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Neliel gamuza by nuclearagent-d62fa5u
"Do not worry. I won't take your life, but this is where your resistance comes to an end!"

This article Power of the Phoenix, is the sole property of Mangetsu and as such, no user may edit this article without explicit permission from the aforementioned creator. If you wish to use this article in any way, please Speak and I'll respond

Cast in the Name of God; Ye Not Guilty

This article, Power of the Phoenix, is property of Firegod00

Power of the Phoenix

The Tables Have Turned

"Augh-dam-dam-dam-dammit!" Swartz sputtered out a string of curses head over heels, his body crashing through a number of trees, leaving a wake of Darkness Magic from the impact he felt. Moaning he got up and rolled his neck around, sighing with aggravation. Arching a brow up he could see that his new enemy -he forgot his name...was it Vicky?- and that already put him on edge by making his hair stand up, his skin crawl and sweat bead down his face. "Crap-Crap-Crap-Crap! Where did he go?!"

Turning his head to the right, the left, turning to look behind and then finally below he knew that only left one place. Above.

Looking up above, Swartz's mouth gaped as a giant steam engine made out of Light howled out its tell-tale whistle, making him almost disbelieve what he was seeing. Shaking his head to shake off the shock, he reached up to toggle the collar on his neck...something he had to do several times just to keep up with this bastard of an enemy. Bringing up the dial from seven to six, the light made even his shade covered eyes blink, accidentally setting it to five by mistake. This way his power thrummed so wildly that a similarly white pillar of light that he manifested when turning the dial from 10, its lowest setting, to 9 when he fell into the river, the power of his Ethernano was enough to cushion the train just inches above his head. 

"Boom-Boom! You're Gone!" Swartz cackled as he clapped both hands above his head, creating a brief spark before the unleashed Pyro Magic was generated above his white locks. A devastating tower of flames tore into the magical construct, blowing through it and tearing it into glassy fragments of its former glory. When it was erased, he was taken aback by the Majestic Armored Wizard barrely down with his Banishing Ray Sword in hand. Reaching for a sword hilt sheathed along his coat-covered back, he unsheathed it and parried his enemy just as he made proximity, causing an incredible clash of Ethernano that flashed and detonated around the two of them. 

With a fiery geyser of Pyro Magic unleashed through the sword, forcing Victor to counter with a wave of Light Magic himself. Both forces curved around the two Mages, roaring out and spreading out devastating that continued to burn and indent the land around them. Crack after crack webbed the cindering earth, flames rolling off the surface of the soil that continued to be ransacked. Tendrils of Ethernano poured out from their bodies, blowing away the ground around the forest, creating branches of which the river came into contact with the phenomena, boiling it into vapor instantly and sending waves crashing across their vicinity. 

Amidst their burning collision, Swartz found himself seeing a brighter gleam escape Victor's visage. Clashing against his face, he jerked back with a shout of pained surprise. Feeling his sword maneuvered away, a palm thrust struck his chest, following a kinetic blast of Hard Light Magic sending him flying back and ending the rivers of force their clash created. Crashing head over heel, he stabbed his sword into the ground, halting his backward drag. 

With the armored Victor approaching with a gleaming ray that formed an intricate handle and a guard that resembled feathers, the shimmering construct he held lowered to his side and his majestic person walked towards him. Their surroundings was thick of sulfur and ash, dancing embers crackled around and the renewed rush of water through the cracks of the ground showed the calamity they've caused through a mere struggle of magic against magic. It almost seemed like half a kilometer of their surroundings was boiling, burning or completely burnt to the ground with only fragments of foilage, shrubbery and life showing what used to be there. 

"Heh...I have to admit, it's been awhile since I've fought someone this good," Swartz admitted out loud, resting his cross-guarded blade onto his shoulder, leaning to the opposite side while another hand waved in an exaggerative manner. He spoke even as his enemy's sword dug into the ground, producing an intimidiating trench of sparks that produced a dazzling effect next to his radiantly lit armor. "I mean, that's saying alot. I've fought the Sorcerors of Midi. The Mage Knights of Caelum. The Punishment Force by the Council, and even tangled with the Kingdom of Fiore's band of executioners, the Garou Knights. Best fight I've ever had was against...uh...huh, I can't remember for some reason..."

Scratching his chin as he craned his neck up, he found his senses tingling at the sudden appearance of a shimmering streak of Victor's crouched body. With an arm pulled back with his sword, it extended to be the size of a tower, swinging out to crash into Swartz's side. What the prior found surprising was the sudden reveal of an enormous muscular limb, pumped with blood and dark grey in skin tone. With the sleeve ripped off by the disproportionate growth of size, he smiled viciously as the bulky limb shattered the blade and swung out to punch Victor's backpedaling person.

"NGH!" The Phoenix Guild Master grunted out, feeling his armor crack as his whole body was thrust with a column of pressurized wind tunneling out from the path of Swartz's gargantuan limb. Feeling himself moving past the crater and crash through several additional trees back towards the moving Ark's gleam, the man could only produce a pulse of Light Magic and halt his momentum. To his surprise he saw Swartz already upon him, his feet blowing a stream of flames beneath his soles to propel perpindicularly aligned soaring person at him. Leaning forward and crossing his arms over each other, he uttered out loud as a considerably large glass window of multiple colors thrust up from the earth in a gout of bright golden light coming from the soil. "Majesty Window!

The flames roared against it, curling around its borders to burn sizable trenches for a dozen meters behind the flame obscured shield that protected Victor. What didn't however was the simian appearing fist crashing through the window in a single impact, forcing him to cross his armored arms and take the blow standing. A vibrant flash emanated from his body producing frictional pressure, absorbing the damage through additional fissures of damage across his particle formed plates, but holding back with a warping groan. Gritting teeth with a visible strain, Victor sneered at the offending fist while Swartz laughed from behind his monstrous appendage. 

"I'm impressed! I don't think anyone's ever stopped the Titan Arm before," He crowed out, splaying his teeth magnificently. "Reminds me of the time I-"

"You," Victor whispered, manipulating the force of the arm to pull himself around the limb while sending Swartz tumbling forward. Spinning around in a dazzling twirl, he crashed his fist into Swart's gut with a loud pop of pressure, following which he added the force of his Divine Ray Fist that shockwaved him sputtering a series of curses before landing a dozen meters away. "Talk too much, Dark Wizard. You leave yourself too open. If you keep doing that, you'll hand victory to me on a silver platter."

"Kaff-Kaff-Kaff, that was a good punch. Lecture? Not so great," Swartz replied as his massive arm regressed back to normalcy. Stabbing the sword into the earth, he pushed himself up with a heave, watching Victor's eyes glare at him with a stoic potency that nearly unsettled him. The nagging feeling he felt that kind of stare bore into him before was uncomfortable and make him shake his head. Running his free hand through his white locks, he sighed out loud. "I have to admit, even at this level you're giving me a hard time. Who knew that you guys would come to this city at the time our plans were almost complete. It's almost like my idea brought bad karma to me, heh?"

"You should have stayed discreet. In the shadows, and away from the public eye. I wouldn't be so pressed to be involved if you haven't harmed my future customers that are the citizens of this town," Gesturing with an open arm, Victor's voice raised as a distant explosion followed by a resounding roar akin to a Dragon's sounded. The light of it speared up into the heavens, its visage remarkably akin to those mystical beasts of old. It struck a chord of awe into both men, one of pride and the other with surprise mingling with apprehension. While the other one lowered his glasses to reveal his awestruck red eyes staring at the diminishing light, Victor continued. "If you harm anyone who can be a valuable asset to this world and my company, you're going to get the wrath of a very angry businessman."

It was something that clicked a few lights in Swartz's head. The distant sounds of fighting had ceased atop the flying Ark. It was an unsettling thought to believe that his subordinates were slain and done so with such style. Grinding his teeth he felt a buried fury rise up to the surface, bubbling out to the point his body began to produce sporadic tendrils of Ethernano. Turning his visibly glowing irises of blood and spread mouth of snarling molars, he breathed heavily as his body prepared to launch a berserk bordering attack on the man in front of him.

"I'll teach you to be so high and mighty with me, you piece of-!"

"Swartz, dearie?"

"-BEAUTIFUL BABY!" Swartz cried out in the middle of his angry spat, practically making a giddy squeal of adoration upon placing his hands to connect with his one adoration. The tensed Victor felt himself almost open his mouth in surprise just how quickly the man's attention span could change on the fly; not to mention just how volatile his temper was becoming through a simple exchange of words. "I'm just great, Gorgeous Cheeks! How are you my Dazzling Light of Life?!"

"Oh, you're such a sweetheart!~" Elaine spoke through telepathy, smiling as she held her own forefingers to her temples as she held up what looked like an ornate globe the size of a sports ball. Held up by a bronze pedestal that had a rod pierce through it at a perfect vertical angle instead of an angular side to depict accurate planetary rotation, there was special hidden switches and dials where her hand presided over the stand's handle. Smiling victoriously at the item she was searching for in her grasp, she continued her speech while a smugly grinning Ketchum leaned against a nearby alley wall with his arms crossed over his chest . "We found it Handsome! We found the Astral Dial, disguised as a globe of all things. Though it's fitting, given how it will symbolize our take-over of the whole world."

"Heh," Swartz began to snicker, turning to look over at Victor, grinning widely at him to the point to show his malicious yearning to rub something into his enemy's face. "I got an idea. Why not give it a whirl?" 

"I think I know what you have in mind, Cutie," Elaine purred out in a sultry tone, raising the globe-shaped device over her head. With the sphere rotating at a high speed, the top of it which focused like a prism with magical energy spiraling up into the air, unleashing a conical dome that overlapped the entire city and beyond. It'd appear like a drastic wave of consuming energy that sparkled of cosmic colors of the most deep blue to the brightest sapphire and bleeding scarlet. 

With Victor's gaze contracting and his breath hitching, he found himself for the first time in a great while that he was unable to stop what was to come. As the shell expanded over him and then over the Ark, it turned inside out, becoming an umbrella that swallowed the sky above like a canopy. Spiraling up into the sky, the light seemed to retreat into the device, now still and silent as a thrum of instantaneous movement had occurred. Elaine smiled as the sight of Victor's person looking around, finding himself understanding just what kind of phenomena occurred. 

"The Ark," He exhaled, looking over at the large construct now presiding over a stretch of burning infrastructure the town had, including the now crushed Skyhawk that was parked within the smoking structure Diana had used. "What...Teleportation Magic?!" 

"Indeed, big man," Elaine purred out, now earning Victor's attention, her body strutting forward to Swartz's side. Sliding around to embrace the man whom was now giddy as a little boy to be next to a lovely woman in concealing yet voluptuously outlined red. Grinning with ruby red lips, her dazzling eyes twinkled mischieviously at Victor as she held up the object of worth to her. "This is why we captured the town's populace as we combed through every single item of worth here. The Astral Dial, a device that uses a powerful Ethernano battery of arcane design that manipulates the fabric of space to transport and alter space itself. It is now the Black Brier's trump card, and our key to taking whatever we want in this world, beyond even Ishgar."

"And look at you now," Ketchum announced, his body emerging from Swartz's shadow, his body revealed with a coat clad person and his fiery red hair enhanced his casually menace gleaming in his eyes. "All alone, and without back-up nearby. With your precious customers nearby along with the girls you brought to a battlefield, I'm sure you're now in over your head. What will you do now with the odds stacked against me?" 

Victor remained silent, weighing his options. He knew that the ability to escape was always within his grasp, but it wouldn't be able to save the people nearby. With Wess and Noriko close by, he could count on their support which would make fighting them easier. If he kept the fighting away from the Ark, it could take some residual shockwaves and just fight within the city's limits far away. Diana could keep the girls safe, tired as they might be, and he'd manage on his own. 

Smiling, he let out a relaxed laugh, so smooth that it made even Elaine retract her grin with her cohorts. Victor's Light Armored person dissipated, revealing a tattered cloak that was stained of mud, water and scorched marks. But still, he grasped his Sceptre with one hand and held it up with a challenging posture, a light shimmering from its center as his whole body produced an immense pressure that howled like a hurricane that crashed against the ground and shook the foundations of the city to its outskirts. 

"I haven't been challenged like this in over a decade. I believe you -Black Brier- have earned the respect from me to treat you as a serious threat needing to be crushed," Victor stated with a soft smile that betrayed the intensity of his blood that pumped through his veins. Clacking his Sceptre's pommel onto the ground, the wind ceased and the aura around him defused. Calling out with a a fierce expression that overlapped his pleased visage, his shout invoked the renewal of clash between himself and Black Brier's Elites. "COME!!!" 




It was something that Diana felt flabbergasted by. One instance they were home free, the enemy pursuers beaten and the leader was currently fighting her Master. But then, it looked as if a dazzling array of color that came from the depths of the cosmos overlapped them. A jolting pressure and an instant later they were no longer in flight. They were still and landed upon a stretch of the city, one which she knew had just crashed over the Skyhawk they had cleverly hidden. 

Now she wished it wasn't parked inside the city at all. 

"W-W-W-What?!" Maria gawked out, turning from Morgan to look every which way with shock, horror and awe, all rolled up into a series of stutters that showed her fright. "B-B-B-But how did we g-g-g-g-get here?! Wha-Wha-What's going on?! Someone p-p-p-please tell m-OW!" 

"Come back to the real world, Maria," Yui sighed as she slapped Maria across the face, bringing her back to the present. Turning around, she while still surprised surveyed the area. Her adventures with Noriko had allowed her to experience similarly startling phenomena. The sight of a pillar of smoke where Morgan's Darkness Light Dragon's Roar had struck made her realize they had been brought back through some form of Master Teleportation Spell. "Teleportation, plain and simple. The question is how were they able to bring us back?"

"It was the Astral Dial."

"What?" Yui turned, nearly jumping out of her skin as she witnessed a standing Thought Projection of Victor appear beside them, once again shimmering with instability as his current body required more of his focus than in two places. "Eep!" 

"Dad!" Maria yelled out with gladness, despite their situation. She wanted to jump into his arms and give him a bear hug. But, with how unstable his projection was, she knew that even with the Thought Projection Ring she wore it'd be near impossible to maintain contact. 

"Before I explain," Victor held up a hand to cut off Diana's opening of the mouth, promptly causing her to pout her lips and furrow her brows with dejection. Turning his head to acknowledge Maria and then a very tired Morgan, he squatted down to her level and smiled gently at her. "I wanted to congratulate you and ask how you are feeling? I could see much as well feel that level of Magic you've obtained. I'm so proud of you all for overcoming your obstacles with such cohesion. But regardless, are you feeling alright?" 

Morgan was sitting on the deck of the Ark, trying to rest even a little from burning through far more magical energy than she ever used before. After the weird and crazy light show ended, she began to wonder what kind of magic was going on before it dawned on her that they were somehow right back into the smoke-saturated city. The mere thought of having to deal with any more of the Black Briar Gang’s minions absolutely terrified her. After the kind of battles she just won, she knew that her reserves were too dangerously low to even think of joining another sustained encounter.

As Yui explained the reason for their current situation, she was about to ask how it was done, but before she could even begin to form words, Maria had beaten her to the act. And to her delight, the one who answered was a thought projection of Victor.

“Father!” she yelled out, wishing she could will her body to move to get to the projected doppelganger. But she was unable to so much as push herself into a standing position without feeling the dull soreness and heaviness of her limbs turn into a sudden pain. Every part of her begged for the sweet embrace of sleep, a call she did her best to deny.

When her father’s illusionary duplicate knelt down next to her, she wanted him to be there, in the flesh, even though on the other hand she understood why such a thing wasn’t possible at the moment. As he congratulated her on what she had done, she smiled.  “I’m alright, just exhausted.”

"That's good. I'm glad you're alright," Victor smiled as he reached out, momentarily having enough structural integrity to brush her hair with his static-filled hand. Doing the same for Maria that made her smile brightly at his tender affection, he finally began to look most ghostly. Seeing he didn't have the option to dawdle longer, he aimed to get to the point as he stood back to his full height. "It is what they call the Astral Dial. It seems to hold one of the infamous Star Lacrima, said to contain enough power to be on par with the energy produced from our local solar system's Sun if not just somewhere around it."

