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Out of Time: Act 1

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{First order of business,} Kazai Suizahn said as he spread out the map on the table in their hotel room. {Find out where we are, and where our fellow Angels might have arrived. We can regroup from there and find out what's going on.}

Zahariah Sanjulo frowned thoughtfully as he looked towards Kieri, who was staring out the window at the crowded city street below. {It's late winter,} he said, turning back to Kazai. {We'll need supplies to get anywhere. We also don't know the local language, save for your sister. She'll be our main hope for getting any news.}

Kieri wasn't listening as the two made their plans, though she did explain their location when they asked for her help, and she was able to help them understand the map itself. Other than that, her eyes were out on the darkening sky. Something seemed off – that black vortex that swallowed them was terrifying, but to dump them on Medius? Way too strange.

Something in her stirred. The 15-year-old Angel girl was certain that there was something truly wrong here. She was just damned, as Medians might say, if she knew what it was.

Finally, the two boys turned in for the night, and Kieri joined them, but she couldn't shake the feeling that everything was about to go topsy-turvy.

 

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It had been a single long, cold week since Kieri, Kazai, and Zahariah had been yanked from Heaven and thrust into Medius without much warning. The three had been mostly lost, often utterly confused, and more than a bit worried, though Kieri was able to at least translate for them and get them shelter. The town of Farun had been incredibly respectful, and had done everything they could to make the Angels feel comfortable. In time, Kieri began to listen to rumor mills about town, trying to get a handle on what was happening for them.

This had only lasted until her unfortunate encounter with Toski. Kieri had tried to stop the Guardian committing a robbery, unaware of her foe's true identity, and Toski had cursed her for her impudence. Kieri quickly learned a bit of control over the spell that had afflicted her, but she still felt ashamed of herself for allowing it to happen.

She even began going outside less, until her brother practically dragged her out one day.

As they walked along Farun's streets that day, Kieri mostly kept her head down, only speaking when either her brother or Zaha spoke to her. As they walked, a scream of shock ripped through the air. They all turned to see a red-scaled Fire Demon stumble out of an alley. Being the noble warriors they were, the three quickly gave chase after it as it ran. Kieri found herself beginning to lag behind, and in a moment, she was ambushed by two more Demons – to the additional screams of the locals. She barely drew her blade in time to deflect the blow of the Water Demon and lunged to her left. The Earth Demon slammed his axe into the ground right where she had been a moment before. Cutting defensively, she managed to parry a large swipe, and got clawed in the face for her trouble.

As she backed away, the Water Demon attacked again, not letting up and viciously slicing her open while the Earth Demon circled. She was already in it deep.

'Mother was right,' she thought bitterly as her foes cornered her. 'I really am just a failure of a warrior.' Her teeth grit in rage at herself.

 

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As Kazai and Zahariah ran after the scaly Fire Demon, their quarry sent a bolt of flame backwards at them. Kazai barely deflected the attack, at which point the Demon slipped down an alley. They arrived to find it had vanished from sight. {Curses,} Kazai growled. {Split up and find it!}

{Do not worry about him. There is no time.} Both boys turned, surprised at the formal-sounding Angelic, only to see another Fire Demon, this one purple of fur and red of eye, dressed in red pants and what looked like a tattered black bathrobe. Kazai readied his axe, but the new Demon shook his head. {You have no time for this,} he stated plainly, {you two need to come with me. Kieri is in trouble, and more than you know falls on her shoulders.}

Zahariah blinked. {How – what?} he asked, confused. {What're you talking about?}

{Just follow me,} the strange Demon sighed, seemingly weary and frustrated. He stalked down the street at a decent clip, ignoring the murmurs of confusion and fear from the Medians. Kazai and Zahariah glanced at each other, the former grimacing and nodding, and they followed him, Kazai gripping his axe just in case.

It didn't take long for them to come across Kieri, busy with two Demons – Earth and Water – and with many scratches on her. She looked about ready to fall. {Kieri!} Kazai roared, charging into the fray. The Water Demon growled and unleashed a blast of ice, quickly catching the young man in a snare. {Damn beast, let me – }

"Burn Ray." A lance of blue light, fading to black around its edges, lanced from the Fire Demon's hand and into the Water Demon. She yelped in sudden pain and was sent skidding from the Angel she was trying to target. The Earth Demon, stunned, bore his axe and swung, only for the Fire Demon to bring up a staff – seemingly from nowhere – and bring it up to block the attack. The staff shattered under the force of the hit, but after chopping past the Fire Demon's arm, it turned blue hot and melted into slag. The smaller Demon, hissing in pain, snarled, {I am Buwaro Elexion, and I am a Time Mage. I wield the cosmic forces, I tug the threads of space and time, and I pry fire and stones from the night sky. I will not be denied!}

{You're a crazy idiot, is what you are,} the Earth Demon snarled, preparing to lunge at the injured mage before him. Zahariah leapt up in front of the bull-like Demon and slammed his two fist-daggers into the beast's chest, eliciting a scream of pain.

{Zaha, move!} the Fire Demon shouted, and Zahariah was airborne again. "Burn Ray!" he intoned again, the blazing lance ripping into their foe's chest and out his back. The Earth Demon fell, the sheer damage slaying him instantly.

Kazai, finally breaking free of his imprisonment with his axe, landed amidst a crash of ice, the shards scattering everywhere. {Who...are you?} he asked the Fire Demon.

{I told you,} he replied, stumbling towards the injured Kieri, {I am Buwaro Elexion. I am a Time Mage.}

{There's no such thing as 'time' magic, is there?} Zahariah frowned as Buwaro pulled out bandages from his robes. {And where did you get those?}

{I am a Time Mage,} he stated crossly, before kneeling to work on wrapping up Kieri's injuries. As he finished and helped her stand, she nodded gratefully, though she was still afraid of him. {Are you going to live?} he asked.

{I think so, but...why are you helping us?} she asked.

{Many reasons,} Buwaro stated. {We should retire to your inn room for now, I can explain once we are safe and resting.}

{Alright,} Kazai scowled, {but you'd better have good answers.}

Buwaro snorted. {I am out of mana and I have lost my staff,} he stated frankly. {I am less threat to you than Talus and Lazuli were to me.}

{Who?} the Suizahn boy asked, blinking.

{The two Demons. Talus, the male, Earth. Lazuli, female, Water. The Fire Demon you were chasing was Dakos.}

{...hm,} Zahariah mumbled as they made their way back to the inn. They did need to recuperate, after all...but this Demon's knowledge and apparent frustration were quite confusing to him. Why would he know so much about these other two, if he wasn't on their side?

 

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Three Angels and one Demon sat down in the inn room. {Alright,} Kazai scowled, {start talking.}

{I was going to,} Buwaro stated calmly, though his eyes were hard as he stared at the boy. {You never were too fond of me.}

Kazai blinked. {Ex...cuse me?} he asked.

{Right,} Buwaro groaned. {Okay, I will start from the beginning.} He took a breath. {So, the best way to explain this is without all the excess baggage. To make a very, very long story short enough, I have developed a way to use Time Magic. It's basically the manipulation of places, space, time, and cosmic energy. Speeding up people or slowing them down, calling on the fire of a star, plucking meteorite shards out of space, teleporting, storing items in little pocket dimensions. The last part is how I stored and drew the bandages and my staff.}

Kieri's jaw dropped. {That...can't be possible,} she managed.

