Chapter 1: Prologue: Falling
This story will be following the non-human arc. Go be human elsewhere. XD
So, I was sitting around one day, playing Radiata Stories, and my brain went, "Harry and Jack would get on pretty well, you know?" And I said, "Oh, crap." And this story was born.
(And, yeah, I know. "Stop doing crossovers, Bats!!" *sweatdrop*)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry blamed Hermione. Really, was it so hard to keep a watch? He always had to come down and hunt for her during his lunch break for any planned meals together.
So, there he was, once again, looking around for his best friend in the hundreds – well, okay, not quite that many – of rooms in the Department of Mysteries. Her desk had been abandoned, and the project room he'd found her in last week was likewise empty. He'd checked the Time Room and the Prophecy Room, having found her in both places before, but didn't see her in either. He'd checked practically everywhere but the Death Room.
Harry really didn't want to go into the Death Room again. Never mind that Sirius had died there, later tests found that if there wasn't someone to stop him, Harry might very well walk straight through the Veil.
Of course, the Death Room was all that was left, and Harry was getting quite hungry – and running out of time for lunch, besides – so he took a deep breath, reminded himself he was an auror, and walked right in.
Hermione was fiddling with something next to the Veil.
"Hermione," Harry sighed, shaking his head. He proceeded to call her name a bit louder, but she was too involved in whatever she seemed to be doing, so she didn't hear him. Heaving another great sigh, Harry started down the steps, biting the inside of his cheek to, hopefully, keep control of himself.
Harry reached Hermione and gently shook her shoulder. She looked up, startled, then smiled at him. "Lunch time?"
Harry snorted. "I should cast an alarm charm on your nose or something. Really, Hermione."
Hermione sighed and cast a quick tempus, then winced when she saw that there were only ten minutes left for Harry's usual lunch break. "Maybe a tracking charm?" she suggested, setting down the things she was working on. "Here, help me up."
Harry shook his head, but reached down all the same to help his best friend to her feet. "What say we go before I start going crazy?" he suggested, nodding his head towards the Veil, but firmly not looking at it. It seemed to help.
Hermione blinked, glanced at the Veil in confusion, then gasped. "Oh! Harry, I'm sorry! Let's get you out of here." She took his arm and started hauling him away from the Veil.
Harry chuckled and let her drag him. "Hermione, slow down," he called.
Hermione rolled her eyes, but slowed down at the edge of the platform the Veil was on so she could climb down the narrow stairs.
Harry shook his head again and, not watching where he was going, stepped on a tool of Hermione's that had rolled away from her workspace. His feet flew out from beneath him and his hand slipped from Hermione's grip. He fell backward, straight into the Veil.
Hermione turned around in time to get conked in the head with the errant tool and crumpled to the ground.
Harry landed on packed dirt and groaned.
Two human-like beings walked over to him and looked down at him with surprise etched on their faces. "I've never seen a flying human before," the one with an aristocratic face and shimmering wings commented.
"Looked more like falling to me," the darker one with kind red eyes and no wings replied.
Harry blinked up at them, then forced himself to sit up, holding his spinning head in one hand. "Bloody hell. What just happened?"
"You fell out of the sky," the winged one informed him drily, apparently deciding that was more likely than Harry having flown.
Harry sighed and glanced around, hoping he recognised where he was. He didn't, of course, and he was also pretty darn certain that that flower didn't exist. "What the–? Where am I?"
The two standing above him traded looks, then the darker one said, "In the Cuatour region."
"The where?" He'd never heard of a place called that before, and, given, his geography was a bit sketchy, but surely not that bad.
"The Cuatour region," the darker one supplied again. "It connects the Elf region, the Nowem region and Radiata City."
Harry looked between the two, completely confused. He'd never heard of any of those places before. For that matter, he was pretty sure there weren't any countries on Earth that divided its areas into 'regions'. Counties and cities and towns, sure. But... regions?
"We should take him to Lord Anzer," the darker one said.
"What? No! Point him back in the direction of Radiata and let them deal with him! He's a human."
"Does he look like he comes from Radiata?" The darker one pointed to Harry's clothes, which were that of an active auror – dragon hide boots, shirt and trousers, covered by a heavy battle robe, which had all sorts of enchantments woven into the fabric and a belt with pouches for potions and other little toys.
"He looks like one of the fools trying to use magic," the one with wings pointed out.
The darker one considered Harry again, then shook her head. "Uh-uh. They always look like scholars. He's a fighter."
"A knight, decked out like a mage?"
"I'm neither a knight, nor a mage," Harry interrupted, done with listening to them squabble over who he was. "I'm a wizard, thank you very much, and I'm perfectly capable of magic." So saying, he pulled out his wand and used it to fix a rip in one of his pouches, then proceeded to put the potions that had fallen out – far too many for such a little pouch – back in.
The two standing over him traded startled looks, then the one with wings said, "Let's take him to Lord Anzer."
It had taken a while for Harry to agree to follow the two to the Elf region and into the City of Flowers, but follow he did. Lord Anzer turned out to be another aristocratic sort of being with green hair and the shimmering wings. After the two who'd brought Harry had explained what all had happened, Lord Anzer turned to Harry and, after introducing the two who found Harry as Fang (the one with wings) and Autumn (the darker one), said, "Where do you hail from?"
Harry blinked, then said, "London, England."
The other three in the room blinked right back.
Harry sighed. "That's what I was afraid of. I had an... accident, I suppose? I fell into a magical artefact back home and ended up on the ground between those two. Nothing looks familiar and nothing sounds familiar, either. Some of my people have been doing studies on alternate universes, and since one of the people working on that project was working on that artefact..."
"You think you've come from a different universe?" Fang said, then laughed.
Harry considered him for a long moment, unamused, then shot a silencing spell at him.
Lord Anzer glanced at Fang, then nodded to Harry's wand. "May I see that?"
Harry frowned at him a bit suspiciously, but held out his wand. He had enough potions and could perform a wandless summoning spell, if it came down to a fight.
Lord Anzer looked the wand over, eyebrows climbing progressively higher. Finally, he held it as Harry had and gave it a wave. A poof of smoke came out the tip and he handed it back to Harry, a faint smile on his lips. "That's a curious device. It helps you control the magic innate to you?"
Harry nodded. "Yes." He glanced at Fang, who was turning red, and cancelled his spell, then put his wand away.
Fang glared at him, announcing, "Humans don't have innate magic. Elves have it, but not humans."
"If humans don't have innate magic, why are they trying to use it?" Harry asked, recalling what Fang had said when they were arguing over what to do with Harry before.
"They draw magic from the world around them," Lord Anzer offered. "No, the humans of this world don't have innate magic, but you do. Also, I don't recognise the components in that... What would you call it?"
"A wand. It's made of the wood from a holly tree and the core is the feather of a phoenix."
The elves – Harry could only assume that's what they were, despite not looking quite like the elves of his world were said to look and appearing to be two different sorts – all gave him blank looks.
Harry sighed. "No?"
"We do not have any such... holly trees?" Autumn offered. "And... Uhm... What is a phoenix?"
Harry sighed again. "A phoenix is a bird born from an element. The most common in my world – though I would hardly call phoenixes common – are those born from fire. I've only ever heard of one ice-born phoenix, and there was a rumour of a light-born..." Harry trailed off upon noticing the continued blank looks. "Oh, please tell me you have things like fire?"
"What do you take us for?" Fang snapped. "Humans?"
Harry gave Fang a dirty look, mentally listing all the curses he knew that he could use on the little bugger. It was a long list.
"We understand elements," Lord Anzer offered. "I know the humans are currently trying to make their magic by manipulating the elements, and most elven magic has to do with the elements. But we don't have creatures born from them. Wind seems to be the easiest for light elves to manage, while the dark elves," he nodded to Autumn, "seem more capable with fire."
Harry nodded his understanding. "I don't know about humans here, but those in my world – the magic we use in my world, really – lean more towards non-elemental magic. I mean, I can do magic that uses the elements, but I know more spells that do things like stun or silence."
"You give people status aliments," Autumn offered. At Harry's startled look, she explained, "That's what we call those things, status aliments. There are magical items that can be used to heal them, and some people can build up a resistance to them. Like, my brother, Jason; he's built up a resistance to being blinded, so if something hits him with an attack that would blind him, it only works a quarter of the time. It used to work more often."
"Huh." Harry rubbed at the back of his head. "I wonder if I could learn that skill." He smiled at Autumn and received one back, then looked up at Lord Anzer. "Is it okay if I stay with your people for a little bit and try and learn some more about your magic? And maybe see if I can pick up some of these skills?"
Lord Anzer nodded. "I don't see why not. You intend to try and find a way back to your world?"
"Yeah. And I'd like to have something to show for it, if at all possible. Maybe I can teach your people some of the spells I know."
Lord Anzer smiled. "I think my people would like that."
Harry stayed with the elves for five years, travelling between the City of Flowers, where the light elves lived, and the Forest Metropolis, where the dark elves lived. After the five years, he felt content in what he'd learned and his elven friends were content with what he'd taught them. When he commented to Lord Anzer about finding a way to get home, the elf leader suggested he see what the humans had come up with. Since the humans didn't use innate magic and weren't as in touch with nature as the elves were, they were more likely to find some way to connect the worlds.
So Harry set off to the human city of Radiata. There, he went to the newly formed Vareth Magic Institute and inquired after any such research. As it turned out, no one had yet considered the possibilities of other worlds, but the President was perfectly happy to let Harry use their facilities to research it.
So found Harry enjoying the Vareth library and feeling rather a lot like Hermione. After a year, the Headmaster suggested that Harry might enjoy teaching a class, and since Harry was running low on money – what he had was made from the occasional jaunt outside the city to fight a couple of local monsters – he agreed and took up a class on affliction spells. It had been interesting learning how the humans of this world cast magic and Harry had studied that a bit on the side, so he was able to teach them his spells using their magic-casting.
Because Harry cast magic like an elf, he thought of magic differently from the other humans and there was the occasional argument about a spell, but he enjoyed his time teaching and helping these humans better understand something that Harry couldn't imagine living without.
Once he'd taken up teaching, Harry would find himself being asked along on nights out by other professors and some of his students. At the beginning, he denied all requests so he could spend more time in the library, but as time went by and he finally let himself start to believe that there was no way he'd be getting home, he was more likely to accept the offers. He started to make friends with the other humans, not wanting to live the rest of his life alone in this world.
Harry stayed in Radiata City for almost forty years, helping them advance with magic and knowledge. However, it eventually became apparent to him that he wasn't ageing like his human friends, and it scared him. He knew that the magical humans of his world lived almost twice as long as muggles, and wondered if this wasn't something like the same. He knew the elves lived longer than humans, so he eventually decided to pack up and head back to the City of Flowers.
At the City of Flowers, Harry found himself turned away, and when he pleaded to be let in, was told that the only way that would happen was if he managed to kill the guards.
Knowing how most light elves felt about humans and their violent tendencies, Harry backed off, asking that the guards relate a message for him to whoever was in charge of the city that Harry wished to join the elves again and he'd be in the Forest Metropolis. He hoped it was Lord Anzer, as he'd been one of the few light elves who Harry knew would welcome him back, in spite of his being human.
Then Harry travelled to the Forest Metropolis. When he got to the entrance, he was met by an adorable duo who were attempting to look stern. "Who are you?" the boy demanded.
Harry smiled. "Harry. I don't suppose either of you know Autumn? Or Lico?" he requested, naming the two dark elves he had been closest to.
The duo traded looks, then the girl ordered, "Stay here and don't make trouble!" then flounced off into the dark elf home, leaving the boy to continue trying to look stern.
Harry chuckled to himself and found a rock to sit on. When the boy continued to stare, Harry asked, "What's your name, then?"
The boy was silent for a long moment, then deflated a bit and mumbled, "Marty."
Harry nodded. "It's nice to meet you, Marty."
Marty blinked at him, then scampered over to a smaller rock next to Harry and climbed up onto it. "You're a human, aren't you?"
"I am. I take it you haven't seen many of us about?"
"Not up close. Sometimes they come up from Solieu Village to collect herbs from the forest, but they never come this far in. Why are you here?"
Harry considered the boy. "I stayed here for a few years a while back. I was hoping a few friends could help me out with some things."
"Oh." Marty kicked his feet a bit. "Are you a knight?"
Harry chuckled. "No. I'm more of a mage, really."
Marty blinked. "Uncle Fang hates mages."
Harry full-out laughed at that.
"Harry?" a voice whispered. When Harry glanced towards the entrance to the Forest Metropolis, he saw an older Autumn standing there, the girl half-hiding behind her.
Autumn laughed and hurried over, hugging Harry and almost knocking him off the rock. "You're alive!"
Harry chuckled and fondly kissed her cheek. "I'd be more worried about my just up and disappearing one day than turning up dead." He stood up from his rock and looked her over. "You're looking well."
"And you haven't changed a bit," Autumn replied. "And, yes, we had wondered if you'd ever found a way back home."
Harry sighed and shook his head. "No. I've sort of given up searching at this point, honestly. I don't know enough about the Veil to figure out how to re-create what happened, never mind the possibility that I'd just get shunted off to another world entirely."
Autumn nodded. "Lord Anzer told us, after you left, that he worried the same thing."
Harry nodded and shrugged. "I'm okay with that, really. Merlin knows I've got enough people here that I care about now, I'd be torn if I did go."
Autumn chuckled. "Yeah? Alright then. But, Harry, what brings you here? Not that I'm not happy to see you and all, but..."
"You never expected to see me again," Harry finished, nodding. "I didn't really expect I'd be back, personally. But I had some questions I was hoping one of you elves could answer, and I was rather firmly turned away at the City of Flowers."
"Light elves don't like humans," Marty helpfully piped up.
Autumn sighed. "Why don't you come in and I'll see if I can't help you any."
Harry raised an eyebrow at her, but nodded and allowed himself to be led inside, Marty and the girl following behind curiously.
Once inside, Autumn said, "Put your stuff down at the table, but I wouldn't sit quite yet."
Autumn's smile spoke of mischief as she turned and poked her head into the kitchen. "Jensa, we've a guest, if you'd like to serve up something."
"If it's Fang again, here to rant about humans, I'll..." Jensa trailed off as she poked her head out into the common area. She blinked at Harry, who smiled sheepishly, then let out an excited shout and hurried over to hug him. "You're back!"
Harry laughed and hugged the old cook. "Hello, Jensa."
Jensa's shout brought other members of the little town and Harry soon found himself surrounded by the dark elves he'd been friends with. Everyone scrambled to greet him again and the few who didn't know him joined Marty and the girl over by where Harry had dropped his things, staring in confusion and surprise at the ruckus.
Eventually, they all calmed down and Harry was able to sit down. Most people wandered off to do whatever they'd come running from, but Autumn, Lico, Jensa, Marty and the girl – whose name was Pheena, Harry was told – all sat down at the table with some soup and wine.
"What have you been doing since you've been gone?" Lico asked over a spoonful of soup.
Harry shrugged. "Well, I was trying to find a way back home, but the humans barely know anything about magic as it is, and the possibility of other worlds is so far beyond them..." He sighed and shook his head. "I ended up teaching at the Vareth Magic Institute."
"How'd that work?" Autumn asked.
Harry chuckled. "Oh, I can do magic like humans, too, it's just harder. I sort of had to figure it out so I could live there, anyway."
"Magic like humans?" Pheena wondered, poking her head around Marty, who looked just as curious.
"Harry does magic like elves," Autumn told them. "His magic comes from inside. Humans use the magic in the world around them."
"But Harry's human," Marty argued, then looked at Harry suspiciously. "You said you were."
Harry chuckled and nodded. "Oh, I'm human, but I'm also from a different world, where the rules are a bit different for humans. So I've got magic inside, just like you elves."
Marty blinked at that, then returned to his soup.
"So you taught magic to those silly humans," Lico supplied. "Anything else?"
"Mm..." Harry swallowed, nodding. "Got to know a couple of them. Realised I wasn't ageing. Not sure why. I mean, I know humans like me in my world – magic users – tend to live twice as long as the humans who can't use magic, but I'd have thought I'd start to show some signs of ageing by now. I mean, it's been forty-five years!"
"That's what you wanted to ask?" Autumn replied. Harry nodded and she sighed. "I know elves live a lot longer than humans, and light elves live longer than us dark elves, but even we show ageing."
"A suggestion?" Jensa offered.
"I'm open to anything," Harry replied.
Jensa nodded. "It's possible you've just hit an age where you've got a while before any ageing starts to show. I know a couple of light elves who looked almost the exact same for fifty or so years."
Harry considered that. "Barring accidents, what's the maximum age for light elves? Do you know?"
The three adult elves considered that and Autumn eventually suggested, "Maybe two hundred? Two-fifty? Not many elves get to die of old age any more, what with them forever warring with the humans and algandars running rampant."
Harry grimaced. Algandars was a disease that affected beings who used magic, especially light elves. There were cases of it in dark elves, dwarves and humans, but most cases were light elves. No one was quite sure how it spread, as it didn't appear to be contagious, and it affected each species slightly differently, but it seemed to feed off of magic and the more someone affected used magic, the more the disease had an effect on them.
"Oh, Lord Anzer died of algandars almost seven years ago," Lico told him. "If we'd known you were still around, we would have sent word."
Harry sighed. "I'd wondered. The City of Flowers was so much more welcoming while he was alive."
"You can say that again," Jensa muttered. "Fang is in charge there, now."
Harry groaned. "I'll never step foot in that city again, will I?"
"If Fang has his way?" Lico replied, smirking. "Nope."
"Uncle Fang doesn't like you?" Marty asked Harry.
Harry chuckled. "Fang and I have some... old issues."
"You mean you two were constantly at each other's throats," Autumn supplied. "You were a human, which Fang hates, and you thought he was a... What did you always call him?"
Harry snorted. "A puffed-up peacock."
Autumn laughed. "Yes, that one."
"What's a peacock?" Pheena asked.
Harry pulled out his wand and transfigured a misshapen mug into a figurine of a peacock. "They're a creature from my world. They like to preen and be pretty, but they can be kind of nasty if they're angry."
"Pretty," Pheena decided and took the figurine, stuffing it into a pocket.
Autumn sighed and shook her head. "Well, you'll have to wait until he dies before you'll be allowed back into the City of Flowers, I'm afraid. Even then..." She shrugged. "But you're welcome to stay here, if you need a place to stay."
Harry nodded. "Yes. I'd like a chance away from the humans for a while. Perhaps I'll take day trips to see the other fairy creatures, as well." He smiled. "After all, it doesn't seem quite right that humans and elves are the only sentient species I've met thus far."
"I'm sure that can be arranged," Lico agreed.
Harry stayed with the dark elves pretty much exclusively after that. He visited the other fairy creatures – avoiding the orcs just because he didn't much fancy having his head bashed in – and got on well enough with most of them. He also went back into Radiata City from time to time and visited the Vareth Magic Institute. Occasionally, he'd offer to be a guest lecturer, and he'd also write a book every now and then and give it to the Institute for their library. But, no matter what, he never stayed in Radiata for more than a year, not wanting to chance becoming attached to people he'd outlive.
Fang did, eventually, die in a battle with some nasty humans. Sadly, the battle only strengthened the light elves' hatred of all things human, even if a couple of the younger light elves made friends with a few humans who had fought against their own kind. Harry only met those humans a few times, but he did like them and would sit down with them around the dark elves' table and talk over wine and soup.
Despite a couple hundred years going by, Harry still didn't seem to age, and it hurt him to watch his elven friends grow old and die. It hurt even more when one of them died of algandars, especially since Harry had yet to see any signs that he might be affected by it, in spite of his being a heavy magic-user. But, since he seemed to have that immunity, he had no concerns about trying to find a cure and would often disappear for months at a time, wandering through Algandars' Castle and the surrounding area, or casting querying spells on those infected with the disease.
It was during one of his disappearances that a group of knights and one mage came to visit the dark elves with a plea for the light elves.
And thus begins our story.
Okay, that should be set-up enough, yeah?
And, I know. Harry should have freaked out a bit more about his being stuck in another world, but I was having a lot of trouble fitting it in there anywhere, and by the time it sort of became a reality that there really was no chance of him getting home, he'd already sort of unconsciously accepted it. So the scene got cut. (Sorry.)
So, I had this moment, while writing chapter one, where I was like, 'I could have Harry act fast enough to save Ridley! But...then what?' So I came up with this sketchy plot-line for a story where Ridley doesn't get knocked about by the blood orc. But I'd already gotten a ways on the version that follows the game and I was having trouble figuring stuff out in the weird version, so... I'm going to stick with the version that follows the game, but if I figure everything out for the weird version and finish writing it, I'll probably post it. Just thought I'd let everyone know. XD
Chapter 2: Chapter One: Elves
There's not a whole lot of back-story for the NPCs – there's more for the humans than for any of the nonhumans, certainly – so I just made it up as I went. Just a warning.
Also, I am kind of amused how many of you are reading this despite having never played the game. All kinds of love to you people. Seriously.
This chapter starts following the actual plot for the game. If you're feeling mad confused, might I suggest checking out the Radiata Stories wiki, Radiatapedia. It's an awesome resource, though by no means complete. (The fan-base for this game is freakin' tiny, so we do what we can.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry groaned as he sat on a nearby log. A couple of pointura carcasses lay a few feet away, where they'd been blasted from his attack. He figured he deserved a rest after walking and fighting for the past four hours without a break. The Forest Metropolis was just around the corner – about another half hour, really, but close enough. Harry intended to harvest the pointuras for some potions supplies, since their hair was good in any number of healing potions, and their poison was one of the key components in the potion Harry had created to slow the effects of algandars. Lord Nogueira had contracted the disease almost three months ago and Harry's most recent trip was to get some components for his potion, since he'd been running low.
Harry sighed and climbed to his feet, then set about harvesting the pointuras. He went after the poison first, not wanting it to dry out while he was shaving the creature for its hair.
He was just starting to shave the hair off the first pointura when he heard a chillingly familiar battle-cry. His hand jerked, sending the spell off and cutting into the abdomen, bug guts flying everywhere. But Harry didn't really care, he was too busy collecting all his things and shoving them into his magically expanded belt pouches.
Once he thought he had everything, Harry hurried down the path, ducking between two trents and dodging a hopeful pointura. The scene he came across made him hiss, for there, north of Radiata, was a blood orc. Blood orcs didn't go north of Radiata; there was no easy way from the Dova region to the Tria region, unless one could go through Radiata, fly or felt like scaling a chasm. Blood orcs could do none of those things.
Facing off against the blood orc was a group of humans, with Nogueira standing behind them. Harry might have called them fools – which they probably were – but there was a young light elf laying behind the orc, and the group was likely trying to save them if they could. If Harry had been in their shoes, he'd probably have done the same. Had, in fact, down in the Adien region once, when he came across a human child being chased by a blood orc.
Before Harry could get in range to properly help them without accidentally hitting anyone, the orc turned on the only girl in the party and shoved a fireball in her face.
"Ridley!" the youngest human shouted, making to run towards her.
"Lady Ridley!" the short man shouted, then motioned to the younger human. "Jack! You must stay in formation!"
"Do you want us all to die?"
"Good point," Harry muttered, pulling out his wand, which he only ever used for the most difficult of spells from his world, then shouted, "Get down!" and, upon seeing the humans and Nogueira ducking out of the way, intoned, "Avada Kedavra."
The blood orc keeled over, dead.
Harry tucked his wand away and jumped down from the log he'd stopped on top of, walking over hurriedly. "Hi, don't mind me," he said to the humans as he walked between them. He ignored the orc in favour of checking over the human girl, casting a series of spells as soon as he got in range to heal her burns and try and stabilise her.
The youngest human looked at his companions and asked, "Who's that?"
"And what was that magic?" the human dressed in mage robes added, eyeing Harry like some sort of experiment.
"Harry," Lord Nogueira supplied, walking over to the light elf. He quickly checked the child over, then sighed. So young.
Harry glanced over from the girl at the sound of his name. "Hm?" He looked at the gathered humans when Nogueira nodded towards them. "Oh, me? I'm Harry. I live around here and drive the dark elves mad." He looked back at the feedback from his spells. "Bugger."
"What's wrong?" the youngest human asked, hurrying to Harry's side. "Can you help her?"
Harry glanced at the boy. "Not with what I have on me right now. I have some things in my home that I could use to help her, but there's no time to get them."
Lord Nogueira stepped up next to Harry and gently set the light elf down next to the human girl. "There is a way, but there's no guarantee it will work."
The boy looked up, hope shining in his eyes. Before he could ask about the possibility, a voice called out, "Ridley!" and a knight came running over the bridge near them.
"Lord Cross?" the short man asked while the younger human demanded, "Who are you?"
"Captain Cross of the Noire Mouton brigade," the short man supplied.
"I was on a mission and I heard orcs, so I came as fast as I could," Cross said, stopping next to the downed girl, Ridley, and staring down at her with a broken expression.
The boy apparently decided Cross wasn't important because he turned back to Lord Nogueira. "Please help Ridley?"
Cross' head jerked up and he narrowed his eyes at Nogueira. "Elves! What are you doing here? Leave us and go back to your lair."
"What gives you the right to order elves around in their own land?" Harry inquired, eyes hard.
"I am Cross Ward, captain of the Noire Mouton brigade," Cross snapped.
"You're a human on elven lands," Harry snapped right back. "When your people own these lands–"
"Harry," Nogueira warned and Harry's mouth snapped shut. The elf lord turned to the boy and, behind him, the short human. "The only hope for these two is the transpiritation ritual," he told them, motioning to Ridley and the light elf child.
"You'll perform a transpiritation? On a human?" the mage whispered, even as the other two humans questioned what that meant.
Cross, on the other hand, snapped, "I'm not going to trust you lot and your depraved rituals. Ridley will be cured by human hands!"
"Yeah, already tried that," Harry muttered. "Try to keep up." He rolled his eyes then glanced up at Nogueira. "I see no reason why it won't work. Humans and elves both have souls, though there might be some problem with her body accepting the elven magic."
Nogueira shook his head. "She's a warrior, and Hap is more inclined towards physical fighting, so far as I know."
Harry rose an eyebrow at that; physical fighters among light elves were rare.
Nogueira turned to the two humans. "Should I perform the transpiritation?"
"I just said–" Cross started, but found himself without a voice when Harry got sick of hearing his complaints.
The boy and short man traded looks and both nodded, then the man said, "Lord Nogueira, we beg you. Please, save Lady Ridley."
Cross silently shook his fist at the other man.
"Move back," Harry ordered Cross and the boy, both of whom were a bit too close. Harry, himself, stepped back, leaving Nogueira plenty of space to perform the ritual.
"Please hold your silence," Nogueira requested, then rose his arms over the two on the forest floor and concentrated. Slowly, two balls of light rose out of the two and joined together. The one ball of light went back into Ridley and Hap's body disappeared.
Harry hurried forward with a potion as soon as Nogueira slumped. "Take it," he ordered.
"Are you all right?" the short human asked as the boy hurried forward to check over Ridley.
"I'm fine," Nogueira replied after he'd taken the potion. "I'm just a little tired."
Harry quickly cast a few spells to check how Nogueira was holding up and sighed. "Be more careful," he insisted.
Nogueira just rose an eyebrow at him, then turned to the humans. "She is not out of danger yet. You must take her back to your castle at once. This young girl needs to rest. I will return to the City of Flow–"
"You'll return to the Forest Metropolis," Harry snapped. When Nogueira shot him an unamused look, Harry added, "Don't make me knock you on your arse and drag you back there, Nogueira. Someone else can be sent to the City of Flowers."
"Uhm, sir?" the short human whispered, eyeing Harry and Nogueira nervously.
Nogueira sighed. "Tell my brother what happened," he said to Harry.
Harry nodded, then turned to the staring humans. He raised his eyebrows at them. "Is it permissible for me to travel with you to Fort Helencia?" he enquired.
"Uh.. Oh! Yes," the short human said as the boy leaned down to pick up Ridley, despite Cross' angry gestures. "We should go. Thank you again, Lord Nogueira!"
"Safe journey," Nogueira told them, then turned to make his way back to the Forest Metropolis.
Harry fell in with the other humans, gleefully ignoring the dirty looks Cross kept shooting his way.
The mage hurried up a bit until he was walking next to Harry. "I'm Genius Weissheit," he informed Harry.
Harry glanced up at him. "You're the mage who lives near the City of Flowers. The one who's always driving Fan insane?"
Genius blinked. "Yes, that would be me. You're acquainted with Fan?"
Harry snorted. "I knew her father," he said by way of explanation. "And, just to save us both a lot of grief, no, I can't help you get into the City of Flowers and, even if I could, I wouldn't."
"Why not? Surely you understand my academic curiosity? You're a mage yourself, are you not?"
Harry nodded. "I am, but I'm also a friend of the elves. I don't see them as something to be studied, and that's why the light elves find me acceptable. You think too much of yourself to ever get inside that city."
Genius puffed up a bit. "If I don't think so highly of myself, humans would never advance, for my brain wouldn't be there to advance them."
Harry shook his head. "Then perhaps you need to focus on humans, rather than the elves. They could care less about humans, and they certainly have no intention of helping them."
Genius eyed him with disapproval for a long moment, then asked, "What was that spell you used to fell the orc?"
Harry stared back at Genius for a long moment, then looked back over the humans travelling ahead of them. "What are your companions' names?"
"You're not going to answer me?"
"I know the girl is Ridley, and Cross, of course."
Genius ground his teeth together a bit, then snapped, "I don't remember."
Harry considered him out of the corner of his eye. "Genius, you say you're doing everything to better humankind, but you could care less who humans are. I think you're just in it for yourself, your own pleasure. How often do you actually help advance humankind? I haven't heard of anything particularly noteworthy coming from Radiata in quite a few years."
Genius just continued to glare at him.
Harry sighed and sped up so he could walk with the other humans. "So! I'm afraid I didn't catch either of your names," he said, looking between them and absently shooting a stunning spell at an approaching wolf.
"Jack Russell," the boy offered. "Will Ridley really be okay?"
"She just needs some bed rest," Harry assured him, then turned to the short man. "And you?"
"Ganz Rothschild, captain of the Rose Cochon brigade," he supplied. "I would like to thank you for your assistance back there–"
Harry waved the thanks away. "Don't worry about it. I only wish I'd gotten there a bit quicker, so Ridley wasn't hurt."
Ganz nodded. "You're headed for the City of Flowers?"
"Not taking anyone with me, before you ask."
Ganz shook his head. "No, no. But, the light elf who was killed should have been carrying a response from Lord Zane to a request we put forth. We never heard the response, of course, and I was wondering if you might ask it of him again and maybe leave a reply message at the castle?"
Harry blinked. "Huh. What was the request?"
"Our country seeks peaceful co-existence and the opening of trade routes for our mutual profit. We ardently hope to reach an agreement that will enrich us all," Ganz recited.
"Zane is going to laugh in my face," Harry replied drily. When Ganz's face fell, he sighed and said, "I'll ask him, but I can pretty much guarantee that his response won't be favourable."
"Lord Nogueira said about the same thing," Ganz agreed. "But we'd still like some sort of response."
"I thought humans weren't allowed in the City of Flowers?" Jack piped up.
Harry shrugged. "They aren't, not usually. You have to have permission from an elder to enter, and since Nogueira is technically the elder of the dark elves..." he shrugged again. "I haven't been in the city for quite a few years, but, every once in a while, a reason comes up and they let me in. I make potions for them, see, and they've been known to let me in if it's an emergency."
"Potions?" Jack asked, carefully shuffling Ridley on his back so he was more comfortable.
Harry nodded. "Mm. There's a disease that creatures who use magic can catch and it affects the light elves pretty badly. There's no cure for it, but I created a potion that slows the effects, so they don't suffer quite so badly. I've tried to teach it to the medic in the City of Flowers, but there's something about the potion that keeps elves from being able to make it, so it's up to me to continue supplying it." He laughed a bit. "It's nice, since they can't completely shut me out and they make some beautiful ornaments with flowers, which I like to collect."
"Do you charge them for the potion?" Jack wondered.
Harry shrugged. "No, never saw a reason for it. I collect all the components myself and since I live out here, with the dark elves, I don't have to pay rent or for food like I would in Radiata, so there's nothing they have that I could charge them for."
"The ornaments?" Jack suggested.
Harry chuckled and shook his head. "They're all the more beautiful because I can get them so rarely. And trade is such a human concept; you all have managed pretty well with the dwarves because they tend to think like humans, but elves just think in such a completely different way... Honestly, you'd be better off trying the goblins."
"The goblins would be open to trade?" Ganz asked.
Harry snorted. "The goblins would be open to anything if you offered them mushrooms. They would trade their souls for a common mushroom."
"Have you ever exploited that?"
Harry shook his head. "The goblins have nothing I want. The black goblins make some pretty swords – not quite dwarven standards, but good all the same – but I have no use for a sword, and their drugs make me sick. The green goblins are just mad."
"And stupid," Jack agreed.
Harry laughed. "Yes, quite. I take it you've met a few?"
Jack nodded. "A trio of them. They played a word game with us over a goat and lost twice. Then we beat them up." He grinned.
"Ah... I think I know the three you're talking about. I saw them, once, trying to rope a couple of ripple bats into helping them cross the chasm from Dova to Tria. It didn't end so well."
"But they survived?" Ganz wanted to know.
"There's something about their brand of stupid that saves them from themselves," Harry replied drily. "I wasn't around to see the conclusion, but I heard they managed to climb their way back up again after they'd been stuck down there for a couple of days."
The party slowed to a halt as they reached Fort Helencia. Harry cheerfully took his spell off Cross, then waved and wished them well before continuing on his way towards the Elf region.
Fan and Shin were waiting for him when he reached the entrance. "Hullo, kids!" he called, waving.
Shin glowered at him, but Fan offered the smallest of smiles. "What brings you, Harry?" the young woman asked.
Harry sighed and shook his head. "Nothing good, I'm afraid. I've a message for Zane from Nogueira."
"He's not dead is he?" Shin pleaded, putting aside his dislike for Harry for the moment.
Harry shook his head. "Not quite, but he's progressing too rapidly. He's only got... maybe a month left. And I don't want him travelling; it'll only make it worse." He eyed the young elf, who was drooping so heavily that he was practically touching the ground; Nogueira had helped raise Shin after his mother was killed near Tria Village when Shin was seven. The only reason Shin wasn't living in the dark elf home with Nogueira was because of the humans that visited from time to time, as the younger light elf could never adopt his caretaker's liking of those without wings.
"Shin?" Fan whispered. When Shin looked at her, she continued, "Would you like to let Lord Zane know that Harry's on his way up, or should I?"
Shin narrowed his eyes at Harry, then flew up and over the rock-face protecting the city from passing eyes.
"I guess he's going," Harry offered, shaking his head. "Well, I'll see you on my way out?"
"Yes. I promise I won't go far." Fan smiled and Harry grinned back, knowing Fan would never leave her post unless someone came to relieve her. She enjoyed watching the non-elves pass by and making fun of them too much.
Harry ducked past the waterfall and climbed the mossy stairs carved into the cliff-face. A couple of muttered spells cleared his way from possibly slipping on anything and he reached the top safely. There, he took a moment to drink in the sight of the city before continuing the long trip up to Zane's residence.
Zane was waiting for him when Harry finally ducked through the leafy doorway. "Give me your message and go," he ordered.
Harry sighed. "Somehow – don't ask, because I haven't the faintest – a blood orc got into the Nowem region. Your light elf, Hap, got caught by it. A human girl who was there was almost killed and Nogueira performed transpiritation between her and Hap to keep her alive. It has worsened Nogueira's condition to the point that I don't think it's safe for him to leave the Forest Metropolis. If you want to see your brother before he dies, you'll need to brave us humans," he said without preamble.
Zane glared at him for a long moment, then snapped, "And why did my brother even bother with this stupid human girl?"
Harry shook his head. "Zane, just because you hate humans doesn't mean Nogueira does. He thought she was worth saving."
"My brother is a fool," Zane muttered, but Harry could hear the sorrow buried behind his snide remark and just sighed. Zane motioned for a bag to pack itself, then looked back at his visitor. "Was that it? And don't expect me to travel back with you!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "It never even passed my mind, though you'll probably find yourself accompanied by Shin. At any rate, I was asked by the humans if you could, again, send your response to their plea for trade, since they missed the first one. And, please, I'll take it verbally. If you spit on me again, I'll retaliate with something that actually deserves my getting kicked out," he warned, recalling the last time he delivered news Zane hadn't liked. Harry didn't much care to be spat on again, and then thrown over the edge of the cliff for spitting back; if he'd been a normal human, with normal magic, he would have been killed.
Zane frowned at him, then turned his back. "I would never trade with humans. They'd have better luck with the dark elves."
"They'd have better luck with the goblins," Harry retorted, moving towards the door. "I'll pass on your response, then."
Zane turned at that, surprised. "You're going to Radiata?"
Harry rose an eyebrow at him. "Why so surprised? I do visit there occasionally."
"Only to visit their mage school. Never to pass on a message."
Harry shrugged. "I was asked. And I can always stop by the Vareth Institute while I'm in town. Anyway, I doubt any light elf would be willing to go to Radiata." He waved a hand, briefly, over his shoulder, then started down the path to the exit. On his way, he stopped to examine a few of the ornaments he'd mentioned to the humans, gently fingering one that was made with the closest flower this world had to a lily.
Their creator poked her head out a window and waved at him. "Did you want a few?"
Harry smiled at the woman. "Might I? They're exceptional. You've gotten much better since the last time I saw you."
"It's been three years," Keane reminded him, then pulled her head out of the window and hurried through her door, coming to stand next to Harry. "You'll have to give me something for them, though," she added, eyes bright.
Harry rose an eyebrow at her. "Oh? And Zane was just telling me that the light elves would never partake in any trade."
Keane laughed and shook her head. "I want to open a shop," she admitted, "but I have no one to sell anything to. You're the closest thing I have to a customer."
"Hm..." Harry considered the ornaments, head cocked slightly to the left. "If I was able to get in here more often, I could, possibly, help you with that."
Harry nodded. "You know I travel a lot," he said, looking at her. "And I spend time with all the races – well, all but the orcs. I could... I don't know. I could be something of a peddler, I suppose? There are a couple of humans who travel with restorative items and sell them to fellow travellers. It wouldn't be quite the same, I suppose, since your creations are really just pretty, but..." He trailed off as Keane zipped back into her house. "Keane?
Keane zipped back out with an armful of pretty things that radiated magic. "I started making things to help fighters," she explained, holding a cat out to Harry. "See, this one makes it easier to collect things from monsters. And this one," she held up a fair approximation of a human knight, "gets rid of afflictions when you're not fighting. And this one... Ah!" She fumbled and dropped everything.
Harry quickly conjured a table for the various items to fall on, keeping them from slipping through the holes in the walkway. He reached out and picked up an earring in the shape of an eyeball. "This is impressive, Keane. How long have you been working on these?"
