The Association.
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In the hour or so that followed the explosion of the Half-Elf Mage, things had progressed a fair bit. There were a bunch of vehicles now on the scene – from Order vehicles and police cars, to media minibuses and such. There was a buzz of activity as on one side, law enforcement and Order personnel were trying to compile evidence and maintain… order, and the media and locals were seemingly trying to do the exact opposite. The locals were heckling and hurling insults, while the media were constantly trying to get comments or interviews. This wasn’t just happening at the spot Zuko was at, but all the other areas around the city in which there had been an attack and explosion. Those people who had been deployed to the various points by the Order were clad like Brometheus Bob or the girl who had been sent by William to fetch Zuko from his loft earlier on that day. Seeing as Mages had been on the scene when things went haywire, hooded men and women from the Mage Division were in the majority. Curtis was standing at the edge of the crime scene barrier, chatting to a pair of female journalists and giving his account of what had happened. The three Red Robes were doing the same, however they were explaining the events to a representative from the Archmage’s office. Zuko meanwhile, was standing at the still smoldering and spitting flame tower that he created. The flames continued to burst out from the sides and from the top, and he just stood his head looking directly up towards the torrent of flames. There wasn’t a single person in close proximity to either Zuko, or the tower as the heat was immense. He stood there as if he couldn’t even feel it despite wearing all of his layers, and Zuko seemed to be completely disinterested in the events happening around him at that moment in time. He alternated between looking at the flames, and looking at the ground as he was standing inside one of the large trenches that surrounded the tar walls.

The sound of a pair of shoes sliding down into the trench of sorts caused Zuko to turn his head and look at who it was that had braved the heat to come bother him. It was one of the Red Robes from earlier along with one of the Hoods – those who were the equivalent of the Knight Technicians.

“Senior Agent.” The Red Robe said with a slight nod of the head. “This Hood is here to see if there is any evidence to be collected.”

Zuko looked at both Mages and then back at the tower. The two of them took this as a sign to get on with whatever was supposed to be happening, and the Hood pulled a small rod out from beneath his robes. After a brief incantation, the head of what was actually a Magic Wand started to glow, as did the eyes of the wielder of the Wand. As the Hood started walking around the ditch, the Red Robe stood next to Zuko, who had been watching the Mage technician walk around and examine the area.

“I heard from the Archmage’s son that you are new to the Order.” The Red Robe said as he tried to make small talk. “Not only that, but you're already a high ranking Agent. I just wanted to offer my congratulations and to welcome you to the Order.”

“…”

Zuko didn’t even acknowledge the presence of the man at his side as he was now looking at the flames that were still spewing out from the top of the crude tarmac tower.

“I also wanted to thank you.” The Red Robe stated, continuing the one sided conversation. “I get the distinct feeling that if it wasn’t for this tower you created, we would all be toast – well, by we, I mean my teammates and myself – so again, thank you. They call me PuruPuru, by the way.”

“…”

Zuko’s silence didn’t deter this PuruPuru, and he continued to speak.

“The Hood back there is called Bradley Aaron Vince, but we call him Chocolate Frog or CF for short. He’s a cock sucking bastard that nobody likes besides this girl in a different unit. She finds him cute, but who cares? He’s an ass licker. But she has great tits, so I forgive her. Anyway, so this guy is trying to find evidence of…”

As PuruPuru continued blabbing on, back within the boundaries of the crime scene, Curtis had been dragged away from the women he was chatting up, and was now in front of reporters, answering questions in earnest. As the most senior Agent on site, Order protocol meant that he was in charge and thus, was handling things. Despite looking as though he was busy frolicking with the women the entire time, Curtis had also been instructing and directing things, and now that the standard processes had been set in motion, he was busy with the media.

“…yes, when we arrived, the Illegal Mage was already engaging our Agents in combat. We remained in the shadows so to speak, and only became involved when it looked as though the Red Robes were on the brink of defeat.”

“And then it became a five- on-one battle? Wouldn’t you deem that to be overkill?”

“Do you not see the still burning flames that are shooting out from the top of this structure behind me? All those flames would be all over those people behind you and who knows how much more of the surrounding area.”

“And you feel that justifies ganging up on a civilian?” A clearly Non-Human reporter inquired.

“I think the deaths that were caused by other ‘civilians’ in other districts around the city do.” Curtis retorted, remaining admirably calm.

The impromptu press briefing of sorts continued along this vein until a bright flare up of orange light illuminated the sky above, causing everybody to suddenly shut up and look towards the source of said light. The flames which had been burning for so long finally burned themselves out, going out with a bang so to speak. As everything went back to normal, Curtis looked at the gathered reporters and smirked, as if to say that what just happened proved his point. Moments later, a bunch of high ranking Agents of various Tiers and Rankings appeared, from both divisions. It was quite the sight; men and women using thrusters and Spells to drop in and land deftly on the battered tarmac below. Armour and Robes of different colours and shades decorated the area, and the Knights and Mages all seemed to have landed just behind Curtis, who turned around and immediately smirked at the sight of them all.

“Hey, guys…” He said with a slight nod.

“Curt.” Another Tier 2 Mage said, reciprocating the nod. His Robes were a slightly darker shade of blue, but he was awfully close to being the same Rank as Curtis.

“I'm guessing the flare beckoned you all over here.”

“What the fuck happened here?” A Knight barked. “What is that structure?”

“I’m not the correct person to tell you exactly what it is, but I’m guessing it’s a shield or chimney of sorts, Laurence.” Curtis said as he walked over to the group, seemingly having brought the press briefing to an end.