{It is,} he stated, eyes rolling in exasperation. {I know you guys never believe me but that's just how it works. I've had plenty of years to figure it out. I am even capable of traveling between Medius, Heaven, and Hell with time and ritual effort. But that is not important.

{The important bit,} he explained, {is that Hell's army is piercing the barrier Death put up with a ritual that is not Time Magic based. Instead, they are using outright blasphemy, committing ritual sacrifice of Angels and using their life energy to break the barrier. The process also calls down Angels to Medius equal to the number of Demons called up, and with their slowly growing numbers, they intend to take over Medius entirely, at any cost, and win the Great War.} He glowered at the floor. {Worse, they have co-opted a Guardian, and with his help, they are slaying any Guardian that would oppose their plans, which is going to kill the planet in about five years. I do not want that to happen,} he growled.

Kieri blinked repeatedly. {That is...a terrifying prospect,} Kieri mumbled. It seemed impossible, but he was either crazy, or right – he was too convinced of his own story to be lying.

{To say the least,} Buwaro muttered, clearly frustrated, as he stared at the floor.

{Why do you care, though?} Kazai frowned. {Why aren't you joining them in the death and chaos? What possible – } Buwaro's eyes rose, and somehow, the young Angel felt the weight of this strange Demon's sheer weariness fall upon him. {Wh...what...are you – }

{Do not ask questions for which you cannot comprehend the answer,} Buwaro stated with a quiet, saddened demeanor. {...I should get a nap,} he mumbled, rolling onto his side and facing the window from his bed.

The three Angels glanced at each other as he rather rapidly fell asleep. The three of them, still worn out and mildly injured, decided to do the same.

Chapter Text

When Kieri awoke, it was to a blood-red, cloudy sky. Thunder rumbled overhead, and it was hot as summer. She sat upright and glanced around to find that there was nothing but ruins around them – her, her friend and brother, and Buwaro. {What in Gaia's name?} she gasped. The sun shone through the clouds for a moment, leading to even greater shock – why would the sky be so crimson if the sun was up?

{Good Gaia!} Kazai yelped, startling the other two boys awake.

{What – where are we?!} Zahariah muttered.

{Bloody underworld-fornication.} All eyes turned to Buwaro as he dropped his Angelic "curse." {I've never brought more than myself along before,} he scowled, standing up and brushing off his rear.

{Wh...where are we?} Kieri asked.

Buwaro winced. {Wrong question. We're right where we went to sleep. We're in Farun, in Fragaria, on Medius. The correct question is when are we.}

All three Angels' eyes widened. {Wh...when?} Zahariah asked. {Are you saying we're in the future?!}

{Five years into the future, plus seven months and four days,} Buwaro replied, his tone almost clinical. {You wanted to know why I wanted to save Medius? Many, many reasons – this chief among them,} he stated, sweeping his hand across the devastated, decimated village. {This is where things end up, no matter how hard I try. I've been trying for longer than you can imagine to stop...this!} he snapped at the bloody sky.

{...h...how many times?} Kieri asked.

Buwaro turned to her, utter misery filling his eyes, and he sagged to his knees. {I...I've done this more times than I can count,} he mumbled. {Only twelve times have I even come close to saving this world. Each time, it was because you survived the Gathering in St. Curtis, set to happen in about two months after when we met.} He swallowed, and his head dropped down. {I...I was sixteen the first time the Gathering occurred, and by my knowledge of how time works...I'm now ninety-four years old.}

Shock rippled through the three Angels. {N...ni...ninety-four years...?} Kazai breathed. Buwaro only nodded, tears threatening in his eyes. {Good Gaia...you don't look any older than me or my sister.}

{My sister, Sakido...she wants to see this world, and its beauty,} the ancient Demon stated. {She always has. She died the first time I got here, and...and I've never been able to stop it from happening, without keeping her in Hell.} He looked up at them, with a strange hope in his eyes, even as the tears fell. {But now...now, maybe, I can.}

{What'cha mean?} Zahariah asked.

{This occurrence,} Buwaro stated, sweeping his hands around them, {is proof that I can pull more than one person at a time. If I can do that for time, then space should be easy.}

{...can we go back?} Kieri asked.

Buwaro faltered. {I think so,} he nodded. {I'll have to try, certainly.} He began to meditate, and slowly, the world around them distorted, warped...

Before dumping them on their beds in Farun. {Whoa,} Kazai murmured as he untangled himself from his two allies. {That was...}

{Unreal,} Zahariah agreed.

{Now you know the stakes,} Buwaro said, {and you have no choice but to believe them.}

{No kidding,} Kieri mumbled. {So...where do we go from here?} she asked.

{The Gathering is set to occur in St. Curtis during the Spring Flower Festival,} Buwaro explained. {We have to get there in two months. We have the time, even with the snowy roads, but we can't dawdle too long, either.}

{Alright,} Kazai frowned, clearly worried. {I...suppose this is the stuff legends are made of,} he chuckled weakly.

{I can hear that,} Buwaro agreed. {Still...we must be cautious.} No one could argue that. They'd all seen, first-hand, what could happen if they failed.

 

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Buwaro had little in the way of funds; he'd spent what he had on healing potions to facilitate his survival for their current trip. As a result, the four needed to spend some time preparing supplies for their journey.

While the three Angels bought some camping supplies, Buwaro slipped into the woods, telling his new allies that he was in need of a new staff. They got their supplies in about an hour, but it was only after two that Buwaro returned. {We can leave in the morning,} he said, bearing a new branch at about his height, pulling an old knife from his pocket. {I will need that time to enchant it to its full strength.}

{Enchant it?} Kieri asked, surprised.

{Yes,} Buwaro replied.

{S-surely that'd take almost a week,} she stammered.

The Fire Demon gave them a great, sharp-toothed grin. {I am a Time Mage,} he said. Kazai gave a weak chuckle at the realization of how useful such a power was.

{You can do that?} Zahariah asked, sounding a bit dazed at the possibility.

{It takes my mana to do, but yes,} Buwaro nodded.

With that, he took a moment to meditate, and began whittling away at the staff with a blur of action. Within a single minute, he'd stripped the bark and shaped the staff, and after mashing some scavenged herbs together, chewing them, and applying them to the staff, the wooden implement began to softly glow blue for several seconds. Once he was done, he seemed to return to a normal rate of motion, laying the staff out on his aged robe; the staff was barely even glowing at that point, to the three Angels' confusion. {It should be ready in the morning,} Buwaro yawned, clearly worn out. {Give me a few minutes to nap and I'll be able to join you for the day.}

{Alright,} Kazai said, clearly weirded out by what he had seen.

The trio descended the stairs into the inn proper, wherein Kieri found a pot of coffee. She wasn't sure it was the best of ideas, but she asked for a cup of it to bring up to Buwaro, and left it on the nightstand.

A few minutes later, he was down the stairs and with the three, looking rather sheepish. {Thank you,} he mumbled to Kieri. {That really helped.}

{I-it's no trouble,} she smiled. She wasn't sure why, but he looked almost lost, even a little embarrassed, by her kindness.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day was spent looking over supplies, thinking about what would be needed, and readying for the next day and the journey involved. Kieri quickly noticed that Buwaro was very awkward about talking to people. It was almost as if he was afraid of people.

