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The Hogwarts Four: The Guild Wars by NTSDHogwartsFour
Chapter 10 : Chapter Eight: The Fall of Falcon Company Pt. 1
 
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Author’s Note: Sorry for the wait, everyone. This chapter was originally not one of the longest we have ever written, but it was definitely one of the most difficult to write, and there became far too much needed to make it flow.  We try to keep to a weekly update schedule but with the holidays and the...practically dyspeptic attitude of the chapter that would not play along for love or cookies, it was unfortunately not in the cards. Please enjoy! Don’t forget to please review to tell us what you think!


Chapter 8: The Fall of Falcon Company


The smell of cooking sausage filled Harley’s nose as he moved the links around in the cast-iron skillet, an oven mitt protecting one hand from the popping of hot grease, a wooden spatula scrambling eggs absent-mindedly on the other side of the pan. A rather large plate by his left elbow contained a stack of pancakes, the sight of which would have automatically sent Glinda into a tizzy as she knew what happened when Harley cooked...bad things. A cooking session from Harley always meant that something bad had happened. He would hate to see what she was going to do when she saw the muffins currently in the oven.


Too much had happened yesterday. Too much emotion, heartbreak...he prayed that what they would be able to find out today would lift up their spirits.


The Ravenclaw Lord and Lady had been called back to Ebonhawke once again to oversee some issues involving Ascalonian separatists. Rowena had been apologetic at having to leave right after the funeral but the both of them had understood that it was just a byproduct of being one of the most powerful people in Tyria. At least this meant that over the next few days they would be able to move with relative impunity.  


Scooping the eggs into a bowl and ensuring the sausages were on a platter, as well as a bowl of freshly cut fruit, Harley loaded them onto a tea service that he could wheel into the family dining room where he knew Ra would be explaining what was going on to Selena, Glinda and Talon. The muffins, double chocolate, were set on a platter of their own before he finally managed to get the food and usual breakfast drinks out into the dining room.


Concerned gazes swept between Glinda and Selena as they watched Harley lay out the trays of food, oven mitts still on his hands and the royal blue apron their head chef had given him when the blond had started learning how to cook still tied at his waist.


“...Ra, why is Harley cooking?” Selena asked, not hesitating to put a muffin on her plate before helping herself to some of the tea that Harley had already laid out. Harley was a good cook, she couldn’t deny that, so she never complained when he did so and just enjoyed the food...but she rarely liked learning what happened to cause his cooking fit. It was especially worrying because Harley never willingly touched chocolate unless he was giving it to someone else or if things had really gotten that bad. Honestly Selena hoped to never have to see the day when Harley would eat chocolate willingly.


Harley set the apron and mitts on top of the tea service, scooting it over so that it was out of the way before taking his seat next to Ra at the small table. Well...small being a relative term, considering that it could easily seat ten people.


“We’ve recently received information about Falcon Company,” Ra explained, calmly.  “Helena’s unit.”


Glinda gasped.  “Information about the Screaming Falcons?  How?  They’ve been missing for months, since just before the attack on Shaemoor! My Gryffindors have been searching for them with no success!”  


“Looking through some of the information gained by the White Mantle.” Harley said, calmly.  That was his story and he was sticking to it. “We found pages torn from an old journal. They were apparently written by Willem Harrinton, a member of Falcon Company. The writing on the pages is rough, hasty even, but it describes survivors of the battle that were taken prisoner by the centaurs.” Harley’s voice was as even as he could make it, pushing some of the food around on his plate with a fork. He didn’t want to get his hopes up that Helena could still be alive. After everything that had happened in their group he could inwardly hope that some good news would come their way but...well, you knew you were in trouble when the optimist in the group decided on just going for realism. Centaurs weren’t known for keeping their slaves alive for long. They were hard and cruel, and didn’t hesitate to kill the humans that they stole at a moment’s notice for seemingly no reason.


“You think that Helena could be alive.” Selena blinked, putting the muffin back down on her plate as she tried to mentally work through the fact that beautiful, brilliant Helena could be able to come back to them after all of this time.


Clearing his throat, Harley finally put down his fork as a hand ran through the length of blond hair that he had left unbound that morning. “I’m going to go speak to Logan after breakfast and find out what he knows about any of it. The journal mentioned a captain that used to be in Falcon Company so I’m sure he can give us some information that the journal can’t.”


Talon, who was proving to be just as health-conscious as Harley, was eating the same food as what was found on the blond’s plate. Eggs, sausage, fruit and yogurt. The dark-haired Exemplar glanced at the blond he was quickly growing to consider as a friend, taking a sip of his unsweetened black coffee. “Forgive my ignorance but, who is Helena?  I know much about many of the noble houses, but I never came across her name.”  


Ra’s smile was pained, but genuine as he explained.  “Lady Helena Ravenclaw.  My older sister and the heir of the Ravenclaw title and holdings.  She is three or four years older than Harley.  She chose to focus more on military studies than political affairs, and eventually enrolled in the Seraph.  She was part of the Screaming Falcons for a few years, and was supposedly with them when they… they vanished.”  


The others stayed silent.  All present had loved Helena, and all secretly hoped that she was alive and well,  but none wanted to give voice to those hopes, fearing them to be dashed.  It had been three months since the attack that had taken the Falcons from them.  


Talon set his cup of coffee down, and wrapped an arm around Glinda’s shoulders before saying, “Would it be wrong of me to assume that my assistance would be welcome?”  


Ra laughed.  Not his normal laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.  “On the contrary, Talon.  Your presence would be most welcome.  Thank you.”  


Glinda sighed.  “So, what do we do first?”  


Ra pondered for a moment, deliberating.  “Let’s go talk to Captain Douchebag, and see if he knows anything about the Screaming Falcons that would be helpful.  Or about the centaurs taking prisoners or moving them around.  Once we know these details, we can better plan how to proceed.”  He sighed.  “I want to do this right.  I don’t want to rush in and mess up.”  


Selena downed the final gulp of her tea, set the cup and saucer on the table, and stood, saying, “Well, shall we get started, then?”


~


Logan had proven to be an invaluable source of information for them as the five of them had requested what he had on the former Commander of the Screaming Falcons, Captain Tervelan, and where they could find him.  Unfortunately, their trip out to the Eldvin Monastery was probably going to prove to be the easiest part of their day. Captain Tervelan was probably many things...from their point of view, useful wasn’t going to be one of them.


“You must be the hero Thackeray warned me about. He says you're investigating the Falcons? That true?” Inwardly, Glinda had to admit that if someone had let her walk around with that particularly terrible haircut, she would be acting like a complete twatwaffle too.


“We are. Captain Thackeray said you have information we need. Have you heard anything about the Centaurs taking prisoners?” Selena stepped forward, green eyes focusing on the man in front of them. There was no way she was going to come all the way out to Lyssa-Didn’t-Want-to-Know-Where just to have some prick of a soldier give her attitude.  A scoff escaped from the man, shaking his head while staring at them with something akin to pity and something Glinda couldn’t really put her finger on...but she didn’t like it. “Thackeray's been swaddled inside the royal court for too long. He's forgotten how rough it is out here. You've wasted a trip. Falcon Company is long gone, may Grenth have mercy on their souls. Go home, kids. You're in over –”


Shouts from beyond the monastery walls forced them all to look down from where they stood along the highest walkways, Lieutenant Gordon’s shout being the loudest among them all. “Centaurs! At the north gate! Get the monks inside! To arms!”


“Right on schedule. C'mon, hero. You're about to learn what it's like outside the city gates. To the north gate! After you.” A mocking bow directed them down the stairs and back to the opened gate at the forest-facing side of the monastery.


Between the five of them and the available Seraph soldiers that were not busy leading the monks into safety, the centaur raid did not last very long. Two waves of centaurs fell under the assault of swords, shields and magic raining down upon their heads. Selena relegated herself to being the one casting healing magic over her four friends and the Seraph, using her focus and scepter to create a healing mist over the ground.


Glinda’s traditional lightning and flame licked across the grass, giving the overcast ground the look of angry stormclouds on earth while Harley and Talon used their shields as battering rams, lining up the centaurs for her magic to burn.


A single centaur, larger than the others they had been fighting and with a rather elaborate design on his horns that Harley could see, cantered purposefully down the dirt road.


“Hold up, Hero,” Tervelan smirked, gesturing towards the incoming centaur when Harley moved to intercept the overgrown nag. “That’s their leader, let’s see what he wants.”


Taking orders from someone that wasn’t Ra or Logan ruffled Harley’s feathers the wrong way, his hand tightening on the hilt of his sword even as Glinda put a hand on his arm to calm him down. They were all a little emotional right now and thankfully none of them were holding it against the others if they got a little snippy...besides, Harley always apologized right away if he so much as thought that he was getting snippy with his friends. Glinda would barbeque him if he didn’t.


