~The second consideration to become Immortal and wield Blue Magic: Do goals, and the accomplishment of them, require sacrifice and hardship?~

          Seraph was an absolute mess.


          The armor he had borrowed from Saint was rather impressive. Originally. One layer was made of black leather made to conform to the body. But in places where the body was more vulnerable additional layers had been added. Thigh to toe, hands, and neck had an oddly stark white leather sewn into the suit. Atop that, broad segments of leather were draped around the shoulders, and waist and reinforced with steel plates which openly protected the knees. One of the features that made the armor popular were the exposed studs which served to further interrupt clean attacks. It was lightweight enough that many adventures favored its use, but durable enough to withstand the rigors of front line combat. Saint had sought out the suit doggedly.
          At this point, it was next to unrecognizable due to the rigors and strain his training brought upon it. Opting for some basic attire, Seraph joined his companions.
          “Rrrun it by me again” Aisha pleaded, grimoire open. The Mithra, a race of humanoid with the fur, ears, tails, and other subtler features of felines, consisted exclusively females outside of the southern continent that made their home. Aisha embodied curiosity, and lent herself well to being a Scholar.
          “It’s been days” Clearite complained. A fellow Elvaan, Clearite retained the rigidity of her people even while being well-traveled.
          “I don’t mind” Seraph said, settling in for his lengthy explanation. Though Clearite balked, her normally focused eyes relaxed. Aisha’s academic exuberance sent her tail twitching back and forth, though she swiftly settled when Seraph began speaking.
          “Blue Magic” he began “ is an ancient art form. It is, by far, not the oldest magic. In fact, it is a bizarre result of science. From what I gathered, something akin to a coup took place ages ago on the Aradjiah continent, where Aht Urhgan is established. Artificial creatures were held greatly responsible. While they were wonderful weapons to set in target rich environments, there was no easy way to stop them. Using similar means new experiments began.”
          Aisha ears were laid back in concentration. She reviewed the notes she had taken, ensuring everything was in order. Clearite braced herself. Upon the first telling, she was left completely aghast. Now, knowing the truth of her foes, it caused her more sympathy than she wanted for her long time adversaries.
          Seraph looked at his open hand and continued. “The alchemists of Al Zahbi are truly an industrious lot. As much as I’ve come to adopt Bastok as a second home, the Humes and Galka lose out to the concerted effort of a united nation. I digress, the next wave of experiments were still Chimerae, in a fashion.”
          “The base of these Chimerae were the guards loyal to the Empire themselves. These were the original Immortal Lions.”
          “As with any new development, it began as well as you might imagine. That is to say much life was lost. You can’t stitch marid hide onto a person for the sake of durability. The recipients of such ‘experiments’ are my forebears. I would not be here as I am without them.” For a moment Seraph seemed to enter a wistful quietude. When he began again his voice was hard. “The Empire wanted, nay, demanded usable results. As such, the alchemists went further. Deeper. Using the souls of their subjects as the foundation, they added pieces of ‘monster essence’. This was a new mountaintop. This was the birth of Blue Magic.”
          Seraph could feel within him a roiling. He had drawn in much such ‘essence’. His soul touched several dozen monster remnants. His anger swelled, and in response so did his power. Feeling this he picked up his bazubands. This specialized clothing covered his forearms and helped quell the surge of power. But still it pulsed, ready to be unleashed. Seraph breathed a sigh of relief, but was shocked when he found Aisha looking on.
          Her entire body sagged with sorrow. “You speak more openly about it but you are much sadder than you were.” Her concern was barely hidden in her voice.
          Seraph smiled. It was defeated and empty, but he could do little else. “I set out to discover myself. I aimed to learn why I could feel the stirrings of all the living entities in the world. I learned. But as I am now? I need these clothes. Keffiyeh, jubbah, bazubands, shalwar, and charuqs. You see every Immortal wear this attire. Many think it is a mere uniform for their elite guard. This is not untrue. As with many forms of dress, they come with specialized enhancements. But the Magus attire is needed by wielders of Blue Magic beyond a particular level. Power comes with a price.”
          Clearite straightened up. “You’re completely right Seraph. A well aimed hexagun is a viable threat to all that lot. Fortunately, bullets are cheap enough for me.”