"Oh, uhm..." She shifted through the stuff on the table nervously. "About three years. You, ah... You dropped a necklace last time you were here and I sort of picked it up and examined it and stuff. It was kind of cool, how it helped heal the wearer?"
"Ah. I'd wondered what had become of that necklace," Harry said with a smile.
Keane looked up at him briefly, then back down at her creations. "Oh, uhm, I sort of... I took it apart, see..."
Harry chuckled. "Don't worry about it. I found it on one of my trips and thought it looked nice. It wasn't such a loss."
Keane looked back up, relief making her smile. "Really? You're not upset?"
Harry shook his head, still smiling. "Not in the least. I never used the magical properties, I just thought it looked nice." He turned the earring over in his hand, blinking when the cornea turned to look up at him. "Ooh... That's interesting." He considered the magic on it, then looked up at Keane, who was practically glowing. "It watches all around you, so you're not thrown off by creatures who run up from behind?" he guessed.
Keane nodded. "Yeah! I'm, uhm... I'm having a bit of a problem with making it work for humans, though, since it warns the wearer through their magic, and since humans don't have innate magic..."
Harry nodded and motioned for the table to walk into Keane's home. "Let's see if I can help, hm?"
Harry chuckled and followed her inside.
When Harry finally left the City of Flowers, the sun was just rising. He'd stayed with Keane overnight after they worked on her magical items a bit. Harry had a couple of finished works in a small sack, having promised to show them around Radiata to see how interested the humans were in them. He'd enjoyed supper with the light elves who liked him, then curled up in a corner of Keane's home for the night.
He made his way over to the journey pig statue, whistling a cheerful tune and waving behind him to where Fan sat atop the cliff. He didn't use the pigs often, but since it would take two days to get around Fort Helencia and into Radiata, he was inclined to use the obnoxious, vertigo-inducing pigs. (Really, he'd been the main creator behind the pigs, having based them on a mix of magic from portkeys and the floo from Earth. Mixing the magic had only made them worse than the originals, but it cut back on travel by road for this world, which was all the more necessary because of the creatures waiting to attack travellers, so most people didn't complain. Harry would have preferred apparition, himself, but found out early on in his stay in this world that many ingredients for his potions didn't react well to it.)
Just as Harry was reaching out a hand to touch the pig, it warmed, signalling that someone was coming through, so Harry stepped back. The pigs could, technically, handle multiple people using them at once, but it made the journey that much more nauseating, so Harry avoided it.
Genius appeared in a zip of light and took a moment to look around, verifying his arrival in the correct area. When he noticed Harry, he frowned. "You're still here?"
Harry shrugged. "Spent the night," he admitted, then reached out to touch the pig.
"Are you sure–" Genius started.
"Genius, I'm not going to try and get you into the City of Flowers. If you ask me again, I will curse you," Harry snapped.
Genius frowned at him all the more. "Well then, perhaps you can help me in my study of their magic?"
"Why do you–?" Harry shook his head. "You know what? Fine. Genius, studying elven magic will get you absolutely nowhere, because you, as a human, are incapable of utilising magic in the same way they can. For you to try and understand their magic would be like an apple trying to understand how broccoli grows. You can't."
"Apples can't think, so they would have no reason–"
Harry waved his hand, then touched the pig, leaving Genius hanging upside down in midair, elves laughing at him from the top of the cliff.
Yeah.... So, Genius is kind of obnoxious. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to bash his head in while playing this game. (I took great pleasure in beating him up in the Forest Metropolis, let me tell you.)
Alternately, playing through right now, I kind of want to bash Jack's head in. (But, hey! He's a stupid boy from the country with an over-inflated ego. He's got an excuse, even if I think he's just plain dumb sometimes. I mean, really. He regularly gets his ass handed to him by people stronger than him – Ridley, the orc, Gerald – and he still thinks he's all that. I'm of the opinion that someone dropped him on his head as a baby.)
Yeah, okay. Rant over.
Again, Radiatapedia is an awesome resource for this game. I'll try and make sure that the bits in this story that you might have questions about are updated on there by the time I post each chapter.
However, I'll always welcome questions. ^.~
Chapter 3: Chapter Two: Humans
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jack groaned and took a seat on a nearby bench. He was trying to find Leonard to tell him he had a package in the supply store, but the man just wouldn't stay still! He'd already tried his room, the Captain's room and the training centre. The new recruits in the training centre said he'd gone to look for Lady Natalie, and Jack practically whimpered at the thought of having to climb all those stairs again. He was honestly considering the idea of killing his roommate, assuming he could find the man.
Jack leaned his head back against the wall, mind going back to an hour or so ago, when he found out about the plague that was running through the city. A plague that made people go mad. It was terrifying to conceive of, although a part of Jack wanted to meet someone with the plague on his own so he could karate chop them into submission. General Dynas had looked so cool...
Speaking of looking cool, that mage from the other day... Harry? He'd been pretty cool too. Not cool in the punch-your-lights-out way, but more in the bright-light-you're-dead way. Jack and his teammates had barely managed to scratch that blood orc – shallowly, at that – but Harry had popped out one spell and that orc was dead. It almost made Jack consider trying to become a mage, instead. But Jack liked the hands-on approach, and he was already a knight.
But, still. Mages were kind of cool. (Excepting, maybe, Genius, who was far too holier than thou to ever be cool.) Harry and Dynas were totally at the top of Jack's list of way-cool people.
Soft boots sounded around one of the curves of the castle and Jack glanced up, hoping it was, somehow, Leonard, even though the man usually wore the heavier, knight-issued boots. It wasn't Leonard, but it was someone Jack recognised. "Harry?"
The mage looked over from where he was eyeing the doors to the small tower stairs hopefully. He blinked for a moment, then said, "Uhm, Jack, right?"
Jack nodded and hopped to his feet. "Yeah! What brings you to the castle? Oh! Wait, the captain asked you to find out about the trade request, right? So, it was a no, wasn't it? Are you here to tell the captain that?"
Harry smiled in amusement. "Are you done?" he asked when Jack's flow of words halted. Jack nodded, so Harry answered, "I was told at Information to report my response to Lord Larks, but I'm not quite sure how to get there." He rubbed the back of his head. "I'm used to castles built in a square, not this hexagon shape."
"I can take you to Lord Larks office," Jack offered and started leading the way when Harry nodded. Then, curious, asked, "Square castles?"
Harry blinked. "Uh..." Crap. "Yeah! There's an old elven castle in the Ocho region, Algandars, which is built around a square. Rectangle, really, but it's the same sort of concept." Harry laughed a bit. He generally avoided letting humans know he was from another world. Really, only the elves knew of his strange circumstances; it was safer that way.
"Huh. Never heard of it."
Harry shrugged. "It's been abandoned for a few hundred years. The story goes that the king married a human woman and both of them developed a horrible disease. To save his people, the king sealed the castle. The elves won't go anywhere near it, but a couple of the creatures in there can be harvested for useful things in one of the potions I make, so I take the trip down every once in a while."
Jack nodded, mind leaping from the mention of potions to the disease Harry had mentioned the last time Jack had seen him, then to the plague he'd just learned about. General Dynas had told him to not mention the sickness to anyone, but what if Harry already knew something about it? "Hey, Harry?"
"You remember telling us about that disease you were making a potion for? The one you said affected all creatures that used magic?"
Harry eyed Jack curiously. "My life has practically revolved around that disease for the past twenty years; I'm not going to forget it any time soon." Admittedly, it had been more like two hundred years that Harry had been trying to find a cure for algandars, but...
Jack blinked – Harry didn't look much older than twenty – then asked, "Are humans affected by it?"
Harry nodded. "Of course."
"Uhm... What are the symptoms? Do you know?"
Harry stopped, feet on separate stairs, and looked up at where Jack had stopped a few steps above him, suspicions forming rapidly in his mind. "In humans," he said carefully, "the disease starts by giving the victim abnormal strength and quickly progresses to making them mad with the need to kill other people. About a month after they go mad, they start trying to kill themselves, assuming they weren't killed in self-defence by a victim previous to that." Harry considered Jack's face, which had taken on an ashen sheen. "You've seen someone going mad," he deduced.
Jack swallowed and nodded. "One of the guards," he admitted. "He was raging about killing everyone nearby and did a number on one of the other guards before they managed to shove him in a cell."
Harry sighed. "Is he still in a cell?"
Jack shook his head. "No. Uhm..." He looked around suspiciously, then walked down the steps so he was next to Harry and whispered, "They're bringing everyone from the village who's gotten sick and running tests on them, or something. Trying to find a cure, I think."
Harry frowned. "They won't find one," he commented, then motioned that they should continue up the stairs.
"Why not?" Jack asked, starting back up the stairs. "And please don't tell me it's because you haven't found a cure."
Harry snorted. "I wish it was that simple. But, no. The disease isn't in the affected people, you see. As far as I can tell, it's the magic of the planet that's sick, and it's attacking those who..." He trailed off, frowning. "Actually, I don't know how it picks its victims, but they usually seem to be people who use magic regularly, or are constantly in contact with magic. Someone who uses a magical sword, for example, is just as susceptible to the disease as a mage who practises magic daily."
"So there is no cure?" Jack whispered, looking pained.
Harry shook his head. "Not unless someone can find a way to heal the planet's magic, and that's something of an act of futility. Although, I know that the disease suddenly picked up speed around the time the Water Dragon was killed."
"The Water Dragon?"
Harry sighed; he was far too used to humans not knowing the most basic things about the world they lived in. "There are four dragons that help keep the world in balance and each of them are born of an element: water, wind, earth and fire. About sixteen years ago, a knight named Cairn Russell–"
"My father," Jack supplied.
Harry blinked at him in surprise, then chuckled. "Brilliant," he muttered to himself, then, louder, "He attacked the Water Dragon when it attacked Radiata City and was infected by the disease, then killed by the light elves–"
"I heard he was killed by another knight."
"Ah, yes." Harry eyed the boy. "Gawain Rothschild found out about the light elves sending an assassin and didn't do anything to stop them. He admitted to a friend that he felt it was his fault that Cairn died and that friend told the general of the knights. Gawain has been in hiding since, as there's a kill-on-sight order out for him." Harry sighed and shook his head. "Anyway, when the Water Dragon died, the disease became more prominent and the water that used to fill the chasms evaporated. It was a hard few years for everyone."
Jack nodded thoughtfully and stopped a few feet from Lord Larks' office. "Why did they kill him?" he asked.
"Your father?" Jack nodded. "To save him," Harry said, looking away. "Cairn was... He was a good man and he made friends with everyone, no matter their race. No one wanted to see him suffer through the third stage of the disease, and we were all afraid of how many people would die if he was left unchecked during the second stage. He was an amazing knight before the disease, after..." Harry shook his head.
Jack was quiet for a long moment, then asked, "You were there when they sent the assassin?"
Harry swallowed, then looked up into the sad brown eyes. "I was a part of the council that sent him," he said steadily.
Jack nodded, then pointed to the door to Lord Larks' office. "This is it. Can you find your way back out, do you think?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."
Jack shrugged and started off down the hall.
Harry chewed his lower lip for a moment, then called, "Jack?" The boy stopped, but didn't turn around. "Your father was a wonderful man and a good friend. He didn't deserve his fate." Then Harry turned and knocked on the door Jack had pointed out.
Jack swallowed and whispered, "Thanks," then hurried off down the hall.
Harry bit back an unmanly giggle that tried to erupt as he stepped onto the moving stairs in the Vareth Magic Institute. The stairs had been built by an enterprising president about one hundred years ago and every time Harry stepped onto them, he remembered Ron's first reaction to an escalator back on Earth – he'd stared at it in shock for almost five minutes, then proclaimed, loudly, that muggles couldn't do magic and so he would not be getting on those stairs, lest they break. Hermione had smacked him and forced him onto it to prove it was safe, but Ron had spent the trip up hyperventilating and refused to get on it to go back down.
Harry jumped the last few steps and strode into the office, calling, "Afternoon, Ray."
An owl sitting on the back of the president's chair made a disgruntled sound and looked down at Harry. "I thought you weren't going to come back for another six years."
Harry grinned and waved a visitor's chair over for him to sit in. "I had to bring a message to the castle, so I thought I'd spend a couple of days here and raid your library."
"You may not sleep in my office again," Ray told him.
Harry blinked innocently. "What made you think I was going to ask that?"
"Because you always want to sleep in my office."
Harry shrugged. "Where else would I sleep? It's not like I keep dagols on me or anything, so I can't pay to stay at an inn. I suppose I could sleep in the library..."
"There's an abandoned building on the Path of Insanity and Fanaticism," Ray snapped before Harry could actually seriously consider sleeping in the library. "The thief guild has been using it as a short cut, but they shouldn't mind you sleeping there as long as you don't tell any of the guards, which I doubt you'd do, since they'd then want to know how you found out."
"Actually, I'm more curious about how you found out," Harry commented. "It's not like you could have gone in after them to find out what they were doing in there. No hands, you know?"
Ray muttered grumpily under his breath and Harry laughed. "Shut up. This is your fault!"
Harry shook his head. "Nuh-uh. I told you not to try the spell. You're just lucky you're stuck as an owl and not something like a dormouse."
"You're the one who told me about it!"
Harry snorted. "I distinctly remember telling you only elves could do that spell safely. I also recall, when you suggested trying it, telling you it was a really stupid idea and if something went wrong I reserved the right to laugh. You tried it, it went wrong and so I laughed."
"Don't even," Ray warned when Harry's lips twitched with a smile. "You've had your laugh and I will peck you if you do so again."
"Again," Harry muttered, rolling his eyes. After Ray had pecked him the first time, Harry had sworn to leave for twelve years, which was the approximate life-span of the owl he was stuck as.
Although, really, Harry should have known better than to show a human an innate magic spell. They always wanted to prove him wrong when he said it wouldn't work for them. Honestly, humans were so thick-headed.
Ray ruffled his feathers and shifted on the back of his chair. "How long are you staying?"
Harry shrugged. "Dunno. I want to see what new books you've got and a friend of mine gave me some things to try selling. Why?"
Ray motioned with a wing and a date book drifted off the desk and into Harry's hands. "I know you like coming in and telling everyone they're doing magic wrong," he offered drily as Harry perused the class list.
"It's not my fault humans like to blunder about with magic," Harry retorted, lips quirked with an amused smile. "Any classes I'm not allowed to annoy?"
"Any of Dimitri's classes," Ray said without a pause, having expected the question. "Also, I would appreciate it if you tried to avoid Ardoph; he doesn't complain about every little thing like Dimitri does, but you'd probably set him off and I don't want my office smelling of dead things for a week again."
Harry rose an eyebrow at that. "Now I'm curious."
Ray glared at him. "All I know is that he likes dead things and always smells like them. I don't like it when he comes to my office."
Harry hummed and set the date book back on the desk. "I saw a couple of classes I might pop into. I'm sure you'll hear all about it shortly after my visits."
"Wonderful," Ray muttered.
Harry stood, shouldering his pack. "I know a spell that might help with keeping the dead smell from hanging around for so long. Do you want me to cast it?"
Harry nodded and whispered the spell. Almost immediately the air freshened, and Harry blinked, not having realised that the air had been so stale. "You need a window up here, Ray. Seriously."
Ray huffed as well as an owl could. "Is that one of your special spells that us normal humans can't learn?"
Harry smiled. "Sorry."
"One day, I'll figure out why you can do some spells the rest of us can't."
"Someday," Harry agreed and waved the chair back against the wall. "I'm sure I'll see you again before I vacate town."
"Yeah, yeah. Get out of my office."
Harry laughed and stepped onto the down stairs.
Harry was just making his way towards the Vancoor Square after finishing selling off the last of the items he'd brought to Jasmine, the owner of San Patty Accessories when he heard his name called. He turned and blinked in surprise to see Jack running towards him. Once the boy had reached him, Harry said, "I was under the impression that they liked to keep knights locked up in the castle."
Jack's smile turned into a disgusted frown. "The Captain and I were fired."
"Fired? Why would they–?" Harry paused. "Right. Humans. Ridley is nobility, isn't she?"
Jack blinked. "Yeah. She's a Silverlake."
Harry shook his head, disgusted. "Humans."
Jack gave him an odd look, then said, "I'm in Theater Vancoor, now."
"Congratulations," Harry offered sincerely, having heard plenty of good things about the warrior guild over the years. "What about Ganz?"
Jack shook his head. "He didn't make the cut. When I saw him last night he said he would try the other guilds. Also," Jack shuffled his feet, "he started to tell me something about his father, but never continued. He said it didn't matter."
Harry shrugged. "Does it?"
Jack considered that, then shook his head. "Not to me, but I think it bothers him? Maybe."
"It's possible he believes his father killed Cairn," Harry allowed. "Everyone else certainly does, even Gawain himself. Next time you see him, you could always try bringing it up. I take it neither of you mentioned it before that?"
"No. I mean, we were both aware of it, but..." Jack shrugged. "Anyway! Why are you still in town?"
Harry smiled. "I'm raiding the Vareth library and annoying the crap out of the professors there."
"Elves use magic in a different way from humans and since I've spent so much time around them, I've picked up their thoughts on magic. So I visit classes, tell them they're wrong about this or that, then get into an argument. It's a fun way to pass time."
Jack laughed. "Yeah? But I thought Vareth was on the other side of town?"
Harry nodded and motioned that he'd like to keep walking, and, once Jack nodded, did so. "Yeah, but one of the light elves gave me some magical accessories that she wanted me to try selling for her. I just sold the last of them to San Patty." He shrugged.
"I thought light elves were against trade."
Harry snorted. "Sure, the majority of them, although, really, a lot of that is that it's humans asking, and they hate you lot. But you've always got the odd one out who's like, 'I want to try that!' even though the boss is like 'Holy shit no!' It's fun to watch."
Jack laughed at how Harry changed the pitch of his voice for each of his fakes-quotes. "So, now that you're done with that, are you going to leave town?"
Harry shrugged. "Don't know. I've still got a few more books to read in the library, and there are professors who I haven't yet sufficiently annoyed..." He grinned at Jack and got a grin in return. "There's this one professor that Ray – that's the president of the Institute – told me smells like death. Something about how he likes to work with the dead? But I don't buy it."
Harry shook his head. "You don't develop the sort of smell Ray was talking about just from working with the dead."
"You think this guy is dead?"
"Have you met any of the people at the Institute? They're all either obsessed with one thing, or just plain weird. You've got Genius, who's obsessed with his own self importance, and one professor who's obsessed with money for projects in the black arts, and a student who likes lying to people, just to see their reactions. Oh! And there's one professor who I've been forbidden from talking to because I'd upset him too much."
"You'd upset him too much?" Jack repeated.
Harry nodded. "From what the students tell me, he believes everything he knows at this moment is the way of the world and anything outside of his knowledge is wrong. He has a tendency to make a big deal out of someone correcting him about something simple, like the day of the week."
"That must be a joy."
Harry snorted. "I'm half tempted to talk to him, but Ray'll end up pecking half my hair out again, so I've been good. Maybe when I'm ready to leave..."
"Ray is... not human?"
Harry coughed. "Ray...had an accident with a spell about six years ago and is now permanently stuck as an owl. I'm the one who introduced him to the spell and even though I told him not to try it, he did anyway. And I laughed at him when he got stuck, so he pecked me."
Jack stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. "Mages are weird."
"You have no idea."
Harry whistled to himself as he made his way towards the cafeteria. He'd just finished reading the last new book in the library – okay, so there had only been four new books that were correct enough that Harry bothered picking them to read, the other eight were wrong and Harry wasn't even going to bother, lest he be tempted to write corrections in the margins – and he felt he'd sufficiently annoyed the crap out of every professor. He'd met Ardoph just that morning and, after amusing himself with guessing why the man smelled of death – and he did, even the human nose could catch it if you stood close enough – he'd said the name of his species and gave himself a point when Ardoph had been shocked. (They'd then proceeded to have a very long and involved discussion about how Harry might have known about a species that hadn't been able to get into the area since the water in the chasms dried up, during which Harry evaded the truth like the plague and Ardoph got progressively sneakier at trying to drag an answer out of him. Harry was old enough – and knew his species well enough – that he didn't fall prey to any of the traps, but he was still glad when a student had shown up.)
All told, it had been a fun trip, but Harry was ready to get back to the Forest Metropolis and people who actually understood what magic was. He'd miss some of the humans, like Jack, who he'd spent some time around town with when the boy wasn't out on missions for his guild, but they were far outweighed by the annoying humans.
"Hey, Harry?" Jack asked, falling in next to Harry in the lobby.
Harry glanced over at him, curious about the slightly troubled look in his eyes and the paper crumpled in one hand. "What can I do for you, Jack?"
Jack chewed his lip and held his silence while Harry ordered two lunches and found them a seat. Once his tray was placed in front of him, Jack passed the paper he'd been clutching across the table.
Harry picked it up and looked it over. "Hm. Smilodon fangs? Nasty buggers, those." He passed the paper back over. "They are used in a panacea, which can be pretty expensive because of how rare smilodon fangs are."
Jack nodded. "I figured that bit was true – it wouldn't have gotten past the chief if it wasn't – but... I don't know anything about medicines and I'd like it if I had someone with me who did."
Harry considered that as he chewed a couple of beans. "Are you asking if I'll come with you?" he enquired, wanting to make sure he understood properly.
Jack nodded again. "Yeah. And, uhm, how nasty are smilodons?"
Harry shrugged. "Nasty enough, but you should be able to handle them fine, especially if you have a couple of people with you." He took another bite of beans to buy himself time to decide if he wanted to go on an adventure. On one hand, he was looking forward to getting back to the Forest Metropolis. On the other, the smilodons had mostly migrated to the Ocho region and that was a bit too close to where the orcs lived for Harry to be comfortable sending Jack out alone. "Yeah," he decided. "I can come with you."
Jack relaxed and grinned. "Thanks. I, uhm, haven't gone to see the client yet, though. I don't think it's against guild policy to bring you with me, but..."
Harry shook his head. "It's never been against Vareth policy, so far as I know, and the guilds all usually share the same policies. I can come with you, sure. I'd like to see this man who is hiring Vancoor to bring him smilodon fangs."
"Because he's either a saint, or very, very greedy."
Dwight, as it turned out, was of the very, very greedy variety.
"He's kind of scum, isn't he?" Jack asked as they were leaving the Olacion Order building.
"He is that," Harry agreed. "A lot of people who need that medicine can't get it because the price is so high, and a lot of rich people who don't need it but, rather, think they do, go out and stockpile it, which only makes the price go higher."
"Have you ever made this medicine?"
Harry considered that. "Yes, but it's been a while. It's simple to make, but a number of the ingredients are hard to come by, not counting the smilodon fangs. Why?"
Jack grinned. "Well, I've agreed to bring him two fangs, right? What if I were to run into more than one smilodon? No point in letting those fangs go to waste."
Harry chuckled. "Yeah? Sounds good to me. Is it okay if we make a stop in the Septem region, then? Oh, and a quick run through to the Desneuf region, though you may want to sit that one out."
"Sure. For materials?" Harry nodded. "But, why might I want to avoid the Desneuf region?"
Harry was silent for a moment, trying to come up with a gentle way to mention the blood orcs. Eventually he just said, "The orcs' home, Borgandiazo, is in the Desneuf region."
Jack swallowed. "Blood orcs?"
"More recently, yes. They used to live in the Dichett region, but a couple of years back they decided to invade as many places south of Radiata as they could. The Knights and dwarves mostly managed to fight them off, but they did kick the green orcs out of Borgandiazo."
"So there's a chance we could run into some?"
Harry nodded. "Very likely. I've seen a few in the Ocho region, as well. Just a warning."
Jack took a deep breath and nodded. "We'll be fine," he decided. "You can handle orcs, and I've gotten stronger." He grinned.
Harry sighed. "Okay. Let's go take down some creatures, then."
"That was...a lot of fun," Jack gasped when they got back to Radiata. It was still a little early and the gates were closed, but they leaned up against the side of the bridge and took a break, both pulling out water skins to sip from. "I never have that much fun on missions."
Harry laughed breathlessly. They'd made a game of taunting their prey and running between trees and cacti, mocking the creatures. Then they'd made it a race to see who could get back to the gate first from the far end of the Adien region. Upon reaching the bridge, Harry had cast a water spell over both of them to help them cool off.
"It was a lot of fun," Harry agreed, fanning himself with the bottom edge of his tunic. "I haven't raced through a region like that in..." He paused to consider that and, upon realising it had been almost a hundred years, settled for, "A very long time. Wow."
"It was like being a kid again," Jack said, sliding down to sit on the ground. "We used to tease the monsters around Solieu Village like that when I was really young. We'd make forts and mock the monsters from inside them and hope they'd stand up to any return fire." He laughed. "They never did. One of the adults would always come out and save us, then berate us."
Harry smiled and turned around to watch the sun rise. "That must have been a lot of fun."
"You never played with forts?" Jack asked, glancing up at him, brow furrowed. "Don't tell me you spent your childhood being trained to be a mage like Ridley was a knight."
Harry shook his head, still smiling. "No. I... was raised by my aunt and uncle, my mother's sister and her husband. They... didn't like me. Bad blood between them and my parents. I was made to do all the chores, so there was never any time to play."
Jack looked away. "Sorry."
Harry shrugged. "It was a very long time ago." He looked away as the sun finally showed over the hills in the distance, not wanting to be blinded. "The gate should open soon."
Jack nodded. "What are you going to do now? Make that medicine?"
"Probably. I was going to go back to the Forest Metropolis anyway, and this just gives me more of a reason."
Harry glanced down at Jack, frowning at the stricken look on his face. "There are some components for the panacea that I can get in the Nowem region, and all my equipment is there. And..." He shrugged. "I'm sort of done dealing with human mages for a while. Elves are much more sensible."
Jack sighed. "Will you come back?"
"To Radiata? Most certainly. I'll have to bring back the panacea once it's done," Harry reminded him. "Why?"
Jack shrugged and looked down to pick at his magical tunic. "I'll miss having you around."
Harry sighed. "Jack, I'm only going to the Forest Metropolis. If you really wanted to visit, there's a pig just around the corner."
"It's not the same."
Harry lowered himself to sit next to the boy. "What's wrong?"
Jack shrugged. "People I've become friends with keep falling out of touch," he admitted quietly.
Harry considered the boy for a long moment in silence. When he heard the gate opening behind him, he stood and held out a hand to Jack. "Come on. Let's get some breakfast."
Jack nodded and let Harry help him to his feet. They made their way into the city and through Yellow Town of Sun and Glory to the Begin Eatery, where most of Theater Vancoor stopped for their meals. The two put in their orders and found an empty table up on the second floor in a corner.
Once they'd settled in, Harry said, "Jack, I don't like Radiata. It's fine to visit, but I really don't care for the city as a whole. I did live here for a while, but I prefer to only visit anymore. It's like... would you want to go back to Solieu Village and live there again?"
Jack considered that, still looking glum. "No," he decided. "There's more to do in Radiata. I can't imagine going back to that boring existence."
Harry nodded. "I prefer the quiet of the forest, never mind the people who think of magic the way I do." He smiled as that managed to get a faint smile out of Jack – Harry had complained often enough about the idiots at Vareth and their ideas about magic.
Their food came then and they both tucked in, famished after their journey.
When they were done, they sat back to let the food settle and Harry quietly said, "It's in our nature to fall in and out of touch, Jack, just as it is natural to continue to meet new people and become friends with them. You'll make more friends while I'm gone and spend some time around them. I'll be back in a week or so with some of the panacea and we can have lunch together or something."
"I'm only a pig away," Harry added, earning him another faint smile. "Come on, let's go see that greedy bishop and give him his fangs."
"All the while laughing to ourselves because we're about to fill the market with the panacea for free?"
Harry chuckled and touched his bag, which held enough materials for about eight hundred bottles of the panacea – they could have gotten more, but Harry had suggested they leave some smilodons so they could repopulate. Harry would be spending the next few weeks brewing constantly to use everything up, only taking breaks to bring finished products to Radiata, but he was okay with that.
As they made their way out of the eatery after Jack had paid, Harry asked, "Are you sure you're okay with not making any money from this venture? I have no use for it, but I'm not sure how your finances are."
Jack shook his head. "I'm fine. I get enough money from my guild work to cover food and the occasional splurge on a new weapon. And if I start running low, I'll just take a trip outside the city and take out a couple monsters."
Harry nodded. "Okay. Forget I asked."
"Why?" Jack wondered.
Harry shrugged. "Selling the panacea for even five dagols a piece would help fill anyone's pockets, and your average person who needs the panacea could easily afford it, especially since it would mean they wouldn't have to buy three other medicines for what the panacea would heal."
"Huh. Didn't think of that." Jack shook his head. "Money is nice, but I'm living comfortably enough right now, and going out and fighting to earn more keeps me fit, so I can't complain."
"Good point," Harry agreed. "Didn't think of it like that, myself. But I'm a mage, so keeping fit isn't a problem I've got."
"All you have to do is remember a spell."
"Exactly. No need to be swinging a sword all the time."
"But sword swinging is fun."
"You're such a boy."
Jack grinned unrepentantly. "Someone has to be."
Laughing, Jack hurried through the streets to Olacion, Harry on his heels.
For those of you unfamiliar with the game, Ardoph's species is never explicitly stated, but we know he's not human and comes from a land beyond the Radiata borders. (We also know that Nyx, a member of the Void Community, is of the same race, though they look different.)
Chapter 4: Chapter Three: Let It Go
There are a couple scenes in this chapter that were taken almost word-for-word from the game, with a few minor changes to include Harry.
Because Shara, who has a passing familiarity with the game was confused, I shall remind everyone now that Ray is the president of the Vareth Institute. The owl.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry hissed as he landed on the bridge outside the Echidna Gate, his whole body screaming in pain. Apparating while falling a great distance was something they'd been advised against when being taught how to apparate, but it had been between the pointy rocks at the bottom of a chasm and a rough bump on something smooth. At least none of the potions or ingredients in his pouch were the sort to react badly to apparition. Small graces.
"You look like something stomped on you. Repeatedly."
Harry glanced up from where he was quite happily laying on the ground. Ray had settled on one of the statues populating the bridge. "You should see the other guy," he said drily.
Ray fluttered awkwardly down to the ground next to Harry. "What happened? You've only been gone a week."
Harry sighed and closed his eyes, silently casting a spell to help heal him some. "I got on the wrong side of a very ticked off light elf. He threw me down a chasm." The healing spell soothed the pain enough that Harry was able to sit up and root around in his potions bag for a healing potion. Sometimes, you needed more than magic to feel better.
"I wonder, sometimes, why you even bother with those creatures. Most of them hate humans and you're constantly annoying them."
Harry snorted, then winced as he choked on his potion. "Usually," he said once he could breathe again, "they don't drop me from anything higher than twenty feet. And, usually, Zane isn't inclined towards violence, since I'm more than capable of retaliating." He groaned. "I was being stupid. Totally deserved it."
"You? Being stupid? And I thought that was impossible."
Harry rolled his eyes, then gingerly got to his feet. "I'm disinclined towards stupidity, not incapable of it." He moved around a bit with care and sighed in relief when nothing seemed broken, just sore, which the potion would take care of shortly.
"If I may ask, what stupid thing did you do?" Ray wondered, launching himself into the air and settling on Harry's shoulder.
"You're heavy," Harry complained, but didn't bother trying to brush the owl off, instead making for the gate. "His brother just died yesterday and he's been a bit snappy. I told him he should go be snappy in the City of Flowers, rather than upsetting all the dark elves and myself. When he told me to shut up, I told him that if he didn't stop sulking around the Forest Metropolis, I'd knock him out and send him back to the light elves in a cocoon. He didn't take kindly to that."
"I'm sure there's something meaningful about the cocoon?" Ray inquired. "Not that a normal person wouldn't react poorly to being told they'd be knocked out for mourning, but dropping you into a chasm?"
"His brother died and turned into a cocoon," Harry replied. "It's part of the disease that plagues their people."
"Ah. That was stupid."
"Yes, thank you, Ray."
"So how long are you staying?"
Harry sighed. "A while. I'm hoping someone will let me know when he goes back to the City of Flowers. On the other hand, I've got two hundred bottles of panacea to get to those who can't usually afford it. Want to help?"
Ray considered that. "Two hundred?"
"How much are you selling them for?"
"I'm not. They're free, but only for those who need them. Anyone else can go pay five hundred dagols to fill their stores."
Ray gave an owl huff. "You're going to make a number of pharmacies very unhappy."
"Yeah, sucks to be them. They're welcome to hunt me down and duke it out if they really want to."
Ray shook his head. "I'll make sure the word gets out, then. Are you going to try running out of the Institute?"
"Sure, but only if you donate twenty of those bottles to our infirmary."
Harry laughed. "I think I can do that."
Everyone in the Institute knew about the rats. So, naturally, Harry found out within five minutes of walking in the front door. Which then necessitated him asking Ray why he didn't take care of the problem himself, being an owl. After Harry laughingly fended off Ray's feeble attempts to peck him, Ray admitted that he'd tried, one night, but they had a leader rat that he couldn't go up against. So they'd made a call to the warrior guild and were hoping someone would show up soon.
Harry offered to try his hand, but Ray just shook his head. "The guild already has the request. Might as well let them handle it."
So Harry had let it go and made for the library, debating between reading books that were wrong and correcting them in the margins, or reading books he'd read before. Sometimes it scared him, how much he was turning into Hermione.
A couple of hours later, he gave up on the book he was trying to read in disgust and decided to see if he could get himself some food. In the lobby, he was stopped by the girl manning the front desk, Roche, who called, "The cafeteria's closed, Master Harry."
"Oh?" Harry wandered over and took a seat on top of the desk, rolling his eyes when Roche blushed faintly. Something about the younger girls in the Institute had them forever developing crushes on him. He understood a lot of it had to do with him being one of the few humans who got on well with elves and how magically strong he was, but he didn't much care for the attention. "Why's it closed, then? The rats finally win?"
Roche laughed a bit weakly at that. "Heavens, I hope not. No, a couple of people are here from Vancoor."
"Ah. So it's less the rats winning and more the humans telling them to scram or die. That's acceptable."
Harry rolled his eyes. "How long have they been exterminating?"
"Oh. They went in... maybe five minutes ago? Something like that."
Harry considered that."So, what? Give them ten more minutes, then go in after them?"
Roche giggled again. "I think they'll need it, too. Neither of them looked like they could take down a pile of those rats, never mind their boss."
"I thought you lot were taught not to judge by appearances," Harry chastised.
Roche blushed and looked away. "Well, yeah. But if someone in Vancoor is just a kid with a big sword, you know they can't be that good."
"A kid?" Harry blinked. "Jack?"
Roche nodded. "That's what he said his name was."
Harry chuckled and made himself a little more comfortable. "He'll be fine."
"You, um... You know him, sir?"
The door to the cafeteria slid open and out stepped Jack and a short young man who Harry was relatively certain was named Daniel. Jack smiled at Roche, then faltered slightly upon seeing Harry sitting oh so calmly on the reception desk. After a moment, a wide grin lit up his face and he waved at Harry before turning to Roche and saying, "We got rid of the rats."
"Really? You must be stronger than you look!" Roche exclaimed. Behind her, Harry chuckled.
"That wasn't really a compliment," Jack replied, eyeing Harry suspiciously, "but thank you."
"With your boss out of the picture, I think your problem is gone," Daniel added.
Roche nodded and pulled a couple stacks of bills out of a pocket of her dress. "Well, here you go." She handed them over to Jack.
Jack smiled at her, then handed one of the stacks over to Daniel. "Here you go, Daniel."
"What? For me?"
"Of course! You were a big help."
"Hehe... Thank you." Daniel took the money and carefully put it in a pocket under his armour.
"And the other half is mine," Jack said, putting the bills in his own pocket and turning to Roche. "Well, if you have any more problems, you know where to find me!"
Roche did a shallow half-bow. "Thank you so very much! Ms Sayna will be delighted."
"Not to mention everyone else," Harry added, hopping off the desk and walking over to join them. "Roche, did you want to get Sayna and let her know her domain is rodent free? I can watch the desk."
"Yes, thank you, Master Harry," Roche agreed and hurried off to the infirmary.
"Hey, Daniel, I'll see you back at Theater Vancoor later, okay?" Jack said to his partner. "And tell Sarge thanks for me, huh?"
"Yeah, see you!" Daniel replied and hurried off.
Jack turned back to Harry, who was smiling at him, hands in his pockets. "How long have you been back in town?"
"About two hours," Harry said with a shrug. "I've been torturing myself with reading books that should never have been penned. Was about to get something to eat."
Jack grinned. "Yeah? How about that lunch you promised me?"
"Do you ever have money?"
Harry snorted. "Why bother with money when I can get you or the Institute to pay for things for me?"
Jack shook his head and turned to the door as Roche got back from her errand. "Yeah, I'll pay. There's a little bread and soup shop just around the corner that's not too expensive. You good for that?"
"After a week of Lufa's cooking?" Harry replied drily, falling in to step with Jack out the front door. "I'm good for anything."
"Why don't you just cook yourself?" Jack wondered. Harry had cooked for them when they stopped while out hunting smilodons, since Jack admitted to never having learned how.
"Didn't have time. I was working on the panacea pretty much constantly." Harry shrugged and grabbed the door so they could walk into the shop. "I kept forgetting to eat, honestly, though some of that was probably due to the quality of the food." He turned to grin at Jack, but the expression died at the frown on the boy's face. "What?"
"I'm fighting against the urge to channel my sister," Jack replied grumpily. "How much panacea do you have?"
Harry rolled his eyes – he'd been told off often enough during his long life for forgetting to eat. "Two hundred. I hope they can last a while, though. I'm sort of stuck in town," he said, motioning to the soup he wanted and smiling when the woman behind the counter served the bowl up. Once Jack had gotten his food, he stopped to pay for both of them and they found seats.
Jack eyed him curiously once they were seated. "Stuck in town?"
Harry shrugged. "I ticked off Zane, so I'm stuck in Radiata until he either stops being a dick, dies or goes back to the City of Flowers. The first is never going to happen, and the second could take a while, so I'm waiting for him to leave the Forest Metropolis."
"How long might that take?" Jack asked, then, "And how'd you tick him off? Other than existing?"
Harry's lips twitched. "Well, considering he doesn't much care for the dark elves, he'll probably only stay for a few more days, really. But you never know. I suppose it depends on how long he wants to mourn by himself, without the other light elves."
"Mourn?" Jack asked before Harry could mention anything about his stupidity.
"Nogueira died yesterday morning," Harry replied quietly. Nogueira had been his friend, and no matter how many times he'd gone through it, Harry hated watching his friends die.
Jack blinked and looked down at his soup. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Harry sighed and shook his head. "We knew it would be soon. At least now he's not constantly in pain." He tore off a piece of bread and dunked it in the soup.
Jack nodded and they continued their meal in silence.
Once they'd finished eating and were out on the streets again, headed back towards Vareth, Jack said, "Oh, I got promoted while you were gone."
