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Posts posted by DayDreamer

  1. The morning came swiftly enough, and Hirras returned to the inn to meet Haruka as planned. "The remaining tomb is actually not far from here. That is why I was in the area, hoping to find an adventurer who may be up to helping me clear it of dangers, that I may investigate." he explained. "I've arranged horses for us, also. As promised, I'll pay for the expenses during this expedition."


    They rode for a few hours before reaching the location. It was a burial site for many nobles and wealthy sorts, and so the two had to split up to search for the tomb with the correct name - it was under an alias, but fortunately Hirras was aware of that fact and let Haruka know. That was what kept it hidden in such an obvious place as a regular graveyard. Eventually he found it and beckoned her over, "Here, this is it."


    It was a fairly regular headstone, but as Hirras rested a boot on it and pushed it downward, the earth in front of it retracted and revealed a hidden stairway leading down into darkness. "So far so good." he said. But then he noticed that down in the darkness there was a lit torch at the bottom. "No torch should be burning still... someone has entered recently." he frowned. "Well, Haruka, do lead the way then. I'm not much for combat, so I'm afraid if there's others in there seeking the map for themselves I won't be of much use. Be wary of traps too, though I suspect if people have gone in ahead of us they may have triggered or disabled them already. Hopefully."


    Hirras kept his cloak closed around him as if he was cold. But in truth, he couldn't let her see what was inside it. There were six lightweight swords attached all around the inside of his cloak - not exactly something that made sense for someone claiming he was not used to combat.

  2. Follow the anime girl road.


    Davion picked up on a subtle pattern as he went through the PC. It was filled with pictures of anime girls, and while Davion at first thought the guy was just a typical otaku, it became evident there was some deliberate positioning and arrangement. The girl on the desktop had her finger pointed at a folder. Inside that folder was more scantily-clad anime girls, but they were arranged horizontally, and the ones on the left were facing right and the ones on the right were facing left. In between those two distinct sides was a single girl facing forwards, with what appeared to be whipped cream sprayed all over her chest. But, upon looking closely, Davion noted there was writing edited into the cream, which seemed to be a filename. After following the trail through several more folders of girls with similarly subtle clues, decreasing amounts of clothing, and increasing amounts of fetishes, Davion finally came to what seemed to be the final link in the chain. It was a fanart image, that depicted anime versions of Holly Hearts and Hannah Ichigo in a... compromising position together. Davion was about to facepalm and growl about wasting so much time on this elaborate shrine to Arthur's fetishes, but then he noticed that in the image, it seemed Hannah was covering Holly's modesty with a DVD case that said "evidence". Suddenly the speech bubble from Hannah that said "Is this what you've always wanted~?" made more sense.


    Davion switched off the computer and rubbed his eyes. Unless this was an incredibly specific fetish, it seemed that Arthur had sent the evidence of Hannah's corruption to Holly. But if he sent it before he was (presumably) killed, Holly should have it by now easily. He took out his phone and called Holly.


    "Holly, it's Davion. Yes, I do have something: Arthur definitely is the victim of foul play. But there's more, I believe he has posted you a disc with a recording on it - it's what got him targeted. It should have arrived in your mail a few days ago at least, do look for it."


    He held the line while she rummaged around, until she finally found it; an envelope that turned out to have nothing but a DVD disc inside it, labelled 'evidence'. "That must be it" Davion concluded, standing up and rushing out of the apartment hastily now. "Listen, Arthur got involved in some very dangerous matters with this. You're now in danger too, they're trying to find that recording. Lock your doors and stay put, I'm coming over to get you. We'll work out what to do next once we get you to safety." he ended the call and broke into a run to his rented car.


    On the road, Davion noticed he was being followed. "They're still underestimating me." he said to himself. Though he realized that if they had followed him without confronting him, that meant they were likely hoping he would lead them to the recording. They indeed hadn't discovered it was with Holly yet, then.


    Davion casually took a detour, then entered a different main street. He approached a set of amber traffic lights slowly, first in the line of traffic, with his pursuers a few cars back. But as the lights turned red, Davion hit the accelerator and speed forward through them. He narrowly avoided the traffic that had started crossing the intersection and sped off, leaving his pursuers stuck behind both traffic and a busy intersection. He then took the first turn and diverted his course back towards Holly's place, content that they wouldn't be able to catch up to him again let alone find which way he went.


    He pulled up to Holly's house on the outskirts of town, skidding to a sudden stop. There was a black van not unlike the one that had been tailing him, parked in her driveway. As he jogged up to her porch and drew his pistol, he noticed her door was missing - it was broken down. He darted into the living room with his gun pointed and searched the place quickly. No sign of her or anyone else.


    Damn don't tell me they got to her first? Did they guess? No... they must have traced incoming calls to her phone, and when their buddies tailing me let them know I sped off and lost them, they put it together and deduced I was coming for her. Damn!

  3. Not a moment after the Akuma snarled with its thin, razor-like teeth did Cynric and Lian Yi burst into the room. Cynric had his rapier drawn and the tip was glowing white-hot. His hair was a ruffled mess still from the previous night, and he looked half-asleep even. Lian Yi was much the same, but she seemed quite riled up and her eyes were glowing a vivid green.

    "I said so!" she affirmed, pointing at the Akuma and the disturbingly shed skin of Amanda.

    The Akuma seemed to hiss, its spikes stiffening and reaching outwards, like some wild animal trying to intimidate an intruder. Suddenly it fired all of its thin spikes out across the entire room, aiming to impale everyone at once. But with a grunt and a sweep of her hands, Lian Yi caused all the spikes to shoot over harmlessly into the opposite wall instead, her eyes not moving even slightly from their lock on the demon.

    Cynric took the chance to leap forward, pointing his rapier at the Akuma's wiry face (since its body was too thin to accurately aim for) with intent to end it with one stab. The glowing tip of his rapier erupted and the entire blade of the weapon became covered in flames.

    "Wait, spikes!" Lian Yi called out urgently, noticing that the Akuma's spikes hadn't actually detached from it - they were still connected to its body by nearly invisible wires, and as Cynric had advanced it retracted the wires and drew its spikes back to defend itself.

    Lian Yi used her powers to try to stop the spikes, but their being part of the Akuma's body made them too hard for her ability to control, with the Akuma pulling them in powerfully, and the best she could do was slow them slightly. Her verbal warning was enough though, and Cynric turned to the side to slash at the spikes coming hurtling back to him, severing the wires of some and destroying the rest of them entirely. The Akuma took advantage of his distraction though, grabbing his head firmly with one of its bony claws. As Cynric tried to slash at it, the Akuma managed to grab his sword-arm with its other claw, rendering Cynric helpless to break its deceptively powerful hold on him.

    By now Angeline and Dorothy were huddled together in the furthest corner, watching in awe as this battle unfolded. Angeline gasped audibly as Cynric was grabbed, it seemed he was trapped and the Akuma would simply crush his head with its bare hand. The Akuma cackled in a high-pitched tone, also certain of its victory. Lian Yi was trying to wrench its hands open with all her willpower, but she just wasn't strong enough. The green glow in her eyes flickered as she exerted herself desperately.

    Suddenly Cynric laughed too, before the flames on his rapier erupted once more. This time the flames exploded spectacularly outwards, engulfing both Cynric and the Akuma. The Akuma screeched in pain and let Cynric go, before jumping and rolling around in agony, trying to douse the flames to no avail. Cynric, unharmed by the flames, approached the Akuma and drove his rapier into its face with the one firm thrust he'd intended to make to start with. The Akuma screamed one last time, before disintegrating into nothing, the flames dispersing with it.

    Lian Yi breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed exhaustedly against the wall, as Cynric sheathed his now dormant-looking rapier. He cast Lian Yi a look of concern, but she waved as indiction that she was alright. So he turned to Dorothy and Angeline, kneeling down and resting a hand on the each of their shoulders.

    He opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it and said nothing. He was fairly well-practiced at explaining to people the first time they witnessed Akuma up-close, and particularly a battle with Akuma, but he'd never dealt with an Akuma having disguised itself as a human before. Dorothy must have been devastated, and he wasn't at all sure how to comfort her. So he just gave his most sincere consolotary look and waited patiently for Dorothy (and Angeline, for that matter) to regain their composure after that horrific shock.

    Roused by the sound of the battle, Darren and Avens appeared in the doorway. The shed skin of Amanda had disappeared with the Akuma, but by the mood in the room and absence of Amanda, they knew something bad had happened and kept quiet themselves too.

  4. Cynric led Angeline and Hevlaska after Dorothy, while Lian Yi, Darren, and Avens stayed behind to pack up the tents and break camp before following.

    Dorothy offered them some soup once they got inside, which Cynric and Angeline graciously accepted. Hevlaska rarely seemed to eat or drink, declining. They all sat down at the kitchen table, aside from Amanda who kept herself timidly half-hidden around the corner.

    "So you've just vacated your guest room, you say?" Cynric probed.

    Dorothy layed down their bowls on the table. "Yes, it was another group of young adventurers such as yourselves, actually. Seems to be a common fascination with youngsters these days." she chuckled.