Curtis spent the next few minutes exchanging pleasantries, and inquiring about the individual battle grounds that the other Agents had come from. None of them had been around to affect the outcome of the fights like Curtis and Izano, however they had been close enough to go and provide assistance and leadership where they could. As the group continued to converse, Izano Zuko emerged from one of the giant trenches, arms beneath is cloak and hood up. He was flanked by the Hood and Red Robe PuruPuru, who was STILL talking. He noticed the group of his new peers all standing together, and was about to turn around and go back into the ditch when Curtis spotted him and called out.

“Hey, Izano! Over here!”

Izano looked at Curtis and sighed under his breath, before making his way over to the group of Agents.

“Okay guys, just a few things I’ve picked up about this dude; he doesn’t speak using his mouth, he’s covered in black bandages, and don’t call him a savage to his face – he hates that shit—Heeyyy Izano!”

Curtis barely had time to finish his quick briefing before Zuko was upon the group. He didn’t say anything to anybody, which prompted Curtis to make awkward introductions.

“Uh, everybody, this is Izano Zuko, Izano, this is—”

The Knight previously referred to as Laurence stepped right up to Zuko and sneered at him.

“So, you're the savage that went running through the halls with that idiot Kevin or whatever his name is?”

Laurence was a big fellow, and easily Zuko’s equal in terms of height, and with his large and heavy suit of armour on, he cut an even more of an imposing figure than the man he was seemingly trying to provoke. For some reason, Zuko wasn’t taking the bait, and he want even looking at Laurence, which irked him.

“Cassandra also spoke about an uncivilised savage that kicked his way into the Archmage’s office. I couldn’t believe my ears when she said that, but now that I look at you, it’s obvious that—”

Zuko had already walked past Laurence and was standing in front of Curtis, completely disregarding Laurence.

“Have these hooded Mages discovered anything, Curtis?”

“Uh, I can’t be sure yet, Izano. Why, have you found anything after examining those flames for so long?”

“No, I have not. However—”

“Hey!” Laurence barked in anger. “Who the fuck do you think you are to ignore me like that?!”

“Calm down, you idiot.” A different Mage said. “Do you really want to cause a scene in front of the locals and the media?”

“And who the fuck are you to order me around, Priyanka?”

“Look at the colour of my Robes, idiot…” Priya said with a slight sigh and shake of the head.

“Besides,” a Mage standing next to Priya said. “Curtis and that Izano fella are actually having a conversation.”

“Now I know what Curt meant when he said he doesn’t speak with his mouth.” Priya said as she nodded.

Zuko, who had paused momentarily due to Laurence’s barking, continued his conversation with Curtis. The Knights who were present looked on in confusion as they couldn’t hear anything, but the Mages could clearly hear what was being said. The conversation was once again interrupted as the Order Insignia that was located on every Agent’s attire glowed, and moments later, a small projected image of William in the case of the Mages and Donald in the case of the Knights suddenly appeared in front of those present.

“Agents, those who responded to the incidents that happened all around the city who have not been hospitalized are to all report to HQ immediately; we have some things to discuss with you all.”

The images then disappeared with as little fanfare as they appeared with, and the Insignias ceased their light show. Curtis sighed the immediately afterwards and shrugged.

“It felt like that old bastard was actually looking at me. No doubt I’m going to get an earful because of the massive hole you left in the damn parking lot.”

Zuko neither said anything, nor reacted in any way. One of the other Mages looked at Zuko and Curtis, and then suddenly spoke as if something clicked.

“You mean you guys were responsible for that crash and hole back at HQ?! That shit caused about as much chaos as it did confusion! The Archmage barred anybody from having it fixed!”

“Ugghhhh….” Curtis said as he looked up towards the sky. Once again, Zuko was silent and after a few moments, started looking about. As the group watched him and continued to wonder what exactly it was that he was doing, they got an answer when he just walked off in some random direction. It took Curtis a second or two to realise what exactly was going on, and once he had figured it out, he looked to the group and waved.

“Well, see you back at the Order, guys. I gotta get going before that dude gets completely lost.”

“Wait, you mean—”

“Yeah, I think he just guessed which direction the car was parked in, and went with it. Later.” Curt then started walking in the complete opposite direction as he called back to Zuko. “Yo, Izano! Wrong way!”

Without even missing a step, Izano turned around and started walking after Curtis. The group just watched as he didn’t look as though he was trying to cover up any embarrassment. As the pair walked off, and Curtis gave some parting instructions, Priya spoke.

“…did any of you get a look at what colour that person’s Robes were?”

“Not me.” The Mage who spoke last responded. “His weird cloak made it impossible to see it, and the hood hid his face away as well.”

“Apparently he held off both that idiot Curt and Cassandra in a fight yesterday.” Laurence said as he joined in the discussion.

“What? They fought?”

“Cassandra said it was more like a spar than a skirmish. She kept calling him a caramelised carcass or something. I don’t know why.”

As the group continued discussing Zuko, he suddenly felt a strong and chilling gaze on his back – much like he had the day before when he got off the train. His head immediately darted in the direction from which he sensed the gaze come from, however whoever caused Zuko to feel as though he was being watched had already disappeared. The event was so brief that Curtis didn’t even notice that Zuko had stopped and when he reached his car, Zuko was right there as well. After they set off, Curtis was purposely driving slowly, as if to make it even more obvious that he wasn’t looking forward to getting back home. Zuko was particularly quiet, as if deep in thought and this prompted Curtis to speak.

“Hey, Izano… what exactly did you find out when you were examining that fire?”

“What makes you think I found anything at all?” Zuko responded after a few moments silence.

“It’s just a feeling I have. You were staring at those flames for a long time.”

“I did not find what I was looking for.”

“So you were looking for something?”

Zuko didn’t say anything in reply, and after a few moments of silence, Curtis pressed the issue.

“What were you looking for, Izano?”

“Confirmation.”

“Confirmation of what?”

“Suspicions.”

“What suspicions?”

Zuko slowly turned his head and stared at Curtis from beneath the hood of his cloak. It only took a few moments of intense staring for Curtis to realise his passenger was getting annoyed with the questions.