Harry grinned at him. "That's fantastic! Congratulations."
Jack grinned back. "Yeah! I'm the sergeant of the Acht Squad, now."
"How'd you manage that promotion so fast, huh? You're just that awesome?"
Jack laughed and shook his head. "I'm still not completely sure myself," he admitted. "The Hecton Squad got assigned to bodyguard duty for the princess and she got kidnapped by some of those Void guys. Most of the guild got involved and the deputy chief got hurt pretty bad. The castle went all, 'Holy crap, something must be done!' and the chief decided to make a squad to investigate Void."
"And you're that squad?"
"Hm." Harry nodded. "Well, good luck. And don't get yourself killed down there, huh? Void is a pretty close group, and they're good at protecting their own."
Jack sighed. "I know. I've got something of an in, I guess, since I know a couple of people down there and I eat at Club Vampire sometimes, but..." He shrugged. "I'm not all that certain what all I'm supposed to be investigating. Why they kidnapped the princess, sure, but that's sort of what they're hired out to do, usually, right?"
Harry chewed on the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. "Technically, yeah. But if they've suddenly got the balls to go after royalty and take on Vancoor members, that's some cause for concern. They either feel really secure, or they've got a very rich client and they've gotten a bit greedy. Honestly, it could be a mix of both of those.
"Yeah..." Jack sighed again and hung his head. "Well, for now I'm stuck meeting people down there and listening at keyholes, hoping to find something out."
Harry nodded. "A number of the Vareth students spend time down in the Club. I'll ask around and see if I can't learn something helpful."
Jack smiled. "Yeah? Thanks. Maybe I'll see if Clive can ask around Olacion."
"Ask the shopkeepers, too," Harry suggested. "Not just the ones in the Beast Pit, but the ones all over town. They tend to overhear a lot."
Jack's smile widened. "Yeah, good point. Thanks, Harry."
"Sure thing. Now, why don't you go scrounge up some info and I'll corner a couple of obnoxious, wanna-be mages." He grimaced at the thought.
Jack snorted and waved a hand over his shoulder as he started off towards Olacion. "Good luck with that."
Harry chuckled and wandered back inside the Institute.
Jack sighed and rubbed the back of his head. Clive had agreed to keep his ears open for any word about Void, and two other friends of Jack's from the priest guild, Eugene and Flora, had also agreed to let him know if they heard anything. Now he was off to see if Yuri at the Begin Eatery would listen around for him, since they were on pretty good terms and she was known around the guild for being willing to keep an ear out for anything.
He was about halfway through Vancoor Square when he realised there was a large man off to one side, sniffing the air and with a burning stick in his mouth. Jack couldn't help it, he stopped and stared.
The man turned to look at Jack, blinked, then ran up to him a little too quickly for Jack's comfort.
"Um, yes? What do you want?" Jack asked, trying to recover from his flinch. He told himself anyone would have flinched if a large man had come running towards them, and it sort of helped.
"Do you know where Aphelion might be?" the large man asked.
"Yes, that's right. It's important I find him. I think he's most likely a human..."
"Huh? You think he's human?"
"Aye, but I can't be too sure. It seems to me his smell should be stronger than it is. So, do you know him?"
"I've never heard of anyone looking for people by their smell before." And he'd heard of some pretty strange things since leaving Solieu Village.
"Is that so? Do you mean to say that humans can't do that?"
"Are you serious? Anyway, I don't know who this Aphelion guys is, okay?" Jack waved his hand in front of his face.
"Would you help me find him?" the large man asked, looking almost hopeful.
"Why are you asking me? Look, if you want my help, you have to pay a fee to the guild," Jack decided. He had things to do and he wasn't going to take a break from his business unless it involved money.
"And what kind of a thing would this 'fee' be?"
Jack stared at the man in disbelief. "Money! What else would it be?"
The large man nodded. "Ah, money, you say? I should have realized. Of course, humans do like their money."
"Have you been off living with the elves or something? Who doesn't think about money?"
"Not with any elves, me. Orcs and goblins, though..."
Jack shook his head and turned his back to the man. "That's it! I'm out of here. Good luck."
"How much is this fee of yours?"
Jack turned back around. "Huh? You want to pay the money? Well, I guess I could do it for, say, five thousand dagols?" That seemed like a good amount, and it would let him keep taking Harry out to lunch for a while, since the mage didn't seem to care for money any more than this guy. "Let's see how he likes that..." he said to himself as the man considered that.
"Well now, is that all you want?" he said, then turned his back and walked a bit away. After a moment he walked back and handed over a pile of bills.
Jack took the bills and stared at them, stars in his eyes at the sheer amount in his hands. "No way! Yahoo! There's enough here for months!"
"So, lad... Now will you help me look?"
Jack grinned up at him, shoving the bills into a pocket. "No problemo! I'm ready for action! Come on, let's get started!" He turned and led the way out of the Square, heading back the way he came, since more people populated that side of town this time of afternoon.
After a while, Jack asked, "By the way, what does this Aphelion guy look like, anyway?"
"Oh, I don't know," the large man replied with a flippant sort of tone.
Jack stopped walking, staring at the man's back. "You don't know?" he asked, disbelieving.
The large man stopped as well and glanced back at Jack. "Aye, that's right. The fact is, you see, he can take any form he wants."
"Then how are we supposed to find him?" Jack demanded, slightly hysterical. He had things to do, and they did not involve wandering around town all day, looking for some guy who could change his face!
"Hmm... It won't be easy," the man decided, then turned to keep walking.
Jack groaned and hung his head. "Won't be easy? Try impossible..." He started off again after the man, the money in his pocket a heavy reminder that he'd already been paid for his assistance.
Jack was seriously starting to think that no amount of money was worth this. "Hey, we're not going to find him by just wandering around the streets, you know," he told the guy.
"But I have to find him. We have some very important things to discuss," the man replied, reluctantly coming to a stop again, since Jack had stopped walking.
"Fine, but he's not going to just appear like magic."
The large man cocked his head to one side thoughtfully, then exclaimed, "Wait a minute! I know how to find him! Tell, me, who is the strongest fighter in this whole town?"
Jack blinked. "The strongest..." He scratched the back of his head. "Physical, or magical?"
"Oh." The man thought about that for a moment. "I don't know. He's very good at both of them."
Jack rubbed a hand down his face, then turned towards Vareth. "Come on." Even if Harry wasn't magically this guy's friend, he might very well have a spell that would help them find him.
Harry blinked in surprise as the temperature suddenly rose. When no one else in the library seemed bothered, he closed the book he was silently ranting at and spelled it to head back to its shelf before going off in search of the hot magic. The last time he'd felt magic like this was...
Jack came around a corner, a large man behind him.
"...Parsec?" Harry said.
"You know him?" Jack asked, looking hopeful.
The large man blinked. "Ah, Harry. I haven't seen you in..." He trailed off as Harry shook his head rather violently. After a moment, he settled on, "It's been a while."
Harry let out a relieved breath. The last time he'd seen Parsec had been almost ninety years ago, when Harry had been a part of a search team looking for a green goblin child who'd been kidnapped by some fire imps. Once Parsec had found out that the imps had been taking children from nearby families, he'd forbidden them from his land
Jack sighed. "I take it you're not Aphelion?" he asked Harry.
"Aphelion!" Harry jerked back and looked up at Parsec. "What would you want with that murdering bastard?"
Parsec held out his hands in a placating gesture. "I'm looking for him. He's been ignoring his duties."
"Probably off killing more people," Harry muttered. The last time he'd seen Aphelion, the silver dragon had been gleefully hunting the dark elves around the Nowem region and killing them off. Harry had cursed Aphelion to feel horrible pain whenever he saw a dark elf, then informed the dragon that if he caught him killing creatures off again, he'd make him wish he was dead. (If it wouldn't put the world out of balance so badly, Harry would gladly murder the bastard.)
Parsec shrugged. "He's here, somewhere. I can smell him, but his smell is weak. You haven't seen him?"
"I wish. I could do with someone around to curse," Harry retorted.
"Harry," Parsec said.
Harry stared back, unrepentant, but did grab a hold of his temper and shove it back in a box in his mind. As he'd gotten older, he'd gotten a better hold on his temper, but that just made it that more dangerous when he lost it. (Honestly, it was probably a good thing that he never took light elves seriously, or he'd have killed them all off decades ago.)
Jack sighed, reminding the two that he was still there. "I don't suppose you know a spell to find Aphelion?" he asked Harry.
Harry shrugged and shook his head. "Sure, but he's probably found a way to block it. I very much doubt he wants me finding him, considering what happened the last time we met."
"What did happen?" Parsec asked. "And how long ago?"
"What? You think I'm the reason he's gone off and buried his head in the sand?"
Parsec didn't look amused.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I found him hunting dark elves and killing them off for sport. It was about sixty years ago."
Jack made a startled sound and turned to stare at Harry.
"Ah. No wonder you're so bothered," Parsec said. "I'm surprised he dared, though. You made it no secret that you were fond of them."
"Yeah, that's me," Harry replied drily, "Self-proclaimed protector of dark elves everywhere." He rolled his eyes.
Parsec shook his head. "He stopped doing his duty a couple decades after that incident, at any rate."
"And you haven't come looking for him until now?" Harry raised an eyebrow.
"It wasn't obvious until Kelvin went to sleep. We've been looking for him since, but it wasn't until now that we managed to get a semi-clear reading on where he was."
"In Radiata," Harry replied. "It makes sense, you know. He and Quasar were created for the humans, and you can get lost in this town pretty easily. He could have killed someone off and then taken their place with no one the wiser. Although, if he was in town, that begs the question of why he didn't stop Cairn."
"That is one of my questions." Parsec sighed. "You will tell me to stop looking."
"He'll have to reveal himself soon, Parsec," Harry pointed out. "It's almost time for Quasar to take his place."
Parsec nodded. "That's what we're worried about."
"You think he'll fight to stay awake?"
Parsec nodded again. "The humans have only gotten more violent since he woke, and with Kelvin being asleep..."
Jack cleared his throat, loudly, and when the older two looked at him, demanded, "What the hell is going on?"
Harry muttered a curse under his breath, then shook his head. "We shouldn't be discussing this in a hallway. We'll go to where I'm staying. Come on." When Jack opened his mouth to complain, Harry snapped, "When we get there, Jack."
They walked to the abandoned house Harry was still staying at while he was in the city. He'd created a cosy little nook for himself on the second floor and he and the Void team that used the house as a short-cut had come to the understanding that they would ignore each other and everyone would be happy.
Once up on the second floor, Harry pulled out his wand to help strengthen his spells and cast a slew of privacy wards. Then he conjured two chairs for his guests and sat on the edge of his bed, rubbing at his face.
Parsec considered Harry for a moment, then turned to Jack. "What do you know of the dragons?"
"The... dragons?" Jack glanced at Harry, who was rummaging through his pouch for a headache potion, then looked back at Parsec. "Uhm, there's four of them – earth, air, water and fire – and they help keep the world in balance. The Water Dragon was killed by my father sixteen years ago."
Parsec blinked. "You're Cairn's son?"
Parsec chuckled and looked over at Harry, who was watching them with a wry smile. "Another child of prophecy."
Harry groaned. "You lot can shove your bloody, fucking prophecies up your–" He snapped his mouth shut and dragged his hand down his face. This day was doing a number on his temper.
"Prophecy?" Jack asked.
Harry coughed. "Okay, Jack, you know when I told you there were four dragons?" Jack nodded, looking mildly confused and very curious. "Yeah, well, I missed a couple. You've got the four elements, and then there are the two dragons who protect the humans: the silver dragon, Aphelion, and the gold dragon, Quasar."
"Protect the humans?" Jack asked. "Why would we need protecting?"
"Each dragon has a race we protect," Parsec offered. "I watch over the orcs. Kelvin, the Water Dragon, watches over the goblins–"
"You're a dragon!?"
"Parsec is the Fire Dragon," Harry said. "His home is the Fire Mountain in the Dichett region." He smiled at Jack's awed look. "Dragons have the ability to take on a form like that of the species they've sworn to protect. The other two dragons, Cepheid, the Wind Dragon, and Baade, the Earth Dragon, protect the elves and the dwarves, respectively. Although, Cepheid isn't fond of the dark elves, since they lack wings."
Jack took a moment to work through all that in his mind, then looked straight at Harry and asked, "Are you a dragon?"
Harry blinked in surprise and opened his mouth to deny it, only to stop when his magic refused to let him. After a moment, he said, "I was born human."
Jack frowned. "That didn't answer my question. And how could you have met Aphelion sixty years ago? You look like you're in your twenties!"
Parsec started to chuckle, ignoring Harry's glare, then said, "Harry is special."
"Special," Harry scoffed. "More like cursed." At Jack's confused look, he said, "I was born in a world that runs parallel to this one. In that world, humans became the dominate race, rather than the trading in power this world enjoys. Also, humans in my world either had magic that was innate, like the elves, or no ability with magic at all, like many humans in this world. I... had an accident with a magical object in my world and fell into this world."
Jack stared at him for a long moment, then asked, "So... you're human? But you have magic like the elves. That's why you like them so much?"
"Prefer them, yes," Harry agreed. "There are plenty of humans I like, but I've always preferred living with elves."
Jack nodded. "Okay. I suppose that makes sense. But... sixty years!"
Harry sighed. "I don't age. The humans of my world, the ones with innate magic, they live longer than those humans without magic, but never as long as I have. Something about my coming to this world has kept me from ageing."
Parsec pulled the flaming stick out of his mouth and pointed it at Harry. "You're like a dragon," he pointed out.
"I am not a–"
"You have innate magic, you don't age, you've picked a race to protect and you're damned hard to kill."
"I'm human!" Harry snapped. "From another world, yes, but still human! Not a bloody dragon!"
"You have a better explanation?" Parsec replied.
Harry looked down at his hands, which he'd clenched in anger. He forced them to loosen and whispered, "No."
Everyone was silent for a long moment, then Jack said, "So, does this mean I have a dragon for a friend? Because that's kind of cool."
Harry laughed at that and offered Jack a strained smile, then looked over at Parsec. "Okay, say I'm a dragon. Where's my dragon form?"
"Your people had animal forms, is that not correct?" Parsec asked. When Harry nodded, he suggested, "Perhaps this is yours."
"A dragon," Harry said flatly. "No human in my world has ever had a magical creature as their animagus form."
"This isn't your world," Parsec reminded him.
Harry blinked and groaned. "Fine. I'll look into it."
Parsec nodded, then stood. "Will you keep an eye out for Aphelion?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah, sure thing. If I spot him, what do you want me to do?"
"Bring him to one of us. Baade is probably the closest."
"Yeah. You know, I've never actually met Baade," Harry commented.
Parsec smiled. "He's met you," he offered, then turned and left.
Harry sighed, then glanced at Jack, who was watching him with a faint frown. "Sorry."
Jack shook his head. "Were you ever going to mention that you don't age? Or was I just going to find out twenty years from now?"
Harry looked down at his hands again and flexed them. "The elves are the only ones who know I don't age. I've never told a human before. When it gets to the point where someone might start to notice, I leave. Mages don't really travel outside of Radiata unless they're under contract with the Knights, and most people I know are mages, so going off into one of the more distant regions usually keeps them from finding me. Eventually, people figure I've died, or they die off themselves. It's easier that way."
Jack nodded. "You lied."
Harry shook his head. "I said it's human nature to fall in and out of contact, not that I never would."
"You said you'd only be a pig away!"
Harry shrugged. "And so I would be, until, one day, I went hunting for ingredients and never came back. You would mourn me for a while, then go back to your life."
"And you'd never have to worry about it when I died," Jack replied, angry. "I bet you wouldn't even care."
Harry held his silence, refusing to look up at the boy. He would mourn Jack, just as he'd mourned every other human and elf he'd been friends with. Sometimes, it would be better if he could just stop caring, stop making friends, because every time one of them died, it felt like a part of Harry died too.
Jack stared at him for a long moment, then ran out of the abandoned house.
So, I tried to keep Parsec in character. Not sure how well I did... *sigh*
So, I know Parsec is the protector of the goblins and Kelvin of the orcs, but since the blood orcs seem to have originated from the Dichett region, it made more sense to me for Parsec to be the protector of the orcs. (Also, his 'human' form is vaguely reminiscent of an orc, albeit a cultured one, and Baade's other form is that of a dwarf, so...)
Chapter 5: Chapter Four: And If It Returns
Borrowing straight from the game again. It makes the chapters longer, and makes my typing up a script worth it.
The bathroom scene with Thanos can really happen in the game. There's five minutes just before he goes to sleep where he's in the bathroom next to his desk. If you talk to him while he's in there, you can pick up a new request or finish one. (Insanely amusing. I ♥ Thanos.)
Erm, so the only races we really know for sure suffer from algandars are the humans and the light elves, but it seemed odd to me that that was it. So I added the dark elves and the dwarves to their numbers.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jack stared at the written request once he'd left Theater Vancoor, not even really seeing it. He leaned back against the building and sighed. It had been almost a week since he'd last seen Harry and now he had to go to the Vareth library to find out how to open a door, because Thanos couldn't be arsed to do it himself. (Not that Jack had ever seen Thanos away from that desk, except the one time he'd run into him in the toilet. That had been awkward. 'Hi, Jack, back from your mission?' 'Uh... you really want to debrief me in the men's room?' Jack now made a point to wait to empty his bladder until after he'd been debriefed.)
He rubbed a hand across his face and shoved the paper in his pocket. "It's money for food," he reminded himself, touching his meagre funds. Three thousand dagols would get him food for another week, even if he splurged a bit. Any money he made fighting on the way would pay for his laundry bills and travelling supplies. He needed this job.
Jack glanced up and smiled at Bruce, the Vancoor medic. "Hiya, Bruce. I thought you'd be in the infirmary right now."
Bruce held up a box of herb extracts. "Had to run over to Blade Pharmacy for some more supplies."
Jack nodded in understanding – lower-ranked Vancoor members had been coming back from Black Town with mysterious wounds of late. Most of the upper members – the sergeants, like Jack, and Deputy Chief Gerald – were all of the thought that Void was striking out. Jack, himself, had been down in Club Vampire pretty often of late at night and he'd been left alone, but maybe Void was thinking it was better not to try their luck with the upper echelon, either because they were worried about being able to beat them, or they were nervous of the possible back-lash of knocking one of them out.
Bruce shifted the box in his arms and said, "Nick was asking after you last night. Says he hasn't seen you around in a while. I know you've been in town..."
Jack shrugged. "Um, I sort of... I fought with a friend from Vareth. Didn't want to chance running into him."
Bruce eyed him suspiciously. "So you avoid everything west of your own house?"
Jack winced; he'd been avoiding everything west of Vancoor, actually, unless it was late enough that all but Void was asleep. He was on good terms with Barbena, who ran the Swords and Silver Coin Inn, and after telling her he was fighting with his roommate and didn't have a place to stay, she let him set up camp there, for free, as long as he did his own laundry once a week and helped her carry her groceries home every other night.
Bruce shook his head, reading Jack's expression like an open book. "Get over it," he suggested a bit harshly. "You've got a job to do on that side of town, and things with Void are only going to get worse unless something it done."
Jack nodded and kicked at the ground. "Yeah, I know."
Bruce shuffled the box and reached out to ruffle Jack's hair, even though the boy was as tall as him. "I don't know what your fight was about, Jack, but you can't let it ruin your life. And it will, if you keep up like this. The only way to fix these things is to talk them through."
Jack smiled. "Thanks, Bruce."
"Sure thing, kid. Now, go do your job!" Then he turned and walked into the front door of Vancoor.
Jack laughed quietly to himself and turned his feet towards Vareth. "Talk things through, huh? How do you talk to a centuries-old dragon who told you he'd just up and leave from your life one day?" he muttered to himself, then kicked a loose rock. "He won't even care when I die."
Unbidden, Harry's face when he'd told Jack that Nogueira died popped into his head. Harry had looked so sad, like a family member had died, and not just a friend.
"He chose the dark elves," Jack muttered angrily to the memory. "They're family to him now."
But Lord Nogueira was a light elf, an obnoxious voice that sounded like his sister reminded him.
"A light elf who lived with dark elves." Jack sighed and stopped, leaning back against the nearest wall. A glance around showed he was outside Morfinn's pharmacy and Jack took a moment to weigh his options. He could continue through White Town, which would require him to go by the abandoned house Harry was staying at, or he could go up, past the shrine, and down through Blue Town. Going through White Town was just the littlest bit faster, but since he was already dragging his feet, that didn't really matter all that much.
He turned and headed for the shrine. He pulled out his pocket watch and smiled to himself; Nick and the other children would be having their class in the courtyard right now. That should cheer Nick up a bit, and he did miss the little brat.
Jack was waylaid for a bit by a pile of children who all wanted to talk to him at once. Between him, Miranda and Eugene, who'd been outside, napping, they were able to get the kids to calm down and focus on Miranda again. When Jack started again towards Vareth, Eugene fell in beside him.
"What's up?" Jack asked.
Eugene handed over a slip of paper. "Iris told me to pass that on. She's been waiting around for you for a couple of days now. You better hope she's still willing to talk to you."
Jack winced and pocketed the paper after glancing at it to see a time and place. "Crap. Thanks, Eugene."
Eugene nodded, then flipped his hand in a wave and made his way back towards one of the benches.
Jack sighed. Iris was not a patient woman, and he didn't have the money to waste on buying her information after making her wait however many days. He glanced at the time again and sighed. Two hours before he needed to make his way into the Beast Pit. Hopefully he could find this information on the goblin cemetery quickly. And, hopefully, Iris' price wouldn't be too high.
That was the problem with informants from Void – you either had to blackmail them, or pay them. (Although, to be fair, he was sort of blackmailing Eugene, and he had enough dirt on Dwight that the bishop would probably lick his boots to keep him silent.) "No wonder the chief has me looking into Void," he muttered as Vareth came into sight, "I'm practically one of them already."
He hurried through Vareth with purpose and no one bothered him, although that could have been more because he hadn't been around in a week, as opposed to him just looking busy.
The library was practically empty, other than the librarian, Leann. He was slightly surprised that Harry wasn't around, but he shook it off and asked Leann about a book on goblins. She pointed him towards the second floor in the back and it only took him a few minutes to find the book he needed. Once he had the password, 'Sesame seeds,' he made for the door. Just as he reached it, he paused, then turned back. "Leann?"
"Has Harry been around?"
Leann blinked once, slowly, then shook her head. "He hasn't been by for almost a week. Rumour has it that a dark elf visited for him, so it could be he's left the city."
"No problem," Leann replied, then returned to her book.
Jack started down the stairs outside the library, frowning. So Harry was gone. Jack had been avoiding Vareth for nothing. He took a deep breath. Maybe Harry was gone for good. As long as Jack avoided the dark elves, they'd never see each other again. "It's for the best," he told himself.
But, then, why did his chest ache so?
"I'm half expecting you to start pulling your hair out, the way you've been moping about," a voice commented from above where Harry was sitting against a tree.
Harry glanced up and tried a smile, but it fell flat. "Gil. What are you doing on this side of Wind Valley?"
"Trying to knock some common sense into Franz," Gil replied, settling on the ground in a sitting position.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I wish you much luck."
"I need more than luck to teach that fool child," the light elf assassin commented fondly.
Harry snorted. "At least he sort of listens to you. Did you hear what happened a couple days ago when Chatt dared to tell him his kick was too low for a normal opponent?"
"Please tell me he kicked that moron where it hurts."
Harry snorted again. "Twice, and then once upside the head when Chatt leaned over to protect himself. Mind, Franz landed on his arse from losing his balance..."
Gil chuckled. "He is awkward, but he has a natural sense of fighting, even if he needs to work a bit on fine-tuning his movements."
Harry shook his head. "I'll take your word for it. Physical fighting is just not my cup of tea." He glanced away as thoughts of physical fighting invariably brought him back to Jack. He'd thought it would be easier if he and the human boy parted ways before he got too attached.
Gil considered him for a long moment, then said, "What happened, Harry? You're not wandering the forest because of Lord Nogueira's death, nor are you moping because Lord Zane threw you off a cliff. Honestly, after I found out what he did, I half expected you to come barging into the City of Flowers and take him over your knee like you used to do to us when we were still kids."
Harry smiled. "You all were so cute as children. Now you're all taller than me and little terrors."
Gil grinned, unrepentant. He and Zane in particular had driven Harry batty as children. Once they grew up a bit, Zane decided to hate Harry for always being the one to lay down the law when he was visiting with the light elves, but Gil had understood that they'd needed to be punished for a number of the things they'd gotten away with, and Harry had never been one to shy away from it like the elder at the time was, after their parents died in the war.
"Don't think I didn't consider coming by and telling him off," Harry said. "But I know I was at least partially to blame. Though, really, throwing me into a chasm?"
Gil snorted. "Let it not be said that Lord Zane does things halfway."
"More like he takes it to extremes. I've said it before and I'll say it again: He's damn lucky I'm no normal human or I'd have died a dozen times over by now." Harry shook his head as Gil laughed. "Yeah, you laugh now. I'd like to see you survive a drop into a chasm. Without your wings."
Gil shuddered and flexed his wings. "No, thank you. I'll happily continue to leave all narrow escapes to you."
Harry chuckled a bit and leaned his head back against the tree behind him. "I don't know if you've heard, but I met Cairn's son in Radiata."
Gil let out a sharp breath. "Cairn's son? I don't... I remember he had a daughter, Cepheid knows he wouldn't shut up about her, but a son?"
"I think he was born either shortly before or shortly after Cairn died," Harry replied. "Jack. He was part of the group who tried to talk trade with the elves."
Gil shook his head. "If Lord Zane had known who came asking–"
"Gawain's son was also in the group."
"But I don't think Zane would have changed his mind, even had he known. For one, Genius was with them. For another, they weren't there to be friends, but to be humans."
Gil sighed and shook his head again. "I wish Lord Zane would get off that. It's only worse since Lord Nogueira died, you know. He's blaming the human girl that was saved."
Harry blinked. "Why is he...? No, never mind." He closed his eyes and knocked his head back against the tree. "Where did I go wrong with that boy?"
Gil chuckled. "So, Cairn's son. And Gawain's son. What was his name? Grand? Garfield?"
"Ganz," Harry offered. "Ganz Rothschild and Jack Russell."
Gil let out a vaguely sad sound. "I'd love to meet them. Their fathers were so..." He trailed off when he saw the sorrowful expression on Harry's face. "Cairn's son, Jack. What happened?"
Harry shrugged. "He found out I'm not a normal human. He's been having a bit of a hard time of it lately, with being split up from friends, and I sort of promised I wouldn't be far away. And then he found out I'd eventually leave when it became obvious I wouldn't age..."
"You swore you'd never tell a human," Gil said, shocked. "You swore..."
"Parsec visited. Some things were said. Jack found out." Harry shrugged again.
Gil shook his head. "So, what? You just up and left when he couldn't handle it? That's not like you, Harry."
"Shove it," Harry snapped, drawing his knees to his chest and hunching over them. "He left first. Clarence came to give me the all clear, so I came back. I had some potions to make and there was nothing to read there and–"
"You ran," Gil said, shocked. "You ran away."
"I didn't run!"
"You could have gone to talk to him."
"I–" Harry clenched his hands angrily. "The ball's in his court! He knows where to find me."
Gil shook his head. "You actually ra–"
Harry snapped his wand out and shoved it in Gil's face. "Enough."
Gil's mouth snapped shut and he eyed the wand warily. "Sorry," he whispered. He was perfectly aware of the amount of damage Harry could do with that stick. He wasn't willing to tempt fate just to be shocked by Harry doing something so completely against everything Gil knew about the man...
Harry glared at him for a moment, then shoved his wand back away. "Tell me how things are going in the City of Flowers."
Gil swallowed and proceeded to do so.
Harry was just about to step onto the path from the short cut he'd taken when he heard voices ahead.
"Hey, how much further do we have to go?" asked a young woman's voice.
"Almost there," replied that of a male.
Harry poked his head around a tree and blinked in surprise at the duo headed off the path towards where the cocoons of lights elves infected with algandars lay. One was Genius, which didn't really surprise him, but the other, judging from her hair, was Ridley, and that did surprise him. What was the young woman doing out here?
Since they were clearly headed in the same direction, Harry cast silencing and invisibility spells on himself, wanting to know what they were up to. Visiting Nogueira could wait an extra ten minutes or so.
When the two humans stopped just shy of the clearing, Ridley asked, "Genius, why did you bring me here?"
Genius shushed her and pointed her towards the cocoon where Nogueira was entombed. After a moment, Zane stepped out of the forest from another direction and walked up to the cocoon.
"Who is that?" Ridley whispered.
"It's Zane, leader of the light elves," Genius supplied.
"Of course. He looks just like Lord Nogueira."
Genius looked pained. "There's something I have to tell you... Something terrible... Lord Nogueira...is dead."
Ridley jerked backwards in surprise. "He can't be!"
"He's been entombed here. That cocoon you see holds Lord Nogueira's dead body," the mage explained.
Harry raised an eyebrow. He wasn't sure if he was more surprised that Genius knew all this, or that he was actually showing sorrow for the loss of Nogueira.
"Where are we?" Ridley whispered, sounding shaky.
"This is the graveyard of the elves. It's a place in which the fates of elves and humans are deeply entwined."
"The graveyard...of the elves?"
Zane spoke then, looking up at what was left of Nogueira. "Like the elf king of old, my brother lies dead. But why? That ancient king brought the human female and child to that benighted castle, and there the dark elves were born, along with algandars. For the first time, that terrible disease exposed the immortal elves to death. No one was immune. Even the king himself fell victim to it. It infected and killed him."
Zane paused in his monologue, clenching a fist, then practically shouted, "Now it returns to claim my own flesh and blood! When our bodies decay and fall away because of disease or age, elves do not die. The transpiritation lets our spirits fly to different bodies, where they can mingle with other souls. But, the cursed algandars shuts our souls deep, deep within these cocoons. My brother! Why did you perform the transpiritation on that human girl!? To break the natural laws that separate elf and human... Algandars was your inevitable reward. Brother! Why in the world did you bring this fate upon yourself!?"
Ridley looked shocked and hurt as she whispered, "Was this...because of me?"
Harry frowned, then moved quickly around the two humans even as Zane started again.
"Human filth! How much will you make us suffer before you are satisfied? Will you take and destr–"
"That's enough," Harry ordered, stepping into the clearing. "Nogueira's death was no fault of Ridley's, Zane, as you well know."
"He'd still be alive if it weren't for that harlot!" Zane snapped, turning on him.
"For another month, perhaps. I've told you before, there's no way to stop algandars. Once you're infected, that's it. He'd already been sick for months, it was his time."
"It wasn't! He was still needed!"
"Now you're just acting like a child. Must I take you over my knee like one?"
Zane lashed out with a cutting wind spell, which Harry casually directed off into the woods, away from the two humans hiding in the underbrush. "You would mock me again? Need I remind you that you're on my land?"
Harry scoffed. "The air is your land, you fool child. This ground is for those who don't have wings."
"You'd give it to the humans, then? Those same humans that killed my brother?"
"Magic killed your brother," Harry snapped. "And don't act like light elves are the only ones suffering for the mistakes of the past! Dark elves disappearing in the woods without a trace, dwarves turning to stone before their eyes, humans going mad and killing everyone around them before they kill themselves. As ever, you ignore the sorrows of other races to dwell on the pain of your own. How very human."
Zane's eyes flashed and he unleashed a torrent of wind and light towards Harry. Harry shoved forth a great deal of energy towards protecting the two humans he could still sense in the trees behind him, leaving himself open to the attack.
When it was over, he ached something fierce and felt blood dribbling from numerous wounds, but he still darted forward and shoved his wand in Zane's throat, eyes blazing with a green fury. "If you ever attack me like that again, Zane, I will tear out your intestines and choke you with them. Do you understand?"
Zane swallowed and jerked backwards and up. After staring for a moment in shock and not a little fear, he flew away.
Harry carefully put his wand away, then turned towards the forest. "Are you two still alive back there?"
Wide-eyed, Ridley and Genius stepped out. They both sported a few minor cuts, but were otherwise just fine. "How did you–?" Genius asked.
Harry waved him off, wincing, then pulled out his pouch and sorted through it for some pain potions. "I saw you on the road. Followed you." He choked a potion back and breathed out a breath of relief as his pain dissipated. He pulled out two more potions and waved them over to Ridley and Genius. "Drink them."
Genius immediately knocked his back, but Ridley stared at Harry. "How did you survive?"
"I will force that down your throat, nobility or no," Harry replied, turning his magic to his ruined tunic. "Dammit, Zane."
Ridley drank the potion, gasping at the slight burn it left, then demanded, "How did you survive?"
Harry rose an eyebrow at her. "Magic," he deadpanned, shaking out his tunic. It was mostly fixed, but there were some places where too much fabric was missing for him to properly be able to fix it. He'd have to trash it when he got back to the Forest Metropolis, unless he wanted to brave the City of Flowers and ask about a new shirt.
On the other hand, that could be a lot of fun.
"What do you know about algandars?" Genius asked. "I've heard it mentioned before, usually in passing in a book, but..."
"The books by Master Potter?" Harry inquired. He was the only author in the Vareth library who'd ever mentioned the name algandars in reference to the disease, so far as he knew, and since he'd read most of the the books in that library...
Genius nodded. "Yes. He's... a curious fellow. I take it you've read him?"
Harry chuckled. "Rather. Most of my findings are based on his research, mind you, so you probably know everything I might tell you."
"Then tell me," Ridley said, stepping forward and looking determined. "Is it true that Lord Nogueira didn't die because of me?"
"Lord Nogueira was sick long before your party came to the Forest Metropolis," Harry assured her, carefully sitting on the ground and leaning back against Nogueira's cocoon. At their horrified looks, he said, "He won't mind, he's dead."
"Let the dead rest in peace," Ridley complained.
Harry shrugged, not bothered enough to walk over to a tree and wanting something against his back. "Algandars is named after the castle it was first seen in, Algandars Castle, in the Ocho region. This was back in the days when elves controlled most of Tottaus, so Algandars was ruled by an elven king. The king at the time saw, one day, a beautiful human woman and fell in love with her on sight. He had her and her son brought to the castle and fed them, had them cleaned up and so forth. Eventually, the human woman fell in love with the elven king and they lay together and had children. These children became what are now known as the dark elves.
"Something about that melding of races caused an imbalance in the world; more specifically, it caused an imbalance in the magic that controls all living things in Tottaus. The sudden imbalance caused a backlash, which infected those in the castle with a horrible disease, a disease that struck every race differently. In the light elves, it pained them every time they used magic and ate at their life force, eventually killing them and forming a hard cocoon around them, trapping their spirit inside.
"In humans, it took the form of a three-part illness; first, the person gains unimaginable strength; then, they start going mad, trying to kill everyone around them; last, they turn on themselves, wracked with self hatred for the horrors they may or may not have committed, and they kill themselves with whatever is handy." Harry eyed the two humans; both were pale and had taken seats on the ground across from him to listen. "In dwarves, the illness slowly turns them to stone, which can take anywhere from a week to a year."
"A year?" Ridley whispered.
Harry nodded grimly. "I'm told it is excruciating. They usually prefer to commit suicide, rather than sit the process through. The other affected race was the dark elves. None of us are quite certain how the disease affected them, as they simply disappear one day, with no trace of them. They disappear away from anyone else, and the only warning sign is a gradual withdrawal from others.
"When the king of Algandars Castle, all those centuries ago, realised that everyone was falling deathly ill, he sealed the castle and layered magic over it to warn people away. Those elves that survived moved as far from the castle as they could and settled around Wind Valley. With so few elves left, the humans took control of what was left of the broken kingdom and built Radiata, becoming the new power in Tottaus. Because the light elves used to rule, and because it was the addition of human blood to the royal line that caused so many deaths, the light elves have forever been butting heads with the humans."
"So it is the fault of us humans," Ridley decided.
"Not...necessarily," Genius replied, frowning. "The king was the one who fell in love first, right?"
"That is correct," Harry said, though Genius hadn't really been looking for an answer.
Genius nodded to him anyway, then looked back at Ridley. "If the king was the one who brought her into his home for love, it was his fault."
"You don't choose who you love," Ridley retorted. "That's like saying it was the woman's fault for being attractive."
"So we are blaming the human."
"No, that's not what I–! Argh!"
Harry chuckled. "I have always placed the blame on both races, equally. There were a number of factors involved, but both parties made unwise choices, and those choices led to where we are now, with algandars rampaging through what's left of the elves and Radiata, taking lives indiscriminately."
"Isn't there a cure for it?" Ridley asked. "There must be."
"It's not a physical illness, despite all the signs that point to that," Harry replied, shaking his head. "It's magical, and since it affects the humans just as much as the elves, it's in the magic of the planet, not the magic of the user."
Ridley shook her head, confusion creasing her brow. "I don't understand."
"The planet is full of magic," Genius offered, tapping the ground. "It helps things to grow, provides us with clean water and regulates the weather. Humans tap into that magic, which is what allows us to cast spells. The elves, though...their magic is innate, it's a part of them. They don't have to tap the planet to cast spells, which makes them all the more deadly in combat."
"You really have read Master Potter," Harry commented. "I'm impressed."
Genius sniffed. "I read his books, then I went out to verify everything myself. All of my findings agreed with his."
Harry smiled. "You're beginning to grow on me, Genius."
Genius sniffed again.
Ridley coughed. "There's no cure?" she asked.
"Not unless you have a way to heal the magic of the whole planet," Harry replied grimly. "The elves have been working on that for centuries without any luck."
Ridley bit her lip and nodded, looking like the world had just come crashing down around her. Next to her, Genius closed his eyes, having long ago reached a conclusion very much like that.
Harry considered them for a moment, then said, "The only way I can think of to heal the planet is an event that will be occurring sometime within the next few years. I can't say much about it, as I don't know much, but I can say this: If anything could heal the damage, it's this event."
"What is it?" Genius asked, eyes brightening.
"An awakening," Harry offered cryptically, "and a sleeping. The changing of brothers."
"Do you know what it will be? When?" Ridley pleaded. "Give us some idea?"
"I know what it is, to a point," Harry offered, "but I can't tell you when, as there's no set moment. Events must conspire just right for everything to work out, and I'm uncertain about the details. The last time this event occurred was almost five hundred years ago. Not something any of us were alive for, and it was before any writings we might have. Any history of it is lost to us."
"But there's a chance this will fix things?" Ridley needed to know.
Harry nodded. "A chance, yes."
A faint smile pulled at the girl's lips and some tension left her. "So there's hope."
"Oh, there's always hope," Harry replied, then groaned as he pulled himself to his feet, leaning ever so slightly against Nogueira's cocoon as a dizzy spell came over him. Once it passed, he dug through his pouch for one of the last blood replenishing potions he had from his old world – he'd yet to find materials that would be suitable replacements for the things he couldn't get in this world. He knocked it back and closed his eyes, letting it help him.
