kyuohki: (Default)
kyuohki ([personal profile] kyuohki) wrote in [community profile] hardmode2011-07-28 07:28 pm

"Discarded Hope" - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Title: Discarded Hope
Author: Kyuohki
Beta: Partial by inarikins, the rest is proofread
Media Creator: llyse
Media Link: Embeded in fic, but also availible here.
Word Count: 34,085
Fandom: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Characters/Pairing(s): OMC/OMC (Kemal/Olgan)
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Violence, attempted rape, and graphic sex
Summary: Clan Ragnarok has been betrayed by one of their own and led into a trap set by a rival Clan. Marche is kidnapped, and the only one who seems to know anything about the Clan that took him is Ragnarok's white mage Olgan. However, Olgan leaves, feeling betrayed by Ragnarok, and intends on getting Marche back himself. Ragnarok finds itself splitting into to groups, one to find the spy in their ranks, and one to bring back Olgan and find the Clan that took Marche.




Olgan gasped and rolled to the side, narrowly escaping the enormous spear rushing towards him. Others were scattered across the canyon, and all fighting for their lives. Fear gripped the man, blood dripping into his eyes. After another near miss of the blade, he rolled to his feet, staff tight in his grip. He eyed the bangaa templar, hoping that he had finally managed to retreat out of the fearsome warrior’s reach. A spell slipped from his mouth, gasped out on short breaths, and he felt the crawling sensation of a Protect spell settling on him. It wasn’t a perfect cast, and would collapse after a few harsh blows, but it would have to do.

How could this mission have gone so wrong?

It should have been simple: find a rare material for Ezel. The Nu Mou hermetic had sent several letters Clan Ragnarok, stating that he had discovered something that would boost the cards that allowed them to alter the Laws. He was working on some important experiments, and Ezel was unable to retrieve it himself. Surely the great Clan Ragnarok would be willing to go there for him and get the materials? In return, Ezel was to allow them first use of the new cards, as well as a hefty gil reward.

But when they arrived at the canyon the Nu Mou had specified, the slope behind them had collapsed, and everything had turned for the worse from that point. Arrows had rained down on them, magic crackling as spell after spell forced them apart. Then bangaa and humes had surged out of the terrain.

Olgan’s gaze briefly swept from his opponent, flicking out and trying to see where the rest of the Clan was. He thought he saw something down further in the canyon. Turning, he saw a flash of gold and blue. Marche.

Olgan needed to get there. He was the Clan’s main healer, his most important duty was to ensure that their leader – a young, idealistic boy – was protected from magic and healed during engagements. Gritting his teeth in determination, the mage shifted his footing, eyeing the slight outcropping beside him. The templar was advancing quickly, drawing that dreadful spear back. Olgan feinted to the left.

The spear shot forward as the mage changed direction, the blade burying itself deeply into a tree. The templar swore, hissing and snarling as he jerked his weapon free. But Olgan was already gone.

Olgan’s leap from the ledge was nearly uncontrolled, and he hit the steep terrain with a jolt. His robes tangled in his feet, sending him to the base of the hill in a sprawling heap. Groaning, he levered himself up. Luckily, he hadn’t landed anywhere near their enemies, and his desperate jump had placed him closer to Marche.

The young man in question was backed against a sheer cliff face by a bangaa gladiator one one side and two soldiers on another. A thief stood a little behind his companions, a cruel smirk twisting his face. He was saying something, and Marche faltered in blocking one soldier’s blade, allowing the gladiator to dart forward, slamming his shield into the opening the boy provided. Marche cried out, staggering back against the stone cliff.

Olgan’s mouth went dry. He couldn’t remember getting to his feet. There was a shout on his lips as he ran, weaving in between the combat to get to his Clan leader. He heard another shout behind him, and then another. Angry voices carrying over the din of battle, and he saw his Clan attempt to break off, to rush to their leaders aid. Somebody nearly collided with him, almost sending him sprawling against the rocky dirt. Kemal, a fighter, glanced at him briefly before pulling ahead.

“Stay back! I’ll clear the way!” Kemal shouted over the noise of battle.

Olgan slowed automatically, glad that the fighter was there. Another Protect spell fell from him, directed at the taller man. While Kemal was a force to be reckoned with, dual blades flashing at his sides, he wasn’t capable of taking down all his opponents without taking some injury as well. But still, hume and bangaa fell before him, either by his blades, or injuring them enough to give his companions time to take their opponent down.

Marche was nearly hidden from their view by the two soldiers crowding up on the young paladin, one knocking his blade aside and wrenching it out of Marche’s grasp. The other hume managed to grab his shield and pinned it against the stone, trapping his arm. The thief’s laughter reached them as Marche struggled in the soldiers’ hold. The gladiator reached forward and clasped a hand around the young man’s throat, roughly lifting the boy up into the air. The two soldiers backed off, their harsh laughter echoing with the thief. Marche choked, hands grasping around the bangaa’s hand and arm, desperate for air. He kicked out at the solid form holding him, feet clashing ineffectively against armor.

“Is this all you’re capable of? What a joke.” The thief stepped forward and handed a folded cloth to the gladiator. “Clearly we’ve been overestimating your skills. We’ll have to discard that spy we planted, since the information we were given was so wrong.”

Olgan and Kemal weren’t far away now – just a little more and they could help Marche. They saw the gladiator forcing the cloth over Marche’s face, lowering the boy to allow some airflow. The boy heaved a deep breath, before beginning to cough. He twisted his head, trying to dislodge the bangaa’s grip and pull free of the cloth. His struggles began to weaken.

“Put him down!” Kemal bellowed, voice carrying over the din around them.

The thief turned, dagger unsheathing in a flash as he took in the sight of the fighter and white mage charging towards him. Behind them, the Clan was turning the battle to their favor. The two soldiers pulled up to flank the thief, and a black mage materialized from the brush behind them. The gladiator shook Marche once, the boy having gone limp in his grasp. He hefted the dead weight of Marche up and over his shoulder, turning to the thief. Nodding once, he retreated. One of the soldiers broke off to follow the bangaa, sword held low as he kept an eye on the recovering Clan Ragnarok.

“No, I don’t think we will. We’ve been paid good money to bring him in and you all are in no condition to stop us.” Olgan locked eyes with the thief, both sets widening in recognition. Kemal skidded to a halt at the men blocking their way. Olgan dropped back behind the fighter with a worried glance at the man before them. Another smirk fixed itself on the thief’s face as the white mage slowed, face paling with realization.

“Hello, Taleel. Oh, wait. It’s Olgan now, right?” the thief asked, cruel smile widening at how the white mage nearly sidled completely behind Kemal.

“...Kilov.” The word was a hiss from the mage, Olgan fighting with the urge to retreat a few more steps.

Kemal frowned at the exchange, and Olgan hoped the older man wouldn’t demand answers then and there. Rustling from the brush drew the fighter’s attention away from him. A mage pulled forward, then another. The faces of the three black mages were obscured in the shadows cast by their large, wide-brimmed brimmed hats. The mages wore deep black robes trimmed heavily with silver chain – they were high level members of the Shade Weavers. They began to draw intricate designs in the air, a bright and delicate light flowing from their fingers and weaving together, charging up their spells as the Clan drew closer.

Olgan’s expression shifted from shock to irritation as he took stock of the Clan around him. Kilov was right: they weren’t in any kind of shape to fight further. Other than Kemal, and possibly one of their viera snipers, they were too injured to engage what was left of their enemy. They could not stand against a simultaneous cast of a charged spell from three powerful black mages.

“I’d hate leave so many of you behind like this, but I’m running on a pretty tight schedule.”

The thief backed off, and with a small gesture, the mages released the spell. Fire flared to life with a roar, the spell exploding between Clan Ragnarok and the retreating Shade Weavers. Another spell exploded a second behind, higher up on the mountain. As the enemy took off in the same direction as the gladiator and soldiers, a deep rumbling began to echo from above. Kemal gave a shout, sprinting after the fleeing group. Olgan coughed, staggering away from the explosion and all the smoke and dust. Flames were starting to lick at the trees and dead grass all around them.

A large boulder halted the Kemal’s progress, and the rumbling grew as more stones fell, blocking off that exit to the canyon. The fighter swore as they were all forced back to avoid being crushed. The flames were growing, eagerly nipping at their heels as they were forced gather their wounded and flee.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

The upstairs common room of the inn was quiet, the members of Clan Ragnarok scattered throughout the space, faces grim. They were all exhausted, terror and adrenaline having fueling their rushed trip back into Cyril. Marche was gone. Kemal slumped forward in one of the chairs, elbows resting on his knees as he dragged his hands through his hair. Those Clan members that hadn’t joined them on that mission were further in the inn, in the rooms they’d been given after they’d liberated Cyril. They were aiding their white mages where they could as Olgan and Xia healed the wounded. As exhausted as he was, Olgan was flitting from room to room, casting spell after spell to aid their injured. Kemal wondered dimly when the man would collapse from overusing his magic. He needed to question Olgan as to why he knew that thief.

“How could this have happened?” Montblanc worriedly paced the floor. He had been shocked on their return, nearly unable to process the sight of the Clan staggering into the inn. The rush to get the wounded stabilized had been their top priority, explanations left for later. It was well into the night before everything calmed down enough for talk.

“It was a set up. Had to have been. That thief spoke of a spy in our ranks.” Kemal scowled at the floor. He didn’t want to think that any one of their members had betrayed them, but so far he couldn’t come up with any other explanation as to why the mission had gone so wrong. The renegade Nu Mou was eccentric, but he had thought that they – that Marche – had earned the hermetic’s trust.

And then there was the issue of Olgan.

The two had never seemed to see eye to eye, and during the more heated of their arguments, Kemal had to rein in his anger and frustration so he wouldn’t become violent and injure the other man. Though, if Kemal was honest with himself, most of the conflicts they had were the result of Kemal teasing the man nearly to the point of harassment. It was amusing to see Olgan flail when teased, the faint blush crossing the young man’s cheeks endearing. The mage would either respond with either a sharp remark or ignore him, and the cycle would continue.

“But Ezel wouldn’t have betrayed us --” Monteblanc’s statement jerked Kemal out of his reverie.

“I don’t think he did.” The voice was quiet, and they all turned to see Olgan tiredly entering the common room. His blue eyes were sunken; he had clearly pushed himself too far. Despite the sick twisting in his gut at the sight, Kemal stood quickly and grabbed the white mage by the shoulders, shoving him against the wall. He was going to get some answers.

“Kemal!”

“What are you doing?!”

The fighter ignored the shouts, glaring at the tired mage in his grasp. The mage wouldn’t look him in the eye, and he growled in frustration.

“That thief knew you! He called you by your name, and you seemed to know his!” Silence. Those that had moved forward to aid Olgan came to a complete halt. The stillness dragged on. Finally Olgan nodded. Anger spiked in the fighter as he shook the other man.

“Why would you betray us? What are you getting out of this?” Olgan’s head shot up, pale and drawn, and Kemal was startled to see the anger in those eyes. Olgan shoved at him, desperate to get the fighter’s hands away. The anger didn’t seem to be directed at him, and Kemal’s grip loosened slightly.

“I didn’t betray you! Just because I knew that man, does not mean I’m a traitor!” With a burst of strength that left him leaning against the wall for support, Olgan was able to push Kemal off. He glared at the floor, hands clenched at his sides. “I knew him from my previous Clan! Don’t be so quick to accuse me of something I didn’t do!”

“Enough, Kemal.” Erika snapped, stepping forward. The viera sniper’s hands were up trying to calm the shaking mage. She shot a glare at Kemal, warning him to stay back. The fighter complied, uncertain how to react to the anger radiating off Olgan. The mage was always calm – always acting as the voice of reason and a mediator for any conflict within the Clan or without. Even if Kemal had pushed all of the mage’s buttons in an attempt to get him fight to back, Olgan would always walk away. To see him retaliate in such a violent and angry manner was unsettling. The viera turned to the white mage.

“Olgan. What did you mean when you said that Ezel might not the one who betrayed us?”

“...Kilov only works with those in his Clan and anyone sick enough to employ him. Any spy that Kilov set up in our midst would be someone he handpicked. We have done nothing to make Ezel betray us.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“The letters,” The mage said, pulling his lower lip between his teeth as he frowned in thought. “We need to look at the letters that Ezel sent us about this mission.”

“We have them, but what good will that do us?” Montblanc aksed, shook his head, red pom bobbing.

“If we compare them to anything else we have of Ezel’s, then that will absolve the Hermetic,” Olgan said, slumping back against the wall, exhaustion evident. Everyone turned to the second-in-command of Clan Ragnarok. The moogle’s expression darkened.

“Ezel writes in a calligraphic style on the cards, and this is the first time he’s ever directly contacted us. Every other mission we’ve taken from him has been though the Guilds. We’ll just have to go to Cadoan and get the answers from Ezel directly.”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

It was cold. Cold and wet and his back hurt from a rock jabbing into it. He groaned, eyes flickering open as he shifted to the side. There was a tightness in his chest, a constriction that nearly blocked off his ability to breathe. He could hear voices echoing around him. The sound bounced off the walls, and he groaned. As he slowly regained consciousness, he slowly became aware of all the aches and pains throughout his body. His head throbbed in particular.

“Well, looks like you’re awake.”

A boot caught him in the shoulder, roughly forcing him onto his back again. Laughter echoed at his pained cry, and hands grabbed him by the arms, jerking him to his feet.

“So. This is the great leader of Clan Ragnarok. The Clan that is trying to bring order and Laws to the Jagds.”

There was snickering and some low cursing at that. Marche blinked, swaying in the grip of his captors. Everything was blurry and dark around the edges, but the lights from the torches on the walls and the fire-pits were also too bright and his eyes watered from the jabbing pain. A hand grabbed his throat, fingers tightening at his jaw. Marche was forced to look up as he gasped for air around the tight hold.

“You’re going to learn that you don’t mess with our territory, little boy.”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Olgan sighed as he closed the door to his room, resting his head on the cool wood. He almost had to beg to be allowed rest, to retreat and hide behind his door. There had been so many questions – so many accusations – many of which he couldn’t answer or defend against. At least not yet. He had managed to get away with generic answers, nearly outright lies, before he was able to leave the common room. The only thing Olgan had not kept hidden was the name and base of his previous Clan, Uroborus. That Clan was hidden deep within the island of Jagd Helje, buried within the labyrinth streets of the city. Those facts could not hurt Olgan, not yet. No, not until they learned of what his position in that Clan had been, and it would only be a matter of time.

He shivered at the memory of Kemal’s eyes boring into his back as he fled. Kemal had always pushed him, teased him, attempted to pull his masks down. Whether it was deliberate or not, Olgan wasn’t certain. The Kemal was older than he, also wiser and stronger. Olgan flushed with shame at how he watched the man when Kemal was near, when he knew the fighter was not paying any attention to him. There was something noble about the former mercenary, and Kemal’s warm brown eyes always seemed to see through his cracks. The thought of Kemal knowing what Olgan had been, what he’d been forced to do, even what he wished they could be – made the tightening in his chest grow even further.

With another sigh, Olgan turned and assessed the room. He had requested a tub brought up earlier in the evening, hoping to wash off the dirt, blood, and smoke that clung to him. It sat in the corner of the room, and dipping a hand into the water only confirmed his fears that it had gone cold. Olgan glanced briefly around the room again, paranoia settling in – he didn’t want anyone to know.

Satisfied that he was alone, Olgan raised his hands and wove a quick pattern in the air. Light weakly flowed from his shaking hands, and the mage wove it together with stuttering motions. Olgan frowned at the pitiful symbol hovering above his hand, he was out of practice, but then, when would a white mage ever need to cast offensive magic? It would work for this purpose though. Olgan pushed the light into the water and triggered the spell. The water nearly burst upwards as it quickly came to a boil, surging against the sides of the wooden tub. Olgan scowled. He hadn’t meant to make the fire spell quite that strong.

A tentative dip of his hand into the water proved that it was too hot. Another frown, but Olgan stripped off his soiled robes, knowing that it wouldn’t be too long before the water cooled. He needed to get clean, despite his exhaustion. The mage pulled his tunic above his head, quickly moving on to his dirt caked boots and leggings. Olgan was pale, but that was normal for his calling. Mages were usually cooped up for long periods in their pursuit of knowledge. But what would startle many of the members of Clan Ragnarok, were the scars that littered that skin. Some were old, pale silvery marks, while others were dark pinks and browns. All were healed, months and years past. But Olgan had never been seriously injured to warrant such scars, especially since joining with this particular Clan. Ragnarok was nearly overprotective of its mages, and Olgan often was paired with a soldier or defender. Someone who could watch his back while he tended to the wounded.

Olgan double checked the temperature of the water and sighed in relief as he was finally able to settle into the tub. He quickly dunked his head in to wet it, then reached over and grabbed a washcloth and some soap from the tray set next to the tub. Olgan quickly began to scrub the grime off, lingering over the worst of the scars. The largest was across his abdomen, and was fading from a dark brown to a paler color. That one had nearly cost the mage his life, and what made Olgan flee from his last Clan, Clan Uroborus. He frowned to himself.

Life before Ragnarok had not been kind to him, and Olgan didn’t want to tarnish the pure atmosphere that permeated throughout the Clan with the ghosts of his past. An idea was forming in his mind as he washed, and he knew that if he were to pull it off, then it would have to happen tonight. The trip to Cadoan would be a waste of time – Ezel was no traitor. Olgan had to leave and make his way to Jagd Helje, he could rest later.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

It was early, dawn not even close to breaking on the horizon. Kemal groaned as he stumbled into the common room. It wasn’t that he hated mornings, but the events of the previous day were making themselves known in all the aches in his body. The others were milling about, some bringing up trays of food from the kitchen below. That definitely perked his interest, stomach growling. He’d skipped eating last night, too wound up to even consider a meal. Nearly everyone was here, save for those too injured to travel and Olgan and his white mage apprentice, Xia. He heard a door to the rooms of the wounded open and shut. The two white mages must be making their rounds.

“Good morrow, Kemal,” a soft voice greeted, a brief tap on his shoulder alerting Kemal to the speaker, and he turned. Erika gave him a tight smile, holding two rolls in her hands and offering one to the fighter. He took it gratefully.

“We are in a hurry, so eat that quickly. Once you’re done, we’ll get Olgan and be on our way to Cadoan,” Erika said and moved back to the far rooms, obviously intent on collecting said mage.

Kemal frowned at the mage’s name, but busied himself with eating the bread. The roll was of dark brown bread, with a thick crust and deceptively heavy. Kemal cautiously took a bite, not wanting to find out that the bread was heavy because of undercooked dough. The roll was still quite warm, and he was pleasantly surprised to find a meat and cheese mixture baked right inside. Kemal now tore into the food, knowing that he needed all the energy he could get. He could hear Erika talking with the Xia, Olgan’s viera apprentice, and the sniper quickly left the room and strode to Olgan’s door. Xia emerged behind the other, a worried look on her face.

Kemal frowned at their expressions. Surely the mage wasn’t still in bed. Olgan was always the first up, no matter how much he overextended himself the day before. Finishing the roll, he came up beside Erika as she knocked on the door. He still was unsure on how do deal with the mage, uncertain if it was a mistake to continue trusting the man.

They waited, but there was no sound of movement behind the door.

“Olgan? We must be off, are you up?” Erika announced and knocked again. Kemal’s frown grew. He pushed the sniper to the side, giving the door a harsh blow with his fist. The metal riveted to his heavy leather glove cracked loudly against the surface.

“I’m coming in, Olgan.” Kemal barely gave any time for a reply, Erika spluttering behind him as he opened the door. The viera was far too polite for her profession. Kemal strode in, only to stop in shock, the two viera in tow colliding into his back.