          “Time will do your job for you, Clearite” came Seraph’s stoic response.
          A glance was passed between the two female adventurers.
          Seraph looked between them. “…have I not told you?”
          Aisha tapped her quill, held manually for a change, over the parchment of her notes. “Something… new?”
          “Here I was thinking you’d be telling the same old story until Aisha got tired of hearing it” Clearite jabbed, her Mithra companion smacking the lady Elvaan out of view.
          Seizing the reigns of conversation back by clearing his throat, the male Elvaan carefully spoke. “One soul, one body. That is how the world works. The physical form is hard pressed to contain more than one being. No matter how well versed the wielder is, the more regularly Blue Magic is used the more it degrades the physical form. All the power, but it shortens the lives of those that use it. Even occasional use will eventually kill all the Immortals from sheer exertion Clearite. Even now I am contending with constant pain.”
          A sinister sneer spread across Clearite’s lips. “Wonderful. The next chance I get I’ll cleave off the pretty bandages of your brethren and let their foolish ambitions do the rest.”
          “Clearite!” Aisha hissed, motioning to Seraph. Neither appalled nor apologetic, Clearite let her statement stand.
          “That would be unwise.” Clearite opened one puzzled eye and watched Seraph as she awaited his continuation. “As I said, we need these clothes. Of the Magus armor, perhaps it is more apt to say that it takes us to the edge of the precipice. Personally, I find it easier to always resist jumping into the void even in trying circumstances rather than being far away and running to the power in dire emergencies. It is a constant struggle. I am always hurting these days. No matter the rest or restorative magics that are heaped onto me. I call them ‘growing pains’. I have my doubts if they will ever go away or if I’ll just come to ignore them in time. My screaming body may just be one more voice that blends into my experience of the world.”
          “How ominous” Clearite sneered, unimpressed.
          Aisha, her curiosity high, was more pragmatic. “What’s the worse that could go wrong without your armor?”
          Seraph’s voice got low. He spoke only one word. “Soulflayer.”
          Clearite visibly bristled. “What do those monsters have to do with you?”
          “CLEARITE!!!” Aisha howled. “You’re being insensitive!” Looking back to her grimoire, she began flipping through it. “Hm… Soulflayer…” Raising a hand, the magic in the tome responded to her inquiry and the pages began turning themselves swiftly. From one cover to the next, back again, and returning to the original page caused Aisha a great deal of confusion. “That’s so strange. There is nothing written about them.”
          “I’m not surprised” Clearite piped up. “About the only person that knows about both the past AND the Near East at this point is that embattled Zazarg codger.”
          Settling back down, Aisha asked “What’s a Soulflayer?”
          At a snap of his fingers, Seraph’s grimoire appeared beside Aisha. Presently inert, channeling neither White nor Black schools of magic, Aisha’s had a worn look of a well loved book. While both Mithra and male Elvaan practiced Scholarly arts, their grimoires differed wildly. Seraph’s was changed permanently, his Blue Magic altering the construct. It latched onto the form of Shiva, and held a sheen akin to ice. It entirely pulsed with an inner azure light, covers and pages all. Much as with Seraph’s stories, Aisha was fascinated in his grimoire even though she had seen it many times. As the frigid volume opened, information Seraph had retained on Soulflayers imbued the visible pages. His memories were made tangible.


          “This,” Seraph resumed, “is a Soulflayer. Recall how I said the original subjects had monster parts grafted onto them? In a perverse and ironic turn, this is what happens when the essence of monsters overcome their Blue Mage host. They grow into maddened fiends. Just the type they… we were created to put down. This isn’t at all an uncommon happenstance.”
          Seraph placed his wrapped hand atop his keffiyeh, the headpiece of his armor. “Four pieces of my armor were custom made. I took this ornate headpiece from another Immortal. Her power overcame her. I knew her only as ‘Setting Sun’. She is my Sister. She is my destiny. And as I live, I am her hope that I can avoid her fate. This incident was foreseen enough in advance to not even include the materials to make this in the list I was given. The Immortals are familiar enough with this to treat those who lose control like any other monster. To be killed, and to take something from them.”