"Are you okay?" Ridley asked, getting to her own feet and stepping over to him.
Harry smiled and tucked the empty vial away. "Fantastic," he assured her, then considered his tunic. "Well, okay. Maybe not fantastic, but I will be, just as soon as I get a new shirt."
Ridley smiled in relief, then paused and frowned at him. "I don't even know your name, and yet... I feel as though I've known you my whole life."
Harry eyed her curiously, then shrugged. "Your soul was merged with that of the light elf, Hap's. I've known her a long time." He offered her uncertain expression a smile. "Don't think on it, Lady Ridley. The world is a strange, convoluted place."
"His name is Harry," Genius offered, coming over to stand with them. "He's the one who killed the blood orc."
Ridley looked startled for a moment, then looked Harry over with respect gleaming in her green eyes. "You must be strong. I mean, I know you can go head-to-head with Lord Zane, but..." She coughed. "Sorry. Um, is there a last name with that?"
Harry rose an eyebrow at her. "Not for a very many years now," he replied. "Elves have no use for last names, so I gave mine up."
"I'm simply Harry, your Ladyship," Harry replied with a bit of mischief.
Ridley flushed, then made an aborted movement with her hand. She stared at it for a moment in shock, then let it drop to her side. "We should be getting back to Radiata," she told Genius.
"I'll walk with you to the pig," Harry offered, pushing off from the cocoon.
"Yes, of course."
Just before they exited the clearing, Harry glanced back at the cocoon that had once been Nogueira. "Rest easy, child," he whispered, then hurried after the two humans.
As the entrance to the City of Flowers came into sight, Genius wondered, "What did you say to Lord Zane? He looked almost...terrified."
"Wondering if you can use it to get into the City of Flowers?" Harry replied.
Genius shrugged. "It might work."
Harry smiled and shook his head. "It would only work if you intended to follow through."
"What was it, then?" Ridley asked.
Harry eyed her, then said, "A bit too violent, I think, for this pleasant weather."
Ridley frowned at him. "Violent? Why would you threaten violence? I thought you were friends with the elves."
"Some of them," Harry agreed. "But this is the second time in the past week that Zane's almost killed me when he's lost his temper. I'm quite done with him."
"Almost killed you?" Ridley looked shocked. "But... why?"
Harry smiled and nodded to the pig just ahead of them. "Safe trip, Lady Ridley, Master Genius." Then he turned and started back towards the City of Flowers. He needed a new shirt, and he and Zane should probably sit down and actually talk, without human ears about, this time.
"But what did you threaten him with?" Genius called.
Harry glanced back, still smiling and said, "I told him that if he attacked me again, I'd choke him with his own intestines," he offered, then continued on up to the waterfall. Shin and Fan were floating there, looking vaguely green. "Move."
"And let you curse Lord Zane?" Shin snapped.
Harry raised an eyebrow at the light elf. "I have no intention of doing Zane any harm so long as he keeps his bloody attempts on my life to himself."
Shin crossed his arms. "You need the permission of an elven elder to get in, and Lord Zane doesn't want to see you."
"Might I remind you who helped raise Zane?" Harry replied. "I'm de facto elder for the dark elves right now, so move."
Fan moved to one side and said, "Shin, let him pass."
"I can make you move," Harry reminded him drily.
Shin jerked out of the way as quickly as he could.
Harry nodded and started up into the city. First, a shirt. Then he'd go talk with Zane.
I'm sure we can all guess how that talk's going to go. *snort*
So, I realised while taking a break from writing this chapter, that Harry might come across as a bit Gary-Stu-ish. Sorry if that offended anyone. I didn't intend for that to happen, and it bothers me a bit, but I haven't the energy to re-write it.
Chapter 6: Chapter Five: It Was Meant To Be
Scenes taken from the game, edited to include Harry. Blah. XD
Jack groaned when he woke to someone pounding at his door. He'd spent yesterday getting his arse handed to him, first by a giant octopus, then by a band of bandits, and all he had to show for it was a pretty red stone. What was he supposed to do with a pretty red stone, anyway? Give it to some girl he thought looked pretty? "Change his destiny?" Pah.
The knocking continued and Jack reluctantly climbed out of bed. Upon opening the door, he thought there was no one there for a moment before looking down. There stood a somewhat familiar dwarf, who looked like he'd been shoved in the mud and beat up. "Hey, you're Donovitch, right? What are you doing here? Wait! Forget that! What happened to you? You're a mess!"
"If you're so surprised to see me like this, then I suppose you haven't heard yet," Donovitch replied
"Heard what? What do you mean?"
"What am I talking about? Your royal knights have invaded Earth Valley."
Jack blinked in surprise. The knights invaded Earth Valley? No...
"I barely escaped with my life."
"What? No! I don't believe it! The knights wouldn't do that! I mean, take the captain...he always said that dwarves were our friends," Jack reasoned.
Donovitch scoffed. "Friends? I think not, young man. Slaves perhaps, but not friends. You humans cannot see anything beyond your own personal profit and gain. Humans used to be content to control our lives from afar... But now we are shackled like slaves, and humans make us work the mines day and night. Jack, we need your help, desperately. You have to stop the knights."
Jack shook his head to clear it. "Me?" he asked in surprise. If the dwarves really were being enslaved by humans, why would they trust him? Maybe they understood that not all humans were bad? Or it was a joke. Dwarves could joke, right? "Of course I'll help! I'll do whatever I can!" he insisted.
"Thank you, young friend. We should leave as soon as possible."
Jack grabbed his travel sack and sword from next to the door and stepped outside, the door falling shut behind him. "Hey, I'm ready. Let's go."
Donovitch nodded and led the way out of the city and through the Heliforde Gate to the Dova region. Once on the open road, Jack fell in step with Donovitch, jumping forward to meet any attacking creatures before they could get to the tired dwarf. Donovitch seemed to appreciate the effort, though he didn't say anything.
They were nearing the valley when Jack wondered, aloud, about how Donovitch had gotten out. The dwarf explained that the other dwarves had helped him, in hopes that he'd find Gawain to help, but Gawain had been unavailable, so he'd come to see Jack, in hopes that the young, one-time knight would be able to help.
Upon reaching the cliff, they stopped and looked down at the entrance where a man Jack knew well stood guard. "Hey, I know him. That's Leonard! I guess the knights really are here," Jack realised with a sinking feeling in his stomach. If Donovitch had been right about the knights being in Earth Valley, did that mean he was right about them enslaving the dwarves too?
"Now do you believe me?" Donovitch wanted to know, looking down on his home sadly. "We need to find a way to get inside."
"Hey, hey! Let's take it slowly, okay?"
Donovitch glared at him. "Open your eyes, Jack. You haven't seen anything yet. You haven't seen how we're enslaved and coerced. Are you afraid of seeing the truth?"
'Yes,' Jack's mind supplied, but all he said was, "Shh, calm down, okay? He'll hear us."
"Calm down!? You want me to be calm? While my friends are turned into slaves? What is wrong with you? Are you a coward?"
"It's not that. I just want to check things out first, you know?" Jack tried.
Donovitch turned his back on him and shook his fist. "No! If you won't do it, then I'm going to break that gate down myself!" He started to walk down the path.
Jack reached out and grabbed a hunk of hair and hoped he wouldn't hurt the dwarf too much. "Hey, hold your horses!"
Donovitch struggled against Jack for a bit before stopping to stare down at the valley, where a dwarf was walking towards the gate "Hmm? What's this?"
"What?" Jack shook his head. "Check it out. Looks like there was another dwarf who managed to escape," he said as Leonard ran forward to meet the dwarf.
"Another dwarf? I don't know him."
Jack turned to look at Donovitch in surprise. "Huh?"
"I've never seen him before in my life."
All dwarves know each other? Jack wondered. They watched as the lone dwarf casually knocked away first Leonard, then the many guards who filed out of Earth Valley.
"Whoa! Ouch! Wow!" Jack exclaimed as men were knocked to either side. "That dwarf knows how to kick butt!"
"Yes...could it be? Could he be the one? Is he the saviour of the dwarves?"
Jack turned to look at Donovitch in surprise. "Saviour?" he whispered, looking back down at the scene unfolding beneath them. "The Earth Dragon?"
Donovitch stared at Jack. "What do you know of the dragons?"
Jack swallowed. "Only what I've heard from the Fire Dragon, Parsec," he admitted. "Six dragons, one each to protect the fairy creatures and two to watch the humans. The Water Dragon is dead. The Earth Dragon protects the dwarves."
Donovitch looked back down into the valley. "Impressive," he allowed.
Jack just nodded. So that was Baade?
Back down in the valley, General Dynas and Cross ran out of Earth Valley, only to stop in shock at the mess of their men, while Baade finished knocking the last couple out. There was a brief argument, then Baade was surrounded by light and shifted into the form of a dragon.
"Whoa..." Jack whispered, eyes bright in excitement.
They could just hear Baade shout, "I've had enough of you human filth! I'm going to grind you down to dust!"
Jack grinned. "Get 'em!" he said quietly, much to the amusement of Donovitch.
"You'd best hope he doesn't lump you in with them," the dwarf commented drily.
Jack deflated a bit. "Uh, yeah. You'll vouch for me, right?"
Donovitch let out a rasping laugh in answer.
Down in the valley, more men from inside Earth Valley were running at Baade, but the Earth Dragon was casually flinging them all away. General Dynas eventually stepped forward and hit Baade around the face a couple of times, only for Baade to swing his tail around and send the human flying.
Cross was the only person left and Jack grinned in anticipation as Baade knocked the asshole away. But, just as Cross fainted, a light shone from somewhere inside his armour and Baade reared back, in pain.
"No!" he shouted. "T-The orb!?"
Then he turned to stone and crumbled to dust.
Jack and Donovitch stared on in silent horror as those guards who could, got up to tend to the wounded and see to the dead.
"What... What just happened?" Jack whispered.
"He's been killed," Donovitch replied.
Jack shook his head. "Cross had something..." He swallowed. "We have to let the other dragons know. They'll be in danger!"
Donovitch nodded. "That will be your charge, Jack, and I wish you luck. My place is with my people."
"But... But you can't go back. It's too dangerous down there!"
"My place is with my people," Donovitch repeated. "If their fate is death, it is a fate I will share." He turned and started down the path.
Jack watched him go, feeling so hurt and tired. So helpless.
He stayed there until Donovitch had been dragged, unresisting, back into Earth Valley, then stood and started back for Radiata. Humans were capable of such cruelty.
By the time Jack got back to the city, it was getting late, so he wandered back home and crawled into his bed, feeling sick. He needed to find some way to warn the other dragons about the danger. There was no way to warn Aphelion, but if he went to the Forest Metropolis, he could make sure Harry told Parsec and the Wind Dragon. He could make sure Harry knew to be careful.
Harry... Would the mage have been so helpless on that cliff-top? Jack thought Harry probably would have run down, blasting spells to protect Baade's back. To keep whatever Cross had from ever activating. Harry wouldn't have been stuck up there, too terrified to go into Earth Valley and see what the humans were doing. Harry...
Jack buried his face in his pillow. "I miss him," he whispered to the cotton. "Please, Harry. Please be okay..."
Jack was again awoken by a pounding on his door. This time, it was a guard from the castle to tell him that Lord Larks requested his presence that evening. Jack was left wondering what Lord Larks could want with him after all this time. After spending ten minutes thinking about it, Jack shrugged and grabbed his things. He needed to make a trip to the Forest Metropolis.
Harry wasn't in when he got there, as Mikey at the front door told him when he asked. Apparently, Harry had left early that morning with none the wiser.
"Well, do you know when he'll be back?" Jack pleaded. "I have a message for him."
"You can leave it with me," Mikey replied, shrugging.
"It's really important. Please, when is he supposed to be back?"
Mikey shrugged again. "Don't know. He looked really bad yesterday and went to bed early. He was gone this morning before anyone got up."
Jack rubbed at his face. "The Earth Dragon was killed yesterday."
"What!" Mikey jumped up from the rock he'd been sitting on since Jack arrived. "What happened? It was humans, wasn't it? It's always humans."
Jack sighed. "Yeah. The knights took control of Earth Valley and are forcing the dwarves to mine for them at all hours. Baade came to stop them, but he was killed in the fight."
Mikey narrowed his eyes. "You're a human," he realised. "A knight."
"I haven't been a knight for weeks," Jack retorted. "I got kicked out. I was only there because one of the dwarves asked for my help."
"Yeah, okay," Mikey replied, still suspicious. "So, was that your message? That Baade is dead?"
Jack shook his head. "One of the knights, Cross, when he got knocked out, something started shining from inside his armour. The light struck Baade and that's what killed him. He said something about an orb before he crumbled to dust. Harry needs to pass on the warning to Parsec and Cepheid that the humans have a stone that could kill them."
Mikey blinked in surprise, then inclined his head. "Cepheid is in the Wind Valley, just east of here; he arrived last night. I'll send someone to let him know. And Clarence knows Parsec, he can go down to Fire Mountain and warn him. Is that acceptable? Because I really don't know when Harry'll be back."
Jack swallowed and nodded. "Yeah, sure. But, when you see Harry, could you let him know anyway? It might be important."
Mikey looked confused, but nodded. "Sure. I'll tell him as soon as he gets back."
Jack breathed out in relief. "Thanks."
"Yeah, sure thing. And, um, hey... I'm sorry I doubted you. Harry doesn't usually befriend bad humans."
Jack smiled sadly. "I understand. I'm not too sure about my race right now, myself," he admitted, then turned and hurried back to the pig statue. If he was going to have a meeting with Lord Larks that evening, he needed to do laundry.
When Harry got home that night, he still felt unwell, but the magic of the planet was finally settling again and it wasn't straining him any more. The fact that he had felt Baade's death, even though none of the dark elves had, told him more than anything that he was something more, so he'd gone out that morning and found a clearing to work on finding his dragon form. It had taken a while, but he'd managed, finally, an hour ago.
From what he'd been able to see of himself, he looked rather like the Hungarian Horntail he'd once faced as a teen. It hadn't surprised him, really, since the Horntail was known to have a violent temper and was deadly in combat. Compared to the other mages of this world – and even the elves – Harry was probably the most dangerous foe one could face, assuming he had a reason. After all, no one else in this world could cast the Killing Curse at will, and that had no defence.
Mikey was dozing on his usual rock and Harry smiled at him fondly. The young elf loved it when Harry sat down with him and told him stories from Harry's home world, saying they were the best stories he'd ever heard. It was always nice to talk about where he'd come from, especially if the person listening enjoyed it as much as Mikey did.
He stopped next to the boy and touched his shoulder. "Mikey. Come on, kiddo. Time to go inside."
Mikey sleepily opened his eyes and blinked up at Harry. It took him a moment to place the smiling face and remember what he needed to tell him, but he eventually jumped to his feet and said, "I have a very important message for you!"
Harry blinked, startled. "Okay. Go on, then."
"The Earth Dragon, Baade, was killed yesterday by the knights, who have taken over Earth Valley," he reported. "Jack says Baade was killed by an orb one of the knights had on his person. Clarence and Martinez have already gone to warn Cepheid and Parsec about the danger, but Jack insisted I tell you, too."
Harry stared for a long moment. Once everything had sunken in, he whispered, "Jack was here?"
Mikey blinked. "Oh, yeah. He wanted to tell you himself, I think, but you were gone, so..." He shrugged. "He went back to Radiata, though."
Harry sighed. It was probably for the best. "Thanks, Mikey. Martinez is okay, though? Cepheid doesn't like you guys, but I don't think he'd attack on sight..."
Mikey nodded. "Yeah, he's fine. But Cepheid still said he wasn't afraid to face down any humans, orbs or no orbs."
Harry shook his head. Cepheid was so very much like the light elves in his determination to punish all humans for their every wrong. Speaking of the light elves... "You said the humans have taken over Earth Valley?"
Mikey nodded sadly. "Yeah. Making them mine all the time without rest."
Harry grimaced. "The light elves aren't going to like that." He rubbed a hand down his face. "Okay. Go inside, get some sleep. I'm going to the City of Flowers."
"Why?" Mikey asked as Harry turned towards the pig statue.
"Damage control," Harry replied and let the pig whisk him away to the City of Flowers.
Fan and Shin met him at the entrance. "Where have you been?" Fan asked. "Have you heard about Baade?"
"Yes. I need to speak with Zane."
"Oh, um..." Shin shifted nervously when Harry turned to stare at him. "He's, um... He's busy. With a guest."
"A guest," Harry repeated drily.
Shin nodded. "Yeah, so you can't go in."
Harry casually pulled out his wand and twirled it. "Move," he said calmly.
Fan and Shin darted out of the way and watched as Harry stepped through the opening.
"He's going to kill Lord Zane, isn't he?" Shin asked.
Fan shook her head. "Lord Zane should have known better," she responded. "He knew Harry would be by as soon as he heard about Baade, and he still took a human prisoner."
Harry made it to Zane's home in record time, only to find his way blocked by a few of the light elves, all of whom watched him nervously. "Move," he ordered.
Gil glided forward. "Promise you won't act in violence."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "What have you lot done this time?"
"Promise," Gil insisted.
Harry considered the light elf for a moment, then nodded. "I promise not to curse anyone, but I reserve the right to yell. And maybe punch Zane. Is that acceptable?"
Gil sighed and nodded, then moved out of the way. The elves behind him reluctantly followed his lead, then darted around Lord Zane's home to watch the drama unfold through the windows.
Harry stepped into Zane's home and paused when he saw Ridley in one corner with an angry light elf hovering over her. Ridley looked startled to see him, but Zane looked like he might just piss himself as Harry turned angry eyes on the elf leader. "Start talking," he said ever so quietly.
Zane immediately explained how Ridley and Jack had come to them and, when Zane had threatened to kill Ridley, Jack had promised to take Fort Helencia for the elves in return for Ridley's life.
Harry remained silent for the explanation. When Zane had fallen silent, he asked, "You sent a sixteen-year-old human to take a fully armed human fort by himself?"
Zane shrugged. "He offered."
Harry nodded. "If, say, Pitt, said he'd go and take on an entire human fort alone, would you let him?"
Zane shook his head. "I'd send others with him."
Harry nodded again, then looked at the faces peering in the windows. "I need volunteers who will go with me to help Jack." In the corner, Ridley breathed a sigh of relief, reminding Harry she was there. "Oh, and let the girl go, would you? Give her something to drink and eat."
The guard over her looked at Lord Zane. "Sir?"
"Do as he says," Zane said, eyeing Harry like he might explode. Harry's return smile reminded him of a hungry smilodon.
"I will go with you, Harry," Gil said suddenly, stepping through the doorway. At Zane's surprised look, he added, "I owe the son of Cairn that much."
"That boy is Cairn's son?" Zane whispered even as the other light elves outside all clamoured to come with Harry.
Harry rubbed at his forehead. "SILENCE!" he roared. Once everyone had fallen silent, he turned to Gil. "Pick those you believe would be capable of taking Helencia." Gil nodded and set about doing that while Harry turned back towards Zane. "I don't like this, for the record," he commented. "Taking Helencia will only escalate matters, but if I know humans, they won't need you escalating matters to turn this into a war."
"You're too peaceful," Zane retorted.
Harry shrugged. "I've seen too much war." He turned to where Gil was waiting with five other elves. "Ready? Good. Let's go."
"And how, exactly, do you plan to keep up with us?" one of the younger elves snapped.
Harry cocked an eyebrow at her. "Why thank you, Row, for volunteering to be my ride."
"I'd sooner drop you in a chasm," Row replied nastily.
"And he'll only survive and then kill you," Gil informed her tiredly. "Harry, I'll take you."
"Fantastic," Harry replied, then waved them out ahead of him. Before he stepped out of the house, he turned back to Zane. "If Lady Ridley is harmed or I find out she's been neglected while I'm gone, heads will roll. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Zane replied, looking almost cowed.
Harry smiled at the startled Ridley, then swept from the house.
Jack grinned as he came out the undisputed winner of the tough battle. Leonard was out cold and Natalie was glaring up at him from the ground, grumbling about having been beaten by a kid. "Ah-ha! So, who do you think's the toughest now?" He took a moment to pose, then snapped his fingers, eyes lighting up. "Oh, yeah! I've got to give my victory speech. I've been thinking about it for a while," he told her, as if in confidence.
"Wh-What are you talking about?"
Jack crossed his arms and looked down at her with his best menacing face. "I'll spare your life, but you have to do exactly as I say," he said in a deep voice.
Natalie looked confused. "Exactly as you say...?" she repeated, then turned bright red. "No! Not that!" She hugged herself protectively and started twisting around. "No! Stop! You horrible monster! You beast!"
Jack stared at her in shock for a moment before it sunk in what she thought he'd meant and he waved his hands at her. "Whoa, calm down! You've got it all wrong! I just want to see you grovel a bit..."
Natalie stopped her act. "Oh, I see... I just assumed..." She paused, realising what he'd said. "Hey, wait a minute! I'm not doing that either!"
"Yeah? Okay, fine, have it your way... But if you don't want to beg for your life..." He smiled at her.
"You wouldn't! Oh, you evil scoundrel! Sometimes my good looks are such a curse..."
"Well? I'm waiting."
"Oh, all right, all right." She held her hands in front of her as if in prayer and started bowing. "Oh, dear Master Jack, please don't kill me, please spare my life..."
Jack grinned, pleased, but wanted to see how far he could take it. "How about. 'Oh Lord Jack, most great and powerful warrior'? And try to put more effort into it."
Natalie growled angrily, but got down on her hands and knees, touching her nose to the floor. "I don't believe this! Oh Lord Jack, most great and powerful warrior, please spare my life!" she said.
"Naw, that's no good," Jack decided. "You've got to be cuter when you do it. Like, 'Oh, pretty, pretty please.' Try that."
Natalie sat up again and glared at him. "You're pushing your luck..."
"You know," said a voice from the doorway, "it's been my experience that people who stop and gloat over enemies that aren't dead usually end up very dead themselves when their opponents have had a moment to regroup."
Jack turned to stare at where a familiar mage was leaning against the door frame. "Harry?" he whispered.
Harry's lips twitched. "I'm sorry, Jack, but you're just not megalomaniac material." He pushed away from the door frame. "Now, come on. I brought some idiots with me who know how to take a fort."
"Who are you?" Natalie snapped, struggling to her feet.
Harry smiled at her as Jack joined him by the door. "Little old me? Oh, just someone passing through. I'm about to set a horde of light elves on your fort, though. You might want to run. Or at least batten the hatches."
"Do what?" Jack asked.
"Ah... Sorry, boating term." Harry shrugged. "Come on, you," he said, tugging Jack out of the room and down the hall.
Jack grinned. "I'm glad you're okay."
Harry chuckled. "Yes. Thank you for the warning. I'd rather like to get a look at this orb, but I suppose I really shouldn't be anywhere near it."
"That would probably be safest," Jack agreed as they walked past a couple of frozen guards and out the gate.
A line of light elves were waiting for them and a couple darted forward to meet them. "Are you really Sir Cairn's son?" one asked.
Jack blinked in surprise. "Er, yeah." He glanced up at Harry. "I thought you said the light elves were the ones who killed my dad."
Harry shrugged. "Just because he did something stupid and contracted algandars doesn't mean he wasn't liked by them. I liked Cairn, after all, but I still voted to send an assassin."
"Oh. Yeah..." Jack looked back at the light elves, all of whom were watching them silently. "Hi?"
Immediately, the elves all clamoured to shake his hand, excited, and Jack laughingly obliged them.
Gil floated up next to Harry. "You told him the truth?"
"He deserved to know," Harry replied with a shrug. "And Gawain deserves to have at least one human not hate him for a crime that wasn't his. That it is Cairn's own son seems only the more right."
Gil shook his head. "At least you're not avoiding each other any more."
"Look alive, elves!" Gil snapped as the humans from the fort came marching out, Leonard and Natalie leading the way.
"Light elves!" Natalie shouted, sounding almost shocked.
Harry pulled Jack out of the way as the six light elves lined up to face the humans. "Let them handle this," he told the boy. "They've grown up training to war with humans."
"But... I didn't mean for this to turn into a war!" Jack complained.
"Humans have already started this war," Gil offered shortly as he readied a spell to cast on a guard running at them. "We're just responding in kind."
"The knights attacked Earth Valley," Harry reminded Jack. "They killed Baade. When practically your whole existence depends on a dragon's survival, killing one is like a declaration of war."
Jack nodded his understanding. "But...war?"
"Lord Harry doesn't like it either," one of the light elves commented. "He only came because you were here."
"Less talking, more ass-kicking!" Gil snapped, then glanced back at Harry in apology.
Harry shrugged. Children would be children.
Jack smiled. "Thanks," he said so only Harry could hear him.
Harry smiled back.
"Jack, what are you doing?" Leonard called.
"You're with light elves! You're fighting against your own kind!"
Jack stiffened. "What?" he whispered.
Harry shot a curse at the man, opening a long cut on his forearm. "Fighting against his own kind?" he called back. "You humans are the ones who've drawn the lines! All you do is abuse and demand things of the fairy creatures! You scorn those who enjoy a different world view, and when they won't conform to your standards, you beat them down. And then you have the audacity to be surprised when other humans turn against you?"
"What? Lies!" Natalie snapped.
"Then tell me, Lady Knight, why were the dwarves attacked and forced into submission?"
"They refused to negotiate!"
"Negotiate?" Jack asked, looking up from his silent misery. "Negotiate what?"
"Their prices! They were far too high in their demands!"
"But they had no choice!" Jack called back. "They said so, while we were there! The mines were running dry!"
"Lies!" Natalie shouted.
Jack looked over at Harry. "You said that when the Water Dragon was destroyed, all the water in the chasms dried up. What will happen now that the Earth Dragon is dead?"
Harry pointed to a patch of grass that was withered and dying. "That. The earth will stop producing life. Crops and grass will refuse to grow. Trees will start to turn brown and drop leaves out of their season." He dropped his hand and shook his head. "Without Baade, the dwarves no longer have their connection to the magic of the earth. They won't be able to find ore with such accuracy, and their ability to imbue magic in their weapons will fade into myth."
"They're destroying themselves," Jack realised in horror. "In fighting against the fairy creatures, they ruin their own chances for survival."
Jack's expression hardened and he called, "I'm not fighting against my own kind, Leonard! I'm fighting to save those who can't fight themselves, human and fairy creature alike! If that means we're fighting on opposite sides of the battlefield, then so be it!"
In front of them, Gil grinned. "He really is Cairn's son," he whispered to himself, then turned to look at Harry. "Take him back to the city. His friend will be glad to see him, I think."
Harry nodded and gently touched Jack's shoulder. "They can handle themselves here," he told the boy. "I'm sure Ridley's worried about you."
Jack nodded. "Yeah." He let Harry lead him back towards the road before asking, "Is she okay? You made sure they didn't kill her or anything, right?"
Harry snorted. "If she isn't perfectly comfortable when we get back, Zane is well aware that I'll take it out on him."
Jack turned to stare at him. "Did you two fight or something? You're not usually so..."
Harry's lips twitched. "Willing to kill him? Well, he dropped me down a chasm, kicked me out of my own home, attacked me with his strongest attack, threatened to kill a human who came to him with peaceful intentions and sent a single human boy off to take a fort on his own." He laughed at the gobsmacked look on Jack's face. "Zane and I aren't quite seeing eye-to-eye right now."
"I'm not sure if that orb is really going to be a problem for you," Jack grumped as they continued walking. "Did he really drop you in a chasm?"
"Yeah. Got a bit banged up, but I survived in one piece."
"I'm not sure if I should be impressed, or scared for your life."
They were silent through the rest of the Cuatour region and on the bridge to the Elf region. On the far side, they paused to take a water break.
"Would you care? When I died?"
Harry hissed in sharply and looked away. After a moment, he said, "Yes," in a quiet voice. "I would care. I always care."
Jack watched Harry's frozen profile for a long moment before nodding. "Are you going to up and disappear one day? Even though I know you won't age?"
Harry swallowed and looked back at the boy. "Not unless you want me to."
Jack blinked. "Why would I want you to disappear? You're my friend."
Harry smiled then. "You're sweet," he said drily.
"What? I'm not sweet!"
Harry chuckled and turned to start walking again. "Come on. We're halfway there."
"I'm not sweet!" Jack demanded, hurrying after him.
Harry laughed and ruffled the boy's hair. "You'll understand why when you're older," he promised.
"What do you mean, 'when I'm older'? Harry!"
Harry shook his head and continued laughing.
Fan and Shin met them at the entrance. "Lord Zane and the girl are waiting in his home," Fan reported with a smile.
Harry smiled back. "Excellent. Thanks, Fa–" He suddenly stopped, eyes going wide.
"Harry?" Fan asked, floating forward a bit.
"Drama king," Shin muttered.
Harry gasped and fell to his knees, clutching his throat.
"Harry!" Fan and Jack shouted, both falling to their knees next to him. Behind them, Shin floated, uncertain.
"Harry, what's wrong?" Jack pleaded as Harry gasped for air.
"Are you hurt?" Fan whispered.
Harry shook his head and gasped out, "Cepheid," before his eyes rolled up in his head and he fainted.
Chapter 7: Chapter Six: Ways of the Dragon
So, I did some serious re-writing of the 'strategy meeting' in Fort Helencia. There wasn't much actual planning for the war at that meeting in the game – really, it was more there to explain the dragons and their part in the world to the player – so I made stuff up. (It was just like, let's invite Parsec to lead the meeting, but all he does is tell them about the dragons, tell the group to follow their convictions, tell Jack to go to Goblin Haven and then announce he'd be going to see Aphelion and, no, they couldn't help him with that. Bye. *face palm* And after all that, any time you talk to people in the meeting room, they're pouring over a map, wondering when the humans will make their next move. Be proactive, fairy creatures! Don't just sit there and take it!)
"You really care for him," Ridley commented as she walked into the room the elves had set aside for Harry and Jack to sleep in inside Fort Helencia. Jack hadn't moved from Harry's bedside since they'd moved him there late that morning. Coco had made it to the City of Flowers about ten minutes after Harry had fainted to tell them that Cepheid had been killed by the humans. Zane had then ordered that all elves that could fight were to report to Fort Helencia, where they beat back the humans and readied the place to use as a base for the fairy creatures. By mid-afternoon, four dwarves had joined them and the elves had decided who would be staying in their home villages and who would remain in the fort.
Jack glanced up towards the doorway tiredly. "Oh, hey, Ridley."
Ridley bit her lip, then walked over to Jack. "Hovering won't do anything more than make you sick," she told him, tugging on his arm. "You need something to eat and to stretch your legs."
Jack resisted her for a moment, then sighed and let her pull him up. "Do you think he'll be okay?" he wondered, glancing back at the sleeping mage even as Ridley led him from the room.
"He'll be fine," Ridley promised, then shoved him in a chair in the makeshift cafeteria and got him something to eat. She sat down across from him as he picked at his food, looking despondent. It broke her heart to see him looking so down and she wanted nothing more than for him to smile again. Crack another stupid joke.
When Jack couldn't stomach anything more, he shoved the plate away and started to stand, only to wobble a bit as the world slid out of focus. "Whoa..."
Ridley hurried around the table and grabbed his elbow. "You need to sleep," she told him.
Jack shook his head. "Can't." He pulled away from her and walked out into the courtyard, where he proceeded to walk the perimeter.
Ridley sighed. He was always so difficult!
One of the dark elves stopped at her elbow and considered the boy walking the perimeter. "I was sent to tell you that they're gathering in the meeting room, if you still want to sit in."
Ridley nodded. "Thanks. You're... Hyann? Right?"
The boy smiled up at her. "Yeah!"
Ridley smiled down at him. "I'll be in shortly."
Hyann nodded and looked back at Jack, who had stopped to eye the weapons Vladimir, the dwarven shop owner, had for sale. "Are you going to try and drag him along?"
Ridley sighed. "Maybe the meeting will bore him to sleep," she grumbled, making Hyann giggle, then walked over to Jack. "There's a strategy meeting starting soon, if you wanted to sit in on it?"
Jack turned to her with wide eyes. "Oh. But..."
Ridley shook her head and grabbed his arm. "Come on. I can't be the only human in that room."
When Ridley and Jack entered the room, Zane nodded to the two open stools at the far end of the makeshift table. Ridley steered Jack that way even as she felt sorrow at the knowledge that Zane really did want nothing to do with humans, even if he showed deference to Harry. (And wasn't that a mystery...)
They'd been waiting in silence for almost ten minutes when Jack jumped to his feet, smacking his hands on the crates they were using in lieu of a table. "Come on. When is this meeting supposed to start, anyway?"
Zane frowned at him. "Be patient. We are waiting for the guest of honour."
Jack frowned in confusion. "Guest of honour?"
"If it is who I think it is," a tired voice commented from the doorway, "he'll probably be a little late."
Jack didn't even stop to think about it, he just dashed over to Harry. "Are you okay? You should still be in bed."
Harry's smile was fond, though tired. "I've had quite enough laying in bed for the day, Jack," he commented, then pushed off from the doorway and started over to where Clarence was getting up from his stool, Jack hovering behind him. "Sit back down, Clarence," Harry said, motioning with his hand. Some junk against the far wall floated over and turned into a stool, which Harry sat down on.
Jack took his original stool next to Ridley, a part of him relieved that Harry was both up, and had chosen to sit next to him, even if he was actually on the dark elves' side.
"Why do you think he might be late?" Zane asked.
Harry shrugged. "If he felt Cepheid's death like I did..."
"Why did you react so badly?" Gil asked. "No one else was affected like that."
"He's a stupid newborn, that's why," an accented voice said from the doorway. Everyone turned to watch as Parsec walked over to a grimacing Harry. "Stop using magic like a human."
"But... I thought he was human?" Ridley said. She looked around the table, but she was the only one apparently surprised by Parsec's statement. Not even Jack looked like this was news to him.
"He's not human," Parsec said to Ridley.
"Parsec," Harry hissed.
Parsec frowned at him even as Clarence asked, "Not human? I was under the impression you were, even though..." He trailed off, looking nervously at the two humans at the end of the table. So far as he knew, Harry had never told a human his secret, after all, and Clarence wasn't about to be the one to do it for him.
"Oh, he was," Parsec agreed, ignoring Harry's scowl. "But he's a dragon, now."
"A dragon!?" most of the elves exclaimed, all staring at Parsec, then turning wide eyes on Harry.
Harry scowled at them and tapped a finger on top of the crate he was sitting next to. "Yeah. And if it leaves this room..." He let the warning trail off as the fairy creatures paled and nodded.
"So, wait, I was under the impression that you've been using magic like humans for centuries," Jack said, not the least bit fazed, even when the elves and Ridley all turned to stare at him in surprise. "You weren't so badly affected when Dad killed the Water Dragon, right? And I know Mikey said you weren't feeling well when the Earth Dragon crumbled..."
Parsec shrugged. "Using magic like humans opens your sensitivity to the planet's magic," he explained, "and since a dragon's magic sensitivity is so different from a normal human's, the backlash is greater when something happens."
"I hadn't visited the human world for almost thirty years before Cairn fought Kelvin," Harry commented quietly. "None of the humans I knew could tell the difference, so I'd been using my own magic. I knew when it happened, but..."
"So why were you knocked out when Cepheid died, but were only a bit off when Baade did?" Jack asked, looking up at Parsec for the answer.
"The less dragons there are actively holding the world's magic in place, the worse the backlash," Harry answered. "When Baade was forced asleep, Parsec and Cepheid were both still awake to hold the magic. Now only Parsec is left."
"Wait, asleep?" Serva asked from the far side of Clarence. "But they were killed..."
Harry shook his head. "Dragons don't die, they can be forced to sleep, but they can't be killed like, say, humans can. Uhm..." Harry rubbed the back of his head as Parsec, smiling, walked over to the stool Zane had left for him at the other end of the table. "Okay, think of it like the act of killing a dragon also activates an innate transpiritation, which moves their soul to another body which is formed of their element and awaiting them in a safe place. Their current body is gone, but they live on."
"It's been sixteen years," Jack pointed out. "Why hasn't Kelvin woken back up?"
"Oh, I think I can answer that," Parsec offered, making Harry breathe in relief. "It takes time for the soul and magic to recover from a transpiritation, anyone at this table could tell you that," he said and everyone nodded, even Ridley. "For a dragon, the recovery time takes years, not days. It used to be we'd sleep for maybe ten years and wake, but when Quasar and Aphelion were created, it was agreed that any dragon sent into sleep would remain there until it was time for the other brother to awaken, as it was clearly too dangerous to be awake if something was about sending dragons to sleep.
"The only problem is, of course, that a dragon who's asleep can't consciously control the magic, so things normally under their control tend to go all out of balance. We other dragons can make a conscious effort to balance the elements some, but it's not easy, especially since it means we're working with an element we don't have any real skill with. The only dragons who have skill with all the elements are Aphelion and Quasar, and since Aphelion hasn't been helping..."
"What about Harry?" Clarence wondered, glancing back at the youngest dragon. "You've never favoured an element."
"I only realised I was a dragon a week ago," Harry replied drily. "The only dragon-like things I can do include turning into one and roaring really loud."
The light elves all laughed weakly, remembering Harry roaring at them for silence last night.
"You found your form?" Jack asked, eyes bright. When Harry nodded, the boy squirmed in his seat. "I want to see!"
"Not right now," Harry told him, rolling his eyes.
"Not any time soon," Parsec corrected. When Harry and Jack both turned to blink at him, he explained, "When we're done with this meeting, I'll be taking Harry to learn to be more... dragon-like." He smiled at the term. When Jack opened his mouth to say he could come along, Parsec added, "No humans, Jack."
Jack's mouth snapped shut and he looked like someone had just smashed his favourite sword. Harry leaned over and whispered, "I'll be safe from the orb this way, Jack, so don't worry about me. You have a war to fight right now."
"Jack," Parsec called. When Jack glanced up towards him, still looking a little sad, he continued, "I think you should go to the Goblin Haven. Take the lass there with you."
"Goblin Haven?" Jack repeated.
"I agree," Harry said. "There's someone there would could use some sense knocked into him, and you're just the man to do it." He smiled at the pleased look taking over Jack's face.
"But what about the war?" Ridley wondered. "Shouldn't we be here to help?"
"This is helping," Harry replied. "And there's not a whole lot to do here right now. The humans will be in Radiata, making plans and regrouping for the moment. I've heard they took major losses during the fight with Baade, and I'm sure Cepheid depleted their forces even more. With villages in the Tria region asking for guards, those needed to watch over Earth Valley and the group posted between here and the city, they're going to be running thin. I'm sure they'll hire out the guilds, but they'll still need to recruit people to the knights to fill in the gaps. It'll be a couple of weeks before we see any action from them."
"For now," Zane agreed, "we need to add to our own forces. That means sending people to the goblin villages for help. We'll also look into freeing more dwarves. Depending on how low the human numbers are at Earth Valley, we might be able to win that back."