Then again, if he was so old, perhaps he was afraid of getting close to someone again – someone who might die. Surely something along those lines had happened in that time.

She finally worked her courage up around sunset. {I've noticed you're very...shy, most of the time,} she stated, {and yet you clearly have the ability to be charming if you want. Is there a reason you seem to guard yourself so much?}

The Time Mage blinked, before curling slightly on himself. {I see,} he said quietly. {I...I have lost a lot of friends,} he admitted, {and I have lost them many, many times. It is...hard for me to try and connect with someone, new or old, because I know I may watch them die...and it hurts to know that, or to see it.}

Kieri winced. {I understand,} she nodded. {I haven't lost anyone myself, yet...but I know how hard it can be to open up to people.}

{Mm.} He paused. {It...it can be extra-hard with you.}

Kieri started at that. {Why's that?} she frowned.

Buwaro froze for a moment, as if he hadn't meant to say it. "Hell with it," he mumbled. {I...always remember how kind and gentle you were, almost always, unless your...history somehow intruded,} he explained. She blinked at his careful wording. {There were a few times where you...I mean, you sometimes just...snapped. Because of the damage your mother did to your psyche.

{And while I know it may be hard to view it in this way,} he stated, as if he'd said it before, {it is the truth – your mother committed horrible abuse against you. Your father was clearly a positive influence, at least in terms of character strength, but your mother deserves to be punished in ways that would make the damned in Hell cringe in sympathetic agony, ways that would bring a God to tears.}

Kieri gawked at his words, soft but full of hidden fury. Clearly, he'd learned to control his anger against this feeling, and yet it still rankled him. Was her mother truly that awful? After a long minute of silence, she had to conclude that she was. {You're not wrong,} Kieri murmured. {It's just...she wasn't trying to hurt me. She wanted me to be stronger.}

{She wanted you to be the tool through which she lived her vengeance,} Buwaro stated with an almost clinical tone. {She wanted you to be able to take on all of Hell yourself, not for your sake, but for hers. She did not want a single one of the monsters that took her family to survive. All the while, she did not realize, and did not care, that they had all been killed in the attack that they'd committed.}

Kieri winced. {Sh-she...she isn't that bad,} she protested softly.

{She is. I spoke to her one time, and found a well of hatred so deep that I could not see the bottom without diving into it, and I did not dare stare into that abyss too long.}

The young Angel swallowed. {She...is that full of anger?} she breathed.

{Yes,} Buwaro stated, closing his eyes. {The only things that could even potentially open her eyes lie on your arms, and I'm not even willing to try at this point.}

She winced again. {You...know about my scars, then,} she clarified, turning away.

{I know that you made them, and why you made them, and that you are full of pain greater than her anger,} he stated in a sad, quiet tone. {And that is why, sometimes, you would lash out at those who hurt those you cared about. Almost never if it hurt you – you did not care about yourself – but you would gladly beat someone within an inch of their life for hurting your friends or your brother.} His mood became even more somber. {And you always felt like the scum of Hell itself afterward, as if you'd committed the most horrendous atrocities known to the living.}

Kieri's eyes fell. {I'm sorry,} she breathed, already knowing who she'd targeted.

To her surprise, Buwaro shook his head. {You don't have to apologize to me,} he stated calmly. {You only ever hurt me twice. Once to try and keep me from getting hurt in the Gathering...the other was explicitly my fault.}

{Wh...why would you say it is your fault?} Kieri frowned.

He winced. {That is a story for another time,} he murmured.

{Then, why would I need to keep you from getting hurt?} she asked, looking back at him curiously. {You're so powerful, I can't imagine doing anything but getting in your way.}

Buwaro looked away for a moment, before turning his gaze to the ground. {That is only in this timeline. When we first met, though, I was...weak. Stupid. Pathetic beyond all measure,} he grimaced. His expression grew hard at the memory. {Naïve beyond anything I have seen since. I got people hurt, repeatedly, from my ignorance.

{Things happened to me, rather than me reacting to them, or acting to stop them or cause them, because of how stupid I was; I changed nothing. I had not learned anything of value, and I was practically without value, save as emotional support, a shoulder to cry on. I could not use magic, at all; I could not fight, at all; I could not speak to anyone without terrifying them because of what I was. That is the only thing that has not changed,} he grumbled.

{I see,} Kieri murmured sadly. {Are you sure that is true?}

{I could not read, write, or do basic math until after my first reset,} he stated frostily, his tone full of bitter wrath. {I could not use the most basic Fireball spell until three years into my first run against the Hellions, long before I could reset. I've already half-forgotten the methods. I even believed that I could talk their general down from committing his genocide. I – } He paused, then closed his eyes and sighed. {I'm sorry,} he murmured, {I realize now why you asked. You assumed I was hard on myself, the way you are.}

{Yes,} she nodded quietly. Silence fell. {You hate yourself,} she murmured. {The way I hate myself.}

He winced. {I hate what I was, yes,} he replied, just as soft, {and I have a hard time telling if I've really changed for the better.}

{I will help you.} He jerked slightly, staring at her. She smiled up at him. {I can show you how strong you've become.}

He stared at her for a bit, mouth slightly agape, before smiling sadly, eyes misting up. {Thank you,} he mumbled, gaze turning to the ground. {We should get some sleep.}

{Mhm.}

 

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The next morning came. The four were on the road again in short order, though Buwaro seemed on edge. {There are usually two bandits here,} he murmured. {I suppose they're not going to attack us this time. It might be best that we stop them from hurting someone else.}

{Perhaps,} Kieri replied hesitantly. He turned his eyes to the forest, scanning for the two thugs, but found himself unable to spot them. Kieri did the same, scanning the opposite side of the forest, and Kazai and Zahariah helped, but they couldn't find any sign of a person. {Perhaps they are ahead somewhere?} she asked.

{Perhaps,} Buwaro frowned. {Let's hurry.}

An hour passed, but no ambush came. Buwaro seemed more frustrated by this, but he kept his eyes forward to try and push it from his mind. As they were walking, though, they heard a cry of "Now!" and the twang of a drawstring.

The four turned in time for Zahariah to get shot in the chest with a crossbow bolt and sent flying back several feet from the force. {Zahariah!} Kazai shouted.

{Kieri, how well can you heal?} Buwaro barked, standing forward in a defensive position to keep the five approaching bandits off of their group.

{Well enough,} she replied.

{Kazai, forward with me,} he stated, and the Suizahn boy hesitated, before letting Kieri take to the healing and going to the front of the battle. {Aim well, hit hard,} Buwaro stated, {don't let them get a second shot in if you can.} He then pointed his finger. "Burn Ray," he snarled, striking one of the bandits with his blue fire, sending one foe to the ground. Kazai was soon in the fray, his axe swishing into one bandit's shield and sending him to the ground, unharmed. {Aim for the neck, chest, or leg, not their shield or weapon!} Buwaro snapped.

{S-sorry,} Kazai muttered, his axe slamming deep into the bandit's sternum. The man choked, sputtered, and died. Another bandit struck at him with a short sword, the blade sliding along his shoulder and eliciting a gasp of pain, while a third swung a hand axe at the boy, sending him stumbling back with a deep gash in his arm. {We can't hold them off forever,} Kazai stated as the fourth strung his crossbow up again.

