Other [FanFic] Rose & Sunflower 2: Vox Arcana (Updates MWF) -Ch 51 [27 January] -COMPLETE

Discussion in 'Fan Works' started by Risukage, Oct 3, 2016.

  1. Gabaw

    Gabaw Scruffy Nerf-Herder

    I'm just gonna forget certain portions of this latest chapter ever happened :rofl: but a lot did happen and much was revealed! Never would have guessed even a portion of it all. It's good to know more about the wizard and how things came to be. also +1 for Brian Blessed character. Leo's easily one of my favs, kinda wish he was still around :p Yeah yeah, the whole 2-3 chapters of backstory and all explained it but still. Can't blame me right? Cool dude!
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    • Risukage

      Risukage Giant Laser Beams

      Heeee, I figured you'd get a total kick out of Leodegrance. I grinned the entire time I wrote his section. Hurrah for decent backstory, it feels good that everyone is getting a kick out of what I'm building. Though I will not apologize for Lys and Elliott being adorable and naughty together, they've been through a lot in a short amount of time and they have needs, darn it. :p
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      • Risukage

        Risukage Giant Laser Beams

        //*YAWN.* It's almost four thirty in the morning. I had this in mind but wasn't able to type it up because errands, chores, and other stuff got in the way. (Also, trying to finish stuff in Final Fantasy 14. AUGH, so close to Heavensward content!) Despite the late hour, I'm pleased with the content, and absolutely love the first half of this chapter. I am such trash, and I love it. :rofl://

        Reclining comfortably in one of the community center chairs during a break in practice, Lys checked the band forums on his phone and burst out laughing.

        "Oh my gods, this is amazing. Hey, have you been reading the forums?"

        "Comment sections give you brain cancer," Sebastian replied, checking another part of the band's site. Abigail was on the same part of the forums and cackled loudly.

        "Freakin' wow, this is great. There's enough ships here to call our own fleet." Sebastian regarded her with a pained look.

        "I don't want to know, but you're going to tell me anyway, aren't you?" Curious but confused, Elliott looked over Lys's shoulder, and his eyebrows went up in surprise.

        "Ah, well, I suppose that everyone needs a hobby." Sam looked up from making changes to the music in front of him.

        "What're people saying? I mean, I know we're awesome, but do they?"

        "Even better. They're convinced that I'm totally shagging at least one of you, but they're split on exactly who."

        "No way. That is hilarious, dude. So what's the rankings?"

        "The choices are almost as funny as the ship names. So far the polls are first with Sebastian and I as 'Scorched Earth.' You and I are second most popular as 'Electrical Burn,' Elliott and I are third with 'Frost Fire,' and with very few votes is Abby and I as 'Fire Storm.' This is just amazing, I can't stop laughing." He wiped tears from his eyes as Sam joined him in giggles, scrolling through a couple of threads.

        "There's a few votes for Sebby and I as 'Grounded,' I kinda like that. Oh wow, only two people think Sebby and Abby are a thing, 'Sand Storm.' What the... We've had three live shows and people are already doing fan art. Some of these are pretty good- ...Um, wow, that's... Hey, Elliott, is Lys really hung like that or is the artist being really generous?" Abigail had found the picture in question at the same time and showed it to Lys, who was now gasping for breath and holding onto the table for support. Continuing to read through, Abigail giggled madly.

        "So everyone assumes that you and Elliott are totally hooking up with someone. Oh my gods, he and I are 'Hurricane.' That's adorable. Ahh! He and Sebby are 'Ocean Shores,' I ship that so much!" Lys was now on the floor, holding his sides, and though he wasn't nearly as amused as his husband, Elliott chuckled heartily at the report.

        "I fear that we will ruin their fun at our next engagement, as the status of our relationship is quite evident if one is paying attention," he smiled, brushing the platinum ring on his left hand. Alex perked up at this and walked over.

        "Hey, if you wanna mess with them a bit I might be able to help."

        "You have something in mind? I am not above a bit of playful mischief if it shall further amuse our audience."

        "Yeah, gimmie your hand, I need to have a look at that ring." Complying with the athlete's request, he felt the tingle of Alex using his power on the ring, and heard Abigail try to smother another fit of giggles.

        "You are such a fujoshi," Sebastian sighed, which sparked further merriment.

        "What? Can't I appreciate hot men in close proximity?"

        "I'd ship it if I weren't already tapping part of it," Lys grinned, having finally recovered, "so what, they'd be 'Cold Steel?'"

        "YES. I love it. I feel the need to make fanart of my own friends, I am total trash." Haley was only partially paying attention, as she was scrolling through some of the art threads, eyes wide and cheeks red.

        "Oh my. These are...detailed... Um, they really need to label these threads better, or tag them properly."

        "Not it," Sebastian answered, and Sam burst into laughter again.

        "I've got dibs, then, I need to make a troll account just to mess with people."

        "And that is why I never gave you admin rights." Lys giggled again as he showed a few pictures to Elliott, who was not certain whether to be flattered or amused.

        "Looks like Rule 34 affects everything, even us. That didn't take long at all. Dang, that one's pretty good, I may have to commission them." Abigail pouted in mock offense at this.

        "Oh, so what, my art isn't good enough for you anymore?"

        "It's great, but it might be awkward asking you to draw something a bit more risqué," he replied, grinning broadly and shooting a glance at Sebastian, who was very pointedly trying to ignore them.

        "Will I be working from photos or do I get you two to model, 'cause that might be a deal-breaker," she grinned right back, which was the final straw to get her boyfriend to put his phone on the table, his hands over his ears, and groan loudly in frustration.

        "I don't need to hear any of this. Just...why..." Elliott kissed Lys on the cheek and took a chair next to him to look over the music and set list for their performance the next day.

        "I believe that it is time to wind down our shenanigans and get back to rehearsal before it gets too late. We do not have to be up terribly early yet it is in our best interests to be rested and hale for our audience."

        Lys paced back and forth, watched by his friends.

        "Dude, you're not going to be any help to him if you don't chill the hell out and step down. Your Empowered state draws crazy amounts of power."

        "I know. I know! But, at the same time... Damn it all, I know exactly how he felt when I disappeared, and I can't help but want this power, just to feel like I can do something..." Reluctantly, he dispelled his armor and dropped back to his Awakened state, sighing not only at the loss of power but increase in fear and frustration. Sebastian put a hand on his shoulder, being supportive and sympathetic.

        "This was nobody's fault, same as last time. Shit just happens. We'll get him back, too. The moment he's awake Haley will reach out to him and we can pop out to him. At least this time we can actively search for someone instead of passively waiting."

        "You're right as well. This waiting... I wonder, how did Elliott handle it?"

        "Not well, though not as well as you. He was deeply afraid for your safety. Just have patience. I know it's difficult, but-"

        "Elliott!" Haley gasped, lighting up with delight, "and he's alright." With a swirl of light, Elliott appeared in the middle of the group, smiling faintly.

        "That I am, lovely lady. My apologies for any worry that I may have caused, but as you can see I am undamaged and have been returned to the warm and loving embrace of my comrades." Lys sagged, feeling the weight of despair and fear fall from his shoulders, and strode over to hold him, when he noticed that something was a little strange about that smile... Raising his hand and opening the book that hung on the chain at his waist, Elliott focused and channeled, freezing everyone solid in thick blocks of ice. Only swift reflexes and his fire saved him from the fate of his friends, and he gaped at his husband.

        "Love! What in the hells are you doing?!" Elliott turned to him, that strange smile still hovering over his lips, and Lys saw that there was also something wrong with his eyes. They looked...empty... "No... You're... You're Reclaimed..." The smile gained a sharp edge as the corner of his lips quirked upward, in a mockery of human expression.

        "You are both brilliant and correct. Ah, what was it that this one called you? Mm, that's right, 'my dearest.' I can hear him screaming in my own mind, now that it is mine. Such a lovely voice, I look forward to hearing it beg me for mercy in the coming years. As for you, I shall not silence yours, I seek to add it to the chorus that we all sing in the name of the Echo." A cold chill crept over Lys, though it was not due to Elliott's power, and his knees gave out from under him.

        "No... My love, you..." The Reclaimed tilted his head to the side and regarded him with interest, and noticed the ring on his own left hand, which produced another smirk of amusement.

        "Oh yes, this strange custom that you light-walkers have. A promise made with shiny trinkets. How droll." He pulled off the ring to examine it before tossing it carelessly over his shoulder. The chains around his waist clinked against each other softly as he casually and slowly walked over to Lys, forming the familiar blade of ice. "I have orders to bring you back alive, but the given measure for it was not specified. As long as you draw breath the Echo can still implant you with a seed, so it is up to you the manner in which you meet your destiny."

        "I... I won't fight you."

        "I know that you won't. You haven't the courage. You gladly and gleefully throw yourself against any foe, but a friend? The Echo was incorrect in targeting you first; though it would have deprived the Chosen of a strong warrior, you proved too difficult to seed and wasted many resources. But Reclaiming your Water?" He laughed, a cold, empty sound. "We have taken your healing as well as your morale, and I will take you with me. Either get up off of your knees or die upon them, we must be away and I'm so delightfully keen on getting to know and use this body. Mm, speaking of bodies, this one has so many interesting memories of yours. Perhaps I shall try a few of those things, provided that your seed is willing. I certainly hope so, this sort of thing looks quite intriguing." His mouth dry and throat tight, Lys's vision blurred with tears as he tried to stand, only to fall backwards. He found the point of the icy sword at his throat and didn't resist it. The fire inside of him was gone, he could no longer feel it.


        "Flattery will get you nowhere. Ah well, it appears that your spirit is broken. This is all that it took? I must say that I am disappointed. From all that I had heard you were supposed to be a powerful fighter with an undying and ever-burning flame. And the only thing required to shatter you was to deprive you of your beloved. As much as I am enjoying your suffering, there is much to be done. Goodbye, Chosen of the Flame, I await your rebirth and reclamation. I think that I shall make you mine, as it is the right of the conqueror to claim treasure from their victory." The point of the sword dropped to Lys's chest, and with a smile as cold as winter, the Reclaimed lunged powerfully and deeply.

        With a scream of pain, Lys felt himself falling, then a sudden impact on the side of his head. Dizzy and terrified, he opened his eyes to the darkness of their bedroom, tangled in the sheet that he had dragged with him in his fall to the floor, clutching at his chest from the cold, sharp pain he still felt. Panting deeply in panic, he saw Elliott sit up and reach out to him, and reflexively flinched and curled up in on himself.

        "No! Go away!!" As he said it, he felt another cold stab, this time of realization, and looked up to see shock and pain on Elliott's face, which further deepened the ache he felt. He tried to explain, but choked on the words as he felt his eyes burn again.

        Damn it, no, NO!! Stop it!!!

        Elliott hesitated at the edge of the bed, wanting to comfort and inquire, but still feeling the hurt of being rejected and Lys's fear of him. They both felt the tingle of the Link as Haley opened up communications with them, and everyone else broke in, querying frantically, having heard and felt Lys's terror.

        GO AWAY! Lys Sent, not intending to shout, but still feeling overwhelmed and scared, and Elliott replied for them both.

        It is of no import, just dreams, it appears. My apologies for waking everyone. Please, return to your beds and let your minds drift off once more.

        Unable to hold back any further, Lys dug his nails into his arms, trying to stop the tears welling up from deep inside.

        "Please, let me... I can't... Gods damn it, I'm so weak!! Why?!" His rage and frustration made it worse, and he tensed as Elliott pulled him into his lap, holding him softly and providing the comfort that Lys both wanted and rejected.

        "What happened, my dearest? Was-" He cut off as Lys twitched at the term of endearment, biting the side of his hand. "Stop that! What happened?"

        "...You had been Reclaimed..." Elliott's eyes widened as he went silent, considering and chasing the thread of implications.

        "I see. And I understand. Little wonder that you reacted as you did. I will not press you for details, but I hope that you will share them with me eventually, if anything to clear your mind. "

        "I can't fight you. I won't. I'd rather..." Lys ignored the marks that he was now leaving in his skin, and Elliott forced him to let go, as he was very nearly drawing blood.

        "Should the worst happen and I fall only to be Reclaimed, then I ask that you be the one to strike me down."

        "No- No!! You can't ask me to-"

        "I am. You are the only one strong enough to match me, and you are the only one who knows me well enough to battle me in a full fight. I ask this because I love you, even though I know it will cause you suffering. Please have the strength to set me free."

        "I'm... I'm not. I'm a coward, I just sat there while you killed me, and I can't stop crying. WHY?!" Stroking Lys's hair, Elliott held him closer, kissing him on the top of the head.

        "You are not a coward, my dear. I have seen you countless times throw yourself into something without heed of the danger, particularly when defending another. And tears are a side effect of pain. You feel so deeply and strongly that your wounds are made plain for others to see. I, for one, am glad for it, because whatever hurts you is always a wrong that needs to be righted, and it is never selfish. And that is why I ask of you what I did. Last year I made you promise to fight on should something happen to me. I now amend that request. Please, my dearest, promise me once more."

        "I... I don't want to hurt you, ever."

        "Should I become Reclaimed there will be no 'me' to harm. I will be lost, and my body no more than a puppet for a Shadow's seed."

        "I don't want to think about this..." Brushing the copper-red locks out of Lys's face, Elliott smiled at him sadly.

        "Better to discuss it now while we are able to consider all possibilities than to be forced to make a hasty choice later." Lys leaned into him, silent for a moment as he worked up the strength to reply.

        "I promise."


        "...I promise that if you are ever Reclaimed then... Then I will fight, and I will set you free."

        "And I promise the same. Let us hope and work toward safeguarding the future so that it never becomes a concern again." Gasping again, Lys hunched over, feeling the cold ache in his chest flare again. Elliott continued to support him, his mouth set in a tight line as he understood his husband's pain. "Damn, I wish that I could have done more about that. It is giving you trouble?"

        "Yeah, it's... I don't want to wake Haley again and Link up, and I don't want everyone else to know. But I don't know if you can do anything."

        "I have been connected with you, physically, emotionally, and mentally, for long enough that I can provide some level of comfort and assistance even un-Linked. Rest against me, I shall do what I can." Closing his eyes and focusing his power, he channeled into Lys, seeking the damage that he knew was causing trouble and working to contain it, at least for a little longer. When he felt Lys relax he knew that it had worked, and kissed him with relief. "I have done all that I can for now. We will heal it properly and completely in the next few days, but this should give you respite for a small time."

        "I'm much better, thanks, love."

        "Are you able to rest, or is your mind too busy and loud for sleep?"

        "I'm... I'm still a bit scared, and a little cold, but it always goes away when next to you. Let me get comfy and you can curl up around me, I need that right now." Sorting out the sheets that had gone askew and awry in Lys's sudden departure, he turned to rest on his side, holding a pillow close for comfort as he felt Elliott shift into place behind him and pull up the blankets. Elliott's presence and warm breath on the back of his neck slowly melted away the pain and fear until he was able to return to sleep, this time dreaming of more pleasant, if inconsequential and unremarkable things.
          Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
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        • Risukage

          Risukage Giant Laser Beams

          //This chapter wasn't supposed to be as long as it got initially, so I snapped it off so it better segues into Wednesday's update. Things are going to pick up again this week, and it's going to be FUN. :D//

          Backstage, the members of the Elements of Sound and their two support crew were preparing for the show in a half an hour. Checking their outfits and appearances, they bantered and chatted as they got themselves into the right mindset and reviewed the set list one final time. Lys removed the ribbon from his hair to change it for a nicer one, and as he picked it up he felt Elliott running a brush though his hair to remove any final tangles.

          "Thanks love, that always feels nice. You've got such a gentle touch, I don't think I've ever felt you tug at it." Elliott leaned over to whisper in his ear with a playful grin.

          "Only when you ask me to." Giggling, Lys traded him the hairbrush for the ribbon and waited for him to tie it into place, and laughing again as Elliott kissed his neck when his hair was neatly tied back again.

          "Get a room," Sam sassed reflexively, and Lys reflexively returned it.

          "I know all of the places around here we could, are you sure you want us to do that?"

          "Save the sexy stuff for the stage," Sam riposted, amused by his own alliteration, "and you're telling me that you already know this place? This is our first gig here."

          "I told you a couple of times already that I've performed all over this city, either with dad's group or the theater."

          "You have, but dang, I thought you were kinda exaggerating. Well, point still stands, save your mojo for the stage, we have an audience to entertain tonight." Alex reached into his pocket, just remembering something.

          "Hey, if you're still keen on messing with everyone, here, they're not an exact match, but they look close enough if you're not looking that close." He handed out rings that were strikingly similar to the ones that Lys and Elliott wore, and he, Haley, Sebastian, Sam, and Abigail put them on, noticing that they fit with varying degrees of success. "They're one-size-fits-all right now, lemme adjust them to everyone." As they were occupied with this, Lys grimaced and swayed on his feet, gritting his teeth against sudden pain. Elliott put an arm around his waist, appearing to simply be affectionate, but gave him a glance of concern. Lys returned the hug and shook his head, giving him a weak smile, and though it didn't ease his mind any, Elliott did not worry any further about it for the moment. Grinning with a smile that nearly connected both ears, Sam examined the simple white band.

          "Heh, silly as it is, I kinda wanna mess with them just a bit longer, those forum comments and pics were great. And if they can't be bothered to look us up and check our personal stats, well, that's on them, right?"

          "To be honest, none of us have a major social media presence," Sebastian replied, also examining the ring, "and neither does the town. Tourism picked up a bit because of us but we're still pretty low-key. There's a bit of stuff here and there, but it's not like we've got our own wiki pages or anything."

          "That would be weird," Abigail snickered, the third to be intrigued by the new item of jewelry, "someone showing up knowing stuff like what your favorite foods and things are. But yeah, we've got a bit of data about us here and there, but other than Lys and Elliott I think we're all mostly off the grid, so to speak. We're a mystery, and I think that they're getting a kick out of that." Elliott nuzzled Lys, who laughed and leaned into it.

          "That is quite true. Given my background and family I have endeavored to maintain a low profile, and thus far I have been successful. Unless I am mistaken, the only places in which my name can be found also mention Lysander, and each time it is his- now ours- that is referenced. I noticed a couple of posts that referenced our novel together, but the opinion is both split and confused as to whether we are related or married. Though anyone who bothers to check the author information in the dust cover will have their answer most readily." Checking himself one last time, Sam was the second to remember something.

          "Oh yeah! Lewis got a hold of me earlier today, looks like they want us to perform at the Luau again. ...Again... Wow, it's been almost a year already. That's..." He scratched his head and let out a low whistle. "It's kinda weird to wrap my head around that. This time last year it was still kinda a dream, even though we'd picked up you two and were actually having real practice sessions, not just three of us goofing around. I'm...just a little blown away that my dream is actually real. I never thought it would happen, but I kept chasing it anyway just in case. And now that dream is actually in my hands, right now, and I'm almost scared that it's gonna break on me just as I'm used to it." Elliott nodded, understanding his thoughts.

          "Success can be almost as terrifying as failure. For years I had despaired that I would never be able to create that novel of which I had dreamt. I also did not expect success, though I had long pursued that ambition, and when I finally held a published copy in my hands I felt like a father holding his first child, and was overwhelmed by both elation and trepidation." He gave Lys an insulted look as his husband tried to smother laughter.

          "I'm sorry, love, I'm not giving you grief, it's just that you paint such an excellent mental picture, and, well, you're just adorable. That really was sweet, I mean it."

          "I should hope that you are proud of your labors as well, for I could not have done it without you. It may not have been your dream but you have achieved that which many have not." Arm still around him, Lys gave Elliott as small hug.

          "I am quite proud, and I don't mind you reminding me now and then. It feels good to have that validation. I don't feel it quite as strongly as you do, not the same way, as I'm a musician and actor. But I guess it's right to call myself an author now, and while it's a bit weird, it's not unwelcome."

          "Have you got another book in the works or are you two a one-hit wonder?" asked Sebastian, also doing one last appearance check.

          "Indeed we do, and not only have we have planned a sequel, we also have the beginnings of another book, and potentially another series. I do not think us overly ambitious, rather, it appears that together we are capable of forging tales and building worlds as though we were gods in our own right. The stage adaptation is also progressing well, and Charles has promised to furnish us with a copy of the script shortly."

          "Well, technically we've got three new books, but I'm taking responsibility for the last one," Lys added, grinning in a manner that made Elliott blush.

          "Ah, dear, I do not think that they will be interested in works of that sort." Sam's grin threatened to completely bisect his face.

          "No way. You're writing PORN, aren't you?" Elliott groaned and put his face in his hands as Lys had a merry laugh.

          "I have nothing to do with this course of action."

          "Yeah, he's not, I am. Though it's a bit closer to 'smut,' I guess, though the lines are a little blurred. I just figure that with all of my 'personal' knowledge and newfound skill in writing I might as well put the two together. And relax, love, this time I'll definitely use a pen name, as I'm pretty sure that what remains of my body would never be found if your mom found out about us trying to publish something like that alongside our current book. My mom, though, I don't think she'd ever stop laughing. Though it also means that neither of us will be able to be used for the cover art, which is a complete shame, really." Sam was laughing hard enough to require support from someone, and grabbed onto Sebastian, nearly knocking him over.

          "What, Sebby and I aren't candidates?"

          "I'm not writing about skinny nerds, so no. Though Alex could be in the running." Haley laughed and hugged her boyfriend, who wasn't sure whether to be flattered or concerned.

          "As fun as all of this silliness is, you all should be getting ready to get on stage. It looks like another full house, and I'm set up to record."

          "Thanks for the heads-up. Right, let's do this." Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and as he did so, he relaxed and sagged. Then he straightened, somehow different, though nothing visible had changed. He gave them his familiar, flirty, sassy smile, and gestured with a flourish. "It's showtime!"

          After their performance, and after they'd finished mingling and socializing, they returned backstage to get changed out and prepare to pack what they'd brought. Sam was his usual, never-ending font of energy, bouncing around and giggling at another successful gig.

          "And with another amazing night our legend grows! Man, it was fun leaving everyone guessing like that, do you have any idea how many people asked me if- Lys!!" He tried to catch his friend as he clutched at his chest, doubling over and gasping in pain, staggering a few steps before collapsing. "What's going on? I thought that Elliott took care of that already." The blue-accented man put a hand on Lys's shoulder as he knelt to check on him.

          "I did, of a sort. Dear, how bad is it?" Suddenly pale, Lys answered, pausing to catch his breath every few words.

          "It ached for most of the show, but I had enough mana and adrenaline to keep going. Now that it's over I'm...just drained. We're too far from home, my power drains faster out here. If you can patch me up I'll be okay for the ride home-"

          "No, you will return in the truck. Someone else can ride with me on Morgenlied if it's too crowded in there. And I am quite tempted to burn a portal shard to return us that much sooner."

          "What have you not told us?" Sebastian demanded, albeit a bit impolitely, but only because he shared the concern that Elliott just now saw in his friends. Squeezing his hand, Lys nodded and gritted his teeth again.

          "I did heal the damage caused by Edelweiss, yes, but as her blade encountered his fire, it fragmented and splintered. Shards were left behind, and I had no time to attempt to extract them, all that I could do was 'seal' them off for the time being so that they would cause no further harm. It appears that she has deliberately kept her broken sword persistent so that these pieces could continue to cause pain and injury. However, those seals are created of both of our power, and only last so long. I've needed to refresh them at least once a day, and planned to extract them when I went back to repair the damage once Lysander had recovered, but now I do not think I should wait any further."

