A Monster Rancher fan-fic by Lord Jareth (e-mail all questions, comments, flames and/or requests to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: I don’t own Monster Rancher or any particular breed of monster unless stated specifically that it has not been used by the company of the creation of Monster Rancher (in English that means Tecmo). I do, however, own the characters, story and setting, so please don’t steal them.
On the Isle
A young Celios (Centaur/Tiger) trotted down a rocky hillside. A shimmering white medallion gleamed against his chest as it bounced from side to side like a hypnotist’s pendant. The young monster didn’t even seem to notice when the chain began to wear down and the links holding the medallion began to break one by one.
A Monol snuck from the shadows to fall into stride beside the Celios. The sight would have been thoroughly comical—a Celios barely old enough to wield his spear followed by an old-looking Monol—except for the fact that the Celios wore a cold expression no one—human or monster or otherwise—should ever have to wear at his age.
The Celios ground to a halt and the Monol went skidding past him. “Fool,” he spat. “You dare trespass on our land and try to run with Æseri?” Æseri lifted his spear and hurled at the Monol as hard as he could.
The mood was ruined as the spear fell short and skidded to a halt in the dust five yards behind the Monol, who walked on, oblivious to all that was going on around him. “Damn!” Æseri spat in the dirt. “Five damned yards! I was so close to getting rid of the filthy…” he trailed off, calling the Monol every filthy name he could think of and a few more that he made up on the spot.
“Hmmm… not bad.” A Striker (Naga/Tiger) slithered up to him. “I especially liked those last few… I’ve never heard them before.”
“I made them up,” Æseri muttered. “It was nothing. Really.”
“That’s your problem,” the Striker said matter-of-factly.
“What’s my problem?” Æseri snapped.
“You’re an idiot, my dear Æseri. A pathetic, blithering idiot.” The Striker laughed emptily. “You’ve got to learn… we don’t care if you curse until your tongue falls out. All you need to do is know when to shut up and you’ll be fine.”
Æseri looked at the Striker suspiciously. “Who are you?”
The Striker laughed. “Technically speaking, my name’s Жئصغشسيشصطعكم٤, but since nobody but my *own* kind can pronounce that, I’m called Sting.” He grinned at Æseri, who clutched the sides of his head as the realization of Sting’s name washed through his brain.
“Ouch…” he muttered. “How can even *you* pronounce a name like that?”
“Fang! FANG! Listen to me, damn it!” a Mint (Pixie/Tiger) flew frantically to catch up with a Hound Dragon (Dragon/Tiger). “FANG!! Damn it…” The Mint charged up a Lightning attack in her hands and blasted Fang.
“What?” Fang turned his head to face the Mint. “Oh, hullo Jen. What do you want? Where have you been these past few days? When did you start wearing Black? Oh, and don’t forget, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ What is it?”
Jen rolled her eyes. “Old Sting’s causing trouble again. Go straighten him out.”
“Dævoro said to send you. *I* certainly won’t be tangling with Sting.”
“You can *screw* Sting for all I care, Jen. Why does Dævoro always send me? Why not anyone else? And why is it always Dævoro who handles him? Is Lucifer too high and mighty?”
“I don’t know what Lucifer’s up to and I don’t know why Dævoro always sends you. Happy? Now GO!”
“Why is it that even though you wear Gray and he wears Orange, you find him intimidating? If he were your superior, *he* would be the one wearing Gray.”
“JUST GO, damn it!” Jen flew off, muttering some rather uncomplimentary things about Fang under her breath.
“Simple!” Sting chuckled. “It’s in the blood. But anyway, you’re new, aren’t you?”
Æseri blinked. “How could you tell?”
“You’re young, you can’t hit a Monol with a spear at eighty yards, and you wear White.”
“What do you mean, I wear White?”
“Your medallion is white. It’s the lowest in the hierarchy.”
“What are the ranks?” Æseri’s gut dislike for Sting was wearing off to be replaced by the need to learn more.
