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This article, Or Does It Explode?, is property of Zicoihno.

Pushing back their violent intruders, Prince Joseph, Sanjo, and the others have began to secure the capital. However, a sense of uneasiness pervades Xena. Is there something else lurking among this plot to lay ruin to Mercurius?

A Bird's Eye View of Chaos

A deathly silence fell upon the outskirts of Crocus. The people of the city were all holding their breath as they waited for this cloud of chaos to pass over them. Everyone was both confused and relieved that the intruders had focused solely on the Royal Palace. On one hand, they were worried for the Royal Family but they knew they had all the security they needed. Crocus was playing the waiting game, waiting for the chaos to end.

Suddenly, there was a stir in the air. The howl of a frightened dog pierced through the cold silence. High in the sky, a single crack splintered horizontally. A crack in the sky. An elderly man fell back in his chair as he watched from afar in his home. Immediately, the crack began to open slowly letting off something of a hissing sound that sent shivers down the spine of any onlookers.

As it the eye opened, a giant pupil was revealed. It was of a golden hue. Staring out her window in awe, a small girl squinted to make out what it was. Her eyes widened as it hit her. It was a giant eye, perched high in the sky. as if the eye of some being seated in a realm above them. She gasped as she quickly stepped away from the window.

The pupil began to swerve around as if searching for something, blinking every now and then. Suddenly, it tilted to the direction of the palace. A glowing blue ring appeared around the pupil. It had found its' target, and it was time to observe the situation.


On the other side of the eye....

"Boy, oh boy. You catch them off guard and this happens."

The room was dimly lit. On a rug spread over the floor in the center of the room, was a man laying on the side of an exceptionally large dog. His canine companion was fast asleep, however, he was popping grapes into his mouth as he enjoyed his view. Floating several feet in front of him was a giant glowing sphere serving as a window into the chaos that has erupted in Crocus.

He found himself amused in a way. It had all gone somewhat smoothly. However, the bodies scattered around Ama and that Xena were not a joy to see. "Well, no plan ever goes perfectly, " He murmured to himself, setting down the bowl of grapes. His long hair was a cool silver and his face was rather young looking. He stroked his chin as he watched the spherical screen before him.

"Xemen-sama."

He leaned forward and looked to a see a blue-haired woman approach him. Her expression was rather serious, however, Xemen persisted to give her a friendly wave. "Ah, Thelia, " Xemen said, smirking, " I didn't know you were back." She nodded and gave a quick bow in respect.

Xemen set his eyes back on the floating sphere. "Looks like Ama's done, she can't do much against someone like the Warrior Princess," He said, rising to his feet swiftly. He brushed off the back of his clothes promptly. "Anyway, has that guy made it to the real target? It's time they wrap things up."

Thelia folded her arms behind her back. "Yes, he should be about there, " She said plainly. "Judging from what I can see on that lens of yours, they won't have a clue what hit them." A sly smirk cracked across Xemen's face at the last comment. Thelia narrowed her eyes at him, whenever that happened it meant mischief was on the horizon.

Xemen turned and walked towards the floating sphere as live feed of the front of the palace continued to play before their eyes. "You know, Thelia, " Xemen said quickly, his grin not leaving his face, " All this unfolding chaos is a sight to see. It's damned entertaining in its' own way. "

He peered over his shoulder towards his subordinate. Her eyes were calm and steady, her stance was stern, as if waiting any spli-second orders. "Thelia, call them all. It's time for everyone to come back, things have moved onto the next stage, " Xemen said coolly

"As you wish, Xemen-sama."

A Deadly Waltz

Vilmos raised his arms in defense as a swirling torrent of red hot flames raged around his general position. He clenched his teeth, leaping up a nearby building to escape the fiery onslaught. With a final bound, he landed on the roof, the shingles cracking beneath him on contact. He clenched his right arm and looked at it. "Fuck, a burn, " He muttered to himself, frowning.

"Things aren't going as you wished, huh?"

