Later on that day as the battles had died down and the Technicians along with their Mage counterparts were working the scenes, Zuko and BroBob were already back at Zuko’s apartment. Coincidentally, the second round of his battle with Momoh ended just as the Sons and Daughters as he called them all died. Zuko was sitting in the lounge with his Robes down by his waist and his torso exposed once again. The difference this time is that there were only bandages around his head and neck, with the rest of his body exposed. The burn scars that were exposed – including the ones on his head – looked less severe than they usually did, and BroBob noted this. That said however, this just made the intricate mosaic like pattern of the scars look somewhat more prominent.
“Brometheus has gotten in touch with Curtis and told him to meet us here tonight with the Archmage.”
“Alright.” Zuko said as he took a few deep breaths. “I have been involved in far too many fights since coming to this place.”
“Did you get into any fights down at the Orc’s place? Is that why you were arrested?” BroBob asked as he rolled his eyes the instant he said the word ‘arrested’.
“The Orcs have one insane custom…” Zuko said as he began to relay the happenings of his stay in the Enclave.
Brometheus Bob went through a myriad of emotions as he listened to the ridiculous story. The mere fact that so much happened in such a short time nearly made his brain short circuit, and Zuko appeared intent on going into extreme detail about what happened. Neither man was quite sure just how much time passed as they spoke, but they were interrupted by the sound of knocking on the door. BroBob got up, opened the door and standing at the door were Curtis and his sour looking father. They walked in, and as soon as Curtis saw Zuko, he grinned and approached him.
“Yooo, Izanoooooo! Dude, you look like shit.” He said with a laugh.
“As I should… I fought the Orc again.” Zuko said as he scoffed.
“Wait, what do you mean again? I thought you just came back from the Enclave today!”
“I did… within hours of my walking through its gates, I was being hit about as hard as I ever have been in my entire life. That fucking monster.” Zuko growled as he scowled through the bandages.
The Archmage was silent as he just looked Zuko over. It was the first time he had the opportunity to examine the markings and patterns of the burn scars, so he was determined to memorise as much of them as he possibly could.
“Old Man.” Zuko said as a form of greeting while looking at William.
“Izano Zuko.” The old man replied as he continued to look him over.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Zuko asked with his mouth, shocking both Curtis and William.
“No, that’s okay.” The Archmage said with a shake of the head. “If possible, I would like to get through this quickly. Today’s attack caught us somewhat off guard, even though we tried to come up with enough tactics to combat them.”
“Getting right into it then; by fulfilling a promise I made to a powerful man in the Orc Enclave, I managed to get some rather revealing information about our enemy.”
As the three men in the lounge all reacted to what was said, Zuko seemed to milk the silence as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. As he opened his eyes, he stifled a giggle as he saw how anxious they all were to hear the rest of the tale.
“They are called the Association; a Pro Non-Human organisation that apparently has roots in all levels of society here in this city. I was told that…”
Zuko sat there, relaying all of the information that he had received from Doh. He didn’t take all that long to do this, as the information he received via the explanation was rather limited. He then reached for the sealed envelope which was on the couch next to him and handed it to the Archmage.
“Here you go.”
“What is this?” William asked as he took it.
“More in depth information. In that envelope are the names of people within the city who are suspected of being members of the Association and such. I have not had the chance to read it, however I doubt that I will.”
“Why do you say that?” Curtis asked as the Archmage broke the seal on the envelope.
“It would be pointless for me to read it because I likely know nothing about the people mentioned on it. Besides, I have to figure out how to get into the Elven Enclave as soon as possible.”
“I see.” The Archmage said as he quickly scanned over some of the names on a sheet of rather primitive looking paper. “Going to confirm if what you were told about the Elder being connected to the Association is true?”
“Exactly.” Zuko said with a nod.
“Before that, you have some things to look over and approve.”
“Huh? What are you talking about, Curtis?”
“Your damn Division, dude. Crest designs, colour schemes, the name—”
“Who cares about all that? Besides, there are more important things for this organisation to think about, such as dealing with the increasing number of these Sons and Daughters.”
“We thought having specialists in every Squad would be enough in the event that they were confronted by a mixed group or two. We had no idea that the entire attacking force would comprise of Magic and Melee units. We thought of it as an eventuality, not necessarily as an immediate threat.” The Archmage said with a grunt.
“Yeah, so you also gotta look at your new—”
“How did these specialists fare, Old Man?”
“That is a difficult question to answer right now as we have yet to receive an official report. I think we will find that the ability of the respective Specialists is not the same, so some Squads will have done better than others.”
“Are they new units that were introduced specifically for combating the Association?”
“No – every Squad has had them on standby. But the equipment and Spells they use require extra Mana and Energy to use, so permission must be granted before they are used.”
“Hey Pops, don’t you think you should start going through those papers? There could be some really important information that needs to be relayed during the next briefing!”
“You know, you’re actually right.” William said with a look of surprise. “Izano Zuko, I will have to excuse myself here – my idiot son has a point.”
“Of course.” Zuko said with a nod, before standing up.
The Archmage stood up and reciprocated the nod before walking towards the door. Curtis followed after him, but looked back at BroBob and Zuko.
“I’ll be right back.” He said with a smirk.
The two men left the apartment, and Zuko announced his desire to take a shower. He went to his bedroom, dug through his bag and pulled out what looked like a fresh roll of bandages that were actually white this time. He walked over to the bathroom, took a quick shower and emerged with his bandages and cloak on. He was holding the folded Robes in his hands, and BroBob looked at him in slight confusion.
