# FFL Part 14: Convergence

The cold wind started deep in the bowels of the earth. It flowed out
from the depths and caused the torches and lamps of the grunting
miners to flicker and skip like mischievous spirits. The workers
paused in their efforts and for a moment, down below, the sound of
metal on stone ceased. For a moment there was only the faint echo of
sound and the harsh whistle of the wind as it slipped between rocky
spurs and flowed up the shafts to the surface. Later some of the men
would claim that they heard something else, like the breathing
of a titanic pair of lungs. These men would never return to the
hollows under the earth.

The wind seeped out of the immense mound which housed the Starsilver
mine through a dozen holes and openings, many of which were unknown
even to the lords of this place. It flowed down the sides of the hill,
stirring the snow into eddies and clouds of white dust. A worker on
his way up the mine passed through that chill wind and stopped. His
body tightened and for a moment, just a moment, he felt as if the very
air around him was alive with some force intent on his destruction.
Then it passed, and he was alive and well and the world was as it had
always been. Except it wasn't, and he knew it. He decided that he was
long overdue for a vacation, and so went home to gather his wife and
family and leave this place as quickly as possible.

He was not the only one who felt the touch of the wind that day. It
crept down into the great city of Yahl Russa and through the streets
like a prowler. In its path children ceased to play and women paused
in their daily work. And for a moment, just a moment, many felt as
been drained away. Then it passed.

Soon enough it reached the edge of the city and flowed out from it. It
passed over a man who walked towards the capital with the sure and
easy steps of one who has the absolute conviction that everything he
does is right. This man paused then, on the snow-covered fields of
Russa and felt the wind pass over him. For a moment, just a
moment, he felt its presence: a nameless terror there and gone in an
instant. But this man did not quail in response. No, this was no
ordinary man to be driven away from his appointed task by a mere black
wind.

"HA!" the man declared. "I, Beastmaster Stine, have felt thine foul
presence, heretic. Thou shalt not escape the Citizen's Justice today,
nor any other day. For thou art beset by the mighty force of Stine,
thine great adversary and eternal nemesis!" He laughed heartily at
this and strode confidently into the city of Yahl Russa.

And beyond him, out in the countryside, the cold wind reached a grove
of trees and seemed to stop. The residents of this grove knew all too
well what this cold wind meant, and what it was in response to. Still,
they chose to do nothing, as had ever been their way.

======================================================================

C&A Productions Presents
A work of Improfanfiction

Final Fantasy Legacy
"Knights of the Round"

Created by: Brian Stricklin

Chapter 14: Convergence

By: Aaron Peori

=====================================================================

The cold wind never reached the dim and closed room in the back of the
great library. The figure inside was incapable of feeling its chill
touch. It was alone, a perfect statue that had once been a man. Who
could say what it felt, trapped in the living death of eternal stone?

It was not alone for long, however. Soon enough a single figure opened
the doors and walked inside. She was changed since she had first seen
this man, what seemed like months ago. Her pale skin was now tanned
a healthy brown by continual exposure to the sun. Her long blonde hair
regular barber. She still wore a blue dress, though in a slightly
different style, and her pointed, wide-brimmed hat was still firmly
atop her head. If the statue could have seen her, however, he would
have noticed that all these things were trivial differences next to
one thing. It was the eyes. The eyes that had at first had a haunted
sort of lost look to them now held something else. It was like a
spark, a light in shadowed darkness. Oh, there was still the fear
there, all the worse in the presence of this figure in this condition.
But a spark was there. And it would only grow bigger.

"Davin," Marcine Cavanaugh said with a soft sigh and placed her hands
upon his face. The texture of the stone was smooth, flawless... too
perfect to be human flesh. But it didn't feel like stone. It was warm.
Not as warm as skin, but warmer than stone had any natural right to
be. She pulled her hand away as if stung, and felt tears in her eyes.
"Davin, I'm sorry," she said in the vague hope that he could hear.
"I know this isn't my fault, but I can't help feeling guilty anyway. I
just..." She shook her head. "Nobody deserves this Davin. Oh god, I
can't imagine... to be alive, to be forever alive encased in that
awful shell. Please know that I never meant for this to happen."

She forced herself to back away from him, even though she felt an
almost overwhelming urge to weep into his shoulders. Perhaps it was
the vague hope that her tears would be cure enough for his affliction.
Half-recalled legends bubbled up from her subconscious but she
dismissed them as pointless daydreaming. She knew that Davin could not
hear her, could not see or hear anything in fact. She would not need
to worry that he had seen her in a moment of weakness. Yet she
couldn't do it. It felt wrong somehow. And yet his very presence, even
sealed behind the rocky flesh, was enough to soothe her.

"Davin," she said slowly. "I was wrong, Davin. You remember when we
first met, how I said that magic was not itself evil? I was wrong. Not
all magic is evil, but some is..." She looked at him again. "Some
magic is, Davin. And the church has been practicing this magic
for centuries... This is evil. It needs to be stopped." She
stood up. "Mika and Piette are mixing up the potion they hope will
cure you now. I hope it can, Davin. Then if... when it does we have to
find some way to stop them." She walked up to him again. "Stop..." she
laid her hand on the warm stone of his chest and for a moment fancied
she could feel his heart beating. "This. This must be stopped...
somehow."

***

Deep beneath the earth the wind no longer blew.

Something far deadlier moved in its place.

***

>BOOM!<

"Wah!" Syeira stumbled and flopped ungracefully to the floor as the
force of the explosion rocked the very foundations of the house. She
picked herself up and looked over to the laboratory door. Smoke in at
least three different colors slipped around it and drifted calmly into
the room. "Great," she muttered, "I hope they haven't killed
themselves."

She was just about to place her fingers on the handle when the door
flew open and a tiny ball of frenetic energy smashed into her chest.
She fell to the floor for the second time that minute and gave a low
wuff as the air was forced from her lungs. She looked up dazedly to
see the spectacled form of young Mika Gilchrist sitting on her chest.
She tried to say something but was preempted by the girl's jubilant
yell.

"We did it Syeira!" Mika called and began to dance about on the
thief's chest, much to said thief's discomfort. "We mixed it up just
like the book said!" She laughed and jumped up and down. "I'm going to
cure Davin! Isn't that great!"

Syeira was not one known for her tact, therefore she can be excused
for not saying "Mika Gilchrist, would you please find the time, if you
are not too busy shouting in joy, to remove yourself from on top of my
person so that I may attempt to breath again and perhaps heal a few of
the ribs you have probably broken? It would be oh so much help."
Instead she roared incoherently and leapt up, grabbing the tiny girl
by the arm and shaking her, and said several impolite words about
Mika's heritage which Syeira had absolutely NO justification for,
seeing as how nobody knew what Mika's heritage was.

"Syeira," Mika snapped. "You're hurting my arm."

Syeira decided that it was perhaps best not to kill the little girl
and instead dropped her before stalking off to the other side of the
hallway. She gave an unoffending wall a few good kicks. It didn't calm
her down, and now her foot hurt. Finally she calmed down and walked
back to the midget. That nerdy guy, Piette, was standing in the
doorway as well.

"Well?"

"It worked," Mika said simply. "Weren't you listening?"

"Actually," Piette said in a nervous tone, "We can't be sure of that."
He held up a vial filled with what looked like a swirling yellow mist;
a simple cork kept it from pouring out of the container. "It's called
a Soft and it should cure Davin... BUT we should really test it first.
I want to make sure it's safe to administer before using it on him."

"The book says it works, right?" Syeira grumbled. "Why waste time like
this?"

"Yeah!" Mika piped in.

"Okay," Piette sighed. "But if this kills him because we mixed it
improperly then..."