“From lowest to highest… White, Yellow, Green, Orange—that’s me, Red, Amber, Blue, Lavender, Gray, Black, Silver, Bloodstone, Gold and Black Gold—the highest. It’s the one thing we do to show ranks, dude. You didn’t just happen to end up with a white one.”
“‘Oh’, he says.” Sting laughed. “You’re *real* new then, aren’t ya?”
Æseri glared at Sting. “I can tell you don’t like me, Sting, but I don’t care. Dævoro said that in the future I’ll be an active member of the Blue Devils.”
“We’re just ‘the gang’, kid. If we have to use a name, it’s just the Devils.” Sting laughed and began to slither away.
Æseri gripped his spear and threw it as hard as he could at Sting’s retreating form. It struck him between the shoulder blades.
“So how is he?” Fang glared at the Frozen Gaboo (Gaboo/Tiger).
“That would be, ‘How is he, *professor*?’ my dear Fang.” The Gaboo laughed.
“Don’t toy with me, Falon. I’ve had enough of your arrogance.” Fang glared at him through slowly reddening eyes. “I wear Lavender to your Amber. Treat me with a little respect.”
“If you’re going to be so mean…” Falon’s voice became an irritating whine “Then I won’t tell you how he’s doing.”
“Do you know the little secret of these medallions, *Professor* Falon?” Fang smiled.
“What secret?” Falon snapped.
“This.” Fang’s smile widened as a wave of power shot from his medallion. “The medallions hold power. The higher in rank, the higher in strength. So tell me… how is he doing?”
“Slight wounding to the left lung and damaged muscle tissue in the back and shoulder region, but he’ll be fine in a month.”
“Only a month?” drawled a voice from the door, “Pity. I was aiming for the heart, you know, but I was off by a couple of inches.” Æseri stepped into the room. “That’s pretty neat about the medallions, you know. I never would have guessed.”
“I’m *so* delighted that I could be of assistance,” Fang sneered. “A rookie considers my long-found knowledge *useful*. A rookie who wears *White*.”
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called this meeting.” Dævoro, a Sapphire (Gali/Tiger, also called Furred Mask), floated down to the center of the stadium. A medallion—Black Gold—hung down from whatever Galis used as necks. His blue cloak swirled around in the wind.
“We aren’t wondering, at least not too much, so tell us the story and get off my podium.” A Hound Knight (Durahan/Tiger) swung his sword in the air to punctuate.
“Let him sspeak, Ssir Frosstbit,” said a sibilant voice. A Blue Terror (Joker/Tiger) floeated down and took his place next to Sir Frostbit. “He iss one of uss now… he wearss the Black Gold with the pride we all do.”
“Thank you, master Lucifer. I appreciate your support.” Dævoro smiled… as much as any Gali can smile.
“Lucifer iss enough… you equal uss now, Dævoro.” Lucifer laughed, and those high-ranking enough to attend the meeting cringed. “You dissapoint me, my friendss… I thought I had trained you better than that…”
“It’s about Sting… you all know Sting, right?” Dævoro cut in.
“Of course we all know Sting,” Sir Frostbit snapped. “That Amber Striker, right?”
“Precisely. He’s been causing trouble, and he got into a fight with a rookie.”
“Dævoro, we don’t care that Sting got into a fight with a rookie.” Sir Frostbit kicked the dirt floor.
“The rookie ran him through with a spear. Lord Fang was informed that he suffered minor injuries, but in reality he could be crippled for life.” Dævoro’s form flickered slightly, as though he were irritated.
“Which rookie wass thiss, Dævoro?”
“Æseri, master Lucifer. A young Celios.”
“I’ve met Æseri briefly, Dævoro, and he doesn’t seem to be the type for runnin’ folk through with spears.” Sir Frostbit cut a wooden seat in two.
“That’s what I thought too. Apparently I was wrong.”
If you want my E-mail or a disclaimer, look at the first story. I’m too lazy to type it all up again.
