A Long Cold Winter Chapter 4


By Intrasonic

"Thou shalt leave. Or thou shalt die."

Lance, Celes and Shadow looked at the imposing warrior between them and the large pit in the ground. Cyan looked to be serious in every sense of the word, and his swords seemed more than willing to back up his threat.

Lance coughed. "I don't suppose you'd be open to diplomatic negotiations?"

Cyan's scowl was answer enough.

Lance turned to face Celes and Shadow. "This is certainly not expected, my friends. I myself am aware that he is a warrior of some repute. You two have fought with him before. What are our chances?"

Celes frowned. "Cyan is... very skilled."

"_How_ skilled?"

"He will kill us individually," Shadow stated bluntly.

"What if we attack together?"

"Still dangerous," Celes replied. "He's trained his whole life specifically for this type of head-on fighting. My training was designed to complement magical abilities, and was never intended for teamwork. I do not think Shadow is experienced in this type of fighting. _You_ barely rate as a threat."

Lance chuckled. "Why thank-you, my dear. In other words, trying to out-fight him is very risky. In that case, please let me do some talking. He seems a man of reason."

Celes coughed, clearly indicating her opinion on the matter.

Lance ignored her, taking a few steps forward. "My friend, perhaps the two of us could talk briefly?"

"Thou'rt no friend of mine if you persist," Cyan warned, his swords not wavering an inch.

Lance casually drew his sword out, causing his opponent's eyes to narrow. Then he tossed the sword to the side. "I would much rather not have to keep yelling across this distance, my friend. I would also prefer to avoid a fight."

"T'is also my desire," Cyan agreed cautiously.

"Then we are agreed on something," Lance decided, coming to within a few steps of Cyan. "Now, please, hear me out. We've come a long way, mean no harm, and are trying to avoid a fight with you. The least you can do is show a little of the courtesy and hospitality that the people of Doma have long been known for."

"Thou doth flatter with faint praise."

"So let us start from the beginning. You are here to prevent anyone from entering this location, correct?"

Cyan nodded.

"That obviously included these poor saps who were here before, and I suppose we've been given that label now. Now, I am curious as to why?"

"T'is none of your concern."

"If it wasn't my concern, I wouldn't be here, correct? Now, firstly, let me stress that I have absolutely no interest in the business about some mysterious power being here."

Cyan's eyes narrowed again. "So thou _say'eth_."

"I assure you that it's true. I'm a historian, you understand. What I'm looking for is completely different than what the others are after. Now if you'll yield to logic, surely you must accept that you can't guard this place forever."

Cyan said nothing.

"Secondly, our conflict can be avoided if we go into this place together. My two accomplices can stay behind. As the lady so likes to point out, I'm a pathetic excuse for a fighter."

"These premises shall not be breached," Cyan maintained. "Certainly not by him who travels with the likes of a woman such as her."

He raised a sword warningly. "Leave before I must smite thee."

"You're absolutely certain you won't reconsider?"

"I most assuredly am."

Lance sighed. "This must be why that job as a court advisor didn't pan out for me."

"Saroth!!!" Celes snapped from behind him. "Grab your sword!"

Even she spoke, men began to stream from the forest, their yells making no secret of their arrival. They were all armed with swords, their clothing identical to that of the dead men that already littering the area.

Cyan face darkened. "And so more would dare to come..." he growled.

By this time, Lance had already taken in the situation and was scrambling to grab his discarded sword. Honestly, he hadn't expected them for at least another day...

"Fall back," Shadow hissed.

"Sideways!" Celes retorted, moving sideways, giving the incoming group a clear view of Cyan. Her sword remained sheathed, but her hand rested on it.

"Things just got even more complicated," Lance observed, joining them quickly.

By this time, the attackers had come to a halt in a group, sizing up both Cyan and the group of three. They had obviously found a few dead bodies, and were now prepared for a fight.

"Thou shalt leave or thou shalt die!" Cyan announced loudly.


"Perfect," Celes opinioned. "Let _them_ fight it out. We'll kill the survivors afterwards."