"Kills!" Mika gasped. "It could kill him?"

"You think belladonna is a safe substance?" Piette said with some
surprise.

"No, but..." she sighed. "Fine, we should test it, but how?"

"Ah," Piette said and walked inside. "That is what this little guy is
for." He walked back out and in his hands was small cage in which a
single white dove cooed contentedly and pecked at its food.

"It's so cute!" Mika called and grabbed the cage away from him.

"Ah, Mika," Piette said nervously. "We need that for the test."

"Huh?" she blinked. "How... now wait, you're not going to petrify this
bird are you?"

"Well of course he is," Syeira informed her. "It wouldn't be much of a
test if he just poured the stuff on the bird!"

"Quite true," Piette nodded. Mika looked at him with a mix of hurt and
defiance in her eyes for a moment then nodded in a resigned manner and
handed back the cage. Piette gestured for them to follow and lead them
back into his lab. Syeira was surprised at how little actual damage
had been done to the place during the explosion. Then again, with the
mess he usually kept this place in there wasn't much an explosion
could do to it to make it worse. He placed the cage on a table and
stepped back from it. "Okay," he said. "Let's get started!"

"Go ahead," Syeira nodded calmly. She watched him intently, knowing
this would be perhaps the first time he intentionally used magic.

"Uh," Piette looked at her and blinked. "You know the chant right? Why
don't you do it?"

Syeira blinked and then nearly laughed. For all his 'expertise', he
didn't know the first thing Cid had taught her in his very first
lesson! She forced down her laughter and smirked at him in her most
condescending manner. "I can't cast that spell," she said simply. "I
wasn't the one who learned it."

"Huh?" both he and Mika said. "But weren't you there when he cast the
spell?" Mika added after a moment.

"If it were that simple I'd know all Marcine's spells as well, and
she'd know all mine." Syeira walked over and picked up a piece of
yellowed parchment, she then walked back and handed it to him. "Read
it."

"But this is..."

He looked at the paper and ran his eyes down the length of the page.
His lips moved in unconscious mimicry of the words he was reading.
Finally he came to one part and stopped. "The spell!" he said in a
shocked voice. "It's... it's gone!"

"Not gone," Syeira told him. "Transferred, inside you." She paused,
trying to collect her thoughts. She wasn't the best orator, and when
she tried to explain things it was always a poor effort compared to
Cid. What she wouldn't give for Davin's glib tongue right now. "Magic
isn't only in the chant, it's also a force. A spell exists like a
physical thing in astral space... it attaches itself to people and by
using the chant you can activate it. Great masters can transfer some
of their knowledge to unliving things, like this parchment. Then when
somebody casts the spell off the parchment the spell transfers to
them." She took a deep breath and walked a little further away. Damn,
she wished she was better at this.

"You mean to tell me..." Piette blanched. "That the spell is linked to
me and only I can cast it?"

"Yes."

"Argh!" Piette screamed. "Can't I get rid of it?"

"Not anymore," Syeira shrugged. "It takes a great deal of skill to
transfer as spell from you to an object. Much less than it takes to
transfer it from one unliving thing to another like you probably did
when copying this in the first place."

"I can't handle this..." Piette sobbed aloud.

"Yes you can!" Mika kicked him in the shin and he yelped. "You better
handle it, because if you don't then Davin is in trouble and I won't
forgive you!"

"I..." Piette sighed. "I guess I can live with it..."

"You're a magus now." Syeira shrugged. "There are worse things to be.
At least now you can sense whenever someone is about to use magic,
your spells will sort of... react to it."

"I just have one question..." Piette paused. "Can anyone learn magic?"

"I think so," Syeira nodded but frowned. "He wasn't all too clear on
that... some people don't want to, and so they never will but..." She

"We'll have to talk later." Piette gave her a weak smile. His natural
curiosity was beginning to overcome his displeasure, Syeira noted.
Then again, look what that did for the cat. "If you ladies will step
back..." He lowered his head and began to examine his hands. Syeira
grabbed Mika and stepped well clear of the table. She wasn't about to
risk him targeting one of their aurae by mistake. Mika watched in
anticipation and Syeira felt the magic in the room begin to... hum was
the best word she had ever come up with for it. Piette chanted the
majority of the spell under his breath and only raised his voice for
the final word, "Petrify!" She watched as the recognizable flash of
light dissolved away and left the bird that had been in the cage a
living statue. Piette gasped and collapsed to his knees. "By the three
gods!" he hissed through clenched teeth. "It wasn't like this last
time!"

"It never is, the first time," Syeira explained. "The first spell can
be used without problem. After that the energy for it comes from you.
You'll build up a tolerance after a time, if you keep spellcasting."

"No thank you!" Piette groaned. "Twice was quite enough."

"Suit yourself," Syeira shrugged again.

"Okay," Mika stepped forward with the Soft in hand. "Let's see if this
works." She carefully unstopped the vial and waved it over the cage
then pushed the cork back in before too much could escape. The yellow
mist must have been heavier than air because it drifted down over the
cage like a mantle. For a moment the bird was obscured from sight, but
not from sound. Barely audible was a sound like ice shattering. Then
when the mist cleared, stirred away by the breeze they all watched in
awe as the restored dove cooed at them curiously. "It worked!" She
lifted up the vial, which was still more than three-quarters full.
"Let's hurry."

"Just..." Piette wheezed. "A moment. I need to catch my breath."

"Sure," Syeira grinned. "And while you're doing that, can tell me
were the rest of your notes from the Book of Rites are? After all, if
they had one spell in there, there might be more."

***

Captain Jil Fallensand of the Lucky Star was not an impatient woman.
Or at least, she never would have described herself as such. She
preferred the term 'efficiency concerned individual'. To her crew this
translated as 'someone not to piss off'. Thus it was that she was in a
rare good mood when she discovered that the loading of her supplies
was going ahead of schedule. This would probably play a part in the
events which would transpire.

"Get that there box aboard, ye wine-swilling leeches! 'Fore I decide
to have ye all dragged behind the ship all the way to next port!" she
roared at her men after learning the good news. "I'll have ye all
tried for mutiny if ye don't hurry!" She smiled as she saw the men
scramble to fulfill her orders. Today would be a good day; she might
even let the men have double-rations tonight if things remained ahead
of schedule.

"Ahoy, Captain!" she blinked and looked over. There stood a group of
strangers on the pier. Each was astride a horse and all of them had
the look of people about official business. Around here that meant the
Church. Jil frowned but decided not to let this ruin her mood.
"Permission to come aboard?" the one who had shouted to her called
again.

"Aye," she yelled. "Come aboard the Lucky Star, but be mindful that
Sailor's Law holds precedent on me ship."

"I have no intention of doing you any harm," the young man said. He
nodded to a significantly older man to his right and the two
dismounted to walk up the ramp and onto the deck of the gently bobbing
ship. She watched them approach and took this moment to appraise them
more closely. Jil considered herself a pretty good judge of character,
and looking at these two she was not sure what to think. The young one
was tall and very handsome, with the sort of confident strut
only a Dragoon would have mastered. Still, he was out of armor and
carried a strange sword that was obviously not Church issue. She
thought she recognized the  weapon's design but couldn't recall from
where. Also there was something in his eyes, a lost, almost haunted
look. The older man she couldn't read at all. He had secrets, that she
could tell, but his eyes revealed no more than he wanted them to
reveal. Also, the way he moved, you might say he considered himself
the younger man's equal, and not a superior or inferior as was usually
the case among military organizations. "Good day, Captain," the young
man said. He pointed to the Tri-fan on the clasp of his cape to

"That be debatable," she said simply. "What business have ye with
me?"

