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1 yr ago
Current fishing lvls?
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1 yr ago
Take the Vivaldi pill. You get all the benefits of Chromium without the bullshit.
1 yr ago
Friendship ended with ISEKAI, now TIME TRAVEL is my best friend.
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I was forced to eat rare candy when I was level 6
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I've come back to roleplaying after a 10 year hiatus. I used to RP on a daily basis in high school. I still have a lot to learn so please be patient with me!

Most Recent Posts

Metropolis - The Penultimate Battle

”A shame that it has come to this.“ Yalen rolled his sleeves tightly around his forearms, his eyes dead set on the apparition of Camille. He held his hand toward a fallen Rettanese warrior and magnetically pulled the guard’s longsword into his grasp. Assuming one of the basic forms taught to him by Colette, Yalen prepared to defend himself against the saint’s massive blade. "It feels wrong to fight someone my ancestor once called a comrade, but our respective beliefs have put us at odds. It is now up to Eshiran to decide who the righteous one is. Stand your ground."

"I did not want to face a child..." Camille sighed, turning from Smoking Bandit to face Yalen. "...but I was no different when I was your age. You follow the Quentic Faith, yet you side with the clear oppressors of the commonfolk. Surely you saw how they suffered in this city? How could you, willingly, support that?" Camille's shoulders dropped and she gave a sorrowful frown. "Eshiran spare you, child, but I cannot fall here. The people need me." Her shoulders picked up and she assumed a battle stance.

Yalen wasted no more words. He pinched his fingers together and struck at Camille with an invisible assault, attempting to steal her eyesight by blocking certain chemical signals. When she stumbled back in confusion, he charged forward and struck at her with an overhead slash. It was a dirty trick, but when Yalen’s blade was caught in Camille’s hand, he knew that fighting fairly against a monster would be foolish.

”That was a good effort, but I do not need my eyes to follow your clumsy movements.“ Camille stated with her eyes tightly shut. She shoved Yalen backwards and answered his strike with one of her own. When their swords clashed together, his arms and shoulders screamed with pain. It was like trying to block a dragon’s tail. He couldn’t hold it for more than a couple of seconds before he was forced to parry Camille’s greatsword to the side and retreat.

The heroic shade refused to let him off easily. Camille rocketed forward and slammed down hard. Yalen was just barely able to roll away from the earth shattering blow. She was strong enough to break rocks with one swing, so getting hit even once would be the death of him. He desperately sought an opening that could be used to turn the tide with magic, but the knightess was disturbingly fast despite wielding a weapon taller than she was. Every time he managed to redirect one of her painfully heavy attacks, Camille was already chasing him with another. For several minutes the Quentics engaged in a duel of swords, though it was a duel in name only. Yalen was so pressed to survive Camille’s onslaught that he had no room to attempt a counter attack.

”Hold still!“ Camille shouted. She opened her armored hand towards Yalen, surrounding him with a golden aura. His robes crackled with electricity as he was forced to his knees by powerful magnetic magic. Sweat dripped from the priest’s forehead as he struggled to resist the attraction spell, but even with command magic boosting his RAS, she had him outmatched in sheer mastery. His strength slowly failed him to the point where he couldn’t even hold his sword. After half a minute of resistance, Yalen was dragged face first onto the ground.

Camille tightened her grip as if she meant to destroy him, but after a few moments the magnetic force weakened a little so as not to crush him. "Stay down!" She ordered, hoping that Yalen would comply. It would be unbearable to send a child so quickly to Eshiran's embrace.

"Not... a... chance!" The moment Camille mercifully loosened her grip on him, Yalen closed his eyes and concentrated on the area beneath the saint's feet. Using his newfound strength he disintegrated the ground she stood on with a Touch of Doom, while at the same time attempting to reform the crude matter into a binding prison.

Camille was staggered by the sudden loss of footing, and as the pit grew larger she realized that Yalen was attempting to bury her alive, much like a silver haired witch from many centuries ago. With a kinetic leap she cleared the edge of the hole and beelined towards her adversary, prepared to knock him out and stop any further casting from occurring. When she was only a few feet away from her target, an earthen spire burst out of the ground and punched her in the chest plate, knocking the wind out of her and sending Camille hurtling back into the pit. Yalen filled her grave with compacted soil and stone, packing it as tightly as he could as a means of crushing her body. Maybe she didn’t want to kill, but he was ready to from the beginning. After all, he was only fighting a ghost.

Yalen could sense her life signs fading away and breathed a sigh of relief. It would have been bad if the fight continued for much longer. He was not suited for long battles, especially sword fights. He picked himself up off the ground and began walking away, ready to assist his comrades with their own battles, but he did not get far before he felt Camille swell with energy. Just as he turned around, an explosion erupted from underneath the earth, freeing the knightess from her prison. She emerged then, bathed in a yellow glow so intense that Yalen had to squint his eyes to look at her. Somehow, Camille had been returned to full health.

"Intended to kill. You truly are lost to whatever this world made you." She picked up her sword and swung, cutting at the air itself. Yalen was barely able to put up a stone barrier to protect himself before the shockwave hit, obliterating the crude wall and showering him with debris. Camille lunged forward, following her assault with a wide chop at Yalen’s right shoulder. Blinded and stunned by the previous attack, he had no time to avoid the lethal blow. Out of reflex, he put his arms up in a guard to protect his side, but he knew that if he really wanted to survive this he would need to use magic. Having lost his weapon in the scuffle, his only recourse now was to destroy hers. Yalen tugged at the bonds holding the greatsword’s molecules together, breaking them apart the instant before Camille cleaved him in two.

Camille's blade came swinging down, but as it closed into Yalen's shoulder, the blade was ripped apart. Metal seemed to burn away into cinders until there was nothing left. Camille leapt back, leaving the smoldering remains of her sword behind. "Such power… it truly makes me wonder what course the world has been set on, for the gods to grant children such gifts." She frowned, sulking a touch about her lost sword.

"Let me show you another gift of mine. It is time you returned to the heavens where you belong." Yalen filled his lungs with air and exhaled, calming his boiling blood in preparation for his final gambit. He raised his right hand and extended his index finger, pointing directly between Saint Camille's eyes. "SUBMIT."

Camille’s body seized up when her manas were forcibly taken away from her. There was confusion in her eyes as she attempted to retaliate, but no matter how hard she concentrated she found that the gift of magic no longer belonged to her. She was completely disarmed, and if it were any other opponent the fight might have been decided right there. However, Camille was still a hero of Oriflamme, and the sword maiden’s courage pushed her to keep fighting. With only her armored fists to protect her she charged forward, ready to beat Yalen to a bloody pulp. Though they were enemies, he felt a deep respect for her. If he were in her shoes he would have run away.

"I’m sorry but… if you wish to judge us for our actions, you should do so in Dami’s Chamber. Our mortal affairs are no longer any of your concern." Yalen's voice was tense with emotion. Causing harm to a legendary saint was a stomach churning experience, but he knew that this was for the best. Her pain would not last long. "RUPTURE." Yalen commanded, using his knowledge of the human body to detonate Camille's manas inside her brain stem.

There wasn't a moment for her to understand that word before pain snapped in her head. Pinches turned into migraines as blood explosively leaked out of her ears, eyes, nose, and mouth... It was only a few moments, but it was enough for Camille to realize she was dying... no she was dead. The damage quickly turned her brain into a slurry, and with no brain to control it, the summoned being that called itself Camille dropped to the ground, her lifeless bloody face still looking out in agony. The struggle was over.


Yalen wiped his mouth with a napkin and picked up the last cookie on his dessert plate. He broke it in half with the intention of dipping it into his tea, and when he did a small metal disc fell out and clattered onto the table. The sudden noise shocked him, but he was quick to retrieve the fallen object and hold it up for observation. There was a message printed upon it, helpfully translated into Avincian so that even the young priest could understand its meaning. Underneath the instructions was a phrase. Or more accurately, a name: Smoking Bandit.

Yalen shifted his gaze to the Black Guard named on the plate. He had been assigned the pipe smoking gunslinger on the far end of the table. Rough-and-tumble types like Desmond were not his ideal company, but men like that tended to get straight to the point, so Yalen did not expect this talk to take long at all. He gave his escort a subtle nod, which was met by a confident sneer from the other side. They both vacated their chairs without missing a beat, quickly departing for the hedge maze as a few others continued to pick halfheartedly at their food.

It was unfortunate that Jocasta chose to get directly involved today. Yalen had finally made up his mind about who to side with in this conflict, but he wouldn’t be able to defend his position if it meant raising a hand against his her. This foreign affair was not worth the heartache he would suffer from betraying his wife.

But there is always a small chance I can convince her. Yalen decided he would probe the Black Guard like he originally planned. He wanted to know what kind of person Smoking Bandit was, and if his people were worth the risk of turning on Wu Long. Trypano was definitely right about something. Someone was going to rule this country, and soon it might not be its native people. After thinking about it for a day, Yalen decided it would be best to maintain the status quo in Rettan for the sake of its continued stability. Nikan was making hostile moves in this country, and Brother Ash’s continued existence presented its own unknown danger. Outside forces were circling Rettan like sharks, waiting to feast on the victor of this civil war.

This country is enormous. If Wu Long successfully overthrows the emperors, it would take days to assume control of the chain of command even with the help of the Watchful Eye. His forces will be weakened by the initial struggle, and more manpower will have to be devoted to arresting imperial loyalists across Rettan. It will be difficult to keep the border protected in the middle of such chaos. This is not a safe time to be demanding a revolution. So the Somnian rationalized his feelings about the present situation. Xiulan deserved to be happy, but the price of her freedom was too great.

Smoking Bandit was tall and lean. He walked just behind Yalen in a dull brown cloak. A wide-brimmed sedge hat, old and battered, sat atop his head and his eyes glowed from between its gaps with a fiendish orange light. Smoke curled from the tip of a long, curved pipe that hung from the corner of his mouth. Presently he removed it to speak. "Somnian, huh? So yer all about justice I 'spose." His voice was a low, menacing drawl, his teeth crooked and yellow. Across his chest were strapped six pistols and a dagger and, across his back, was a shovel.

If his appearance and demeanour didn't send a strong enough message, there was the sheer power that he radiated. Only Jocasta, of the people who Yalen could claim to know well, had ever shown more. Smoke continued to curl from his pipe: a miasma filling the air around him, twisting out towards the leafy green walls and the young priest with tenebrous tendrils. After a moment, he continued.