          "Why didn't you tell us sooner?" Haley asked, not the only one with that thought.

          "What could any of you have done?" Everyone shared a look of realization and understanding. "To tell you would have caused unnecessary concern that would likely distract at a critical juncture, as well as guilt that there was nothing that you could do. For the moment, it was between us, and that is where it needed to stay."

          "...Tonight, when we get home, do it. I'm strong enough now, you know it. Link up and pull them out. For now, just seal them back up so we can break everything down and get home." Sitting down and stroking his hair reassuringly, Elliott took his hand and focused, this time opening the Link with Haley.

          "There is no need to hide it any longer. I can do a better patch now, it will last until we are home." Rubbing the back of his neck, Alex looked curious and worried.

          "How bad is it?"

          "He could share it through the Link, but it is not pleasant. We would spare you the-"

          "No," Sebastian interrupted, "show us. All of us. We're a team, and he's carried this without complaint for nearly a week."

          "You are certain? All of you?" Unanimous assent left him with a grim expression, which faded as Lys squeezed his hand again.

          "Thanks, guys, this means a lot to me. Sorry for what I'm about to do to you all, though." Haley opened the connection to everyone else, and Lys "uploaded" his physical state for a couple of seconds, but only that much. Everyone gasped and staggered, looking shocked.

          "Dude! This is what you've been holding back since then?!"

          "Not this bad. It's often just been an irritation or minor ache, but it does get like this once or twice a day."

          "That doesn't matter! Damn, dude, I see why you two didn't say anything, but at the same time, I feel a bit crap that you didn't."

          "And I must now get to the task of mending it for the time being. Pardon me." Alex took charge as Elliott went to work.

          "C'mon, get changed out while I go break down the synth rig and bring back the guitars. The sooner we clean up the sooner we can get home."

          By the time that Elliott finished the rest of the band was in their regular clothes and all instruments had been packed but not yet loaded.

          "Thanks, love, I'm good to go. You drive, I'll ride behind."

          "Dear, you-"

          "The Link helped, and you know I'll be better protected the closer I am to you. It's not a long ride home. I'll keep a line of communication open with Haley just in case."

          "Very well. Let us get changed and suited up ourselves."

          "We'll all meet up at your place, then," Sam remarked, grabbing two cases to take out to the truck, "and we'll handle the last of the loading. Everything else is taken care of, and we can bounce right away."
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          • Risukage

            Risukage Giant Laser Beams

            //Awright, enough of this fluffy nonsense, let's get back to the story! *Rubs hands together with glee.*

            Also, I love writing for Sam. His lines always make me smile. :D//

            They departed at the same time; Alex, Haley, and Sam in the truck, Sebastian and Abigail on Nachtlied, and Elliott and Lys on Morgenlied. Feeling strange at being a passenger again, he relaxed against Elliott as he opened a Link with Haley so that she could monitor his progress, leaving Elliott free to concentrate on piloting the bike. Their return was quick and without incident, though Lys nearly fell off when dismounting, caught from doing so when Elliott grabbed him by the arm to steady him, expecting it to happen. They stripped their gear as Elliott unlocked the house and let everyone in, turning on the lights. Lys dropped his gear haphazardly by the bench as he sat down to remove his boots, feeling fatigued. Standing with effort, he staggered over to the couch and took off his layered shirts, tossing them over the back of the couch.

            "Not going to want this in the way when you finally extract those damn things."

            Elliott sat down and waited for Lys to sit perpendicular to him; legs across his own while leaning back against the arm of the couch. Haley took a place on the other end, sitting with her legs tucked up comfortably under her, as she relaxed and closed her eyes, devoting all of her concentration to maintaining a steady Link. Elliott once again took Lys's hand while placing another on his chest, opening the Link again and scanning, building a mental map of what he needed to do. The others dragged chairs over from the kitchen table and waited patiently, providing moral support. After several minutes, Lys shook his head.

            "This is taking too long. I know you're trying to heal around each one as you drag it out, but it's taking too much time and too many resources. Just... Just like a bandage, rip them out and go back to fix everything."

            "I-! I can't do that to you, it would-"

            "It already hurts enough, love, the quicker you get them out the faster I can heal. Worst case scenario, you do another hasty patch and go back in a third time for final clean-up."

            "Then I will do as you ask, but it will be unpleasant, even if momentarily." Alex got up from his chair to offer a hand to Lys.

            "Here, I'm strong enough that you can squeeze as hard as you need to and it won't bother. And it'll keep you from accidentally thrashing about and taking a swing at him." Elliott was silent and focused, when he sighed and nodded.

            "I have identified all shards and their, well, exit trajectory. Alex, if I can impose upon you, you do not need to restrain him, but..."

            "Got it. Sit up, cuz, lemme get behind you there." Putting an arm around his cousin's shoulders and waist, he held him firmly, and Lys gripped both of the other man's wrists as he tried to relax, twitching as he felt Elliott "grab" the fragments in preparation for extraction.

            "I am ready. My apologies, my dear, I will be unable to be gentle."

            "It's okay, I asked you to-" He interrupted himself with a throat-rending shout of pain as Elliott dragged them free, without any finesse, just brute force. Alex inhaled sharply as Lys's nails dug in with greater strength than he'd expected. Nearly a dozen fragments of varying sizes, all of them jagged and unpleasant, floated above Elliott's palm. He eyed them with distaste as he wrapped them in a handkerchief and set it on the coffee table, turning his focus back to Lys, who was still shuddering from the pain as well as its absence.

            "Son of a bitch that stung... It still hurts, but differently now. Just... Damn, that was worse than I was expecting. Thanks, Alex, I needed that, sorry if I left any marks. And I know that look, love, I told you to do that. It's okay."

            "And I know that look, dear, you did nothing wrong to receive this injury. I am simply relieved that I am able to finally mend you once and for all this time." Lys nodded and let himself melt into Alex's hold, grateful for the physical and mental support.

            Feeling relieved that part of the ordeal was over, Abigail tapped Sam and Sebastian on the shoulder, gesturing to the kitchen. They both gave her a look of surprise and remarked that they weren't very good cooks, but a stern look sent them in there anyway. With patient guidance she performed a quick inventory of the pantry and refrigerator and directed them to assist her in making dinner for everyone, though Sebastian didn't look terribly confident and Sam was afraid of setting something on fire again. Or worse. They talked quietly as she directed them in their duties, encouraging and assisting as necessary, but otherwise trying not to be overbearing. In a surprisingly short amount of time they had put together a basic beef stew, which surprised both men but left them feeling very pleased with themselves. Instructing them to start a pot of mana tea, Abigail teleported home for a few minutes to fetch something, returning with another loaf of bread, and checked the stew once more before sitting down at the table to share a drink with the other two as they waited for the operation to finish. Sam fiddled aimlessly with his handheld game while Abigail and Sebastian idly checked random things on their phones until they heard Elliott sigh and sit up.

            "It is done. I was able to heal both current and previous injuries, as well as remove and repair all of the scar tissue that had been left behind in my haste last time. Edelweiss has no more power over you, my dear, I have set you free." He looked tired but relieved, as well as quite proud of himself. Lys shifted his legs to let him stand up, then accepted a hand to do the same to free Alex. Stiff but steady, Lys examined himself with Elliott's support and smiled before locating his shirts and putting them back on.

            "I'm good to go, love. And I see you left me the scar, nifty."

            "I had not planned to, but external wounds like that aren't quite as easy for me to break down and repair as internal ones, and you did state that you wanted to keep it. You are also not as exhausted as I had feared, that eases my mind considerably."

            "And my stomach is growling," Alex remarked, "whatever you started there smells really good." Haley stood up as well and stretched lazily.

            "Good thing all of our families are assuming we're grabbing something to eat anyway after the gig, saves us time having to mess around with excuses and stuff."

            "Well, our kitchen is intact, so thanks for the effort, Abby, I owe you."

            "The boys helped, too," she grinned, "I made extra sure to be careful that they couldn't cause any damage to your house. Or themselves."

            "I'm not that bad," Sam grumbled.

            "As I recall, you were the one that shouted 'shit's on fire, yo' and are responsible for the scorch mark by the stove back when I was sick, and I'm pretty sure that that wasn't a fever dream."

            "Set a kitchen on fire once and nobody lets you live it down..." Ever pragmatic, Elliott inspected the stew and nodded.

            "This should be excellent, and exactly what he needs to finish healing. Since this will take a little bit to cook, let us put away our gear and equipment, which should allow enough time for this to finish."

            Alex went out to the truck to drive it back to the community center while the rest of them teleported over. The unloading of everything and putting it back in place took almost no time at all, and Alex left the truck there to 'port back to Lys and Elliott's house with everyone else. The rest of the evening was spent happily sharing a good meal, enjoying not only another successful performance but the knowledge that their friend was no longer in danger. Elliott and Lys hardly tasted the first cup of mana tea, drinking it as soon as it was cool enough to gulp down, but took their time with the next one. Sam checked his phone while they ate and sighed with amusement.

            "Aww, game's up, they figured out you two are hitched, but that doesn't mean that the forums aren't still funny as hell. Apparently there's a thread where someone's wondering if we're all poly, since we're all wearing matching rings. This just gets funnier and funnier." He shoveled stew in his mouth with one hand while scrolling and tapping with his other, giggling intermittently at various comments and pictures. Sebastian was also on his phone but checking other things.

            "Wow, downloads of our album are doing pretty well, we just had another massive burst of sales tonight." He paused mid-bite to really think about that and stared at his phone. "...Our album. That's just so weird. I wasn't ever sure if we'd actually perform live this time last year, and here we are, making and selling music. Oh, I hope you guys don't mind if I route part of that toward server and hosting costs, not sure where or how else we're gonna fund that."

            "No worries," Sam replied, almost licking his second bowl clean, "might as well keep all of the income in a central account and use it to cover band-related costs so it's not putting any of us out. Mm, and Lewis is actually gonna pay us to perform at the Luau. I told him we'd do it 'cause it's our home and all, but he said that since we're pro now it would be impolite not to." Abigail helped herself to another bowl and a slice of bread, looking thoughtful.

            "Ooh, it just occurred to me that it's gonna be hard to get the piano all the way out there. It was easy last year 'cause Elliott was living out by the beach, but..."

            "It is not an issue, we already learned how to safely transport one when I moved up here, so with a little preparation we can transport the one from the community center in Alex's truck. It will be more of a nuisance to return it after, but that is an engineering issue that we can later address."

            Conversation turned toward their playlist and setup for the town festival, until they all felt their energy finally fade. They stacked their used dishes in the sink to take care of later and gathered up their belongings, preparing to head home as if they were returning from the city. Once the house was theirs again Lys and Elliott turned out the lights and retired to the bedroom, feeling tired but relieved. As Elliott removed and hung up his waistcoat, he felt Lys hug him from behind, as well as his thoughtful silence.

            "Something is on your mind, dear?"

            "That nightmare I had the other night, I haven't told you about it yet."

            "You do not need to if you are uncomfortable with it."

            "No, I'm fine, it's just... No secrets, I want you to know exactly what's going on in my mind." He stepped back to let Elliott continue changing and removed the ribbon from his hair, winding it around his fingers as he thought out loud. "I've been thinking about what we both said, and... I'm still scared to lose you, but more than anything else I'm scared that I won't be able to look out for you when you're in danger. Sometimes bad things just happen, like what happened to me, but the thought that I might not be fast or strong or brave enough when you're in trouble... That is what terrifies me the most. Do I make any sense?" Elliott hung up his shirt and turned to hug his husband, running his fingers through his hair.

            "I do, and I share the same fear. Thus far I have been able to bring you back and erase the mortal damage that you suffered, but more than once I have lain awake next to you in dread of what would have happened had I failed. Further, while it is your sleeping mind that conjures these visions of peril, it is my waking mind that prevents me from resting as I am subjected to self-doubt and vivid images of despair. Twice I have nearly lost you to the element that I claim as my own and of which I am a guardian, and both times I claim partial fault for it. Tell me of what it is that haunted you so that we both may rest with ease." Hugging him again and chewing his lip thoughtfully, Lys replayed and relayed the dream.

            "I don't know how it happened, but you had been taken, and the rest of us were back at the tower, same as when I went missing..."

            The evening of the Luau was warm and soft, same as the sands underfoot. Ocean waves crashed lazily against the shore as though it also felt the ennui of a hot summer day, and the breeze that kept the heat from being oppressive was cool and relaxed. The Elements of Sound had set up several hours previous and were now doing final testing and tuning, trying not to grin too obviously at the audience's enthusiasm.

            "We've got some familiar faces," Haley noted, pretending not to notice as she make one last inspection of her cameras, both photo and video. "Looks like word of this event made it onto the forums and some people came out to see us again as well as check out the town festival. This could be good for Pelican Town, tourism can be a decent boost to an economy."

            "It also looks like they're behaving themselves," Sebastian averred, glancing at the attendees, "it looks like they're mostly here for us but are also taking the time to visit the townsfolk and learn about the place. And not in a creepy stalker way, either." Sam brushed a bit of sand off of his pants as he stood up from checking a connection and plucked a couple of guitar strings.

            "Then we'll rock their faces even harder this time, 'cause now they're on our home turf. And you two are dancing again this time? So it's gonna be an annual thing or what?"

            "This time it is actually planned for us to perform together, whereas last year it was intended to be a solo effort on his part."

            "Ehh, you two still made it look awesome. I regret nothing. Heh, I guess after tonight there'll be totally no doubt on the forums that you two are together. Nobody can dance like that unless they're really close."

            "I wonder if we can make it better than last year," Lys wondered, brushing Elliott's arm with his fingers as he walked by the piano, not enough to be noticed by the crowd, just him.

            "I am uncertain as to how we can make that happen, but I will do my best. First, however, we have a different performance upon which we should focus. I believe that we should be going live soon." Lys checked his watch and picked up his bass, trying not to smile too hard when the crowd noticed it and began to comment among themselves.

            "It's showtime." Sam needed no time at all to don his entertainer's persona and flashed the audience an electric grin as he slipped the strap of his guitar over his head and took the microphone in front of him.

            "Good evening Pelican Town! You already know who we are and why we're here, so let's just get to the part where we're amazing!"

            Amazing they were, and though they had grown accustomed to the sound of an enclosed room, the open nature of the oceanfront was just a different venue, therefore yet another place to hone their skills, and they still retained their harmony and balance of sound. It was a different playlist that they used than the year previous, as they rotated out old songs for newer ones, including one that they hadn't yet tried in a live performance. Lys hadn't expected to perform his song, but upon near-unanimous request from the audience as they ended their set he was quite glad that he'd brought Resonance with him after all. When it was finally over and they accepted their applause, Lys took a microphone and stepped forward.

            "Thank you all! We never tire of seeing the delight that we bring to those who are kind enough to come see us. Your enthusiasm and love are what inspire us to do our best and create music that makes you feel brilliant and wonderful. But it is not just music that inspires, dance can do so as well. Last year you all were kind enough to indulge me when I asked to perform for you, and this year you have asked me to return. I cannot turn down such a generous offer, and this time I intend to start with a partner." He shot a meaningful look at Sam, to the amusement of the crowd, who shrugged and grinned without shame. "With your permission and approval, we give you the Dance of the Summer Flame."

            Sam took a seat at Elliott's vacated piano bench as Sebastian and Abigail prepared to play, and Elliott and Lys strode out to the sands to take their place.

            "I really wish that we had the proper drums for this dance, Abby does great with what she has, but this needs something more epic."

            "Perhaps that can be arranged next year. In the meantime, this is our stage, let us stand upon it together."

            "I'm still surprised you were okay doing this, love, you've really changed."

            "Alone I would not have the courage, but together we can accomplish anything."

            There was silence for a moment, and Lys drank it in; the sense of anticipation and inertia before the energy flowed and was shaped. That inhaled and held breath of expectation... The music started, and Lys and Elliott moved together, with, and around each other. The previous year had been fun, if unexpected, and was almost flirtatious, of two partners learning about each other. This time it was dignified and stately, dancers who knew themselves and each other deeply and honestly. Where the previous year was energetic, this dance was powerful; it was a challenge to each other and a declaration to others, a promise of strength and devotion. Lys could feel the fire inside dancing with him, and saw the same in Elliott; one flared, the other flowed, and he was quite certain that Elliott was also having to consciously hold himself back from channeling their respective elements, much as they had earlier that week. This was their stage, and they danced upon it together for each other.

            All good things must come to an end, and the music finally finished, though while this time Elliott remembered to restrain himself, Lys felt no such compunction and was the one to kiss him this time, to the further amusement of the audience.

            "Really, my dear, " he smiled, "you seem to derive delight from being mischievous."

            "I don't care who knows. And this year it's my turn."

            The laughter and applause changed to gasps and shouts of confusion, and the dancers' minds were suddenly bombarded with mental shouts as everyone Sent variations of "oh shit" and "what is she doing here?" Out on the water, walking with an elegant, measured stride, approached Edelweiss, smiling coldly.

            "Your doom is now made manifest, Chosen of Yoba! Despair as I destroy you and the inhabitants of your pathetic little town!" The voices of the audience now sounded fearful, and Lys could feel the energy begin to shift from pleased to panicked. This was very bad. And yet...

            He had an idea.

            It's showtime!
              Minimanta likes this.
            • Risukage

              Risukage Giant Laser Beams


              There was a half a second of silence before a six-part chorus of "what?!" echoed in his mind. Striking a dramatic pose, he grinned broadly and gestured at Edelweiss, already having fun at her expense.

              "How dare you interrupt our festivities and threaten our fair community? You are truly a villain of the highest caliber and must be stopped at once! I had hoped to keep my identity hidden for longer, but it seems that I must reveal myself for the sake of those who cannot fight." The voices changed again, this time to curious, and to those that knew of Lys and his reputation, expectation. The members of the band, however, were not quite as enthusiastic.

              What the hell, bro?

              Dude, are you doing what I think you're doing?

              Are you really going to transform right here?!

              Oh my gods, this is going to be just like my shows! Yesssss!

              I see the ruse that you have planned, my dear, this shall be most entertaining.

              You are such a nerd. I can't believe you're going to do this.

              Edelweiss was likewise unimpressed, though she was also vaguely curious, as this response was not at all what she had expected.

              "You dare taunt me, Chosen of the Flame? I nearly destroyed you once, it will be my pleasure to finish the job this time." With further flair, Lys sighed and shook his head.

              "Alas, I am truly unmasked! Then it is time to discard it even as I put it on. I have recovered from the grievous wounds that you inflicted and have become stronger for it. Prepare yourself, villain, for this is your hour of defeat! With me, my friends, it is time for battle!" Channeling flame for further effect, he shifted up into his Empowered state, to the applause and cheers of the audience, who were now convinced that this was some sort of extravagant show. He posed again once more, almost unable to keep from breaking into laughter. "The Garnet Fire, champion of love and music, will punish you for your misdeeds!"

              EPIC. NERD.

              I want to laugh so badly right now. HASHTAG DYING!

              This is going to be amazing!

              Our cover didn't even last a week. That never happens in the stories.

              Looks like it's time for us to suit up, hunh?

              It appears that I shall be the next to advance. This story has become quite interesting.

              Chuckling and shaking his head, Elliott followed Lys's lead, though not quite as flamboyantly.

              "I also cannot allow harm to befall our friends and family. Though we share an elemental affinity, the manner in which you use its life-giving powers to take and harm is inexcusable." Likewise channeling water for the appearance of it, he summoned his Empowered gear, also to audience approval. Holding open the book with one hand, he adjusted his glasses with the other, which Abigail and many others sighed at with glee. "The Sapphire Water, scholar of knowledge and healing, will cleanse the world of your evil." Now completely unamused, Edelweiss summoned a circle of power beneath her feet, which somehow glowed though it seemed to have been created from shadow.

              "Very well, Chosen of Yoba, it seems that I must teach you fear before you die. Umbra Aqua! Rise up and destroy them!" The water's surface rippled as a massive dragon of shadow emerged from the depths. Like Umbra Terra, it lacked wings, instead possessing webbed, heavily clawed forelegs, enormous rear flippers and a thick, powerful, scaled tail, almost as long as the rest of its body, ending in a wide, flat fin. Empty white eyes glared out from a head that was mostly mouth and teeth, perched atop a long, slender neck, putting them in mind of some sort of plesiosaur-dragon hybrid.

              Better make this fast then, which means me!

              The air crackled with electricity as Sam shifted, laughing as he spun the copper staff in one hand.

              "The Topaz Lightning, avatar of being totally freakin' awesome, is gonna rock your world!" Wind swirled around Abigail, and she grinned as she twirled both pistols with elegant skill.

              "The Amethyst Wind, creator of art and imagination, is going to blow you away!"

              That was terrible. I love it.


              Sighing deeply, Sebastian shook his head before being temporarily being surrounded by a swirl of sand.

              "The Obsidian Earth, the only logical and sane one here, feels bloody well silly referring to himself in the third person." Grinning as he was caught up in the energy of it all, Alex summoned his armor and hefted his warhammer, eager to get into the fight.

              "The Diamond Steel, guardian of justice, will send you back from where you came."

              You are adorable, sweetie. Guess the best was saved for last!

              Haley called her robes and staff into existence around herself, embellishing with hard light projections.

              "The Voice of Yoba is here. When I whisper, the world hears and listens. When I speak, the world hears and obeys. When I shout, the world hears and trembles."

              Ohhh, that was GOOD, Haley, I'll make an actress of you yet.

              Thanks, sweetie, I'm kinda pleased with that myself.

              The audience was cheering and applauding loudly, already speculating among themselves what was going on and what sort of event it was going to be. Lys allowed himself a small grin of success, as now that the people were convinced it was all an act the band could operate with impunity under the guise of a show. Umbra Aqua hissed loudly, thrashing about in the water to whip up waves to send at them, which Alex ignored as he charged in, followed swiftly by everyone else, save for Lys and Elliott. Elliott was about to make for Edelweiss, but saw that Lys had the same thing in mind.

              "I challenge you, Reclaimed of the Water. The last time we met I was helpless to defend myself, but this time you'll not find me such easy prey."

              Go on, love, I'll take care of her, you see if you can get that damn thing out of the water and onto land, as you and Abby are really the only ones who can affect it much at the moment.

              An excellent idea, my talents are better served in leveling the battlefield.

              Elliott dashed over to join the group as Lys extended his wings, formed a hard light platform, and kicked off of it to launch himself at Edelweiss, rotating around his center of mass and drawing both swords to land neatly near hear, grinning cheekily.

              "Never underestimate the power of a properly motivated Bard." She summoned her rapier of ice and lunged at him. The battle joined, they parried, blocked, attacked, and dodged, though Lys did showboat a little bit for the benefit of the audience.

              "And do not underestimate me, 'Champion of Music,' I may have had an advantage previously but I need no such benefits to kill you again. This time I will bring you back to the Voice and seed you properly."

              "Really, now, that sort of thing should be discussed on a second date! At least offer me dinner first."

              "It seems that my greatest mistake was not cutting out your tongue first."

              "You'd change your mind if you knew what I could do with it." This startled her enough to barely miss getting clipped by one of his swords, which she blocked with a hasty shield of ice as she gave him a look of disgust.

              "How indecent!" Smirking, Lys continued his twin-bladed and fiery assault, dancing to the rhythm of battle.