Olgan is Missing

The room was in shambles. A tub stood in the corner, the water dirty. One of their supply packs was empty on the floor, and the contents scattered over the bed and across the floor. Across the table were weapons – daggers and short swords from the extra supplies they kept in the inn. The window had been thrown open, the chill from the early morning having settled for some time. They all stared, uncertain on how to even process what they were seeing.

Kemal shook his head dazedly and scanned again, wondering if they’d find the mage huddled in a corner. A brief fear struck him, image of the mage bleeding from self inflicted wounds flickering through his mind. Kemal had seen the anger flicker through those blue eyes, none of it directed at any of them. Not even at him, even with his early accusations of the mage being a traitor. No, that anger had been directed internally, and if it had driven the younger man to hurt himself...!

Perhaps he wasn’t as angry at the mage as he previously thought. But quick rescan of the room turned up nothing. The fear clenching in his chest eased somewhat.

“What is all this? Where is Olgan?” Xia whispered as she moved to the table, fingering the blades there.

“You’re sure that he wasn’t in with the injured?” Erika asked, frowning as she picked her way through the mess to the window. She glanced out, looking down. There was dirt scraped on the sill, an imprint from a boot. Xia shook her head, moving to the bed and beginning to gather up the scattered potions. Her hands trembled.

“No. I had been up most the night, making potions in the common, so I would have seen him leave his room,” Xia answered, fingering a shattered vial that must have broken from a fall from the bed.

Kemal joined Erika at the window. He frowned as he looked out, there was no way the white mage could have gotten out that way. It was a sheer drop from this level to the alley, and while there were exposed beams, only a thief or an assassin could make that climb. But Olgan had already been hiding things from them, what if there were more than they thought?

“What is going on?” Xia whispered, looking lost, and clearly frightened. Kemal exchanged a worried look with the sniper.

“He left.” Kemal’s voice had gone flat, anger warring with worry.

“We can’t be sure of that.” Erika retorted, shaking her head.

“Look around, Erika!” Kemal snarled, flingin his arms out, gestures as harsh as his glare. “There is no sign of struggle! What else could have happened? He went down and took these blades, took our supplies, and left!”

“Xia didn’t see him leave! He had to leave his room to get those weapons–”

“That does not mean he did not do so while she was distracted! If she was making potions, then all her attention would have been on that task!” Their shouting was attracting the rest of the Clan into the room, their shock at it’s state as clear as their own had been. Erika grew silent, staring pensively out to the lightening sky.

“We need to go after him,” Kemal stated, his worry was winning, evident in his voice. The mage couldn’t defend himself properly, and if he was going directly to the Jagd, it was possible he would not come back.

“If you’re right, he’s long gone. What good will it do?”

“We can stop Olgan from doing something stupid. And we need all the answers we can get from him. He obviously left things out, if left on his own.”

“We still need information from Ezel. You can’t go after Olgan alone, if he is going to Jagd Helje,” Montblanc stated, striding forward, wings tight against his body as he pushed past the bodies huddled at the door. “The Jagd is only a few days past Cadoan, so we can go there after–”

“Then we’ll be too late! I don’t care if he did take a weapon with him! He can’t defend himself against those bandits in that Lawless city!” Kemal glared at the tiny moogle, frustrated that they were fighting him on this. “I can also gather information on that damned Uroborus. I’ll be of no use to any of you in dealing with Ezel.”

“You’re dead set on this? Even though we can’t spare anyone to go with you?” Erika sighed, shoulders slumping and rubbing a hand across her face. The fighter nodded. Xia fidgeted from where she continued to pick up the mess. The young viera’s expression then hardened and she stood abruptly, dumping her armful of supplies on the bed with the rest.

“I’ll go with him,” Xia stated, and they all stared at the white mage apprentice. At first there was almost no reaction, too stunned by the normally timid viera’s announcement. Then the room erupted with sound.

“What? You can’t!”

“You haven’t finished your training! What good will you be to him?”

“We need you here! You are our only other white mage, and you need to stay to heal!”

Xia stood stubbornly, hands fisting at her sides, not responding to any of the yelling.

“I appreciate it, Xia, but that Jagd is no place for an apprentice. You are needed more here,” Kemal said, frowning at the young viera. She scowled right back.

“I only need more experience in the field! Olgan stated so himself! I already have many of the spells mastered, I just need to use them more out there!” Her arm flung out, gesturing wildly as she spoke. Her eyes tearing up, emotions always seemed to get the better of Xia when she was under stress. “We have already requested aid from the Order. They are sending mages and even a Priest as we speak! I will only be delegated to the minor injuries, so please! Please, let me help!”

Erika frowned, exchanging a long look with Monteblanc. Kemal knew that the decision would be up to those two, being the oldest members of Clan Ragnarok. The moogle was frowning at Xia, and she stared almost defiantly back. She’d have been more intimidating if her eyes were not watering, but clearly she was intent on going.

“We can’t stop you, Kemal, but you shouldn’t go alone. Will Xia be of any help to you?” Monteblanc asked. Erika frowned, but also nodded. She didn’t look happy about the moogle’s decision.

Kemal sighed, pushing his helmet up, and scratching at his hair. He didn’t want anyone slowing him down, but as Xia turned to look at him, begging with her eyes, he knew that he would have to deal with it. And Erika and Montblanc did have a point, a Jagd was a dangerous place, if he was hurt or if he found Olgan hurt...or if a miracle happened and he was able to find Marche–

“She could be of some help,” Kemal said, gaving the viera a hard stare. “But we will be moving quickly. We can’t afford to let Olgan get any more of a head start than he already has. I don’t want to hear any complaints from you.”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Marche moaned in pain. He curled up as best as he could, drawing his knees up to his chest as he tried to scoot further against the cave wall. His arms were bound against his back, wrist to elbow, and then the ropes bound across his chest, leaving no room for movement. He could barely breathe from how tight they had pulled the ropes, and there had been no way to defend himself as fists and feet had descended on him. He could feel bones grinding against each other. Marche knew that one hand had a few fingers broken, crushed when a boot missed it’s target and slammed into his bound hands. There were at least a few ribs cracked, and his ankle was swollen. Broken or sprained, he wasn’t sure, it was just a flare of pain.

Worst of all was the memory of their taunts. They jeered any time he made a sound, any time he cried out in pain. Marche shuddered at the memory of one stroking a hand through his hair. That one had whispered things into his ear, things the man would love to do to him if his leader ever gave him leave. Out all of his torturers, that one scared him the most.

His kidnappers had left, only a few humes and bangaa were still in the cave with him. Most of them were passed out on the pallets on the far wall, and Marche hoped they wouldn’t wake up anytime soon.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Olgan shivered as he huddled in the alley, pulling his hood down further. He hated this place. Hated the stench, the citizens, the depravity. The Order’s safehouse was only a few blocks away, and he couldn’t be caught out here. There was someone further behind him, a man that mumbling to himself and had pawed at his robes and begged for some gil. Olgan had hesitated before dropping the coin into the raised hand. He shouldn’t have, knowing the money would just go to feed whatever drug addiction the beggar had. He’d seen it too often when he had lived here. But the Oath he swore when he became a member of the Order of Kirin had to be followed.

Olgan shook off the thoughts, creeping out into the street and quickly moving up the stairs across the way to the next alley. The church was just ahead, and he crept as carefully as he could to the exit of this alley. The church was placed facing a large courtyard, and there was no easy way to approach the building from the side. Olgan would have to double back, wasting time and risking being caught by either Uroborus, a rival Clan, or the monsters that were beginning to emerge with the approaching night. Or hell, he could accidentally trip off the guardians in the church and end up full of arrows. No, it would be better if he allowed them to clearly see him approach the building.

Olgan took a deep breath, managing to settle the twisting in his gut a little. He exited the alley and swiftly crossed the open courtyard, eyes flicking to either side. Olgan finally reached the massive doors of the church without a hitch, and pounded on the thick oak. He turned to survey the open area – nerves strung tight once more – and nearly jumped when he heard the door open.

“May I help you, my son?” The gravelly voice was familiar, and Olgan couldn’t help but smile.

“I request shelter,” Olgan murmured, turning to face the Priest, pushing his hood up far enough to reveal his face. The Priest was a massive man, towering over Olgan, long scraggly beard and hair frost white. The Priest had once been a gladiator in a coliseum, far to the north in Jagd Dorsa. He looked like he could still take on several bangaa gladiators and come out on top, despite his age. Olgan knew the Priest had lost his eye in one of those deadly games, as well as a chunk out of his nose. The scar intimidated many, until the Priest’s kind demeanor showed itself.

“Olgan? Is that you?” The Priest stared at him a moment before opening the door further, placing a massive hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. He pulled him in quickly, slamming the door closed. Without any warning Olgan found himself trapped in a massive embrace, air crushed out. Before he could even gasp out a complaint, he was released.

“I had feared you perished after you left! You were not in any shape to leave when you did, and I am very put out with you that you snuck out the window.”

“You know me, Matius. Old habits die hard,” Olgan laughed weakly, rubbing at his ribs. “I did do as you asked, though. I took the Oath.”

“Aye. I see that, boy. It’s good to know I was finally able to get through your thick skull.” Matius clapped Olgan on the back and began steering him through the church. They emerged from the entrance into a dining hall, quickly stepping through and up a small stairwell to what looked to be a study. The walls were lined with bookshelves, two high backed wooden benches flanking the fireplace and an enormous desk tucked into the corner. There were several cushions piled on the benches, and the floor between – a small reminder of Matius’s roots from the north. Olgan gladly dropped his pack onto one of the benches before gratefully sinking down. It had been a long, stressful trip, and he hadn’t been able to catch more than a few hours sleep on the way here. Matius settled across from him, wood creaking under his weight.

The room was familiar, and the young man felt himself relaxing. The Order’s safehouses, usually stationed in churches, were the few areas in Jagds that were neutral. Feuding Clans in the Jagds could go to the Priests and white mages to be healed, and not fear repercussions. Because they were the few areas in a Jagd where one could go to rest and heal, the safehouses were mostly left alone.

The Order paid good money for the design and protection of these buildings, and some of the best fighters could be found here. The safehouses were nearly self sufficient, with a well in the courtyard and large storerooms filled to the brim with supplies. There were at least two escape tunnels that led out of the building, if a Jagd Clan was actually able to breach the high, thick walls and defeat all the guardians inside. Those safety measures was rarely used.

Olgan remembered being here several times when he had been part of Clan Uroborus. Either to be healed of the random injury from an engagement or from the punishments Kilov loved to inflict on him when he failed at one mission or another. The last time had Olgan dragging himself up the steps to the church, nearly bleeding out.

“What brings you back, Olgan? You said you needed shelter. Are you in trouble again?” Matius asked, frowning at him. “Don’t try to hide those blades you have hidden in your robes, either. I felt them earlier.”

Olgan twitched under the Priest’s gaze, guilt forcing him to reach under his robes and pull the two daggers out. The man simply stared at him, and the white mage twitched again before pulling his sleeve up and showing another dagger strapped to his arm. But that blade was old, and not part of the supplies he had stolen.

“I need them, Matius. There is something I need to do, and I need these weapons in order to complete it.” Olgan hunched forward, feeling again like the young boy the Priest had saved all those years ago.

“The Oath states that we are not to bring harm to anyone unless our lives are in direct danger. That is why we only carry staves!” The man slammed a hand down on the table beside him. “What has happened that is making you disregard what you swore?”

Olgan dropped his head, not wanting to see the disappointment in those eyes. Matius had been like a father to him, however brief the times he stayed here. He heard a sigh, and a hand dropped on the back of his head. The Priest’s hand was warm, fingers threading through the brown hair. Olgan leaned back briefly, eyes closing and taking comfort in the gentle touch.

“Can you not even tell me? Does this have something to do with your old Clan?”

Olgan grimaced and nodded. He finally looked up, his mission was more important than his own issues.

“You have heard of Clan Ragnarok?” At the Priest’s nod, Olgan continued, “I joined that Clan more than ten months ago. We were on what we thought to be a basic mission when we were ambushed. Our Clan leader was captured. I know that Clan Uroborus was involved because Kilov was there.”

Matius hissed at the mention of the thief, eyes narrowing dangerously. He pulled back from Olgan and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, hands clenching. The look was nearly murderous, and Olgan wondered exactly what had happened to the man that made him stop fighting and take up a life of healing. Olgan never asked, and he doubted that the Priest would tell him. Just like he never told how he had gained that gut wound that nearly killed him.

“Clan Ragnarok couldn’t be bothered to come themselves? You are alone! What are they thinking?!” Matius’ voice was growing in volume, and the white mage knew he wouldn’t win in a shouting match. Olgan quickly stood and placed hands on Matius’s shoulders to keep him from getting up and pacing, a Silence spell whispered out. Matius’s stared at the young man as he felt the spell settle, and Olgan felt guilty at having to resort to such measures in order to get the Priest’s full attention.

“I came by my own choice. Clan Ragnarok didn’t know my of my plans, and I snuck out of the inn while they were asleep. They probably believe me to be a traitor.” This statement earned him a quizzical look from Matius. Olgan sighed and sank back down on the bench. “Kilov called me by name during the battle, and earlier, one of my Clan heard him talk of a spy. They already suspected me before I left.”

The despair that he had suppressed since the questioning in Cyril broke free, simply speaking of how the Clan had treated him bringing reality crashing down. He never had the time to deal with his emotions at the inn or on the road, too intent on getting to the Jagd as quickly as possible. Olgan curled in on himself. He had so enjoyed working with Clan Ragnarok. They had become the family he had never known, other than the Priest before him. To know that the possibility of never being allowed back was gut wrenching. His face felt wet, and a broken moan escaped.

Olgan felt Matius settling in front of him, carefully pulling him up and wrapping him in a gentle embrace. He clutched at the Priest’s robes, sobbing growing more violent. A hand again settled on top of his head, and he was rocked slowly like a small child.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Erika was nervous. They stood in the entrance of Ezel’s shop, the room ghostly in the dim light. The Nu Mou in question was puttering around behind the counter, back to them. Montblanc was striding up to the counter, and she wondered how the moogle could be so calm. Erika wondered briefly what the other two Clan members thought of her own seeming calm. Her’s was nothing more than a farce, and if she didn’t keep it up, then she knew she would break down. A part of her that still felt the sting of betrayal wanted to do nothing more than pull her bow up and deal with the Hermetic then and there. Erika quickly pushed that aside, ears twitching from the pent up emotions. They needed answers, and they couldn’t get them from a dead body.

“Ezel,” Montblanc stated sharply, rapping a hand on the carved wooden counter. The Hermetic turned, and gave them his usual grin.

“Well! Isn’t this a pleasant surprise! It’s been a while since Clan Ragnarok paid me a visit. Do you need more Cards?” Ezel was either unaware of the growing hostility in the room, or plainly ignoring it. The two behind Erika shifted, grumbling. Erika herself was frowning at the cavalier attitude. Was Ezel being his normal self? Or was this just a taunt at their loss?

“No, Ezel, we are not here for Cards. We do have some questions for you though.”

“Questions?” The Nu Mou was slowly taking the group in, eyes flicking to each of them before settling back on the moogle. “Ask away! Apparently you all think I’ve done something horrible, judging by your stances.”

The grumbling grew in volume, and Erika gave a sharp glare over her shoulder. She wanted nothing more than to join in their anger, but as a high ranking member of Clan Ragnarok, she absolutely needed to keep her temper. The sniper wouldn’t be able to keep the two soldiers from making a rash mistake if she allowed her own emotions to rule.

“First, I want you to write something for us, or provide us with a page you’ve already written.” Montblanc pulled a blank roll of parchment from his belt and handed it to Ezel. The Hermetic frowned slightly, but quickly unrolled the scroll and picked up a quill. His hand flew over the page, spidery script flowing onto the surface. The black lines were beautiful, the Nu Mou an artist even when he was not designing cards. They watched, tense as the parchment was quickly filled. About halfway through the scroll, the style changed into the more familiar calligraphy they knew from the Law Cards. Ezel drew back from his hunched position over the roll, quickly grabbing his ink blotter and quickly finishing off what he had written.

“I hope that you’re going to explain this mystery to me, since I seem to be at the heart of it.”

Montblanc nodded, taking the parchment from Ezel. He pulled out the letters they had received, and placed them side by side on the counter. The Nu Mou frowned at the pages, eyes flicking over the letters. Erika felt something unclench within her as she looked at the two pages. The handwriting was different, the letters had a very blocky look to them, instead of the thin flowing script Ezel had provided them with. There were even small ink splotches spattered across the page, while Ezel’s was pristine.

Ezel picked up the letters as the Clan breathed a sigh of relief. The Hermetic had not betrayed them, as Olgan had believed from the beginning. But now that led to the question as to who wrote the letter that Ragnarok had received.

“You all believed that I wrote this?” Ezel aked, frowning at Montblanc. “Why would I suddenly change how I submitted my requests? I don’t just use Clan Ragnarok to get materials.”

“We had no reason to question it,” Erika said and Ezel turned to the viera. Her ears twitched at the hard stare he leveled her, and she fought to not fidget under his gaze. The Nu Mou unnerved her, his random and nearly destructive nature always leaving her with a sense of unbalance. And that feeling only tripled when the Nu Mou turned serious.

“What happened? Why are you here for something like this?”

“When we went on this mission, we were ambushed. We had been outnumbered and many of our own were hurt, and Marche captured,” Erika said, somehow managing to not stammer.

“Wha-at! What do you mean?” Ezel slammed the letters down on the counter, rattling the ink supplies and blank cards. The moogle flinched at the sudden violence, despite how used he was to the sudden mood swings. The Hermetic stalked around the counter and glared at them all.

“We were ambushed. We overheard the other Clan speak of a spy in our ranks, though we’ve been unable to locate that traitor.” Erika could kiss Monteblanc for drawing the angry Ezel’s attention away from her. “We suspected you were part of Marche’s capture because of those letters that sent us on that mission. Olgan was one who pointed out that the letters could be a forgery.”

“Though he probably is the spy!” One of the soldiers snarled. “He fled! Ran back to Jagd Helje and that ‘old’ Clan of his!”

“Enough!” Erika snapped. “We don’t know that Olgan has betrayed us, just as we didn’t know if Ezel was innocent or not! Don’t jump to conclusions!” Ezel had gone still at the mention of the white mage. He frowned.

“What Clan was Olgan from? What was the exact name?”

“Clan...Uro–Uroborus, I believe. Do you know of them?” Montblanc replied, shaking his head as Ezel began to pace. “Olgan told us some of what the Clan did, but he snuck out that night, stealing our weapons and supplies before we could ask him anything more.”

The Nu Mou didn’t answer, frown growing. Erika began to wonder what the Hermetic knew about that Clan to get such a serious reaction. The viera turned from the others, settling down on one of the few chairs in the room. It had been a long day, and all the stress was making her even more tired.

“That Clan only had a few mages, years ago, not like now. But I cannot recall any white mages of the Order being a part of them,” Ezel paused to take in their reactions. “That isn’t to say that your mage is a traitor, but I seem to remember meeting one thief that fled Clan Uroborus after nearly being killed by another member.”

“What does a thief have to do with the mages of that Clan?”

“That Clan prides in the fact that their members have more than one specialty, up to the point of being Masters in their skills. This thief was also a skilled black mage, a Shade Weaver on the verge of becoming one of the best of that society. I had encountered him a long time ago, supposedly an old friend that serves in one of the Order’s safehouses in the Jagds recommended him to come to me. He had probably lied about that. But that thief said that he needed papers, references to get him back into regular society so he could join the Order of Kirin.”

They all stared, not quite comprehending what Ezel was getting at.

“He told me his name was Taleel, but when I made up the papers, he requested the name Olgan.” Ezel chuckled at the dawning realization on their faces. “I highly doubt that he would willingly return to a Clan that nearly cost him his life.”