Buwaro was already stalking forward, and another roar of "Burn Ray!" escaped him, the blue flames striking the bandit with the crossbow. He screamed as he fell, and the weapon shot wildly, the bolt landing behind Buwaro. Kazai growled, swinging his axe for the axe-wielding bandit, his weapon gashing along the man's arm but not sending him down. Another slash came across Kazai's back, and the axe bit deep into his shoulder. {Kazai!} Buwaro yelled, starting to worry for their injuries. {Dammit!} he grimaced.

A shadow passed overhead, and Zahariah, wounded and bloody but alive, landed behind the axe-wielder before stabbing him in the back, tearing the pronged punching daggers free and sending him down. Buwaro nodded at the other Angel and pointed at the last bandit, his hands in the air, his weapon on the ground. "Burn Ray," he snarled, and the man screamed as he was seared in the chest, sent rolling into the snow. {Help me,} he told Zahariah, who nodded, looking somewhat shocked at the Demon's brutal attack. Buwaro's treatment kept Kazai alive, and Zahariah healed up the injury in full with his magic. Buwaro sighed in relief as the boy under his claws groaned.

Kieri came over and began healing her brother as well. {Kazai?} she asked.

{I'm okay,} the boy groaned.

{Good,} Buwaro sighed. {Crap...we should probably take several breaks on the road,} he sighed. {These are bad injuries, and we don't need everyone dragging and bleeding when we get into Riverside. Dragging is bad enough.}

{I can see that,} Kieri agreed. While Kieri worked on healing her brother, Buwaro grabbed the bandits' weapons, and found a cloth bag on what appeared to be the leader's person. With some more healing work from the three Angels, they were on the road again.

They didn't make it to Riverside until well after the moons rose. When they arrived, Buwaro quietly put the coins on the inn counter, saying, "One room for four please, and a dinner for each. And is there a bounty on bandits of late?"

The young woman started at his appearance. "Wh-wha – "

"Please not now," he groaned, pinching his sinuses. "We need to rest, we're exhausted and beat up."

"I see that," she mumbled, glancing at the three Angels with him.

"He is...gruff, but he is a good person," Kieri stated. "He means well, at least."

"...if you're sure," the lady frowned, taking fifteen silver coins and letting them have the rest – 35 silver remained. Buwaro was the first to crash that night, with Kieri following suit quickly.

Chapter Text

Kieri nuzzled into her nice bed. It was firm, yet so fluffy.

It took her several seconds to realize something was wrong. When she opened her eyes, she found herself staring at Buwaro's huge muzzle. She wasn't sure why his muzzle would be huge until she glanced down at her rabbit self.

She'd honestly forgotten; her curse hadn't struck for some time, so perhaps she was due.

{Kieri?} Kazai groaned sleepily at the rabbit lying on Buwaro's chest. {Kieri!} he yelped, startling Buwaro awake. {What'd you do to my sister?!} he shouted, grabbing the Time Mage's jacket and shaking him – and throwing Kieri off of him onto the bed proper.

{What're you talking about?} Buwaro asked grumpily, shaking his head and trying to clear the cobwebs of sleep.

{Kazai, it wasn't him!} Kieri protested.

{Are you sure?} Kazai scowled, not taking his eyes off of Buwaro. {We don't know what else this Demon's 'time magic' is capable of!}

She sighed, already knowing where this was going. {Remember how I was getting mopey back in Farun? I'd...run into Toski,} she said with a wince. {She did this to me.}

Buwaro stared at the rabbit on the bed blearily for several seconds before closing his eyes and rubbing his temples. {Right,} he groaned. {I forgot about that Guardian breeding-dog this time. Maybe this Time Magic feces is damaging my memory.}

{B-breeding dog?} Kazai frowned. {Isn't she a rabbit?}

{I think that he's referring to a Lingo swear,} Zahariah yawned. {Morning, Ki...eri?} he grunted, surprised by the rabbit.

{Toski,} she mumbled.

{Great,} the Fire Angel yawned. {'Breed' me, I'm exhausted.}

Buwaro gave a chuckle at the attempt at swearing. {Well,} he groaned, stretching as Kazai let go of him, {the good news is, I've got one of my spells back.}

{Back?} Kieri asked, confused.

Buwaro nodded, sitting on the bed with a soft huff. {Each time I go back, I lose most of my spell retinue and the vast, vast majority of my power,} he explained. {It, I guess it resets my power, though not my memories. It's a huge pain to say the least.}

{I see,} Kieri murmured strangely. {So you got one of your spells that you've learned 'back' as if you hadn't lost it?}

{That's the size of it,} the Fire Demon nodded.

{Another Time spell, I assume?} Zahariah asked.

{Yeah,} Buwaro replied, {though it's really just a simple boost for running speed. I've found it useful for when I need to get somewhere fast.}

{I bet,} Kazai murmured, surprised. {How long does it last?}

{Usually five minutes or so,} the Time Mage replied. {Dead useful, I can cross the entirety of Blossom Valley in a half-hour with this thing if I keep powering it. Takes less power than my Burn Ray spell, too.}

{That's neat,} Zahariah mumbled, eyebrows rising. Buwaro just smiled and nodded.

The four were soon on the street; the first thing they did was approach the local bounty office. Buwaro dropped off the three weapons and explained that they had slain five bandits, giving a description of each. The office paid 600 silver, 550 of it in the form of 11 gold crowns, to Buwaro's slight surprise. The young mage thanked the man and looked to his companions. {Need any gear, guys?} he asked with a smile.

{I think we're good for now,} Kazai shrugged. {We should be – }

A scream ripped through the air. Buwaro frowned, stalking out of the office and followed the sound, the three Angels not far behind him. They soon came across a badly wounded Jakkai lying in the snow, and their eyes followed a trail of blood and footprints to see a small, green-skinned thing, barely taller than a Jakkai, with corded muscles, a stooped posture, and a knife. Buwaro's eyes widened. {That's new,} the Time Mage murmured, acquiring its attention.

{New?} Zahariah asked, already concerned. {But you say you've lived this how many times?}

{Yeah, but I've never seen this – } he began, before it snarled at the four and lunged at them. {Kieri, heal,} Buwaro stated, stepping into the thing's way, and it struck at him as she worked on the wounded Jakkai. Its blade slashed across Buwaro's right calf, and he swung his staff to try and knock it off-balance, the weapon smacking it in the temple. It growled and struck again, the blade scraping his other shin and stabbing into the thigh. The Time Mage staggered, gasping for breath from the pain, as Zahariah stepped in and struck, stabbing it in the back of the skull and quickly ending its life.

As it fell, though, the thing dissolved into purple-and-black smoke. Buwaro's eyes widened. {What in the...?} he mumbled, dumbfounded.

Silence fell for a moment. {You've never seen anything like this in any of your time travel ventures?} Kazai asked, worried.