“Bring out the hero! I am Hruud the Reaver, pillager of human lands! I will kill any human who claims to be stronger than I. Let me see this great hero of Shaemoor I've heard has come to die beneath my hooves.” The so-called ‘pillager of human lands’ made Harley want to immediately bash the motherless pony’s long face in with his bare fists. And so far, Hruud wasn’t the only one receiving those feelings from the normally-happy blond.  Tervelan took a moment to look surprised, glancing over the five Divinity’s Reach upstarts that had barged their way into his territory. “Hm. I wonder how he found out you were here. That's unfortunate. You can sneak out the back, if you like.”


“I challenge you, Hero of Shaemoor! Reveal yourself!”


“Oh just be quiet!” Glinda sighed, shaking her head as a wave of flame magic swirled around her hands, changing her scepter and focus into a staff. The redhead made her way past the few other Seraph that had decided to stand in front of their Captain and the Heroes of Shaemoor, standing in front of the centaur looking like a pixie trying to wag her finger at a giant.


“Make it a good fight! I better see some fancy moves!”  Tervelan’s jaunty little mockery at Glinda’s back made Harley grip the hilt of his sword so hard he feared that it would break in his grasp. “Can I kill him yet?” His voice growled out between his teeth, stepping closer to Ra to ensure that only his friends heard his words.


“No, we need him alive for now…” Ra murmured, eyes as absent as any of theirs as they watched Glinda bounce around like a flaming red ferret on sugarcane. The centaurs and surrounding monks had all fallen silent at the display of dainty, ladylike Glinda Gryffindor, Countess of Salma District, flinging fireballs from her hands and practically playing with her opponent. Roars and growls of pain echoed in the air from Hruud, the massive centaur unable to hit her with his weapons as she continued to evade him with every swing of his massive mace.


The giggle, bell-like and filling those that heard it with either a chilling sensation in their spines or a warmth spreading through their chest, that Glinda released even made the centaurs freeze in shock.  “Hey, do you know what you get when you roast a centaur?”


No one answered.  Glinda waited patiently for a few seconds, then her smile turned chilling.  She raised her staff above her head, and then whispered, “Dinner.”  


With a swishing motion, she brought her staff slamming down on the ground.  The earth shook, and beneath Hruud’s feet it cracked, broke, and burst into flames, magma erupting in a geyser, completely smothering the centaur.  When the lava and flames vanished and the earth returned to normal, the centaur leader lay there, completely roasted, charred, and dead.  At this sight, the rest of the centaurs turned tail and fled.  The peculiar part was that, for some inexplicable reason, Captain Tervelan looked disappointed by the outcome.  


Harley wrinkled his nose, raising a hand to cover it to try and block the smell. “Blech. Burnt fur. Seriously, Glinda?” His hand landed on her head, rumpling the pretty red curls playfully before Talon grasped her by the waist, lifting the redheaded firebug as if she weighed nothing to hide her against his armored side. The smirk on Harley’s face told the dark-haired Exemplar that the blond had done it on purpose to try and get a rise out of him...and damnit, it had worked.


Captain Tervelan stepped closer to them, watching as his Seraph and a few of the monks dragged away the bodies of the defeated centaurs to a bonfire that was already in the process on the other side of the monastery. “Not bad for a city scab. I'm beginning to think you're all as competent as they say you are. So tell me, what are your plans?”


“We plan to find out what happened to Falcon Company.” Harley’s voice was firm, using the tone he was used to having when around Seraph and others in the militant side of life.


Tervelan’s brown hair shifted as he shook his head, running a hand through the thick bowl-cut hair at the Guardian’s words. “What happened to the Screaming Falcons was a tragedy, but this is a fool's errand. I can't spare good soldiers for a personal vendetta. I need them to handle these centaurs.”


Talon, not normally one to speak up when there were others more willing to speak, cleared his throat. “We’ll make ourselves useful then. If we get done quickly, your soldiers can help after we are finished.”


Tervelan seemed far more aggravated than they had seen him before this point, apparently having expected a bunch of so-called ‘city scabs’ to just fold when faced with work. Never mind the fact they had just helped the Seraph defeat a few waves of centaurs already as well as roasting their ‘champion’. “Fine. Rendezvous with my squad at the centaur camp over the hill. You take out the herd, and we'll see. No promises, though, Hero. My duty here comes first.”


~


“You're my backup? Has the captain lost his mind? I expected an entire squad!”


Sergeant Bigsby’s shock at seeing only five people, none of them in a Seraph uniform even though he thought maybe two of them were Shining Blade since they were wearing similar armor, was palpable. But the fact that all five of them were as pretty as could be made him wonder if  any of them were single. Maybe he could ask them after everything was done...if they lived that long. “Where are the others? Captain Tervelan said he was sending a unit to help me with the assault on the centaur camp.”


“That’s what he told us…” Harley muttered, fiddling with his ponytail with a sigh. “Damn bastard.” The more he interacted with the slimeball, the more he hated him.  Seeing Harley’s tension, Ra stepped forward.  “We are here to help.  Or would you rather deal with these nags by yourself?”


Sergeant Bigsby looks dismayed.  “The thing is, they are pretty dug in over there.  I’m not sure we can do this by ourselves, even if there are six of us.  Perhaps we should just… I dunno, go back to the monastery?”


Ra shook his head, wing of black hair swishing with the motion and making Harley’s intestines wriggle inside him.  “No Sergeant, I have to do this,”  Ra said, firmly.  “I need information about my sister, and unfortunately, your prig of a C.O. has it.”  


At the mention of Ra’s sister, Bigsby studied Ra more closely.  “Wait, so you’re Ra Ravenclaw?”  


Ra nodded, and Bigsby laughed, clapping a hand to his forehead.  “Ha!  So you’re Helena’s little brother, whom she’s always bragging about.”  He shook his head, chuckling.  “I should have recognized you sooner, my lord.  You look just like her.”  He sighed.  “She was a good soldier, but then, you already know that.”  


Ra’s head tilted to the side, studying Bigsby in return.  “You knew my sister?”


Bigsby laughed again and nodded.  “Hell yeah!  I was stationed here a few months before the… well, you know.”  He gave Ra an apologetic smile.  “She helped me figure out how to be a good Seraph.”  His gaze became more hopeful.  “That’s why you’re here, right?  Because of the rumors?”


“Rumors?”  Harley cut in, “What rumors?”


Bigsby shrugged, pacing now.  “Nobody knew how the centaurs found out the Falcons’ patrol route.  There’ve always been questions about why the company was sent out alone.”  He stopped pacing and shrugged again.  “Nothing official, though.  Just beer talk.”  


“If we clear out the centaurs,” Glinda said from behind Ra, “Maybe the good captain will tell us what really happened?”


“Maybe,” Bigsby agreed.  “Hey, if this is for Lena, then I’d be a mighty poor friend to leave her kid brother here all alone.”


Ra winced, doing his best to ignore the giggles sounding behind him amidst the throaty chuckle escaping Harley at the thought of someone getting away with calling Ra a ‘kid’.  “Not a kid, Sergeant.  I’m a powerful minister and legally an adult.”  


Bigsby chuckled and shrugged.  “At any rate, sir, I guess I’m in it too.  May Dwayna protect us!”


Harley, Talon, Ra and Bigsby made sure to focus on any of the centaurs that were in the vicinity, leaving Glinda and Selena free reign to tear apart the weapons racks and supplies that they could see littered throughout the camp.


Harley and Bigsby did their best to destroy the empty cages that had obviously held slaves, the dried blood spotting areas of the cages making Harley’s stomach churn. The blond paused, kneeling down into the grass and dirt to pluck up a weathered, dirty journal that held the insignia of the Falcon Company inscribed over the front cover. Unwilling to let any sort of evidence go unturned, Harley stuffed it into the small pack at his waist before the hollering of another rather large centaur made his ears ring for the second time that day.


“I will trample you! Crush you like the weaklings you are!” This centaur was even larger than Hruud, making Harley shake his head. Good gods above what were these things eating that caused them to grow like this? Rock dogs and other Tamini soldiers gathered just behind the oversized pony with arms, their shouting allowing the group of six to learn that the centaurs name was Mallus. Mallus the Impure, apparently. The blond almost cracked a rib trying not to laugh when Bigsby turned to Talon and raised both eyebrows at the taller soldier. “You ever heard of Mallus the Impure?” A round of headshakes answered the question, Talon going so far as to shrug and hold up his hands in a ‘Search me’ gesture.


Harley sighed, glancing over at his friends. “Well, who wants a crack at the ‘Almighty Mallus the Impure of Whom We Have Never Heard’?  Any takers?” He didn’t particularly feel like being a human battering ram at the moment. A chill slithered down his spine when he saw the wicked gleam in Selena’s eyes before the svelte Slytherin viscountess stepped forward, twirling her staff almost absentmindedly between her fingers.


“Glinda already served up Hruud Fricassee. Anyone in the mood for a Mallus Sorbet?” A wave of her staff and a flurry of cold dropped a swirling wind of icicles and water hardening over the skin of the roaring centaur until his entire form had been coated in a thick sheet of ice as clear as glass. “What do you think, Harley? Ground or pureed?”