"Listen, lil' padre, I ain't about to pretend I'm yer pal or somethin', 'cause I ain't and I don' like lyin'." He scowled, struck a match, and relit his pipe. He took a couple of long pulls and breathed outward, the smoke once again taking on that unnatural quality. It appeared to fill the entirety of the space between the hedges, hanging low and heavy in the air.

"Truth of it's that the Twins don' think there's any good reason we should be at odds." He gestured momentarily with his pipe, his free hand resting on the butt of the pistol holstered on his belt. "Yer bein used n' lied to an' yuh shouldn't be doin' people like that no favours." He scowled, eyes still more or less only visible as embers in the shadows of the burgeoning evening. "So I been sent here with a counter-offer." He took another quick puff of the pipe and grinned, his crooked teeth gleaming around it. "'Stead o' fightin' against the guys tryin' to keep some law n' order in this place, yuh help us take out the Traveler. She's been stickin' her nose in Retan's business, where it don' belong, n' people are gonna die because of it." He wrinkled his nose. "Yuh get all the help yuh need, too, but uh... Ash first, huh?" He smiled wickedly, knowingly. "He's a gods-damned radical: one o' them Traveler folk n' not even a genuine one. I can kinda respect those, in a way." He shook his head in distaste. "Nah. He's cynical - greedy - n' he's juss usin' the words all hollow-like."

If Yalen was at all surprised that the Black Guard knew of Brother Ash's continued survival, Smoking Bandit seemed unbothered. "Yuh really think Soup and Spring are that stupid?" There was a brief chuckle as he shook his head. "'Yuh coulda finished 'im too and yuh didn't." He scowled. "Why?" It wasn't a question meant to go unanswered.

Yalen had a hard time keeping his head cool as Smoking Bandit threatened him. He was about to provoke this very powerful man in order to test him, and such a move might prove to be the priest’s undoing. Yalen could only be strong now because he had faith in his friends, and in the Pentad. If it was time to die at least he would die with integrity.

"I have no love for that man." Yalen replied. "He has information I want. That is the only reason I desired his continued survival." His fists clenched. "Besides, a Quentic slaying one of their own without due process...? It would be an abomination. Only a Rezaindian like Brother Ash could be so heartless." Flicking away a wisp of smoke, Yalen continued. This was the part where he poked the beehive. Was Smoking Bandit holding anything back? Were there any concessions Yalen might be able to pry out of him? There was a lot you could learn from a person by making them mad… or so he’d been taught by Sister D’aureville. "I wanted to help you from the first day I arrived here, you know. I fought alongside your men. I took prisoners. I did my duty only to be told that I was fighting rebels and foreign mercenaries, not the Traveler's agents. Unless you have something to show me, I can't make myself believe you or the Emperors."

"I'd say yer not as smart as yuh look," the Black Guard replied, "but yuh don't look all that smart anyhow." Smoke curled from his lips. "Was it us who lied to yuh or yer school?" He narrowed those emberlike eyes.

"I've done quite a bit of good for the world by believing in the school." Yalen shrugged. "What else do you want to ask me?"

"Looks like y'ain't gonna budge, huh?" They were approaching a dead end and a wall of deep green loomed before them. "I said I don't lie, boy. It's your bad choice not to believe it. School played us all for dupes. Maybe yer forgettin' there's new management there since yer lil' adventure out in Torragon, and they ain't good people." He shook his head and the smoke began to thicken further. He had nothing to ask. His free hand continued to rest on the butt of his pistol. The energy in the air grew thicker.

"I've wanted to believe you from the start. You chose to come empty handed instead of showing me some proof." Yalen crossed his arms behind his back. "I'm not strong enough to defeat you. If you'd rather shoot me than try and change my mind, that is your choice to make." Oops, that might have been too bold. I really hope he won’t shoot me…! His heart quickened in anticipation.

Smoking Bandit pulled at his pipe. A couple of seconds later, smoke came out of his nostrils. "I git the impression ain't nothin' I could reasonably pull out'd satisfy yuh anyway." The silence was filled with the chirps of crickets. The sun had sunk below the hedges. "What reason I got to lie, boy?" he groaned. "Think for a second, will yuh? Don't they educate yuh priests?" He disappeard in a haze and, when he reappeared, he was between Yalen and the way back. Smoking Bandit began stalking forward, toward the young tethered. "Ain't it in the best interests of Retan to git rid o' Ash? To git rid o' the Traveler in case she comes back? Gives it another go 'n for real this time? How's it hurt us bringin' another useful person aboard, 'specially when our interests align and 'specially when the alternative is to fight 'n kill 'n waste yuh? Hell, yuh can even have that no-good traitor if yuh want. Lock 'im up. 'terrogate 'im. I don't give a rat's ass. We juss don' want 'im round these parts. This ain't half as high stakes for us as it is for you, boy! Comprende?"

That’s a good look on your face. Yalen grinned. "I like you sir. You hold nothing back. No matter how hard I push, I cannot see any lying in you. He came closer to Smoking Bandit, this time with a sincere smile. "Your face tells me that whether you are right or not, you believe what you're saying. I am grateful for your honesty." In moments, Yalen's eyes clouded with guilt. "I know we both have something to gain by helping each other but... when my wife got involved, I was sworn to stay by her side. My oaths to Ipte weigh heavier on the scales than any mortal concern, and if she tries to fight you, then she and I will fight together and talk it out if we still draw breath. I hope you understand my feelings as a man."

Smoking Bandit scowled, otherwise unreadable. His face grew cold and stony and smoke trickled from the corner of his mouth. The sun was close to setting now, though they could not see it beyond the hedges. He nodded tightly, a silhouette in the shimmering miasma. "So be it, padre. Ain't Ipte you'll be needin' soon." Then, the smoke thickened swirled and Yalen was left alone deep inside the labyrinth.


"I would not call myself an expert sneak, and even if I were, it is probably best if the tethered stays far behind you." Yalen pitched forth, giving his consent to go after their missing crew. "I'm surprised they planned a secret gathering knowing I can track them across half the city." From day one he had been tracking Kaureerah's movements during her nightly escapades, so he had plenty of practice in keeping tabs on her amidst the magical beings surrounding her, both friend and foe alike. She had clearly grown aware of his snooping, as she had given him a not so subtle hint that she wanted to be sought after tonight. Was the Eeaiko asking for safety, or was she trying to expose someone involved in their little game?

"Communicating through pinches won't let me convey much information, but if you get sidetracked by something I can point you back in the right direction." Yalen briefly reviewed the "pinch language" with those who had forgotten in case he needed to tell them something in an emergency.

Right now it felt like this mission had aged Yalen by a couple of years. Subterfuge from the enemy was one thing, but all of this creeping in the shadows from his own colleagues was grating on his nerves. It started with Kaureerah skulking around, followed by Maura, and now they had dragged in a couple of others as well. There was a covenant forming within their ranks, and the ones left behind tonight were the uninvited.

I wish I was back home with Jocasta and Rita. Yalen thought to himself as he untied his bag of disappearing powder and rubbed it over his skin and clothing. He was not skilled in kinetic or arcane wizardry, so in order to remain stealthy he would need a crutch. Hopefully he was just over-preparing and nothing bad would happen tonight.

Showdown at Chaunwei - Afterwards

When it was discovered that Kaureerah had gone missing during her expedition to the coast, it was only natural that Yalen would volunteer to tag along. Ever since finding out the assignment was a political sham he felt completely out of touch with the things going on. Until everyone decided they had had enough and it was time to go home, the young priest would default to the duty of ensuring the safety of his comrades as best he could.

Fighting on an open battlefield was not something Yalen was accustomed to, and he was a bit shaken by the sight of the Obake Maru’s thirty gun broadside. He might have fled the field then, if he hadn’t already faced the horrors of the sanguinaires and the book demon. He did his best to empower their strongest pieces, boosting the RAS of Captain Zhao and the skuggvar with the art of Command so that they might quickly end the fight. When the battle reached its climax, he was able to remotely detonate a large portion of their gunpowder magazines and set the entire ship ablaze, leaving its crew confused and in disarray. They were easy pickings for the captain’s awesome might, which in that moment could easily dwarf that of his wife.

Yalen would not be fortunate enough to see what transpired after the Obake Maru was sent to the bottom of the ocean, as the resulting shockwave left him and many others out cold for some time. After the casualties were collected and the prisoners they’d taken were rounded up, he was offered the chance to speak to a pair of captives in order to pry whatever information he could from them.

Yalen squatted in front of one of his assigned captives and tilted his head. He really wished he knew more Commands so he could get these people to talk without coercion. Were these mercenaries? Hardliners? It was hard to decide whether to use the carrot or the stick here.

"I'm going to be honest with you guys. I came to this country thinking I was chasing someone who apparently isn't here. I don't really have the motivation to interrogate you now that your boss is gone. Can you just tell me one thing? Why did you destroy this village? Who were these innocent people to you?" Yalen spoke in a low tone so as to keep the conversation out of the ears of the white guards.

"In the way," said one, but the other shook his head. There was a rapid exchange in Nikanese between them that quickly became heated, but he persevered. "I do not want to do this things." He shook his head more adamantly. "But he was there. We must obey him."

"He did not tell us to do it!" roared the other.

"And then he was here why?"

"He only does action when need to!"

"And we should not hit our enemy when there is a chance?"

Yalen appeared to have gotten more than he bargained for. These men were arguing, mostly in broken Avincian, for his benefit. To what they actually referred was not necessarily easy to determine, however. Yalen clasped both men on the shoulder, interrupting their exchange.

"Gentlemen. Let's stay calm." He reached into one of his bag pockets and pulled his hand out, showing them a concealed letter opener. It wasn't exceedingly sharp, but it could easily cut through a rope with enough patience.

"This man you are arguing about... Who is he, and what can you tell me about him? If you can give me a satisfactory answer, I will let you have this little favor. Perhaps you can cut yourselves free when they aren't looking. Make a run for it when the chance presents itself? You are too low on the ladder for me to consider you worth keeping hostage. I want the people who are really responsible for all this trouble."

There was a sudden tug on the letter opener. It flew out of Yalen's hand and straight for one of the men's necks. It stopped perhaps a half-inch short, hovering in midair, and the one who'd seemed more willing to speak cried out in wordless terror, resisting with his magic. The knife plunged straight into his neck and sliced it open. His eyes widened in horror and he gurgled, about to die. The knife eventually disintegrated into dust as Yalen responded with his own magic, but he was too late to stop the damage. He threw his hand over the sailor's neck and squeezed as hard as he could without crushing his windpipe.