“...why didn’t he tell us this?” Erika mumbled. “We would have believed him...”

“Did any of you give him a chance to explain?” Ezel nodded at their guilty silence. “Clan Uroborus was filled with traitors, all scrambling and murdering each other to gain a higher position. If your Olgan had been with that Clan for a long time – and more than likely was, considering how abused and skittish he was when I met him – then it sounds like your reactions, your suspicions of him gave him no choice. You gave him no reason to trust you, so the next best thing would be to do exactly what you said he did. More than likely, Olgan left to the Jagd to get Marche back.”

They all exchanged a worried glance. Even if Olgan had been a skilled thief and black mage, he hadn’t used those skills in months. And as a full member of the Order, any offensive spells he cast would be half of their normal strength at best. At worst, all he would make would be a pretty light show. If Olgan had left to attempt to save Marche by himself, he’d need more than a fighter and an apprentice white mage to back him up against a whole Clan.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Kemal scowled, watching the water streak down the window, the storm raging in from the sea. He and Xia had arrived two days before, and had been able to confirm that Olgan was here. A moogle gunner had described the young mage in detail, stating that Olgan had been loitering around one of the markets at the docks. They paid the gunner, information was not free here, and had gone down that day to the wharf. Amazingly, Xia had caught a glimpse of her mentor within only an hour of searching. They had tried to follow him, but the white mage blended right into the crowd. Then the storm came, forcing them to retreat to one of the few reputable inns in the city.

Xia was sleeping in the bed against the wall, exhausted from their rushed pace to get to the Jagd and then the search for their Clan’s wayward mage. The blankets were drawn up quite high, covering even her ears, and she was curled in on herself. The fighter was proud of how the young viera had handled the trip. She had not complained once, and Kemal knew that she would make a fine white mage once she completed her training.

The rain was lessening, but the day was gone, they would not be able to search during the night. The streets were dangerous during the day, but it was worse at night. Between the ghouls that prowled the dark, labyrinth-like alleys and sewers, and the gangs that prowled the streets looking for trouble, it would be suicide to venture out at this time. If they had the full Clan here, that’d be a different story. Kemal frowned again, hating the delay. The longer this took, the more likely that Marche and Olgan could end up seriously hurt.

Movement outside caught his eye, and he couldn’t help but lean forward, peering through the dirty glass as best he could. The shape was eerily white, and he wondered if one of the ghouls had decided to venture out, looking for fresher food. Kemal shuddered at the thought. The figure stalked along the side of the street, hesitating at the edge of the light cast by a lamppost. Kemal straightened in his seat by the window. The form that cautiously entered the sphere of light was not a ghoul, but a man. A mage, by the looks, wearing white robes...

“It couldn’t be,” Kemal muttered, wiping futilely at the pane of glass. The dirt smeared, making the glass harder to look through. The fighter swore, quickly rising and snatching his gear from next to his bed. He quickly strapped on his armor, and belted on his two swords as he bolted down the stairs. He briefly wondered if he should have woken Xia, but as he ran out into the street to see the mage turn into an alley, the thought was lost. He hadn’t any time to waste.

Kemal sprinted down the streets, at first barely able to catch a glimpse of the other man as he snuck around the corner. As the fighter finally began to gain ground, he could see the familiar mop of brown hair. It was Olgan.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

He was warm, and yet also freezing cold. Marche gasped as he lay on the ground, eyes fluttering and a rosy flush across his cheeks. The young leader felt a hand press against his face, burning hot and he weakly tried to dislodge it. He could hear shouting, and wondered where he was. He could feel light fingers carefully assessing the places that hurt. He tried to shift away from the prodding.

“You idiots! I told you to rough him up, not nearly kill him!”

There were odd sounds, of something striking flesh, echoing in the cave. Echoing in his head. The blonde whimpered, curling in on himself as he tried to make himself a smaller target. He didn’t want to be hurt again. He wanted to go home.

“Shh....come on, sit up for me.” The voice was gentle, and familiar. Marche shook his head weakly, and heard a sigh. “I can’t treat him like this, Kilov. I need someone to prop him up and hold him still.”

More sounds, and more hands descended on him. Panic now. No! Let go, let go, nononononono----!

He was carefully pulled up, ropes quickly cut and his arms freed. The tightness in his chest eased somewhat, but the pain from all the movement made him tense and his teeth clench tightly. He was pulled back against a large body as his wrist was firmly grasped and pushed forward. Marche heard a tisking sound as the bones in his hand were carefully examined. There was a harsh pop as the bones in each finger were set, and the boy screamed. He jerked, trying to pull away, but the restraining hand was firm against his wrist. Marche barely felt the splints being set against his hand, the soft linen cloth wrapping around to hold them in place.

The figure holding him pulled back and roughly cut away Marche’s shirt, blade nicking the pale skin. There was an irritated snort from before him, and a damp cloth quickly soothed the stings of the new wounds.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t create more work for me.”

A snicker beside his ear, and the blonde sobbed, fear curling and twisting in his gut. The smaller set of hands continued to gently check him, more linen winding around his chest to brace his ribs. The cold began to seep further into him, a brief tugging on his legs the only clue of his boots being pulled off. The left proved to be too difficult to remove, and he felt a blade carefully cut the leather away from his swollen foot. Something cold was slathered onto his ankle, and more wrapping.

“Well? Can you heal him enough to get him to Market?”

“Only if you can keep those idiots from beating on him again. He’s feverish, and I don’t have all the supplies we need. We need to get him out of the caves.”

“No. This is the only area where that damn Clan of his won’t find. Taleel doesn’t know where this hideout is, but he knows of all the others. He stays until we can get him down to the docks and sold off.”

“Olgan is resourceful. You know it won’t be long before he figures it out.”

“Hmph. Then you should hurry up and heal him. The longer you take, the worse your punishment will be. I haven’t forgotten about the poor information you fed to us about Ragnarok’s skill level, and the only reason I haven’t killed you is that you made a good point earlier about needing a healer.”

There was more movement, and Marche felt himself being lifted carefully. The blond’s head lolled to the side, and he cracked an eye open. The room wavered and spun, and bile surged. There was swearing, and the ground swiftly came up to meet him as he was dropped. More swearing and sounds of beating.

The blonde curled up and retched again, choking and gasping. His head was tipped back, a hand at his forehead keeping him from laying in the mess. Marche began to sob again as he felt himself being lifted once more. He was placed on something soft, and could feel a blanket being drawn over. He was lifted slightly and something pressed against his lips. The cool taste of a potion flooded his mouth, and he swallowed the minty fluid instinctively. The cave swam further in his vision, and Marche eagerly allowed the darkness to take him.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Olgan crouched behind the crates stacked at the edge of the canal. He tried not to think about how close he was to the water, focusing on the group at the entrance to the waterways underneath the city. This was supposedly the new hideout for Clan Uroborus, and they had something hidden in there that was worth a hefty amount of gil. He sold off one of the blades in order to get money for this information. Matius had offered coin for him, but the white mage had refused. That gil was for the upkeep of the safehouse, and he had anticipated having to sell one of the blades. The one he had pawned was more designed for ceremonial purposes anyway.

Matius hadn’t been happy with him, both over the fact that he had refused aid, and that he was still going through with his plan. But the Priest hadn’t stopped him. Olgan was stubborn, and Matius knew that even barring the windows and locking the mage inside wouldn’t stop him from leaving. Olgan had gotten out before, after all.

The mage frowned from his position, wishing he could get closer to the three huddled at the entrance to the waterways. The three were comprised of one man and what looked like two vieras. But there was no cover that close, more than likely on purpose. Kilov left nothing to chance, all the hideout entrances were in areas where a person could be seen approaching with ease. There were likely a couple of watchers hidden in the shadows close to the hideout, as well.

The group split, the two viera moving out further into the heart of the Jagd, and the man crossing the bridge and approaching the crates. Olgan slipped the borrowed dagger from its sheathe, feeling the rasp of steel reverberating through the leather strapped on his back. The dagger was heavier than he was used to, but then he also hadn’t fought with one for a while either.

Waiting

“I’ve gotten soft since joining the Order,” he muttered, eyeing the hume drawing closer. The man approaching was a thief, and when he passed under one of the lampposts, Olgan let out a hiss. The man was someone Olgan knew quite well, and one he still had nightmares about. The man was a pervert, filth of the filth, and even Clan Uroborus members were shocked at Lorek’s depravity. The only person who could be considered worse than Lorek was the leader of Clan Uroborus - thus, he was Kilov’s second. The two thieves couldn’t be considered friends, but they had similar enough tastes that they “shared” their prizes when either caught or purchased.

Olgan shrank back in on himself, memories making bile rise in his throat. The mage remembered being given to the other thief when he failed in the tasks he’d been set, one of Kilov’s favorite punishments for him. The fear for Marche also grew, if Kilov had allowed Lorek to do to the boy what he had allowed with Olgan. He could only hope that Kilov’s sense of self-preservation was making him want to move Marche quickly, and that meant getting the blonde out of their hideout as soon as possible. That unfortunately also meant the Market. The mage managed to shake off most of the terror that was gripping him. Marche needed Olgan to get him out of there.

Lorek was nearly to the crates, and Olgan shifted, hand tightening on the dagger. The thief began to pull past, and the white mage darted out. Lorek’s startled face was almost satisfying as Olgan barreled into him, shoving the thief into the wall of crates and dagger nearly drawing blood against his neck. Olgan’s had pinned Lorek’s arm behind him with the force of his rush, and the mage scrabbled at the other’s belt, yanking a dagger free and flinging it behind him. He quickly reached to grasp the free arm shoving at him, Olgan attempting to pin that arm as well.

But Lorek was good, and with a sharp pain in his side, Olgan lost his advantage. He staggered back, one hand grasping at the stab wound, the other somehow managing to deflect the next jab. The next two blows knocked the mage even further back, Olgan nearly losing his grip on his weapon.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?!” Lorek was snarling, and that fear curled again in the mage’s chest. He backed off a couple more steps, giving ground when he knew he should be landing blow for blow. The mage could feel those eyes rake over him, the thief pulling back himself to take in his opponent better.

“Well, well. Kilov told me you were back. How’ve you been, Taleel?”

Olgan merely growled at the thief, anger simmering under the fear at the leer the thief leveled him. He shifted, healing spells slipping free to deal with the stab wound. He darted forward again, feinting a jab at the thief’s side, grabbing hold of the arm that came up to deflect his blow and jerking Lorek to the side. Olgan struck at the exposed abdomen, reversing the blade in his hand and slashing across. He felt the dagger connect, scoring a deep wound, and smiled grimly to himself. It was fitting that the mage would mirror on Lorek the deep wound the thief had given him.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Kemal rounded the corner, cursing the fact he had lost the mage. A couple of ghouls had ambushed him, forcing the fighter to stop his pursuit so he wouldn’t become dinner. It had taken him longer than normal to deal with the creatures, and he could only hope that his guess of Olgan heading towards the wharf was correct.

“You’d better be there, Olgan.”

He could hear something as he approached one of the canals, large stacks of crates blocking his view. There was a bridge further back, and an opening into the waterways, the grate pulled free to allow access. It sounded like fighting close by, the clash of steel against steel, but he couldn’t see where it was originating from. Kemal drew one of his blades and stalked forward carefully.

The fighter wove his way through the wooden crates, carefully approaching the fight just out of sight. As he exited the wooden maze, he could see two figures staggering back towards the bridge crossing the canal. He stared, both were in bad shape, a thief with a clearly horrible wound across his abdomen, and the other—

“Olgan!”

The mage jerked in surprise, faltering and giving the thief an opening. The blade sank into Olgan’s shoulder, and Kemal watched with horror as the mage toppled over the edge of the bridge with a cry, clutching at the dagger buried in his flesh. The fighter couldn’t remember running towards them, only the shocked look of the thief as he bore down.

The other man tried to run, turning and even managing to take a few strides towards the entrance to the waterway. Kemal was on him in a moment, grabbing hold of the already injured thief. He spun the man around and buried his sword into the other’s chest. The thief tried to shriek, red splattering from his mouth as blood began to rush into his lungs. Kemal jerked his blade free as he kicked the body back over the other side of the bridge. The thief wasn’t as lucky as Olgan, being closer to the edge of the canal, he landed on the stairwell that led down to the smaller docks lining the waterway.

Kemal whirled, desperately looking into the water for the mage. He could see a pale white shape further down, bobbing with the current. He wasted no time in running along the side of the canal, fear and adrenaline giving him speed. Kemal’s breath hissed through his teeth, quickly cutting across several bridges and even ducking through a few alleyways, forgoing the edge of the canal as it took a wide turn right before it hit the sea. The alleys would give him the time he needed to catch up to Olgan. The shortcuts held more ghouls and creatures than he had no names for, but he ignored them, ducking under their skeletal arms as they reached for him. He staggered out of the alley, and managed to pause, gasping for breath. Kemal could hear the creatures snarling behind him, but kept his eyes on the water. He’d made it, Olgan was floating towards him now, but the distance was closing fast with the swift current..

He took the stairs to the lower terrace, desperate to get closer to the water and a level where he could easily pull the mage up. As he hit the bottom of the steps, Olgan was already catching up, and had drifted from the side of the canal – he wouldn’t be able to reach him from the dock. The fighter ripped his helm off, tearing at the buckles of his armor and scabbards, ignoring the ladder that descended into the water from the wooden dock. Kemal was diving into the water before the heavy metal of his armor and weapons even hit the wood with a loud clash. Just in time.

Olgan had nearly pulled past him, and the fighter fought against the current to reach the mage. His hands managed to grasp hold of the stained white robes, pulling the other’s body close. Somehow he managed to wrestle the mage’s head above the water, arm slung around the wounded man as he fought the fierce flow of water. They were pulled far away from the dock where he had entered, and then past another. Kemal could swim quite well in normal circumstances, but with the burden of the wounded mage and the canal’s swift current due to the storm, the fighter found that he was losing strength fast.

A third pier swept by, and even though he had managed to move them closer to the side of the canal, Kemal began to worry that he wouldn’t be able to stop their swift progress downstream at the next one. The fighter spluttered as the water washed over his head and reached a hand out desperately as they began to approach the next dock. He was tiring too fast, kicking against the strong current, but felt his hand catch against the wood.

There was a harsh jerk as the current tried to sweep them away. Kemal somehow managed to keep his mouth shut, grinding his teeth together as he felt agonizing pain sweep through his limb as something pulled in his arm and shoulder. He held on as best as he was able, but his fingers were slipping, unable to keep purchase on the saturated wood. Kemal finally cried out in frustration and fear, water flooding in and choking him. As he lost his grip, something large closed around his wrist and again he was jerked to a halt.

Before he could process what was going on, Kemal found himself and his burden hefted up and onto the solid pier. The fighter coughed and choked as hands pulled him back from the edge of the dock. Olgan was pried from his grip by a large shape and he found that he had no strength to fight to keep the mage in his grasp. Kemal blinked away the water from his face and found himself staring at a massive white Priest.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

He drifted in a fog, potions and drugs keeping him prone on a pallet as he shivered from fever. The gentle, familiar hands that had chased away the dreams and nightmares were gone. He wondered if they’d come back. He wanted them to come back. The other hands were rough, and he dimly remembered that these particular ones had hurt as they’d pummeled him to the ground. A hissing snarl above him made him whimper, and the blanket was jerked off.

Marche cried out, shuddering away from both the cold and the bangaa and hume above him. He was held down as the bandages were pulled off, and hands prodded his injuries. More cold salve was roughly smeared on his foot, as a hand wormed its way below his head and pulled him up. The blonde groaned at the feel of a vial pushed against his lips, bruises and ribs protesting at the harsh treatment. The liquid was forced into his mouth and the feverish boy choked on the minty fluid, spilling most of it down his front. There was another snarl.

“Stop spillin’ it!”

“Bah! Stupid boy should learn how to drink!” Marche felt the hand grip his hair painfully as his head was jerked back. “Drink without spitting it up! Don’t think y’ll get any more if you spit up the rest!”

The vial was again pushed against his mouth and he again choked on the potion. There was another snarl and Marche felt himself shoved roughly back onto the pallet. The blonde groaned and spluttered, body aching as he weakly reached for the blanket with his good hand. He was pulled back and the cloth yanked out of his grip.

“We ain’t done yet, kid. Ya better be grateful that we’re even doin’ this fer you.”

Hands pulled him up again as his “healers” finished rebinding his chest. The linen was yanked tight around his ankle as they poked at the splints on his hand. Thankfully those were left alone, the hume before Marche muttering to himself.

“That’ll be enough. Bones won’t be healed by time he hits Market anyway.”

Marche almost sobbed with relief as he felt himself pushed roughly down. The blanket was thrown back over him and he curled up as best as he could underneath the cloth. Tears soaked the pallet as the drugs in his system finally were burning off. Eventually the blonde’s eyes closed from exhaustion as his fever began to peak again.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

It felt like his chest was being crushed. He couldn’t breathe and everything was dark. Pressure increased on his chest and he could feel air being forced into him. Olgan coughed and felt water gush out of his mouth. He was turned onto his side, hand supporting his shoulder from dragging against the solid surface beneath him. The dull ache in that shoulder was quickly becoming a sharp agony as someone thumped his back gently, helping to remove the water still trapped in him. Olgan curled in on himself, and felt the partially healed wound in his side pull open, the spell he cast earlier finally failing. He clutched at it with his good hand, blood seeping through his soaked robes and coating his fingers. A choked sob escaped his raw throat.

The movement had jarred whatever was grinding against his bone, and Olgan twisted to get away from the pain. He was pushed onto his back again, and a hand braced itself on his chest. The thing that was buried in him was yanked free, and the agony of the present blurred into the past – knifeswordbladeoverhimstabbingintohimdraggingacrosshisstomachnoonoonononooo–!

Olgan screamed weakly, coughing and thrashing. Hands were on either side of him, holding him down as something pressed against the wounds. The pressure increased, and the mage writhed to get away.

“Olgan! Hold still! You need to hold still for me!”

Something seemed to wash over him, a brief feeling of warmth and the shivering, crawling sensation of a healing spell being cast. The relief was brief, and Olgan sobbed as he fought against the restraining hands. Another spell settled on him, then another. The magic came fast, the low chanting above him thrumming in his ears. The voice was familiar, and Olgan stilled. He panted weakly, feeling the wounds knit themselves closed slowly. The white mage cracked an eye open as the voice slowed and stopped.

“What are you doing? Why won’t you finish the healing?”

“I don’t dare. He was immersed in that filth for too long. If I allow the spells to knit everything closed, then infections will take hold and be that much harder to heal. I’d have to cut him open again, to the depth that he was originally wounded to even attempt to heal that at a later time.”

There were two forms above him, blurry figures, but Olgan could make out one of them.

“K-ke--Ke-mal.”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Erika stared up at the imposing doors to the Order of Kirin’s safehouse. The church was probably the best kept building in the Jagd, and she couldn’t help but be impressed. Each of the Orders were dedicated to keeping a safe place in the Jagds, but none were as devoted as the Order of Kirin. That Order, while the poorest, made the most with the money they acquired for this Jagd. And it showed – the walls were high, thick and clean, security bars across the windows were solid and unbroken, the windows themselves still had many panes of glass intact. The courtyard before the church was swept clean, and free of the clutter and trash normally seen in a city like Helje. Erika couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like inside the building, if the outside was in such good condition.

The viera sniper could feel eyes on her, and a prickling feeling that shivered up to the tips of her long ears was enough for Erika to know that there was at least one hunter or sniper with a bow trained on them. She glanced at the high slits in the walls and caught the dawning sun’s rays glinting off of arrowheads. Impressive.