Lance frowned. "I don't suppose diplomatic negotiation is an option anymore?"

"They have not attacked yet," Shadow pointed out.

"They have no leader," Celes agreed. "Not as effective. No archers either."

"Speak for yourself," Lance muttered. "I count twenty of them, and I never was much for those type of odds. Let's wait for someone else to make the first move."


"What is thy answer?" Cyan demanded.

The men looked at each other in confusion for a moment, before someone at the back said something. Abruptly, the man all parted, making way for a new arrival.

"Darn," Lance muttered. "I was hoping he hadn't arrived yet."

"You seem to know a lot about this group," Celes observed darkly.

"Not by choice, trust me."

All eyes focused on the new arrival as he made his way through the group to take the forefront. He was fairly tall, with black clothing, adorned with a navy blue cloak. His face was clean-shaven and framed by a short cut of black hair. A sword was at his side, presently undrawn.

He came to a halt several paces in front of his group, focusing his icy gaze upon Cyan, as though willing him to disappear. The air with which he carried himself almost suggested that such a thing _would_ happen.

Unfortunately, Cyan was not so obliging. "And thou art...?"


Dead silence.

A bird chirped in the forest.

A soldier stifled a cough.

The man's face flushed red as he turned towards the other group, his hand already reaching for his sword. "Who dares to..."

His voice cut off as his gaze fell upon a smirking Lance. "You... you..." he snarled, an appropriate adjective evading him for the moment.

"I understand _completely_," Celes muttered.

"Surely I'm not _that_ bad," Lance replied, acting as though hurt.

The man turned to back to Cyan, regathering his dignity. "I, am Nicholas Xerxes, and I demand to know who is responsible for the death of my men!"

"He did it, Nicky!" Lance announced. "We haven't killed a single person yet!"

"Shut up, Saroth!!!" Nicholas yelled angrily, his face heating up again. "You miserable piece of chocobo excrement!!!"

"I could get to like this guy," Celes murmured.

"He's called me worse," Lance replied proudly.

"Who is he?" Shadow asked.

"He's the leader of Sidewinder," Lance informed them. "More bark than bite himself, but his men are nasty enough."

"If thou would enter this location, thou must overcome me first," Cyan informed Nicholas bluntly.

"It would seem that my other men already tried that. But I'm afraid that I am in a hurry. Those were working men. These are my trained fighters. If you will not back down, I will simply have them rush and overwhelm you."

"Thou'rt welcome to make the attempt," Cyan invited. "The other men did attempt the same tactic. I have not yet suffered a scratch."

The two men faced each other off for several moments, both faces cut in stone.

"I have not all day," Cyan finally announced, slowly beginning to advance towards them.


Lance raised an eyebrow as he watched the man advance on the group. "He's got some nerve, I think."

Celes frowned. "If they fight, a lot of those men will die before they take Cyan down. Doma knights were specifically trained to fight outnumbered. And I have seen... few knights who were his equal."

He chuckled. "Almost a pity we can't lay bets on the outcome, isn't it?"

She scowled. "As soon as they fight, I suggest we make for the pit."

"That sounds like a lovely idea. Let us simply wait for now."


Nicholas shrugged in reply to Cyan's actions. "It makes no difference to me, stranger. If you wish to die, we will happily oblige you. Group 1, kill him. Group 2, kill the others. And don't waste any time doing it."

The men gave a hearty chorus of assent as they split up to dispatch their respective targets.


"Darn," Lance muttered. "Nicholas never could take a joke, really."

A quiet hum went by his ear. In the second group of approaching men, one suddenly clutched at his neck, then collapsed to the ground, red liquid spurting from between his hands.

The men stared in shock for a moment at their fallen comrade, then finally saw the metal star imbedded deep in his neck. Then another man gagged, clutching at his neck, a similar looking star also sticking from it. Looking back at the group of three, the black-clad figure was already winding out for another throw.

"You're an excellent shot," Lance complimented graciously.

Shadow let off another shuriken. "Easy. No wind."

