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Thread: The Fourth Order

  1. #1
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    The Fourth Order is tempting for us to think.

    We are the saved. We are the chosen. The Lord has bestowed upon us his grace, has ransomed us from Hell, and we are free of the curse of sin.

    All of this is true. By the blood of Christ, we have been made pure. The iniquity of our former selves has been washed away, made clean by his sacrifice on the cross. Before the Lord, we share in the righteousness of his Son, beyond the grasp of all the powers of Hell, all the schemes of Man. We are the elect, and our faith has been rewarded - and will continue to be rewarded - with both the manifold blessings we experience here on Earth, and with the promise of something greater even than eternal life, the immortality we have also surely been given - the promise of eternity spent in the presence of our Lord, where even a single instant would make the inconceivable, uncountable sufferings of this world seem a paltry fare.

    All of this is true, but nevertheless it invites a pair of wicked conceits, to which I wish to forearm you against.

    The first is that, the work is finished.

    For though our salvation is assured, though our souls remain sheltered in His hand for all time, to claim we are therefore beyond sin is arrogance. Surely, I do not need to tell you. Surely, you understand this well already. We are only human, and 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,' as the Apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans. As such, your struggle against sin must be everlasting, in so far as you remain on this Earth - for when we are taken up to be with the Lord, then we will be free of the temptations of the flesh, the corruptions of the spirit. But while we persist, we must all remain ever vigilant against that creeping death, that insidious spirit that seeks to come between you and the grace of God.

    And so, I exhort you once again with the words of the Apostle Paul - "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness."

    The second is that, the work is finished.

    The greatest temptation, for those of us who are saved. To refine ourselves, seclude ourselves away in our pursuit of righteousness. To turn ourselves entirely towards the Lord, and discard all concerns for this earthly, fallen world. Even to go so far, should it not have been forbidden, to take our own lives, that we might witness the glory of the Lord in person that much sooner.

    But no matter that it wears the outer guise of a saint, this conceit is nonetheless a most egregious sin. For does it not directly contravene one of the greatest commands of Christ, our saviour?

    "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

    For to seclude ourselves from the world is to abandon the children of God, to deny them the salvation that we have received, not due to our own deeds or worthiness, but solely due to the grace of our Lord, to his boundless mercy. It is thus our duty to spread that gospel, to make known the love of our Lord to all people, which makes the great oceans appear as shallow, and the noon-day sun appear as darkness.

    And so I bequeath to you your mission. Not in my name, nor in the name of this Monastery, nor in the name of the Holy Church itself. In the name of our Lord. In the name of God the Father, who sent his Son for our salvation; in the name of God the Son, who died on the cross to pay the debt incurred by our sin; and in the name of God the Holy Spirit, who remains with us now, to refine us, to transform us into servants suited to accomplish the will of God.

    Go out into the darkness of the world. Hold high the banner of light that is the love of our Lord. Brandish firmly the blade that is the instrument of his justice. Strike out against the shadows, that those who cower in them might come to know light, might turn their hearts toward the Lord, and might share in the bountiful salvation that we have been blessed with.

    Go now, and be the instrument of their salvation.

    -Excerpt from speech given at the Induction Ceremony of the Fourth Chivalric Order of the Holy Church

    What follows is a modest record of the actions of those who dared step out of the safety of the light, that they might be the light in the darkness. Of one individual in particular, whose personal struggle runs parallel to that rebirth.

    Table of Contents

    Prologue - Redeemer

    Book 1: Gatekeeper
    -Chapter 1: Weapon
    -Chapter 2: Shaman
    -Chapter 3: Awake
    -Chapter 4: Lair
    -Chapter 5: Burn
    -Chapter 6: Ash
    Last edited by TwilightsCall; November 28th, 2019 at 12:12 AM.
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  2. #2
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    Prologue - Redeemer

    If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
    Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.

    II Chronicles 7:14-15

    -Three Years Ago-

    Pintail breathed in deeply, relishing the scent of burning wood in the air.

    It was hard not to let herself go, to run full tilt through the halls of the burning compound. As always, though she had never even heard of the family that owned it, she felt an almost personal grudge against them the moment she had arrived in their territory. The moment she had seen them take up arms to defend themselves.

    But despite her urges, she stepped calmly and cautiously through the halls. At this point, she was more concerned about the burning building collapsing in on her than she was any sort of resistance. It seemed the heretics had mustered everything they could into a first line of defense - once her Unit had punched through that, the isolated pockets of resistance they had come across were a resistance in name only. Now, they had split up to chase down what few stragglers remained before pulling out and calling it a day.

    Turning a corner, Pintail narrowed her eyes. Though the flames - a failed attempt at scaring her Unit away from infiltrating the compound proper - should have completely overtaken this area, it was conspicuously clear here. The sound of destruction could be heard from beyond the walls of the narrow hallway, but the walls themselves were untouched by fire.

    A moment's inspection made it easy to see why. The hallway was inundated with layer upon layer of wards. Most seemed to be directed outwards, as if to repel an attack on the building itself. It seemed the fire sweeping through the compound was not a desperate Hail Mary defense, but an actually planned mechanism. Which of course, raised an important question.

    What was worth defending so much that they would preserve it, even after destroying everything else?

    After a brief scan to identify any wards that might act as traps - none that she could see - Pintail made her way down the hallway. Though the fires hadn't reached into the hallway yet, a smoky haze still obscured her vision, preventing her from seeing the large iron door at the far end of the hallway until she had traversed half its length. And as it came into view, she saw the first of the wards that would actually stand in her way.

    The door itself seethed with magical energy, a powerful, multilayered ward built into its very structure. It would take ages to open the door by conventional means, unless they could get someone from the family to open it for them.

    Luckily, there was more than one way to open a locked door.

    As she approached the door, she lifted her sword in front of her, briefly noting the faint steam rising from it. She was almost at her limit, but with this she could likely consider her cleanup of the compound complete and return to the main contingent outside. Before she could strike at the ward, however, a sudden burst of magical energy beside her made her hesitate.

    Not waiting to see what was happening, she immediately turned and swung, a sizzling crack filling the air as the blade of her weapon intercepted the coming projectile. Pintail winced at the dazzling light that flashed as the unidentified object dissipated harmlessly into the air. As she blinked to clear her vision, a heavy impact slammed into her back, sending her stumbling forward. Stabbing her weapon into the wall in front of her, she threw her weight onto it to avoid falling, catching herself at the last possible moment.

    Having regained her balance, she turned to look behind her. An oversized arrow, like a heavy crossbow bolt, rolled on the ground behind her, traces of whatever enchantment was on it fast dissipating. While her back stung from the impact, the bolt had evidently failed to penetrate the protective blessings woven into her Coat.

    Pintail clicked her tongue in disappointment. She should have expected a trap of some sort, even if she couldn't see it. She had no idea what would have happened to her if she hadn't intercepted the first attack, but it had likely just been a distraction to keep her from blocking the second. Similarly, she had no idea what enchantment had been on that bolt, but if it hadn't been for Patience, it likely would have punched through even her protective sigils with ease.

    Wasting no more time, she drew her sword from where it was planted in the wall and plunged it into the double-doors in front of her, smashing whatever mundane lock could have served to keep it closed. The wards enchanting the door offered a fierce resistance, but with a second thrust those too gave way, sparking violently as their death throes bent and warped the doors they were meant to protect.

    Pintail stepped back to look at the door again with a faint sense of admiration. Well concealed traps at the door to take even one magically inclined by surprise, followed by a solid door covered plentifully in wards that could deter all but the most determined intruders. And if one were to resort to brute force to break through, the wards self-destructed in such a way that the door was destroyed, twisting in a way that made it completely incapable of opening. Had this been a manned defense, she wasn't confident she would have been able to break through, even operating as close to her peak as she was.

    Unfortunately for the heretics, where brute force worked once, it often worked twice. Taking her sword in a two-handed stance, Pintail took a deep breath, eyes locked on the obstinant door in front of her. One more swing, and the warped iron doors burst inwards, flying off their hinges and landing in pieces in the inner courtyard.

    Being extra careful this time in her inspection for traps, she stepped over the threshold. Behind the now completely destroyed doors was a kind of covered garden. There was no path inside, only a stretch of grass that led to a small pool of water, carved into a basin of white marble. On the other side of a pool was a bench of similarly white marble, carved in a style the evoked thoughts of ancient Greece. An odd choice, Pintail thought, as the family they were purging had no connections to Greece whatsoever, but she had little time to think about the bench's oddity as her eyes met with the girl sitting on it.

    Pintail resumed her advance, weapon resting casually at her side. Long black hair, unnaturally deep blue eyes. Complexion so pale she looked almost sickly, as if she had never been touched by sunlight. Her appearance matched perfectly with the description they had been briefed with of the Emetis family's heiress.

    A faint sigh. One last execution, then.

    Not that she particularly minded. It was a just end for a heretic. But those same reports made it seem like killing her would be a greater mercy to the girl than it would be a punishment.

    Did she not understand what was coming? As Pintail approached, stepping around the basin of water, the heiress watched her calmly, unmoving. There was a look of shock, of clear surprise, but it soon gave way into a smile. A pained smile, one of deep relief.

    While she had no intention of explaining herself to the girl, she hesitated as she closed the last of the distance between them, as the girl closed her eyes with a sigh, and began to speak.


    The girl opened her eyes, meeting Pintail's shocked gaze. Within those eyes was such a pure joy, such an indescribable relief, it made Pintail's breath catch.

    "Thank you for coming," the girl continued, the beginnings of tears in her eyes. "It's been so long, but I knew if I waited, if I endured, that you would eventually find me."

    An expression as if someone had reached down into hell itself to rescue her.

    Pintail was stunned. It wasn't the first time a heretic had appeared before her as a child, but there was such an overwhelming sincerity to this girl's demeanour that, for the first time since she had been inducted into the Order - for her first time since she had officially taken her Name as a knight - she doubted her own resolve.

    She had long since lost count of how many heretics had died by her blade. How many creatures of the night had been redeemed by death at her hands. She had cut down children no different from this one without a moment's hesitation at only the faintest clues of a curse in their blood. After all, if she pursued God and held her faith above all, surely she would never be led astray. Surely even what appeared to the eyes of man to be grotesque atrocity was nothing more than a righteous display of godly wrath. Were it not so, she had no doubt God would prevent her from walking that path.

    Surely, that was justice.

    Grip tightening on her sword, Pintail spoke. "You understand why I'm here?"

    ...why did she ask that? She had no need to hear the words of a heretic, or one of their children. Even if one considered the girl herself innocent, that just made prolonging her life like this cruel.

    "Of course," the girl said, her smile somehow growing even brighter. "I've been praying since I knew what prayer was, after all. For God to send an angel, one of his send anyone..."

    Once again, Pintail's grip on her sword tightened, the motion sending a sharp pain up the muscles of her arm. Now that she looked, she was struck again by just how young this girl was. She couldn't have been less than a few years her junior, likely not much more than fifteen. Trapped here since she was born, drenched in whatever wicked heresy the Emetis practiced.

    Death was a just punishment for the family that did this to her, and the greatest mercy for a child so tortured. why did she hesitate?

    The girl's voice broke, tears streaming openly down her face as she looked up into Pintail's eyes.

    "I've been waiting so whole life..." why couldn't she raise her sword?

    "...for you to come save me."
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  3. #3
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Chapter 1 - Weapon

    Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
    And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
    Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
    And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

    Ephesians 6:14-17

    Pintail suppressed a yawn as she stared out the window onto the training grounds below.

    Watching the younger knights training down below evoked a feeling somewhat similar to nostalgia. She didn't feel like she had much of a right to call it that - it felt like it wasn't that long ago that she was making use of those training grounds herself, after all. Still, looking back on those times brought back only good memories. She had to imagine there had been bad experiences too, but it seemed the passing of years had scrubbed those clean, leaving only a faint smile on her face as she looked down on the girls training below.

    Not that she had any desire to go back. She could, any time the mood struck her, go use those practice fields again - as long as classes weren't in session, as they were now. She could also likely join in on those classes, and would likely be quite favourably received if she did.

    But the people that had made that place special, that had made all those memories with her, had moved on as she did. There was no point in chasing those memories now, when the people that had made them were now scattered across the world.

    Though, there might be some fun in going down there and heckling the newbies some time...

    "Feel like sparring again sometime?" A familiar voice called out from down the hallway.

    "Not with you," Pintail replied, not moving her eyes from the window.

    "That's not very polite," Cara said with a huff as she stepped up beside her, crossing her arms as she leaned against the wall beside her.

    As usual, she wore her coat - the only part of their uniform that was the same across all members - more like a cape, the sleeves hanging loose and empty behind her.

    "The Captain's going to be angry if she sees you like that," Pintail said, only seeing the dress code violation through the reflection in the window.

    "Hah, jokes on you. The Captain's already angry for seeing me like this. Though all she said was 'at least you're wearing it at all this time.'"

    Pintail gave a wry smile. "Well, that's true, I suppose. You were talking to the Captain?"

    Cara shrugged. "Just happened across her in the hallway. You looking for her?"

    "She's looking for me, apparently," Pintail replied with a sigh.

    "...oh." Cara's eyes darted to Pintail's face with a brief look of concern. "Didn't you just get back from an assignment?"

    A long silence passed between them. She had, in fact. She had arrived back at the Monastery only the night before, to find a summons waiting for her when she did.

    Cara nudged her with an elbow with a small laugh. "Hey, maybe she's just telling you you've finally earned a vacation."

    Pintail finally turned to give her friend a flat look. "First time for everything, I suppose." After turning to look back out the window, she continued. "How about you, any assignments these days?"