Monteblanc was pounding at the door, the moogle’s staff booming ominously on the hard oak. The door opened, just enough to allow a bangaa white monk to slip out. The door closed swiftly, booming echoing off the far buildings.

“What can I do for you?” the bangaa demanded, voice hard and each word clipped.

“We are looking for some friends of ours,” Monteblanc began, “We were directed to come here by a friend of your head Priest.” The bangaa frowned down at the tiny moogle’s statement, glancing at the small group. Erika stepped forward, spreading her hands wide to show that she had no weapon.

“We were told that this would be the best place to get information,” Erika took over, “And even if you can’t help us, then we can request shelter until we find an inn. We will not stay long, and you can be assured that our Clan will not violate the rules that govern this safehouse.”

The bangaa nodded slowly at the sniper’s comment, crossing his arms in thought. Ezel had heavily stressed the rules and regulations that had to be followed to the letter in the Order’s building. Even if Clan Uroborus was staying in the church, the Order was neutral and fighting would not be tolerated while they were there. That was the only time the Order of Kirin allowed their own to use violence to keep the peace, because the safehouse would fail if feuds were allowed within the walls.

“Who was it that told you to come here?” the bangaa finally asked, “We cannot refuse you, but it would be good for the Order to know who our friends are outside the Jagds.”

“Ezel,” Erika stated. That earned her a dumbfounded look from the banga, his arms dropping as his mouth gaped open. Erika couldn’t help but smile slightly at the expression. The door behind the tall white monk wrenched open and a viera stepped out, pushing her fellow guardian aside and placed her hands on her hips. A well made rapier was belted at the newcomer’s waist, and Erika could feel the adrenaline from being aimed at ease as the hidden archers relaxed. Clearly, this viera was a high ranking member of this safehouse, if her fearlessness eased the tension of the guards watching the Clan.

“That swindling Nu Mou?” the viera fencer laughed loud and hard, earning a glare for her actions from the white monk. She was unlike any viera Ragnarok had met, being far more outspoken and casual in her speech than others of her race. The fencer waved them through the open doorway, the scowling bangaa bringing up the rear as the Clan entered the building. “I thought he’d have been caught by the Judges by now.”

“No, he’s still going strong with his Law Card shop in Cadoan,” Erika managed to reply, uncertain on how to treat the fencer. Erika had never encountered another viera like this one.

“Figures. That Hermetic has the devil’s own luck. I’m Lilila, and my grumpy compatriot there is Gavvar.” The viera offered a hand, as the said bangaa glared further. The door was closed with a low booming sound, latches quickly sliding home to lock the church from the outside. Both Monteblanc and Erika moved forward to clasp Lilila’s hand.

“We are Clan Ragnarok, I am Montblanc, and this is Erika. We are currently the heads of our Clan.”

“Ragnarok? The one that Taleel joined?” Gavvar growled from behind them, taking a threatening step forward.

“Yes, if your Taleel is the same one that took the name Olgan,” Montblanc answered, backing up from the threatening stance from Gavvar, frowning at the bangaa. Gavvar’s growl became a snarl, hands clenching and the hard gloves the bangaa wore creaked under the strain.

“Why did it take you so long to get here?” he demanded, “Isn’t he one of your own? You should not have let him come by himself!”

Erika flinched at the shouting. Lilila pushed past them and shoved the larger bangaa against the door. Surprisingly, the tall bangaa allowed it, though he still glared hard at the small group. Monteblanc shifted from foot to foot, nervously eyeing Gavvar.

“Enough, Gavvar. I’m sure they had their reasons,” the fencer muttered, placing a gentle hand on the white monk’s shoulder. She then turned, pulling to the front of the group again, and gesturing them to follow. They all passed through several halls and a large staircase, before reaching another set of large doors. Lilila smiled at them as she pulled open the door, herding Clan Ragnarok into what looked to be a common room. There were several doors lining the walls, and a metal spiral staircase that led to the next floor. There appeared to be more rooms up there. The common room had several round dining tables, and an enormous fireplace sat flanked by large windows that overlooked the courtyard. Large, cushion lined benches sat in front of the fireplace. Erika eyed those with longing. They’d barely stopped to rest on the journey form Cadoan, and exhaustion was beginning to settle in.

“This is one of the wings where we house Clans,” Lilila was explaining. “You are welcome to use them as long as you need. This common area is for meals if you do not wish to eat with the Order. Know, however, you will be required to get those meals from the kitchen yourselves. With all of our duties, we cannot spare anyone to serve you.”

Monteblanc nodded at the viera’s explanation, still eyeing the agitated Gavvar next to her. The bangaa was no longer glaring at them, but at the wall. He noticed the moogle’s stare, and scowled further, storming out the entrance to the clan wing.

“I hope you’ll forgive Gavvar. He and Taleel were close when he stayed here,” Lilila stated, the tall viera shook her head, ears drooping slightly. “When he appeared again, armed to the teeth, we’ve done nothing but worry over why. Taleel didn’t even stay long enough before he disappeared on us again. Most likely he’s going to try to take out that damn Clan he used to run with.”

“Again?” Erika asked, giving Lilila a startled look. “So I take his running off by himself isn’t anything new.” This revelation was worrying. Olgan going off by himself to try to take out Clan Uroborus was tantamount to suicide.

“You could say that,” Lilila chuckled, though there was no humor in her voice. “The last time, before Taleel completely left the Jagd, he had been recovering from a severe wound to his stomach. From what we were able to figure, the stubborn boy snuck out the window.”

“Seems to be something he never grew out of,” Monteblanc muttered, mostly to himself. Erika snorted and Lilila smiled. It looked like she was going to say more, but there was shouting outside. Frowning, the fencer moved to the windows, and they all joined her. White mages were hurrying across the enclosed courtyard, surrounding two figures who were quickly moving to a large wing on the right. One looked to be an enormous white mage, and the other a fighter. Lilila hissed.

“Matius! He’s back.” The viera whirled from the window, quickly striding to the door. Erika followed, matching the viera stride for stride, both pulling ahead of the rest. The sniper reached for Lilila, attempting to pull the viera to a halt. The fencer shrugged the grip off, and Erika was forced to nearly run to keep up as the other quickened her pace. Clan Ragnarok was left far behind, and the sniper could hear Monteblanc shouting for her to come back with information. At least they knew to not attempt to follow two viera in full stride. Only a bangaa could hope to meet them in speed, and that was simply because bangaa had a height advantage.

“What’s going on?” Erika demanded, straining to keep pace with Lilila. “Matius is the head Priest of this safehouse, correct? Why would he have been out in the Jagd?”

“Yes, Matius is the head of this place. He had followed Taleel after he left to gather information. The stupid white mage had said something about going into the caverns below the city. I think he found Uroborus’s new hideout. Matius forbid us to go with him. Both stupid, stubborn–” Lilila began muttering to herself as they exited the doors and took off across the courtyard. A cold fear clenched in Erika’s chest at those comments, worried for Olgan if he’d attempted to go to that Clan’s hideout alone. She barely realized that she’d fallen back, staring at Lilila’s back as she numbly followed the other viera.

The wing they entered was sterile, walls covered in expensive ceramic tiles, doors dark and heavy against the bright walls. There were benches between each doorway, and there were people and mages taking use of them, keeping out of the way of the busy healers running around. They flitted in and out of rooms lining the halls, arms full of supplies. The fencer grabbed hold of one as he was sweeping by.

“Did Matius find Taleel?” Lilila demanded, and pursed her lips at the nod she received. “Where did he take him?”

“Down this hall, first door on the left,” the mage waved his elbow as best he could, the blankets he held limiting his movement. Lilila took off without another word, Erika giving the mage a thankful smile before following. The man merely gave her a distracted nod as he returned to whatever task they’d pulled him from. The two viera quickly pulled to the room the mage had directed them to, a fighter slumped on the bench beside the door, armor and weapons missing, and holding his head in between his hands. Lilila ducked into the room as the sniper stopped in front of the man.

“Kemal!” Erika knelt before the fighter as he jerked upright, bloodshot eyes locking with her own.

“Erika? How—when?”

“We came here immediately after talking with Ezel. He is not the one who betrayed us. But what happened? Is it truly Olgan in there?” Kemal sagged forward at her demanding questions, hands again covering his face. Erika frowned and gripped the fighter by the shoulders, giving him a rough shake.

“What happened? Kemal. Please.”

“He was stabbed by one of those thieves of Clan Uroborus. Fell into one of the canals. I went in after him. We both nearly drowned.” The words were muffled, and Erika worried for her friend. There was something he was leaving out.

“Kemal.” Erika pulled Kemal’s hands away from his face. Her own gently replaced his, framing his face and forcing the fighter to look at her. His hair was still damp, and his skin clammy to the touch. Erika repressed the urge to wrinkle her nose as she began to notice the smell wafting off of the man. Clearly the water he and Olgan had been immersed in was not the clean water like the other Law governed cities had.

“I—he—I saw them on the bridge, called out to him,” Kemal whispered, eyes closing as guilt took an even stronger hold on the man. “He—he was hurt because I distracted him. I should have just come up behind and taken care of the damn thief. But I stood there and shouted for Olgan.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Erika began, but knew that the fighter was not listening. Kemal had always been protective of the mage, but she never thought that he’d react like this. The stress of the last few days was obviously getting to him, between believing that Olgan was a traitor, and then coming here with barely time to rest and then having to see the very man he had been chasing wounded like that?

“No, I—”

“She’s right.” The voice was deep, and Erika’s head jerked up to see a Priest standing over them, Lilila just behind the massive form. The sniper couldn’t help but stare as Kemal sagged further into himself. The man laid a massive hand on the fighter’s shoulder.

“I would like to speak to you in private,” the Priest murmured to Kemal. “I don’t mean to leave you out, lady, but from what Lilila told me, you need to take stock of your Clan member and get that information back to your friends.”

Erika weakly nodded, standing up and allowing the Priest to pull Kemal to his feet. The Priest gently guided the man down the hall. The fencer placed a comforting hand on Erika’s arm, gripping reassuringly.

“Don’t worry about your fighter. It is mostly shock, and Matius will get him to believe it wasn’t his fault.”

Erika nodded and allowed herself to be steered into the room. Olgan lay unconscious on a bed, robes and tunic discarded, chest and shoulder wrapped heavily. His breathing was raspy, no doubt the result of his time in the water. His skin was pale, and Erika couldn’t help but stare at the multitude of scars crisscrossing Olgan’s skin. They were old scars, and she felt a surge of anger at Uroborus for the pain they’d caused her friend.

“He’s just sleeping off potions right now, Matius already cleaned out and healed what he could, and there doesn’t seem to be sign of any infections. But then it’s still early,” Lilila stated, carefully steering Erika further into the room. “The good thing is, healing magic has always worked well with Taleel. He is a naturally fast healer, and he always seem to absorb the spells’ capabilities better than most.”

That same nauseating feeling returned at the matter-of-fact tone, that Lilila was so used to seeing Olgan in such a state and how easily the mage took to healing from severe wounds. Erika staggered forward the last few steps towards the bed. She took the mage’s hand as her legs finally gave out to exhaustion. She buried her face into the back of his hand, tears welling and slipping free.

“Olgan, you stupid fool!” she cried, “Why didn’t you just wait? Why didn’t you explain everything that night?” The dam finally broke and Erika sobbed as she clutched at her friend’s limp hand.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Kemal stared up at the dark ceiling above him. It had been a couple of days since he had gone into the canal after Olgan. The mage was healing, and even woke up several times during his stay in the healing ward. The mage however, avoided talking to Monteblanc, Erika and the others, turning away any time they tried to converse with him.

Kemal had not been a part of those attempts, Matius having pulled him aside to his study, away from the cold, sterile wing of the church. They had talked for most of the day, the Priest both healing the pulled muscles in his arm and managing to quell most of the guilt that had wracked the fighter. It wasn’t gone completely, the image of Olgan’s shocked face as he was stabbed still imprinted in his mind, but the feeling wasn’t as debilitating as before.

Immediately after his conversation with Matius, Erika and Monteblanc cornered the fighter, demanding to know where Xia was. Why she wasn’t with him. Kemal flushed with shame. He’d forgotten about the viera apprentice. He quickly gave them the name of the inn they had taken board in, Erika and that same fencer from earlier leaving to retrieve the white mage. They had returned faster than Kemal had expected, the inn being ridiculously close to the Order’s safehouse. If he’d known of the church and what it signified, then they’d have been able to either stop Olgan from going down to the canals, or gone with him to provide support.

Xia had not been happy with him when she arrived, and the fighter couldn’t help but grimace at the memory of her shouting. The two viera and Monteblanc had looked amused at the sight of the white mage ranting at the uncomfortable Kemal. She apparently had woken up not long after he had left, confused as to why she was alone. By the time that Erika and that other viera met her in the inn, Xia had been pacing around the room with nerves. Alone, she could not traverse the Jagd, she did not have the skills to defend herself against the denizen of the Lawless city. Kemal had stammered an apology, exhaustion making him waver there on his feet.

Now, having finally been allowed to sleep and recover from the stress from the previous days, Kemal growled in frustration.

He couldn’t even bring himself to go in to see the mage, and Kemal wondered when this fear would finally subside. It was irrational. With another growl, the fighter threw the covers off, and jerked on his boots. Grabbing his dagger out of habit, Kemal stuffed it through his heavy cloth belt. Even if he was in a safehouse, it was practically instinct to make sure he was still armed in case something decided to go wrong.

He stalked to the door and carefully glanced out. It was late, and thankfully everyone had retired to their rooms. Kemal carefully made his way out of the common room, and quickly down the halls. The courtyard was empty, and he was able to enter the healing ward without being stopped by any mage or guardian.

He stood in front of Olgan’s room, hesitating. He opened the door slowly, and slipped in. The room was lit, if somewhat dimly by the lone candle on the side table. He strode forward as silently as he could, and stared down at the mage’s still form.

Kemal had been shocked when Monteblanc and Erika told him of Olgan’s origins. He’d even gone to Matius to confirm it, knowing the Priest would not lie to him. Olgan, or rather Taleel, had been a thief and skilled black mage. He wondered how long it had taken Olgan to give up the Shade Weaving. Kemal remembered hearing that the ability to control the elements were addictive, driving some to horrible ends as the energies burned them up from the inside. Much of that was due to the Shade Weavers discarding more and more protections to feel the high from elemental power flowing freely through their bodies.

Olgan slept fitfully, twisting underneath the covers and mumbling to himself. Kemal extended a shaky hand to brush the mage’s hair off his forehead. The injured man settled with a low sigh, and Kemal echoed that exhale. The fighter carefully grabbed hold of the round wooden stool behind him, setting it near the bed and leaned against the mattress.

“What is it about you that unnerves me so much? Why can’t I ever seem to have an easy conversation with you?”

When Marche had been kidnapped, it set off Kemal’s conflicting feelings. Anger from believing that Olgan had betrayed them, then fear and worry when he was running after him to this hellish Jagd to try to keep Olgan from getting himself killed, finally panic and hysteria when he realized that Olgan had been injured. He was going to go mad from the emotions raging within him.

The fighter again ran a hand over Olgan’s hair, and jumped when a hand shot up and grabbed hold of his wrist. Kemal felt himself being jerked forward, the shock of the sudden movement keeping him off balance and the stool toppled with a rough clatter. He pushed himself up from the mattress, hands and arms lifting in a placating motion, but was tackled to the floor. Kemal’s head hit the stone with a crack, and as he shook his head to clear it, felt his dagger ripped from its sheathe as the man above him straddled his hips.

The fighter blocked the first swipe of the blade with his arm, grunting in pain as it bit into flesh. The next dug into the palm of his hand as he grappled with Olgan for the blade. A blow across his jaw made everything spin, and he dimly wondered where the mage got the strength to hit him with his injuries. He felt the knife edge press against his throat and froze, expecting Olgan to follow through. He felt the blade bite in slightly, blood welling and dripping down his neck, but it didn’t press down any further.

The mage was panting above him, eyes wide and filled with panic. Not seeing him. Kemal kept still, not wanting to provoke the mage into following through with the blade. They sat there for what felt like hours before Olgan actually focused on who he was pinning to the ground.

“Who—?”

“Kemal. It’s Kemal, Olgan.”

Olgan stared for a moment more before jerking back, dagger slipping from his hand and clattering harshly by Kemal’s head. The mage scrambled up off of Kemal, and the fighter sat up, gingerly rubbing the blood from his neck. Olgan was sitting with his back pressed against the bed, and head hung between his knees. The mage had folded both arms above his head, fingers laced together behind his neck, hiding from Kemal and mumbling to himself.

Kemal frowned, gently placing a hand on the Olgan’s shoulder, wincing as his wounded hand stained the mage’s clothes. Olgan jerked, shaking his head, muttering increasing in volume. The fighter leaned in to better hear the mage, feeling the other tremble under his hand.

“–sorry, sorry-sorrydidn’tmeanto –”

“Olgan,” Kemal stated, grabbing both shoulders now, infinitely careful with the man’s bandaged one. “Olgan stop. Calm down. Take a deep breath.”

Kemal continued on like that, minutes dragging by as Olgan forced himself to breathe slowly. The shaking stopped, and the mage lifted his head to stare at Kemal. The fighter met that haunted gaze, starting as he heard Olgan mutter under his breath and the cool feeling of a spell washing over him. The stubborn mage was healing him. Kemal frowned even as he felt the new injuries knit themselves closed.

“You stop that too! You don’t have the energy to be healing me right now.”

“...Kemal, what are you doing here?”

Kemal let go and settled back against the fallen stool, wood scraping against stone as his heavy bulk shifted the light frame. He absently ran a thumb over the now healed skin on his hand, shifting uncomfortably under Olgan’s bleary gaze.

“I–I wanted to apologize, for my actions.”

“What? What do you mean?” Olgan’s voice was shaky, blinking up at Kemal. He sat up further, head cocking to the side as he contemplated the fighter’s statement. Kemal shifted under the blue gaze, uncomfortable and uncertain himself on why he was saying this.

“I haven’t treated you well, Olgan. I regret saying the things I did back at Cyril. And my actions here got you hurt.”

“...it doesn’t matter,” Olgan muttered. “You did what you though was best for the Clan. And my skills have been lacking since joining the Order. You have no reason to be sorry.”

“No, Olgan, I–”

“Stop it! I don’t need these apologies if they are just out of pity! I know what Matius told you and the clan, because he told me!” Olgan was shouting now, and Kemal wondered if this was simply a side of the man that had been kept buried behind masks, or if it was from the stress and shock of his injuries. The fighter shifted, kneeling before the mage and reaching out for the man, attempting to reassure Olgan of his intentions. Olgan responded by sitting up fully, pushing Kemal’s arms away and glaring.

“Olgan, please listen—!”

“No! Go away! I just need to heal so we can save Marche. Then I’ll be gone and you and the Clan don’t have to worry about throwing me out. I know that you wouldn’t want to keep someone like me around. I’ll just tarnish the name of Clan Ragnarok! The people won’t trust the Clan if they knew that I was on it.”

Kemal stared, frozen in place as the words sunk in. Olgan thought they would just cast him aside? That his past would be that much of a stumbling block for him to stay with the Clan? Anger took hold, as it usually did with their interactions.

“You stupid, ignorant mage!” Kemal grabbed hold of Olgan, shoving him against the bed, shaking him with each sentence he shouted at the brunette. “We wouldn’t throw you out! We don’t want that! Marche wouldn’t want that! I wouldn’t want that! You mean too much to me!”

Olgan stared at him, and it took a moment for the fighter to register what he had said. A flush crept across the mage’s cheeks, his eyes flicking from side to side, landing on everything but Kemal. Kemal in turn was frozen in place, staring blankly at the man, his own face reddening and wondering why he had blurted that out. When he began to care so much for the mage? But there it was, laid out for them to see, and it felt like something had finally been released within him.