“What’s going on, bro? Also, Brometheus sees that you changed your bandages.”
“I need to have these Robes examined for foreign Enchantments and the like. Also, you saw what the previous bandages looked like – they could not even cover my injuries.” Zuko said with a sigh. “That Momoh… He hit me flush twice, but my ribs are fucked.”
“Damn, again? I thought you said that weird healing pool fixed your ribs.”
“It did… and then he undid all that work with one punch.”
“Didn’t you tell Brometheus that the Princess from that Orc Enclave was some absurdly strong monster?”
“She is.” Zuko said with a nod.
“Who would win in a fight between her and that dude?”
“Momoh.” Zuko said without a moment’s hesitation. “That guy is not just an Orc.”
Before BroBob could ask what Zuko meant, there was a knock on the door, and once the door was opened, Curtis breezed his way past BroBob with a paper bag filled with something rather large.
“Hey guys, I’m back as promised.” He said with a grin.
“Curtis, I need your help with something.” Zuko said as he looked at the ponytailed Mage.
“Oh? This is rare – I don’t think you’ve ever done that before.” Curtis said with a surprised expression on his face.
“My Robes… I need you or somebody you trust to examine them.”
“Sure, that’s not difficult to do, but why? What would we be looking for?”
“External Enchantments, or Spells or anything that was not placed there by the Order.”
“Do you think somebody tampered with your gear?”
“I know they did.” Zuko said with a snort.
“Alright, no problem. The person I have in mind is probably in a lab that is on the same route as our destination. Have you said anything yet, Bobby?”
“Nah Curty-Curt, Brometheus hasn’t said a thing.”
“Curty-Curt? What the?”
“Alright, great! Guys, let’s go!”
Zuko looked at Curtis and then at BroBob, looking about as confused as possible. His hood was down, so his head was exposed. He then shrugged and handed the Robes to Curtis.
“I will see you two later, then.”
“What are you talking about, dude?” Curtis asked with a shake of the head. “You can give her the Robes yourself when we get there! The three of us are going out for a bit of a stroll!”
“A stroll? I have no idea what you think you are doing, but I am staying right here and recovering from my wounds.” Zuko said with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Around ten minutes later in a dark and quiet lab in Order HQ, the silence within that lab was shattered as the entrance to it was violently kicked open. As the one inside quickly looked to see who had done that, the silhouettes of three men appeared and no sooner had they, did the one in the middle boom a greeting.
“Hey Priya!” Curtis said with a massive smile. “We’ve come to visit you!”
“Curt?” Priya replied as she clapped twice to turn the lights on. “What are you doing her— isn’t that Izano Zuko?!” Priya boomed, completely disregarding Curtis’ presence.
“Priyanka.” Zuko grumbled as they all entered the lab.
“I heard from Curt that you were away on some special assignment. When did you get back?”
“So this is what your voice sounds like? It doesn’t sound all that different from your Telepathic voice.”
“My throat is still healing, so I am phasing speaking normally back in.”
“I see… so what brings you by? You look pretty grumpy, but hanging out with the Archmage’s kid can do that to the best of us.” Priya said with a shrug.
“You bitch.” Curtis remarked with a chuckle.
“I need to have this examined for foreign Enchantments and Effects.” Zuko said as he presented her with his robes.
“By foreign, you mean…?”
“Not originally added by the Order.” Curtis said.
“That will be simple enough.” Priya said with a smile as she took the Robes from Zuko. “Goodness, you can just feel how heavily Enchanted this thing is… give me a second.”
Priya quickly made her way deeper into the lab and BroBob, who had been quiet since they walked in, looked around the lab.
“Damn… Brometheus hasn’t seen a Mage’s lab before. Look at all this sparkly shit, bro.”
There were canisters, jars and bowls filled with things that glowed, sparkled and shone. There were floating glyphs and symbols, bookshelves filled with tomes and scrolls with glowing symbols all over the place. As BroBob explored, he saw something that he was not quite expecting to see – a laptop computer. As he saw and pointed at it, Priya emerged from somewhere and saw him.
“Hey there, I don’t think I greeted you – I’m sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it.” BroBob said with a shake of the head.
“Priyanka.” She said as she extended her hand.
“Brometheus Bob.” BroBob said as he shook her hand.
“Huh? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you – are you a new Mage?”
“Brometheus isn’t exactly a Mage… he’s a former Technician.”
“A former Tech? And you’re here hanging out with Mages?”
“Bobby’s existence is a complicated one, Priya.” Curtis said as he appeared behind BroBob. “Anyway, how did your Squad fare against the bastards that attacked today?”
“Well enough, I guess. We sustained a few injuries, but nothing too bad. I already know how you did, so there’s no need to ask.”
“What?! You could still ask!” He protested.
“You just want to boast about how you took care of them without so much as getting a scratch.”
“That’s not true!” Curtis said unconvincingly. “I was just concerned about how you guys fared. Mages didn’t handle the attack as well as the Knights.”
“What can we do?” Priya asked with a shrug. “We just can’t take direct hits.”
“There’s plenty you can do.” Zuko said, his grumpiness eliminating any sort of filter. “That man standing in front of you does so many things to overcome his own weaknesses, be they physical or societal, that even if they don’t make him any stronger in the eyes of those who look down on him, they allow him to survive. All too often, Mages allow themselves to get caught up in the narrative of having to be physically weak to use Magic, when that is not true.”
“…then what do you think the solution to us not being able to withstand is, Izano Zuko?” Priya asked.