Falon paced back and forth in his study. (Okay, maybe paced isn’t the right word for a Gaboo, but the attitude is right.) Fang glared at him.
“Any news, *Professor Falon*?”
“That should be, ‘No, *Lord Fang*’, my dear Falon.” He smirked. “I don’t believe that you are remembering that.”
“VERY FUNNY, FANG.” Falon’s eyes narrowed to slits. “But I must thank you for the information on the medallions’ hidden power. Without your help, I never would have been able to do *this*.” Chuckling softly, Falon unleashed a blast of power from his medallion at Fang’s stiff left wing.
Fang dropped, unconscious. Falon left the room, muttering happily under his breath.
“I’m afraid you made a mistake, Sir Frostbit.” Sting gasped for breath. “I don’t wear Amber. Only the Orange.” He collapsed back into his bed.
“All right then. I’ll make sure the records state that. And I think you should know that you may never be able to use your left arm properly again.” Sir Frostbit stood stiffly next to Sting. “So next time, don’t underestimate the rookies.” He turned on his heel and left.
“Damn,” Sting muttered. “What have I gotten into here?”
“So how did it go? And don’t attack me like you did Fang, Falon. I don’t care that you’re a scientist and a physician. I’ll kill you if I have to… *unlike* Fang.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to fix the wing.” Falon shrank back, nervous.
“The more pressing question is…” Jen smiled nastily. “…how will you live your life if you *don’t* fix it? I may not like Fang, but I like *you* even less. Fang is valuable. You’re expendable.” She charged a quick Lightning attack in her hands and blasted Falon. “Don’t forget.”
“I-I-I won’t.” Falon shrank even smaller.
“And one more thing…”
“When Fang wakes up, tell him that I don’t wear the Black… yet. He seemed to be confused about the subject when we talked yesterday.” With another nasty smile, Jen left the room.
Æseri kicked lightly at a clump of grass. He’d been practicing channeling the medallion’s power all afternoon and felt that he was getting the hang of it. “Yeh… I like this… YA!!” he jumped into the air like a madman. “I’M… THE DEVIL… ON… FOUR… FEET!!!!”
“Well, I certainly hope you’re pleased with yourself, Mr. Devil-on-four-feet, because you’re in deep trouble.” Jen walked up to him.
“Devils are supposed to make trouble, girlie.” Æseri grinned psychotically. “’Specially my kind. Don’t go pokin’ your nose into matters of power you don’t understand.”
“Shut up, rookie.” Jen walked over to Æseri, picked him up and threw him into a nearby tree. “You can mouth off to me when you outrank me, but not till then… in other words, you’ll do as I say for as long as you’re capable of walking like the rest of us.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Æseri snapped. “I don’t get it!”
“You’re in the ranks of White, rookie. I’m in the ranks of Gray… soon to be Black. You’ll have to ascend eight levels just to get to the Gray… and by that time I’ll be at least as Silver or Bloodstone.” She grinned at him. “So you clean my *boots*, rookie. At least you would, so be grateful I don’t wear boots.” She spat in the dirt in front of him.
“Okay, okay… sheesh. Don’t get all riled up on me, girlie.” Æseri tried to grin.
“And don’t call me ‘girlie’.”
“Who are you to give me orders, girlie?”
“Jen.” Jen charged up all of the lightning energy she could, backed it with the strength of her Gray medallion and blasted it all at Æseri. He crumpled, unconscious before he even hit the ground.
“Jen, I am dissapointed to ssay that you are caussing trouble again. What iss the problem here?”
“Master Lucifer, kindly don’t ask. I don’t know. But why is it you dealing with this instead of Dævoro or Mister High And Mighty?” Jen smiled inwardly. Lucifer was the only member of the Ruling Triat she didn’t mind dealing with. Actually, she liked Lucifer a lot… he wasn’t overly formal like Dævoro or arrogant like Sir Frostbit.
“Misster High And Mighty?” *And* he had a bit of a sense of humor.