    Cara gave an exaggerated sigh. "Just more babysitting. The Eighth Sacrament swear they're on to something this time. Fleta and I have been bought for insurance, since apparently they forgot they are capable of taking care of themselves."

    At that, Pintail turned a startled look on her. "You and Fleta have been paired up?"

    "Hey, you don't have to act so surprised," Cara pouted. "I can totally keep up with Fleta."

    "Firstly, no you can't," Pintail said, crossing her arms with a frown. "Secondly, that's not the problem. Why is Fleta being wasted on the Eighth Sacrament?"

    Cara shrugged. "You know how it is. Sigma doesn't want to step on the Captain's toes, and the Captain won't let Fleta stay in the Monastery for a second longer than she has to. She always gets whatever assignment is longest in duration and furthest in distance."

    Pintail's frown turned into a scowl. "I don't get it. She's only making more work for herself by messing with Fleta like this. If she just got out of the way, I bet Fleta would be promoted to Captain in no time."

    "Obviously she just wants all the desk work for herself," Cara smirked. Pushing off the wall with one foot, she clapped Pintail on the shoulder before walking off. "Anyways, I gotta get set for my assignment. The Captain was heading back to her office when I saw her, so you can probably go pick yours up whenever the mood strikes you." With one last wave, she turned off the corridor, leaving Pintail alone.

    Pintail sighed, staring aimlessly up at the ceiling.

    It wasn't that being given another assignment so quickly bothered her. Rather, she preferred to stay busy when she could. As long as it was important work, and not just playing babysitter to a bunch of graverobbers, as Cara was apparently doing. But she couldn't help but feel like life at the Monastery was leaving her behind as she spent all of her time out in the field. While she wasn't so keen on keeping up with the drama, the fact it was happening behind her back made her feel like she was being pushed out of something.

    But, that was a problem for another time.

    Taking one last look out the window, she started towards the Captain's office. She wouldn't like being made to wait.

    ...nevermind the fact she had kept Pintail waiting for close to an hour already.


    After knocking on the door twice and getting a muffled command to enter, Pintail opened to the door to the Captain's office.

    "Excuse me, Captain," she said, closing the door behind her before offering a salute. "I received your summons last night, but was unable to find you at the requested time."

    Sitting at her desk pouring over more papers than Pintail felt the need to count was Knight-Captain Linia Pacifica. If Pintail had to describe how she looked, she would say something like, she was doing a good job of hiding how frazzled she was. Perfectly groomed, waist-length blond hair framed a strained face, eyes darting from paper to paper as if in a mad rush to absorb the information they contained. A perfectly cleaned and pressed uniform, resting on shoulders just slumped enough to show it had more energy than its wearer. A layer of calm rested over her, enough to hide the storm of thought and emotion under the surface, but not enough to convince you it wasn't there.

    At the sound of Pintail's voice, the Captain clasped her hands in front of her face, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. After a few moments, she dropped her hands to her desk and greeted Pintail with a bright smile.

    "Thank you for coming, Lieutenant. Sorry for making you wait. I had some urgent business this morning."

    "Same as always, then," Pintail replied with a wry smile, earning a similar response from Linia.

    As Linia turned her attention back to the papers on her desk, Pintail finally crossed the room to stand in front of her desk. There was a chair there, but she elected to stand instead. Seeing Linia was making no effort to hide the documents, she glanced over them briefly, though in the end she didn't find anything of particular interest.

    "Looking for something?" the Captain said, not looking up as she pulled a document out from inside her desk.

    "Just curious," Pintail said. "I was talking to Cara earlier, and she said she and Fleta were being sent on a babysitting assignment. I was just wondering what sort of assignment it was that Fleta of all people would be sent out."

    "Ah, that?" Linia answered, pulling a folder from her desk and slipping a number of documents into it. "The Eighth Sacrament said they found some real deal relic. Real enough that there's a cult building up around it. They said they wanted some extra firepower going in to retrieve it, so they asked for a Unit, know how they are. I figured two units was the bare minimum."

    "Wait, two full Units?" Pintail's eyes went wide. "I was under the impression it was just the two of them."

    Linia paused her shuffling for a moment to look up to Pintail with a knowing smile. "I asked for three, but Sigma insisted that two was enough."

    Pintail sniffed. "Well if Fleta's Unit is one of them, I can see that."

    "Hence why I picked her," the Captain said, handing the now full folder to Pintail. "First things first, hand this assignment off for me, please."

    Pintail opened the folder, briefly scanning the documents inside. "How many?"

    Linia, who had returned to organizing files into another folder, paused to look up at her. "You think they'll need more than one?"

    Pintail scratched her head with a frown. "Cygnus can probably handle it on her own. But Frett needs the field experience, and is definitely not ready to go out on her own. I was thinking of sending the pair of them."

    Linia tapped a finger to her chin as she thought. "Okay. Give them an extra day or two to prepare, though."

    Nodding, Pintail snapped the folder shut and put it under her arm. "Anything else?"

    The Captain gave a short laugh. "Yes, the actual reason I called you." Placing the second completed folder on her desk, she clasped her hands over it and gave Pintail a somewhat charged look. "Do you remember the Emetis case?"

    Pintail's expression immediately dropped into a poker face.

    "Yes. It was my last mission under my first Unit."

    Linia tilted her head to the side. "Bad memories?"

    The face of a certain girl - a girl whose name she never even learned - flashed into her mind.

    "Not particularly."

    "Good," the Captain said, her smile the only indication she saw through the lie. Reaching into her desk, she pulled out a single sheet of paper, passing it over to Pintail. "Look familiar?"

    Pintail struggled to keep the surprise from her face. Looking down at the piece of paper sitting on the Captain's desk, that same face was now looking back at her. Gingerly, she picked up the paper and began reading.

    It was a dossier on the Emetis family heiress. The Emetis name wasn't on it, but even if she wanted to doubt it, the attached photo made it abundantly clear that it referred to the same girl that she had found in that sealed garden in the Emetis compound three years ago.

    "Wait..." Pintail frowned as she reached the bottom of the report. "Transferred to the Fourth? What are we, jailers now?"

    "Not quite," Linia replied with a bemused smile. "As the report says, she's been under the care of the Church for the past three years. Apparently she's been rather cooperative. Penitant, even. She has not only been open to, but has been proactively requesting to be allowed to serve as an agent of the Church."

    Pintail gently placed the dossier back on the Captain's desk, suppressing the urge to crumple it in her hands.

    "She's a magus."

    "So I've been told," the Captain replied.

    "Then why is she coming here?" Pintail's voice was a bit more forceful than she had intended. "Let the Executors deal with her."

    "Well, that's probably my fault," Linia said, leaning back with an expression of mock contrition.

    Pintail took a deep breath, struggling not to speak through gritted teeth. "Please explain."

    The Captain shrugged. "Sigma and I have been keeping an eye on her since you found her three years ago. Her family was disgusting enough, but apparently their results were the real deal. Not that any of us can figure out what that is - the Vatican has been pretty tight-lipped about what exactly they were researching. Apparently they were even considering putting her up for the Burial Agency."

    "Let them have her," Pintail interjected flatly.

    "Regardless," Linia continued, "when it came out that she was looking to make contact with you, I offered to let her transfer into the Order."

    "What?!" Pintail almost shouted. "Why?!"

    "You know as well as I do how understrength we are. And if she wants to meet you so badly, well...why not kill two birds with one stone?"

    "Because she's-!"

    A heretic.

    "...she's a magus! What use is a magus to us?"

    "Good question," Linia said, finally picking up the second folder off her desk and handing it to Pintail. "Your assignment is to figure that out."

    Pintail's expression went dark as she stared at the folder in Linia's hand. Barely above a whisper, she asked without taking her eyes off it. "...why me?"

    "Now that is out of my hands," Linia said, a shred of something approaching apologetic in her voice. "I had intended to shuffle someone out of Sinclair's Unit to make room for her, but Sigma was quite insistent."

    Pintail's eyes narrowed. "...Sigma?"

    Linia sighed. "I tried to convince her that you wouldn't put up with it, but she wouldn't budge. Direct orders from the Knight-Commander, nothing I can do about it."

    For a long moment, Pintail stared at the folder in Linia's hand. She had facetiously referred to Cara's assignment as babysitting earlier, but this was exactly that. The idea of having to babysit some random kid magus infuriated her, nevermind that it was her. But orders were orders. And if they were coming from Sigma...

    Finally, she reached out and took the folder from the Captain's outstretched hand.

    "Thank you, Lieutenant," Linia said as Pintail opened the folder to review the contents. "The actual assignment is nothing special. Some idiot magus is trying to set up a Workshop within a few hours of us. Normally, we'd leave something as small as this to the Executors, but an easy mission like this is an excellent opportunity to put this new girl to the test. Expel our unwelcome guest with extreme prejudice. And if you can, find out what about the Emetis girl's magecraft is so impressive that even the Burial Agency took an interest in her."

    After a frustrated sigh, Pintail closed the folder and put it under her arm with the other. In truth, she was still more than willing to argue about the assignment, but if Sigma's name was on it, then arguing with the Captain wouldn't accomplish anything. It looked like she was just going to have to grit her teeth and bear it.

    It was only one assignment after all, right?

    "If that's everything, then please excuse me." At Linia's nod, Pintail gave a salute and took her leave.

    "Lieutenant," the Captain called just before Pintail closed the door on her way out. "I'll get the paperwork ready to have her transferred to another Unit on your return. If things don't work out...well, no promises, but I'll do what I can. Alright?"

    Pintail looked back at the Captain for a long moment, her face expressionless, before finally nodding, closing the door behind her.
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  4. #4
    nicht mitmachen Dullahan's Avatar
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    Little to say at this point. More substantial reflections will have to wait until the thing is complete. Stylistically very 'anime' in every sense, positive and negative, that this entails. All the same, distinctly above average. It's high time serious attention was paid to the aspect of magi which is, precisely, heretical - that is, in terms of a transcendental view of reality, they are Christian heretics so to speak. "Heretics" you call them. Precisely.

    Will monitor.

  5. #5
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate it. I'm not sure precisely what "stylistically anime" means, but I feel like I get it enough that I can't argue the point, so hopefully the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones here.

    Chapter 2 - Shaman

    "Eh?! Really?! Really really really?!" the young knight exclaimed, almost hopping up and down in excitement.

    "..yes, though I'm starting to have my doubts," Pintail's response was dry as she handed the folder to the third person in the room.

    "Don't worry Lieutenant! I'll show you I can handle myself!" Frett, the young girl gave a crisp salute - if a bit too energetically - earning a short laugh from her partner.

    "I guess I'll just watch then?" Cygnus scratched the back of her head in mock dejection.

    "You will do no such thing," Pintail said, straining not to raise her voice. Turning to Frett, she pointed an accusing finger at the young girl. "And neither will you. And stop calling me that."

    Though she wasn't all that upset with their antics - Heaven knows she had dealt with much, much worse when she was an Adept - something about Frett always made her want to yell.

    "Roger!" Frett answered with another salute, face beaming. She then waddled over to Cygnus' side. "So what's the mission, boss?" she said, trying to peek over her partner's shoulder - a difficult task, considering she was half a head shorter.

    As Cygnus opened the folder she had been handed to look over the documents inside, Pintail suppressed a sigh to answer.

    "Class Four Scouting Order. There are rumors of something untoward going on coming from a diocese in Leiria, just outside the district capital. We don't have many details about what's happening, but-"

    "-anything so close to an urban center needs a hard and fast response," Cygnus finished, a look of concern spreading across her face as she reviewed the scant information in the assignment. "Will the two of us really be enough?"

    "What? Why?" Frett gave a puzzled frown. "She said Class Four, right? You could probably handle that yourself, so with me there it'll be a cinch!"

    Cygnus gave Frett a patient look before explaining. "Being close to even moderately large cities is incredibly dangerous. For them, I mean. Whether they are a magus or a vampire or some other creature, if they are that close to an urban center, the response they'll get from the Church will be many times stronger. Even the Magic Association might move to deal with them if they are too open. That means, if they are willing to operate that close to a city, either they are ignorant of the Church...or powerful enough they are willing to challenge us."

    "Eh?!" Frett stepped back, aghast. "B-b-b-but then...will the two us be enough?"

    Pintail shrugged with a wicked smile. "Who knows? Your job is to go there and find out." As Frett collapsed to the floor as dramatically as she could manage, Pintail allowed herself a contented sigh. Turning to Cygnus, she continued. "At any rate, I find it hard to believe such a threat could exist so close without the Church being aware of it already, so if there's anything there, it will probably just be some upstart causing trouble."

    Giving Frett a pitying smile, Cygnus answered. "We'll do our best. Anything else we should keep in mind?"

    Pintail crossed her arms, leaning back against the wall beside the door. "Well, we're already pretty under strength here, so it would be pretty inconvenient if either of you died. So try to avoid that, I guess."

    "You GUESS?!" Frett shouted from her spot on the floor, earning no reaction from the other two.

    "Speaking of which," Cygnus said, her expression turning thoughtful, "have they decided where to put the new girl yet? I imagine since we're so under strength, there's a good chance she'll come to our Unit, but..."

    Pintail shrugged. "No idea. She isn't even a knight, so it's hard to say whether she'll even be assigned to a Unit."

    As if she hadn't just been throwing a fit, Frett stood up, dusting off her knees. "Really? I heard she's been assigned a mission with you already, so I thought she was joining our Unit."

    Once again, Pintail had to restrain the impulse to yell. "That's just a field test. We don't really know how well she'll perform in the field, so I'm supposed to give her a chance to show her stuff."

    Cygnus made a slight frown. "It's kind of worrying, don't you think? A girl that young, with no training at all...whether she's useful or not, I'm kind of worried about whether she'll be okay."