“You—you don’t mean that. You can’t mean that,” Olgan stuttered, squirming in Kemal’s grip. “Let go.”

“No, I will not.” Now that he’d finally admitted it to himself, Kemal wasn’t going to let Olgan sink himself deeper into the self-loathing he’d seen before. The fighter wondered briefly if the flush across the mage’s face was due to simple embarrassment, or that the feelings were returned and Olgan wasn’t willing to admit it due to his current depression. “And I do mean that.”

Olgan began to struggle even more, but not nearly enough to break the fighter’s hold. His blush had deepened, and Kemal released a hand to cup against the man’s face. Blue eyes finally locked with Kemal’s brown. The mage’s eyes were wide, blue orbs flicking to the fighter’s mouth and back up. Almost unconsciously, Olgan flicked his tongue out to wet his lips, and was breathing a little heavier than before. Kemal leaned forward, raising his other hand to cradle the back of Olgan’s neck, and pressed his lips against the frozen man’s. The fighter couldn’t help himself, even though something in the back of his mind was screaming at him to wait.

Olgan gasped, hands gripping at Kemal’s arms, mouth opening in shock. This only prompted Kemal to deepen the kiss, and earned a low, whimpering moan from Olgan as the mage tentatively responded. Their tongues delicately traced each other, and Kemal groaned, pulling the mage up and flush against him.

The movement, however, made Olgan jerk back, away from the fighter and he shoved Kemal away. Kemal found himself again on the floor, dazed and wondering what madness had possessed him. Why he had taken advantage of Olgan like that. Olgan was shaking, hand covering his mouth and eyes hidden by his mussed hair. Kemal pushed up from the floor only to freeze as the mage snatched the dagger from the floor, leveling it’s point at the older man’s chest.

“Olgan? Olgan, I—”

“Get out.” The tone was flat, and Kemal scooted back away from the blade, carefully and slowly getting to his feet. Olgan also stood, dagger steady in his hand as he slowly advanced on the taller man.

“Wait, I’m sorry. Olgan, please, just hear me out. ”

“Get. Out.”

Kemal stared as the mage’s other hand began to weave a pattern in the air as well, the light stuttering, but a clear Weaving of a offensive spell. He backed off from the now very dangerous mage, back hitting the solid wood of the door. His hand scrabbled for the handle as Olgan stood before him, blue eyes sparking with anger.

“Get! Out! Now!”

The fighter swiftly pulled the door open and stumbled out as quickly as he could. The door slammed behind him, a telltale click of a latch locking the door. Kemal turned and sagged against the wall, sinking to sit on the cold floor to stare at the dark wood separating him from Olgan.

“I’m sorry, Olgan. By Mateus, I’m sorry.”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Marche sat huddled in the closest thing to a corner in the cave. He carefully pulled the blanket tighter around his bare shoulders as he watched his captors stalking about the cave. He had been forced off the pallet as soon as his fever broke, almost two days before, and Marche wondered how long he’d been here. His shirt was gone, as were his boots, Marche dimly remembering them being cut away as someone had healed him. The blonde could only be thankful that they weren’t forcing him to be completely nude.

“Damn it! Damn that fucking Taleel!”

Marche nearly flinched from the shouting, warily watching the leader of Uroborus pace around one of the firepits. Kilov was clearly agitated, and he didn’t want to gain the crazed man attention. He wasn’t sure that the man would decide that he’d need another “lesson” like the one before. His hand throbbed at the memory, broken digits twitching.

“Lorek’s dead, and I know that fucking runaway toy is the reason!”

Kilov’s hands clenched behind his back and finally stopped pacing to glare down at the firepit. The other members of this deranged Clan were keeping well away from the man, even the bangaa were giving Kilov a wide berth. The thief’s madness was clearly keeping his Clan under his thumb, and Marche wondered why the lower members of Uroborus weren’t trying to pull the man down from his position.

“I’ll fucking take Taleel back, tie him down and break him!”

The thief stalked to the wall that Marche was huddled against. The blonde recoiled slightly, backing further into a corner. Kilov glanced briefly at the young Clan leader, a cruel smirk twisting his features. The wall had various chains hanging from the stone, at varying heights. Next to them was a series of racks and shelves, and had a variety of cruel looking blades, whips, and things that Marche had no name for hanging off of it. Kilov ran his hands almost lovingly down one particular multi-strand whip, the ends glinting with metal. Marche shuddered away from the thought of someone using such a cruel thing on another person.

“Ah, he hated this one, would do such wonderful things with his mouth to keep me from using it on him. Yes, breaking him back in would be a very fitting punishment. I’ll make it last for weeks.”

The crazed thief gave Marche another smirk and returned to the firepits. The blonde lifted his head from the blanket slightly, slowly beginning to understand what Kilov meant by “toy.” It meant similar things like what that creepy thief had hissed in his ear, like what this Clan was muttering to themselves about anytime they mentioned the Market and himself in the same sentence. If this Taleel had not only managed to escape, but was picking off members of Uroborus, maybe this person would be able to get word of who he was to Clan Ragnarok or even help him escape.

It was a dim hope, but was all Marche had. He didn’t want to go to this Market, didn’t want to be sold like some animal. Marche desperately didn’t want to end up with a fate like this Taleel once had.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Olgan gathered up as much as he could, once he was sure that Kemal had finally left. Olgan planned on leaving again, despite knowing that now it was even more of a suicide mission than before. He hadn’t bothered with even attempting to sleep, fully intending on leaving before dawn broke.

Someone pounded on his door, breaking his near fevered concentration on packing for the one way trip down the waterways. Olgan jumped, and warily cracked open the door to his room, praying that it wouldn’t be Kemal standing there. But he saw only Matius, Lilila, and Gavvar.

Olgan started guiltily at their knowing gazes, and they had gently pushed him back into the room and disarmed him again. Not one of them said a word, and Matius in particular had merely settled his gaze on Olgan, and the wounded mage found himself confessing what his plans now were. The guilt of what he’d put so many through forcing the words from his lips, and Lilila and Gavvar looked horrified as he numbly outlined the suicide mission into Uroborus’ hideout.

Matius frowned, and then firmly herded him to the common room in the wing that Ragnarok had been given. It was still early in the morning, and Olgan knew that the Priest had not reacted well to what he’d been told. Matius’ face was grimmly serious, and with Lilila and Gavvar flanking Olgan to keep him from running, called Ragnarok down so Olgan could repeat what he’d confessed to the Priest.

Olgan sat on the floor, shifting on the cushions in front of the fireplace. He fidgeted underneath his Clan’s gaze, knowing now that his plan could never be executed. That Ragnarok and the Order were standing in his way, and now that the adrenaline from the incident with Kemal had finally ebbed, his injuries were making themselves known. The wounds were still severe enough that he wouldn’t get far through the waterways and caves that led up to Uroborus’ hideout without help. Olgan also had to admit to himself that he still wasn’t certain of the path through the caves. And that’s where his plans now changed, even as he sat there being interrogated. Olgan had originally intended on capturing and using a member of Uroborus to gain access into the hideout, but now he knew that would be an impossibility. He was in no condition to fight Uroborus, and the only option was to leave a trail for Ragnarok to follow, by any means possible.

“You plan on doing what?!” Monteblanc was shouting. “You are in no condition to leave this church, never mind going even close to those canals again!”

“My original plans can’t be used anymore. Kil—Uroborus knew that I would come back, but I had the advantage with them not knowing when. Now their second is dead, and they know that I – no, that we, Ragnarok, know where the entrance to their hideout is.”

“But Olgan,” Erika practically whispered, “What good will using yourself as bait do, other than get yourself killed?”

Olgan flinched at that. They all knew his guilt of being with that Clan, but he wondered why they were so angry with him over his decision. Matius was silent, as were Lilila and Gavvar. Even if they wanted to, the Order’s rules and laws forbid them to even take a side on internal Clan affairs. Olgan stared at them for a brief moment, the three standing by the door, a blockade to keep him from running. Matius merely gave one brief shake of his head and waved at Olgan to continue.

“...I was going to leave a path for you all to follow, after they’d captured me. I figured that–” Olgan started, cutting himself off and jerking back at how Kemal leaned forward to place a hand on him. The fighter’s impassive expression didn’t falter as he pulled back, but Olgan knew that the fighter had to be seething on the inside. Whether it was from anger or sorrow, the mage didn’t want to contemplate on.

“That, what, a blood trail would be easy to follow? What good would that do us, Olgan, if you died?” The fighter ground out, brown eyes angry and hurt.

Olgan shied away from that expression on the man’s face, not wanting to look Kemal in the eye. He didn’t want to deal with the man, with the whisper of promised things surrounding him. Olgan couldn’t have those now. There never would be a time that he could ever have someone like Kemal. Olgan knew that, however hard they protested, this was the best plan they had. Marche would be moved to the Markets down by the docks and quickly sold off. Possibly even today, and there was no time to develop a better strategy.

They needed a distraction, and what better distraction than a runaway? Kilov wouldn’t be able to resist taking him, and that would be the end of it. Clan Ragnarok would be able to rescue Marche, and he’d be free of this hell of a life. Tears pricked at the edges of his eyes, but Olgan refused to let them fall. He couldn’t afford to be weak, he’d go to his death with his head held high. And if he could, if the Fates finally decided to smile on him, he’d take Kilov down with him.

“There isn’t any other choice now. You know it. I know it. We don’t have the time to waste.” Olgan stared defiantly up at them, knowing how he must look. How defeated and beaten he appeared. He watched them all meet his gaze silently, clearly wanting to argue against this plan. Xia fidgeted on the bench, the only one to not look at him. Olgan wished he could have been able to at least have passed her into the full status of white mage.

“I–” Surprisingly, Xia was the one who spoke up, hands clasped between her knees, fingers so tight against each other she was practically digging into her own flesh with her nails. She shivered as all of their eyes now snapped to her. Her jaw clenched and she stood abruptly. They all stared as she marched to Matius and stood before the three members of the Order.

“I wish to claim the sanctuary of the Order,” Xia stated, staring now unflinchingly up at the Priest. “I claim sanctuary so that Clan Ragnarok cannot take arms against me.”

“Xia? Xia, what are you doing? What do you mean by that?” Erika jumped up and stepped forward towards Xia, but found herself blocked by Gavvar and Lilila. The sniper backed up uncertainly, and turned to shoot Monteblanc a confused stare. The moogle had his eyes closed in thought, head down as he processed what the young viera had stated so calmly. Olgan sagged against the pillows behind him, a sickening feeling surging up in his gut. It couldn’t be...she couldn’t be...

“Xia...?” Olgan mumbled, his apprentice turning back to him in acknowledgment of his question. “Xia, are you of Clan Uroborus?”

They all went still. Matius gently placed his hands on Xia’s shoulders, turning her back towards him.

“Child, you’ve claimed sanctuary. They can’t do anything to hurt you while you are within our walls. Answer Olgan’s question,” the Priest’s statement was more of an order. Xia nodded and turned to face Clan Ragnarok, staring at them all briefly before her gaze dropped.

“My name is Darxia. I am one of the apprentice assassins that Clan Uroborus uses outside Jagd Helje,” Xia began, but was nearly drowned out by the shouting from both Erika and Kemal. Olgan painfully leapt to his feet and managed to grab hold of Kemal’s arm before the man was able to leap forward towards the viera. The mage could see Monteblanc doing the same for Erika. The two soldiers were closer to the door, but found themselves quickly disarmed and held at the point of a rapier or pinned to the floor by the white monk. Xia had flinched from the failed rush of teammates she’d betrayed, sinking back into Matius for protection.

“Go on child.” Matius gently prodded Xia’s back, and she slowly straightened back up. Kemal seethed, Olgan holding onto the man tightly, not wanting to risk letting go of the fighter. Olgan knew that he should be feeling the same anger at the betrayal, but everything just seemed numb. Xia was still not looking at them, eyes hidden by her over-long bangs. Her hands clenched at her sides and the faint twitching of her ears were the only signs of the tension that must have been coursing through her.

“I–I was picked because I was the least skilled of the Clan. We were hired to get Marche out of the way, and Kilov knew that with my inexperience and my age, I would be easily accepted into Clan Ragnarok. I just started my training as an assassin, so I already had some basic training in healing. I had been proud of the fact that Kilov had picked me for this assignment. I wanted to prove myself...”

“Prove yourself! Prove yourself to a bunch of murderers and drug dealers? Slave traders?” Kemal shouted, and Olgan flinched as the fighter yelled at her as he’d done to him days before. And with each accusation that Ragnarok shouted, Xia curled further in on herself. Olgan jerked the fighter back.

“Stop it, Kemal. She can’t explain why she did this if you keep yelling,” Olgan hissed at Kemal, and his words actually seemed to get through to the man, Kemal backing off slightly. The white mage carefully released Kemal, and wove his way through to Xia, keeping his hands up where Lilila and Gavvar could see. He didn’t want them to think that he would attempt anything.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Kemal stared as Olgan stood in front of the cringing traitor. How could they have been duped so easily by her? He growled with anger and stalked forward. The two guardians were occupied with keeping the two soldiers pinned, so with luck, he’d be able to get to the traitorous viera. Kemal saw Darxia’s frightened expression as she stumbled back from him.

The assassin’s feet tangled together and she dropped to the floor. Matius quickly pushed past Olgan and drew himself up to his full height as he blocked Kemal’s way from reaching Darxia. He darted to the side, to push past the Priest and –!

And Kemal found himself staring at the high ceiling of the common room, dazed and wondering what had happened.

“She has claimed sanctuary from us and that is what she’ll receive. Clan Ragnarok, you will not lay one hand on this child as long as she is in this church,” Matius boomed, his voice having risen to levels that were more suitable on a parade ground. Kemal flinched at the sound, his ears still ringing from the force of his impact with the ground. How had the large man moved so fast...?

“Xia,” Kemal could hear Olgan voice calmly state through the ringing, “Xia, tell me what happened. You’ve obviously changed you mind about something. What happened?”

Kemal pushed himself up onto his elbows, shaking his head to clear it. He finally managed to focus on Olgan kneeling in front of the traitor, one hand gently resting on Darxia’s shoulder and the other her brushing away hair away from her face. There was no movement behind him, so clearly whatever Matius had done with him was discouraging Erika and Monteblanc from attempting anything themselves.

“Olgan! Don’t waste your breath! She’s a traitor!” That was the soldier pinned by the bangaa, voice muffled from where his face was smashed to the stone floor. Olgan shook his head and glared back at the man.

“No. She did this so she could tell us something. We need to know her reasons.” Kemal flinched at the underlying accusation. Olgan didn’t want her to be treated like they had him. He watched as the assassin curled in on herself, Olgan reaching forward and pulling the young viera close, wrapping his arms around Darxia’s shaking body. Kemal couldn’t help but wonder why he was so calm about her betrayal. Of them all, Olgan was the one that had his trust betrayed the most. The mage had taken her in as a student, nearly trained the viera completely from scratch. Kemal had long considered the bonds the two had forged over the months of Darxia’s stay with Ragnarok to be one of the strongest and deepest. And for Olgan to be so calm was unnerving.

“I’m s-sorry, I’m sor-ry!” Darxia clutched at Olgan, sobbing into his robes. The mage merely tightened his hold on the viera. “I didn’t wa-ant to lie anymore! Uroborus was the first Clan to take me in, the first to show me anything close to kindness in this hell of city. So when I first joined your Clan, I wanted to make a name for myself by giving as much information I could about you. All of you. That’s how they knew your name had changed, Taleel – Olgan.”

Darxia pushed herself away from Olgan, wiping her face on her sleeves. She stared back out over the group, eyes puffy. Kemal felt something in him twist at the despair on her face. It was identical to the emotion that had flickered through Olgan’s eyes when they’d accused the mage of betraying them. Either Darxia was a talented actor, or she truly was feeling remorse for her actions. Guilt was beginning to curl in the fighter.

“Then I started to see how different Ragnarok was from Uroborus. Marche did so much for me, and this Clan showed me what a real family was like! I was given an apprenticeship to someone who actually taught me, rather than just handing me a blade and expecting me to know how to defend myself! All of you are the reason why I started giving Kilov false information.

“I never sent out those letters. I swear I didn’t. I had stopped giving them information on you all over two months before that damn engagement in the canyon. I think – I think Kilov was beginning to realize that I wasn’t going to follow through with his plan. He must have had one of the others send it.”

“I-I snuck out of the inn that night at to meet with Kilov. You were down in the tavern, Kemal, so it was easy to make the bed up to look like I had just gone to sleep early. By the time I made it to the hideout, I knew Kilov was going to kill me. The guards at the entrance flanked me when I approached, and dragged me inside. I managed to talk fast enough before Kilov could slit my throat. Convinced him that a white mage in the ranks would be useful. He believed me and took me to where they were holding Marche. But not before he gave me this as a warning.” With that statement, Darxia pulled open the front of her robes, and showed them a newly healed, ragged scar across her collarbone. Kemal felt sick as he stared at the raw scar.

“You saw Marche?” Erika asked, and Darxia nodded. The sniper was sagged back onto the bench, clutching a pillow to her chest. Kemal had finally settled enough to sit up fully, but made no move to get up further as Matius hovered over him. The Priest was clearly taking no chances with him.

“They’d beaten him horribly, and Kilov ordered me to heal him. His ribs were cracked, his hand broken, and had a sprained ankle. He was feverish and probably concussed.” Darxia’s words had turned almost clinical, flat and emotionless. Her face had closed off from emotion, but her eyes were welling with more tears. “I–I healed him as best I could. Magic is weakened in there, the flow of Holy energy blocked off by something. I had to resort to simple potions. Then I left, to keep up my cover for both Kilov and Kemal. I didn’t know that you had already left, Kemal, so when I got back to the inn and nobody was there, I-I panicked. Then you came, Erika, with Lilila.”

“Why should we trust you?” Monteblanc demanded, stepping forward cautiously as he eyed Matius warily. The moogle was mirroring Olgan’s earlier placating gestures at the members of the Order.

“I will help you, show you how to get into Uroborus’s new hideout. I want to get Marche out of there. This is my Clan now, not Kilov’s.” They all stared at the viera, processing her statement. Olgan stood abruptly, dragging all the attention back to him.

“That was two days ago? Xia, was it two days ago?” he demanded, hands clenched at his side.

“Y-yes, yes about that. You and Kemal were here, then Erika came to collect me from the inn.” Olgan paled at that, whirling about to face the various pinned members of the Clan.

“We need to leave now!” Olgan was nearly shouting, the fear in his eyes making Kemal wonder at the full extent of what had happened to the mage while in Clan Uroborus. “Marche has to be healed enough now, and is probably being moved through the waterways as we speak. Xia, you need to show us the way through to the hideout. Or the closest path to intercept them in those tunnels.”

“What? Just like that, you’re going to trust her?”

“We don’t have time!” Olgan was shouting, and that along made them all pause except Kemal and the Order. “If we don’t use Xia’s knowledge of the caves, then we’ll lose Marche to the Market! We’ll probably never see him again!”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

They’d dressed him back in the rags of his clothing, blindfolded him, then jerked him up to his feet and shoved him forward. Marche stumbled, gasping as his ankle throbbed with each step. They’d laughed at his cry of pain and half marched, half dragged him through the tunnels. Kilov was in front of him, that much was certain, the madman’s muttering echoing back to the blonde. The thief was giving orders to the small group he’d taken with him.

“If any of you see Taleel, take him alive. Kill the rest of Ragnarok if you want, but I want Taleel.”

Marche jerked backwards at the mention of his Clan, his movements harsh enough to pull out of the grip of the soldiers around him. He heard Kilov laugh at him as he landed hard on his back.