"Don't let me slow you down. Seven more to go."

"We'll have to take the rest out on our own," Celes decided, distancing herself from the other two, her sword alighting in her hand.

"Don't play too hard," Lance quipped, leveling his sword at the opponents. Things really had been less than ideal these days. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure moving.

Nicholas. Straight for the pit.

"Oh no, you don't," he muttered. "You two hold them off," he ordered. "I'll take care of Nicky."

Celes and Shadow watched him break off into a sprint after the other man.

"Idiot," Celes decided.

"No matter," Shadow replied, even as a third attacker dropped, also clutching his neck.

Celes nodded. "Too bad for them that they didn't pick their fight closer to us."

Then the group finally reached them.


If it had occurred to the ten approaching men that they were making a mistake, none of them acted on the thought.

"Prepare to meet thy fate!" Cyan declared.

In an explosion of energy, he began to sprint sideways, as though trying to work around the line of ten men. Accordingly, they swerved to intercept him. Cyan continued to turn, always forcing them to swerve to meet him. Within moments, the group was approaching him in single file, one at a time.

The closest attacker finally got in sword range, swinging mightily. The sword whistled through empty air, at exactly the same time that one of Cyan's swords whistled through his neck. The man collapsed on the ground, letting the next attacker approach.

The swing was better, but Cyan blocked it easily, his free sword severing yet another head from its body.

"Desist and live!" Cyan declared, jumping backwards as several men attempted to overwhelm him at once. A flurry of swinging sword blades forced them to halt enough that Cyan was able to put some distance between him and his attackers.

"Don't let him get around you!" one of the men snapped. "Surround him!"

"Thou'rt welcome to try!" Cyan agreed, lashing forwards with his left sword, even as his right sword parried an incoming attack. A cry of pain sounded out as his blade cleaved through an arm, the hand and sword dropping to the ground.

The men finally began to look wary, which brought some small satisfaction to Cyan's. It was incredible how fast one could move when one wasn't burdened down with heavy armor plating. To be sure, he had to be much more careful not to be hit in return. And he didn't think his luck would hold out much longer. These men obviously hadn't been expecting someone with his skill. But they would be more cautious now.

"Who wilt lose his life next?" Cyan taunted, even as the men began to circle around for another attack.


It was a leap of faith that carried Lance into the pit. That and the fact that he'd seen his quarry do the exact same thing moments before. So either he would survive the landing, or the two of them would wind up getting themselves killed together. If he felt any regret for letting his two partners fend for themselves, it disappeared quickly in lieu of the knowledge that they were both far more skilled at fighting than he was. His talents lay elsewhere.

With an echoing clank, his feet impacted the metal floor. He permitted himself a brief look of amazement. It was some sort of underground structure. The wall, floors and ceiling were all metal, dully reflecting the overhead sunlight down the tunnel. It bore not a small amount of resemblance to the castle in the old city of Vector, actually. No windows were visible, suggesting that this facility had been underground from its conception. Obviously military in nature. A musty smell permeated the air, but nothing smelled rotten.

All which was expected, of course, he decided. This place had no doubt been buried for... fifteen years at the least. And it _had_ been made by the Imperial army.

On the walls, slightly faded white paint was still well preserved.

"A-1," Lance muttered quietly, reading the letters on both sides of him. The number had been atop virtually every paper corresponding to this base, and he was inclined to think that it had been the general designation for the base as a whole. Although that notion raised some troubling ideas by itself. Was there an A-2? An A-3? Why? What he sought should be present in this location. The Imperial army had run various other bases across the world, he knew. But their coded designations had never contained any less than seven digits. Why only two digits for this base?

A flitting shadow up ahead refocused his intentions. Who did Nicholas think he was kidding by running blindly forwards? Imperial structures had always been designed to be impossible for intruders to navigate. And one of those secret documents had shown a map. Nicholas could run around blindly all he liked.

As for himself, Lance knew _exactly_ where he needed to go.

"Don't get lost, Nicky!" he chuckled, ducking left into a passageway.


The soldier lunged, screaming a war cry.