Vilmos eyes shifted to side opposite of the roof's ledge to find his opponent, Sanjo, smirking back at him. Vilmos glanced back to the street he had fled from, the flames were all gone. Strangely enough, he noticed there was no scorch marks at all. How did that make any sense? That bloody inferno should of done a whole lot of damage, he figured. Vilmos shot his attention back at the Wizard Saint before him.

Sanjo pointed towards the same street. "You see, I can control the flames to only burn things that have a considerable amount of inherent magical energy within them, " Sanjo said, his look became serious again. "In other words, the only thing they'd be burning is your flesh and yours alone." Vilmos narrowed his eyes at his enemy's change of tone, there was a deadly edge to it all of a sudden.

"I'd expect no less from the Golden Lion, " Vilmos said quickly. He winced at the pain from his burned arm. "I didn't expect you have such mastery over Fire Magic, it's interesting." Vilmos didn't take his eyes off Sanjo, not willing to take a chance at anymore surprises.

"It was the first type of magic that I learned, but we're not here for stories, are we?" Sanjo said, taking a few steps forward. "I need to know. What is Exia's goal with this nonsense?" Sanjo wasn't too interested in continuing the battle, it would be a waste to kill a man he could get some answers from.

"We're doing this for Xemen-sama's goal, " Vilmos said quickly, "But I'll say no more than that, Golden Lion." He let his arm go and stood up straight. The height difference between the two men wasn't huge, but Vilmos' build made it seem so depending how one looked at them.

"Xemen? What an unusual name. So he is the one that got this nifty barrier that negates Requip?" Sanjo asked and took another few steps toward Vilmos. The latter edged his foot, ready to pounce at any time.

"Not exactly, we bought it off someone, " Vilmos replied, cracking his knuckles. " You can talk to that Xena all about it someday, it's her fault."

Sanjo arched an eyebrow at the last comment, not entirely sure how to react. "Xena's what? If you're gonna talk, at least make sense. Elaborating isn't that hard, " Sanjo said, his eyes still dead set on Vilmos. There wasn't time to start playing the blame game. Not to mention, doing just that usually ends badly, very badly.

"If you live, that is, " Vilmos said devilishly. Suddenly, the white-haired man lunged at Sanjo at full speed. His fist taking a metallic appearance once again. Sanjo kissed his teeth as he sidestepped to avoid the attack. Quickly, he ducked as a kick swiped over him.

Sanjo wasn't interested in prolonging this fight anymore. He had to get back to the others. He wasn't getting any good answers either. Questioning was pointless with this man named Vilmos. He leapt back and shot his right arm to the side. Electrical charges began surge around his hand.

"You're gonna do that lightning fist shit again!" Vilmos shouted, bolting towards Sanjo almost like a mad bull. "To hell with that, I'll show you a punch you'll never forget." With every powerful step, the roof's shingles beneath each foot cracked on contact. Suddenly, Vilmos felt a shiver down his spine. His eyes shifted to the side to see Sanjo at his left flank, his hand already slashing towards Vilmos.

"Damn, " Vilmos muttered through gritted teeth. He had been blindsided in every sense of the word. Sanjo slashed his lightning enveloped hand upwards towards Vilmos' chest. Yet, on contact, he felt his hand meet with an extremely hard surface. Sanjo's eyes widened in surprise, quickly taking in the new development. He skipped backwards towards the edge of the roof, to make a distance between him and Vilmos.

Sanjo narrowed his eyes at what was before him, Vilmos' entire torso had taken the same metallic appearance as his fists and forearms had previously. "Tch, you can do that on your chest as well? " Sanjo asked, standing up.

Vilmos laid his hand on his chest. "You almost had me there, you're pretty quick, " Vilmos said with a sigh of relief. "Luckily for me, Ferrum Eques allows me to cover my hold body in this metallic coating among other things. Though you did shock me with those electrical currents, but nothing I couldn't handle."

Two things became obvious to Sanjo in that moment. First, Vilmos' magic made for a powerful defense. Second, the man's tolerance for pain was a bit disturbing, a tolerance for pain pushed to the farthest extent almost. Though Sanjo could see how useful that could be in the long run.