“Okay, okay, I’ll stop… one last question though… have you discovered anything useful – suspicion or otherwise?”

“No.”

“Gotcha.”

Curtis went silent, and the remainder of the deliberately slow trip back to the Order was made in relative silence. There were instances in which Curtis could swear Zuko was looking at him with judgment filled eyes, but he couldn’t be sure as the hood of his tattered cloak was up, and it was difficult to see his eyes.

‘Don’t even look at me, you bastard.’ Curtis thought to himself. ‘YOU'RE the one who made the damn hole.’

The pair finally reached HQ after around half an hour, and as they pulled in, Curtis, who was looking increasingly concerned, appeared to be trying his hardest not to look concerned, which was having the opposite effect. As the car navigated its way through the parking lot, the Mage’s fears seemed to be confirmed as much like at the scene of the earlier incident, there was barrier similar to the one there. The glyphs were bright and bobbed up and down ever so gently. Standing right behind said barrier was the Archmage, with both of his hands behind his back, looking as though he had been specifically waiting for the pair to return. His gaze followed the vehicle as it made its way towards the parking garage for Blue Robed Mages, whilst Curtis did his best to avoid it. After parking his car in the designated parking bay, he just sat there for the longest time, as if frozen to the spot. It took a few moments for him to hear the sound of Zuko faffing about, trying to release the seatbelt which was more akin to a harness than anything else. Curtis reached over and slowly undid all the clips and hooks, and it was only a matter of moments before Zuko had pushed the door open and strode out powerfully.

“…dude.” Curtis said with a sigh. “Be a little more gentle with her, would you?”

“With who?” Zuko asked in response as he fixed his robes.

Curtis looked at him for a few moments before eventually getting out of the car as well.

“Why are you so tentative, Curtis?”

“Why? Because of the hole in the parking lot! I just know that the old man is going to be on my ass because of it. He could have had it fixed by now, but he left it untouched and even waited for us to return. Ugh.”

“What is done is done. Face what comes your way like a man.” Zuko said simply as he seemed to shrug dismissively and walked off.

“Face what comes? What the… why are you speaking like this has nothing to do with you? YOU'RE the one who created the crater in the first place!”

“…it was your idea to jump out of the window.”

“Fuck you, dude.” Curtis said with a sigh. “Wait a minute, where are you going?”

“…my intuition tells me this is where we should be going.” Zuko said as he pointed to the East.

“That is completely wrong! Who are you, James May? Don’t just walk off randomly, follow me!”

Curtis shook his head as he began walking off in the opposite direction and Zuko just followed after him in complete silence as if nothing happened. Curtis was grumbling to himself somewhat as they walked, and Zuko wasn’t interested enough to try and listen in or make sense of said grumblings, following along until they reached the elevators. A blisteringly quick elevator ride later, and the pair started walking down a long corridor which had the sound of multiple conversations reverberating through it, and the closer they got, the louder they became until they reached what appeared to be a surprisingly large group of Agents – Mages and Knights both – all together, discussing what they had all been through. When they saw Zuko and Curtis, those they had left behind earlier were all there.

“Seriously, Curt? You two left first, yet somehow, you're the last to arrive and the ones holding the meeting up!” Priya rebuked.

“Oh shut it, Priya.”

“Shut it my ass. The brass has been in the War Room waiting on you two for a while now. Let’s go in quickly.”

Once that was said, one of the Mages opened the large wooden doors, and at the head of a massive rectangular table sat William and Donald. Their most trusted aides stood on either side of them, and they looked at the group as it entered.

“You’re late!” Donald boomed in annoyance.

“We’re terribly sorry, Captain.” A Knight that appeared to be a similar rank to Laurence said with a bow. “We were just waiting for everybody to assemble before entering.”

“Hmph.” Donald snorted.

“Let’s just get this meeting underway. First, those who were first respondents will step forward and relay the details of what happened, and then those who rendered assistance during or after the fact will do the same.”

As the groups sorted themselves into squads, Zuko looked around and noticed that a fair number of those with him were either bandaged, or still had Healing Spells and abilities active. There were faces that he recognised, as well as a bunch of faces that he didn’t, however that didn’t mean much because he barely remembered the faces of those he recognised in the first place. As the first group of those referred to as Red Robes came forward to speak, Archmage William raised his hand as if to stop them.

“Before you begin, I have a question; you there.” He said as he looked towards Zuko. “If I walked into a room in your house in which you were present with a hat on, would you consider it polite if I took said hat off?”

There was a prolonged and terribly awkward silence that filled the room as both men stared intently at each other, however after a little while, Zuko’s arms reached up, and he pulled his hood down, which drew a number of gasps from those who were seeing his heavily burned and bandaged head and face. The Archmage then snorted in what seemed like derision, before gesturing with his hand for the Red Robes to begin with their report. One by one, the teams that were the first respondents gave their accounts of what happened, and apart from the Schools of Magic that the respective Illegal Mages used to attack, the encounters by and large all went the same. At a certain point during the fight, the Illegal’s all ingested something, consumed their Spellbooks and became Elementals. As the final team reported, a major difference in the encounters was revealed in that the Red Robes who received assistance from Curtis and Zuko were able keep the casualties and damage down to a comparative minimum. All throughout the reports, William and Donald listened intently, and after the Red Robes had finished, they then had the more senior Agents who had arrived to provide assistance speak and relay what had happened once they had arrived. They spoke for far less time as apart from Zuko and Curtis, they mostly arrived after the fact. After Curtis had quickly rattled through what happened, including explaining how Zuko pretty much had saved everybody, the Archmage and Knight Captain-Commander both looked at each other, and then back at the group.

“Alright. Mage Squad Leader and Knight Unit Captain Assistants and Lieutenants are to remain, the rest of you get out.” Donald barked with a grunt.

