Vay: Vicious Circle
Chapter 2-Boom Time
This chapter is dedicated in loving memory to Louis Dinner. May you be happy wherever you are, Grandpa..
Also: Special thanks to Rune Walsh for giving me a great idea at the end of this chapter!
 
 

Get out of our village! Now! We don't know what you seek, but you'd best leave immediately!

What do I seek? You know well what I seek, Mayor...give it to me!

I don't know what you're talking about! We're just a simple family! Leave now!

Papa? Mamma? What is she doing? Mamma? Mamma?

Don't play the fool with me…Give it to me…or else this village…

What do you intend to do, Miss?

This…!

Mamma…MAMMA! The forest…the village! Mamma! It's…

You horrible witch! How dare you set fire to our peaceful village!? How dare you threaten my wife and son?!

This never would have happened if you gave me your half of the pendant…now would it…? Give it to me…or you can say your good-byes to your wife and son.

Never…The pendant was never meant to be used by the likes of someone as black-hearted as you…

Oho! So you admit it you have it? Ha! Then…oh? What's this? You intend to use it on me? Try your luck, peasant trash!…What…you…you can use the…a low level magician like yourself…? Humph! I'll show you the REAL way to use it! Think about your folly as you leave this mortal coil!

Papa? Papa…what is she…? P…Papa…? PAPA!!!

****

"Dammit! Why did I come back here? Did I really expect to find it? Blast it all, I didn't want to go tromping through this burned out tomb!"

The woman yelled in frustration and slammed an unidentifiable object to the ground. The object broke apart instantly and scattered to the ground as sooty ash. She scowled, crossing her arms over her chest. She destroyed this village ten years ago, and her failure was still haunting her. She was so close to having the pendant…but, she thought with a groan, the mayor's bitchy wife and whiny son ran off with it! Although she felt good that she burned this village to the ground, it did little to assuage her feelings of defeat when she looked down at her pendant, and saw only half of it was there. But, she was used to wandering, and when she was beaten down, it was only a matter of time before she came back up to fight again. And Lady Katarina of the tribe of Quele'zar would rise up once again, and reclaim what was rightfully hers.

Katarina looked mysterious from the first glance. Long, elegant robes covered her slender frame, embroidered with fine golden and silver runes of power. Her exotic, fair face looked young and inviting, and her straight black hair was pulled into an elaborate ponytail, giving her an even more beautiful look that few men could resist. But, if a man looked closer, he could see something hidden beneath her emerald eyes. A look of being older beyond her years. And indeed, she had lived longer than a normal human should, not as old as say, the "Eternal Woman" of Marwick, but enough to know humanities flaws, their weaknesses, and exploit them to her benefit.

And the 300 years she spent on this earth were completely devoted to reuniting the pendant she wore protectively around her white neck. Little was known about the pendant she desperately sought, for it had never been whole. The people of the Quele'zar tribe supposedly made it years ago with the elves who lived deep in the forests, symbolizing peace and unity throughout the ages. It was then broken in half to prevent it from being abused. The pendant was then christened, The Lackisha Pendant, which, in the old language of the elves, meant "Balance". Each half of the pendant represented an element that contributed a total balance. Katarina's side of the pendant represented the darker forces of nature, while the one she sought to find represented the side of light. It was thought by the Quele'zar tribe that both elements were needed in the world for peace to reign, for too much of each would tip the scales of balance, resulting in the end of the world.

Katarina couldn't care less. When a natural disaster wiped her people out when she was a girl, and civil war reigned throughout it's survivors for the last three centuries, she couldn't forgive a world that refused to help a country in need. Especially the elves, who laughed and sang their stupid forest songs, clutching on to their side of the pendant, the light side, and leaving her people to starve! Her hatred grew from that day, until she knew that the world must pay for what it had done to her. And…most importantly, to destroy the elves who betrayed her people, by using the Lackisha pendant to wipe them off the face of the earth. Better yet, to wipe every living thing off the earth who dared to screw her people over.

Katarina hoped that by coming back to the elven village she burned, she may find clues to the pendant, or, better yet, find the real thing. But she knew her search would be in vain. Even though she was able to catch up the mayor's wife that day and slay her, the little boy managed to run away. Katarina suspected he ran away with the pendant, and chased after him, but lost him in the thick foliage. She never heard about him again, and assumed he died in the forest. This never set well with her. The forest was huge, and trying to find it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack, for all she knew.

But…A little voice in her head whispered, Someone may have the pendant right now…

Katarina turned her attention to various items that were now burned to a charcoal black. A old wicker rocker, a couple of burned toys, and a picture…

Katarina picked up the old painting, half burned on one side, and grimaced. She unknowingly set foot in the mayor's mansion, and now was gazing on a family picture. Wiping a bit of soot from the picture, she could see that they were such a happy looking family. The father was stern and proud, the mother serene and beautiful, the boy cute and joyful. She growled and ripped the picture to shreds. "Damn them! I'll never find that damn pendant!"

A icy voice was heard amidst the burned out home "Oh my…must we be so loud today, Lady Katarina? I've heard fine reports of your elegant, calculating demeanor. I'd hate to find out I have been misguided!"

Katarina looked around the room, and smiled smugly. "Ahh… I feel your power. A dark one. You are definitely not human, are you?"

"Quite perceptive of you. I've been around far longer than you, Katarina."

"And I believe it. What is it you want of me? Obviously you either wish to kill me, or ask me for favors. I know your type. I've been around a while."