"Well," the man said, "I am Captain Kyle Cavanaugh of the Holy
Dragoons, and this is my aide Cheney. He asked several questions down
by the wharves and apparently came back with your name as the only
captain brave enough to sail the North Channel."

Jil frowned, she had a disturbing feeling she knew were this was
going. "I've sailed those devil waters in the past, aye. What business
be it of yours?"

"My troops and I are looking for passage to Yahl Russa."

She laughed. "Ye be insane. Why not head round the Cape instead of
through North Channel?"

"Time is of the essence."

Time was one thing that Jil Fallensand respected. She looked at him
with narrowed eyes for a moment. Really this trip wouldn't be that
bad. She was heading to a northern port anyway, and if she didn't
agree to it he'd likely just use his authority to have her ship
impounded until she agreed. That and seeing how she was in a good mood
probably combined to make her decision for her.

"Fine," she said after a moment. "Never let it be said the Lucky Star
be not a friend of the Church. I will take ye, on two conditions."

"Name them," the Dragoon said with some relief in his voice.

"First that I be allowed to take this cargo to me next port, it not be
far out of your way anyway."

"Done."

"And second that ye pay triple the fare, and agree that ye and your

The Dragoon flinched at that and looked down at the pouch at his
waste. "Fine," he said softly. "Whatever it takes."

"Har!" She clapped him on the shoulder. "Now I suggest ye bring yer
men aboard, we leave with the tide."

She paused. "Now that, ye be paying extra for..."

The Dragoon groaned and Jil laughed. It always put her back in a good
mood when she could fleece her customers.

***

The streets of Yahl Russa were kept in much worse shape than those of
Tienne. Cobblestones were broken or missing entirely, and refuse
seemed to pile in the corners with only a thin layer of snow to
disguise it. The air was filled with the scent of smoke and the walls
were stained by its passing. Every now and then the three would pass
by a grated hole in the roadway out of which an awful stench would
arise.

"Ugh," Mika clenched her nose as they passed by another of those
grates. "What is that awful smell?"

"The sewers," Piette offered. "They are almost as old as the city and
haven't been upgraded in all that time. You get used to it after a
while."

"You don't understand!" Mika complained as she pinched her nose. "We
alchemists have to have very sensitive noses... I've trained all my
life to make my sense of smell better. But this..."

Syeira laughed. "Go live in the forest then," she said with a soft
smirk on her lips. "All cities smell like this. Tienne is the
exception, and I doubt you'll be welcome back there anytime soon." She
then went back to reading the papers she liberated from Piette's
house. Her eyes seemed to sparkle with an inner light as she
looked over the words written on them.

"So," Mika said, "Anything good on those?"

"I won't know until I get a chance to test them," she said simply.

"Oh, right," Mika nodded. She reached down and patted the vial
containing the Soft to make sure it was still there; Syeira's warning

"We can discuss it once we free Davin," Piette pointed out. "We still
have that back room to use."

"Ri..."

"HOLD HERETICS!"

Syeira said several impolite words and turned to look behind them.
Mika turned herself and felt her heart sink as she spotted the man
moving through the crowd behind them. She recognized the hard face
with its arrogant smirk and the calm strut with which he moved. She
had secretly hoped they had seen the last of him back in Voden, but
such was not to be apparently.

"Trouble." She began to look around for somewhere to run, but the
gathering crowd effectively cut off most avenues of escape.

"Thou shalt not escape my wrath a second time," he smirked and drew
his rapier with a steely hiss. The crowd began to murmur and back up a
few steps. "For I, Beastmaster Stine, shalt surely win the battle
here. Thine heretic days are numbered. Yet, if thou surrenderth to me
I shall promise thee fairness in the Citizen's Justice. Provided you
lead me to the magus Marcine Cavanaugh!"

"Stine," Syeira pulled her daggers from her belt and stepped forward.
"We don't have time for you."

"Then I shalt make the time! Have at thee!"

Mika watched as the two began to fight. The crowd was enraptured, but
already Mika could see several of them running off; no doubt to fetch
the guard, and that would be very bad indeed. She looked back to the
fight and noted that Syeira was being forced onto the defensive. She
moved with the grace and skill of an acrobat, but was no match for
the sheer speed and animal ferocity of Stine's attack. Soon enough he
had pushed her into a corner and cut off her escape.

"Surrender, wench," he smirked. "I shall be merciful, if thou dost."

"Do something!" Mika shouted at Piette, who had backed up with a
terrified expression on his face. Somehow he reminded her of a rabbit
at this moment.

"I'm not a combat Geomancer," he said with a gulp. "I never trained
for this!"

"Does it look like I care!" Mika hissed and drew her own tiny dagger.
"Fine if you won't help her I will."

"No!" Piette shouted. "I'll help her..." He leaned down and placed his
hands on the cobblestones.

"Well, woman?" Stine growled. "Thine lack of answer causes me
impatience..."

"Ancient spirits within the halls of man," Piette began to chant.
Sweat started to form on his brow. "Burn with life unchanging since
the start of time, Elf Fire!"

Stine was about to speak again when they appeared around him. Mika had
seen the effect once before, when Davin had produced them to entertain
her a year or so back. But these were different, large fist sized
balls of blue flame that swirled and waved in deceptively slow arcs.
Stine roared in pain as the balls burned his leather outfit and he
stumbled away from Syeira in pain. The thief took this opportunity to
strike. She leapt forward, waiting until just after the fiery orbs
had dispersed to attack. But as she dashed past Stine she appeared to
do no damage, instead merely checking him and continuing on.

"Let's go!" she shouted. And then Mika saw that she held Stine's
rapier in her hand. With a negligent flick of her wrist she sent it
spiraling up onto a nearby roof. "He won't be off-balance for
long..."

"Right," Mika agreed and the three turned towards the crowd. Syeira
growled and the crowd moved apart in the face of her rage. The three
began to make their way towards a nearby alleyway when a voice from
behind stopped them.

"Wait!" Stine shouted. "Thou shalt fall before me, heretics!" He
raised his hands and for a moment all stood still. "Devastation of my
enemies, come in forms of light ethereal... Matra Missile!"

"Not again!" Syeira cried and leapt to avoid the streaks of light that
flashed out from Stine's form. Mika would have dodged as well, but
instead she saw the people standing there in stunned stupefaction as
the energy began to fall among them.

"Run away!" Mika cried and ran up to one of them. "Hurry or you'll be
hurt!"

"Wha..."

Moments later the explosions began. Mika heard people scream in shock
and pain as the shock waves flung them about like ragdolls. Mika
herself was knocked over by one of the blasts. She managed not to
scream and actually rolled with the fall pretty well. As she got up,
however, she saw a flash of yellow rolling away from herself.
Franticly, she reached down to her belt and felt the empty pouch which
towards the yellow flash and saw it roll among the now scattering feet
of the townspeople.

Time seemed to slow and for a moment there was nothing else besides
her and the vial. It tread a perilous course, rolling across the
broken cobblestone, always within an inch of being crushed by the
unknowing foot of some panicked townsmen. She held her breath,
watching it move, and tried to force her body to respond. But she
couldn't act; it was like there was some primal force at work within
her, afraid that if she moved she would break the spell of the moment
and the vial would surely be shattered. Then she saw the vial stop,
stop on something just out of her sight. Before she could release her
breath it teetered and disappeared, falling with an inaudible splash
into the sewers below.

"MIKA!"

Mika felt herself being lifted from the ground like a doll. She turned
and saw Syeira holding onto her. She tried to take in the scene but
all she could see was panic and chaos as the crowd seethed and rolled
about the street. Of Stine there was no sign, and the same went for
Piette.

"Mika, snap out of it!" Syeira called. "We have to get out of here!"