Like a ghost, Celes slid past his sword, elbowing him in the face hard enough to dislocate some teeth in the process. Before the man could even recover, the point of her sword was emerging from the front of his chest.

Withdrawing the sword, she shifted sideways, another soldier's sword slashing viciously, but only striking his dying comrade.

"Clumsy," she stated calmly, giving weight to her statement by smoothly passing her blade through his neck before he could recover from the attempt.

The surviving four soldiers were now evenly divided between Shadow and Celes. The ninja was presently keeping his distance, leading them towards the forest. The other two were regarding Celes with more than a little caution, mindful of the fate that had befallen the other two in their haste.

"Stay back!" one of the remaining soldiers warned his companion.

"No more messin' around!" the second agreed. "We're puttin' you down!"

Celes laughed mirthlessly as she began to gracefully trace a circle around the group of two, her sword held with deceptive inactively at her side. "Idiots. The Returners are dead. The Empire is dead. The Emperor is dead. The Espers are dead. Even Kefka is dead.

"But I'm not."


Lance dismounted from the ladder quietly, straining to make out the area. It was nearly pitch black down here. Even his excellent night vision was proving next to worthless down here. Placing his right hand on the wall, Lance took a deep breath and began to move forwards again. A map in itself would have been worthless to him in this level of light. But this wasn't the first time he'd had to explore without his eyes. After studying the map, he had quickly deduced a fairly painless way of reaching the room he sought. The old trick for solving mazes by following a wall would serve him well, provided that the map was accurate. If not...

...That was where his near-photographic memory would come into play, letting him retrace his way out. He might not be a particularly skilled fighter, but he was a man of many other talents.

Carefully easing his way forward, Lance crept down the passageway, mindful of any debris that might have accumulated over time. History suggested that accidentally falling and being knocked unconscious would be one of the less spectacular ways of perishing.


Cyan drew backwards, his right sword deflecting a nearly fatal sword swing. Even before he'd fully recovered his balance, his left sword was parrying a stab by a second opponent. And by then, his right sword was busy blocking another attack. And by then, his left sword...

Things were getting out of hand, Cyan knew. Yet still he fought on like a madman. Any other swordsman might have given it up for loss. That he had done this well was perhaps miraculous in itself. But to outfight six men, all who were aware of how dangerous he was, was asking too much.

Cyan went through another round of dodging and parrying. The men had begun to stagger their attacks, keeping him permanently off balance. None had near his skill, but they knew it too. And they knew how to fight as a team. And they had been. For the past twenty minutes.

His body was beginning to ache severely under the constant exertion, but to slow down would mean death. He needed to get on the offensive again, and fast. If his own life wasn't precious enough, he could only begin to imagine the potential horrors if they gained access to what he sought to guard.

He _had_ to survive.


Celes laughed as another sword whistled through empty air, her fleeting form already several paces away. "You don't get it, do you?" she mocked.

The attacker cursed, bringing his sword around for another attack. Seeing that his partner was also approaching, he chose to lunge from the opposite side.

The target in the middle simply waited.


Celes jumped.

The attacking man gaped as his sword passed cleanly underneath her feet, solidly slicing into something else. That 'something else' being his partner.

Before that had even registered, Celes had planted both her feet on the wounded man's face, springing upwards and away from her opponents. Touching down softly, she spun around to smirk at the man.

The man stared at both her and his partner, who even now was sinking to the ground, blood running in torrents from his chest.

"You... you..."

The smile Celes wore was completely devoid of mirth. "As though the likes of _you_ ever had a chance of killing _me_."

The reality of the situation finally began to sink into the man as he saw the dead bodies of his comrades littering the area. Slowly, he began to back away from Celes, a fearful look in his eyes.

She disdained to approach him, instead choosing to walk over to a dead body on the ground. Kneeling down, she wiped the blood from her sword off on his clothing. Once satisfied that her sword was clean, she looked up at him.

"You lose."

A look of confusion graced the man's face as he struggled to understand what she meant by that. Enlightenment came several seconds later in the form of Shadow's knife being drawn across his neck.