That seemingly signaled the end of the impromptu briefing, and most of those in the room turned to leave.

“…not you, Son.” William said. “You’re practically a Squad Leader, you may as well stay. Besides, we have… things to discuss.”

Curtis, who had tried slinking out by walking behind Izano Zuko sighed and nodded, before watching Zuko walk out without so much as looking back or giving a single fuck that Curtis was about to get it. As he walked out, Zuko was suddenly greeted by the sight of Leaders of the best and strongest Squads, from both Divisions. They all turned and looked at him as if they had gathered to see him specifically. Their respective Robes and Armours were drastically different from what Zuko had seen in his brief time at the Order, but they all possessed a quality he was all too familiar with – strength. The other Agents all bowed and greeted the Leaders before them, while Zuko just started to walk off. Before he could get far however, he was cut off by a rather old looking man, who looked to be around the same age as Archmage and Knight Captain-Commander. He was wearing Robes so old and tattered; they looked like they should have been replaced eons ago. He was disheveled and almost dirty looking, as if he was in need of a shower, yet didn’t smell. His skin was such a dark shade of brown, it was unclear whether or not it was due to tanning for too long, or if it was his natural complexion. The old man sized Zuko up for a few moments, before grinning and laughing, whilst patting the taller man on the arm.

“Yo, so you're the one who is responsible for Willy and Don Don being in such a bad mood!” He boomed as he started laughing. “You’re pretty sturdy, aren’t you? Especially for one in Mage Robes!”

“Hmph.” A Knight in specially designed and coloured red and black armour snorted. “All I see is somebody who still has the look and stench of the Savage Lands.”

“That may be so…” A female Mage who was also clad in custom Robes that were different to the coloured ones Zuko had seen on the lower ranking Agents. “…however, if I am not mistaken, the City Lord is the one backing him.”

Most of the Leaders were silent; however those few who were vocal seemed to be speaking on behalf of them all. Zuko, who himself had been silent the entire time, continued eyeing all of these people as if he was carrying out his own silent appraisal; an act which they all noticed. Suddenly, he was forcefully dragged back to reality when he felt his arm virtually being bashed to pieces by the old man.

“What’s your name, Kid? I’m a Knight Squad Captain, and while some call me an Elder, most know me as Sweet Peen… Sweet Peen, because I got that pipe, if you know what I mean.”

This old man who called himself Sweet Peen then started chuckling and winking at Zuko with a creepy grin, and chuckled.

“Nobody calls you that, you old perv!” Archmage William boomed from behind Zuko. “We were wondering what was taking you all so long!”

“Willy! Don Don!” Sweet Peen said as he looked behind Zuko.

“Will this fool ever stop calling us that?!” Donald boomed in annoyance. “Anyway, all of you get in here! We all need to talk, and quickly!”

“Yeah, yeah…” Sweet Peen said before looking at Zuko, as if waiting for him to reply.

The rest of the Leaders and Captains stood there looking at him as well, and almost instinctively, Zuko took a deep breath, which puffed his chest out and made him seem bigger. He shifted his feet slightly and planted them, clenched his fists, and just became more imposing before opening his mouth, and looking as though he was trying to speak. His attempts to speak appeared to have failed completely after a few seconds, but then suddenly, sound made its way from behind the black bandages.

“Izano… Zuko.” Zuko said in a voice that sounded so painfully strained and wet, it almost sounded as if he had fluid in his throat and lungs.

The voice, as bone chilling creepy as it was, seemed to have something behind it, a kind of quality that made everybody who heard it stiffen up. Some of the Knight Leaders found that their hands had instinctively moved to their weapons. They quickly pulled their hands away from their weapons however, and continued to observe.

“Pleased to meet ya, Kid.” Sweet Peen said with a nod. “Anyway, we have to go listen to those damn geezers prattle on about useless shit now, but I’ll find you later. We’ll get something to eat.”

“Damn geezers?! You’re older than us, you annoying bastard!” Donald roared. “Just get in here!”

Zuko neither said a word, nor moved as all of the Squad Leaders made their way past or around him into the War Room behind him. Cassandra suddenly appeared in her eye catching armour, flanked by her two subordinates. Zuko didn’t even wait for them to walk past him, and he just set off, powering by them and making his way back towards the elevators.

Meanwhile in the War Room, all the Leaders and their most trusted subordinates were all seated in their designated seats around the table.

“So, from the information we have gathered from these reports, I think it’s safe to say that these were neither isolated, nor unplanned incidents.” William said. “From the timing, to the execution of the attacks, it all points to this being a coordinated thing.”

“What worries me the most is that these attacks were clearly aimed at causing as much damage as they possibly could.” A female Mage who was flanked by Priya and another assistant stated. “And if one considers how our poor reputation amongst the Non-Human populace draws crowds to any incident, the possibilities of there being civilian casualties increases.”

“How sure are we that civilian casualties are a possibility, and not a goal?” A middle aged looking male Knight asked.

“What do you mean?” Priya’s superior asked.

“As you stated, we are pretty much hated by all Non-Humans. If these Illegal Mages all fight against us and then self-destruct, who do you think those peasants on the ground will blame for the deaths suffered?”

“Of course, they’ll blame us.” Sweet Peen said, sitting with his bare, dirty feet on the table.

“…if you don’t get those feet off the table, I’ll cut them off.” Donald growled threateningly.

“Now, now, Don Don, let us focus on the meeting, shall we?”

“So…” Archmage William interrupted. “…do any of you have any suggestions or ideas as to how we tackle this?”

“It appears that we have a few goals we must achieve. We must protect the citizens, subdue the Illegal Mages, and above all else, try to find out as much information as we possibly can about those who are responsible for what happened.” The Knight in the red and black armour stated.

“To achieve the last goal, I believe we need to capture one or more of the Illegal’s alive and bring them in for questioning.” Cassandra added.