              "What? I'm a skilled vocalist. What were you thinking of?"

              Between the duel on the sands and the battle on the waves stood Haley, staff planted firmly in the ground in front of her as she directed the dragon fight. She had created hard light projections ostensibly for appearance's sake, but found that her connection with everyone else actually allowed her to create a visual representation of the battlefield, better enabling her to direct and assist. Out on the surface of the ocean, Elliott was providing mobile platforms of stable ice for his friends to move on, which helped greatly, but were still precarious, and Umbra Aqua kept trying to destroy them as they were created. Alex did his best, however, to keep the dragon's attention on him, despite Sam using some of his most powerful elemental attacks. Salt water being extremely conductive, the dragon was not at all pleased with this and kept breaking away from Alex to deal with the obnoxious yellow threat, but each time Alex drew on his new skills and got the monster's attention again.

              "I've no idea how my taunt abilities work, but they sure as hell do. Though it would help if you'd quit pulling aggro every other attack!"

              "Sorry, but I haven't found any threat-reducing powers just yet, maybe next level," Sam replied with gleeful sass, teleporting around with impunity so that Elliott only had to focus on stable footing for Alex and Sebastian. The earth-wielding member of the team had called over a large tendril of sand that he used like a band of sandpaper, abrading and causing continual damage as it lashed around the monster with incredible speed.

              "I'm glad that at least you're having fun over there, I can't seem to do a damn thing to this one, and it's taking a lot of concentration to keep shifting location without going for a swim." Abigail was in the sky, and though she had started initially with the twin pistols, she re-formed them into the compound recurve bow to launch powerful shots at it from where it could not reach. It tried to bite at her, and failing that, launched water bolts in her direction, but even her slower and less-maneuverable flight than Lys's kept her well out of harm's way.

              "I'm hitting him as hard as I can with every shot , but I don't know how much we're actually doing to it. This one is way stronger than the earth one. We've at least gotta get it out of the water." Elliott's smile was reminiscent of the one that his husband often wore, as the pages of his book fluttered and glowed as he pulled more mana to himself and focused.

              "I think that I have a way to take care of that."

              The fight between Lys and Edelweiss was still ongoing, and neither of them seemed to be ready to back down or away just yet. Rather, Lys kept up a running line of conversation and banter, not only to potentially distract his opponent, but to glean valuable intel.

              "So this 'Reclaimed' thing seems to be working out pretty well for you. Immortality, keeping all of your powers, not too bad. The only downsides seem to be losing your identity and the whole dying thing, even though I should be used to the second part by now. How's Edelweiss in there? Still fighting you like she should?"

              "If you fought as well as you ran your mouth this fight would be over. And this body is mine now. She is no more than an annoying buzz in the back of my mind."

              "Then why keep her around? Are you too weak to completely subvert or destroy her?" A sudden flurry of shards flew at his face, and he was forced to duck behind his wings and retreat a few steps. "Ooh, touchy subject!"

              "The only reason that I keep that mortal's mind around is that it is what allows me to access her abilities. Were it not for that necessity I'd have excised her the moment I took control."

              "How was there anything left if she was dead?"

              "She was near to death, but only just. She had enough life to sustain the seed that allowed me to take root and grow, but not enough to successfully resist and reject me. Once I had taken control this body became mine, though I draw my power from the Shadow realm, not the mana of this world." Lys was taken by surprise at this information and almost let his guard down, parrying and sidestepping an attack that glanced off of his armor.

              "Wait, you don't channel the mana from the world around you? How does that even work?"

              "This body is an anchor to this world. By giving me physical form in this realm I am able to move and act freely, while still drawing my energy from my home."

              "So if I find a way to purge you she'll be free, nifty."

              "And she will die." Lys stumbled and gasped as the he avoided her sword but not a flying shard, which opened a long, thin gash on his cheek.

              "Wait, how-"

              "You talk but you don't listen. This body is an anchor. My power comes from my home, including the power that keeps this body alive. Should I be removed it will die, as I am the only thing sustaining it." This fueled his anger for a moment and he pressed forward with a flurry of strikes and multiple tendrils of flame.

              "You said that she wasn't dead when she was seeded, you're lying." With ease, she blocked his attacks with ice and flashed him a smile colder than her weapons.

              "I am not. She survived the fight, and I consumed what was left of her life in order to grow and take over. I need not food nor water nor rest, and as such do not suffer the limitations and restrictions that you mortals do. Sadly, however, we are unable to possess regular humans, as they have no mana upon which we can thrive, thus limiting our numbers."

              "We already reduced that number by one, and you're next."

              "I doubt that. You are a child in comparison to all of us. What makes you think that you can be victorious?"

              "Well, as I said, we already took out one of yours, and secondly, you may have given me the key to your defeat." Her laugh was dark and humorless.

              "Once more I doubt your confidence, though your attempt at bluffing is rather adorable."

              "I never bluff and I can't lie. And you did give me something useful; you're powered by the energy from your realm. So all I have to do is exhaust your body's store of power and possibly cut you off from your energy source entirely." This statement was right on the mark, and one sword scored a solid strike on her non-sword arm. She gasped in pain and retreated a healthy distance, glancing at her injury with distaste.

              "You really think that you're capable of such a feat? I am skeptical."

              "And I think that you're bluffing. That was a good hit, and you look injured and tired." Her lips twitched, without a reply but not wanting to admit that he was right. Then...

              It is ready! Elliott Sent, clear a spot on the beach, it is time to take this battle to a more suitable terrain.
              • Minimanta

                Minimanta Spaceman Spiff

                You were right, that was fun! All the background stuff has been interesting too, but it's the action where the fun is! :D
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                • Risukage

                  Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                  //And today we find out just how many ranks Lys has in not only Perform but Bluff. The little shit's not rolled anything under a 15 all night and has a stupidly high Charisma bonus, too. Bards are totally OP when they've got an audience. :D//

                  Edelweiss wasn't sure why Lys suddenly grinned with anticipation, but she knew that it meant nothing good.

                  "Looks like the music's changing a bit. Can you still keep up with the dance?"

                  Before she could reply to his strange comment she felt Elliott channel something massive and instinctively turned to see what he was doing. The sea around Umbra Aqua slowly churned and began to circle, gaining power and speed as Elliott continued to focus with a distant gaze, lips moving silently as he concentrated and guided the energies. Seeing what he was going to do, Edelweiss prepared to command her beast to move out of the area of effect, but she was interrupted when she had to leap aside to dodge a full-powered attack. Recklessly Lys continued to press the offense, knowing that he was free to do so to keep her from being able to keep her from changing the dragon's position. Elliott's smile mirrored Lys's as he finished his preparations.

                  "The sea is slow to anger, but once its ire is roused, it is unstoppable. Abomination of Shadow, you shall not stain the waters of our home any further. By my will I cast you out!"

                  Wow, love, I've really rubbed off on you, haven't I?

                  The ability was always latent but it was you who awakened it.

                  I can't wait to get you home tonight.

                  As much as I anticipate and appreciate your advances, we have a trifling task that requires our attention at the moment.

                  The water around the dragon was now a rapidly-spinning whirlpool from which it was unable to escape. Caught inexorably in the whirling torrent that rose up to wrap around it, Umbra Aqua hissed and roared as it flailed against the element over which it should have had complete domain. To the awe and amazement of the audience, the dragon was rather unceremoniously thrown from the water to crash upon the sands. As it snarled and righted itself, it found a new enemy with which to contend; the sands upon which it lay. Sebastian wore an uncharacteristically predatory grin as he became the one to beleaguer the beast of shadow, changing the beach into something between taffy and quicksand. The sand almost seemed to be alive as it tried to pulled the dragon under its surface, and every limb that was pulled free was once again lashed and dragged back down. This freed Alex from having to keep threat off of the group and allowed them all to fight with gleeful abandon. Sebastian laughed darkly as he wove and shaped the energies that came alive in his hands.

                  "He may have cast you out but I will drag you down. From hell's heart I both stab and spit at you, and it is there that I will send you, from where you came and where you will return and stay!"

                  Hot damn, 'Bas, I've rubbed off a bit on you, too, that was cool.

                  I'm not going home with you tonight.

                  Nah! You're Abby's boy toy.

                  I'm going to play with you so hard tonight, Sebby.

                  My girlfriend, too? You're a terrible influence, Lys.

                  You're welcome!

                  Lys shifted his mental focus as he fought, looking for the "threads" that connected he and his friends to the mana of the world, and possibly the ones that Edelweiss used. She was still distracted by his attacks to properly retaliate, and he finally saw it; a single, dark cable that connected her to...somewhere. He couldn't see where it went or how it connected, but he knew instinctively that it was her link to the Shadow realm, and at the same time, he saw that she was also connected to the dragon, in that it was drawing power from her. Not a lot, and he couldn't discern his purpose for a moment until-

                  Anchor, he Sent as he studied her and the connections further, she's anchoring it to this world. We were right, kill the summoner and the beast dies. She's the one commanding it, I can see how the threads ripple as she tries to tell it what to do. I don't think that it can act on its own. It looks like it's mostly self-sustaining and is only drawing a little energy to keep itself manifest, but it's a continual drain on her, so maybe that's why we haven't been overrun by these things yet, they take WAY too much power to summon and keep around.

                  He felt a mental nod from Haley.

                  I think you're right on all counts. Every time you've knocked her really off-guard the dragon got more uncoordinated and began to act randomly. And Rasmodius said something similar, that the Shadow creatures take a lot of energy to remain in this world, which is why they're not everywhere all the time. It looks like they summon their dragons for something specific each time right as they need it. Remember in the mines, they were waiting for us to get a way in there before they summoned Umbra Terra and were just about to go to the surface when we arrived.

                  Alex agreed with this assessment.

                  And he also said that they feed off of negative energies as well, which is possibly the reason for that initial flood that got us Activated. This is a big event with a lot of people, and would have caused a lot of pain, fear, and suffering. That would have been a BIG boost of power for them. Good job on turning it around and on its head for the moment, Lys, but I'm not sure how we're gonna handle things when the fight is over.

                  Lys's "voice" sounded a bit distant, as he was still busy keeping Edelweiss the same.

                  Leave all of the PR and talking to me, I've got a few ideas, and if I spin it right, people will support us for it.

                  Though it was larger and stronger than the dragon of earth, their battle on the water had already done significant damage, and with it unable to defend itself, Umbra Aqua was dispatched smoothly, bellowing one final time as it dissipated into wisps of shadow. Edelweiss snarled and teleported away silently, knowing that she had lost completely. Smoothing out the beach to what it was before, Sebastian chuckled to himself.

                  "Shadows to ashes, darkness to dust." He almost jumped in surprise at thunderous and rousing applause and cheers from the audience. Now that the danger was over, most of the Chosen were perplexed as to what would happen next. Except for Lys. Striding forward, he performed a tidy pirouette and shifted back to his regular form, and everyone else followed suit, though not as flamboyantly.

                  "Thank you, thank you! You have been an amazing and wonderful audience for us tonight, and I do not have nearly enough gratitude for everyone for indulging us in our little project tonight."

                  Project? What are-

                  Dude, you want to do this kind of thing again?

                  I think I know what you have in mind, sweetie, but...

                  You nerd, you're really...

                  Oooh, I like where this thread is going!

                  As do I. I see the full extent of your ruse, my dear. You have the soul of a phoenix but the wit of the raven and the mischief of the fox.

                  And the show's not done yet. Get ready, and follow my instructions, we're doing to end this with style.

                  Holding up his hands to forestall questions, his smile grew even wider as he Sent something to his friends, who returned to their instruments, sitting down at or picking them up.

                  "Yes, this is part of a project we've been working on for a little while, and we are completely blown away by how much of a success it was tonight. I cannot go into any more details at the moment as I do not want to take up further time from the festivities. Please, everyone, enjoy the soup and the evening together, and I will explain on the morrow what it is we have in mind." He turned and ran back to his friends, picking up Resonance and settling the strap across his shoulder. Flashing the crowd one last smile he blew a kiss and winked. "You'll have to pardon us if we don't stick around for a curtain call."

                  A swirl of sand whipped up around them, obscuring the group and all of their equipment, and when the sands settled, there was nothing. The audience was silent for a moment before the sound doubled in volume from their previous response. The Elements of Sound were unable to hear this, however, as they were all back at the community center, in a random heap of equipment and scattered sand. Laughing heartily, Lys wiped tears from his eyes and cheered with glee.

                  "We were brilliant! You all just...nailed it! Perfect cover 'Bas, I couldn't see anything through that, and good job on using the sand to shift the piano through, it saved us the problem of getting it back here. You too, Abby, making and holding the portal like that, looks like we got everything through. And, Alex, I did not expect you to be able to levitate everything metallic like that, I kinda expected you to just grab stuff since metals are light for you."

                  "That was the initial plan, but we had quite a lot to move, and I had a cool idea. I mentally reached out to everything at once and just...called it all to me. It wasn't magnetic, it's... I dunno what, but it worked."

                  "And now we're legends," Lys giggled again, "and we can pretty much get away with anything now in broad daylight. This totally ended up working out in our favor." Haley wasn't quite as convinced just yet.

                  "Back at the tower you remarked that, well, regular people couldn't handle this kind of knowledge and things being different. What made you do that out there?"

                  "Because this wasn't real, it was a story."

                  "What?" He smiled again and brushed sand off of himself as he put Resonance in its case.

                  "If we had tried to present this as real people would have panicked because they have no frame of reference for it, and because that sort of thing doesn't happen in reality. But because I presented it as a story, one fun and fantastic and completely not-real, they allowed it to exist. That sort of thing only can happen in stories, so it wasn't real, so it must have been a part of our show and therefore something to watch and enjoy. Maybe it's just more intuitive for me, doing theater and music for so long, but people will suspend disbelief for a little while as long as a story is good enough and is consistent with its own rules within its own universe. And because of that, anything we do in the future will fall into the category of this 'story' that we're telling, so they will once again suspend their disbelief and watch without fear, because they all know that it's just a story, and therefore not real. Edelweiss was trying to cause damage and fear and ended up making things easier on us. I'm actually a bit grateful."

                  His phone vibrated as it received a message, and he pulled it out to see a text from Lewis.

                  "I don't know what all of you did and how, but the town is completely convinced that you put on some kind of crazy performance and are demanding answers that I don't have. You better be able to follow up with your promise to explain tomorrow." Lys typed back a quick reply and helped to begin putting away equipment.

                  "So it looks like I need to explain what the hell's going on at some point tomorrow. No worries, though, like I said, I've got a plan. Though... Hey Alex, you made those rings pretty easy, how hard would it be to modify them further?"

                  "It's easy at this point. What did you have in mind?"

                  "Well, we were given those pendants, and I'm hesitant to make their presence known. I don't know how or if they're bound to us and our abilities, and they could be totally inert for all I know, but I'd rather not take the chance. I'm pretty sure that we all keep them on us whenever we leave home?"

                  Lys and Elliott wore theirs under their shirts normally, but he wasn't sure about anyone else. Haley held up her hand, and Lys noticed that she had it wrapped around her wrist, hidden among a tangle of other bracelets with leather cords and opal-esque gems. Abby was wearing hers as an ankle bracelet, tucked safely in her boot, Sam had it looped around his belt and tucked into a pocket, while Sebastian's arm was slim enough to secure it just above his elbow, hidden beneath the sleeve of his hoodie. Alex wore a rather cheeky smile as he showed them his palm, turned it so they could see that he held nothing nor hid anything behind it, and with a flick of his wrist produced the gold-encircled diamond. Everyone was suitably impressed by this sleight of hand as Alex bounced the small object on his palm.

                  "Apparently I've got not just an affinity for metals, it's some gems, too. I mean, crystalline structures are different than metallic ones, but they've for the most part just got more complex molecular structures and atomic impurities. Diamonds are just compressed, ordered carbon, so I bet that I should be able to do other cool stuff, like maybe trying to make carbon-fiber armor and-" He cut off as the impressed looks grew even wider. "Ah... I've been studying some stuff lately and doing a bit of practice. Anyway, I've been hiding it by disguising it as a wristwatch." He demonstrated, flicking his wrist again, and the pendant warped and changed shape to form a watch face, connecting to a bit of silvery metal that became the wristband.

                  "That is wicked cool," Lys grinned, "disguised in plain sight."

                  "Heh, thanks. But what about the rings? They were just for a little game we were playing on our fans. What do you want with them now?"

                  "It has to do with stories."


                  "Look, in every story or series with, well, transforming heroes, whatever genre or medium, they always have some special item that grants them their power, right?" Abigail was quick to catch on.

                  "Oh, yeah! People will expect to see some kind of slightly-varied but unified items that grant us our abilities and powers."

                  "Exactly. It's just a part of the narrative. It might be inconsequential now, but it also might come in handy later. I don't know. Anyway, ever since we've been doing this we've been seen with those rings when performing, right? And just now tonight. It's all a part of the story. So I'll need your help, Alex, to tinker with them a little bit to make them slightly unique for each of us." A sudden thought occurred to him and he turned to Elliott, blushing a little. "That is, if you're okay, too, love, their rings are just fabricated, but ours are-" Elliott smiled and put a finger to the other man's lips, kissing his forehead fondly and softly brushing the cut on his cheek, healing it over.

                  "I do not mind, a little bit of distinction would be interesting. And with your cousin's abilities it would not necessarily have to be permanent, we can alter them to our desires at any time that he still possesses his elemental affinity." Lys smiled and squeezed his hand.

                  "Right, since we're all in agreement and on the same page, here's what I've got in mind..."
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                  • Risukage

                    Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                    //*Yawns.* This chapter just wouldn't come out quite right, took forever to finish. Have a bit of bro-time, I'm'a get my ass to bed and put together something more interesting for Friday. *Yawns twice as deeply.*//

                    Lewis sighed and massaged his temples after Lys had finished his explanation, which prompted a broad, cheeky grin from the red-haired man as he reclined comfortably in one of the community center chairs.

                    "It's bizarre and silly, but damn if it won't work. Everyone was completely convinced last night that you were doing some kind of extended show, but weren't exactly sure what . They were also quite impressed by your 'special effects,' though I've no idea how you're going to explain away that."

                    "People believe what they want to," Lys replied, lacing his fingers behind his head as he shrugged, "eyewitness accounts are always unreliable. Memories are fickle, and even two people who were there at the same time will disagree on details. All we need to do is give them a narrative and they'll construct a story of their own. Any video taken will actually help our case, as while it will be 'proof' of something that shouldn't normally be possible, movie special effects are so good these days that anyone who watches it later will assume that it was edited footage or specifically scripted and filmed as such. And if we don't get at least a half a dozen comments that it totally looks fake then I'll dye my hair emo black like Sebastian." He giggled as his friend bounced an empty soda can off of the back of his head.


                    "Anyway," Lewis continued, shooting them both an annoyed look, "it looks like you've got a plan, and you're doing well against these... Whatever these people are. I'll relay it to the town, though you'll likely be questioned in person for quite some time. I'll leave you all to your own devices now, but despite the strangeness of last night, you did put on an excellent musical performance, and I thank you for that."

                    "Thanks, we had a lot of fun. Sorry to cause you trouble like this, not sure how long this is going to go on. We'll do our best to avoid damage to town and injury to people, but..."

                    "I understand, do what you can. Good day, then." Lewis stood up stiffly, sighing and muttering about old age, and closed the community center door behind him. Giggling again, Lys bounced to his feet and stretched, feeling very pleased with himself.

                    "So we can pretty much do as we damn well please now. Not that I'm gonna flaunt it or anything, but it's a massive relief knowing that we don't have to worry about people getting scared or whatever." Sam pulled a soda out of his bag and cracked it open, throwing another to Sebastian.

                    "Yeah, but we're gonna leave the talking and stuff to you. Elliott is the writer but you've just got that knack for improv." Lys smiled at the compliment and leaned against the table to pull out his phone to check something, and Sam perked up. "Oh hey, that reminds me, your birthday is soon-ish. What are we going to do for that?" Lys nearly dropped his phone and gave Sam a look of surprise.

                    "Uh, nothing, we... I... It's okay, we don't need to..."

                    "Dude, what's up with you? You're awfully shy all of a sudden. Seriously, what do you want to do? You've never mentioned before so I don't know what you like."

                    "It's... I don't..." He turned quite red at this and looked away, hastily stuffing his phone into his pocket, looking extremely uncomfortable.

                    "...Lys? Did you have like a bad experience or something?"

                    "I... No, it's just..." He pulled his hair over his shoulder and fiddled with it, unable to make eye contact with anyone. "I don't like doing anything for me. Like that. I don't like being the center of attention."

                    "Says the guy who's in a popular band and dances solo for the entire town."

                    "Not like that!" Lys rebuffed, gripping his hair even more tightly, "for me, I don't like stuff being done just for me. It's... I just don't like it, okay?" Nobody was sure what to say for a moment, and Lys felt even more uncomfortable in the sudden silence. "I'm... I need a quick smoke. Back in a few."

                    He hastily ducked outside and took a deep breath, sighing heavily. Leaning against the wall, downwind of the door and windows, he pulled out a pack of the strawberry-flavored cigarettes and removed one, pausing as he saw Sebastian saunter out and take a place next to him and do the same. For a moment he hesitated, then shook his head and put away the pack, snapping his fingers to produce a small flame to light his smoke, offering it to Sebastian when he was done.

                    "Thanks. You know, you're pretty cute when you're flustered." Lys shot him a quick glare and took a short drag on his cigarette, hooking a thumb in his belt loop.

                    "So I'm pretty sure you didn't come out here to give me crap about not wanting to celebrate."

                    "Nah, I figured you wanted to be alone, but I needed a smoke, too."

                    "Whatever." Chuckling, Sebastian took a long draw on his, exhaling slowly and watching the smoke dissipate.

                    "He's not offended, you know, just confused. He's funny like that. He loves everyone and gets a kick out of showing affection. Not the same way you do, though, it took me a while to notice the difference. Hell, it wasn't until I met you that I actually found out what love was in the first place."

                    "Heh, you and Abby seem to be happy together."

                    "No, I meant you." Confused, Lys flicked the ash off of the end of his cigarette, giving him an odd look. Inhaling again, Sebastian blew a short stream of smoke as he took a second to gather his thoughts. "I've never been close to anyone. Even mom, I've always been friendly and everything to her, but I never felt much, if that makes sense. Sam's a great friend, but I just felt less-tense around him than I did others, same for Abby. And then you showed up. You were weird, but I didn't feel weird around you. That night I took you back on the bike for the first time, I kinda wanted to get to know you a bit more and hung around after we got everything unloaded. For the first time in a while I was curious about someone else. You were honest and open, and I was kinda surprised at just how comfortable you were with yourself and your opinions. I realized that I could tell you anything and you'd never tell anyone else or be judgmental about it." He paused again to take another long pull on his cigarette, smiling faintly.

                    "We all started hanging out together, and you should have hit on every one of my nerves, being so cuddly and energetic, but I enjoyed your company, and started looking forward to being around you. Same for Sam and Abby and everyone. I still preferred the solitude of my room, but I didn't dread leaving to go be with people. Eventually, I realized that I felt something for you. It surprised me, but it wasn't a bad thing. I was actually happy, and I realized that I understood you and Sam a bit better, because I finally understood what it was to feel love for someone else. Not the kind you and Elliott have, that's eros, the physical sort of passionate love, and not the kind you have for Alex, the love you feel for family. Sam has playful love for people, ludus if I remember right, but that wasn't it, either. It was the sort you feel for close siblings, and I almost felt like a total asshole because I felt closer to you than I did Maru, my sister. That made me do a lot of thinking, and when she approached me to try and work on technical projects together, I actually was excited for it." Lys wasn't quite sure what to make of this. He was somewhat flattered and curious, though, and toyed with his smoke as he sought a reply.