"This is the last time I handle a prisoner without checking for snipers..." He reprimanded himself. As a Somnian he was used to handling arrested suspects, not prisoners of war. His conduct had been sloppy and this was the result. It would be a good learning experience for the future.

"SUBMIT!" Without missing a beat, he prepared to save the man's life using the few methods he had at his disposal. "MEND!" It was a command he had been practicing on his own for some time now, and after struggling to refine the technique he could finally feel it working the way he intended. The dying man's manas moved under Yalen's directive, rushing to the site of the wound and plugging it up faster than his own immune system could react. He had medical tools at his disposal and some experience with Binding as well, but Yalen figured it would be faster if a professional Binder take over from here. "Hey! He called out to one of the Red Menders lurking nearby. "This one is dying! Come help!"

"Let me free! Let me free!" shouted the other man, panicking. "By the balance, please! I am sitting duck! They kill me!"

As he hollered, however, help was on the way. Ai-Xue, tall and graceful, with her laugh-lined face and long white hair, rushed over with unexpected speed, her footsteps light and long, clearly enhanced by kinetic magic. She did not need to be able to speak Avincian to understand what was wrong. She set to work immediately. It was far from a simple matter to save the mortally wounded man, but Ai-Xue was an old hand at this, and among the best healers within the White Knights. She worked with silence and diligence and he soon drew breath again.

"You're not going to die! Just... get down or something!" Yalen pushed the screaming man onto his stomach and covered him with his own body for protection. The priest ignored the captive’s feeble struggling and closed his eyes, trying to find the attacker's presence in the area while the medic did her work. If they didn't find the assassin now then they could take as many chances as he wanted to kill these two on the way back to the city. Yet, try as he might, Yalen sensed nothing out of the ordinary within normal casting range: only the intense binding magic of Ai-Xue, others going about their interrogations - some quite brutally - and the fear and panic of the other prisoner.

"Captain Zhao!" Yalen yelled. "We're being attacked! I can't find the assailant! We need to protect these men before they are silenced!"

The captain was not so very far away. He did not speak fluent Avincian but, after a brief check-in with Shuyuan, he sprung into action, dropping a massive kinetic barrier over them and maintaining it as well as an arcane one. The man's skill and power were clearly immense.
No further attacks seemed to come. The wounded man was healed, though clearly shaken. He went silent, saying nothing further. His formerly-panicked partner still radiated anxiety, but he shot the newly-healed man a look and he shrunk back into himself.

"Please just let us go. We tell you everything we know." The first said.

"That, I think, is out of the question now. If someone is after your life, I doubt you would last ten seconds outside of the good captain's protection." Yalen answered regretfully. Working outside of his home turf was proving to be more difficult than he imagined. This hadn't gone at all the way he'd hoped.

And why am I trying so hard? We have Kaureerah and our skuggvar back. The Traveler isn't here. I should just go back to the inn. Yalen argued with himself as he let the guards take custody of the prisoners. What was he supposed to do now? Find out who these sailors were and who they worked for? Who cared? They weren't his target. Sure they had tried to harm his companions but war was an impersonal thing, and as sad as this battle’s aftermath was, it was only a drop in a bucket. Once Rettan got even with the Nikanese, the damage inflicted as a result would make this village’s destruction look like a celebration.

Maybe it was time to take a step back and let the others take the initiative. He could simply do his best to keep them safe and wait until this whole mission blew over. Feeling unsure of what to do with himself for the time being, Yalen kicked at some sand and looked around listlessly for his allies. Were they all okay? He went to check on Xiulan first since she was a civilian, but the only response he could get from her was a fragile smile that did little to reassure him.

“Yalen.” Abdel casually approached Yalen from behind, his cheap leather bag turned to his stomach and opened to reveal its contents. It was the Black Rezaindian getup. It wasn't any more distinct than any other set of clothing from that specific order. At least until Abdel added some context.

“It belonged to that powerful attacker - Hui - that fought with Wu Long. He goes by Ash too.” Abdel whispered, but tried his best to make it seem like an average conversation between comrades, fake smiles and all. “Sounds familiar to you? I could swear I heard that name before, and it had something to do with the Church.”

For a split second, Yalen's face might have looked like he wanted to choke the life out of Abdel. It was a fleeting moment, for he appeared as calm as ever as he fingered the black robes in Abdel's possession. He put an arm around his companion's shoulder and showed a casual smile while leading him a few paces away from Xiulan and Captain Zhao. When they had some personal space, he spoke to the other tethered in a low voice.

"You said you discovered a man who calls himself Ash. Maura said the same thing, but I thought nothing of it... until you brought me this robe." Yalen deeply inhaled. Though the fighting was long over, his forehead was beaded with sweat.

"The owner of that robe tried to kill my wife. He tried to kill me too, as well as some of our school mates. He is a Rezaindian, like Sister Laska. Their kind only knows how to solve problems by offering blood to Eshiran. His presence here presents a great danger to us all."

Abdel gulped. “H-he tried to kill Jo'?” cold sweats accumulated on his forehead. The fact that Hui was supposedly that strong scared him, even after what he had faced on this day alone. “... What do we do, then? It's definitely not some Traveller plot. I feel totally out of my depth, man.”

"I don't know." Yalen threw his hands up. He sounded as lost as Abdel did. "I don't know anything about him besides his name. Not even my cardinal can touch him. It is almost as if someone in the church is protecting his identity. The only authority presiding over the cardinals would be... the optimates themselves."

Yalen shivered involuntarily. He looked over his shoulder conspiratorially, as if he were about to be arrested on the spot for uttering such words.

"You are not of the Quentic Church. Do not put yourself in harm's way. You bear no responsibility here except to keep yourself safe. If he makes his presence known again, I will do what I can to learn his secrets. If there is anything that can be used to incriminate him, my superiors can make him answer to a tribunal."

In his own mind, Yalen was not so sure. There were rumors that Brother Ash had not been seen in the holy city for some time. Had he come to Rettan under orders, or was he pursuing his own goals? Was this even a matter that could be resolved with the church's authority? Too many questions presented themselves that could not be answered without confronting Ash himself.

“Damn.” Abdel scratched his cheek, clearly nervous over this whole ordeal. Now the Church was potentially in on this too? He shot a look behind him, toward Maura who likely remained on Qadira due to a lack of wheelchair, and his beasts. Was this worth risking his raisons d'être?

“There's something else.” he decidedly confessed, ruffling through his bag to reveal a rolled up set of correspondences between Hui/Ash and what was dubbed as 'Sifu'. “I think he's been in contact with the Traveler. What they say fits the MO, I think.” he looked around, about as paranoid as Yalen at this point.

“They've had a falling out. But he seems to using the Traveler's message to get his way. So, we still technically have a Traveler problem.” There was another document, one old and faded that dated back to the Great Heathen War. Very little could be read of the dulled ink, but there was the undeniable seal of Arcel, and commendations for someone that was apparently a great and honourable Knight, all written in old Perrench.

Yalen's hand hovered over the time worn document, but he pulled back for fear of tarnishing it. He locked eyes with Abdel. "Who did this belong to? Was this found with the robe?"

“It was in that seedy warehouse we had a lead on.” he explained, her attention shifting more and more to the increasingly loud argument happening nearby. “Ming knows all about this, so assume the whole Rettanese set does too.”

Abdel departed after saying those final words, as he was soon compelled to return to his skuggvar’s side and calm it, as a heated debate had broken out between the Rettanese. Yalen wasn’t thinking about them at all however, as his mind was laser focused on the existence of Brother Ash. The priest had finally found his true purpose for being here, and what a joyous feeling it was. As soon as the two of them could be alone again, he planned to rendezvous with Abdel and expand upon the discovery they had just made. According to the evidence, Ash might have a link to the Traveler as well. The chance to catch the tail of two of his enemies could not be missed.

Written alongside Force and Fury

Yalen and Zihan drew near to the Court of Magical Law, which turned out to be an immense hall with outbuildings and colonnades surrounding a vast courtyard. Hundreds of petitioners camped out in the square, along with petty vendors and a smattering of goats, donkeys, dogs, and chickens. Ragged clusters of people pestered government officials and orderlies as they walked by, but a mixture of Gold and Blue Guards kept the peace, not allowing their entreaties to go very far. Beyond this was an area cleared of people, but for a trio of long queues that wound back and forth under an improvised shelter. Each led to an entrance arch and each arch had a sign over it marked with Retanese words. There was no evidence of Xiulan anywhere.

"So where would a petitioner go to undertake the next phase of the clearance exam?" Yalen asked as he glanced questioningly between the various buildings. He couldn't read any of the signs.

"Line one on ze right is ze matters of law. If zey sue." Zihan shook her head. It was the shortest. "Line two is for ze test sings. If she pass ze test but have to do oral test or still wait for ze forms, she will to be zere." It was not short, and people were fanning themselves, sitting on the ground, or slouching against posts as they waited. "Line sree is get ze license and renew ze ID card. If she pass and ze first line is quick one, she will be here." It was the longest line, and Yalen may have noticed that many of the people waiting in it appeared to be of a rather... low social standing, judging by their clothing. While everyone held a red slip of paper in their hands, these ones also held a yellow one.

Yalen pointed at the third line first. "We should probably ask whoever is in charge of the second line first, but I am curious. What are those slips of paper they're holding over there? Does it have something to do with the licensing?"

Zihan let out a long sigh. She nodded. "Line Sree is ze famous one. It is the very long line. Sometimes to take some days to get srough." They were walking slowly as she talked, and Yalen may have noticed a handful of people shooting curious or beseeching glances their way. Some began to hesitantly pace them. Others whispered and stole glances at him.

"Ze yellow paper is for ze stand-in. You pay money to ze poor people and he to wait for you." "监工!" (Overseer!) shouted one of the growing throng, and others took up the call. "拜托, 监工!" (Please, overseer!) "拜托!" (Please!) "我有一个小问题。也许你能帮忙?" (I have a little problem. Maybe you can help?) Zihan ignored them and Yalen could feel her draw a scary amount of energy, and do so very quickly. Most of the petitioners backed off.

"For very long time," she shared, "Some people want ze goverment to fix zis problem, but maybe zey don't want to because it cost many money and zey must to change zis place and build ze new sings." She shook her head and smirked ruefully. "But ze twin emperors have ze very Retanese solution: zey introduce ze new system where you can to pay ze poor people wait in line for you. It help them make ze money and no new building and people not have to waste zere time." She twisted to regard Yalen, hands clasped behind her back, a slight grin on her face. "What do you sink of zis idea?"