    Pintail paused as she heard footsteps outside the room, stopping just in front of the door.

    "As long as Pintail is with her, what's the problem?" Frett said with a proud smile.

    Pintail rolled her eyes. "I appreciate your confidence in me. But," she said, motioning to the door-

    -just as someone knocked.

    Without waiting for an answer, the door swung open.

    "Captain!" Frett blurted out as she and Cygnus jumped, performing a hasty salute. Pintail also stood up straight, giving a much more composed salute to greet their guest.

    "Sorry to interrupt, Lieutenant," Linia said with a smile as she stepped into the room. "I brought a guest that would like to meet you."

    Stepping inside to make room, from behind the Captain another person entered the room.

    Though her mood sank the moment she saw her, Pintail did her best to keep that from showing on her face.

    Black hair reaching down to her waist. Deep, dark blue eyes. Skin so pale she could have been a ghost. Though the intervening years showed on her face, there was no mistaking who this girl was for even a moment.

    Stepping into the room after Linia, the newcomer gave a short curtsy.

    "Pleased to meet you. My name is Nexia." After that, she paused for a moment, an anxious look on her face. "Umm...pleased to meet you. I mean...I heard we'll be working together, so..." As she nervously looked around the room, she finally saw Pintail standing a few steps away, and her eyes went wide.

    Maybe she saw something in Pintail's blank expression, or maybe she was just shocked to see her again face to face. Either way, recognition was clear in her eyes, and stole away whatever words she had been trying to say.

    "Welcome to Unit Five!" Frett almost shouted, bouncing up to the newcomer, seemingly oblivious to the tension in the atmosphere. "Please, come in! Have a seat!"

    "Oh! Uhh...thank you..." Whatever spell had been on her broken by Frett's welcome, Nexia sheepishly let herself be led by the arm to the room's one couch. As Frett began chattering happily away, the Captain turned to Pintail.

    "Just arrived this morning. She's had a short briefing, and a tour of the Monastery. The Commander is still trying to decide what her official status will be here, so she'll be getting a more in-depth welcome later. For now, just give her the details on your mission tomorrow, and maybe entertain her for a bit." At Pintail's nod, the Captain put a hand on her shoulder, dropping her voice low. "Again, sorry to drop this all on you so suddenly. I don't know what Sigma's thinking, but I appreciate you putting up with it."

    Pintail gave a quiet sigh. "Don't worry about me. I'm sure she has her reasons, even if they are crazy."

    Linia gave a wry smile as she let Pintail's shoulder go, turning to leave. "Someone will be by to pick her up later," she spoke in a normal voice again. "Sigma will probably want to talk to her before she turns in for the night. Until then, she's allowed free rein inside the Monastery, so feel free to take her wherever you like." With that, she stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.

    After listening to the Captain's footsteps disappear down the hallway, Pintail took a deep breath before walking over to join the other three in the center of the room.

    "And this is Lieutenant Pintail," Frett said before covering her mouth and dropping down to a whisper, "but don't call her Lieutenant, or she'll get really mad!"

    The girl - Nexia, having not noticed Pintail was now standing beside them, whispered back. "What do I call her then?"

    "Pintail is fine," Pintail answered, giving Frett a withering glare.

    "Ah! Umm...sorry, Miss...umm...Pintail?" Nexia's face flushed red as she noticed the Lieutenant's presence. After a few fumbled attempts at speaking, she finally met Pintail's gaze and smiled. "It's nice to finally meet you again, Pintail."

    "Eh? You two know each other?" Frett blurted out, and for once Pintail was glad for it.

    "No," Pintail answered immediately, with a bit more force than she had intended. Struck speechless by Nexia's greeting, Frett's question was all she needed to get her stuck brain moving again. "No, we only met once, by chance. I came across her during an assignment, once."

    "What?!" Frett came as close as she could to jumping without standing up. "You met the Knights before and didn't get neuralized? That's amazing!"

    Nexia blinked in confusion, tilting her head to the side. "'Neuralized'?"

    "Yeah, it's this cool device, where they flash a bright light in your eyes and then BLAM! All your memories are gone!"

    "What?!" Nexia gasped, covering her mouth in shock.

    "It's also entirely fictional," Cygnus said with an apologetic smile, earning a sigh of relief from Nexia and of disappointment from Frett.

    "Too bad, right?" Frett crossed her arms, shaking her head. "It would be so useful, too. It would save so much time, too..."

    "It is strange they let you go without tidying up your memories at all though," Cygnus said, turning a curious look on Nexia. "Any idea why?"

    Nexia tilted her head to the side again. "Maybe because I'm from a very long lineage of magi? When I said I was willing to work with them, they were very eager to recruit me."

    "You're a magus?!" Frett exclaimed, jumping forward to almost be sitting on Nexia's lap. "Can you make a Neuralizer?!"

    "She can't and she won't," Pintail said with a scowl, planting a fist on top of Frett's head and grinding her knuckles in. "And even if she did, you would be the last person allowed to use it."

    While Frett squealed in complaint, Cygnus continued, a curiosity totally unfit for a member of the Church lighting her voice. "You're from a magus family? What kind of magecraft do you practice, if I may ask?"

    Nexia opened her mouth to respond, but stopped before any words made it out, dropping her gaze to the floor. "...I can't say."

    Frett paused in her complaining to give a confused blink. "Why? Owowowowow!!"

    Ignoring Pintail's continuing punishment of her subordinate, Nexia gave a weak smile. "That's...umm, I was told I had to keep it a secret."

    All three of the knights turned to her at that, a variety of expressions from confusion to concern on their faces. Suddenly nervous, Nexia threw up her hands as if in surrender.

    "I-i-it's not like I want to hide it or anything! I told the men in the Church at the Vatican, and umm...I told the Commander here, but they both said I had to keep it secret."

    At that, the two younger knights turned to Pintail, as if looking for confirmation of something. Finally releasing Frett's head, she crossed her arms with a sigh.

    "Well, as long as Sigma knows, I guess it's fine."

    Nexia breathed a sigh of relief, much of the tension she had held since entering the room escaping with it, as the two younger knights nodded in agreement.

    "Yeah, Sigma knows best," Frett said, disappointment clear in her voice. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see in the field someday."

    At that, Nexia perked up a bit. "Oh, that reminds me!" she said, turning to Pintail with a bright smile. "Miss Linia said we would be working together for my first mission, right? I look forward to working with you, Pintail!"

    Frett elbowed her with a harsh whisper. "Captain Linia!"

    "Oh! Sorry! Captain Linia!" Nexia corrected herself, face flushing again.

    Pintail frowned slightly, unable to keep her displeasure entirely from her face. She knew she was probably being unreasonable, but there was something about the way that Nexia kept repeating her name that bothered her. It was probably just a trick she was using to help remember the name, but that alone was enough to irk her.

    Shaking her head slightly to dispel the distracting thought, Pintail then nodded. "Yes. We have a Class Five Expulsion Order to carry out. Mostly to get you to stretch your legs a bit, see if you're worth keeping in the Monastery."

    The two younger knights gave her an odd look at her tone, but Nexia seemed not to notice as she counted something on her fingers. "Class...Five? I'm sorry, I was taught very briefly about assignments here, but I don't remember there being a Class Five..."

    Cygnus gave a short laugh. "Well, that makes sense. Class Five means essentially 'not our problem.' It's a mission where the necessary firepower is so low, it's not worth sending someone out to take care of it. We normally let the Executors, or sometimes even the normal clergy take care of those things."

    " my first mission is so unimportant?" Nexia seemed to deflate slightly as she spoke.

    Frett raised a finger, obviously mimicking one of her lecturers. "'Easy' does not mean 'unimportant!'"

    Pintail shrugged. "There's that, too. In this case, we just happen to be very close to the problem individual. It's easier for us to go out and deal with it ourselves than to wait for someone else to come and clean up for us."

    Nexia nodded thoughtfully, seeming to regain a bit of her spirits. "Individual, you said? So there's only one person?"

    Pintail shrugged again. "That we know of. Records are pretty scant on this guy, as his family lineage is pretty shallow. Enough that the Clock Tower had no problem throwing him to the wolves."

    "I see, I see," Nexia said, still nodding. "And what did he do wrong?"

    For a moment, the three knights just stared at her.

    "He's a magus," Pintail said flatly.

    "O-oh," Nexia said, her eyes shifting awkwardly. "Sorry, I just thought that...I see."

    "If that's not enough," Pintail said, "he's a magus who is trying to set up a Workshop in our territory. Without permission, naturally."

    "I don't get it," Frett said with a scowl. "Why would he set up a Workshop there? Even if he doesn't know that our Monastery is so close, he should at least know this is Church territory."

    Nexia shook her head. "Probably not." Noticing the other three looking at her, she started before continuing. "Oh, it's just...he probably doesn't know. Territory is very important for magecraft, so the Association keeps tight control of everything they can. This magus probably just found some territory that wasn't under Association control and figured he was breaking new ground."

    Frett snorted. "Didn't stop to think why the Association didn't control that ground, did he?"

    "I doubt he would," Nexia continued with a grimace. "Many young families make these kinds of mistakes. They haven't been with the Association long enough to understand why they have the rules they do, so they flaunt them...and suffer the consequences." Nexia turned back to Pintail. "But it's just an expulsion order?"

    Pintail nodded. "Normally, setting up a workshop so close to one of our Monasteries would be a declaration of war. But as usual, the Association just casually labelled him a rogue when we complained."

    "If he's a rogue, shouldn't the Association take responsibility in dealing with him?" Cygnus said, raising her hand as if she was in a classroom.

    "Oh, I'm sure they offered," Pintail rolled her eyes as she spoke. "But that would mean letting Clock Tower agents into our territory. That would be far more damaging than any 'rogue' magus."

    "...right, right," Cygnus said, taking back her hand.

    "We'll just drive this guy out ourselves," Pintail continued, "and the Church will issue a few more low-level Expulsion Orders. They'll take some inconsequential territory back from the Association, which will suck it up because they're too afraid to escalate."

    Nexia nodded again, thoughtful, before looking around the room. "And will all of Unit Five be going?"

    Cygnus laughed. "No no no. Even Pintail on her own is way overkill for a Class Five assignment. You just missed it, but Frett and I got our own assignment just before you came in."

    "And Sora is still out on her last mission, so she can't go anyways!" Frett added.

    Nexia counted on her fingers. "So...Unit Five is only four people?"

    "Yep!" Frett puffed out her chest proudly. "Smallest Unit in the Order!"

    "Unfortunately," Cygnus added with a weak smile. "A full Unit is supposed to be six: one Lieutenant with five Adepts. About half of the Units in the Order are under strength right now, though. Most by one. We're the only one missing two."

    "I don't know if Unit Six counts as being full strength either," Frett said with a scowl. "I mean, it's basically all newbies in there."

    "Says the newbie," Cygnus answered with a teasing grin.

    "Hey! At least I've had missions before! Unit Six has barely left the Monastery since they got out of training!"

    Seeing the question light her eyes before she even spoke, Pintail's mood immediately turned dark. Without waiting for her to give voice to it, she spun around and walked towards the door.

    But before she could make it out of the room,

    "Why is the Order missing so many people?"

    Pintail stopped, hand on the doorknob, gritting her teeth. She could practically hear the other two wince behind her at the question.

    "What happ...ened..." Nexia asked again, this time trailing off as she finally noticed everyone else's attention had shifted.

    As the silence continued, Pintail could feel everyone's eyes on her back. After making sure her expression was as neutral as she could manage, she turned back to face them.

    "We leave at nine tomorrow morning," she said evenly, not looking at any of them. "Don't be late."

    With that, she opened the door, stepped out, and shut it behind her.

    Leaning back against the closed door, she took a long, deep breath.

    It wasn't like her question had been inappropriate. And it wasn't something she especially didn't want her to know. But it was a conversation Pintail felt no desire to be a part of, so they were going to have to have it without her.

    I'm...I'm sorry...did I say something wrong?

    Nexia's muffled voice barely carried through the doorway. For some reason, that apology coming from her made Pintail's mood grow even worse.

    No, it's okay. The Lieutenant is just a grumpy old- OW!

    The solid thunk of something hard impacting Frett's skull was the only thing that kept Pintail from spinning around and marching right back into the room.

    The only thing, other than...that.

    That girl's face.

    The last thing she wanted to see was that girl's face trying to apologize. That girl's face dripping with pity.

    Not when each look at her was already like another needle stabbing her in the chest.

    Pintail took another deep breath before standing up straight. The voices in the room had started again, but now they were low enough that she couldn't make out what they were saying. A small blessing, but one she was thankful for nonetheless. Shaking her head to try and clear it of the intrusive thoughts, she started her walk back to her room.

    Under ideal circumstances, her assignment for the next day would be little more than a nuisance. With Nexia tagging along, though, it would become many times more difficult. Or rather, it would be much more of a hassle.

    Even it was just her heart and mind, she had a lot of preparing to do.
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  6. #6
    nicht mitmachen Dullahan's Avatar
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    To speak of something in purely written form being 'a n i m e' is a kind of shorthand, gesturing at its congruence with a loose cluster of forms of written narration which are derived from, or gesture to, forms of visual storytelling which exist in anime. This is most often evident in LNs, which are in general (a) written by people who watch a lot of anime, (b) written under the aspect of an anime-influenced visual imaginary [i.e. illustrations, covers etc] and (c) written with some degree of hope or expectation that they will be adapted into anime at some point down the line. They are, so to speak, written as if they were novelising their own (not-yet-existent) anime adaptation. As a translator of LNs you've no doubt observed this yourself.