    "Where did they head off to?" Cynric continued questioning, before taking a sip of the soup.

    "Weder's Valley." Dorothy replied, moving over to the stove to make up some more soup for the rest of the group once they caught up. "Whether you believe it or not, they were going to meet a man who fights Akuma - those balloon-like demons you may have heard of lately."

    Angeline looked noticeably to Cynric, eager to see his reaction to that news for hopes of discerning more about him and his demon-hunting party.

    "A man who fights demons? Akuma?" Cynric asked urgently, standing up from his seat. "That is the purpose of my group also, you see. So this man is of great interest to us."

    Hevlaska bowed her head slightly in thought. Although anyone who was capable of fighting the demons was sought after by their group, Cynric's excitement at the news of this man was very unusual.

    "My grandfather researched these demons, their proper name is "Akuma" according to him. The travellers here before you were looking for information about Akuma, and so they went to find this man in Weder's Valley. He apparently fought off the Akuma that murdered poor Amanda's parents..." Dorothy explained, casting a glance at Amanda, still hiding behind the corner.

    The rest of the group arrived shortly, and they all sat down while Dorothy recanted everything she'd told the trio that had been her guests until earlier that day. Everything about how Akuma took on forms other than the common balloon-shape by killing enough people, and how objects imbued with Innocence were the only things that could destroy Akuma.

    Cynric then explained that his rapier and the shackles on his wrists had powers to destroy Akuma, and so they must have Innocence in them. He purposefully neglected to mention Lian Yi's ability to detect and track Akuma though, deciding not to reveal that while there was still the suspicious matter of Lian Yi claiming that Amanda registered as an Akuma.

    By that point the night was late, and Dororthy suggested they all get some sleep as she herself was going to, before guiding them to the guest room.

  5. Taking a few steps forward to get a better look, Cynric confirmed his suspicion.

    "It is you isn't it?" he said, "So this is where you've gotten to. You know, your family has made quite the large fuss about your sudden disappearance."

    Cynric looked to be around the same age as Angeline, perhaps slightly older. He wore a neat, navy dress suit, with white gloves and a slicked-back head of black hair with the faintest tinge of blue that fit well with his overall formal style. The only things that broke his upper-class facade were his thick, black leather boots - which though they looked well-kept were still quite out of place - and silver shackles on both wrists. The right one had a chain that connected to the ornate silver hilt of a rapier sheathed at his hip (with enough excess length that he could fully outstretch his arm with the connected rapier still sheathed), while the left had a chain with nothing attached, that dangled loosely down to his knee-level.

    "Forgive me, I seem to have left my manners a few paces back." he laughed as he approached Angeline. "My name is Cynric Larrette, and I'm pleased to make your aquaintance."

    "I'm..." Angeline began, before remembering Cynric already knew her name somehow. "Well, you have me at a disadvantage, Cynric. How is it you know me?"

    "I've simply seen you around Crossville, before I left it myself. A lady of such status as yourself rarely goes unnoticed, though unfortunately often goes unappreciated. I'd hoped to have a conversation with you someday, but I hadn't imagined it would take place like this." he replied, producing a brilliant smile which showed off his perfect teeth whose brightness was only outdone by that of his clear, blue eyes.

    "Ah, yes," he continued, turning to glance at his four companions also approaching, "my travelling companions. From left to right: Lian Yi Zhang, Darren Zhang, Hevlaska, Avens Wright."

    Cynric's own somewhat mismatched appearance was reflected with even greater magnitute within the rest of his group.

    Lian Yi and Darren - which was not his birth name, but rather a name he'd adopted to help fit in upon moving to England - were sister and brother of Chinese origin. Lian Yi wore an elegant yet modest cotton black and red mandarin gown along with white cloth shoes, and sported a long black ponytail extending to her waist. While Darren was wearing a white dress shirt and simple black dress pants and shoes, and had his hair neatly combed to one side. They had average family resemblance, but their dark brown eyes in particular were virtually identical in shade, shape, and size.

    Hevlaska was more of a mystery. She wore a plain light grey robe, with the hood up and hiding most of her head. A few loose, thick strands of silver blonde hair hung down from under the hood, their length hinting her hair was quite long. Her skin was ghostly pale, her eyes olive green - their colour didn't do much to stand out, they were as faint and dull as her robe.

    Then there was Avens, who was particularly odd even just by himself, let alone as part of the group. He wore a poor brown tunic and brown cloth pants, but his entire head was hidden by a gleaming silver knight's helmet, with its top adorned with a vivid red plume, and the visor down. He looked completely ridiculous.

    Darren and Avens were also each lugging very large backpacks - clearly they were the pack mules of the group.

    "We're about to make camp for the night." Cynric explained, now that introductions were out of the way. "I must ask you to join us, for I simply cannot live with myself if I allow a fine lady such as yourself to traverse the wilderness alone in the dark of night."

    Cynric extended his right arm in a hooked shape for Angeline to take so that he might escort her as a gentleman to the clearing his group had decided to setup camp at.

    "Don't mind the shackles." he said, seeing her eyes staring at it as he extended his arm. "It's...a long story. Suffice to say they're merely accessories."

    After a moment's thought, and another glance at the shackle, she took his arm. "I suppose I shall trust you then. I am feeling quite tired, and admittedly I don't really know my way around here either."

    The pair began walking leisurely, as the rest of Cynric's group forged ahead to begin making camp.

    "I know how being out and about away from home for the first time can be taxing. I'm in a similar situation as yourself, actually. I suddenly up and left my family's estate one day, and have fended for myself ever since. We must have a proper discussion in the morning about our experiences and reasons for leaving home, I am quite interested in your thoughts on the subject."

    By the time Cynric and Angeline caught up to the group at the camp site, they'd already set up two tents and were working on the rest.

    "You can take my tent, I shall share with Darren." Cynric said, pointing Angeline to his tent.

    Angeline courteously thanked him, then wasted no time heading in and lying down, falling sound asleep quickly despite not having had dinner.

    Cynric expected as much. Even among daughters of wealthy families, Angeline was among the most pampered. She was still likely adjusting to losing so many luxuries of home, though he had nothing but respect for her for willingly giving them all up to strike out on her own - just as he himself had done.

    Hours had passed and his group were now seated around the fire in the middle of the camp, Cynric joining them after checking in on Angeline.

    "She's lucky the demons didn't get her." Lian Yi commented to the group in general.

    "Are you sure there are demons still in the area?" Darren asked her doubtingly.

    "Of course!" Lian Yi snapped in response. "We saw them, I locked on to them. My tracking has always been accurate."

    "And they were up to something." Cynric cut in. "Whatever it is, we have to stop it. After all, that's our purpose as a demon-hunting party."

  6. Winston awoke to the sounds of Rowan's snoring. Normally that'd have been but a small nuisance, but given what Rowan was meant to be doing it was outrageous.

    "You're supposed to be keeping watch!!" Winston shouted at him, grabbing his arm and pulling him off the couch and onto the floor with a loud thud.

    "OW! Hey!" Rowan shouted back angrily, rubbing his back after the impact with the floor.

    In light of the Akuma attacking them just before Dorothy had her talk with them the previous night, Winston and Rowan had agreed to take turns staying awake to keep watch. Sue-Michelle was in a deep sleep by the time they got to the room, and they agreed to just let her sleep. Winston had taken the first watch, Rowan took over in the early hours after midnight and was meant to stay awake then indefinitely since daylight wouldn't be far off anyway.

    Winston and Rowan both looked to Sue-Michelle's bed, seeing it was empty. Both of them had only just awoken and weren't thinking clearly - they immediately assumed she'd been taken by the Akuma during the night.

    As Dororthy and Sue-Michelle were sitting down in the kitchen to have breakfast (having intended to leave Rowan and Winston to sleep in a while longer), the two half-asleep young men literally tripped over each other and landed in a heap on the kitchen floor. Sue-Michelle let slip a quiet giggle before quickly returning her face to its usual serious look, but Dorothy chuckled aloud.

    During breakfast, Dorothy explained something Amanda had told her the previous night.

    "She told me everything, she did." Dorothy began. "About the night her parents were murdered. She said it was "those balloon-things you and the others were talking about". Apparently she hadn't told me earlier because she didn't think I'd believe her. But that's not the most interesting part..."

    Dorothy sipped from her cup of tea before continuing.

    "She says there was a man who saved her. He destroyed the Akuma while she escaped, apparently. Her parents were there to interview him, journalists they were, because he supposedly had something with Innocence in it and fought Akuma with it."

    Sue-Michelle, Winston, and Rowan all exchanged looks. They all knew that they had to track this man down. It was quite likely he knew more about how to use Innocence than them or even Dorothy or her grandfather did, and Sue-Michelle had to learn how to use her book more effectively. The Akuma that attacked them the previous night would have likely slain them all if it hadn't retreated when Dorothy entered, it evaded the attack of Sue-Michelle's book with ease.