Rolling his eyes at his melodramatic friend’s joking, the blond gave a sarcastic, weary sigh as he shook his head. “If it’s not ground correctly, Selena, it won’t be Sorbet.” Selena’s own throaty laugh echoed in the camp as she switched her staff from hand to hand. “You’re absolutely right, Harlequin. Ground it is.” A wave of the length of metal and crystal brought up a large section of rocks, dirt and roots from in front of their feet, raising it just high enough into the air before letting her magic force it down back into the earth...of course right over the frozen Mallus, shattering the overgrown nag like so much glass. “Well, there’s a serving for one,” the dark-haired girl aimed her staff at the remaining centaurs, looking them over thoughtfully. “What to do with the rest of you?”


The remaining herd turned tail and galloped away as fast as their hooves could carry them, swearing revenge and retribution, yadda yadda…



“The only reason I followed you in there was because you're you. I didn't think we'd survive, but you were great!” Bigsby officially liked these kids. They were strong, tough, talented...everything about each of them commanded respect from those around them. He doubted they had to try very hard to get others to listen to them. Made him wish these five were in his unit.


Glinda turned to Harley, watching as he dug around in his bag. She had seen him pocket something earlier...what could it have been? “Hey Harley, what did you find?”


Finally finished with digging out his find from his pack, the Guardian held it up for the others to see, showing off the Falcon emblazoned on the front before he began flipping through the pages. “A soldier's journal, half-buried in the cage. It has the Falcon Company insignia on it and a list of survivors inside, and… Helena’s name is here!”


“Wait,” Bigsby blinked, looking hopeful yet confused. “I thought Captain Tervelan said there were no survivors.”


“Tervelan,” the name came out with a tone akin to the sheer hatred the group normally reserved for zealots and morons, “may be lying to cover his tracks. The book accuses him of setting the company up to be attacked by centaurs.” Ra’s voice was the particular tone that Harley disliked hearing as it normally meant either he was in trouble or he was about to dish out some punishment on some idiotic soul.


“I … I don't know what to think. Tervelan, a traitor? You don't think he sent us out here alone to die, do you? He hasn't been happy with me lately.” Just the fact that Bigsby was able to think that his commanding officer was capable of such things told Harley a lot about the lack of loyalty Tervelan probably could bring up in his men.


Running a white-gloved hand through the thick wing of his bangs, Ra watched the Seraph soldier his sister had trained before she disappeared. “It's a distinct possibility. But don't worry, Bigsby. We'll get to the bottom of this – together.”


A fierce, nearly subvocal growl escaped from the dark-haired Seraph Sergeant.  “That was awful! They've been keeping prisoners? By all the gods, these animals will pay!”


“The centaurs will get theirs in time, Bigsby. Right now, I need to have a little talk with Captain Tervelan.” Even though loyalty was Harley’s usual modus operandi, none of them were tolerant of traitors.


“He won't be back at the monastery. He rode east, to sort out a cave of ettins. He said he wanted to clean it out before it became a problem.” Bigsby said the words but it honestly sounded as if he didn’t believe what he was saying. A few well-placed facts and near-suicide mission with centaurs can do a lot to a man’s belief system.


“He didn't mention any ettins to us…” Selena hummed, looking thoughtful. “That's funny. The man's sounding shadier and shadier every time we find something new.”


Blowing the thick strand of blond bangs out of his face, Harley tightened his ponytail before making sure that the straps of his shield were firmly wrapped around his wrist and forearm. He’d already almost lost hold of it a few times today and he’d been using far less sword skills than he normally would have been. His friends could easily have blamed that on the fact that there were five of them and so his full abilities weren’t necessary...hopefully they weren’t thinking about it. Once this was done and over with he needed to find out what the hell was going on with him. “Something tells me that if Tervelan didn’t do it, he at least knows how the Falcons got ambushed. Let’s go find the bastard and get his story…”



The blond had hardly realized that throughout their journey and battles, hiss usual emanating aura of concentration and might to keep his friends focused and strong had altered to suit his emotions...the fury that overrode his ability to think.



Selena and Glinda glanced over to Ra, the dark-haired girl nudging at her male friend before tilting her head in Harley’s direction. Their mountainous mouse was practically vibrating with suppressed rage and she did not want two of them losing control in a week. They had gone a good long while without losing their viselike grip on their powers. Ra’s wobble had been understandable but she didn’t think any of them had the ability to try and reign in Harley if he truly lost it. Harley had such a strong sense of control over his powers that it sometimes scared people who didn’t know that becoming a Guardian hadn’t been his first choice...sometimes she swore he worked so hard to control himself because he was afraid of what would happen if he let go. Balthazar preserve them, she was slightly afraid of what would happen if he let go for the sheer fact that she could see what her friend could do without that moral compass screwed on as tightly as it was.



Unfortunately, Ra was the only one who could get through to Harley when the older male had lost  his self-control in the past. Thankfully none of that had been a full flare of his abilities but on the same token that terrified even her. Would Ra be enough to reel him in if he truly lost it completely? She didn’t want to think about it and her Sight wasn’t giving her any answers to that question. Glinda meaningfully gestured from Ra to Harley, giving the dark-haired youth a dark look that promised many painful experiences if he didn’t do something posthaste.



Selena’s thoughts were starting to bleed over further into Harley’s way of thinking. They didn’t need to alert the Seraph to what was happening. No one would know they hadn’t contacted the authorities with the issue. Who would question the Heroes of Shaemoor when it came down to finding Ra Ravenclaw’s lost sister and punishing a dirty Seraph Captain? She could already see Harley’s big golden eyes fooling everyone that questioned them, talking about how they had come out to question him but he hadn’t cooperated, had sent them into a trap to die and when they had confronted him about it the man had fought them and would have killed them if they hadn’t done something first…



Sighing and shaking her head free of her current train of thought, Selena stepped purposefully in front of Harley, one of her gloved hands coming up to cup his face and force those pretty eyes to her own. For a moment she swore that the black of his eyes had taken over before it flickered away to leave chips of cold, hard amber. “If we go after him, Harley, we’ll have to lie. Especially you. That isn’t a hardship for me or Ra but...remember your words, Harlequin. Honesty…” Harley’s voice joined her own, intoning the words he used with all of those in his House to remind them what they stood for, “Faith, Loyalty and Diligence.”


Forcing himself to take a deep breath, he let the words sink into his mind. He couldn’t give into these black intentions. They had to follow the rules. They were not above the law. They had created the NTSD to become a helping hand to Tyria as a whole and they could not use that power just to make themselves feel better. Killing Tervelan after a very rough interrogation would make him feel better for a moment but what about later? Would he be able to look at himself in the mirror? No. No, he wouldn’t. Lex would never have forgiven him and Helena wouldn’t either.



“Honest, Faith, Loyalty and Diligence.” Harley grasped the reformed pendant from where it sat over his breastplate. “Thank you, Selena. Let’s go get Logan. He’ll help us get this figured out because I am thinking this is much deeper than just a dirty Seraph Captain.” The blond’s mind was racing now that he was free of the clouding grasp of rage. Why would a Seraph Captain betray an entire unit? How? How did he get close enough to the centaurs to be able to sell out the Falcons? What had he gotten in return? None of it made any sense.



~



Logan’s surprise was palpable, staring up at the four of them standing in front of his desk looking so serious. It had been a very long time since they had all looked so serious in front of him like this. “Well...can’t say I expected to see the four--five of you today.” He sighed, reaching up to run a gauntlet-free hand through his hair. It looked like he’d already had to do it a few times today, if the disarray of those long brown locks was anything to go by. Unfortunately, they weren’t there to make it any better. “What do you need me for, Harley?”



Never let it be said that Seraph Captain Logan Thackeray was dumb. The man usually just found more useful ways to show his intelligence.



Glinda was the one to speak up, using her capacity as his Head of House instead of “Captain, I'm afraid I have bad news. Tervelan is a traitor. He sent my friends and myself into centaur territory, promising back-up, but then he never actually sent anyone. He meant for us to die there.”



Those normally friendly, wide brown eyes narrowed at the redhead’s words in conjunction with all of them together at once in front of him with yet another issue. “That's outrageous.” Even with the denial in his  words, Logan’s voice didn’t sound too terribly convinced of Glinda’s statement. The sheer fact that it was Glinda there to tell him this said a lot to him and he knew this group wouldn’t pull his leg but...it was a hard pill to swallow. “He's a Seraph captain. You're sure it wasn't just a misunderstanding?”


Reaching back into his bag, Harley procured the journal he had discovered, holding it out to his friend. “We’re sure. I found the rest of Harrinton's journal at the centaur camp. It blatantly accuses Tervelan of conspiring with the centaurs that ambushed Falcon Company.” Taking a calming breath to quell the rush of the anger, the need to rend Tervelan’s head from his horrid shoulders...he had to keep calm. “Tervelan didn't want us investigating these deaths, to the point where he nearly got all of us killed, as well as a Seraph named Bigsby. We know he's hiding something, Captain.”