    What is 'a n i m e' is not a realist or a modernist style; it doesn't aim to directly narrate human experience, whether that experience is conceived as a unity through time or something fragmentary. Rather it's something closer to the narrative emphasis on pure form and stylisation found in Noh or Kabuki drama. In 'a n i m e' writing, behaviours, characterisations, actions, dialogue, plot etc. will be stylised, abstracted, deployed in an assemblage of purely formal components. However, whereas in traditional Japanese theatre these things are stylised by drawing on an existing register, an existing vocabulary, internal to the medium itself (e.g. the onnagata roles in kabuki, which possess their own unique codes and conventions for the suggestion of a highly stylised femininity by male actors) in the writing we can call 'a n i m e' the well of narrative gestures drawn upon is external, belonging to a different medium entirely. To understand Kabuki on its own terms you have to watch (a lot of) Kabuki and familiarise yourself with its precise un-realism, its specific forms of stylisation; but you can't really understand 'a n i m e' writing on its own terms without a familiarity with something else, namely anime.

    For example, in the very first line of this latest chapter you have a character saying "Eh?!" That is 'a n i m e'. It is a written representation which refers back not to an experential reality, at least not directly, but to a certain stylisation of vocal performance which exists in anime - namely, cute girls face faulting which their voice actress goes "Eeeehhh?!?"

    (You heard it, didn't you? Just now.)

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Dullahan View Post
    To speak of something in purely written form being 'a n i m e' is a kind of shorthand, gesturing at its congruence with a loose cluster of forms of written narration which are derived from, or gesture to, forms of visual storytelling which exist in anime. This is most often evident in LNs, which are in general (a) written by people who watch a lot of anime, (b) written under the aspect of an anime-influenced visual imaginary [i.e. illustrations, covers etc] and (c) written with some degree of hope or expectation that they will be adapted into anime at some point down the line. They are, so to speak, written as if they were novelising their own (not-yet-existent) anime adaptation. As a translator of LNs you've no doubt observed this yourself. What is 'a n i m e' is not a realist or a modernist style; it doesn't aim to directly narrate human experience, whether that experience is conceived as a unity through time or something fragmentary. Rather it's something closer to the narrative emphasis on pure form and stylisation found in Noh or Kabuki drama. In 'a n i m e' writing, behaviours, characterisations, actions, dialogue, plot etc. will be stylised, abstracted, deployed in an assemblage of purely formal components. However, whereas in traditional Japanese theatre these things are stylised by drawing on an existing register, an existing vocabulary, internal to the medium itself (e.g. the onnagata roles in kabuki, which possess their own unique codes and conventions for the suggestion of a highly stylised femininity by male actors) in the writing we can call 'a n i m e' the well of narrative gestures drawn upon is external, belonging to a different medium entirely. To understand Kabuki on its own terms you have to watch (a lot of) Kabuki and familiarise yourself with its precise un-realism, its specific forms of stylisation; but you can't really understand 'a n i m e' writing on its own terms without a familiarity with something else, namely anime. For example, in the very first line of this latest chapter you have a character saying "Eh?!" That is 'a n i m e'. It is a written representation which refers back not to an experential reality, at least not directly, but to a certain stylisation of vocal performance which exists in anime - namely, cute girls face faulting which their voice actress goes "Eeeehhh?!?" (You heard it, didn't you? Just now.)
    Hmmmmm, I've always wondered-how much is anime's performances and portrayal of human behaviour influenced from Kabuki theater. In the West, from the mid 20th century and onwards, a lot of acting and drama began placing more emphasis on naturalism and authenticity, and less on more traditionally theatrical performances. Less on trying to act and perform, and more on simply "being". In contrast, Kabuki theater and a lot of acting from films of that same era (e.g. Kurosawa films) is very exagerated and can come off as very over the top to somebody who grew up watching Western films/tv shows. Anime's dialogue and character behaviour tend to garner a similiar reaction. Is it because the writing and storytelling traditions stem from Kabuki theater?

  8. #8
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    I see. Very informative, thanks for the input!
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  9. #9
    nicht mitmachen Dullahan's Avatar
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    more likely to be influenced by way of stage drama's influence on film, rather than by stage drama directly. though IIRC there are some anime which like to use traditional sound effects - i am thinking of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, in which case it's done deliberately as part of kumeta's weird quasi-taisho period aesthetic

    but moreover animation itself by the nature of the medium engenders its own form of stylising actions; this is seen from the very earliest instances, Disney etc. character designs are simplified, reduced to essentials, in order to facilitate redrawing. movements, expressions, are exaggerated. a distinctive animated visual language develops - drawing and elaborating upon the kind of language developed in 2d comics, manga, etc

    popeye and a kabuki character are both strongly stylised, but in different ways and for different reasons in response to the characteristics of their respective media

  10. #10
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Chapter 3 - Awake

    Cold sunlight poured over the training grounds, illuminating the dust clouds kicked up by Pintail's footsteps.

    It was early in the morning, though not early enough that training hadn't started yet. Still, the training grounds were empty, giving the air a serene quality. Almost like the Monastery was at rest, waiting for the day to begin.

    Though it was still Spring, it felt unseasonably cold - or perhaps cool would be a better word. While that was generally the case at the Monastery, tucked away in the mountains as it was, even so the air had a sharp, refreshing coolness to it that made Pintail happy to be up early. It would doubtlessly get warmer as they descended from the mountains, so she was happy to have a chance to enjoy this before she headed out.

    Stopping for a moment in the middle of the field, she gave the sword in her left hand a test swing, her face falling into a grimace. It was far lighter than she would have liked, but as a practice sword, that's about as much as she could expect.

    While it was a practice sword, it still had a live blade. It would be more than enough to cut up a defenseless training dummy - or a person for that matter - but being so light weight, it would only survive two or three hits against anything reasonably durable. Fine for training, but not great for what she was intending.

    Taking the hilt in one hand and blade in the other, she lifted the weapon in front of her and closed her eyes.

    The Lord is my strength, and my defense.
    He has become my salvation.
    He is my God, and I will praise him.

    With a short chant under her breath, she felt her heart open.

    Driven by the words of the scripture she recited, light poured throughout her body, a portion breaking off and flowing into the blade in her hands.

    In moments it was finished, and as she opened her eyes she felt her heart close, the light filling her body winking out.

    The weapon in her hands, however, glowed with a divine light. Though invisible to a normal person, that holy energy was plain to see for any member of the Church, and indeed anyone familiar with Magecraft.

    Once again she swung the weapon. As expected, it felt little different. However, the small blessing should serve to make it significantly more durable, if nothing else.

    "Lieutenant!" A young voice called out from across the training grounds. "Ow! What are- oh, right, uhh...Pintail!"

    Turning to see her visitors, Pintail sighed as she saw Frett and Nexia walking towards her, just making their way out of the compound.

    "Sorry we're a bit late!" Frett continued yelling as she jogged up beside her Lieutenant, Nexia a few steps behind her. "I saw her heading out without a Coat, so I took her to go get one of the spares."

    "Oh," Pintail nodded. "I would have thought the Captain would have given her one of her own."

    "Right?!" Frett said as she came up beside her. "Maybe she forgot."

    Pintail shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time." Coming up beside them, Nexia was much less composed, struggling not to double over as she gasped for breath.

    Overtop of her personal clothes, she now had the same Knight's Coat that made up their own uniform, though it lacked the silver wings on the shoulders that signified one's rank.

    "Sorry," Nexia gasped, "The Captain, said something about it, but, I didn't think, it was so important."

    "Take it easy," Pintail said with a dry smile as she handed the training sword over to Nexia. As she had expected, she wasn't anywhere close to being as physically fit as they were, meaning anything heavier than this would exhaust her in moments if she had to actually fight.

    Nexia frowned as she looked up at the sword, hesitating. For a moment it seemed like she might turn her nose up at the weapon, before she finally reached out and gingerly took the weapon out of Pintail's hands.

    "Reinforcement?" Nexia said under her breath, tilting the weapon this way and that as she inspected it. "No, it's a little different..."

    Pintail raised an eyebrow. "I put a small blessing on it, to make it a bit more durable. It should last until evening at least. Not that I expect you to use it much, but I figure it's better than leaving you unarmed."

    "Oh...thank you!" Nexia looked up at her with a beaming smile. Stepping back from the other two, she took a clumsy practice swing, nearly throwing the weapon out of her own hands with a yelp.

    Pintail rolled her eyes with a small smile as Frett hurriedly stepped over.

    "No no no, hold it like this!" she said, moving Nexia's hands to take a proper grip.

    Stepping a little further away to give them room to practice, Pintail turned her attention skyward as the faint drone of a distant aircraft reached her ears. She had expected the weapon to be as much a burden to the girl as a boon at this point, but everyone had to start somewhere, she supposed. If nothing else, she'd be able to stab stationary objects with some efficacy.

    Untying her own weapon from her hip, she drew the sword from its sheath and gave it a last minute inspection. As expected of a relic handed down to her from the Church, it required barely any maintenance on her part, but she still tried to make sure to give it a once over regularly. Happy with the condition of the weapon, she turned a much less satisfied expression on the weapon's sheath. While the sword itself was a Holy Scripture given to her by the Vatican, the sheath was just a mundane, lacquered wood.

    She had reinforced it as much as she could with her own talents, holy marks and sigils decorating it from top to bottom and permanent blessings etched into the wood between them, but such a weapon deserved a much better companion. Of course such a thing would have to be made custom to fit the weapon, something she had intended to do herself, but with her total lack of free time lately she hadn't been given a chance to work on it.

    At the sound of the helicopter pulling directly overhead, Pintail slid the weapon back into its sheath, joining the other two girls as they ran to the walls of the training grounds.

    "Alright, good luck!" Frett shouted over the roar of the helicopter blades, slapping Nexia on the back. "Make sure you bring the Lieutenant back in one piece!"

    Pintail gave Frett a withering look as the Helicopter descended into the clearing, the girl's mischeivous grin making Pintail's complaint die on her lips.

    "Wait, we're taking a helicopter?!" Nexia shouted back, in a state of perpetual wince at the sound of the Helicopter landing only a few dozen feet away.

    "It's how you got here, isn't it?" Frett said, her laugh drowned out entirely by the storm of noise. "No roads here, so this is the only way!"

    "Unless you feel like walking," Pintail shouted, motioning Nexia to come with her. As Frett waved goodbye, the two of them approached the helicopter, Pintail pushing the back of Nexia's head down to force her into a crouch as they approached the aircraft. As they came alongside it, the door swung open, and after helping Nexia climb in Pintail jumped in after her.

    The moment they were inside, the door slammed shut, and all noise from the rotors overhead immediately vanished.

    Nexia blinked in surprise for a few moments as she was lead to her seat. "Oh. I guess that makes sen-whoa!" Interrupted by the helicopter lifting off, she stumbled onto her seat.

    After a thumbs up from Pintail, the lone crewman who had been in the rear of the helicopter nodded. "We'll arrive at the drop point in about an hour. I'll let you know." He then donned his headset and returned to the cockpit.

    Turning back to look at Nexia, Pintail gave a bemused smile at the girl's scowl.

    "I take it you have some questions?"

    Nexia nodded slowly. "I get there's wards here against the noise, but...why do they need headsets then?"

    "Well for one, to talk to people outside the helicopter," Pintail answered with a raised eyebrow, earning a quiet 'oh yeah' from Nexia. "But also, the soundproofing here only covers us, not the entire helicopter. So we don't have to worry about the pilots overhearing classified information."

    Nexia looked around the passenger compartment of the Helicopter. Though there were seats for four, the small section still managed to feel somewhat cramped, especially since the small windows in the side of the craft were too far away to allow much of a significant view of the outside.

    "And that man was wearing the same uniform as the people that brought me you not have your own helicopters here?"

    "We have a few," Pintail said, laying her weapon on the empty seat beside her and motioning for Nexia to do the same. "But not enough, and they are always busy. Most of the time, if we aren't moving out with a full unit, we'll borrow from the Church."

    Nexia hummed thoughtfully as she tried repeatedly to set her weapon down without it slipping off the chair.

    Pintail turned to look outside one of the tiny windows of the passenger's compartment. Though she could barely see anything through it, it was still a small relief from the environment around her.

    As she had unfortunately expected, just being here for a few minutes was enough to set her on edge. Not because of the helicopter, or the cramped compartment. Nor did it have anything to do with being on her way to what would inevitably turn into a violent conflict, even a mere two days since her last assignment.

    Now that a quiet had settled between them, now that she had nothing to focus on but her own thoughts, that bitterness was slowly starting to bubble its way to the surface.

    She had tried to put it behind her. When she thought about the mission, what they would need, what Nexia specifically would need, she had no problem acting in her interest. While it didn't especially make her feel any better, when it came to accomplishing - or preparing for - the mission, she had no difficulties setting aside her personal feelings to get the job done. But setting those feelings aside hadn't made them go away, and now that she was just sitting here waiting, they were coming back in full force.

    It wasn't like she wanted to hate her.

    It wasn't like she had done anything wrong.

    But every time she saw her face, every time she heard her was hard to put it in words. But she felt like she was being forced to look at that scene from three years ago.

    It felt like she was being punished for something that everyone else had praised her for. Like she had been begging for forgiveness, but everyone refused to recognize she had done wrong in the first place.

    But if that was the case, why did it make her feel so bitter? Why did that make her so angry?


    Oblivious to the passing of time, Pintail was drawn out of her thoughts by Nexia's voice.

    " you mind if I ask you...kind of a personal question?"

    Pintail turned to look at her, saying nothing. Something in her eyes must have spoken for her, however, as Nexia visibly flinched at Pintail's gaze. She hadn't had any intention of turning such a scary expression on her, but neither did she particularly care if she had done so by accident.