"It's been almost a hundred years since our last war with the humans," Gil offered. "Everyone could do with some training, so we'll be running a lot of drills out by the back entrance. You two, though," he pointed at Jack and Ridley, "you've been fighting recently, so you shouldn't need the practise. You can take trips to the goblin villages instead."
"I know some of the goblins in Shangri La," Jack offered. "We can go there after we've visited the Goblin Haven, yeah?" He glanced over at Ridley questioningly.
"Oh, yes. That sounds good," Ridley agreed.
"I'll pick some people to help with watching the humans' movements," Clarence offered, having been a spy for many decades already. "With any luck, we'll know about any attacks well before hand."
Zane nodded. "Excellent. I'll be in here, collecting any information we get in. If there's word of an attack, I'll give the announcement about when and where."
"Sir!" the elves all agreed. At the far end of the table, the two humans and Harry nodded their agreement.
"Then this meeting is now adjourned," Parsec announced. "Harry, grab anything you might need for a week and meet me by the pig statue."
Harry nodded to him and hurried from the room. He grabbed his potions bag and something to work on, though he doubted he'd have any downtime, then turned to leave. He stopped when he saw Jack standing in the doorway. "Oh, hey." He considered the boy a little closer than he had before and frowned. "You look like you haven't slept."
"Couldn't," Jack admitted.
"Hm. Well, get some rest before you head out, then. You need to be sharp if you're going through the Sediche region. It's cold, and the mushrooms up there are quick and easy with afflictions. You and Ridley will probably need to find some warmer clothing to wear under your armour."
Jack nodded. "Okay."
Harry sighed and stepped over to Jack, then pointed at the empty bed he figured was the boy's. "Sleep. You'll soon be plenty busy, and I'll be back before you realise I've been gone." When Jack's gloomy expression didn't lighten, Harry sighed again and grabbed the boy's arm to tug him over to the open bed. "Come on. I'll make sure Ridley knows you're sleeping."
"You'll be okay?" Jack asked, sitting on the edge of his makeshift bed.
"I'll be fine," Harry promised. "And if you haven't won over loads of goblins to fight for us by the time I've returned, I'll be most disappointed in you. Understood?"
Jack managed a faint smile at that and nodded. "Okay. I'll get lots of them, and whoever it is you and Parsec want me to talk to. I promise."
"Good. Now, sleep," Harry ordered and silently cast a spell to make the human fall asleep. When it knocked him right out, Harry gently lowered him down on the bed and tucked him in, then hurried out of the room.
Ridley was in the courtyard, talking to Coco, and Harry made a slight detour to stop next to them. "Jack is sleeping, so you'll have to wait until the morning to head out."
Ridley smiled. "Finally. How'd you manage to get him to sleep? I've been trying all day."
Harry raised an eyebrow at that. "I used magic."
Coco smiled just the slightest bit and explained, "Lord Harry is really good with affliction-based magic."
Harry snorted. "That's me. I poison people to death." He rolled his eyes when Ridley laughed. "It's a timed sleep, at any rate, so he should be out for eight hours. Also, I told him and I'll tell you, if you're going through the Sediche region, you're going to want to find something warm to wear under your armour. It's a bloody ice-box up there year-round. And the mushroom creatures like to knock you with afflictions, so make sure you're prepared."
Ridley nodded. "Thanks."
"Take care of yourself," Harry told her, then made for the exit.
Parsec was waiting for him at the pig, as promised. When Harry stopped next to him, he handed over a roll stuffed with meat, which Harry made quick work of, then said, "Take my arm and I'll transport us there."
"There's not a pig?" Harry asked, even as he grabbed Parsec's arm.
Parsec rose an eyebrow at him. "Only dragons are allowed where we're going."
"And you lot never bother with the pigs," Harry agreed.
"There's never one quite where you need it," Parsec replied.
"Yeah, well, I tried."
Parsec chuckled, then concentrated. There was a burst of fire around them – Harry likened this mode of transportation to phoenix travel, though he'd never actually used that mode of travel himself – and when it dissipated, they were in a large cave with multiple exits. They were standing on a symbol that Harry had only seen before in an old elven text. "It's fire," Parsec explained, seeing Harry looking down at it.
"Oh." Harry glanced around. "I should try to learn the old elven language one of these days. Merlin knows I've enough time."
"One day, you will tell me about this 'Merlin' you're always swearing by," Parsec replied, leading the way to another symbol, one which Harry had never seen before.
"Where are we?" Harry asked, eyeing the symbol on the ground in front of them.
"This is the Dragon Lair Cave," Parsec explained. "This is our home, where we go to sleep." He motioned to one of the other exits and Harry realised it was closed off.
"Huh." Harry looked back at the open doorway ahead. "And here? Is this Aphelion and Quasar's room?"
"No. They're through there," Parsec pointed to a pillar behind them, which held a dark opening, "this is the room of the first dragon."
"He'll teach you everything you need to know."
"What about you?" Harry glanced up at Parsec questioningly.
Parsec smiled. "I've a date with Aphelion. He's been hiding in Radiata Castle."
"Be careful, then."
Parsec's smile turned almost menacing. "I'll be fine. You on the other hand..." He trailed off while Harry eyed the opening to the first dragon's room with trepidation. "Don't keep him waiting, now," Parsec warned, then transported away with a blast of heat.
Harry swallowed. "Well, here goes nothing," he said to himself, then started down the hallway.
Jack woke feeling somehow both refreshed and groggy. He took a moment to stare around him, trying to remember where he was. His eyes were drawn to the second bed and, even though there was nothing special about it, it brought back all of the events of the past thirty-six hours.
Jack sat up in bed and grabbed for his sword, which stood against a crate with restorative items and his two bangles on it. Once he'd strapped his sword on, he put on his two bangles and shoved his things in the empty sack that had been kicked into a corner. When he was sure he had everything, he went in search of breakfast, which was served in the form of an egg sandwich. He munched on it on his way to the courtyard, looking around for Ridley or their guide, Coco.
Coco was waiting by the exit and Ridley joined them not long after Jack settled in to wait. She had a couple of warm over coats with her that were just the right size to be worn over their armour and not get in the way in a fight.
"This was the best I could find," she explained as Jack pulled on his. "It won't survive as well as something under our armour, but it'll keep us warm enough for a while."
Jack grinned at her. "This is fine. Thanks, Ridley. I'd completely forgotten."
"You sort of crashed," Ridley replied. "I told you to get some sleep."
"Huh. You know, I don't even remember falling asleep. I was just sitting there, talking to Harry..." Jack trailed off, then groused, "That jerk! He put me to sleep!"
"You needed it," Ridley replied. "Now, come on. Goblin Haven."
Coco quickly took the lead into the Nowem region and Jack asked, "Okay, so, what is the Goblin Haven? I know it's a village for goblins, okay, so don't give me that look, but... Don't they have Shangri La?"
"The Goblin Haven is home to the black goblins," Coco explained.
They were silent for quite some time after that, only talking when there was a creature attacking them to call out warnings and the such. Coco, as it turned out, was quite the able magic-user, knocking out fire and lightning spells without pause. His spells weren't quite as damaging as Ridley and Jack's in-your-face attacks, but the dark elf was good for catching enemies off balance from a distance, giving the two fighters time to turn their weapons on anything incoming.
As they were starting across the impossible bridge of mushrooms between the Nowem and Sediche regions, Ridley asked, "Jack?"
"Why weren't you surprised that Harry was a dragon?"
Coco glanced back, also curious. "And you knew he was older than he looks. Lord Harry doesn't tell humans that."
Jack shrugged. "Parsec," he replied. At their continued curious looks, he added, "He came to Radiata a little over a week ago to find Aphelion. I helped him for a bit, then showed him to Harry. They got to talking and Harry mentioned an incident that happened sixty years ago and I wanted to know how he could have been alive for that. So he explained things, and Parsec came to the conclusion that Harry must be a dragon, since he's so old and stuff."
"A little over a week ago was when Lord Harry came back looking upset," Coco commented, hopping off the last of the mushroom bridge. A minor forest of mushrooms rose ahead of them and the two humans grimaced in distaste at the knowledge that they'd probably be climbing and walking on them some more.
Jack shrugged in response to Coco's statement. Maybe it had been his fault that Harry had been upset, sure, but Jack hadn't done well himself after he left. They were okay now, though, and that was all that mattered. Wasn't that what friends did, anyway? You fought and you made up and you were better friends for it. (Anyway, they'd both sort of been in the wrong. Harry had been hiding something big about himself and Jack had over-reacted.)
They did, in fact, have to walk on more mushrooms to get to Goblin Haven. Better yet, they had to fight on mushrooms.
"Thank the dragons, they have a pig," Jack said once they reached their destination.
" 'Thank the dragons'?" Ridley replied.
"What? The elves say that. Am I not allowed to, now?"
Ridley just shook her head.
Coco stopped next to the pig statue and wished them good luck, then fled from the smell.
"Harry could have warned us to bring masks or something," Jack muttered as they walked into the building.
"Take it up with him when he gets back," Ridley muttered, ripping a bit off her ragged coat and tying it around her face.
Jack tore a strip off his own coat and followed her example, then they walked inside. Since they didn't know exactly who Parsec and Harry had sent them to talk to, they agreed to split up and talked to everyone. Pretty much all the black goblins agreed to help the two teens, especially when they proved that they could kick everyone's butt, even when four goblins ganged up and rushed Jack and Ridley when their backs were turned.
The whole thing had been a lot of fun, but they were both exhausted and were glad for the offer from the chieftain to take an empty room in the back of the village to sleep. They were walking that way – going through an empty area – when they were attacked: Jack was pulled off his feet and had a weapon held to his throat.
"Jack!" Ridley shouted, turning to stare at the man who'd grabbed her friend. Another human in Goblin Haven?
Jack lashed out, trying to step on the man's feet, but the man was too quick and moved out of the way at the same time as he tightened the weapon against Jack's throat. Jack held up his hands in defeat and the weapon was loosened, letting him breathe again.
"Who are you?" the man demanded. "What are you doing here?"
"We're here as friends," Ridley tried. "I'm Ridley Silverlake."
The man eyed her with some surprise. "Silverlake? Of the Great Eagle of the North?"
Ridley nodded. "Yes, though I've recently left my family. And that's Jack Russell."
"Jack... Russell?" the man repeated, grip slackening in his surprise.
Jack wasted no time in slipping out of the man's hold and dashing over to stand in front of Ridley, sword drawn. "Who are you?" he asked, tightening his grip on his sword as the man rested his weapon next to him. "And what gives you the right to go around attacking people that the black goblins think are okay?"
The man eyed him with something like sorrow glimmering in his eyes. "All right, son of Cairn. My name is Gawain. Gawain Rothschild."
"You... You're Sir Gawain?" Ridley whispered.
Jack blinked, then lowered his sword. "Huh. So... Why'd you attack us, then?"
Gawain looked floored. "I– You–"
Jack's lips twitched and he sheathed his sword. "You didn't kill my father," he commented, "an elf assassin did that. You weren't even on the council that sent the assassin. The only thing you did was hold your tongue, and, after hearing what algandars does to humans, I don't think that's really such a bad thing."
"I took your father from you," Gawain whispered.
Jack shook his head. "That council, that assassin, they took my father from me. I forgave them weeks ago." He turned to Ridley, who was smiling. "I'm tired. Let's go find this empty room."
Ridley nodded. "Okay."
"Jack, where did you hear the truth?" Gawain called after them before they could leave the empty cavern-like room.
Jack glanced back at him. "A mutual friend: Harry."
Jack and Ridley had made themselves comfortable in the piles of blankets that were in the room and were relaxing to sleep when Ridley suddenly said, "He's good for you."
Jack let out a sleep-filled sound of enquiry.
"Harry is," Ridley clarified. "Before you met him, you were always ready to get into a fight, but now you're sort of... I don't know. You stop. You're not so hot-tempered."
"No need to be," Jack replied, shifting in his blankets so he could look in the direction he knew Ridley lay. "No one here wants to hurt us."
Ridley shook her head. "No. I mean... Jack, when we were knights together, you were always trying to prove how great you were. You always thought you were the best warrior and that you could take on anything. But..."
"I lost," Jack said quietly, and Ridley fell silent to see if he would say anything more. Jack gathered his thoughts, then said, "I lost to you in the trials, and you almost died when we faced that blood orc. When I joined Theatre Vancoor, I faced Deputy Chief Gerald and lost again. And we faced some people from Void that even Gerald couldn't take down." He shrugged. "There are better fighters than me out there. I... I know that. But, if I keep fighting, I can only get better, and maybe, someday, I can be the best."
"Better than Harry?"
Jack snorted. "I can't best Harry."
"Then you'll never be the best."
Jack considered that, then replied, "If I'm just second best..." He smiled to himself. "I'm okay with that." He turned over, back to his companion. "Night, Ridley."
Ridley stared into the darkness of the room, in turns jealous and happy. "Good night, Jack," she whispered back.
When Jack woke the next morning, he found Gawain sitting in the doorway of the room, watching him. Jack blinked at him for a moment, not sure how to respond to his presence, and eventually decided to just ignore him. He climbed out of bed and pulled on his armour and the ragged coat, as well as all his accessories and item pouch. He paused to consider the sleeping Ridley for a moment, then picked up his sword and made for the door. Ridley looked tired, and it was pretty safe here. He'd let her wake on her own.
Gawain rose as Jack reached him, then turned and led the way through the back halls and out into the empty cavern they'd met him in the night before. Now, there were a few black goblins milling around, one of whom was making a soup which didn't smell too bad, considering what the goblins normally ate.
Both humans got some of the soup, then found a pile of mushrooms to sit on. They sipped the meal for a long moment in silence, but it was eventually broken by Gawain asking, "You know Harry, then?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah. He saved some of us from a blood orc and I met back up with him again in Radiata. We're friends."
"How is he?"
Jack smiled. "He's fine. Going head-to-head with Lord Zane over every little thing."
Gawain chuckled. "He and the light elves never did really see eye-to-eye about most things. Lord Zane was particularly bad. Lord Nogueira would always have to..." Gawain trailed off, noticing the pained turn of Jack's mouth. "What is it?"
"Lord Nogueira died of algandars a couple weeks ago."
"Ah..." Gawain looked down into his empty bowl. "Ah..."
They both fell silent again.
Jack finished his soup and stared down into his bowl for a long moment, then glanced up at Gawain. "Have you heard about Earth Valley?"
Gawain looked over at him. "I have heard rumours that the knights killed Baade..." He trailed off as Jack nodded. "Not rumours, then."
"No." Jack set his bowl on the ground next to him and looked up at the ceiling far above them. "About a week ago, the knights took Earth Valley prisoner and forced the dwarves to mine, constantly. Baade came down and faced the brigade that was there, but one of the Knights, Cross, had an orb that destroyed him."
"An orb, you say?"
Jack looked over at him, frowning. "Yeah. Know anything about it?"
Gawain was rubbing his chin. "When we first heard that Kelvin had intentions to attack Radiata, Cairn mentioned a stone of magic that could be created to destroy a dragon of a particular element. But the ability to make them..." He met Jack's eyes. "Only the other dragons know it."
"I don't know how that could be the same orb, then," Jack replied. "Cross couldn't possibly have managed to make one." He shook his head. "Anyway, I hear he's the one who killed Cepheid, as well."
"Cepheid is also dead?"
Jack nodded. "Only Parsec and Aphelion are left, and no one knows where Aphelion is."
"We're doomed," Gawain moaned, and he looked so dramatically hopeless that Jack couldn't help but laugh. "This is no laughing matter, Jack!"
Jack sobered at that. "I know," he whispered, looking away. "I know what this means for the world. Harry told me." He bit his bottom lip and looked over at Gawain with determination shining in his eyes. "That's why we're going to war. All the fairy creatures and Ridley and me. We're going to fight the humans until they can't do any more damage."
Gawain looked over the young man next to him and saw an echo of his best friend. He smiled and held out his hand. "If you will have me, I would like to join you, Jack."
Jack blinked in surprise, then reached out and grabbed Gawain's hand, returning his smile. "I'd hoped you'd say that."
Chapter 8: Chapter Seven: To Build an Army
I know the goblin numbers are way excess of the game, but I figure those can't be all the fairy creatures in the game. There's no way that few would be able to stand against the entirety of Radiata City, and when playing the human side, there's plenty of nameless fairy creatures on the roads. There's no way a war can be fought with only the 176 characters you can recruit. So I'm adding to their number a bit.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jack had fully intended to start out for Shangri La as soon as they finished at Goblin Haven, but the number of black goblins who wanted to go to Fort Helencia was... impressive.
"We might as well walk back with them," Ridley murmured as they observed the pile of black goblins arguing over fighting equipment. "Few of them have been to Fort Helencia, so the pig won't work for them. Someone will have to guide them by foot."
Jack glanced over towards Gawain, who was trying to help the goblins figure out their equipment with a little less bashing over the head. The ex-Knight had told Jack and Ridley, once the girl was up, that he'd like to travel back to Fort Helencia and speak with Zane. He'd been quite upset to learn that Harry was out of touch for the moment, and confused as to why, since the teens hadn't wanted to tell him Harry's secret.
"We're not asking Gawain to lead them," Ridley added, looking at the man Jack was eyeing. "We're the ones who recruited them, Jack, not Gawain. We owe it to them to lead them to the fort."
Jack sighed and looked down at the Toadstool Lance someone had forced on him earlier. He knew the black goblins were only joining the fairy creatures because he and Ridley had talked them into it. Dragons knew the black goblins would have been happier smoking on mushroom pipes and drinking weird soup than going to war. But Jack wanted to get the green goblins to come too. He wanted to have an army they could be proud of when Harry got back.
But Ridley was right, as she so often was: If he wanted the black goblins to join them, he needed to make sure they got to the fort safely.
One of the goblins hurried over with Gawain; it seemed they were done figuring out equipment. "We ready to go now," the black goblin said.
Ridley glanced over at Jack, who nodded. The girl smiled and turned back to the goblin as Gawain took a loose stance next to Jack. "Thanks, Gruel. Let's head out."
Gruel, the black goblin leader, grinned widely at her, then turned and started shouting what seemed like nonsense orders to his people.
"Do they actually understand each other?" Jack wondered under his breath. Ridley sighed while Gawain chuckled.
"For the most part," Gawain said to Jack, smiling. "If you two want to lead the army, I'll stick to the back and watch for stragglers."
"Oh. That's a good idea," Jack realised.
Gawain chuckled again, one large hand coming down to clap Jack on the back and almost send him sprawling. "You're a good lad, Jack Russell, but you've got a lot to learn before you can become a proper general."
Jack scowled. "Yeah? Then what am I right now? Huh?"
"The fairy creatures' main recruiter," Ridley offered drily. When Jack gave her a wounded look, she pointed to where the goblins were waiting in a mostly straight line. "Come on, Jack."
Jack sighed and dragged his feet a bit, but followed Ridley to the head of the line, clasping hands with the goblins who called his name as they went. At the head of the line, Gruel grinned at them, then bellowed, "AHEAD!" and they were off.
The sound of tens of black goblins marching sent the monsters fleeing and the mushrooms shaking. Jack had no words for how glad he was that Gruel was with them in the lead, since he knew a few hidden short cuts that helped them avoid the mushrooms. Jack didn't really want to know how the fungus would stand up to their party. Judging by the nervous look on Ridley's face at the few mushrooms they did have to cross, she was thinking the same thing.
Because of the size of their party – not to mention the lazy life-style most of them had been leading previously – they travelled at a much slower pace than Ridley, Coco and he had on their way to the Goblin Haven. They ended up having to camp overnight on the edge of the Cuatour region, which about sent Jack into fits. But, not wanting the black goblins to be offended by how irritated he was, Jack kept his problems to himself and the next day they reached Fort Helencia without a hitch.
Their arrival at Fort Helencia was not unremarked upon. Gil had been out in the back, training a squad of light and dark elves when Jack and Ridley came into sight. The expression on the faces of the elves made the entire trip worth it, so far as Jack was concerned, especially when the black goblins seemed to just keep coming.
"If anyone ever says humans are useless, remind them of this," Gil commented to his people as Jack and Ridley reached him, both grinning.
"Don't worry, I'll happily rub it in their faces," Jack replied.
Gil just shook his head. "You were made for this," he decided. "Anyone else who went up there might have gotten a couple of black goblins to join, but you two..." He shook his head.
"Where are we going to put them all?" one of the younger dark elves wondered.
"Goblins sleep outdoors," Gruel replied, having joined the two humans and elves after speaking to one of his people. The black goblin he'd spoken to was calling out orders to the small army and directing them towards the open space across the path from the back entrance to the fort. "We used to colder weather."
"Well, it gets plenty cold at night around here," Gil replied. "You're welcome to stay outside if you'd like."
Gruel nodded once, seemingly deciding that was the end of the matter and turned to return to his people.
"Friendly sort, isn't he?" one of the light elves offered.
"Gruel has always kept to himself," Gil replied, glancing back at the elf under his charge. "If we see him even as often as once a day, I'll be surprised."
"If you see him more often than once a week, I'll be surprised," Gawain boomed, joining them. "Hello, Gil. It's been a while."
Gil grinned at the bulky human. "So Jack did manage to talk you out of your grief. Some of the light elves didn't think he'd manage it."
"He's a good kid," Gawain replied, giving Jack a fond look.
"And you're an idiot," Jack retorted without pause.
Gawain chuckled at that while the elves all looked amused.
Ridley sighed. "Well, we're here," she commented.
Jack's eyes darted to the pig beyond the elves without him thinking about it. "So we are," he agreed.
Gil glanced over his shoulder to see what had the human teen so enthralled and sighed. "Hey, you've done impressively in the past few days; way better than any of us ever could have dreamed," the light elf said, moving between Jack and the travel pig. "Why don't you take a day to sit back and fill your bellies? Look around, see what's new in the shops."
Jack sucked his lower lip through his teeth and chewed on it a bit. Shangri La was just a moment away. An even bigger army was just through a pig statue and Gil wanted him to slow down?
Ridley flipped her hair to one side, smacking Jack across the face. When he turned to glare at her, she said, "I'm tired. The past three days I've eaten trail rations and black goblin stew. I smell like those mushrooms of theirs and I'd like to wash it off."
"Then you can–"
"You are not going to Shangri La by yourself!" Ridley snapped before Jack could continue. "There's too great a chance you'll run into some humans and get attacked."
"Not to mention the blood orcs," Gawain helpfully added.
"Those too," Ridley agreed, glaring at Jack. "Parsec told Harry to pack for a week, Jack, and it's only been three days. We have a day to rest."
"Lord Harry wouldn't be happy if you worked yourself to the bone," Mikey added, having come from inside the fort to see what all the ruckus was about. "We have time, yet, before the humans are fully prepared, after all."
Jack sighed. "Okay, we can rest for a day," he agreed.
"Good." Ridley sniffed, managing to look very much the noble she'd been born as, then hurried off into the fort.
"Come on, lad," Gawain said, clapping Jack on the shoulder. "You can show me where Lord Zane is and then get your own bath and a hot meal. Lord knows I need some myself."
"Why don't you do that first, then?" Jack wondered, letting himself be led to the fort by Gawain. Behind them, the elves were continuing their drills under Gil's sharp eyes.
"It's polite to greet Lord Zane first, even if I do smell like mushrooms and two days on the road," Gawain replied easily. "Zane and Cairn and I... We were all friends, before. I haven't seen him in years, so it might be nice to check in. If nothing else, I'll get a feel for how things are working around here before I go putting my foot in."
Jack nodded, thinking that made sense. Since he was showing Gawain the way anyway, he might as well poke his own head in and wave to the light elf leader. Politeness never really figured into his daily routine before joining the fairy creatures, but he was beginning to see that it was important to them, and he didn't need Zane thinking any less of him than he already did. Assuming that was even possible.
Zane was in the strategy room, leaning over some reports and a large map spread out over the cardboard boxes. A couple of pallets sat against one wall and Jack grimaced at the thought of sleeping in the barren room, waiting for reports to come in at all hours.
Zane glanced up when he heard the door open. Surprise flashed across his face for just a moment and then he straightened. "I see the boy managed to drag you back with him," he said, focusing on Gawain.
Jack huffed, but he was getting used to the caustic way that the light elves treated him. Gil seemed to be the exception to that rule, and Jack couldn't help but wonder why. Because of his father? Or because Harry and he were friends?
"Jack managed to get more than just me," Gawain replied, grinning. "He and Ridley talked ninety-three black goblins into marching with us. They're camped out back."
Again, surprise passed Zane's face. The elf lord turned to Jack and opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again, shaking his head.
Mikey, who had followed the two humans, poked his head around Jack and offered, "It's true, Lord Zane. There's more than we could fit in the fort. Even Gruel came!"
"...Impressive," Zane murmured, and Jack could see from the expression on his face that he hadn't meant to say that out loud. Suddenly, coming to see the light elf upon return to the fort wasn't such a bad idea.
Zane caught the self-satisfied look on Jack's face and snapped, "You'll never manage it a second time, human, so don't look so pleased!"
Jack huffed. "I did it once, I'll do it again," he shot back. "I'll bring back so many green goblins, you won't know where to put them all!" Then he turned and stormed from the room, determined that Zane wouldn't get the last word.
Gawain sighed and shook his head as the door slammed shut. "He's such a likeable kid, Zane. I don't see why you have to treat him so."
"He's a human," Zane spat.
Gawain raised one eyebrow. "So am I, old friend," he returned, then left to find a hot bath and some food.
Just before dawn, Jack crept into Ridley's room, hoping to scare her awake, but the noble was already up and putting on the last of her travelling things. She smiled at Jack when he slouched back against the wall, looking dejected. "I expected you to come barging in here early," she told him, straightening and walking over. "Let's get some breakfast and head out; we've got an uppity light elf to impress."
Jack grimaced at the reminder of Zane's angry challenge. "Good luck to us," he muttered, following Ridley out to the fort mess. "Hey, Ridley, how are we supposed to get the green goblins here, anyway? The only connection between Tria and Dova is through Radiata, and I can't see them being too happy about that."
Ridley smiled at him, shoving two rolls into his hands. "Gil and I talked about that yesterday, while you were busy beating up the training dummy. He's going to send a few light elves to us tomorrow morning. Anyone who can't take the pig will be flown to Fort Helencia. We talked about some sort of bridge between Dova and Tria, but we don't have time to build it, never mind how determined the humans would be to deter us from making any use of it."
Jack nodded. "Okay. Will we have enough light elves to carry all the green goblins?"
"Some might have to take a second trip," Ridley admitted, "but a lot depends on how many of them can take a pig to this side of Radiata. Anywhere on this side of the city is fine, even if it means landing in the Tria region."
"If it comes to that, one of us can go with them," Jack decided. "At least then they'll have someone to watch their backs as they come through."
Ridley looked almost surprised for a moment before her face relaxed into a smile. "Come on, Jack," she said as they reached the pig, "we need to show Lord Zane we're actually useful."
Jack grinned back and they were zipped off to the Dorse region.
As Jack had told the other fairy creatures in the strategy room five days before, he'd already made contacts with the green goblins during his time at Theater Vancoor. The two humans were welcomed with open arms and, upon Jack's request, led to Gabe and Gob, who were the closest they came to a leader of the green goblins.
The two goblins listened to Jack and Ridley's explanation patiently – well, Gabe was patient, Gob kept twitching and flexing his fingers around his fly swatter; only his respect for Jack kept him there at all.
"Not sure many goblins will come," Gabe said once the two humans were done.
"Gob will!" Gob insisted.
Gabe glanced over at his fellow green goblin, frowning, then looked back at Jack. "Green goblins not fighters. Jack should know."
Jack nodded, he did know; green goblins were even more inclined to be lazy than the black goblins. "Fighters or not, the humans will come and attack Shangri La once they've organised themselves a bit more. They won't care if you intend to stay out of things, they'll happily destroy you."
Gabe sighed and scratched under his hat. "Each goblin's choice you must ask," he decided.
"Gob will!" Gob helpfully reminded them.
"Cannot order goblins," Gabe added, deciding to ignore Gob.
Jack nodded again. "I know. Thanks, though. For hearing us out."
Gabe smiled a crooked goblin smile. "Jack is welcome. Gabe wishes could help Jack, but..." he motioned around him at his small shop.
"I know," Jack said again as he and Ridley stood. "Take care of yourself, okay? I need to know of at least one place where I can get Panic Powder."
Gabe cackled and pulled some of the aforementioned powder out. "Jack buys now?"
Jack laughed and pulled out his money purse. "Sure," he decided, counting out 320 dagols. "Give me four."
Gabe cackled some more as they traded. "Jack best customer!"
Jack shook his head and let Ridley lead him away. At her questioning look, he explained, "When I first met Gabe, he was determined to get Panic Powder. So I got him some."
"For free?" Ridley demanded. "And now he charges you for it? Isn't that like paying for the same item twice?"
Jack shrugged. "Not my brightest moment," he admitted, earning a snort from Ridley. "But, hey! Gabe actually sat and listened to us because of it."
"And what was up with that other one? Gob?" Ridley wondered.
Jack snorted. "Gob is one of the few green goblins who likes fighting. Actually, you've met before. You remember that goblin trio?"
"He was one of them?" Ridley exclaimed.
"He was the ring leader," Jack agreed, grinning. "He had the cleaver to Donovitch's throat."
Ridley moaned and rubbed at her face. "And you're friends with him now?"
Jack shrugged. "Friends with all three of them. They attacked me again the first time I entered the Dova region. I beat them, then told them they could go. Gob declared me his new best friend and Monki and Aesop decided I was cool. Monki and Aesop even followed me into Radiata at one point." He snorted at the memory. "That was a lot of fun, actually."
Ridley sighed. "So that means we've got...what? Three green goblins on our side?"
Jack nodded and looked up at the cloth and rickety wooden walkways above them. "Best start asking around. Do you want the ground floor, or up there?"
Ridley gave the walkways above them a distrustful look. "I'll take down here, if it's all the same to you."
Jack shrugged and started up the nearest ladder much faster than Ridley would have ever dared. The girl shuddered and turned away to find goblins to recruit.
While Jack and Ridley spoke to goblins inside Shangri La, Gob rode out on his elephant and recruited those goblins who spent their time wandering the countryside. Just after sunset, he returned, grinning, and announced to the two weary humans that he'd gotten forty-four goblins to agree to join them at their fort. Jack and Ridley, who had both gathered around thirty, were so happy they could have kissed Gob. Instead, they invited him to join them in eating around their makeshift table in the empty shelter they'd picked out for the night.
The next morning, the two humans and Gob were all waiting at the pig when the light elves started arriving. Gil came through first and his worried expression lightened when he saw the smiles on the two humans' faces. "I take it everything went well, then?"
"One hundred and five green goblins are ready to join us at Fort Helencia," Ridley reported while Jack kept grinning like a mad man.
Gil was struck momentarily speechless. Finally, he let out a loud laugh. "You two are amazing!"
Jack flushed at the praise and looked down at his feet. "We couldn't have done it without Gob," he admitted, waving towards the green goblin standing behind him. "He went out and got over forty goblins to agree to come while we were talking to those inside Shangri La."
Ridley sighed. "Gob never would have gone out looking if he hadn't liked you so much, Jack," she told her fellow human for the fourth time since last night. Once Jack's joy at having surpassed their last numbers had faded, he realised that they hadn't done all the work to get the goblins, which meant they hadn't, actually, managed to outdo themselves.
Gob shuffled forward, flyswatter held nervously in one fist at the sight of the forty light elves that had come through and were crowding the path. "Jack Gob's friend," he insisted. "Gob help Jack."
"Hmm." Gil shrugged. "Jack, honestly, that you managed to get even one green goblin would have impressed Lord Zane, I should think. You might not have managed over one hundred on your own, but you surpassed everyone's expectations with what you did manage." Gil smiled at the teen and got a faint grin back. "Now, how are we doing this?"
Ridley nodded. "From what the green goblins say, about half of them have managed to travel north of Radiata. Most of those are the older generation, who are more inclined to get up and do things, but a couple of the younger ones have also braved Radiata in more peaceful times and travelled north. Most of those who have travelled went to the Goblin Haven, so that's the only pig they know. I'm going to go with those goblins to Goblin Haven and travel with them to Fort Helencia, so no one gets lost."
"The rest of them know the pig in the Tria region," Jack continued. "I'll be going with those ones to help them past the humans on that road and in Solieu Village. Gob and a couple of the goblins who have travelled with me a bit in the past know the Fort Helencia pig, so they'll be going straight through to there. From there, they're going to make their ways towards the Nowem region to act as back-up if I run into any trouble in Tria."
"Gob come help Jack!" Gob declared.
Jack grinned at his goblin friend. "So you will. And do you remember what else to do at Fort Helencia?"
Gob nodded. "Ask dark elves, Gawain please join Ridley in Goblin Haven."
"We'll make a general out of him yet," Ridley told Gil, earning an eye roll from Jack.
"Sounds good," Gil told the two humans. "Let's get started."
The green goblins were even harder to organise than the black goblins had been, but they managed. Gob and his party went through the pig first and the light elves were just starting to leave as Ridley's party went through two at a time. Gil and Jack waited until everyone else was off before Jack led his party away, leaving Gil and Gabe to watch over the remaining thirteen green goblins for the return of the light elves.
When Jack landed in the Tria region, he immediately pulled out his sword and engaged the four guards who were standing nearby. As the green goblins came though, they joined him in fighting off the humans, circling the pig statue in a protective ring so their fellows could come through safely. What the green goblins lacked in strength, they made up for in sheer numbers and their inclination towards using thrown items and weapons.
The guards who'd been nearby had managed to whistle for reinforcements before Jack and the goblins finished them off, so the group continued facing humans who'd come running from all around.
At last, everyone was through. Jack led the way to the side path towards the Nowem region, where Gob and his band of fighters had cleared the way. Jack left Gob to lead the green goblins and fell back to cover their retreat, gritting his teeth when he found himself crossing swords with people he'd known from Radiata. For the most part, they fought in disgusted silence, but a few demanded to know why he'd sided with the fairy creatures and Jack never gave them an answer.
Eventually, the guards thinned and Jack was able to safely retreat after the green goblins who'd gone ahead. Two had stayed back with him, unwilling to leave him on his own, and he appreciated it.
As the three of them started up the path, Jack heard a guard call, "Lady, don't! There's no way you can face them!"
A painfully familiar voice called back, "Don't you start telling me what I can and cannot do!"
Jack turned back to watch his sister stalk down the path towards them. The two goblins at his side readied some Toadstool Powder, but Jack held up a hand to stop them. "Let me deal with her," he requested. "You two go after the others. I know this area well enough that I'll be fine on my own."
The goblins looked worried, but they'd been watching this human fight and knew he could take care of himself. And he also ran faster than them, so they would only slow him down if he needed to make a quick escape. "We go," one decided.
"Fighting Jack come back," the other ordered.
"I will," Jack promised and the two goblins scurried away.
Jack held his sword loosely at his side, not inclined to put it away when Adele had her own sword out.
When Adele got in range to not have to shout, she snapped, "Jack Russell, what do you think you're doing? Helping nonhumans? Killing your own kind?" She waved her hand behind her, where guards were cleaning up the dead and dying bodies. "You've pulled some crazy stunts over the years, but this is ridiculous!"
Jack swallowed and tightened his grip on his sword. "You remember when I was a kid and you used to tell me to do the right thing, no matter what?" he asked, half expecting a joking, 'You're still a kid, Jack!' in reply.
But Adele gave a jerky nod. "Yeah," she said.
Something in Jack cried at the loss of the old joke and he swallowed past a lump. "Helping the fairy creatures is that 'right thing' you always told me about. Because the humans are killing the dragons, and that has to stop."
Adele laughed, but it wasn't that pretty laugh Jack had grown up hearing. "Killing the dragons?" she called back. "You used to enjoy the stories about Dad killing a dragon! 'They're just bigger monsters,' you'd say! Well, if humans started killing off all the skullheads, would you throw a fit about that instead? Would you cry over their deaths like–"
"Shut up!" Jack shouted, bringing his hands over his ears. "Shut up! You don't know what you're talking about!"
"I know exactly what I'm talking about!" Adele shouted back. "Dragons attack humans for no good reason and the only way to stop that is to kill them. That's right!"
Jack stared at his sister, disbelieving. Was she really spouting that nonsense? Was she really saying the dragons were evil and should be killed?
Was this really the same woman who'd raised him?
"Sis," Jack said, turning towards the Nowem region, "this is where we part ways. We see two different truths, and I'm going to go fight for mine. I wish you luc–"
"You're not going anywhere!" Adele screamed, sword raised and running at Jack.
Jack froze. He couldn't fight his own sister!
Just before Adele brought her blade down on Jack's head, she froze, complexion taking on the grey tones of petrification.
Jack looked up, startled, then looked around for the cause of the petrification. There, standing just over the rise and leaned over, gasping for breath, was a familiar man with black hair and wearing mage robes.
"Harry..." Jack whispered. And then he was running towards the man, wanting to cry and laugh all at once, because Harry was back but his sister had just tried to kill him.
Harry straightened quickly and caught the teen in a hug. For one moment, one terrible moment, he'd seen Jack, standing in the middle of the path, crazed woman running at him with sword high and he'd thought the teen was going to die. In that moment, Harry's world had crumbled, and he wasn't even sure why. Sure, he liked Jack, but if he died, it wasn't like Harry's own world was going to end.
They finally pulled apart and Jack wiped quickly at his eyes. "You're back early," he said, glancing up at the mage.
Harry shrugged. "Parsec discounted my previous experience. There was only so much to teach me, and a lot of it I'd learned on my own." He eyed the teen. "Good thing I got back sooner."
Jack looked over his shoulder at where Adele was still petrified. "Adele, my sister," he explained to the unvoiced question.
"Ah." Harry rubbed at his face. "Well, that spell should hold for a few more minutes. Why don't we make our getaway while we still can?"
Jack bit his lower lip, still watching his sister, and nodded. He started walking, not bothering to watch where he was going and promptly tripped over a rock on the road.
Harry blinked down at the human. "I've found that walking while facing forward tends to lessen the chances of landing on ones behind."
Jack flushed and let Harry pull him up. "Yeah, I know," he admitted and, after one last glance back, turned to start walking the right way. After a few steps, he said, "She was going on about how dragons were just monsters, like the skullheads and they should all be killed before they could kill humans."
Harry sighed. "A common human belief," he replied.
"But why?" Jack breathed. "Why do the humans think all dragons should die?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "There is...something of a prophecy, which was given by a human back during the early days of Radiata. There are different translations of it, and the one the humans have has led them to believe that dragons will bring about their doom."
Jack glanced over. "And what does the prophecy actually mean?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. Prophecies are...funny things," he offered carefully. "We often don't know what they're talking about until after they're over."
"But, is it true that it says something about dragons dooming humans?" Jack wanted to know.