"It has that much power?!" Diana queried out loud with a startled shout, sweat instantly appearing on her paling face. 

"It appears that way," He answered with a casual shrug. "But, I wouldn't be too worried. They've only just now found it and used it to transport us a short distance, relative to the power of this device. With luck, it'll take time for them to use in quicker succession less the device holding it breaks and the Lacrima unleashes something akin to a Supernova. I doubt anyone wants that to happen."

"WHAT THE HELL?!" Yui shrieked, finding her own disposition shattered at hearing what Victor announced. While even Maria was shaking at the thought of such a large scaled explosion if the Lacrima was unleashed, she pointed almost accusingly at him. "Why do you know about this? Did you know all about this from the beginning?!" 

"Of course not," The Guild Master replied calmly to the junior initiate. "I know of it because of my research twenty years ago had me encounter tomes and documents about highly condensed Lacrima to power constructs, weapons or entire cities. One such highly sought Lacrima was the Star Lacrima which was rumored to have been harnessed by using Magic over the course of a century to gather and filter it into the Lacrima itself. The level of power is so tantamount that no one of the current era can properly calculate the extent of Magic it can use or what limits it has."

"Then...how did it become the Astral Dial?" Diana asked queried with a step forward to show her impatience from being confused. 

"Again, I don't know, but it explains why the Astral Dial can bend space so easily," Victor replied with a smile, making a small hole with his curled hand. "It's a very small Lacrima, the size of a golf ball. But that's due to the highly sought and rare Hyper Lacrima that is made up of. This just has a potentially unlimited source of Ethernano and was seemingly turned into the power drive of a Teleportation Device. The name sounds familiar but I've only ever heard rumors about an old device once made by an Iceberg scientist. Perhaps he meant well or maybe it was on behest of their leadership, aiming to strike at Stella, I can only fathom." 

Morgan’s smile widened as she felt her father’s hand, if only for a moment. Watching as his ghostly form began to fade away, she felt worried, wondering what was going on where he was. When he explained what they were dealing with now, that worry only grew. Dealing with a weapon that could theoretically take down the entire solar system was something she never could have imagined doing. 

Listening closely as Victor explained, her fear only grew worse. For her it was a worst-case nightmare scenario. Everyone she cared about was in impossible danger, fighting something that possessed nigh-limitless power in theory, and she was powerless to do anything about it despite her want to be at the front, helping to stop the madmen with such a powerful weapon.

"But not to worry," The older man waved a hand at the girls, his figure fading faster, his head being one of the only things left to be tangible as his lowerhalf is nothing but chaotic static. "A Hyper Lacrima, even without power within it, is incredibly durable. If the Star Lacrima IS the power within the Astral Dial, then it is most likely incapable of being destroyed by human hands. I just like you all to be aware of the possibilities, even if they are slim." 

"Thanks for giving us a heart attack!" Yui shouted with a hand shaking at Victor, quickly silenced by a death glare issued by Diana. 

Sighing, she returned her glance back at Victor, "What suppose we should do? Try to call in the Skyhawk and bring the girls out of here?"

"No, that'd reveal Noriko and Wess' location. I want them to keep discreet in the air. I already discussed with them the plans I have in taking these three on," Victor revealed casually, fixing his collar as his whole body was almost invisible. "Keep the girls on the Ark and defend the craft's occupants if you can. I'll try to lure them away from it so I can deal with them more effectively." 

Hearing how his voice wasn't nonchalant and was all too serious, Diana's eyes softened. Bowing her head, she soon turned to bow to him with an arm wrapped around her waist as a form of submission, "I understand, Master Victor. I shall defend these girls and the people within this Ark with my life."

"But...are you going to be okay?!" Maria cried out with uncertainty, watching her father sizzle out of view. 

"Tune in to your rings. You'll be able to see what I'm doing right now, as if you're standing right beside me," Victor revealed, his form now fully reappearing to the man who shouted an invitation to the three apprehensive Dark Wizards. Following suit, Yui among Maria and soon to be Morgan were standing as shimmering visages that only could be seen by the Guild Master himself. When they were all gathered around him, he looked back and forth at them before he laughed at the three. "I did say come, not gawk, didn't I?"

"Ha! Fine," Swartz crowed out, unwrapping himself from Elaine, taking several steps forward while adjusting the collar to 4. "Have it your way!" 

With a feral cry, the madman's body became embroiled by a fiery torrent of violent burgundy energy, having changed from simple white to a dark red. The air was stifling to most, making Ketchum back up and shield his face while Elaine did likewise. Both could feel the thunderous pressure unleashed in rivuletting waves across the earth, rattling the earth to the point of cracking it beneath his feet. The pillar of light stretched into the sky, causing enough chaotic energy to gather the clouds in the sky, causing an electrical storm to form that snapped and thuumed above their heads. 

When the light vanished, Black Brier's leader accosted Victor, swinging a Pyro Magic enclosed fist to palm the vicinity he stood upon. In an explosive geyser of flames, Yui stepped back instinctively while Maria fell onto her back. What they'd see was a sudden arc of lightning, spiraling around to crash the Sceptre into Swartz's back. A shocking pulse caused Swartz to feel disoriented, tripping forward by the blast that shook the building faces. When Elaine seemed to manifest with a quick speed, her foot swung around to kick at Victor's head. Bending his neck back he tucked his knees up to his chest in a preemptive leap as Ketchum appeared from below to swipe at his legs. Spiraling around in a perpindicular fashion, his cloak whipped around just as Swartz turned around and rushed back with a fist pulled back with Pyro Magic, just as Elaine was forming crystals in her hand and Ketchum thrust poised serpents of shadow at him. 

"Lightning Magic," He declared with a quick swing of his Sceptere -now active Overcharge Cloak- giving him the appearance of a Lightning Human Being. But the true attack came from his own body to crash into the ground and flow outward to hit each Dark Wizard with a powerful series of forked electrical bursts from the circular magic circle formed from his own spell. "Overcharge!

It was enough to make Elaine overlap herself in her pliable coat's fabric, folding over herself in a cocoon that seemed to dispel the Lightning Magic's bolts that shocked and sent her body tumbling away. Ketchum felt the Lightning connect, causing him to growl in pain as he himself was flung into a building face and crash through the floor out its back to floor into the other street's ground with a shocking crash. Swartz bounced once, twice and three times on his back before rising up, his body spasmed with the currents running up and down his body as he tried to retain motor function. 

"Gotta say, I didn't expect that," Swartz replied with a wide grin, watching Victor's Overcharge Aura bristle coolly around him as he watched Elaine get up and then turn to look at him. "Then again, I didn't see you use that Sceptre when we were tango'ing earlier. Guess that acts as a medium for your Holder Magic to use Elements. And knowing how unpredictable you are, I'd wager you have a number of other Element Magic inside that Sceptre, ready to use. Am I right?" 

"You're not as dense as you appear to be," Victor replied with a delighted tone, cracking his stave's pommel against the ground, defusing his aura and revealing his marred but relatively intact uniform cloak. The look on Swartz's face stowing one to a twitching grin belied his anger building. Turning to see Elaine rise up with a cruel smile on her face, he knew to be most wary of her. The one he sent flying obviously couldn't read him but he knew better than to underestimate a Shadow Magician. It was challenging but it was enough to make his blood pump with excitement. "Come again. I'm sure you all can do better than that." 

Following Victor’s instructions, Morgan focused on her ring, forming her own duplicate and being able to watch her father’s fight. It was a strange feeling, like a numb, muted sensation that took a moment to get used to. When Swartz suddenly exploded with power, Morgan shut her eyes from the glaring burst of light. Although she couldn’t feel it with her spectral body, she knew the release of energy was having drastic effects on the world around the man. She was sure if she could feel the full brunt of his power, it would send her running as far and as fast as she could.

When Swartz’s attack virtually exploded into a pillar of flame, the young Slayer quickly covered her face with an arm, her instinct kicking into high gear. She could only imagine the kind of force that her father had to deal with. To her relief however, Victor had survived and countered in no time at all. Watching him so easily handle three high-level mages single-handedly, she was awestruck. 

Watching as Victor taunted the three, she could have sworn she recognized the look on the man’s face, one that he only had once in a while. Doing a double take, she realized that in fact, it was the look she knew. Part of her wondered if her father’s enjoyment of the battle was going to hinder their efforts or inspire him to eliminate the threat at hand.

"I'd be careful whom you're goading, Wizard," Elaine replied, taking a few languid steps towards him. Depositing the Astral Dial into her coat's inner folds, her body began to brim an abundant amount of vapor from her body. Funneling out from between her legs, from her sleeves, her collar and even her shoes it began to exude out widely across the air. When it completely filled up the street, Swartz would find himself stopped in his own tracks while Ketchum took refuge atop a building, looking down with a solemn knowing of what was to come. A haunting, sultry voice purred in an echo that permeated Victor's surroundings as the Magic began to take effect. "You may find yourself begging on your knees when I'm through with you."

Fear Behind The Fearless

Yui turned which way and left, wondering what just happened. Her Thought Projection couldn't see Victor anymore as much as she could see her own hand. At the same time, shadowy silhouettes seemed to sprout up and mumble indiscernable chatter. It sent chills up and down her body, making her step backwards, raising her hands up in a futile show that there was nothing she could do to free herself of this particular cold prison. 

That was, until she felt Maria's head crash into her back, causing them both to stumble back aways. 

"Ow...I'm a projection, how am I feeling that?" Maria asked as she rubbed her head tenderly. 

"Idiot," Yui muttered out loud, turning to look at the girl with a disgruntled way. "Thought Projections can have solid tangibility. If you notice, our rings are highly advanced and can allow even physical contact to occur. It's why they were made by Victor, so people from long distances can have intimacy without needing to be present entirely."

"Oh...that's nice," Maria hummed, thinking about how she'd be able to use this ring now she was more aware of its functions. 

"Now," Yui turned around, looking through the heavy fog for Morgan's projection, "Morgan? Where are ya?!" 

"Where is she? Hiding in the shadows?" Her sister piped up with curiosity, wondering where her sister's projection went. 

"That's actually a good guess, but I don't think she'd hide. But if she isn't hiding, where is she in this mist?" Yui asked pointedly, feeling as if the air was far too quiet to be host to Dark Wizards combating Victor. 

As her vision was filled with a strange mist, Morgan looked around, trying to find her sister and friend, something that was almost impossible given the thickness of the odd fog. Even as a projection, she still couldn’t see through it, despite being not physically there to begin with. “Maria? Yui? Father? Where are you guys?” she called out. Although she knew that she was only a projected form and thus safe from any harm, the eerie nature of the mist was starting to unnerve her. Every where she looked, the only things she could see were abnormal shadow-like figures, beings that she had no idea what they were, let alone if they were friendly or hostile.. From them, she could hear strange muttering and musings, the only sound she could hear. She felt isolated, alone, vulnerable. 

“Hey! Maria! Yui! Can anyone hear me!?” the fear in her voice startled even her. When she didn’t receive any form of reply, her heart sank a little. She was half-expecting Maria to jump out of thin air, tackling her, but not the complete silence. 

She wasn’t sure from where, but after a bit she heard a voice that made her shiver with absolute terror, the kind she could never imagine, a voice that perpetually haunted her worst nightmares. A deep, dark, menacing voice; Jadow.

You disappoint me Morgan. I think you deserve to pay the price for disappointing me after this poor showing of your power. I know, I’ll start tearing those three apart, starting with your precious sister. Just a bit at a time. And I’ll be sure to tell her you were too busy being lost to save her. Or maybe too powerless. I don’t know which will make them hate you more.

“This can’t be real...he’s not here...he’s not here!” she screamed, trying to drown out the haunting, terrifying voice, to no avail. The terror only gripped tighter.

What makes you so sure, you pathetic child? You know I can be anywhere, anytime. After I kill them all, I’ll come for you. Then we can start over. I can retrain you, and you’ll never cross me again.” the echoing voice said with a low, taunting growl. “If you’re lucky, I’ll be kind and you might have a few scraps to say farewell to. Wouldn’t you like that?

“Leave them alone! It’s me you want! Don’t hurt them!” Tears streamed down her face as she kept advancing, praying to whatever god would listen that she got to her family in time. “Please...Please don’t take them...Maria! Answer me! Please!" 

"Wait, was that Morgan's voice?!" Maria cried out, feeling like she heard her sister through the thick mist. 

"Morgan?" Looking around and hearing nothing but continually ambiguous whispers. It seemed even sound was being blocked by the fog, something that unsettled her. Turning to look back at Maria, she saw her outline walking out into the mist before taking off into a full-on run. Reaching out, she cried out as she tried to reach her. "Maria! Don't go, you'll be lost!" 

"Morgan! Morgan where are you?!" Maria cried out, finding herself sprinting full-on moving through shadowy silhouettes some sounding similar to others. One she swore looked like...Morgan, lying on the ground, bleeding profusely from a slit neck. "M-Morgan...? No...it can't be you!" 

Reaching out to touch her cold, lifeless form, she recoiled and felt tears streaming down her eyes. "Why...why did this happen?! Why didn't I protect you?! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME-"

A slap followed by her shriek halted, finding her hand reaching up to touch her cheek. Looking over, she saw Yui, her eye bright of the Mirage Eye magic but didn't project an illusion as usual. Instead she seemed to illuminate a small proximity and erased the ghostly visage of what was Morgan's form. Breathing coming back to normal upon realizing it was an illusion, Yui grabbed her by the collar and yanked her up onto her feet by one hand. 

"Don't rush of like that!" Yui hissed out loud, concern layered within the harshness of her words. "If you ran into one of those Dark Wizards, even as a Thought Projection, I'm sure you would've gotten hurt or reveal where we are. Only Victor can see us, but I'm not sure that's the case in this Mist, got it?"

"Y-yes," She hiccupped, finding herself wiping her eyes as her feet were lowered back to the ground. 

Amdist all of that, eerie words hissed through the air. 

"Yes, be plagued by your nightmares. Each one that you find yourself dismantling through will or magic will only come back. This Illusion filled mist will continue to lead you astray when you're not clawing at your own throat because of your own fear and regret," Elaine uttered in a depraved tone that told of her pleasure in spreading the mist. "Yes, even now, you'll find that no one can stand against the Black Brier Gang! We'll soon rival even that of the Black Hell Guild and become the forefront power of the Underworld. No one will stop our goals, our ambitions and our desire of becoming the most feared Dark Wizards in the entire world!" 

But as she cackled, solid footsteps walked directly through the mist. In what would have been a apparition of the Darkness Dragon, Acnologia, was none other than Victor whose form radiated a warm light through his use of Light Magic. Lowering himself down, he wrapped his arms around the Thought Projection of his shivering daughter, Morgan. At the same time, a similar projection of himself would be seen by Diana, embracing her where her physical body was while the Virago Spirit was wondering why the girls' looked so distraught physically. 

"Don't fear the dark, Morgan," Victor whispered, stroking her hair and her patting her back as if they were really in the same place. "Jadow is still in Sin, isn't he? There's no way he can be here at this moment. The only thing that should be in the Darkness is your will to fight and your strenght to rise up past your fears. You're stronger than this. And I'll show you how strong your father is."

At saying this, his whole body was enveloped in a bright aura of light, showering the obscuring veil of mist till it was erased completely. While Yui and Maria's projections had to shield their eyes, it was Elaine who had to cover them with both hands, crying out at the blinding rays passing over the city block. It was something even Ketchum had to raise a hand up to shield back, commenting on how brilliant such magic it was to completely wash away the magic of Elaine's. The only one who stood calmly in the midst of the Light Magic was Swartz, whom just sheathed his sword calmly on his back adjacent scabbard and saw Victor embracing what looked like thin air. 

Morgan kept running, trying to find her family. She imagined Jadow tearing apart everyone she loved, a thought she kept trying to ignore before it drove her mad, to no avail. No matter how far she went, the fog kept her in its deadly embrace. 

After what felt like an eternity to her fear-addled mind, she heard a different voice break through the fog, a scream that chilled her blood. It was Maria, of that she was beyond certain. She turned towards where the shriek had come from, only to see another of the shadows advancing towards her. In her current mental state, she feared it was Jadow. When instead Victor appeared, she ran to him and embraced him. “I heard him...He told me he was going to kill everyone.” she choked out, unable to do more than mutter inconsistently. 