    Dorothy told them where the man supposedly lived - deep in Weder's Valley, a trail through the grass led to his home. Dorothy's home was on the edge of Weder's Valley, but there were no towns on the way and it was still a day or two travel.

    The trio of adventurers packed and prepared to leave, the day was young and they could make good progress before nightfall. Dorothy gave them some extra canned foods for the trip, and told them she'd say goodbye to Amanda for them. They bid Dorothy farewell, and promised they'd return sometime to let her know how things went.

    "Well, this quest just gets longer and longer doesn't it?" Rowan said, trying to put his arms around the shoulders of both Winston and Sue-Michelle, but failing as Sue-Michelle stepped out of his reach.

    "If it's a bother to you, please feel perfectly free to leave." Sue-Michelle said, half-jokingly and half-annoyed.

    "A good adventure is fun." Winston cut in. "Having it last a little longer is a blessing. I for one am not missing boring day-to-day life back home. We should cherish this."

    There was an understanding silence amongst the trio then, as they followed the dirt trail into Weder's Valley, continuing their exciting adventure together.

  7. Winston sat up, stretched his arms, and let out a tired yawn. "Is it morning already?" he said, rubbing his eyes.

    Rowan knocked him on the head with the broom firmly, evoking an "OW!" and a confused look from the half-awake Winston.

    "I can't believe it. You were sleepwalking the whole time? I tell ya though, you're certainly more vocal when you're asleep!" Rowan laughed and grabbed Winston's arm, helping him to his feet.

    The two of them followed Sue-Michelle as she followed Dorothy out to the kitchen. Three three travellers seated themselves at the table, while Dorothy seemed to coax someone in the hallway to come on out.

    A young girl of about 10 years age emerged, tugging nervously on her long, strawberry-pink hair. Her pale blue eyes glanced at each person in the room briefly, before turning to the floor. She was wearing fluffy white slippers and matching white pyjamas with cartoon animal patterns on them.

    Dorothy went over to her and put an arm around her. "This is Amanda, she lives with me. She's an orphan as best I can tell - she doesn't say much about her parents. I found her wandering the wilderness much as you three were earlier, and took her in."

    She then leaned down and talked to Amanda herself, "'Manda-dear, would you like to make us all some tea?"

    Amanda nodded silently, but eagerly, and skipped over to the cupboard to get some cups. Meanwhile, Dorothy seated herself at the table and took another look at Sue-Michelle's book.

    "It's been a long time since I've seen one of these." she began. "My grandfather wrote this, and had it printed. Most of the copies have been destroyed for their controversial content, or lost over time. I never thought I'd lay my eyes on one again."

    "You see, he had some rather odd ideas sometimes. When I was but a young lass no older than Amanda, he'd tell me these stories that he always claimed were true. I figured he was just saying that the way that adults do, to let children believe in fantastical things. But he stubbornly maintained it was all true, even when talking to my parents and not knowing I was listening."

    "What were the stories about?" Winston piped up, alert now and curious - he loved a good story after all.

    Amanda layed two cups of tea on the table, for Winston and Sue-Michelle, then looked to Roawn. Rowan shook his head and clarified "None for me, I don't touch the stuff." Nodding, Amanda went to make one more cup for Dorothy.

    "It's rather silly really. He'd tell me about these demons he'd supposedly been researching - Akuma, he called them."

    Sue-Michelle's eyes widened. "Akuma" was what that demon that had attacked them earlier in the guest room had called itself.

    Dorothy continued, not noticing Sue-Michelle's expression. "He'd go on about how there were different types of them, that they evolved by murdering people. I only remember how he described the most common ones, apparently. He said they were like balloons, with-"

    "Creepy faces on 'em and covered in gun barrels that shoot crazy pink beams?" Rowan butt in.

    Dorothy's jaw dropped. "How do you know that!? He never told anyone about them, he said his research had to be kept secret so it didn't draw attention. He only told me because he wanted to pass his knowledge on before he passed away."

    "We've seen them." Winston said. "There were sightings in my and Sue-Michelle's hometown, I was researching them myself too, actually."

    "And this book..." Sue-Michelle added, picking her book up off the table and holding it in her hands. "Somehow it can destroy them, but only when I'm the one holding it."

    Rowan concluded with a nod. "That's the whole reason we're here. They figured the author of the book would know about all this."

    Dorothy ran a hand through her greyed hair, shocked. The tales she'd always thought were mere fantasy were now being verified by not one, but three witnesses.

    "If everything my dear grandfather said was true..." she realised, "Then this book of yours, it's got what he said was called "Innocence", the one thing that can destroy Akuma. He said there's countless pieces of it, it can be found in valuable or even mundane objects, but only compatible people can make use of different pieces."

    "That's Sue-Michelle alright." Rowan grinned. "Very compatible." he added a wink to Sue-Michelle, evoking an eye-roll from her.

    Winston ignored Rowan's lame attempt at flirting and leaned over the table to Dorothy eagerly. "Tell us everything! Everything your grandfather discovered!" his amber eyes looked particularly bright, his excitement apparent.

    Amanda suddenly interrupted, dropping the porcelain cup meant for Dorothy on the tiled floor and smashing it completely. Her face looked serious for a moment, but her face quickly changed to reflect surprise.

    "Sorry!" she squeeled, speaking for the first time in front of the trio of adventurers. Her voice was every bit as cute as herself, to the point that it was almost unreal.

    She grabbed a dustpan from the bench and squatted down to hurriedly clean up the shards of the cup.

    Winston wondered, if that Akuma that had attacked them earlier had been around for a fair while, it may have been what killed Amanda's parents - and maybe it had come into the house looking to finish her off too.

  8. Rowan and Winston sat a while quietly, Winston picking at blades of grass idly.

    "Shouldn't we help her?" Winston realised suddenly.

    Rowan shrugged "She seemed like she was fine to do it."

    "But we shouldn't let a lady venture off by herself in the wilderness when darkness is falling, it's not a gentlemanly thing to do..."

    "You're right!" Rowan decided, evidently swayed more by the thought of gallantly escorting Sue-Michelle and scoring points with her than Winston's concerns about chivalry.

    Just as the pair where standing themselves up, they both heard a noise. Crunching of leaves and twigs, foliage being brushed aside, something was coming.

    "She only just can't be her coming back so soon..." Winston whispered, fright seeping into his voice. "Go see what it is."

    Rowan turned to face Winston with surprise. "Me!?" he breathed hoarsely, trying to keep quiet too despite his outrage. "Why don't you go?"

    "You jumped in front of a train earlier today, surely you're not scared?" Winston pondered aloud obviously daring Rowan to investigate.

    Both realised that if it were a demon that had followed them from the station, they were defenceless without Sue-Michelle and her book. But the time Rowan gave in and was about to go check, the bushes broke apart and a figure emerged.

    It was human-shaped, but its face was twisted and creased, its skin sagging, and its figure hunched over. Winston and Rowan screamed in unison and backed away.

    "Ugh, you two!" came a familiar voice amidst the screaming.

    Sue-Michelle emerged from the bushes, behind Dorothy. Stop embarrassing yourselves. This is Dorothy Helder, grandaughter of the late Percival Helder. And these are Rowan Ghosh and Winston Forthford, my travelling companions." Sue-Michelle cast her dark blue (almost black in the night) eyes over the pair before adding "Unfortunately..."

    Dorothy escorted the group to her humble abode - a small cottage-house in a clearing near the base of the mountain trail. It wasn't quite in Weder's Valley itself, but close enough. Walking along the dirt path to the front door, the group was greeted with the smells of various herbs from Dorothy's front garden, surrounding the path. Upon entering the home itself, they were greeted with a different smell - lamb chops and baked potatoes.

    Offering them seats in the small dining room, Dorothy explained that they should eat and get some sleep, then she'd tell them all they wanted to know in the morning. Winston at least was curious to hear something right away, but his stomach had other ideas - he was starving. The group had had a lunch-on-the-go on their way through Fairview, but that was countless hours ago now, and they'd been hiking the mountain trail all day. As such, as soon as they'd all had their fill, they were ready to get some rest.

    Dorothy put the washing up on hold to guide them to the guest room personally. There wasn't much need though, given the home was quite small and cosy. There were only a few rooms: the kitchen and dining area as one, the bathroom, the bedroom, and the guest room (which was originally the living room).

    "There's only one bed, I'm afraid. There's a lounge too, but one of you boys will have to take the floor. I've left some blankets and pillows there, I hope it's alright." Dorothy explained, closing the door to the room gently with a "Sleep tight." and heading off to finish washing up.

    "I call the-" Winston was cut off in his attempt to call dibs on the lounge by Rowan just running to it immediately and claiming it.

    "That was unfair..." Winston commented, vexed.

    "Hey, if you want, I could always share the bed with Sue-Michelle." Rowan grinned.

    Before Sue-Michelle herself could object, Winston beat her to it "No no! Take the lounge, the floor's fine with me, really."

    Winston learned two things that night. One was that the floor was not at all fine with him - he found himself missing his nice, soft bed quite soon. The other was that Rowan snores like a steam engine.