"I know that. I am known as Phaedra, to my...ahem..."close" friends. I…I ask for nothing…"

"Bullshit." Katarina laughed. "You all ask for something! That is human nature!….oh wait, you're not human. Well, how about natural nature then?"

A cold chuckle erupted from the shadows of the room. "Ah, Katarina, I can hardly be considered 'natural nature'!" The chuckle grew into a booming laughter.

Katarina's interest was piquing now. She raised an eyebrow. "Humph! I don't follow the rules of human nature, weakens the soul too much. " She grinned widely. "You talk highly of yourself, Phaedra. But tell me…what makes you so powerful? What can YOU do for me? I 'm no mercenary, and I have an agenda of my own to keep."

Phaedra continued to giggle. "That's what I have to offer you. A chance to end this fruitless little quest of yours!" A light began to form in the center of the room, illuminating the pitch black walls. Katarina's eyes grew wide at what began to form right in front of her. Floating by some strange power, was the light half of the Lackisha Pendant. Madly, she reached out to grab the pendant, like a child racing to get the best candy out of a piņata, only to grab empty air as the pendant mysteriously vanished. She scowled and growled under her breath. "If you're trying to win me over to your side, that was NOT the way to do it!"

Phaedra sighed. "Oh dear, I forgot to mention that was only what you humans call a 'hologram', but believe me, the next time you gaze upon it, it will be real, and it will belong to you."

"How so?" Katarina asked.

"I feel it's presence, don't you? You must feel it, after all, you wouldn't be searching madly like this for so long if you didn't." Phaedra's voice grew soft and mesmerizing, trying to coo Katarina over to her side.

"Stop with the hopeless cooing, Phaedra. Just get to the point already. I'm a busy woman."

Phaedra was taken aback. She misjudged this woman. She figured her to be as vain and stupid as Jeal, but this woman was almost equal with her. Almost being a key word. No human could match MY powers, she thought. Time to take a different approach.

"Ahh…I see we're going to get along just nicely, Lady Katarina. Here is the deal. I am weak, and need to gain power from various sources. I feel you are one of the few people able to carry out this plan."

"Why do you need power? For world domination?"

Phaedra smiled inwardly. "You could say that…"

"Heh. Doesn't everyone want world domination nowadays? Now, as for what I get…"

"What you get, Miss Katarina…is power." Phaedra crooned. "Now, take a look at yourself. You consider yourself to be a powerful mage, I take it? But you barely have enough power to magically locate a pendant! With my power, however, every magical incantation you could think of will be easy for you to cast. You'll know every magic on Earth, and your power will bowl over your foes. That is what I offer you, Miss Katarina."

"And when I find the Pendant-" Katarina began.

"You'll be the most powerful woman on Earth." Phaedra smiled. "So, do we have an agreement, Katarina? Your service for my power?"

Katarina nodded slowly. "Yes…but only…"

"Only what?" Phaedra asked, annoyed.

Katarina's red lips formed into a savage smile. "Only if I receive my new powers now!"

"But how do I know you will not turn on me when I give them to you?" Phaedra asked, her voice laced with suspicion.

"I swear on the code of the Quele'zar tribe that I will not break my oath to you. Doing so would dishonor the memory of my clan."

"Very well then. Stand still."

A black beam suddenly shot out of the shadows, and slammed into Katarina's chest. She gasped aloud at the strange feeling that was now overwhelming her body and senses, then she began to feel the power flowing throughout her body, growing stronger and stronger. She giggled happily and drank the power in, never wanting it to stop. Finally it did, and Katarina dashed outside, her head bubbling with words to incantations she never dreamed existed. She couldn't wait to try her newfound powers out.

Chanting a few arcane words under her breath, she lifted her hand into the air, which now glowed an eerie green, and turned to the Mayor's burned out house. "Take this!" she screamed, and she pointed her fist toward the home. The structure exploded, hit with an unexplained force, and wood and debris blasted into the morning sky. Any birds that were flying in the vicinity suddenly skyrocketed to the ground, dead from the impact of the spell. Katarina laughed and spun around on one heel. "The POWER! At last! At last!"

Phaedra's icy voice whispered in Katarina's ear. "Well? How do you like it?"

Katarina kept on dancing her victory dance. "It's WONDERFUL! When do I start my new….occupation?"

Phaedra grinned. Once again, another human is ensnared by their petty, wanton lusts. "Right away." She laughed.

****

"Ooh! Dean! ooh! You're so huuunky! Don't you know that?"

The boy nuzzled up to the giggling young woman. "Of course, I'm not nearly as perfect as you, m'love.'

The girl melted in his arms, leaning back against the tree. "Ooh....you know, I think I'm getting a little too happy. I don't know if I can control myself.." She put a hand over her face and blushed prettily.

"Baby, don't worry. Just let yourself go." They both locked in a passionate kiss. He then stopped and gave her an all knowing look. "Should we?"

The girl nodded. "Why not?" She then blushed. "Do you think we honestly…you know...make out HERE?"

The boy grinned. "In a nice forest like this? Why not? You're not afraid of what your parents will say, are you?"

The girl made a face. "Hell no, I couldn't care less about my family! They're a bunch of snobs who could care less. Let's not think about them!" She grabbed on to him, hoping he wouldn't bring up her family again.

Thankfully it worked, he cupped her face in his hands. "My little snugglebunnee." He began to kiss her again.

Oh my god! He's gonna go ALL THE WAY! ooh! He's so cute! ooh I'm in bliss now....

"Dean! Ooh Dean!"

-----

"Dean...Dean...Mmm..."