When Victor reminded her that it really was impossible that she had heard the ancient beast, her heart skipped a beat. His words renewed her faltering confidence, reminding her that her weakness was in fact her strength. “He’s not here.” she said with a small smile as the truth dawned on her. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Everyone’s safe.”

As Victor banished the mist with his Light Magic, the voice echoing in her head finally silenced itself and she could focus on the world around her. After a moment, she backed away from her father, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Don't lose. I'll never forgive you if you do." Although she tried to sound threatening, her true feelings could be seen reflected in her eyes. 

She turned away and saw Maria and Yui not far from where she stood.. In a flash, she appeared next to them, and without a word pulled Maria into a hug. Her worst fear hadn’t come true, despite the disembodied voice in the fog threatening to make it so. “I’m so glad you’re okay.” she whispered, trying to choke back the emotions she felt. 

The Battle of Elites

Maria was so relieved when she saw her sister come back to her, embracing her readily as she whispered in her ear. Rubbing her back, she nuzzled into the crook of her neck, almost completely forgetting that they were just Thought Projections. When Yui looked over at Victor's rising form, his visage seemed to have grown more serious, his smile starting to loosen to a thin-lipped expression. Turning around, he stared at Elaine as Ketchum joined them with a five story drop from the building adjacent to them, landing with a crash but walked it off in stride. 

"You nullified my Mirror Mist Magic," Elaine stated with a smile, now fully sizing up the man whom looked at each of them with a much more critical stare. "And you did so by just exuding your Magical Aura. I'm afraid I underestimated your resolve to steel through the horrors your own mind conjured up-"

"I saw through your illusion right away," Victor interrupted pointedly, holstering his Sceptre once again on his side. "I can see you're an S-Class Mage by the way you hold yourself and react. Your shadow friend is one too. But I already know that there's something incredibly...unique about your leader, but I can see you're the brains of the gang. You also can tell your other gang members to come out of hiding." 

Looking unnerved at being found out, Elaine narrowed her eyes and pulled back her smile to a displeased frown. Raising her hand, she made a gesture, and the sounds of many mirage-like illusions being torn off by special Holder Magic concealing them. Around thirty or so Dark Wizards came from the rafters of the buildings and the alleys, coming out within a number of shapes and sizes. Some bore weapons of impressive design and others were either lithe or bulk but still intimidating. Each one had a mark of a gnarled series of thorn protruding roots across exposed skin, showing their allegiance to the Black Brier Gang. 

"Shit, that's a lot of guys," Yui hissed out loud as she blinked at all of the guys coming out of the literal wood works. 

"Dad will beat'em, right Morgan?" Maria asked her sister as the enemies revealed themselves to their father and by extension themselves. 

"Each of them have the strength of B and A Class Wizards," Elaine explained with a seductive lick across her lips. "How will you handle them all?"

"BY THE ASS! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Swartz quipped out in a boisterous laugh that caused himself to double over and beat the ground with a series of audible slaps. "Oh...oh my lungs...hahahahahaha...!"

"I won't," Victor replied with a crossing his arms, smirking wryly at the confused woman. "They will." 

"Who-?"

That was when a hail of fiery streaks of light struck six spots among the gathered Illegal Mages. The explosions caused by them was enough to cause Elaine to leap upon reflex, with Ketchum dipping into the shadows to avoid the fire balls formed by blue flashes of crackling magical energy. Many of the gang members were sent flying, howling or screaming out loud with pain as they would be flung into building or asphalt alike. Only a handful of them managed to regain their balance, as a streak of dark skinned beauty landed adeptly with a pulsing crash. 

"One," Noriko quipped out, her body leaning forward to have her shoulder crash into one burly man's chin hard enough to send him with a broken jaw head over heels to land onto his face into an unconscious heap. 

"Two," She muttered out as she twirled around like a whirlwind to spin kick a skinnier man into the side of a building. 

"Three," The woman announced in a blur of motion in palm-thrusting a man's abdomen, soon continuing her count as she pin-balled her enemies with rapid jabs and elbow thrusts. "Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine...and Ten!" 

"What?!" Elaine cried out in a guttural growl, finding herself face-to-face with Noriko whom just cockily jut one hip out and rested the back of one hand against it. 

"I'm sorry, I did just jump down from the sky and took out the trash that wasn't hit in one go -thanks Wess- so I'll introduce my sexy body to your not as sexy self," Noriko replied with a sassy grin, waving her free hand at Elaine while performing a bow to her. "I'm Noriko Hayate, pleasure to meet you." 

"I don't care who you are," Ketchum retorted as a hand reached up to grasp at Noriko from her own shadow, his eyes a pair of gleaming blood red orbs. "I'll drag you down to a dark, cold Hell-"

"Was I talking to you?" The Burst Mage replied with a quick snap kick that caught him in the chin, popping the air with its power as he flipped over and landed on all fours out of the shadow he was hiding within. Racing back as if he was simply pushed, the superhuman Dark Wizard formed a fist of blackness around his right set of knuckles. It wasn't until a pair of feet embroiled in dazzling blue light touched the earth in between his target and himself that he barely caught on to a streaking bolt of what he perceived as lightning crashing against the side of his temple. With his body careening through the building to Noriko's rear flank it soon collapsed by the force as the Shadow Mage crashed into the face of the one behind it. Huffing out loud, Noriko shook her hips side to side while snapping them back and forth with a cheeky grin on her face. "That's. What. I. Thought. Bitch!" 

"Excuse me," Wess spoke aloud in a dry tone, puffing out smoke as he lowered his leg down and turned to stare blankly at her, spewing smoke at her face in retort. "But I was the one who stepped in that time. Why are you acting like you got the glory?"

"Kaff-Kaff-Kaff! Point that somewhere else, you humorless vulcan!" Noriko spat back, spewing drops of her saliva into his face that he nonchalantly drew a curchief from his coat to wipe from his face. 

Taking a drag, he pulled out the cigarette only to spew it back into her face, "I'm not letting you get rid of it this time. I get to smoke wherever I want. Capiche?" 

"YOUSONOFA-!"

Click.

The sound of a lock being pulled back was heard, causing both of them to turn their mingled irritated visages, one of mild dryness and the other of outright fury. Elaine had taken the time to pull out her Ruby Pistol, the crystal infused Lacrima bullets packed within a revolver design of glittering sparkles around it. It almost seemed more organic minerals that made up the gun instead of metal. 

"I hate to break up your adorable love spat, cuties," Elaine purred out as she regained her composure once more, even after being startled to jaw-dropping shock at Ketchum being struck back even farther than what Victor's Overcharge spell had done. "But I'd like you to pay attention to me for a few seconds and work out your problems another time. You two, back away slowly, and keep your hands up in the air or I'll have Swartz shatter that ship full of people. It wouldn't be hard for him, now would it?" 

Morgan watched on in shock as easily a small army of Black Briar soldiers emerged. She turned to Maria and smiled softly. “He’ll win. I know he will. He’s the strongest.” she said. Of all the things she was sure of at that moment, the belief that Victor would walk away from the fight victorious was the most iron-clad. 

Much to her surprise, the fight took an unexpected turn before it even began. In a matter of moments, a vast majority of the fighters had been defeated by what she believed was Bullet Magic of some sort. Only ten remained, a meager number that was quickly taken down at the hands of Noriko, who had done so in a blur of motion. Morgan watched the entire process in a mixture of awe and frustration. While she could admit watching Noriko defeat the ten weaker mages and even one of the three leaders so quickly was inspiring, she felt like the gap between where she was and where she wanted to be had widened further than ever, a feeling she hated. With a silent vow to get stronger, she continued to watch events unfold.

When the one her father called the true leader of the group threatened to destroy the ship and kill everyone on it, she froze. The moment the fight had seemed so close to ending in their favor, the enemy had to pull such a dirty, cheap trick. Her expression quickly turned dark, knowing that she was unable to do anything even if she was in her living body. “No...”

"Hey, does that mean," Maria began to speak out loud, turning to look over at Yui and Morgan with a look of fear etched onto her visage. "we're in trouble right now?! Back at the ship?!"

"No shit," Yui retorted with a dry snort, rubbing the underside of her nostrils. "I mean, if Swartz comes after us, we're good as dead. That guy is freakish when it comes to strength. Even after fighting with Victor, he keeps coming back for more."

"No way-!"

"So what you're telling us," Victor answered on behalf of Noriko and Wess, both of them looking over at him as he now entertained a fanciful smile of humor. Waving a hand, he finished his observation statement. "Is that if we don't take you seriously and follow your demands, you'll threaten the town's surviving populace. Is that accurate?"

"Precisely, sugar," Elaine laughed melodiously out loud, pulling her gun up as she cocked a toothy grin. "Swartz is more powerful than you can possibly know. I'm sure even a tough guy like you can't stop him if he decides to go all out."

"She's right!" Swartz crowed out, turning to look at the city-resting ship in the distance. Reaching up to alter the setting his body became overflowing with a super-heated Ethernano flame, all gathering at both of his palms. Raising them both at the Ark, he grinned maniacally as he took aim, the whirring of golden-white energy focused over his hands. "I could blow that away if I'm at probably level three. No problem." 

It was then that the large man saw Victor's form flourish in front of him in a flash of bright light. Hands emitting rays of snow tinted Ethernano was brought back with his being now emitting a near invisible projection of energy. Once the first palm thrusted into Swartz's chest, his breath hitched and his ears heard a popping sound. Then, came a storm of jabbing hands that continuously struck him like an automatic machine, crashing into him nearly a hundred times within the span of three seconds. When it was over, the culminated force tore a hole within the atmosphere he was standing in, following up with his Pyro Magic being nullified as he was sent crashing like a meteor all the way through the town and into the outskirts of the town. 

"Divine Rejection; Century Reflection Style," Victor finished with a smooth exhale that emitted a breath of sparkling lights as his body seemed to return to visible normalcy. Standing back upright, he brushed the dust off his sleeves and cloak-wrapped shoulders while Elaine and a distantly recovering Ketchum just gaped in awe. Turning to look at Noriko and Wess, he waved at them with a too-casual smile. "Hey, you think you can handle the other two if I keep the big guy occupied?" 

"Uhhhhh," Wess gawked out, unable to vocalize a response properly. 

"Ha! You go have fun, Vic!" Noriko barked out a laugh, finally getting over her exposure to the wind expulsion that the Light Magic had emitted. "I think we can handle Ruby Red and Rogue Shadow here!" 

Glaring at the casual nature in how they treated her, Elaine couldn't help but feel that she was dealing with incredibly powerful Mages. Even as Victor took flight and soared to the outskirts to continue battling Swartz, she didn't even know who he is and or had an idea of how powerful he was. Was this his true strength or still the tip of the iceberg?

"Elaine," Ketchum called from behind her shadow, using his remote projection of Shadow Magic to communicate with her in a manner akin to a two-way radio of discreen telepathy. "I think now is the time to let them out. I feel like between the two of them, they may be more than we bargained for."

"Did the man kick you that hard, Ketchum, or are you insinuating that you're afraid of two Legal Mages?" Elaine responded with a roll of her eyes while her thoughts replied in a far more vocal manner than she'd care to share with the pair in front of her. 

"But those two could easily handle them both, you know that. Or if you'd rather, you can have them team up on one and we can take the other. Either strategy seems preferable at the moment and I've been with the Black Brier Gang long enough to say that these guys are the real deal, Elaine," He replied in a grave tone. "Make the call, or we'll have a very short fight that won't end in our favor!" 

"A-Amazing...!" Maria croaked out, finding herself shaking at seeing just how much faster her father moved even now. "I didn't even know he was behind us till he sent the guy flying. He's so strong!" 

"What the Hell is he?!" Yui cried out with a look of dumbfound incredulity. "I don't know who's the monster. The guy who wants to blow us up, or your dad!" 

"You know, I think your friend is a bit on the eccentric side. No wonder you two seemed to be a pair, back in the day," Wess insinuated with a nervous puff of his cig. 

"That's how Victor is. You should have seen him when we fought the Demon Lords. He was a force of nature, that few present could even compare to," Noriko bragged with a cheeky grin as she elbowed her nervous partner in the ribs with a chuckle. "What? You're not terrified of our Guild Master, huh?"

"Actually, yeah, I am," He admitted bluntly.

"Then don't. He's on our side," Noriko said with a turn, punching an open palm as she grinned ferally at the now confidently smirking woman before her. "Unlike these guys. They're the ones who should be afraid of us."

"Give up, please," Wess almost begged, puffing out again with a dry look in his eyes, "I rather not see her beat the shit out of a pretty lady like you."

"Ha! As if you could," Elaine sardonically giggled, reaching into her coat to fish out a framed card that held the picture of two sensually suggestive angelic characters. "I think it's time we all stop holding back, don't you?" 

Morgan began to worry when Swartz manifested a brilliant display of his magic, only keeping herself from showing it because she believed that there was still a chance for the others to put an end to the blast before it was to late. When Victor trashed the crime lord senseless, her jaw dropped in shock. The barrage of attacks had come and gone so fast, she didn’t even know what had happened until Swartz suddenly went sailing into the distance. It was like the stream of time had hitched for a moment, correcting itself in a violent manner. 

“It’s like he’s on a whole different level compared to anyone.” she admitted as her father flew off to continue his fight with Swartz. Hearing Noriko mention the Demon Lords, remembering hearing her say something about them before, she turned around and looked at Yui “What exactly are those demons she’s talking about?” she asked, sincerely curious. 

"Well," Yui rolled her tongue in her mouth, crossing her arms over her chest while Maria squinted at what Elaine was presenting in her upright hand. "I'd like to know more about it myself, but it basically was a special meeting delegated to a number of respectable Mages across Ishgar. It was held on an island west of Fiore, and it's basically was an uninhabited field of plains now turned into an isolated wasteland. I heard a guy who was trying to free this ultimate Demon unleashed a number of stones that held the Demon Lords who all fought the collaborated magicians there. Among them was Godfried, you probably have heard about him, Noriko and Victor. I heard it was such an upset to the magical world to the events that transpired there that the Magic Council did its best to cover up the details and just award the mages while slapping them on the wrists for not doing this through their approval."

"Wait," Maria interrupted, her voice a mix of awe and apprehension as a large magic circle was erected in the middle of space from which the card was displayed before the pair of Wizards. "Is that...a Virago Spirit card?!" 

"Second Origin," Elaine muttered out loud, just in time for the powerful expulsion of Magical energy to be released. "Release!

Seconds later, Wess raised his hand to slow the velocity of the roaring winds that blew outward. A bright column of Ethernano spiraled up into the sky, soon becoming an umbrella that took the appearance of a cross that had spread feathered wings. As the feathers draped across the city, the energy dissolved away into feathers to reveal a pair of seductively appearing girls. The one in front of Victor was blonde, wearing a two-piece golden braced erotic linen that came in a skirt and a blouse with a bright pink heart acting as a necklace as well as coupled on her hips. Small feathered heels were attached to her yellow wrapped boots. The one in front of Noriko in particular had long dark blue-pink tresses with a blue bow on the back of her scalp, with her own set of blue hearts emblazoned over a corset and her hips with a frilled skirt with stripped leggings leading to her own heels. But the most common feature shared between the women wasn't their sharing of erotic clothing, but the pair of halos and wings made out of cyan colored magic. 

"Okay, this is new," Noriko commented with an arched brow while still wearing an amused expression. "A pair of angelic characters coming out of a single Virago Magic Card? The fact you used a Second Origin seal is no small testament to their strength. Just what are you two?"

"My name," The blonde Virago Spirit said in a sassy tone as she rolled her head to one side, causing her blonde locks to wrapp around her shoulders before peeling back in place. "Is Fiona."

"I'm Angel," The blue-pink haired Spirit replied in a guttural pur, smiling in a way that was both fetching and challenging to the visibly annoyed Wess. "We're part of the fused set of Fiona Angel. Together, we're at our strongest, and our owner isn't exaggerating when she proclaims our strength."

"That a fact?" Wess puffed out a stream of smoke, uncaring that it sputtered into Angel's face. Watching her cough and wave a hand over her face did make him smirk with enjoyment. 