                    "So why are you telling me this? I'm not trying to be rude, and I'm glad that you told me, but..."

                    "It's my gift to you. Talk to me, tell me anything. I won't judge, and I won't tell anyone else. I'm your older brother, remember?"

                    "...You want to know why I didn't want to do anything for my birthday."

                    "A little, but mostly because you're not often bothered by things and that question made you really uncomfortable. I want to know why because I don't like seeing you like that, so I want to either help you get through it or prevent a situation where you're not happy from happening."

                    "You... Thanks... It's nothing big, though. I'm... Look, do you want them to do anything for your birthday or anything."


                    "Why not?"

                    "Like you said, I don't like being the center of attention. I don't like doing things for me like that. I'm happy to be with everyone and do stuff as a group, but I don't want something to be all about me." Lys's smile was warm and sympathetic as he hugged Sebastian around the shoulders with one arm.

                    "Exactly. I love the limelight, I enjoy performing, but that's because it's for someone else. I'm not doing it for the attention or to make it about me, I just want to see someone smile and make them feel good. It's something that Elliott keeps reminding me, that he thinks I'm not selfish enough." Sebastian felt Lys's fingers tighten on his shoulder for a moment as his friend got a suddenly distant look, and he knew what was on his mind.

                    "Are you two doing okay?"

                    "...Do you...think we'll be okay? Long term?" He didn't expect this, and he turned to Lys, eyebrows raised and mouth open, confirming the other man's expression.

                    "What's up? You're having doubts about yourself?" Lys's smile had a sad edge to it now, and he tried to pull back from Sebastian, only to have the shorter man put a supportive arm around his waist. "Hey, talk to me. I know he loves you, and you mean the world to him. I know that you know that, too. You never cast aspersions on others, it's always yourself. What's going on in that ginger noggin of yours?" Lys tried to take a drag from his cigarette a couple of times, finally sighing.

                    "Am I good enough? I'm damaged, 'Bas, and I've healed over and recovered from a few things, but... I love him so much. I don't know if I deserve him, though. I'm trying. To earn it, I mean. Trying to be a better person. I used to be such a flirt and too pushy, I'm trying to back off and... Uh, what's that look for?"

                    "You utter twit. I had to resist the urge to slap you because I'd be using my off-hand, and I'm still holding the cigarette."

                    "What? Why?!"

                    "What the hell did he see in you in the first place?"

                    "I... I'm not sure, I guess..."

                    "Did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, those qualities are what he likes in you and why he freaking married you?"

                    "Well, yeah, but-"

                    "If he didn't like something he'd have said something, right?"

                    "...Yeah, he would. But-"

                    "And has he?"

                    "Well, no. It's still that-" Lys shut up in surprise as Sebastian growled at him.

                    "I'm only going to say this once, so shut up and listen." Nodding, Lys almost dropped his cigarette at his friend's fierce violet glare. "It hurts him to see you do this to yourself, and he's too polite to say it to your face. I can see it, because he only shows that face when you're not looking. It's great and all that you've got the self-awareness to reflect on yourself and have the desire to improve, but don't disparage what's already there. You think it's a bad thing that you're affectionate with anyone? Do you think any of us would let you do something if we didn't like it?"

                    "...No. But if-"

                    "SHUT. UP. You're just fine. It's fine wanting to improve, sure. Stay the same too long and you stagnate and decay. But just changing because reasons? No. You're so worried that you'll hurt him that you're causing him pain. Stop it. And yeah, you're damaged and flawed. Guess what? We all are. That's part of being human. You do freaking deserve him, you two make each other happy, and if you doubt yourself again I'll hit you where it's going to annoy Elliott." He sighed and shook his head. "We miss you, Lys, you. That crazy, sassy, pain in the ass that we only get to see on stage these days. And this whole Chosen thing... It's still eating you up, that stuff with Rasmodius and the Reclaimed, those nightmares. I'm not telling you to get over it, but if you need to vent or talk or whatever, and you don't think you can go to Elliott about it, I'm here." Lys dug his fingers into Sebastian's shoulder again.

                    "I'm not going to lose any of you. Everyone comes home." Sebastian gasped as Lys hugged him tightly. "I'm scared. I'm trying to be strong, but I'm not."

                    "Part of being strong is knowing your weaknesses. You're fine, just believe in us, too. You're the leader but that doesn't mean we're pushovers."

                    "Leader? What, no, Sam's the lead guitar, and-"

                    "You totally are. When that flood of Shadows appeared you were the first to jump in. When Ras and the others were teaching us how to use our abilities you tried new things first and pushed yourself harder than any of us. When we all realized the full extent of what could happen you stood up and motivated us, ALL of us. And last night, holy crap, last night. We all froze, worried that our cover was blown, and you just grabbed it and ran. You turned something that could have gone horribly wrong into an opportunity, and made it so wonderfully silly and bizarre that nobody could ever take it seriously. Embrace it, you're the leader of our little magical girl troupe, and nobody is going to take that title from you or give you grief about it."

                    "...Thanks. You're right. You and Elliott always are."

                    "Only because you insist on being wrong so often. C'mon, let's get back in there, we've got stuff to take care of." Following Sebastian back in, Lys rubbed the back of his neck as he approached Sam.

                    "So... Sorry about that. I don't like doing stuff just for me. I'm happy to do something with everyone, and if you have something in mind I'm interested, so..."

                    "Well, I was thinking of hiring a stripper, but I don't know if anyone here would get as much of a kick out of it that you and I would," Sam teased.

                    "That's a terrible idea, I'd get up there and show them how it's done, and not only is that bad form, I'm pretty sure that only Elliott would enjoy it." Sam laughed heartily at this, grinning widely as Lys swept him up in an enthusiastic hug.

                    "Hey, I keep forgetting, can I borrow that crown of yours?" Alex asked, "I haven't had the chance to learn to work with gold yet, maybe I can clean it up a bit and un-dent it for you."

                    "Oh! Sure, be right back." He teleported home and back, handing over the ornate circlet.

                    "Cool, this will be neat." Steering the conversation back on topic, Sam opened another can of soda.

                    "So what are we gonna do for your birthday, dude?"
                      Last edited: Nov 24, 2016
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                    • Risukage

                      Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                      //Oh my gods, Risu, enough with the talking! Get back to the action already!//

                      A week after the Luau Lys reclined on the porch on a warm summer afternoon, enjoying the sunshine. He had taken off his shirt, as it was his house, and the sun just felt so nice. Further, he noticed that he was drawing mana easier from direct light-to-skin contact, and relaxed against one of the support beams as he ran a finger around the rim of a glass of water. He had also removed the ribbon to let his hair free, as it became a vibrant, almost metallic shade after a bit of sun bleaching. Elliott had just finished something indoors and came out looking for him, amused by his husband's state of semi-dress.

                      "You look delightfully comfortable, my dear. I should worry that you would burn after too much exposure, but then it occurs to me that this is your element, and therefore you have nothing to fear." Lys smiled and reached up to brush Elliott's fingers with his own as the other man sat across from him, gazing out across the garden.

                      "It's such a nice day, and it's been so quiet lately, but I just know that the Reclaimed are going to start trouble again here soon. I'm trying to take a little bit of time to just...feel. To think and reflect and remember... I'm prone to self-doubt and losing hope too easily, and I want to make sure that I have good memories to hold on to when things get really bad. Gotta get yourself to believe something first if you're going to have any chance of convincing others, y'know?" He swirled the water in the glass with a flick of his wrist. "I'm also trying to understand everyone else's elements. I want to know how and why everyone does what they do, and see if maybe I can pick up on it. Alex has already done some amazing things with his gift, and he and Sam seem to be working on a few nifty things together. Sebastian has also made some impressive strides, especially when he collaborates with Alex, as their affinities are kinda opposite sides of the same coin. And I've been around all of you long enough, and having touched your minds through the Link, that I think I know how your abilities work." Quick on the uptake, Elliott nodded at the glass of water.

                      "What is it that you are trying to accomplish? I would have thought that you would attempt to channel Abigail's or Sam's abilities, as theirs are closer in nature and less opposing to yours."

                      "That's a bit true, but, well..." He set the glass down and ran a thumb over the scar on one wrist, thinking of something. "I'm trying to understand you better first, as well as do some self-reflection. I'm sorry for the last month or two." Surprised, Elliott sat up straighter, casting Lys a questioning look.

                      "I've not felt cross with you lately, there is nothing for which you need to apologize, is there?" Lys held open his arms, inviting him in for a hug, which Elliott accepted, reclining against him and resting his head on the other man's shoulder, listening to the sound of Lys's heart and voice, and softly tracing the lines of his husband's neck and collarbone with his fingers. Lys hugged him firmly for a moment before kissing the top of his head and toying with a lock of his hair.

                      "I've not been honest with myself lately. The last couple of months I've tried so hard to change, thinking and believing that I needed to, that I had qualities that weren't desirable. When we were dating I wasn't really thinking of it, because I'd never had anything long-term before, or that serious, and I was recovering from a number of bad things. At that point I was still putting myself back together, trying to figure out who and what I was." He paused for a moment, smiling at a memory.

                      "Then you proposed to me, and I realized just how serious and dedicated you were, and I looked back at what I was, how I was so noisy and irresponsible and inelegant compared to you. I thought that you deserved someone more fitting of your social status and nearly threw away everything that I was to achieve it. I was trying so hard to be something that I thought you wanted and needed that I was blind to the fact that you loved what was already there. I wasn't improving myself, I was holding myself back, and in the process it hurt you, but you're too kind to say anything because you trust me to know myself and what I best need. I was oblivious of your pain, and that is inexcusable. I'm going to mess up now and then, that happens, and it has happened, but what's important is what I do afterward. I've messed up, so I'm making up for it. I'm sorry for doubting your love for me. It won't happen again." Elliott chuckled and playfully tapped Lys on the nose.

                      "It is not me that you must ask forgiveness, it is yourself, for it is your own doubts that clouded your mind."

                      "...I have. But I still need to make it up to you for causing you trouble. It took Sebastian kicking me in the ass to get me to notice, and I still needed another couple of days to mentally sort it all out. I'm just fine with who, what, and how I am, because those qualities are why you fell in love with me in the first place. There's no need for me to change, because you love me for who I am right now, and I'm happy with that." Shifting so that he could see Lys's face, Elliott smiled, lighting up those deep blue eyes.

                      "Thank you. It is a weight off of my mind, and I am relieved to see you comfortable with yourself once more." Lys felt tension vanish as well, not realizing that he had carried it. With a lazy flick of his fingers, Elliott called the water in the glass to himself as he relaxed against Lys again, guiding it to flow and weave around his hand. Watching carefully, Lys reached out with his mind to feel and interact with it, seeing how Elliott's mana infused with it. Elliott shaped it into a sphere on his palm, holding it up for Lys to experiment with.

                      "It's weird, it's so...stoic. It feels like I have to put so much energy in to get it moving, but once it does, it just keeps going," Lys observed, attempting to merge his mana with it and getting a satisfying ripple on the surface of the sphere.

                      "That is the nature of water; uncompressible and slow to move, but destructive and unstoppable once in motion. Ah, there, you seem to have the gist of it, don't force it, just nudge and guide." A marble-sized droplet split off from the sphere, and Lys put out his hand to better support it with his own mana, concentrating with difficulty.

                      "I'm really trying, but I'm so used to having to maintain control at all times that it's a hard habit to- Drat, lost it." The sphere lost its coherency and splashed onto Lys's hand. Sighing, he found his focus again and took Elliott's advice, glancing over at what and how he was doing in order to copy it. The water rippled on his palm, almost alive, as it several times almost took shape before spreading back out again. After a couple of minutes, however, Lys laughed with delight to successfully coalesce the liquid into a sphere as well, slowly spinning in place as he imparted small pokes and prods of mana into it to keep it stable.

                      "Very good, my dear, you picked up on that rather quickly."

                      "Well, fire is basically energy, right? This is just channeling it in a different direction and manner. Want to give fire a try?" Elliott returned the water to the glass and sat up.

                      "I would like that quite a bit. I seek to better understand you as well." Snapping his fingers, Lys produced a small flame that flickered and danced upon his palm.

                      "Here, give me your hands, I'll support the flame while you study it." He cupped Elliott's hands in his, transferring the flame to him, feeding it mana and smiling as he felt Elliott investigate it with a thread of his own. Frowning in concentration, Elliott brushed against it several times before he finally merged with it, eyes wide with wonder as he suddenly understood the nature of his companion's element. The flame sputtered and vanished and he sighed, realizing his error.

                      "I did not support it enough. I felt you withdraw enough for me to take over, but did not provide enough mana to keep it alive. I am accustomed to a significant initial investment and then minor changes later, but it appears that fire requires constant attention." Giggling happily, Lys leaned over to kiss him on the cheek, delighted at how quickly he had adapted.

                      "Exactly. Some people think that you need to fight with fire. You don't. You dance with it. It is wild and unpredictable, and you'll get burned so badly if you're not paying attention. But fire isn't malicious, it's just dangerous. You need to respect it, not fear it. Fear will only make you hesitant and resistant. Embrace it, welcome it. Fire is the spark of life, and once you are in tune with your own you can work with it, not against it. Yes, you can get burned, but that's how life goes; if you're going to be afraid of getting hurt you'll never grow. It requires constant vigil, so it can take a lot of mental energy that can wear you out quickly. It is powerful, but short-lived. Now, call on a flame of your own. Look deep within, and find a memory that you hold close. One that makes you feel warm and alive." Lys saw Elliott's smile and knew that he had found the memory he needed. "Good, now hold that memory in your mind and your mana in your hands. Merge them, give them a form. Give that memory life."

                      Eyes closed, Elliott channeled and held mana between his hands, trying to spin and spark it, but he wasn't quite sure how. That memory, it was warm, and he held it so dear... He felt a warm tingle as he recalled it and found the inspiration he needed, imparting that same tingle to his mana, and-

                      Gasping with surprise, he lost his focus, and the tiny flame he had conjured vanished. Lys hugged him, laughing brightly.

                      "That's it! Again, now that you know how." Feeling more confident from his success and his partner's enthusiasm, he gathered his mana again, seeding it with the memory, and sparking it the same as last time. Once more, the dancing fire appeared, but he maintained his focus and remembered Lys's advice, carefully feeding it mana, trying not to starve it of power or let it get out of control. He risked a glance up at Lys, who shared his enthusiasm.

                      "I had sensed some of your ability during our dance on the water, but I did not fully comprehend both the danger and delight you derive from your element. I feel energetic and powerful, yet it is fleeting. It consumes me, and I feel as though I will lose control if I am distracted even for a moment. That you are able to wield it with such skill and confidence for so long is a testament to your unyielding will and love for life." He maintained the flame for as long as he could before his focus wavered and it vanished again. Still lost in thought at what he had accomplished, he stared at the space that the flame- his flame- had occupied.

                      "What a matched yet opposite pair that we are. Contrasting yet complementary." Lys squeezed his hands and laughed again.

                      "If you like I'll take you flying some time. I think I'm strong enough to carry both of us, and I'm pretty sure that you won't be able to do it on your own."

                      "I do not know if I am brave enough to attempt that just yet, but perhaps I shall work up the courage to try some day. For now, however, I simply want to hold you close and share the warmth that I feel right now." Lys moved over to sit in his lap, this time being the one to be held. He was expecting Elliott to kiss him, but not be quite this demanding and passionate about it.

                      "Mm, love, we really should-"

                      "Take this inside? An excellent suggestion." Lys smirked as Elliott kissed him again, getting quite free with his touch.

                      "We have places to be soon, you know."

                      "Then we should get started quickly so we have more time before we must depart."

                      "So, what, learning to channel fire has you hot and bothered?" Elliott was amused by Lys's pun but it didn't dissuade him from his course of action, nibbling his ear and smiling as Lys giggled at the sensation.

                      "You have been lounging about half-dressed and being so wonderfully intelligent and clever. That I've been able to keep my hands to myself thus far speaks highly of my self-restraint."

                      "Fine then, it's not like I'd turn you down anyway, but if we're late to meet with everyone at the tower I'm assigning responsibility to you."

                      "You speak as if I would ever regret pleasing you."
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                      • Risukage

                        Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                        //Oh look, action. *Gets popcorn.*//

                        Another week passed without event, and all of the Chosen were understandably cautious. But until something actually happened, there was nothing that they could really do, so they remained vigilant but wary. Gathered at the community center for practice as usual, they waited for Lys and Elliott to arrive, checking the band's forums in the meantime, as they had gotten a LOT of traffic since they had uploaded the "story" video explaining the events at the Luau, the videos of which had already gone viral. Sam was re-watching it, feet kicked up on the table and wearing headphones. It opened with Lys grinning his usual, cheeky smile, and anyone who knew him saw mischief in it as well.

                        "Hello, and thanks for joining us! Apologies for keeping this secret for so long, but we had to be sure that the script was finalized and all of the effects were ready to go. Today we're announcing the start of a new project: The Elements of Magic. Based on the story of Yoba and the Shadows, we're doing a modern interpretation of the old local legend, wherein a local musical group is called upon to defend their home from creatures from the Shadow realm. We're not just retelling the old stories, though, we're making a few additions and changes." Lys kept speaking, but the video shifted to a diagram laying out and describing in better detail what he explained.

                        "A lot of people have asked us who our opponent was, as there was no mention of people fighting for the Shadow side in the legends. We decided to shake things up a bit with the concept of the Reclaimed, who were old Chosen who fell in battle against the dragon in the final battle and were basically resurrected for the other side. We feel that we can tell a deeper and more meaningful story with a more clever and relatable enemy than simply tackling a monster-of-the-week creature. Further, there is a lot more lore and backstory that we want to cover, particularly of the old Chosen, and we're in the process of finalizing the scripts for those parts so we can begin filming them soon." The camera shifted back to him, holding a book titled "The Legend of Yoba and the Shadows."

                        "People have also asked why we're doing this project. Well, I've always been fond of stories, and after moving to the place that my family grew up in, I'm keen to share one of their oldest and most treasured tales with others. Being a part of this group gave me inspiration to adapt this story, and everyone has been kind enough to indulge me. We're not really sure how long it will run, as there is a lot of story that we want to tell, but at the same time we don't want it to drag on forever. We'll link to the videos as we get them uploaded, so keep an eye out for admin posts in the videos section. We'll answer what questions that we can without spoiling anything. In the meantime, we thank you all for your curiosity and enthusiasm. We're excited to tell this story, and hope that you'll stick with us until the end of it." He winked and posed for dramatic effect. "See you all soon! It's showtime!"

                        "He is such a dweeb, and he's the only one here who can actually pull that off and make it work," Sam remarked, scrolling through the video comments, "I can't believe we're getting away with telling it to everyone's face like that. Freakin' ballsy." Sebastian grunted a chuckle, checking the comments one of the Luau audience-shot videos.

                        "Looks like he gets to stay ginger, 'cause this one alone has nine people claiming that it totally looks fake and staged. Though I wonder if we can actually do this project like he's promising. It sounds like fun, and it's a hell of an endeavor, but I'm not sure how he plans to 'film' most of what he's said. I mean, yeah, it happened, but it's not like we had cameras rolling or anything."

                        "Actually, I might be able to help with that," Haley offered, garnering everyone's attention, "I've been experimenting with some of my abilities, and I think that I can-"

                        She was cut off by twin shouts of RECLAIMED! FARM! from Lys and Elliott, which everyone received from the passively open communication Link that Haley always maintained. Without a second thought, they all teleported in simultaneously to the position of their friends. Both men were already fully Empowered, wielding weapons and channeling their elements against two Reclaimed. The two new enemies backed off for a moment at the arrival of reinforcements to size up the situation.

                        "The Lightning and the Iron," observed Alex, armoring up with a thought, "so you're finally working in teams. I was wondering why you hadn't done that yet." The Reclaimed of the Iron grinned and hefted her shield as she readied an enormous bastard sword.

                        "There has been no need for us to work together in the past. It's not like we need all of us to crush you all like the bugs you are."

                        "Oh? I think we put up a decent fight against your Earth and Water," returned Abigail, already taking to the sky and drawing both pistols.

                        "The Earth was a fool with too much ego, and as I recall, our Water held her own in this last fight quite well, and nearly killed your Fire not too long ago. I'm not worried about our chances." Lys smirked as he shifted his mental focus, seeing the threads of shadow that powered them.

                        "I call BS. You lot can't fight us all at once because there's not enough power to go around. I can see it, you're drawing off of a link to your home plane, but you can only pull so much, and you can't at all from our world. You all are sharing the same connection. Bloody stupid, but I'm happy to take any benefit that I can." Twin glares from the Reclaimed confirmed his statement, and he gave them his most infuriating grin. "So all we have to do is outlast you two. Easy enough." The Lightning summoned his weapons, copper tonfa, which he gripped with the confidence of someone skilled in their use.

                        "We won't need much time to destroy all of you by ourselves. You are merely children who know nothing about their abilities. We've had hundreds of years to perfect ours."

                        "Big talk from someone who's been dead longer than he was alive."

                        "Bored now," Sam yawned, dashing over to get in a hit on Birgitte, only to yelp and teleport aside a few feet as her armor detached in several places to float around her, providing protection in all directions from other opponents. Alex saw how this both improved and reduced her defenses at the same time, and also saw that she held the sword with unsettling ease, which she noticed in return as she lunged in to attack.

                        "You've not been to war, have you, boy? You're too fresh-faced, I can see that you've never had to truly fight for your life before. It's almost a pity that this will be your last battle. Maybe if I don't kill you too quickly the Echo can seed you and I can instruct you in some decent sparring."

                        "This is good enough training, thanks. Let's see if you're as good as you talk or if that's all you are." Nikolai had tried to duck around to attack Alex from behind but was deflected by Sebastian, who wielded the earth of his friend's home with almost casual self-assurance. The Reclaimed then dashed over to test the green-clad man, hoping to take out the person most suited to nullifying his abilities, and found that his defenses were impenetrable. Abigail launched a volley of fast shots in his direction, leading her target carefully, but even so he still had the speed and agility to avoid and deflect her projectiles with his weapons.

                        "He's too freaking fast, we need to- EEK!" Nikolai missed her with a bolt of electricity by mere inches, as he had to dodge a double-bladed strike from Lys.

                        "I'll take care of that, Abby, you keep providing air support."

                        Sam, with me! he Sent, which was faster than talking and didn't alert their enemy to their tactics, the rest of you take out Birgitte. He's got to be burning power almost as fast as I am to be moving like that, so we can wear him down ourselves. Haley nodded and brought up the "Combat Interface" she had developed in the last fight.

                        Good idea. I'll keep you updated with his location, he's crazy fast and while not strong, can get in a lot of quick hits before we can react.

                        The battle joined, Alex and Birgitte faced off, joined by the others. Lys and Sam did their best to keep Nikolai focused on them, but people, unlike brute monsters, have minds and tactics of their own. He ignored Sam, choosing instead to harry Lys, who wasn't nearly as fast as he was, and therefore had to fight defensively, while Sam played catch-up. Despite being outnumbered four-to-one, Birgitte held her own with defiance, laughing and attacking with glee, often breaking from Alex to strike at one of the other three. Despite keeping her at a distance and attacking with ranged abilities, they still had to maneuver and stay agile, as she used her armor offensively as well. Even Abigail had to dodge the random sharpened piece of armor that threatened to cut her or knock her out of the sky.