“Sir Frostbit. He acts like he owns the world, Lucifer.” Jen shrugged. “Most of us don’t like him.”
“That does not strike me ass odd, Jen.” Lucifer smiled, an odd act for a Joker. “I’m not quite sso evil ass other Jokerss. Not that it matterss. I am not fond of Ssir Frosstbit in the leasst.”
“Really? That’s a bit of a shock.” Jen grinned.
“Ssir Frosstbit doess not make any effort to make himsself likeable, Jen.” He paused a moment, thinking. “But that doess not take away from the fact that if thiss continues at the rate it iss going, the rookie will be dead before the year iss out.”
“Hopefully he’d have wised up by then.”
“Æsseri hass much potential, Jen. You would do well to remember that. You are dissmissed.”
Jen left the room. She had expected to be reprimanded at the least… most of the Devils who irritated Lucifer found themselves in the infirmary for several weeks.
“And here I am… whatever.”
“I don’t suggest you try to move, Mr. Devil-on-four-feet,” said a cool voice from… somewhere.
“Where am I?” Æseri tried to ask, but he couldn’t move his mouth. “What happened?”
“Jen happened. Don’t bother her, kid. You’ll just get hurt even more.” Fang laughed. “You’ve got to be Æseri, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Who are you?”
“Fang. I’ve felt Jen’s wrath before, too, kid. We’re in this together.”
“*You* haven’t had to take a fully charged Lightning attack backed by all of Jen’s Gray strength, Fang. That’s what put me here.”
“And you’ve survived to tell the tale. You must be one of those ‘Never say die’ types, kid. We like those here.” Fang grinned, his wolf like head turning to face Æseri. “You’ll be a good member to the Devils, I can see that. Them humans are getting uppity and Jen’s been killing too many.”
“That’s not good.”
“Damn straight it’s not!” Fang shouted. “Humans are valuable. We can ransom ’em off to human traders for quite a sum. Jen’s killed at least a dozen in the past couple of months. Usually we lose maybe three a year.”
“Ouch.” Æseri tried to sit. “We can’t let that keep going on.”
“You’re one to talk, kid. You nearly killed old Sting.”
“Oh, hell yeah. You really are a devil. By the time you make it to the ranks of Green or Orange you’ll really be one of us.”
“Any time, kid.”
“Rex! Come here!” Rex sighed and walked into the house. “Rex! We don’t have all day! Hurry up!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he muttered. “Don’t get all psycho on me, dood.”
“Rex, my brother’s here and I want him impressed with the service!”
“Which brother?” Rex asked as he dashed into the room.
“Ahriman. You remember him?”
Rex paled, remembering the last time he and the Jaggernaut (Beaclon/Joker) had met. “All too well, mister Dhakkan.”
“Call me ‘boss’, Rex.”
“Dhakkan, isn’t this a little overboard for just one guy?”
“Stupid human… how could you understand? He’s a Jaggernaut.” The Sloth Beetle (Beaclon/Tiger) shook his head sadly. “Jaggernauts have a long memory for slights.”
“So, basically, you don’t want him here but you don’t dare not invite him?”
“I’m not that stupid, boss. Humans aren’t any smarter or stupider than monsters.”
“You’re a third-generation Kulian, Rex. By then we’ve managed to breed out intelligence.”
“So this island is called Kul?”
“Of course. What did you expect?”
“Nobody ever told me where I live, boss. I’d know this island was Kul if somebody’d told me. But nobody did.” He sighed. “It’s got to be the Blue Devils. They’re destroying the humans here.”
“The Devils know what they’re doing, Rex. I’m one of them.” Dhakkan indicated the Red medallion around his neck. “I’ve got influence to keep you safe, but I don’t want to get hurt if you start speaking against them.”
“I’ll lay low, boss.”
“And furthermore…” the speaker was some sort of… whatever it was. A Hound Saurian (Zuum/Tiger) or some irritating monster like that. Jen let her head drop. A few minutes of sleep wouldn’t make a difference… right?