Yalen's eyebrow twitched with exasperation. "I think that the people who run this place are woefully apathetic and corrupt, but I'm an investigator, not a political advisor." He stated very bluntly in reply.

Zihan let out a bark of laughter. "Ze foreigner always say zat." She shook her head, still smiling, and glanced out over the courtyard.

Yalen was quick to move on to the next topic. "What do the red slips mean then?" He pointed out. "Red rarely means anything good in our country."

"In Retan, ze colour red is bring good luck. Really, to wait in zis line for days is not ze good luck, but to get ze license and being approve for ze renew is." She shrugged. "Really, zey want people to feel good to come here and pay ze money to use magic." Suddenly, one of the petitioners was back, and he made the mistake of walking up and reaching for her robes in the process of his entreaty.

Yalen reflexively prodded the man at the waist with his scepter, not even thinking about the stranger's intent. His hands had moved to intercept a possible threat before he could consciously think about it. It was little more than a hard poke, so hopefully there wouldn't be any unnecessary bruises.

"Pardon my rudeness sir, but you should be careful where you put your hands." Yalen clicked his tongue. It suddenly occurred to him that Xiulan wasn't here to translate for him. They needed to keep moving.

The man recoiled from his touch, bowing and scraping as he backed away. "对不起," (I'm sorry,) he apologized, "对不起. 抱歉!" (I'm sorry. My regret!)

Zihan glanced at Yalen and nodded approvingly. "I like you," she admitted. "You are much too honest to be a Retanese, but you are ze good person wisout be the soft man." She shook her head in subtle admiration. "Zis is not ze easy sing to do."

They were now stopped at where the lines parted, and she was undoing the clasps on a satchel that she carried. "It might seem like ze unfair sing to say not to use magic for many people. To let zem come to ze capital city and zen return back to home for nossing." She turned to face him. "But Retan is work well as ze country. People have ze safety. Zey have ze food and sings zey need. All people have ze same chance when zey come to take a test here, I sink. Many of the people have magic should not to have it. A country is like ze body: it need a head make a decision, hands to do ze sings, legs to carry him, and ze heart to keep him alive. Retan have one head. Zis is why it grows so big and still work. Ze Eastern countries? Everyone want be ze head." She shook hers, taking a moment to glance at the lines as if inviting the query that she knew would come next. They were here for a specific purpose, after all. She fished a small paper with a wax seal out from the bag and held it until he spoke.

"I won't pretend I understand how to run a country. I study criminal justice, not politics. All I can say is that while your system doesn't agree with my people's way of thinking, I understand your intent. I have seen firsthand the harm that unrestricted magic use can bring thanks to our dear friend, the Traveler." In his mind Yalen was referring to the aberration disaster at Ersand'Enise. Many lives had been lost that day, out of reach of even the strongest magic the headmaster could bring to bear.

"I don't think we should copy Rettan's methods and ban magic for a majority of the population, but perhaps there is a happy middle ground that can be achieved..." Yalen's eyes drifted down to the sealed scroll. "Hm? What is that?"

"We agree about zis, at least." Her reply was short. Then, Yalen asked his question and she handed him the scroll. "Zis will give you permission to pass ze line. Go ask about ze translate woman. Line two will know."

Yalen gratefully accepted the document and nodded. "Thank you. I will be back shortly." Without further delay, the Somnian marched past the waiting examinees and directly approached the staffer in charge of line two. He could only pray they encountered enough foreigners here to understand his Avincian.

"Excuse me, but I have a few questions to ask if you can spare the time." Yalen unsealed his permission slip and showed it to the civil servant. "I am looking for a particular individual who was known to have been here recently."

The man behind the counter's face turned ashen at Yalen's approach, and he concentrated ardently on every word the foreigner said, nodding along nervously. His eyes, however, showed scant little understanding. "Ah... Yes." he held out his hand.

Yalen would have rolled his eyes internally, but his face remained stiff. Why was he using such complicated language around people who met an easterner maybe a few times a year? He twisted around and shrugged at Zihan while shaking his head. He hoped she would get the hint.

The man looked confused for a moment. "Very sorry." He bowed repeatedly in apology. "I see... it?" he asked in heavily accented Avincian. Zihan was not close by but, after some more direct prodding from Yalen, she strode over, never delaying, but not letting herself look hurried either. "He not understand ze Avince?" she asked knowingly. When Yalen answered in the affirmative, she shook her head. "Zese people pass ze written test but not to speak ze language to real foreigner."

She turned to the orderly at the desk, absorbing sour faces from the tired-looking people near the front of the line with little sympathy or care, and the two went through a rapid exchange, during which Yalen picked out the name 'Jiang Xiulan' more than once. Finally, the desk clerk turned to a lower-ranking orderly and barked out instructions thick with the embarrassment he had clearly felt these past few minutes. The tall, awkward boy hurried off into the great hall behind.

Zihan turned to her charge. "Zey are look for ze records. We wait half one hour and we will to have."

"Understood." Yalen replied. He took a few steps back to indicate that he would no longer be holding up the line. It was an annoying stretch of time to wait through, too long to pass comfortably but too short to allow for them to detour elsewhere. He shuffled his feet somewhat impatiently and contented himself with people watching for now.

After a few minutes transpired Yalen noticed a mildly distressing scene. There were some youngsters gathered around a government official, caught in various states of screaming or crying. While it made him a bit uncomfortable to get involved in other people's business as a guest in a foreign country, there was no other matter currently demanding his attention. Maybe it was something minor enough that he could help without stepping on anyone's toes. With that resolve, he attempted to inch closer to the gathering to see if he could make any inferences as to what the trouble was.

At first, he had little luck. They were all speaking in Retanese. There seemed to be a lot of frustration, and a sense of (self-) righteous grievance. Then, however, one of them noticed him, and word rippled through the small cluster. "You see zis, Afince man?" a boy about his age demanded. He was dressed in clothes that were simple, but clean, well-cared for, and of formal cut. "We come all ze Retan take zis exam." He shook his head angrily. "Me famiry has not-uh mach mahneys. Work hahd let me to go here." The others shouted in support... though in Retanese. Then, the young man leveled a furious finger at the orderly he and his peers had cornered. "Zey say us zis exam about ze magic, so we study ze magic."

"Baht-uh no magic!" cried a girl perhaps a couple of years older, her face stained with running makeup. The boy nodded vigorously. "Many ozer sing on zis-uh exam! Stupid-uh sing like 'do you feed ze poor man?'"

"Zis our future!" wailed the girl, tears streaming down her face. She looked genuinely stricken. "It is-uh..." She looked flustered, searching for a word. "一切!" (everything!) she cried in frustration, trying to lock eyes with the Somnian.

"We do all sing good-uh baht zey lie about zis exam! My mahzer and-uh fahzer take all ze mahneys to zis. I to save zem." He held back both tears and fury. In the periphery of Yalen's vision, he could sense a half-dozen goldcloaks approaching in tight formation, drawing energy. These youngsters, heartbroken and furious, either hadn't noticed yet or didn't care. "You fahcker!" the boy screamed, leveling his finger at the orderly like it was a weapon. The small man, carrying a stack of papers, flinched back, starting to draw. "You bastard!"

Yalen observed the chaos unfold without raising his hand. He lent his ear to the angry youth, but there was nothing more he was willing to offer in this situation. What could he do? In this country, whether he agreed with it or not, magical aptitude had more to do with your disposition than your RAS level. Why else would magic be so rare here? There were millions of people possessing the Gift. It wasn't exactly a commodity in such a populous country. The bleeding heart in him considered offering alms of some sort, some financial charity that might soothe their frustrations, but if you fed one wild cat there would be a hundred more right behind it. This was neither the time nor place to be playing the hero, especially since the guards were coming to kick some ass.

Rather than stick his neck out for either party, and potentially jeopardize his search for Xiulan, Yalen closed his eyes regretfully and walked away from the scene. He didn't feel good about it, but he wouldn't let emotions control his actions more than necessary. There were sounds of a scuffle behind him, but Yalen didn't look back.

The shouts and screams rose, and then the sounds of bodies thumping to the ground. Unconscious or dead, he could not say. Voices shouted in desperate apology and plea, but then there was the familiar echo of a sonic bubble dropping over an area, and they became faint and indistinct.

There was good news when he reached Zihan, however. "Good timing," she said. "Zey are call us up." Promptly, he followed her there, marching in lockstep with the high-ranking White Knight, his black robes a perfect and intimidating contrast. None dared bother them this time and a few hastily scurried away.

There was a different official at the desk, and Yalen could not say why until the replacement opened his mouth to speak. "Welcome Retan," said the man. "I see you very busy, so I will not waste-uh ze time." He shook his head. "Ze woman you look for - Jiang Xiulan - take ze test, but-uh she fail." His bow was quick and professionally courteous only. "I am sorry for zis bad-uh news." He turned to Zihan and there was a rapid exchange in Retanese full of uncomfortable smiles and what looked like a mix of commiseration and information exchange.

They walked away. "I sink, if she is you friend," said Zihan, in a softer voice than he had previously heard from her, "You should go talk her." At his quizzical look - they hadn't actually found the translator - she lowered her voice. "You will probably to find her at 泪桥 - ze Bridge of Tears. It is about ten minute walk west, at ze river."

"The bridge of..." Yalen scratched his head. With a name like that, it was obvious what people went to the Bridge of Tears to do. Hearing that such a sweet lady failed what was arguably the most important task in her life filled his heart with dread for her future.

"Well," Yalen replied to Zihan, "I came here to find her, so I might as well go and confirm her whereabouts. Will you be tagging along?"

Zihan shook her head regretfully and glanced at the ground before looking back up. "I must to go wiss you for ze safety reason," she answered regretfully. "But I will stay not too close. I am sorry."

With that, Yalen led the way, and they walked in relative silence. The bridge was a small one, in the shadow of a larger peer just south, and foot traffic was sparse, almost as if people knew what this place was famous for and avoided it as a result.

It took him a minute or two and a few glances at other faces to make sure they were not the one that he sought, but then there, sure enough, was Xiulan, sitting on a bench and staring out up the river, so still that she'd have been a statue were she made of something different than flesh and blood. If she noticed him, she made no indication whatsoever.

Yalen patted Zihan on the arm and went ahead knowing that she would remain where she was. He went to where Xiulan sat, though not directly. As he walked he tried to roll his feet, but there was no hiding one's footsteps in such a silent place. She would know he was coming whether he wanted her to or not.