    Though it was enough to keep him awake for a while, Winston managed to incorporate the snoring into his dreamings of fantasy tales. He imagined it was the sound of a dragon snoring, while bold adventurers tried to relieve it of its stash of gold and treasures in its cave. Soon enough, he was asleep himself too.

    But not for long.

    Winston had the habit of sleepwalking quite often. What was more unusual was that when he did it, he seemed to take on the persona of a random character from whatever dream he was having at the time, and the things he did whilst sleepwalking were often quite elaborate.

    The young librarian stood up and surveyed the room, albeit with his eyes closed still. He felt a malicious presence in the room...something evil. He couldn't see just how right he was - there was a demon in the room. Its body was shaped like a human, but made of thin wire strands, with scores of razor-thin daggers dangling from it at regular intervals. The room door was firmly closed still, and it was obvious enough by deduction that the demon's thin and flexible form had simply slid under the door to get in.

    Winston, taking on the role of a brave knight now in his dream, grabbed a broom from the corner and wedged the sweeping head under his arm, pointing the handle outwards like a lance.

    "Vile spawn of Hell! You must be a servant of the demon dragon king, Urenastos!" Winston shouted, waving his makeshift lance menacingly at it.

    The demon swung a wiry arm at Winston, the blades hanging from it narrowly missing his head as he ducked to avoid it.

    "For good! You must be slain!" he cried out, charging forwards with his and broom-lance, letting loose a mighty battle-cry.

  9. Winston was quite curious about this Angeline Peacock. Not only was she probably the wealthiest person Winston had ever seen in his life (Livenstone was always a poor town), but the Rowan he'd seen as the courageous man who'd saved Sue-Michelle from the train tracks became like a timid little boy in Angeline's presence. As much as Winston didn't want to take that "nobody at all" for an answer, it was still rude to pry into his affairs, and he gave little chance to as he seized the map from Sue-Michelle and started leading the way.

    The trio headed onwards towards the trail through the mountains of Fairview that led to Weder's Valley, where the author of Sue-Michelle's mysterious bible apparently lived.

    They stopped for a bite to eat before beginning the trek into the mountains, and Rowan tried to work his charms on Sue-Michelle again. Winston felt somewhat of a third wheel given that Rowan seemed focused solely on Sue-Michelle, but at least the latter didn't share that focus. Whenever Rowan tried to make any advances with her, she'd change the subject to something about Angeline, which made Rowan quickly change the subject to something completely different again.

    With Rowan easily charging ahead, dragging the straggling Winston and Sue-Michelle along quite far behind (the pair were both academic types, not athletic types as Rowan seemed to be), they reached a camping spot at the summit of the mountains just as it was starting to get darker.

    While Rowan wandered off to find firewood, Winston and Sue-Michelle dumped their luggage, which had seemed to get heavier and heavier with every step up the mountain trail, and took a much-needed rest.

    "Isn't this fun?" Winston commented suddenly. "Traveling, adventuring, meeting new people. All of this kind of stuff was impossible back in Livenstone. The world really is an interesting place."

    Meanwhile, Rowan had paused his firewood duty for a moment to relieve his bladder amidst some sparse bushes, when an all too familiar voice startled him.

    "Hm-hm, I see I've caught you with your pants down yet again, Rowan-dear." Angeline chortled.

    Rowan remained silent but for some nervous sounds and grunts, finishing his business and reluctantly turning to face her.

    "Why so shy? You're popular with we ladies, after all."

    Rowan kept his gaze lowered. "Why are you following me?"

    Angeline was slowly closing in on Rowan now, her high heels clicking on the hard ground ominously with each step - she must have been skilled with them, to have walked the rough trail in them.

    "Because I feel like it. You're following those two, why can't I follow as well, hm? It's ever so dull back at home since you...left." Angeline's last word had a slightly harsh tone to it.

    Rowan's face contorted in a look of fear now, causing Angeline to raise an eyebrow in some confusion. "Am I really all THAT scary?"

    She frowned, Rowan was looking at something behind her. She turned around slowly, remembering the demon that had attacked the station at Fairview earlier. There was nought but a jagged rocky wall. She spun back around to find Rowan suddenly gone.

    "ARGH!" She cried out in frustration, to have fallen for such a childish trick. "ROWAN!!" her shout echoed through the mountain, chasing after Rowan as he quickly sprinted back to the camp.

  10. Winston lifted his head off of the glasa window with a loud yawn, sitting upright again. He'd gotten some sleep during the ride thus far, but he was getting bored of that for the moment. Besides, Rowan seemed so fixated on Sue-Michelle, it was unlikely Winston would be able to get between them for any conversation. Now that she'd gone for a moment, he did have a chance.

    "So, do-"

    "How well do you know Sue-Michelle?" Rowan cut in, leaning forwards.

    Despite being somewhat miffed at being so rudely interrupted, Winston answered. "Um, we've only really known each other for a day now."

    Rowan scratched his head and lifted an eyebrow slightly. "A day? And you're goin' on this adventure together already?"

    "Well, we've see each other around before at least. Livenstone is such a small, close-knit town really, and she frequented the library I owned." Winston stopped for a moment, wondering why he'd not seen Rowan around before in the small town - after all, they'd met at Livenstone's station. "What about you? We've told you about us, but where did you come from? Where are you going?"

    Rowan let out a heavy sigh, leaning back in his seat. "I was living in Reen before, but..." he paused for just a brief second, long enough to make Winston suspicious, but not long enough to think too much of it. "I just had to get away. Live free, see the world, you know? Good choice so far, I reckon. Not everyday you get caught up in a quest to defeat demons!" The man let out a hearty laugh.

    "Does that're coming with us?" Winston ventured.

    Rowan extended a hand and slapped Winston firmly on the shoulder. "Of course! If you'll have me. I'm just out lookin' for some fun, and I doubt I'll find anything better than sticking with you two."

    Winston grinned widely. He was happy to have this courageous man accompany them, he was hoping some of that courage might rub off on himself. Winston was okay with dangerous situations, it was just that he had trouble putting himself in extra danger to help someone else - his self-preservation instinct was quite strong.

    "So." Rowan began once more, snapping Winston from his thoughts. "Does Sue-Michelle have a boyfriend at all? She doesn't seem the type to manage to hold onto one though - but that doesn't matter. I've got my sights set on those dark blue eyes and those very nice thighs-"

    Rowan froze suddenly. Winston knew why, and it was because Rowan had noticed the look on Winston's face that he had frozen. Winston had been looking to something behind him, then giving him a look that clearly said "shut up". Now that he'd stopped talking, Rowan could feel a strong presence behind himself.

    Slowly rotating his head in a robot-like manner, his clear brown eyes met with those very dark blue eyes he was just talking about.

    "Ah!" he started with a tremble in his voice. "Sue-Michelle! Um...we were just talking about you." he ended with a very nervous chuckle, realising that if she didn't know that it was herself that he was talking about, she certainly did now.

  11. While Sue-Michelle seemed to want to get rid of Rowam, Winston was the opposite. The man had valiantly risked himself to rescue the damsel in distress, he was a hero. Ashamed at having frozen and hesitated when he could have saved Sue-Michelle himself, he wanted to try to learn just how Rowan was so courageous.

    "We're going to Fairview, for now." Winston replied, taking over from the annoyed Sue-Michelle. "My name's Winston Forthford, and this is Sue-Michelle Trayton." he extended a hand to shake Rowan's.

    What was already apparent was that Rowan was taller and more buffed than Winston, and the latter's hand was slightly crushed during the handshake. Possibly with the intent to show off his muscular physique, he wore a sleeveless white shirt, then plain grey trousers and shoes. His thick, but short copper-brown hair was combed neatly to one side, matching the shade of his sharp, brown eyes.

    "What's in Fairview, that has something to do with these demons?" Rowan probed further, still addressing Sue-Michelle despite Winston being the one eagerly responding.

    "Well, we're just disembarking the train in Fairview. After that we have to take a trail through the mountains on foot, cutting across to Weder's Valley." A little quieter and less excitedly, Winston added "See, we don't have enough money to take the train all the way..." For some reason, he wanted to impress this man - and being poor wasn't impressive at all.

    By now, people were slowly returning to the station. They didn't know how, but the demon appeared to be gone, so it was safe again for the moment. The train driver returned to the train, and called for "All aboard!", before tooting the steam engine impatiently.

    Rowan started eyeing the crowds that were returning quickly, and suddenly became quite urgent. "Hey, well, this is your train isn't it? I'm headed that way myself too. We'd better hurry!"

    The trio hastily boarded the train, and took a seat right up near the front engine carriage. Rowan had insisted it was the best place to sit, when Winston had tried to sit near the door instead. He also insisted that Sue-Michelle should have a window seat. Rowan sat next to her, with Winston across from her.

    Breathing a sigh of relief, Winston rested his head against the window. He was glad for some security and rest again. Ever since the prior night, he'd been excited and going non-stop. Plus, he was starting to get used to demon attacks, and it was a small comfort that the train seemed quite safe. Pulling his hood forwards and dipping it down over his eyes, Winston tried to take a nap to catch up on sleep lost last night.