“Jen, could you give uss an opinion on the current ssituation?” Lucifer gave her a cool smile from his seat. “I believe that ssince you wear the Gray, you sshould contribute to thesse meetss. What can you tell uss?”
“Nothing,” Jen muttered. “I have no active opinion on the matter at this moment.” She sat, sweat pouring down her forehead and stinging her eyes.
“Nice ssave,” Lucifer whispered in her ear. “What do you think the outcome will be of appealss from non-Devilss?”
“How did you get over here so fast?” Jen asked him, deliberately avoiding the question.
“I’ll explain later. But now, my dear Jen… pay attention to the speakerss and bore yoursself sstiff. Ssuch iss life.”
“I don’t want to admit that, you know.” Jen smiled coolly.
“Of coursse you don’t… you like to believe in being in control, my dear Jen.” He smiled at her and dissappeared.
Jen rolled her eyes. “Men,” she muttered under her breath.
“I heard that, you know,” Lucifer’s voice whispered in her head. “I’m not one to agree, necesssarily. Esspecially since you yoursself are not one to be sso agreeable.”
“I still stand by my opinion,” Jen snapped.
“That’ss why we like you.” Lucifer’s smile appeared in Jen’s head as he made himself semi-comfortable in his seat.
Jen sighed. “I suppose I have to take the bad with the good,” she muttered. “Over all he’s a good guy… I even like him a little. I suppose even I’m going all soft.” She shuddered. “I sure as hell hope not. I hate softness.”
“Don’t be afraid of being ssoft,” Lucifer told her. “Ssoftnesss can help uss all at ssome point in each of our misserable livess… heh heh… you will undersstand ssoner or later.”
“Oh, shut up,” Jen grumbled. “You make too damned much sense.”
“REX! HURRY UP WITH THE SANDWICHES!!” Ahriman shouted. “Dhakkan, I must say, I expected better of you… you haven’t trained your Rex very well.” He smiled with the air of someone with too much self-granted superiority.
“Rex doesn’t respond very well to being trained, I’m afraid,” Dhakkan said with what he hoped was a sad smile. “Don’t think I haven’t tried. He’s very troublesome.” He smiled inwardly. Rex was his *friend*, not a servant.
“You’re too soft!” Ahriman spat. “That’s your problem. You have to teach these humans who’s boss around here. I’ve been quite successful back home, even though it’s human territory. Or should I say, *was* human territory.” He laughed unpleasantly. “It’s *mine* now… hee hee… all mine…” he grinned unpleasantly. “Mineminemine… hee hee…”
“You’re acting stupid,” Dhakkan pointed out. “You look and sound like the local fool, Ahriman. Get a bit of a grip on yourself.” He sighed. This was the most insanity he’d endured since the last time Ahriman had visited him.
“Of course. I understand.” Ahriman straightened up. “But the land is mine, you know. You should come and see me some time.” He grinned.
“Great,” Dhakkan muttered. “That sounds just great. I’d move in with ya, but it’s too long a trip for these old bones.”
“What old bones? You’re only six years older’n me!” Ahriman’s horrible grin widened. “Does it really make that much of a difference?”
“Absolutely. It makes all the difference in the world, little bro. And it ain’t just funny that everyone thinks you’re older?”
“Nah, that’s just dumb logic. I’m more impressive than you… in just about every way. I don’t blame ’em really.”
“Shut up, Ahriman.”
“No, *you* shut up, Dhakkan.” Ahriman stood up. “Thanks for the meal. I think I’ll be leaving now.” He fluttered out the door.
A minute later Rex was back with the sandwiches. “Am I late again?”
Dhakkan grinned. “I don’t believe so. My dear brother has decided to vacate the premises.”
“Cool!” Rex smiled. “Since he’s gone, can I have a sandwich?” without waiting for Dhakkan’s reply, he tore into the plate he’d been carrying. Dhakkan just smiled sadly.