Harry considered it for a moment, then said, "The prophecy mentions twins of some sort, which the fairy creatures have always taken that to mean Quasar and Aphelion, especially since it is a human prophecy and it next suggests that the twins make the world safe for them. The prophecy goes on to say the world is flourishing, but then 'imbalance grows, forests turn dark, this is our doom'. Something about a tower, which the dragons will bring down."
"So is the doom referring to the imbalance, or the dragons?" Jack wondered.
Harry shrugged. "I've always thought the imbalance – which was created by the sleep of Kelvin – has only gotten worse as the humans take out more dragons. Their own paranoia about dragons appearing in a prophecy about their doom has led to the prophecy coming true." He sighed. "It is the way of prophecies, vile things."
Jack blinked in surprise at Harry's disgusted tone. "Huh?"
Harry smiled a humourless smile. "In my old world, my childhood was ruled by a prophecy. My parents were killed and I spent my teen years being hunted by their murderer, who wanted me dead because of that prophecy."
Jack stared at Harry in horror. "How did you survive?"
"Luck," Harry replied drily. "A lot of luck." He shook his head. "Anyway, yes. Prophecies equal bad news. They never mean what you think they mean, and if you try to act against it, it's going to come true. Best to just ignore them and follow less chancy pursuits."
"Like what?" Jack wondered. "Taking on a monster you could kill in your sleep?"
"Or recruiting as many fairy creatures as you can," Harry returned, grinning at Jack, who flushed. "Very impressive, by the way."
"I had help," Jack mumbled.
Harry dropped his arm around the teen's shoulders. "Help or no help, Zane couldn't have managed a tenth the number you got. Hell, I'd probably only manage about half, and the fairy creatures like me."
"You would have done better than half!" Jack insisted.
Harry grinned. "Mmm... Maybe. Not with the green goblins, though. I wouldn't know where to start. Even back when they were more inclined to do things, they didn't have any form of structure."
"They still don't," Jack supplied.
"See! I'd be useless. But I bet you went in there with a plan, didn't you?"
"I spoke to a couple of friends, then we went around and talked to every green goblin we could find. Wasn't much of a plan. If Gob hadn't gone off and found the green goblins not in Shangri La, we only would have had sixty join us."
Harry shook his head. "Still impressive. All the more so because you got a green goblin to go out and ask around for you, even if you never asked him to. Especially if you never asked him to."
Jack flushed a bit more. "Yeah?"
"Definitely," Harry insisted.
Jack grinned to himself, a bit of a skip in his step, and asked, "So how'd your training go, anyway?"
Harry groaned. "Not fun. Radian, the dragon who taught me, was a hard taskmaster. He insisted I work on something until I got it. I got all of two breaks the past few days."
Jack winced. "But it was five days!"
Harry shrugged. "Radian doesn't believe in unnecessary breaks. For a dragon, two breaks for sleeping and eating over the course of five days is about right." He smiled at the disbelieving look on Jack's face. "I've always been something of an insomniac, anyway, so it wasn't really so bad."
"If you say so," Jack replied sceptically.
Harry chuckled a bit, then stopped them at the turn-off to Wind Valley. "I told you I'd show you my form," he explained to Jack's curious look. "Wind Valley should be pretty much deserted, other than a few monsters."
"Cool!" Jack decided and practically skipped after a chuckling Harry.
Wind Valley was a confusing series of islands and totems that blew travellers across to the next island, or attacked them. Jack was sure he would have gotten lost in mere seconds, but Harry led them unerringly towards a larger island all the way at the back that appeared surrounded by a perpetual wind storm.
Seeing Jack eyeing the wind storm, Harry offered, "This was Cepheid's home, when he wasn't at the dragon caves, or strutting around City of Flowers. It used to be, when he wasn't in or just didn't want visitors, the wind storm would be too great to cross and you'd get stuck on the far end of the bridge, but while he's sleeping, the rest of us have more important things to worry about than this storm, so it's left open."
Jack nodded. "Okay. So, dragon form!" He turned pleading eyes on Harry.
The human-turned-dragon laughed and moved away enough that he'd have room, then turned into his dragon form. One of the things he'd learned while working with Radian was that he could still talk in his dragon form, despite the fact that the dragons from his world couldn't, so he lowered his head towards Jack and asked, "What do you think? Do I pass muster?"
"Awesome!" Jack declared and proceeded to spend a good twenty minutes inspecting Harry's dragon form with glee.
Finally, they made their way back through Wind Valley and were on the road again. They hadn't been able to talk in Wind Valley over the sound of the wind, but once they'd crossed the bridge back into the Nowem region, Jack commented, "It's different from Baade."
Harry shrugged. "No one dragon looks like any of the others. Cepheid looks rather more like a hurricane than a dragon, and Kelvin had two heads. The dragons are shaped by the element they have control over, so they're going to look different."
"You don't have an element," Jack helpfully pointed out.
Harry grinned. "I have an alternate world that had its own dragons. My form is the meanest of the lot: the Hungarian Horntail."
"Apt," Jack decided, thinking back to the deadly-looking tail that Harry had very determinedly kept still while Jack was running around. Jack remembered thinking that the tail was way better designed for killing than Baade's had been.
When they reached Fort Helencia, it was to a small celebration. They were still waiting on Ridley's group and the last of the green goblins that Gil and the other light elves were bringing, but the sheer size of their army had been realised and the fairy creatures were ecstatic. Jack found himself swept up in congratulations and well-wishes while a couple of people demanded Harry's attention to ask how his short holiday had gone.
When Jack finally managed to get to where Zane was standing with a scowl on his face and some elven wine in one hand, he asked, "Did we do well enough for you, Lord Zane? Or should we tackle the orcs next?"
Zane grimaced. "I have no wish to add orcs to our number. This is...sufficient."
Jack decided that was as much praise as he was going to get from the elven leader and turned to return to the party.
"Jack," Zane called and the human looked back at him curiously. "Thank you for your hard work," he said with just the slightest hint of respect in his eyes.
Jack blinked in surprise. "You're welcome," he replied. "I'm always happy to help, just let me know." Then he turned and hurried off into the party in search of Harry. He had to let the dragon know about Zane's reaction. And Ridley, when she got back.
Facing Adele may have been one of the worst moments of Jack's life, but he wouldn't change his mind about fighting for the fairy creatures for anything. He'd found his niche here, and that was worth any number of friends and family cursing his name.
I always kind of wanted there to be some sort of scene with Adele in the game once you've picked the fairy path, instead you never see anyone from Solieu Village again, since the only humans you can run into want to fight you, and when you see Adele again, she's just been tortured by the people of Radiata for information on Jack. At any rate, I added my own confrontation, and I may have gotten her character wrong, but she strikes me as the sort of girl who will stick by her father's actions and side with the humans, no matter if Cairn was friends with the fairy creatures. And if attacking Jack would knock some sense into him...
Anyway... I actually wrote this part before I got to the point where Adele is tortured and freed by Ganz, Rynka, and Flau. And I still stand by it. Adele is still going to be captured – Harry petrifying her just made it easier for the knights – and we'll be seeing her again.
Yay! Harry's back! (It was just a brief holiday. Just long enough for Jack to get himself into trouble and need rescuing. XD)
Chapter 9: Chapter Eight: Power Over Life
There are a couple scenes in this chapter that were taken almost word-for-word from the game, with changes to include Harry and the changed circumstances his being there have brought about.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The week following the addition of the green goblins was spent bowed over maps in the strategy room, discussing where to move their troops to better protect themselves from attack. While Ridley and Harry were quite willing to join in on these meetings, Jack thought it was all boring as hell and spent his time instead joining Gil in training the troops or running errands for people in the fort, such as getting a history book for the black goblin Marco or getting some special ore for the dwarf Dyvad. He was often joined on these outings by Gob and at least one other fairy creature. Harry, Ridley and Gawain were too busy talking tactics, so they never joined him.
Jack really just wanted the war to start already. All this planning and sitting around was not his thing.
The only time Jack spent with his fellow humans and Harry was at breakfast in the strategy room. Harry would usually wake up first and, if Jack was there, would wake the teen up and drag him along for food.
The morning when things finally went to hell was just like every other morning since the goblins had joined them; Jack woke to Harry's smiling face and, yawning, allowed himself to be half-dragged down the hall to the strategy room, where food had already been set out. They sat down in the open seats and Harry started up a conversation with Gawain on his left while Jack gulped down some coffee and woke up a bit.
Jack was just turning to Ridley on his right when she jerked to her feet and stumbled away from the table.
"Ridley? Where are you going?" Jack asked in the silence that had followed the girl's sudden movements.
Ridley stumbled another step, then collapsed into a heap on the floor.
The elves on the other side of the table got to their feet even as Jack, Gawain and Harry hurried to the fallen girl. Gawain set a hand against her forehead while Harry quietly cast a spell to let him check her vitals.
"Ridley..." Jack whispered, worried and hating himself for not spending enough time with her. Maybe, he could have noticed something off sooner if he'd been around more.
"She's got a high fever," Gawain reported.
Harry sat back on his heels and sighed. "I feel like I should have foreseen this," he said quietly, smoothing the girl's bangs out of her closed eyes.
"What is it?" Jack demanded.
Harry took a moment to cast a spell on Ridley to help keep her temperature down, then offered, "This is something of a side-effect of the transpiritation ritual."
Jack glanced down at his unconscious friend. "Will she be okay?"
"Yes," Zane cut in, moving around the table to join them.
Harry shot the light elf a sharp look that had the man flinching, then looked back at Jack. "I'm not sure," he said honestly to the wide eyes. "Ridley's soul and Hap's – the light elf – soul are fighting each other for control of her body. If Ridley wins, nothing will change. If Hap wins, Ridley will essentially die and Hap will exist. If they manage to figure out how to work together... Well, the best would probably be the last for the both of them."
Jack chewed on his lip and asked, "So, but, wait... Hap is still alive in there? When light elves have the transpiritation ritual performed on them, does this also happen to them?"
"Of course," Zane replied, expression uncaring. "The transpiritation ritual involves two souls joining together. Light elves are just better at accepting other souls into them."
"Light elves grow up with the knowledge of how to accept another soul, and usually the transpiritation ritual is performed on willing participants," Harry replied, eyes shooting darts at the light elf leader. "Ridley was neither willing, nor does she possess the knowledge necessary to ease this part of the ritual." He sighed and looked back down at the girl. "I'm sorry, Ridley."
"Can you help her?" Jack pleaded. This was magic beyond Jack's understanding, so maybe Harry could fix it.
Harry glanced up, eyes thoughtful. "I can try," he decided, then met Jack's eyes, serious. "But it might only make things worse. There's already a war being waged inside her, any assistance I provide might very well be taken the wrong way."
Jack looked back down at Ridley's still face. Ridley liked Harry all right, and from what he'd heard from the other light elves, Hap had been fond of Harry. If anyone could help Ridley, it would be the dragon. "You'll find a way," Jack insisted, looking back up at the older man.
Harry nodded and, with Gawain's help, carried the girl back to her room.
Jack, feeling useless, decided to forego eating any more and left for the training out back.
Jack was fighting a dummy when Shin came rushing outside, face flushed and worried. "Gil! Gil!"
Jack hurried over to the stressed out light elf. "Gil's gone off to check over the black goblins stationed at the edge of the Nowem region," he offered. "What's wrong?"
Shin stared at Jack for a moment, fighting with himself, then nodded. "Lord Parsec is being attacked by the royal knights! They've got him trapped in Fire Mountain!"
Jack blinked. "Crap," he replied, then turned to where the light elves who trained with Gil every morning stood, looking horrified. "Sian!"
The light elf in question jerked to attention, used to that tone coming from an angry Gil. "Sir!"
"I need you to fly out to the black goblin troops and let Gil know what's going on. Rupal!" Another light elf snapped to attention as Sian jumped into the sky. "I need you and two others to get to Shangri La and check on the green goblins that are there. If the humans are starting their attack, we need to know. Shin, have you alerted Zane yet?" he asked, turning back to the message-bearer while Rupal collected two friends and they made for the pig statue.
Shin nodded. "He told me to get Gil. Gawain and Lord Harry are still with the gi– Ridley."
Jack nodded and took a glance around the training grounds. "Gob! Want to go on an adventure?"
Gob looked up from where he was working with a couple of other green goblins who had decided to stay with the fort. "Gob always good for adventure," the green goblin informed Jack, grinning broadly.
"Dyvad!" Jack called to a dwarf who he'd recently made good friends with after bringing him some ore.
The dwarf in question glanced up from the weapon he was testing. "Bit busy, Jack!"
"I'm going to Fire Mountain!" Jack called back, ignoring the startled look on Shin's face and the mad grin on Gob's, who had joined him.
Dyvad turned his full attention to the human. "What, you need a better weapon?"
Jack touched the Deep Lance strapped to his back that Dyvad had made for him the evening before. "Not really. Just wondering if you wanted to come along."
Dyvad thought about it for a moment, then asked, "You'll be fighting humans, then?"
"Almost certain to," Jack agreed.
Dyvad's mouth split into a violent smile and he swung the hammer he'd been testing onto his shoulder in a comfortable motion. "I'm coming," he said, walking over to them.
Jack grinned. "Excellent. We'll take the pig to Shangri La, then walk to the Dichett region and Fire Mountain."
"Just the three of you?" Shin demanded.
Jack shrugged. "Well, Gil should be coming with Sian, and we can pick up a couple of green goblins at Shangri La, so... Yeah. Just us three." He smiled at Shin. "You should probably make sure Gawain and Harry know what's going on, though. Just in case."
Shin sighed and muttered unfavourable things about humans under his breath while the party of three hurried over to the pig and set out.
They did pick up a couple of green goblins on their way through Shangri La – which was, oddly, not under attack. Jack only stopped long enough to tell the other green goblins and the three light elves guarding the place to keep their eyes peeled for retreating humans, then they were all running for the bridge to the Dichett region, Jack promising himself to bring up the fact that the humans had gone through Shangri La without destroying anything to Harry and Zane once Parsec was safe.
On the bridge, they were stopped by a single human. When Jack, leading the party, reached the armoured form, she said, "I've been waiting, Jack Russell."
Jack leaned against his spear, which he'd pulled out as soon as he'd recognised the person holding the bridge. "Chief, I don't really have time to chat right now. Could we do this later?" He tried a winning smile, but had a feeling it fell flat.
"I cannot allow you to pass," Elwen replied. "Please retreat."
Jack swallowed hard and shook his head, stomach jumping to his throat as Elwen pulled out her sword.
"Gob destroy humans," Gob hissed from just behind Jack's left elbow.
Although Jack couldn't see her eyes, he had the distinct feeling that Elwen had just given the green goblin an unimpressed look. Not having time to deal with a long, convoluted argument about who Gob could and couldn't kill, he ordered, "Back up, Gob. Not a lot of room here."
Gob huffed under his breath, but did as ordered, directing the other green goblins to back up as well. Dyvad, who had been at the back of the line, had already stepped back off the bridge, having no intention of standing on it while there was a battle.
Elwen kept her sword at her side, posture slightly curious. "Why are you helping them to destroy us humans?"
"I'm protecting humans and non-humans alike by fighting with the fairy creatures," Jack replied tightly, lifting his spear off the boards under his feet. "I'm sorry the other humans can't see that they're destroying this world–"
"Humans destroying the world?" Elwen replied, sounding more curious that upset by the statement.
Jack bit the inside of his cheek. "Chief, forgive me, but I'm on a time limit. If you want to debate the destruction of the world later, I'm willing, but either let me pass, or fight me. Please."
"Indeed," Elwen replied, readying her sword. "One last question."
"Ask," Jack allowed.
"Why do you fight?"
"I fight for the people who don't know what they're doing," Jack replied without pause. "I fight for the friends who watch my back. I fight because it's the right thing to do."
Elwen nodded and something about the way she held herself seemed to slump. "You still haven't learned," she murmured.
"Wha–?" A memory came back to Jack, of the first time he'd met the Chief of Theater Vancoor, of her words on that long night about true strength coming from fighting to protect another. "So fighting for an entire world doesn't count on the way to finding true strength?" he snapped.
She considered him. "Jack Russell, is there anyone you would do anything to protect, even forsake the world?"
"Yes," Jack replied, thinking of Harry, "but he doesn't need my protection; he's strong enough on his own."
"Even the strongest have a weakness," Elwen reprimanded him, bringing her sword up to point at Jack's chest. "Fight now, for this person you hold so dear, Jack Russell, and fight me with your true strength."
That was enough for Jack and he knocked her sword away, using the motion of the swinging bridge to change his spear's direction and bring it back to bear upon her. Elwen stepped out of the way and brought her sword back around, but the spear's longer reach and Jack's lighter form gave him an advantage on the swaying bridge and he countered every one of her attempts to hit him, nicking her in return.
Their battle would have continued until one or both of them was too exhausted to continue, but Gil and a party of six other light elves came down and circled the bridge, weapons and magic aimed at the human woman.
Elwen turned her sword and held it out to one of the younger elves, who took it away from her with a scowl and a snapped, "We're wasting time!"
"I'm sorry some of us have to travel on foot," Jack shot back drily, keeping his weapon pointed at Elwen. "Will you allow us to pass?"
Elwen held her hands up in defeat. "You have won this round, Jack," she agreed, pride colouring her voice. "Now it is time for you to face the next one. Hold the one you care so much for close to your heart, and you can face down any obstacle," she finished, moving to the side to let Jack pass.
Jack frowned over her words as he inched past her, the green goblins and Dyvad hurrying to follow.
Gil landed as Jack stepped out onto the land on the other side of the bridge. "Walking will just waste more time. We'll carry you," he offered as the other light elves landed, looking displeased.
"Sounds good," Jack agreed and secured his spear before Gil grabbed him under his arms and lifted him into the air.
"Humans and your armour," Gil grunted as they zipped towards the mountain that was billowing smoke in the near distance.
"Be glad I talked Gob into leaving his elephant behind," Jack shot back.
Gil's only response was some breathy laughter.
A party of knights was waiting for them outside the entrance to the mountain.
"We'll let the others handle the knights," Gil hissed to Jack as he flew them around the shouting band of humans and through the entrance to the mountain. Inside, they ducked other knights crawling the path with a mix of flying and ducking around the piles of boulders that littered the ground.
The only guards they couldn't avoid were the two men left guarding the doors into the centre of the mountain, but Gil shot off a couple of long range spells from the air while Jack launched a ground attack and they felled the guards without any trouble.
Beyond the doors, they found Parsec, in dragon form, faced by Cross and General Dynas.
The scene was painfully reminiscent of another Jack had seen not too long ago and he dashed forward, heedless of the danger to himself, and rammed into Cross.
Cross kept his footing and turned to Jack, sneering. "Why are you here?" he wondered, pointing his sword at Jack's throat. "Never mind, I don't care. Just stay out of our way!"
Jack managed to block Cross' first swipe and ducked to the side of his second, but the third clipped his dominate arm and the whole fight just went downhill from there. Eventually, Cross managed to land a hit across Jack's legs, bringing him painfully to his knees, and another blow with the flat of Cross' sword left Jack reeling in the dirt, spear kicked out of his reach by his opponent.
While Jack had been getting his behind handed to him, Dynas had been fighting off Parsec and Gil. When the light elf saw that Jack was down, he made for his human friend, only to be caught by the boy's spear, which Cross had grabbed and thrown at the incoming elf.
"Gil–!" Jack gasped and tried struggling to his feet, but the room spun beneath him and he dropped back down, Cross' foot on the middle of his back helping him down.
The movement had jarred the pocket Jack kept some of his little odds and ends in, however, and a smooth stone he didn't even remember putting in there rolled out, coming to rest next to Cross' other foot.
Cross' face lit up and he leaned down to pick up the stone. "An orb! Of course... It was an orb that destroyed the earth dragon! You've done well, Jack!" he said, turning towards where Dynas was trying to dodge Parsec's flames.
"No..." Jack whispered, once again struggling to get up, blinking away the dizziness. "No... you... don't–"
But it was too late; Cross was already to the fight, sword out in one hand and the orb held up in the other.
Parsec gave a great pained scream and flames jumped up around his body, which was already starting to fade away.
"No!" Jack shouted, lurching to his feet and stumbling sideways on unsteady legs.
"I did it!" Cross crowed, picking up the now-red orb. "I destroyed the dragon!"
Jack's eyes lit on the glowing orb and his legs gave out again, dropping him to the ground. "Damn it," he hissed, not sure if he was cursing his own legs or Cross' victory.
"Did you see that, Jack?" Cross asked, stepping towards the younger man, a maniacal glint in his eyes. "The humans have won. We can't possibly lose now. We can wipe them out; goblins, elves, all the nonhumans. We will trample them into the dirt like cockroaches! Just like we did with your Adele."
"You've doomed yourselves," Jack replied in a monotone, eyes distant, the crack about his sister not even registering. "There's no 'win' or 'lose' any more."
Cross laughed and brought his sword around to rest just under Jack's chin. "You're wrong, Jack. I've won, and you're about to lose. Forever."
As Cross moved his sword back to give himself room for his swing, a loud 'pop' echoed through the room and Harry appeared near the door. He took in the scene in a blink, then pointed at Cross and intoned, "Exta Expellere."
Cross didn't even have time to scream as his stomach burst open and his intestines slid out through the bottom of his armour. Shock touched his eyes briefly before the life left them and he fell over sideways.
Jack tried to move back away from the growing puddle of guts and blood, but he only managed to half fall over, jarring his wounded arm as it caught his fall.
And then Harry was next to him, muttering healing spells and gently helping him up on legs that would finally hold his weight.
"Gil," Jack remembered and pushed at Harry, pointing to where Gil was laying, motionless, against the wall.
Harry nodded and led Jack over with him, leaning down to check on the light elf only once he was certain Jack would remain standing next to him.
Jack, once Harry was focused on Gil, glanced around the cavern. Seeing the empty ledge where Parsec had been resting made his chest hurt, but he was distracted from that by the sight of Gawain half-shoving a shell-shocked Dynas from the room.
Gawain turned to Jack once the large doors where closed again, expression grim. "How're you doing, Jack?"
Jack blinked. "When did you get here?" he wondered.
"He's suffering from shock," Harry offered as Gil let out a groan and opened his eyes. "Hey, Gil. How're you doing?"
Gil reached up and gently touched the healed wound from where Jack's spear had pierced his side. "Damn, that hurt," the light elf managed.
Harry offered him a tight smile. "Another couple of inches and that would have killed you." He paused for a moment and glanced up at where Gawain was talking gently to Jack, who was finally starting to come around. "How did Jack's spear end up in your side, anyway?"
Gil grimaced. "That human threw it when I was trying to help Jack. And is Jack–?"
"Jack's fine," Harry reported. "He had a few cuts and one hell of a concussion, but he's fine now."
Gil nodded, relieved, and let Harry help him to his feet. When the light elf saw the mess that had been Cross, his eyes went wide and he looked at Harry. "What happened?" he whispered.
Harry grimaced. "I may have lost my temper."
"You..." Gil shook his head, speechless. Sometimes, it was easy to forget exactly how dangerous Harry could be.
Jack approached the corpse, one hand held over his nose, and picked up the red orb, ignoring Gawain's gentle voice. He didn't need to be talked down like some animal, thanks. The haze that had covered everything since Cross had started talking about having won was gone and Jack was seeing things with terrible clarity:
Jack Russell had as good as killed Parsec himself.
Wings rustled quietly and a gentle hand took the red orb from Jack's hand. "It wasn't your fault," Gil said, quiet voice overly loud in the empty room.
Jack swallowed. "It was," he replied. "If I hadn't been here–"
"Cross still would have defeated Parsec without you here, Jack," Harry said.
"It wouldn't have been so easy!" Jack snapped, turning to look at where Harry and Gawain were standing a bit away from Jack and Gil. "He wouldn't have had one of those orbs! That–" Jack cut himself off, a terrible realisation suddenly appearing in his mind with stark clarity. "The orb... I had it for weeks. I've been..." His chest tightened and he found himself struggling to breathe.
"Jack?" Harry asked, stepping forward.
"I've been carrying that thing around in my pocket. I could have killed you at any moment! I've been carrying around your death in my pocket! I–!"
Harry grabbed Jack's shoulders and shook him. "Listen to me, Jack," he ordered and the teen's mouth snapped shut. "The orbs don't work like that; they don't just seal upon touch. It's intent that activates them, and unless you've been secretly harbouring the desire to send me to sleep these past few weeks..."
Jack shook his head. "No, I'd never–!"
"Then you've just been carrying around a pretty stone," Harry replied. "One made by dragons to seal dragons, but not in any way one that could have been used against me. Not by your hand. Do you understand?"
Jack nodded, the band around his chest loosening. "Yeah," he whispered. "Yeah, I understand..." He felt suddenly tired and it was a struggle to keep his eyes open.
Harry caught Jack as the teen finally succumbed to the exhaustion from the battle, his emotions and the healing. "Gawain, will you be able to see the others outside back to their posts?" he asked as he shifted Jack in his arms.
Gawain smiled and nodded. "Certainly."
"I'll go with Gawain," Gil said, slipping the orb that had sealed Parsec into a pocket.
"You'll do no such thing!" Harry snapped, giving the elf a sharp look. "Come here." He held out one hand, straining a bit to keep Jack steady against him.
Gil grabbed Harry's arm, free hand moving to help support Jack. Almost as soon as Jack was steady, there was this sensation like being pulled through something much too small and Fire Mountain turned into Jack and Harry's room in Fort Helencia.
While Gil was getting his bearings, Harry carried Jack over to his bed and set the teen in it. He'd managed to pull Jack's belt and bangles off before Gil spoke.
"I knew you could do that, but..."
"I don't usually," Harry agreed, smiling. "No. Apparation tends to react badly with some ingredients. I had to leave my potions belt in Ridley's room."
Gil nodded. "How is the girl?"
"She was awake before I left," Harry reported, easing off one of Jack's boots. "She's still fighting with Hap, but they're starting to accept each other. Finally."
Gil smiled to himself, watching the dragon take care of the human on the bed. "And Jack? I remember you saying something about a concussion?"
"I'll stay in here and make sure he's okay," Harry said, setting the second boot next to Jack's bed and pulling the teen's covers over him.
"I'll let Lord Zane know what happened, then," Gil decided.
Harry nodded, absently brushing a lock of hair out of Jack's eyes. "Sounds good. Ah...but you might want to avoid the mention of where the orb came from. For all that I don't blame Jack, Zane will."
Gil grimaced; yes, Zane would most certainly see this as a reason to dislike the human all the more. For all that the light elf elder was starting to accept the two young humans that lived in the fort, Zane wasn't yet to the point where he could over-look even so minor a transgression. "I'll make something up," he agreed.
"Good. And then get some sleep yourself," Harry ordered, looking over his shoulder at the light elf. "Your body's more used to healing magic than Jack's, but rest is the best thing you can do for yourself right now."
"Understood. Oh, and Lord Harry?"
Harry grimaced at the title and looked back at Jack's sleeping face. "Yes, Gil?"
"I think it's pretty obvious, but humans tend to be oblivious, so you might want to tell Jack how you feel about him."
Harry blinked a few times in surprise. "How I... feel?" He looked back over at the light elf, who was rubbing at his eyes and smiling helplessly. "Is that light elf code for something?"
"Humans are so dense," Gil muttered and left the room.
Harry huffed a bit. "Why do I bother putting up with elves?" he wondered aloud to the empty room. He glanced back down at Jack and smiled at him, then got up and wandered over to the small potions station he'd set up in a corner of their shared room. He'd been afraid, at first, that the smells would keep his roommate awake or give him headaches, but Jack hadn't seemed bothered at all. He'd even said, once, that the smells helped him drift off to sleep.
For all that he'd hated potions at Hogwarts, Harry had found himself relearning the skill out of necessity to survive in Tottaus on his own. Now, after so long, he found himself relaxing into the familiar motions of slicing and dicing and his mind wandered off on its own.
What had Gil meant? How he felt about Jack? They were friends, of course. He was a good kid, but always getting into trouble. Last week it had been his sister, this week Cross Ward. Would Harry always be saving Jack from people out to kill him?
The image of Cross, sword back and prepared to swing at the unmoving Jack came back to Harry and his heart skipped a beat, just as it had back in Fire Mountain.
The knife slipped from Harry's fingers and he gripped his potions table. Oh. Oh.
"Shit," Harry whispered and closed his eyes. He'd gone and fallen in love with a human.
It wasn't the first time Harry had fallen in love with someone else. There'd been Ginny back in his world, and a dark elf by the name of Belle. Belle had been one of the dark elves that Aphelion had killed for sport all those years ago, and the reason Harry had finally hunted the silver dragon down. It had taken years for his relationship with Ginny to develop, and he had only realised why he'd reacted so violently to Belle's death after Aphelion had been properly scared off; it shouldn't be such a shock that he hadn't realised why he was so attached to Jack, but it somehow did surprise him.
Never mind that a relationship between them would be impossible. They were both male, for Merlin's sake! And while Harry didn't have a problem with gays – he was old enough and travelled enough to know that prejudice based on the forms of love was just stupid – most humans did; Jack would never accept a relationship. And Jack was human. His lifespan was completely worthless; any relationship they started would leave Harry with a broken heart when Jack died.
Then there was Ridley. Jack was clearly in love with the girl; look at his reaction when she'd fallen ill at breakfast that morning!
No, a relationship between them would never work. Better to just remain friends.
His mind helpfully provided him with the memory of the fear in Jack's eyes when the teen remembered that he'd been carrying an orb around with him and could have sealed Harry.
"We're friends," Harry muttered to the bubbling cauldron. "Of course he'd be concerned."
His mind closed in on the absolute terror in the brown eyes.
"Friends," Harry insisted. "Either shut up, or help me with this potion."
He couldn't help but wonder if he was going a bit mad when he got the sense that his mind had thrown up its arms in defeat, but decided it wasn't worth wondering about; after a couple of centuries, anyone would start losing their mind a bit.
Jack sighed and lay back against the grass. Harry had finally let him out of their room, but he'd been ordered to take it easy for the day. No travelling, no training with the dummies or the elves and goblins, nothing. It was boring as anything else.
Gil sat down next to him. "You on light duty?" he asked.
"I'm on 'I'd keep you in bed if I thought you'd stay there without having to be constantly monitored' duty," Jack muttered back. "I can lay out here, in my room or sit in on a strategy meeting. I'd rather sit out here, where I can at least watch other people train."
Gil snorted and leaned back on his palms. "I'm sorry."
Jack sighed. Harry had explained that Jack had lost a lot of blood from the fight against Cross and that healing magic always left the recipient exhausted for days, especially with his blood loss and a concussion. Potions were better for a quick healing, but Harry hadn't been able to bring any with him, so magic had been required. Jack had understood that his twenty-hour sleep had been the result of the battle and the healing, but he wasn't really okay with having to relax for another couple of days, especially if the humans might attack soon.
"You're on light duty?" Jack asked the light elf.
"Harry's version of light duty," Gil agreed, "which involves pretty much what you're allowed to do, with the added bonus of being allowed to get up and show people, in slow motion, what they're doing wrong. If I strain something or try over-exerting myself, I'll be 'drugged to the gills and sent back to bed'."
Jack's lips twitched at the threat which Harry had delivered to him that morning as well. "He's worse than my sister was the time I caught the flu," he commented.
"If Adele is anything like your mother, I can see it."
Jack blinked in surprise. "You knew my mom?"
Gil shrugged. "We met a couple of times. I saw Adele when she wasn't quite a year old, too."
Jack chuckled at himself. At Gil's curious look, he said, "I knew you were friends with my dad, but I hadn't really thought about what that meant in the way of the rest of my family." He shook his head. "Yeah, Adele's a lot like Mom was, but she handles a sword like Dad. Taught me everything I know."
Gil's lips curled with a faint smile. "There's something of Cairn in your style," he agreed, "but there's a good deal more of a style purely your own. I don't know if that's because you learned your fighting from Adele, who wouldn't have remembered Cairn very well, or if it's because you've been fighting long enough to develop something of a style all your own."
"I don't know," Jack admitted. "Adele always swore up and down that she was teaching me Dad's fighting style, and I don't think I changed it that much..."
"Cairn was also much larger than you are," Gil offered. "Many of his moves required brute strength to successfully employ and you may not quite have that strength yet. It's probably best you develop your own fighting style, so you can fight now. As you get older and build your muscles, you'll probably find yourself once again leaning more towards your father's style."
Jack smiled at the light elf. "I figured," he agreed. "I'm only sixteen, after all, for all that I'm fighting on the front lines of a war."
Gil glanced up at the fort behind them. "As an elf, the idea of sending a sixteen-year-old to fight is almost like serving them a death notice, but humans age faster. You're probably about the same maturity level that I was when I first met Cairn." His lips twitched again. "We weren't friends on sight, you know. It wasn't until he and Gawain completely kicked all our behinds and then emptied his stock of potions to heal us that we became friends."
Jack closed his eyes. "And here I thought Dad made friends with all the fairy creatures from the start."
Gil snorted. "Not a chance. He had to fight for the elves' friendship, just like Harry did all those centuries ago, and just like you're having to now."
Jack blinked his eyes open. "Harry had to fight to make friends with the elves?" he wondered.
"The light elves, certainly," Gil agreed. "But he was quick friends with the dark elves, always has been. I think they were just human enough to be willing to accept him into their fold, and just elf enough that Harry felt comfortable with them when he had to flee the human world."
Jack frowned. "He fled Radiata?" That didn't sound like something Harry would do.
"Mmm... Maybe fled isn't quite the right word," Gil admitted. "He lived among them for a long time and eventually left because he wasn't growing older and he couldn't stand watching his human friends die. Dark elves live almost twice as long as humans, and light elves live almost twice as long as dark elves. If hatred of humans wasn't so engrained in light elves, he might have ended up spending most of his time in the City of Flowers."
Jack knew Harry didn't enjoy watching his friends die, so living among those who lived longer would have been something of a blessing, yes. Human life was far too short.
"Speaking of Harry, I told him he should tell you something when we got back. I don't suppose he's imparted any words of wisdom to you?"
Jack's lips twitched as he closed his eyes again. "Other than the list of ingredients he can't apparate with?"
Gil rolled his eyes. "I honestly don't know if he's being stubborn, or thick," he commented.
"Well, what's this thing he's supposed to tell me?"
"It's for him to tell you, not me. With any luck he'll find the nerve before the end of this war." Gil groaned and got carefully to his feet. "He's doing that kata wrong. Amateurs."
Jack snickered as Gil walked off to show a dark elf how he was screwing up. The light elf was very serious about making sure his troops could survive a battle with only minimal casualties.
Jack was just starting to doze off when Gil returned to his position next to him. "Jack?"
"Could I ask you a question?"
Jack cracked one eyelid open just the barest bit. "Sure."
"That knight on the bridge, who was she talking about? The one you hold dear."
Jack let his eye slip closed again. "Harry," he mumbled.
"Do you love him?" Gil asked, holding his breath.
Jack smiled sleepily. "Love..." he mused, opening his eyes and glancing up at the sky. After a moment of staring, he closed his eyes and agreed, "Love's a good word for it."
Gil let out his breath, eyes wide. He'd read them both right, then. They were both attracted to each other and completely oblivious to the other's affection. "Humans," he muttered.
"Why'd you ask about me loving Harry?" Jack opened his eyes again, a bit more awake now. Even awake, he found himself oddly calm about the idea that he loved his best friend, and he wondered if he hadn't, somehow, accepted it a long time ago. Dragons knew he'd cared for Harry long enough, and there was always that saying: 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' There had been a lot of absences in their friendship, and each time had been harder than the last.
Gil glanced down at the human at his side, wondering how to put it so Harry would still have his privacy. "Harry deserves to have someone to love him," he decided on. "He deserves having someone around who will care for him like he's always caring for the rest of us."
"I don't know if I'm strong enough to care for him," Jack admitted. Harry was the strongest person he knew, for all that the mage wouldn't pick up a sword; but there was more to strength than swinging a slab of sharp metal through the air, a lesson Jack had learned from his friendship with the powerful mage.
"I don't mean care for him in the sense that you're fighting back his enemies," Gil clarified. "I mean..." He shifted slightly, frowning. "Jack, we elves have grown up with stories of how wonderful Harry is, how much he cares for us and protects us. We grow up expecting the dragons to correct all the wrongs of the world, and Harry's a dragon. Even though I've been friends with him for fifty years, a part of me still thinks of him as 'Lord Harry', an elder who must be obeyed at all costs. Sometimes, I even slip up and call him that, even though I know he doesn't care for it.
"But you don't have any of that. You got to know him as a human, as a person. An exceptional person, sure, but still just a person. To the elves, he's something like a god; to you, he'll always be a person first and a dragon second. He'd never say anything, but I think he needs that. It may not seem like much, but it's something you do for him. Something only you can do for him."
Jack glanced back at the fort, expression thoughtful. "Yeah?"
Jack nodded and closed his eyes again, brow furrowed with thought. "Thanks, Gil."
Gil touched the human's shoulder briefly. "Any time," he replied, then got up to yell at his trainees, leaving Jack with his thoughts.
I know, I know, Cross didn't die in that scene in the game. But Harry had a moment, and I never liked Cross anyway. He's a slimeball. (This, coming from someone who's favourite HP character is Voldemort. XD)
The spell Harry used is my version of the Entrail-Expelling Curse from the books, for which an incantation was never given. It translates, roughly, to 'entrails expel'. I didn't bother trying to remember how to decline 'expel', but Jo's spells have never been exact, so I figure it doesn't matter. You may use it, certainly, but please credit me?
I'd meant to get the scene with Ganz and Jack and Adele in this chapter, but then the boys had to finally get around to thinking about their feelings. (Which is okay, I guess, since I wasn't much looking forward to writing that part right this moment. It's going to involve a lot of script from the actual game, I think. *sigh* ) Next chapter should start with that scene and cover at least through Jack receiving the Arbitrator.
I think that was all for this chapter. And, yes, the boys'll get together one of these days. They're just dense. XD
Chapter 10: Chapter Nine: Arbitrator
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jack had behaved himself and hadn't done anything more strenuous than walking around the fort for the past day, so Harry had released him to the mythical 'light duty' that morning. Gil was back on normal duty, much to his pleasure, and Jack was once again resting in the field behind the fort, watching Gil beat his troops into shape. He knew he could get up and stretch his own sore muscles a bit, but it wouldn't be the same as an actual fight, and he didn't have a weapon right now, either, since his Deep Lance had been left in Fire Mountain.
Sure, he could easily get a new weapon from Vladimir, but he wasn't really allowed to use it right now, anyway... He could wait another day or two.
Between the warm sun and the repetitive sounds of drills, Jack found himself dozing again. He considered getting up and waking himself some, but decided it wasn't worth it. Harry had insisted his body needed rest, and Jack was willing to take a nap if it would speed his healing a bit more.
Jack wasn't sure what had woken him, but he tensed in preparation and opened his eyes to the glare of the afternoon sun. The field was silent and Jack figured it must have been lunchtime, which meant drills were taking a break. Gil would bring him something to eat, so Jack didn't really have a reason to get up, but...