"Ten seconds in the world and I'm already pissed," Angel hissed out as she side-glanced at her partner. "Let's be quick and kill these assholes."

"Bitchin'!" She agreed, twisting on her heel in a dizzying flourish of movement that made Noriko's eyes dilate. When her wing-toted heel came with her sole crashing into an upraised sleek-skinned arm, a loud pop of air caused the ground to buckle and then shatter beneath their feet. The wind blew back both pairs hair around, with Noriko joining the two girls with a wild smile of her own. Retaliating with a quick jab using her free hand, she saw that Fiona lifted her own standing leg to block with her knee, causing another buckling shockwave when their kneecap and knuckles crashed. 

"Have fun girls," Elaine cried out, spinning her pistol by its trigger with one finger, her body having backpedaled away from her summons to a safer distance. "Make sure to crush them!" 

Fiona and Noriko soon disappeared from visibility, dizzyingly racing around the earth and infrastructure, trading blows that began creating spherical explosions of collapsing atmospheric pressure. Both women seemed to be evenly matched at the moment in terms of martial skill, their strength exchanged in a way that seemed at frighteningly superhuman levels. Yet while one had an advantage of aerial acrobatics Noriko seemed fine correcting her own posture to clash against her Spirit enemy. 

Wess, on the other hand, seemed to have an upperhand against his own enemy. When Angel swing a punch, her whole body seemed to move at a slower momentum. Blinking at this phenomenon, she felt a knee crash into her abdomen following with a hammer fist crashing into the side of her temple. Both impacts came at a frightening degree of power that caused flashes of cerulean light to emanate at the point of contact, causing her to crash into the side of a building. 

As she pried herself from the debris, now seething with anger and lightly scuffed by the blows, Wess seemed to look at her with a nonchalantly bored expression, "Oh, so you want more? You're quite sturdy, Virago Spirit."

"The name's Angel," She snarled, materializing what looked like a boxy-shaped handgun. Firing it, a stream of light followed the magic slug at a swift pace. But all of that seemed to dissolve before the projectile just spun at an abomintably slow speed that it looked as if it stopped. Precisely it was but a few inches from Victor's face. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped down to solidify her next word. "What?"

"Don't you have an Accelerator Mage on your side? I guess he wasn't a Master like I am," Wess Smith expressed quietly raising a hand to grasp the bullet of magical properties out of the field of reverse velocity. Examining it idly, he looked back at her and flipped it up into the air. Aiming his balled fist with an upheld thumb, he proclaimed out loud in a serious tone as smoke ebbed up from his lit cigarette. "I'd like to show you, the difference between Noriko and I's Magic. She likes to gauge an enemy physically, gradually increasing her strength and beating them soundly if they're worthy enough for the tact. Me? I like beating them as quickly as possible," when the bullet slowly fell towards his thumb, an orange spark followed by a blue stream of hyper velocity magic launched the projectile back with the power of an artillery weapon. The indented building's wall was annihilated along with the entire structure, following the structure behind it and the one after with a magnificent explosion of a cerulean hued mushroom cloud. Spewing out smoke, Wess extracted the cigarette and waved it with his hand as he spoke out confidently, "Just like that." 

Morgan recoiled as Yui told her story. The thought of a number of demons that could stand against the likes of her father being released into the world was scary, to say the least. When Maria asked something about a Virago Spirit card, she turned to look at what she was talking about. As the twin spirits manifested, she felt herself shiver. “This isn’t good.”

Watching as the spirits and her guildmates squared off, she thought of the ensuing rumble as an opportunity to learn first hand the real potential of high-class mages. When Noriko began to fight her opponent, Morgan mentally scoffed. After the kind of display the woman had shown earlier, it was like she was holding back, something that the Dragon Slayer found grating. She couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to drag out a fight after so soundly defeating one of the major threats, especially with what was at stake.

That’s when she spotted Wess and his opponent, and she actually had to give the man credit. Unlike his partner, he showed how utterly outclassed the angelic Virago Spirt was compared to him, like he understood the risk of giving the enemy so much as a second to plan a counter. It was a short fight, one that ended brutally. When she was sure the second angel wouldn’t be capable of getting back up, she returned her attention to Noriko’s fight, wondering how it was progressing.

"Heh, it seems Noriko is having too much fun," Yui mentioned, almost mind-reading the disapproval Morgan was feeling. "It's a shame she hardly gets a workout when she's out."

"Why's that?" Maria asked, her attention still fixated at the bullet-paced movements her and Fiona were moving. The air popped and ballooned around the air, cracking earth and structure wherever they appeared or disappeared to. It was like watching two invisible forces attack only to briefly shed visibility to the passing observer. 

"We don't really take contracts warranting of incredible adversaries. Not until...well...they showed up," Yui darkened her tone, sounding far more mellow as her eyes dove down to the paved stone in front of her feet. "And wiped out our Guild."

"W-Who's they?" Maria asked in a quivering tone.

"The Black Hell Guild," She answered, soon finding her own focus drifting back to what Wess said next to where their projections stood. 

"Hey, Noriko!" Wess called out with one hand cupping over his mouth. 

"What is it?!" She called back in the midst of a tangle of flailing limbs between herself and Fiona. 

"I already took mine down. You want me to help?" He queried back. 

"Dammit, Wess! I wanted to have some fun!" The Burst Mage cried back, much to Fiona's annoyance. 

"Pay attention," Fiona snarled, summoning a pair of energy swords to either hand. Swiping them as quickly as she materialized them at her enemy's neck, she was surprised to see a sudden reverberation of pressure halt their advance. The weapons then cracked and a pyre of Ether-electrical energy flared out as Noriko's outer apparel was ripped off, revealing only her skin-clinging body suit. The sheer amount of Magical Power projected was enough to make Fiona's teeth chatter and eyes widen at the enemy in front of her. "N-No way...you can't be...this strong!" 

"What's this?" Noriko drawled out, a stone cold glare aimed at Fiona that made the Virago Spirit step back in fear. "I just begin to get serious and you're quaking in fear. That's a drag, finding out you're not as tough as I thought, if Wess could beat you in a handful of seconds." 

"Tch, like you can judge me you bi-" Fiona began to cry back to counter but found herself choking on blood. Looking down, she saw a single finger stabbing through her left bosom, spiraling a current of Ethernano that jettisoned out her back to create a gaping hole of seared flesh and bone. Eyes dimmed and her body soon became a dissipating flurry of firefly-like energy, flowing up into the sky as her form lost all physical ability. 

Sighing, Noriko turned around to glare daggers at Wess, placing her fists on her hips, "See? I could have done that from the beginning, but that would have been too easy."

"We're not here for fun, Noriko. Or did you forget lives are on the line?" Wess mentioned with a cool stare back, following up with a drag off his cigarette. 

"It's not like we're going to lose here-" Noriko began to drawl out, suddenly cut off by a blur of scarlet reaching out to entwine around her energy endowed body. Much to her surprise, she was constricted tighter because of the hyperactive output of her own Magical power. When she was cocooned in red silk she was pulled at a startling bullet speed that had her sent flying past the caster. Let loose in a spinning unraveling manner, her body crashed with a thunderous momentum through several structures till a tall tower collapsed on top of her. 

"NORIKO!" Wess cried out, his body suddenly pulsing with an Aura of Accelerator Magic. Once he saw a ribbon of silk travel towards his head, he dodged to the right, hearing it puncture the air with its force. Ducking below its wrapping turn, he pulled out an automatic-magic gun, flicking the slug-type to Fire Magic. Dashing to and fro around the rapidly discharging webs of silk, he leaped up to take aim, unleashing a barrage of what could be described as meteorites of hyper-velocity magic bullets. Amidst the erradicated earth he saw a blur of glittering scarlet fly at him in the form of what looked like crystalline spears. 

Firing his bullets at the projectiles, he'd find his reverse velocity hovering body suddenly bludgeoned from behind, causing his eyes to widen. As he gasped for air he barely utilized his Accelerator Magic to dampen the fall to the ground from what felt like a hammer smashing into his spine. When he turned to look up above with a wince, he saw Elaine, seemingly walking on air down towards him on invisible stairs. Her coat seemed to writhe about her body, part of her skin taking a glittering gem coating which made her glowing pools of burgundy for irises making her features about as enticing as they were intimidating. 

"That was a prized card I used Amalgmation on," Elaine purred out too calmly, her Magical Aura spreading out like a wildfire that seemed to burn the air that she paraded on. "But I guess I need some replacements. How would you two like to become my new Virago Spirits, hm?" 

With the sound of a gunshot in the background, Noriko took off like living lightning. Her silver aura streaked behind her, giving her the impression of a moving comet. When she was about to take off in Elaine and Wess' peripheral gaze, a serpent of shadow latched out and tied itself to her right heel. Yelping she felt her body smash on one surface and then the other, stopping after the seventh whipping as she kicked off her binding. Skidding across the earth with tearing marks made on its cobblestone surface, she witnessed a featureless Ketchum rise up from the earth, red eyes glaring from a pair of circles while a simplistic engraved smile spread across his visage. 

"I'm going to enjoy ripping you apart, darling," Ketchum uttered out in a monstrous tone that echoed through what sounded like an empty corridor that was imitated in the air. His own Magical Aura spread the shadow from the one Noriko had created and transformed the entire street into his territory. A mist of sorts rose up of blackness, hissing everywhere. The only exception was where Noriko's Burst Magic Aura was enough to bubble and steam the shadow earth that she stood upon, making her a formidable adversary to his Shadow Magic spell, Valley of the Dead

Watching Noriko finally finish off her opponent, Morgan silently made a mental note not to underestimate the woman a second time, a mistake that could easily have been dangerous. She watched on, surprised, as Noriko was yanked back by what appeared to be scarlet ribbons, tossed aside like a mere toy with Wess fairing not much better. “This kind of fight is really beyond us. I never imagined we’d be this outclassed so soon.” she lamented, the reality of how far she and her teammates had to go to reach the level of skill that properly trained mages could attain.

When the vast pool of shadows formed, Morgan felt her stomach lurch. Memories of the recent battle where her advantage had been turned back against her made her sick. She doubted that even if she could eat the shadows, ones that now surged around a featureless man in the middle of the great black sea, they would be capable of replicating that same exact feat, but the thought of it still worried her. “Looks like the real fight is starting now.” she said, watching Noriko closely, wondering how she would handle the power of shadows that would soon come bear on her.


Noriko darted forward almost immediately after Ketchum made his threat. Her hand tore through the head of the shadow layered body, splattering it about in wisps of darkness. When her abdomen was bludgeoned by a widening in mass fist, she took a step back to see the body still moved. Another head soon sprouted back up, spewing spiraling blackness to reveal a pair of wide open eyes and a decadently grinning smile. Swinging a foot up to kick the entity in the side of his torso only to find an appendage reach up from the bubbling ground and wrap around her calf. With the avatar rushing forward to smash its head against her Burst empowered cranium, a flash of crackling Ethernano emitted between their foreheads. 

"Sorry," Noriko smiled past the ringing in her head from the headbutt, holding fast against the Shadow Body's own forehead. "But you got no stopping power." 

With a loud cry, Noriko unleashed a powerful expulsion of Burst Magic from her body, eradicating the bonds holding her leg and freeing herself from the immediate vicinity of her person. Dropping to the ground, she found shadows spewing up to wrap around her feet only to be burnt away by her own Magical Aura. Looking around as the blackened earth seem to soften and become brittle around her, she came to the conclusion that mere apparitions stood no chance against her concentrated use of powerful Ethernano discharges. 

But that all changed when she saw multiple Shadow Bodies emerge from the pools of darkness surrounding her. Each one bore a hideous grin and empty white eyes. Darting forward with unpredictable speed and dexterity, all she could do was fend off their attacks with her lightning swift chops, kicks and flips, each one connectiing with the easily mended forms that she shattered effortlessly. Their tenacity was enough to push her to using concentrated bursts of her attacks to ward them from overwhelming her outright. 

Looking over, she saw Wess was having a hard time against Elaine. 

"Come back here, little man," Elaine beckoned with a sultry pur, her Glitter Armor allowing her foot to create densely packed impacts as she kept following his speeding form with crashes of her feet and fists. Swinging her sleeves around, she extended more of her fabric to give chase after him, all of which either missed him or only glanced off his person. Exchanging some of his gunfire at her person, she easily batted it aside and was surprisingly able to withstand the force of the Accelerator infused bullets headed her way. "Nice try, but my Ruby Magic is a lot stronger than you seem to give credit for. Combined with my Linen of the Blood Cowl, I'm practically invincible. Your Accelerator Magic is only good against people who can't take a hit or who can't keep up. My Red Hermes can keep up with even your great speed!" 

"I wish she'd shut up already," Wess thought as he somersaulted away from a series of jabbing tendrils of magical cloth. As he raced around the building faces, he blindly fired accelerated rounds any magic type he could think of at her. Nothing seemed to break through her significantly bolstered Magical Holder Items or Caster Spells. What's worse is that every once in awhile he had to exchange blows with her when she dashed his way, making him raise an arm or a leg defensively to reduce the velocity of her strikes so he wouldn't get pummeled. "Think! She isn't as invincible as she likes to believe. You just have to work past it somehow. Even that cloth can't be as strong as...wait a minute!

Within mid-thought, an epiphany came to the Accelerator Mage. Turning around in mid sprint across a house's wall, Elaine's dashing form would be surprised by his sudden leap towards her. Reaching out his hands reached out and grasbed her bosom, causing her to blush with indignant anger. 

"Why you-you-you...PERVERT!" Elaine howled out, her Glitter Armored fists crashing against his face and head, finally ending with a Red Heeled kick to his chest that sent him crashing to the ground below. Heaving heavily as she landed to the ground, intent on cotinuing his punishment she saw the bleeding man grin with accomplishment. Reaching for her Ruby Pistol, she took aim at Wess asking with a furious tone. "What the Hell is so funny, you horrid man?!" 

"I finally managed to surprise you," Wess groaned out as he slowly settled himself into an upright squat. "Long enough to plant my spell on you, that is." 

"What are you insinuating, bast-" She began to snarl until she felt an unnatural heat build up around her. Looking down at her animated clothes she gasped at the sight of a cerulean glow build-up around her apparel till it consumed it down to the sleeves and blouse. Petering waves of light whined out as a thrumming charge of magic continued to override her control over the Holder Magic item. "What is this?! What are you do-IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING?!?!?!" 

With a loud scream, a white-hot jettisoning of magic erupted from her person, briefly causing the environment to collapse in an implosion effect. Then, it unleashed in a powerful explosion that ripped apart the fabric of the city block, blasting apart buildings into ashen dust. The effect was enough that it made Noriko kick away in a race to escape the blast radius. Skidding to a halt when the shockwave struck her like a cannon ball, she turned around to see a mushroom cloud of cobalt flames rise up from the center. It was something that she hadn't seen often from Wess, not since their fight with the Black Hell Guild, that is. 

Instinctively, Yui's projection leaned out to protect both girls from the blast but ultimately felt no heat from the Magic wave. Instead, they were given spectator priviledge to see a blur of shades the rays of blue could bear before the three girls. When it finally subsided, the smoke initially blurred their sight of Wess who simply stood with his smoking cigarette, untouched by his own bomb's creation. Looking on with a widened eyes, the girls saw a nude Elaine, endowed in a cracked and charred layer of Glitter Armor. 

"You're kidding me," Yui whispered out loud while Maria gaped. "How strong is this chick?"

"You see?" Elaine smiled past the pain she was under, her legs shaking as she stood still with a surprisingly intact person. The gun she had in her possession was eradicated, turned to ash. The only thing that seemed to be intact was a glowing marble sized Lacrima, still glowing with a reverberating slow beat as if it hadn't been marked by the blast. "Not even that little effort of yours could kill me. I am still whole, but very angry, you insuffera-GULK!" 

"K. O.," Wess mouthed out with the cig still in his mouth, his body streaking faster than her slowed perception could make out, his fist shattering the coat of weakened Ruby Magic around her solar plexus. With the glittering pieces of Ethernano born fragments falling off her, the now nude woman fell over unconscious over his shoulder. Looking over her soot covered body, he raised a brow slightly before sighing. Pulling her body over his shoulder, he began walking to the Ark, casting a curious glance down to where he'd make Noriko's speeding frame. Widening his eyes, he engaged his Magic to duck under a punch that aimed to crash into his still temple, cutting through the wake of his magic's light that cast where his face used to be. "Whoa there!" 