“So tell me Fang, how do you deal with Jen?” neither Æseri nor Fang were out of the infirmary. “I don’t want to get thrown into any more trees. Not that she’d do that to you, but…”
Fang shrugged. “She did once.”
“Why would I?” Fang shrugged again. “She pulled a muscle in her shoulder when she did it, but she was younger and not quite so tough back then.”
“Compared to what?” Æseri laughed. “She scares me. To think that throwing a dragon into a tree can be done when you’re ‘not so tough’!”
“Æseri, all you have to do is be a little polite. Then you’ll go through your life with less pain. She only attacks people she doesn’t like or when she’s on business. She only dislikes people who are arrogant, rude or stupid. Though knowing you, you’ve probably struck her as all three.”
“Hey!” Æseri glared. “I’m not stupid!”
“You sure act stupid, kid, and that’s all she cares about.” Fang grinned. “Get over it, okay?”
“I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“That’s the spirit!” Fang laughed. “You’ve got to be resigned to your fate if you want to last long. You’ll be fine, kid. I believe in you.”
“Being bitter doesn’t hurt either.”
“That doesn’t help me much.”
“I think you’re adjusting already. What you *really* want to do is get Lucifer to like you, that way you’ll be able to get away with anything… that’s why Jen can beat up on the boyos.”
“Lucifer likes her?”
“Better than sliced bread, Æseri. I’d say he likes her plenty.”
“What does that have to do with sliced bread?”
“It’s a stupid twist on a stupid saying.”
“Oh. I see.” Æseri lay back down. “I figure I’ll just sleep the whole thing off.”
“Don’t be so sure about living it down though…” Fang sighed. “Jen has a lot of things going for her… one of them being a *very* good memory.”
“I’ll remember,” Æseri told him sleepily. “Thanks Fang… you’ve been a lot of help…” his head hit the pillow and he was asleep in a minute.
“Such a foolish boy…” Fang smiled sadly. “He doesn’t stand a chance. I almost wish I could help him.”
“So let me get this straight… you want to get Ahriman out of the way for good? Not possible.” Dhakkan glared at Rex. “If you want him dead you can kill him yourself. I’m not going to soil my hands with my brother’s blood.”
“Or, more to the point, you’re afraid to try?” Rex snapped. “You’re afraid of Ahriman and you hate him as much as I do. I can help you get rid of him. You trust me, right?”
“Rex, trusting you isn’t going to improve our situation. I’m not going to ask anyone for help.”
“Dhakkan, the Devils are here to wipe out people like Ahriman. He makes the human race look superior. I may be human, but from what I *have* seen of humans they aren’t as great as they’d like to think.
“No, don’t tell me that it’s not going to work. I hate Ahriman with a regular passion, and if you won’t let me kill him for you I’ll do it for me.” Rex opened his eyes, as they’d been closed the whole time, and looked at Dhakkan.
He was a wreck. Sweat poured down his face, drenching it as though somebody had just dumped a bucket of water over his head. “We can’t,” he said harshly. “We can’t do it.”
“Why not?” Rex hissed. “I’m starting to lose my temper, Dhakkan, what’s standing in the way? Spit it out!”
“I can’t say,” Dhakkan growled. “I can’t tell anyone, least of all a human. You wouldn’t get it.”
“You’d be surprised at how much I *do* get. May I be dismissed now?”
“Yes. Go away.”
Rex left, and returned to the room.
“Go AWAY, Rex.”
“All right, all right… I’m going.”
Rex scurried out of the room with no more dignity than a cockroach who had just wandered into a very well-lit room.
Dhakkan poured himself a tall glass of brandy and chugged it down. When the glass was empty, he poured another. And another one after that…
He couldn’t tell Rex anything… he couldn’t…
“I wanna get out of here!” Æseri whined. “I’m bored! I want to get something done!” he climbed out of his bed and paced up and down between the beds.
“And the *rest* of us want to get a little peace and quiet!” Fang snapped. “Keep it down!”