Rather than intrude on her personal space, Yalen took a more passive approach and sat on the bench just next to hers. He relaxed his back and leaned into his seat, settling into an almost meditative state as he stared at the flowing waters. He did not say a word out of respect for her privacy, but he would be here if she had feelings that needed to be let out.

She only let out a small snort, ambivalent in its tone. Ambivalent about much of anything. Seconds passed, and turned into a minute, and then minutes, but all was not still any longer. Her fingers knit and unknit themselves. Tears streamed silently down her cheeks and she sniffed.

Finally, Jiang Xiulan broke. "I'm a terrible a guide. I leave you alone when I say I will come." She turned to Yalen all at once, trying hard to swallow her tears and failing utterly.

Yalen turned his head to look at Xiulan. He was quiet for a moment, searching his thoughts for the words he wanted to say aloud.

"No one among us would expect you to do a good job when your heart has been broken. You shouldn't degrade yourself."

She turned back to face the water, unsure, and shrugged. "Maybe you are right, but maybe you are wrong." She paused and sniffed, resigning herself to talking, to just letting it all come out, damn the consequences. "I will be honest: I never want to be ze guide. When I was little, as long time I can remember, I want to be..." She stopped abruptly and rolled her eyes. "Is like some fucking sad story from ze play wiss bad writing."

Yalen crossed his fingers across his lap and smiled. "I understand. I also wanted to be someone else once. I didn't dream I would be spending my future fighting dragons and chasing criminals across the ocean. I am here now because I have a job to do, just like you."

She turned back to him, pained. "But do you like it? Do you want it?" It was a simple enough question, but did it have a simple answer?

"...It's hard." Yalen eventually answered after an extended period of silence. He relaxed the back of his head on top of the bench and stretched his arms out. The heaviness of this topic was draining all the energy from his body.

"For every friend I make and every moment of joy I experience, I am made to endure an equal amount of heartache. When it gets really tough, sometimes I wonder if I would have been better off never leaving the countryside. My life was simpler back then."

Memories of home flooded Yalen with nostalgia, filling his chest with the pain of homesickness. Once upon a time, he could have been a pharmacist or surgeon, helping his small community and remaining free of his memories of violence and tragedy. "To answer your question, no, I don't like what I do. They asked me, I didn't ask them. However, I strongly feel that this is something I was meant to do. I have been shown a greater purpose, one that is not beholden to the sinful ways of this world."

It was clear that Xiulan was still deeply absorbed in her own misery, but she made an effort to listen and understand, as any decent person would. "I am... relieved that you find ze purpose in zis life you have not to choose for yourself." She shook her head. "Really. For some people, life is about purpose."

She shook it again, however, more adamantly, as if stuck on something. "But zis is more zan just take away my purpose, Yalen. Zis magic - zis Gift you Quentic people say coming from ze gods - it is in me and I had feel it since I am a little girl. It is zere and it is mine and..." She trailed off, more tears streaming down her cheeks. "I know I sound like some ozer person just complain 'my life is so bad' when it is okay, actually, but..." Her face scrunched up bitterly. "Who ze fuck are zey tell me 'you cannot to use zis sing that is part of you'? Is it some wrong sing? Do I have it on accident? Every time I have a choice to make, I always follow ze rules. I work hard. I study hard. I try do ze right sing and zey just say 'fuck you Xiulan. You must spend your life like ze bug. You cannot ever use zis sing you have because you do not answer some stupid questions how we want. Should I go my whole life like zis?" She was pleading with him now, looking for someone to tell her that it was okay to feel as she did and maybe even that her anger was justified. If there was ever to be healing or acceptance, she seemed unready for it as of yet.

Yalen sighed. "Why did they fail you?"

"Zis is ze sing: I don't know." She glanced away in helplessness. "Really, I know zis test. I know you have only once chance to pass, but I am good. In your R-A-S number, very high." She shook her head and the chemical mage could feel the soup of boiling emotions just beneath her surface. "I know it is not just about your magic, but how you to act." She turned to look at him beseechingly. "I answered all sings as well I can. I always try to sink what is ze good sing. I... don't know. I don't understand how I fail. Am I ze bad person?" Her fists balled up.

Yalen felt helpless at times like these. He couldn't tell if he was saying the right things or not. It was regretful that she couldn't have her own family be here to console her. Right now he was the best she had. "Xiulan, I will be blunt. To an outsider, your country has the appearance of a machine built out of human lives. You are being controlled in ways you can't even begin to understand. Maybe they didn't want someone prepared to do the good thing."

"Maybe they wanted someone colder. More pragmatic. That is the feeling I get from many of the guards I've spoken to thus far. Controlling such a large country in the way they do requires a certain level of apathy towards others. You are far from a bad person, but I think that is why you have remained a slave here."

"I love my country," Xiulan stated, eyes flicking over to the distant figure of Zihan, "But I do not love ze government." They returned to the river and all of the little boats happily making their way up and down it, conducting the business of the day. "I love the cherry blossoms in ze spring, and the paper lanterns in ze night, to smell ze cooking baozi, and feel ze fresh air of ze first snow, to talk and sing wiss your mozer as you sweep ze courtyard." She smiled faintly and released a long breath.

"Zere are many ozer people who feel like I do, you know, and it is almost funny how stupid ze government sinks we are." She regarded Yalen almost... evaluatively, maybe hopefully after what he had just said. "Zese people I talk about are just normal people: million of us. Zey do not work wiss ze Traveler. He isn't even here. You cannot to imagine how much I hear as ze translator." There was a grim, satisfied look on her face. "Zey are just using him as ze excuse to beat zis rebellion and say zey beat a bad guy." Her eyes met his, face even and composed. "If zey succeed, you get some small reward and your school can be happy. But if zey make some mistake?" She snorted and there came a bitter, ironic smile. "Zey blame you and zen your school to owe zis evil government some apology." She shook her head. "You cannot trust zem. Zey must to go."

Xiulan’s final words left Yalen in shock.


"Divide." Yalen chanted. The invisible link between his manas and Jocasta's was severed once more, leaving behind a vague feeling of emptiness within their flesh. He placed his hand on her scalp and let it rest there. "I would have warned you, but there was no time to think. I won't do it without your permission again." Yalen twisted his head over his shoulder conspiratorially, as if he was about to reveal some kind of forbidden secret. The priest leaned forward slightly and whispered, not through his mouth, but via his thoughts. He knew Jocasta could hear him. I've borrowed your power, and if you wish for it then you may borrow mine as well. I know how it feels for you to lose control of yourself. If there is something I can do to help, then I'll offer everything I have. Yalen reached into his bag and fished out a worn out leatherbound journal. It was the same journal his wife had seen him writing in many times over the course of his training from the church. Between its pages was a folded piece of paper. I can't do anything for you until we return home, so hold on to this. It contains all the notes I've collected thus far. It's written in cypher, but I have given you the code. He gently pushed the object into her waiting hands. Do not breathe a word of this to anyone. If my superiors find out, it is me they will put to death, not you.

There was a long pause, and the emotions that he knew Jocasta normally kept a lid on roiled beneath a blank-faced lid. She swallowed, eyes making the trip between the book and him a couple of times. "I... Huh!" She snorted with an ironic unmirthful sort of mirth. Then, she forced herself to speak in mind. I didn't think it would be that simple. Wife regarded husband, then, thoughts darting about behind her gaze. She shook her head softly. You are far too good for me, Yalen, and far to good to me, I fear. She flattened her palms against the aged leather and ran them across it both absently and reverently. She took a deep breath and smiled, gripping it dearly. "Ipte, I love you." She tucked the book beside her legs before reaching up to hug him, and she lingered in the embrace. Every time that I doubt, you remind me. I won't let you down. Jocasta eased back into her seat and reached down to adjust her legs and feet, one of which had slid off of its footrest. She placed the book back on her lap and brushed some hair from her shoulder. "I see you've just given me a puzzle, husbean. You know how much I hate puzzles. Is this only for secrecy or is this some sort of attempt to make me grow as a person?" She smiled up at him.

Yalen raised an eyebrow. "It's not much of a puzzle if I gave you the answer key now is it?" He replied with a smirk. As Jocasta was momentarily breath taken with him yet again, he stole the opportunity to circle around and grab the handles of her wheelchair. Some familiarity was just what he needed to calm his nerves after surviving that death trap. "In any case, you should give yourself more credit. The old you would have crushed my head after a stunt like that." He commented while pushing her forward. They would be reunited with the others soon. Their presences could be felt beyond the final doorway.

"I would've threatened to, Yalen." She rolled her eyes, twisting in her seat to reach up and give him a small kiss. "But I wouldn't have done it. I was sweet on you even back then." Truth be told, she didn't like being pushed unless it was an uphill or she was tired, but she recognized it for the comforting gesture and opportunity to be close that it was and she didn't fight it. You are more than your past, Jocasta. Sometimes, in her head, she was still Consuela, but less so these days. Just as they were about to emerge, she made him a promise. "I promise to study this diligently, and to check on you. Not tonight, but tomorrow, once you're in Retan, scan your surroundings and we'll find each other." She shook her head. "I want to become powerful with you: powerful enough to remove all of the limits and the dangers that hold us back, so that we can live as we want." It was seamless. There was barely a pause if any. "And make the world better for everyone in it."

"Agreed." Yalen answered back. "Together we can end this madness. No more ancient evils. No more Traveler." He closed his eyes. "When we're done rescuing the world, maybe we can go on a vacation. Visit someplace overseas? My classmates tell me that Nikan's cherry blossom season is not to be missed." Certainly, it would be nice to unwind, but even as he spoke Yalen's imagination was in a much farther place. When the two of them were done with the heroics, he hoped that they could retire quietly to the countryside and live in peace where nobody could bother them. The priest had become strong out of necessity, but being in constant danger still shaved away at his nerves. He just wanted to end the crisis and bring stability back to Sipenta.

"Djamant," Jocasta said simply, as if reading his thoughts though, in truth, she had not had to use magic.

"Fine... but our summer home will be built in Verignac." Yalen pouted. He was, as ever, a homebody.

"Though we will vacation in Torragon from time to time?"

"Warming up to Ayla at last, are we?" Yalen reached over to rub her head again.

She batted his hand away. "I am not your little doggie to pet, husbean." She paused. "Also, Blarth. I've always wanted to go somewhere arctic. Penguins are cute."

"As long as there aren't any portals to the netherworld there..." Yalen sighed. His first encounter with a demon would also be his last if he had any say about it. The trip to the south was still fresh in his mind.