    Meanwhile, Rowan was occupying himself trying to start up conversation with Sue-Michelle - and he wasn't the type to take even a blatant 'shut up and leave me in peace' for an answer.

  12. Winston had been interested seeing Sue-Michelle's parents. Unlike herself, her parents seemed quite normal. They were getting quite emotional about her leaving it seemed, whereas she was trying to stride away amidst some clear embarassment.

    "There's no need to be ashamed or anything. Parents are all alike, really." he'd said during the walk to the station. Though it struck him that he didn't really know that for sure. He'd only ever known his mother, so his family wasn't exactly the typical one.

    Once they'd arrived at the station, Sue-Michelle took a seat while Winston went to get their tickets.

    They were headed for a town called Fairview, where they'd depart the train and set off on a path through the mountains by foot or horse. The railway track did go all the way around the mountain, but their budget couldn't afford to take the train the whole way.

    Winston had just got the tickets and was heading for Sue-Michelle, when the formerly calm sea of people at the station erupted into a chaotic flood all rushing away from the tracks. Winston ended up pushed against a wall until the bulk of the crowd passed by, only able to wonder what they were suddenly fleeing from. He thought perhaps it was a fire, but once he'd gotten free of the crowd and looked around the tracks, he saw an all too familiar sight.

    There was a demon virtually identical to the one they'd encountered the night before, hovering down from above the station. Winston was scared by a thought that entered his mind upon seeing it - what if these demons were chasing him and Sue-Michelle? He had to convince himself it was just coincidence that they happened to be here when a demon struck, the monster was probably just drawn to the large crowd of potential victims.

    Winston hadn't seen Sue-Michelle in the crowd that rushed past him, but she wasn't anywhere in sight on the platform either. She was the only one who could defeat the demon, after all.

    Just then there was a shout from the tracks, followed closely by the unmistakeable sound of the train coming close. Winston forward along the platform, and saw that Sue-Michelle and a young boy had fallen into the slight ditch where the tracks were. He shot his amber gaze up the length of the tracks and could already see the train coming fast.

    His mind was occupied by thoughts of if he'd be able to save them in time, and it was telling him that it wouldn't be wise to attempt a rescue if it might fail and cost him his own life. He wasn't terribly fit, he wasn't at all sure if he could sprint over in time at all. Besides, Sue-Michelle and the child seemed paralysed with fear, and he wasn't strong enough to forcibly pull them out of the way himself.

    While his mind was racing, his body had completely grinded to a halt - unlike the train, which although slowing down to stop at the station, was still going amply fast to make short work of any people on the tracks.

    Just then, a large man zoomed past Winston, clipping his shoulder and sending him staggering to the side. The man leapt onto the tracks, grabbed the boy by the shirt with one hand as if he were but a bag of luggage, before slinging Sue-Michelle firmly over his other shoulder, then leaping out of the path of train approaching. No sooner had all apendages cleared the tracks did the train coast in.

    Winston was captivated by that act of fiction-like courage and heroism, before glancing up idly at the demon and seeing that it had trained its cannons on him. His eyes widened before he darted towards the nearest wall facing away from the demon and took cover against it. Pink energy blasts tore into the wall and started slowly demolishing it, as the demon itself began to rotate around the wall to get Winston clear in its sights again.

    "THE BOOK!" Winston screamed in Sue-Michelle's general direction. "Do something! QUICK!"

  13. Her message delivered, Daisy hung up the telephone and stepped out of the booth. She still wasn't quite used to using the Muggle technology. But it was necessary because Callidus refused to.

    Callidus had owled Daisy about his brainwave of enlisting the help of a magical architect, needing her to pass the message to Benjy such that he could locate for them a suitable plot of land. And so Daisy had begrudgingly gone out and, barely, managed to work the Muggle telephone to call Benjy. It wasn't a new chore for her, Callidus had always refused to use Muggle communication on the basis that it was inferior and Benjy refused to use magical communication on the basis of his preference of immersing himself in the Muggle world. So Daisy was often their translator, as such.

    She didn't mind delivering good news anyway. Callidus was sure he'd found them a builder, and Benjy seemed to already have been thinking of finding land, so between them they'd managed much of the necessity of founding a school. Besides, she had good news herself to tell each of them.

    Daisy herself had been thinking about people moreso than structure. It was indeed more her nature, plus she had expected Callidus and Benjy to cover what they had - that was their nature. If those two managed to get together a school building, then they still needed teachers to fill it, and so Daisy had been planning for that.

    She was too excited to sleep, hence why she was out calling Benjy so late at night. That errand done, she apparated home once again to check the mail for the twentieth time that night. Still nothing. She sighed and sat down to write a letter to Callidus about Benjy's response. Moments later it was done and sent off by the family owl, Bee.

    As Daisy watched Bee fly off, she noticed her swerve suddenly in the air, avoiding something. That something turned out to be a dark owl come to deliver something. "Yes!" Daisy jumped up, snatching the letter from the owl eagerly. She quickly gave the owl a thankyou response note she had pre-prepared during the tedious wait and sent him on his way. Though the friend she'd enlisted for help had said success was by no means certain, Daisy had been completely confident he had pulled through for her; and so the letter confirmed.

    As requested, enclosed is the list of candidates who've applied to the Ministry for teaching positions at Hogwarts, past and present, as well as candidates the Ministry itself has identified. I could get in serious trouble over leaking this sort of personal information you know, so I hope you realise how much you owe me.

    - J.H

    Daisy pored over the list ecstatically. With this list of qualified individuals interested in teaching, they could surely find enough teachers for their own school.

  14. "Three... two... one... NOW!"

    Several wands focused on a projector box, and rainbows of light burst from its lens; some shooting outward like rays of sunlight, others rippling down lazily like dribbling water streams. An aged wizard with a curly beard lowered his wand with an exasperated sigh, and the others followed. The cascade of rainbow lights from the projector dissapated soon after.

    "Where's your mind at Callidus?" he groaned. "We managed at least partial focus not two days ago and now we're at square one again. Are you unwell? Perhaps you should take a few days off."

    Callidus couldn't precisely offer much defence. Indeed, it was his wand which was lacking in usual precision, messing up the experiment for the entire group. They were attempting to turn a muggle projector, which could cast images upon a surface, into a three-dimensional projector, able to project lifelike, three-dimensional images on a spot.

    In the end Callidus decided to take the offer of days off and went home. It was a fair length from the Experimental Magic Headquarters in London to his little cottage house out in the country, and he usually rode the train out of London for a while before apparating the rest of the way. He liked to have some time to think, outside of his home.

    His house was of course his sanctuary, organised and set out exactly as he liked, and situated in the countryside to avoid the noise and distractions of the city. However, he found that noise and distraction beneficial in his thoughts occasionally. New stimula, unexpected ideas and sights. Home was too predictable, so he rode the train each day to enjoy some idle thinking whilst in the presence of the oft-inspiring unpredictability of the wider world.

    He'd been distracted since the meeting with his friends; thinking about their idea of a school in Australia. He couldn't help it, he knew he was the only one capable of thinking it through properly. He had been stuck on the first and most crucial part: venue. Anyone could purchase a large block of land and put in place the necessary protective enchantments, and he dared to suppose that Benjy might be able to finance them - or at least find them a good loan. But they would need very specific things in an actual building. Modern muggle buildings were too flimsy to handle magical accidents likely to occur at a school, not to mention that they'd seem of ill-repute to resort to anything in the muggle style of architecture.

    Hogwarts was a mighty castle, having stood the test of time grandly, and its ancient architecture was well in line with the traditional frame of mine of many magic families. Australia had no such ancient or sturdy old buildings. It's natives were nomadic, and European settlers came too late and with too little architectural ambition.

    So, they could get land. But they needed a building.

    The muggle woman across from Callidus was reading a newspaper. He wondered at the dubious nature of muggle newspapers, but was reminded that, really, even the Daily Prophet had many mundane or meaningless "news" stories. And suddenly, Callidus smiled, and was glad he rode the train.

    After having stepped into an empty carriage and disapparating, Callidus arrived at home and went straight for his study cupboard. Inside he had a collection of newspapers from all the way back to his childhood. He collected them in case one day some bit of information was needed. He grabbed the copy of the Prophet from earlier in the week, and flipped through to the page his memory keenly had recalled, with the article unimaginatively titled "New floo network connection opens in Lancaster".

    Renowned magical architect Doric Parell today unveiled his latest work with the opening of a floo network connection in the town of Lancaster.

    Callidus skimmed through past all the droll talk of how long overdue a floo network connection was there and of the nuances of Parell's design. The man was considered a rising talent, but thus far had only had very meager work - especially this latest one. He'd taken the rather basic design common in London, of using restroom stalls as transports, and taken it in a different direction. He'd built a storage block of broom cupboards, each with a bucket and an old-fashioned light bulb that one turns on and off with a hanging rope cord. Travellers simply stepped into the bucket and turned off the light, and away they went. Callidus was sure he detected a hint of sarcasm in the quotes from Parell of the design.