A loud thwack suddenly was heard and a shrill voice boomed. "MISS PRUDENCE JURISSA ELANDRA! What ARE you doing there?" Numerous snickers were heard in the room and various people saying "Nice going P.J." and "You're gonna get it now, P.J.!" became audible to P.J. as she blushed and sank down into her chair. "Um...Nothing Miss. Ratched. Absolutely nothing...! I was paying attention the WHOLE time!"

Miss Ratched thwacked her wooden stick on P.J.'s desk again, causing her to flinch. She grinned and pointed to the chalkboard. "Fine then. Tell me what we were just discussing?"

"Heh. We were just discussing the fact that you THOUGHT I wasn't paying attention." The children howled with laughter, and P.J. sat up tall in her chair. That remark is worth the hour of detention I'm gonna get, she thought.

Miss Ratched tried to keep her cool, her fat face flushed with barely controllable anger. "No, what I meant, miss smarty pants, is what where we discussing BEFORE we were so rudely interrupted by you!?"

P.J. decided to take a stab at it. Who knows, she may get lucky. "The properties of a Malybu spell?"

Ratched sighed. "Try the properties of the GLACIER spell, Miss Elandra. Just as I thought, you were daydreaming again. You'll stay for two hours after class today. I want a little conference with you.

"Dammnit!" P.J. muttered aloud and sank even further back in her chair. She could feel the eyes of her peers boaring deep into her, and she wished class would end soon. She couldn't take them looking at her all day long.

Soon, the dismissal bell rang, and hordes of children fled from the classroom, all save P.J., who sat staring at the floor, a large scowl on her face. Mistress Ratched walked up in front of P.J. and started to scowl herself.

"You know, Miss Elandra, we here at the Kerzalt royal magic academy consider ourselves to be a highly motivated school..."

P.J. yawned. She heard this before.

"...and it seems so wrong that someone so talented as you is constantly goofing off..."

Of course I'm goofing off! I know half this crap already! I learned a Malybu spell over a year ago!

"... and I don't want to take the next step with you, Prudence, and have a parent conference with you if you don't behave..."

Ack! No! Anything but that!

"So Prudence, will you TRY to follow the rules, and pay more attention to your studies?"

P.J. sighed. What was she going to say, no? "Yes Ma'am."

Ratched smiled, thinking she saved a wayward child from the brink of failure. "Oh, since I'm in a good mood, I'll let you go an hour early today. Go on now, and no more of this misbehaving eh?" Ratched looked up, and blinked. P.J. was already long gone.

As P.J. ran out the door, she smacked right into a boy. . "God, watch where you're...oh, hello Dean."

Dean gave P.J. an odd smirk and looked her over. "By golly, P.J., you've got to be the strangest girl I ever laid eyes on..."

P.J.'s jaw dropped open.

"Well, I got to go. Later space case." He picked up his bookbag and walked in the opposite direction.

P.J.'s humphed and stuck her middle finger in the air. "Well, hey, you know what? You're not even WORTH daydreaming about! " She walked away in a huff.

****

"Ah, what a nice morning. Beautiful day to be out a sea. But, I think I'll visit one of my old haunts first." The cloaked figure giggled and strode northward until she reached an old wooden building with a sign that blared.

WELCOME TO THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE TAVERN
Free ale to senior citizens! Come on in!

The woman rapped three times on the door, and waited. A young, female voice called from the door. "It's over an hour until we open. What's the password?"

"The Pirate Captain slit the throat of the Danek Emperor, and sold it for scrap." There was a brief silence, then the door swung open to reveal an petite girl in a tavern wench outfit. She gave the cloaked figure a friendly hug. "I thought it was you, Kinsey. Come inside, take a load off. I'll make breakfast!"

Kinsey smiled and strolled inside, flinging her cloak onto a nearby stool. "Sorry to drop by unexpected Arvy, but I have a bit of problem."

Arvy went into the kitchen, chattering away. "This isn't about my Grandpa, is it?"

"No, it has nothing to do with Koban. He-"

"I mean, he isn't bitter about giving the title of pirate captain to you at ALL, Kinsey. He may TALK about it a lot, but he thinks you're doing a great job!" Arvy interrupted.

"Arvy, didn't I JUST say it had nothing to do with Ko-"

" I mean, he IS getting older, but you two are the SWEETEST people on-"

"Argh! Let me finish! This has nothing to do with Koban! Nothing!" Suddenly Kinsey laughed. "The chatterbox. You haven't changed at all!"

Arvy stuck her head out of the kitchen. "Is this a GOOD thing?"

Kinsey smiled. "It's a great thing. Wouldn't change my best friend for the world."

Arvy came out of the kitchen with a plate full of piping hot food. She began rummaging for cups. "So, what did you really come her for?"

"Well, I'd like to know what your fiancee is up to?'

Arvy's head shot up over the counter, and she blinked. "You mean your brother?"

"Who else? I only have one, Arvy." Arvy's brows drew together in thought and her lips puckered into a pout. " I was going to ask you the same thing."

Kinsey sighed. "Well, Hiram and I always were rebels, after Mom and Dad passed on. We'd get on our ships, and hijack those blasted Danek vessels, taking all their money. Now THAT, Arvy, is livin'!" Kinsey glowed, remembering good times. "But, I dunno. I rarely see him anymore, and when I do see him, he's always so quick tempered, and cold. He's not the sweet, fun-loving guy I know. I miss the old Hiram."

Arvy sniffled. "I do too. It's the same with me! He says he's working on some "secret project" or something. He acts all mean and doesn't treat me right. He's badmouthing the pirates now. Keeps saying you're doing a bum's living. Says how sick he is of you, and how sick he is of me. And once he.." she trailed off.