"Agreed. Demons are gross. You know, I was thinking.... maybe just to learn how to get rid of them, I should learn some dark magic...?"

Jocasta’s jape was lost on Yalen’s unusually serious state of mind. "If you think that’s what it takes to win, then by all means. Maybe I can ask Sister Laska for her advice on demonology as well." He answered.

"Yalen, my love..." She trailed off, suppressing a grin.

Yalen hovered his face over Jocasta's head and smiled. "What is it dear?"

"I was joking, sweetheart. We shouldn't fuck with demons, mmmmmkay?"

"We won't fuck with demons then. In any case, I was only thinking you would be more responsible than that airheaded Yasoi."

"You thought right. I would," she replied, "If I was, you know, stupid enough to fuck with demons in the first place." She reached up to pinch his cheek.

"Well, let's leave it alone then. I'd say we're out of time to chat anyways." Yalen gestured towards the stone doorway that would soon lead them out of this chamber.

"Oh, right. I'd forgotten about that. I suppose they're all alright, right?" Somehow, from the brink of death and some truly heavy subject matter, things had turned... mirthful

"Of course they are... For now anyways. This was only the beginning. There is far more danger waiting for us beyond here." Yalen paused. "Sorry, I mean for you. I have a feeling that my role here will soon be coming to an end."

She nodded, taking hold of her wheels and pushing towards the exit. "We go on, you go to Retan. I know that was always the arrangement. I mean it, you know: search for me at night. Third hour of Dami. I'll be there. We need not let space and time separate us unless we wish it." With that, and with a final, reassuring smile, she pushed on through.


"...almost flew into a building, but thankfully Lady Yang was there to rescue me. May her soul find peace." Yalen was in the middle of delivering his witness statement to one of the newly arrived White Knights. "There were twelve of them in total. When they determined they couldn't shake us off, six attempted to make their escape while the others stayed behind to slow our pursuit. Rikard and I," Yalen gestured to his younger peer who was standing by his side, "gave chase, along with four of your gold cloaks. We managed to capture those two in the process." The priest pointed at the two men in restraints who now had sacks pulled over their heads. One of them was dragging his feet, earning him a swift smack to the back of the knee with a studded club.

"I tried to regroup with the gold cloaks to capture the four other runners, but it was an unwinnable battle. They had a way to nullify our magic. Only I was able to retreat unharmed, mostly thanks to Rikard's timely intervention." Yalen reached into his bag and exhibited the strange metal orb he stole from the masked woman. "This is the device they used against us... well, half of it. I've never seen anything like it."

Lieutenant Ming blinked. If his eyes did not quite light up, it was something close. "I would... very much wish to examine that," he said through Shuyuan. "You must understand we will need it for our investigation, but I can arrange for you to visit tomorrow and join us." He shook his head slowly. "To think they took out Lady Yang so easily..." He trailed off for a moment.

"I know you are not from here and you may not know, but she was no weakling. Dare I say, she was my equal. If this is but an underling of your Traveler, then he is a very dangerous force indeed." he held out his hand somewhere between expectantly and hopefully for the sphere. "And this thing only solidifies the assumption. The technology! How I love to crack it open, see how it works inside!" He nibbled his lower lip eagerly. I fear our days of hiding from outside influences are at an end, whether we are ready to accept it or not."

"Here." Yalen showed no hesitation to hand over the artifact. While it would be quite nice to keep, he wouldn't feel much grief over the theft of a device that merely imitated Command magic. "I will take you up on your offer. I am very interested in the origins and function of this... machine as well."

Ming was lost to him for an extended moment, examining it with a magnifying glass, until Shuyuan cleared her throat. "Ah yes." He tore himself away from the device for a moment before backsliding and glancing at it once more, seeming to confirm something. "Well, I can tell you one thing already: the design is not Retanese, but the manufacture... I think it is. It's in the alloy, but also - Hmmm..."

"The folding technnique!" Rikard interjected. "It's folded and pressed. That's only done that way in Retan and Nikan, isn't it?" Ming pursed his lips and nodded, businesslike. "Yes. Yes, you're exactly right. The 'Zhédié bō'." He caught himself quickly. "And there is a good deal more to unpack, I'm certain. It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Castel, Rikard. I sense we are of much the same mind, and you did excellent work bringing those two in." He offered his hand to each in turn. "One way or another, we shall learn much from them. Until then..."

"I look forward to it." Yalen accepted the handshake and smiled. He imagined how lucky it would be, if they could identify the machine's origin based on its alloy and craftsmanship. He gave a shallow bow to Ming as he set off to run his experiments on the orb. As he watched the lieutenant go, he felt a chill on his neck and shivered.

"Huh?" Yalen glanced over his shoulder. There was nobody there, but his instincts were warning him that he was being watched. Was the masked woman waiting for a chance to strike back at him? Or, was it someone else? Despite his certainty, his senses were definitively telling him that no such person was nearby. They were good... or he was merely paranoid. Well, I've done all I can here. Time to follow the guards back to the inn for now.

While the others made their plans for the latter half of the day, Yalen retired to his room. He felt it too dangerous to wander outside the inn now that he had made his presence known to the Volti. Besides, a tethered person like him could see many things without the use of his eyes. Kaureerah would be snooping around the city again just as he’d expected. His plan for the evening was to keep track of her movements and find out exactly what she was up to. Whether this thread of investigation would lead to Yalen arresting her for dissension, or rescuing her from danger, he did not yet know. The eeaiko’s presence was already moving steadily in the direction of the docks.

”Hm?“ Yalen spotted a sheet of paper lying on his table that was not there before. He scooped it up and inspected the handwriting, recognizing it as that of Sister Graziano, one of his primary affiliates within the Dark Somnian order. Had she used her temporal magic to send him a message?

“Dear Brother Castel,

I came to check on your progress today, but it seems we just missed each other. I will try to get in touch with you again tomorrow. Verus eagerly awaits your report on the Traveler’s movements within Rettan. Stay strong.


”Ah…“ Yalen was not surprised. The cardinal’s information network was wide. Although he wasn’t able to inform his superiors of his location yet, they were already well on top of things. It was good to know someone would be able to recover his corpse if he ended up dying in this foreign land.

Ugh, that was in poor taste. Jocasta’s dark humor is beginning to rub off on me… Yalen threw the note into the fireplace and locked his door, then sat cross legged on his bed. Unless something important came up he would focus all of his energy on Kaureerah. He was suspicious not only of her, but of the powerful being she encountered last night. With luck, several loose ends would be tied up before the sun rose tomorrow.


When Yalen was thrown back by the kinetic shockwave he was instantly reminded of the time he blew those demons in Eskand sky-high. Thankfully someone was here to break his fall this time, as Lady Yang was able to rescue him before he crashed through a nearby building. Whatever he or his companions thought about the police in Rettan, it was a fact that they were well trained and quick to react, and for that he was grateful. His body floated gently downwards until his feet were touching the ground. Then, he was giving orders.

"One of you help Cai and Feng secure the old man! Everyone else with me! We're going in!" Yalen shouted while pointing at his teammates. He donned the Mask of the Tengu and readied his tools, the magical staff he borrowed from Ingrid and a brass censer used for religious ceremonies. He didn’t know what tools he would need for this engagement, so he prepared himself for anything.

Ingrid and Niallus were at his side in moments, the pair apparently being much faster on their feet than he was. They pulled ahead and blasted their way through the front door with a combined kinetic and arcane assault. That very same moment, sections of the building burst into flames and a dozen enemies scattered through the windows and balconies. A tongue of flame nearly set his robe on fire as Yalen skidded to a halt, unable to follow his allies into the collapsing structure.

Blasted fanatics. The priest looked around with his eyes and his sixth sense to get a handle on the developing situation. Half of the criminals were making a run for it. The Rettanese policemen were either engaging the hostiles or pursuing those who fled. A few went in after Ingrid and Niallus, quenching the flames with practiced efficiency. A great power was surging nearby, but it faded too quickly to get a read on it. When it was gone, so was Lady Yang.

They were ready for us. Fine then, we’ll do this the hard way. Where are you…? Yalen locked onto the six signatures belonging to the escaping fugitives. He wasn’t going to let them get away. Taking a prisoner was the only reliable way to secure key information about the Traveler’s dealings within the city. The success of this mission might depend on it.

They’re fast, but they’re not fast enough. He grit his teeth and locked onto the two nearest runners. He raised his scepter in the air and shouted to the sky with holy authority.


When he tried to command them, the Traveler’s agents actively resisted the attempt. Their effort was commendable, but after a few seconds of struggling the Dark Somnian managed to worm his way past their defenses and assume direct control. When the realization dawned that they were under the influence of a command mage, Yalen could feel their heartbeats quicken ever so slightly. They knew what was coming. They knew HE was coming.

KNEEL!" Yalen shouted. Four of the fleeing energies continued to move forward. Two were stopped dead in their tracks. The prey had been snared, and now it was time to inspect the trap. "I've caught two of them! Those who have the strength to do so, come with me!" Yalen broke away from the chaos and sprinted after the fleeing agents, his feet carried by his pair of enchanted sandals. Those who knew him before wouldn't have guessed he was capable of running so fast.

After crossing through alleyways and side streets, Yalen was eventually able to find the two men frozen like a pair of statues, their bodies and manas both paralyzed by the effect of his word. "Let's make sure you bastards don't go anywhere." Yalen seethed between labored breaths. He bound their hands, feet, and mouths with cloth bandages he'd normally use to stop somebody bleeding, then produced a pair of silver needles. These needles dripped with the poison of the plushtail plant, an exceedingly rare substance known specifically for its ability to exterminate manas. He stabbed each of the Traveler's cronies in a major blood vessel and let the poison work, knowing that they wouldn't be able to dispel it as long as their manas belonged to him. By the time his command wore off, they would be powerless to escape by themselves.

Yalen felt Rikard's presence approaching and turned to acknowledge him. "I'm glad you came. Help me carry one of them." He requested while hoisting one of the prisoners over his shoulders.

Rikard glanced apprehensively at Yalen. "What did you just...use on them!? the boy asked, a slight crack in his voice. He lifted both, in fact - the one Yalen had slung over his shoulder and the other - with the help of Kinetic magic and a capacity that had grown substantially since the previous school year.

"I would tell you, but then I would have to kill you." Yalen said in a serious voice. It didn't take long for him to start laughing afterwards, though his smile was hidden behind his breathing mask. "Let's just say I turned their own bodies against them. There's magic out there that the academy will never be able to teach you." The priest stretched his arms as he felt the weight literally lift off of his shoulders.