“Why?” Æseri grumbled. “You’re trying to squelch my ambition, aren’t you?”
“No,” Fang growled, “I want a little peace and quiet! Some of us are trying to rest here, Æseri.” He glared. “Now shut up before I go over there and actually show you what a dragon—even an injured one—can do when irked!” He snorted, and steam rose from his face. “Got it?”
“Whatever.” Æseri rolled his eyes. “I’ll figure out how to get around you one of these days.” He walked over to his bed and climbed back in. “Think I’ll ever outrank you? Or Jen?”
Fang sighed. “I sincerely doubt it, my feisty little friend. I doubt it very, very much.”
“I’m sure you do.” Æseri told him. “So I’ll just have to work that much harder to prove you wrong. Whatcha say? Think I’m up for it?”
“Just shut up and you’ll have my support.” Fang sighed again. “I really just want to get some rest. You’re a rookie, so they’ll be lenient with you, but they want me back at work in four days. I want to heal up as much as possible between now and then.”
“All right. I’ll do my best.” Æseri lay down on his bed and did his best not to stir up a commotion.
“I have to run the reserve defensive troops for HOW long?” Jen spluttered. “I’m not set up for that kind of stuff! Why?” she gave Sir Frostbit a glare that could freeze a person’s blood in his veins.
Sir Frostbit was glad he didn’t have any blood for Jen to freeze, but somehow he managed to smirk. “Fang’s estimated recovery time is four more days. Right now we need regulation for the troops more than we need regulation for the Special Service. And from now on, if you put Fang out of business, you’ll be filling in for him, unless we need your job done more than we need his.”
“Four days…” Jen muttered under her breath. “I thought you were a good administrator, Sir Frostbit. Guess I was wrong…”
Sir Frostbit blinked. “Why do you say that?”
“After four days, I’ll have done more harm than good for those troops.”
“Well, the real reason we’re putting *you* on the job instead of someone else is that some of the troops have been complaining about Fang’s roughness with them. They say that he’s ‘savage’ and ‘unnecessarily rough’ with them.” Sir Frostbit smiled. “We—meaning the central triangle—would like them to know just how lucky they are.”
“What’s *that* supposed to mean?” Jen’s icy stare grew stronger.
“You’re not exactly known for your compassion.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Of course. But that’s why we chose you, instead of some useless, softbellied twerp like Falon.”
“He’s not *that* bad.” Jen shrugged. “But as long as I manage okay, I’ll sleep easy?”
“As easy as anyone who runs the defensive troops through their exercises can sleep.”
“For the next four days.”
“I suppose I’ll live.” Jen sighed. “When do I start?”
“See ya later then, Sir Frostbit.” Jen gave him a mocking smile and flew off.
Sir Frostbit sighed. “That woman will be the death of me if I’m not careful… even if I am.” He shrugged. “Oh well. I could do worse.”
“Get out! OUT!” Falon zipped into the infirmary and began trying to swat Æseri out of the room. “You’re more than healthy enough! You’re causing a disturbance! Get out of here!”
“Sure *you* aren’t causing them to lose more sleep than I was, *Professor Falon*?” Æseri sneered. “I haven’t been *that* bad lately.”
“Get OUT, damn you!” Falon shouted. “We don’t have all day, and the sooner Fang gets out of here the better!”
“Why do you say that?” Fang asked mildly. “I’ve been a good boy while I’ve been in here. Why do you want me out so badly?”
“Because until you get out, Jen’s drilling the reserve defensive troops. I wouldn’t wish *her* on my worst enemy, let alone the softies in reserve.” Falon sighed. “I was a defense troop once, you know. Jen’s going to kill half of them and incarcerate the other half for stupidity.”
“Naw, she’ll more likely kill ’em.” Æseri pulled himself up.
“What would *you* know about Jen’s temper?” Falon snapped.
Æseri shrugged. “Not much, but she *is* the one who put me here.”
“Tree?” Falon let himself smile a little.
“Yeah… that *and* a Gray-boosted Lightning attack.”