“Get stronger.” Zuko said simply, before switching to his Telepathic Communication. “If you can only take two hits, train yourself to take three hits. Then, train yourself to take four hits and so on. Or, get to a stage where you don’t get hit all together, because you can either move fast enough, or can obliterate your opponents before they can even touch you. In terms of pure destructive power, Mages cannot be equaled. You all know what you are good at. If you strengthen or work on what you are bad at, you are on the path to invincibility.”
“Heh…” Priya said with a smirk on her face. “You said that like it’s so simple.”
“It is.” Zuko scoffed as he looked directly into Priya’s eyes.
The atmosphere within the lab was somewhat tense, however that was all blown away as the laptop chimed with some kind of notification jingle.
“Ah! It’s done!” Priya practically sang as she turned around and looked at the laptop.
All of a sudden, spectacles appeared on her eyes as they scanned the information on the screen, with BroBob bending over and doing the same. They were silent for a few moments as Curtis looked at Zuko with something of a smile on his face.
“What is it?” Zuko queried.
“Oh nothing… you were just saying some shit that I had actually been thinking about in recent times, Izano.”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I have some news.” Priya said as she looked up from the screen. “So, an insane number of things were either cast or placed on the Robes, with effects ranging from listening and tracking, to strengthening and resistance enhancing. There is just a mixed back of things here.”
“Can you remove them?” Zuko asked.
“I can, but—”
“Then please do.”
“Really? All of them?”
“All of them. The bastard who put them there in the first place is about as slippery as a sea serpent in the water. Even those good effects are not to be trusted, Priyanka.”
“Understood.” Priya said with a nod before quickly inputting some things onto the laptop. She then looked up at Zuko and smiled. “It will all be done in a few minutes. Can I offer some tea or coffee while you wait?”
“We aren’t waiting, Priya – we’re heading over to that old storage unit in Section B.”
“Yeah? I heard it had been assigned to a Squad or something.”
“Yup, we’ll be there. Feel free to come join us when you’re done here.”
Curtis smiled and nodded, before turning around and gesturing for his two companions to follow him. They all walked out Priya’s lab, and after a few minutes of walking, they reached the door of the storage unit.
“Izano!” Curtis said with a smile. “Within two or so weeks of your arrival, you’ve gone and gotten yourself a fucking office, dude! Your Division, Squad thing is to be based out of here!”
Curtis kicked the door open, as if mimicking what Zuko did to his father’s office, and presented the inside of the office with a gesture so elaborate, Zuko was expecting to see gilded furniture and such. Instead, there was nothing but dust covered boxes, broken staves, torn rags, and pretty much every type of Mage garbage one could think of. BroBob for his part was completely silent as he looked at the storage unit, and then at Zuko. He was trying to gauge his reaction to seeing this filthy storeroom. Zuko said absolutely nothing and just walked in, eyes scanning the room. Curtis quickly switched the lights on so Zuko could get a better look at things> Zuko turned around immediately and looked at him.
“You better hope my door is not broken, Curtis.” Zuko said with a grunt, before looking for a place to sit.
He found what looked like a chair that was covered in things, and without batting an eye, he punched the stuff off of it, revealing a dusty wingback chair below. He then sat down with his legs spread and arms crossed, and both BroBob and Curtis found themselves feeling a chill or two run down their respective spines. They glanced towards each other for a second, before Curtis looked at Zuko and grinned.
“Dude, it may look like shit now, but Bobby here will take care of that. He’ll make this place look dope.”
“Damn straight! Actually, wait a minute… When are we going to the Elven Enclave, bro? Does Brometheus even have enough time to—”
“Nope! Nope, nope, nope! Bobby, no Order talk for the rest of the night.” Curtis said as he reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of what looked to be whisky.
“What the? Where in the Hells did you get that, Curt?!”
“Wherever you got it, I am not drinking it.”
Curtis had quickly found a table with some stuff on it. He just pointed at it all with his forefinger, and everything became enshrouded in blue light before floating in the air. The boxes all moved off of each other and the table and the table wafted over to where Zuko was seated. It landed in front of him and the boxes were deftly placed on top of each other. This was all done with a slight flourish, and when the large amount of dust settled, BroBob started golf-clapping.
“Thank you, thank you!” Curtis said with a bow before putting the bottle on the table. He then pulled out some plastic cups, and a bunch of snacks and such. Zuko and BroBob were somewhat amazed at how much stuff was coming out of the bag when Curtis stopped and opened the bottle. He poured the liquor into one cup and set it down in front of Zuko.
“I told you, I am not drinking. I am not much of a drinker, so—”
“You know, I stole all this shit from Pop’s office… everything, including these fucking snacks, are all expensive and high grade.”
Curtis hadn’t even finished his sentence before Zuko reached for the cup and snatched it off the table.
“That damn old man… he made me that bitter drink one time, and it tasted great. I will drink this.”
BroBob started laughing quietly, before Curtis burst into a hearty laugh. He then absolutely belted his open right hand towards Zuko, looking as if he was trying to slap him. Zuko saw this and did the same, as if trying to slap Curtis first, but then both hands changed course and ended up slapping one another, completing a High Five. They then gripped each other’s hands and held the pose, with Curtis grinning as they did, before laughing some more.
“That old bastard only stocks the best of the best in his fridge and his office! It’s only fair that he sponsors this night of celebration!”
“Damn straight!” Zuko agreed as he took a swig.
‘…these two seem to have bonded over something so weird.’ Brometheus Bob thought to himself.
“Now!” Curtis boomed as he poured a drink for himself and BroBob. “Izano, tell me all about your time in the Orc Enclave! How were the women?”