What had woken him?
"What happened to you?" a familiar voice wondered.
Jack swung around to face the voice and blinked, surprised. "Captain?"
Ganz smiled and inclined his head. "Hello, Jack. It's been a while."
Jack climbed to his feet. "Where have you been? I was worried about you!"
Ganz shrugged, looking a bit sheepish. "Well, it's a long story... But before we get into that, I have something that I think will make you feel better." He pointed behind Jack.
Jack turned to look and felt his breath catch. Standing between two women was his sister, bruised and filthy, but okay. He remembered Cross mentioning that he had her, but he'd forced himself to focus on his own recovery before trying to figure out what the knight had meant about that. And, now, here was Adele, alive and safe. But their last meeting hadn't been so friendly, and Jack wondered how she'd react to him now.
"A-Adele?" he whispered, ashamed to hear his voice breaking.
Adele bit her lower lip. "Oh, Jack..." she whispered. "I'm sorry..."
That was all that Jack needed and he hurried forward to hug her. Her arms encircled him back and he could feel her shaking. "What did they do to you?" Jack whispered against her shoulder.
"As far as we can tell, they didn't do much more than starve her and beat her a bit," one of the women reported quietly. "Not quite as bad as it could have been, considering her 'crimes'." The woman's lip curled at the last word, disgust dripping from her voice.
"Crimes?" Jack replied, pulling out of Adele's embrace and looking her over critically. It didn't look like more than a few bruises and scrapes, but he'd feel better if Harry looked her over.
"I'm the sister of a traitor," Adele said quietly. "That was enough for the knights."
"Those..." Jack pressed his mouth together, disgusted, then glanced over at the fort. "Stay here," he decided. "I'll get some food." He considered Ganz and the two women who'd brought his sister. "For everyone."
"Thank you, Jack," Ganz said, smiling.
Jack nodded and gave his sister a critical look. "Sit down," he ordered, earning him a quiet laugh. He hurried into the fort and slipped into the mess. He looked around for Gil and Harry and, spotting Gil first, hurried over to him. "Hey, Gil?"
"You're awake," Gil replied. "Good nap?"
"Reasonable," Jack decided. "Listen, a couple of friends came to visit me, and I'm pretty sure they've got peaceful intentions, but they're human, so..."
Gil nodded. "The west wall could use some work," he commented. "I'll have my troop head over there after lunch." He paused for a moment while Jack shot him a grateful look, then asked, "Do you want someone out there with you, just in case?"
Jack shook his head. "I was going to get Harry," he admitted.
Gil shot him a knowing smile. "Uh-huh."
"Shut up, Gil," Jack retorted, moving away from the light elf and scanning the room again for the mess of black hair that always stood out in a room dominated by green and red-brown hair. He finally spotted Harry between Gawain's bright red hair and Ridley's blonde head. He considered for a moment that it was kind of funny that the humans and dragon stood out so much among the group of fairy creatures, then slipped through the room over to where the three sat.
"Hey, Harry? Could I borrow you for a moment?" he asked.
Harry glanced up, suspicion gleaming in his eyes even as he smiled. "What's up, Jack? Have you eaten yet?"
"I was going to grab something to go," he admitted.
"You're on light duty," Harry reminded him.
"Yeah, I was just going to enjoy the outdoors a bit. Collect a few more grass stains," Jack retorted, earning him snickers from Gawain and a couple of dark elves nearby. Ridley covered a smile with one hand while Harry's lips twisted with a full grin. "Come with me, please? It won't take long, promise."
Harry sighed and got to his feet with a groan. "All right, Jack. Lead the way to what ever trouble you've gotten yourself into this time."
Jack rolled his eyes while Ridley and Gawain laughed. "I'm completely innocent of any wrong-doing this time," he said to the dragon as he led the way to where the food was set out. He took a moment to pick out some of his sister's favourite foods, as well as something for himself and his other three visitors. At Harry's raised eyebrow, he admitted, "I got some visitors. I figured we could talk over food."
"Hmm." Harry grabbed himself an apple and bit into it as Jack led the way back out into the courtyard and towards the back entrance. "Human visitors?" he guessed.
Jack nodded. "The captain and a couple of his friends." He glanced at Harry out of the corner of his eye, wanting to judge the man's reaction. "And my sister."
Harry stopped and gave Jack an incredulous look. "Your sister," he repeated, disbelieving.
Jack nodded. "Yeah. Uhm, the knights had her and she's a little beaten up. She, uh... She doesn't seem too intent on attacking me right now, if that's what you're afraid of."
Harry huffed. "We'll see about that," he muttered and started walking back towards the exit again.
When they got outside, they found Adele sitting back against one of the rubble piles near the gate, one of the women crouched in front of her with a worried expression on her face. The other woman and Ganz stood nearby, looking helpless.
Harry took a moment to consider the scene, then stepped forward and crouched down next to Jack's sister, gently taking her chin in one hand and turning her head to face him. When Adele flinched away, eyes wide, he snapped, "Hold still, girl, and let me do my job."
Jack bit back a smile as he offered food to the other three humans. He'd known Harry wouldn't be able to resist checking Adele over, even if he'd last seen her trying to kill Jack.
"Who's that?" the woman who'd been kneeling next to Adele asked as she joined them and accepted some food.
"Harry. He's a mage and a healer," Jack reported, munching on a roll.
"He's the man who killed that blood orc, isn't he?" Ganz wondered, looking over at the mage curiously.
Jack nodded. "Yeah. He and I became friends after we got discharged from the knights. Which reminds me, Captain, what happened to you after that?"
Ganz smiled and made to sit down, the other three following his example. Jack set the rest of the food out between them, leaving aside what he'd picked out for his sister for when Harry was done playing healer.
"Well, as you know, Jack, I failed the Theater Vancoor test, but in a strange turn of events I found myself in Void, the bandit guild. Ms Rynka and Miss Flau took me under their wing and I helped them with their bandit work."
"A bandit?" Jack said, eyes wide. "Nuh-uh."
"Other than Theater Vancoor, there wouldn't have been a lot of options," Harry helpfully pointed out, picking through the food Jack had gotten for Adele.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Jack demanded.
"Finding things your sister can actually stomach after a week with little food," Harry replied drily. "We don't have any broth, but I gave her a potion that should help her keep down solid foods, if they're weak. Give me that roll," he added to Flau, who had just picked the last roll out of the pile of food.
Flau handed it over, blinking.
Harry nodded and turned back towards Adele with the food.
"Mages," Rynka muttered, making her companions grin.
Jack glanced back at Ganz. "Anyway, you. Bandit."
Ganz nodded. "Perhaps not the best job for me, but I did my best and managed to survive all right. Anyway, sometimes bandits steal information. One evening, the three of us uncovered a terrible secret concerning Sir Cross."
"What secret?" Jack asked, curious.
"It was about the blood orc incident," Ganz supplied.
"He's the one who brought the blood orcs north of Radiata, wasn't he?" Harry enquired, turning a bit so he could face their group, but also keep an eye on Adele.
"What? No way!" Jack looked over at Ganz and the man nodded, looking surprised. "Seriously?"
"You know how Cross was, Jack. Don't tell me you're honestly surprised," Harry said drily.
"Well, no, not really," Jack admitted, mind flashing back to Cross' pride over defeating Parsec. "But why would he do something like that? Especially with Ridley so close?"
"If you'll recall, Jack, we weren't actually supposed to be at the Forest Metropolis, but at the City of Flowers," Ganz reminded his fellow ex-knight.
Jack nodded. "Yeah, okay. But, why?" When Ganz didn't seem to have an answer, Jack turned to Harry.
The dragon offered a grim smile. "Cross was hardly the first human intent on killing the fairy creatures. And last time I saw Parsec, he told me that Aphelion was hiding out in Radiata Castle. For all we know, Aphelion was the one that gave Cross the idea."
"Maybe Cross was Aphelion and we don't have to worry about him any more," Jack muttered.
"Nope, sorry. Cross was one hundred percent human," Harry offered cheerfully.
Jack sighed and looked back at Ganz, who was wearing a curiously blank expression. "Sorry, Captain. So, how'd you get Adele, then? I remember Cross mentioning something about her, but..."
"What? When?" Harry cut in, leaning forward.
"Shortly before someone gutted him," Jack shot back drily.
Harry sat back, smiling in a self-satisfied sort of way. He'd never regret killing that bastard.
The humans other than Jack all gave Harry surprised looks. "You're the one who killed Cross?" Rynka asked.
Harry shrugged. "Yeah."
"He didn't just kill him," Jack offered, "he blew up his stomach."
"I didn't 'blow up' anything," Harry corrected matter of factly. "I pulled out his intestines and his skin just happened to be in the way."
The humans were silent for a long moment, then Adele coughed and commented, "You're a bit scary."
The humans let out some nervous laughter while Harry rolled his eyes and Jack grinned. "He only kills monsters and humans with murderous intentions towards his friends."
Adele's eyes took on a nervous cast. "Not very reassuring," she commented, obviously remembering her own attack on Jack.
"Jack would never forgive me if I killed you," Harry offered drily.
Adele looked to Jack for some reassurance and he smiled at her, then looked back at Ganz. "You. My sister. Harry, stop distracting us from the story."
Harry snorted and occupied his mouth with an apple he'd filched from the dwindling pile of food between the humans.
Ganz cleared his throat, a faint smile touching his lips. "We infiltrated the castle to find out more about what Sir Cross was up to, and we found Miss Adele in the dungeons. I knew we had to get her out of there before anything else, and we brought her straight to you."
Jack nodded and glanced back at where Adele was watching him, sadness in her eyes. "Thanks, Ganz. I wasn't sure Cross wasn't just messing with me back there, and I wasn't sure how I'd get into the city to find out..." Or even if he'd be welcome to help his sister out. Adele and he hadn't parted on the best of terms after all.
"Rynka and Flau will look after Miss Adele for you," Ganz offered.
Jack was starting to nod, but Adele cut in. "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather stay here and fight."
Jack gave his sister a startled look. "But, Sis–"
Adele shook her head. "I had a lot of time to think in that cell, Jack," she said, eyes dark. "And you were right – I did teach you to do the right thing, no matter what. Maybe helping the nonhumans isn't the best thing for the world, but after everything that happened to me in that castle, I can't bring myself to fight for or with the knights."
"No one says you have to fight at all," Jack pointed out quietly.
Adele shrugged. "No, but I'm the daughter of Cairn Russell; I can't just sit this one out because I don't know who's right. You've seen something in these people, something worth throwing your life away for. Maybe I don't know what that thing is, but it being there at all is enough for me."
Jack stared at his sister, surprised and touched. "Sis..."
A hand landed on Jack's shoulder and he looked over at Ganz. "I, too, intend to stay here and fight with you. This is where my friends are, as well as my father. There's nothing for me back in Radiata."
Jack turned to Harry, eyes wide with panic and the dragon smiled. "Zane is going to throw a fit, but I don't see any reason why they can't join us. Everyone deserves a chance to fight for what they believe in, no matter their personal reasons." Then he turned to Adele, eyes stern. "But you're on bed rest for another two days, no arguments."
Jack grinned. "Better listen to him, Sis. Harry throws around sleep spells like they're candy."
"If you lot would bloody rest when you need to, I wouldn't have to hit you with sleep magic all the time," Harry retorted.
"Pot, kettle," Jack said, still grinning.
"I don't need to sleep as much as you, and you know that."
Jack chuckled and got to his feet. "Yeah, yeah. You want to tackle Zane?"
Harry groaned and got to his own feet. "Might as well. Come on, Ganz, I can show you to Gawain on the way."
Ganz nodded and stopped to say his good-byes to Rynka and Flau.
"Talk to Coco about getting another bed set up in Ridley's room," Harry said to Jack. "Your sister can sleep in there – Ridley shouldn't mind, and putting either of them with one of the fairy creatures is just asking for a blood bath."
Jack nodded. "Okay. I'll let Ridley know about her new roommate once Adele is settled in."
"Fantastic," Harry decided, then motioned for Ganz to follow him and led the way inside.
Adele gave Jack a searching look as the younger Russell helped her up. "You're good friends, then?" she asked.
"Best," Jack agreed. "He's my reason for being here."
Adele let out a thoughtful hum, then reached over and touched a mostly-healed cut on his cheek. "So what happened to you while I was rotting in a dungeon?"
Jack grimaced, then shrugged and started explaining his recent adventures, leaving out only that Harry was a dragon.
Harry came to check on Adele during supper, while everyone else was eating in the mess. He brought some bland food with him for her to eat and conjured up a chair to sit in while she ate.
"You don't trust me," Adele commented quietly.
Harry shrugged. "Do you blame me? The first time I saw you, you were about to swing your sword down on Jack's head."
"I misjudged the situation."
"That's a pretty way of saying you overreacted." Harry leaned back in his chair. "I'm willing to let you stay because Jack wants you around, but I'm not about to trust that you won't 'misjudge the situation' again."
Adele looked down at the crackers on the plate Harry had brought. "I don't intend to hurt my brother again." She looked up at him, brown eyes challenging. "And I don't intend to let you hurt him, either."
Harry snorted. "Me? Why would I hurt Jack?"
"You tell me," Adele snapped. "He says you're his best friend, but what about you? Do you consider him a friend too, or is he just your roommate and one of the few other humans here? Don't think I haven't noticed how hard it is for humans here."
"Don't be so quick to judge the relationships between those of us in this fort, Miss Russell," Harry replied tightly. "Jack is hardly restricted to only having humans as friends."
"You didn't answer my question," Adele pointed out, not about to be side-tracked.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course Jack is my friend."
"But not your best friend."
Harry scowled. "I don't like labelling which friend I like best. If you're asking if he's my closest friend... Then, yes, I'd have to say so. He knows the most about me of all the people alive right now. If you're asking whether or not I'd trust him with my life, of course I would."
"And if you could give your life to save him, would you?" Adele demanded, and something about her tone set Harry's teeth on edge.
"Would you?" he shot back.
"Yes," Adele said, no hesitation. "He's my little brother, and I would give anything to see him survive. Even when I sat rotting in the Radiata dungeon, thinking Jack was being foolish, I never even considered helping the knights to find him."
"You'd rather kill him yourself," Harry snapped.
Adele had no response for that and she looked away.
Harry stood and vanished his chair with a wave of his hand. "Good night, Miss Russell."
Harry had just reached the doorway when Adele called, "You never answered my question: Would you give your life to save my brother?"
"No," Harry replied, reaching out for the doorknob.
Adele's plate smashed on the stone next to Harry's head and he flinched away, turning to shoot her an incredulous look. Adele glared at him and demanded, "Why not? Is my brother not good enough for you?"
"I have no need to sacrifice myself for him," Harry snapped. "I would just save him without the loss of either of our lives."
"And if one of you had to die?" the woman demanded. "If there was some sort of spell that required the death of one of you?"
Harry clenched his fists at his sides. "Then it wouldn't matter, since I cannot die." He snapped the door open and stormed out, leaving the human to stare in disbelief at the empty doorway.
Something had happened between Harry and Adele, but neither of them would say what it had been, no matter how much Jack pleaded with them about it. All he knew was that Adele appeared to absolutely despise Harry all of a sudden, and Harry would leave any room that Adele walked in to or would change the subject if mention of her was made.
Really, Jack was getting kind of sick of trying to pick between his sister and his best friend.
His other friends – Gil, Ridley, Gob and Ganz – were no help in the matter and often just told him to let it be and let the two work it out on their own, but that required far more patience than Jack had, especially since he'd remained on 'light duty' for another two days. (In retrospect, getting irritated at Harry's bad mood and taking his frustration out on the training dummy probably hadn't been his best choice.)
The first day Jack could finally go all out, he bought a sword from Vladimir and started walking to the Forest Metropolis, taking on the monsters on his way by himself and enjoying himself.
When he finally reached his destination, he let Mikey talk him into eating there, since it was getting to be supper time, then used the pig to warp back to the fort.
He'd half expected Harry to be waiting around to chew him out for being so active, but the only person out back was Gawain, and the older man was training with one of the dummies.
"Hey, Gawain," he called, adjusting one of his bangles. The things were useful, make no mistake, but they tended to chafe after a day of fighting.
"You're back," Gawain noted, relaxing against his Morningstar.
Jack shrugged. "Yeah. Needed to get out of the fort for a day, especially with Harry and Adele practically going at one another's throats every ten minutes." He grimaced. "I wish they'd get over it already."
Gawain snorted and shouldered his weapon. "You'd have better luck defeating me, I should think."
Jack's eyes lit up. "Was that a challenge?"
Gawain smirked. "Only if you're not too tired."
Jack pulled his sword out and got into a ready position. "I'm never too tired for a fight!" he declared, then rushed the older human.
Their weapons clanged together and they jumped apart, circling and watching for an opening. They'd spent the past week and a half watching each other train with the troops and the dummies, so they knew exactly how good the other was.
In the end, Jack's break at the Forest Metropolis ended up helping him surpass Gawain, who had enjoyed no such break. Both exhausted from their duel, they laid back on the grass to watch the stars above them, content.
After a few minutes, Gawain commented, "Your father and I used to look up at the sky together. If I close my eyes, I can still see it in my mind." He sighed. "We were both young, both always competing for first place. The brigade captain scolded us for it. Ah...seems like a lifetime ago..."
Jack smiled to himself, always happy to hear about his father. "Was he... strong?" he wondered. Jack had always heard about how wonderful his father was, how he was a brilliant knight and a friend to all the fairy creatures, but he rarely heard about his father's fighting skills, for all that he'd been a knight. The story he'd been told the most was about Cairn's defeat of Kelvin, but since he'd used an orb, like Cross, he wasn't sure that was a good story to judge him by.
"Yes, he was strong," Gawain offered. "He was a great warrior, perhaps as great as he was a person." He let out a quiet sigh for days long past. "It seemed like his shining sword was what always led us to victory."
Jack touched the sword at his waist, mind turning to the wrapped sword which rested against the wall in his room. "Do you think the day will come...when I'll be ready to used Dad's sword?"
Gawain sat up suddenly, eyes bright. "Do you have it? The Arbitrator?" When Jack nodded, he asked, "Can you... show it to me?"
"Sure. It's in my room," Jack agreed.
Gawain practically leapt to his feet and helped Jack up, then led the way into the fort and through the halls to Jack and Harry's room.
Harry was working at his potions table when they entered and he scowled. "Finally done wearing yourself out, Jack?" he enquired.
"You missed my epic duel with Gawain mere moments ago," Jack retorted, leaning around his bed to grab his sword and handing it carefully to Gawain. "Here it is."
Harry turned to reprimand the two humans about duelling so soon after Jack had been wounded, but the words died on his tongue as Gawain pulled the wrappings off the Arbitrator and the blade caught the light. "Is that...?"
"The Arbitrator," Gawain breathed.
Harry stepped over and touched the sword. The stone on the guard lit with a painfully bright white light and the three men turned their eyes from the light.
"Have you used this sword yet?" Gawain asked Jack once the spots had cleared his vision. Harry had, wisely, taken a few steps away from the sword, not wanting to chance setting off the stone again.
Jack shook his head. "No, I didn't think I should. Not until I've surpassed my father," he admitted.
Gawain stared back down at the sword, eyeing the dull stone on the guard. After a moment, he looked up at Harry and asked, "Is it–?"
"It's clean," Harry replied, expecting the question. "Whatever sickness had been in the sword is gone now."
"Sickness?" Jack asked, frowning.
"When Cairn contracted algandars, the Arbitrator was similarly affected," Harry explained. "I told you the illness is in the magic, remember?"
Jack nodded. "So the sword sort of contracted algandars? And it’s better now?"
"In a nutshell," Harry agreed. "The last time I touched that sword, the stone lit up a dark red, but this time it was white, and white is universally considered to be the colour for good, so..."
"Universally?" Gawain wondered.
Harry shrugged. "It's just a saying, Gawain. I haven't gone off to another planet and asked them what colour represents good or anything."
"With you, one can never tell," Gawain muttered, making Jack laugh and Harry roll his eyes. Gawain turned the sword in his hands and held the hilt out to Jack. "Take it," he ordered.
Jack blinked, but took a hold of the sword and lifted it. It was heavier than any one-handed sword he'd ever held in the past, but he'd carried his father's sword many times over the past months and the weight was a familiar one. He glanced past the blade at Gawain and raised an eyebrow at him curiously.
Gawain smiled. "You are ready to wield this sword," he declared, smile growing as Jack's eyes went wide. "I, Gawain, best friend of Cairn, declare this sword, the Arbitrator, the property of Jack Russell!"
Jack stared down at his sword. "My...sword?" he murmured.
"Whether you would have managed to best Cairn were he still alive... I cannot say," Gawain admitted. "But you defeated me and you have much of your father inside of you. Were he here, I am certain that he, too, would tell you it is your time to wield the Arbitrator."
Jack carefully switched his current blade for the Arbitrator and grinned down at it for a moment, hanging from his belt like it belonged there, then looked back up. "Thanks, Gawain," he said honestly. "I'll wear it with pride."
"Use it with pride as well," Gawain replied fondly. "Cairn often insisted that a sword was meant to be used, not simply set on display."
Jack nodded. "I'll wield this sword until the day I die," he swore.
A few steps away, Harry let out a strange sound and turned quickly back to his potions, shoulders tight with tension.
Gawain and Jack traded confused looks. "Harry?" Jack called.
Harry started mashing something with more force than he really needed.
Gawain shook his head. "Good luck, Jack," he offered the boy, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. Jack nodded once in thanks and the older man turned and left.
Jack took a moment to remove his sword belt and bangles, then stepped up next to the table, leaning down to try and get a look at Harry's expression, which was tight with pain. "What is it?" he pleaded. "Harry, what–?"
Harry set the knife he was slicing with down and clenched his hands into fists before leaning on them against the table. "Leave it," he ordered.
Jack frowned, considered his friend's tense form, then said, "No."
Harry's head snapped up, eyes dark. "Jack–"
"Something happened between you and Adele," Jack said, talking over Harry and not really caring what the dragon's reaction would be; this had to be said. "Neither of you will tell me what, but I'm betting it has to do with me. I honestly don't care what the hell happened, I'm just tired of putting up with the outcome. You're my best friend and she's my sister; I'm not asking you two to like each other, but I'd like to be able to stand in the same room as both of you without worrying that someone's going to lose their head."
Having said his piece, Jack returned to his bed and sat down on it to remove his boots.
Harry continued standing over his table for a long while, unmoving. Jack had blown out the light next to his own bed and was settling in to sleep when Harry finally said, "I told her I wouldn't – couldn't – give up my life to save yours."
Jack sat back up in bed and watched as Harry finally turned away from his work top. "So?" the teen asked. "I never expected you to. I mean, you're a dragon, right? So you don't die."
Harry's shoulders relaxed just the slightest. "She didn't see it that way," he muttered. "She threw a plate at my head."
Jack snorted. "She threw plates at me all the time when I was a kid. And...of course she wouldn't see it that way – I never told her you're a dragon. She just thinks you're a human."
"I had guessed that much," Harry said drily, coming over to sit on the edge of Jack's bed. "And maybe I overreacted to the plate-throwing."
"Yeah? What did she say when you asked her whether she'd give her life for mine?"
"What makes you think I even asked?" Harry replied, raising one eyebrow.
Jack rolled his eyes. "I know you, Harry. And I know my sister. I'll bet she said yes."
"She did," Harry agreed, running a hand through his wild hair. "And then she told me that she'd never have given you up to the knights, even when she'd been angry with you."
"Ah." Jack grimaced. Way to put your foot in it, Sis, he thought. When she'd mentioned the same thing to Jack, he hadn't been as impressed or grateful as she'd expected him to be. When he'd tried reminding her that she'd been about to stick him with her sword moments before being captured, she'd claimed that she'd 'misjudged the situation' and Jack hadn't wanted to get into a fight with her so had let it go. Knowing Harry, though, he figured the dragon hadn't reacted to that claim well.
Harry shrugged. "I'm sorry, Jack, but I really don't like her," he admitted. "I didn't mean to make you upset, though."
Jack shook his head. "Nah. I suppose I can understand. I'll talk to her tomorrow, see if I can't get her to lay off a bit. Now that I know what the problem is, I can fix it." He offered Harry a smile.
Harry stared at the teen for a long moment, then abruptly stood. "Okay. Good luck," he said, moving quickly back to his potions table.
Now what? Jack frowned at Harry's back. "Harry?"
"You should get some sleep if you're going to tackle your sister tomorrow," Harry shot over his shoulder, voice light.
Jack climbed out of bed, wincing at the cold floor, and walked back over to Harry's table. There, he saw the dragon was cutting ingredients unevenly and he reached out and stilled Harry's hands, which were shaking. "I thought you said they were supposed to be cut evenly?" he wondered aloud.
Harry let out a strained laugh and pulled his hands out of Jack's, hiding them deep in his robes. "The potion will be more effective if the ingredients are chopped evenly," he replied. "But this burn salve isn't really all that important, so–"
"Maybe you should get some sleep yourself. You can work on the salve tomorrow," Jack decided and gently herded the dragon towards his bed next to the potions table.
"Sorry," Harry whispered as he sat down on his bed and started pulling his boots off.
"It's okay," Jack replied, hovering over Harry in concern. "I just wish I knew what was bothering you."
"It's nothing. I'm just tired," Harry insisted aloud, but to himself he thought, I got too comfortable and sat down next to you, and then I thought about kissing you and I can't do that to you.
"Okay," Jack said, shuffling his feet a bit to warm them up.
Harry glanced up at the human. "Go back to bed. I'll be fine."
Jack nodded and impulsively leaned forward to hug Harry. "Okay. Good night," he said as he moved back over to his bed.
Harry sat, frozen, on the edge of his bed, heart pounding in his chest. He hugged me. Why did he hug me? Friends hug, right? Ron and I... we didn't hug. And I'd never hug any of my elven friends, right? Right. But maybe Jack would? Why did he hug me? He likes Ridley, right?
"I've found it's easier to get to sleep if you're lying down," Jack helpfully called from across the room.
"Right." Harry shook himself and shucked off his heavy robes. A wave of his hand blew out his work lamp and he slipped under the covers, turning his back to the dark room. Does Jack like me? he wondered, staring at the dark wall that he knew was mere inches from his nose, though he couldn't see it in the dark. I thought he liked Ridley, but...
But Jack never spent time with Ridley, Harry had been noticing over the past few days. The teen spent a lot of time with the other fighters out back when Harry and Ridley were talking war with Zane. But when they weren't squirrelled away in the strategy room, Jack tended to gravitate towards Harry, often sitting quietly in their room and watching as Harry worked on potions.
Jack is a human, I am a dragon, Harry reminded himself. It doesn't matter if he returns my feelings, he's best off marrying some human girl and living out his short life with her. It's better for both of us.
I'd hoped to get to the negotiating with the orcs mission in this chapter, but the stuff with Adele and then there at the end sort of defeated me. Oops. Well, orcs next chapter. And maybe Harry will finally come around and the boys will do something more useful than ruminating over their mutual affection. XD
A note about Harry's answer to Adele's question: Jack and Harry sort of answered this, but I figured I'd be a bit more concise down here. So, like how light elves in the game are kind of considered immortal because they can live on through the transpiritation ritual, dragons also have their own way of surviving the destruction of their physical body. I figure that anything that would record a death – a spell or whatever – wouldn't consider the death of the body as an actual 'death' if the spirit/soul is just going to possess a new body. A human might be fooled by something like that, but Adele was trying to specify something that Harry couldn't just magic his way out of.
So Jack would have to be the one to die. Jack's already accepted that, but Adele can't really understand since she looks at Harry and sees a human. And Harry doesn't like being reminded that Jack will eventually die, and there's nothing he can do about it.
Chapter 11: Chapter Ten: Blood-Filled Days
Please note that this chapter contains mention of murder (on the battlefield, but still), blood and character death (not any of the main people on the fairy creature side).
Jack probably wouldn't have bothered entering the strategy room, choosing instead to eat lunch with the dark elves he'd been training with all morning, but Harry's raised voice had him curious and he peeked in.
"No. Absolutely not," Harry snapped. "I will not let you send him–"
"We need more allies, and with JJ and his people hiding in the Elf region–" Zane shot back, looking more amused than angry.
"Send a light elf! Send someone who knows–"
"No one else will manage to get the green orcs on our side, and you know it," Zane insisted. "They don't like light elves, they think dark elves are weak and that goblins are idiots. To be fair, goblins are idiots–"
"No!" Harry shouted, making an angry motion with one hand, which Zane ducked, just in case. "Send Gawain, or...or... Ridley! He's not the only human in this fort!"
"They seem to be talking about you," Gil commented as Jack pulled his head back out into the hallway. Inside the room, the argument continued, Harry sounding progressively more ticked off while Zane just sounded like he was trying to avoid getting killed until the dragon gave in.
Jack gave his light elf friend a curious look. "Green orcs?" he wondered. "I remember Harry mentioning them once. He said they got kicked out of their home, right?"
Gil smiled. "Borgandiazo," he agreed. "Green orcs are a bit more peaceful than the blood orcs, but they still honour brawn over brains, though they're more likely to stop and think about things than their mad cousins."
Jack nodded and glanced back at the open crack of the door. Harry seemed to have calmed down a bit – he was no longer yelling – but he had yet to give in; Jack wondered if the dragon ever would. "Do you think we could get the green orcs on our side?" he asked Gil.
Gil shrugged. "I don't know. Orcs generally avoid the battles of other races, thinking they're too pathetic to really worry about. I mean, to someone whose average day involves beating their friends around with a club, I suppose our wars would seem tedious and pointless." The light elf general paused and considered Jack for a moment as the teen peered into the strategy room again. "Of course, I never thought the goblins would join us, either. I think you could get the orcs to join us. Somehow."
Jack nodded and stepped fully into the strategy room. "I'll go see JJ," he announced, making Harry turn to him with a shocked look and Zane almost seem to... breathe in relief? Jack wished he could find a way to use that against the light elf. "You said he's in the Elf region?"
Zane nodded. "Past the City of Flowers."
"Okay." Jack turned to leave, already trying to decide who to ask. If the orcs didn't like any race, he supposed that anyone he asked to come with him would lower his chances, but he wasn't about to go into potentially hostile territory by himself.
Harry shot Zane a venomous look, which the light elf ignored, then hurried over to stop Jack just before he left the room. "Jack, it's going to be dangerous. Are you sure–"
Jack gave Harry an irritated look. "Harry, come on. You know I can't just continue to sit around here until the humans make their move. It's driving me crazy, just working with the troops. I want to be useful, and if it's dangerous, then it's dangerous. It's not like waiting around for the humans isn't potentially hazardous, right? And I won't go meet with them alone."
Harry bit his lower lip, looking a little helpless. He didn't like how attached he was to Jack, not if it twisted his heart every time the human was about to be in danger.
Zane huffed from his seat next to the map. "Lord Harry, if you're so worried, why don't you just go with the boy? It's not like you can't immediately return if we need your assistance."
"Huh..." Harry looked at Jack, who was grinning at the suggestion. "I suppose I could."
"Cool!" Jack nodded and grabbed Harry's arm to lead him from the strategy room. "Well, first, some lunch, I think. And I'd like to see if I can bring a light elf with me, since that's their territory. Gob will probably want to come – he usually does – but I think it's best that I leave him here this time. I could ask Gil if he wouldn't let the green goblins train with the elves for the next couple of days, that would make Gob happy. And I'll have to see if Clarence is okay with taking over the training with the dark elves until I get back..."
Harry chuckled to himself, amused by Jack's list of things to do. Yes, going with Jack would be nice.
They ended up taking Fan with them, since she knew where the green orcs had set up camp. Jack had spent the trip from the pig statue to the camp asking about green orcs. For the most part, everything Fan and Harry knew, Jack had already learned from Gil. Because orcs mostly avoided the other races – well, avoided them unless they wanted to kill something – not a whole lot was known about them, especially the green orcs, who were even more inclined to keep to themselves than the blood orcs.
But, still. If Jack had learned anything about treating with other races, it was that every little bit of knowledge helped. The orcs respected physical strength, and Jack was the strongest in their party, if one discounted Harry's dragon form. Green orcs really didn't like blood orcs, something Jack had in common. Green orcs also liked to stop and think a bit, which meant bringing Harry was probably to their advantage, since the dragon was wise enough – as far as Jack was concerned – that he could probably reason with the green orcs if brute strength didn't work.
JJ was waiting for them when they reached the edge of the camp. He watched Fan suspiciously for a moment as she settled onto the ground just behind Jack's left shoulder, then turned his attention to Jack, who was obviously in the lead, for all that it had been Fan giving directions. "Humans!" JJ snapped. "What want? Why here?" His eyes flicked back towards Fan. "Why with light elf?"
"I'm allied with the light elves," Jack replied, shrugging.
JJ looked even more suspicious. "Human ally with light elf. You up to something."
"I'm here to ask your help in the war," Jack replied.
"War against humans?" JJ asked and Jack nodded. "We busy. We protect ourselves from blood orcs. We have no time helping others. But..." JJ trailed off, looking almost more curious than suspicious. "You human. Why you fight humans?"
Jack grimaced. Why did everyone need to know that? "You and the blood orcs are practically the same race, why do you fight each other?" he asked.
JJ blinked. "Blood orcs greedy. They strong. They attack because can, we attack back because have no choice."
Jack nodded; that actually made some sense, considering what he knew about their people. "Humans are very much the same," he offered. "We're greedy, and the stronger ones attack the weaker ones just because they can. Except, humans don't just attack other humans, they attack dwarves and elves and goblins too." He glanced behind JJ to where the other green orcs were watching the discussion with wide eyes. "You're strong, right? So you protect those who are weaker?"
JJ nodded. "Correct. Me strongest green orc, turn away enemies. You strongest human?"
Jack smiled at that. "I'm one of the strongest," he agreed, which was true, in the physical sense. Plenty of the light elves could take him down with a well-placed spell, but when it came to a contest of brute strength, he could easily take down most of the fairy creatures and all of the humans in the fort but Gawain.
JJ frowned. "If one of strongest human, why not protect other human? Why protect fairy creatures?"
Jack took a deep breath, frowning. "The humans started this fight with the fairy creatures and left them to find their own champions. A lot of my friends are fairy creatures, and I wasn't about to make them fight alone. The humans have plenty of strong fighters, they don't need me."
"This true," JJ agreed.
"Anyway," Jack added, "humans are idiots."
The green orc leader let out a surprised laugh and considered Jack with new eyes. "Me like you, little human. Maybe me help, but there is condition."
"What sort of condition?" Jack asked, suspicious.
"Like me said, we have problem with blood orcs. Blood orcs kidnap my friends... us too weak to do anything." JJ looked ashamed. "You help us?"
Jack felt like his heart had just jumped into his throat. Face down blood orcs? If JJ, as huge and strong as he was, couldn't take down a couple of blood orcs, what chance did Jack have? For all that he liked to boast about his strength, he wasn't at all sure he could take down a blood orc.
Then Harry was standing in front of him, hands on his shoulders. "Hey, breathe," he ordered.
Jack nodded and took a deep breath, already calming at the reminder that Harry was there. Whether Jack was strong enough to face a blood orc or not, Harry could. "We'll do our best," he told JJ.
JJ considered the mage. "Not-human mage," he said. "Me know of you."
Harry smiled. "Yes, I thought you might."
"Is there anyone who doesn't know you?" Jack wondered, amused. Sure, he knew Harry was a couple hundred years old, but it always surprised him how much travelling the dragon did.
"Not-human mage cheat," JJ insisted.
At Jack's curious look, Harry explained, "I use magic, which orcs can't do. They consider it a cheat to use magic in a fight. It's one of the reasons orcs don't like elves and humans, since they can use magic, and often do."
Jack shrugged. "I'm kind of with JJ, Harry. Sorry."
Harry chuckled. "Magic is a cheat," he allowed. "But I'm not physically strong, so it's all I've got. Sorry, JJ."
JJ grunted. "Me be happy when friends back, cheat or no cheat."
"That, I think, we can manage."
" 'Not-human'?" Jack asked once they'd entered the Ocho region and left the human guards behind. Fan had returned to the City of Flower before Jack and Harry took the pig to the Aiden region – which was the closest pig to the Desneuf region, where they needed to go – so that left just the two males to travel together.
"I look human, but use magic like an elf," Harry explained, shrugging. "The green orcs decided a long time ago that that made me 'not-human', no matter what I said to the contrary. My long lifespan just gave them more reason for the name."
Jack snorted. "So the green orcs figured out what you were before anyone else did."
"Oh, they were the closest," Harry agreed. "The rest of us just thought I was a very strange human. And, by 'the rest of us', I mean the elves, the dragons and myself. Didn't visit the dwarves enough for them to decide on a theory, and the goblins are always too drugged to care."
"And you avoided the humans when it got to the point that they might catch on," Jack added, still a little sore at the reminder that Harry had been intending to do the same to him. All things considered, he was glad he'd followed Ridley to the City of Flowers, even if he'd had to earn the respect of the light elves the hard way.
Harry shrugged. "Yes, that too. But, as you yourself proved, I've been known to get close enough to a human to make them wonder. Ray, the Institute president, is always trying to get me to tell him why I can perform some spells he can't, and the first time I lived in Radiata, people did wonder about my not ageing."
They were distracted from further discussion by a couple of twin horns, which they took down without too much trouble.
When they reached the bridge, Jack turned to Harry with a frown. "I have... a request."
Harry cocked his head to one side. "Okay."
"You're not going to like it," Jack added, looking a little worried.
Harry sighed. "I have found that many requests aren't particularly something I would enjoy."
"Oh, yeah. I suppose that's true..."
Jack grimaced. "When we get into Borgandiazo, could you... try not to use magic?"
Harry scowled. Not use magic? Against blood orcs?
Jack read his expression and hurried to explain, "It's just, orcs think using magic is a cheat, right? And I know JJ doesn't care what we do in there, but I'd sort of like to try and get some blood orcs on our side, you know? Zane's expression would be awesome."
Harry sighed and rubbed at his face. Yeah, Zane's reaction to having blood orcs join them would be pretty priceless, but not at the cost of Jack's life. "You expect me to go in there and just sit back and watch–"
"No!" Jack cut in, shaking his head. "No, not at all. I know you've got some non-magical tricks up your sleeves, and if it gets to the point where it's us or them, blast them back to Fire Mountain. I just..." He shifted. "I want to try."
Harry shook his head. "Jack, who are you trying to prove yourself to?"
"Right now? The blood orcs," Jack replied, managing a weak grin. And you, Harry, his mind supplied, but the human ignored it.
Harry sighed. "Yeah, okay."
Jack's grin widened and he turned to make the way across the bridge. "Thanks, Harry!"
"Humans," Harry muttered to himself as he followed the teen.
Their trip through Borgandiazo was hardly uneventful, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as Harry had feared it would be. Jack had improved a lot in the months since he'd last faced a blood orc, and Harry hadn't really noticed how much stronger the teen had gotten. He'd noticed to some extent on their trip through the Ocho and Aiden regions, sure, but he'd been using magic then, too, which made things go that much faster.