Taking hold of the journal to flip through the piece of evidence, he couldn’t deny what was right in front of him. A Seraph Captain betraying a unit to centaurs? There was no way that this was going to go away easily or not continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. “All right. I need to talk to Tervelan myself. Meet me at the Eldvin Monastery. I'll get there as soon as I can. If he's responsible for the Falcon Company incident, we'll make sure he answers for it.” Pushing his straight-backed chair away from the rather large desk littered with paperwork, missives, damage reports and invoices. The only item on the desk that could have pointed to a personality or life outside of being Captain Logan Thackeray was the portrait of himself and Jennah dressed in their NTSD uniforms, both smiling at the artist that had put up with them through the painting process. “Once Tervelan finds out you're alive, he won't sit around waiting for you to come after him. You should head to Eldvin Monastery now. I'll meet you there.”


~


The general feel of Eldvin Monastery had changed completely from what they had seen of it on their first visit. Everyone here was already slightly on edge due to the frequent centaur attacks but apparently the brewing was meant for more than just creating revenue to keep the monastery running. Having something to concentrate on seemed to keep the monks calm and give the Seraph out there something to talk about other than the most recent centaur raid. There was something in the air, a feeling of confusion and anxiety that sank into Talon’s bones as they made their way through the monastery with Logan at their side, finding Tervelan along one of the ramparts with a handful of Seraph littered around him.


“Oh, look, it's my lucky day. The pretty kids are back again, and this time, you brought Captain Thackeray. Two heroes for the price of one. Hm. Nobody's smiling?” The sarcasm in the other man’s words was practically dripping down onto the floor, Tervelan taking a moment to feign concern for them with his eyes flickering over their faces to try seeing what in the name of Tyria they were doing back after he was pretty certain that these meddling do-gooders were supposed to be dead.


“You left us alone at that centaur camp with Bigsby and no backup on purpose, Tervelan. Were you hoping we wouldn't make it out alive? Were we getting too close to the truth about what happened to Falcon Company?” Harley’s voice sounded flat, a sure sign to those that knew him to take a step back and pray to not be in the blast radius when he eventually exploded. Harley’s disgust with traitors was well-known in Divinity’s Reach, especially if that person was in a position of authority.


A disdainful scoff echoed in the silent air around them, Tervelan’s arms crossed over his chest with a face like someone had shoved a zested lemon into his mouth and sealed it shut. “You dare accuse a real soldier of treason? If you'd seen half what of I've seen, boy, you'd fall right out of your boots. Just 'cause you run around with the queen's lackey...Hey Captain Boyfriend, you think you can undermine my authority?”


The queen’s lackey? Captain Boyfriend? Well, that was a new one. “That's crossing the line, Tervelan. You're hereby relieved of your command. I'm taking you back to Divinity's Reach for questioning. I'd prefer you come peacefully.” Logan’s preference rarely made any difference in situations like these but the man had to at least make an effort to make it look like he didn’t want to pound in the little snot’s badly-formed nose further into his skull. Probably wouldn’t kill him since there obviously wasn’t enough brain in there to be able to damage anything.


“Sorry to disappoint you, Boyfriend, but that’s not going to happen. Gordan! Reginald! Muster the men! One hundred gold to the soldier who permanently silences these morons!”


The ice in Talon’s eyes could have frozen the entirety of Lake Adorea, grasping the hilt of his sword with a white-knuckled grip as he glanced at the Seraph that surrounded Tervelan. “He's ordering his Seraph to kill us? Will they do it?” Hopefully these men were not so far up their own sphincters that they thought they could get away with killing a member of the Shining Blade, a Seraph and four of the Darlings of Divinity’s Reach.


Logan wasn’t quite so certain that the men weren’t exactly what Talon thought. “They might. Listen here! Anyone who attacks us will be committing treason! I will give no quarter to anyone who turns against Kryta for gold or who protects a traitor like Tervelan.” He hated the fact that there was someone who would actually convince the men under his command to attack others for gold, pushing them to commit treason and murder citizens to keep a secret. This entire Monastery was going to have to go under a very deep investigation when this was over, this area had been allowed to act with complete impunity for far too long.


Unfortunately for Tervelan, his men didn’t have time to begin an attack before a gauntlet-covered hand grasped the Seraph rat by the throat, hauling him up into the air before shifting only a few steps to dangle him over the edge of the rampart. Nothing stood between Tervelan and either a very painful experience with broken legs or a very slow death from impact with the rocks a good distance away from his feet other than Harley’s grasp around his throat. It showed just how much Harley held back with those around him that he could hold a fully grown man in full armor out over open air with one hand without so much as a wince or sign of strain. “I’ve had just about enough out of you, Tervelan. Now, you are going to answer my questions or I swear to all Gods, dead and alive, that I will drop you and I won’t lose any sleep over it.”


“Harley…” Logan blinked, voice shocked as he watched his kind, warm-eyed friend who always had an easy smile and a joke on his lips to make those around him laugh looking so...off. It wasn’t like anything he had ever seen before from the blond and it, quite frankly, terrified him. Glinda’s hand on his arm kept him from moving forward to stop Harley from going this far, threatening a man with pain to gain compliance...how did that make them any better than Tervelan offering gold to his men to silence them?


“Harley knows what he’s doing, Logan…” Glinda’s heart had taken up residence somewhere in her throat, saddened that she was getting a glimpse at what Harley could have become had he not been taken in by the Ravenclaws and had that rage tempered by the controlled environment of noble society and the outlets that had made themselves available to him. “It’s Harley, he won’t take it too far.” Even she wasn’t quite certain about that...the future of this altercation had gone almost maddeningly fuzzy.


“Did you send Falcon Company into an ambush?” Harley’s voice growled out, ensuring that he didn’t tighten his grip anymore than was needed to keep the Seraph aloft and scared. The fear was practically rolling off of the man as his hands grasped and scrambled at Harley’s gauntlet.


“I-I didn’t want to do it!” The hurried words came out of the traitor as if he thought if he didn’t speak quickly enough the barbaric blond with those hard, cold eyes like two gold coins would drop him to his death. “My soldiers were starving. Our equipment, it-it was ruined. I had to do something or the centaurs would have killed us all!” Harley could feel the man’s throat work against his hand, the racing beat of his heart rushing through even the metal and leather of his gauntlet. “So, yeah, I sold out Falcon Company so that some politician could say the queen was a bad ruler. But, but the rest of my command lived! I got, I got funds to re-equip my soldiers, munitions, d-decent rations and a promotion! My command has killed more centaurs than the rest of the Seraph combined thanks to the sacrifice of Falcon Company.”


Harley took a second to squeeze his fingers, flexing the muscles bound in chain mail and folded metal for the briefest moment to scare the brown-haired weasel. “Give me a name. Rats like you don’t come up with plans like that on their own.” Those wide eyes flickered back and forth, trying in vain to gain the attention of the others that had accompanied Harley and were standing aside, watching their friend. “Give me a name.” Power radiated in his words, a poisonous green flickering in his eyes chased by a quick flash of black like a shroud of silk dragged across the gold. “If you don’t, you won’t even see the inside of a prison cell.”


“I--I never met the guy. He signed his letters ‘Minister Arton’. That’s all I know, I swear.”


Not looking away from the watery brown eyes of his quarry, he barely heard Ra speak behind him with careful thought. “Arton's one of the queen's advisors. We need to warn Jennah immediately.” If one of the queen’s own advisors, someone Ra worked with on a regular basis, was responsible for such a thing, there was no telling what could befall the other Ministers if news of this got out without some quick verification of facts.


Talon kept his eyes focused on Harley, watching the  blond as he continued to stand there with Tervelan hanging from his hand over open air. “Harley.” He hoped his voice cut through whatever haze of darkness that had overtaken his friend’s mind but he doubted it. Friend though he may be, they didn’t have the connection Harley had to the rest of his group. Even Logan probably had more pull over the blond’s thoughts than he did. “Harley, put him down…He told us what we needed to know.”

“Why?” Harley’s quiet question broke through the quiet air, even above the noise coming from the Godslost Swamp with its habitation of ghouls, spirits and drakes. “Why should he get to spend the rest of his life in jail for destroying so many lives?”

A cold dose of fear settled like an Ice Wurm in Ra’s stomach, pausing mid-step at the sound of his loyal friends’ words. Lyssa, grant me strength. If Harley was losing that vaunted control he held himself so tightly ensconced in, they were all in deep trouble. Even after Selena’s words today, if he was willing to just drop Tervelan in front of everyone...it could cause no end of trouble for all of them.