{No. The way it puffed, it had to have been made out of magic, and that's about all I can tell you.} That declaration stunned everyone into silence as Kieri finished healing up the wounded Jakkai. The healed Median gratefully thanked the three Angels and the Demon, though he looked confused by it all, and hurried off. {So,} the Fire Demon groaned, {I'm going to need medical attention too...and probably a little time to figure out what that was.}

{Yes,} Kieri murmured, {it would be good to know.} She began working on his injury too, and once they were done healing up, the four returned to their inn room to discuss.

Once they were back, Buwaro took a meditative pose on the floor while the three Angels spoke. {I've never seen or heard of anything like that,} Kieri agreed. {It was no Median animal – I can only guess that Buwaro is correct. Like it was made of some foul ritual.} She shook her head. {It's a worrying prospect.}

{Is it possible that the Demons have another time traveler among them?} Zahariah asked Buwaro. Buwaro did not answer. It was like he wasn't hearing them. {Buwaro?} Zahariah asked again, starting to get worried.

The young man started, and shook his head of cobwebs. {I've got an inkling now,} he grumbled, {and it's worse than I thought.}

{How so?} Kieri asked.

The Time Mage nodded at the question. {So, what I was doing was projecting my mind into the ether to scan the latent magical energies of the area. They're much different than the last time. It seems that thing was made purely out of tainted magical energy – and due to the local energies, there will likely be more of them.}

{Lovely,} Kazai groaned. {Any idea why they're appearing?}

{No,} Buwaro admitted, shaking his head, { but I've got a very strong feeling that I'm somehow responsible. All I can tell is that there's a place we need to go after we stop the Gathering – if we can.} He paused, closing his eyes to better visualize what he'd seen. {I saw a bright light of green distant over the horizon that seemed to call to me. It was very clearly somewhere on Mt. Sentinel, though how I'd know that is beyond me.}

Kieri blinked at that. {You know that that's where we need to be, but you don't know how,} she summarized, and he nodded. {Creepy,} she shivered.

{No kidding,} the ancient Demon nodded. {It's also a new thing on this...time run,} he added, {just like the little monster. That's why I think I'm involved in this.}

The mood turned grim at that. {You think that your Time Magic has something to do with this, then?} Kazai asked quietly.

{It's the only thing I can think of that's changed – that even could have changed – since I came back to this part of the timeline,} Buwaro admitted. {I'm just hoping my death isn't what fixes it all.}

Kieri started. {That...I mean,} she began, but the words died in her throat. Her mind shut down. {I feel the same,} she mumbled.

Silence fell. {We should probably do some more digging locally,} Buwaro explained, {find about any other local troubles. The local Trouble Help Center is good for that.}

{Hm,} Kazai nodded, {worth a shot.}

 

@@@

 

With Kieri's help, the four were able to sign up with the Trouble Help Center and begin work. Buwaro had to team up with one of the boys, and Kieri with the other, as there were only two among them who spoke Lingo fluently, and an Angel would help to keep people from freaking out over the Demon among them. Buwaro elected to stay with Zahariah, so that Kieri and her brother could have some time.

As they began their work, Buwaro found himself watching the world around him carefully. The locals were afraid of him, as he knew would be the case, but it appeared that they had more of a "healthy respect" fear than a "horror" fear. It confused him, but he was doing a job, so he didn't have time to think about it. He wondered for a moment if slaying that goblin thing had done this.

'If so,' he was forced to admit to himself, 'it might be a good thing for me that such monsters are appearing. It means that I can show that I'm willing to help people out.' He didn't like that line of thinking, but there it was. He grimaced as he came to the realization that this was not a way he'd have ever thought before the first reset.

Before he lost what he'd treasured most.

He pushed the thought of that moment from his mind quickly. He had to. There was no point in dwelling on what was forever lost. His feelings did not matter. He had to stop the end of Medius. Nothing else could be as important...never again.

That was when he heard the crack of breaking ice. His eyes widened – he'd completely forgotten this incident. {Zaha, follow me!} he snapped, hurrying towards the sound as fast as he could. As he ran, he incanted, "Step faster than the wind itself, where each second is a mile! Sprint!" In a moment, his running speed folded on itself, allowing him to reach the river in about 9 seconds – he hadn't expected it to be so far. "Hang on!" he growled to himself, rushing down the riverside, looking for some way to catch the boy without going into the drink.

He saw it – a discarded chain in an alley. Grabbing it, he hurried to the next bridge, cast the chain over, and shouted, "Grab on!" The boy sputtered, barely grabbing the chain in time, and Buwaro pulled as hard as he could, barely tugging the boy free of the water and into the air. He knew it wasn't going to be enough.

A moment later, Zahariah showed up on the wing and fluttered down, grabbing the boy and hauling him onto the bridge with the help of Buwaro's chain. Once there, the two began warming him up, Buwaro with his tattered robe and Zahariah with his Fire magic. The boy chattered and shivered for some time, then slowly stopped shivering as his body shut down. {He's still cold,} Zahariah noted.

{His body's giving up, it's not warming up enough,} Buwaro muttered, picking the boy up and hauled him into a nearby shop, setting him by the fireplace within so he could warm up properly. He soon passed out, but an hour and a doctor later, he was shivering and awake again.

The boy's mother thanked the two profusely, scolded and hugged her son, and paid them handsomely for their help. Buwaro stared at the 33 silver in his hands, utterly astounded by the woman's gratitude. "I...I can't," he choked. "This is a month and a half of eating."

"I've got plenty more," the woman said, "and a life is without price."

Buwaro's mouth was dry, so he only nodded and bowed deeply at first. "Thank you," he mumbled when he found his voice again.

When the pair arrived back at the inn, Zahariah asked him what she'd said, and he numbly explained. {I wasn't expecting such...gratitude,} he murmured. {I...had forgotten what it felt like.}

{What what felt like?} Kieri asked as she and her brother came in. {Buwaro? Your robe is soaked!}

{I need rest,} Buwaro mumbled. {Zaha, you tell them.} He flopped onto his belly on the bed, still reeling. He'd become nearly heartless; he'd been so callous for decades now, utterly unfeeling in his melancholy, so far beyond depressed that it was a wonder he hadn't given up. He'd often wondered why he fought.

He had already realized that he'd just been reminded of why he fought. Why he hadn't given up. The joy of seeing people smile at him. The feeling of warmth from their gratitude. The heartache they felt when he failed. The heartache he felt when he failed.

He'd forgotten how to feel. How to empathize. What was once his strongest trait had been buried under a mountain, thrown into the ether to vanish, only to resurface now, when he'd given up any hope of changing things for the better.

Now, in this moment, ignorant of where Zahariah was in the story, the Time Mage buried his face into a pillow and silently wept until he passed out.

Chapter Text

It was a few days after the incident with the magical monster. The four had made plenty of money, and were in fact well ahead of where they'd been when they came into town thanks to their work with the Trouble Help Center.

During one day out, though, Buwaro heard a commotion. Fearing another "goblin" attack, he rushed after it, only to find a familiar young Human girl. Kieri made quick effort to catch the "thief," while Buwaro caught the jar she was carrying. The Jakkai chasing after her caught up, but Buwaro glared at the man. He began to slowly open the jar. "How much is this Fairy worth to you?" he sneered at the Jakkai.

"This what is worth?!" Kieri gasped.

"Tha-that's baloney!" the Jakkai laughed. "Everyone knows that Fairies are a – "

The jar popped open. Eve nervously poked her head out. Buwaro smiled thinly. "Oh, this is a myth now, is it?" he asked smoothly.