          “Altana prrreserrrve…” Aisha wretched, shock unable to prevent her from the Mithran verbal tick.
          Clearite spoke divorced from her emotion. “They are certainly an accursed lot. Myself and the crew came across such a damned soul once. We thought it was another Lamiae, some garish creation run wild. I suppose,” Clearite continued musing, “that was correct.”
          Seraph moved his fingers and, again, his grimoire responded. A map of the Aradjiah continent was clearly displayed. “These are the areas and densities I have seen Soulflayers reside in.”
          “’Densities’?” Clearite leaned in viewing the map over Aisha’s shoulder. Her face paled. “What… is this?!” the Elvaan woman stammered.
          Some areas were dotted with red. Others covered in it completely.
          “What do you think I meant when I said that this was not an uncommon happenstance? ” Seraph shot back, bitter amusement across his face. Clearite was silent, so Seraph filled the void. “For some reason, whether they come from the Empire, Mamool Ja, or mere adventurers like me, the majority seem to find their way towards Arrapago Reef. I think the mix of Lamiae, Imps, and undead draws them. They are also refuse of the Empire, demons, and left to wander the world. So you see Clearite, the creation and growth of Immortals has done more damage to the group than you and yours could ever hope to.”
          The female Elvaan could not be read in this moment. She grabbed her scythe and stepped outside. As she exited the outpost the loamy and heavy air of Zi’Tah flooded the small room.
          The open air brought Aisha back to life. “If you know all of this, why keep gathering more power? Why put yourself at so much risk?”
          Seraph motioned to their grimoires, starkly contrasting representations of their magical expressions. “Say the grimoires were sentient. If every time you used a spell you risked becoming enslaved to the grimoires’ hunger for knowledge, would you have become a Scholar in the first place?”
          For the first time, Aisha looked at her precious grimoire in genuine yet muted horror.
          Seraph chuckled. “Well, I thought that your exuberance for knowledge would have won out there. I suppose it is a strange person to push forward even when they wager their life. To answer your question: Blue Magic is who I am. It called to me before I was an adventurer. Dare I say it, I left San d’Oria in search of it. I do not ascribe to fate with abandon. This path has been mine. Ever and always. I can do nothing else but walk it to its end. Or my own.”

          Reluctantly, Seraph donned his Magus attire. He and Aisha joined Clearite beneath the expansive canopy of the forest.
          The Sanctuary of Zi’Tah was immense. In this ancient wood the trees reached higher, and likely at least as deeply, than any modern structure on all of Vana’diel. The trees were mighty, the tops of which raised out of sight and could provide near constant dimness. Against the expansion and war machines of Beastmen and Children of Altana alike, Zi’Tah stood strong.
          Seraph meditated upon the grand scope of life in this place and felt himself at peace. The power of the Beast did not need to rule. It is possible to be timeless and contained, but truly grand. The Mindartia continent, the eastern portion of The Middle Lands, was mostly arid. But in this one locale, much life flourished. It seemed strange to him. Yet, power and deep growth in the midst of desolation reminded him of himself. At its best, his power was calm and far reaching. Rolling thunder without mirrored the cry of power within.
          Much like his singular soul in the midst of madness, the lone wooden outpost sheltered both the brave and the foolish who ventured out this far. Out of the relative safety within, the word-weary trio breathed deep. It spoke to the power of this place that civilization could not restrain these grounds. Animals, beasts, and fiends of all stripes called this place home. Some fungi gained locomotion. What may appear to some as a mass of moss were powerful guardians. Bats and the bones of the fallen would stalk the unwary during the night. The Goblin race, present in all parts of The Middle Lands, could be seen harvesting materials of all kinds from the denizens of Zi’Tah. But even they were wary of the Golems, living edifices of rock that roamed the forest floor and suffered no interloper.
          Clearite’s voice shot out, tearing Seraph out of his drawn away state. “I see you’re getting more comfortable dressing up like one of them.” Her earlier statement had been true. Seraph’s battle companion had stuck with him for quite awhile. Originally a Corsair, a pirate descended from the Kingdom of Ephramad, her attentiveness to Seraph could only be thought of as a business relationship. The Corsairs have long borne great enmity against the Empire and the Immortals, the latter acting as the fingers of the Empire in the world, and often came to blows with Corsairs when the two groups met. Clearite originally said long ago that she would watch Seraph’s growth to learn more about her enemies, and that she would make it a point to be the first to bring Seraph down if the time came. In a cruel twist she relegated herself to tending his wounds and protecting him with a number of magical weavings, but kept a scythe handy.