Curtis asked this as he used his Telekinesis to pull out a number of other chairs, depositing whatever had been on them neatly on the ground, before setting them all down around the table. He then handed BroBob his drink and they both listened as Zuko started the tale from the beginning for Curtis’ benefit. Zuko didn’t know it, but he was a very gifted story teller and he had the two listening intently to what he was saying. A knock on the open door interrupted the story telling as Priya entered with Zuko’s temporary Robes in hand.
“Pardon the interruption gentlemen, but I come baring gifts.”
“Ah, Priya!” Curtis exclaimed as he excitedly waved her over. “Come on over and join us!”
“No, that’s fine… I still have to prepare my report for tomorrow, so after leaving the Robes, I’ll—”
After having walked over, Priya saw the bottle on the table and her eyes baulked in shock.
“...so, you were saying?” Curtis said with a grin as he poured the whisky into another cup.
Priya set the Robes down on the table in front of Zuko, before trying to look unenthusiastic as she accepted the glass from Curtis.
“So, uh… what are we talking about?”
“Izano was busy telling us about what happened in his special assignment.” Curtis said with a grin.
“Oooohhh! Can somebody give me a ‘previously on’ type recap?”
As BroBob obliged her, Zuko took his clothes off the table, stood up and got dressed right there. When he took the Cloak of Tan’Rhaka off, Priya glanced at him and watched Zuko put on the Robes. Once they were on, and the cloak was as well, Zuko sat back down.
“Wait a minute…” Priya said as she looked at Zuko. “Do you have anything on under those bandages?”
All three men answered her at the same time, and Priya just looked at both Curtis and BroBob.
“…so, how did you two know that?”
“Educated guess.” Curtis said with a shrug.
“It’s the same for Brometheus.”
“So then, what happened next was…”
Zuko seemingly didn’t care about the conversation about his clothing and continued with the story. Sometime later, there was another knock on the door and another Mage walked in – also female.
“Currrrrt!” She called as she waved. “This is where the party is, right?”
This Mage was a Blue Robe, despite not being as high ranking as Curtis.
“Helllllooooooo!” Curtis replied in a tone of voice completely different to the one he used when welcoming Priya. “Come in, Melanie!”
As Curtis and this new Mage conversed, Priya visibly rolled her eyes and shook her head. This Melanie greeted her, and was then introduced to Zuko and BroBob. She was given a recap by Curtis as he pulled out more bottles of liquor from the bag and opened some snacks. Zuko continued speaking from where he left off, and that was pretty much how things proceeded the rest of the night. More and more Mages kept filing in, some in better shape others as they sported black eyes or grazes and were yet to go to the Infirmary. One thing that was painfully obvious was the low number of males in there. Some had tagged along with their fellow Squad members, although each time a guy walked in, Curtis made a face as if he was wondering how they heard of what was happening. The group became rowdier and rowdier as more booze flowed, and by midnight or so, virtually everybody had blacked out completely. The only person who was still awake was Zuko, and he was still holding the first cup of whisky in his hand. Curtis, for somebody who had invited so many women over and flirted with almost all of them, had passed out with his head nestled on BroBob’s chest. Zuko hadn’t even gotten to the point in his story where he and Zamah were attacked by Troll assassins on the first night, because new people kept coming in, recaps were required and then drunken conversations started. Zuko then got to his feet and made his way out of the storage unit. He stopped at the door and looked back, contemplating whether or not to do what he was thinking of doing. He eventually sighed as he walked back, waded through the sea of snoring Mages and pools of vomit, picked the unconscious Priyanka and made his way out. Surprisingly, he managed to make it to her lab without getting lost and left her near her laptop. He then made his way back to his apartment after walking in circles for around half an hour. Once inside, it took less than five minutes for him to be out cold in his bed.
The following morning, the Mage Squad Leaders and Deputies were tearing into those Mages that had gotten drunk the night before, with Curtis pretty much getting the worst of it from the Archmage. None of the Mages that woke up in the storage unit were spared, and they all exchanged glances with one another, wondering why exactly Priya was spared when she got drunk quicker than all of them. As they were being labeled irresponsible for getting drunk after a major attack, Zuko was seated in his lounge, contemplating whether or not it was a good idea to head towards the Enclave is his current state, or if waiting would be the better option. He looked to his left and on the floor; BroBob was still unconscious with his face pressed against the floor tiles. Zuko had woken up quickly and gone to fetch him, and he just dumped him on the floor. The chubby man’s phone was on the floor, and Zuko suddenly remembered that he knew somebody who might be able to help him, so he picked the phone up and spent far longer than he should have staring at it. He had absolutely no idea how it worked, so after staring, he started poking the screen repeatedly, hoping that maybe something would happen – which it did. A pop up demanding all manner of security things that threw Zuko for a loop appeared, and he spent the next few minutes trying to figure out what to do. He suddenly got an idea, and crouched down next to BroBob.
“Brometheus.” He practically whispered. “There is a Mage here from last night that wants to put her contact details on your mobile device. You need to unlock it.”
Surprisingly, this worked perfectly as BroBob almost instinctively took the phone that was in his hand and unlocked it, while mumbling and grinning, saying something about Priyanka. Zuko took the unlocked phone, and after a period of acclimation, Zuko found he was now able to navigate the device like a novice. He opened the contacts, and after a bout of searching he seemed to find who he was looking for. After fumbling his way to selecting and calling that contact, he heard it ring. It rang for what seemed like forever, until the call was answered.
“Hello? Bob?” A faint female voice called out, prompting Zuko to hold the phone closer to his face.