"Are you TRYING to kill me?!" Noriko snarled out as she gripped Wess by the collar, shaking him and his captive in his precarious grip. Looking over to see his hand palming one of her hind cheeks, she growled and looked back at him accusingly. A smoldering glare fixated on his dry visage. 

"What? Do you think I'm one of those kinds of guys?" He asked with a cheeky smile, squeezing the bun with a show of snark behind his voice. As her face grew red with anger and embarassment, he ceased the groping and moved it up to her lower back. His expression turned fish-lipped as he looked as if he was sucking on his cigarette like a straw. "Cause I'm not." 

"I know, but you could stop imitating them for once," Noriko hissed out, letting him go to wrap her arms around her chest and look away with a huff. 

"Hey," Wess began to ask, looking around with a curious set of blinks. "Where's the other guy?"

"What, you mean the Shadow Mage?" She asked with an arching crane of her neck back at her partner. With a shrug, she sighed as her hands rested on her hips. "Beats me. We were fighting pretty well until that bomb you let loose. For once I'd like you to hold back, otherwise I lose track of what's going on." 

"Oh!" The man snipped his finger. Turning around he kicked up a curious Lacrima from the ground. Holding it up, the charred remains of the Astral Dial bore witness to how sturdy the power source was. "I guess I didn't cause a bigger blast than before."

"The Hyper Lacrima?" Noriko inquired, recognizing its size and shape from what she had read during her own time advancing herself as a Mage. 

"I guess the Astral Dial couldn't withstand the blast. Good thing its power supply wasn't volatile," Wess answered dryly. 

"I should thank the stars that we didn't get eradicated by your recklessness," She hissed out with a sneer. 

"Hey, we beat them. Or, more accurately, her," He gestured by bouncing her unconscious frame on his shoulder. Turning to look back at his partner he smiled while puffing some smoke. "And we got their ace in the whole. Even with that guy's tail tucked between his legs, I doubt he'll get far from the Punishment Force." 

"I guess that's true," Noriko sighed, turning to look over in the horizon as a series of significant explosions shocked their current cratered spot of the city. "We should see if he needs back up."

"You sure he needs it?" Smith asked with an arching brow. 

"This guy is unreal to fight this long against him. Either he's running on fumes, or he's a lot stronger than we counted on," She murmured with apprehension, looking upward at the sky as ominous lightning began to crackle and rain began to fall onto the ground. "Crap, now it's raining."

"Hey, maybe it'll set the mood?" Wess joked with a smirk. 

"Shut up, Wess and get her back to the Ark! We don't want her escaping as she's infamous for doing, let alone catch pneumonia," Noriko reprimanded him harshly, kicking his butt that caused him to nearly buckle, still feeling the pain of being struck by their now unconscious enemy. With a mere glance of irritation at her and her nodding him to go on, he propelled himself with Accelerator Magic back to the grounded vessel in the distance while she took off to where Victor was. 

Both only hoped that Noriko's fears wasn't justified about the strength of the gang's leader. 

So, she’s finally done holding back.” Morgan thought as she watched Noriko thrash the armada of shadow duplicates by the bunch. Watching the woman dance atop the darkness, burning it with her aura alone, the Dragon Slayer felt afraid; afraid that her own powers weren’t enough. If Noriko was capable of destroying the constructs of a trained shadow user, what did that say about what she was capable of by comparison? 

Focused intently on Noriko’s fight, she didn’t see what Wess had done until the flash of something big going off. In the heat of the moment, she forgot that she and the others were mere projections at that point and leapt in front of Maria. Looking at the source of the blast, she saw their remaining foe standing in thin, broken remnants of her armor. Having no sense of shame, she found the state of her the near-nude adversary laughable, if not for the fact the woman survived such a massive explosion.

When Elaine collapsed, Morgan’s eyes widened and her body tensed as a panic swept through her. “What about that dangerous lacrima they had? Didn’t Father say it could explode and take out everything?” she asked, moments before Wess lifted up the very object. Seeing that it was mostly intact and the dreaded blast didn’t happen, she eased up.

Turning to follow the gaze of the older mages, she saw the repeated clashes of her father and his enemy, both displaying a great amount of power from what she could tell. “Do you two think he can still win? He’s been fighting this whole time without a break...” she said, not even trying to keep the worry out of her voice. 


"No way," Maria replied with a convincted smile and an upraised thumb's up towards her sister. "My dad's the strongest there is. He won't lose to that crazy freak."

"He'll probably appreciate the support," Yui murmured out, her eyes staring off into the distance with a cautious gaze. More thunderous explosions rocked their location, each one seeming to be stronger than the last. Grinding her teeth she could only think that her master and Wess were about to fight this thing on their own. "That madman...he's unreal in strength. I only know one other person who could be that strong and still be..."

Trailing off, she suddenly noticed a crawling web of electricity high up in the sky. Unlike the flashes of lightning that had been discharging both in the high heavens and around the air, she noticed the storm's ferocity was gaining as a particular chain of discharges strode through it. From her perspective it almost seemed like someone was driving it forward, like riding the currents of energy through the sky. Was it possible that it was-?

"It's him!" Yui thought aloud both with a smile and a wondrous expression on her face. 

"Who? What's going on?!" Maria asked in alarm, suddenly aware of the loud cacophony of crackling energies happening over their head, aiming to crash down any second. 

"Godfried," She whispered out, just before a magnificent flash of light followed a pillar of energy that crashed into the ground where Victor and Swartz were fighting. "The Thunder God Saint!

The Final Battle

Morgan looked up to the sky, watching the lightning dancing above. Whatever the source was, she was positive that it wasn’t a natural display, but one caused by a mage. When Yui announced the name of the mage who produced the light show, she felt her heart skip a beat before a hard lump formed in her throat. She felt hopeful that perhaps, after two year of wondering, that maybe her brother was alive, and that maybe Godfried would know. 

“I need to talk to him...” she muttered, trying to hide the emotions she felt while a small smile managed to crack her facade of stoicism. If there was even a chance, no matter how remote, that she could find Roland, it was a chance she had to take. Yet, despite that, she felt coldness sapping at her joyous thoughts. What if she was wrong and Godfried didn’t know? What if the answer wasn’t one she wanted to hear? Her heart sank as those thoughts began to gnaw at her. 

"Of course you can!~" 

"Wha-?" Yui turned around, just as Maria did, witnessing the static arriving image of a new girl only the prior would recognize. Her lime shaded hair was covered by a pair of goggles atop her crown, while a orange scarf that matched her boots and gloves were fixed over her collarless white jumpsuit that fit more of a comic superhero than a girl her age. The shapely suit showed a lithe yet defined musculature that spoke leagues of her physical peak just as Yui's own style of clothing spoke of her own style of combat. Her doe-eyed stare at them while leaned up close caused Maria to yelp and back up till she was placed between Morgan to the new arrival. 

"Who are you?!" Maria held up her hands awkwardly in defense, not really sensing danger given she was merely a Thought Projection. 

"I'm Maria!" She piped up with a sudden smile as she propped herself back to standing height, surprisingly on the same stature as Yui was. 

"No...I'm Mari-"

"Hello, Mari," Yui sighed as she drawled out a sigh at the nearly equal in statured girl, cutting off Maria from continuing her counter. "I see you hitched a ride from Godfried."

"Mhm! You should come watch soon. The main guy's getting really mad for some reason," She nodded, her form suddenly fizzing out of form.

What would happen next was the result of a phenominal release of Ethernano. A volume of crimson light shimmered up into the air, soon expanding out like a dome of searing heat that blew back building after building of the town's outer perimeter. A large silhouette began rising up from the decimated crater. What was soon revealed was a grey-skinned, high-risen collared giant with black hair slick back, resembling nothing like the man from before aside from the single gem encrusted at his forehead. With arms crossed over his massive chest, the giant was observed by all the girls with mixed reactions of awe and terror. 

At the same time, Godfried himself seemed to drop in front of Morgan with a static-filled crash. His Wizard Saint coat slung over his back with empty sleeves flapping in the wind along with the bottom tress of the exterior covering. The earring adorned grey-haired man with hazel eyes looked briefly over at Morgan and the others, noticing the Thought Projections thanks to his own Phoenix Ring. The tank-top, cargo pants wearing Mage turned back setting down Maria whom was carried bridal style in his arms to the ground and seemed to hop to a skip next to the trio's Thought Projections. 

"I know you," Godfried slurred out in a grated tone, befitting someone who's seen much conflict in his lifetime but retaining a dry bluntness to the overall situations he's thrust in. "But I'll catch up with you later, girl from Sin. I got a pissed off Dark Wizard who wants my head for what I did to his Master. So if you understand, I will have to put off our reunion later."

Turning at the sound of a new figure, Morgan almost questioned how anyone could see the group’s projected form before she saw that the stranger was, like them, a mere image. When her sister jumped back, she made sure to keep a close eye on the latest addition to their little group of magical holograms, looking for any hostility, a reflex that was practically ingrained. Even though she believed the static-filled image was indeed on their side, she couldn’t help but be wary.

Before she could ask the green-haired second Maria if she knew where Godfried was, the sudden release of obscenely powerful magic power made her freeze up. Looking towards the ongoing battle in the distance, she saw only a giant of a man, frightening to behold. Her mouth went dry from the foreboding sense of fear that coursed through her. Never before, save for her training under Jadow, had she felt such overbearing power, especially filled with so much darkness from a single person.

Not a moment later, another newcomer arrived with a sudden flash. When the glare died down, she was able to recognize the man, the one who had been in Sin on that night two years prior, the very person who she needed to talk with. 

She choked back her emotions and her desire for answers, knowing there were far worse problems to be dealt with before she could hear the news she had longed for. She sighed and simply nodded her head in understanding, as much as she didn’t like the matter, it had to be. “Promise me, once this is over, you’ll tell me what I want to know.” she half-demanded, half pleaded, hiding the feelings she wanted to express there and then.

"Yeah," Godfried answered simply, just as a pair of feet dropped beside him on either flank. Sighing aloud he cast an annoyed glance at both people beside him. "Hey, what's Wess doing now? He better not be dragging his ass again-"

"Relax," Noriko replied as she tightened the scarf around her neck, her smile telling of her eagerness as she looked up at the tower of a man. "He said he wanted to tag out. You know how he is with being in big battles like this. It's 'not his style' to fight something this grand or over his head."

"Bullshit!" The large man barked, his eyes practically going white as he turned to snarl at her while taking a step towards her. "That man's one of the strongest people still standing here! He can't just be substituted like that!"

"Sorry, I'm late."

"Who-?" The Saint spoke aloud with a sharp turn, blinking when he saw no one in his line of sight. Turning left and right, he noticed a single erect bang of hair sticking up from a blond haired woman. Bending his head down towards the black suited Virago Spirit, he narrowed his eyes with remembrance and understanding. "You."

"Wess said that his abilities with long-range combat and abilities to reduce momentum should help protect the Ark full of civilians and the girls better. I'm more of a frontline fighter than I am a protector so I took his place," Diana explained in a nonplussed manner, her eyes locked against Godfried's stoic dry orbs. 

Sighing, the taller man rose back to full height and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Victor..."

"Yes?" The Head of the Alexander Family appeared from the shadows beside the girls, his uniform was torn and marred by soot or debris. His sleeves were all but torn off and the suit pants were quite torn up. Surprisingly his gloves and his shoes were in great condition while his tie remained straight. The cloak too was in great condition other than a few tears and burn marks. Turning to look over Diana back at an annoyed Godfried, he smiled candidly. "I'm quite pleased with the change-up. Don't you agree?"

"You-I-he-she-urgh!" Godfried sporadically spat out, shaking his head as he looked back at the imposing man whom to be almost as still as a statue. Raising a brow, he snapped a single finger, causing a spastic burst of electrical discharge to rise up from his body and arc up into the sky. Falling down onto Swartz's colossal head, he sputtered and shook his head as his arms unfurled from his chest. "You done being all imposing, you big bad bastard?!" 

"HEY! I WAS TRYING TO ACT COOL! I HAD A POSE AND EVERYTHING GOING!" Swartz's booming voice shook the air and quaked the ground they were standing at, even from the distance they were at. Then, his beady eyes glowed a white-hot red, his body oozing a vapor of Ethernano that was too hot to even touch without fear of being scalded. Growling out he let out a magnified shout that created a shockwave that parted the earth and blew back Maria Streak while making the Thought Projections of Maria and Yui raise their arms up at the near realistic feeling of the giant's voice striking them. "THANKS, ASSHOLE! I REMEMBER WHY I UNLEASHED THIS STRENGTH! YOU HIT ME ON THE HEAD AND MADE ME REMEMBER THAT YOU'RE THE ONE I HATE THE MOST, GODFRIED THE THUNDER SAINT!" 

"Wait, hitting you on the head did that? I was just showing up after traveling hundreds of kilometers. I didn't intend for that to happen...well mostly," Godfried scratched his chin idly as he lamely explained.

"Perhaps he got amnesia from what you did and only remembered after the shock?" Noriko suggested with a shrug.

"Or maybe he's just an idiot," Diana huffed with an annoyed glare at the giant. 

"I think this has to do with the fact Godfried killed The Raven four years ago," Victor reminded the group with a wave of his hand, turning to look at Godfried with an easygoing smile. "Remember? You went and crushed their Raven's Talons Guild that time?" 

"Ah yeah. The Council really chewed my ass out for that, but hey, whiners will whine, am I right?" Godfried began to shrug with a wry grin.

Just as he did so, an enormous fist seemed to distort the air with its sheer speed. The grey-reddened skin of the knuckles crashed where the Wizard Saint was, catapulting the other members away with the explosion of force that made Maria Streak perform a series of acrobatic flips and dancing gestures in a comically alarmed manner to avoid being throttled into a large piece of debris. Just when it seemed that she was done for, the shockwave subsided and she sprinted back where Morgan and the others were standing. 

"Whew! That was a close one!" She chirped with an exaggerated swipe of her forehead as she smiled and stuck out a thumb's up at the three.

"You seemed to enjoy that a bit too much," Yui sighed out loud, just getting over seeing an explosion that had virtually no effect on her person. Looking over Maria spat out what she imagined was dust but never actually entered her mouth. Looking over at Morgan she smiled and asked her with a wink. "You okay, Morgan?" 

Just after she asked that question, Swartz would be treated by a sudden feeling on his left shoulder, leaning against his upturned collar. Looking over with abject rage noted by the veins protruding from his face down his neck, Godfried simply stared up at him with a blank glazed look. Turning around to shout his hand reached up to slap him off, "WHAT?! YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SA-"

"KO Shock."

"-YYYYYYY?!" Swartz once again was struck by a magnified blast of Lightning Magic, his head warping and exasperating comical shocking expressions. With his hand striking his shoulder impromptly, Godfried launched forward in a coat of Lightning Ethernano, propelling himself forward to launch a shocking aura from his arm to crash into his left jaw. "Thunder Fist!" He let out as an explosive thuum was let loose in the air that shook the earth beneath the giant's fist and caused him to stumble back, spit flying out of his mouth along with blood. Following up with a left fist curtained in aero-force, he launched himself forward to arc around and crash a follow-up strike that caused him to stumble back and send him falling to ground with an explosive crash that sent a wind of dust and debris flourishing beyond the sight of the observing girls. "Twister Fist!

Morgan felt the knot in her chest loosen as she extracted the promise from Godfried, it was a step in the right direction as far as she was concerned. The only obstacle left was now the giant of a man in front of the group. When Noriko and Diana showed up to aid them, the situation seemed to become a little less dire than before. 

When she saw Victor’s slightly ruined suit-clad form, she felt herself pale. How many times had the man escaped a dangerous situation to become so disheveled? She worried that the situation had been worse than anticipated, and with that worry, she felt her desire to grow stronger turn from a mere want into a need. She’d make sure to protect her family, that was a certainty.

Before she could do anything more than worry, Swartz’s nightmarishly gigantic vocal roar forced her to cover her ears before any damage to her hearing could be done. The raw pressure wave was so dense, it was like a solid wall of sound waves that crashed into her body.