"I think it's time to stop playing around, Vilmos, I don't need you wasting my time anymore, " Sanjo said sternly. Vilmos perked up at the statement, a grin crossing his face. Sanjo was curious as to how his friends were doing. He was sure they were victorious, but at what cost?

"Yes, yes, let's get serious, Golden Lion, " Vilmos said mockingly.


Zeo walked through a relatively empty corridor. Well, not exactly empty when he paid any mind to the spread of fallen enemies. They had clearly been dealt with. He looked around as he continued down the wide hallway. It looked like the enemy had been repelled or at least about to be. He still could not believe the capital had been attacked and at a time like this. When this news reached the rest of country, it would not be pretty, and it would possibly make Fiore look weak to other nations.

"Zeo, looks like you've done your part."

Zeo snapped his head up and found Richard up ahead, waving at him. Richard arched an eyebrow. "What's with the serious face?" He asked. Richard turned on his heel to walk alongside Zeo.

"Well, " Zeo said calmly, " since the capital of a powerful kingdom is under attack, I find myself plagued with questions. I'm just trying to figure out what's going on."

Richard shrugged, "That's fair. I'd say keep your cool, but I don't think you've ever had a problem with that, eh?" Zeo stayed silent. Richard sighed, the situation was tense. "Have you seen Sanjo?" He asked quickly, wanting to change the subject.

"Not at all, he's in town and dealing with the enemy there. Or so I sensed, " Zeo replied, stroking his chin. "Commander Xena isn't too far from here, so we should regroup with her. " Zeo figured it'd be best to get back together with the rest of the palace's make-shift special guard. Richard nodded in agreement, it was a good idea.

"Alright, let's do that. We should find Alia and his highness on the way there, " Richard said, fixing his hood.


The clang of blades echoed through the palace corridor. Lilya skidded back, gripping her scythe. She was struggling to keep balance as she shot a murderous glare towards her opponent. Joseph lowered his sword. "Speak! Who do you fight for, who is your leader?" He commanded. His eyes held no compassion or mercy, only anger, judgement, and a tint of disgust.

"Joseph-sama, I'm not sure these two know much, " Alia shouted from a dozen feet away, "However, this one says their leader is a man named Xemen. Also, there is more members than those that have infiltrated the capital." Alia kept her sword at Ilya's neck. The two of them were not much when they could not fight together, that was something they had quickly realized.

"I see. So Exia is lead by this Xemen. What's the goal of all this, of the attack?" Joseph asked, his eyes locked with Lilya's. She quickly shook her head.

"Lilya won't be telling you anything, " She said roughly. "Not a thing, no she won't." Joseph gripped his sword tightly, his patience was wearing thin, very thin. Above all, the girl's speaking manner could drive him insane.

Alia rolled her eyes. "I told you, your highness. I doubt they're fully in the loop, " Alia said. "I mean, they're higher than those chump change lackeys, but not---" A small snicker caught Alia off guard. She directed her eyes to Ilya's now smug face.

"You are partly right, we're not that high up the ladder but we do know the Boss' plans. He doesn't hide things from those he calls his comrades, Boss isn't like most men that you lot would label as criminals."

Joseph rubbed his left temple in irritation. Xemen this, Exia that, it was just so irritating. He narrowed her eyes at Lilya as she lowered her weapon. "Ilya-nee, Lilya believes it's time, " She said, keeping her eyes on Joseph's sword as if it were glaring at her, "Time to go." Suddenly she took off down the corridor speedily.

"Stupid brat! Alia, I'll chase her, " Joseph shouted, quickly sheathing his sword. "You handle that one, the one called Ilya." There was no answer. For a talkative person like Alia, that was problematic. Joseph turned back to his comrade's direction, "Alia?"

His eyes widened as noticed there was Alia there and her alone. Her expression was ripe with surprise. Joseph quickly shot his head back to the other's direction, and she was gone without a trace. Down the hall, the only way to get out was through a doorway, a pair of doors that couldn't be opened without making quite a racket.

