotten to him the wound had further opened with Yami’s continued movement. The idiot hadn’t seemed to realize that there was a metal rod skewered through his back, just below his shoulder blade, and exiting his chest near the first and second rib.

Bronn couldn’t entirely blame the kid for not noticing. Pain could sometimes that could take a while to register. Though the idiot should have noticed the fat, two inch, teardrop shaped iron finial that had been protruding from his front.

A Healer followed, by two others stopped before Bronn. “Do you require assistance?”

“What? No.” Bronn looked himself over. He wiped the blood from his hands on the front of his shirt and held them up. “It’s not mine. Olsen over there--” Bronn stopped, having turned and seen two healers already attending to the Water Mages burned hands. He gave a nod and looked back at the Healer who had spoken. “Just see my friends put to rights, if you please.”

“That is what we’re here for.” The Mage said. She gave a wave and the two that were behind her stepped back, walking away. “I suppose you’re not going to tell me what happened.” She said to Bronn.

“Will it help the healing process?” Bronn questioned, eyes on Yami.

That bloody, bratty royal sure did a number on him, Bronn thought wincing in sympathy as the metal was pulled free. But, Yami didn’t groan or cry out. It was then that Bronn noticed that the he was no longer conscious. Whether Yami had gone under himself or one of the healers had put him under, he didn’t know; but the Vice Captain was grateful.

The Healing Mage shook her head. “You Magic Knights are all the same. Getting injured with little care for the trouble you cause. Barging in here. Dripping mud, sweat, and blood. Barking orders. Rushing us. Even going so far as to threaten us if we don’t save your friends and comrades. And after we do. You’re gone with barely a backwards glance, let alone a thank you. Off to get injured all over again.”

Bronn turned to the Healer. “Wow. You make us sound like a bunch of ingrate, selfish, assholes.”

She looked up at him blinking and blushed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. It’s just that—it’s been a rather rough day.”

“For you and me both, luv.” Bronn sighed, stuffing his hands into in pockets. “It’s actually been a rough couple of days for me if I’m being honest. But if what you said is true, it’s us who should do the apologizing.” He looked about the large, pillared, open aired room. “The amount of times I’ve been in this place. Well. I suppose you could say it’s like a second home.”

“You’re not a very good Magic Knight then. Are you?” She smiled.

He looked at her sharply and then smiled seeing that she had been teasing. “Naw, luv. I’m Vice Captain of the worst Magic Knights squad.”

“The Black Bulls,” she said.

“Our infamy precedes us I see.”

She gave a pointed look to the insignia on his cape.

“Ah. Smart.”

“So I’ve been accused of on occasion. I’m Gilly Shae, Grand Healing Mage.”

“You’re in charge,” Bronn said, mildly impressed.

“Of this shift,” she clarified.

“Just getting started or near it’s end?”

“Me and my team will be here till sunrise,” she answered.

“Unless your people give me some good news it looks like I will be too.” Bronn said, looking back at Yami.

“I can guarantee you that your friend will be staying the night.” Gilly said, looking sympathetically down at Yami.

“Not my friend,” Bronn said. “Just my subordinate.” He looked back at Gilly, tilting his head studying her. “You can sense the kids injuries, can’t you.”

“Same as I can sense your fatigue and mana's depletion,” Gilly said. “I can help.”

“Naw, lass. Don’t want to be any more trouble than we already are. Besides, you should see the other guy.” Bronn gave a low whistle and shook his head. “Pretty sure he spent last night at his own healers, if he isn’t still there today.”

“You sound proud.”

“Proud to have survived a fight with the some Spade Kingdom spatial twit who took a cheap shot at me from behind and nearly took my head off. You bet your pretty face I am. That bastard wouldn’t let up and left me stranded in the middle of nowhere by the time I finally proved who the better spatial mage was and sent him fifty feet above his countries side of the mountain peak. Took me hours to recoup enough mana just to be able to fly some broken branch home. You have no idea how embarrassing it is for a spatial mage to have to resort to flying on a makeshift broom.”

“So this is what you consider better?” Gilly asked, referring to his health.

“Better than yesterday for sure. I would been even better if I hadn’t had to transport folks around today, but my Captain and squad needed me.”

“And now whatever meager recovery from yesterdays altercation has been undone,” Gilly finished.

“Still managed to do what was needed when it counted,” Bronn said. He looked at Yami. “Will he be alright?”

“He will be good as he ever was in a few hours, unlike you. The reason for his prolonged stay is so that I can keep him under and give him and his body a chance to recoup. The knitting together of bone and tissue is not always easy or pain free, which is why I’m keeping him under.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Bronn said. “I remember this one time, a healers administrations hurt almost as bad as the wound itself. I about punched the mage till I realized that he was a girl.” He looked castigated without her having said a word. “Suppose I should try to find her and apologize.”

“Could you?”

“What apologize?”

“Find the girl if you tired?”

Bronn blinked at that. He tried to remember the shocked, frightened face of the girl as his fist had raised. “I--” He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He looked at her. “But you lot keep records of patients don’t you? You’re like the Clerks over at Magic Investigations with your sheets of paper and files. You’ve gotta have that visit and which Healer I saw notated in my file or something. Right?”

“Possibly,” she said.

“Bronn.” Olsen called making his way to him. “I’m done. And I’ve already spoke with one of the healers tending to Yami so I can let Jax know what’s going on. Ready to send me home?”

“Did you thank them?” Bronn questioned.

“Thank you.” Olsen told the Vic Captain in slow, confusion.

“Not me you idiot!” Bronn snapped. “The Mages who fixed you up.”

“Uh. Sure.” Olsen said.

Bronn reached out a hand causing Olsen to take a step back.

“Don’t lie to me, you flowery Water Spout.” Bronn warned, closing his hand into a fist. “Go back and apologize to the Healers for not properly thanking them, then thank them for their efforts.”

Olsen looked at Bronn as if he has lost his mind.

“Now!” Bronn barked.

“Alright. Alright.” Olsen griped, walking away.

Bronn looked back at Gilly shaking his head. “Kids. I’m Bronn by the way. Bronn Rendel.”

“I know,” she said.

“How? Oh. Aright. Olsen said as much.”

“I knew who you were before that,” Gilly told.

“What? How?”

She turned away. “Send your comrade off and we’ll talk. There’s not much else for you to do while you wait till sunrise for your other friend to be released.”