"NO!" Mika cried and clenched her tiny fists around Syeira's collar.
"We can't! The Soft, I dropped it! It fell into the sewers!"

Syeira did her best to increase Mika's curse-word vocabulary and
looked around. Then she began to move in amongst the crowd like a
snake among tall grass. Soon enough they found themselves in a
deserted alley, all but overlooked in the confusion that was now
outside. Syeira put her down and dashed back into the crowd,
disappearing amidst them.

Mika slumped against the wall and began to cry softly. How could she
have been so stupid? It was all her fault, letting the Soft get lost
like that. Now Davin would be lost to her forever. Trapped in living
stone until... until...

"Ouf!"

She looked over to see Syeira unceremoniously dump Piette to the
ground before slumping against the wall herself. She grunted and
rubbed at the muscles in her arm. "Have you ever considered a diet?"

"Have you ever considered letting me move about on my own?"

that. Do you know of any way down into the sewers?"

"There are more reliable escape methods..."

"That isn't what it's for!" Syeira snapped. "The Soft fell into the
sewers... we need to get down there now."

"Oh dear," he began to rub his hands. "The Soft would likely float if
it hit the water, which means it could be several blocks away, carried
by the current. If it didn't hit the water..."

"It did!" Mika nearly shouted. "Just tell us how to get down there."

"Okay," he said. He looked around and then placed his hand on the
ground. "Please, step back. This could be dangerous." Obligingly, they
stepped back away from him. "Powers of earth and darkness, consume
what time has wrought.... Cave In!"

Mika watched as the ground in front of him seemed to stir and shake.
And then with a muted roar it disintegrated. For a moment she thought
he had annihilated the ground itself... and then she heard the
staccato splashes as the pieces fell into the swiftly moving water
below. Piette carefully got to his feet and backed away from the hole.

"There," he said, "Our method of entrance. Not exactly pretty but..."
He trailed off into nervous laughter.

"What are we waiting for?" Mika said and promptly leapt into the hole.

"Wait!" Syeira called too late and then with a sigh went to follow her
young companion.

***

Stine cursed and spat as he shoved his way through the thinning crowd.
These foolish townspeople had been unfortunate enough to get in the
way of his Citizen's Justice. He would have taken the time to smite
them, one and all, except one could hardly have a Citizen's Justice
without citizens, so he did not do that. Instead he muttered dire
imprecations against his quarry and forced his way to the edge of the
crowd. There he paused and looked around.

Soon enough, he spotted their trail. Most people tended to
underestimate his skill, but he knew that was to his advantage. He had
learned, during his training, to trail monsters through sometimes the
most unusual circumstances. Whether it be through fog or blackest
caves, Stine was never one to let his quarry escape for long. It would
have been difficult to follow their trail, with all the other activity
that had occurred in this area, but Stine new his quarry well, and
soon found his way to the alleyway into which they had disappeared.

He crouched down beside the hole he found there and smirked. The fools
thought they could lose him, HIM! Beastmaster Stine! "Thine fate is
sealed already, fools," he snarled. "Come then, allow us  to finish
this in yon eldritch depths!"

***

Kyle held onto the rail as the ship bobbed and weaved between the
waves. Some might have confused his posture with seasickness. But that
kind of motion sickness was quickly forced out of any Dragoon that
wanted to handle their Boost Armor for more than a few seconds. The
real reason he was staring out to the sea, hunched over as if sick,
was not because of the movement of the ship, but because of another
sickness. It was called guilt.

It was really beginning to pile up on him now. He had started to
disobey orders as if it was second nature. He hadn't reported the
existence of a Red Monk within the very heart of the church. He hadn't
returned the Egg to Father Lambert, as was required.  And then there
was this, he thought as he patted the sword at his side. He wondered
if his sister had felt this way, the first few times she had used the
forbidden arts.

"Ye better be careful there," a voice called from beside him, and Kyle
turned to look. It was the Lucky Star's captain. Kyle noticed she
wasn't looking at him, and instead seemed intent on the water below.
He turned his eyes downward and pulled back slightly.

Down below, floating in the water was a head. Not the head of any
human, for no human had skin covered in shimmering green scales, nor
had any human fins that unfolded from their cheeks and bobbed
peacefully in the water. It was not the inhumanity of the face that
surprised and repulsed him however, but its disturbing humanity. It
had two eyes, a nose and a mouth (full of fangs yes, but a mouth
that far belied any beast Kyle had ever encountered.

"What is it?"

"Shahagin," the captain said easily. "A goblinoid. They be swarming
all about in these here waters an' will grow more common as we get
further north." And closer to the Channel, she left unsaid. "They
usually won't attack unless there be a large group o' them. This one
here be most likely just a scout."

"It's hideous," Kyle growled and reached for the sword belted at his
waist.

"Now ye see why I be hiring guards for these here trips," she said.
Then she reached down into her coat and came out with some sort of
object. It flashed metal in the light but before he could get a good
look at it she sent it spinning with a flick of her wrist. The
creature in the water stiffened as something hit it and for a moment
Kyle saw metal poking out of its head with green ooze bubbling up
around it. Then the Shahagin was gone, sunken beneath the waves.
"Nasty beastie, it'll no be reporting back to its tribe now."

Kyle turned to look at the captain. She was really a rather pretty
woman, even if she seemed intent that no one notice this. She was
almost as tall as him, with a trim athletic build and short brown
hair that barely escaped from the red bandanna she wore atop her head.
Her face would have been breath-taking, with soft lines and two
dazzlingly gray eyes, except for the scar which ran from her chin to
her ear on one cheek. She wore a complex, many layered coat which he
guessed abounded with secret pockets and other surprises as well. It
also served to effectively hide her femininity. Her pants were a more
simple affair, done in a deep blue to the coats black, and clung to
her legs like a second skin. He forced himself to act casual, having
managed to examine her in mere moments. A gift useful in both war, and
other pursuits as well.

"Interesting trinket," Kyle said. "What was it?"

"A shuriken," she shrugged calmly. "I learned how to use them on me
trips to Ryukin."

"Ryukin?" Kyle blinked. "That's the one place the church has never
been able to get an inroad into. I hear they're very xenophobic."

"Aye, that they be," she nodded. "But like anyone else, they need
so they be willing to deal with me. Haven't been there in nigh unto
five years now." She paused and looked at his sword. "They carry
swords much like yours in fact."

"I see," Kyle squelched his curiosity and turned back to look at the
sea once more. It was good to be talking, it took his mind off of...
other things. "So, is this Northern Channel really as bad as all the

"Probably worse," the woman replied and moved over to gaze out beside
him. "It be an unnatural thing, they say Leviathan himself carved it
out back when the Sleepers still be around." She paused. "Ye know,
when I be last in Tienne I thought I saw some great serpent out over
the city, and I swear that a flood come pouring out o' those streets
soon after..."

"I'm not at liberty to discuss that," Kyle said stiffly.

"Aye, I see," she paused again. "The Channel, it cuts where no water
ought rightly to cut. Not only must ye be careful o' the reefs and
sandbars but fierce monsters infest that place like it be a nest!" She
pointed to her face. "I got this here scar last time I went through
that devil's gauntlet. Ain't no one who goes through that place
unchanged."

"..." Kyle considered that for a few moments and for a brief second
wondered if this was the right plan. Then he dismissed those thoughts.
"If it's so dangerous, why did you agree to take me?" He wasn't sure
he really wanted to put anyone else in unnecessary danger. This entire
thing had taken on a very personal edge, but he was worried it may
drag others down with him in the end.