                        The fight raged on for several minutes, with neither side gaining or losing ground, until Birgitte launched an armor piece at Haley. Their Voice gasped in fear, almost forgetting to dodge aside as she was so absorbed in directing the battle, but was prevented from doing so when Nikolai ran up behind her and struck her with a lightning-enchanted tonfa. The two part-strike from both Reclaimed knocked her out, and the connection that the Chosen had snapped. Elliott detached from the fight to run over and provide aid, backed by Sebastian to ward off Nikolai. Birgitte laughed again.

                        "Foolish children, you were warned and now you will perish."

                        Sebastian formed a protective shield of earth over Haley and Elliott so that the healer could work without interruption. This was only effective for a moment, as Nikolai feinted an attack against Sam before dashing over and hitting him in the same manner that he had Haley, dropping the Earth-wielder as well. Without his mana to support it, the shield failed, and Elliott and Haley were vulnerable once more. Too late, Elliott had to divert his attention from healing to defense, and threw up a hasty shield of ice, which Nikolai smashed in one hit. Grabbing him by the throat, he discharged most of his power, and Elliott screamed in agony before collapsing as well. Grinning, Nikolai dodged Sam and Abigail with careless ease, and Birgitte ignored Alex to run over as well, preparing to deliver killing strikes to all three prone Chosen. Elliott propped himself up on one arm to once more pour all of his power into a shield, but she broke this one as well, and he suffered a score on the arm and leg, his power reduced enough that his armor was unable to protect him. Despite this, he glared in defiance, prepared to defend his friends-

                        Lys roared in unmitigated rage.


                        Attacking with incandescent fury, Lys was wrapped in an eye-watering corona of fire, wings fully extended, the same as in the mines during his nightmare. But this time, instead of swords, he wielded claws of concentrated plasma, fighting with a berserker rage. He eschewed defense for complete offense, which neither Reclaimed were able to exploit. Birgitte danced madly backwards as Lys pressed the attack, lashing and slashing wildly, ignoring Nikolai. Rather than try to take down any other Chosen, he assisted his companion, but Lys was oblivious to his attempts. Alex, Sam, and Abigail worked together to keep Nikolai busy and hopefully take him down, knowing that not only did Lys not need help, he'd probably be angry if he received it. She tried to retaliate with her floating armor, but every piece sent his way was slashed into pieces as though it were paper.

                        "Nikolai, you idiot, I could use some help here!" she yelled, losing a couple of strands of hair to a VERY close swipe. The man in question was too busy to reply, as though he was trying to break free, the other three kept him away from Lys and Birgitte.

                        "I will end you for what you have done!" Lys howled, knocking aside a sword strike that should have hurt, but bounced off of his mana-reinforced gloves. Eventually, she stumbled, unable to back away in time, and struck out haphazardly in the hopes of getting a lucky strike. The talons of solid fire cut through both shield and sword, reducing them to multiple useless pieces. Before she could dismiss and recall either one, another wild, slashing strike cut completely through her armor, gouging deep into her without resistance. She was the next to scream in pain and immediately teleported away, her armor and sundered gear vanishing as well.

                        Nikolai was alone but not daunted, using his superior speed to get close. Lys allowed it, and the Lightning Reclaimed took the bait, only realizing his error when he saw that wide, feral grin. Grappling him with all of his strength, Lys channeled as much power as he could, igniting the grass around him from ambient heat. As soon as he felt the vorpal claws dig in and the unsurvivable fire, Nikolai teleported away as well. Lys snarled in anger and lashed out randomly with waves of flame, still holding onto the power that he had called down to destroy his enemy.

                        "COWARDS!! You dare to harm him and run?! I will hunt you all down and destroy you myself!!" Haley and Sebastian had recovered, though they were still prone, and all Chosen stared at Lys with fear and awe, not certain if they should intervene or let him burn out his fury on his own. Panting with anger and slowly-mounting exhaustion, he glanced over at his friends. The look of concern that Elliott wore sent a cold shock through him, and he lost control over the energies that he held, thankfully dissipating from the lack of mana. His armor and weapons vanished as well, and he backed away, suddenly tearing up and finding it hard to breathe.

                        "I... You're... I didn't..." He tripped over himself and fell over clumsily, about to get to his feet again as Sam approached. "No... Don't- Don't look at me, please, go away!" Stunned, everyone glanced among themselves before Sam hesitantly reached out to touch Lys on the arm.

                        "Dude, it's okay, what-"

                        "Please, go away. I'm a monster..."
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                        • Risukage

                          Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                          //Cool, even more action! *Continues to munch popcorn.*//

                          Perplexed, Sam grabbed Lys by the wrists and laughed, trying to pull him up.

                          "Are you kidding? You were badass! That was- The wrong thing to say apparently," he corrected himself as Lys pulled back, still trying to shrink away. "Dude, you're not a monster, you saved our asses. You had her running scared and just shredded everything she threw at you. I mean, damn, she kept four of us busy at once but you alone sent her packing. Then Nikolai? Man, your hugs are always warm, but that was a sick burn!"

                          "I'm... I... I could have hurt one of you. I'm too wild, that was too reckless, I wasn't in control..." Sebastian had gotten to his feet, and snarled as he stormed over and roughly yanked Lys to his own.

                          "Bull. Shit. I was down for part of that fight but I saw you drive her off by just being stupidly overpowered, something none of us could do at that moment. And if you were just raging blindly you wouldn't have waited for Nikolai to come to you, you'd have charged him."

                          "You don't know that, I could have-"

                          Tired of Lys's continual self-doubt, he hauled back and punched him with a lot more skill and force than anyone expected out of him.

                          "KNOCK. IT. OFF." Lys glared at him from the ground, resisting the urge to rub his jaw.

                          "I'm just worried about hurting one of you."

                          "FOR THE LOVE OF-!!" Sebastian shifted back to his empowered state and swung at Lys with his scythe, which was awkward as it wasn't meant to be wielded like that, but it did have the desired effect of getting the other man to dodge aside and get him up again. "I've had enough of your emo shit. Fine. I am going to fight you and put an end to this because I am freaking tired of this whiny garbage."

                          "I'm not going to- SHIT!" Lys ducked and leapt aside, Empowering only to gain agility, not offense.

                          "Yes, you ARE. We're not weak little children, we are Chosen, and I for one am tired of you insinuating that we can't defend ourselves." Lys hovered overhead, still refusing to fight.

                          "I never said that! I'm worried that I'll hurt you if I go all-out."

                          "Tch. Idiot." Sebastian glanced over at Elliott and a smile flickered at the corner of his lips. "I've been going about this incorrectly. I'm trying to hit you where you're strong. I need to hit you where you're weak." To Lys's shock, Sebastian turned and swung his weapon at Elliott, who was still sitting and healing his injuries. Unable to defend or run as he couldn't redirect his mana that quickly and he was still too injured to stand, further compounded by the shock of Sebastian attacking him, Elliott was paralyzed by indecision. There was no reason for him to worry, however, as Lys intercepted his friend, hovering over the both of them as he gripped the haft of the scythe with both hands, the obsidian glowing red as Lys heated it to its melting point. Growling, he pulled the weapon from the other man's hands as Sebastian stepped back with a haughty laugh.

                          "So that's what it takes for you to get off of your ass and fight." The black weapon snapped into several pieces as Lys melted it through, and Sebastian dismissed and re-summoned it with a flick of his wrist. "Quit. Running."

                          "I thought I was flying."

                          Teeth gritted in pain, Elliott stood up, finalizing the healing on his leg and repairing his damaged armor. Lys and Sebastian paused in their half-duel as he pulled out a mana potion and drank it, tossing the empty bottle to Alex.

                          "You are correct, Sebastian. He has treated us as inferior combatants for too long. This must be rectified, and I shall be the one to do so." Eyes wide, Lys landed and held out his hands pleadingly.

                          "Love, you don't have to-"

                          "I must, because I am the only one who can. Drink," he commanded, throwing another bottle to Lys, who nearly fumbled it, "it will not be fair unless you can battle at full strength. Face your fears, and face me."

                          "You were just hurt, I can't-" Now infuriated, Elliott's dark blue eyes were cold, and frost began to form on the grass around him. Lys couldn't ever recall him being this angry and was speechless for it.

                          "LYSANDER! Do not insult me further! You continually back away, you always hesitate. Only once have I seen you stand up to me and even then you still chose to run at the end. It ends now. You will show me your true power and fight me at full strength, for I will not hold back."

                          "...Please, love, don't do this..."

                          "You think me weak?" Elliott hissed, summoning his sword with a snap of his arm and hefting the book in his other hand, "I will no longer endure your continual and condescending slights against my honor. You are ruled by your fears and will die by them unless you find the courage to resolve that which haunts and governs your thoughts."

                          Hand shaking, Lys gripped the bottle tightly as his eyes burned once more. Finally, he threw the unopened potion aside, drew both swords, and kicked off of a hard light platform, launching himself at Elliott with all of the mana that he could hold. The blonde man smiled coldly and pulled most of the nearby pond to himself, as he had been pouring his mana into it ever since he had stood up. Lys had expected this, and had also prepared to shatter any shield that was summoned. He did not expect, however, Elliott to keep the water liquid, which Lys's sword passed through easily, and he redirected his momentum and vector away before he completed the swing. He had felt Elliott increase the density of the water around his weapons, to either disarm him or completely envelop him and win the fight.

                          Once more using the hard light circle, he attacked from a different angle, only to have to redirect again as Elliott kept the watery mass between the two of them, splitting off sections to freeze and send at him, which were recalled as soon as they were expended. Shattering the shards with a thought, Lys mirrored his husband and summoned flame to deal with the ranged threats as he dove and probed Elliott's defenses from every angle, sending bolts of fire at random, trying to find a weak point. Even without the Link, Elliott was adept at keeping Lys at bay, fighting the wild, powerful fire user with steadfast calm, and deflecting all attacks almost without looking. Lys knew that Elliott planned to wear him down, forcing him to use up all of his power attempting to break through his defensive barrier. The other Chosen backed off and watched silently and with trepidation, and Elliott glared at Lys as he repelled yet another attack.

                          "Is this all that you have? I expected to combat you with nothing left behind."

                          "I've got plenty left, and I'm going to use it all."

                          Thinking back to the other day when they had experimented with each other's abilities, Lys had a quick idea. Sheathing his swords, he attacked quickly from multiple vectors, launching off of hard light platforms and using his zero-point turns to randomly strike from unpredictable angles. As predicted, though, Elliott abandoned his ranged attacks and wrapped the water around himself in a protective bubble, continuing to wear down his opponent through entropy. This gave Lys the opportunity he wanted, and he plunged both hands into the semi-solid liquid that surrounded his husband and dumped as much mana as he could into it, both heating it greatly and overloading the cohesion and stability that Elliott maintained. Lys's calculations were correct; the sudden influx of extra mana, particularly not his own, and the change in state as the water threatened to boil off, caused Elliott to lose his focus and hold over his element. Attempting to regain control, he "spun" it with new energy and redirected it aside to recall when it wasn't as scalding hot, and lost all hold over it as Lys landed in front of him, wrapping him tightly in his arms and summoning a spiraling column of fire around them both.

                          Reflexively, and partially out of fear, he held Lys closer, holding his breath, until he realized that it wasn't hot in the eye of the fiery maelstrom, and that nothing had caught fire. He wondered how much power and focus it took to not only maintain this ability but not damage anything with it. Lys kissed him fiercely, and Elliott could now feel it, he could actually taste the power that the other man wielded, and the razor's edge that he danced upon to maintain control. It was as though Lys were trying to balance a pin on his fingertip, and the slightest movement in any direction could either mean balance or destruction.

                          "This is why I worry, love," Lys said, finally releasing him a little, "I'm too strong. When I have control I am brilliant and powerful, but that power has so many costs. I am dangerous, and I'm only getting stronger. First in the mines, and just now, I can win simply by overpowering someone. No finesse, no tactics, just raw, brute strength. There's no elegance to it. That is what concerns me. Should I lose control of myself, either due to my own emotions or actions by our enemy, I could hurt all of you so badly. I could hurt you, and I can't allow that. I'm not scared that I or any of you are too weak, I'm concerned that somehow my power could be used to harm you, and I need to ensure that that never happens." Silently regarding the fire that spun around them, Elliott smiled softly and nodded.

                          "I understand. Thank you for taking me seriously, and for standing up to me like that. That was exactly what I had sought." Lys returned the smile, dismissing the fire, much to the relief of their friends. However, he was dredging the bottom of his mana pool by now, and his armor vanished as he fainted and collapsed. Barely catching him in time, Elliott sighed with relief as he dismissed his own armor and sat down, holding him gently.

                          "Are...you two okay?" Sam asked, edging closer very slowly.

                          "We have reached an understanding, it is done. He has simply expended himself once more, but he is swift to recover, particularly in the bright light of a summer afternoon. Ah, see, he is already coming around." Groaning, Lys didn't bother to try to sit up, choosing instead to lean into Elliott as he recovered.

                          "Sorry about that, all, things should be okay now. I got a couple of things out of my system."

                          "I think we can put practice on hold for today," Alex sighed, "I'm still a bit wound up myself, and after both fights I think we're all a bit tired."

                          "I concur. Allow me to prepare some tea for us, there is no reason that we cannot be social in the mean time, and I want to examine Haley and Sebastian in order to ensure that there are no lingering injuries now that the heat of battle and its constituent associations have passed." Accepting help from Alex, Elliott stood up again, and the both of them helped Lys stand, albeit a little unsteadily.

                          "Go on ahead, all of you, I'll take it slow back to the house, and I want to stay outside a bit to regenerate my mana."

                          "I'll help," offered Sam, putting Lys's arm around his shoulders and his arm around his friend's waist, "I wanna bother him for a favor anyway." Slower than the others, Lys tapped Sam on the forehead with curiosity as they walked.

                          "What's up, mate, you need me to do something for you?"

                          "I kinda want your advice, actually."

                          "I can't guarantee I'll be much help, but I'll try. What's on your mind?"

                          "How are you and Elliott doing?" Not at all expecting this, Lys stumbled and almost knocked the both of them down.

                          "I- What? We're doing well, things are good, we're happy. Why?"

                          "It's...Penny. I..." Sam scrunched up his nose as he thought, wearing a look of saddened frustration. "She deserves better than that crap trailer and her drunk-ass mom. I know it's not cool to talk smack about someone's parents, but what Pam does to her is bullshit, and I just wanna take Penny away from all that. I want to give her the chance for a better life and... I'm not sure how. I... What should I do?" Lys smiled at his friend and this unexpected, softer side of him. Sam had always been energetic and cuddly, and this sort of caring and supportive drive suited him as well.

                          "What are your dreams? What do you want out of the future? Both short- and long-term? Next year? Five years? Ten? What do you two have in common? What do you both like, what do you both dislike? What are your best similarities and worst differences? Find the root reason for why you like each other and want to spend time with each other. Talk to her, see what she wants out of her future. I don't think she's been to one of our gigs out of town yet. Let's make sure she makes it to the next one, get her away from this place a little bit. Give her something to look forward to, a better future that she'll want to build with you."

                          "You...think we'll be okay together?" Lys hugged him around the shoulders and laughed.

                          "You two will be wonderful. She's a cinnamon roll and you're our delightful sun child, and together you're sweet and warm. If I were the jealous type I'd be totally envious of just how cute you two are together."

                          "Why? You and Elliott are the sexy power couple. I bet everything's just awesome between you two. That fight a moment ago was scary but so cool. You're both just so in sync with each other." Silent for a moment, Lys hid it behind a false yawn.

                          "Yeah, we kinda are. It's pretty spiffy being married to the hottest guy in town."

                          "What are your dreams? What do you two want out of the future?" Sam mused, unusually thoughtful, and again, Lys was without an answer, but covered for it with a slight deflection.

                          "Oh, not much, just going to be totally famous authors, playwrights, and musicians, while having totally amazing sex every night. Think you'll need advice on that front? Of course you will, what am I saying. First you'll want to-" He laughed again as Sam put a hand in his face and shoved him playfully, giggling in good humor.

                          "I think I can figure it out. Well, one day, if she's interested, I mean, I don't think she won't be, not that I think about her like that, she's just too nice and pure and I'm totally a dirty creep for even thinking about that sort of thing with her in the first place, but you never know and..." Trailing off as he realized that he was babbling nervously, he cleared his throat and glanced away.

                          "You two are going to be just fine, mate. Believe in the both of you. Talk to her and be honest, I know that she'll do the same. Figure out what you both want and work together to achieve it."

                          "Thanks, I feel better about that now. You're an awesome older brother. Looks like all of that dating and married life has given you some good perspective." Sam missed the look of pain that Lys wore as he sat down on the porch, as he was accepting a mug of tea from Elliott. Lys took one as well, offering a quick peck in return.

                          "I'll join you both inside in a moment, I just need another couple of minutes to recharge. I've connected to a couple of active threads, so it won't take me long." Nodding, Elliott squeezed his shoulder in support and walked back inside. Xander padded over and headbutted Lys's ankles, purring louder than someone of his size should be able to do. With detached focus, he scratched the ginger tabby as he danced around with delight.

                          "What am I going to do, fuzzy buddy? I've got to tell him, but I've already hurt him so much..."
                          • ApertureGaming011

                            ApertureGaming011 Scruffy Nerf-Herder

                            Wow, thumbs up for Elliott''s morale boosting! I was kinda clenching my buttcheeks when the frinds fought each other, though.
                              Risukage likes this.
                            • Risukage

                              Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                              //*Groans, throws popcorn.* Oh my gods, more talking? *Sighs, gets up to get another drink.*//

                              It only took a few minutes for Lys to get back to a comfortable level of mana, even though he wasn't quite restored yet. He could feel the edge of, mana burn, he supposed?, if he drew too much actively at once. The passive threads were doing well enough, and he finished his tea as he stood and joined everyone else inside, pouring a second cup for himself and sitting at the table. Alex fixed him and Elliott with a look of inquiry as he did so.

                              "Looks like you're better, 'cuz. Good. Now that you're here, any idea why those two came after you like that? I mean, tactically, it's kinda sound, splitting our forces like that, but..."

                              "They were after the Stardrop tree," replied Elliott, gripping his mug tightly, "and possibly anything else that they could destroy in the mean time. As you stated, it is tactically sound, striking at our support like that. However, we had just finished cleaning up after the morning's work in the garden and greenhouse and happened to sense someone approaching it. We have not quite yet learned to 'ward' things as Rasmodius has, but we both have a strong connection to our home, and the tree draws mana from us both, so we felt those threads being disturbed." Alex shrugged in agreement.

                              "That makes enough sense, but why the Lightning? The Iron I understand, but how would electricity help? Wouldn't the Fire have been more useful?" Standing, Sam waved at him to interrupt.

                              "Whoa, you're missing something else. Elliott, you said that the tree is pulling mana from you both? At all times? Since when?" They knew exactly what Sam was thinking of and sighed at the same time, with Lys answering as he rubbed the back of his neck.

                              "Since we planted it. Me at night, him during the day." The spiky-haired man's jaw nearly hit the table, and he gestured frantically as he tried to express a jumble of angry thoughts.

                              "You mean to tell me that it was still bleeding you of mana after you were hurt?! Holy shit, dude! Why didn't you cut it off for a while and reconnect later, that could have killed you!"

                              "It's okay- No, really, it's okay. Yeah, I didn't have much to spare, but it wasn't drawing that much, it seems to pull based on a percentage of my available pool, not a fixed amount. Still, thanks for being concerned. We didn't want to mention anything 'cause we knew you'd be worried." He smiled as Sam stalked over to knuckle-tap him on the top of the head the way Sebastian did before hugging him.

                              "You're too good at keeping secrets. Stop it, dude, trust us more."

                              "I'll try," Lys chuckled, returning the hug, "but I'm not going to just dump on you guys, especially if all it's going to do is make you worry. As for your question, Alex, I think I know why. The Lightning is fast and could be an excellent distraction, giving Birgitte enough time to do what she needed. I don't think they expected us to pop out and challenge them, since they were really surprised when the two of us 'ported over. As for Leo... He's my great-grandfather, and the newest Reclaimed. I don't think he knows about our relation, but the resemblance is quite obvious. It's possible that the seed has already taken over, but there's the small chance that he might still be in there and might try to defect to our side or attack his own allies. If I were in Maurice's place, it's a tactical risk that I'd not take just yet. It's possible that he won't try to use him at all unless I'm..." He trailed off, unable to voice the thought, but everyone understood. Abigail shrugged and drank the last of her tea.

                              "Then that means we have one less bad guy to worry about right now, 'cause I don't see you going anywhere. Any of us, today at least. I'm in no mood for practice right now. This attack's got me concerned that they might try again somewhere else, with more of them, and we won't be as lucky."

                              "We should be okay," Lys soothed, "like I said, and you saw, they all seem to draw from the same mana pool somehow, so all of them burning their abilities at once might be less effective than just one or two at a time, especially if they're going to try throwing another dragon at us. Further, I just injured two of them pretty badly. Nikolai got away before I could do too much, but I took a fair chunk out of Birgitte's mana as well as herself. She's going to be out of commission for a while, if they have to heal in any shape like we do. As for their motives... Sam, I'll need you to keep an eye out, and Haley, keep a Link open. I'm going to talk to Maurice tomorrow."

                              Everyone went quiet. Elliott tapped the table with a finger as he thought, considering this.

                              "Dangerous, but necessary. He will not risk an incident in his own fortress, so to speak, not yet. We need information, and confronting him in this manner will not force him into a corner into which he will be desperate and act recklessly, but he will have no other recourse than to converse. I support your decision, my dear, and you have the skill and wit to pry from him that which we require. Perhaps... It is a far-fetched idea, and one not likely to be successful, but perhaps even a deal of peace and understanding could be reached. He is blood kin, and time can often heal old wounds." Lys shook his head in reply.

                              "I want to be optimistic, too, love, but this wound has poison in it. We don't even know if that is Maurice, or just a Shadow seed wearing his face. From his conversation with Edelweiss it appears that he has retained his 'self,' and that he's acting under his own motivations, but I need to know what they are and why. I also want to know how he was taken and why, because if he is himself, but none of the Reclaimed are, then there's something deeper going on, and we need to know what that is."

                              They conversed for a little while longer to see if there was anything else that Lys should try to find out the next day. Nobody but Elliott was comfortable with this idea, but if he was confident then the rest of them should be as well. Once the house was empty again, Lys sat down on the couch with the laptop to write a little bit on the sequel to their first book, as the naughty novel was mostly to tease Elliott, and he preferred working on the ones they were writing together. However, his muse was silent, drowned out by his thoughts, and he stared blankly at the screen. Elliott noticed this as he walked over with two cups of coffee and sat down next to him.

                              "You are troubled once more, my dear. Will you share with me your thoughts?" Lys tried to answer, several times starting to say something before he cut himself off. Sighing, he closed the laptop and set it on the coffee table next to the fresh drinks. He couldn't quite meet Elliott's gaze, clenching his fists on his knees as he slumped with despair.

                              "...How long before you realize that you shouldn't have married me?"