Kieri's expression grew fierce. She stalked toward the Jakkai, blade drawn, and he gave a squeak of fear. "Now now!" he laughed nervously. "You wouldn't kill me! You'd be in big trouble with the law!"

"Kieri?" Buwaro stated. "Wings?"

She nodded, flaring her wings immediately. The Jakkai's eyes widened. "Mercy," he whimpered.

"Go to Hell," Buwaro stated calmly, raising his hand.

"No." Buwaro paused at Kieri's soft, but angry expression. "We can't just kill him, much as I'd like to." She glared hotly at the dealer below them. "But you will only receive the mercy of court justice," she snapped.

Buwaro paused. He'd seen how this played out before. "The Fairy Queen will come for him, and he'll die anyway," he told his ally.

Kieri grimaced. "It will be her decision, then," the Angel girl said. "I will not sully my blade with this coward's blood."

Buwaro smiled. "You keep your morals better than I did," he admitted softly.

"Huh?" she asked, surprised.

He winced, looking away. "Later," he stated.

Kieri stared at him for a moment. She already realized that he didn't like talking about his resets, and this sounded especially painful. Still, she knew he'd have to get it out eventually, so she nodded. "Back at the inn, then."

Buwaro winced. He clearly wasn't looking forward to this conversation. "Fine," he mumbled. "Sammy, right? Heathcliff's probably looking for you."

"...why 'probably'?" the girl frowned as the guards came.

Buwaro sighed. "I remember he's always looking for you around this time," he muttered. He watched the guards arrest the Jakkai with some satisfaction.

"This time?" Sammy asked.

"Yeah, I – " Buwaro began, then perked up. "Wait," he told the guards. "Search his shop. I can't believe I never thought of this, but he might have records of his transactions. If their Queen comes looking for him, trade his life for those documents."

The guards blinked, looking at the Jakkai, who had apparently realized just how much danger he'd put himself in. "Please," he murmured, looking quite frightened for his life.

"...fine," one guard said. "Help us find any hidden passages, traps, etcetera."

"Yes sir," the Jakkai nodded quietly.

"What do you mean 'around this time'?" Sammy asked again.

Buwaro sighed, realizing he probably wouldn't convince her to stay out of it. "Find your uncle, tell him to meet a Fire Demon at his wagon with three Angels. I can explain more there."

"Alright," she frowned. "We'll meet you there, then."

"Mm." He looked to Kieri. "Meet me on Main, by the fountain. I'll take you to where they're staying."

"Alright," she nodded, starting to realize he'd dodged the questions for now.

Within half an hour, Buwaro and his three Angel allies were at the Sinclair family wagon. As they arrived, Buwaro heard a commotion from within – Heathcliff seemed to be arguing with his wife Miranda and his friend Duster, which brought a small smile of nostalgia to the Fire Demon's face. {I haven't heard their voices in too long,} he admitted quietly.

{Buwaro?} Kieri asked.

{...soon,} he murmured.

The initial meeting was awkward, but with Kieri vouching for Buwaro, things calmed down fairly quickly. Within another half-hour, they were having cookies and tea, and Buwaro was quietly explaining the basics: he was a Time Mage attempting to stop a terrible future for Medius; Kieri was at least majorly important to this endeavor; and that he had met Heathcliff once almost 80 years ago, the first time he was with Kieri and Rhea. "Who's Rhea?" Heathcliff asked.

Buwaro sighed, grimacing. "She was a friend. My first real friend. She ended up in Hell because she was a brat, and because her father murdered her. Why he did, I never found out," he noted.

"I see," Heathcliff frowned. "And it starts with the Gathering in St. Curtis?"

"Yeah," Buwaro nodded.

"There are two Guardians there," the man stated. "Even a small horde of Demons shouldn't be able to take them both on."

"One Guardian was replaced by Rhea's father," Buwaro stated, "and he assassinates Melli. I've never been able to stop him without nearly dying myself."

Heathcliff sighed, pinching his sinuses. "You can travel through space and time, right?" he asked tiredly.

"Yeah, why?"

"Go get her." Buwaro blinked. "She needs to hear this, and then some."

"...okay," Buwaro mumbled. {You three will be okay without me?} he asked the Angels. {I seem to be needed in Hell for a moment.}

{I think so,} Kieri nodded. "I can translate for my allies, if need be," she told Heathcliff as Buwaro stepped outside.

It'd been some time since he breached the barrier between Medius and Hell. He knew he'd have to focus to make the journey. But if Heathcliff was right, then she needed to be here.

He just hoped Darius didn't get too mad.

Drawing a very thin, very long oval, Buwaro reached with his mind across the ether. He could make it to Hell tonight and likely find Rhea, after which point he'd need to come back with her in the morning. That would take slightly more power than one person one way, but he could do it, he was sure. He wondered if he could bring Sakido along for a moment, before wincing at the thought. 'No,' he thought, 'better not. I don't know how much power it'll take to carry a second extra person. I can get her on another trip.'

The ancient Demon opened the portal and quickly stepped in, the portal vanishing a moment later. It was still light in Hell, to his surprise, but he shook his head of the confusion. Looking around, he created a quick "location ping" ritual to find Darius's diary. It was off towards the mountains – apparently Sakido had found it. He sighed and did so again, looking for Rhea.

This ping showed her behind Hell's Walls.

Buwaro cursed to himself. This was a very bad sign already. Sighing, he began the journey towards the Great Walls of Hell, drawing a piece of chalk from his robes as he arrived far to the left of the Gates. Drawing a quick circle, he forced a way to open that would let him pass the walls unseen.

It failed instantly. He definitely didn't have the power to try again until the next day, so he hissed a sigh and headed out and around to Hell's Gates. As he approached, Cerberus glanced at him, shrugged its massive shoulders, and parted the gates, letting him in without a fuss. He nodded in thanks and walked in, following his ping's memory. He would know the place she'd been when he pinged when he saw it.

He arrived there about half an hour before it would be dark. Rhea was lying in a bed of spikes, impaled on both forearms and upper arms, thighs, and calves. He winced – he knew that she didn't deserve this. Why was she here? "Hey," she sneered weakly, "you missed a spot."

Buwaro sighed. "In the morning," he said. "Got it?"

"Sure," she coughed, "no difference to me." He grimaced at that, looking away. "What?"

"I'll explain tomorrow," he said quietly. Soon, the night fell, and he rolled onto his side, trying to ignore the guilt devouring him at breakneck speed. He'd left his first friend to suffer like this for at least seventeen resets by now.

He felt such disgust with his own callousness. No wonder Kieri stopped loving him. "How could anyone love such a hateful wretch?" he spat lowly. "What a piece of trash I am."

Silence. "You okay?" Rhea asked quietly.

"No," he mumbled. "I'm apparently a complete idiot and that hasn't changed in..." His eyes clenched, then glowed as he decided to do what he could now, and began slowly prying her out. Rhea gasped in pain, then sighed in relief, as he laid her on his lap. "I'm so sorry."

"F'r what?" she mumbled, delirious. "S'not your fault."

"It is," he mumbled. "More than you can ever know."

"...kay then."