"She just vanished, Joseph-sama, " Alia said. She set her attention to the prince. She gestured at the doorway at the end of the hall, " And that one as well, huh? We need to go find Xena now, your highness." Joseph nodded in agreement, there was no promise those two were gone for good.

"Yes, let us do that."


Ama panted as she knelt some yards away from Xena. She clutched her arm in pain, the Commander did a bit of a number on her. She knew she was outmatched, but orders were orders.

Xena glanced down at her enemy's current state. "You're strong, but having me as your enemy was just bad luck if you ask me, " She said coolly. "Now, I won't kill you. You're a prime prisoner for questioning." She narrowed her eyes at Ama, still the same emotionless face. Stoicism would be the death of the young woman's personality , Xena figured, if there was any personality to her to begin with.

"You're going to interrogate me?" Ama asked, eyes locked with Xena's glare. Xena sighed and cracked her knuckles. Ama glanced at the castle behind Xena. "Seems it's about time, " She thought.

"Well, no, " Xena replied, crossing her arms across her chest, "That will be the interrogation unit's job. I don't do interrogations, never have and probably never will if I'm lucky." Suddenly, Xena felt a totally new magical presence appear in the castle. She quickly glanced back at the castle. It wasn't anything big or so it seemed, just out of nowhere; she couldn't pinpoint where.

Ama pressed her hand on the ground. "It's time." She clenched her teeth, breathing slowly as she tried to ignore all the physical pain flowing around her body. "I see, however, Xena of the Army...."

Xena turned back to Ama with an arched eyebrow, not sure of her enemy's slight change in tone.

"I must bid you farewell. You were as strong as the rumors suggested, but this ends here."

Suddenly in a twirling flash of black, the woman vanished. "What in the....." Xena trailed off as she searched for the woman's magical signature, no such luck. She was gone.


Electrial charges surrounded Sanjo's lowered right hand. While unscathed, the battle was going nowhere for the Wizard Saint. He found it ideal to capture this Vilmos without killing him, but that was better said than done with the way the man fought. Being surrounded by homes didn't help either.

"There's nothing like a good fight, eh, Golden Lion?" Vilmos mused, flashing the same devilish grin as before. "It's a damn shame we couldn't fight it out properly."

"You say that as if it would be a good thing, " Sanjo said quickly, sliding his hands into his pockets. "I wouldn't be interested in fighting a guy that's stronger than me. I mean, if I had to, duty calls but it wouldn't be something to look forward to. "

Vilmos shook her head. "No, you don't get it, it's the thrill of the fight, " Vilmos said. He clenched his fists and set his eyes on them. " The thrill of clashing with another in a true fight where anything goes, where one's life is on the line. It gives me chills."

"I'd say get help, but you're not the first person I've met like that, " Sanjo shot back, rolling his eyes. "While I enjoy a fight with a strong opponent, it's not that high up on my list of hobbies."

"Hmph, it's a wonder how you law abiding mages have any fucking fun, " Vilmos said. Sanjo arched an eyebrow, such stupid responses were never warranted. The comment made him wonder about what exactly was going on in the head of a dark mage.

"Trust me, you don't have to be acting like a fool to have fun. Decency should be the rule of thumb for everyone, but what would a criminal know of that, eh? " Sanjo said calmly. Vilmos' grin grew even wider if such a thing was possible. He was especially amused to have the Golden Lion pulling his leg on the matter. Sanjo tilted his head to the side. "Why are we even talking about this?"

"Nothing wrong with good conversation in a fight, besides it's important you be informed of how lovely the heat of battle really is." Vilmos stretched out his arms and leaned back to stretch his back a bit. "Besides, it's not like you've been coming at me seriously. "

Sanjo was about to open his mouth when a figure appear on a roof near them. Almost taken aback, Sanjo narrowed his eyes at the recently arrived young woman. She had some injuries here and there on her body, yet, her face said nothing and felt nothing.

She was silent and had her eyes on Vilmos. He nodded back curtly. "Well, seems this black cloud of chaos has come to pass, Golden Lion."

"What's with the poetic speech all of a sudden?" Sanjo asked through a surprised look.