She paid little mind to the debris storm that followed Swartz fist smashing down. Simply dodging anything that got too close, mostly on reflex, her body reacting simply on bestial instinct while her mind was elsewhere, thoughts of Roland and the fear that she was simply not prepared for the possible truth that she spent all her time denying.

“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine.” she said, brought out of her thoughts by Yui’s question. 

When Godfried clocked the angry giant and knocked him away in two hits, she stared wide-eyed. It was impressive to see the power of one of the official Wizard Saints in action. “D-do you think it’s over?” she asked, wondering if the threat was over.

"I dunno," Maria cupped her hands around her eyes, staring ahead at where the enormous body lied not too far away from their projections and Second Maria. "I can't tell. He's not moving at the moment."

"I doubt he's down for good," Yui bit down on her lower lip. 

"How do you know?" Maria turned her head to blink with surprise at her senior magician. 

"Call it a hunch based on experience. Things rarely go down that easy," Yui explained with a swing of her hips and a spin of a free hand while the other's back leaned against said jutting hip. 

"Oh! Go for it, God!" Maria Streak cried out with a holler up at the sky. From there, it was seen that a series of Lightning Magic circles were being established around a shining beacon of crackling energy in the heavens. 

"Lightning Magic," As Morgan and the other girls deliberated that thought out loud. Forming the circles that spiraled up into the swirling storm clouds above his head, nearly a dozen of them expanded over where the giant lied. Smashing his fists together, his coat whipped around his body as he snarled out loud. "Thunder Barrage!

In what seemed like an instant, two things happened at once. The explosive fissures of Ethernano infused electrical energies snaking out from the sky and the giant Swartz's hands swinging up from the ground to clap above his head. Simultaneous collisions of kinetic force from his palms clapping met the chaotic rain, creating a series of blinding flashes followed by a dramatic thuum that shook the land with a torrential fervor. With one motion, Swartz had nullified a spell from the legendary Godfried. 

"He...countered him with a clap of his hands!" Yui gasped out loud with disbelief in what she witnessed. 

"Aw yeah, this is gonna be good!" Maria Streak cheered with an upraised fist. "Give it to 'em, God!" 

"Isn't that a bit inappropriate for you to call him?" Maria Alexander asked with a questioning brow with a few cursory blinks as she swept some bangs from her eyes. 

"Why? He controls the weather and has the strength to topple giants. Doesn't it make sense to shorten his name to God?" The Second Maria asked with a bobbing gesture of her head. 

"Uh...well, you make a point," Maria, sister of Morgan, sighed with a facepalm to her forehead. 

Curling his legs up so his knees touched his chest, he leapt up with unexpected dexterity to his feet, making a stomp that cracked the earth he stood upon. Rising up from his squat he wiped the debris and soot across his sleeves and straightened his collar. Flashing a dangerous smile as the bulging veins lining his neck to his face hadn't vanished but seemed to pulse more steadily. 

"GOTTA SAY," He boomed out as he grinned manically at the distantly hovering Godfried. "IT BRINGS BACK OLD, PAINFUL MEMORIES GETTING HIT BY THOSE FISTS OF YOURS! I REMEMBER THAT BATTLE ALL TOO WELL, DON'T YOU?! THE ONE WHERE YOU TORE APART MY FAMILY AND KILLED MY FATHER!" 

"He wasn't a father, he was your boss, taking advantage of your abnormal power!" Godfried countered with a less voluminous yet audible shout from the distance. Arms crossed his coat continued to flap around his sparking frame that snapped and synapsed around his muscle outlined body. Cocking a head to the side he narrowed his eyes at the sneering giant. "Also, I recall I was quite winded from fighting The Raven! I'm sure someone even of your power back then only gave me a workout because he did the majority of the fighting!"

"HA! LIKE THAT CHANGES ANYTHING! I'M FAR STRONGER THAN I WAS BACK THEN! IN FACT, WATCH THIS!" He howled back, bending his knees and leaning his body forward. Then, with a earth quaking shockwave, Swartz leaped forward in a rush of speed that overtook Godfried with a launching fist that dwarfed his body. With widened eyes, he enraptured the Thunder Flash spell around his body, causing him to fly back away from the air woven thrust. 

What he didn't expect was a sudden birth of explosive flames that jettisoned from his fist, creating a bolt of flashing force that struck him head-on. Still coiling with a Magical Aura, his body crashed in the distance, plowing through the city infrastructure till he was buried within the river that ran through and underneath its make-up. With an upheaval of water and concrete rising up into the sky where he was sent, the trail of flames where he was jettisoned caused all but Maria Streak to look on with horror stricken expressions. 

"It..was so fast I couldn't tell what happened," Maria quivered out with a hiccup at the startling force that rattled the area around them. 

"This is a Saint Class fight," Yui whispered, her breath hitched as she turned to look at the heel of the standing, trench coat toting Dark Wizard. Watching his fist retract with a known smile of depraved delight. "A Catastrophe in the making, this whole city might be wiped off the map before their battle is done."

"But...where's fath-"

"Abyss Sling!" An unseen voice rumbled under their feet, causing the shadow from which stretched from the feet of the giant to spew out what looked like a speck of darkness. Flying up like a rocket propelled bullet, it soon turned into a streak of night that crashed into the man's chin. Such force was implemented that the man's eyes bulged and his head flung back by the attack. The same technique that stunned Morgan caused Swartz to stumble back a step, revealing its true potency. 

Rising up in a raiment of pitch blackness that made him hard to distinguish as the tattered suit & cloak fitted Guild Master, Victor was up in Swartz's steadying fast. Pulling back a fist, he readied to swing a fist at the stunned giant. But the colossal being surprised him when his back foot firmly planted on the earth and both hands swung around to clap at his body. A thunderous crash of explosive force seemed to snuff out Victor into oblivion, with Swartz's face leaning forward with a malicious grin spreading across his face. 

"HEHEHEHEHEHEHE!" He gutturally cackled out with spread teeth, all while Maria hoarsely shrieked at what she thought was the end of her father. "I SQUASHED A DARK LOOKIN' BUG! GUESS YOU STAND NO CHANCE WHEN I'M AT FULL POW-"

"Fist," A voice hissed out, porous gout of black substance seeming to seep through the crevice of his clasped hands till he was a few meters in front of Swartz's dilated eye. Reforming into the white-eyed form of a crowned, cloaked Victor, his fist pulled back before thrusting forward, swelling in size of darkness that was discharged till it resembled the size of an equally large being's fist. Crashing into Swartz's face full on to cause his features to comically warp inward, a cacophony of black Ethernano bolts spurt out from the point of contact, creating a balloon of collapsing air waves as the heels dug huge trenches and sent Swartz reeling seemingly farther back than Godfried had with two punches. When Swartz reeled at the force of his attack, Victor growled in a rare and unheard tone of menace that only those who've known him for years that he expressed. "Of the Under King!

As Morgan watched the giant Swartz get back up, a cold sweat broke out. She couln’t believe that after an attack like that, the man had enough to stand again. He was taking hits that would have absolutely destroyed her, and dishing out equal amounts as he took. What she saw was no longer a human, but something more akin to a monster. “No...No way.”

The most frightening part was how Swartz was enjoying the fight. His howls and roars sounded like a man who was enraptured in the battle, and that alone was more frightening that his power. It was like an icy chill began to creep up her spine. “Just how powerful is this maniac?” she thought with a bit of trepidation. 

Watching Godfried blitz about the giant like a flea, she could barely tell what was going on, despite being acclimated to high speed combat as she was, the sheer scale of what was happening boggled her mind. When Yui said that the town could very well be destroyed by the clash of two Saint class fighters, had it been possible she would have grown paler. “Are you serious? Isn’t there anything we can do?” She asked, an edge of fear to her voice.

Before she could get an answer, she heard her father’s voice and she could see the man rising from the shadows, cloaked in overbearing darkness. It was comforting, in a way, to see her element being pressed to new heights that she couldn’t have imagined on her own, the kind of power that she longed for. It gave her hope that her natural abilities in the art could grow to that level.

And yet, Victor’s tone was filled with anger and malice, the likes she never heard from him before, and that she never wanted to be on the receiving end of herself.

“Hey Maria, what kind of magic is Father using? I’ve never seen him do that before.” she asked, watching with amazement as the fruits of Victor’s offense became plain to see.

"Neither have I," Maria gulped with a wide open mouth as she bore first glance at the specter of the night hovering in the air, high up in the storm filled sky. "It's...like he's become one with the darkness. An avatar of Darkness Magic!" 

"Elemental Magicians of high skill can often transform their bodies into an element or maintain a state of being that can transcend ordinary physical limitations," Yui explained as her eyes twitched, beads of sweat starting to crawl down her scalp as chills turned her arms' skin into a valley of goosebumps. "Victor can turn into living shadows. I'm pretty certain Godfried can become lightning if he donned a proper spell on himself."

"Mhm, God can do that!" Maria Streak piped up with a bobbing nod and wide smile. 

"Given what you've displayed so far, Morgan," The older Burst Magician continued, turning her face to stare seriously at the Dragon Slayer. "Your inherited power will allow you to transform more easily than any human Elemental Mage could."

As she finished speaking, Swartz finally recovered enough to leap back and swing a titanic fist. Embroiled in flames, it crashed into Victor, but seemed to collide into a wafting tide of blackness. The two forces became pulsing umbrellas of onyx and crimson, roaring out like the mightiest of engines fueled by the fires of Hell. While one was of a giant, the other was a speck yet undeniably equal with his strength. Pushing one against the other, the mighty fist against an insignificant one continued to crash into each other. 

"WHAT THE HELL?! YOU'RE A REAL MONSTER TO FIGHT EQUALLY AGAINST THE LIKES OF ME!" The Giant Wizard shouted with a gleeful grin stretched across his face. Pulling back one fist, the two's powers detonated with a buffeting airwave that did little to faze someone of his stature but smack into the cityscape around them, causing the observing party to be hit by a hurricane equivalent of a gust. Swinging out one fist after another, a blur of titanic limbs pounded the air with as much ferocity as Victor seemed to parry and evade with equal measure. "COME ON COME ON COME ON COME ON COME ONNNNNN!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! KEEP IT UP OR ELSE I'LL SEND YA FLYIN' LIKE THE OTHER GUY!" 

"It's like thunder being shot off like a lightning fired cannon!" Maria thought as she looked up as her father exchanged blows with flashes of red and black that bolted outward with every sonic pressured thuum. Turning over to look at the outroared cries of Maria Streak whom yelped and hollered with cheer, she wondered how someone could be so excited and carefree about a titanic battle like this.

Throughout the fierce combat, she didn't hear as much as feel a white-hot wave of heat thrust just a mere dozen meters above her head. A lance of bright golden-outlined white electricity cut through one of Swartz's arms and jolted his body. Because of that, Victor was able to rush in and crash into his throat, causing a gargled wheeze escape his mouth. Following up with a leaping double-fist uppercut that jolted Swartz up off his feet stories off the ground, he narrowly swiped the air where Victor was to avoid being hooked into the face. 

"DAMMIT!" Swartz snarled as he saw blood ooze from the scalding burn that he recieved on his arm. Looking over, he saw what looked like a crackling orb that sporadically discharged bolts around its punitive size. Inhaling deeply, he unleashed a volatile roar of Pyro Magic, destabilizing the Shock Grenade till it blasted away. During his roar, a painful crash struck the back of his knee, causing his body to fall to the cap and one hand. Looking down he was graced to see a bright crackling light surrounding a feminine shape that grasped his wrist with both arms and pulled. Without realizing what was happening before it was too late, he howled out with confusion and then pain as he was hefted head over heel to crash onto his back with a mighty debris winding crash. "OW!" 

"Whew...he was...heavier than I thought," Noriko panted a little bit as her Burst Aura reduced a fraction to a pulsing light instead of a throttling burst of electrical sparks. 

"Requip, Scarlet Armor!" Diana cried out as a shimmering golden light encapsulated her before enrapturing in a red light. Now in a crimson threaded dress with a front white silk front and bottom tresses, she held the Vein Streak. Crackling with microscopic minerals with a coat of electricity, she jettisoned her scarlet Lightning Aura to appear above the rising Swartz just enough to deliver a star-shaped series of swift sword strokes. Finishing the last swing, she shouted in a murderous cry a hail of railgun blasts from her electrical powered sword. "Star Hail!

"GUAGH!" The Giant Magician howled out as they etched into his thick skin and set the flesh aflame within the explosive impacts. Swinging a foot up to kick her in the air, she nimbly dodged and circled around his outstretched leg, cutting a thin trail of shocking yet lacerating strokes over his limb. Rushing up around to his head where she aimed to attack his eye, he turned to spit, lacing the human-sized wad with Pyro Magic to set her aflame akin to napalm. The effect was akin to a fiery artillery shot, sending her jolting person flying back till she crashed onto her feet where she steamed and breathed heavily by the impact. 

"Just with his spit, he can do this much damage...incredible," Diana muttered aloud begrudging respect as burns rose up from her scalded left cheek and forehead, her dried blood overridden by new spilled essence. Her armor was cooked around the sleeps and waist, but was still intact and able to be used. Swinging her sword in an X formation, she launched her Star Cross strike at him from a distnace that magnified into a five story long pair of streaking bolts. 

Now parrying on all sides, Swartz's initial frustration was returning back to a blood fueled fervor of lusty excitement. One arm swung around to parry an attack from Victor while his head veered from a crossing strike of Godfried's returning form. An uppercut of explosive force sent the Wizard flying high up while a leg kicked out at Noriko, the resulting fiery airwave sending her reeling back while Diana rushed up to launch more cutting attacks. A twist of his hips and his knee crashed into her racing form, sending her catapulting away while a swipe of his hands crossed his arms on both sides as Victor and Godfried throttled from above and the side. Swinging them back around, he unleashed devastating explosive geysers of superheated tongues, akin to that of plumes coming from volcanoes yet more fierce and focused. 

With both of them turning into light and shadow alike, the Wizards raced forward to crash their fists into Swartz's folding wrists in the span of an instant. This caused a powerful explosion following up a pommel thrust of Diana's that strengthened Noriko's palm thrust into his torso. With all four attacks converging, the Giant Magician was sent rearing back as the four's combined efforts caused him to be sent flying off his feet and skidding to near the outer perimeter of the river running city. 

As Yui explained what Victor was doing, Morgan grew a bit excited. The fact her father had that kind of power hidden up until then, she couldn’t wait to learn the magic herself, and when she heard that her natural skills with the darkness just might give her an advantage, she couldn’t hide how happy it made her.

She watched the fight continue, awestruck that Victor was able to fight such a powerful foe as Swartz like it was nothing and the sheer size difference made it all the more harrowing to witness. She couldn’t, more like didn’t, want to imagine the implications if the giant were to hit her father, even in his super-empowered state. 

Casting a glance over at the green-haired Maria, the Dragon Slayer let out a sigh. She knew well what it was like to be caught up in the heat of the moment, but to enjoy a fight where lives were at stake? She couldn’t ever imagine being that enthused by just watching a battle, and there was only one she could think of actually enjoying, the fight for revenge.

As the fight progressed, Morgan’s sense of fear abated, moreso once Noriko and Diana joined the fray and vastly improving their odds. She felt herself get nauseous as the giant’s saliva was used as a flaming weapon. “Does he really need to...” she said, trying to maintain the contents of her stomach.”That’s an unusual weapon...” 

She felt like a weight was removed from her chest as Swartz was ejected from the town by the quartet of heroes. “Well, with him out of town, we might be able to salvage something of this place after all.”

"Amazing," Maria uttered out as the buffeting airwave of the shockwave of all four struck her projection along with Yui, Morgan and Maria Streak. "They're all so strong." 

"They don't stand a chance with God there!" Maria Streak declared with an upraised fist, a bright smile stretched across her face. "Go get'em!" 

Meanwhile, Swartz found himself spitting out some blood from having bit his tongue on getting hit so hard. Growling at having to stand himself up, he realized hew as knocked nearly right out of town. The sight of all four magician combatants racing towards him to continue their assault made his eyes dilate and his smile widen. He hadn't had such a battle for a long time, even when he fought for rage's sake against Godfried. Spreading out his arms to either side, he clapped them in front of himself, causing an immense shockwave of force to send all of his enemies flying back from his immediate vicinity. 