    Hesitating for a moment, she finally spoke. "Is there a reason why you don't like being called Lieutenant?" The way she fumbled made Pintail think that hadn't been her original question, but again, that didn't bother her.

    Pintail turned to look back out the window. "Because I didn't earn it." Though she couldn't see, she could practically feel Nexia's confused expression, asking her to elaborate. "I was only promoted because Sigma was desperate to get a new wave of lieutenants. My old Unit was pretty accomplished, so she just promoted all of us. But that had nothing to do with me."

    "She promoted all of you?" Nexia's voice was equal parts shock and wonder. "You must have been a very impressive Unit. But that would mean..."

    Pintail turned a wry smile on her. "Right. Of the six Lieutenants in the Order now, four of them were from my Unit. And the fifth was our Lieutenant at the time, though she hadn't been our Lieutenant for all that long when we were promoted."

    "But to say you didn't earn it when you were accomplished enough that your whole Unit was promoted...may I ask what you did that warranted promotion?"

    Pintail's smile dropped. As much as she wanted to just say 'no you can't,' even she felt that was a bit harsh. So instead she gave a long sigh, before finally speaking.

    "Cygnus and Frett told you that story last night, didn't they? After I left."

    Nexia immediately went stiff, a look of apology on her face. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...yes. Not in detail, but yes."

    Pintail nodded. "We survived that." Seeing Nexia's confused frown, she continued. "All of us."

    At that, the young magus' eyes went wide. And a bit wider, as one by one, the pieces of Pintail's story fell into place in her head.

    She didn't know how much the girls had told Nexia about what had happened, but evidently it had been enough.

    To explain why they were so desperate for new lieutenants.

    To explain why simply an entire Unit surviving was grounds for promoting all of them.

    And, to her question from the day before, why the Order itself was so under strength.

    Even knowing just that much, the conclusion was obvious. The Fourth Chivalric Order had faced some sort of catastrophic failure in the recent past. Details beyond that were...unimportant. At least for now.

    "I never felt like being alive at the end of the day was enough to qualify for leadership," Pintail mumbled. "That's why I don't like being called Lieutenant."

    "...I see," Nexia said, mumbling herself. "I'm sorry. I guess I pried too much."

    Pintail shrugged. "If you're going to be working with us, you'd find out eventually. No reason why it shouldn't be now."

    A short silence settled between them, though Pintail could feel Nexia also felt a bit uneasy still. So she continued talking.

    "Can I ask you kind of a personal question?"

    Blinking momentarily in surprise, Nexia took a moment to answer. "Oh. Yes, yes of course!"

    Pintail had to stop herself from laughing at how much she perked up at that. She almost would have, had it not made her feel even more guilty.

    "What's your opinion of the Knights you've met so far? Me aside, if it makes you feel better."

    Nexia chuckled. "No no, that's not necessary." She then looked down, and began playing with the hem of her borrowed Coat. "It's...very different than I imagined. I expected you all to be very serious, very...somber. Like the rest of the Church." Another pause, though it felt more like she was getting lost in thought than that she was hesitating. "Everyone is so bright, and cheerful, and friendly...and so young! I didn't expect everyone here to be only a few years older than me..."

    Pintail gave a wry smile. "That's fair. We're very different from the rest of the Church, after all. In a lot of ways."

    Though they followed the same teachings, the same guiding principles as the rest of the Church, it was obvious that the Fourth Order was very different. Especially from the other Chivalric Orders.

    While it wasn't unprecedented for Knights like them to take offensive action - the Vestel Shield Knights were a well known example of a Chivalric Order with a leader who dedicated herself to the extermination of vampires, for example - for the most part, the Knights of the Church served a defensive purpose. Their main role was to defend the Church's territory from encroachment by magi, dead apostles, and other miscellaneous heretics. Heading out to confront heresy in its own domain was the calling of other branches of the Church, like the Executors.

    While the Executors weren't an independent branch of the Church - rather, they were a kind of agent that many branches of the Church employed - they all had similar motives. Erase heresy, and preserve the order of the world. Not only did they fight the enemies of the Church, but they also worked tirelessly to keep the underside of the world hidden from the general public.

    But not all threats could be dealt with in so covert a fashion. Occasionally, a collection of magi would rise to such power, or a dead apostle would generate such a following, that the cloak and dagger tactics of the Executors weren't sufficient to manage it. In such cases, the Church would often reach out to other agencies - the Magic Association, or the Demon Hunter Organizations of old. But occasionally, even that was insufficient.

    When covert action became impossible, overwhelming force was the next obvious solution. And that was when the cloak and dagger were set aside for the mailed fist. One example of such a force was the Burial Agency, a group of especially empowered - politically and physically - Executors and magi that were dispatched to execute the gravest threats to the Church, and the world at large.

    Another such example was the Fourth Order.

    When the Church decided that the effort for a post-action cleanup was less than the effort for accomplishing the mission covertly, the Knights of the Fourth Chivalric Order would be dispatched to utterly annihilate the threat.

    And though today's mission was an exception, it went without saying that that meant every assignment they received was a desperate gambit from the Church, a battle against seemingly - and sometimes actually - impossible odds.

    "I thought you might get such an impression," Pintail said, a bemused expression on her face. "So I thought, if you're going to work with us long term, I should probably warn you."

    "Warn me?" Nexia parroted, tilting her head to the side. But before she could continue her question, Pintail continued.

    "It's not like the cheerfulness you see is fake or anything," Pintail said, her expression turning serious, "but I don't want you to get the wrong idea. The work we do here isn't all fun and games. As a magus, I'm sure you're no stranger to the idea, but we always work on the edge of death."

    Though they weren't in the same league as the Burial Agency in terms of power, they still operated in the same sphere. And if the extraordinarily powerful Burial Agency had a remarkably high attrition rate...

    Nexia's face had adopted a dour expression. Though she looked like she wanted to say something, she held her silence.

    "...I just wanted to warn you," Pintail said again, trying to be a bit more gentle. "Even throw away Class Five missions like this one can take your life. Even if you make no mistakes, even if you do everything right, you can still come across someone so powerful they will just wipe you off the face of the earth as an afterthought. That's the kind of world you're stepping into if you join us."

    Another long silence stretched out between them. Pintail almost felt bad, being such a downer when Nexia had had such a positive impression of the Order. But she couldn't in good conscience let her go out into the field without giving her the chance to steel herself. She couldn't bring her home without warning her of the possibility that not all of her friends might be there when she got back.

    Eventually, Nexia broke the silence with a sad smile. "...I can't even imagine how many many friends you have all lost," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "And yet you are all so bright and happy." She hesitated for a moment, lifting her gaze to meet Pintail's. "You must all be very strong."

    Pintail held her gaze for a moment before finally breaking away, returning to the solace of the window.

    Says the girl whose whole family was killed around her, Pintail thought sourly, though she couldn't bring herself to say it out loud.

    Says the girl sitting across from their killer with a smile.
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  11. #11
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Chapter 4 - Lair

    The remainder of their flight passed in relative quiet.

    Besides the bit of odd small talk, Nexia held her tongue. Perhaps she felt she had already pressed too far, or perhaps she took Pintail's warning a bit more seriously than the Lieutenant had intended. Either way, Pintail was thankful for the chance to be alone with her thoughts for a time, as short as it was.

    It was clear that Nexia wanted to say something, but before she could work up the courage to do so, the crewman that had greeted them returned to the passenger compartment. At Pintail's nod, he took up a position beside the door of the helicopter, flashing her two fingers before bracing himself.

    "Two minutes," Pintail said, double checking that her sword was fastened at her waist as she stood up. Nexia also jumped to her feet - somewhat unsteadily, thanks to the turbulent shaking of the aircraft - grabbing her sword and stepping alongside Pintail. "Can you handle the jump alone?" Pintail asked, double checking neither of them had loose equipment.

    "What? No, I've never used a parachute bef- wait, we're jumping?!" Nexia's calm, ready demeanour immediately shattered as the meaning behind the question got through to her.

    Pintail, however, only nodded in response. She was a little worried the question would have been taken as insulting to a magus of the calibre of...her family, but it seemed like it was a good thing she asked.

    "Pintail, you're joking, right? There's no way! There's no way I can jump from here!"

    "Don't worry, it's easy. Hold your sword tight, but not too close."

    Normally, Pintail liked to have her sword in hand and ready to go the moment she landed, but that didn't look feasible if she was going to have to cover for Nexia as well. While Nexia continued blathering about something or other, Pintail motioned to the crewman to open the door.

    As the door swung open, Nexia shrieked and grabbed Pintail, only avoiding hitting her with her sword by coincidence. With one hand, Pintail maneuvered Nexia's free hand so that it was tightly around her shoulder, rather than just gripping her arm, as she looked out of the open door.

    Beneath them was a wide expanse of forest. Entirely unsettled land, it appeared, except for a small cluster of plumes of smoke rising into the sky. Had it not been for the smoke, she likely would have had difficulty spotting the gap in the trees, but it looked like whoever was at home there wasn't interested in keeping themselves hidden.

    That made her job easier, at least.

    Nodding to herself, Pintail put one arm around Nexia's waist, pulling her close. "Ready?"

    "No! No I'm not ready!" Nexia shouted, her now close proximity making Pintail wince.

    At a signal from the crewman, Pintail nodded. "Okay, hold on tight and think happy thoughts. Here we go."

    "Pintail, no! You don't even have a parachute! We can't-"

    The remainder of what Nexia was trying to say devolved into incoherent screaming as Pintail leapt from the helicopter, dragging Nexia with her.

    Thankfully, the rush of wind as they dropped in freefall saved Pintail from having to listen to that scream the entire way down. As the girl clung to her with an iron grip, Pintail used her free hand to cover her face, peaking through her fingers to grant some sense of vision through the hurricane-like wind. Finding the pillars of smoke that signified their destination, Pintail reoriented themselves to face them before closing her eyes and dropping her hand to keep Nexia's weapon from flailing about.

    They were flying at about three thousand meters, so they had about thirty seconds before they hit the ground. Probably.

    Retreating within her own mind, Pintail opened the gate inside her, allowing her heart to open and the light inside to flood throughout her body.

    Fifteen seconds. That should be plenty of time.

    Though the wind stole the sound of her words from her lips, she chanted.

    Hear my cry, O God.
    Attend to my prayer.
    Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
    For You have been a shelter to me,
    A strong tower from the enemy.
    I will abide in Your tent forever,
    I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.

    As the ground rushed up to meet them, the light coursing through her body burst outward, enveloping them as if a pair of radiant wings. Moments before impact, their descent suddenly slowed. Branches exploded around them as they catapulted horizontally through the forest for dozens of meters, torn from their places by the protective sphere that encased them. Only a few seconds later, the speed they had acquired from falling had been restrained, and with a few uneasy steps she touched down, coming to a complete stop on the forest floor.

    Setting Nexia down on the ground beside her, the girl immediately collapsed to her knees. As she slowly reassembled her mental self, Pintail looked to the sky, locating the smoke signals that would be their guide. Though difficult to see through the trees, they were still barely visible, meaning they managed to land fairly close to their destination.

    As she tried to gauge exactly how far they had to go, a chorus of howls echoed through the forest around them. Distant, but not very.

    Turning to look at Nexia - still on her hands on knees - Pintail drew her sword, keeping her sheath in her left hand. "Not to rush you or anything," she said in a dry voice, "but we're going to have company soon. We should probably get a move on."

    "Why...why didn' warn me?" Nexia replied between gasps, using a nearby tree to support her as she struggled to her feet.

    Pintail smiled, not that she let Nexia see it. "I didn't want to have you worrying for the whole flight. I figured a short, terrifying experience was better than a long, despair-filled one." As Nexia gave her a pleading look, she turned to look back into the forest. "Besides, it's rare for a magus of your level to be unable to handle that on your own. I didn't actually think it would be an issue, but I suppose that's my fault for not confirming with you."

    "...actually...about that..." This time, the gaps in her voice were from hesitation rather than gasps for air, but even so she was cut off before she could finish.

    A trio of wolves bounded out of the forest, slowing and spreading into a wide formation as they approached.

    Pintail frowned. They had arrived an awful lot faster than she had expected. Were the howls they heard from somewhere else?

    "I'm afraid it'll have to wait a minute," Pintail said, cautiously stepping toward the wolves. Heads low, they had been padding slowly towards her already, but seeing her advance they stopped and growled. "Can you deal with one or two of these for me?"

    "...I...sorry, I doubt it," Nexia said quietly.

    Pintail frowned, turning to look at Nexia. The moment she looked away, however, the lead wolf pounced.

    Pintail whirled in answer, swinging her sheath hard across the pouncing wolf's face. The animal dutifully snapped it's jaws onto the wood, stopping her swing dead and presenting its chest wide and clear. Taking the opportunity, she drove her sword deep into the beast's heart. She frowned, however, as the blade slipped in almost too easily - as if there was nothing under it's skin at all.

    Kicking backwards, she freed both sword and sheath from the animal as she took her distance, her frown deepening. No blood, either on the wolf or her weapon.

    She had little time to consider what that meant, however, as the two wolves on the flank lunged her the instant she was free.

    It was odd, she thought idly, that all three were fixated on her, but if Nexia couldn't fight for whatever reason, that made things easier. Kicking off from the ground, Pintail leapt forward - between the two lunging wolves and towards the leader now glowering at her, seemingly oblivious to its own injuries. Though it didn't seem to mind that its heart had been destroyed, it nevertheless wasn't expecting her to come at it so fast, and the creature stood dumbly as Pintail brought the full force of her weight down with a swing of her sheath, smashing the beast's skull from the forehead.