“This is true, however we have no way of knowing when the next attack will be, or which District it or they will occur in.”

“Another thing is that we were lucky Curtis and that new guy were close enough to arrive at the scene of one such incident and were able to suppress the Illegal before he could kill anybody.” Sweet Peen added while picking his nose.

“In that case, wouldn’t it be prudent to send Blue Robes along with Red Robes on patrols?” Curtis said, finally speaking for the first time since the meeting started.

“Why do you say that?” One of the Leaders who also had yet to speak inquired.

“After listening to the reports the others made before you all sat in, one thing in particular stood out to me – all of these attacks were on carried out on patrolling Red Robed Mages.”

The eyes of all of those in the War Room baulked for only an instant as they all realised it was true. Truncated reports had been quickly given to the Squad Leaders, so they were up to date. With what had happened.

“So your suggestion stems from the fact that they may target Red Robes once again?” William asked.

“Well, yeah… but let’s not forget something else, Archmage; they left the corresponding Knights alone completely, so they may yet be planning to go after them as well.”

“That’s right!” Cassandra blurted out, with slightly too much enthusiasm.

“Calm down, both of you.” Knight Captain Donald said with a sigh. “There has only been one flare up, and while admittedly, we have suffered some injuries in our ranks, and the press are claiming the civilian losses are more significant than they really are, this is the first incident. We do not know if there will be a second, so panicking and getting overly excited will not lead to anything good.”

“Agreed.” Archmage William said with a slight nod. “For now, we must just prepare ourselves. Lower Tier Blue Robes shall accompany Red Robes on their patrols, and assuming that the Captain over here agrees, Knights are to do the same. We do not have enough information to make any further preparations, so we must unfortunately wait for another clash and gain experience and information from it.”

“The Archmage is correct. We are to form larger, higher level patrols that will prioritise keeping casualties to an absolute minimum and if at all possible, capturing one of the Illegals before they ingest whatever that weird nugget is.”

“Yes, Sir.” The Squad Leaders all said in unison.

“Now…” Archmage William said as he looked towards his son. “Tell us everything you had learned about that Savage in the brief time you have spent with him, Curtis…”

As they were speaking about him, Zuko was busy walking through the halls, looking around as if there was something or somebody specific he was keeping an eye out for. He had no idea where he was, and was just following his intuition, turning into hallways and walking through doors whenever it felt right. He could also feel the stares of those who had never seen him before, as well as hear their whispers about him, but he cared nothing for them.

‘Something about what happened earlier seems familiar.’ Zuko thought to himself as he walked through a door without even looking. ‘I’ve seen something like that in the past.’

Zuko continued walking, going deeper and deeper into the building before he suddenly found himself walking into a massive room, lined with tables and chairs, filled with the smells of food, and the sounds of eating and conversation. He had stumbled into one of the cafeterias in the building that was predominantly for those of lower rank, such as Technicians, Red Robes and the like. It was filled with them completely, and Zuko, without even paying them a moment’s attention, went back to his own thoughts, subconsciously walking to a fairly empty bench and sitting down on a bench with his arms crossed at his chest. The gazes of those who were eating were almost tangible, burning his skin as if they were flames. All that was suddenly washed away as he suddenly heard voices that he recognised. His head then shot towards the direction the voices came from, and it only took a moment for those he was looking for to be found. Kev and his Team were all seated at a table, having something to eat for dinner.

“Shit!” Kev exclaimed. “That crazy fucker saw us!”

“It’s worse than that!” One of the team members stated. “He’s actually coming this way!”

They all looked up to see that Izano Zuko was walking towards their table with his oddly powerful gait. They seemed to have forgotten that they were in the process of eating, as they stopped chewing. Kev had told them everything about his meeting with the Archmage and Knight Captain-Commander, so everybody was on edge. Once Zuko reached the table, he focused his gaze on Kev who looked back at him somewhat tentatively, and when Zuko’s right arm moved, he thought something big was about to go down – as did everybody else in the cafeteria. They too had heard about what happened, because there were a few talkative gossip mongers in Kev’s team. As the entire cafeteria waited to see exactly what it was that was going to happen, almost all of them were bitterly disappointed to see Zuko’s weird open hand wave which was aimed at Kev. It took a second or two for everybody to realise that Zuko was greeting Kev, and when they did, there was something of a collective sigh of disappointment. Well, Kev breathed a sigh of relief and after a moment, raised his own hand and reciprocated the wave.

“…y-yo, Zuko.” He said.

Zuko lowered his hand and nodded, before turning around and made his way back over to the table he was at before. As he sat down once more and looked as though he was in deep contemplation, Kev and his team remained seated, mumbling amongst themselves.

“Shouldn’t we go over there and greet him ourselves?”

“Hell no!” Kev responded.

“But we didn’t get the chance to introduce ourselves earlier.”

“Who cares? Leave that dude be! Besides… doesn’t it kind of look like he’s in deep thought? Just leave him alone.”

It was as if everybody in the cafeteria was listening, as Zuko was left alone, and allowed to think in silence.

‘I’m sure I’ve seen and read about potions and other alchemical remedies that can cause what happened to that Half-Elf earlier. But… those things can either make one consume their Spellbooks for a temporary boost in power, or have them use that Magic charged self-destruct ability – not both. However, both of those things are extremely difficult to make, so making one that can do both… unless!’

Zuko’s eyes suddenly shot open as he suddenly had a thought.

‘I have to go back! I have to go to all of them.’

As Zuko looked around, it suddenly hit him that he was virtually alone in the cafeteria, as virtually everybody who had been eating in there was gone.

‘How long have I been seated here?’ Zuko asked himself as he stood up with a slight sigh.