“You can’t just kill me! I’m a Seraph Captain! I did what was right for Kryta, someone had to do it! Let me go!” Tervelan’s voice reached a new pitch as Harley continued to hold him in place, that blank look on the blond’s visage putting a chill down Talon’s spine. This wasn’t the Harley he knew...this was something colder and harder. Was the Master Exemplar right when she had warned him of raising Harley’s ire? She had informed both himself and Cerise that if they maintained contact with Harley to never anger him beyond manageable levels. When a badger is threatened they are far more dangerous than their fluffy, sweet look belies. Have no doubt of the sharpness of Harley Hufflepuff’s claws, my dears. That boy is far more dangerous than he looks and his leash is merely ornamental at this point. “Don't you understand? This was how we drew enough attention to our cause to get aid! Supplies! Weapons!”

“Falcon Company deserved better than this, Tervelan. Helena deserved better. You sold them out, Tervelan. That's all I see—a traitor, and a disgrace to the uniform. What happened to Falcon Company demands justice, and so do their loved ones.” From beside Harley, the blond felt a familiar brush of a furry body against the clenched fist at his side. Glancing down and away from Tervelan’s sweating form, golden eyes blinked in confusion. “Raina?” Why was Raina here? Raina never went anywhere without…

Amon, all sun-drenched copper hair and cool blue eyes, brushed past Glinda with a grateful look to Selena that the dark-haired Slytherin shared with her Nightmare Court operative. The risk of pulling him out so suddenly was definitely worth the reward of hopefully being able to pull Harley back from whatever brink he had been slowly inching his way to the edge of. “Harley. Put him down. You know you don’t want to do that. It’s the anger talking…Come on, babe. You drop him, it makes you no better than the scum you’re holding out over the edge.” Part of Amon wanted Harley to drop the bastard since he knew the blond wouldn’t do something like this without a very good reason. But with everything that had happened recently, he couldn’t blame him for slipping up a bit if the blond was wanting to go for good old fashioned vengeance. Amon knew a lot about the anger talking in place of reason and using vengeance as an excuse for doing as you wished...he had lived that way for far too long before he had escaped the Nightmare Court’s brambles.

He had never been more grateful for those interconnected communication mirrors that Selena gave out to her operatives than he ever thought he could be. Receiving that message from her of where to be as soon as possible was a gift from Melandru’s grace as far as he was concerned. The brunette laid his hand on Harley’s armored bicep, keeping contact with those big, gold eyes that he adored. “You know what will happen if you do this, Ley. Don’t be like him...this group relies on you to remain in control. Don’t let them down…”

The silence stretched across the parapet for what felt like an eternity before Harley backed away from the edge of the parapet, settling the weasel’s leather-clad feet flat on the rampart. Releasing his hold on Tervelan’s throat, Harley rushed off of the white stone walkway and out the side door of the Monastery, staring out over the mossy trees and bog-like waters of the Godslost Swamp. That comfortable chill had yet to leave his  bones, taking deep breaths as he concentrated on the air around him, the sounds and smells. Just like in the Occlumency training that he had never been able to complete due to his lack of wanded magic, he imagined the feelings and thoughts that had surrounded him, filling him and scaring him since that day in the White Mantle hideout flying into a stone chest. He mentally locked that chest, doing his best to shove it as far out of his mind as he possibly could.

So entrenched in his own thoughts, the blond jumped half a foot in the air when a familiar hand landed on his shoulder, forcing him to whirl in place with his back to the crooked tree behind him. Those two same hands held themselves up in the air in a universal sign of ‘Surrender’ before Harley’s mind caught up with the sight of two cool blue eyes like the sky above his head. “Amon…”

“Captain Douchebag is taking Tervelan back to Divinity’s Reach to lock him up. He’s asking everyone to meet him at the palace so that you all can warn the Queen about Minister Arton.” Amon kept his voice quiet and calm, as even as he could make it. Right now he was trying to not treat Harley like he would a wild animal that had bared its teeth but so far he wasn’t having any luck. “Selena already expressed concerns over that but Logan reassured her that he would make sure he had no visitors until the trial.” Those golden eyes, so blank compared to the warmth and laughter that usually made them sparkle, frankly made him a little unsure as to what was happening with his ex. “I’m sorry about Reth...I heard what happened. And now all this with Ra’s sister, a traitorous Captain and centaurs? Not to mention what you’ve been hearing from Anise about your parents. Harley...no one can blame you for losing it a little bit. Everything’s changing and that’s a good thing sometimes. But I can tell the others are worried about you. Have you talked to them about any of this?”

The snort that escaped the blond answered Amon’s inquiry, shaking his head at the sound. Damn stubborn mule. Always had to take care of everyone, never wanting to let anyone take care of him. “Babe, you can’t keep this all bottled up. I know you rely on the fights to let you get out that aggression but you’re changing. Everyone can see it. You’re...rougher, meaner...You’re still the nice, sweet Harley we know and love and I don’t think that will ever change but--” A low, bitter laugh floated between the two like shards of broken glass before Harley sighed.

“That’s me, right? The nice one. The sweet one. The Harlequin. The Sworn Shield.” The Guardian rolled his shoulders, shaking his head in disbelief. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll get over it, Amon. I always get over it and I’m always fine. Selena shouldn’t have bothered you, I’m sorry.” He couldn’t be anything other than fine. He had to be fine. Nothing was wrong. He lost control but he had it back now and that cold, slow-burning rage would eventually fade just like it had when he’d been younger and Lord Ravenclaw had been putting him through his aptitude tests...everything would go back to normal.

Before he could even take two steps away from the tree, Amon stood in his path, staring him down with arms crossed over his chest. It was scarily reminiscent of a certain raven-haired youth that tended to give him just such a look when he was being particularly dense about something. “No. I’m glad Selena called me out for this. Ley, you’re not supposed to just be ‘fine’ and ‘get over it’. What has been happening is serious and if you’re having trouble you know that we are here to help you. Why won’t you let us in, Harley?”

The blond couldn’t see the group of four standing off to the side of the monastery, intently watching the proceedings between the two young men. Taking another deep, calming breath, Harley let it out slowly. “There are far more important things to be worrying about right now, Amon. Please...I...I need to find Helena. Finding her is the only thing that matters right now. Whatever is going on with me, whatever is changing about me, it will still be there after we find her. We have a job to do. If a Minister that advises the Queen is causing this then we need to fix it before it can do anything worse than selling out a company of Seraph to make Jen look bad.”

Amon almost looked as if he was not about to drop the issue but he sighed, uncrossing his arms and staring up at the tall blond with serious eyes. “Ok. But we are talking about this after all of this is done. Once you are able to get home tonight, you and I are having a talk.” From the look on Selena and Glinda’s faces, Amon knew that he wasn’t going to be alone in this discussion. If this day did not go well, there was no doubt that they would all be needed in keeping  both Harley and Ra calm. Gods be good, they would not have another reason to mourn at the end of the day.

~

It wasn’t the first time that Harley and the others had found themselves in the throne room of Divinity’s Reach. The glowing white walls and the soft noise of running water created a calming atmosphere in conjunction with the flowers and vines growing all over the jut of stone situated behind the Queen’s throne. Anise stood off to Jennah’s right, the Shining Blade situated around the room at random as a messenger made his way past the group of six. It would have been seven but Amon had stated that he was going to go and wait at Ravenclaw Tower for them all to come home, for better or worse.

The beautiful young Queen’s face lit up at the sight of her friends and sweetheart, smoothly shifting to stand to greet them as they made their way across the small bridge over the calming moat that had been created in a perfect circle through the throne room. “My friends. How wonderful to see  you…” Everyone was greeted with hugs and kisses on the cheek before she sat back down, giggling when Harley jumped at the sudden movement of Shadow hopping up to bat at the edge of his sword, meowing to demand attention.

Sighing, the blond leaned down to pluck the ball of grey fluff into his arms. A small measure of the anxiety in his gut loosened at the warmth of Shadow’s body in his hands, taking care to remove his gloves as he pet the soft grey puddle of rumbling cat. The soft smile that crossed his face calmed his friends immensely, grateful to see that some measure of the Harley they knew was coming back.

It seemed there was something to the story that animals could smell when someone was upset after all.

“Now that Harley has effectively stolen Shadow from me once again, what can I help you with?” There were two people in this particular group that had no competition when it came to getting attention from small children and animals. Harley had better luck with small children usually but Glinda was an unstoppable force once someone got her around enough animals.

“Sorry to intrude, Your Majesty, but this can't wait. There's a traitor in the Ministry.” Logan wasted no time in keeping his sweetheart appraised of the situation, not wanting to sugarcoat his words as he knew that Jennah had no time in her busy day for wordplay and games with those she trusted.

Jennah’s beautiful brown eyes narrowed at that, her smile fading away to a look of concern. “That's a serious accusation, Captain. You know the law. Can you provide the required evidence to back up your claim?”