"What is it Arvy?"

"He slapped me once, you know. Called me a whore."

"HE DID WHAT?!"

"I'm sorry Kinsey! I should have never brought this up!"

"No," Kinsey began, gathering up her belongings. "I'm glad you did. I need to go find him. I think he's hanging around bad influences. I'll get him to apologize to you..."

"Kinsey...I'm scared."

Kinsey looked Arvy straight in the eye. "I am too" And Kinsey had never been scared in here entire life. Without another word, she ran out the door.

"Hey! What about your food?" Arvy cried. Sighing, she plopped down on a barstool and began to nibble nervously on Kinsey's breakfast.

****

"You did WHAT, P.J.? Hee hee. Just like you to do that too!"

P.J. smacked the boy between the ribs. "Shut up Ashe! You know you'd do the same thing! Ratched is a boring bitc-"

"Ahh ahh…must ye use thy profanity today, missy?" The youth grinned boyishly and started to polish his sword. "But anyway, I KNOW you know half the magic in there, probably all of it, but you have to pass the class, just like everyone else.."

"Ashe!" P.J. gasped, lips forming into a mock pout. "I never thought of you as a priss!"

"Well, as your best friend and only guy who can put up with your crap, I have to scold you every now and again, right?" he laughed and looked up at her. "Maybe you should talk to the chancellor about it. I mean, you DID save the world, you know."

P.J. blushed. "Now Ashe…"

"Hey, you were damn lucky to be able to go! If only I wasn't in battle training that week, I would have gone with you! Man, what an adventure that must have been."

P.J.'s face darkened. "It's not all it was cracked up to be…a lot of land…and people…were destroyed.

"Sorry."

"Not your fault. But I do remember how pissed you were when I got back! The first words out of your mouth were "Why didn't you take me?" and I swear you have the world's most annoying whine!"

"That's why you love me as a friend…" He said with puppy dog eyes.

"P.J. smacked him again. "Shaddup." Then they both dissolved into giggles.

P.J stopped giggling when she spotted a old man walking about the courtyard. He would bend his stiff back over from person to person, asking. "Excuse me, have you see a Ms. Prudence Jurissa today?" All of the people gave him either shrugs or confused looks. P.J. finally waved and called to the man. "Sir Chancellor! I'm over here!" She stood up, wondering what he was so excited about.

"Oh boy, Prudy! Seems like Ratched may not be done with your after all!" He began to laugh even harder.

"I hope not….hey…did you just call me Prudy? YOU KNOW I HATE THAT!"

"Sorry! Couldn't help it! Mind if I come with you?"

"Nope, the more the merrier."

The old man finally tottered over to P.J., eyes wild. "Oh, thank heavens I found you, child. We have quite a problem on our hands! Gigantic! Huge…Oh. Forgive my rudeness. Hello Sir Ashe. Training going well?"

"It's going quite well" Ashe said, his face becoming serious. "What's the problem?"

"Well, we thought that Miss Elandra would have interest, and knowledge about the current problems that we face. Oh, and what problems they are!"

"Whoa. Sloooooow down Chancellor. WHAT problems?"

"Miss Elandra, I hate to tell you this, but I fear our old enemies may be making a comeback."

"You don't mean…"

"Yes. There are reports that the Danek Empire may be growing hostile again. I have a guest from that region. Would you like to see her?"

P.J. nodded. "How soon will that be."

"As soon as possible."

****

"Wow P.J.! Even the KING is here! This has gotta be big." Ashe marveled.

P.J. nodded gravely. "Anything with the Empire is "Big." She turned to the small assembly gathered in the throne room. "Tell me what's going on."

"Well," the Chancellor began. "According to this little girl here, she claims that somehow, she and several friends gathered in a treehouse a few nights ago. Her best friend had gotten hold of a spellbook, and tried to use the "Summon the dead spell." What they ended up doing, according to her, was revive the former Emperor of the Danek Empire. He then laid waste to all of her friends, save her. She managed to escape."

A throaty laugh burst cut through the air, echoing throughout the room. "Summoning? Emperor? Preposterous! I never heard of anything so silly in all my life! The sheer thought of children reviving anyone! I traveled all the way from Bonnarren for THIS?"

P.J. shot the dignitary a icy glare. "I warn you, Sir, that the Empire is capable of ANYTHING. Strange things go on in this world, do not let the fact that children did this pull the wool over your eyes!"

"And, " the Chancellor added "bodies were found at the crime scene…and...there have been reports of steel and coal being shipped into the region at an alarming rate..."

"So?" The dignitary asked. "She most likely did it herself, and made an elaborate lie to cover it up! As for the coal..."

P.J. threw her hands up in the air. "Hello? Are we thinking straight here, or are we way off balance? In Vay's name, she looks to be only seven years old!" She walked closer to the man, and glared. "I suggest you be silent, unless you wish to make a further jackass of yourself. I may be young, but you haven't fought against the empire. You have no right to waltz in here and doubt a story before all the facts are heard!" She turned away and started at the sniffling girl. "Hello? Can you tell me your name? Don't worry. I won't bite."

"No…" She sniffed.

Poor thing must be in shock, the thought, and held the little girl's hand. "Don't worry. I swear nothing bad will happen to you here." She leaned closer to the girl. "See that guy I was yelling at? He's really a big ugly toad that can't get a date, but he tries to hide it. " The girl smiled a little. "Shhh" P.J. warned, and put a finger to her lips. "It's our secret."