The cafeteria had served its purpose; as Zuko was able process the events of the day, which in itself had piqued his curiosity immensely. As he made his way out of the near empty room, Zuko was consumed by thoughts of how to get to and inspect all the sights. He was once again walking and turning where it felt right to, not even paying attention to where he was going.

‘I need to leave this place and go to each sight quickly.’ Zuko thought as he went around a corner. ‘Where is that Kev person? I will have him take me in his vehicle.’

Just as Zuko thought this, somebody bumped into him, which caused him to instinctively leap back and prepare himself for a tussle. It was only after he snapped out of his deep thought that he saw a face that he recognised from yesterday.

“What the hell? Watch where you’re going – hold up, if it isn’t Izano Zuko!”

“… B… Br… Buffoon Bob, if I recall correctly.”

“That’s BROMETHEUS Bob, BROMETHEUS!” Brometheus Bob barked in reply.

“Why are you here?” Zuko asked, not even bothering to say Bob’s name correctly.

“Cafeteria is in this direction, so Brometheus is going to get something to eat; he’s starved. What about you? What’s your BBQ Pork Crackling ass doing here?”

“Trying to leave. I’m looking for an Agent named Kev; do you know where he is?”

“Agent Black? Nah man, I have no idea. He’s a Mage, bro – different Division and all that. Why?”

“I have somewhere I have to go. Anyway.”

Zuko didn’t say anything else as he began to walk off, but then suddenly stopped.

“Buffoon… do you have a vehicle?”

“It’s Brometheus, bro. Brometheus! Of course he has a vehicle. Why?”

Zuko slowly turned his head and looked at Bob with a look in his eyes that made the Technician shudder just a little bit.

“..D-Dude, what’s with that look?”

Around ten minutes later, a tricked out black SUV blasted its way out from HQ, and flew down the road. Brometheus Bob was behind the wheel with a rather flustered expression on his face, with Zuko in the passenger seat.

“Dude!” Bob barked. “Do you have any idea just how hungry Brometheus is!? Brometheus missed lunch because he was busy working on shit!”

“Who cares about that? The food will always be there. What I seek might have disappeared already.”

“What is it that you seek?! And why is it so important that a bro had to put off dinner for it?!”

“Evidence.” Zuko simply stated.

“What evidence?”

“I am not sure yet.”

“What? If you don’t know what kind of evidence to look for, how will you know if you find it?”

“I will know.”

“Fucking hell! This fuckin guy!”

The SUV continued to tear through the streets, with Brometheus Bob spurred on by a sense of urgency. After a few minutes of driving and weaving between traffic, Bob looked towards Zuko.

“According to the GPS, we’ll be arriving at the crime scene closest to the Order.”

Zuko didn’t say a word in reply as he just looked at the road ahead. Minutes later, they pulled up to and parked right in front of some crime scene glyphs, much like the ones at Zuko’s crime scene.

“So, Brometheus is gonna have to borrow your Access Card again.”

“What for?” Zuko inquired.

“Clearance. Brometheus can’t go in without your Card.”

Surprisingly enough, Zuko handed the Access Card to Bob without any further questions after which both men both stepped out of the car. Bob raised the Card to one of the poles which had the Order’s Insignia on it, and after a brief moment in which both the Card and the Insignia glowed, he walked through, with Zuko in tow. The size of the partitioned area was absolutely massive compared to the one Zuko was at, and Zuko took a few moments to take in the scene. Even though they were technically within the boundary of the crime scene, the actual point where Illegal Mage had blown up was much further in. There were insane amounts of structural damage to the surrounding buildings and road. Brometheus Bob, who was standing next to Zuko by now, shook his head slightly.

“Brometheus heard that today was a crazy day, but damn… he had no idea. Come to think of it, weren’t you also caught up in one of these?”

“I was.”

That was all that was said in reply as Zuko started walking towards the central point which was Zuko assumed was where the explosion happened as it contained the most damage. Bob followed behind with a small bag, walking in silence. The ground looked as though it had been melted away, and not by something hot. The surrounding buildings seemed to bear the same scars as the earth beneath their feet, and soon enough, the two reached the point they both assumed was where the explosion happened, and before long, Brometheus Bob had taken a knee. He placed the small case down on the ground and opened it, revealing all manner of kit. Zuko looked down at the small case in front of his begrudging chauffer and spoke.

“What is all that?”

“It’s a small kit Brometheus made for impromptu crime scene analysis. With all this, he can take samples, collect evidence, and even do a few tests on the portable computer.”

Bob said this as he pointed to a bag that had been hanging from his shoulder since they left his car.

“Impressive… however, unnecessary.” Zuko practically dismissed.

“What? Come on bro; don’t be like the rest of them….” Brometheus said sounding slightly deflated.

“The rest? I do not know what you mean. What I am saying is that I doubt what I’m looking for will show up on all those… things. If you are quick, then I see no reason to stop you from looking, though.”

Bob looked at Zuko for just a moment, before looking back down at his kit.

“How in the Hells are you supposed to know that, if you don’t even know what you’re looking for?”

Izano Zuko didn’t reply, he only took a deep breath. As he exhaled, the air around him suddenly changed the tattered cloak he had on over his Order Robes started to flutter about violently. As it did, Zuko reached up and flicked the hood up and over his head, concealing it once more. Just as he did, his body was enveloped in a sort of purple light. Brometheus Bob, who was now shielding his equipment with his body from the wind generated by Izano Zuko, looked on with shock in his eyes as he tried to figure out just what was going on. Before he could say anything though, everything calmed down and went still. There was a faint purple hue emanating from each of the holes and tears in the cloak, and as Bob’s eyes trailed up, they met with Zuko’s own, which were glowing with a deep, rich purple glow. Without a word being spoken, Zuko began to look around and Bob, who had rather surprisingly shrugged off what had just happened, was busy taking his own preparations to the next level. His excitement was almost tangible as he pulled out what appeared to be contact lenses and ear pieces.