"Ngh!" Victor winced as he felt the force wave dissipate his raiment of shadows wrapped around his body. Not having the time to catch a glance at Diana and Noriko flipping head over heels to skid to the forest clearing's floor, or Godfried righting himself in the air, his only attention was a hammer fist coming down atop his reeling form. Crossing his arms over his face, his body soon was concussed into the ground out of sight of the far-seeing observers, creating an immense upheaval of earth that send a wave of dust all around the other three. 

"Master!" Diana cried out with apparent worry, her eyes widening at seeing for a first that an enemy was able to deal a blow of such severity before her gaze. 

"HA! ONE DOWN!" Swartz cried out with glee, turning his gaze towards the two women on the ground. "WHICH ONE OF YA FINE LADIES WANT TO DANCE WITH A REAL MAN?! HUH?!" 

Gritting her teeth, Diana muttered a breath of "Requip" as she changed tactics. In a brilliant gleam of white light, her armored snow colored dress endowed her in a pure Magical Aura that made her glittering to the observer. Hair put into a ponytail with a black bow, her rapier -The Lily Blade- in conjunction with her The Knight Requip -Lily Armor-. In a streak of piercing movement, she moved at a momentum that seemed to even outpace the rapidly charging Noriko who followed behind her. 

Swinging a behemoth fist towards the two of them in which Noriko clashed with two upturned fists, matching his strength with a colossal crash of Ethernano discharge between the two of them. Meanwhile, a circling cyclone of severing cuts were made all the way up his shoulder, revealing a geyser of blood from the deeper inflicted slashes she made this time around. Growling, Swartz moved to slap her off but found she already transformed again in another bright light of Requip. The very blood that she spilled seemed to siphon directly to her now crimson cloaked toga and gladius short sword, granting her a deep red Magical Aura. The very hand that would have normally squashed or swatted her away was kicked back by a single bare foot, and her sword charged forward with a blazing fissure of magical firepower aimed at his head. With a narrow bend of his neck, only his chin was lacerated and burned by the attack as she barreled past him in a jettisoning leap of pressure. No sooner did she move four dozen meters did she turn around and kick the air behind her, creating enough power from a single kick to send her flying back at her enemy. 

"YOU GALS ARE GOOD!" He declared with a shouting howl, his arm set aflame by Pyro Magic to cauterize his fresh wounds. Ignoring the waves of pain that lapsed over his limb, his burning arm swung around to parry a few rapid attacks of Noriko's before swatting her aside with prejudice. Turning to regard the charging Diana, he leaned back to palm the earth, swinging up a booted foot to crash at the unsuspecting Virago Spirit from underneath. An explosion of force was caused as she was sent pinwheeling up into the high heavens. Flipping back onto his feet with a thud, he announced with a sadistic chuckle. "BUT I'M BETTER!" 

"Air Shockwave!" A thuuming shout was roared up above in the sky, followed by a concentrated sonic wave driven pressure wave of Wind Magic. Hitting Swartz full on, he was taken aback by the sheer force of its power. As the trees were uprooted and the soil eradicated, he backpedaled up and nearly fell to one knee from the pain. 

"You almost got me that time," Victor announced from behind, causing Swartz's eyes to widen with surprise. His body had cracked partitions of a glittering cloak of many lights, akin to the same barrier that he and Maria had used in conventional combat. With the exception of the glass fragments beginning to be shed off his person after use, it looked like he withstood the force of his attack without harm to his person. "But I guess I'm too fast for you."

"WE'LL SEE ABOUT THAT!" Swartz snarled out as he whipped a fist out to crash into him while turning around simultaneously. Seeing a blurring light of black go straight up, he was just in time to see it swirl around in a maelstrom of onyx. When it concentrated just about Victor's mouth, it had shrunk to the size of a bead, but that'd soon change. 

"Darkness Magic," He announced, following up with a voluminous roar of burning blackness escaping his throat as his throat gave an ungodly howl that shook the land all the way back to the city. The unleashed pillar of energy struck both of Swartz's upraised arms, but soon caused him to be lifted off the ground and sent flying in a cyclone of dark Ethernano. With the giant sent crying aghast in the burning waves of cold unforgiving night, he finished his chant of his spell out loud. "Breath of the Under King!

Not given any ounce of leeway, the spiraling giant was struck from underneath by Noriko as she lanced upward with a rising double kick. The crackling energies gave way to a shockwave of electrical proportions that sent him arcing upwards. A scarlet streak could be seen as Diana pointed her blade downward, Godfried coming down in a powerful coaster of air pressure. To anyone who could see the sky, it'd seem as if a tornadoe of a condensed shape was flowing behind the Wizard Saint, curling around his lower body and torso as a result. In combination of using his Twister Coaster, he harnessed one of the most deadly of his Wing Magic spells. 

"Microburst!

"Guillotine Thrust!

With both of them nearing their enemy, they were only seconds from connecting their attacks. Just as they neared his body, an immense proportioned orange glyph was erected in front of his body as it was underneath. The blade and the wind hurdling fists crashed into him, causing a curling of space followed by an incredible impact that indented the earth and sent waves of dirt along with wind to flow outward in a destructive mass of kinetic throwback. It'd be similar if a deity's finger just touched the land, cascading bolts of crimson lightning from where the Ethernano fueled collision took place and where Swartz's body landed as a result of being struck with immense force. 

"Whoohoo!~" Maria Streak cried out as the dust filled wind coasted across the city, making the projections of Yui and Maria Alexander wince. 

"They're fighting so hard...is he really that strong?" Maria whispered with uncertainty while the lime haired girl fit goggles over her eyes to shield them from the wind careening debris. 

"He's definitely in a league of his own, even if he's a crazy brute," Yui admitted with a swallow, unbelieving just how strong this man was by comparison to the other legendary Wizards he was combatting. 

Morgan's eyes widened as Victor was impacted with a giant fist. "FATHER!" she screamed out, terrified, as the man's body seemingly vanished. She fell to her knees in shock and defeat, tears streaming down her face. The scared little girl that hid behind the invincible mask rose to the surface, along with a near-all consuming desire to tear Swartz apart, snd if it weren't for her incorpreal self, that mix of despair and fury just might have overtaken the little amount of reason she had left, leading to foolish and rash actions.

"If only I was stronger...If only I wasn't so worthless, this might not...Maybe that monster was right after all....I can't do anything..." the dark thoughts swirled even as she tried to regain her fractured composure, if only for Maria's sake. She couldn't deny how broken and frightened she was by the sudden disappearance of her father's body from a single hit, and her own powerlessness, leading to a vicious cycle of sadness.

As the fight wore on, she silently hoped that a blow from the behemoth monster of a man wasn't enough to keep Victor down for long, that'd at any moment her hero would just bound back up to continue the fight and everything would be right with the world.

After a few minutes, her prayers were answered and much to her shock, she saw Victor using a technique she couldn't imagine anyone using. "But...that's a Darkness Dragon's Roar!" she exclaimed in surprise. Seeing a human, even one as powerful as her father, replicate the basic application of the dark magic she possessed in abundance with such ease, she had to admit it was mind-boggling to witness.

Maria found herself about to comment about it as well, this being the first time she seen her father use such a technique. But the sight of Godfried and Diana's attacks crashing him down into the earth with a reverberating shockwave that sent a blistering wind to their projections and Maria Streak caused her to go silent. Was it finally over, or was Swartz about to unleash a new stratagem to render them speechless once more? 

It was during the silence that Yui noticed Godfried's disciple leap up to a still standing structure's rooftop. Deciding to climb up as if she were physically present, she reached the same altitude above the sisters while Maria adjusted her goggles. She noticed they had targeting reticles, giving her the inklking that it was a Holder Magic item. 

"Can you see anything?" The older Magician asked the younger. 

"I see God and the others a little bit. They're pretty far out at this point...oooooooh!" She uttered out with a big 'o' expression. 

"What is it?" Yui inquired with alarm. 

"I see smoke...but...it's seeming to flare outwards, as if something is fanning the flames," Maria explained as she narrowed her eyes behind her goggles. 

That was when the unwanted occurred. An abysmal roar following the eruption of flames that jettisoned into the sky, forming a spiral within the dark thundering heavens. Just as Godfried and Diana situated with the other pair on the ground they could only gawk on as much as the girls in the distance as the behemoth rose again. But this time, it was done in a way that made him seem truly inhuman. 

"Pyro Magic," Swartz announced in a strangely quieter voice, the coat he had been proudly sporting having been torn apart by the severe attacks that riddled his body by Godfried, Noriko, Diana and Victor. His skin was scorched from burns, cracked in places where he had been dealt many sword wounds and swollen by the beatings he received. However, instead of pus or blood, a magma of sort bubbled around where his injuries were sustained and the charred surface seemed to harden into glistening shell. The Magic Aura he now projected also seemed to emanate such an intense heat that all of his enemies bore sweat at just standing in his presence, now as if he churned out Hellfire around his very person. It was so bright that the girls in the distance and even Wess from the Ark could see his fiery aurora. With glowing golden eyes and hair that spewed smoke upward, his voice announced with a calm smile. "Surtr's Body.

"What...did he say?" Victor gasped out loud as his eyes widened at the implications of this mad man's words. 

"Surtr's Body?" Godfried murmured out in query at Victor. "What the Hell is that?" 

"You're not far off," He whispered, his sweating brow hiding the cold sweat of what he knew of this man's power. "Surtr is one of the old gods of Iceberg and Stella. He was surmised as the one who brought ruin to the House of Valhalla that Stella held sanctity over. He was a dweller from the depths of the underworld, spawning forth legions of giants that spewed flames from their mouths and possessed bodies of igneous crust that spout magma instead of blood. He himself was one of those giants, but was the strongest among them."

"So? That's an old myth," Noriko tried to shrug off even as she took nervous glances up at Swartz, whom now looked down at the four of them. 

"I'd concur with Lady Hayate as well, Master," Diana also tried to assuage the fears her Master was having. She had rarely seen this look on his face, and when it did happen, it was for very good reason. She was hoping this was not one of them. 

"You don't understand," Victor swallowed raspily, already feeling a defining lack of moisture in their surroundings, noticing the landscape itself was starting to become alight with an unfathomable fire set by his very Magic. "To use such a Magic would make you on par with Slayer Mages. Specifically, those of the like that can challenge the gods themselves!" 

"Now you're really shitting me!" Godfried shouted, his face now contorting into disbelieving rage as he looked up at the enormous giant set aflame by this new Magic. "There's no way a brat like you has such power!" 

"I disagree," Swartz answered back, kneeling on his haunches with arms crossed over his knees, a playful smirk stretching across his large visage. "I couldn't have used this Magic back then because I lacked the experience of fighting a Mage of your caliber. Since then, I've fought many battles that I lost and won on equal merit. Some were far threatening than that day you killed the only man I considered a father. But now, as my wounds have quieted my mind and stilled my blood, I can use it with my sanity intact. You should know I've fought a Slayer before...and he scared me!" 

"Slayer?" Victor questioned inwardly at the mention of an unknown Slayer that did battle with someone as strong as Swartz. "This is the first time I've heard of it. Did something happen in the wilderness that never reached my ears?

"Ha! Even if that's the case," The Thunder Saint replied in vigor, raising a hand up, his Magical Aura roaring up instantly to snap Victor out of any reverie he had. "We haven't used our full power yet anyways. Mighty fine opportunity to give you a show we rarely use for anybody. Isn't that right Victor?" 

"He's right," He sighed, turning to face the mortal who was draped in the guise of a demon. "This isn't a reason to become doubtful or become afraid of legends. He's no Ragnarok Beast. He can be bled. He can be beaten."

"That's the spirit!" Noriko spoke aloud with a gleam in her eyes as her own Burst Aura rocketed up into a bright pillar of light with Godfried. Joined by Victor's wispy Darkness Magic Aura and Diana's blood soaked Crimson Armor ejected a bright red light up to join the others. Seen as a quartet of powerful Wizards, their lights combined into a rising multi-colored Phoenix that screamed into the heavens while the thunderous roar of Swartz's Surtr Body creating a ghastly flaming tower of tongues. 

Morgan watched on in shock as the erupting pillar of flame began to take, once more, a human form. “He won’t stay down...what kind of monster is this guy?!” she said, unable to fathom how even after a replicated, human, version of the signature attack of the Dragon Slayers, the man was able to stand once again. She felt the weight in her chest return, concerned that maybe, just maybe, the quartet in the distance were in over their heads.

This fear permeated every fiber of her being, up until she saw the most beautiful sight she had ever seen, a multi-colored phoenix rising high into the sky. She didn’t even question it, knowing that it was really a unified form of her friends and family’s magic power, pooled together. Although the light show didn’t entirely soothe her fear, it did restore her hope in the four and their ability to overcome the odds placed in front of them, in their ability to put the Goliath in front of them down for good.

"Heh!" Swartz barked out, standing back up to full height with a deranged grin spread across his burning face. "THAT'S THE SPIRIT! COME, GIVE ME A FIGHT WORTH REMEMBERING!" 

Godfried was the first to attack. In an aura of Lightning Magic, he clashed against Swartz's readily defending wrist. An instantaneous crimson circle of crimson outlined the giant hand, giving way to a swipe that the Wizard Saint narrowly avoided. In the instance he did he acknowledged a burning trail of explosive Ethernano carved its way across the outskirts into the center of the city. Like a funnel of gold, orange and red it soon ended with splaying explosion that splayed outward akin to a volcanic eruption. Spiraling balls of fire rained across the infrastructure, setting it alight while causing additional explosions within the spray of firepower. 

"He's right. Just motioning his arm and he can create far more destruction than he did four years ago," The Thunder Saint blinked at the sight with awe. Turning around he realized one second too late that he let his concentration down. A behemoth set of knuckles caught him across his turning front, his arms barely bracing the impact. Following a wide magic circle, the arm fully twisted with the punch and launched him into the sky with a devastating pyre of flames that sent him rocketing up into the thundering heavens. 

"Godfried?!" Yui squeaked out in a rare sign of true alarm. The clouds itself parted and formed a hole in the continuously flashing lightning of nature's own accord. It seemed he was launched into the upper atmosphere, out of reach and unseen by all. 

"He did that with one punch. Just...just how are they going to beat him?" Maria asked with bewidlerment, her hands running through her hair as anxiety began to set in.

"Nah, God ain't dead. I'm sure he's just a little winded-"

"BAD PUN and BAD TIMING, MARI!" Yui shouted exasperatedly at the lime-haired girl. 

While distracted by her friends bickering, Maria turned to see a combined attack by Diana and Noriko. With the prior returning to her partially cracked Arc Armor set, she summoned the Nova Sword, leaping upward while the Burst Mage seemed to soar directly towards the burning giant's face. Swinging a punch with a scream, she watched his head jerk back from the hit but only for a moment. Grinning he swings up a large arm to grab her, only to feel a surprising jolt of pain rush up his palm. 

"WHAT-?!" He turned, seeing an incredible mantle of golden light jettison up into the heavens. With both hands holding onto her sword, the immense concentration of Magic made even him wary in his hulking fiery form. Pulling back a fist, he tried to launch an attack but was foiled by Noriko's swift flying kick into the limb, following up with a dashing punch to his chin. "BITCH, STOP THAT!" 

With a backhand, Noriko was sent shooting across the crater induced forest in a torrent of flames. Unseen she'd be crashing through dozens of trees till in an explosive halt, she'd wince and spasm with pain. Her Burst Aura gone, she just hoped that she bought enough time for Diana to finish the rest.

"Scorching Flash!" Diana roared out, unleashing the cauldron of pent-up Ethernano in the form of a jagged golden wave of cutting light. Seeing Swartz cross his arms, his immense form was overlapped by the strongest attack that Diana alone could conjure. Jutting upward and out, the remaining ebbing currents of Magic ripped into the soil, eradicating tree and burning up the soil. By the time the scenery cleared, a thick haze revealed the giant's still standing silhouette. 