"I don't know," she shrugged. "Maybe because I liked the cut of your
jib..." There was an awful creaking sound behind them and they both
turned to see that one of the sails had somehow come loose and was now
flapping in the wind. "Ah ye mangy dogs! What ye be doin' de moment I
turn me back! Get that sail fixed now or I'll keel-haul the lot of
ye!" She stormed off, shouting dire threats and vile imprecations at
anyone who didn't move quickly enough. He looked after her for a
moment and smiled to himself before turning back to the sea, and
darker thoughts.

***

"Are you sure we're on the right path, Mika?" Syeira asked from where
she kept watch near the back of the party. Piette was in the center,
the little girl in the lead. She had taken out a candle and lit
it to provide illumination in the passage.

"Of course I am," Mika hmpfed. "You see that red streak in the water?"
She pointed down at the murky brownish liquid which chugged sluggishly
past in the gloom. Syeira reminded herself to put some flowers on the
architects grave for providing the elevated walkways upon which the
three of them strode.

"That isn't exactly water, Mika, but yes."

"It's a result of a chemical reaction between the Soft and the...
uh... you know, stuff in the water. It causes it to turn red like
that. We just follow the trail and it should lead us right to it."

"Wait," Syeira paused. "If that stuff is reacting to the Soft, doesn't
that mean the Soft is leaking into the sewer?"

"No," Mika shook her head. "The Soft covered the entire container
inside and out when we used it earlier... I just hope the stuff on the
outside lasts long enough."

"Ah."

"Fascinating," Piette murmured to himself.

"Not really," Syeira muttered. "It's all pretty stupid if you ask me."

"Huh?" Piette replied. "Oh no, I'm sorry I wasn't paying attention to
that. I'm referring to these sewers... I don't think they're sewers at
all."

"What?"

"Well, look at those ceilings. The vaults weren't built to support the
weight of a city," he pointed up and Syeira followed his finger. They
looked like ceilings to her, but then, she was no expert. "And every
now and then we've passed by these." He stopped and crouched down in
front of something. Syeira paused and after a moment so did Mika. He
had stopped in front of some sort of decoration on the wall. It was
like an indent of some kind, with several colored tiles on it covered
in grime.

"Yeah, so what?"

"It's strange is all, I've never seen a decoration like it."

"If you two are finished admiring the scenery," Mika said imperiously.
"We have a miracle cure to fetch!"

"Yes ma'am!" Syeira snapped to her feet. "Let's go, Poindexter. And no
more zoning out with the scenery."

"Yes..." Piette sighed and followed along behind them.

***

Time passes, even in the darkness below the city. Syeira couldn't tell
how much time had passed; without the sun and sky it was nearly
impossible. She was getting hungry, which was usually a good sign it
was nearing lunch time. Then again, in this place being hungry was not
a good thing.

"There it is!"

Syeira snapped her head up and looked around. Mika was jumping up and
down and waving her arm excitedly towards a large pile of debris that
had dammed itself up in the middle of the tunnel. There, wobbling
about in front of it was the yellow vial which contained the much
sought after medicine.

"About time," Syeira said and started past Mika. "This time I'll hold
onto it."

"HOLD!"

All three spun on their heels, their hearts sinking, at the sound of
that voice. Sure enough they all saw Stine standing there with his
arms crossed and a small smirk on his face. His clothing was covered
in sewer filth and he seemed to be standing in the middle of the river
of brown water. No wait, Syeira corrected herself, he wasn't standing
in the water, he was standing on it!

"Didst thou truly believe escape was possible?" He sneered. "I am
Beastmaster Stine, greatest warrior who ever lived, and mine righteous
hands carry the swift and sure Citizen's Justice! Thou shouldst
prepare thyself to receive my wrath!" He smirked at them and put his
fingers to his lips before giving a sharp whistle. Then he began to
rise out of the water, and Syeira realized how it was he could stand
was astride the back of a large monster of some kind. It was long and
flat, with a segmented body covered in a chitinous shell. Fierce and
eyes seemed to sprout from its top like little marbles. Three more of
the creatures rose up out of the water behind him.

"Flatworms!" Piette hissed. "There were rumors they lived in the
sewers down here. Beware, their bite is poison!"

Syeira  growled and stepped forward, drawing her dagger and preparing
to fight. "No!" Mika cried and Syeira turned her head to look at the
little girl. "We can't risk fighting him here. The Soft may be
destroyed in the battle."

"Damn..." Syeira took a step back and watched Stine's lip curl.

"Thou art wise beyond thy years childe," Stine said. "Surrender, for
tis not thee that is mine goal this day. If thou shouldst not
surrender, thou shalt not live to see sunlight again!"

"I have a plan," Piette suddenly whispered into Syeira's ear.
"Distract him for a moment, this may take a while to set up." He moved
away from her and back towards Mika. Syeira muttered something under
her breath about how SHE was always supposed to save them from people
like him. How on earth was she going to distract Stine's attention for
long enough that Piette could finish whatever he had planned?

Then she smiled.

"Stine," she shouted and jumped up and down pointing behind him. "It's
Pearl!"

"My love?" Stine said and spun in place.

Syeira quickly whipped out a piece of parchment from one of her many
secure hiding places and read through it. She certainly hoped this was
a real spell, and not some crazy knock-off...

"Phantasms that dwell in the mind of man," she whispered in a barely
audible voice. "Images of life and love which we so covet, be unreal
and yet seen... Illusion!"

Then she felt it, the Rush. It was like nothing she could put into
words, the sheer numbing joy as the magic bonded with her very being.
Never again when she cast this spell would she feel the Rush, but
for now it was like sweet music and scenic vista and soft fragrances
that tickled the nose. Then as quickly as it had come, the Rush was
gone and the spell had come to be.

"I see not fair Lassenkirche wen... we..." He paused in mid-speech as
a figure stepped around the corner. It looked exactly like Pearl
Lassenkirche had when Syeira had last seen her. That is, if the older
woman had been wearing not a stitch of clothing. "We.. we..." Stine
commented intelligently at this sight.

"Oh Stine!" the phantasm said in a more-than-passable imitation of
Pearl's voice. "Long have I traveled since you left me to find you
here..." Okay, so Syeira promised herself she would make it up to
Pearl the next time she saw her. "Come my love," Pearl called in a
disgusting cloying voice. "For I am lost and need your guidance."

"Pearl!" Stine shouted. "Thou art unclothed!" He covered his eyes.
"Dost thou seek to distract from mine holy upholdance of the Citizen's
Justice!?"

Syeira turned and ran back towards the others, dropping the now
useless paper beside her. "Well, you better hurry," she called softly.
"That illusion will only last so long." She stopped when she saw
Piette staring at the phantom, trying very hard not to let his cheeks
get any redder. "Hey Poindexter," she said and rapped him smartly on
the head. "Snap out of it."

He shook his head and starred at her. "Good god woman!" he hissed.
"That's... that's just a cruel thing to do to a man!"

"It's Stine," Syeira said as if that explained everything.

"I got it!" Mika called. Syeira looked over and saw the young girl
hold up the Soft triumphantly. "Let's hurry up and get out of here,"
she said as she gingerly made her way across the refuse back towards
them.

"R-right," Piette said. He knelt beside the refuse dam and spoke
softly for a moment. Syeira didn't feel any magic, but as she watched,
an amber light began to form around his fingers. With quick, dexterous
motions he began to swirl his hands through the trash like it was
putty. In moments he had formed a disk, some six feet across and about
an inch thick. He quickly shifted it and placed it on the other side
of the obstruction. It bobbed there silently in the water.

"Wait," Syeira said stiffly. "You don't expect us to actually get on
that thing do you?"

"I know it's small, but we can all fit... and I assure you it will
hold together. Several spirits hold the weaves, not nearly as good a
job as I could have done given more time and better conditions but..."