                              If he hadn't put down the coffee Elliott would have dropped it.


                              "How long until you realize that you made a mistake? That you rushed into something, that in a few years you'll realize that you want a wife and family like regular people do? That you'll want someone stable and reliable... Someone who has dreams and a future..." Stunned, Elliott held Lys's face in his hands, hurt deeply by these words.

                              "My dearest, what have I done to you to-"

                              "No, it's not you, love, it's not you!" Lys was in tears now and bit the side of his hand again, resisting Elliott's efforts to get him to stop. "Damn it, I'm such a damn useless crybaby. You haven't done anything. You're perfect. And that's why. I'm damaged, I'm broken. I don't have a future-"

                              "Yes, you do. What..." He reclined back against the arm of the couch and pulled Lys on top of him, brushing away tears and stroking his hair. "What brought this about? I was angry and shouted at you earlier today, but-"

                              "It's not that. I needed it, and you needed to do it. It's... When Sam and I were walking back, he asked what my dreams and future are and... I don't have any. I just don't. And you... You and your family are so... I know that people talk and wonder, and I've got to be an embarrassment to them, to their peers. I rushed you into something, and while it's fun now, how long will it be before you learn that you need someone who's more stable and... I don't want to hold you back. You're amazing. I'm terrified of losing you, but I hate myself for being so clingy and hopeless."

                              "Have I ever given you reason to feel or think this way?"

                              "No, of course not."

                              "Then why?" Lys didn't answer.

                              "My dearest, look at me, please. Listen." Tightening his fingers in Elliott's shirt for a moment, he complied with the request, leaning into the soft touch that stroked his cheek. "I chose you. You. Do you not remember? I was the one to ask for your hand, that you would stand by my side ever after, and the delight that I felt when you accepted is something that not even I can put into words. I will carry that smile with me to the end of my days. You do have a future, for it is with me, and you do have dreams, for you have shared them with me. I could not have written that novel without you, and ever since we have begun working together I have been inundated with inspiration. My mind overflows with ideas, my mind with love, and my body with warmth. I will not trade you for anything." He untangled Lys's fingers from his shirt to kiss and hold them.

                              "Before we met I was empty and adrift, unable to commit to anything. The one act of spontaneity I had ever made was to move out here, and by my second spring here I was consumed with regret. I lost hope. But you showed me how to live again, to be confident in myself and my decisions. I do not know what I can say or do to change your mind, to assuage your guilt and wash away the pain you feel. All I can do is tell you the truth. Know this: I want you. You are my family now. Yes, I dated women before we met, but it is you to whom I give myself with such enthusiasm and passion. It is your touch for which I ache and no other. You speak of children? That is a consideration for the future, if it is to be one at all, and it will be a decision we both make. For now, I am ecstatic to no longer be alone." He rubbed his thumb over the carved pendant around Lys's neck, smiling at the memory of its gifting.

                              "I do you believe everything that I have said? That nothing has been in jest or to deceive? That I am of sound mind and judgment?"

                              "...Yes. But... I'm... I'm sorry, I promised I wouldn't doubt your love for me anymore, and I just did, not a week after I swore I wouldn't. Gods, I'm such a-" A finger to his lips interrupted Lys.

                              "Stop. Not another word. I will not hear you speak such unpleasant and untrue things about yourself. You are so much stronger than you think, and I am proud of you for it."

                              "...What?" Elliott smiled and hugged him warmly.

                              "You are open and honest with me. You carry these fears and doubts, you bear such pain inside, none of it warranted, yet you still come to me with them. You can cry in front of me without feeling embarrassment or hesitation, and you speak your mind knowing that I will listen and understand. Thank you, my dearest. Your love for me is more precious than any gem or metal, more wondrous than any song. Do not despair ever again. I will never leave you, I will never grow bored. I have made no mistake in claiming you as mine, and will always declare it to others with pride. Do you know my most precious memory of you?"

                              "No. What?"

                              "The first time that I was able to taste your lips. I had feared and worried that you would reject me, that I had completely misread and misinterpreted your signs. Though my hands were steady my heart raced, and when you told me at first that you could not return my love, it shattered. But it was not that you were uninterested, it is that you feared for my safety and health, that you would put me ahead of your own needs."

                              "I... I remember that. I was still a mess after everything with Allen, and was terrified that it might happen to you, too."

                              "Though I did not know your reasons, I selfishly pressed you, desiring your companionship at any cost, and you relented. You had been a guiding light before, but at that moment you became the fire in my soul, and never once have I looked back with anything else but happiness." Lys managed a small smile, kissing his fingers in return.

                              "And what about our first night together?"

                              "Never before had I felt experienced such pleasure and contentment. I vowed the next morning that I would give you all of the love that I could ever have, concerned that it would never be enough."

                              "...Thank you. Some stuff is still a bit messed up in my head, but this fixes a lot of it, and the rest will sort out once I've had some sleep. Sorry again to doubt you. This time it won't happen again." Lys melted into Elliott's kiss, the concerns and worries that had incorrectly plagued him fading away. He felt gentle hands trace up and down his back, supportive and caring. That dark-blue gaze as Lys sat up erased the last of his negative thoughts.

                              "Let us finish our refreshments and prepare dinner. A good meal will further ease your mind." Purring, Lys nibbled on Elliott's ear and playfully undid the top two buttons of his shirt.

                              "That sounds excellent, I know exactly what I want to eat." Laughing with delight Elliott kissed him again and accepted a hand to stand up.

                              "That is the fire that I want to see every day. Come, let us dine, and then show me how hot that fire still burns later tonight."

                              Apropos of nothing, I was at the grocery store the other day and saw this, and actually did Laugh Out Loud. They do look rather nice together, don't they?

                                Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                              • Minimanta

                                Minimanta Spaceman Spiff

                                Ohh, rose and sunflower bouquets! Pretty! :D
                                  Risukage likes this.
                                • Risukage

                                  Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                                  //Well, things just got even more interesting for our heroes.//

                                  Hands in his pockets, Lys strolled confidently to Joja Mart, very nearly getting lost because he'd never actually been there before. He was vaguely aware of its location, but that was pretty much it.

                                  How's everyone doing? Sam?

                                  It's all good. Well, as good as one can be working here. You're sure you wanna do this?

                                  It needs to be done, and I'm the only one who can do it.

                                  I trust you, my dear, let us see what information we can glean from this meeting. I still hold out hope for peace, as unlikely as it is.

                                  You're a good person, love, don't lose that. Me, I'm just hoping he actually talks and doesn't try to have me evicted or something.

                                  You've got this. Nobody can bullshit like you can and get away with it.

                                  Thanks, Abby, but this is stagecraft, not BS. I'm not convincing him of anything, I'm simply giving him an opportunity to, well, monologue. One thing I've learned is that if you give someone the chance and a sympathetic ear, they'll talk it off. You'd be amazed at what people will spill if you just shut up and listen. And remember, I know stories, I know people, and I know how both are supposed to flow. If I walk in there like he's a villain then of course he'll resist and fight. But if I show up as merely an adversary, or even a potential equal, well, you'll see.

                                  Pausing for a moment at the doors, Lys checked his reflection in the glass, preparing to go "on stage." Black cargo pants and undershirt with a violet overshirt were his colors for the day, as he planned to do a bit of subtle psychological warfare, remembering that Violette's colors were the same.

                                  And here I am. It's showtime.

                                  With his sassy grin, he entered the mart and glanced around, quickly taking in the layout, and striding in the direction that Sam mentally nudged him. His bored confidence told the even more bored employees that he knew what he needed, and they were all too happy to let him find it on his own.

                                  He walked into his office about five minutes ago, so unless he's got a secret exit or teleported out he should still be there.

                                  Good, thanks.

                                  Lys stopped in front of an office door, simply labeled "Manager," and knocked briskly. His grin widened as Morris- no, Maurice, told him to enter, and he did so, closing the door behind him. Maurice was looking over some paperwork, grimacing at something in their contents, but that expression changed to shock and then anger when he saw who it was that had interrupted his work. He stood up, hands flat on his desk.


                                  "Now, now, I'm not here to fight," Lys smiled, holding up his hands, "if I were I'd have been a lot more subtle about it. But since I came in here in full view of pretty much all of your employees, it would be difficult to pick a fight and get away with it." Maurice's expression didn't change, but Lys could tell that he took it as truth and sat back down.

                                  "Then get out. I have nothing to say to you." Shrugging, Lys casually pulled a chair to himself and sprawled comfortably in it; not disrespectfully, but in a languid pose that would make it very difficult to attack or defend should the conversation come to blows, and Maurice knew it.

                                  "I highly doubt that. You have a lot to say, and I'm certain that most of it could and should be directed at me. I heard the entire story from Rasmodius. I know who and what the both of you are. I want to hear your side of the story now, and, if possible, I'd like to put an end to all of this. I don't like fighting family."

                                  "You dare come to me like this, speaking of a truce while bearing her voice and face but tainted with that bastard's colors? Your arrogance is almost unbelievable." Chuckling politely, Lys rubbed the back of his neck.

                                  "Oh come now, certainly I don't look that much-"

                                  "You think that I do not remember the visage of my beloved sister? Even after all of these years her image is burned into my mind. And you, you of all people, wear her face, speak with her voice, dance with her moves, sing with her soul..."

                                  "No, really, I don't think I-"

                                  "You call me a liar?"

                                  "No! Not at all. I saw a cameo panting that Rasmodius has, but-"

                                  "Look again, boy," Maurice snarled, pulling out a similar watch, but in silver and not gold, and slid it across the desk to him, "then dive into the thaumic memories granted to you by your powers. Look through his eyes, listen with his ears, and then tell me that you are not the incarnation of my dearest Violette."

                                  Lys took another look at the picture, the same as the one that Rasmodius had, and held it next to a small mirror that he always kept in the left leg pocket of his trousers. His eyebrows went up as he saw the resemblance now that both images were side-by-side. He had always been slightly effeminate, with high cheekbones and lips a bit fuller and more defined than most men, but if his hair were black and eyes blue, they'd have easily been regarded as siblings. Maurice's smile of satisfaction was cold, and Lys gripped both objects as he closed his eyes, reaching through the past for the memories that he needed. He wasn't sure how he did it, but images flickered in his mind, like thumbnails for a video, and he latched onto one, "playing" it. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes as he realized that Maurice was right; seeing Violette through his ancestor's eyes was like watching himself. They both moved as though they were dancing, and they danced as though they wanted to hold nothing back. Even her voice, something about the way she always smiled when she spoke, was so similar to the manner in which he did. Having left the Link open, the others were not only privy to the conversation, but the memories he was viewing.

                                  Shit, he wasn't kidding, you are the spitting image of your, well, grandma? I dunno how many generations removed you all are.

                                  Is this what you feel for me, love? This all-encompassing devotion and delight? No wonder the both of them were devastated when she died, I... Light, it hurts so much...

                                  "You finally understand, boy," Maurice said, still staring at him with that cold glare of hate, "and you know why there can- will never be peace."

                                  "No... I understand but... No, I don't believe it!" He stood up and put the watch back on the desk. "This has gone on long enough. Let me end the pain and the suffering. You have hurt for so long, let me help you, please-"


                                  "Why?!" Lys barely held back a smile, allowing himself a few more tears. He knew that this would drive the "story" forward, and that Maurice would step in to monologue, describing his motivations and reasons. With the right nudge...

                                  "My line is dead, boy! He promised to keep her safe and he failed in his task, and not only that, his line continues and thrives here, a slap in my face and an insult to her memory."

                                  "You idiot! I am your line! And you promised to keep her safe, too, didn't you?!" Again, Lys resisted a smile, his blind shot hitting its mark.

                                  "There is little that I could have done while slowly bleeding out into the dirt of your home."

                                  "Then she failed to save you, too!" He stepped back as Maurice stood again, slamming both hands onto the desk loudly.

                                  "How dare you insult her?! Once I had fallen she could not spare the time to examine me in the heat of battle."

                                  "You were their Voice, if you were still alive you could have-"

                                  "I did not regain my senses until moments before she was- ...Before she was crushed by the beast, and I had already felt my life's essence draining away from me. I despaired, knowing that it was all over, that we had lost, and then they defeated the dragon."

                                  "But... How did you survive? You said that-"

                                  "It whispered to me. In its final moments, as it felt it losing its connection to our world, it offered me a deal; be its anchor to this world and it would grant me the power and longevity to gain vengeance upon the one who failed my sister. I agreed, and with the last of its power it whisked me away to safety. I have been bound to it ever since, and through its power I live and wait." With a quick glance, Lys focused enough to see the Shadow-threads of mana that linked him to that other world, same as the other Reclaimed.

                                  "Then how is it you have retained your mind where the others did not? That you are still you and not Reclaimed?"

                                  "I freely accepted the offer that was made to me. The others spurned his gift, and as such I was forced to take matters into my own hands so as not to lose the prize that the dragon had hard-won. Most who make a pact with the Shadows are mere Gifted. They have some abilities granted by their umbral masters, but ultimately they are still mortal and weak. I am willingly bonded with the greatest of them all and as such am afforded much more freedom and power than the others."

                                  "Fine. You seek vengeance for something that never happened. What happens if you do succeed? That we're destroyed, you kill off Rasmodius and the others, and cause pain, fear, and death in town. What then? You are condemning innocent people to die just for revenge. What use will your master have for you then? Do you really think that it will keep you around after you serve it goals?" Maurice barked a laugh, cold and humorless.

                                  "You think I have not planned for that, foolish boy? I have complete control over the dragon. It cannot exist in this world without power, and having an anchor on this side grants it a stronger foothold than it has ever had before. Killing me would do it no good, and I have further proved my usefulness by providing it with champions to fight on its side."

                                  "Why haven't you ever used them before? There are years, generations where there are no Chosen, and it could operate with complete impunity."

                                  "You truly are foolish. The Junimos would simply call up another round of heroes to thwart us, and while we are powerful it does take us a while to reach our full strength. Too long. I admit that I have yet to perfect a method that would allow us to either draw more energy from the Shadow realm or to once more draw it from this world. Those cursed Junimos appear to be blocking us, and I see no way around it."

                                  "I still don't understand... Why does the dragon seek to conquer and destroy in the first place? What happened to cause it to hate this world so much? What is it?" Maurice was about to answer, and then he got the unfocused look of someone listening inward. He smiled.

                                  "Umbra Volatus would speak to you." Lys's eyes widened at this, not expecting a development of this sort.

                                  "How?" Extending a hand, the smile somehow became predatory.

                                  "I was once a Voice. Link through me and hear the voice of my master."

                                  Don't do it, we don't know what kind of trap he might have in mind. I've thought of so many ways I could hurt someone while I have them Linked, and he's had hundreds of years to do so.

                                  All of you are with me, here and now. With all of you I am the strongest I will ever be. Trust me, support me. Let's get some answers.

                                  My strength is yours, my dearest. Your courage in the face of peril gives me hope, and with that I am your shield.

                                  You're the most stubborn son of a bitch I know, cousin, and somehow that makes you cool. Fine, I believe in you, too. Maybe we can knock him down a peg or two while we're in there, or maybe even break control.

                                  As wicked as that would be, dude, let's save the offense for later. I'm more worried about our guy not getting his mind totally wrecked in there.

                                  For once, Sam is right. We need logic and caution right now. And as Lys is so fond of saying, he's the Bard, and he knows stories. Let's see if he can get even a manifestation of death to get chatty.

                                  Grrrr, bad enough that this place is a competitor for dad's store, he's bound to some asshole who wants to hurt people here. We totally need to kick his ass next time!

                                  Drawing a deep breath, Lys nodded and extended a hand, knowing that they'd need physical contact at first to establish connection, and on second thought, sat down, expecting the worst.

                                  "I'm listening and ready. Link with me." He closed his eyes and opened his mind to Maurice, feeling him grip his wrist and roughly so. The first couple of attempts failed, as though Maurice had once been Chosen, Lys was not quite sure how to reach his mind. They connected, and then-


                                  The voice that resonated in his head was cold and ancient, slow and measured. It was the sound of one that existed beyond the realm of the real and normal, something that measured years as humans would minutes, and was massive and powerful almost beyond comprehension.

                                  Umbra Volatus, great dragon of shadow. I come here not in jest or arrogance, but with the desire to obtain understanding and resolution. What and who are you? Why do you desire the suffering of those of this world? Perhaps there might be a way to bring about peace if-



                                  But without anything dying or changing, nothing new could happen. Everything began to stagnate and decay from within, didn't it? Too many people began to tax the land and its resources, which used up even more energy, right? And the Echo and Reclaimed are restricted in how much power they can draw because of that barrier, there's only a trickle of power coming through from that side.



                                  ...We're not heroes, we're sacrifices...

                                  The voice laughed, and Lys cringed at how loud within his own mind was, certain that the others had done the same.


                                  Lys felt the presence recede and Maurice closed the Link. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he was about to speak when the other man sat down again and reached for a stack of papers.

                                  "He stated that he would allow you to leave without incident, and I will uphold that. Now get out of my sight, for the next time I see you it will be once more as foes."

                                  "I understand why it exists, and I respect that, but I'm not just going to lay down and die. And you... You're my great.. whatever uncle. Please, put aside your hate, help us. Maybe there's a way to break this cycle so that nobody else has to-"

                                  "I said to get out!" Jaw set firmly, Lys rose quietly and strode to the door, pausing with one hand on the door latch.

                                  "Very well. I won't press any further. But neither you or Rasmodius failed to protect Violette; she was protecting you, all of you, because she knew that all of your lives were worth more put together than just hers, that the fight was bigger than all of you and that you had to succeed at any cost. I will bear your hate without complaint, but do not insult her memory." Lys walked out, once more wearing the confident, casual mask he'd had when he walked in, leaving without comment or notice from any of the employees. Once outside and where nobody could see him, he leaned against the wall of the store, taking another deep breath and soaking up a bit of warmth and comfort from the sunlight.

                                  We've not been lied to, but we've not been told the entire story. I'm off to the tower, and am going to have words with the Junimos. I've no reason to disbelieve the dragon's story, and if it is true, then they owe us a HELL of an apology.
                                    Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                                  • Risukage

                                    Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                                    //Dang, it seems like EVERYONE here has secrets...//

                                    Looking around once more to ensure that he was alone, Lys teleported to Rasmodius's tower, surprising the wizard.

                                    "Lysander? Hello, what's-"

                                    "I spoke with the dragon." Rasmodius was uncharacteristically silent, almost dropping the flask he was working with at his lab table. "Link with Haley, and get the others in as well. You need to hear this and quickly, before I find something that needs burning."

                                    Whoa, dude, let's not go that far.

                                    Those damn fruit-spirits set us up to DIE, Sam, and they've been doing it for generations. This. Ends. Now.

                                    Wait, what? Whoa, there, what happened? Marlon asked, having just joined the mental conversation, the Junimos have been protectors of this area for as long as anyone can remember.

                                    One can protect in many ways, and history is written by the victors. Do I have all of you? Good. Now listen.

                                    Lys replayed the entire event, starting from when he walked into Maurice's office, and when he was finished, there was stunned silence from all four of the old Chosen. Still bewildered by the information, Marlon "spoke" again.

                                    That's... By the light, we've been played for fools. All of those years, all of those who we mentored, all sent off with the intent to die. But why did they allow us to assist others in the future? Could they have simply stripped us of our abilities and refused our pact?

                                    We shall ask, and they will reply. Bring them. How do you speak with them? I would have an audience, and I will have answers.

                                    I only had the barest understanding until they brought to me a draught of some fashion-

                                    Then summon them and have them bring the same. I will speak with them directly.

                                    The wizard nodded and gestured, muttering something under his breath, and Lys strode angrily to the center of the circle in the middle of the room, a fist on his hip, only a moment away from mana-powered violence. Junimos appeared in the room, but as far away from the circle as they could get.

                                    "You know why I am here, and you know the reason for my fury," Lys snarled, glaring at the tiny creatures, "now bring to me that which you used to grant Rasmodius understanding of your language, and be swift about it."

                                    Uh, not that you're wrong for being angry, but maybe yelling at them might not be a very good idea. They might bring you something...not-good, Alex suggested.

                                    They need me. There is no time to call up another Fire wielder, and I doubt that there is anyone as skilled with it as I am anyway. Besides, they know I'm right, I can see it. They've never actually lied to us, mind you, every word thus far has been true, it's the reasons and motivations that were never explained. Even I fell into the trap of the story, wanting to be the brave hero that saves their homeland from destruction. Tch, I should be better than that.

                                    He paused in his mental self-assessment as a blue-colored Junimo approached carefully, holding over its head a glass vial full of something...green... Kneeling to accept it, he thanked the creature politely but curtly, sniffing the vial out of curiosity. It smelled...green...

                                    Well, I guess we get to see if I was right or not. Worst case, you get to learn how to cure poison on the fly, love. Cheers.

                                    Lys drank the vial in one gulp, wrinkling his nose at the taste. It wasn't bad, it was just very...green... The flavor of grass, of trees, of, well, nature. He swayed on his feet for a moment as his vision blurred, and reflexively he channeled flame, angry that they would dare poison him, how dare they-

                                    "We knew that one day you would converse with us, but not the manner in which you would do so. You are full of surprises, Wildfire." Blinking in further confusion, Lys released his half-formed spell and glanced down at a golden Junimo, the only one brave enough to approach him. He sat down, figuring that he should at least show that much courtesy.

                                    "You know that I spoke with the dragon. How much of it is truth?"

                                    "All of it. You wield righteous fury and rightly so. You would ask of us why we did not tell you of this before, but I ask of you what benefit it would have brought to burden you with such knowledge."

                                    "You expected us to blindly fight and die, that we would use up the excess mana and energies of this world and perish once our task was done. Why? Could you simply not Activate people now and then and then release them from their task? Or keep people on at all times to deal with the build-up? Merry hell, you let Rasmodius and the others keep some abilities and even train up new people. WHY?"

                                    "Their survival was unexpected but useful. By training future Chosen they better equipped their descendants to wield more mana in greater quantities, more efficiently removing power from this world. As for why you must not be allowed to survive, it is because your usage of mana drains from this land but does not allow it to transcend the barrier between worlds. It is only through death that it returns, as the mana you use is bound to you, to your souls." There was a horrified silence from everyone in the Link, and Lys found the vial in his hand to be melting from subconscious anger-channeling.

                                    "You... That's..."

                                    "Would you prefer that your town be slaughtered? That is what happened the first time, after the barrier was erected. With the power trapped on this side the Shadow realm began to starve, and this one began to decay. The dragon was created to achieve balance by removing mana from this world. However, magic is no longer in common use, so it builds up over time, and eventually the pressure must be released lest something dire happen."

                                    This is...horrifying... Haley thought, almost too quiet to hear even through the mental connection.

                                    "Wait, it said that our usage of power was what allowed it to manifest in our world. How can that happen if the power can't cross worlds without us, well, dying?"

                                    "It did not specify when that transfer would happen, nor how, did it?"

                                    "...It was the previous Chosen dying... And as each generation got more powerful..."

                                    "You are correct."

                                    But what about the Reclaimed? Those Chosen never actually died.

                                    "That's right, the Reclaimed, they never gave back their energy."