“Ah, that’s right, I never told you did I?” The blonde felt a hand thread its way through his hair and jerk upwards. He smelled the rancid breath of the thief as Kilov leaned in, whispering against his ear. Marche gasped and managed to grab hold of Kilov’s hand attempted to pull the harsh grip away. The thief merely tightened his grip.

“Did you know, oh Glorious Leader of Clan Ragnarok, that you’d taken in a pet of mine? Taleel by name.”

“I don’t have anyone named Taleel in my Clan!” Marche gasped back, tears soaking through the cloth of the blindfold. He dimly wondered if Kilov intended on ripping his hair out. The blonde shoved with his broken hand at the man’s chest, trying to get away despite the pain, still yanking ineffectively at the hold in his hair.

“But he doesn’t go by that name anymore. He changed it, along with his calling. Taleel was my PET, and I had taken so much time and effort to to make him what he is! I made the punishments for his failures as cruel as I could make them; all to make sure he’d be the best theif and black mage this Clan had in years! I would never have anything less than the best as one of my possessions, and it wouldn’t do for my pet to not fear me, if he was the best of us. It was my way of controlling him, keeping him a weapon for me to use against all who would try to stop us.”

“He’s a person! Not a thing!” Marche shouted at the man hissing in his ear, but only got a cruel laugh in return.

“Then Taleel ran away,” Kilov snarled, ignoring the blonde’s statements and throwing Marche back down to the cold ground. “He fled because of those stupid morals he learned from that–that safehouse of the Order. Maybe I’ll have him raze it to the ground after I retrain him. Yes, trap that Order in their building and kill them all right then and there! The screams as they burn to death will be so satisfying. Maybe I’ll show that oaf of a Priest just what Taleel was. What I truly used him for. Maybe I’ll fuck my pet in front of the fool, drive that point home before I gut the Priest. Yes...”

Marche shuddered at the insane cackle from the thief pacing around him, gingerly inching away as much as he was able. A boot planted itself in the middle of his chest, forcing him to the floor and pinning him there.

“Have a guess yet, little Leader? Who might your little, adopted Clan member be?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care! I’m just glad he was able to get away from you!”

“Bah. How boring if you don’t play the game.” The boot pressed down harder before lifting up. “Does the name Olgan ring any bells with you?”

Marche froze as Kilov walked away laughing. Hands jerked him upright again, and he shook his head dazedly. The blonde found himself being dragged through the cave tunnels again. Shock soon gave way to anger, and with the sudden rush of adrenaline Marche planted his feet in the floor, jerking to one side. He took down one of the bodies holding him up, and as his arms were freed, yanked the blindfold off. The harsh light from the stuttering torches blinded him for a moment, but he still grappled for the sword from the soldier he’d knocked down. Marche scrambled to his feet, wincing as he was forced to put his weight on his ankle. He paled as he took in the group before him, along with Kilov, there were two bangaa gladiators and the two soldiers.

“Oh, so you still have some fight in you. Pity I don’t dare to keep you myself. You’d be an interesting one to break.” Kilov jerked his head to the two gladiators flanking him. “Teach him a lesson. Break his legs if you have to. We’ll just have to take the hit off of his price.”

The two enormous bangaa advanced, the one soldier still on the ground smirking. Marche tightened his grip on the sword, limping back as one gladiator leapt forward. He managed to duck under the enormous blade, staggering to the side as he blocked the second bangaa’s blow. A hand fisted in his shirt and the blonde found himself shoved against the wall of the cave. Marche reversed his grip on his sword and stabbed down, smiling grimly as he heard the bangaa bellow in pain.

Marche landed hard on the floor of the cave, his ankle giving under him and felt a sickening pop from it. He collapsed with a cry, barely able to catch himself before he cracked his head on the stone. A foot slammed down on his injured hand and the young man screamed as he felt the bones break again. A foot caught him in the side, roughly turning him over. Marche gasped as the air was forced out of him, his bruised ribs giving under the force of the blow. A foot pressed down on his throat, just firmly enough to make it even more difficult to breathe. He coughed, good hand scrabbling for a grip on the boot, weakly jerking as he tried to yank the foot off. A hand pushed down on his knee as he flailed, and a leg pressed into his gut, roughly pinning him to the floor.

“Gimmie that beam there! Fuckin’ teach this runt a lesson.”

Something heavy slammed down onto his leg, and pain flared. Marche managed to strangle out a scream from behind the pressure of the foot on his throat, feeling bones snap. The beating continued, the limb now a mangled mess, then the bangaa switched to his other leg. He screamed until his voice gave out, eyes blurry from tears and pain. Once they moved onto his feet, he could do nothing more than twitch in their hold. The bodies on him lifted, and someone knelt down next to his head. A hand wove itself almost gently into his hair, stroking through the dirty, blonde strands.

“You scream beautifully. That almost makes your price drop bearable.” The body next to him shifted, now straddling over his stomach. His arms were pulled down, knees pinning them to the floor and two hands were planted on his shoulders, firmly pushing Marche down against the rough cave floor. Marche could feel tugging on the ragged shirt he wore, the cloth cut away from his body. Something dug into his chest, a blade digging in deep. Marche tried to scream, to pull away, too weak to even thrash under the man as the blade lifted and cut, over and over each other. A pattern emerged from the wounds, a rough image of a snake eating its tail.

“There. Now whoever buys you will know that Clan Uroborus caught you. That will scar over, even with a Priest healing it.” The weight on him lifted. “Lets move.”

Marche felt the hands shift underneath him, pulling him up. He felt two bodies on either side of him again, arms under his as he was again dragged forward, his feet catching painfully on the uneven ground.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Olgan felt the exhaustion in his limbs as he fought to keep up with Xia. There was an eerie glow from the stones, casting a dim greenish light around them. It wasn’t the best light to see by, but it was enough that they could move without tripping. They didn’t dare take torches with them, as it would give away their position to Clan Uroborus. Xia was ahead of them, carefully but quickly leading them through a set of caves he hadn’t known about. Erika was at her heels, her greatbow ready for either their enemy or Xia, should the other viera lead them into a trap. He shuddered at the thought of his apprentice being taken down like that.

He still considered her his apprentice, and he knew that the others would believe him crazed if they knew. But he couldn’t help but feel a kinship with her, and was felt fitting that he’d gained an apprentice that had also been of Clan Uroborus. He was certain that all she’d told them was nothing less than the truth. There was no reason for her to lie, not with the protection of the Order keeping Clan Ragnarok from attacking her while in the church. And by claiming sanctuary, she would have also been protected from Clan Uroborus if she had stayed put. She was smarter than he was in that regard. Olgan never claimed sanctuary, he simply fled the Jagd.

The mage felt a hand grab him and pull him to a harsh stop. Olgan stumbled and found himself dangerously close to a sheer drop to his right. He jerked backwards and found himself pressing his back into Kemal’s chest. Olgan jumped and quickly pulled away, wishing he could control his reactions in regards of the fighter. The Kemal’s eyes were sad, but the fighter gave him a tight smile. The mage flushed looked away quickly, slowly realizing that they’d all stopped. Xia and Erika were further ahead and their ears were twitching, swiveling as they listened to something only they could hear.

“Stop woolgathering, Olgan,” Kemal murmured to the mage, pitching his voice extremely low so as to not disturb what the viera were doing. It still earned the fighter a glare from Erika. “Sorry, Erika.”

Xia waved them back into the tunnel they’d exited, eyes fixed on a lower level of the cavern they were now in. The cave was comprised of a series of odd terraces further beyond the sheer cliff Olgan had nearly gone over, the only way down from this point. Light was filtering in somewhere above them, possibly from a crack in the ceiling of the cave, and they all were blinking to adjust to the light. There was a tunnel at the base of the cavern and now Olgan was beginning to hear something echoing up to them.

“Quickly! Quickly, damn it! Pick him up if you have to!”

Kilov. That was Kilov. Olgan felt his heart leap into his throat. He once again bumped into Kemal as he tried to step back further. The last several days of having to contemplate his past, as well as the nightmares that he’d suffered while trying to heal, had wound Olgan as tight as he’d been when still of Clan Uroborus. The mage felt Kemal carefully settle his hands on his shoulders and he leaned back for a moment, eyes closing and allowing himself to enjoy the brief comfort the fighter was offering. When he opened them again, Olgan found Erika’s startled gaze on him, on Kemal, and felt himself flush. Kemal must have as noticed her gaze as well, because the warmth behind him pulled away swiftly.

“We need to find better cover, they’ll be here soon.” Xia whispered back at them, voice nearly too low to hear.

“I’ll make the first shot, that will be the signal for everyone to move,” Erika said, as she moved forward, Monteblanc following close behind. They settled on a higher terrace, their range being much greater with the viera’s bow and the moogle’s offensive magic.

The rest of the group nodded and began to scatter down to the lower terraces. Olgan found himself settling down behind Kemal as the fighter knelt down behind a large boulder. They were the closest to that entrance, and could see light from torches slowly drawing nearer, reflecting off the damp walls of the tunnel.

Kilov was the first to emerge, glancing quickly around before moving forward. Two gladiators followed, and Olgan couldn’t help but shiver. Those two would be difficult, Kemal was the only one of them who could take one of the bangaa on single handedly. Something was off about one of them, though. Olgan carefully leaned up and managed to glimpse a bloodied bandage crudely applied to the gladiator’s leg. The bangaa was limping, and Olgan wondered how the injury happened. At least it would put them at a slight advantage. Two soldiers moved slowly emerged after the two bangaa, a limp body sagging between them. Fear tightened in Olgan’s chest and throat as he took in the mangled, bloody form. Marche.

The blonde’s head sagged against his naked chest, blood smeared across flesh from a wound high up by his shoulder. Even from here, Olgan could hear the young man’s breath rattling, obviously struggling to even draw in air. His legs, however, those were the worst. Blood coated Marche’s legs, the white of bone poking through mangled flesh. All these wounds looked fresh, very fresh, and Olgan glanced at the wounded bangaa again. Marche must have been the cause of that injury to the gladiator, and Kilov had retaliated.

Kemal let out an angry hiss, stiffening as the group began to pull past them. Olgan laid a hand on the fighters back, hoping to stall the man from leaping to battle too soon. Kemal twisted slightly, giving the mage a grimace, but managed to settle back as the two soldiers pulled past. Olgan pulled Kemal’s blade from its sheathe slowly; he never had the time to even consider returning it to the other man. Olgan shrugged the slight pang of guilt away, shifting his footing as he readied himself for Erika’s attack.

The near silent whistle of an arrow was all the warning the enemy got, burying itself deep into the chest of one of the soldiers dragging Marche forward. The dead man dropped Marche, still staring dumbly at the arrow protruding from him, a hand clutching at it weakly. The other soldier was dragged down with the dead weight of the injured blonde, and Kemal clambered over the rock, charging towards the uninjured bangaa.

Olgan was only a step behind, and he hit the remaining soldier, tackling him to the side and away from Marche. Another arrow could be heard clattering against the stone of the cave, then another. It was rare for Erika to miss, and Olgan spared a glance up to where she and Monteblanc were.

The mage could hear laughter from Kilov as he saw more of Clan Uroborus emerge from the rocky terrain of the cavern. There were at least two more soldiers, several more viera and other humes, and a few of those high ranking black mages. Erika and Monteblanc were being forced from their position as the new enemy began to close in. Olgan bit back a curse as he was thrown from the man he pinned to the ground. The mage scrambled up, ducking under the wild swing of a sword, and charged forward again. He needed to get this one down so he could attend to Marche.

The soldier grunted as Olgan knocked his sword aside with a well timed flick of his blade. He used his momentum from his lunge to grab hold of the man’s shield arm, twisting around and pulling the arm with him. The soldier cried out as his arm was wrenched behind him, but was cut short as Olgan buried his dagger into the man’s throat. He jerked the blade to the side as the man gurgled and choked, opening the wound up further before kicking the dying man away.

Olgan turned and scrambled back to where Marche lay, dropping his blade to the cavern floor, and turned the young man over as carefully as he could. Marche’s eyes were open, but glazed and Olgan quickly felt at the blonde’s throat for a pulse, wincing at the heavily bruised skin he was pushing his fingers against. He breathed out a relieved sigh; while it was thready, there was a pulse. Olgan stiffened, feeling someone settle next to him, and tensed. His hand flicked out to release down to the knife he still had strapped to his arm, and nearly drove it into Xia.

“Oh, Kirin, what did they do?” the viera gasped, her hands carefully settling Marche’s legs into a straighter position. They quickly began to try to stop the bleeding and get Marche’s legs into some kind of order. The bones were shattered in the young man’s legs, and Xia let out a hiss as she wiped at the wound on Marche’s shoulder. An image had been carved into the skin, and Olgan felt his breath catch as he stared at Uroborus’ mark – a snake that was eating its own tail.

He shuddered and looked away, eyes shutting tightly closed. Olgan knew that mark too well, one having been carved into the soft skin of his inner thigh. Kilov had marked Marche as property. When Olgan finally opened his eyes to look up at Xia, he could see one of the black mages draw near from over her shoulder, hands weaving in a spell. He gasped out his own spell just in time to block the ice that shattered around them, the shield creating a near perfect dome of the cold shards as they slammed against the surface of the protection. The dome only reached halfway over them, and despite the shield, the air still dropped several degrees around them.

“Xia, stay with him! Set those bones as best you can!” He shouted to his apprentice, leaping to his feet and hands weaving light into his own patterns. Olgan knew that the spell would not be as effective, but at the very least it could provide a distraction. Electricity crackled as he triggered his spell, lightning dancing around the black mage before imploding. He clambered over the sharp ice, his old dagger tight in his grip as he rushed the stunned Shade Weaver. An explosion rocked him back before he could even get close, falling back onto the ice, dagger knocked from his grasp.

“Olgan!”

He winced at Xia’s shout, ears ringing. Olgan watched as she scrambled over to his side, arm flicking out towards the black mage. Olgan watched with amazement as he saw a small, almost delicate knife bury itself into the Shade Weaver’s body. Xia was dragging Olgan back past the ice even as the mage folded in on himself. As they cleared the top of the ice dome, she froze with a gasp. Olgan twisted around and stiffened. Kilov was smirking down at them, daggers drawn.

“Hello, Taleel. Darxia.”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Kemal jerked his blades from the body of the gladiator below him. His helmet was gone, knocked from his head early on in the battle by a well placed blow of the bangaa’s shield. He turned looking quickly for his next opponent, fear long since settled in him once he heard reinforcements for Clan Uroborus arrive. He froze as he heard a cry from below, whirling around and stiffening as he saw Kilov standing over Olgan. Xia was unmoving next to him, blood pooling around her body as she lay in a sprawl next to Marche.

Olgan was attempting to scramble back, away from the thief, but Kilov had a firm grip on the brunette’s hair. Kemal was moving before he could think, roaring with fury as he charged at the thief. He could see the man’s startled face, but then Kilov merely smirked and twisted the mage in his grip, blade now underneath Olgan’s chin. Blood welled underneath the knife, and Kemal jerked to a stop, feet crunching in swiftly melting ice. Olgan stared up at him, blue eyes terrified.

“Leave him alone, thief!” Kemal snarled, blades raising in threat. He could hear his teammates cries as they began to notice the predicament Olgan was in.

“Don’t move! You don’t want to be responsible for his death, do you?” Kilov smirked at the fighter. “Drop your weapons!”

The shout carried throughout the cavern, and all members of Clan Ragnarok froze. Kemal snarled, his hands tightening for a moment on his blades. He stared down at Olgan, the mage trembling in Kilov’s grip and his blue eyes were wide and filled with terror. With another snarl, the fighter dropped his swords, the metal clanging harshly on the stone. Kemal could hear the echo of his teammates doing the same. A soldier came up behind him, kicking the fighter behind the knees, forcing him down. The cold blade of a sword settled by his neck, a warning to stay down.

“How loyal. You should feel proud, Taleel. Tell me, do you think they’d care if they knew what you were? What I made you into?”

“K-Kilov, d-don’t –” Olgan stuttered, eyes closing tightly as Kilov laughed.

“What’s the matter, Taleel? Ashamed of your old Clan? You should feel proud of your past, you were on your way to being the best thief and black mage.” The thief jerked up on the brunette’s hair. “And you serviced me so well, I think if I’d bothered to sell you to one of the brothels, I’d make quite the profit.”

Olgan shook his head weakly, despite the blade still pressed against his throat. Kemal stared, not wanting to believe what the thief had said. Kilov couldn’t have been refering to that; he knew that Kilov had tortured Olgan in that sickening version of training, but not...not that. The man smirked, and knelt down behind the mage. The thief pressed his lips to Olgan’s throat, lapping at the blood trickling down before moving up and nibbling at an ear.

“Actually, I’ve missed you, Taleel. I’ve been thinking of taking you back into the Clan. You’ll have to be retrained, of course. Get all those noble ideals beaten out of you. And what I like has changed, so we’ll have to teach you how to service me properly again.”

Kilov let go of Olgan’s hair and reached underneath his cloak, pulling out a what looked to be a whip. The heavy, black leather weapon actually consisted of what looked to be several whips, the ends wrapped around sharp pieces of steel, glinting in the light. Kemal jerked, and attempted to move, to get to Olgan and pull the mage to safety. But the soldier behind him kicked him down, a foot planting on his back. The fighter growled, feeling his arms being jerked behind him, rope lashing his wrists together. He could hear angry shouting from above, the rest of his teammates apparently receiving the same treatment. The blade again rested on his neck.

“You bastard, don’t you dare touch him! I’ll kill you, I swear it! Do you hear me, Kilov?!” Kemal snarled at the theif, and Kilov merely glared at the fighter. The thief’s hateful gaze lingered a moment longer, before jerking his head at the soldier. Kemal continued to shout threats at the thief before a hand jerked his head up briefly by his hair. A piece of rope was forced past his lips and tied behind his head, effectively gagging the fighter.

“Now, now, behave all of you. I just changed my mind on killing you all. Since I can’t make a profit on that one,” Kilov snarled back at Marche’s still form, “I’m just going to have to sell the rest of you at Market as well. So, please, don’t fight. I can’t make money off of dead bodies.”

“No. No, let go. Let go!” Olgan’s terrified shout echoed in the cave, carrying over the lingering echoes of his Clan’s.

Kemal couldn’t see Olgan from his position on the floor, the ice still not melted enough to look across. There was the sounds of struggling, cloth shifting. The fighter flinched, teeth grinding into the rope as a harsh crack resounded through the cavern, and he could hear Olgan cry out. Kilov he could see, the thief’s arm bringing up the whip again, blood dripping off of the ends.

“Not quite right, Taleel. As prettily as you scream, I want to hear you beg.” Another crack of that horrible whip, but this time Olgan was silent, merely grunting from the pain. Two more cracks of the whip, but still the mage made hardly any sound.

“Oh? Grew a backbone, did you? I guess I’ll just have to move onto something that I know will make you beg.”

Kilov disappeared from Kemal’s view again, and there were more sounds of cloth being removed. The fighter could now see partially through the melting ice, and he snarled at what he could make out. Olgan had been shifted so he was kneeling on the floor, knees splayed apart, and his face shoved to the floor of the cave. From what it looked like, the brunette had his arms tied behind him, and his pants had been shoved down to pool around the mage’s knees.

“Stop! Don’t touch him! Olgan!” Erika was shouting above them, along with Monteblanc. Clearly they had a better vantage point than his. Kemal’s stomach lurched at the soft whimper Olgan let out. Kilov began to laugh again.