          Seraph looked down at his outfit. A skilled tailor, Kushdeel, custom-made each piece. Comprised of gold and expensive silks, and even the flesh of certain monsters blended in via alchemic processes, it was suited keenly to Seraph. Still the keffiyeh, the headpiece, seized from his Sister Immortal now fallen, he couldn’t bring himself to wear. With a forlorn look in his eye he turned to Clearite, thinking he spoke from strength but barely whispered. “Not as comfortable as you would think,” and clutched the keffiyeh a bit tighter.
          Aisha took this time to depart, using a Warp spell to speed herself along. She wanted to cross check all the new information Seraph afforded. After the bubble of magic collapsed in on itself, the Elvaan pair rested outside the outpost. All the materials were imported, likely from San d’Oria who were known for their woodworking. The two Elvaan found a comfort in the familiarity of the craftsmanship. Similar in height, the major difference between the two was gender and hair color, Clearite’s being as dark as Seraph’s what white. As they sat, she retied her braid to remain out of the way as she fought. “You’re handling yourself much better than most I’ve seen which says much,” she offered. It didn’t sway the male Elvaan in the slightest. A clamor came about from a way down the path. A heavy armored troop seemed to be making its way towards the outpost. Clearite stood, watching the procession making way. “Seraph, you have to see this. It’s a Paladin detatchment.” The Blue Mage lifted his head and attentively listened.
          “…the report… ‘monster magic’…? Did the guard let his nightcap ferment too long?” An uneasy glance was traded between Clearite and Seraph, and the latter stepped back inside the outpost.
          The group that Clearite noted was comprised of five Paladins, two women, and three men. All of them bore the sword, shields and armors most readily associated with the protectors of San d’Oria. They each seemed to also have a secondary weapon which varied wildly. She leaned against the outpost wall opposite their approach.
          One of the Paladins, presumably the leader, greeted the soldier guarding the outpost. “Hail Bastokan.” Clearite certainly didn’t think she could handle it. She seemed much too brash for it. To much of a swagger for a commander.
          “Hail Paladin” answered the outposts’ guard.
          There was an agreement between the nations of Windurst, San d’Oria, and Bastok to be vigilant against the Beastmen as they pressed against Altana’s five races. If a particular nation had a great deal of positive influence in the area they were allowed a bit of additional sway for a time in that place. These tallies came up periodically, and currently Bastok was in charge of the outpost.
          The guard pressed the conversation. “What brings you out this far?”
          One of the subordinate male Paladins handed a missive forth the the leader. “While we had a guard here during the last conquest period, they saw something that warranted an unusual report. Some rouge adventurer that… if you can believe this… was using monster techniques as their own.” Seraph heard this and straightened up swiftly. He began paying much more attention to the new arrivals, but kept himself hidden.
          Clearite noticed Seraph’s shifting. Keeping her position leaning against the corner of the outpost she decided to try for some more information. She shot Seraph a wry smile. “Out of curiosity, if you found a user of Blue Magic here, what would you do with them?” Seraph’s eyes widened as he inhaled sharply. Bloody Corsair mentality. She was flashing her hand, showing that she knew something, making a gamble just to see how they would react.
          A small murmur of male voices could be heard as the female leader replied. “Honestly, we weren’t expecting to find anything. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I figured we were being sent on a wild goose chase after my… ah… never mind.”
          Calliope, the guard assigned by Bastok chimed in, “That is truly a wild claim,” feigning ignorance. Calliope and Seraph had spoken much in the recent days due to his training. Additionally, Seraph was well known to people in Bastok in part due to his abilities. “In fact, thinking on it, I’ve not heard of such a… talent on both the Quon and Mindartia continents” Calliope continued, spinning an unusual detail. The Middle Lands, made up of the Mindartia and Quon continents, were home to many martial styles. Blue Magic was not one of them. She was able to speak truth while leaving out the full array of details.