"Fine," Syeira hissed. "Let's go... that illusion will be ceasing to
exist any moment now..."

"My love!" Stine shouted. "Thou fadest from this world... how... Ah!
Foul sorcery and trickery!"

Syeira cursed again and grabbed Mika once she was in arms reach. She
then placed the girl on the disk and lay down on top of her. The disk
bobbed and weaved disturbingly, threatening to capsize them into the
mire that now was only an inch from her face. Then Piette slid down
beside her and the disturbance became greater.

"How the hell do you plan for us to escape in this?"

"Watch," Piette smirked.

"Foul Magi! Thou shalt die at my hands for this!" Stine roared behind
them. "Attack!"

"Depth and flows beneath the placid surface," Piette chanted softly.
"Rise up forces which shape the shores of the world, Clean Sweep!"

"I shall-augh!" Stine roared and was cut off. Syeira turned, not quite
sure what to expect. She was definitely not expecting to see a wave of
brown water, its frothing crest tickling the underside of the ceiling
above, that was currently bearing down on them like the wrath of the
gods. Stine and his flatworms disappeared into that foamy force with
hardly a ripple.

"What did you do!?"

"Ergh," Piette gulped. "Perhaps I overdid it. I told you I'm not a
combat geomanc-" Then the water was upon them, and there was no more
time for discussion.

***

"You get to pay for my new clothes," Syeira hissed at Piette as they
trudged along yet another walkway. She had done everything she could
to get the stench off her, short of stripping naked and a good long
bath. Neither of those was an option in this place.

"I told you I'm sorry," Piette coughed into his hand. "I didn't
realize how old and powerful the spirits of this place were. They're
certainly a great deal older than the city itself, I'll tell you
that."

"Well," Mika said. "That's very fascinating, but it doesn't help us
with our current situation. By which I mean the fact that your little
run through the sewers has gotten us thoroughly lost!" She kicked
Piette in the knee to express her displeasure. Piette cried out in
pain and hopped around for a few minutes before he recovered.

"Yes," Piette coughed again and looked around. "Once we find a way
back up to the surface I'm sure we'll find it easy enough to orient
ourselves."

"Poindexter," Syeira said, "we haven't come across any way back up to
the surface. Why don't you just..." she waved her hands. "You know,
cave in the ceiling like before?"

"After what happened with the tidal wave," Mika interrupted. "Do you
really want him to?"

"Uh, no," she sighed. "I guess not."

"Wait!" Piette stopped and leaned down next to the wall.

"What is it this time, another bunch of colored squares?"

"No." Piette reached into one of his pockets and retrieved a
not-quite-dirty kerchief. He then proceeded to rub at the grime on the
wall until a symbol etched into the stone became clear.

"What is it?" Mika asked. "It looks sort of familiar..."

"It's written in the old language of the Manakyr..." He said. "It's a
word... Library."

"Library?"

"Does that mean we're near the library?" Mika asked breathlessly.

"I don't know..." Piette began to rub off more of the grime. "Can one
of you help me with this?"

"Step back," Mika said and Piette did so with a look of curiosity on
his face. Mika rummaged about in her many pouches before pulling out a
tiny stoppered vial. She uncorked the vial and poured the blueish
contents on the wall. Immediately it began to fizz and foam where it
made contact. Mika stepped a safe distance back as the foam began to
move across the wall like spreading flames. For a moment Syeira
imagined it would travel all throughout the sewers, covering every
inch of it with bright white froth. This was not to be, as the foam
ceased spreading after only a few seconds and quickly dissolved away.
When it was gone Syeira blinked, for the wall had been stripped clean
of all the gunk and grime that a thousand years of refuse and flotsam

"Neat trick."

"It's a kind of acid," Mika shrugged. "It dissolves organic substances
but leaves inorganics intact."

"Ah," Piette nodded. "I'd heard of that. I didn't think they thought
it safe enough to allow for its production though."

"Well," Mika blushed. "They sorta didn't... I just mixed up some
anyway."

"Heh," Syeira grinned. "I thinking some of me is beginning to rub off
after all."

"I hope not!" Mika cried in mock horror.

"Har har," Syeira said hollowly. "So what can you tell now?"

"Hmmm..." Piette examined the newly revealed wall. It was covered in
even more symbols that had been etched into the very rock. Another of
those small decorative colored boxes was also present. "It says
'Please leave all familiars outside before entering the library'." He
looked up. "Familiars?"

them."

"I see..."

"Is there a door around here?"

"Do you see one?"

"Well no, but that sounds like a sign you'd put outside a door."

"Why would somebody put a library down in the sewers?"

"Maybe these weren't sewers?"

"Whatever," Syeira interrupted. "This isn't doing us any good."

"I guess not," Piette sighed. "It's a fascinating puzzle however." He
sat down. "Just let me catch my breath for a moment before we move on,
okay?" He leaned back and placed his head against the wall.

Everyone leapt back as there was an audible woosh of some kind.
"What'd I do!?" Piette asked in fright. Syeira spotted what he had
done. The large colored box was now glowing a soft green. He must have
pushed his head up against it when he lay down. Then Syeira felt it,
the twinge of magic.

"What's that?" Piette said in awe.

"Magic," Syeira said calmly.

"I... I... wow," he stepped away from the light. A visible line of
to ceiling. As they watched the light slowly expanded, growing wider
and wider until finally it was wide enough across to allow two men
standing abreast to stand within it. Then the light was gone, and in
its place was a hole in the wall. They looked at each other nervously
and then into the hole. Shadows and other distorted shapes lay beyond
the portal, just out of reach of their dim candle's feeble
luminescence.

"Neat," Mika summed it up. "Well, at least it will be dryer than out
here." Without a pause she stepped boldly into the room. After
moments hesitation, Syeira and Piette followed her, in that order.

"It IS a library!" Mika called out. Sure enough, she was right. Stacks
of books that had fallen from dusty shelves in some long forgotten
past covered the floors. Mounds of scrolls and piles of loose
parchment seemed to cover the very walls. It was impossible to see
very far into the place, as huge bookcases, scrollcases and other
symbols of knowledge and learning blocked off most of the view. The
group stood near a desk that sat next to the entrance. Nearby a
stairwell lead both up and down.

"This is fantastic!" Piette exclaimed and ran forward. "These books
must be almost a thousand years old, if not more. This is the greatest
discovery since... since something I can't even think of, it's so
great!" He leaned down and picked up a scroll. "Just imagine what
could be on- wha?" He stared in open-mouthed horror as the scroll he
had picked up dissolved into dust in his hands and scattered across
the room in the soft breeze. "How..."

"This parchment is centuries old," Mika said. "The only thing that is
preserving them is the fact that they haven't been disturbed. The
slightest touch might be enough to destroy them."

"You mean," Piette said in a choked voice. "I can't read any of it?"

"Probably not."

"So close..." he sighed.

Syeira meanwhile was ignoring them both. She turned and looked at the
desk, and caught sight of something behind it. It was a large piece of
parchment, contained behind what looked like glass. She stood up on
the desk to get a better look at it. It appeared to be a map of most
of the continent, though large holes and rents in the parchment
rendered most of it unreadable. Top that off with the noticeable lack
of many prominent geological features, such as the North Channel, and
the addition of some other strange ones, like those mountains out over
the middle of Clea's Sea and it was definitely weird. That wasn't what
caught her attention however.

"Hey guys," she said. "Come have a look at this!" Her two companions
walked over and looked at the map on the wall. Mika seemed
uninterested, but Piette looked as one might expect a prophet who had
just meet the Three Gods would look. "Take a look at that," she said
and pointed towards the most prominent feature. It was a Tri-fan,
though made of jasper, coral and amber instead of the usual precious
gems. However, in the center was a fourth stone, what looked like
Jade. Its exact relation to the other three gems was hard to
determine. "Doesn't that look a lot like that Tri-fan symbol Marcine
and Davin described to us? The one they found in the underground
ruins?"