“Yes, hello? What do you need – wait a minute, who is this? Bob answers the phone like an idiot, and you certainly did not—”
“Sam… it is Izano Zuko… I need your help.”
There was silence on the other side as Sam took a moment to digest exactly who it was that she was talking to.
“Munsai.” She replied, her tone a lot different to what it was before. “How may I be of service?”
“We need to see you. Are you available?”
“Even if I am not, I will make myself available if you wish to see me. Where shall we meet?”
“We will come to you. Expect us soon.”
“Understood, Munsai. I shall be awaiting your arrival.”
The call ended, and as soon as it did, Zuko tossed the phone down next to BroBob and waited. He sat with his arms crossed and just as he was on the verge of kicking Brometheus Bob awake, the tubby Technician rolled over onto his back, and then sat up sharply. He looked at Zuko, then at his surroundings and then back at Zuko.
“…did you carry Brometheus up here?”
“I did.” Zuko said with a simple nod.
“Thank you… Brometheus appreciates it.”
“Do not mention it.”
“Brometheus ain’t just talking about carrying him up here… he’s also talking about what you said about him to Priya. Brometheus didn’t say anything at the time, but that shit touched his soul and made him so happy.”
“Again, do not mention it. Listen, take a shower and get ready – we are going to the Elven Districts again to meet with Sam.”
“Makes sense.” BroBob said as he stood up. “We have to get into the Elven Enclave, and she is an Elf after all. Give Brometheus a few minutes, and he’ll be good to go.”
“Alright.” Zuko said with a nod.
BroBob shot up with the kind of speed and sharpness one who had just been out cold was not meant to have, and he disappeared into the bathroom. A quick shower later, he emerged and after Zuko quickly collected a few things and slipped them inside his clothes, they were off. When they reached the car, BroBob opened the boot which had all of his homemade kit in it, but what he pulled out this time was a toiletry back, as well as a fresh shirt, and fresh high tops. He got changed and freshened up very quickly, before hopping in the car and driving off. Due to the fact that they had been there before, BroBob was driving quite a bit quicker as he knew the way to their destination. Zuko took the opportunity to then tell BroBob everything that happened during his time with the Nkunzi Horde, and BroBob could barely even believe it. He had a bunch of questions to ask, particularly about Gul’Rhaka, and exactly what it was. The armour that he had used the day before during his fight with Momoh was something that was also being discussed within the Captain-Commander’s offices. He did not get the opportunity however to ask even a single question because they arrived at the run down shopping complex that Sam’s Apothecary was in. They both stepped out of the car and moments later, they were stepping through the doors of the store. Sam was already standing there waiting, as if she had been like that since the call earlier that morning.
“Munsai.” She said with a deep and slow bow. “It blesses me to see you again with my own two eyes.”
‘Damn…’ BroBob thought to himself as he shook his head slightly. ‘This dude is out here getting the best greeting Brometheus has ever heard.’
“Synae Arethi Mythera.” Zuko said with his mouth, prompting the Sun Elf to look at him with what Brometheus could only call reverence.
“How may this one be of assistance to you, Munsai?”
“We need to get into the Elven Enclave, Sam.”
As Zuko said this, the colour in Sam’s golden face seemed to drain. She looked at Zuko in silence for a bit, before nodding slightly with a sigh, and turning around. She walked back to her desk, where her still smoking cigarette was waiting for her.
“Do you mind, Munsai?”
“Not at all.”
“Neither does Brometheus.” BroBob said, trying to alert Sam of his presence as well.
She took a long drag of her cigarette, and blew out smoke that smelled nothing like tobacco smoke. It was sweet smelling, almost like the smell of preserved fruit and tree bark. She did this with her eyes closed, before opening them and looking at Zuko.
“Munsai, our Enclave within this city is… it is somewhat difficult to explain. Getting in is almost impossible because there is a… well, a dome shaped barrier surrounding it.”
“How can that be? Would something like that not be visible? Or at the very least, somebody would have reported that to the powers that be.”
“Under normal circumstances, that would be the case. However the one who cast the Spell and created the barrier was none other than the Elder himself. There are few Mages on this Plane, let alone in this city, that could rival his Magical ability. That man is as talented as any Mage could ever hope to be, and there is likely nobody currently standing or sitting on the earth of this Plane that could even dispel it.”
“I see.” Zuko said as he glared at the ground.
“There should still be goods that are brought in and out of the Enclave though, right?” BroBob asked.
“There are.” She said as she looked at him for the first time since they both arrived. “Oh… hello there.” Sam said with a smile.
“Yo… getting no blessings from looking at me, then?” BroBob said in a barely audible whisper, before looking up at Sam and smiling.
“If there are ways to get goods in and out, surely there are also ways of doing the same with people.”
“There are.” Sam repeated as she took another drag of her cigarette. “But please understand Munsai, the situation within the Enclave is very delicate. Just walking in to one such situation could be extremely dangerous, not only for you, but for those within the walls as well.”
“I do not care about that.” Zuko declared. “I just returned from the Orc Enclave yesterday, and if the information I received about the Association was not so serious, I would have waited for my injuries to heal before trying to go there.”
“You were with the Horde?” Sam asked in complete surprise.
“I was, and whilst there, I found out vital information about the enemy.”
“And he fuckin squashed the beef between the Prince and the Princess.” BroBob said with a shake of the head, prompting Sam to look at Zuko.
“Is this true, Munsai?”
“I played an active role, sure…”
“C-Could you tell me about it?”
Zuko looked at her for just a few moments, the interest burning within her clearly written on her face.