"Still alive, I see," Celes observed.

The ninja ignored the body as it fell to the ground to finish dying. "The Reaper spares the one who does his work."

"Then you may yet live to be a hundred."

"What of _him_?" Shadow inquired, pointing to where Cyan was still fighting.

Celes regarded the other half of the fight with disdain. "They're not attacking me. He would have attacked us earlier. Let him finish his own fight."

Shadow shrugged, his weapons disappearing into his costume. Taking a seat on a clean patch of ground, he prepared to watch the rest of the fight. "I was not paid to help _him_,"

Celes ignored the comment, briefly surveying the assortment of dead bodies that graced the clearing. Fools, all of them. Survival of the fittest had sealed their fate.

Perhaps Shadow was right. Perhaps the Reaper did spare the one who did his work. "Ever deeper do the graves I walk upon grow."


It was perhaps twenty minutes later that Lance finally got glimpse of something up ahead. There seemed to be a source of light at the end of the tunnel. From what he remembered of the infrastructure, the light corresponded approximately to the base's vault. As for what the vault contained...

Admittedly, he had no idea. But he knew it would have the answers to what he sought to know. And that was more than enough reason to seek it out before anyone else reached it.

A sudden yank on his foot brought him crashing to the floor.

He grunted as he pried his face from the floor, scrambling to regain his feet. After several moments of rather wild flailing, he realized that it hadn't been a person who'd grabbed his feet. It was only...

Trip-wire. Strung across the passageway to trip any approaching people. It would serve as a warning. Lance thought he knew what that meant. And he didn't like it one bit. Nicholas would still be behind him, which meant that...

Quieting himself, Lance began to creep forwards towards the light source. Some common ruffian was obviously attempting to break into the vault right now. And he was being quiet in the process. Obviously he knew something of his trade. No matter. Lance had no qualms about knocking the man out, then using the codes that he had gleaned from the papers to obtain what he needed from the vault.

Besides, anyone stupid enough to use an oil lamp in such an enclosed space deserved a knock to the head. Why, one could literally suffocate down here in the process!

It was only as he got nearer that he began to realize that the light wasn't coming from any sort of flame. It reminded him somewhat of the MagiTek lanterns once used. A white flame devoid of any flickering that didn't set off cave gas explosions. But since magic was non-existent, it was obviously something else producing the light. After what seemed like eternity, Lance finally reached the room to find...

...Nothing. The room was devoid of life. Above the entrance to the door, a small globe was affixed halfway into the metal, casting a pale glow about the room, though it lacked any visible power source. No smoke was in the air, and there was no way it could be powered by magic anymore... Lance decided to leave it for the time being, since it was letting him see right now. A large door was at the back, wide open for the world to see its contents. Which amounted to...

...Nothing. The vault was smooth and bare, without so much as a speck of dust inside it. Which meant that someone had beaten him here. The fact that he'd passed no one on his way in here meant that they'd been gone before he ever arrived. To say nothing of the fact that they hadn't been gutted by Cyan outside.

Which meant he had to try and figure out who that was. Surely some clues must have been left behind...

Cautiously moving forwards, he pulled out a small pouch from a pocket in his undercoat. Approaching the door of the vault, he looked over the security measures. A triple rotating dial. Heavy security indeed. Such a device required three people turning the dials to the proper numbers. His papers gave the codes, and he had counted on having Celes and Shadow available to turn a knob each.

Taking a pinch of dust from the pouch he deposited some on each of the knobs, then blew it away. No fingermarks. Furthermore, each dial was at the '0' position, suggesting that they had not even been moved. If the previous visitors had intended to give the impression that the vault had not been breached, they would have surely closed the door in addition to resetting the dials. So the vault had presumably been breached somehow else.

Looking at the open side of the door gave the answer quickly. Some green slime was smeared across the edge of the door and the deadbolts. With careful observation, it could be seen to be slowly eating away at the metal. Most interesting. Some type of acid, capable of dissolving even military-grade Imperial metals. If he thought he had a way of transporting some, he would have taken some for analysis. But he had no desire to learn how fast the stuff ate away his hands, and so left it where it was.