“We're working on it, Your Majesty,” Ra’s usually perfect voice sliced through the tension beginning to build as the few other Ministers that were in the room stiffened at the accusation. “Captain Tervelan confessed that a minister ordered him to reveal patrol routes to the enemy. The Screaming Falcons died because of it.” No one in the Ministry would question Ra about anything involving the Screaming Falcons, his own sisters Seraph company.

“Impossible!” Minister Arton himself spoke up,  “A minister would never betray our soldiers. I wish this matter investigated immediately, Your Majesty. The Ministry's honor is at stake.” Minister Arton was a close friend of Minister Wi and as a result knew the four of them rather well. Another grandfatherly gentleman but he was a bit more of a stickler for the rules than the good-natured Minister Wi. “Captain Tervelan's command is within my ministerial jurisdiction. I'm the one who works directly with him. I am the one impugned. I'm not guilty of these crimes, Your Majesty. I'm loyal to you, and to Kryta. As a show of faith, I place myself completely in your hands.”

Well, that had been easier than anticipated. But then again, as someone who worked frequently with the Seraph as a whole, Harley had not been willing to believe that Minister Arton could have done this considering he knew that the man tried to take care of the Seraph who had no nearby families to visit or no family at all.

Jennah’s relieved smile warmed those in the room as she nodded to the older man, patting his hand gently with those large brown eyes staring up into the standing Minister’s own. “Thank you, Arton. The Shining Blade will take you into custody, and you'll be kept under house arrest while we get to the bottom of this. We will take every precaution to ensure justice is served.” The least she could do was make sure that he stayed comfortable while all of this was going on if it was proven that he was being set up.

“Logan,” Anise’s soft voice grabbed the gathered group’s attention from where she was standing at the Queen’s side, dressed as usual in her deep cobalt and black dress. “I remember that one Seraph transferred out of Tervelan's company just after the Falcons were ambushed—Sergeant Hal. He might know something. Perhaps if someone he has seen on the training fields before were to approach him, he would be willing to share the information...” Those wide, soft grey eyes that bordered on purple flickered over to Harley, the blond still enjoying his quiet time ignoring the rest of the world with Shadow play-batting at his fingers. Hmm...maybe she should get the blond a cat. She was sure the blond would love something small and fuzzy to take care of. His birthday had already passed before the Shaemoor attack but he’d appreciate it anyway, she was sure.

Not tearing his eyes away from where he was playing with the fuzzball, the blond shook his head. “No. Not me. If he sees someone he automatically thinks is another Seraph or someone that he mentally aligns with them, he’s not going to trust them at all. At worst, he’ll think they are there to kill him to keep Tervelan’s deeds quiet if he did indeed transfer out because of what he knows. Send someone that has no ties to the Seraph, Ministry Guard or Shining Blade...just in case.”

Selena and Ra shared a look over Harley’s head, Selena shrugging her slender shoulders at the dark-haired young Ravenclaw. Ra had already decided he would take care of the interrogation since it was his sister that was in trouble...although he was glad that Harley had decided to bow out of the job. They were all going to have a very long talk after everything was said and done. There was something going wrong with his Sworn Shield and he didn’t like being kept out of the loop...hopefully getting all of this taken care of would return some semblance of normalcy to his constant companion.

Oh well, time to get to work...joy.

~

It thankfully did not take Ra too terribly long to find the Seraph in question along the outer eastern edges of Divinity’s Reach. Sergeant Hal was slightly taller than Ra himself with dirty blond hair that bordered on brown and a wide jaw that did not go very well with the smaller nose that made his initially handsome face a little off-center. “Sergeant Hal. I was told you have information on Captain Tervelan.” Whatever Ra had expected from the Seraph, it was not to see the tanned skin go the color of curdled milk and take a hasty step back from the raven-haired youth.

“Merciful Grenth. I knew this day would come. Did Tervelan send you to kill me?” If Ra had been sent to kill the man, why would he take the time to actually talk to him instead of just getting it done and over with? What did this man do in his spare time, come up with conspiracy theories like that hideously-dressed friend of Harley’s, Riot...whatever? Alice, that was her name. Riot Alice.

Barely restraining from rolling his eyes, having no wish to exacerbate the situation any further. “No, calm down. Thackeray sent me. Now, why don’t you share with me exactly why Tervelan would want you killed?” Toned arms crossed over his cobalt-clad chest, eyes almost exactly the same shade concentrating on Hal with the same sort of stare he tended to use on his fellow Ministry members when they were not playing to his tune yet...they always learned the folly of their ways in time.

“Hey, I don’t want any trouble, okay? I delivered Tervelan's private messages to the ministry and...to the woods. I didn't ask who the notes were for, but...oh gods, I knew. I transferred out the moment I could. You have to believe me.”

How in the Six did that dumbass manage to get away with this for so long if he was using one of his Seraph to run messages between the Ministry and the woods of all places? None of it made any sense...unless of course he could start ensuring Logan knew just how dumb and sheeplike some of his Seraph seemed to be. “So that's how Tervelan communicated with the centaurs. Who was his contact in the Ministry?”

Swallowing, Sergeant Hal mentally decided that he did not want to see this particular noble angry, least of all with him. There was no way that someone who could be this scary just by standing there but look like Lyssa’s male counterpart was someone to trifle with. “I don't know, but Dansky might. She was a Falcon before transferring out to the Lionguard. She's stationed at Black Haven now.” Anything to get the scary beauty away from him. If this was who Hal thought it was, no wonder Harley never said anything about his Sworn Lord that might be detrimental to his health…

~

Feeling like a hacky sack, Harley sighed as the group watched the remnants of the attacking bandits running away from the Lionguard stronghold. Bouncing from one place to another, talking to this person or another...it was almost ridiculous. He’d already mentioned to Selena that she needed to go ahead and market those communication mirrors of hers or find a way to make it so you could communicate with someone from out in the middle of nowhere without having to use a Patronus. Not like Harley could even use one if he tried...Glinda had definitely tried to get him to learn how but that hadn’t ended very well.

Lionguard Dansky was a surprisingly beautiful woman with brown hair that just barely brushed along the line of her jaw, wiping her sword free of blood with the fallen body of a bandit. “Those bandits caught us off guard, but they didn’t steal anything. It was as if they just wanted to kill people...thank the Gods you all showed up or they just might have gotten their wish.” Squaring her shoulders as she sheathed her sword, Dansky held out a hand to greet the group in front of her. “Lord Ravenclaw, Ladies...Hufflepuff.” Her tone at greeting them was slightly on the cooler side, reminding Harley that this woman was old enough to remember then in their more...juvenile days. She probably had been one of the Lionguard that had been tasked in Lion’s Arch with trying to keep track of them.

“We suspect that they were here to kill you, Dansky. We have need to speak with you about some accusations that have been brought forth of treason related to the fall of Falcon Company.” Keeping to Lionguard Dansky’s formality, Ra’s voice maintained a cool level of civility.

A small smile escaped her mask of calmness. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear that. I always suspected Tervelan was rotten, but I had no proof. Falcon Company was the finest unit I ever served with. If I hadn't been recovering from an injury, I'd have been with them that day.”

“You must know something. Tell me, did you ever see Tervelan meet with a minister?”

Shaking her head, Dansky’s smile faded away into that blank soldier’s mask as if it had never been there at all. “No. My job was to deliver messages for the Seraph. The ones I brought from Tervelan were addressed to ‘Minister Arton’—but I know for a fact that Arton never got those letters. After Falcon Company fell, I found out that the guy I'd been delivering them to didn't even work in Arton's office. Nobody'd ever seen him before. I delivered Falcon Company's last patrol route to that guy, too. After the unit was attacked, I put it together...and I just couldn't stay in the Seraph.” Deep, forcefully even breathing was the only indicator to the emotional stress Dansky felt at the admissions being made. “I remember the route they were taking like it was yesterday. They were supposed to go through the Kessex Hills. Here, I'll mark it on your map.”

~

Another damn jump halfway across Kryta...Harley mentally sighed, tightening the leather strap at his shoulder to pull his armor more firmly against his torso. Logan had already corrected him, quietly, that he had been carrying his shield upside down for the better part of the time that he had seen the blond.

The information of the day had confirmed that Arton was being framed to take the fall if the treason had ever been discovered. It was a, frankly, scarily well-thought-out plan. The fall of Falcon Company had brought down questions from many in the ministry about the Queen and her work of ‘wasting’ their resources in Ebonhawke or similar such things from those who had been against the Queen from the beginning. Thankfully that was a smaller contingent in the Ministry than they wanted to believe.

It was at times like this that Harley wished he could be part of the Ministry, if only to add another voice in support of the Queen to help further silence those who would try to bring down his friend and everything that Ra had worked for in the Ministry. Thankfully there was very little chance of him ever becoming a Minister or having any sort of pull in society outside of what he had in his House. He was happy in Hufflepuff, even if the added sway would be helpful.