The girl nodded, and added somberly. "I'm Lily."

"Hi Lily. What happened back there? Can you tell me?"

"It was terrible. " Lily began in a shaky voice, rocking back and forth. "My friend Andrew wanted to use a spellbook at one of our secret meetings. We just hang out, have a good time. Andrew wanted to summon the dead, and I told him it was a bad idea."

"It is." P.J. added. "You did the right thing by telling him."

'Yeah, but he didn't listen to me. He went ahead and did it anyway. I fell asleep. I didn't wanna be a part of it. But when I woke up, I noticed this strange blue stuff mixing in with the light blue stuff we were giving off."

Blue stuff? P.J. thought. Maybe there was some force behind this after all…

"... And then the Emperor came out and killed everyone! He didn't stop! He didn't stop!" She buried her face in her hands.

"Poor kid." Ashe gave her a hug and held her for a while, protecting her from whatever demons were hiding nearby.

P.J. rose up from her kneeling position on the floor, and said simply. "I believe her."

"But you have no-"

"She's too emotionally wound up TO be lying! I feel some other force intervened and altered the spell, or, at least, that's what it sounded like." She frowned and turned to the King, who had been silent the whole time. "What do you think, your grace?"

The King of Kerzalt coughed. "I am not doubting either side of the story at the moment. My best bet would to be cautious for a while."

"But your grace! They could attack at any time!"

"And they might have no ill will against us, and we'd be trapped in a war of misunderstandings."

"But…"

"Excuse me, your Highness. " A small maid came running through the assembly, with a brown package. "A gift from the Empire. Something about clearing up this whole emperor mess."

The King took the package and nodded. "Probably a letter saying how sorry they are for the mix up. Thank you Ida. You may go now." The maid curtsied and ran off.

P.J. was confused. Sending pretty packages wasn't the empire's style. What was going on? Then she mentally smacked herself. She was just being paranoid.

The people all began to ask the King to open the gift, and the King nodded. He began to tear the brown paper away, and open the lid…

And this feeling of panic was welling in P.J.'s chest. Something was horribly wrong about this. She wasn't being paranoid. That's when the felt it, a surge of wild magic. She suddenly knew with sickening clarity what was going to happen, and had only seconds to stop it.

"Your Grace! LOOK OUT!"

In a mad dash, she climbed the steps the throne, and knocked package out of the King's hands. In about two seconds, the package suddenly exploded with unparalleled force against the wall. The people screamed aloud and covered themselves from the glass and debris that was now flying through the air. P.J. prayed the blast wasn't strong enough to bring the whole castle down. Finally, there was silence as every single person stared at P.J., then at the package.

Slowly, hesitantly, everyone went to examine the damage. Thankfully, the package landed in an area where people weren't standing, but the damage had been done. The wall was completely blasted out, sunlight peeking through the cracks. P.J. closed her eyes in relief that she acted upon her suspicions. If she hesitated…she didn't even want to think about it.

"Holy shit P.J., that was incredible…" Ashe breathed.

"Ashe! You're bleeding!' P.J. cried in alarm.

"Ah, just some glass, nothing major. You're lucky that this seems to be the only injury among us! Hey quit looking at me like that. I'm a tough guy…OW! Tell me when you're gonna pull the glass out!" He put a hand to his already swelling cheek.

"Sorry." P.J. then turned to the King. "That was a message, Sire, a warning. Isn't it obvious? See! This is EXACTLY what I mean everyone! I don't doubt this girl, because this," she pointed to the destruction, "is something that Jeal would do!"

"Whatever they are planning, they mean war, and we must prepare for it. " The King sighed. "You'd think they'd learn their lesson by now, hmm. We'll need some help, some advice on these matters."

P.J. beamed. "I know just who to ask! I'll be back!"

Ashe moaned. "You aren't planning on asking that old man, are you? The weird one?"

P.J. grinned. "Just for you Ashe, JUST for you." She gave him the high five sign and ran out.

****

*SLAM!!*

"There you are, you dotty old man! Thought you could get away with it, eh? EH? Well, no one fools ol' Griszelda! Yessir! Especially after the fifth our sixth time!"

The old man yelped and nearly fell out of the chair. He madly began groping for his spectacles. "Thundernation! What's all the ruckus? I was having a lovely nap before you barged in!"

The woman crossed her fat arms, her orange lips curling into a sneer. "Ooh! Don't think because you have a title you can get away with anything you want! Sir Otto the Wise, indeed!" she spat. "I don't honestly care if you're the pope! ALL of my customers HAVE to pay their bills!" She slammed a paper down in front of him. "You'd better pay up every gold coin before I kick you out! No one stays in my inn for free! And don't give me the "I'm so old I forgot" spiel, because it won't wash!"

Otto peered at the paper. "What, may I ask, Griszelda, is the meaning of this? I fear that you are the one who is getting forgetful in their old age. I paid you for all the times I've stayed here. You just forgot to write them down."

"I KNOW what I'm talking about! Don't try to pull a fast one on me, old man!"

"Now see here, " he said angrily. "I HAVE the receipts right here!" He began to rummage through his many satchels. "Dangnabit! What did I do with my receipts?"

"I'll TELL you what do did with them, nothing, because you never got any." Griszelda replied.

:"Ah! Here! Here we go! Is this proof enough for you woman?" He pushed a pile of white papers in Griszelda's face, and he grinned. "Let's face it, you simply don't like the elderly, but don't think you can con me, oh no! I've still got it.. hee hee….Now would you mind leaving me alone? I'm expecting visitors."