“Very well.” Zuko said with a nod, however just as he was about to talk, Sam stood up.
She excused herself and quickly scurried about doing things. By the time she was done with being so busy, the front door was locked with a closed sign on it, and down a particularly wide aisle, a small table with aromatic and sweet smelling tea had been placed there. Sam invited both men to sit at the table, and once they were seated with their respective cups before them, Zuko gave Sam the truncated version of the story he told BroBob just earlier while sipping on his tea. She listened intently to the story, and at the end of it, she looked at Zuko in quiet but deep contemplation.
“Munsai.” She said after a while, eventually breaking the silence.
“What is it?”
“You said that the information you received stated our Elder is somehow related to somebody high up within this Association?”
“That is correct.”
“If you do get in to the Enclave, what exactly do you plan on doing?”
“Asking that Faelaon person how he is related to the Association.”
“And then after that?”
“That all depends on his answer. If I like it, it will leave… and if I do not, he might end up dying.”
Zuko made this claim with absolute certainty and confidence that if he so wished, he could kill the man who just revealed to be one of the most powerful Mages on their Plane of Existence. The look of unshakeable confidence in his eyes seemed to be what made Sam take a decision. She finished off her tea, and then looked at Zuko.
“Munsai, please wait here for a moment.”
She then stood up and disappeared within the store, leaving BroBob and Zuko alone.
“What is it?”
“Where you serious about what you said? You know, killing that Elf Elder and shit.”
“Brometheus might be wrong about this, but wouldn’t killing that dude… like, be hard? He is their Elder after all.”
“I do not care… somebody close to him is trying to destroy this city – something that is important to my Uncle. To prevent that from happening, I would even lay siege to the Heavens and all the Hells. If anybody tries to lay a finger on that which is dear to those who are dear to me, the only fate that awaits them is absolute destruction.”
Zuko said this as he crushed the cup in his hand to literal dust. This however was accompanied by a grimace, as the pain in his ribs and torso flared up. This forced him to settle down, and just as he did, Sam appeared with a large bag hanging from her back. It was in of a similar style to her clothes, and matched with them well.
“Munsai, there numerous points from which a person can enter and exit our Enclave and I shall accompany you to one such spot. However I have two conditions: the first being that only the two of us can go, meaning Bob will have to go back to the Order. The second condition is that we go on foot – vehicles around here draw far too much attention, and we are essentially about to smuggle you into the Enclave, after all. Do you have any objections, Munsai?”
“None whatsoever.” Zuko said with a shake of the head. “Also, I apologise for destroying your cup.”
“Please don’t worry about that. More importantly, has the Numbing Tea started working yet?”
“Yes, you mentioned something about injuries, so I prepared some tea to numb it until I can brew something more comprehensive to help you heal.”
“Damn Sam, you didn’t waste time by even telling him that you were trying to heal him.”
“What can I say; Munsai must be at his best if we wish to get into the Enclave tonight.”
“Tonight? You two aren’t leaving immediately?”
“No, we must leave in the evening. I repeat, we are smuggling Munsai in – we must not be seen.”
“What do we do in the mean time?” Zuko asked as he took a deep breath.
“We eat.” Sam said with a smile. “We have something to eat to give us energy, and then we move. There are tunnels connected to my lab that lead to one of the points, so as things get darker, I suggest that we go. Is that okay, Munsai?”
“Whatever works for you, works for me.”
“Works for Brometheus too.” BroBob said with a grunt and a shake of the head.
“Brometheus.” Zuko said as he looked at him. “I do not know how long I will be gone for, but you really are the Deputy of the Squad. I really could not be fussed about coming up with names or whatever else Curtis mentioned last night when he was drunk. You have full authority to do as you please and set up the Squad the way you see fit.”
“Wow… you must really not give a shit about it.” Brometheus said with a nervous chuckle.
“I might not care about it, but that is only because I trust your judgment enough not to have to.”
Zuko then did something uncharacteristic as he clenched his fist and pressed it against BroBob’s chest, before looking him in the eyes.
“You are not trash, Brometheus Bob.”
BroBob looked at Zuko and nodded as something stirred within him. He clenched his own fists and looked as though he was about to let out a booming roar of inspiration, but then his stomach growled. He looked embarrassed for a second or two, before looking at Sam expectantly.
“…so uh, what’s for lunch? Brometheus hasn’t eaten since last night.”
“Even then, you ate those snacks that Curtis brought with him.”
“Ah, well… let me see what I can rustle up, Munsai.”
Sam actually rustled up some decent food, and they all sat and ate, although the conversation was kept to a minimum. Almost immediately afterwards, BroBob found himself being ushered out the door by Sam, and having it locked behind him. She walked back to Zuko and suggested that they wait in the lab, which they did. Sam busied herself with grinding and mixing reagents and remained silent for a bit, which suited Zuko just fine as he sat in silence as well.
“Munsai.” She called as she grabbed some new herbs. “The one you call Brometheus Bob…”
“You do not like him?” Zuko asked as he sat with his eyes still closed.
“He is perfectly lovely, I suppose.” She said with a slight shrug. “Actually, he’s really sweet.”
“Then what is the issue? You are somewhat cold towards him.”
Sam fell silent once again as she transferred the paste she had made into a ceramic bowl, lifted the bowl and walked over to Zuko with it.
“Would you mind if I applied this to your injuries, Munsai?”