 

@@@

 

Morning came. Buwaro hissed at the light and shook his eyes of it. Rhea was fully healed, so he picked her up and carried her out to a hidden portion he found in Hell. Along the way, though, he came across an Earth Demon lieutenant. "Got a plan for her?" he sneered, clearly implying something.

"Just doing a transfer," the Fire Demon stated coldly. "Dakos's orders."

"Hm, fine," the lieutenant shrugged, and let Buwaro pass. The Time Mage was away quickly before the fool could realize Dakos was topside.

It was an hour and a half later, when they found a good spot to hide deep in some mountains in Hell, that Buwaro began talking. "I'm getting you out of here," he said quietly.

"Why?" Rhea asked, scowling in confusion.

"Well it's going to sound crazy, but I can prove it if you'll let me. Long story short, I'm a Time Mage, meaning I can travel time, space, and even planar boundaries; I've been going through so many resets I forgot that you were ever there for me, as my first real goddamn friend; and I'm so, so sorry I abandoned you here to suffer for no fucking reason. I hate myself for doing that, and I'm going to at least try to make up for it."

The Jakkai stared at him. "Kay," she mumbled. "Is, is that why you cried yourself to sleep last night?" The Fire Demon started – he didn't recall crying at all. "Were you feeling...guilty?"

Buwaro smiled sadly. "More than you can ever know," he managed softly. "Buwaro, by the way. "Buwaro Elexio – right, should grab the diary," he groaned. "I'll do it next time."

"Diary?" she echoed.

"Long story," Buwaro sighed. "Alright, let's go, quickly, before someone – " he said, before realizing someone was there. His eyes swung around as he pulled his staff out of his dimension pocket, turning to face the intruder.

That intruder was the last person he ever expected to see over here in Hell. "Buwaro?" his sister, Sakido, dressed in some light armor, asked softly, gawking at her little brother. "Is that really you? How are you here? Where'd that staff come from? How do you know about the diary? What's this 'Time Mage' thing you're talking about?"

'Shit,' Buwaro thought to himself. He remembered hearing that Sakido was an extremely powerful warrior in her days away from the army. He wasn't sure he could fight her now – not if she'd apparently stayed in Hell without his presence. "I..." he began.

"And why do you have my Jakkai?" she asked, frowning. "She needs to stay here, you know, or she'll fuck up the Big Plan."

Buwaro's heart sank as he realized what she was talking about. 'Oh triple shitfuck, she's helping the Gathering. '

Chapter Text

Buwaro was not proud to realize that he'd frozen up. He wasn't even sure where to begin. Whether she'd believe him. What would happen. Why she'd take care of him when he was there, but become a loyal soldier without him. He thought she'd resented him, the way Iratu did.

Nothing made sense to him anymore. Had his time warps screwed up so much without his realizing any of it?

"Buwaro?" she asked again, startling him from his numb musings. "What's going on?"

Buwaro grit his teeth. "Nothing for it, is there?" he grumbled. "If you're working with the Big Plan, even with you knowing about Darius, then we've got nothing to discuss." She blinked several times, eyes wide with surprise, before he shouted, "Burn Ray!"

The battle was on, and Rhea lunged to the side as a searing blast hit Sakido. Buwaro wasn't happy to be fighting his sister, but he had no other option. He vaguely wished that Rhea had something to fight with other than her Earth spell and her teeth.

Sakido was startled by the hit, but recovered quickly, preparing a lightning spell and striking him fiercely. He gasped and backed up, quickly casting another Burn Ray spell with a flick of his wrist. She put up a swift shield of Wind, but his blast tore through the defense easily. As she prepared another lightning spell, Rhea struck from behind with a rock, smashing the unstable hunk of stone on her skull and shattering her weapon.

The Wind Demon's spell fizzled, and Buwaro took his time to chant a bigger spell: "Fleeting stars across the void, I call for a shard of ice, fire, and stone! Meteorite!" By the time Sakido had recovered, the spell was ready, and down fell a tremendous hunk of stone and flame.

Rhea gawked at the display of might, and Sakido stared, stunned by the summoning of a falling star. The spell crashed into her hard, sending her flying back and rolling through the dirt, crashing against the side of the mountains they were caught between. She groaned, barely able to lift herself up on her hands. "Holy shit," Rhea muttered.

"Bu...Buwaro," Sakido mumbled, looking at him in shock, confusion, anger. "Why...? H-how...?"

"I'm sorry," Buwaro grimaced, "but I can't allow the world to be destroyed."

"We're not trying to destroy it, dumbass!" she gasped, still struggling to her feet. "We're trying to take over!"

"And you're going to kill it if you keep going."

She jerked at that, blinking. "...how sure are you?" she asked.

"A hundred percent. I've seen it happen countless fucking times."

Silence fell at that exclamation. "You're serious?" she asked after a moment.

"Yes," he snapped.

After a moment, Sakido shook her head. "What you're describing isn't possible," she stated. "Countless times? You've lost your mind." She quickly prepared another spell, Buwaro receiving a blast of lightning as he tried to evade. He rolled through the dirt, growling at his own incompetence and foolishness – almost out of power, low on strength.

That was when Rhea struck with another rock, chucking it into his sister's skull and sending her to the ground. The boy growled, "Come on, let's hurry!"

"Don't have t'tell me twice," she replied, the two hurtling off into the crannies of the hills.

After a moment, Buwaro picked up his ally and began chanting as he ran: "Step faster than the wind itself, where each second is a mile! Sprint!" They were soon blurring through the mountains and travelling the wastelands of Hell at amazing speeds, heading for a place to hide. They soon found it in a forest of white, dead-looking trees.

A while passed as Buwaro caught his breath deep in the little forest, padding along only slowly. He wanted to weep for his sister, but he didn't have time. He didn't have the power to get them out of Hell, either, so he was in deep shit. Grumbling, he began to try and cast a quick direction-seeking ritual, seeking the Gates of Hell.

It only barely succeeded, draining the last of his power for the day. Weary, he flopped against a tree as he considered his ritual's strange need to fail here. It was almost like Hell itself was immune to Time Magic rituals. He wasn't sure why, but that seemed to make sense when he thought about it. Grumbling, he curled up with Rhea, and the two took several hours to doze.

It was almost night time when they awoke. Buwaro decided that, night or not, they'd have to travel to the gate, and soon they were on the way. "So," Rhea asked quietly from her place on the boy's back, "where we going?"

"The Gates," Buwaro replied. "Once there, my magic should start working again for travel back to Medius. I'm sure Kieri's worried sick about me now."

"Hm," Rhea muttered. "Who's Kieri?"

"Angel girl. Sweet person, you'll like her."

"I dunno," Rhea muttered. "I've cursed the Gods so many times."

"The Gods aren't everywhere," he replied, "and Angels are not Gods even if they were able to see everything."

"True, but..." the Jakkai began, before falling quiet.

The darkness made great cover for them, but they only arrived late the next morning. Still, the gates were unguarded, save for Cerberus, who just shrugged Buwaro off. Once they were well out of his sight, the boy decided that they might as well grab Darius's diary. He made it to the little book's hiding spot and grabbed it, then began the portal ritual. Only back on Medius did Buwaro relax.

Heathcliff and family were outside the wagon at the time they arrived, and the patriarch seemed to jump. "What took you?" Heathcliff asked, frowning. "Are you okay?"