Griszelda's mouth kept opening and closing, trying to speak, but she was too angry to do so. With a huff, she turned and walked out the door, slamming it behind her.

"What a queer woman. Hmm.." Otto said to himself. "So wrapped up in swindling people." A loud knock was heard and Otto groaned. "Now see here, Griszelda. I TOLD you-"

"Sir Otto? Wasn't I supposed to meet you here?"

"Oh! My visitors! So sorry, my lady! I thought you were someone else. Come in, come in."

The door opened to reveal a frazzled looking woman in a travelers cloak. Her eyes were worn and dull, like she had been working way too hard for a living. Behind her trailed a small girl with golden curls. She stared at Otto for a long time, and turned to her mother. "Who's that, Mommy?"

"The man I brought you to meet."

"He's gonna be my teacher?!" Her face scrunched up. "But he's so…so short!"

"I dunno baby, but don't call him short…it's not polite."

Otto good mood was instantly broken. He should have known. This woman wanted her child to be his disciple, and train under him to be an all-knowing scholar. But he already knew what his answer would be. For his own sanity, he had to say no. But, he had to polite, and hear them out. "Sit down, My lady. What exactly do you want from me?"

"Well," The woman began. "We live in a farming community. I have seven children, and I just can't take care of them all. I want to give my little Gabriella the best tutelage that I can. And, I heard you train children…"

"Actually, Madam, I only trained one."

"Well, that doesn't matter. I searched and asked around. All of my friends said that Sage Otto the Wise was the best!" She grinned. "You are THE Sage Otto the Wise. There isn't more than one of you?"

Otto laughed. "I don't see people's fascination with me and my so called "wisdom", but yes, I am he."

"Good! Will you consider taking my darling Gabriella in? She's very well behaved, is very smart, and is a sweet girl…Isn't that right, Gabi darling?"

Gabriella wasn't listening to her mother, she was pinching her nose and frowning. "Mommy, what that smell?"

"Gabriella!" The mother blushed. "She does have this habit of speaking before she thinks. Hopefully, she'll outgrow it…"

"Hmm…Well, this has nothing to do with your little girl's outburst, but I'm afraid I'm not teaching children anymore…"

The mother's face fell. "Oh, why not, if I may be so bold as to ask?"

"Well," Otto began. "I had a disciple once. Nice boy. You end up getting really attached to them. I never thought I would, but I did. I sent him on a mission to help the King of Lorath a year ago. He never came back.'

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"It's all right, M'lady. You had nothing to do with his death. But, as you can see, for my own sanity, I won't take anymore students in." He coughed. "Besides, I'm getting older. I may retire soon. Head up into a mountain and live the rest of my days in the solace of nature. However, I know several other wise men who may be able to take your daughter in. I hope your not too disappointed."

"Oh no. I totally understand." The woman got up. "Thank you for your time. May the immortals bless you." Taking the girls hand, the both waved and walked out the door.

Otto sank back in his chair. "I hope I never have to go through that again."

AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Otto jumped. "What in Anemone's name?" He ran to the window to see a girl suddenly materialize out of thin air, and land right into a water troth. With a splash, she screamed again and quickly jumped out, trying to wring the water out of her dripping clothes. "Dammit! My teleportation spells never work right." Shaking the last of the water from her hair. She ran toward the direction of the inn.

In about two minutes, loud knocks were heard on Otto's door. "A fine performance I just saw, Miss P.J. But you must learn to be careful WHERE you teleport." He paused. "You can come IN, you know."

P.J. opened the door, in the process dripping water all over the oak floor. "If you weren't such a good friend of Sandor's, I swear I'd lob off your head for that remark!"

Otto laughed. "Whatever, Miss P.J.. You're a sight for sore eyes! What has it been, a year since I saw you last? What is the hurry, anyhow?"

P.J. sighed. "Seems like the Danek are back in action."

"WHAT?"

"I know, I know. Seems totally crazy, But hear me out." P.J. sat down and began to tell her tale, all the gory details included. After she finished, she looked at Otto. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"What's your advice? That's what you specialize in, isn't it?"

"Well, yes. I suppose so. " He cleared his throat. "I'm siding with you, P.J. I heard of this tactic before. Their basic goal now is to use magical explosives against all the kingdoms. Their hope now is to kill off as many leaders as they can, then wipe their kingdoms out. Actually, it's pretty old fashioned. Wonder who thought it up?"

P.J. slowly rose up out of her chair, panicked.

"Miss P.J.? What is the matter now/"

"They'd use this tactic on Sandor too, wouldn't they…?"

"Well, yes, of course they would. Anyone would see that. But we shouldn't have a problem…unless….." He scowled. "You didn't warn the other kingdoms, did you?"

"No…we thought this was an isolated event! See why I'm so jumpy now? I gotta get to Lorath!"

"Whelp, seems like I'd better go with you. Hee hee, this man ain't down yet!" In a mad rush, both he and P.J. began to gather their belongings.

Knock Knock!

"Who is it?" They both asked in unison. They stared at each other, giving embarrassed looks.

The door, for the umpteenth time, swung open. "P.J.! I've been looking all OVER for you!"

P.J. blinked. "Ashe? What are you doing here?"

Ashe grinned, brushing some stray blonde hairs out of his face. "Well, P.J. Hayhill is only a half an hour away from the castle. It's not THAT far of a walk." He then noticed P.J.'s damp form and grinned even wider. "Teleportation spell backfire again?"

"Shut up. I don't have time for this. We have to get to Lorath. Now."