Zuko looked at the Elven woman, his gaze practically forcing the issue and looking directly into her eyes. She neither blinked nor looked away, and accepted his probing and prying eyes. This little staring contest lasted the briefest of moments despite feeling as though it dragged on for far longer than that and once it was over Zuko stood up and removed his cloak before slipping his arms out of the Robes and letting the top half fall below his waist, exposing his torso. The bandages around his body loosened and Sam tried to mask her own gaze as the bandages fell away, although the ones around his head remained.
“What is this?” Zuko asked as he sat back down.
He got no reply however as Sam just stared at his body in dumbfounded silence and amazement. The cause of this wasn’t quite the phenomenal physical condition that Zuko was in, rather because of the pattern of the burn scars on his body. She wasn’t even able to hide her emotions, and this caused Zuko to look right back at her.
“Do you recognise the pattern?”
“Munsai… you have been burned by those flames?”
“But… just how many times must a person be burned by the flames for the pattern to be this clear, and this engrained into their skin?”
“More times than I care to count.” Zuko said with a shrug. “Get on with it. What is this that you wish to rub on me?”
“Oh, yes… this is a healing salve that I created, Munsai.”
“Did you not already give me that tea?”
“Yes, but that is to numb the pain and to be used in conjunction with the salve. Now when I rub this on, you won’t feel any pain.”
“I see… impressive. Go ahead.”
“You honour me, Munsai.”
Sam proceeded to rub the ointment on Zuko’s body, with her facial expression progressively becoming more and more severe as she did. She had a grave look on her face, so much so that Zuko actually found it amusing enough to let out something of a chuckle.
“I’m sorry – does that tickle?”
“Not at all.” Zuko said as he looked down at her. “Your face made me laugh, though.”
“But the condition of your body is no laughing matter, Munsai…” Sam cautioned with a shake of the head. “How is it that you are…?”
“I actually spent an entire night in a healing pool.” Zuko added Sam finished what she was doing.
“And this is how your body came out?”
“No… I fought an Orc who might be the most physically blessed creature on this Plane. He hit me three times, and if not for the Armour of the Desert King, I most likely would have been punched into a near death state.” Zuko said with a shake of the head.
“My goodness.” Sam said, looking up at Zuko while shaking her head slightly.
“Anyway, I appreciate the help, Sam. When do we leave?”
“I would still prefer it if we left under the cover of darkness, Munsai.”
“How long would it take us to get to the smuggling point from here?”
“That depends on how quickly we can run.”
“If we run as fast as your legs can carry you?”
“Perhaps twenty minutes to half an hour.”
“Then that is what we will do.”
“I must warn you Munsai, that whilst we may not be the fastest of our people, we are still Messengers and require the ability to move quickly.”
“I know, Sam.” Zuko said with a knowing nod.
“Oh yes… forgive me.” She said as she stood up to go and wash her hands.
Zuko stood up and the bandages wrapped themselves around his torso tightly once again, after which he slipped back into the Robes completely and then the cloak. Sam walked over to her backpack and quickly looked inside of it, before starting to pick some more reagents. She then picked up a walking stick that was essentially a giant version of her cigarette holder, along with a belt that had large number of small jars and bottles on it that went all around the circumference of the belt. She opened her robe to reveal what looked like a black body suit and attached the belt. She then slid the walking stick into a small hoop on the belt, and quickly closed it. The push in sandals had been switched out for knee high wedge heeled boots, and after slipping her cigarette into her mouth, she looked over at Zuko as he slipped his hood up.
“Munsai, we may leave now if it pleases you.”
“Is it dark yet?” Zuko asked with a tilt of the head.
“It isn’t, however I just realised that the time of day might not matter as much as I thought it would as far as you are concerned.”
Zuko let out a slight grunt as he walked towards her.
“I am ready when you are, Sam.”
“Allow me to ask you once more, are you sure you wish for us to run as quickly as possible?”
“Very well.” Sam said with a bow. “Please follow me closely then as these tunnels have been Warded in such a way that if one was to get lost down here, only death would await them.”
“Understood.” Zuko confirmed with a nod.
Suddenly, Mana burst out from Zuko’s body; however it produced some crazy wind that made everything blow about like crazy. Sam turned around and started walking even before things calmed down, and Zuko followed after without a sound. As they walked, the light of the torches became less and less apparent until they were in literal darkness. About a minute later Sam looked back at Zuko, signaling her intent to start running. As soon as the signal was given, she set off with force, absolutely tearing through the darkness in complete silence as her boots made no noise. She was completely silent as she moved so rapidly that even if it wasn’t dark in the tunnels, it would still be insanely difficult to see her. In stark contrast to the silence produced by the sleek Elf, Zuko was creating literal twisters behind him; twisters, what sounded like loud explosions, bits of rock and debris – just the complete and total opposite of stealthy. Zuko was forcing himself to move quickly, and as his cloak fluttered, his eyes glowed blue from beneath the hood. The path through the tunnels was truly like a maze, and Sam was turning and changing direction without warning. Zuko was actually sticking to Sam like glue and doing well to keep up, despite sounding as though he was destroying everything behind him.
“Munsai.” Sam said as she contacted Zuko using a similar Telepathic speaking technique.
“What is it?”
“I just wanted to say that your speed is… impressive.”
“Thank you.” He said simply.
It felt as though she wanted to say more, but held her tongue as if waiting for something. After around twenty-five minutes, Sam started to slow down and she looked back at Zuko.
“We are close to the exit, Munsai. We’ll need to stop in a few moments, so please don’t be alarmed when I do.”
Sam said this as she slid to a silent halt, while Zuko sounded like he was sliding to halt with his feet actually digging into the ground below. There was a moment of silence and calm, before Sam reached within her robe and pulled a wooden token of sorts. She walked to the tunnel wall and slid the token into a slot, prompting a number of symbols to appear in front of them and glow, before disappearing.