Vilmos gave no reply. He placed his hand firmly to the ground and in a twirling flash of black, he was gone. Sanjo quickly shot his eyes to where the woman had been, she was nowhere to be found as well. Both of them had vanished. However, Sanjo looked up to the sky, the barrier was still active.

Our World's Perverse Sense of Humor

"Can you stop pacing?"

Victoria looked back at Lana who was sitting with her legs crossed on a chair to the side. Lana's face held little sympathy this time. Victoria had to admit, she was overreacting. The situation was under control, but she just couldn't bring herself to really relax as Lana kept assuring she could do. "I'm sorry, I'm just tense, " Victoria replied weakly, "I can't get my mind in order, I'm not like you."

Lana sighed. "Not like me? Trust me, just relax, " Lana said, standing up from her seat. The girl was half getting on her nerves and half worrying her. Now that she thought about it, Lana wished it was Sanjo here and not her. He would be better at this sort of thing, she was sure of it.

"I hope no one on our side died, " Victoria said quickly. She walked up the window and nearly pressed her face up against the glass as she peered into the courtyard. It was the same array of bodies as before. A shiver ran down her spine suddenly and Victoria backed away from the window.

"What's wrong?" Lana asked with a frown. Victoria offered no reply. "Um, hello? Earth to princess?" She asked again, tapping her foot.

"I don't know, I just felt a shiver down my spine...." She trailed off as she directed her attention at Lana's tapping foot. It move up and down rhythmically. Victoria nodded at her friend's foot, "Can you please stop? I've never been able to stand when people keep tapping their feet."

Lana quickly stopped. "Oh, sorry, " Lana replied. "You know, it's gotten rather quiet. I'd say we've cleaned up the enemy for the most part, but that's just a guess."

"You think so!" Victoria shouted, grabbing Lana's hand. Lana arched an eyebrow at the young princess, not sure how to respond. Her normal way would be too harsh for any sort of royalty. "You think we've won?!" Victoria asked full of sudden excitement and relief.

Lana took a step back, taken aback by the girl's sudden change of tone. "Yea, but don't get too excited, " Lana said, "It's still a bit too soon to tell."

Things were finally looking up. Truth be told, Lana had wanted to join the fight since it began. She had wanted to fight side-by-side with Sanjo, but Joseph had entrusted her with his sister, the sister of the Crown prince and the daughter of Fiore's King and Queen. Lana was just happy to see the confusion leave Victoria's face and a small sense of peace fall on her. Seemed the plan had went well.

"Anyway, Victoria-sama, just to be saf--" Lana suddenly shot her eyes towards the door and raised her arm before Victoria.

BOOM!

In that moment, the pair of doors was blown off its' hinges and each door flew past Lana and Victoria's position. A cloud of smoke spread through the room. Victoria coughed, trying to the fan the smoke away from her face. Lana narrowed her eyes at the figures piling into the room one after another like rats. A sense of danger had come back to her. She needed to protect Victoria with all her might, she could feel the girl trembling without even touching her.

As the smoke cleared, the first half of the room appeared to be filled with thuggish looking men. Some were armed and others not. Their eyes were set on the two young women like wolves looking at a young lamb. Clearly, these were some of the dark mages that infiltrated the castle. How had they gotten here without her noticing? The doorway was clear of any man.

Footsteps caught Lana's attention as she set her eyes on the doorway. As a figured came closer, a sense of confusion began to swirl in Lana. As the man walked through the door and came to a halt, that confusion only became more powerful. Something was wrong here. The man snapped his book closed and lowered it to his side, running his free hand through his black hair.

"What the hell is going on?"

A dark grin crossed the man's face as Lana's eyes widened. The other men round him were silent. Only Lana's voice was to be heard. The silence was deathly and almost eery. Lana could feel her own stomach churning. Questions began to multiply in her head, with a ferocious speed. What exactly was happening here?

"Mugen Oren of Team Destroyer, Claude's team. W-why are you h-here?"

Still no answer. She felt something snap in her head as the rage and confusion swirled in her like a furious tornado. "What the hell is going on!" Lana snapped, throwing her hand back. If a fight was about to break out, she would show no mercy.