"Don't wanna talk about it," the boy mumbled, shaking his head. "This is Rhea. Tell her what she needs to know." He then trudged into the wagon and flopped down on the floor like a dog in the throes of a hot, miserable day.

"Alright," Heathcliff murmured, clearly worried.

 

@@@

 

Five days of travel passed as Buwaro's melancholy grew deeper. The boy ate, slept, and sat staring out the window most of the time, but on the fifth day he didn't even eat. He felt sickened by his lack of attention to what had once mattered to him most. He wanted to go back in time and shake himself and shout in his own face about how stupid he was and maybe smack himself.

That evening, as they were bedding down, Kieri's hand gently rest on the boy's back, and he cringed inwardly. "Yeah?" he asked.

"You've been miserable the past few days," she said quietly.

"I deserve it."

"No, you don't," she scowled. "Why would you say that?"

"I let my sister fall into their clutches, somehow."

Silence fell. "She's working for the Hellions, then," the Angel guessed.

"Yeah. She died the first time through, before I learned to reset, but this...this is even worse. She's working with the bad guys."

"...maybe you can reason with her."

"Tried," he snorted. "Failed. Then again, that's probably because it was me. I'm just a screw-up. Always have been."

"Rhea told me about you saying that," she murmured, before gently 'poing'ing into a rabbit and curling up at Buwaro's side. "I don't know if that's as true as you think." Buwaro didn't reply, clearly not believing it, so she changed the subject, noting, "We should be in Weyville in about five days."

Buwaro winced. "Great," he mumbled.

"Heads up," Heathcliff muttered from the front. "Looks like highwaymen."

"Of course," Buwaro growled, slowly standing up.

Once the wagon stopped, he quietly stepped out, straining to hear the conversation ahead of them. "You want something?" Heathcliff asked.

"Jus' thinkin' you need protection in these roads," one man said gruffly. "These roads are getting dangerous lately."

"I have plenty of protection," the merchant replied.

"That so," another asked.

"Yeah, it is," Buwaro stated crisply, stepping into plain view, walking forward beside the horses. The two gruff men flinched at the sight of him. "You can choose," Buwaro stated. "Either let us be, or get blasted by the heat of the stars themselves. I will give you five seconds to make your decision."

The two warriors hesitantly glanced at each other, then charged forward. Buwaro began to cast, but in a moment, the two were utterly incinerated by a gigantic blast of red flames.

Flames that he soon realized had come from Heathcliff's hands. "How?" he muttered, stunned.

"I'm the scion of a Guardian," Heathcliff replied. "Specifically, Siara. Rhea happens to be a descendant of Moku."

Buwaro jerked as he saw Rhea step around the side. "What," he managed.

"Yeah," she replied. "Apparently I'm his granddaughter, and near as we can tell, the guy who assassinated me – "

"Was your father," Buwaro finished, pinching his sinuses. "So that's why. Dammit, I thought I'd purged the sheer idiocy from myself after all these decades, but apparently not. It's no wonder I've been fucking up for 80 years, I've been missing half the plot."

Kieri put a hand on his shoulder. "Hindsight is 20-20."

"More like 20-200 in my case," he muttered. The young Angel grimaced, before he smiled sadly and continued, "At least now I've got the facts I need." He slowly relaxed and said, "Alright. Let's get this done right this time."

"Agreed," Kieri nodded.

"Amen t'that," Rhea snorted. "Now come on, stop moping."

"I'll try," Buwaro replied, though he clearly didn't know if it would help.

 

@@@

 

It was the morning of the day the wagon was due to arrive in Weyville when Buwaro asked Heathcliff a question. "I presume Denevol lives in Weyville, still?"

"...yeah," Heathcliff sighed. "You should probably not go into town, or be careful," he admitted.

"I see. Will do," Buwaro nodded.

"Wait, did you say Denevol? " Kieri asked, shocked. "Isn't that clan... gone? " she stammered.

"He came here fifteen years ago, and ended up stuck here," Buwaro explained. "I remember the first time I came across him – nearly died." Kieri grimaced. "Yeah. I'm better prepared now, if I had to fight him, but I'm still not looking forward to that."

"I do not blame you," Kieri mumbled, dazed by the realization that there was a Seraph in the area.

It was late afternoon, almost evening, when Heathcliff suddenly began to speed up the wagon. At first, Buwaro was confused, but looking out the hatch near the front revealed a thick plume of smoke in the direction they were travelling. "Aw hell," Buwaro mumbled, hopping to the back door and beginning his running incantation again. With a quick surge of speed, he was soon ahead of the wagon and hurrying up to the hilltop.

The town was on fire. Buwaro bristled, stalking his way down the hill, leading the charge even as he recovered his breath.

The town was in chaos from the wild flames. The half-melted snow seemed to do nothing but slow it down, and people were running and screaming, trying to save themselves, others, and buildings in varying degrees. Buwaro got to work by entering burning buildings and pulling out survivors, while Kieri and Kazai put out fires with their magic. Heathcliff, Zahariah, and Rhea did the same with buckets of water, helping to form a line to haul buckets along quickly.

Almost everyone was afraid of Buwaro at first, but he managed to calm people down enough to get them out of their burning buildings. As they were working, Buwaro stumbled into a very Spartan home, glancing around for signs of anyone within. As he did, he heard a groan of pain. "Is someone there?" he called, hurrying towards the sound. "Okay listen, don't be afraid, I'm here to help y – "

That was when he saw the old Wind Angel, pinned under a trio of beams. Denevol looked up at him, horror and rage etched into his face. "You damn fiend!" the man roared, preparing a blast of Wind magic, only for the pain of a bad shift of his body to overwhelm his spell. He screamed for a split second, the blast sputtering away.

Buwaro hesitated, closing his eyes and taking a breath. "Dammit," he muttered, then moved in towards the fallen beams and began trying to haul them upwards. He couldn't afford to fail – not here, not now. Putting all of his back into the effort, he managed to lift them a tad, then shifted his grip to push them further, then again. "Go!" he gasped, before slipping his back under the beams to give the aging Seraph the room he needed.

The man gawked only for a second before scrambling out on his arms. Buwaro waited until he was past the beams entirely before slipping out from under the beams – just in time for a fourth, then a fifth, hunk of wood to fall on the pile. Huffing from exertion, Buwaro coughed as the smoke began to infiltrate his lungs. Ignoring the wooziness he suddenly felt, he picked the man up over his back and dragged him outside as quickly as he could.

He stumbled out the final few steps, feeling sickened by the smoke. He ended up collapsing on the cobblestone street, the Angel on his back heavier than he was a half-minute ago. "Shit," he hacked out, trying to breathe with the weight on his back.

A moment passed as the old Seraph crawled off. He sat upright, hesitated, and began to speak an Angelic incantation, his hand on Buwaro's back where his lungs were. For a moment, the Fire Demon wondered if this was it. If he'd have to reset once again.

Surprisingly, the old man began healing him, purging the smoke from his lungs with a rush of Wind magic infused with healing Light. "Thanks," Buwaro wheezed as he saw the smoke practically gush from his lungs.

"Thank you," the old man replied with a groan, before lying down by Buwaro's side on his back. Each of the two passed out rather quickly after that.