                                    "They did not, but they are powerful foes against which you clash. Your battles with them will take much more power than it would normally, particularly if they are able to summon one of the lesser dragons. They draw from and return their power to the Shadow realm, thus making them quite useful in the long run. It was fortuitous that not only did your mentors survive their ordeal, but their previous Voice accepted the dragon's pact. With mortal agents on both sides we have had to call upon champions less frequently, and the transfer of power has gone far more smoothly with more mana being transferred."

                                    "You... You delight in our suffering?" The Junimo seemed genuinely confused.

                                    "Of course not. We simply are pleased to see resources allocated in the best manner to solve a problem. We are guardians of this world, and will do so at any cost." Lys was silent, having said something similar many times before, and though he hated it, he understood and respected their position.

                                    "...There has to be a better way... I just feel so used. It seems like everyone but us knew-" He stopped short as he realized something, and his temper flared again.

                                    Lewis. That son of a bitch, he KNEW.

                                    What? He said he was briefed when he became mayor, but-

                                    Remember what he said when he saw us in here the first time? "No, not them." He didn't treat us like those about to defend the town, or even seem worried for our safety. He knew what was going to happen, and I want to know how and why.

                                    "Where is mayor Lewis?" he demanded of the magical creature in front of him, "I know that you all know exactly where everyone is. Tell me."

                                    "He is at home, and anticipating your next question, yes, he is alone." Standing up, Lys shifted to his Empowered form before teleporting to the statue at the beach.

                                    Crap, Lys, wait! Someone might see you like that!

                                    It is all a part of the story. A bit of drama. If you will excuse me, I have an interrogation to conduct.

                                    Flying with a dangerous amount of speed while close to the ground, Lys stopped with his usual abrupt style and pounded on the mayor's door, resisting the urge to simply barge in.

                                    "Yes, yes, what is- Gah!" Lys grabbed him by the collar with one hand, shoving him back into the house while slamming the door behind them both with a wing.

                                    "You BASTARD, you knew." To his credit, Lewis did not attempt to evade the statement or feign ignorance. Sighing sadly, he shook his head, not resisting Lys's grip.

                                    "You are correct, Lysander. And for what it's worth, I am truly sorry, I never wanted any of you to get mixed up in this. I had hoped that it would skip this generation as well, but we are not so lucky." Lys staggered as Alex teleported in and grappled him, forcing him to release the mayor, and Elliott stood between them, protecting the older man.

                                    "Dear, please, calm down. You are still correct to be angry, but let us hear his side." Lys shot a look of dark rage at the mayor, but nodded stiffly, at which point Alex released him.

                                    "I...never wanted to hide it from anyone, but nobody would have believed me, and though all of you would have... The Junimos and the wizard told me of my mission when I became mayor, yes, but I have known for longer than that. It was my ancestors who created the barrier between the worlds, and as our penance, we have been tasked with watching and guiding, ever since the first Chosen were created to fight the dragon that had been created from our folly." Alex and Elliott felt Lys channel a massive amount of mana and prepared to prevent whatever it was he was going to do-

                                    "Where'd he go?"

                                    Damn! Lysander, dear- He's blocking us. I can no longer feel his mind.

                                    And I can't force a connection. This is bad.

                                    Not as much as you might initially think. Perhaps it is best for him to take a little while to compose himself. I admit that I am quite displeased to discover all of this myself. Let us dissolve the Link for the moment, we shall reconvene to discuss this tomorrow once we have all had the chance to rest and clear our minds. This has been an...interesting series of developments...

                                    King of understatements, dude. But yeah, I'm glad I'm on stockroom duty today, 'cause I'm in no mood to put up with anybody's crap. I hope Lys will be okay.

                                    He will be. I will search for him later, provided he does not soon return on his own.

                                    Elliott and Alex shared a quick glance before the athlete disappeared in a swirl of light.

                                    "My profuse apologies for the rash behavior of my husband, but I do hope you understand the source of his frustration."

                                    "That I do, and I don't begrudge him one bit. If any of you are unable to forgive me, I understand that as well."

                                    "You did what you thought was right, and in the circumstances, you could have done nothing else. While we all may temporarily be unhappy with our new knowledge, it is that, temporary. If you will pardon me, I must see to his whereabouts and safety."

                                    "By all means, find him and look out for him. None of you deserved this."

                                    Some hours later Lys heard a solid thud as a ladder rested against the edge of the roof, and the corners of his lips quirked up in a smile.

                                    "Was I really that easy to track down?" Elliott climbed up onto the roof to sit next to him, watching the sun set.

                                    "To the contrary. I was completely uncertain for some time where you would go, as you most certainly wanted to be alone. But then I considered the possibility that you also desired some place comforting. I returned home, and though you were still blocking us, I could feel the residual mana that you had used to return here, so I gave you a little time to find yourself before I intruded upon your space."

                                    "You're really something, love. Thanks. I'm better now, I just needed a few minutes alone so I wouldn't risk blowing up at someone. Or blowing someone up. I understand why everyone kept the secrets that they did and why, but... There's got to be a better way, and I'm going to find it. Everyone comes home safely, I promised that." Elliott put an arm around his waist and kissed the top of his head.

                                    "I know that you will find it. There is nothing that cannot be done once you set your mind to the task. For now, however, let us eat and then rest." Lys hugged Elliott in return, resting his head against the other man's shoulder.

                                    "Sounds great. I just want to curl up with you and sleep, nothing else. I... I just need a hug."
                                    • Risukage

                                      Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                                      //Lys really is too clever for his own good. It's a good thing that the dragon doesn't mind visitors. Also, the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children soundtrack was excellent writing music for this chapter.//

                                      Lys woke up to a light touch on his shoulder. It wasn't Elliott, he could feel him breathing the deep, slow rhythm of sleep under him, and he blinked a couple of times as his eyes adjusted to the low light. Sam was standing by the side of the bed, looking quite pensive and concerned about something. Confused, Lys carefully shifted Elliott's arm from around him to sit up, not quite sure if this was real or a dream. Sam was about to say something, then grimaced and reached for and handed to Lys his robe before leaving for the living room. This had to be serious; it was one in the morning, and though Sam was a night owl anyway, he never dropped by unexpectedly. With great care, Lys got out of bed without waking Elliott, shrugging into and tying the robe around himself as he followed his friend. Sam was pacing back and forth in the living room, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, so he must have been either getting ready for or in bed before he'd teleported over.

                                      "Sorry to bother you so late, or early, but..."

                                      "It's okay, I've always got time for you. What's up? Looks like something's on your mind," Lys asked, trying to keep his voice quiet.

                                      "I... It's... I can't sleep. After today, all that we learned, and what's gonna happen, I... It's Penny. I..." Sam rubbed his arms as he hugged himself, clearly upset about something. Taking his hand, Lys pulled him over to the couch and into his lap, and Sam hugged him tightly around the chest and buried his face in his friend's shoulder. Lys wrapped his arms around Sam's shoulders and provided a solid foundation for his friend as he poured out his thoughts in a semi-coherent torrent.

                                      "She doesn't know anything about us, or what we're doing, and I don't know how or if I should tell her. I mean, all of you are all together with someone, so you've got someone to lean on and support right now, but I can't do that to her. I won't. I'm worried that things will get worse for her and her mom when I'm gone, and she deserves better than that, she deserves a good life and a happy future and... And... And I feel like such a total shit because for a moment I felt happy that even though we're all gonna die she'll survive and that makes me such a total shit and..." His shoulders shook with a quiet sob. "I'm scared. I'd never admit it to anyone else, not even Sebastian, and I'm scared to admit it to you. But...I'm even more scared to keep it inside. I don't know what to do. Dad's a soldier and I bet he feels like this all the time, but I'm just... He's still at war, and I'll never see him again..."

                                      "You will see him again, and you and Penny will be happy for years. Everyone comes home, Sam, I promised all of you that."

                                      "That was before we found out what's really going on."

                                      "That promise still stands. I don't know what I'm going to do, not yet, it's still too new to me, too. But we have time, and I'll think of something."

                                      "Y'know, it's funny, for a while I was interested in Haley, but she was always out of my league, and I knew she was never interested, so it was all a big game to me. It was fun. And then I got to know Penny better and... It hurts, but in a good way, it's weird. I want to look out for her and give her a better life, I just want to see her smile every day. She's so sweet and wonderful and I don't know if a doofus like me even deserves her, but I'm trying anyway. All I wanted to do was become a professional musician and make enough money for us to be comfortable and happy, and now... I love her so much, Lys, and it scares me, I'm... I don't know how you do it." Lys took his friend's face in both of his hands, smiling softly.

                                      "You do deserve her, because you're one of the kindest people I know and are the only person that can treat her with the respect and love she deserves. And that's why I'll fight to protect all of you, everyone here has given me a second chance at life, at happiness, at love. All of you mean more to me than I can put into words, and for that I'll find a way to make everything right. We're going to have a happy end to this story, we're going to go on to be a bigger music hit than we already are, and we're all going to live long, happy lives with each other. Trust me." He kissed Sam on the forehead, changing his friend's expression from despair to surprise, which faded as that ever-present grin, like a ray of sunlight, reappeared.

                                      "Yeah... You're right. I feel a lot better now. Thanks. I guess I just needed to get it off of my chest, y'know. Sorry to have bothered you in the middle of the night like this."

                                      "It's okay, this was a lot to take in all at once, and like you said, all of us have someone 'in the know' that we can lean on and support, but you don't. And to be honest, I don't know if or how we could tell Penny, either. On one hand she deserves to know what you're doing, but on the other, could she believe and understand, or even would she? We'll figure that out later. For now, let's get some sleep, we'll be better equipped to deal with this after some rest and a cup of coffee. Or a soda in your case. No wonder you're still so short," Lys teased, tapping Sam on the top of the head, "your diet is terrible. You eat like a bachelor, and that's coming from someone who lived on his own for years." Smothering a laugh as he just remembered that Elliott was still asleep in the other room, Sam cuffed Lys on the shoulder in reply, still wearing his sunny grin.

                                      "You sound like my mom. You are such a woman. Hell, you're too pretty to be a dude. You and your hot androgyny, at least you use it for my benefit on stage, the crowd loves it."

                                      "Oy, I'm not that effeminate," sniffed Lys in mock offense, "though I think I blend male and female physical and personal traits very well, thank you." Giggling again, Sam hugged Lys around the shoulders and sighed, leaning into him again for a moment.

                                      "Y'know, if I were into dudes, you'd totally be at the top of my list. Good thing I'm not, 'cause there's no way I can compete with Elliott. Thanks for listening, I'm gonna try to crash out now. You're an awesome friend. And...I believe you, we're all gonna be okay." It was Lys's turn to be surprised as Sam kissed him on the cheek before standing up, grinning and waving, vanishing in a swirl of light. Sighing, Lys leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, staring around the room without really seeing anything as he considered the day's events as well as the one that had just happened. He stood as well, returned to the bedroom, hung up the robe in its customary place, and slipped back in to bed next to Elliott, who again put an arm around him reflexively.

                                      I don't know, not yet. But I'll find a way. I'm going to protect all of you, I promise.

                                      The next morning Lys replayed to Elliott the late-night conversation he'd had with Sam as he retrieved a jar of preserves from the fridge. (The strawberry harvest had been excellent, which became even better processed goods). Elliott nodded and sipped at his coffee as Lys explained between bites of jam-smeared toast, and ran a finger around the rim of his mug thoughtfully once his companion had finished his tale.

                                      "I assume that you are flattered in that your friends feel comfortable and confident in approaching you at any hour for their issues, and if not, you should be. On one hand I am almost miffed that I was not woken as well, but on the other, I do not think that I could have provided the support and guidance that Sam needed at that moment. I am skilled at guiding and mentoring, but you are the one who knows how to nurture. Do you feel as though you were able to assuage his concerns?"

                                      "Yeah, he looked a lot better when he left, and you know he wears his emotions on his sleeve. And now that I've had some sleep and a bit of perspective, I've got a few ideas, but nothing definite. I still need more information." Elliott received a slice of toast to which Lys had thoughtfully added the preserves in exchange for a cup of coffee, which Lys sipped happily.

                                      "I am confident that you will find a solution. It is not that I am burdening you with a thankless and perilous endeavor, nor am I blindly trusting that you'll pull a solution from nothing. Rather, I have seen you problem-solve with great skill and enthusiasm, and having sat by your side to pen a successful novel, I can state with certainty that you are capable of magnificent works. Likewise, I do not know how you will do it, but it will be with beautiful cleverness and elegant grace." Lys smiled at him over the edge of his cup, warm from both the drink and the compliment.

                                      "Thanks, love. I know I will, I just need a starting point. I'll mull it over while we take care of the garden, maybe a bit of manual labor will keep my hands busy but my mind free."

                                      They put the dishes in the sink to deal with after lunch and went outside, having already changed into work clothes when they got up. Lys had been silent for a little while, and Elliott left him to his thoughts, knowing that if input were needed it would be requested. Pausing outside, Lys thought of something, and Elliott hesitated only a moment before continuing on, trusting him to know what he needed to do.

                                      I need to talk to the dragon again. There's so much we still don't know, and it was willing to converse. But Maurice will never let me try that again, and I doubt the Junimos will try, assuming they even can. Besides, I need to be able to do this myself. But how? I have no connection to...the... Connection. That's it.

                                      Changing his focus, he looked around and saw the passive and active threads that connected him and the world, but not one to the other world. He had seen that connection before, however, with the Reclaimed at least twice, and then again with Maurice. It's not like he had to be in a specific place, the worlds bordered each other already, he just needed to find a way to- There! He had been mentally probing at the land, having found a "barrier" of sorts that he hadn't noticed previously. After running his mental fingers over it he could feel its surface and structure, and therefore... He grinned with proud satisfaction as a thin, dark strand of mana appeared, coaxed to this side of the barrier by his tinkering and probing. Connecting with it, he gasped, feeling the unpleasant sensation of the Shadow energies; cold and static, not warm and lively like the power he was used to. With teeth clenched, he established a stable connection, and felt a very large, very curious, and very amused presence on the other side.

                                      Umbra Volatus, I summon you.

                                      I ANSWER.

                                      Everything went dark, and he was both perplexed and annoyed.

                                      Well, that wasn't quite what I had expected. Where- Oh, I'm in my own mind.

                                      With a thought, the darkness was replaced with light, and he manifested "himself" within his own headspace. He was standing on an empty, flat, featureless surface, but he couldn't be bothered to make it any more interesting at the moment. There was another presence he could sense, and he chuckled, allowing it to make itself manifest as well, pleased by the dragon's courtesy in waiting to be invited. An enormous creature of shadow coalesced into being, completely opaque black save for large, empty white orbs that passed for eyes.


                                      I still have questions, and as you were amicable to it previously, I need to ask more. Wait- Princeling? I'm not royalty or a noble, don't mock me.

                                      The beast sat down and put its feet together, wrapping its tail around them and sitting very catlike, giving him a similar look as it tilted its head to the side.


                                      I've nearly died three times already. I'm not scared of you.

                                      What passed for a grunt of humor echoed in Lys's mind as it leaned down to him, its face as large as he was.

                                      PROVE IT.

                                      With a look of boredom, he backhanded it on the muzzle with a light but dismissive swat. The dragon's eyes got wider, and it sat up straight again, showing a rather human-like level of emotion as it stared at him, baffled and surprised. This lasted only a moment before it flapped its wings and arched its neck to laugh heartily in delight.


                                      I'm not royalty, you winged dingus.


                                      I...can't quite argue with that. But I'm not here for arguments. I want to stop this cycle. Too many people have died needlessly for the errors made by a few. But I'm not sure where to start. Also, some stuff just didn't make sense to me. Maurice said that the Junimos were blocking him, but he didn't seem surprised when you mentioned that it wasn't them, it was an outright barrier in the way. Also, twice your forces have attacked the Stardrop tree, destroying it long ago and failing to do so recently. I was told that it's supposed to boost our abilities. Isn't it a bit silly to remove something that will allow us to better do our jobs, or were we lied to?


                                      The dragon sat down completely, tucking its forelegs under itself in another pose that was reminiscent of a feline in comfort, flicking its tail idly.


                                      I just need information, and with that I can be clever. We have a saying, "know thy enemy." So, since you're my enemy, what are you?


                                      The Reclaimed! Can they be-


                                      I'm not a prince, stop that.


                                      Umbra Volatus regarded him with a very human smile and squint of amusement, which made a little more sense given its origins and nature.


                                      It tilted its head to the other side, listening to something that Lys couldn't hear, and grunted that guttural chuckle again.


                                      Thanks for your approval, he thought at it dryly, wait, before I go, you said that you absorbed all of those who fought you?...

                                      Lys did not expect the dragon to be able to show much emotion at all, much less the fond smile it gave him, with a mouth that shouldn't have been incapable of such a physical act. As everything began to blur and fade, he heard Violette's voice, singing his- her song, and the dragon spoke to him one last time.


                                      "Nngh, it's okay, love, I'm alright, really," Lys smiled as he returned to reality, "I just-"

                                      You're okay, dude! Shit, don't scare us like that!

                                      Yeah, what did you do? Elliott was in a tizzy and got Haley's attention so we all jumped in on the call, and...

                                      Oh, you're okay, sweetie! I couldn't reach you and we were so worried.

                                      I'm okay, really. I just figured out how to contact Umbra Volatus myself, that's all.

                                      There was a deafening silence in his mind, and Elliott looked at him with worried fear.

                                      My dear, you really-

                                      Oy, chill! Relax, all of you. We had a good chat and I've got more info. I'll talk to it again later. We're not the only ones who want to change things.

                                      It could be lying to you-

                                      No. It isn't. I can't lie for shit but I can always tell when someone else is, and that thing is partially human. I'll explain more later. Remember, I'm the Bard and an author; this is MY story, I'm going to be the one to write it, and it's going to be amazing.

                                      Everyone dropped out of the Link now that they knew he wasn't in danger, and Elliott hugged him for a few seconds to reassure himself before he allowed Lys to stand again.

                                      "You worried me, dearest. I waited for you, and when you didn't show, I found you on the ground and feared the worst."

                                      "I don't blame you, it was an impulse thing but it worked. Sorry to have scared you. I'll tell you next time, I promise." He kissed Elliott softly, who looked relieved, and took his hand to return to the garden.

                                      "Tell me everything that you can, perhaps I can provide insight, and at the very least, it will be a useful review of intelligence gathered about our foe."
                                        Last edited: Dec 10, 2016
                                      • Risukage

                                        Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                                        //It only took about five months, but I finally got around to making that song, and I am so pleased with it. Enjoy your earworm!:3

                                        I REGRET NOTHING, MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

                                        Also, have I mentioned before that I love writing Chatter logs? Because I freakin' LOVE writing Chatter logs. :D//

                                        Yawning, Lys stretched and rolled onto his back as he woke up, and was promptly wrapped in a warm hug and peppered with playful kisses. He giggled and ducked away, enjoying Elliott's spontaneous, early-morning affection.

                                        "Good morning, my dear. I am pleased to be the first one to wish you a happy birthday."

                                        "You're wonderful, love, thanks," Lys smiled, twining his arms around his husband's neck, "let's get up and get to the garden quickly so we can-" He gasped as Elliott began doing something very distracting with one hand.

                                        "I think I'd like to plow another field first," he grinned, nibbling Lys's ear, who burst into laughter, "give me a bit and I will have a decent 'spreading another sort of seed' innuendo ready as well, among other naughty gardening entendres." Laughing even harder, Lys wiped tears from his eyes.

                                        "Oh my GODS, you are terrible and I love you so much for it."

                                        "I learned from you, so you have only yourself to blame."

                                        RawkStar: hey, d00ds, I'll be over in a little while, I'll hafta walk since I'm bringing Penny

                                        PurpleGoth: aww, you have to walk like a normal person :p

                                        SixStrings: give us about half an hour to get cleaned up and everyone can drop in

                                        RawkStar: really got grody taking care of the farm, hunh?

                                        SixStrings: ...yes, that's exactly why...

                                        L33tK3ys: I know where this is going and I'm getting off

                                        RawkStar: looks like you're late to that party!

                                        PurpleGoth: OMG

                                        L33tK3ys: just...no... >_<

                                        RawkStar: so, what, Elliott wanted to plow a different sort of field today? :D

                                        SixStrings: he already used that line

                                        RawkStar: oh. So he wanted to spread a different kind of seed? ;D

                                        SixStrings: used that one, too

                                        RawkStar: augh! Okay, something about his element and "watering the garden"

                                        SixStrings: look, if you're going to hang around while we get busy then at least have the courtesy to join in instead of lurking like a pervert

                                        PurpleGoth: ...I can't breathe and it hurts to try...

                                        L33tK3ys: I feel the need to disinfect my phone now...

                                        ProBro: I don't think I'll ever be able to show my chat logs to my grandparents

                                        ShutterBug: I don't think I can even read them safely in public

                                        SeasideScribe: he is a little incorrect, we require closer to an hour

                                        L33tK3ys: we don't need details, just a time

                                        RawkStar: aww yeah, gonna get dirty while you get clean, hunh? :3

                                        SixStrings: ...no, seriously, are you already here? Piss off a bit, mate

                                        L33tK3ys: GDI

                                        PurpleGoth: #TotallyDeadOMFG

                                        A little later that afternoon Lys gave the go-ahead for everyone to teleport in to his location in the kitchen, saving them from having to walk from the statue out back. Sam had messaged a bit earlier to say that he and Penny were on their way over. Lys greeted his friends with enthusiastic hugs, but stopped short at Alex, as his hands were a bit full.

                                        "A cake? I didn't mean for anyone to-"

                                        "It's all good," the athlete smiled, setting the dessert in the kitchen, "when grandma found out she totally insisted, since she hasn't had the chance to really bake for any of the family since your side moved out of town. And it was also apparently a 'thank you' for all of the help you've given me."

                                        "Fair enough!" chuckled Lys, now able to hug his cousin in welcome, "I'm just happy to spend time with everyone. I really don't want to be the center of things, but if I'm able to provide an excuse for everyone to get together for a bit, I can't argue. I'll send her a nice card later." Elliott was setting out drinks and snacks, as while Lys was extremely adamant about avoiding any semblance of a "party," it was courteous to offer refreshments for those visiting. Sebastian tried a cup of the cold-brewed coffee that they had started making, as they had liked what Sebastian brought earlier that month.

                                        "Hey, this is pretty good. It's got a lot of flavor but isn't bitter."

                                        "Thank you, it took a little bit of trial and error to find the proper ratio, but the results have been most pleasing. We prefer something a bit warmer first thing in the morning, but this is lovely for a mid-day pick-up, or over ice in the evening."

                                        Lys opened a pair of beers, one for himself and one for Abigail. Haley and Alex went for the iced tea, also home-brewed, and also flavorful but mild. They took seats around the table or on the couch as conversation flowed, and Elliott opened the front door but left the screen shut to let in the warmth and breeze. The topics were as varied as the people in the room, and they conversed comfortably for a while as they waited for Sam and Penny. At some point Abigail asked Lys about some of his theater history, which he had told Elliot about quite a bit but not much to everyone else, and he dove into it with a passion. He got up to demonstrate a few moves and songs as they requested them, to the amusement of everyone in the room, especially Abigail.

                                        "Ugh, I'm jealous, you're so freaking elegant, and you've got such a great vocal range for a guy." She glanced between Lys and Elliott and laughed. "Sorry, just had a funny thought. Just remembering your past up to now, and how if you had Elliott's eyes and hair, that one song would totally be your theme- Wait, you'd need his powers, too, you're fire, not ice. Nevermind." Thinking, Lys tapped a finger to his chin before that familiar grin appeared over it.