    The part Callidus was looking for was right at the end though, and it, coupled with Parell's ambition for greater projects, solved the problem of a building:

    With this latest work completed, Mr. Parell has no remaining projects, and has stated he's seeking new opportunities to test his skills.

  15. Winston had to admit that there was a chance Percival wouldn't be living at the address he had found - all he knew was that Percival Helder supposedly only ever lived in Englad, and this address was in the ownership of a man by the surname Helder - the only Helder on record. At any rate, the chance was enough for both him and Sue-Michelle, and so they were going to check it out.

    They'd agreed to meet at 10 AM in the morning to head out. It was about a week's travel by Winston's estimates, especially since they'd have to cut costs and walk as much of the trip as possible - neither of them were well off at all financially.

    Dawn had come by the time Winston got home - though it was already quite early in the morning by the time he and Sue-Michelle left the library separately. His mother knew where he'd been, looking for the demons, and asked how it went.

    Winston's mother was always supportive of him, no matter how far-fetched his ideas were. She knew perhaps even better than he did, that his adventurous nature couldn't be denied or restricted, so she always encouraged it. She knew it was a dangerous idea to go looking for demons at night, but she also knew it was what he wanted and that she couldn't stop him. He was an adult, capable of making his own choices.

    "I'd thought this day would come sooner actually." she said to him, as he was packing a few changes of clothes into a large travel suitcase. "I knew you'd go off on some adventure for real, outside our dull little town. But all this about demons and magic books, you must be so very careful Winston."

    "I know, I know." he said, not in an annoyed tone at all. "That book will protect us, and when we know how it works, we can come back and clear the demons away from here for good."

    Winston's mother, Stephanie, actually believed he could do what he was saying wholeheartedly. She knew he always got things done when he set his mind on them, and she could see the determination and excitement in his eyes.

    "That Sue-Michelle's a nice girl at least. Do you like her?" Stephanie probed.

    She'd made it sound innocent, but Winston knew she was trying to find out if Winston had a crush on Sue-Michelle at all. They were both bookworms, it wasn't all that unlikely. Though in his mind, Winston fancied more of a "damsel-in-distress" kind of woman, someone he could heroically rescue and all. Sue-Michelle seemed quite strong herself, likely she'd end up rescuing Winston at some point, so he thought of her more as a big sister than a potential love interest.

    "Don't start, you're always trying to match me up with people..." he replied, closing up his briefcase and looking around to make sure he'd packed everything he needed.

    "You don't need my help I guess, I'm sure the ladies are lining up to get a chance with you." she teased.

    Winston frowned. "That's not funny..."

    Winston was basically the loser of the town. He seemed immature and geeky, he was the last picked for anything - including relationships. He didn't let it get to him though, he lost himself in his fantasy novels instead.

    After a brief silence, Winston hugged his mother. "I will miss you."

    "Then hurry up and go, the sooner you get on your way, the sooner you'll be coming home again." she responded, returning the hug before nudging Winston towards the door.

    Winston stepped outside the only home he'd known for 24 years, gave it one last look, then with a deep sigh he headed off to meet Sue-Michelle at her home. Every step he took from now on would be one further from home, towards undoubtedly exciting times to come.

  16. Winston inspected the books exterior again with a curious frown, wondering whether it was legitimate or some cheap fake edition.

    "The old man never mentioned this to me...but he must have known it was here..." Winston thought aloud to himself, before realising Sue-Michelle wouldn't likely know who he was talking about. "The previous caretaker of the library, that is. When he passed on, he left me this library, because I was like a son to him I suppose..."

    Flipping open the last page of the book, Winston spotted fine-print on the inside of the back cover. Adjusting his glasses and squinting in the dim candlelight, he could barely make out a familiar name - no doubt the author.

    "Percival Helder, that explains it." Winston announced, firmly shutting the book with both hands. "He's written several books like these, what he calls 'true' accounts of history - basically just history as we know it, but with a heap of minor and major changes or additions."

    "Actually, his accounts read more like fantasy novels than non-fiction works." Winston laughed.

    There was an awkward silence then for a moment, as both Winston and Sue-Michelle remembered what the book had done minutes ago to the demon chasing them. Percival's works may have been easily dismissed as nonsense or delusions, but the power his version of the Bible had was very real. The only one who could know what the power was about was this Percival.

    "Hang on, I think there's a record here on him..." Winston said suddenly, shoving the book into Sue-Michelle's hands and racing off to a desk deeper in the library.

    There were piles of papers on the desk, unfinished notes and research of Winston's. He shuffled through the stacks, spilling some onto the floor but not caring. Eventually he grasped one scrunched piece of paper and held it in the air in a brief moment of triumph.

    "Mr. Helder's address! We can go find him and ask him about the book!" thoroughly excited, Winston rushed over to Sue-Michelle and showed her the paper.

  17. Callidus chuckled. "If I didn't know you better I'd think you were joking. It's still amusing, even though you're not."

    Daisy, however, was taking a far keener interest. "Why couldn't we do it, Cal?"

    "If the Ministry wanted a school for Witchcraft and Wizardry in Australia, they'd have built one. We're just four nobodies." he replied, not without a hint of sorrow at his last words.

    "Well... everyone was a nobody at some point. Maybe this can be... the thing that makes us somebodies!" Samuel managed to respond after some panicked consideration.

    Callidus remained unmoved. "In a fairy tale, perhaps. But this is reality. Moreover I should hardly think people who didn't particularly excel at school, with the exception of myself and our Slytherin friend, are qualified to found one."

    Samuel didn't seem to be able to produce further arguments. After all, Callidus rarely lost an argument in the group, and never to Samuel. Benjy, however...

    "Samuel is right. Setting up a school will boost my reputation in the industry, and maybe it'll make my name known and I'll be more famous." Benjy said suddenly, drawing looks from around the table. "Oh don't look at me like that. Schools aren't monopolies after all. There's no law that dictates that we can't set up a private school of our own and start off small. The Ministry can't sue us for doing that. And adding more businesses to the economy is beneficial to a more capitalist environment."

    Then Daisy piped up, "That sounds very reasonable! And we're not unqualified anyway. Benjy and Callidus are good at the more academic subjects, Samuel would have all sorts of fans and connections with his Quidditch playing, and me... well I've looked after children long enough to handle the average student, and looked after magical creatures long enough to handle the particularly difficult ones too!"

    "Here, here!" Samuel chirped up, raising his mug for a toast and looking quite thankful at having been rescued from the situation. Benjy and Daisy raised their mugs too, leaving only Callidus looking around at the lot of them unconvinced.

    Finally, Callidus sighed audibly. "Well I guess this argument is over. At the very least if you're all going to push on with this insane idea regardless, I should be there to help avert a completely catastrophic failure." and he raised his mug to join the others.

    The night soon came to an abrupt end, as an owl arrived calling Daisy home to help with one of the childre who'd perched themself in a tree to sleep and refused to come down. Callidus decided it was indeed late and he should turn in too, and with the both of them going the gathering all decided to call it a night. But not, of course, before arranging another meeting for that weekend, where they would begin their plans for the school.

    Though Callidus attempted to emphasize that they should first have a plan before even thinking of taking any action, it was obvious the others would all be looking into the possibilities through the rest of their week, and perhaps even settling their affairs at their places of work, in preparation of taking leave or quitting to pursue this venture.

    And despite himself, Callidus was considering following suit too.

  18. The speed of the demon was something Winston had underestimated, it easily kept up with them and cornered them in the library. His favourite haunt was to become the place he'd die and that his spirit would haunt forever more. Even when facing certain death, Winston's fantasy-novel-overfed imagination still conjured scenarios worthy of said fantasy novels.

    Winston only noticed his and Sue-Michelle's salvation when a blast of sand rushed out from next to him where the latter was standing the last time he'd looked. He watched the sandstorm envelop the demon like some beast devouring its prey, and his eyes followed the stream of sand as it finished up and returned itself to the book Sue-Michelle was holding. He slowly looked up to find her deep blue eyes looking to him expectantly.

    "What did you do?" he asked, assuming it was she who'd conjured the sandstorm, somehow.

    As good at reading as he was, that only applied to books. He couldn't read people well at all, and didn't realise Sue-Michelle was just as confused as he was.

    "Me!?" Sue-Michelle retorted, "What makes you think I did anything? This is your library and your book!"

    Winston just looked down, clearly embarrassed. "Oh..."

    Cautiously taking the book from Sue-Michelle's hands, Winston held it up to the starlight to get a good look at it. Obviously he'd not had time to light the lanterns in the library when they'd rushed in, but the gaping holes the demon had blasted into the walls and roof of the building allowed the faint light of the night sky to penetrate. It still wasn't much help though, given the smog from the neighbouring cities cast a shading veil across the sky.

    Grumbling about the smog, Winston took the book over to a reading desk, produced a pack of matches from his pocket, and lit the candle lantern sitting on the desk. He then set the book down and inspected it.