The most interesting part of the entire trip was when they finally reached the bottom floor and met Galvados. The leader of the blood orcs had easily towered over the two visitors, but Jack didn't back down when Galvados refused to free the green orcs they'd captured, instead demanding they fight to see who was the stronger.
Jack won the fight, by the skin of his teeth and Galvados promised to free the green orcs, as well as join the fairy creatures in their fight.
Before Harry would let them leave the relative safety of Borgandiazo, he forced a couple of potions down Jack's throat, shaking his head. "I don't know if you're mad, or just that amazing."
"Just that amazing," Jack declared, grinning madly. "I beat a blood orc all on my own," he added, clearly proud of the fact.
"You didn't just beat any blood orc," Harry pointed out fondly, "you beat the blood orc. The bloody leader."
Jack just kept grinning.
Harry rolled his eyes and tugged the teen to his feet. "Oh, come on. Let's go let JJ know his friends are on the way and go see Zane's expression when you tell him you got the blood orcs."
At the pig on the surface, Jack said, "Harry?"
"Thanks. For, uhm... For letting me fight my way."
Harry sighed and drew the teen into a one-armed hug without even really thinking about it. "You're one hell of a fighter, Jack Russell," he murmured. "I'm sorry for ever doubting that you could take care of yourself."
Jack relaxed into the hug and smiled. "You weren't the only one doubting," he commented.
"Hm. Well, no more doubting. From either of us," Harry decided, leaning over and kissing Jack's cheek.
Both males froze for a moment, shocked, then Harry pulled away and apparated, leaving Jack standing next to the pig alone.
Jack swallowed and reached up to touch his cheek. Harry had kissed him. And then immediately run off. That wasn't promising.
"Dammit," Jack whispered, dropping his hand. "No time to think about it, Jack," he ordered himself, "you need to go see JJ, then Zane. And then I can sit down and think about things." He reached out and touched the pig, mentally envisioning the Elf region.
Moments later, Jack was meeting up again with the green orcs, all of whom seemed impressed that he'd managed against the blood orcs. He was actually welcomed into their camp and offered food, which he kept turning down. Finally, after a good ten minutes of laughing away the attention, he managed to find JJ. "There you are!"
"Here me is," JJ agreed. "Not-human mage is gone?"
Jack shrugged, uncomfortable. "He had something to take care of elsewhere, so he went on ahead."
JJ considered him for a minute. "You is upset," he offered. "Is upsetting celebration?"
"Erm, no. It's... something else. Sorry."
JJ nodded. "Is upsetting not-human mage."
"He isn't upsetting me!" Jack argued, but JJ just looked at him and he sighed. "It's something between him and me, something we need to work out. Something he... Well..." Jacked sighed again and shook his head. "Forget it. I should head back to the fort. If you want to move your camp over that way, you can. We've got a couple of dwarves who'll make weapons, and fighting drills every day, for those who want to join in."
"Us think about it," the green orc replied.
"Okay. I'll be seeing you." Jack waved over his shoulder, then made his way back through the camp, putting a smile on his face for the green orcs who tried to stop him.
Finally back at the fort, Jack waved towards those who were training out on the lawn and made his way towards the strategy room. A part of him wanted Harry to be in there, arguing with Zane, but only the light elf elder was there and he looked a little surprised to see the teen.
"I wasn't expecting you to ever come back," Zane said, smirking a bit. "Usually you're so much better at getting other races to join us. Losing your touch?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "No, sorry. Figured I'd look into getting the blood orcs on our side while I was working on the green orcs."
"The green orcs might be moving their camp over here sometime in the next couple of days, and the blood orcs sounded like they intend to stay in Borgandiazo, which might be the best for all involved." He turned away from the shocked light elf leader, not really feeling the sense of joy he'd hoped for at his reaction. "I'm going to get some food and maybe go to bed. It's been a long two days."
"You made allies with the blood orcs?" Zane finally croaked.
Jack shrugged, not bothering to turn around. "Yeah. I just defeated Galvados. Easy." Then he left the room.
Zane shook his head and turned his attention back towards his map. "Easy, he says," he muttered, marking the blood orcs and green orcs as allies. "Cursed human."
The green orcs had moved their camp by the next evening and joined in on practise the following morning. Incidentally, it was during that morning practise that Adele finally asked the question the entire fort had been wondering, "Jack? Where's the mage?"
"I don't know," Jack grunted, swinging his father's old sword at the dummy in front of him. He'd decimated three of them the afternoon before and was well on his way to doubling the number by the end of the day.
Adele shrugged at Ganz and Ridley, who were standing off to one side, frowning.
"Lord Harry vanishes sometimes," Franz offered, looking up from his spar with Gil. "He'll just go off into the forest for a couple of days, or go searching for ingredients. He always comes back, though."
"Isn't he supposed to be one of your leaders?" Adele demanded, scowling. "What sort of leader vanishes on the cusp of a war?"
"Leave him alone, Sis," Jack ordered, turning away from what was left of his dummy. "The way this 'war' is going, he could probably be gone for another month before we see any action. Harry'll be back by then." He sheathed his sword and started towards the fort.
"Something happened," Ridley murmured, watching the young human's retreating form. "Between him and Harry."
"If that mage did something to my brother–!" Adele snarled.
"Jack's not angry," Gil pointed out, trading Franz to another light elf. "I doubt Harry did something harmful. I will go speak to him."
"I can handle my own brother!" Adele snapped, frowning.
"When Harry is involved, you get angry," Gil replied calmly. "You won't be much help to Jack until you can move past whatever it is that makes you hate Harry so much." Then he continued inside to Jack and Harry's room where he found Jack sitting on Harry's bed, knees to his chest. The light elf pulled a chair over to sit on, then asked, "Will you tell me?"
Jack glanced up at his friend and sighed. Gil was the only one he'd admitted his feelings for Harry to, and the light elf had seemed pleased by them at the time. And Jack did want to explain what had happened to someone. "When we finished with the blood orcs and were getting ready to leave, Harry kissed my cheek," he admitted, making note of Gil's pleased smile. "Then he looked all freaked out and disappeared."
Gil sighed at that and rubbed his hands roughly over his face. "Stubborn idiot," he muttered, surprising a laugh out of Jack. "I'll bet he's got a list of six reasons why he shouldn't start any sort of relationship with you and he's off trying to make himself see sense or some nonsense."
Jack snorted and tightened his grip on his legs, pulling them closer to his chest so he could rest his chin on his knees. "I'm a human," he offered. "I'll die soon enough, never mind the age difference."
Gil nodded and opened his mouth to respond, but they were cut off by the sounds of shouting and running out in the hallway. Both of them jumped to their feet and rushed to the doorway. Gil reached out and grabbed Coco as the dark elf ran past. "What's going on?"
"The humans," Coco gasped. "They've started attacks in the Nowem region and at the gates. Reports also of some at the City of Flowers."
Gil nodded and let the boy go, then started out towards the back exit, Jack falling in next to him. "We need to find out how the goblins are doing," Gil said.
Jack nodded. "Fan should still be around, and she's the fastest flier. Send her out to the Nowem region, then take a group to the City of Flowers to check on that. We may also want to send some people to the Forest Metropolis and Shangri La."
"You think they'd attack the Forest Metropolis?" Gil asked.
Jack shrugged. "If they're in the Elf region, they're probably using the pigs, and the Forest Metropolis is a good place to hit. It's right in between Goblin Haven and the backs of the black goblin forces."
"Good point." Gil grimaced. "What about the blood orcs? You said they'd help?"
Jack nodded. "I can pig down there and ask them," he offered. "I don't know how many of them can make it up here, but they can always head towards Shangri La. Dragons know the green goblins will need the help."
"Good luck," Gil offered as they reached the gathering point out in the courtyard.
"You too," Jack agreed, then hurried off towards the dark elves, dwarves and goblins while Gil made for the light elves. "I need volunteers to go to the Forest Metropolis and check there," he said as he reached them.
Clarence stepped forward, expression grim. "If it's all the same, Jack, I can lead those people."
Jack nodded. "You know the area the best," he agreed, then listed off another twenty-six dark elves who wanted to go with. "Okay, go for it. Once you're sure Forest Metropolis is secure, I want about half of you to join the black goblins in protecting the Tria border. Some light elves will be heading there already, but they could always use more back-up."
"Understood," Clarence said for all of them, then led the way out to the pig statue.
"Gob, I need you and your friends to make for Shangri La. If the humans are attacking here, they're probably there too. I'm going to go to Borgandiazo to get the blood orcs and send some of them to you. I need you to be ready to take charge of them when they show up."
Gob swallowed and nodded, determined. "Gob won't fail," he insisted before leading his party of twelve green goblins out to the pig.
Jack looked over the rest of the fifty or so dark elves and dwarves. "Everyone else, your job is to hold this fort or provide back-up if the call comes for more people elsewhere. The humans will lose today!"
They all roared their agreement and approval and Jack grinned at them, pleased. He couldn't ask for a better army.
"FORT DEFENDERS! TO ME!" JJ roared from the main door.
"Go, and stay safe," Jack told his people. He stayed where he was as they flowed past him, many pausing to touch his shoulder to wish him luck. Only once they were all filing out the opened gates did Jack rush towards the pig and zip away to Borgandiazo.
Harry leaned back against a stone column in the centre of the Dragon Lair Cave, tossing stones at the door behind which Parsec slept.
"How much longer are you going to mope around here?" Radian asked, coming out of his room and leaning against a pillar next to his doorway.
"I'm not moping," Harry muttered, casting around for more stones. He'd considered tossing stones at the other doors earlier, but he didn't know the other dragons half as well as he knew Parsec and Radian, and if he started tossing stones in Radian's direction, the 2D dragon would beat his arse.
Radian huffed. "Not moping, indeed. Well, then, surely you've sensed the battles going on?"
"Battles?" Harry repeated, head shooting up from his collecting of stones.
"The humans attacked the fairy fort almost two hours ago," Radian agreed, looking pleased as Harry's collection of stones dropped to the ground. "Now, if you weren't moping–"
"Shut up, Radian," Harry hissed, jumping to his feet and apparating with an angry crack.
The dragon chuckled to himself and returned to his room and the nap Harry had interrupted almost three days ago.
Jack paused to wipe the sweat out of his eyes and glance around the battlefield. He'd returned to the fort almost an hour ago, once they'd been sure the humans weren't about to attack Shangri La. He'd left a platoon of blood orcs there to help the green goblins hold their home, but word from the fort wasn't so good; the humans had sent people to both the City of Flowers and Forest Metropolis, as well as their attacks on the goblin force in the Nowem region and at Fort Helencia. The fairy forces, for all that they were massive in their own right, were stretched too thin, and it took too much time to send reinforcements to help the goblins.
Jack grunted as he brought up his sword to block a swing from a new opponent. Where are all these humans coming from, anyway? he silently complained, ducking a second opponent who was trying to flank him. With our luck, Vareth figured out how to clone people.
A scream from nearby distracted one of the men flanking Jack and he darted forward to run the man through, turning to face his first opponent as soon as his sword was clear. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Jack was curled up in a ball and crying for all the humans he was killing, but he didn't have a choice. He'd chosen this path, consequences be damned, and he was going to help his friends win this fight. His first look at the battlefield had helped firm that resolve when he came across a young dark elf he'd taught some swordplay to just last week who had been run through.
There was a sudden pain in his shoulder and Jack gasped, ducking a swing from behind made with a giant axe that would have taken his head off, silently cursing himself for his moment of distraction. Once again, he found himself facing two opponents, one of which had a greater reach. He felt a momentary sense of loss for his old lance, but in this close-quarters fight it would have been more a hindrance than an advantage.
Never mind that Jack didn't particularly want to see the weapon that had almost killed Gil again.
"Jack!" someone shouted in warning and the teen just barely managed to dodge a third person. But this third one was quick and spun almost as soon as he'd stumbled, bearing down on Jack again.
"Shit!" Jack whispered, catching sight of the man's eyes. They were glowing red and absolutely crazed, as those humans he'd seen suffering from algandars had been. He wasn't sure he could win this battle, not with two other fighters flanking him while the crazy man rushed him again.
Jack got his sword up just in time, grunting under the strength of the other man. Brute strength wasn't going to work here, just as it hadn't with Galvados. That meant Jack would have to out-last the plague victim, but he wasn't sure if he could. He grunted again as the other's blade met his.
Out of nowhere, pain blossomed in his side and Jack gasped, fighting to stay on his feet. The plague victim took his chance, however, and forced Jack to his knees. A glance showed him the axe man's blade was now covered in blood and he grimaced.
So, this is how I go. Trapped between a madman and an axe murderer. I'm sure there's a joke in there. Somewhere.
Just like the last time he'd faced death on his knees, a flash of light intervened, sending the madman flying backwards. The man with the axe was suddenly crushed flat as a pancake and the last swordsman just keeled over, eyes glazing with death.
Harry caught Jack as the teen fell over, dropping his sword so he could clutch at the slash in his side. "Jack," Harry whispered, fumbling for a potion. "Here, drink this. No, come on, leave that alone and drink this potion."
Jack hissed through his teeth at the pain, but moved his hands away from his wound and let the dragon pour the potion down his throat. By the time Harry was pouring a second potion down his throat, the pain had subsided to a dull ache. Shortly after, the dizziness from blood loss receded and the teen looked up at his saviour's scared eyes. "Hey. Didn't think you'd come."
"You stupid human," Harry whispered, wrapping his arms around Jack. "Of course I came. I wasn't going to leave you here to be killed."
"Oh, good," Jack mumbled, relaxing against Harry. "Glad you came."
"Me too," Harry agreed, glancing around the battlefield. His earlier fear for Jack's life may have had him focussing on the men surrounding the human, but his magic had reached out and shoved the other attackers away too, giving the fairy creatures a much-needed reprieve.
Gawain and Ganz approached Harry and Jack while Ridley stayed to help a light elf she'd been fighting with back-to-back. Adele wasn't too far, but her scowl promised that she wouldn't be coming near Harry any time soon. The dragon briefly wondered what he'd done to raise her ire that time, but honestly didn't care.
"Is Jack okay?" Ganz asked, kneeling next to them on the blood-soaked grass.
"Just tired," Jack mumbled.
"He'll survive," Harry offered, unable to hide the relief in his voice. He glanced around again, grimacing. "I should probably see how many others need my help," he commented.
Jack shook his head and tried to look more alert. "The goblin troops in the Nowem region need you more," he insisted, still sounding tired. "They're caught between the forces from the Tria region and those who took the pig to Forest Metropolis."
"The last update from them was almost twenty minutes ago," Gawain agreed. "There's no telling how they're fairing now. Let the elf healers handle the wounded here."
Harry chewed his lower lip and glanced down at Jack, who looked back at him pleadingly. "Okay," the dragon agreed. "Okay, I'll go to the Nowem region. But, Jack, you'd best be in bed by the time I get back. Understood?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah, okay."
Ganz leaned down to help his friend up, taking most of Jack's weight without complaint. "I'll see him to bed," he promised.
"Thanks, Ganz," Harry replied, then vanished with a crack.
"Come on, Master Jack," Ganz ordered, turning them towards the fort again while Gawain went off to see what he could help with. "Sleep for you."
Adele met them at the doors, eyes worried. "Hey, kid. Feeling okay?"
Jack managed a grin for his sister. "Just tired, Sis. Hey, could you go get Dad's sword for me? The Captain is dragging me off to bed. Harry's orders."
Adele grimaced at the mention of the mage, but had to admit that he was the best healer she'd ever met; if Harry was prescribing bed rest, it was what Jack needed. "Sure. I'll bring it in a moment."
"Thanks," Jack replied, letting Ganz lead him into the fort and to his bed without a word. He stumbled out of his filthy clothing and managed a slurred "Thank you," before his eyes slid shut and he was off to dreamland.
When Jack woke, he found Harry dozing next to his bed. The dragon was covered in mud and some splatters of blood, and his robe was ripped in at least three places. He also looked exhausted, as if he hadn't slept in days. But, instead of sleeping like he should, the fool mage had pulled over a chair to rest in.
Jack leaned over and touched Harry's knee, smiling when he startled awake. "Hi."
Harry relaxed and offered a tired smile. "Good evening. How are you feeling?"
"Better," Jack decided, levering himself into a sitting position. "You look like you should be the patient, not me."
Harry grimaced and glanced down at his ruined robe. "Goblins don't have healers," he commented, "and the dark elves that were providing back-up were mostly too wounded to be much help. It was a couple of hours before I could get out of there."
Jack nodded, having figured as much himself. "How bad was the damage?" he asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know, but not knowing was almost worse.
"Not as bad as it could have been," Harry replied, running a hand through his hair and grimacing at the dried mud that the action disturbed. "They'd only just let the algandars victims into the fight when I showed up, so there wasn't time for them to do any serious damage. Not that regular humans can't do their fair share of damage, it's just that it could have been worse."
Jack snorted. "Tell me about it. But, no, really. How bad was it?"
Harry sighed. "Out of the six hundred-something that took up arms, we lost just over two hundred, most of them black or green goblins."
Jack winced and rubbed at his face. "Damn."
Harry shrugged. "From a quick count on the battlefield, the humans lost just as many, if not more. I'm not one hundred percent certain how their medical practises hold up to ours..."
"They have potions," Jack offered, shrugging, "but no real healers like the light and dark elves. Well, and you."
"My mere existence is a cheat," Harry pointed out, rolling his eyes.
"Hey, they've got Aphelion on their side, for all they don't know it. We're allowed a dragon."
Harry smiled. "This is true."
"Of course it's true, I said it," Jack replied, looking smug and scooting over on his bed. "Now, you. Bed." He pointed at the space he'd just made next to him.
Harry blinked, expression blanking. "If it's all the same, I'll take my b–"
"It's not all the same," Jack snapped, scowling a bit. "You're dead tired and your bed's on the other side of the room. Mine's closer, now come on."
"I can sleep in the chair–"
"If this is about you kissing me, shove it!" Jack half yelled. When the dragon frowned, Jack lowered his voice, but added, "Dammit, I love you, okay, and I don't really care if you kiss me. Wish you'd do it more often, honestly. You can make up excuses about why we shouldn't be together later; for now, you're obviously exhausted and my bed's closer. Get in."
Harry blinked again, stunned. Jack... loved him?
"Harry," Jack said again, using his 'I'm the general and you're going to listen to me or I'll beat your arse with the flat of my blade' voice.
Harry sighed and, deciding he really was too tired to worry about this, magically removed all his clothing except his y-fronts, then climbed into bed with the human.
Jack smiled and settled back down next to Harry, closing his eyes to go back to sleep himself. He was still a little tired, after all.
Jack's smile widened when Harry's arm snaked around his waist and pulled him closer. "Shut up," Harry muttered, face half hidden in the pillow. When Jack snickered, Harry pinched his side, making him shout in surprise. "Go to sleep," the dragon ordered.
Jack sighed and wrapped his own arm around Harry's back. "Okay," he agreed.
Harry woke to a hand on his shoulder. Gawain looked down at him with a raised eyebrow and the dragon rolled his eyes, then slipped out of the bed, careful not to wake his bedmate. "What?" he whispered as he slipped into a pair a trousers.
"I need you to come with me," Gawain murmured.
Harry nodded and finished getting dressed, then walked out of his room with the human. Out in the courtyard, another human was packing the last of her things into a bag.
The girl turned and looked over at where Harry stood with Gawain. "Oh, hi." She straightened from her hunched position, fingers twisting nervously in the cord of her sack. "I didn't think anyone would be up."
"You know us older folks, we're up with the sun every morning," Gawain returned.
Ridley looked to where the sun had yet to rise with a frown.
"Quasar is calling you," Harry murmured, smiling grimly when the girl flinched. "You can't expect to get to the tower by yourself," he pointed out.
Ridley shook her head. "I have to go–"
"You don't have to do anything," Harry shot back, grim smile replaced with a drawn mouth. "Humans make their own fate, it's one of their gifts."
"I'm part light elf," Ridley pointed out.
"You're predominantly human." Harry sighed and glanced over at Gawain, who seemed content to let the dragon lead the conversation. "Ridley, what do you want to do? The human in you, not Hap."
Ridley bit her bottom lip and took a moment to think about it, then looked straight at Harry. "If you were in my place, what would you do?"
Harry sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. "I don't know," he admitted. "Being a dragon is a blessing and a curse. I've seen some wonderful things and met some amazing people, but I've also seen tragedies and met cruel people. Living on while your friends die is... It's painful, but knowing them has been worth it." He met eyes so similar in colour to his own and shrugged. "If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I would have done the same thing, I think. It's been painful, but I wouldn't miss this life for anything." And, thinking of Jack, that hurt to say, because the boy would leave him one day, whether he intended to or not, and it would hurt more than anything.
Ridley nodded and picked up her sack. "I will do this. I must."
"We will accompany you," Gawain insisted, as Harry had known he would.
Ridley frowned, looking past Harry to the rooms in the fort. "But Jack..."
"Jack is plenty capable of taking care of himself," Harry cut in. "He's more than proven that. But you'll be vulnerable while communing with Quasar."
Ridley nodded. "Okay," she agreed and turned to lead the way from the fort.
Gawain and Harry traded looks, almost having expected for her to argue with them more, then fell in behind her.
Chapter 12: Chapter Eleven: Hic Sunt Dracones
This is, quite probably, the shortest chapter of the lot. I could have lengthened it, I suppose, but that was too much of a hassle, so it's short.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Jack woke, it was to a cold bed. He touched the spot he remembered Harry being in and frowned a bit. He'd been certain they'd gotten past the awkwardness last night, but maybe not? He vaguely remembered telling the dragon he could make up excuses in the morning, and it was morning...
Sighing to himself, Jack dragged his weary body out of bed and completed his usual morning rituals before shuffling out to the courtyard, where Zane was watching the sun. "You're not in your command centre?" the human wondered.
Zane glanced back at him, a strange smile on his face. "The humans have been too damaged in their attack to worry about trying another one so soon." He glanced back to the south, green eyes gleaming in the morning light. "I'm expecting the most wonderful sight this afternoon or evening. I don't want to chance missing it."
Jack blinked, then shook his head. "Whatever." He turned to head back into the fort proper to get some food, then turned back to the light elf, frowning a bit. "I don't suppose you've seen Harry this morning?"
"Harry and Gawain accompanied Ridley out of the fort this morning," Zane replied, not looking away from the empty horizon to the south.
"They left?" Jack said, shocked. "They... Why? Where were they headed?"
Any response Zane might have made was cut off when a dark cloud rose over Radiata City. A dark dragon with silver plating rose through the clouds, letting out a roar of victory.
"Aphelion," Jack whispered and shuddered as the silver dragon turned south and disappeared beyond the cloud.
"They travel to the end of the world," Zane commented, eyes watching the spot the dragon had disappeared at. "To the City of White Nights."
"The end of the world?" Jack whispered, his heart stopping in his chest. "Why would they...?" He turned on his heel and ran for the gate that opened behind the fort. "Harry," he whispered.
Ganz and Adele were waiting for him by the pig, both outfitted for battle, while Gil hovered slightly behind them, eyes worried. "You're going after them," the light elf murmured.
"Of course I'm going after them!" Jack snapped, coming to a halt before his friends. "Ridley is my friend, and Harry..."
"You love him," Adele offered, sorrow in her eyes. When Jack gave her a shocked look, she smiled sadly. "Every time you look at him, you smile just like Mom used to do when Dad was mentioned. I may not like him, but I can't deny that he's special to you."
Jack offered an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Sis."
Adele sighed and shook her head. "I suppose I'll just have to get used to him," she offered and Jack's whole face lit up.
Ganz chuckled and dropped a friendly hand on Jack's shoulder. "Let's go, then," he suggested.
"What will you do when you reach them?" Gil asked as the three humans turned to the pig.
"I don't know, but whatever they're doing, I won't let them do it alone." Jack swallowed. "You saw Aphelion. I'll bet he's going to cause trouble and try to stop them. We can't let him get in the way!"
Gil nodded in understanding and joined the humans at the pig. "I'm coming with you," he warned.
Jack smiled at him. "Thanks."
None of them had ever been to the Dysett region, which had the closest pig to the City of White Nights, so they had to travel first to the pig in the Aiden region and sneak past the severely depleted human guards into the Septem region, where they were caught by hollywoodies and blauniebels.
Not far into the Dysett region, they were stopped by Gerald, who gave the four friends a disquieted look. "What took you so long?" he asked Jack.
Jack blinked. "Deputy Chief?" He shook his head. "I don't have time to fight you, and I don't want to hurt you. Please let us pass."
Gerald let out a loud laugh. "You've got balls, kid. I always liked that about you." He smiled as he brought his swords around in a ready stance. "But I can't let you pass. You sullied Theater Vancoor's good name when you went off to play for the other team."
"I sullied Theater Vancoor's good name?" Jack shot back, furious for the delay in their journey. Aphelion was likely already at the City of White Nights, and here Jack was, being chided like a little boy for fighting to save their world. "I'm not the one that agreed to fight next to Cross of all people while he went around, destroying dragons and weakening the natural resources of Tottaus! I'm not the one who's been working for the silver dragon, Aphelion, while he plotted to take over the world and shape it in his preferred image!"
Gerald was momentary taken aback by the rejoinder, but he quickly gathered himself and settled even more firmly into his fighting stance. "I fight for the honour of Theater Vancoor," he declared. "I will avenge our name!" And then he ran at Jack, two swords swinging quickly.
Jack caught the first sword with the Arbitrator and slid out of the way of the second. "Go!" he shouted at his friends. "I'll be fine! You have to warn Harry and Gawain about Aphelion!"
"We'll see you at the City of White Nights," Gil agreed as they ran around the duellists.
When Gerald moved to intercept the fleeing party, Jack got in his way, cutting dangerously close to Gerald's good eye. "You're fighting me, Deputy Chief," he reminded the man grimly.
Gerald narrowed his eye at the younger fighter and suddenly his two blades were a whirlwind, driving Jack back as he struggled to block and duck them, hearing his heart in his ears. Gerald was no rookie fighter, and he wasn't about to play around with Jack like he had back during the boy's entrance exam.
Jack was starting to actually worry for his life when he tripped over a half-buried stone and landed on his behind. Out of his pocket fell one of the bags of panic powder he'd bought from Gabe during a trip through Shangri La. Desperate enough to cheat, and silently thanking his goblin friend for always insisting he buy more, he ripped the bag open and tossed it in Gerald's face.
The Deputy Chief's good eye widened in surprise and then he was inhaling the confusion-inducing powder. Even as he started coughing it back out, his eyes glazed over and he started swinging his swords a bit aimlessly, barely even glancing at the fallen teen.
Jack took a moment to breathe in relief, then jumped back to his feet and efficiently disarmed the older fighter before knocking him on the back of the head with the flat of his blade. "I'm sorry," he told his fallen ex-superior as he dropped his swords next to him in the dirt, "but I can't let you distract me any longer from helping Harry. You can pay me back after Aphelion is no longer a problem," he promised, then turned his eyes to the hills that hid the City of White Nights and started running, sword held loosely in one hand in case he had to face down any other monsters.
Jack met up with the others at the entrance to the City, as promised. They had spent their part of the journey clearing the road of any monsters, which left Jack's path unbarred, allowing him to make up the lost time.
"Good to see you unharmed," Ganz commented with a grin as they started onto the white pathway that cut away from the desert.
Jack grimaced. "I cheated a bit. Tossed some panic powder in his face," he admitted.
"There are more important things than playing fair with a human who can't take 'no' as an answer," Gil offered, sniffing.
Jack couldn't help but smile at that. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks, Gil."
The light elf offered him the faintest of smiles, then turned back around to shoot a spell at an approaching earth cell.
The City of White Nights was made up of platforms connected by ladders, many of which were crumbling and would come falling down if they weren't careful. There were also sandfalls that would appear when they were not quite beneath them, and getting caught in one meant a nasty fall. At the centre of the spiralling platforms was the Gold Dragon's Castle, where their friends were sure to be.
Along the way, the four ran in to any number of elemental-based monsters. Gil's skills with water and wind-based spells made facing earth and fire cells a snap, and the sword Adele wielded was covered in flames, making aqua cells equally simple to dispatch. Ganz and Jack had nothing better than brute strength to power their swings, but it appeared to be more than enough to do the trick.
Finally, after three gruelling hours, they reached the entrance to the Castle. Just past the stairs in was a magical healing circle and they all made good use of it, sighing in relief as sore muscles were soothed and burns or cuts were healed over.
"I want one of those in the Fort," Jack decided, eyeing the stairs spiralling above them. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think we were in Radiata Castle, with all those stairs."
Ganz groaned. "When we finally get back into the castle as war heroes or whatever, I'm demanding a ground floor room," he muttered.
Jack let out a tired laugh, then clapped Ganz on the back and started the way up the stairs. "I don't care if I end up with algandars afterwards or not," the teen decided, "I am going to kick Aphelion's arse."
"I'll help," Gil grunted.
"You don't even have to walk these steps," Jack complained.
Gil shot him a disgusted look. "You weren't the one ferrying you lot around when you got caught by a sandfall or under a broken ladder."
Jack offered him a helpless smile. "Thank you? You're my favourite light elf ever?"
Gil snorted, amused, while Adele and Ganz let out breathless chuckles behind them.
Harry stood at the top of the stairs and he blinked in surprise at seeing them, even as the three humans and one light elf blinked in surprise at the sight of Ridley floating in front of a glowing golden dragon. "Jack? What are you four doing here?" the green-eyed dragon asked.
"Aphelion was headed this way," Jack explained as the party climbed up the last set of stairs.
"We came to offer our aide," Ganz agreed. "Just in case." Then his eyes slid towards Jack, and he added, "And Master Jack wanted to see you, I think."
"Captain, shut up," Jack retorted, offering his friend an irritated look.
Harry sighed and stepped forward to draw Jack into a hug. "I'm sorry for leaving without any warning," he murmured into the teen's ear.
Jack quickly wrapped his own arms back around the dragon, not wanting to chance Harry pulling away. "I'm very cross with you," he offered, pulling back just enough to give the smiling dragon a mock furious look. "I demand you make it up to me!"
Harry laughed, eyes bright. "How should I do that?" he wondered before dipping his head down and gently pressing his lips against Jack's.
They pulled apart to the sounds of their friends' laughter and Gil's muttered, "Finally."
Jack's face was a bright red, but he was grinning like a loon. Harry's cheeks had the faintest of blushes on them and he whispered, "I... love you too, Jack."
Jack didn't think he'd ever been more happy in his life.
"Well, isn't this precious," an aristocratic voice broke in from behind Jack.
"Aphelion," Harry hissed, carefully drawing Jack out of the line of fire and behind him. "Go back to your hole, you piece of slime."
Lord Lucian – or Aphelion, as Harry had called him – smiled in amusement. "Well, well, if it isn't the long-lived human." He raised an eyebrow when none of the humans looked surprised at the statement. "Have you finally given up on hiding your refusal to die from your fellow men? How... cute."
"Why don't you just go peacefully back to your sleep?" Harry snarled. "Quasar is already communing with Ridley; you're finished!"
Lucian's face twisted nastily. "I refuse!" he hissed before morphing into his dragon form and raising his sword to attack Harry and Jack, who still stood behind the younger dragon.
"Protect Ridley!" Harry ordered before jumping forward and morphing into his own dragon form, knocking a surprised Aphelion out of the tower.
"He's a dragon," Adele breathed, staring after Harry and Aphelion's retreating forms with awe. Ganz, next to her, didn't look much better.
In her glowing ball, Ridley glanced over her shoulder, green eyes turned gold with the dragon's power. "Jack," she called, her voice echoing eerily.
"Ridley?" Jack replied, stepping closer to his friend.
"Don't disturb them!" Gawain ordered.
Ridley turned a little bit more and held out a hand towards Jack. The tips of her fingers breached the ball of light. "Come," she said.
Jack, as if under a spell, stepped slowly forward, despite Gawain's orders for him to stop, and took Ridley's hand. The girl drew him up into the bubble and the whole world around them disappeared. Jack found himself floating in a world of gold light, Ridley next to him and the shining form of Quasar before them.
Jack Russell, Quasar's voice echoed in their minds.
You know me? Jack thought back, unable to look away from the dragon.
I know only what Ridley has said of you, Quasar replied. I know you are just and brave. You are a leader, but you care very much for those you lead.
I'm not just, Jack replied, thinking back to his duel with Gerald.
Quasar considered the memory, then insisted, You are just. Yes, you used unfair means to win your fight, but you did not kill your opponent, only left him with a minor wound. You did not remove his weapons, or leave him surrounded by creatures of the wild. You showed kindness to an enemy; that is just.
Ridley's hand squeezed Jack's gently. Please, Quasar, why did you ask me to bring Jack? she requested. In this strange dimension of golden light, her voice didn't echo, and it took Jack a moment to realise that the echo in her voice had been Quasar's voice.
Quasar tilted its head. Yes, time grows short. Jack Russell, I have seen your heart; you love my brother, Harry Potter, the dragon of the dark elves.
Jack saw no reason to deny that. Yes, I love him.
You would love him enough to spend eternity with him? Quasar pressed.
Jack felt as though his heart was in his throat. Spend eternity with Harry? Give Harry the chance to no longer live alone? If there was a way, I would, he whispered and felt tears in his eyes.
I will show you this way, Quasar promised before rushing forwards into Jack.
Jack let out a helpless scream as everything suddenly burned and he was bombarded with centuries of knowledge. Somewhere, just beyond the cascades of pain, he felt arms holding him up – Ridley – and Quasar's voice echoed, Forgive me. There is no time to be gentle. If we are not awake when Aphelion dies...
Just as suddenly as it had begun, the pain ended and Jack felt a slight jolt as he and Ridley were dropped to the ground, the golden globe that had encased them gone. He laid heavily in Ridley's arms, gasping through the echoes of pain. As if from far away, he recognised Ridley's voice, assuring the others that he was okay, trying to explain what had happened without actually explaining anything. Jack felt a deep well of amusement aimed at his friend; she had spent too much time with elves and dragons, who worked to keep their secrets at all costs.
Another lance of pain shot through him and Jack let out a whimper, pressing his face into the padding between Ridley's neck and her extravagant shoulder-spikes. Aphelion is dead, Quasar's voice supplied as if from far away. We are the only dragon of the humans, now.
Jack felt a memory creeping up on him slowly. He grasped at it, recognised it as the meeting with Parsec at the fort. It took him a moment to understand the significance, and then he asked, I thought dragons couldn't be killed. I thought you just slept.
That is true, usually, but our brother, Aphelion, waged a war against the rest of us and our children with his own children – our own children – humans. The dragons have convened and they have agreed, Aphelion must be dealt with. We gave Harry the strength to put him to rest for good. Humans were given two dragons for the duality of their natures: their kindness and their cruelty, their warriors and their mages, their men and their women. The humans do not truly need two dragons, not with the threat our brother was.
But then there is no silver to your gold, Jack whispered.
Quasar's voice echoed with laughter as the platform they stood on shook and Ridley's arms tightened to keep Jack steady. Our gold, Jack, the dragon reminded him.
"JACK!" Harry's voice shouted.
There is still a silver, Quasar added as Jack felt familiar hands take him from Ridley's grasp. He has simply never truly had his colour.
Jack opened his eyes at last, drained, and found himself looking into the worried green eyes of the man he loved – green eyes that were now ringed with silver. "Harry," he whispered, his voice carrying the faintest echo of Quasar's voice.
The silver-ringed green eyes widened in understanding. "Quasar," he breathed.
The others erupted in surprise and shock, finally understanding what Ridley had shied away from telling them. Jack reached up one heavy hand and rested it lightly against Harry's cheek. "I love you," he whispered.
Tears sprang into being in Harry's eyes. "I love you too," he whispered back before capturing Jack's lips in a happy kiss that sent energy coursing back through the new dragon's body. "I love you too, you silly, foolish boy."
Jack smiled and burrowed himself in Harry's embrace, feeling as if he had just come home.
Deleted Scene - Just for Shits and Giggles
Zane was rather let down when there wasn't an explosion to the south. He had been almost certain that the prophecy had meant that the humans' dragons would cease to be, which would mean the destruction of that damnedable tower of theirs at the end of the world. But no such luck.
Voices sounded behind him and he turned to watch as the two parties who had left for the City of White Nights returned to the Fort together. They all seemed to be in high spirits, with the girls teasing the boy, Jack, who was walking arm-and-arm with Lord Harry. Gil, Sir Gawain and his son were chuckling at Jack's expense.
As Zane watched, completely confused as to what had happened, Jack's sister turned to Lord Harry and snapped, "And you–!"
Lord Harry laughed the most honest and carefree laugh Zane had ever heard from the dragon. "I'm sorry!" he offered, clearly amused. "It just wasn't important you know."
"It wasn't–" The girl let out a disbelieving sound. "You're sitting there, quietly courting my brother, and no one thought to tell me you were a bloody dragon?"
"It wasn't important," Lord Harry insisted.
"It's even less important now," Jack commented lightly and Zane frowned as the strange dual quality to the boy's voice. Where had he heard that before? "Oh, hello, Zane," he called, noticing the watching light elf elder. "Did you ever see that amazing sight you were going on about?"
Zane frowned and fluttered closer to the group as they all stopped to look at him. "No. I take it your mission was a success?" He glanced at Ridley, hoping to see some sign of her dragon-hood, but all that had changed was the pair of faint wings fluttering behind her.
"One might say that, though not quite in the expected way," Lord Harry offered drily. "Quasar ended up joining with Jack instead of Ridley."
Zane blinked once, twice, then turned to the human that had been a thorn in his side practically from the start. "You are Quasar?" he asked, disbelieving.
Jack's eyes shone gold for a moment before he said, "Yes."
Zane finally realised where he'd heard the echoed voices before: One of the light elves he'd joined with as a boy had known the last gold dragon, who had always been more friendly with the fairy creatures than the silver dragon had been. The last Quasar had taken the form of a lovely young woman with golden eyes and a voice which often echoed, as if two people were speaking from the same mouth.
"...I think I need to go lay down," Zane decided, turning toward the entrance into the fort proper.
The humans all shared a laugh at that. Just as Zane was stepping through the doorway, Ridley laughingly demanded, "Oh, get a room you two!"
Zane looked back in time to see the tail-end of Lord Harry and Jack's kiss as the two turned to, simultaneously, stick their tongues out at the girl.
Yes, Zane needed a nap. And perhaps the ability to erase the past twenty-four hours from his memories.
So, at the end of the non-human arc, Jack's voice is sort of echoey and there's a bit of a debate about whether or not he's become a dragon in Ridley's place. Well, I say 'Of course he became a dragon!' And then I went and made it more obvious here. Because that's what I do.
Hope you enjoyed this fic as much as I did! (Even if it took me two bloody years... -.-)
And, no, I'm NOT doing a sequel. Don't even go there.