          Seraph heard the sudden sound of metal scraping against wood. Clearite moved forward, out of his view and her voice came around the corner. “Is your friend okay?” she asked.
          A nearly whispered affirmation was barely audible. A more sturdy voice followed up. “She is very sensitive to magic. She hasn’t been comfortable since a little after we stepped into the wood.”
          “That makes sense” responded Clearite. “There is a Protocrystal in the Boyahda Tree. We’re still a distance away. I’d hate to see your friend get too close. Calliope, let’s get her inside.”
          “Hang on Vulilu. We’ll get you someplace you can rest.”
          Vulilu… if that was the case, then that was Novenaux speaking. Galav was likely the one who spoke toward her sensitivity. Bahne was the low spoken voice. And the female leader of the Paladins, of course, must have been Xaran. His friends had reached their childhood aspirations without him. And now, for whatever reason, they’d been sent to find him. Subtly, Seraph used his body to form a glyph, dancing to reach these different points and channel a barely noticeable amount of magic. In doing so, he removed himself from the perception of sight and sound. Swiftly he began to move away. He saw his old friends as they filed into the outpost building. Though hidden, he noticed Vulilu’s eyes upon him.

          Now alone, Seraph delved back into the ancient forest. His paling lasting longer than it normally would. Perhaps he had poured more energy into it than he was accustomed? Was he running now? If so from what? His past? What was to come if he was dragged back to San d’Oria? His future? He stopped, listened to the winds, felt the soft soil, and reached out with his senses. As before, he could feel the Sanctuary of Zi’Tah as his own grounds. As when he met the Immortals in the Near East this place was his. Even so, did he feel fear? What did his friends represent to him? An answer, perhaps not correct, came to him.
          Most compare themselves to their pasts. Seraph was now distant from those humble beginnings.
          Returning home isn’t a choice, whether in cowardice or as a prisoner to be kept in the depths of the Oubliette. There is much that he has gone through, a path he has walked. No one can know the future, but the belief of finding Saint had to be held. That power had to be used to meet his end. To find his friend. Seraph, afraid of the empty vessel he was, afraid of the Beast he would have to become, put on the keffiyeh. If the only way to reach the future was to become like the monsters he fell, then he would reign supreme among them.
          The power of the paling failed, and the monsters which guarded the wood became aware of the lone adventurer. They came toward him. Goblins with their weapons, their trained pets ready for his blood. Bats, large whiskered cats called coeurls, and the animate stone Golems all came for him. Seraph was empty. He was hungry. And he would sate himself on the souls of these fiends. And in the end, he would be greater.
          Attack after attack came toward the Blue Mage. He could feel them, and suddenly a hiss in his mind. The coeurls… “Chaotic Eye”, the leeches… “Magic Drainkiss”, the bat trios and golems felt the sting of their own attacks. Jet Stream and Ice Break lashed out from him, Seraph already taking like souls in. These powers could be extracted from their souls as they escaped the bodies. Dodging and parrying, healing what he could not evade, he let himself be more and more overcome with the lust for battle and the hunger for power. With another stolen power, Seraph called up a mysterious wind filled with light. He brought down all the enemies in one simultaneous strike. Their souls were pulled into Seraph’s being, empowering him. Their bodies decayed more swiftly then they should have. One form needing the template of the others to wield their power. Seraph’s jaw opened wide hidden by the veil of his keffiyeh, a feral roar echoing throughout Zi’Tah.


          “I suppose that was Blue Magic.”
          Seraph, still overcome, turned to the voice. His eyes were deep blue vortexes, drawing in the last remnants of his opponents souls. He now looked at Vulilu.
          “I have some training with Black Magic, you see” she continued. “To command the winds across so many targets? I’ve done it myself. But not in that way. It is… unusual. And your healing…” She removed her blade, standard issue for a Paladin, and readied her shield. Seraph had not let his blades rest. “…I am positive that when in the jungles surrounding Kazham we witnessed such a technique. The ability to use the powers of beasts as magic. I never imagined such an oddity.” Seraph could feel his blood cooling as the new magics took rest within him. His stance faltered as the need to be primed for battle escaped. Vulilu, against Seraph’s experience of her, charged headlong at him.