    The book seemed brand new, it wasn't even dusty like most books in Winston's library were. There was no writing on either side of the cover, just a firm, black cover. Winston already knew he'd not seen this book before, having documented most of the library's collection so far and knowing he'd remember seeing one as odd as this. Flipping open to the first page, Winston noted that even the pages were fresh and crisp as if they'd never been turned.

    "This is..." Winston began, a wave of understanding washing over him as he scanned through the first dozen or more pages wth his well-practiced reading speed. Winston turned to face Sue-Michelle only to find her already next to him, inspecting the book just as eagerly and curiously as he was himself. He continued. "...a Holy Bible...but its different, there's stuff in this one I've never read in other ones before..."

    While not a religious type at all, Winston had read most of the Bible just for the sake of it, and he was certain that the book he was inspecting now was quite similar, but the details and story were different in some parts. It was either a newer or older version than the ones Winston had viewed before, though the condition of the book led him to believe it was the former.

  19. "Oh, that." Callidus yawned. "I find it more troubling they're reducing the intake of students from the Orientation Center. If they'd been as tight with it back in our day, we'd likely not all be sitting here now." he said solemnly.

    Australia had never had a wizarding school, its magically gifted youngsters having been simply shipped off to England whether they liked it or not, in olden times. These days there was the Magical Orientation Center, where such youngsters were taught the barest basics of controlling their abilities and abiding by wizarding law. From there, they could opt to travel overseas to a proper wizarding school such as Hogwarts. Places were always limited, though usually nobody missed out, as many preferred to remain home with their families - in part owing to the negative way in which magic was painted by the instructors there; it was something incredibly difficult and dangerous, they said, and few were cut out for it. And so few dared to head overseas and try. But with the new intake restrictions, even those few would miss out.

    "Of course its hardly surprising." Callidus continued, "They want to control everything, and citizens of foreign countries are too hard to control. I'd say the MOC is nothing more than a measure to keep the burgeoning magical population under control."

    Callidus was getting depressed now, his face distorting in disgust at the soup he'd ordered, as if it were somehow contaminated with the unsavoury topic of discussion too.

    Fortunately, Daisy noted the darkening mood. "Oh come on. We're here to relax and have fun, not talk about such... dreary things." she chirped up, seeming at the end of her sentence to be trying to convince herself more than anyone else.

    Daisy had been born and raised in England, so news of the MOC didn't directly concern her. Although she didn't know what she'd have done with herself if she didn't have her present company as friends through her Hogwarts years, and if she were in school only now chances are she'd have never met them, they'd have been kept in their own country. She wondered about all the children right now at home with her mother, who'd be attending Hogwarts themselves soon enough. Would they be missing out on such friends now?

    Now too miserable herself, Daisy had no more words of encouragement to fill the depressing silence.

  20. Thunder cracked in the sky, sounding the start of a heavy rain. In the streets beneath, the shadowed figures of people began scurrying around more urgently, zipping under cover or into buildings. A few were prepared enough and simply opened up umbrellas, making themselves as pinheads to the skies above. Daisy was not one of them.

    "Aaah!" she screeched as the rain buffeted down suddenly. She broke into a run, a leash in her hand with a little dog pulling her along as if she needed further encouragement.

    She skidded to a halt in front of the Leaky Cauldron, almost slipping over as her dog kept running and tugged on the leash. "Come on, Yiye!" she begged, dragging the over-excited dog over.

    No sooner had she stepped into the building did the bartender chastise her, "Ya can't bring that mutt in here."

    "Fine." Daisy groaned, kneeling down and giving her Shih-tzu dog a kiss on the head. "Well off you go then, be a good girl and don't go hanging around with male dogs." And with that she took off Yiye's leash and held open the door, as the little dog eagerly ran out down the street.

    She stuffed the leash into the pocket of her dark jeans and spotted the table the others were at. She took the seat Samuel pulled over for her and plopped down looking miserable, her golden-blonde hair looking bedragled and soggy.

    "Sorry I'm so late guys." She started, taking off her soaked jacket, which seemed to be stained with something. "I had to take care of a Bowtruckle that was attacking some Muggle lumberjacks, as well as the Obliviators that came to erase the memories of the prior. And then when I got home Camelia and Chrysantha were both sick and my mother was overwhelmed." She threw her jacket, which smelt of vomit, in the face of an old man at the next table who'd looked twice at the ample front of her singlet.

    Daisy Hawthorne lived with her mother and several more adopted children than they could handle. Her mother just had too much care to give, and had started adopting children after Daisy and her two biological sisters had grown up. Her father was long dead, and her sisters living overseas, so she had to be there and help her mother when things got out of hand - as they often did with a household of 5 children. Three boys and two girls, all named after flora as Daisy and her sisters all were. Her mother had a thing for such names it seemed. Maybe she thought her children would stay rooted forever if they were named after plants and flowers?

    "How's the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures treating you?" Callidus asked, as Daisy ordered a drink.

    "Well, alright I suppose." she muttered, "I daresay the magical creatures treat me better though." she laughed, her clear hazel eyes coming alive for the first time since she'd trudged in.

    She was with friends now, not work colleagues, and she reminded herself to loosen up.

  21. The man in the cream coat's body jerked as the demon was distracted by something above, suddenly aiming its cannons at something else and firing forth bullets of bright pink-coloured energy of some sort. Needing no further encouragement, the man took the chance to run around the closest corner, colliding with something else - a woman, by the feel of a certain part of her chest his hands had inadvertantly brushed against during the collision.

    Dark blue eyes framed by glasses on a head with tied-back, yet vivid, purple hair stared at him briefly. The man recognised the woman, she was one of few who still frequented his library, spending hours each day working her way through the entire collection methodically. He'd heard her talked about once by others, remembering they said her name was Sue-Michelle.

    Did Sue-Michelle recognise him too? Winston Forthford, caretaker of the town's humble library after the passing on of its original owner, Geoff Mare, he was known somewhat about town. People said he clinged to the library foolishly, and that he'd possibly be the last to leave the slowly dying town because of it. If he sold the books within, particularly the rarer ones that weren't on public display there, he could make enough money to leave the town and forge a better life elsewhere. Yet he remained.

    Before Winston could ask Sue-Michelle if she'd noticed him in the library and knew him, he was reminded abruptly again of the danger they were both meant to be fleeing from. The demon peeked around the corner and let loose another volley of narrow pink blasts from its opposable cannons, blowing a chunk of brick off the home that made up that corner.

    "RUN!" Winston said, darting ahead of Sue-Michelle and grabbing her wrist to pull her along into an alleyway a few steps ahead.

    Winston kept a firm grasp on Sue-Michelle's wrist, not noticing he was probably holding on a little too tight, and just kept running through the alleyways randomly. He dared not look back, just forging on ahead in a panic. Though it seemed he was taking charge and getting them both to safety, his pulling Sue-Michelle with him was solely because he was too scared to go alone - having her wrist in his hand was some small comfort as he just instinctively continued to flee.

    But where? Where could he go? Home was his first thought, but he cast that away when he remembered his mother was there. He couldn't put her in danger. His father left before he was born, his mother was all he had left. He had no friends anymore either, so even at the age of 24, he needed his mother to be someone who was always there in his life. Taking a demon home to mother wasn't something at all appealing to Winston.

    There was only one other place to go then - the library. Winston had the keys, they could hide there for the night and hope the demon had lost their trail.

  22. A figure in a hooded, cream-coloured coat stalked the empty streets in complete darkness. He kept up against the walls of buildings, venturing into alleyways whenever he passed them. His movements were clumsy, showing off his lack of talent for sneaking, but he was moving stealthily enough through the unlit streets.

    The streets were always quiet at night in the small town of Livenstone. Nestled in a shallow valley between two major industrial cities, the town was bombarded by smog and pollution daily, and needless to say that made it an undesirable place to live. People were slowly moving away to better towns, and Livenstone was on a steady decline into desolation. Nobody bothered lighting or maintaining the street lanterns, so the only light about was what came from the starry sky.

    Recently the situation had gotten worse. Murders were happening around the town during the nights. No bodies were left behind, but rumours told of people seeing strange, floating, spherical demons killing people mercilessly. Where once the streets were dotted scarcely by lights from windows of those still awake later in the night, now none dared draw attention lest the demons come for them next.

    But the figure in the cream-coloured coat still dared to venture out in the middle of the night despite the dangers, for he was actually seeking to find the rumoured demons. The librarian, now an amatuer non-fiction novelist, was hoping to be the first to document the creatures. Though he had no way to defend himself, the vast dangers of what he was doing only served to fuel his sense of adventure and spur him onwards.

    Exiting a network of alleyways onto a main street, the coated figure suddenly heard a strange humming sound, and immediately took cover behind a small mailbox. Bright amber eyes darted around in search of the source of the sound in vain. The sound got closer and closer, eventually causing the coated figure to cringe in anticipation of a sudden appearance of the source. Realising it was actually above him, the figure threw his head back and cast his amber eyes towards the stars. His coat's hood fell back to reveal a messy head of black hair going down to ear-length, hanging just over the top of the upper rims of large, rectangular eyeglasses on the otherwise plain face of the young man.