It was only after turning around that he saw it. A strip of cloth on the ground, as though carelessly dropped. The dim light didn't let him make much sense of it at the moment. Pocketing it, after making sure it didn't have anything else deposited on it, Lance did one more search of the room, finding nothing.

As an afterthought, he produced the strip of cloth and wrapped his hand in it. Reaching up above the doorway, he grabbed the small orb that was producing the light. With a gentle tug, it came out of the fixture. Holding it in his hands, it was with some surprise that Lance realized it was still glowing. No wires or fuel lines. Yet it was also devoid of a switch that might turn it on or off. If he were to hazard a guess, he would say that it had been glowing indefinitely. Although he couldn't even begin to explain how, it seemed to be something that he could have used in previous exploratory journeys. And it might come in handy on future ones.

Pocketing the orb, it was with some satisfaction that the room fell dark again, the glow not even coming through the pocket's fabric. He was going to have some fun with this device later on. But time to leave now. Before Nicholas came upon the scene and took exception to his presence.

Stealthily creeping back down the hallway, he began to retrace the path he had taken.


With a shriek of metal scraping upon metal, Cyan's sword smashed down upon the shoulder of his opponent, actually cutting through the thin metal protection and biting into flesh. The man screamed in pain, dropping his sword and falling back.

Cyan ducked, another sword cutting over his head, missing by bare inches. Several more attacks forced him to fall back, away from the man he had just wounded.

Still four able-bodied men attacking him, he realized grimly. And his body was about to give in from exhaustion. They were tiring a little too, but he knew they would overwhelm him before long.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed both Celes and Shadow watching him idly, not bothering to make a move. Somehow, he was not surprised. If he did survive this, they would probably kill him regardless.

Finally, he wasn't able to move quickly enough. An opponent's sword grazed his ribs, drawing blood. Gritting his teeth, Cyan used one sword to push away the blade, his other sword hacking off the offender's head in one stroke.

Another sword scraped along his right arm, tearing his cloak. Yet another word stabbed him in the leg, almost bring him to his knees.

"Thou shalt never win!" he yelled, slashing furiously in a wide circle.

The men fell back quickly, giving Cyan enough room to get to his feet again. His leg and side throbbed painfully, in synch with the slow pumping of blood from the open wounds. He didn't know how bad the wounds were, but they were going to slow him down.

"He's finally slowin' down!" one of the soldiers yelled. "Take your time! He might get desperate!"

Desperate, yes, Cyan reflected. He had to do something fast. Before the loss of blood weakened him any further. The men had surrounded him in a triangle, staying just beyond sword-reach. They evidently understood that time would work in their favor now.

And they were right. Perhaps it was time to get desperate.


"He's doing quite well."

"He will die."

Celes shrugged. "I know that. But he's killed six men and wounded a seventh on his own. Not a good enemy to fight with."

"Better them than us."

Celes nodded. "Much better. A shame he probably has no clue what he's even trying to protect here."

"And you do?"

"I didn't say that."

"You do."

Celes eyed the ninja steadily for a few moments before turning back to the fight. "Think whatever you like."

Shadow's gaze abruptly turned, focusing on the forest growth off to the side. "Someone is coming."


A muffled curse echoed quietly along the steel bulkheads of the base, followed by several harsh impacts.

Lance stifled a curse of his own as he recognized the voice. It seemed that Nicholas had managed to bungle his way towards the center of the base at last.

Having seen the map, Lance knew that there was only one way away from the vault, and they were both on it. That being said, he now had to get past Nicholas without being detected. The way Nicholas was thrashed about, the two would run into each other eventually. Lance didn't think Nicholas was _that_ good a fighter, but he didn't feel like taking any chances at this point.

Fortunately, an idea was already taking shape in Lance's mind. True, it wouldn't endear himself to Nicholas any more, but things were beyond hope of repair anyway.