    Turning to face the other two, she was just in time to see them land and turn to face her - and to see Nexia hurl her sword off into the woods.

    One of the wolves lunged towards her, but the closer to Nexia's sword bounded off after it, like it was some sort of crazed life or death version of fetch.

    Ignoring the distracted animal for now, she backhanded the other charging wolf with her sheath, knocking its snapping jaws aside. Before it even had time to be stunned, she plunged her sword sideways into its neck, and with a small flourish removed its head.

    Turning to the final animal, she saw it furiously attacking Nexia's sword, oblivious to the fact the naked blade was tearing up its face. As with the last two wolves, no blood came from its wounds.

    "Try the stomach!" Nexia shouted at her as she approached the final creature at a measured pace. Entirely unconcerned with her presence, it kept up its struggle with the sword as Pintail came within striking distance. Not one to waste an opportunity, Pintail promptly drove her sword into the wolf's back, piercing where she estimated the stomach to be. Spasms wracked the wolf's entire body for a few seconds before it collapsed motionless to the ground.

    "They were tracking your Magical Energy," Nexia said as she stepped over to where the fallen wolf had dropped her weapon, her eyes still scanning the forest. "Whether it was yours specifically, or just because you were the only one with your Circuits running."

    Pintail nodded, frowning down at the dead 'animal' by her feet. "It thought my Magical Energy in the sword was me trying to run away, so it attacked that," Pintail followed up.

    While she wasn't particularly upset over the fact, dispatching them had been a lot easier than she had expected. Even if her movements had been enhanced by her still-running Magic Circuits, the wolves' movements had just been too slow. As if they were just executing pre-recorded actions, with no understanding of what or why they were doing so. Even though they had arrived here so quickly, their actions once they had arrived were like they were still half asleep.

    Turning to look at the leader of the pack, her suspicions were confirmed. Indeed, the broken animal had fur, and was in the general shape of a wolf. But looking at it now, it looked like a poor quality animatronic. Seams where the fur was sewed in were clearly visible, and even the exposed joints had a metallic sheen. Among the broken bits of bone in its destroyed face there was no blood or brain matter, but instead what looked like broken glass and jagged chunks of metal.

    While 'alive,' whatever magecraft had animated them made them look like real, living animals, but now that they had ceased functioning their poor quality and sloppy construction made it clear why their physical abilities were so poor. Even augmented by magecraft, with such a weak foundation, Pintail likely could have defeated them even without her Gift.

    "It's strange..." Nexia mumbled as she retrieved her sword from the dirt, wiping it clean on the artificial fur. "He's got these out defending his territory, but he doesn't even have a Bounded Field set."

    "As expected of a Class Five," Pintail replied with a snort, "it looks like we're dealing with a true amateur. Either he didn't or he can't, either is good enough proof of that." With that, Pintail took a moment to get her bearings, then set off towards the source of the smoke still billowing out into the sky. Of course, the same direction the wolf puppets had come from. Even an amateur should have known better than that.

    As Nexia jogged up to walk alongside her, she hung her head. "Umm...about what I was saying earlier..."

    "I thought you were just too jarred from the descent to fight," Pintail filled the space as Nexia trailed off. "But I'm impressed. Even after that, you managed to maintain a pretty cool head. Good thinking with throwing the sword." Though it was entirely unnecessary, she decided not to add. "I guess your magecraft just isn't suited for combat?"

    "Well..." she waffled again, still mumbling.

    Pintail actually had been rather impressed. Despite no training at all, even after as terrifying an experience as leaping from a helicopter without a parachute and barely any warning, Nexia had been able to calmly assess the situation, recognize that she wasn't under threat, and take action to assist. She didn't panic, she didn't run, she didn't make things any worse, and she actually did make things a little easier. It was almost as if she was entirely assured of her own safety the entire time.

    Even if she wouldn't have stood a chance against the wolves on her own, she had competently managed to take an analytical, detached role and come up with a plan of action based on the evidence before her in only a handful of seconds. Clearly, Pintail had to admit, she had underestimated her.

    "The truth is...I'm not a magus."

    Pintail stopped. Turning, she looked at Nexia, who refused to meet her gaze, instead just staring at her feet, fidgeting with the hilt of her training sword.


    Nexia took a deep breath, as if steeling herself. "I said...I'm not a magus."

    In the common parlance of the Magic Association, users of magecraft could be divided into three rough categories.

    Magi, who used magecraft as a method to reach the Root.

    Spellcasters, who used magecraft for their own purposes, such as mercenaries, freelancers, or bounty hunters.

    Magicians, those who through whatever means, had already reached the Root, and wielded the True Magic that that experience had rewarded them with to achieve whatever goals remained.

    All this, Pintail knew. And as that knowledge flitted through her head, as she briefly wondered whether Nexia was trying to claim she had access to True Magic or that she was just a lowly Spellcaster, the look on the girl's face told her neither of those were true.

    "...I can't actually use magecraft at all," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

    There was no way that could be true.

    Even beyond just that she was the daughter - the heir of a lineage of magi over a thousand years old.

    She had clearly noticed the blessing Pintail had put on her sword, knew enough to compare it to Reinforcement magecraft, and also knew enough to distinguish the two.

    She recognized that the wolf puppets had been tracking Pintail's Magical Energy, and understood their behaviour well enough to exploit it, and was able to identify their weakpoints at a single glance.

    She knew what a Bounded Field was, was capable of seeing one was missing, and understood how bizarre the absence of one here was.

    Even setting aside her history, she had clearly shown a high level understanding of at least general magecraft, and certainly of the flow and usage of Magical Energy.

    ...but she couldn't use magecraft at all?

    " to explain?" Pintail spoke slowly, still half expecting Nexia to suddenly break out into laughter and tell her it was all a joke.

    A bad joke, but at least it would make more sense.

    "You probably know my history better than most," Nexia continued to speak quietly, "but yes, I learned magecraft from a very young age. Since I was six or seven years old, I was locked away in my family estate, and every waking moment was dedicated to studying it. That's what my family demanded of me."

    Looking up, though still not meeting Pintail's gaze, she gave an ironic smile. "And I excelled at it. I dedicated myself to magecraft like they had asked. It turns out, I was born with exceptional Magic Circuits. I had the phenomenally rare affinity of an Average One, and so all manners of spells came easily to me. I blew away everyone's expectations, and so it was with great joy," she paused for emphasis, "that they gave me the family Crest at the age of ten."

    Nexia put a hand to her chest. "Either something went terribly wrong, or fantastically right. The moment I received the last of the Crest, and the dormant pieces were united and took full control of my Magic Circuits. Ever since, I haven't even been able to open them. Ever since...I haven't been able to use any of the magecraft that I learned."

    Pintail stared at her, speechless for a moment. She was well aware of the depths of depravity that magi plumbed in their research. But to think they would go so far, nurture a magus of such potential, and just throw it all away...and she had said that could have been something going 'fantastically right?' She didn't understand at all, and that lack of comprehension made her feel somehow better. Somehow more grounded.

    "So why didn't they remove the Crest?" But she asked anyway.

    Nexia gave a sad smile, finally lifting her eyes to meet Pintail's. "My family's Magic Crest is of a rare breed." She tightened the hand resting on her chest into a fist. "It's engraved here; directly on to my heart. Removing it, even a small piece of it, would mean killing me."

    "Wait," Pintail frowned. That meant...

    Nexia nodded. "Yes. Though I wasn't told about it until after the procedure was completed, transfering the crest from my mother to me killed her."

    A sudden burning sensation bloomed in Pintail's stomach.

    A long smoldering flame, bursting to new life.

    She didn't need any new reasons to hate magi, and magecraft in general. If that blasphemous, heretical lifestyle, that denial of God wasn't crime enough to earn her hatred, she had seen plenty of atrocities first hand by those who lauded it. She had seen plenty, as bad or worse than what Nexia had just described. She had experienced it first hand.

    But that would hardly stop her from adding that crime to the list.

    The fire in her gut raged, burgeoning anew, burning her thoughts and feelings to ash.

    "All that's left now," Nexia finished, "is a single spell. One single Mystery, that I can't even activate on my own. I'm not a magus...not anymore. Not even a Spellcaster, or a novice."

    In her eyes was a dull sadness. The eyes of one who had suffered greatly, but overcome. For her, this was a wound long healed, and she was just ashamed to show the scar.

    "Now, I'm basically just a Mystic Code."

    For a long while, Pintail stared at her in silence. There was no reason for her to be so furious now. She knew what kind of people Nexia's family were, long before she had ever met her. She had been the one who exacted punishment on them. Her sword had cut them down. And yet even still, she felt her heart breaking, wailing, crying out for vengeance.

    One more thing to feed to the fire.

    Turning away from her, Pintail resumed walking. Three steps, before she stopped again.

    As the fire within raged, consuming her thoughts, she was still aware of the faint, distant memory that would be waiting for her once the flames receded. And so, though she couldn't turn to look her in the eye again, she spoke over her shoulder.

    "I know I have no right to say so," Pintail said, her voice flat and emotionless. No right. The idea she even considered saying it was laughable. An insult she could never forgive were it turned on her. But even so, she felt compelled to speak it. "I have no right to say it, but...I'm sorry. About what happened to your mother...and to you."

    Without waiting for Nexia's reply, she walked off into the forest.
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  12. #12
    Imaginatio vera et non phantastica Leftovers's Avatar
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    Well, I have no problem with a n i m e if it's underlain by an understanding of the material at hand and an original idea developed from it, which your fics always have. Good start, nascent as the action is. Needs more halberds.

  13. #13
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    The lack of halberds was a legitimate sticking point for me as I wrote this lol.


    Chapter 5 - Burn

    The remainder of their trek through the forest passed in silence.

    Though it was not an especially long journey, Pintail had somewhat been hoping more of those fake wolves, or anything really, would attack them. But their advance was thoroughly uncontested, leaving the burning anger in Pintail's gut no outlet. Her Magic Circuits still running at full throttle since they had landed, the constant flood of magical energy throughout her body was giving the illusion that her anger was empowering her, strengthening her limbs and sharpening her senses.

    Absurd, of course, she knew. Wrath was one of the seven deadly sins, after all. While heretics might be able to derive some sort of power from the Conceptual framework behind that, for the faithful, there was nothing nourishing about that poison.

    She knew her mounting strength came not from her anger, but from its opposite - Patience.

    After about ten minutes of picking their way through the forest, they came upon the source of the pillars of smoke that had been guiding them - a large mansion, nestled in the trees. On a property roughly the size of a city block, the large estate was missing much of the opulent over-indulgence so common to magi.

    At first glance, the entire estate even seemed remarkably run-down. Plant growth had overtaken the walls barring entry to the gardens around the mansion itself, and while still mostly intact, the wall showed obvious signs of disrepair. Here and there the wall crumbled and collapsed, revealing glimpses into an untended inner garden, overgrown with plants native to the northern Spanish forest in which they resided. Even the still distant mansion seemed at war with the vegetation, fighting a losing battle against the vines and creepers scaling its walls.

    Upon closer inspection, however, it became clear that state of disrepair was only an affectation. The crumbling walls guarding the estate were damaged, but never so much that they might permit entry. The rusted, vine-tangled gate that led into the inner gardens seemed ancient, yet the ground around it had been scraped bare by its regular opening and closing. The overgrowth in the estate itself, while seemingly chaotic and random in its growth, formed an elaborate, labyrinthine path towards the mansion beyond them. At the same time, they created paths of direct cover, where those from the estate could approach visitors entirely under the cover of the plants, perfectly unseen.

    Unfortunately, it seemed the guards of the estate were not intelligent enough to use them. As two wolves slinked through the garden towards the front gate, they seemed to have forgotten to hide themselves, instead opting to trample through the overgrowth as if unaware it was there.

    Pintail turned to Nexia as the two of them stopped outside the rusted-shut gate.

    "Anything of note before we go in?"

    While Pintail was capable of searching for mystical traps and the like, it was clear immediately during their last encounter that Nexia was much more in tune with such things than she was. Nevermind Pintail's current state of mind, even when calm, Nexia's observational skills seemed to far outpace hers when it came to discerning things of a magical nature.

    And while thinking it made the flame in her gut flare up again, the fact she wasn't a true magus made relying on her talents a little easier.

    Nexia frowned. "Nothing in particular. There's still no Bounded Field...though I think I'm beginning to see why." The fact she seemed completely unfazed by their previous conversation somehow irked Pintail a little.

    Luckily, she finally had an outlet for her frustration.

    With one swift kick, the once-sturdy looking iron gate exploded inwards, blown cleanly off its hinges. The violent entrance seemed to have triggered something in the wolves, as the moment Pintail stepped within the estate grounds, they both broke into mad charge towards her, teeth snapping.

    In the small handful of seconds it took them to reach her, Pintail frowned. Looking at them now, they looked like true, actually alive wolves. There was no sign of the rough, slipshod mimicry the previous puppets had.

    However, their movements were no quicker. And with her mood soured and Reinforcement built up considerably more since her previous encounter with them, Pintail wasted no time in dispatching them.

    A swift, upward swing with her sheath caught the first wolf mid-lunge, smashing its lower jaw through its skull and throwing its now limp body backwards to foil the efforts of the second wolf. Dancing to the side to avoid the body of its companion, the second wolf was caught mid-stride by Pintail's sword plunging through its forehead.

    Their crystalline brains destroyed, the illusion binding both creatures shattered, both bodies falling into a heap of ramshackle parts.

    "Looks like that is the last one," Nexia called out from behind as she casually approached the bodies of the fallen wolves.