    Coming into vision from abover the building behind the man was a dark, hovering ball. As his eyes trained on it, the man noticed that it had dozens of gun-barrel-like protrusions scattered across its bumpy surface, with a mass of limp tentacle-looking things hanging down from under it. Most disturbingly of all, it bore a small face in the centre of (what the man assumed to be) its front. The face was a grayish-white colour, the eyes were vacant-looking and framed by dark black circles, the forehead bore a black pentacle, and the mouth lolled open partway.

    The coated man stared in awe at the thing, the demon. It was hovering past him, over the rooves of buildings, likely in search of victims. The man was mesmerised by it, and stood up from behind the mailbox to pursue. His gaze locked upwards onto the demon, he ran straight into bicycle left by the roadside and collapsed over it with a loud clatter and shout of pain.

    The demon heard it.

    As the man was picking himself up, the floating demon had turned around and was heading back towards him. He looked up to see the thing's face with a twisted grin, its gun-barrel protrusions bending and training their sights on him. Faced with such a strong intent to kill from the demon, the man lost all notion of this being some mysterious adventure. He froze on the spot, simply unable to do anything but watch his own doom approach.

  23. The train rattled along steadily, the occasional bump in the track jolting its occupants lightly. Most were buried in newspapers or books, or snoozing. It was dark as pitch outside, making the train cabin become like its own little world.

    If, then, this tiny cabin was a world of its own, much like the greater Earth itself was, its few occupants mattered far more than they did outside of it. In the greater world they were ones in a number of billions of co-inhabitants of the planet. In this cabin, the three occupants each made up 33% of its world. Did it matter more in the scheme of things, then, when the dozing old man sneezed in his sleep? Or when the woman peering closely at the newspaper clicked her tongue in disapproval of something she'd read?

    No, Callidus decided. Their actions were still of the mundane even in a world of only three people. He, however, was contemplating greater matters. Callidus Lacroix, who worked with experimental and dangerous spells every day, was so afraid of Apparation that he was expending extra time to take the train instead. Surely this was the only important consideration in this tiny world? Callidus could apparate well enough when necessary, but this time he couldn't - he couldn't focus properly on wanting to get to his destination when, in fact, he would rather be anywhere else. He'd been splinched before trying to apparate into Diagon Alley, for the same reason.

    Finally the whistle on the train blew as the brakes screeched, signalling they'd arrived at their destination. Callidus zipped out of the cabin before the other two slow-witted occupants had even been roused from their purposeless thoughts. The train halted and Callidus again was the first one out. His black robes billowed as a gust of icy wind blew across the platform, and he grumbled as he smoothed them and his underlying suit out again. His dark, neatly-kept hair too had been disrupted, but a wave of his wand saw it flattened back down once again. As he straightened his rectangular-framed glasses, the platform sign caught his eye.

    Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Nostalgia swept over Callidus. Of course, he'd departed from here many times on the journey to Hogwarts. Of course, the well-known red school train had long departed, and now the platform was used for more day-to-day transportation.

    Callidus walked briskly, both in no mood to daudle and trying to keep warm in the freezing night air. Winter nights in England were colder than back home, in Australia. The decision of his father, Bardus, to move to Australia shortly before Callidus was born was the only smart move he could credit the man for. Callidus was intelligent and clever, whilst his father was a moronic simpleton who never asked questions or sought knowledge. Callidus didn't know whether he hated living there with him more than having to visit London.

    Of course, London was the where the heart of the Ministry of Magic was located, which was exactly why Callidus hated it so. He recalled the tales from childhood, of Harry Potter and the evil Lord Voldemort. Not nearly as scary as those were the tales of the Ministry's ineptitude. First covering up the latter's return to power, slandering all those that could possibly combat him, and its eventual fall into Voldemort's hands. Of course, Callidus was smart enough not to put full faith in childhood tales, especially from his father, but his own experience had convinced him it was true. The Ministry of today continued to try to control everything, suppressing dissent and rumours harmful to its supposed integrity. Worse still was the fact that Callidus worked for them. He had wanted to work in his country of birth, but the Ministry also seemed to like keeping all its cards close to home. There weren't any decent jobs for someone of Callidus' talents going back home, he had to live just outside London and answer to the Ministry he so despised.

    But that wasn't to be pondered tonight. Tonight was a night for revelry, after all. He was in town to meet up with three of his good friends from his school days. Their meetings were hard to organise amid their varying schedules, and so Callidus would consent to meeting in Diagon Alley, that being the only workable solution for others.

    Callidus stepped into the Leaky Cauldron, precisely on time, and searched around for signs of his friends. It was 9pm on a Friday, and so the place was more crowded than usual. It would not have been a surprise to Callidus if he were the first to arrive, even considering Samuel lived in Diagon Alley. He was just more organised than the others.

    Well, except perhaps for one of them...

  24. Shuichang cracked open an eye, regaining his senses. "Jiang Mu... where is he?"


    Muxue gestured in the direction of Shuiyan, who was deftly escaping through the opening as planned. Shuichang got to his feet but still felt a harsh pain as he tried to spread his wings. While Muxue's efforts stabilized his condition, his wing wouldn't magically heal. He would be grounded for a few days at least.


    Muxue explained to Shuichang the situation, and that Jiang Mu was being safely escorted from the battle. "You have our thanks." Shuichang said, inclining his head, "It is heartening to have such reliable soldiers in the aerial force."


    Jiang Mu was dazed but conscious, holding on to Shuiyan out of instinct but otherwise quite unaware of his situation.


    Fortunately, it seemed the Qiao Ming's reinforcements allowed Chen Wei to push through the enemy and begin to assault Dong Zhuo's own land forces, causing the dragons on the failing flank to pull back to defend. Meanwhile, Sun Jian's forces had broken through the enemy lines on the ground and decimating the enemy. It wasn't long before they collapsed entirely, Sun Jian's forces giving brief chase as they fled, before ceasing and letting the remainder of them go.


    The battlefield was more gruesome than the previous time, with far more dead on both sides. Those with minor or no injuries began collecting the injured and sorting through the dead. There was a brief panic as Chen Wei and Qiao Ming discovered nobody knew where Jiang Mu was, but they eventually sighted Shuichang on the ground and ascertained that he was alive.


    There was similarly a fuss at the camp as Shuiyan arrived bearing the injured Jiang Mu and news of the chaos of the battle. But soon followed Jade dragon messengers affirming that the battle was won and the camp should move up to occupy the end of the pass. Jiang Mu only got a blurry look at his rescuers as they dropped him off in the care of the camp physicians, before they zoomed off back toward the battlefield.


    The aftermath was a slow and dreary process. Wounded dragons were carried by healthier ones one at a time, as were wounded soldiers. When the living were all collected, the dragons scooped up the dead and buried them in a mass grave. The field would still be soaked with dried blood for many months though, just as the landscape was charred by dragon flames and littered with arrows.


    However by the day's end the camp had been re-situated at the mouth of the pass, and the wounded captains and dragons were reunited and recovering. Jiang Mu soon shook off his minor injuries, but the injuries to his pride were far greater. Tu Zan had failed. No, Jiang Mu had failed in choosing him. He'd heard of Tu Zan's heroic death protecting the allied forces, and could not fault the man's courage or righteousness. But it was a leader's job to use such people appropriately, and Jiang Mu had allowed him to be placed in the wrong position as a general.


    Sun Jian was amicable, in the end not having suffered too much from the lapses of the aerial force. Things had went well on the ground despite the chaos above - Jiang Mu chalked that up to the courage of his soldiers rather than his own decisions. However, they were short on supplies, weapons, and soldiers now, and Sun Jian indicated they could only just hold the pass until fresh supplies arrived and they could march on the capital itself.


    The first night Jiang Mu could do little but sleep early, exhausted. But the next day, he awoke with vigour. He wasn't going to wallow in his mistakes. Shuichang had counseled him that a leader must not show such weakness or the men would lose confidence. The battle was won, and so Jiang Mu had to act pleased and as if everything went according to plan. He had the soldiers that were able to do so assemble, and gave a speech about their victory, congratulating them on their mettle in the face of the overwhelming enemy forces. He praised Tu Zan's courage in sacrificing himself to protect the ground forces, and decreed his and his dragon's body be returned to his hometown and buried with honours. He also praised and promoted Ma Yan, "With myself and Shuichang in danger, his unwavering loyalty and courage showed through, and he and Muxue came to our aid without regard for their own safety. They are model soldiers. We have many heroes among us that showed themselves in this past battle, surely once we march on Luoyang, the tyrant Dong Zhuo will cower and surrender immediately!"


    Later that day Jiang Mu and Shuichang visited Ma Yan and Muxue personally, checking in on Muxue in particular since Shuichang had noted her own injuries. "I was right to expect great things from you two." he said, "Now that you're an officer with your own squad of men to command, I shall see if you are as promising a leader as fighter. I'll be watching."