                                        "So I'd need a slightly different song, wouldn't I? How would it go, then?" Elliott smothered a chuckle as he waited to see what his companion would come up with; he claimed to lack creativity, but when he was in his "performer" mode he was capable of unique and interesting spontaneity. Closing his eyes, Lys took a breath and put on that mantle, singing in his warm, resonant tenor.

                                        "The sun shines down on an empty field, not a shadow on the ground. A desolate landscape, and the wind the only sound. The scorching rays of summer sweep across the sky. I feel it deep within, an inferno inside..." The group reclined with relaxed eagerness, watching the impromptu musical with interest, as Lys began to channel fire alongside his song. "Don't get too close, please keep away. Though you mean well, alone I'll have to stay. This flame untamed inside my soul, I must control... Let it burn, let it burn, my fire must never fade. Let it burn, let it burn, a promise that I once made. On my own, but still not afraid, I can do this now, I'm better off now than if I had stayed."

                                        Getting into the rhythm of it, Lys smiled and began to dance with the music that he heard and with which he sang, delighting in a silly moment of parody that he could share with his friends.

                                        "I've always had this feeling that I was not the same. That my constant doubts and failures had only me to blame. I walk this path that I now choose, I know there's nothing left to lose. It feels so right, I'm not alone, I'm home. Let it burn, let it burn, this warmth I feel won't die. Let it burn, let it burn, that strength to once more try. I'm not afraid, and no longer cold, now this flame burns strong..."

                                        He leapt up onto the table in one movement, continuing to dance with the music and the fire, having quite a good time and making the most of his new stage.

                                        "My power burns like lava, coursing through my veins. Flashing, flaring, dancing, overwhelming welcome pain. A fierce crescendo drowning all else in my mind. I'll give it all I've got, leave nothing else behind. Let it burn, let it burn, I've found love for which I fight. Let it burn, let it burn, raging back against the night. Shining bright like the whitest star, an eternal flame. It's all thanks to you that I've come this far."

                                        As he finished with a flourish, allowing the fire to spiral around him and fade away, he heard delighted applause from the door.

                                        "Oh, that was amazing, Lysander, how did you do that?" Penny asked. Gasping in surprise, Lys stumbled and lost his balance, falling off of the table. Reflexively, Elliott summoned water to catch him with tendrils around his waist and wrist, not realizing what he'd done until after the fact. Penny's eyes were wide with wonder at the display, not realizing that it was real and not an illusion. Grimacing, Sam put his face in his hands, and the Chosen looked amongst themselves as they conversed quickly over the Link.

                                        Sorry dudes, looks like I picked a bad time to walk in. Well, gig's up, all, I guess we might as well spill the beans on this.

                                        Are you certain? She seems to think it's just an act.

                                        Okay, seriously, can you technobabble a functional, coherent explanation right now for this that would make more sense than, "no, really, magic is real?" 'Cause I'm the one that just did that sweet improv and even I've got nothing.

                                        I... I think we should tell her everything. She's the only one of us who doesn't know and...

                                        Is it safe?

                                        I think it would be less of an issue of safety and more of trust. Further, it could be a good idea to have someone who knows of us but isn't one, just in case. She is both clever and capable of discretion.

                                        I'll tell her. Let me down, love, I'm probably the best one to do this.

                                        At his husband's behest, he released Lys from the watery restraints once he was certain that he wouldn't fall, and Lys sighed before rubbing the back of his neck and walking over to Penny.

                                        "I'm going to show you something. But first, I need to know if you'll trust me. You know that I can't lie to save my life, so everything I say will be true, right?" Confused, she blinked and nodded.

                                        "Yes, you're the most honest person I know. What's going on?"

                                        "What I- we just did there wasn't an illusion. It wasn't a trick. It was real. Watch." He snapped his fingers, producing a small flame, and her eyes got even wider. Carefully, he took her hands and transferred it to her. "It's real. It's a bit of a story, but we've got magic right now. We all have different powers, but we're working as a team. I'm supporting that fire right now, and I'm also protecting you from it. You can feel the warmth, can't you? The light, the way it plays and flickers, that's no illusion."

                                        "It's...alive. It feels like you, the way it dances." Lys wasn't expecting her to be so quickly accepting, nor her assessment of the nature of his abilities. "So what all of you did at the Luau, that was real? Who was that woman, then? Did she really try to hurt you all?"

                                        "Worse than that," Sam grunted, "she tried to kill him once, and she's not the only one." Somehow her eyes got even wider with wonder as they narrowed in anger.

                                        "Who would do such a thing and why? She didn't actually hurt you, did she?" she demanded of Lys, who smiled at her concern. Lifting his shirt, he showed the scar.

                                        "It's a lot better than it used to be, but yes, that hurt, and I'm only here because Elliott is completely brilliant. Here, sit, grab a spot on the couch with Sam, I'll get you a drink. Love, if you could start the story, might as well get her caught up."

                                        Sitting primly next to Sam on one side of the couch, Lys offered her a glass of iced tea and curled up next to Elliott on the other end, who had just described their first fight and the subsequent meeting in the tower. She listened with rapt attention, nodding and prompting him to continue, and everyone chimed in with other comments or thoughts from their perspective. Eventually, he got to the part where Lys had gone to talk to Maurice in person and hesitated.

                                        This is the portion that needs to be handled with tact and care.

                                        Tell it as-is, love, she's not a shy violet, and she deserves to know what's happening.

                                        Yeah, he's right. She comes off as quiet, but she's smart and pragmatic, and she's not gonna break down crying or anything.

                                        Sighing, Elliott examined the bottom of his glass thoughtfully, which Lys got up to refill along with his drink. After gathering his thoughts he pressed on, filling in the final details, as well as Lys's most recent conversation. She stared into her untouched drink for a moment before looking up at him with solemn confidence.

                                        "This is going to be an amazing story when you're done with it, and I know you'll figure out something, you always do. I'm sorry that I created such a sad mood on your birthday like this, though."

                                        "Ah! It's quite alright, no worries. Today's not that special, we're just friends getting together and-" She set her glass on the coffee table and clasped his hands in hers, giving him that same stare of focused determination he often gave to others.

                                        "It is special because without it we wouldn't have you, and we'd all be without a very special friend who has helped make this a better place. We're not going to worry about any of this at all today, and instead are going to have a very good time with each other, making memories we'll have for the rest of our lives." Blinking in surprise, Lys chuckled.

                                        "So this is what it's like to be on the receiving end of that. I can see how I'm so persuasive. Well, hard to argue with your logic, let's just have a good day together. Though if anyone starts singing any schmaltzy songs at me I will sit on them."

                                        "What, only you are allowed to do it?" teased Abigail.

                                        "That was silly, get it right," he sniffed in mock insult. Elliott pulled Lys into him in a lazy hug, kissing him on the top of the head. Giggling cutely, Penny retrieved her drink.

                                        "You two really are adorable together, and so close."

                                        "Yeah, he's a bit like my shins at this point," he grinned, kissing his husband on the cheek, and everyone saw the mischief in that smile.

                                        "Wait, like what?" Sam asked, not only confused, but knowing that his friend was waiting for the prompt to continue.

                                        "Yeah, I've banged 'em on every piece of furniture in the house," he replied with a perfect deadpan, successfully resisting the urge to giggle as Elliott choked on his drink, nearly spilling it. Then he realized that Penny was present and blushed. Before he could apologize to her, however, she laughed brightly and heartily.

                                        "Oh Yoba, that was so wonderfully naughty. This is how you always talk with everyone?"

                                        "Uh, heh, yeah, sorry, old habits."

                                        "Don't be, that was funny! I want to get to know all of you better as you are now. I..." She looked into her glass again for a moment. "I was always too shy and scared to really try to talk to anyone, since I didn't have much in common, and I'm always busy with Vincent and Jas. They're great, they really are, but I've craved more...mature company for some time. Thank you all for inviting me over, the few times I've been able to be around everyone has been lovely." Lys sat up to move over and hug her happily.

                                        "Well, we should have included you more often, 'cause you're a sweetie and we need that to balance me out."

                                        "Yeah, she's sweet and you're made of salt," Sam remarked with amused sass, "and Sebastian is totally sour, so you're really helping."

                                        "Get wrecked, dude."

                                        "Ooh, is that bitterness I hear as well?"

                                        They talked, bantered, and laughed for several hours, taking no small amount of delight in filling Penny in on all of their doings and antics, and demonstrating their abilities. Unsurprisingly, she had a keen mind and suggested and asked about a surprising number of things that they could do (and had done!) with their skills, as well as combinations of. Eventually it was decided that the cake needed to be eaten, and Abigail and Sam had sneakily put candles on it when Lys wasn't looking, earning them a look of semi-amusement. They also received one of surprise when Sebastian realized that Abigail had pickpocketed his lighter (Lys was so happy that she had paid attention to his lessons!), and Sam had used it to light the candles, somehow not setting anything on fire or making a mess. It was his turn to give Lys a look when he pointed that out, and tossed the lighter back to its owner.

                                        "Well, enough messing around, dude, make your wish and blow 'em out. I'll start singing if you don't get to it quickly." Sam's grin nearly split his face, and Lys put a fist on his hip as he stuck it out in a sassy pose.

                                        "Since you asked..." Snapping his fingers, the candles went out at once, producing laughter from the group and a punch on the arm from Sam.

                                        "Oh come on, that's cheating."

                                        "You did say... Very well, back on again." Another snap and the flames returned, as did the mischief. He played with them for a few minutes, flicking them on and off, creating patterns and images that danced around at his command. After a few minutes of this, Lys caused all of them to flare up brightly at once before extinguishing them, sculpting the residual smoke into the image that was carved on his pendant.

                                        "Niiiiice," Sam approved, "what was your wish for, then?" Lys waved a finger at him with a wink.

                                        "Now, now, you know that it won't come true if I tell anyone." Elliott had noticed, however, and kissed him behind the ear as he put an arm around his waist. "Well, let's get the plates and see just how awesome Granny Evelyn's baking is."
                                        • Risukage

                                          Risukage Giant Laser Beams

                                          //Just a little bit more relaxed fun, our heroes are going to need it! And again, gah, I NEED to practice drawing, 'cause I want to see his new armor design so bad. :rofl://

                                          Granny Evelyn was a terrific baker, and the cake was one of the best that Lys could recall, which he told Alex point-blank.

                                          "No, seriously, this is amazing. And how did she know my favorite flavor?"

                                          "I told her, because I asked you ages ago."

                                          "Oh. Well then."

                                          The evening wasn't quite over, as they all still had energy left, and they had deliberately ignored Lys's request not to bring anything; Haley gifted him with a lovely framed photograph from the wedding, one of many that she had taken that day that could be found in the album in the living room. Abigail also went artistic, having painted their first band poster with acrylics for an experiment, which had turned out quite nice and abstract, and had decided that he deserved it for being the one to help them achieve that goal. Penny had picked up the next book in a series he'd just started (in hardcover, no less!), Sebastian brought a variety of flavored coffees, and he and Sam laughed when the spiky-haired man brought out something similar in tea, as Lys had expressed interest in that sort of thing before. Shaking his head at the similar mindset in their friends, Alex extended his arm, and, like he did before, flicked his wrist to produce-

                                          "No way, dude, is that the same-"

                                          "Yup, I finally got it finished. It took a little while, since I'm still not that good at sculpting, and I needed a lot of references, but I think it looks great. It's also gold-plated, fortunately, or else it would be crazy heavy, which also was difficult in its own way to work with." Lys's jaw hung open at the gold object in his cousin's hands: the dented and damaged crown that had belonged to his great-grandfather had been restored and remade, still composed of the laurel-leaf circlet, but the lion's head had been replaced with a lyre. Elliott smiled with approval as he recognized what Alex had done.

                                          "An excellent choice! He is a strings musician, and as I recall, the lyre was the instrument of the deity Apollo, god of the sun and of music. Further, the laurel wreath was also one of his symbols. You studied your mythology well, Alexander." He tapped his chin and smiled wider. "And I also remember that his lesser-known attributes were truth and prophecy. How delightfully appropriate! Though I appear to be the one who bears the domain of healing, and Abigail that of archery."

                                          "It's...lovely," Lys said, finally finding his voice. It wasn't as though Alex had made it specifically, he'd simply repaired an heirloom with his aesthetics in mind, right? So why did he feel hesitant about accepting it?

                                          "Thanks, I had fun working on it. Now quit being all shy and let me see how it looks on you. You've got the bearing and posture to totally pull this look off, you know." He saw Lys's look of hesitation and cuffed him playfully on the shoulder.

                                          I... No I don't. I'm not a hero or a leader-

                                          And then he remembered what Umbra Volatus had called him: "Young prince."

                                          ...It's right. Everything I've done so far, from the moment I've met them, has been to help and look out for them. I've always been out front, guiding and leading, without really thinking about it. Nobility is made from one's actions, and I promised to protect them. And today isn't about me, it's about us. We're all scared, I can see it. We're hiding it, and the smiles are genuine, but I can see it in the silences between sentences and the way we look at each other when we think nobody's looking. We need this, a day of fun and memories, a chance to be a little silly and forget the future, to just live in the present and make good memories. I promised them, and they believe it. This is their way of acknowledging it, to me and themselves.

                                          He nodded, and Alex carefully set it in place, channeling a little to adjust for fit, as he'd had to guess earlier, and stepped back to examine his work with a grin of satisfaction.

                                          "Ha, I was right, that came out great. You really do wear that style with, well, style. Though it does look a bit strange with modern clothes."

                                          But there is something with which it will work...

                                          Summoning his armor and weapons, Lys inspected his garments and focused; his original armor was formed from fragments of old memories mixed with his own style. That style had changed, as had his knowledge and strength of power. The swashbuckler look rippled and changed, replacing the somewhat common material of the crimson shirt with fine silks, elegantly stitched and of a far more regal and aristocratic cut. From sturdy and rough to supple black, the leather of his gloves and boots also changed, matching the black silk of the waistcoat and trousers. Shifting position from crossed on his back to secured on his belt at his hips, and strapped around his legs for stability, he retained the swords, though their scabbards became more ornate. One final change: his wings vanished, replaced with a long but light cloak, also in that same shimmering black, worked at the edges with gold and red scrollwork, and clasped at the shoulders with stylized flames in gold metal. Examining himself in a mirror of ice that Elliott had helpfully summoned, he straightened his posture a bit as he "saved" the new design and allowed himself to feel quite satisfied at how well it had come out.

                                          "You're right, I do wear this well, and that it required a slightly different look. I might as well look the part if I'm the leader of this magical girl troupe." Sebastian laughed at his call-back, crossing his arms across his chest.

                                          "Damn, Lys, you really never do anything in half-measures do you? Eh, what the hell, it suits you. Though you'll never get me to call you 'my liege' or 'your majesty.'" Smirking, Lys put a fist on his hip again.

                                          "As if I'd ever ask my friends to do that. Besides, I'm elegant, so 'your grace' would be much more appropriate." Giggling cutely, Penny performed a perfect curtsey.

                                          "Well, it's lovely to meet you, your grace." Gasping, Lys waved his hands at her, completely embarrassed.

                                          "I-! I didn't mean it seriously! I'm sorry! I'm not-" Laughing behind her hands, Penny nudged Sam.

                                          "Oh, you were right, he does embarrass so easily if you try to show him respect. How adorable!"

                                          "...You cute copper troll. You've been hanging around him too long," he finally smiled, rubbing the back of his neck, "hey love, what-" He trailed off as he saw Elliott examining him up and down with obvious approval. Putting an arm around his waist, Elliott pulled him close, tracing soft fingers down the side of his face, wearing that smile that belonged only to him.

                                          "Gold suits you nicely, as does this state of noble dress. A pity that you do not have more opportunity to look like this. Though I am uncertain as to what your proper title should be. You are a landowner, perhaps 'baron?' Give me a moment to recall how heraldry works."

                                          "I- Love, that's not- I'm not- I'm just me!"

                                          "You are more than simply 'you,' there is so much more. I wish that you would let yourself see it as well as we do."

                                          "I'm not a- I'm...a Bard." Elliott's smile was warm and amused.

                                          "Taliesin." Again, Lys's mouth hung open, but only he and Penny recognized the name.

                                          "Tally-what?" Sam asked.

                                          "Taliesin," replied Penny, "regarded as the chief and greatest of Bards and poets, and I think I recall one story referring to him as the 'King of Summer.' Later stories place him in a rather mythic status as a companion of King Arthur. A rather obscure figure, but one of renown." Abigail laced her fingers together behind her head as she looked at Lys thoughtfully.

                                          "Hunh, didn't expect to get a history lesson tonight, but yeah, I can totally see it. And I can see Sam already getting the inspiration for another song."

                                          "Damn right you are, oh wow, this is gonna be so amazing. Hang on, I gotta get this idea out while it's fresh," he said as he rummaged through his backpack for his netbook, opened it, and set it on the table, typing loudly and quickly. Kissing Lys gently on the cheek, Elliott took his hand and pulled him toward the piano.

                                          "You inspire us all, my dear, and that brings us to my gift to you. Sit with me." Shifting back to his regular clothes, he did as requested, very curious, and not the only one. With practiced skill, Elliott's fingers began to dance across the keys, in a bright, lively tune that Lys didn't recognize. "I have had in mind a song for a very long time, but like my novel, it never came to completion, not until I met you. As we began working together, and then living the same, I have found the inspiration and guidance that I needed to create this piece. It has no name, because it is a song that describes all that I feel for you, and that cannot be expressed in mere words."

                                          Words could not describe it, no. Lively and bright were the first words that came to Lys's mind, yes, but after that... Flowing, dancing, energetic... Treble and bass parts wove elegantly between and around each other, passing the melody back and forth, providing harmony as each side traded and took the lead. Lys could hear the it singing with itself, both his and Elliott's voices, the way they both moved and thought. He wanted to get up and dance to it, it called to him, but he couldn't, not alone, this song needed a partner. In any case, he was entranced by it, lost in the sound and the emotion, watching Elliott play with such vibrant enthusiasm, wearing a smile of absolute delight despite the complexity of the piece. Though he was seated as he performed, Elliott almost danced in place himself, moving with the energy of the music, nudged and guided by the sound that he evoked from his instrument.

                                          Lys remembered the first time that he'd heard him play, how stiff and formal it had been, hesitant and uncertain, as though Elliott weren't quite sure that he was doing it correctly. That was gone now, and his confidence was now unwavering, ecstatic at being able to share something with his friends and lover, properly able to express what he felt. A tightness formed in his chest, making it hard to breathe, but Lys didn't care, he was already drowning in the sound and happily so. He felt as though he were floating on those notes, having left his physical form and existing only as energy that resonated with the music.

                                          Time passed, Lys wasn't sure how much or little, and the piece ended, Elliott allowing the final notes to linger and fade on their own. Turning to his husband to ask something, he saw that Lys was staring off at nothing, tears in his eyes.

                                          "Ah, my dear, is there-" Lys threw his arms around his neck, holding him tightly; there were no words to properly describe the song, nor did Lys have any to describe what he felt. But sometimes there will never be the right or enough words, and that's not a bad thing, because the meaning behind one's intent can still be known. Elliott knew everything that Lys wanted to say but couldn't, and returned the hug, though softer, feeling pleasure at how well received his work had been. Almost a whisper, meant for nobody but Elliott, Lys sniffed and smiled.

                                          "You always surprise me, love, I knew I was special to you, but I didn't know you felt like that. Thank you." Fingers still hovering over a different set of keys, Sam stared at Elliott with wonder.

                                          "...Dude... Dude, that was... You have got to play that at our next gig. I mean, just... I know we're mostly a rock sound, but that... I can't even words now, you blew my mind."

                                          "Be careful if you do that, love, I might have to get up and dance to it," Lys finally laughed, having gotten control of himself, "I almost did a moment ago. Although...it wouldn't be complete alone."

                                          "Then we'll just make Sebastian learn it so you can go out there and rock the floor," Abigail suggested, shooting her boyfriend a sly look, who returned it with one of trepidation.

                                          "You really think highly of my skills. I'm synth, not piano, small difference. And that... I think that that might be above my skill level. I didn't know you could do that, Elliott, that was impressive."

                                          "I did not either until I tried, and then I found that there was nothing that I could not do."

                                          They hung out for a little while longer, but it was starting to get late, and after the energy of Elliott's composition they found themselves getting tired, but pleasantly so. Lys thanked them profusely, hugging them warmly and firmly before they could leave. Sam and Penny were the first to depart, as they had walked, followed by Haley and Alex, and last were Sebastian and Abigail. The house empty once more, Lys took a moment to reflect on the evening's events, smiling from the still-fresh memories. Elliott offered him a cup of coffee (from the batch that Sebastian had brought) and walked out to sit on the bench on the porch, enjoying together the residual warmth of the summer's evening as the sun had already set. At the first touch of a cool breeze they finished their drinks and returned indoors, putting the cups in the sink to deal with in the morning.

                                          Pulling his shirts over his head, Lys, as usual discarded his used clothes in the laundry bin with a careless but flawless toss. Elliott, as usual, was more meticulous in his manner of undress, fastidiously undoing buttons to hang up his waistcoat and trousers before discarding his own shirt in the bin. Pulling aside the blanket, Lys flopped into bed, sprawled on his back, staring off at nothing, once more replaying the day. He saw Elliott about to get into bed on the other side and held open his arms in a welcoming gesture.

                                          "Here, I want to hold you for a bit this time." Elliott's weight and warmth on him were reassuring and welcome, and Lys kissed the top of his head as Elliott rested his head on Lys's shoulder, brushing the pendant as if to remind himself it were still there. "Today was lovely, I couldn't have asked for better. And...I think we all needed that. A day to smile and laugh, because we don't know how many more we'll have. We may have forever, we may have a week. I'm glad that I was able to make that happen for everyone." He hummed the song that Elliott had written for him, who smiled at this, not only listening to the sound, but feeling it through his partner.

                                          "I do not have blind faith in you, my dear, though I am certain that a couple of our friends do. No, I trust that you will find another path because that is what you have always done. Every time you have been presented with an option that did not suit your needs you rewrote the story to suit, but never at a cost to others. Some of those paths have left you scarred, but still you shine brightly, a beacon to others. We all see this and heed its call, and we will support you to the best of our abilities." Lys tangled his fingers in Elliott's hair, trying to take in every sensation at once, committing it all to memory as best he could; the scent of his cologne and self, the warm touch of his skin, that soft gold and bright blue of his hair and eyes, the gentle sound of his voice... He noticed the stark contrast of his platinum ring against the blonde and blinked back the sting of tears for a moment. Taking Elliott's hand, he kissed the ring that he wore, holding it tight.

                                          "I'll find a way. I won't lose you. Any of you. I've finally started living and moving ahead. My story doesn't end here." Xander leapt up onto the bed, taking stock of the situation as he flicked his tail, finally settling in next to Lys, curling up and dozing off immediately. Lys relaxed into the pillows, noticing that Elliott was already asleep himself, still draped across him, and was quick to follow the other two into restful oblivion.

                                          I've had the song for this chapter in mind for a while, and I figured it would be up to everyone's own interpretation what they think it would sound like. And then I found this piece. This, this is what it's supposed to sound like. Not exactly, but... Look, if this doesn't give you chills as well as make you want to get up and dance, well, I don't know what to say to you.

                                            Last edited: Dec 26, 2016

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