          “A foolhardy move, Paladin” he said to her, his voice still venomous from his recent feast. He crossed his swords and forced hers into the ground, bringing a halt to her advance. “You do not know at whom you strike, or what awaits you.”
          She let slip a low laugh. “I have been trained to endure…” she said, as she raised her shield with force into his chin. In her hand, hidden by the shield, was a powerful working of fire. She released it and it scorched the area around Seraph with a ferocity, keeping him in the center. The blast to his chest sent him flying back, dragging the earth for a distance before his momentum was completely removed from him. “…and I have worked to overcome, as you will see” she finished. Looking at the canopy above, Seraph admitted this was not his childhood friend. Or at least, this is what her training had made of her since their last meeting.
          Two could certainly be a part of that dance. Seraph regained a strong stance, the quickness of which left Vulilu bewildered. He met her gaze steadily, and made use of two of his spells. From the coeurl and an opo-opo, the same small mammal that provided the healing spell Vulilu noticed, Seraph used the spells quickly and subtly. He knew Vulilu’s experience with all conventional magic, and hoped she had not noticed him cast just now.
          “My… aren’t you resilient?” she cooed. The honey over her words coated the poison dangerously.
          Seraph shook his head, the gold on his headdress chiming on itself. “I am only as difficult to defeat as that which I have defeated. If we had fought at the beginning of my journey I would have had no chance of survival. But as I am now… I can test your resiliency.”
          Seraph rushed forward, blades kept behind him. Vulilu raised her hand to call forth another of the elements, but Seraph’s first spell still seized her. While able to speak, any attempt to channel magical essence with the voice was halted. She realized this with only enough time to bring up her shield in defense. Using a technique aptly known as Seraph Blade, he thrust the smallest influence of light against her, adjusting her defenses. She had steeled herself against the full spectrum of assaults, however the second of his spells had diminished the portion that aided against the physical. While not pushed back, she was brought down to a single knee. Using an upward thrust of power caused the influence of fire to be borne in kind around Vulilu. Without a sound she endured the flames.
          Planting her sword in the earth she used it to raise herself up. She stared directly at Seraph. “That wasn’t right.” The Paladin eyed the Blue Mage with a ferocity, then a coolness, and then familiarity. “Explain yourself. Where is Seraph?!”
          At least Seraph perceived it as familiarity.
          Sheathing his weapons, he responded. “I think you’ve made a mistake…”
          She pointed her blade towards him. “I’ve made no mistake, monster! Seraph Blade is a common technique. Even I know it. But that variation… that small nuance opened up my shield from it’s position. It left me vulnerable to a physical attack. And the person who uses that variation specifically to combat shield wielders is Seraph.” She began another charge. Seraph moved his hand up to remove his keffiyeh, but she was too quickly upon him. He stepped to the side, pushing her just enough to offset her momentum. She recovered immediately, but by the time she spun her blade around at her opponents’ head, she found herself face to face with an old friend. Instead of elation, a look of horror crossed Vulilu’s face. “What… What type of horror are you?! Do you steal the form of your victims too?”
          Seraph sighed, exasperated at the effort. “Vulilu…” His voice, now untouched by the absorption of Blue Magic, had returned to normal. Other shouts of her name came from the direction of the outpost soon drowning out his own. Xaran and the other Paladins were coming upon them.
          Bahne rushed up swiftly, checking Vulilu for wounds. “We heard your fire spells. What…”
          At first, the rest of the group was stuck in place out of surprise. “…I don’t know what that is…” said Vulilu silently.
          Bahne, having been focused solely on Vulilu, looked up for the first time. “Seraph?”
          Xaran, Galav, and Novenaux recovered themselves and formed a front line of defense, looking to each other full of uncertainty.
          “That… thing isn’t Seraph” Vulilu spat. “It looks like him, but there is an energy exuding from him that isn’t… right. If we aren’t careful he’ll pull in our essences too.”
          Galuv, holding a two-handed sword aloft, narrowed his eyes. “This is the rouge adventurer we sought?!”
          Vulilu looked at Seraph again. “It… It uses the powers of its enemies. I watched it while it fought a group of enemies.”