"What about the others? What about the one in the hood?"

"I wanted to catch all six of these pests, but I lacked the skill. I'm sorry to say that the others are still at large." Yalen shook his head in disappointment. The conversation between the two Biros was interrupted by a flare-up of energy in the direction of the mansion where they just came from. The battle wasn't over yet. "Come on, let's see if the others need our help!"

Rikard glanced apprehensively over his shoulder. "It'll only take one of us to get these two back," he decided. "The other should join the guards and track down the last four, right!?" The boy was already preemptively drawing, the air around him light and crackling with electricity.

Yalen clasped Rikard's shoulder and nodded. "Okay, let's split up. Be careful on your way back." Before he departed the area, Yalen cut his connection to the two prisoners so that he could keep command magic open as a defensive option. There would be a few minutes before their manas realized they were no longer being controlled, and by then the plushtail toxin would have already circulated through and killed most of them off. He trusted Rikard's ability to handle them in this state.

Now where are the guards headed... Yalen closed his eyes and concentrated for a minute. When he found who he believed were the goldcloaks in pursuit of the other escapees, he took off running.

Yalen was able to catch up to the four goldcloaks and their quarry in almost no time. They were more focused on being evasive than covering ground, and it showed. It was now a five on four and the Retanese Guardians, recognizing him, made to cover and escort the Somnian in. Three of the masked figures whirled and targeted Yalen, and there was something about those masks that was strangely familiar. The fourth turned on the spot and pulled out a small device that seemed to be a pair of connected spheres, stalking up in front of her group and holding it above her head. "I do not want fight you," she declared. "I want no more deass." She flipped the switch and Yalen felt his magic die.

"That's not going to work this time!" Yalen challenged. He took a deep breath and focused inwards. He had encountered magic dampening devices many times before, and now he was finally ready to try and do something about it. "RESIST!"

As strong as Yalen's command over his manas was, this was no ordinary dampener. He could feel a fuzziness to his magic: a severe almost... buzzing in his veins. His connection was tenuous, and his ability to exercise more than basic magics limited. "You surrender now, Somnian. We not want hurt you!" The leader remained at the front, the other three behind her, and she repeated her warning in Retanese for the others, though Yalen would've been hard pressed to recognize it as such beyond situational cues. "离开他,你们都可以毫发无损地走开。那个牧师就是我们想要的。" The two sides were almost upon each other. A decision would need to be made within the next couple of seconds.

Damn. So this is all I can do? Yalen clenched his jaw. He turned to look at the goldcloaks behind him. They were as stoic as they were trained to be, but they appeared uneasy. There was no way the Traveler's soldiers would act this cocky unless they were able to pacify his reinforcements as well. This was going to get ugly if he pressed too hard. He'd done his part and secured two prisoners, and so he would have to hope that was enough to help bring this case to a close. "...Retreat!" He shouted while waving his hand, hoping they would understand his body language if not his words. After that, Yalen retreated a few steps while facing their leader, only fully turning his back when there was some distance between them. He didn't stop to check if the Rettanese officers were following him or not. He couldn't help them without magic.

"必要时杀死其他人,但对牧师要温柔。他是一个特别的人。" The gold-masked woman was issuing orders now. She reached out with kinetic magic and Yalen could feel himself slow, the efforts of his muscles counting for less and less as the momentum left him. One of his guards - Peng - turned and cursed back at the hooded woman with real venom. Then, as one, all four turned and charged. "You go!" shouted Zhang. "快! 我们会拖延他们。" (Quickly! We will delay them.) As one, they converged on the leader, trying to do anything that they could to dislodge that damnable device.

"..." Yalen felt something catch in his throat. He didn't know what the man just said, but he knew what he was doing. This was a rear guard action with no guarantee of survival. He felt like a piece of shit letting them do something like this for his sake, but Yalen knew that toothless heroics didn't count for anything. Yalen kept his feet moving away from the masked assailants and didn't look back no matter what. "Resist damnit! Resist!" He continued to shout in the vain hope that he could still help them from far away. With the amount of magic he could access right now he couldn't even cook a pot of soup.

The four brave goldcloaks were thrown aside, either violently into buildings or knocked out with Chemical magics. They were no match for the masked men, who seemed... unusually strong. Their leader drew aggressively from Yalen's momentum, slowing him and not allowing him to gain even more ground than he already had. To his surprise, his efforts to fight against their nullifying device were working to some extent, but the amount of magic he could muster was insufficient to face off against four battle hardened enemy mages.

"Guess I have no choice...!" Yalen scrambled his sixth sense around the immediate area seeking out Rikard, the only person he knew for sure would be close enough to help in time. He would be easy enough to spot with two deadweights tagging along with him. When he managed to find the signature, he gave his friend a pinch behind the ears, sending the universal signal that all tethered knew by heart. HELP.

Yalen continued to run for his life, turning down side streets, skipping through alleyways, and jumping over obstacles. Suffering from an extreme case of tunnel vision, he didn’t notice the darkening of the sky or the unnatural clumping of storm clouds overhead. It wasn’t until he crossed a puddle of water and felt the air fill with static that he realized Rikard had come to his rescue. Yalen shielded his eyes from a blinding flash of light, and there was an ear splitting explosion behind him. He turned around to defend himself from what remained of the enemy after Rikard’s assault, but there was no-one left standing. There was only a blanket of ash and scorched earth, in the middle of which lay the unconscious leader of the terrorist cell.

Rikard's feet touched down in front of Yalen and he tossed a glance over his shoulder. Looking back at his friend, he merely smirked. "Holding up alright?"

"That... was... huff..." Yalen bent over wheezing. His eyes were still swimming from being blinded by lightning, and he was exhausted from running at full sprint for so long. He spun around to look at the aftermath of Rikard's devastating attack. It didn't even smell like burnt meat. There was nothing but blackened ash left where the faceless revolutionaries once stood. How lucky that there was a big puddle right when he needed it. Wait, how old was Rikard again? That attack was-

"Amazing. You are truly amazing. Thank you." Yalen pushed off his knees and straightened his back. He would not soon forget the debt he owed Rikard. That could be repaid later, but for now it was time to complete their mission. If they failed now after so much heartache they would never live it down. Yalen got down on one knee and grabbed the woman's wrist to check her pulse. Somehow she had managed to survive a blast that utterly annihilated the other three.

"I'm out of that poison so I can't disable her magic in the long term..." Yalen rapped his knuckles against his forehead. After thinking about what he had seen up until now, he eventually realized something important. "Hey, she has some kind of device in her possession that steals your magic. We need to find it!" He roughly turned her on her side and started rough handling her belongings, hunting desperately for the anti-magic sphere.

The moment that he seized upon it, however, her eyes flashed open. "I see you again soon, stupid boy," she taunted, suddenly uninjured. She spared a sour look at Rikard and then, with a sudden surge of what Yalen would clearly recognize as Temporal magic, she was gone and he was left holding one half of the badly-damaged device.

"Damn you! Come back here!" Yalen swiped at the empty air with his free hand. He knew why those masks were so familiar. His sworn enemy, the Volti, were here in Rettan. A stroke of fortune at last. He wasn’t able to take her head this time, but somehow he had managed to snatch that blasted device of hers. "Huh?" After looking at it more closely, it was only one half. It was trashed too. From the looks of it, he'd need to take it to the likes of Kerremand or Hogh Munkhelad for repairs. Rikard's lightning was way too strong. "It's broken. That lady is long gone so let's go back for the prisoners and scram." Yalen shoved the metal orb into his bag and the two boys set off in search of the captives.


As soon as Yalen and Jocasta cleared the passage, the stone gateway slammed shut behind them. The further the two of them ventured into the ruins, the less the sun’s light was able to penetrate the suffocating darkness within. They had come far enough now that it was no longer possible to see even a single inch in front of them without a light source. In case there was something down here that reacted negatively to magic use, they elected to make use of a torch that was kindly provided to them by Escarra’s rangers. It wasn’t much, but it allowed them to proceed further without tripping over themselves for the time being. The hall was rather plain, decorated only by evenly spaced rows of torches that lined the walls on both sides.

The normally playful couple was distressingly quiet as they advanced through the one way corridor. They were both listening for the faintest of sounds, anticipating that at any moment some monster or devious trap was about to be sprung on them. Not once had they ever explored a ruin without running into a hazard of some kind. With how well guarded ancient treasures often were, it was as if their ancestors expected to be resurrected someday.

Yalen was so focused on watching the walls and ceiling that he failed to notice the danger laying right under his feet. It was a single brick, looking a bit too new and set a little too low compared to the rest of the floor. When he crossed over the pressure plate, an audible click echoed through the giant hallway that sent their hearts racing into panic mode. One by one the sconces burst into flames, while ancient mechanisms exposed gaps in the brickwork that contained giant metal tubes…?

”Yalen, get down!” Jocasta grabbed her lover’s sleeve and dragged him to the floor before diving out of her wheelchair. A second later, a horizontal line of obsidian darts whizzed over their heads.

Yalen tossed his torch away and readied the Scepter of Ahn-Shune for the struggle. ”UNITE!” He cried out, combining his strength with Jocasta’s so that he could tap into her immense power. As he summoned his command magic he realized that elsewhere, Desmond’s strength was beginning to fade. The time limit was approaching.

More needles flew through the air, from the front, from behind, from everywhere at once. Jocasta blasted them all away with a wave of kinetic force, but the traps kept firing with seemingly limitless ammunition. At the same time, the area was gradually filling up with a strange mist that formed dense, slightly yellowish clouds that creeped towards the tethered with ill intent. Anything it seemed to touch fizzled and cracked as if the rock was being doused by acid. It likely WAS acid based on the smell.

She wouldn’t be able to do much more than this without leaving a gap in her defenses. Yalen understood it was up to him to pick up the slack. With the tethered evenly splitting their RAS he was, for the moment, at the level of a prodigy. He used his borrowed power to create a small bubble of safety around them, transmuting the acid into its constituent elements which were far less lethal. Jocasta grabbed him by the hand and lifted the two of them off the ground along with her wheelchair. In the grip of a Skyborn, Yalen felt like he was floating on a cloud, and the queer sensation sent a shiver through his body. They rocketed through the hallway like a musket ball, threats being disintegrated or turned aside by their combined efforts. Yalen winced as one of the deflected darts whizzed past his face, leaving a small cut on his cheek that burned like a papercut. It was difficult to keep his eyes open at the speed they were going, but he could make out the shape of a glowing arrow at the end of the passageway. Whether it led them to the exit or deeper into this madness mattered little. Anywhere was better than here!