“This will be fun, Taleel. I know you’ve probably missed all my attention. Or did you fuck with some of your own tea–”

Kilov’s taunts were cut short, the thief clutching at the arrow buried in his shoulder.. Kemal stared as the thief staggered back, and began to struggle again. He could feel the blade lift from where it was kissing his throat and braced himself for the thrust. But there was shouting above them, and before the sword could continue it’s path to his death, Kemal could feel the foot planted on his back jerk. He rolled over as the foot left his back, staring at the arrow buried in the soldier’s chest as the man fell backwards.. Kemal wrenched his wrists in an attempt to free them, rope catching on his armor and pulling the knots tighter. A body landed hard next to him, and a hand gently rested on his shoulder. Kemal stared as Lilila smiled grimly down at him. Gavvar was running past them, taking off after a fleeing Kilov. The bangaa had managed to overtake the thief, blocking his path from the tunnel at the bottom of the cavern.

Kilov turned, now scrambling up the terraces in an attempt to reach the tunnels at the top. But Gavvar was right behind, and Kilov was slowed by his injury. The bangaa caught up with the leader of Clan Uroborus just as he reached the mouth of the tunnel that they’d used, grabbing hold of the man and spinning him around. The thief jerked in Gavvar’s grip, snarling despite his injuries and the clear threat in the bangaa that had a hold of him.

“Let go of me, you damn lizard!”

Gavvar bared his teeth at the insult, hissing dangerously, and purposely stalked to the edge of the cliff. The white monk dangled Kilov over the sheer drop, giving the man a shake.

“You hurt my friend. I never knew how much you hurt him until now. I should give you to him, let him take his revenge on you. But Taleel – no, Olgan isn’t in any condition to do that,” Gavvar’s snarling was nearly making his words unintelligible.

““You think I care about you or him, lizard?” the man snarled, despite the murderous look on Gavvar’s face. “He was nothing more that a pet, a thing for me to use!”

Kilov struggled in the bangaa’s grip, seemingly uncaring that he had nothing but air below him. One of the thief’s free hands flicked out, a blade appearing suddenly in his hand. He slashed at the white monk’s unprotected side, but the blade went wide as the thief jerked with a cry. A blade had buried itself into the Kilov’s back, a glint of steel against the green of the thief’s cape. Gavvar jerked back in surprise from both the thief’s attack and how the man had stiffened in his grip. The bangaa lost his hold on the man, dropping the thief over the cliff. Kilov’s body hit the base of the cliff with a sickening crunch.

Kemal stared at Kilov’s broken body as Lilila began to help him up, tugging at the rope gagging him. If the thief hadn’t been killed by the blade, then certainly the fall had. He twisted to look at where the the blade might have come from, recognizing it as the one Olgan had taken from him, and jerked in surprise. Darxia was panting from where she knelt beside Marche, arm still extended out from throwing her blade, other hand clenching at the wound in her side. Lilila gave the young viera a nod as she finally worked the knot in the gag loose. Kemal coughed, and wet his lips, tasting blood from where the harsh rope had dug into his mouth.

“Sorry it took us so long,” the fencer murmured, taking stock of the twisted and snarled rope around Kemal’s wrists before finally pulling a knife out to cut the fighter out of the rest of his bonds. Kemal scrambled to his feet. There were bangaa, viera, and humes all around, Clan Uroborus finally outnumbered for once. The fighter barely gave the chaos around him a glance as he scrambled over to Olgan.

Olgan was curled on his side, legs drawn up to his chest. The brunette was shaking, eyes shut tight. He jerked as Kemal knelt down next to him, eyes snapping open as he scrambled back. Blood was smeared on the ground, staining the robes that were pooled haphazardly at Olgan’s middle, held there only by the man’s belt. Kemal grimaced at seeing the old scars crisscrossing the ashen skin, knowing who must have given the mage those old wounds, and lifted his hands to where Olgan could see them. He felt Lilila push past him, kneeling by Darxia, the young viera panting she slumped back against the fencer.

“Olgan, it’s me. It’s Kemal. Please, let me untie you.”

“K-kemal?”

“Yes, Olgan, I need to untie you.”

Olgan nodded, his eyes finally beginning to focus on the fighter. Kemal carefully began undoing the ropes around the white mage’s wrists. Once he was free, Olgan sobbed and buried his face into Kemal’s chest, arms wrapping tightly around the fighter’s waist. Kemal hesitated, staring at the bloody, mangled flesh on the man’s back, not wanting to cause any more pain by returning the embrace. The mage’s robes had fallen loose around Olgan’s waist, hiding pale flesh and giving the man some modesty as his pants were still pooled at his knees.

“Olgan?” Lilila’s voice was gentle, and Kemal glanced up at the viera, startled that she’d used the mage’s newer name. At the church, both she and Gavvar had used Taleel whenever they were referring or talking to the brunette. Olgan also shifted, eyeing the fencer as she placed a hand on his head. “Xia is hurt, badly, and your friend needs help too. I’m sorry to ask this of you, but you are the only white mage we have right now.”

“You didn’t bring anyone?” Kemal stared at the viera as the din of battle finally began to die down. The fighter glanced up the terraces, a fierce gladness warming him as he realized many of Clan Uroborus were now either dead or severely wounded. Erika and Monteblanc were scrambling quickly down the terraces, faces pinched with worry.

“We couldn’t. All the white mages are bound by the Order’s law to not be involved in the fighting between two Clans in any Jagd. They can’t afford to.”

“Then how were you able to come?” Kemal snarled in frustration, Olgan shuddering against him in pain as the fighter finally tightened his arms around the mage.

“We renounced our vows with the Order! We couldn’t let you all die down here,” Lilila was nearly yelling back.

“You what?” Olgan demanded, seeming to gather himself finally, pushing away from Kemal and staring at the viera. “What about the safehouse? You shouldn’t have left it unprotected!”

“There are still guardians at the church, all of us here made sure of that. We left because it was the only way we could come after you all. You’re our friend, Olgan. We knew we couldn’t just stand by and let you be hurt again, not anymore,” Lilila stated, rubbing her hand over Olgan’s hair. “I hate to to ask you to push yourself when you have injuries of your own, but you are the only one who can heal right now. Xia has nothing left of her reserves, and all the energies are too deep for her to tap into.”

Kemal wanted to snarl at the viera, shout that Olgan was in no condition to do anything. But his eyes landed on Marche, on Darxia. Indecision wracked the fighter; he wanted them to be healed, but he also didn’t want the mage to hurt himself trying to access his magic. He could feel Olgan push even further away, a spell already murmuring out of the mage. As close as the two were right now, Kemal could feel the magic settling on Olgan, and he watched as the wounds on the man slowly begin to close. He helped Olgan pull his pants up, then the robes. The mage’s hands were shaking still, despite how calm his face was now. Kemal frowned at the mask the other man had pulled back on, trying to hide from the situation they’d been in.

Olgan stumbled to Darxia, hands over hers as he began to chant. White light flowed over his hands, bright and clear, the spell Olgan was using clearly of a higher level than whatever he’d used on himself. Darxia sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Both sets of hands lifted, and Kemal could see unbroken, unscarred skin through the jagged tear in her robes.

“Are you alright?” Erika moved forward, gently pulling the still dazed viera aside. Darxia nodded, staring wide eyed at her mentor. Kemal couldn’t help but stare at where her wound had been. The level of healing that Olgan had used on her was only capable by the highest level white mages or Priests. Monteblanc had also moved forward to assess Darxia’s condition, carefully examining the healing Olgan had accomplished. Kemal shook his head in amazement. When had Olgan gotten so strong? And the white mage had to be running on pure adrenaline now, so it couldn’t – shouldn’t be possible. Was this always the level of skill the brunette had? Was it something he’d simply kept secret from them because he hadn’t wanted anyone to figure out who he was? Kemal watched as Olgan now settled his hands on Marche, slowly assessing the damage of their leader.

“I can’t heal him here. He’s hurt too severely. Give me a potion, highest quality you have,” Olgan demanded, voice shaking with pain and exhaustion. “That should stabilize him long enough to get him back to the church.”

Gavvar had finally come down from the higher levels, and was there just in time to hear the order from the mage. He dug through the many pouches at his belt and slapped one into Olgan’s waiting hand. Kemal moved forward, helping the mage pull Marche up into a more upright position, carefully tipping the blonde’s head back as Olgan worked the stopper out of the vial. Marche groaned with pain and coughed as the potion was carefully poured into his mouth. It took some time, with the now semi-conscious blonde writhing in their hold, but eventually the entire potion was in their wounded leader.

“Here, let me carry him,” Gavvar said, gently maneuvering around Kemal and Olgan, lifting and cradling the young man in his arms. Marche moaned in pain, but otherwise lay still. Kemal helped Olgan to his feet, wrapping an arm around the trembling mage’s waist, slinging the man’s arm over his shoulders. Erika was helping Darxia to stand, and all around the defected Order guardians were helping the tiny Clan Ragnarok back up the cavern and through the tunnels.

“C’mon, Olgan. Let’s get back and get you healed fully.” Kemal gave the mage in his hold a weak smile, and began the trek back to the surface.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Marche woke, dazed and blessedly numb. He was laying on a soft bed, thick comforters piled up atop of him. He blinked up at the unfamiliar ceiling, wondering where he was. Light was spilling through the soft curtains at the window, warming the cold feel of the stark white walls. He turned his head, staring briefly at the clouds drifting by.

A light thumping tore his attention away from the window, and he lazily turned his head towards the noise, eyes fluttering closed a moment as the room wobbled crazily. As everything finally righted itself, Marche could see Erika, along with Monteblanc and an huge white...mage...? When had white mages started looking like oversized fighters...? There was a booming laugh, emerging from the mage he’d been contemplating, and Marche could see Monteblanc laughing as well. Erika smiled down at him, her veil fluttering as she set a tray filled with food on the table by the bed.

“No, boy, I’ve long since renounced that path. I haven’t trained for fighting in a long, long time.” Marche stared at the mage talking to him, slowly working what was being said, and began to flush. He’d said that out loud.

“–ssry. Din min tht.” Marche frowned at the words slurring out of him, eyebrows creasing together as he tried to piece his thoughts into some kind of order. The mage laughed again, and settled on a stool next to the bed. He laid a hand gently on Marche’s head, and the blonde could feel energy flowing through to him. He closed his eyes at the peaceful feeling, and his head cleared a bit.

“I’ve lifted what I dare to, but you’re still heavily drugged, I’m afraid. Your legs are mangled, many of the bones were broken to a point I had feared you wouldn’t heal properly. But we managed to get you straightened out, and now it’s just the waiting game for those bones to set. All the drugs are to keep you from feeling too much pain,” The man lifted his hand as he finished his explanation. “Now, are you feeling a little more lucid?”

Marche shook his head a little, and nodded when the room failed to spin around him. He tried to lever himself up, but was pushed back firmly.

“Wait, wait. I don’t want you to be moving by yourself yet. We don’t dare jostle those legs of yours too much. We are speeding the process as fast as we can with magic, but you’ll have to have help if you want to sit up.”

Marche sighed, but settled back. The mage carefully pulled down the covers, and the young man shivered at the cool air. He was dressed in a thin, enormous shirt and shorts. His legs were encased in strange wooden casts, clamped in place with bands of metal. Marche was carefully lifted and Monteblanc quickly moved pillows behind him. The blonde gripped weakly at the mage’s arms, closing his eyes as he was gently settled back down. The blankets were pulled back up around his waist, tucked carefully in around him.

“Wh-ho’r you? How long’ve I ben alseep?” Marche mumbled, his speech much clearer than before. He blinked tiredly at the large man as the Priest settled back down on the stool.

“Ah, how rude of me. I am Matius, head Priest of this church and safehouse. And you’ve been in and out for nearly two weeks now.”

Marche blinked, staring dumbly. Matius smiled at the blank look, knowing he’d be peppered with questions by the young leader once he had healed further. Monteblanc had seen fit to warn the Priest of the near insatiable curiosity of their Clan leader, and how the young man couldn’t seem to sit still for very long. The knowledge of having been bedridden for that long was probably bothering Marche even through the thick haze of drugs he was under. And by how the young man was currently twitching, it would only get worse as he healed and the drugs lessened.

The mage turned and picked a spoon and bowl off the tray. Marche wanted to reach for the food, but when he raised his hands, they were shaking almost violently. He stared at the harsh trembling, tears of frustration welling at the corners of his eyes. He dimly remembered why he couldn’t move, the feel of arms pinning him down, and laughter in his ears as he’d screamed. A whimper strangled out, tears now spilling down. But then Monteblanc was there, carefully sitting on the side of the bed, taking the blonde’s hands into his own. Erika carefully squeezed in on the other side, gently wrapping her arms around him. Matius pulled away, allowing the two Clan members to comfort their friend.

“Marche! Marche, it’s okay,” Erika whispered into the blonde’s hair, gently smoothing the long strands out. He sobbed, eyes shut tight as the memories were surfacing faster, the last several days Marche could remember burning away the drugs a little more as adrenaline surged. His breath was beginning to quicken, coming in sharp pants as fear began to take hold.

“Hey, hey. Marche, c’mon, look at me,” Monteblanc was placing a hand on the side of his face, forcing Marche to focus on the moogle. “You’re safe. Clan Uroborus is gone, that psycho thief is dead.”

The words weren’t quite registering, and he felt the arms around his shoulders tighten, a hand coming up and cupping the opposite side of his face. Marche hissed out a breath as a thumb carefully swiped the tear tracks away, repeating the process over and over as he continued to sob. Slowly, he managed to calm, Monteblanc and Erika’s low voices a soothing comfort in his ears.

“You don’t have to push yourself, Marche. We’re here, you’re safe. Let us help,” the moogle was murmuring, gently stroking his friend’s hands. Marche nodded weakly at Monteblanc, glancing briefly at Erika. He flushed as Matius slowly scooted forward again, the Priest lifted the bowl to where he could see it.

“Do you think you’re ready for some food? I don’t want to skip getting something in your stomach, but we can wait a bit if you want.” The Priest’s offer was tempting. Marche wanted nothing more than to be left alone with his friends, to go back to sleep and forget everything. But the smell of the broth was making a pained ache in him, and he slowly shook his head.

“N-no, ‘ll try to e-eat somthin. Hngry,” Marche stuttered. He could feel Erika begin to pull away, but he grabbed hold of her arms before she could leave. “S-stay?”

Erika nodded, and carefully arranged herself behind the blonde, pushing some pillows aside as she took their spot. Marche settled back against her, one hand still clenched weakly around one of her arms, the other in Monteblanc’s hand. The leader of Clan Ragnarok sighed, and began to eat slowly. His recovery had begun.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Olgan woke to the feeling of arms around him, the room still dark. He blinked around blearily, confused and only just able to pick out the room from the moonlight filtering through the window. He stiffened at the feel of warm breath ghosting across his neck. Heart hammering in his chest, he lay there frozen, confused and panic curling in his gut. The mage shifted, trying to disengage from the firm hold. But the body behind him merely mumbled, arms tightening and pulled him in tighter, closer to the other.

“...s’too early. Go back to sleep.”

Kemal. Olgan groaned, his fear easing somewhat, lifting a hand and rubbing over his face. After he’d finally managed to escape from the healing wings, Kemal had firmly taken him to the rooms their Clan had been given. The fighter had quickly herded the mage into one of the rooms, sat the mage on one of the two beds, and stated that the two would be rooming together. Kemal’s voice had been hard when Olgan protested.

“I’m not taking any more chances with you. I know that they put you into that windowless room of yours in the healing wing to keep you from running away. That isn’t possible in this part of the building.” The fighter had gestured harshly at the large window overlooking the courtyard. “I promised myse–Gavvar and the others that I’d keep an eye on you.”

The man had then made himself an absolute nuisance of himself the past two weeks. Olgan was already feeling trapped, both from Kemal’s hovering, and the rest of the Clan constantly checking up on him. All the attention was unnerving and he wished that they would stop. He didn’t want to be treated like this, and Olgan doubted that it was out of any real concern. Ragnarok was simply boing though the motions out of guilt.

Olgan knew he was being unfair, but his nerves had been wound so tight. And then when he’d been caught by Kilov, it was like he’d never left the Jagd. He was too weak, and hadn’t been able to save Marche before he was hurt. Then he wasn’t able to heal him there in the caves. He’d never felt so helpless as he had then, and Olgan began to doubt himself. He wasn’t worth anything – not as a person, and because of that, he definitely couldn’t be considered as member of the Order of Kirin. What good was a white mage that couldn’t heal?

Those feelings of worthlessness compounded on themselves as Matius was refusing to allow him to help Marche. The Priest so far hadn’t explained why, and to Olgan, that simply confirmed his fears that he was a worthless white mage. It didn’t help that Xia was allowed into the rooms, though she also had a guard on her at all times. The Clan hadn’t completely forgiven her for what she’d done to them, but the final decision would be up to Marche when he was coherent enough to return to his leadership of the Clan.

“Kemal,” Olgan muttered, shaking the thoughts away as best as he could. He elbowed Kilov in what he assumed to be the man’s stomach, but it merely earned him another sleepy mumble. Olgan’s irritation at the fighter grew. “Damn it, you have your own bed. Get off me.”

“What? Oh.” The arms loosened slightly, and Olgan rolled over, determined to shove the fighter completely off the bed. He looked up to glare at the man, but found himself staring at the other’s smiling face. Olgan flushed, dropping his gaze from the still sleepy man’s face, hesitating with his hands placed on the fighter’s...bare chest? Olgan jerked his hands away, and Kemal chuckled, sitting up with a stretch. Olgan blinked up at the man, catching himself staring at Kemal’s muscular form. He flushed again a buried his face into his pillow with a groan. The bed shifted, weight lifting from the side as Kemal stood. Olgan could hear the man pad to the other bed and settle down.

“What were you doing in my bed?” His words were muffled by the pillow, more to himself than to Kemal.

“You were crying out in your sleep. This is the first time I actually had to resort to climbing in next to you though. Sorry if I startled you.”

“What?” Olgan lifted his head to stare at the fighter sitting on the edge of the other bed. The man was staring at him, leaning forward with his arms crossed and braced against his knees.

“You’ve been having nightmares these last two weeks. I’ve been able to get you to settle a couple of times, but tonight was worse.”

Olgan knew that he’d been having trouble sleeping due to the same nightmare over and over again. He dreamt that Kilov had succeeded with taking Marche and Clan Ragnarok to the Market, and forced him to watch as they were all sold off. Kilov would then take him back into those caves and begin the “training” the thief had planned. His memories of all the torture Kilov had ever inflicted on him gave the dreams almost a sense of reality to them.

“Sorry that I’ve been disturbing you,” Olgan mumbled, once again burying his face into the bed. He and Kemal had danced around each other the last couple of weeks. Well, more like Olgan had tried to avoid the fighter, while Kemal hovered as much as he could. Olgan flushed at the memory of the kiss all those weeks ago, and shook his head in denial. The fighter probably only pitied him, and that kiss, as well as the overprotective stalking, were the result of that. Anger threaded through him, he didn’t want to receive the other man’s attentions just because Kemal felt sorry for him. He wanted Kemal, had wanted him for so long, but not like that. Not because of pity.

“What? No, Olgan. I wasn’t complaining. Your past –”

“Stop,” Olgan snapped, pushing himself up on the bed. Kemal straightened, eyes wide and startled.

“You can’t possibly understand what I’ve been through. Don’t talk to me like you know who I am! I don’t want or need your pity, so stop forcing yourself to pretend!” Olgan snarled, seeing the fighter open his mouth to respond. He looked down, not wanting to see the fighter anymore, to listen to any more lies. “Just leave me alone! I’m nothing, you don’t need to pretend that I am! Just a broken piece of filth, and you’re wasting your time on me. So just – just go away.”

“Hey.” A hand gently settled on his shoulder, and Olgan jerked from the touch. Tears were pouring down his face. When had he started crying? He wished his control hadn’t been shaken so much the last few weeks. He wished he could just keep the charade of indifference and calm that he’d had before that disastrous job in that canyon. Arms wrapped around him, tightening despite how violently he struggled to free himself.