"One more nail in your coffin, Lance," he muttered to himself, beginning to backtrack his steps. What did it matter? He wasn't sure if there was even room for another nail after all these years...


"Someone else?" Celes asked, eyes narrowing.

A shout resounded through the air. Cyan and the surviving three soldiers all turned to identify the source.

Celes smirked, her hand leaving her sword hilt. "It seems the knight is in luck."

"Sir Sabin!" Cyan gasped in disbelief, panting heavily.

"Who the hell are you?" one soldier demanded.

"Sabin Figaro!" he informed them. "Get lost before I have to kick your collective asses!"

The three soldiers glanced briefly at each other. A few mutterings, then two soldiers broke off to deal with Sabin. The remaining soldier renewed his focus on Cyan.

"Thou'rt a fool!" Cyan growled, his grip tightening on his weapons once again. He didn't understand what Sabin was doing out here, but it couldn't have happened at a better time...


Lance almost tripped over the wire again as he made his way back in the darkness. But he was ready for it, and stepped over it as he made his way back to the vault. Once past the wire, he withdrew the glowing orb from his pocket and held it up.

"Looky, looky, stupid Nicky!" he yelled, his voice echoing down the hallway.

A stream of curses echoed back his way in return, the sound of Nicholas' hurried footsteps now audible.

Pocketing the orb again, Lance waited in the darkness.

It didn't take long. With a shout of surprise, Nicholas hit the wire, slamming forwards on his face. Before he could even recover, Lance had jumped on him, pinning his neck to the ground.

"Nicky, Nicky, such a temper," he soothed. "You know, I hate to break it to you, but we're both too late. Some other sap got here first. Know anything about it?"

"Saroth, I'm going to-"

Lance lightly hit his captive's head on the ground. "Insults will get you nowhere, Nicky. Now answer the question!"

"Of course not! Now let me go before I-"

"If you paid more attention to history, Nicky, you'd know that no war was ever won with insults."

"You and your blasted history can burn in Hades!"

"Some never learn," Lance sighed. "Oh well. I've got to go. Later."

With all his strength, Lance pulled back Nicholas' head, then slammed it down on the metal floor. Nicholas let out a yell, briefly stunned. By this time, Lance was already running down the hallway as fast as he could, holding the glowing orb out before him to find the obstacles.

Within several moments, Nicholas was in hot pursuit.

Lance sighed. It seemed that he would have to hit Nicholas harder next time.

A loud impact indicated that Nicholas had found the trip wire a second time.

Lance couldn't help but smirk as he dodged various obstacles. Without any source of light, Nicholas would never find his way out in time at that rate. It seemed they would live to meet another day.


Sabin regarded his opponents with a scowl, flipping his middle finger at them. "Last chance, losers!"

"That'll be the last thing you ever say!" the first soldier decided, lunging forwards.

The thrust was low and well placed. Sabin simply rolled backwards under the attack, swinging his leg out to trip the soldier up.

The second soldier attacked from the side. With a grunt, Sabin slammed his palms together around the descending blade, halting it in midair. A kick to the stomach sent the soldier airborne and flying backwards, no longer holding his sword.

"Last chance!" Sabin growled.

"No more games," the standing soldier snarled, approaching his cautiously.

"Let me show you a neat trick," Sabin invited, cupping his hands together and concentrating.

Even as the soldier invited him to go self-procreate, Sabin thrust his hands out in front of him. "Try _THIS!!!_"

The soldier only had the briefest moment to gape in disbelief as a ball of light shot out from Sabin's hands towards him. Then he was slammed off his feet to land in a heap on the ground.

Sabin smirked, turning back to the other soldier who had been given a clear view of it. "It's call an 'aura-bolt'. Want to see it again?"

Reason finally won out on the soldier's mind as he realized that he had no sword and he was dealing with a man who could shoot light from his hands...

With a frantic burst of energy, he ran for the forest, away from Sabin. Even as he did so, an object hummed through the air, embedding itself in his neck. The soldier sank to the ground, a knife implanted up the hilt in his neck.