"Now that you mention it." Mika nodded. "It does, at that."

"Wait a moment," Piette said as he climbed up onto the desk. "Let me
check something." He leaned in next to the glass case. "These symbols
here next to it..." He tapped the glass some inches away. "This is
Yahl Russa, I recognize the script." He traced his fingers along the
glass from the site of Yahl Russa to the Tri-fan. "That would put it
at just the right distance."

"Right distance for what?"

"The Starsilver mine," he explained. "This Tri-fan is placed directly
over the mound which leads down into the Starsilver mines near hear."

"Wow..."

"Wait," he said. "There's something written under it." He paused.
"Some symbols but most of them are too badly damaged, I can only make
out the Manakyr symbol for 'Earth.' Damn I wish I could study this in
my lab."

"Well you can't and we don't have time," Syeira said. "If this place
really is under the library, then we should be moving up."

"I know," Piette said softly and looked around with a defeated
expression. "I just wish... Ah, but if you fill one hand with wishes
and the other with pennies, which will fill first? Let's go then."

And so they made there way past the piles of crumbling manuscripts,
tomes and parchment and to the stairs that lead upward. By the time
they were gone, the portal that lead into this ancient place had
darkened as a figure stumbled inside. A figure that was not about to
let the day end like this. Oh no, not like this indeed.

***

"Stand back!"

The words were muffled by the wooden floor, but that would cease to be
a problem in a moment as the tiny but powerful bombs blew a hole up
through the planking. Several figures began to climb out of the
opening recently created and stood about in the slowly settling dust
and debris, coughing softly into their hands. When the dust cleared
Mika almost cried out in shock. Then the fear left her. At first it
had appeared that the three of them had been surrounded by several
large, silent and armed men it was only after a moment that she
realized they were statues.

"Where are we?"

"I think we're in the library's basement," Piette said softly. "The
Church likes to store artifacts they intend to study down here, at
least those ones that are too large to transport all the way to
Tienne. Nobody but Church officials and the head librarian is allowed
down here."

"How do you know this?"

"Well," he coughed, "I sort of, you know, came down here without
permission a few times. I haven't been in this room, but there are a
lot of rooms just like it down here."

"Great." Syeira sighed. "Maybe our luck really has finally changed for
the better." She walked over to the door and tried the handle. The
door didn't budge. "Locked." She smirked. "Heh, no problem. Luckily
for you, you have the world's greatest thief with you." She reached up
and plucked a strange, slightly bent and twisted piece of thin metal
from her hair. She bent over and her movements were lost for a few
moments. Then the door swung open with an audible creak.

The three of them stepped out into the hall. It was a musty stone
hallway, supported mainly by rough hewn wooden braces. All along its
length more doorways lead to other places, but none of them were
interested in that. Instead they eyed the stairwell at the far end of
the hall with great pleasure. Down that stairwell spilled soft golden
sunlight.

"Yeha!" Mika cried with a little bounce of joy. "It took almost all

"Indeed," Piette said. "It shouldn't be that hard to sneak out past
the head librarian. He looks tough, but between you and me he has the
brains of a walnut." Syeira snickered.

The three companions made their way up the stairs and into the short
hall that it lead to. This hall ended in an open door which lead out
into the library proper. From the amount of people inside, and the
fading sunlight visible through the windows it was probably pretty
late. Mika knew she should have been tired. The day had been pretty
hectic so far, but she couldn't help feeling jubilant and full of
energy. She practically flew across the large building to the doors
which lead to the reading rooms in back. Syeira and Piette followed
her at a more discrete pace. As it was they arrived just as she
managed to regain her composure and not throw the door to their
meeting room open.

When she knocked, the door opened just enough to reveal Marcine's
face. Her eyes widened in surprise at the sight of them and she
quickly opened it up the rest of the way. "By the gods, what happened
to you three?"

"Long story," Syeira growled.

"You do have the potion, right?"

"Heh," Mika smiled and reached into her pack. She carefully extracted
the vial containing the vaporish yellow Soft and held it up like the
heroes in the storybooks used to hold up their swords. "Right here,
100% effective!"

"Oh thank the gods," Marcine sighed. "You were taking so long I was
beginning to get worried. I was almost about to leave when..."

"OUT OF MY WAY, MISCREANT!"

As one their eyes shifted back towards the library proper. There,
standing in the doorway they themselves had just entered through was
the somewhat less than in perfect condition figure of Stine. He was
slumped against the wall and breathing heavily. In front of him, Sir
Conen the Librarian was blocking his path. His huge sword rested on
his back, but the brute gripped it with one hand in readiness.

"Not until you tell me who you are and what you were doing in the
forbidden area."

Stine's eyes seemed to catch the light in a dangerous glint and he
raised himself to his full height. "I," he began, "Am Beastmaster
Stine and... I have not had... a very... good... DAY!" With that he
yelled and pulled back. Sir Conen began to draw his sword but Stine
was too fast for him. His fist struck the chin of the larger man
square in the center and the brutish warriors eyes crossed before he
toppled over like a felled tree. Stine rubbed his fist and spat on the
man's body before leaning down to retrieve the sword. A hush fell over
the library... well, more of a hush than was usual.

"Not again!" Syeira said to the sky. "What does it take to get rid of
him?"

"Quiet!" Mika hissed, but it was too late. Syeira's voice carried
across the huge chamber like the tolling of a bell and the lean and
powerful bounty hunter snapped his head to the right to look at them.

"Have at thee!" he shouted and began to charge.

"Quick," Mika said and passed the Soft to Marcine. "Give this to
Davin. We'll hold him while you do."

"But..."

"You want to start flinging spells around in public like this?"

"No." Marcine nodded. "You're right." She paused. "Be careful, Mika."

"Aren't I always?"

Marcine didn't answer and soon Mika had turned to face the coming
battle. Syeira had charged out to meet Stine head-on, but he smirked
and leapt onto one of the tables. With a swift kick he sent a book
flying at her that forced the thief to roll and dodge out of the way.
Then Stine raised his fingers and smirked. "Remind me to thank dear
Lassenkirche later." He pointed at Syeira. "Lullaby!"

Syeira's eyes widened and she tried to dodge but it was too late.
Large red musical notes appeared in the air around her and a soft
melody began to hum out from them. She tried to yell but then a mist
formed out of the floor and covered her. When it was gone she wobbled
in place, her eyes closed and a peaceful expression on her features.
Mika called out her name but that only served to draw Stine's
attention to the little chemist.

"Begone from this place, childe," he sneered. "I relish not the
thought of smiting one as young as thee."

Mika growled and stepped forward, blocking the way into the reading
room. "This little girl is more than a match for you, you... big
bully!"

"Ha!" Stine said and began to stride forward. "Thou art truly a brave
and fearsome soul, childe. Yet you stand not a chance against me. Be
kind to thineself and retreat from my path, lest I, Beastmaster
Stine, be forced to do harm upon your head!" He pointed the massive
sword he had snatched from Sir Conen at Mika and for a moment she
considered giving in to the better part of valor. Then she remembered
that this jerk had almost caused her to lose her one chance at
bringing Davin back. She stared into his cocky face and felt rage
rising in her gullet. She yelled and charged him, bringing her tiny
knife up like a lance aimed at his knees. He casually side-stepped her
clumsy charge and swatted her aside with the flat of his broadsword.