‘Hmph!’ Brometheus snorted to himself. ‘There’s nothing that these instruments of mine cannot pick up or find! This guy is just being unnecessarily cryptic so he can hog all the glory.’

Spurred on by such thoughts, Bob carefully inserted the contact lenses and ear pieces, before putting on some rather snazzy looking gloves.

“Synchronise.” He commanded, as all three pieces lit up just a bit, and a faint confirmation beep rang out in his ears. “Alright, let’s do this.”

As Bob stood up with an excitement grin on his face, he suddenly saw Zuko, who had been facing away from him turn around and look at him.

“There is nothing to be found here. Let us go.”

“Wait, what?!” Brometheus Bob protested. “Brometheus just got ready! We haven’t even been here for ten minutes! What the fuck?!”

“I have concluded my search. I found nothing. Let us go.”

“Brometheus is really starting to find your unreasonable demands annoying as fuck, you know that?! You just don’t understand; Techs like us don’t usually have clearance to just enter places like this. If there isn’t an Agent around, we’re fucked. You said Brometheus could search if he was quick, and he agreed to postpone his dinner to get the chance to collect some samples and shit, so just give a bro like ten minutes to look around!”

Zuko was once again silent as he deactivated whatever ability or Spell he had previously activated and made his way past Bob, towards the car.

“Time is of the essence. I shall be in the vehicle.”

Zuko quickly disappeared from sight, and Bob himself nodded in appreciation and then got to work.

“Scan and analyse.”

After receiving confirmation beeps from the ear pieces once more, Brometheus Bob’s contacts started performing their scan, with multiple diagnostic messages and the like appearing like a heads up display of sorts, giving Bob information on time, temperature, wind speed, and all manner of other things.

“Hmmm… so, this damage was all caused by acid, was it? This much damage, caused by acid alone? If it did this much damage to the surroundings, thank fuck there were some Agents around to prevent what few casualties they could.”

He started to walk around, guided by the information constantly being relayed to him, reaching a certain spot and crouching down. He extended and dragged the tip of his right pinky finger along the ground.

“Record.”

Two beeps later, Brometheus Bob was up on his feet, and moving to the next spot, repeating the process and dragging a different part of his pinky finger along the surface he was analysing. Nearly ten minutes later and while he was still conducting his search, Bob could practically feel Zuko growing ever more impatient, and quickly finished what he was doing. As he ran to the car, the sight of his chubby body came into view and Zuko took a rather deep breath. Izano Zuko was standing at right behind the glyph tape, as he was unable to leave without his Access Card.

“Heh, sorry about that.” Bob sheepishly said as he waved the Card in front of the Insignia again.

Zuko was silent, and after they made their way into the car, Bob punched in the location of the next one, and they drove off. They went to each one, the pattern remained the same with Zuko activating his mysterious ability only to find nothing and quickly demand to leave, and Brometheus Bob pushing the time limit and conducting scans and searches of his own. They were en route to the final one, with Bob still tearing through the streets.

“We’re coming up to the last crime scene, Zuko. This is threating to turn out to be hella clichéd, isn’t it?”

“…hmm.”

“Brometheus has a question though… what the hell is it that you’ve been doing at these places, bro? Like, that weird eye glowing shit. Brometheus hasn’t heard you recite any Spells, so what is it?”

“Sight of Tan’Rhaka.”

“Eh? Sight of what now?”

“The eyes of the Shepherd of the Dead allow me to see what the living cannot.”

“…what the living cannot? Just what is it that we can’t see, Izano Zuko?”

“……”

Zuko remained silent and sat with his arms crossed, looking at the road ahead. Bob waited for a moment or two; however he received no response to his question. It didn’t take much longer for them to reach the final spot – over two hours since they started their little investigation. As they both strode towards the tape, Zuko activated his Sight of Tan’Rhaka ability mid stride. His eyes suddenly grew from beneath the hood of his cloak, and as Bob used the Access Card, Izano Zuko strode through the floating glyphs, powering his way towards a certain point as if he had sensed or spotted something.

“Buffooneus Bob.”

“Brometheus!”

“You were correct about this becoming a cliché and for that, I will show you something.”

“Show Brometheus something?” Bob asked as he followed after Izano Zuko. “Show him what exactly?”

“What I have been looking for, as well as what these eyes can see.”

Just then, Zuko’s arms came shooting out from beneath the cloak, revealing the pitch black Mage Robe. The light that was poking through the holes of the cloak was revealed to have been coming directly from the cloak, as the Robe remained just as dark as before. His gait extended as he started walking faster, heading towards a specific spot. Zuko then suddenly stopped walking and stood with both arms extended and hands open, his head darting around as if he was trying to follow something or pinpoint said thing’s location. Suddenly, with his head perfectly still, and just as Bob was beginning to question what on earth Zuko was doing, he suddenly bent his knees ever so slightly – an action which was followed by him emitting an immense amount of Mana. The Mana pulsing out from Zuko’s body was almost enough to send Brometheus Bob flying, but he managed to stay on his feet. He refused to take his eyes off of the man however, and soon saw Zuko’s right hand completely enveloped by some sort of purple energy or substance. As soon as it appeared, that hand was suddenly thrust towards Zuko’s left, and much to Bob’s immense shock and surprise, seemed to pierce the space in front of it.

“Pay attention, now!” Zuko boomed before letting out a roar.

He started pulling on something that was on the other side of whatever Zuko had forced his right hand into. The struggle caused wave after wave of Mana to pulse out from Zuko, and the bits of glowing light that peaked out from the holes on the cloak became bright and brighter. Just as it seemed as though things were going to become even more intense, Zuko’s hand came flying out from the beyond, dragging with it a sweltering and swirling mass of… something. Whatever it was, it seemed to be struggling and thrashing in Izano’s hand, as if trying to escape and break free.