“Olgan, calm down. I don’t think that of you, and you shouldn’t think that of yourself! You can’t let that bastard win. You’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever had the chance to meet. You’re kind and strong, and the best mage I’ve ever met, both of the Shade Weavers and the Order.”

“You’re lying. Go away. Leave me alone,” Olgan sobbed, pushing at Kemal, wishing he was stronger than the man. “Please.”

“No. I won’t. I’ll always be here for you Olgan. I’m going to stay until you start believing what I’m telling you.”

Olgan gave one final shove, before sagging into Kemal’s hold. A hand settled on his head, gently stroking through his hair. He sobbed again and buried his face into the fighter’s neck, now wrapping his arms tightly around the man. Kemal’s arms tightened in response. But Olgan couldn’t quite bring himself to believe Kemal, that the fighter actually thought that about him...but then why would Kemal then put all that effort into trying to help if he didn’t care?

“Why?” Olgan wailed into Kemal’s shoulder. “Why do you care about me?”

“Because I do. I care about you because you’re you, Olgan. You’re not what that bastard thought he made you into. You’re better than him, you’re better than me.” Kemal pulled back, gently tipping the mage’s face up, and Olgan felt frozen. The man’s brown eyes were nearly black in the dim light, but he couldn’t look away.

Olgan blamed the stress and the poor sleep he’d gotten from all his nightmares. He leaned in and desperately sealed his lips over the fighter’s. Kemal gave a startled grunt, but didn’t move, didn’t pull back or try to deepen the kiss. Olgan whimpered, shifting closer, trying to get the man to respond. Olgan finally pulled back, licking his lips and ducking his head.

“Olgan. Olgan, look at me,” Kemal murmured. Olgan shook his head and tried to shift further back but was stopped again by Kemal’s hand under his chin. This time, he refused to make eye contact with the fighter. “I don’t want you to do this because you think you should. It’s not about what I want. This is about what you want, and I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do. If you truly wish for me to leave, then I will.”

The mage felt the arms finally loosen around him. He shivered. What he wanted? He’d never been given a choice before. Never let anyone give him a choice. His few encounters with sex after escaping from the Jagd had been with people who simply assumed that he’d desired them. And he’d always let them, it was easier when there wasn’t another option. Uncertainty trickled through him. Kemal was giving him a choice.

They sat like that for a long moment. Kemal sighed, resting his forehead briefly on Olgan’s. Then he was pulling away, warmth leaving and that panicked feeling in Olgan’s gut grew.

“Don’t worry, it’s okay. I won’t bother you about this anymo–”

Olgan grabbed hold of Kemal, pulling him back and crushed their mouths together, winding a hand to the back of the fighter’s head. Kemal gasped at the near violence, and the Olan took the opportunity to delve into Kemal’s mouth. His movements were jerky, desperate, and when Kemal responded, tongue gently stroking against his, Olgan felt hope begin to settle the panic. They were forced to break apart for air, and Kemal stared down at the mage.

“Don’t go. Please. I want this,” Olgan could hear himself stammering, “I—I’m tired of being alone. I want this, want you. I’ve wanted you for a long time, but...”

“If you say that you aren’t worth the effort, then stop right there.” Kemal leaned in and gently kissed him, one hand gently moving down to the small of his back, pulling him close. “You’re worth it, all of you is worth it.”

Olgan flushed, never having received the attention and care that Kemal was giving him. He moaned as Kemal began kissing down his neck, holding him carefully as if he were made of glass. The fighter gently pushed him back, carefully settling them down on the bed as he gently began to work the mage’s tunic up and off. Olgan flushed with shame as the shirt was thrown to the head of the bed, his scars exposed for the other to see. He never liked being stared at because of them.

Kemal was smiling at him though, and he gasped as one hand traced across one of the larger scars. Fingertips began ghosting over his body, followed by the man’s warm mouth, licking and sucking at each imperfection, each scar. Olgan shifted, not quite certain how to respond to the attention. Kilov, while he loved to hurt him, ignored the scars, never paid them any attention. The thief had been more interested in the blood, rather than what the wounds would become. And his other partners had given him those pitying looks, then ignored them as well, as if their indifference would make the scars go away. Some even left, unwilling to lie with someone as broken as he was.

But Kemal...Kemal was deliberately paying attention to them, and each stroke made Olgan squirm. He arched up with a gasp, grinding into the man above him, wanting the fighter to both stop and continue.

“You’re beautiful,” Kemal was whispering into his skin, as if he could hear the mage’s chaotic thoughts. “These aren’t ugly, they’re a part of you, and they show how strong you are.”

Tears were falling again, and he grabbed hold of Kemal, pulling him up and kissing the fighter fiercely again. He began tugging at the older man’s shorts, feeling his own underclothes being pulled down as well. He gasped as he was freed, penis twitching at the cool air of the room. Olgan moaned as a calloused hand wrapped around him, hands tightening on the other’s shorts, forgetting exactly what he was doing. Kemal broke the kiss, and smiled, finishing unlacing his shorts and pulling off Olgan’s, throwing them both over the side of the bed. He began kissing down Olgan’s chest again, and latched onto a nipple. Olgan jerked with a cry, writhing as the fighter began gently fondling him, nibbling at his flesh.

The kisses trailed lower and the mage froze as he felt breath ghost over his member. Olgan pushed himself onto his elbows, staring unbelieving at the man. Kemal pulled at the erection, then lowered his head and licked slowly across the tip. The brunette jerked with a cry, eyes fluttering closed and slumping back against the bed. The fighter’s mouth licked and sucked gently down his length, and he couldn’t help rolling his hips up, wanting more. Kemal obliged, swiping a long path back up to the top, then wrapped his lips around the head of the mage’s cock and descended again.

Olgan began shaking his head, gripping at dark hair as the other man began to suck. His hips thrust of their own volition, wanting desperately to go deeper into the heat that engulfed him. He was close, so very close, but he didn’t want this to end here.

“Oh, please, pleasewaitplease! Kemal!”

The fighter allowed Olgan to pull him up, releasing the member with a pop. Kemal smiled up from his position between the mage’s legs, settling his arms underneath Olgans knees and pushing them up. Olgan allowed the movement, blinking dazedly at the man.

“In the side table,” Kemal nodded at the table in question, “there should be that salve you’ve been using for those scars on your back. Get it for me?”

Olgan’s hands scrabbled at the table, pulling open the drawer and lifting the jar out. He gave it to Kemal with a shaking hand. Kemal smiled and carefully settled the jar beside him, cocooning it in the blankets to keep it from spilling. Olgan watched nervously as the man opened it and dipped his fingers into the concoction, then returned to kiss up the brunette’s thigh. A cool finger gently pressed against him, circling around his puckered entrance. He wanted this, ached for it, but couldn’t help but tense.

“Relax for me, Olgan. I won’t go any faster than you want me to.”

Kemal was being infinitely patient with him. Olgan knew that, and he forced his body to relax. The finger circled several times more, before gently pushing in. Olgan whimpered at the sting, shifting underneath the fighter. He tried to stay relaxed as Kemal gently probed, delving deeper and deeper, searching for something. He slowly relaxed, growing used to the intrusion. Kemal was returning to kiss and lick at his cock, and he jerked as the man latched at the base and sucked at the skin there.

The finger withdrew, but Olgan didn’t notice until a second was gently pushing in with the first. He hissed, the sting much greater now, and he began to squirm away. He never liked the preparation, and hardly received it when Kilov had him. The memory of how the thief would take him made the mage shudder, eyes squeezing shut and his erection wilting a little. Kemal glanced up, and pulled his hand free, carefully moving up and resting his forehead on Olgan’s.

“We don’t have to do this now.”

“No, I’m okay...Please don’t stop,” Olgan managed. He shook his head, leaning in to kiss the man, placing his hands on the sides of Kemal’s face and pulling him in. He rocked his hips up, grinding against the hardness pressed against his own. Kemal moaned, and returned the favor, having better leverage to push down harder against the mage.

A hand squirmed underneath him, and he felt the press of fingers against his entrance again. Olgan gasped as he was pushed into, the digits curling and twisting to open him up. He groaned, thrusting up against Kemal’s erection. The hand left again, and when it returned, three fingers were gently massaging against him, coaxing his body to open up. Kemal continued to thrust his fingers gently, still seeming to search for something.

“What...what are you –!” Olgan broke off with a gasp, arching up and shuddering in confusion and pleasure. There was something the man had found, was pressing down on, and it made spots dance behind his eyelids. Kemal chuckled, kissing down the side of Olgan’s face and nibbled at the skin under his ear.

“I was looking for that. I had a feeling that no one ever showed you that spot before, hmm?” The words were a breathy whisper in his ear, and he could do nothing more than shake his head as the fighter continued to massage the spot. He clenched down, no longer feeling any pain as he tried to get more of the man inside.

“Ah--! Please! Ke-Kemal! Need you, needyou-please!”

He didn’t know what he was saying anymore, and he couldn’t bring himself to care, only wanting the larger man to take him. He’d never felt like this, out of all the experiences he’d had, this was something new. Olgan felt Kemal push up and off, withdrawing his hand. He stared lazily as the fighter dipped a hand in the jar again, and took his own reddened cock in hand. Kemal stroked a couple of times, and then leaned forward, carefully positioning against Olgan’s entrance.

“Are you ready?” Kemal asked, bracing himself, hands on the mage’s hips, and their eyes locking on each other. Olgan nodded, shimmying up and wrapping his legs around Kemal’s waist, feeling the man shift his legs underneath so his back was resting somewhat on the fighter’s thighs. He pushed up slightly, feeling himself give under the pressure.

Kemal pressed forward, and Olgan hissed at the slight burn. The pressure didn’t stop, kept sliding forward until their hips met. Olgan panted, unused to the warmth and gentleness that Kemal was showing him. The feeling of fullness was familiar, but the fact that he wasn’t being pounded into immediately was unsettling.

“Move...please,” he gasped, “I’ll be—fine. Move.”

Kemal nodded, rocking slowly back and forth. Olgan felt his hands tangle in the sheets, gasping as he was driven into. He began to thrust back, trying to encourage the man to go faster, needing more.

“Ah, faster, please!”

Kemal groaned, and leaned forward, his own hand tangling with Olgan’s, other hand planted next to the mage’s head. The thrusts quickened, and Olgan gasped as the changed angle made Kemal brush up against that spot. He moaned, jerking his hips up desperately, driving himself even faster on Kemal. Olgan gripped the other’s hand, tightening unconsciously on the Kemal’s cock. Kemal gasped and began to grind harder into him.

They writhed together, but soon the position they were in became uncomfortable, and Kemal pulled out. Olgan whimpered at the loss, and blinked up at the man. The fighter pulled Olgan up and onto his lap, the mage straddling him. The brunette groaned as he felt Kemal press against him again and rocked his hips down. The entry was smoother this time, pleasure overriding any discomfort he might have felt. He began to rock himself against Kemal’s stomach, and suckled at the fighter’s neck. His movements were jerky and fast, wanting desperately to reach the end, and with each thrust down Kemal hit that spot. They were close, he could feel Kemal’s hips stuttering, bucking up almost violently.

Kemal pulled back and pulled Olgan into another kiss, his hand slipping between them and wrapping around the mage’s arousal. Olgan moaned, arms winding around the fighter’s shoulders, hands burying in the dark hair. Kemal’s hand tightened minutely around him, and that was enough. Olgan jerked with a cry, thrusting up into that pressure, spattering their chests as he came. Kemal continued to thrust into him, breaking free of their kiss as Olgan stiffened. He ground up against the pale brunette, shuddering and releasing inside with a moan.

They sat like that, twitching and shuddering against each other, not wanting to move. Olgan sighed as he felt Kemal slip free, and allowed the fighter to settle them down on the bed. The man fumbled for something, and felt the cool surface of the jar of salve briefly brush against his skin as Kemal reached over and set it on the table. A moment later Olgan could feel cloth gently wiping at him and he blinked. Kemal grinned at his tired gaze, realization dawning on him that the man was using his discarded shirt to clean them up.

“You couldn’t...have found something else?”

“This was the closest thing at hand.”

Olgan sighed and shifted against the man, wriggling to pull the covers out from underneath them. Kemal pulled him close as the pale mage drew the freed covers over them both. Olgan allowed himself to be gently settled against the man’s chest, sighing and slipping into sleep.

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Kemal woke at dawn, blinking and wondering why the room looked different. He felt something in his arms squirm, and stared down at messy brown hair. Olgan. They’d...oh.

Kemal smiled, grin nearly taking up his face as he took in the slumbering brunette. Olgan twitched, mumbling in his sleep and burrowed deeper into the fighter’s arms, one arm flung over Kemal’s waist. He lifted a hand and brushed hair out of the smaller man’s face. He wanted to stay like this, it was peaceful, and if anything there was anything he’d learned about Olgan, it was that the man had hardly any kindness or peace in his life. He wanted to change that.

“I said that I’d be here for you, Olgan, and I meant it,” Kemal whispered, burrowing his nose into the brunette’s soft hair.

“You did...?” the mage whispered back and slowly opened his eyes. Kemal tightened his hold, startled that the other was awake. Olgan pulled back, his sleepy blue eyes glancing almost shyly up at him. Kemal couldn’t help but smile. Not just handsome, but cute too.

“I have no reason to lie. Not to you.”

This made the mage’s flush deepen, and those blue eyes flickered away. Kemal chuckled lightly at the flustered man in his arms, leaning in and catching the other’s mouth. He gently licked at the pale brunette’s lips, and pulled the mage even more flush against him as Olgan shyly opened up and returned the kiss.

Kemal had waited and watched for those two long weeks, seeing the mage isolate himself from everyone, and it was hurt to see Olgan torture himself. And then hearing the man writhe at night from the nightmares. He’d been able to soothe the terrors away with a touch, but it never lasted long. Kemal found that the longer he stayed with Olgan, the longer the man would sleep undisturbed.

Last night had been bad, Olgan’s thrashing and whimpering from the terrors that plagued his sleep finally too much for the fighter to bear. That was why he’d climbed in with him, Olgan settling almost instantly as Kemal gathered him into his arms. He was glad he had done so, and not because they’d coupled afterward. The attraction he held for the mage ran deeper than he’d originally thought, and Kemal knew that he’d be worthless to the Clan if ever he lost Olgan.

Kemal broke the kiss and gently nudged Olgan’s head with his own. Olgan smiled uncertainly at him.

“You mean it, you’ll stay?” Olan whispered, and Kemal smiled back. He knew that he’d be reassuring Olgan often of his intentions until the man finally began to believe it himself. There were a lot of things that they were going to have to overcome, but he was more than willing to take the time to help his mage.

“For as long as you’ll let me, love.”

~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~
Three months later...
~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~:~

Three Months Later

Marche smiled as they walked into their inn at Cyril. He was leaning heavily on Erika, needing support to stay upright, but he’d insisted on walking through the doors by himself. The blonde knew he still had a long ways to go before he was completely healed, but the magic was speeding the process along. Matius had told him that he needed to try to regain the muscles that had weakened from the extended bed rest. Marche didn’t argue with the orders. While he’d been healing, the knowledge that things were piling up, that the cities they’d been protecting backsliding into the hands of the crueler Clans, made him nearly climb the walls in frustration back at the church.

The inn was a welcome sight, and he could see the members of his Clan jumping to their feet as he walked forward. They’d sent word ahead of their return, but clearly they had been expecting him to be carried in. He laughed at their expressions, glancing past them to the feast they’d set up for his return. A familiar Nu Mou came forward, laughing and taking him from Erika.

“How are you feeling? I hope you don’t have the same reservations about me that your Clan had,” Ezel grinned up at the young man, carefully guiding him to one of the tables. Marche laughed, and shook his head at Ezel.

“No, Ezel. You’ve got some strange standards, but you’ve never led us into trouble deliberately,” Marche replied, earning another wide grin from the Nu Mou. They paused at the table groaning underneath the weight of the platters of food, and as he admired the sight, Marche could feel his legs finally beginning to tremble from the effort of staying up. Ezel patted his hand knowingly and dragged a chair towards the young Clan leader.

“I see that you’ve gained new recruits again,” Ezel stated as he gently steered Marche around to sit at the table. “You better come up with some money for the owner of this inn. He’s going to need to expand to keep up with your Clan and the customers he gets in.”

Marche nodded at the statement, allowing himself to be seated. He took in the new members of the Clan as they mingled with the old. Lililas and Gavvar were laughing, clearly enjoying the atmosphere they’d found themselves in. He was glad to have them, all of them skilled fighters and now good friends.

“I suppose you’re right,” Marche laughed, and felt Olgan kneel in front of him. He turned to his healer, the man gently pressing a potion into Marche’s hands even as his fingertips brushed against his forehead. The blonde felt the spell settle on him, the shivering feeling like ants on his skin. As the spell finished, Olgan stood and pulled up a chair. The white mage nodded at the potion Marche still held.

“Drink that, Marche. It won’t do you any good just sitting there in your hand,” Olgan ordered, even as Kemal took a seat beside him. Marche grimaced, but did as he was told, tipping the bitter drink back as quickly as he was able. Kemal grinned, then plopped a plate of food in front of him, gesturing at him to eat. Marche eagerly dug into the food, both hungry and wanting to get the awful taste of the potion out of his mouth. As he ate, Marche watched Kemal and Olgan as they conversed with the Clan. Both men had changed in the three months they’d been in Jagd Helje, with Olgan growing more assertive, and Kemal was calming down, no longer so quick to jump to conclusions as he used to.

Marche knew why, they all did, but it was something that was never brought up. The relationship the two had was fragile still, and the Clan respected them too much to discuss their private lives along with the rest of the gossip they threw around. Marche smiled as the two kept close to each other, almost unconsciously brushing and touching the other. The Clan that had stayed at Cyril to heal and recover were startled at the changes, confused and casting curious looks at the pair. Though, if he was honest, Marche knew that Olgan was receiving the glances mostly due to his new status.

Olgan had been upped to Master status in the Order of Kirin. His robes had gained the new braiding details on the edges of his sleeves and bottom of his robes and cloak. Matius had kept the man from using his abilities for nearly a month, refusing to even let him aid in healing Marche. Olgan had been depressed for weeks, until the Priest finally gained the time to explain the reasons to Olgan – the time was to allow Olgan to recover enough in order to take the assessment tests for the Order and take his place among the Masters. The level of skill that he’d apparently showed while healing Xia was an indicator that Olgan was ready to move up to the next level. Passing the tests he had been set had given Olgan his confidence back.

There was laughter behind him, and Marche turned to see Xia giggling at another new Clan member. She was laughing at a hume hunter, the young man looked somewhat tipsy, gesturing wildly and making comical faces at her. Marche smiled to himself. Xia had also come a long way. The young viera had been terrified of Marche, even as she helped with his healing. Marche had been quick to reassure Xia that he didn’t blame her for her actions, and made it clear to his Clan that he would not tolerate anyone harassing the young white mage. It had taken Xia a long time to realize that he meant what he’d said. Marche was glad that those members of his Clan in the Jagd had decided respect his decision. He didn’t want the Clan to have any friction between members. Marche knew that they still had to explain what had happened to the Clan members they’d left here in Cyril, and he had no doubt that there would be some backlash. But Marche had already assured Xia that he was going to support her. They’d come around.

Marche looked over the happy faces of his Clan as they celebrated. They all still had a long way to go, with the piles of work and missions to catch up with from both his absence and the Clan being split the way it had. Marche would put all his energy into doing so. It was the least he could do, after his Clan done so much for him. But Marche knew that he could count on his Clan, his friends, to help him set everything right.
 

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