Dansky’s assistance with Harley’s ever-available map had led them to a rather large cave with a decent population of bandits meandering around and what looked like cages littered around the inside if the glints Harley could see from available sunlight were any indication. This fight was looking to be on the rougher side just looking from their standpoint behind a nearby grove of trees. “There have to be at least fifty bandits in that cave…” The  blond tightened his ponytail, rolling his shoulders to try and loosen the tension he could feel building up in the muscles. Once they got Helena back safe and sound he was putting them all on house arrest and none of them were leaving Ravenclaw Manor for at least a week. “I think I saw Smiling Seamus in there...if this is his group, we’re in for a rough afternoon.”

Talon, ever vigilant, was taking a moment to check Glinda and Selena over for anything that could get in the way of the fight. As Ra’s Sworn Shield, Harley assumed that Talon expected him to do the same thing for those above him in rank...namely Ra and Logan Thackeray. One look from Ra told him to not bother. The raven-haired Ravenclaw would have said something if he had gained an injury of any kind since Harley was the one carrying their potions’ stores.

Logan let his eyes sweep over the collected group, lingering over his four friends. He had known Shining Blade Mehid for a while now through Anise but he hadn’t been able to take the time to get to know the handsome soldier. There was something different about them now. It was something he had assumed would eventually happen but he had prayed that these four crazy kids would be spared the loss of whatever was left of their innocence. He had seen Harley’s happy, bouncy glow start to fade not long after he had turned seventeen when Roland Ravenclaw had begun to use more of Harley’s sword than his shield to defend Ravenclaw interests. Sometimes Logan swore that Roland had put Harley through a potions regimen to get the boy to be the size he was now. Then again, if what Anise had told him about the boy’s family and lineage was true, he came by that size naturally.

Ra and Selena just barely cleared six feet, the tops of their heads reaching to Harley’s chin while Glinda only came up to his pectorals. Talon, slightly shorter than Ra, cleared Harley’s shoulder in height. It was funny when you got so used to someone being bigger than everyone else that they became your reference for  height after so long. “Alright everybody. Let’s hope this goes our way.” Logan watched Harley take a moment to kneel in the grass, Glinda and Talon both touching his shoulder as the blond husked out a prayer to Kormir for justice to be served, for Balthazar to strengthen their resolve and the sharpness of their weapons and for Dwayna to have mercy on them for the amount of hell they were about to cause. “Try and stay together, we don’t want to get separated in a fight like this. If we keep them to the mouth of the cave it’ll bottleneck them and we’ll have the advantage, especially with Glinda and Selena’s elemental spellwork. Harley, Talon and I will stay in front and use our shields to protect you three so we can get this over with, clean and tidy.”

Between the six of them and Logan’s not-terrible plan, the bandits fell under elemental spell-fire and frigid blades of ice flying every which way without the ability to go beyond the entrance of the cave with three shields of the physical and aura-induced in the way. Stepping over the blistered and blackened bodies that now littered the cave floor and entrance, Harley kept his shield tightly to his side as the hairs on the back of his neck refused to go down.

The cages were rusted and old, multiple people taking up the spaces without the comfort of straw or blankets in their captivity. A familiar head of black hair, even as matted and tangled as it was, stood out in Harley’s mind as his eyes swept over the cages to find that one particular face. They would free everyone but they had come here for Helena and he would be damned if they didn’t find her first.

Her name on his lips, Ra stopped cold in his tracks as his dark blue eyes took in the scene before him.

Helena, normally so healthy and vibrant, was having issues staying on her feet, holding onto the arm of the man keeping her upright with both hands. He could see her entire body trembling, dark circles under eyes so much like his own and those strong, beautiful features looking so drawn and pale. The black tunic and slacks she would usually wear under her armor were ripped and clinging to her skin with things that no one wanted to think about at the moment. She was  bruised, her ankle swollen as if something had been injured and not set right while her hands and feet were dark from dirt and abuse. “R...Ra…” She husked out, happiness shining in her eyes at the sight of her baby brother. Her next words came out as a wheezing squeak, unintelligible to their ears with a knife pressing close to the skin of her throat. Her long, matted black hair partially covered the neck of the man holding her upright with an arm across her chest and a wicked-looking dagger against her throat.

Alaric Bludhaven, a Baron of a minor house in Kryta. The information flicked through Ra’s mind like the pages of a well-read book, trying to remember what he could about the man. Thick blond hair that originally had been slicked back but had obviously fallen out of it’s careful hold with the pomade still clinging to the strands, giving it a stringy look to hang down in watery grey eyes set into a sharp face, hawk-like nose and trimmed goatee. A year older than Helena but was not fairly active in the Ministry, part of a rather reclusive family, the last of his line. A hunting accident a few years back had nicknamed him The Bloody Baron among the nobles of Divinity’s Reach.

“Stay back, Ravenclaw. No one is taking Helena from me…” Madness gleamed in those grey eyes, similarly drawn and dirty features leading Harley to believe the Baron had probably been taken captive or had thrown his lot in with the bandits to get to Helena. He recalled having had to threaten the bastard away from his sister-in-all-but-blood a fair few times before she had gone missing. “She’s mine. Mine, do you hear me?!” The knife pressed further into her skin, bringing a thin line of red against the blade to trickle down through the dirt caking her throat.

The sound of multiple weapons being drawn creaked through the open air of the cave like the sounds of shifting leather against wood, the three swords in their company finding their way into grasping hands that were growing more white-knuckled by the second.

A blue-tinged white aura gathered around the edges of Ra’s eyes with the Bloody Baron too lost in his own fantasies to care of the danger he was in. “She is not yours, Baron Bludhaven. Release my sister. NOW.” Any human being with sense would have dropped the girl and ran screaming in the other direction at this point. Six weapons pointed in his direction from a Seraph, a Shining Blade Officer, three Nobles of Divinity’s Reach and the Sworn Shield of Ravenclaw should have multiplied that need to flee exponentially. But no, ‘Bloody’ Baron Bludhaven was too far gone for that.

Glinda felt sadness run through her like an electric current, seeing the weakness in Helena’s limbs and the sickly pallor to her usually tanned skin. The girl had been dying for a while now. Was it wishful fancy to think she had been holding onto life just to see her friends and family again? Glinda wouldn’t know what was wrong until she was able to get closer and examine her but she could already tell that no amount of healing magic or potions would be able to save Helena Ravenclaw.

A thunk of wood and metal echoed in the gathered company’s ears, bringing Selena’s attention to what had fallen into the dirt. The Ravenclaw family symbol stared back at her from the face of the shield that had taken up residence on Harley’s arm for as many years as she had known him. He rarely ever went anywhere without that shield if he thought he’d have to do his job...why? Why was it on...The words froze in her mind as a new energy pulsed from the man beside her, his larger form standing practically in front of herself and Glinda, Ra and Talon on either side of the larger blond. Logan had taken up the rear in case of any more bandits deciding to come home to roost. She could see Talon keeping one eye on the confrontation in front of them but flickering his gaze back and forth. Even a Shining Blade felt worry, apparently.

“Did you really think it would be that easy?” The voice she could hear sent a shiver down her spine, watching with a perfectly maintained mask as Harley seemed to change in front of their eyes. This was not him losing control...this was definitely something new though. But that voice...deeper, more gravelly than Harley’s usually husky voice could have ever been. It sounded as if something else was talking through their friend. “That some low-life scum like you could really do this?” A black pulse of energy tinted with a violent shade of purple roiled out of Harley’s armor, tendrils leaking out from the edges of his gauntlets like spluttering flames.

Between a blink and the opening of her eyes, the blond had disappeared from in front of Helena’s gaze, an explosion of black miasma coating the floor from around Harley’s feet. The grasping black smoke rose and twisted around Bludhaven, sickening cracks and pops of muscle preluding a pained scream before Harley took up Helena carefully in his arms, stepping back from the tormented man before Glinda could swear she heard Harley speak in that same deeper, throaty voice. “Demons of Torment will hound you to death and beyond…Die.” Holding Helena carefully in one arm, a twitch of Harley’s hand brought about a tightening of that black smoke against Bludhaven and the screeching sounds of pain ended with a rattle before the body fell to Harley’s feet.

As soon as Bludhaven was dead, Harley’s shoulders slumped and that blackened edge of energy faded away, prompting him to hold himself up with one arm on the stone wall of the cave. Helena was clinging tightly to his breastplate, murmuring words against the metal she could feel there that he could barely hear. What had he just done? What had happened?

Forcing himself onto his feet, Harley kept his eyes closed so that he didn’t have to look at the broken body he had caused. “Somebody take her from me.” Murmured denials came from Helena in his arms, tightening her hold on the shirt her hand found above the edge of his armor. “Shhh, shhh...it’s okay. It’s okay, Lena. We’re here, Lena...you’ll be okay now.” Even in his normally unyielding optimism, he doubted those words.