She quickly looked at her hand in confusion. "Why aren't my weapons appearing?" A cold drop of sweat ran down the side of Lana's delicate face. Things were just getting more confusing. Why was requip not working?

"Sorry to break it to you, Lana Kaen, " Mugen said softly, "But the little barrier my comrades put up earlier won't let you use that little trick." Lana's expression shifted from a confused rage to that of shock. "Basically, you can't use requip and so you can't use those nifty weapons of yours."

Lana quickly took another stance but Mugen's glare could only keep her guessing. Mugen chuckled to himself. "Ah, yes, Ice-Make. Don't count on that, the odds aren't in your favor, " He said. Mugen gestured at a tall man near him, "With these guys in a place like this where you have to protect the royal brat, you shouldn't be so hasty."

Lana remained silent as her pupils shifted side to side, scanning the room. "And don't forget, " Mugen said coldly, "I'm here. You're too smart to do anything stupid, am I right?" The last words sent shivers down Victoria's spine.

"I would of never thought, " Lana said quickly as she regained her composure, "That I'd be seeing you so soon. So you were all part of whatever group is attacking now from the start?" She wanted answers, and she wanted them now. The situation was dire. Lana had been in some bad binds, but this was new.

"I'm gonna make this easy for you, Lana, listen good, " Mugen said sternly. "Hand over the princess and we'll be on our way. Don't try to be some valiant hero and fight us anyway. There's no honor in poorly picked battles. Logic, please do use it." The was a couple of snickers among the men around him. The thought of this all amusing them pissed Lana off.

Lana felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see a teary-eyed Victoria. "Just let them take me, Lana, I don't want you to die....not for me. Please, I just can't see you die like that, " She stuttered. Victoria struggled to hold back the tears.

It was as if the girl had given up all hope in that moment, it struck a chord in Lana. This was bad, really bad. "Heh, a smart girl this princess is. Nice to know my homeland has a competent royal family, " Mugen said, grinning. Victoria began to walk towards Mugen and past a speechless Lana. "Your move, " Mugen mused, looking at Lana.

What happens to a plan that is turned upside down at the drop of a hat? Lana looked at Victoria then at Mugen and then at the men around them and back again. What was she to do? What was the best course of action? Even in the years she spent in the Rune Knights, she never found herself in such a problematic situation. In this moment, she was tasked with a choice that was painful regardless of which path she took.

Does it bleed like a wound from a sword?

Lana bit her lip as dozens and dozens of thoughts rushed through her mind. A flurry of emotions had taken root in her. Her line of thinking had taken an erratic turn. Regardless of where Sanjo and the others were, they wouldn't be here in time. If she tried to fight, she'd be a dead woman and Victoria would still be captured; God knows how these scum would treat the poor girl.

Does it ignite like a blazing inferno?

Then it came to her, there was no immediate path to victory. Yet, patience was a virtue. All her she could think was one basic question: what do I do? Lana clenched her teeth, "Sorry, Sanjo, it seems things have just gotten even more complicated." Lana stood up straight and marched towards Mugen and Victoria. She grabbed the princess' shoulder.

Or does it explode?

"Mugen, take me with you. I will hand over Victoria, but take me with you. That is all I ask, nothing more, you still win."

Victoria's eyes widened in surprise, her tears now streaming down her face. Fear was all she could feel at this moment. Mugen rolled his eyes. "Really?" He asked plainly.

"Yes, take both Victoria and I, " Lana said, raising her hands in surrender. "That's my only request."

"The boss is gonna love this, " Mugen said whimsically. "Checkmate for Exia, I suppose. Let's go, I don't have all day."

Victoria felt her heart drop and shot a look of confusion at Lana. Why was she doing this? Lana simply nodded at Victoria with a calm face. Lana wanted the princess to know things would work out and that everything would be alright. But, aside from a crude set of ideas, Lana had no idea what to expect. From here on, they were prisoners of the enemy and nothing else for now. Lana kept her composure as her hands were cuffed.

"Yes, looks like you win."

To be continued.

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