    Looking up, Pintail saw the creature Nexia was referring to. Pushing through the front doors of the mansion was a massive bear. Bearing its teeth with a vicious snarl, the bear's thick brown fur was speckled with blood around its claws and snout. Unlike the wolves from before, the bear lumbered toward them at a menacingly slow pace, as if it was more interested in scaring them away than fighting them.

    Stepping over the fallen pieces of the wolf puppets, she approached the bear at the same measured pace.

    Once again, no matter how she looked at it, it appeared real. The eyes were bright and aware, the fur was seamless, and the way it walked seemed entirely natural. And even if its movements were as sluggish and easy to read as the wolves from before, its weight alone would be enough to seriously hurt her even if she could deliver a swift, precise death to it.

    As she approached within a few meters of the beast, it stopped, rising up on its rear legs with a roar. Answering the bear's challenge, Pintail raised her own weapons in front of her in a defensive stance as she closed the last of the distance between them.

    The moment she stepped in range, the bear lunged forward, a single massive claw swiping for her face. A loud crack filled the air as Pintail caught the attack with her sheath. But rather than reel back in pain as she would have expected of a living animal, it instead closed its claws around the sheath, attempting to tear it from her grip.

    In one quick, whirling motion, Pintail brought her sword up in an upwards slash, separating the bear's arm at the elbow. Continuing her momentum into a full rotation, she delivered a sharp spin kick to the bear's chest, sending it stumbling backwards.

    Flicking the sheath to the side, the now disembodied claw crumbled into a heap of bone, screws, and hair - decorated with a conspicuous blotch of red paint - as it fell to the ground. The bear, on the other hand, seemed entirely unaware of its missing limb as it swiftly regained its balance at made another charge.

    Apparently very unaware, as when it tried to swing with its other claw mid-charge, it put its full weight on the now non-existent limb, causing it to stumble comically forward, sliding to a stop just in front of Pintail's feet.

    For a moment, she hesitated as the image of the bear flickered. Living, wild eyes became cold, sightless marbles. Flecks of fresh blood became ugly red paint. Thick, rugged fur became artificial textile. The change was gone in a moment, though, and as the beast attempted to struggle to its feet, Pintail drove the point of her sword down into its skull.

    Just like the wolves before it, the moment its 'brain' was destroyed, the illusion collapsed and the 'bear' returned to its natural state as a heap of bones and assorted refuse.

    Looking over her shoulder, Pintail saw Nexia kneeling beside the heaps left by the guard wolves. "Doors open," she said curtly, turning back to step over the broken pieces of bear on her way to the mansion.

    As Nexia jogged forward to catch up, she frowned at the broken bear as she passed by it. "How bizarre..."

    "Find something interesting?" Pintail asked, her eyes scanning the front facade of the building. No more motion - it seemed, as Nexia said, that the bear had been the last guardian before the threshold. She would have much preferred to drag as much of the fighting out into the garden as possible, but it appeared the target wasn't going to be so kind.

    "His magecraft seems to be an amalgamation of many other styles," Nexia muttered, though it seemed more like she was distracted than like she was trying to be cautious. "The base foundation appears to be Necromancy, but the methodology is closer to Automata. But then...the end result looks more like Projection...hmm..." she trailed off, her frown growing deeper the more she thought.

    Pintail snorted, but otherwise made no reply. In other words, an amateur among amateurs, then. Not only was he a heretic, but he was bad at it too. If he couldn't even pin down his magecraft to a single discipline, it was no wonder his creations performed so poorly.

    Stepping up to the front door of the mansion, still ajar from the bear's exit, Pintail stopped and nudged Nexia with her elbow. Emerging from her thoughts, her frown turned to a questioning gaze.

    "We're going inside. Focus."

    "Oh...right. I'm sorry," she said, her face flushing slightly. At Nexia's apology, Pintail silently chastised herself. She was letting her bitterness show through and affect her attitude toward Nexia. Even if she had her personal issues with the girl, there was no place for that in the middle of a mission.

    "It's fine. If you can't use magecraft to support me, then I need you to watch and think. Just think about this for now."

    Nexia gave a determined nod. "Got it." Peering through the open doorway, she took a moment to look over what she could of the entranceway. "I don't see anything. No traps, no barriers, no Fields. I thought he was trying to accomplish something with the lack of Bounded Field earlier, but...maybe he just doesn't have the skill."

    "Sounds about right," Pintail muttered as she stepped over the threshold into the mansion.

    Her first impression was that the entrance was strangely cramped. For such a grand mansion, there was barely any space in the greeting area, though the grand double-doors in front of her made her wonder if their wasn't a more fitting greeting hall waiting on the other side.

    As Nexia stepped in along with her, her face contorted slightly in disapproval. Even though she was no longer a magus, it seemed she still had the instinctive urge to gauge the magecraft of others, and unsurprisingly this individual had been found wanting.

    "Any ideas where he is hiding?" Pintail asked, searching for exits besides the obvious doors in front of her. There were a number of factors that affected where a magus would position their Workshop within their own estate, and almost without fail a magus always made their last line of defense there. That, or they fled at the first sign of trouble, but the slow trickle of obstacles their target had thrown in their path made that seem unlikely.

    Nexia frowned. "Well, there's something behind these two doors. It feels...quite different from the animals we saw earlier. It could be a trap, since even a novice could track you with your Circuits running at full capacity like that for so long, but..." Nexia looked Pintail up and down quickly. "...I suppose that can't be helped."

    Pintail shrugged. "It's only a disadvantage if you fail to play into it. I tend to make good bait."

    "Well then," Nexia said with a bemused smile, "would you like to fall for a quick trap then?"

    Had she not been in such a bad mood, Pintail likely would have laughed at that. As it was, the fire in her gut that had been slightly soothed by her chance to smash things outside was now roaring to life again.

    There was a certain sense of disgust that always seemed to bubble to the surface whenever she entered the lair of a magus.

    Creatures of the night were abominations in their own right. Undead and other supernatural creatures engendered a kind of revulsion, but it was closer to one of pity. In the vast majority of cases, they were victims who had been drawn away from the light of God against their will. Even if their lack of faith, their lack of piety had got them in the mess in the first place, there was nothing to be gained from shifting the blame to the victim, rather than the source of their corruption.

    But a magus was different.

    A magus had willingly, deliberately turned their back on God.

    A magus had witnessed the miracle of God's light in the world, and rather than fall on their knees in wonder and adoration, rather than giving up their hearts in worship of the only worthy name, the Living God who wrought those miracles before them with his own hand, they greedily tried to steal those wonders - that glory - for themselves.

    But the hardest to forgive, was even as God called for them to repent, pleaded with them to turn from their wicked heresy and return to the correct path, they spat on His name.

    Forgiveness and absolution lay waiting before them, and they took up arms against it.

    Such audacious blasphemy spawned a visceral hatred in her. A scorching blaze in her heart, one that Nexia's story from earlier had brought to full wakefulness.

    Once again, she felt that raging fire inside her burning up all her thoughts and feelings. Every part of her was reduced to meaningless ash, everything except the mission.

    Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.

    That searing flame would forge her into a tool of divine justice. If the magus would deny salvation, deny the saving blood of Christ, then the debt would be settled with his own blood.

    And for this magus, for Elam Defereman, the collector had arrived.

    "Umm...Pintail?" Nexia spoke nervously. "Was that...too much?"

    Pintail answered with a serene smile. "Not at all."

    Without another word, without seeing the concern on Nexia's face, Pintail turned to the large double doors and pushed her way through.

    "Welcome, dogs of the Clock Tower!"

    A booming, triumphant voice greeted her as she stepped from the entrance into what had after all been some sort of grand greeting hall. Or perhaps theater was a more accurate description.

    While there were no seats, the great hall was dominated by what she could only call a stage in its center, over which some giant metal contraption hung suspended from the ceiling, made from bizarrely contorted metal beams and what looked like tanks of some sort of compressed gas. Immediately in front of her was a large staircase that led down to a sunken floor before that stage, while the other three walls of the room each had balconied approaches for viewing whatever happened. Standing on one such balcony, a dozen or so meters to her right, was a man she immediately recognized.

    Slightly below average height, mid-thirties. Short black hair, in tight curls. The healthy physique of one who acquired his muscle in a gym rather than from any sort of labour. A formal looking vest, the image ruined by the fangs and claws of various beasts hanging from his collar.

    "Fourth head of the Defereman family. Elam Defereman, I presume?" Pintail called back, stopping as she surveyed the room around her. There was no direct approach to his balcony, but it wasn't so high that she couldn't jump to it if neccessary.

    "Of course! And a pleasure to meet you too!" He laughed, brushing invisible hair from his eyes with one hand as his other remained conspicuously behind his back. "And to what do I owe this pleasure? Were you sent by Chimera? Or has the Faculty of Law come to punish me again for someone else's crimes?"

    Pintail opened her mouth to answer, taking a step forward, but the magus cut her off by revealing his hidden hand, drawing pistol and pointing it towards her.

    "Ah, I'm going to have to ask you to stay there," he chuckled. "I know what your kind are like, and I'm not about to play your games."

    Pintail stopped, her expression blank. Firearms were a rare affectation for magi, but not one that particularly threatened her. With the time it had taken to reach the mansion, her Coat had been Reinforced to such a degree that even most rifles would ricochet harmlessly off of her. And that was assuming he could even land a shot on her before she caught up to him.

    ...but, unfortunately, she wasn't alone this time.

    With the snap of Elam's fingers, the doors behind them slammed shut, trapping Pintail and Nexia within the theater.

    "Don't think I don't notice your magic," he continued to ramble. "I've been watching you since you landed in my forest. I've been watching you smash the last decade of my life to pieces!" By the vitriol in his voice, it sounded like he had forgotten that he was the one who had attacked her, but she hardly expected such consistency from a magus.

    Though difficult, she suppressed the urge to leap forward and stab him immediately. She was entirely unconcerned with getting shot herself, but the same couldn't be said about Nexia. Luckily, the girl had recognized the situation as it was, and had taken a position a few steps behind her so Pintail could effectively cover her from the gunfire - but that meant Pintail couldn't move either.

    She could certainly kill him with no threat to her own safety, but he knew that too. So he wasn't planning on shooting her at all.

    "I have to admit, I'm somewhat impressed," he continued. "Such a basic magic, Reinforcement. But you've really taken it to another level, haven't you? A kind of cumulative Reinforcement...affecting your body, your weapon, your clothes...even that sheath! And the longer it's active, the stronger it gets! Very impressive!"

    Elam spoke with a wicked sneer, as if revealing the trick to Pintail's 'magic' - her Divine Gift - would somehow disarm it. While she had to admit she hadn't expected an amateur of his level to be able to recognize it so easily, it didn't particularly change anything if he did.

    "Our magecraft is not so weak as to be broken by your pitiful analysis," Nexia suddenly spoke up, her voice carrying a dismissive tone that made Pintail turn. A small trace of spite even leaked into it as she continued. "But can you say the same about yours?"

    "Oh?" he replied, his amused demeanour cracking for only a split second. "Big words for a little girl."

    Nexia returned his words with a sneer of her own, an expression that shocked Pintail yet again from her. "Pathetic gestalt of a magecraft that it is. You gather as complete of a skeleton of an animal as you can manage, then layer it with artificial parts to simulate the functions that a living animal could perform. You then use magecraft to make the cobbled together mess come to some bizarre facsimile of life - a stupid puppet that can barely follow instructions, that completely falls apart the moment anything goes wrong. Though I have to say, considering your lack of consideration for even the most rudimentary internal functions, it's rather impressive they can withstand the strain of their own existence at all - though even that is only for a few minutes at best, no?"

    As Nexia spoke, Elam's face slowly fell from an amused sneer to a blank, unreadable expression. As she finished, he began to shake his head slowly.

    "You poor, poor girl," he said, the fakeness of his pity making Pintail want to roll her eyes. "You see the method so clearly, and yet miss its greatness. You can't even see the miraculous feats my Savage Reconstruction is capable of!"

    As the two of them argued, Pintail's mind raced. There was no real cover to be found in the theater, so the best option was to get Nexia out of the room. For that, she would have to get back out the door - the fact magecraft had been used to close it meant Pintail would probably have to break it open. Once Nexia was out there, Pintail would be able to take down the magus with impunity.

    Pintail clicked her tongue, disappointed in herself. She had gotten so distracted by her own disgust, her own hatred for this man she had never even met, that she had slipped up on even basic procedures like not bringing a non-combatant into a fight. There was no reason for Nexia to be here, but she hadn't even thought to stop her from following.

    As Pintail shuffled slowly backwards, so she could relate the plan to her partner, Elam erupted into a sudden bout of laughter.

    "Perfect! It's PERFECT!" He shouted between laughing fits. "I'll show you, then, poor child! I hope your masters are watching, so they can see even a glimpse of my greatness for themselves! Because I'm afraid..." His laughter faded as he trailed off, his face retaking a serious expression as he lifted his free hand above his head. "...there will be nothing left of you to report to them."

    With that, he snapped his fingers.

    All at once, the metal contraption - a mess of metal beams hanging from cords attached to the ceiling - began to contort and spin. As the metal beams reconfigured themselves, forming a shape around the tanks of gas, a shell of scale-like skin rolled down the side, covering the entire mechanism and revealing it's intended shape - the head of a giant lizard.

    Pintail and Nexia both gazed up at the disembodied mechanical head in disbelief.

    "There' way he can actually do what he's about to do, right?" Pintail muttered under her breath, raising her weapons in a defensive stance regardless.

    ", not unless...but we saw, there was no skeleton there, just metal beams..." Nexia's voice sounded distant, as if her thoughts were racing far ahead of her.