The cologne he could smell as an even, measured step hit his ears told him that it was Ra stepping closer. Harley had to reach up to Helena’s hand, untangling her fingers from his shirt as Ra took her from his arms. He could practically feel the relief flowing through Ra at having his sister in his arms. Talon left the three other members of NTSD to greet Helena, fawning over her and reassuring her that they were there as he made his way to Harley. “Master Exemplar is going to want to know about this, Harley. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I want to say that was Necrotic magic but it felt more vicious than that…” Raising his eyebrows, Talon took a moment to wave his hand in front of Harley’s face, noting that the other still had yet to open his eyes. “Harley, what’s wrong?” Whatever was going on was definitely going to get in the way of the information he had for the blond and the Master Exemplar was not going to be happy with any further interruptions.

Those golden eyelashes fluttered, raising up like shutters but they were not coming up over golden orbs. No...pure white swirled in Harley’s eyes like the ebb and flow of fog in the morning light. “I can’t see, Talon. Don’t...don’t tell the others. It...it’ll go away. Whatever happened, this is probably just momentary.” He could blame one of the bombs that had been thrown their way by the bandits. It wouldn’t be the first time a Seraph had reported going momentarily blind from an explosion like that. Just because his shield had protected the others didn’t mean that he hadn’t been affected.  

Not happy but going with it anyway, Talon sighed before tugging Harley’s arm over his shoulder so that the blond could lean on him. “Harley’s experiencing some aftereffects of those bombs the bandits used. I think some of it got in his eyes. Let’s get everyone back home…” There were quite a few members of the lost Falcon Company in this cave in various states of disrepair. Glinda stepped away from Helena, finding random books, shirts and whatnot from the bandits to turn each item into a Portkey with a quickly murmured, ‘Portus’ and waiting for the item to glow blue before she gave them to the Seraph captives. A quick pop of magic and the injured Seraph all disappeared from their cages.

They had saved the missing members of a Seraph Company and defeated an entire sect of bandits...a good day, overall.

“Come on, guys, let’s get Helena healed up enough we can get back to Divinity’s Reach, the smell is really starting to get to me.” Harley muttered, leaning more heavily on Talon without meaning to. He couldn’t seem to keep his feet right now and it was driving him insane. He just wanted to be able to go home and get over whatever the hell was happening to him. Unknown to Harley, the flickering, diaphanous flames had yet to dissipate from around his gloves.

A rattling breath brought his attention to where he could hear Ra going to his knees under the sudden dead weight of his sister in his arms. The hacking, heart-wrenching cough was interspersed with the soft, clinking sound of a hand rummaging in Harley’s potions’ pack to grab a few of the many remedies he carried on a regular basis. “Dittany for the lacerations, swelling solution and anti-inflammatory…” Selena was muttering to herself as she grabbed different bottles before Harley cleared his throat to gain her attention.

“She’s coughing pretty bad. She might need to have her lungs cleared up before you try giving her anything else.” If she had an infection of any kind, whatever they gave her might react badly and become worse than it already was. Harley couldn’t see it but he could already tell Selena’s pale face had lost all ounce of color that it could. There were some things that even magic couldn’t fix and she was praying that this was not one of them.

Helena weakly pushed away Selena’s hand when the dark-haired young woman went to grab her wand. “No...Don’t waste your magic, Selena.” Further coughing wracked her frail frame, forcing Ra to hold her more tightly against his chest even as his gloved fingers tried to card through her hair. “I’ve been sick for, for too long. But I couldn’t die until after he,” the scorn and hate in her voice made certain everyone knew who she was speaking of, “had died and couldn’t...couldn’t hurt me anymore. Got a bullet in my leg from one of the centaur sharpshooters. The bandits didn’t know about it until it was too late.” That grimy, bruised hand came up to cup Ra’s face, running a thumb against that cheek she remembered pinching when he’d been so much shorter than her. “I’m glad you found me, Birdie. It was, it was good to see you all...one last time. Tell mom...tell her I’m sorry.” Her voice was growing softer, near a whisper by the time she had reached the end of her sentence, snuggling herself in tighter against her brother to try and steal more of his warmth. “I’m cold, Birdie. Get Baby...over here. He’s always warm…”

Harley’s heart nearly broke in his chest as he heard this beautiful, strong woman calling him by his rarely-used nickname. Even though they had been the oldest of the group, she had always called him ‘Baby’. Talon helped him step closer to the two, the blond kneeling in the dirt before his arms found their way around Ra’s shoulders, tugging the two dark-haired Ravenclaws against his chest to keep Helena between them even as Glinda and Selena placed a hand on either shoulder between Ra and Harley’s barricade.

“M-Mom...Mom’s...diadem. It’s...I buried it. It sh-should...should still be there. The apple orchard...in Queensland.” A huffy, breathless laugh turned into a cough as her chapped lips smiled. “Where Ha-arley ate enough apples to make himself sick…” That trip had also been the time when Helena realized she was never going to eat caramel again and Ra had gotten his first taste of a chocolate-covered caramel apple. Harley could remember that day as the first time he’d been treated as part of the family instead of as a vassal. Roland Ravenclaw had called him ‘son’ during that trip and it had warmed Harley to the bone...a very different feeling from what he was experiencing now.

“C’mon, Hel, you can’t…” Harley husked, shaking his head in denial even as tears burned at the back of his eyes. “You can’t leave us. You’re too damn stubborn to die, Pretty-Lady...please.” The lack of answer from the usually quick-witted woman and her body going slack between the bodies sandwiching her in place denied his plea, forcing the blond to feel yet more cracks arcing across the surface of his heart.

Ra was silent, unable to speak through the second round of grief their group was experiencing in less than a week. First his fiancee and now his sister...he knew he was not the only one that this was affecting but in some corner of his mind he couldn’t bring himself to care beyond how much it hurt at the moment. Glinda and Selena had been the best of friends with Helena, had looked up to her just as much as Ra himself had, even though they hadn’t been as close to Reth they had been looking forward to him being a part of their group for years to come.

Harley pulled back from the group-hug, bundling Helena against his chest as he made his way to his feet. “Logan, Talon...could you both go back to Divinity’s Reach and check on the remaining Seraph? I’m certain they’ll need the help.”

“Sure, Harley...we’ll see  you all later.” Logan’s voice was subdued, hardly able to believe what he had been made privy to before turning on his heel and walking out with Talon at his side. Neither one of them would dare speak of the happenings in the cave ever again.

Glinda, already gleaning Harley’s thoughts on what needed to happen, pulled her wand from its hidden place in the sleeve of her shirt and waved it with a few muttered words, summoning branches and fallen pieces of the trees in the surrounding forest. Selena’s own magic helped her get the makings of a pyre started in the center of the cave.

A thick layering of leaves and flowers decorated the center of the pyre as Harley laid her on top of the gathered wood, feeling the rush of Ra’s warm magic brush him by and wrap around the woman that had been an inspiration to them both. Opening his eyes with the hope that whatever magic had taken them over had faded, he was disappointed...until his eyes caught sight of the beautiful woman standing beside the pyre.

Helena stood beside her brother, watching as Glinda’s magic set fire to the wood. Looking at her as if through a fog, her hair as thick and beautiful as it always had been, her skin clear and a paler, more washed out tan than her brother’s. A thin blue sundress had taken the place of her prisoner’s clothes, her favorite shoes decorating her feet as if she was on her way to the market with friends instead of standing as a ghost at her own funeral.

How could he see her? It didn’t look like anyone else was able to see Helena standing there. Offering him that small, secretive smile that always was a warning for some form of mischief, the dark-haired woman walked to him as calmly as you please. “Well I’m glad you can see me, Harley...you’ll come into your new powers nicely. Don’t worry so much about them. Just take it as it comes and learn to control it. You might find it to be more of a gift than a curse…” Going up on tiptoe, Helena pressed a kiss to his forehead that felt like a flutter of winter wind against his skin. “Give everyone my love and tell mother that I’m sorry...and keep taking care of Ra. He’ll see what’s good for him soon enough.” A wink and that tinkling laugh echoed in his ears before she disappeared like a fine morning mist in sunlight.

Swallowing around the sudden lump in his throat burning it’s way up to his eyes, Harley wiped at them with the back of his hands. The world still didn’t look normal but at least it wasn’t all white again. Everything just looked washed out. All colors were faded and he could barely see the outlines of the people in the cave outside of the colors that he could see. The flame appeared almost blue to his eyes instead of the orange and yellow it was supposed to be. What the hell was this new power and what had Helena meant that he’d come into them nicely? Great...something new to stress out about after all of this, including whatever the hell Talon had wanted to tell him about what the Shining Blade had found out regarding his parents. Attempting to shut his thoughts off from the stressful turn they were taking, Harley instead concentrated on the warmth of Glinda and Selena burrowing into either side of him as they sought the comfort his larger form always seemed to emanate.

It didn’t take long for Glinda to drag Ra in between herself and Selena, letting the Ravenclaw youth hide his tears behind the winged curtain of his black hair. The two Elementalists nodded to each other, wrapping their arms around their boys as best they could, sinking to their knees in front of the pyre as it burned.



 


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