Yalen had stayed up late last night and woken up early. The sun was still half below the horizon when he crawled out from under his bed cover. He hadn’t gotten a healthy amount of sleep before their big outing, but it was easy enough to trick his brain into believing he did with the application of chemical trickery. That combined with a tincture of ground holly and he was as alert as he needed to be, at least for today. Before getting dressed Yalen dedicated an hour or so to prayers and self reflection. Some things had to be done whether he was on a mission or not.

After his prayers were finished Yalen lit two sticks of incense, one for Dami and one for Oraff, and placed them in a holder at his bedside. He threw open the curtains to let in what little light there was at this early hour. The window was still opaque with morning dew, not yet evaporated by the coming sunrise. The priest donned his vestments and gathered the full extent of his equipment and provisions, anticipating that today would involve more than a simple tour of the city. The medicines he carried needed to be properly maintained for freshness, so he used some of the spare time and replaced the oiled paper holding his remedies with fresh material, provided to him free of charge by their Rettanese benefactors.

Yalen sat down for the morning meal and tucked into a bowl of wonton soup. As he did so his eyes continuously wandered between the Xiulan, the innkeepers, and their Eeaiko exchange student. Yalen was finally able to pinpoint why the figure he detected last night felt so familiar after being in close proximity to her. She was an exact match. What was she doing while believing the rest of them to be asleep? Was Kaureerah trying to complete the mission on her own, or was she betraying her trust and giving information to the enemy? He couldn’t go throwing around accusations without proof of either motive, so Yalen was unable to confront her about it. Even if he brought it up she could just play dumb. For now he resolved to keep an even closer eye on their fishy friend until her loyalties could be determined.

After breakfast the group departed the inn for the day and ventured into the city. Yalen couldn’t help but feel that Ersand’Enise was more pleasant to be in, but he knew it was an unfair comparison to make. The size of this place dwarfed the academy city by orders of magnitude, so a little bit of grime and poverty was to be expected. It still wasn’t as filthy as Mudville.

When they passed by the spice market, Yalen was singled out by a scrappy looking kid carrying a burlap sack on his back. The boy tugged on his priestly robes while trying to communicate some kind of offer in broken Avincian.

“Look, look! Medicine! Very good! You buy!” The kid opened his sack and tried showing off an assortment of powders and liquids. Yalen recognized most of them to be common remedies for things like stomach aches and sore teeth. His guess was that this was a pharmacist’s son. It was too bad that he could make simple medicines like that on his own.

”No, I don’t really…“ Yalen raised his hand in objection, but his interest was piqued by one item that he was totally unfamiliar with.

”What’s this?“ Yalen pinched one of the boy’s bags and inspected it. The smell and appearance of this powder was something he’d never encountered before while studying at the monastery.

“Watch!” The kid stuck his finger into the bag, and when he pulled it out his finger was nearly invisible. Yalen’s eyes widened in surprise. He hadn’t even heard rumors of something like this existing in Constantia. Was this a Rettanese special?

I must have this. Yalen dug out his coin purse and bartered with the peddler while his escort impatiently shuffled their feet behind him.

Yalen boredly picked at his food while listening to the Exemplar on the patio. The day was more than half gone, and the only progress they had made in regards to the mission so far was being handed some folders containing a briefing on the murder cases. While that was certainly helpful, he would rather be doing something productive. Why hadn’t they been given these documents upon arrival? Why did this feel more like a tour than an investigation? Was someone trying to lead the team by the nose? Yalen’s mind was so full of negative thoughts he could no longer recall what Wu Long and the others were talking about. Well, except the part about magic use in Rettan. He had some thoughts about their crackdown on mages based on his trip to the future, but he reminded himself that now was not the time to get philosophical.

"你的主人在哪里!?" (Where is your master?) the woman shouted at the old man. She was beautiful, but steely-eyed and severe in bearing. "不知道!" (Don't know!) he insisted, "我不知道!" (I don't know!) he cried.

"我不相信你" (I don't believe you.) came the frosty reply. The already-thinning crowds swirled back to a distance, radiating fear, but they did not entirely flee as kicks rained down upon the old servant. "What's his crime?" Kaureerah blurted, clearly distraught at the display. "How do they know he's guilty!?"

Xiulan shifted uncomfortably, but she put on a sympathetic smile and grabbed hold of the eeiako's hand. "I know it is... distressing," she admitted, and Kaureerah noticed that her hand was trembling, "But if the Grey Ghosts come for him, he is guilty already. One hundred percent, or he's master. He has been done some very bad sing. Do not to worry."

Wu Long sat there, tall and stoic, expression unreadable. "Do not worry," he repeated, with slightly better grammar, "This is Retan."

Yalen didn’t say anything at first as he watched the situation unfold, but a few of his other comrades were unable to maintain their composure in the face of such brutality. He cringed as Niallus and Maura debated Wu Long on the principles of justice and fair treatment.

It’s not like the rest of us aren’t thinking the same as you. But it is not the time to be acting like a hero! Yalen pinched the bridge of his nose. Throwing accusations at their hosts was no way to get on their good side. He was lucky the Exemplar was a reasonable man. If it was another official being chided, the servant might have gotten beaten even worse. Niallus might have been arrested. Then the mission would be tits up. In an attempt to clear the air, Yalen decided to speak up despite his misgivings.

"Violence is just one tool a lawmaker can use to achieve compliance. This is true in every country, not just Rettan." Yalen gave Wu Long a knowing look. He himself knew quite a bit about the enhanced interrogation techniques of the Somnian order. He'd put them into practice more than once.

"Magic users are a dangerous sort. Maybe the guards viewed this level of force to be necessary in order to protect themselves and the public. We lack too many details to be casting judgment this early..." The priest walked towards the guards and their soon to be prisoner and placed his hands behind his back. "If you don't mind me asking, was this man resisting arrest?"

Wu Long allowed Xiulan to repeat Yalen's words in Retanese for the Greys and Yang addressed him in response. "She says that he was resisting the Emperors' justice by attempting to flee and that he made it worse by feigning ignorance." Wu Long's eyes flicked Yalen's way and caught his. "That is her accusation."

Yalen tilted his head to the left and scratched his chin. "So he fled." He turned to face the leader of the Greys and gestured towards the servant. "What were you shouting at him earlier? Was he using magic, or is he wanted for some other reason?"

The man began shouting, then, directing it towards Yalen, eyes flicking desperately in Xiulan's and the Exemplar's direction. "我不知道他在哪里。我什么都不知道!我没有做错!" The translator looked worriedly towards Wu Long, but he nodded. "You may do your job without fear," he assured her, and she swallowed and nodded, reproducing Yalen's words in her native tongue. Yang scowled and replied. "She says he's master lets some criminal stay zere and hides it from the government." She paused nervously. "The old man says he does not know where he's master is. He knows no sings. He didn't to do anysing wrong."

Yang regarded Yalen appraisingly, as if to say, 'Are you going to keep talking or are you going to do something?' In the background, the man began shouting again and it sounded more or less like the same thing. He prostrated himself on the ground, tears streaming down his face.

"Let me talk to your prisoner for a second." Yalen crouched down in front of the man and pulled the back of the man's shirt so he was eye level with him. He patted the servant's cheek and subtly toyed with his brain chemicals to make him a bit calmer. The priest didn't care if the Greys bristled at him. They appeared to understand he was trying to help them and kept their mouths shut.

"Hey, hey, please settle down. Who do you work for mister? Who is your master?" He asked. Yalen looked towards Xiulan and tipped his chin upwards.

To the best of Yalen's knowledge, Xiulan translated his words, glancing over her shoulder at Wu Long more than once. "这房子是为皇帝的外宾预留的。我叫宝,只在这里工作。来此拜访的人名叫灰。 我发誓这是真的!" came the old servant's response, complete with further prostration and a pleading tone. Xiulan did her best to capture it without going over the top. "Zis house was reserved for the emperor's foreign guests. My name is Bao and I only to work here. Ze name of ze person who came to visit was Hui. I swear it's true!" He appeared to be so worked up that a light application of Chemical magic would not be enough to calm him. Before Yalen could manage so much as a response, however, Lady Yang cut in. "他已经告诉我们五次了。他没有说谎,但他遗漏了信息。" She shook her head tightly, clearly unhappy. Xiulan shrank away from her and looked to the Exemplar again, but he nodded again for her to translate. "She say he said zis sing five times already and he is honest but he not saying other informations."

Yalen sighed and dropped his head down in frustration. He really wanted to take his time here, but time was short and the guards wouldn't stand there watching him chat the man up forever. There had to be a way to open him up in the next couple of minutes, or else he'd just have to move on to the next part of the puzzle with pieces missing. What can I do to get him to talk... Yalen thought. If the man kept repeating himself then his guess was that the servant either scared stupid, or he was being threatened by someone. He squeezed the man's head with both hands and forced the servant to look him straight in the eye. With the Blessing of Joy he stimulated the production of endorphins in the man's brain to alleviate his stress. If he still refused to talk then more drastic measures would be necessary...

"Listen to me very carefully Mr. Bao. You haven't told us nearly enough for us to be satisfied. These men are not going away until you give us more information, so you better start talking while they're still in a lenient mood. WHO is your master, and WHAT does he do? I need you to give more clues so I can convince these guards to let you go. You'd like that wouldn't you?" Yalen punctuated his statement by shaking Bao's head a little bit.

'Mr. Bao' stiffened when Yalen grabbed him so forcefully, before his mind was fried with emotions that were not his own. In response to the Meattan's chemical stimulus, his lips started to pucker, before breaking into an uncontrolled smile. Yalen continued, delivering his threats, and Xiulan duly translated, though it was difficult to tell if she had gotten the tone correct. The man knew what they were, however, for he was not stupid. He listened on, even as he was shaken, and an enormous, vacant, tooth-filled grin split the lower half of his face. Then, his mouth opened, and he laughed. He laughed. And he laughed. And he laughed.

"你问我谁是我师父?" he suddenly blurted, voice going cold and icy. Xiulan began to translate: "You ask me who is my master?", but his grin was a sick thing now: sick and toothy. "Aaaaah haha! Aha! Aaaahahahaaaa!!" In the background, the last rays of the sun dipped below the rooftops. All around Yalen came the drawing of powerful magics, most of all from Lady Yang. "你看不到我的主人,但他看到了你!" (You do not see him, but he sees you!) An outward explosion of kinetic energy erupted from the Servant and slammed into Yalen, sending him flying across the street.
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