"What's the hurry? Hey! Wait for me!" P.J. called over her shoulder. "I'll explain on the way!"

****

God dammit…where IS he?

Kinsey was a little more than annoyed. Whoever said that twin siblings were somehow connected was full of it, because if it were true, her brother would have been home hours ago. Yet, here she was, sitting in her room for hours on end, waiting for her brother to return home.

"Kinsey! Can't we go out on the sea now? You've been waiting for your brother for hours!" a voice called up the stairs.

"Not yet!" Kinsey called back. " I need to solve this problem first!" She sank back on the bed, waiting. C'mon Hiram, just come home. she thought wildly.

A door clicked open, and Kinsey ran down the stairs, hoping it was him. She'd had two false alarms already, and wasn't ready for a third. At the foot of the stairs, she could see that it was indeed Hiram who walked in, now hanging up his coat.

"Where the hell have you been?" Kinsey asked.

Hiram didn't even look up at her. "Why?"

"You know well why! You were supposed to be home HOURS ago, Hiram! Do you know how long I've been waiting? I have a life too, you know!"

He snickered coldly. "My sister has suddenly turned into my mother."

"Don't be such a smart ass! I need to talk to you Hiram. About our relationship, about Arvy, and about this secret project of yours!"

"And I'm not in the mood to talk about it." he replied, slamming the closet door shut. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight." He pushed his way past her, climbing up the stairs. Kinsey was right on his heels. "Don't you dare walk away from me, Hiram!" She dashed into his room.

"What the hell do you want from me, Kinsey?" Hiram yelled.

"I want to know why you called Arvy a whore, for starters."

"Because she IS."

"You liar! You said she was the sweetest girl alive about a month ago. Why the sudden change? Who are you hanging around, Hiram. You never treated me, or Arvy, this way before. If it's something I'm doing…"

"I DON'T want to talk about this! What part of 'no' don't you understand?" He clenched his fist, raising it to his chest.

Kinsey peered at him. "Are you going to hit me, Hiram? Just to let you know, I could easily kick your butt into the floor, and you know it. But believe it or not, I actually love you brother, and would never do that to you, no matter what."

Hiram was silent.

"I want to know what this-" Kinsey accidentally brushed by the bed, and heard a loud plunk followed by the sound of coins being spilled over the floor. Lots of coins. Kinsey gasped when she saw, on the floor, a bag filled to bursting with gold. She never seen so much of it in one place in her entire life, even in her career as being a Pirate Captain. "Hiram, where in god's name did you get all this money? From the 'secret project' you're working on? What in shit's name are you in, a cult?"

Hiram's reply was walking right out the door.

"Hiram! WAIT!" But he already was gone. Kinsey yelled in fustration and kicked the bag across the floor, gold scattering everywhere. Instead of finding answers, Kinsey only had more questions.

****
 

"Hmm…so this is the famous Katarina I've heard so much of. Let me be the first to welcome you to my empire."

Katarina extended a gloved hand. "Ah, and it is always a pleasure to meet a truly tactical mind. I'm sure we'll work famously together." She shook the emperors hand.

Jeal nodded. "Indeed. We have much to discuss. We don't know for SURE if we will be working together yet."

Katarina frowned. "But isn't that what Phaedra told us to do? Granted, I rarely follow orders of any kind, I feel we have to listen to hers, since she is the source of our powers."

"You see, Katarina, I don't mean to slight you," Jeal sat down on his throne. "but, well, I won't work with someone I can't trust."

"Ah. You share the same views as I do. All I know is that we must work together on reviving Phaedra. However, " She smiled. "Once that is completed we go our separate ways. For now an alliance is needed."

Jeal stroked his chin, in thought. "So, I assume you know about technology, Katarina? We specialize in it here, and it would be helpful if you knew about it."

Katarina gave Jeal a disgusted look. "Perish the thought! I care little for science and machines, and it cares even less for me." She grinned. "Now magic, Jeal. Magic is king! Think about it, having the arcane arts to do whatever you wish. If you want to set fire to an entire forest, you can do it in a blink of an eye, without funding mass amounts of money to do so. How much money does it cost to create your mechs? I can destroy villages, mountains….anything I want, I can do for free. This is what magic gives me."

Jeal stood up. "I see your point, Miss Katarina. I'm a little old fashioned myself. I know a bit of magic as well, but not nearly as much as you."

"But you see, Jeal, what a great team we'd be? Your science…my magic, Phaedra's power. No one could stop us. No one."

Jeal began to smirk. "I agree, Miss Katarina. It's too good to pass up. Partners?" He extended his hand for another handshake.

"Yes, but…I hope you don't mind." She cleared her throat and walked over to a little table where a tray of wine was laid out. She took two goblets and poured wine in each of them. "When a Quele'zar clan member made a deal with anyone, it was tradition for the members of the pact to drink a goblet of wine, mixed with a little of their partner's blood." She grabbed a small knife from the table. "I hope you'll respect my wishes, Sir Jeal, that I wish to keep this tradition alive, but I feel that you will."

"A little knick never hurt me. All right, Miss Katarina, when you are finished, give me that knife."

Katarina nodded, and drew the sliver knife to her white flesh. She cut deep enough so that a thin trickle of blood dribbled into the wine. She passed the blood-stained knife to Jeal.

"Now it's your turn, Emperor."

Jeal took the knife and quickly punctured his flesh, a thin rivulet of blood dripping down his arm. He almost missed dripping the blood into his cup, but he succeeded. The two partners exchanged goblets, and raised them high, in a toast.