"DAMN...THAT REALLY HURT!" He screamed out, molten blood spewing out of his igenous skin that was cut up from his chest all the way to his crossed forearms that protected his neck and face. 

"It wasn't strong enough?!" She cried out as she watched him pull a fist back to strike back. 

"YOU'RE DEAD!" 

Then, the entirety of the world turned into a lightless void. Flowing outward from their given position, it'd seem the flashes of the storm that could still be heard vanished outright. With Diana herself barely catching as to what happened, she'd find her own body disappearing into a stream of Ethernano particles that disappeared out of reach of the destructive force of Swartz's punch. When the echo of his explosive punch sounded, the giant magician stumbled around, unclear as to what happened. 

"WHAT THE-...WHO TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS?!" Swartz swung his arms around, trying to create flames for him to see but found he couldn't. It was as if the mere existence of illumination had ceased to be, and now he found himself suffering from a rare case of fear. It hadn't happened in a long time since-

"You've done enough, Diana," Victor spoke a whisper into a card that Diana's exact likeness to it. While only his eyes glowed in the dark, his Twilight Sense allowing him to see within the void he had created he knew even his daughter could see through this lense of midnight of his creation. Putting away the card safely into his coat's inner pocket, he knew his spell -Blackest Night- would undoubtedly keep him long unawares. Long enough for him not to suspect of Godfried's imminent counterattack. "For now, just rest. Godfried will finally settle this fight long in the making that is not my place to finish for him." 

"HEY! I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE! UNDO THIS SHIT OR I'LL BLOW EVERYTHING UP!" He challenged with a wrathful bellow, his Magical Aura spreading out like an unquenchable forest fire. Thanks to the stench of ash and smoke, he couldn't use his heightened senses to pinpoint where they were. Here he thought that with this form, the battle would be easy. Swatting them away like flies, none of them had the power to stop him, he knew that. 

Then, like a javelin, a bolt of electricity seemed to break open the veil of darkness. Splitting apart with Victor's will, Swartz had time to turn his gaze up and wince at the bright flash of light to his darkness induced vision. He wouldn't see that Victor had become donned in a mantle of more vibrant electricity, almost as if his very pores became part of the element itself. With a single arm channeling his whole aura into the shape of a hammer, his fist swung down onto his face. It'd be the force akin to a mountain being split in half, with spiraling discharges of wild Ethernano cracking and snapping across the whole battlefield as Swartz was punched into an exploding hole of brilliant light. 

"Secret Art, Mjölnir!" Godfried echoed as he watched the giant magician get swalloed into the crater that shattered the newly formed valley that spread across the woodland. Despite being burned and bleeding, the angry Wizard Saint was satisfied at the sight of the downed madman. From his sight he saw that his size returned to normal, returning to a burned and bleeding Dark Wizard who was now bereft of his apparel. Grimacing at his unsightly state, he sighed and looked over at Victor, shouting in his direction. "OI! He's down for good! Hurry up and find Noriko so we can get out of here. I think the Council will rest easier with this lunatic and his friend ready to be handed over to him."

"Understood," Victor chuckled aloud, finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. It was his imagination after all. Had it come down to it, Godfried and him could easily taken him down. Probably even moreso for him. The name was all just his literary side giving him an idea that he was too strong for his own good. Turning around, he leaped to secure Noriko whom tried to steady herself against a charred tree trunk. "You alright?"

"I'm fine...I just got winded, that's all," She coughed, wincing at the scalding wounds she sported amidst the bruises from the last impact made on her. "What about Diana?" 

"I gave her some time off. Didn't want to risk her taking a punch head-on with her armor damaged so badly," He replied smoothly, patting his coat to indicate where she was staying.

"You know, I know she'd never complain, but you gotta stop coddling her," The Burst Wizard grumbled with a dry glare pointed at the bewildered Victor. "She's meant for this kind of work. I know it might have been awhile since you've seen her in a fight like this, but she can handle herself. If I can take a hit, so can she."

"Noted," The Guild Master muttered, reaching a hand out for her to take. Despite a dagger filled glare he got from her, to which he defused with a warm smile, she rolled her eyes and took it. Powering himself with Light Magic filled flight, he took her towards the Light Ark where they'd stay and help secure the populace. Reuniting with his daughters took precedence and he knew that he had to show he was alright to reassure them there was nothing to fear. 

Landing on the Ark's main deck, he watched Wess take over Swartz's unconscious form and drag him next to an equally nude if not slightly wounded frame of Elaine. With the two leaders of Black Brier in custody, they could all breathe easily. 

Breaking out of her Thought Projection, Maria reached out to hug Victor tightly whom returned it firmly. 

"I was scared," Maria admitted in a whisper. 

"I know. I was too, for a moment, but it was just my wild imagination," He replied with a grin, rubbing her back as he placed a chaste kiss atop her head. Pulling back, he rubbed her face and turned to acknowledge Morgan, reaching out to give her an equally firm hug. "How are you, Morgan?" 

Morgan wanted to reprimand her sister for even doubting that they could still win, but the hypocritical truth was sinking in, their odds indeed looked bleak. Especially after Godfried was virtually ejected from the catastrophic warzone. Diana’s counterattack, in all its immense glory, did obvious damage to the flaming giant of a man, and yet, it didn’t seem to be enough, as far as the Dragon Slayer could tell. 

As the void was set into place, Morgan dismayed, unable to see anything from her position, even with her enhanced sight when darkness was involved. Not long after the shroud of absolute darkness was constructed, a bolt of light streaked down from the heavens and knocked the gigantic foe down for the count, creating an enormous explosion of force that cratered the ground.

When the group took off with their adversary in tow, Morgan deactivated her projection state, appearing once again on the deck of the ark. Thankfully, she felt far better than before, her body more recovered than she had been. She felt well-rested, no longer exhausted to the point moving was painful. She stood up and stretched, enjoying the fact that despite her conscious mind being able to watch the fight, it didn’t put her body under any undue stress.

“Better, now that you’re actually here.” she said as she wrapped her arms around Victor. “We’re safe now, right?” 

"Yes, we are," The father of his adopted daughter responded with a whisper, stroking her dark haired scalp soothingly. "So are all of these people. Thanks to you, we were able to save more lives. I thank you from the bottom of my heart with how dedicated you were today. You're a true Mage and Dragon Slayer."

Parting her with the embrace, he gently caresses her cheek before standing upright once more, "With that being said, I'll need to contact the Magic Council so they can dispose of what's left of the Black Brier Gang. They'll be happy to see some of the most infamous fugitives of the natural and magical law can finally be apprehended. Not to mention I'll need to set up a business arrangement so that my company can fiance reconstruction of this city while also ensuring we lay claim to deals of trade here...and you know, the rest is buisness rhetoric."

"Yeah, wouldn't want to bore them with your old man talk," Noriko quipped from behind him. 

"Hey! I'm not that old YET," He emphasized with a stern upraised digit as he sidelong glanced at her from over his shoulder. 

"Yeah, it's not like you're that old either, Nori-"

"SHUT IT, WESS!" 

"I'm just sayin-"

"Say more and you'll get a mouthful of my fist!"

"Is that an innuendo-?"

"DAMMIT, WESS!" 

"By the old gods, you two act too much like an old married couple," Godfried complained with a roll of his eyes.

"We do not!" They both shouted at once, instantly turning to look at each other before averting their gazes with a huff and cross of their arms. 

"A'ight, whatever," He rolled his neck side to side, cracking a few joints while rolling his shoulders. "Damn, feel a little sore from that punch. Swartz definitely got stronger in that fiery giant turd form of his."

"But you still got'em, God!" Maria Streak chirped with a high five extended towards him.

"Sure did, kiddo," The Wizard Saint met her clap with a smirk. As she idly bounced with yet-to-be died down excitement, he looked over at Morgan in particular. As Victor walked over to another part of the Light Ark's deck to make Thought Projection calls, he strode over to her where her sister quietly waited next to her. Nodding to the dark haired, snow white complexioned daughter of his old friend, he nodded with cool gaze of knowing to her. "You got a minute? I can answer your questions now, if you'd like."

That Night, Two Years Ago

Morgan smiled as Victor praised her. All the effort she put into the battles, all the exhaustion and fear she felt afterwards, everything felt validated simply because she made her father proud. She reluctantly let him walk away from their embrace, hesitant to let him go again, even when he explained that he had things to do. 

Watching Wess and Noriko’s antics made the young mage laugh, they really did bicker a lot, and yet she could see the way they cared for each other despite it all. After the brief moment of light humor passed, she took a moment to recollect her thoughts. After all, she had a very important matter to look forward to, a matter that would lay to rest two years worth of questions, of wondering.

When Godfried walked over and opened up the chance she had been waiting for, she paused for a second, not sure how to start, how to get her point across. “A little over two years ago, I ran from that little village in Sin, but I wasn’t supposed to leave alone that night. My brother...my brother stayed behind to buy time for me to run. He told me to just run, not to look back, that he’d find me after I had a head start. You were there, so I need to know the truth. Did Roland get away or...” she trailed off, unable to finish the sentence, afraid that it might indeed be true. She looked pleadingly at Godfried, doing her best not to crack. 

Maria wondered just how deeply her new sister missed her brother or what her sibling looked like. Were they even related or just happened to live together? These were things she wished to know but did her best to stay quiet in case the older Mage had something to say. 

Godfried looked stoically at Morgan, his expression stonily unexpressive as he mulled over through his memories. He remembered that, at the time, he had been taken into the care of a fisher village in Sin. They tended to his wounds and helped restore his strength since his successful battle against the Raven and then his subsequent unresolved fight with his berserker of a disciple, Swartz, that sent him plummeting into the sea. It was there that he met Roland and his sister whom caught his eye though never spoke to him. While he was an imposing face, the entire village was gripped in an intoxicating atmosphere of fear and depression. The only one who seemed to be more or less not as effected was Roland himself, a determined young man aiming to help set himself, the people and his sister free. 

The remembrance of Roland allowed him to gain the clarity to speak honestly to her, "Roland...Deschain. That's the name, isn't it? He lives but he doesn't go by that name anymore," He continued, reaching into his tattered Saint garbs he ruffled around the interior till he reached the far ends of his pockets. When he found what he was looking for, his fist enclosed over it and pulled out to show nothing outside of his tight fist. Holding it out for her to catch, he unfurled his fingers till a silver-chained necklace in the shape of a teardrop with an onyx jewel at its center that glittered a brilliant array of reflected violet, ebony and silver. "He said to hold onto this and give it to you if I ever have the chance to see you. His new line of work doesn't allow him much of a social status so this is the best way he can tell you he's alive." 

"Ohhhh!" Maria leaned in to catch the beautiful bauble that Godfried had given to her. "That's so pretty!"

As soon as Godfried said that Roland was alive, Morgan’s eyes lit up and she began to smile. The news was better than she had expected. As she took the necklace from the Wizard Saint, her chest began to heave as she fought the urge to cry in joy. Not only had she received the best news she could have hoped for, she had a gift from her brother. The way the gem seemed to catch every tiny shift in the light and give off a new dark hue drew her attention most. “It really is beautiful. I love it.”

After a moment, a curious thought crept up on her. “How did he escape? Did you help him?” she asked as she donned the necklace, making sure that she wouldn’t be able to ever lose the, to her, priceless gift.

When brought up of the ins and outs of the tale of the past, Godfried sighed. Looking over at the inquisitive eyes of his disciple, Maria and Morgan with Yui looking intrigued on the side, he knew he couldn't tell them off. Scratching the back of his head, he looked at the young Slayer purposefully so not to be distracted, "Eh, I did my job. With the strength I managed to recover I helped evacuate most of the villagers to safety that I could. When I came back...Roland was in bad shape. I knew that I couldn't have made a difference and for whatever reason I don't know why that monster decided to stop or if he just presumed he'd bleed out. In any case, I managed to recover him back to health and took him far away from Sin. Knowing that thing may come back after him he took up an identity to hide himself and has been working for the Magic Council, working up its ranks ever since."

"So, he's a warrior of justice then?!" Maria gasped with mesmerized glee, her eyes lighting up with stars as she thought of a gallavanting man of handsome features and incredible strength. 

"Ha! If that's what you call any arm of the Magic Council, then they're all model citizens," He joked with a laugh. "But, I can't say who he works for. But knowing that you'll be with Victor and his own exploits, I'm sure you'll bump into him sooner or later. Ask your old man if you want to find out more about 'em cause I think he knows him by reputation and his alias." 

"Does the necklace have any significance?" Yui changed the subject as she eyed the gem with interest. 

"Hell if I know," He shrugged, watching his student lean in a bit too close to Morgan to gawk at the necklace. Pulling her back by the scarf, she choked a bit before he let go, causing her to turn around and glare at her uncaring mentor. "It was a gift from Roland. It happened around the time he departed to work for the Council. I don't know if its a Lacrima or if its just a rare jewel. Whatever it is, it looks priceless in its worth."

"Wow! Your brother is so nice to get you something so pretty for you," Maria gushed as she held onto her cheeks and swooned at the thought of such a loving sibling that her sister has. 

As Godfried explained the role he had in Roland’s survival, Morgan felt her insides lurch. She imagined the state he must have been if Jadow had indeed left his cave to hunt her down, only to find her brother instead, a convenient target for the immense rage she could only guess that he felt that night. The only solace she could take from that moment was that she knew now that he was alive, that he was somewhere out there, maybe looking for her right then. That thought emboldened her and banished the frightening image of what the dragon might have done, allowing her to breath easily once again.

“It is priceless, to me at least. It’s a way to know he’s still out there, that I have a chance to see him again.” she started, smiling softly as she remembered the man who had given everything for her sake. “I have one more question. You said he was going by a different name to hide. What is it?” she asked, wanting every lead she could find.

"Hunter Black," He answered readily, knowing that there was no harm in telling her the alias. "He's with the company that serves the Council known as the Armed Wizards. They are the primary military force that serves to help protect the magic world throughout most of Ishgar. You'll be happy to know he's one of their finest in their ranks."

"I know of him," Yui interjected, causing Maria's awe-endowed sister to look over at her with surprise. She shrugged, specifying aloud. "Well, I don't know him more like I know of him. He's a man whose background is about as wrapped in shadows as he strikes from them. They say he wears a coat of red and is a magic swordsman without reproach. The only thing that is disarming about him is his cold demeanor, hardly anyone talks to him and he has a reputation to keep it that way." 

"Well, with what that boy went through, I wouldn't want to chat about it either," Godfried replied with a sigh, shaking his head. Turning to look at Morgan he asked with a wave of his hand. "Is that all you want to know?" 

Morgan looked at Godfried, surprised. The name, Hunter Black, sounded vaguely familiar. She heard it in passing a few times from some mages connected to the Council. “I was that close to finding him...” she thought, a sad look on her face as it dawned on her just how near to her brother she actually was without ever once realizing it herself. 

She was surprised when Yui said that Roland was so anti-social, a trait that ran counter to everything she knew about the man. He was far from reserved, at least from what she remembered of him. Just how broken was he, if the stories she was now hearing had any weight? How had he changed so much? She held her silence for a moment, knowing that if anyone was the living proof of circumstances making people change, it was her; only in her case, the change was for the better. 

"Just knowing he's safe and that I can see him again is enough, I feel better." she said in reply to Godfried. "Can you do me a favor? If you see him while you’re on your travels before I do, tell him I’m fine. Tell him I’m still looking for him and that he doesn’t need to worry anymore.”

"Sure kid," Godfried replied, looking over at Victor and then at the pair of other adult Phoenix Wizards. "I always take long distance jobs so we're bound to bump into each other from time to time, that or his colleagues. You just keep yourself out of trouble. And if you can't, just make sure you come back home in one piece each day. That's how I've made it all these years. I'm sure you'll do just fine if you can manage all these years on your own. Just know you got a family and a team to back you up. Never hesitate to call any of us to your side. Because you're not alone anymore."

"That's right!" Maria clasped Morgan's hand, beaming brightly at her face. "We're always here for you!" 

"As much as I don't like sticking my neck too far out, I'll do it for you as an exception," Yui replied with a wry grin. 

"I'll help too!" Maria Streak earnestly interjected with an energetic hop. 

"We'll all help," Godfried finished as he cast a wink at Morgan. "That's what it means to be part of a Guild, right?" 

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