The next thing Mika knew she was crashing into a table, sending books
and papers flying in every direction. She raised her head, trying to
catch her bearing and saw Stine calmly stepping up to Piette, who
stood in his way. The unaesthetic scholar was no match for Stine's
superior conditioning and skill however. Soon enough he was sent
flying across the room to land in a heap next to Syeira. Mika forced
herself to her feet and watched as Stine began to make his way to the
door.

"Hey you jerk!" Mika cried and pulled a grenade from her pouch. With a
flick she sent it flying towards him. He spun with catlike grace and
smacked the orb out of the air with his sword, sending it flying into
a bookshelf where it exploded with a loud concussion. Soon flames
began to spread across the dry parchment, but that was not
Mika's concern at the moment. Mika was concerned with making sure
Stine didn't interrupt before Davin could be cured. "Yeah, you little
braggart," she put as much contempt into her voice. "You're less than
scum, you know that! I've peeled stuff off my shoes that was more
appealing than you. What, too brave to fight the little girl are you?
Come on, let's finish this!"

"Childe," Stine said with a hint of anger in his voice. "Beastmaster
Stine is a patient man, but this day thou dost surely test the limits
of my good graces. Be thankful I feel no need to smite thee where thou
stands and begone with thee!"

"Not likely!" Mika cried and tossed a few more explosives for good
measure. Stine leapt back, allowed them to explode harmlessly in front
of him. Mika cursed her poor aim and began to pull out some more, but
then Stine was rushing her and she didn't have time. His knee collided
with her stomach and she almost lost consciousness then and there. She
slammed into a bookshelf and several of the heavy tomes came down upon
her like hailstones. It was all she could do to stand up.

"Relent girl!" Stine said. "I respect thine mighty will, but thou
canst not win!"

"Don't you ever shut up!?" She grabbed two vials from her pack at
random and quickly mixed them together. For a moment, she felt some
spark of intuition, some knowledge from beyond herself. And then she
let fly, flinging the vials into the air in front of Stine. "Get up
from that! Dark Matter!"

Stine growled and snapped up his sword to defend... and the vials
exploded. For a moment it was just a regular explosion but it quickly
became more. For an unending instant it was as if space itself had
been rent asunder and a cool, starry depth was revealed. From this
rift poured out wave after wave of... something, something that was
starstuff. Stine roared in pain as the waves passed over him. His
sword shattered from the attack and he found himself flung backwards,
up, and through a nearby window. The sword was not the only thing
broken by the attack however. Great gouges had been torn in the floor
and all that was left of several bookcases was shattered and scorched
timber. Sheathes of parchment, most torn asunder or badly burned,
drifted about the room like snow.

Mika staggered forward, not quite sure what she had done. Then she
noticed Marcine leading a staggering, but very flesh and blood, Davin
out of the backroom. Mika cried out in joy and ran up to him, she
leapt and embraced him. He staggered under her weight for a moment and
then came to a stop. He looked down at her and smiled. Mika felt it
was all worthwhile then.

"Are you okay?" she asked and was surprised how weak her own voice
sounded.

"I'll be fine," he said, but she heard something, a catch in his voice

"Are you sure?"

"Yes..."

"I hate to break this up," she looked over to see Piette staggering
forward. "But we all better get out of here before the City Guard, or
worse, a squad of Dragoons shows up to ask questions we can't exactly

"He's right," Marcine said. "We'd better get out of here."

"Wait," Mika said. "Davin, I need to know if you're really all
right..."

"I'm fine Mika," he said and kissed her on the forehead softly. "Now
be quiet and rest, you were very brave today and you've earned it."

"I guess so..." she sighed and fell unconscious in his arms.

***

It was night when they all went to the edge of the city. With Syeira
leading the way it had been child's play to avoid the patrols and
other natural hazards of the city at night. Now they stood under the
light of the half-moon and starred out across the snowfields of Russa
together. Even if they wouldn't all be together for very long.

"Are you sure you don't want to come with us, Piette?" Davin offered
again.

"No," he said with a shake of his head. "I don't think anyone can link
me directly to today, and I have friends in high places in the city. I
will be safe. I'm sorry to see you leave, but it can't be avoided now.
Maybe you can come back in a few weeks when the heat has died down?"

"Maybe we can at that."

"What was it like?"

Davin stiffened. "What are you talking about?"

"You know what I mean."

Davin closed his eyes and felt, for a moment... cold, darkness and
cold and oh god there was no sound or air or... or... and then he came
back to himself. "I don't remember," he lied. "I was unconscious the
whole time. Just like being in a deep sleep."

"I see." Piette was his oldest friend. Of all the people Davin knew,
only Mika had been in his memories longer. He could probably sense
that Davin was holding back, but he valued their friendship far too
much to pry. "Then may I ask another question?"

"Fine," Davin nodded.

"Where do you plan on heading now?"

"I don't know."

"Well," Piette spoke loudly enough for the whole group to hear now.
"Your friends and I found something interesting in the library when we
came up from underground to save you."

"That map?" Mika said. She looked much healthier now. Marcine's magic
had taken care of all the physical damage her brief fight with Stine

"Yes," Piette said. "It had some symbols and that strange Tri-fan you
mentioned imposed over the Starsilver mine just west of here. You
all this conspiracy."

"It might at that." Marcine nodded. Davin remained silent as the other
three came to the mutual conclusion that it was at least worth a shot.
Davin didn't say a thing, and he certainly didn't let what he felt
show on his face. He had to be strong, and protect Marcine on her
quest. Even if that meant going down... down underground where there
would be no sound, no heat, no light... no... no... He drew in a deep
cleansing breath and silently asked the gods and the spirits to
strengthen him for the trail to come.

"We'll do it, then," Davin said and too his credit there wasn't a hint
of reluctance in his voice. They were probably right, he really should
become a storyteller.

***

That night, on the opposite end of the city, a lone figure road into
town. He should have been stopped by several guardsmen, who had been
ordered to detain any travelers this night. He might have been
stopped, had he been a lesser man and they a better breed of guardian.
But he wasn't, and the next day the town guard would find two more
dead bodies to add to their list of unexplained events of yesterday.

<Continued...>

*********************************************************************

Authors Notes:

>Phew< That was more difficult then I thought, and I had to cut some
scenes on the advice of some pre-readers. I don't have much to say,
except a few brief things:

The "Cave In" Geomantic Art was not first used by me, it was first
used by Terrence in #10, but he didn't include it in his glossary from
some unfathomable reason.

The "dark wind" had more scenes associated with it, but they got
cut...

Stine learned "Lullaby" from Pearl in #9 when she cast it on him. ^_^

And I apologive for the New Character, but we really needed to get
Kyle DOING something instead of just moping around in Tienne like he
has for the past four episodes... ;p

My thanks go out to my pre-readers:

Brian Stricklin (with extra thanks for starting this whole thing)
Eternal Lost Lurker
Jed Hagen

Also to the following information sources which I consulted many times
through this work:

The Final Fantasy Compendium
(http://www.geocities.com/omegaonyx9/ff.html)

The Returners FFRPG Page
(http://returners.simplenet.com/)

GameFAQs
(http://www,gamefaqs.com)

And finally I would like to thank Ikusat (aka Black Mage) and Lawernce
Chu for composing some kick ass music for this (non-existant) game. I
listened to it all through the writing of this piece. Check out there
work at:

http://www.geocities.com/ikusat/

All comments, criticism, flames, reviews or other responses of any
kind are welcome and can be addressed to me via e-mail
(tzubi@ns.ympatico.ca) or posted to the Improfanfic Message Board.

--------------
Epsilon
All content unless stated otherwise is ©2021 Chris McNeil. He can be contacted here. The banner picture is courtesy of Jason Heavensrun. You can find more of his stuff at Checkmate Studios.