“You can see this, right?” Zuko asked with a still arm, despite how violently whatever it was in his hand thrashed about.

“…y-yeah, B… Brometheus does. But, uh…. What the fuck IS it?”

“A soul.”

“A SOUL?!”

“More specifically, it is the soul of one those who exploded earlier today. That is, if my hunch is correct.”

“You’ve got to be bullshittin’ Brometheus, right? That thing is a soul? But how??”

“Silence.” Zuko suddenly barked. “I do not have much time with it.”

Once again, Brometheus Bob went silent as he watched with attentive and absorbing eyes. Zuko stood, holding the soul in his outstretched arm, and spoke.

“Departing soul, as time is short, I have but one question for you; why?”

The soul in his hand, after struggling further, seemed to calm down as it realised that there was no escaping from Zuko’s hand.

“We… are… tired. We are… special. We… are gifted. Yet, we are… held in bondage… because of it. We have… had enough. We want… freedom. To that end, we will die… however; we will… destroy as well. We will—”

All of a sudden Brometheus Bob, who had somehow heard everything that had been said to that point, was no longer able to hear a thing as he was seemingly cut off from the conversation. It appeared to go on a little further, before Zuko’s grip loosened, and the soul quickly flew back into the tear that lead to wherever it was forcefully removed. Almost immediately after the soul disappeared, Zuko deactivated his ability and he turned around, looking at the tubby man.

“Well, that confirmed one suspicion, and opened up box of fresh questions.” Zuko said, although it seemed as though he was speaking to himself more than he was Bob.

“What the fuck… Brometheus just heard a person’s soul speak – their soul!”

“What? You actually heard all of that?”

“Most of it… it feels like Brometheus missed out on hearing what was said at the end.”

“Hmmm. Alright, conduct your search and let us leave.”

Brometheus Bob had completely forgotten about his own excitement at being in the field for the first time. He took slightly longer to do his thing this time, however whether that was due to what he had just witnessed or because there was no longer a sense of urgency was anybody’s guess. Once he was done, the pair got into the car and drove off.

As Bob’s SUV disappeared into the night, a figure standing atop a nearby building let out a breath as if he had been holding the breath in for far longer than any one person should have.

“Holy shit!” He exclaimed in a rather gruff sounding voice. “Watching that guy is way too much trouble.”

The guy in question walked to the edge of the building he was standing on, before leaping right off as if he were stepping off a small ledge or a stair. He subsequently fell to and landed on the ground with immense force, which ripped the tarmac below to shreds, creating a rather large crater. The mere sound of the crash was enough to make those who were able to hear it in the distance panic and think that there was yet another attack. The guy emerged from the hole, and then walked off calmly with hands in his pockets, as if he was without a care in the world.

“If I recall correctly, it believe it was round about here…”

It only took a moment of looking around for him to locate what it was he was looking for. He walked up to the raggedy looking pay phone, and after some digging, pulled out some coins. He quickly set about inserting the coins and dialing a number, which rang for an unbearable amount of time before being answered.

“…hello?” A somewhat high pitched, yet elegant sounding voice answered.

“Boss.”

“Momoh.”

“So that guy I told you about, who was on the train with me yesterday? I just watched him do some weird dance with a fat guy.”

“…I have no idea what that even means.”

“I don’t know either. But what I do know is that he was responsible for one of the attacks failing completely. I’m not sure who or what he is, but he could get in the way.”

“Hmmm, alright. Continue to keep an eye on him, and let me know if anything happens.”

“Seriously? Tailing that guy is fucking annoying. The moment you look at him, he senses it, and looks right for you. He’s like a wild beast, and—”

“Look Momoh, I’m kind of in the middle of something, so can we continue this conversation later?”

“I don’t think I’mma be around a phone later.”

“Just get a mobile phone already, you idiot. Also, one more thing.”

“What is it, Boss?”

“If you find that this mystery Agent proves to be a problem, take him out. The Association cannot afford to have even a single nuisance now that we have kicked our plan into motion, understood?”

“Loud and clear, Boss.”

The man who was referred to as Boss quickly hung up and snorted.

“…I would highly recommend that the next time you try to sound menacing, that you don’t do so while struggling on the can, my Lord. The plopping and splashing noises really have a negative effect on it.”

“Quiet Catherine… why are you even in here? This is the Men’s Room!”

“Because people are still waiting on you outside, my Lord. Besides, I don’t want to be left alone with them.”

“Ugh, understood.”

After some time listening to toilet rolls spinning and the odd grunt, the toilet was flushed and an extremely handsome High Elf with golden skin and pure white hair emerged from a toilet cubicle. He sighed and washed his hands, before fixing up his tie.

“…those fucking oysters really did me in…. anyway, let’s go.”

As the High Elf and his female companion exited the bathroom, near Order HQ, another pair was sitting in a bar. Curtis and Cassandra were seated at their regular table, with Curtis looking particularly dejected.

“…so, the Archmage really tore into you today, didn’t he?” Cassandra declared more than she asked.

“….ugh.” Curtis said in reply, his face pressed against the table. “That old bastard… it’s not even like I did the damage in the first place.”

“You told the Savage to fire a hole in the window and jump out of it. You then cast a Levitation Spell for yourself and left him to fall and crash into the ground. You are directly responsible for the damage, and may as well have caused it yourself.”

“Shut it.” Curtis barked. “Besides, how was I to legislate for those granite heels of his?”

“Hmph.” Cassandra snorted. “The feet of a savage are beyond the realm of understanding.

“I probably know how he did it, but…”

Curtis’ voice trailed off as he looked up and saw Brometheus Bob drive past the bar, as well as Izano Zuko seated in the passenger seat.

“Speak of the devil… I wonder where those two were.”

“Who cares?” Cassandra asked dismissively as she took a sip of her drink.

“Unfortunately, have to…”

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