    "They see! They see!" Elam screamed with laughter, his gun still loosely trained on them. "'But he doesn't have the skeleton!' Hahaha! But look what I do have!" Once again with his free hand, he reached to a particularly long fang hanging at the center of his chest. Tearing it loose, he lifted it up for them to see, as if the extra couple inches closer would make a difference.

    Pintail frowned as she looked at it. It was decidedly different. Almost as if it wasn't a normal fang, but made of stone...

    Her eyes went wide.

    A fossil.

    "THEY SEE!" He screamed again, hurling the fossilized fang towards the metal lizard head. As it came in contact with the scaled hide, it seemed to stick, sinking in to the center of the contraption. "Even incomplete, even just the head, it's more than enough to burn you all to ash!"

    Pintail gritted her teeth. Once again, she had ample time to attack the magus, or even to destroy his lizard head machine before it activated, but the moment she moved, Nexia would get shot. And even if the Coat should save her, it wouldn't help much if he aimed for the head. He had so many openings it hurt to watch, but there was nothing she could do to exploit them.


    As she turned to look at Nexia, a single insidious, dark thought crept into her mind. But before she could even decide whether to be disgusted or relieved at it, the magus opposite them shouted his last incantation.

    "Awaken! Y Ddraig Goch!"

    The whole room shuddered along with the metal contraption at those words, a false light emanating from the machine's core.

    Pale brown scales were dyed red.

    The fused metal jaws began to creak open.

    Empty eyesockets glowed with an inner fire.

    As if struggling to exist, the image of the Red Dragon flickered in and out of existence over top of what was now undeniably the head of a dragon. Though it had no body, a roar escaped its now opening mouth, causing the two girls to flinch backwards at the accompanying gust of wind.

    It was a failed spell. Pintail could see that at a single glance. The illusion would fail to take. As was his right, God would deny this illusory creature its desperate desire for life. The World would crush it utterly in moments.

    ...but not fast enough.

    The roaring stopped as the disembodied head inhaled, the glow of collecting magical energy accompanied by the all-too-familiar light of mundane combustion.

    For a moment, Pintail doubted. Could she take a hit from that? She had no idea if it would successfully fire, nor what its properties would be if it did. In all likelihood, the defensive boost offered by her Divine Gift would be ample protection regardless. But if even a shred of the essence of a true dragon was encapsulated in that flame...she would be instantly incinerated.

    Pintail turned to look at Nexia.

    ...did she care?

    "Now die, dogs of the Clock Tower. You won't be remembered!"

    As Elam laughed maniacally in the background, Pintail's attention was entirely wrapped up in Nexia's face. Despite the dark thoughts intruding into her mind, she was struck speechless by what she saw there - a calm, unwavering resolve.

    "I told you before," Nexia whispered, just barely loud enough for Pintail to hear. "I can't use magecraft. I'm more like a Mystic Code, right?" Stepping forward, she took a position between Pintail and the almost-dragon head. "A Mystic Code, capable of only a single spell." Turning to look at Pintail over her shoulder, she flashed a defiant smile.

    "Someone has finally answered from the other side, so...allow me to show you."

    The moment she saw that smile, a wave of crushing guilt slammed into her.

    How many times had she told herself? How many times had she said, that Nexia herself had done nothing wrong?

    And yet, even so...she had almost actually considered...

    Facing forward again, Nexia turned her defiant expression on the mounting flames in the dragon's mouth. Lifting her practice sword in front of her as if to ward off the coming blaze, Nexia opened her mouth to chant.

    As she did so, a second impact slammed into Pintail - not of guilt, this time, but of magical energy.

    And not coming from Nexia, but heading towards her.

    A torrent of magical energy flooded in, drawn from the environment around them and from Nexia herself. Even the energy flowing through Pintail's open Magic Circuits felt that pull, as if Nexia had become some sort of mystical black hole. She, in turn, had transformed to Pintail's eyes, becoming a blazing beacon of concentrated power, far outshining the fiery destruction waiting in the even now dissolving dragon's mouth.

    Oh tragic drake, who knew naught of love...

    As she began to speak, the blazing magical energy in and around her vanished, as if sucked into a hole in the World itself. An unnatural silence filled the theater, enough to even draw Elam's manic gaze away from his creation and towards the girl's unfolding miracle.

    Son of Leviathan, monster of ruin, become our star of protection...

    Fire erupted from the dragon's mouth in a mana-infused stream. Though it surely should have consumed them in mere moments, it seemed to flow towards them in slow motion.

    Permit not the passage of a single blade or arrow!

    In a final moment of desperate common sense, Pintail leapt behind Nexia, crouching down behind her.

    As she jumped, in the blinding light of the approaching dragon's flame, it seemed like Nexia's silhouette was...someone else's. The white and blue Coat of the knights she had been wearing became a long white robe, the training sword in her hand a cruciform staff...and her long black hair was a vibrant shade of purple.


    In that world of slowed time, a scaled carapace of pure light rose over Nexia, just as the flames reached them. Like water over stone, the flames scattered, splashing out to the walls of the mansion behind them. At the same time, the illusion of the fire-breathing dragon head before them shattered, utterly annihilated by the light of Nexia's shield, an empty mechanical head the only remains.

    The gout of flame ceased, and the shield of light vanished, the image burned into their eyes the only evidence of its existence.

    Two seconds.

    Two seconds was all the time Nexia's shield existed, and in that time it had both perfectly protected them and completely erased the magecraft of the enemy magus.

    For a moment, Pintail looked up at the girl who had shielded her, stunned.

    Stunned, until Nexia collapsed to her knees in front of her. And though her first instinct was to catch the girl as she fell, she instead turned to her right.

    Shifting her weight slightly, Pintail braced herself as she turned to look at Elam.

    His gun was lowered.

    She jumped.

    In one swift motion, she hurled her sheath while she leapt towards him. With her legs Reinforced as they were, she was able to close the distance between them in a single breath, all the time she would need.

    An instant before contact, her brain caught up to what her eyes were seeing.

    Elam was staring not at his failed, burning contraption, but at Nexia.

    His eyes were wide. Not with anger, or hate, or despair, or sadness.

    With pure, unadultered awe.

    The next instant, Pintail's sheath struck him in the forehead, sending him stumbling backwards. Before he could recover his balance, Pintail landed in front of him, carrying her forward momentum into a thrust that took him in the chest, driving him into the floor.

    As if unaware of his own fatal wound, he turned eyes still shining with wonder on Pintail kneeling overtop of him.

    He tried to speak, but only blood spurted from his lips. Even so, his lips moved, and his words were not lost on her.

    A real...dragon...?

    With those words on his lips, and the wonder of a miracle in his eyes, Elam Defereman, Fourth Head of the Defereman line, breathed his last.
    My Fanfiction - Almost entirely short stories and oneshots

  14. #14
    Presia messe noce yor tes mea TwilightsCall's Avatar
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    Chapter 6 - Ash

    With a click, Pintail cut the line and dropped her cell into her pocket. Turning around, she looked back on the burning mansion.

    As anyone could have guessed, the heretic's attempt at killing them by spitting fire had exactly the result you would have thought. Though Nexia had successfully protected the two of them, that protection hadn't extended to the house around them, and as such it immediately caught fire. After dispatching the magus, and with Nexia on the brink of unconsciousness, Pintail had made the only possible choice of retreating briefly.

    Once Nexia was safely outside, she returned to scour the mansion before it completely succumbed to the flames. Whether the magus' family hadn't yet come to live in the mansion, or whether they had fled the moment Pintail and Nexia arrived in their territory, the rest of the building had been completely empty. So, after retrieving the dragon's tooth from the mangled machine in the entry theater, she pulled out to let the building burn to the ground in peace.

    Now that she had reported their success, there was nothing to do but wait for extraction. No doubt, the fire caused here would need to be contained, but that could be left to the government. Once the fire had burned enough to consume all traces of what had happened within, the Church would make a report, and someone actually equipped to deal with a fledgling forest fire would be sent. That had nothing to do with the Church, though, let alone Pintail herself.

    So she just stood and watched, deriving what pleasure she could from the waves of heat washing through the forest around her.

    ...doing her best to suppress the memories of three years ago that that fire brought to mind.

    Clearing a spot on the ground with her foot, Pintail sat down, leaning against a nearby tree.

    Keeping those memories at bay was a losing battle at this point, especially considering the things she actually needed to think about. One of those being the girl now visible just out of the corner of her eye.

    Wrapped up in her Coat, Nexia sat sleeping soundly, propped up against a similar tree. Apparently, whatever she had done had taken quite the toll on her, and she passed out almost immediately once they had reached safety. An unfortunate, but otherwise understandable side effect of the magecraft she had used to protect them. Nexia had been muttering something about being rusty, but Pintail found it hard to believe she had lost consciousness due to being out of practice. That said, if she could replicate today's feat without passing out, or even better multiple times in succession, then she would be a powerful ally even against the most dangerous of foes.

    ...not that Pintail was entirely sure of what Nexia actually had accomplished.

    As the heretic had said with his dying words, the spell appeared to have summoned an actual dragon into the mansion. Though it only lasted for a handful of seconds, that in and of itself was a level of magecraft that would make her an unrivalled genius in the Clock Tower. If it didn't just get her an immediate Sealing Designation.

    But to Pintail, it seemed like there was something else there. It didn't seem like just a simple summoning spell. After all, if she had actually summoned the dragon, there was no reason why it should have disappeared. If she didn't have the magical energy to sustain it, it either shouldn't have appeared in the first place, or should have appeared and died. And while she wasn't all that familiar with dragons, Pintail couldn't help but feel like they should leave a corpse like anything else, especially considering the fang in her pocket.

    No, it seemed like something else was going on. Especially since, for a moment, it had seemed like Nexia had transformed into someone else.

    Maybe transformed wasn't the right word. It was more like she was...overlapped. Like Nexia was still there, but at the same time someone else was occupying that same space.

    Regardless, as someone who was decidedly not a magus, speculating would accomplish little for her. She would just have to ask Nexia herself once she woke up - something she probably should have done long before they got into the mansion.

    Another failure to add to the list, then, she thought with a grimace.

    So many things had gone wrong with what should have been the simplest of missions. She wanted to think her sloppiness was due mostly to the fact that it had been such an easy assignment, but that of course was no excuse.

    She failed to get a grasp of Nexia's combat abilities before they engaged.

    She failed to take appropriate cautions to keep Nexia safe while infiltrating the mansion.

    She failed to act promptly to remedy those errors once she had recognized them.

    ...and she had seriously considered sacrificing the life of her partner, just to save a few moments of time.

    Even if it would have been for some vital purpose, even though she never made a single move to carry it out, the fact that that thought occurred to her alone filled her with a sense of disgust. The fact that leaving someone who had been relying on her for protection to die had even crossed her mind was enough to deserve punishment in her eyes.

    With a large crash, a central section of the mansion collapsed, spitting ashes and sparks up into the sky.

    Even if she hated the girl, that was behaviour entirely unfitting for a Knight. For a member of the Church. For any human being.

    And she knew better than anyone else how irrational that hate was in the first place.

    But, like a child, she let her feelings run wild, making enough amateurish mistakes that she would be embarrassed to show her face back at the Monastery again. By all accounts, with her performance today, it was a borderline miracle that neither of them died, let alone were in relatively good health, nevermind that it was a Class Five assignment.

    "And this is why," Pintail muttered to herself, "I don't want to be a lieutenant."

    For a long while, Pintail watched the mansion burn. It wouldn't be long before the fire spread to the forest around it, especially since the mansion itself already blended so cleanly with the surrounding vegetation. This probably would have been the ideal place for a helicopter to come retrieve them, had it not been in the process of burning to the ground. Unfortunately, Pintail lacked any sort of means to contain or extinguish the fire, so they would have to find another place to extract from.

    And soon, she thought with a wince, as another section of the mansion collapsed.

    Pushing herself to her feet, she tried to shake the dullness from her limbs - an unfortunate side-effect of letting Patience go - beforing tying her sword securely to her waist. She then walked over to where Nexia was sleeping, kneeling down to give the girl one last check.

    While she had been feverishly warm as they left the mansion, she had since returned to a much healthier temperature. Other than that, however, she was still entirely unresponsive, unmoving despite Pintail tapping lightly on her head.

    "Nexia, we have to move," Pintail said softly. As she expected, there was no response.

    Pintail gave a tired sigh. She had unfortunately expected as much. Such over-the-top magecraft generally had similarly significant side-effects. If all that Nexia got out of it was that she was asleep for a while, then she'd be in a lot better shape than most people who went through similar experiences.

    Retrieving her cell phone for a moment, Pintail switched on the GPS beacon before sliding it back into her pocket. She then gently lifted Nexia up off the forest floor, taking a moment to adjust her weight so that she could carry the girl on her back. Luckily, whatever Nexia had done in the mansion had caused the training sword she had to explode into dozens of pieces, so she didn't have to worry about carrying that back as well.

    Rising to her feet, she turned to look one last time at the burning mansion.

    Normally, she savoured such sights. Seeing everything the heretics worked for destroyed right in front of her normally filled her with satisfaction, an undeniable symbol of the success of their mission. This time, however, the rabidly burgeoning flames seemed more chastising.

    Like they were trying to say, you could have finished this with a single swing of your sword. But now look at the chaos you created.

    Even if the mission was accomplished, you still failed.

    How long? How many generations before this scar in the forest heals over? Before this mark of your sins is erased?

    Turning her back to the fire, Pintail began her long walk into the forest. She would have plenty of time to wallow in self-doubt once they were safely back home. For now, the best penance was to do better.

    Judging by the brief overview of the forest she got from their arrival, clearings large enough for a helicopter to safely land in the forest were few and far between. That meant she had a long way to go before she could rest again.

    A long way to go before she was out of the fire, away from the smell of ash on the wind.
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