"To the Empire. To Power." Jeal said. And both drank from their goblets. The pact had been sealed.

Katarina put down her goblet and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Tell me Jeal, since we are now allies, what is this so-called "Operation: Boom Time" I've heard so much about?"

Jeal chuckled. "Just a simple plan to wipe out all the rulers of the five kingdoms, then wipe them out." He strolled back to his throne. "You see, Katarina, my enemies expect more…how shall we say…flash and bang from me, and it's true, I do deliver. I'll give them the flash and bang, but not as they had planned. And.." He winked. "Right now, one of my more hated enemies is seeing that firsthand."

****

Such pressure. All his life, he had been trained to rule a kingdom. He could remember vividly when he was a young boy, sitting on his father's knee, and he would listen as his father taught him the duty he would soon have to bear. "It's not easy ruling a Kingdom, little one. You have hundreds of people who need to be guided, ruled, and, most of all, protected. It can be a somewhat lonely profession. But, I tell you my boy, it makes it all worthwhile when you see your hard work pay off. When you see a kingdom live and thrive! I tell you, Sandor, it's better then anything you'll ever experience!" His father then would always give his hearty laugh, his mother would smile in approval, and Sandor would listen to every word.

Sandor's father was right about one thing, it was a lonely profession. He just didn't know if the rest was true.

He went through such a whirlwind of changes lately that he couldn't stand up straight. Becoming a king was nothing like his father told him. It was true that it was hard work, but he neglected to tell him how hard. He felt so much pressure form the people to be what his father was, that he didn't have the time to bask in the fruits of his labor. His chancellor said it's only difficult the first couple of years, all he had to do was get used to the job, and let the people get used to him. But Sandor wished the people would get used to him now. There was no actual complaints about the young king, but Sandor always had a knack for putting pressure on himself to be the best, to be what everyone wanted him to be. He felt it when he was a boy, studying so hard to make his father proud. He felt it when he went on his quest to stop the Danek Empire, feeling he couldn't make any slip-ups or mistakes for fear of letting others down. And he felt it now, ruling his kingdom, thinking that he just wasn't doing enough.

Like today, for example, he was studying the overall crop and business incomes each city in his kingdom was making. Although they were higher than they were last year, Sandor felt they could be even better, and, when he thought about it, he felt that the city's income had to do with the fact that he was a poor ruler. What's the use? Sandor thought. I'm always going to be an overachiever, most likely till my dying day. I can see it now, me, sitting on my throne with a gray beard and a hearty chuckle…and a peptic ulcer.

"Your highness, a word please."

Sandor put down his records and sighed. Guess I'll brood about them later, and turned toward the speaker. "Hello Cyrrin. How do you fare today?"

"Humph! You shouldn't be asking me that question, you highness. He gestured toward the kingdom's records. "You know, actually, we are doing a lot better than last year. You really have to stop straining yourself. You're doing a fine job."

"Am I Cyrrin, am I?"

Cyrrin smiled. "Of course you are. I've been chancellor for almost three generations, m'boy. I've seen plenty of kings. You have to consider, you came into power at a very turbulent time, and you melded into this type of life much easier than I ever thought you could. Stop placing such doubts on yourself. Live out your life!"

Sandor smiled. "Thanks, I needed that."

"However," Cyrrin began. "There is a little problem that must be attended to. The problem of finding a pretty little lady-' Sandor immediately began to protest. "Now now, your Majesty, I know you loved that little Elin, we all did, and I'm not saying you need to forget her. I doubt no one will ever take her place. However, you can't sit about as a bachelor for the rest of your days! I'm positive Lady Elin wouldn't want that."

"She wouldn't. Dammit Cyrrin, I hate it when you're right. "He chuckled for an instant. "I will find someone, just give me some time."

"Understandable, your Grace. I'll let you figure it out. But, if I may make a suggestion, that little Aerith girl is rather cute. Just a thought."

A young maid walked into the room then, carrying a brown box under her arm. "Your Majesty, sorry to interrupt, but someone delivered a package for you."

"Oh really? Who?"

"I'm not quite sure, but he was a dignitary of some sort."

Sandor nodded and took the package from the young maid. "Then it should be all right. Thank you."

"It is no trouble at all, your Majesty. If you'll excuse me, I have tons of dirty socks to wash. " She bowed and ran off.

Curiosity was eating at Sandor as he spied the package sitting in his lap. It was a little odd that a country would be sending him a package of this sort, but he assumed it was all right. He began to tear away the paper, Cyrrin eyeing him closely…

"SANDOR! DON'T!"

Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Sandor heard the feminine voice scream, he looked up to see a flash of pink and white racing toward him, in total panic. He felt the package being slapped away from him, being thrown far away, then he heard the same voice scream. "GET DOWN!" and felt the figure pull him to the floor. There was a loud bang, and he felt the walls and floor shake. He heard some cries in the distance, but he couldn't be sure. In the confusion, he covered his ears from the sounds. Finally, he opened his eyes, blinking.

"What the fu-?"

"Sandor! Thank god I got here in time!" A voice interrupted. He looked up to see a girl, damp from either water or perspiration, he couldn't tell which, smiling down at him. She winked. "You thought you'd never see me again, eh? I was hoping to meet under better circumstances than this."

"P.J.?" He asked, thoroughly shocked.

She giggled. "In the flesh!"

"What are you doing here? How did you know about…" he pointed to the damage the bomb made. "that? What's going on here?"

P.J. smiled melted away, and she became serious, for once, something Sandor wasn't used to. "Sandor. I think you'd better sit down…cuz you're not gonna like this…"
 

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