“Oh, get out!” Falon chuckled slightly. “You’re going to want to get some training in. maybe you’ll be an active part of the gang by next year. I’d say yes if you survived *that*.”
“You think it’ll take that long?” Æseri looked hurt. “Don’t you have *any* faith in me?”
“I only think it’ll take that long because you have potential,” Falon said gravely. “It took me two and a half years to get in, and then another two to get into the medical service where I wanted to be. I only run the department now by default because I was the highest ranking medical worker when the old boss was murdered.”
“Well, killed in a raid if you want to be exact. It’s tough going, kid. Good luck.”
“Thanks, Falon.” Æseri grinned. “I’m going to need it.”
“Don’t get too cocky,” Fang called. “If you do, I’ll plant a tree for you!”
“I thought you were my friend, Fang!”
“I said nothing of the sort!” Fang smirked at him. “I think you have a chance, kid. And I think that maybe, if you do well, we can be friends. But not yet. Give it time.”
“All right, all right.” Æseri rolled his eyes. “Adults… I thought I’d get away from them sooner or later.”
“You’ll never escape the likes of us,” Fang called after him, as if reading his thoughts. “We’ll always be here, and by the time we aren’t, you’ll be one of us.”
“That’s an unsettling thought,” Æseri muttered. “What *really* scares me is that it doesn’t sound so bad anymore.” he shrugged. “Oh well. Not a problem. I’ll get over it sooner or later.”
Jen glided down over the gorge that the reserve defensive troops used for training. It didn’t look too formidable to her. “It’s not that bad.” She laughed. “At least, it doesn’t look half as bad as it did when I started here… but I suppose it’ll do. How can I put it to use to actually *help* those misfits?”
“Well, you could get the drills from Lord Fang,” said a voice from behind her. “And if you want to, make them more difficult.” A Hound Knight stepped from the shadows. His Amber medallion glittered in the light.
“Who are you?” Jen sneered. “Sir Frostbit’s baby brother? I haven’t seen you around here before.” She shielded herself with her Gray strength. “What’s your name?”
“Varon,” came the reply. “Actually, I’m older than Sir Frostbit and we aren’t related at all. I’m an immigrant from the outside world. So’s my brother, Fenrik.”
“Right, right.” Another Hound Knight (also wearing Amber) walked up to them. “How goes your suck-up routine, big brother?” he grinned at Jen. “He’s always like this with new instructors.”
Jen arched an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yup.” Fenrik grinned.
“Shut up, Fenrik,” Varon growled.
“No, you shut up, Varon. I know you’re still jealous that I got promoted after the raid and you didn’t, since that’s the reason we’re the same rank now DESPITE the fact that it was several years ago, but don’t let that cloud what little judgment you have.”
“It was twenty years,” Varon snapped. “Twenty years and I still won’t forgive you.”
“Both of you shut up,” Jen said coldly. “Varon, I’ll consider your idea, and Fenrik, stop teasing your brother. But that goes for you too, Varon. I don’t want you picking on him just because you’re older. Personally, I think you’re both acting like children, fighting over something that happened twenty years ago.”
“It was actually thirty years,” Fenrik told him. “And she’s right, we are being stupid. That’s probably the reason that we’re still at Amber after all of these years.”
“Probably,” Jen agreed. “I think that you should learn to trust in your superiors if you want things in your little world to go right. You’re grown men, start acting like it.”
“*I* trust ’em.” Fenrik grinned again. “Wonderful meeting you Miss… what did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” Jen snapped. “It’s Jen.”
“Well, it was wonderful meeting you, Miss Jen.”
“And you accuse *me* of being a suck up?” Varon snarled, whirling on Fenrik. “You’re accusing ME?”
Jen flew off. The brothers’ conversation faded from her mind and she rolled her eyes. She’d show them all just what they were up against. She was Jen… the invincible warrior who’d been given a really stupid job and was very, VERY bad-tempered. Hercules had nothing on her.