“We’re in the clear, Munsai.”
“Are we running again?” Zuko asked.
“I think it might be better if we walked, Munsai.” Sam said as she looked to the side.
“Very well. Lead on.”
Sam nodded and started walking again. A minute or so later they abruptly emerged from the darkness with no warning whatsoever; so much so that even Zuko found himself confused and looking behind himself to see where they came from. There was nothing but a wall behind them, and he then looked at Sam who just started explaining on her own.
“This is the power of the Wards, Munsai. There is no visible or fixed entrance and exit to the tunnels – the Skeleton Key opens something of a portal that connects tunnel to outside world.”
“That is very impressive.” Zuko said again as he looked around.
“Again, you honour me, Munsai.”
Sam looked around, and started walking towards the end of the alley. As they walked, Zuko spoke.
“So, you did not finish what you were saying earlier on – about Brometheus.”
“…I do not wish to offend, Munsai.”
“Speak your mind, Sam.” Zuko said reassuringly.
“Yes… well, that chubby Agent is perfectly fine and is rather sweet, however…”
Sam looked both ways before crossing the street. As she did that, she raised her hands up to the side of her head and actually folded the points of her ears down, creating a pair of faux human ears. Zuko understood immediately, before speaking.
“Not too fond of smooth ears, are you?”
“I don’t think it has to do with fondness as it does with trust, Munsai. For example, let’s take our age old nemeses into account; Orcs don’t like us, we don’t like them. This means we know where we stand with one another, and that in itself means that we can trust in the fact that even in times of peace, we can’t trust them, and vice versa. Humans come at us with honeyed words and hazardous intentions; claiming to act in the interest of peace, yet keeping us in shackles and chains called Magic Licenses, and walled prisons called ‘Enclaves’. Those people don’t deserve our trust – not in the slightest.”
For the first time, Sam was speaking to Zuko in a tone of voice that wasn’t subservient and even her demeanor had changed. Zuko looked at her from behind and remained silent – choosing not to take the discussion further. That however didn’t work, as he was forced into continuing it.
“What about you, Munsai? Why did you choose to join them? And more importantly, why did they let you join them?”
“Perhaps because I come from beyond the Empire’s borders, I do not feel the need to have any opinions on them. But this place is very important to my uncle and preventing the Association from completing their plans will fulfill a promise made decades ago. If joining the Order helps me to achieve that, then I do not regret doing so.”
“…is fulfilling this promise more important to you than—”
“It is more important than anything.” Zuko interrupted.
“I understand, Munsai.” Sam said with a nod before looking at him. “I guess they haven’t noticed yet because your ears are bandaged, and as smooth as theirs.”
“You have yet to notice yourself.” Zuko said in a barely audible whisper.
Sam, who didn’t quite catch what Zuko had said, quickly darted down a pathway which led to the entrance of a tunnel. Zuko slid down after her, and as they walked into the tunnel, Sam pulled out the Skeleton Key. It glowed just like it did back in the tunnel, and just as it happened in the tunnel, the pair suddenly found themselves walking around in some place completely different. The dilapidated buildings and torn roads of the Elven Districts that were caused by poor maintenance were no longer a thing. Instead, the condition of everything was visibly worse, and Zuko stopped and stared for bit. That moment was short lived however, as an explosion caused the ground to shake and a flare of light to fill the sky.
“Shit!” Sam said as she suddenly turned to try and signal for Zuko to run.
Before that could happen, two Elves appeared and ran directly towards the pair before they vaulted over both Zuko and Sam. They were dressed in extremely lightweight tactical armour, with their helmets on and visors down. As they flew over Zuko and Sam, they twisted their bodies in midair, pulled out two semi-automatic pistols and started squeezing the triggers. Bullets flew out from the muzzles towards what seemed like empty space. Upon closer inspection, there were unbelievably well cloaked figures were diving out of the path of the bullets.
“Munsai, we must get out of here!”
“Targets confirmed.” A slightly muffled sounding voice stated from above. “Engaging hostiles.”
Zuko and Sam looked up to see some more Elves, in golden tactical armour that was heavier than that worn by the first pair that was still shooting. They were also carrying the heavier artillery, as they held up seriously heavy duty assault rifles. They too started shooting at the pair who was shooting at the cloaked pair that was charging them as they flew over the pair that had absolutely nothing to do with this conflict. Zuko and Sam both pushed off and ran forwards, running to the side of the invisible Elves. Things weren’t as straight forward as they would have liked however, as the heavily armed Elves fired off grenades from their rifles. The explosions sent Zuko and Sam flying forwards as they burst out from the alleyway, pursued by flame and smoke. As they landed and slid across the ruined asphalt underfoot, they looked around only to be confronted by infinitely more Elves than they had been in the alleyway. Massive armoured vehicles with giant guns manned by two soldiers were firing off shots of condensed Mana, bullets flew all over the place as Elves wearing armour of various weights and colours shot at each other from behind cover and out in the open. Elves in black armour were shooting and stabbing their way through large numbers of golden armoured Elves while in the dwindling light of dusk, those cloaked Elves were becoming increasingly effective. In the midst of all this, tall, muscular tanned Elves dressed in armour that looked completely out of place and looked as though it belonged in a desert brandished weapons far too large and crude to be considered Elven and swung them indiscriminately, smashing through heavy and light armour alike. As Zuko watched this incredible scene unfold before his very eyes, he found that he had time to make an observation.
“Sam… all these Elves, and not a single Mage in sight.”