          Novenaux’s eyes went wide. “A group? Here?! We have to take the fiends here one at a time. It brought down a group on its own? We may be out of our league…”
          Xaran tried to provoke Seraph into action. “We’ll see about that! Come on… whatever you are!”
          Galuv attempted to take advantage of the opening, but Seraph could read the attempt completely. Dropping back, Seraph spoke. “The last time you were aware of seeing me a rabbit hit you like this Galuv…” With a concentration of willpower a small tap landed on Galuv’s forehead, just enough to make him backpedal.
          The others prepared to attack, but Galuv held up a hand. “Wait… How did you know that? How did you do that?”
          Xaran tried to press to the front, but Vulilu was ahead of her. She prepared another attack attempt. This could continue for a long while.
          “Time of Truth” Seraph said aloud.
          The Paladins froze.
          One of the best kept secrets in all of San d’Oria was what the brothers Joulet and Gallijaux did with all the Moat Carp they obsessively had brought to them. More secret than that, mainly because the secret wasn’t known to exist, was that Seraph was a nickname. That Seraphim was more proper. And that, on all official documents, Seraph was written as Z. Seraphim. No one knew what the Z stood for. But in this circle of six, one knew, and five had a pretty good idea.
          Seraph now hinted at thie knowledge.
          Vulilu came forward first. “By Altana it is you… but you’re entire presence is warped. It’s… heavy. It’s sickening.”
          Seraph looked at his hands. He hadn’t noticed any difference. Sure, he’d changed, but when you see change every day you are less apt to notice it in big ways. Focusing, Seraph sought to restrain his power, to pull the souls that ordinarily roam free into a small space. Seraph could feel his power waning until it was nearly naught. Suddenly weakened, his body sagged.
          Galuv and Vulilu came under his shoulders. “There he is…” she said. She looked him up and down. “I don’t believe it. All these years… That was your power? That is what you saw?”
          Seraph smiled and nodded. Looks of confusion spread over the rest of the group. Making their way back to the outpost, they all sat down, Seraph putting his head in Vulilu’s lap, and he recounted the whole of his tale once more. He explained how certain enemy techniques resonated with him. His travels to Whitegate and the discovery of Blue Magic. His outfit and affiliation with the Immortals. They all laughed at him at this, saying he crossed an ocean to be a cloth-swathed Paladin for some far flung Empress. Lastly he mentioned his friend that he was looking to find a way to.
          “That’s why I can’t return yet” he finished.
          “What… you don’t think we can help?” accused Xaran.
          “No, in fact,” Seraph responded. “You have your duties, and depending upon who you ask I’m eschewing mine. We have enough to contend with. Maybe later on we’ll meet again.”
          Bahne shifted uncomfortably. “We still have an issue…”
          “What do we report?” Novenaux voiced.
          “The truth” said Galuv, Vulilu, and Seraph in time.
          “The Noble Trio together again” Xaran replied with a roll of her eyes. “That means we have to take you in Seraph. We can’t confirm a report without proof.”
          Seraph began pulling in energy for a spell. Vulilu noticed the hum of power drawing in around him. “Then tell your superiors someone dreamed it up” he said.
          “That’s preposterous” Galuv exclaimed. “We can’t just make up reports.”
          Seraph smiled. “Who said you would be? Remember that sheep, way back when?” And with that he unleashed his spell. He had learned the technique of those sheep, to put beings to sleep in a nearby area.
          He bumped Vulilu as he arose to leave, stirring her awake. “This friend… the one we met outside Selbina” she began groggily. “He’s that important that you leave everyone behind?”
          Seraph shook his head. “No… Figuring out who I was for myself was that important, so that I could be on equal terms with everyone. He’s a part of this life, and I’m not ready to put it all behind me. You all aren’t behind me… you’re ahead of me. Just…” Seraph thought back to Waoud’s test, the puzzlement the seer had when he received an honest answer. “…to get what I want, I have to put off some things for now. But I’ll be back.” Vulilu nodded back off, muttering something Seraph couldn’t understand. He began using field supplies to return home, and saw the helmet he left with Vulilu back in Selbina. He smiled at her sentiment, but was haunted with leaving his friends for a third time.

~“Do goals, and the accomplishment of them, require sacrifice and hardship?”~
~“If one does not have time to find another way, yes.~