Sabin gaped as he traced the flight back to... "Shadow! Celes!"

Several clashed of steel ensued, even as Cyan blocked his opponent's weapon, his free sword decapitating the last soldier. That done, he sank to the ground, his energy completely spent. "Thou... art a welcome sight... Sir Sabin..." he panted.

Sabin jogged over to help the knight. "What's going on, Cyan?"

"I do not believe I entirely understand myself..." he grunted, getting to his feet weakly. He turned to face Celes and Shadow, a short distance away. "I shall defend this location to my death!"

Celes locked gazes with him, finally forcing him to avert his. "You're just a paranoid fool, Knight. If you wish for a fight, then you will die. Be grateful Shadow and I dealt with half your opponents, or you would most certainly be dead now."

"What are you guys doing here," Sabin demanded.

"Not your concern," Shadow bluntly informed him.

A grunt near the pit managed to get their attention. Lance was scrambling from the pit, looking somewhat winded. He waved cheerfully. "Hello everyone. Celes, Shadow, I think it's time to leave before Nicholas finds his way out of that base. He's rather angry right now. A pleasure to see you alive, Sir Cyan."

Sabin's eyes narrowed as he took in the group of three. "It was you three! You're the ones who sank that ship in Nikeah!"

Lance nodded, his face absent of remorse. "I had Shadow do it in such a way that it would only be an inconvenience. I daresay the ship will only be a few days recovering, with minimal loss of cargo. Business and all, you understand? Time to go, my friends."

"Now just a darn minute here," Sabin growled, starting forwards.

In the blink of an eye, both Celes and Shadow had weapons in their hands, aimed at him. "Attack at your peril, Figaro," Celes stated calmly. "The knight can't help you now. Perhaps you'd like to try your aura-bolt trick on _me._? While Shadow slits your throat?"

Sabin hesitated. He'd fought with Celes before. And he'd fought with Shadow before. Whether Celes was trying to bluff him or not, he wasn't sure he wanted to fight against both Shadow and Celes at the same time. Both were more than formidable in their own rite. But why were they so hostile? Hadn't they once fought alongside each other?

"Are you feeling alright?" he asked. "That guy isn't messin' with your head, is he?" He gave an icy glare towards Lance, who shrugged his shoulders innocently.

"Perfectly fine, Sabin," Celes informed him. "It's all business, you understand?"

"But why are doing this?" he insisted.

Celes briefly pulled a thin bar of gold from her pocket, then let it drop back in, clinking faintly with some others. "Money, Sabin. Just money. Deal with it."

Sabin stared at her, his bewilderment slowly giving way to disgust. "Then get lost and I'll pretend I didn't see you _this_ time around," he ordered.

"We will conclude this another day, General," Cyan growled.

"A man of reason," Lance approved grimly. "For what it's worth, knight, someone else has beaten all of us here. "

Cyan gaped, his anger briefly set aside. "_What?!?_"

Lance shrugged as he headed back to where the chocobos had been tied up. "Pursue _them_ if you want. Celes and Shadow, I think we'll leave. Our business here would seem to be done."

Sabin watched them go for a few minutes. "Freaky," he whispered. He glanced down at Cyan. "You okay, buddy?"

Cyan nodded wearily, wiping the blood from his face as best he could. "Mine injuries are not mortal."

"Let's head back to Mobliz. We can spend the night there. I wanna know what's going on here!"

Cyan sighed, wiping and sheathing his swords. "Truer words I have not heard in some time, Sir Sabin. I thought I knew, but now I no longer think such. Methinks there may be more to this than it seems at first glance."

Sabin thought back to the look on Celes' face. The speed at which she'd leveled her sword at him. The way she'd directly confronted him. That icy feeling her gaze had given him...

Nothing but cold indifference to the situation. "Yeah, I don't think I know everything either. But I'd sure like to."


Well, that's chapter four. Did you like it?

If you did, thank-you and chapter five is in progress.
If you didn't, future chapters aren't going to be any better unless you tell me how they can be improved.



Go To Chapter 5

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