Chapter 3: The heroes & the fight in the mountain.

Budehuc castle was a busy place, and at no other time is it so readily apparent than today. A large crowd had gathered around the fountain, with at least half of them spilling over into the castle grounds and the gate, inside and outside. The reason for this is written in big bold letters on a banner hanging over the castle gates. 'WELCOME BACK, FIRE BRINGERS', the large banner said in bold red ink.

Most of the castle staff were doing crowd control duties, telling people no to get too close to the barrier line which was set up to create a pathway for the main attraction. Mamie was busy in the café filling orders left and right, and she was having a blast. Cecile was in charge of the crowd control team, which consists of Emily, Sanae Y, Gadget Z, Belle, Mel, Muto, Wan Fu, Kenji, and all the Stars of Destiny left in the castle who had the ability to fight. It's not a large force, but they have to make do.

Juan was conspicuously absent from the scene. He had gone for training as usual in the mountains. He would usually be in charge instead of Cecile, thanks to a much cooler head and a little more experience. She was doing all right, though, for now.

A young man with spiky blonde hair was looking across a small plain. He was standing close to a forked road, looking at the point where the road branched off to create a path to a large castle.

"It has been a while, isn't it, Hugo?", an elderly duck said as he came up beside him. He was wearing green clothing with a helm on his head. Slung over one shoulder was a halberd, its head in the form of a crescent axe. Hugo, the blonde man, smiled and nodded. He had grown a lot taller compared to his Fire Champion days.

"It sure has, Sergeant. I wonder how the people are doing", he said and rested his left elbow on the handle of his Karayan saber. He had given up his small knife for a saber made by Peggi, customized especially for him. It handles surprisingly well for a weapon the size of a sword, and is lighter than it looks. The blade was reminiscent of a Calerian scimitar, but it had been modified to suit Hugo's new fighting style.

Juan was the one who trained him upon Beecham and Lucia's suggestion. He was adamant about it at first, but he caved in quickly when his Lucia threatened him about riding in the morning. His training went slowly at first, but he picked up pace as soon as he got the basics down. He is now without a doubt one of the best fighters in Karaya. He had even earned a special rune that allows him to fully utilize the potential of his weapon.

"I'm sure they're doing fine, boy. I just wonder where Fubar is. We can't walk into the gates without the hero's trusty steed now, can we?", Sgt. Joe replied. Hugo laughed and pursed his lips. He let out a shrill, long whistle. A second later, a similar shrill sound replied, followed by the sound of beating wings. Both of them looked up to see a creature that looked like a composite of an eagle and a lion.

"There you are, Fubar. Come on, let us go", Hugo said and led the gryphon towards the castle. It had a lot of scars all over its body and face, souvenirs of the war. Hugo began to whistle a Karayan song as they walked towards the castle gates. He couldn't wait to see everyone again.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, milady", a blonde young man in plate armor riding a horse asked the woman beside him. She had silver white hair and a beautiful face. She is also wearing plate armor and carrying a sword, and she's on horseback. Her hair was usually tied into two buns, but she let it fall down her back today. She may be wearing armor, but she was sure there's nothing that truly requires her to keep her hair out of her eyes.

"Why would it not be, Borus? I surely missed the company we had, and being cooped up in my house is getting truly bothersome", the woman replied. A big, burly, brown man behind them laughed heartily. He was dressed in a similar set of armor, but he had spikes on his shoulder guards, and some parts of his armor were different. He had a thin mustache and long hair that was tied back.

"I understand your predicament, Captain Chris. The soldiers at Brass Castle and Vinay del Zexay do not provide nearly as much challenge as sir Wan Fu and sir Hallec. Not to mention sir Mua and sir Nicolas. Ahhh….what I wouldn't give to fight with sir Geddoe again. He is the only man I cannot defeat in combat", said the large man. Another man beside him chuckled. He had swept-back hair which is truly hard to explain in an age where hair gel has not been invented. He was wearing armor similar to Borus, the blonde knight.

"Come now, sir Leo. Surely there are other things of interest in Budehuc castle other than the fights? I mean, look at the ladies. Surely there is one that piqued your interest? I know that sir Roland has had his eyes set on the traveling troubadour…..lady Nei, if I am not mistaken?" he said and turned to an elf with purple hair who was wearing a suit of chain and leather armor. He had light purple hair, which had grown considerably longer since the war and hangs down his shoulders. He started to blush lightly and tried his best to look uninterested.

"I, I am not amused by your human jokes, sir Percival", the elf answered. Another blonde man beside him smiled. He was wearing armor like the others, but his was hidden under what looked a robe for nobility, red and yellow in colour. His hair was shaped like a bowl. Why he chose that kind of hair, nobody knows.

"Well, now. This is a rare occurrence. Sir Roland, the resident calm elf, is blushing, and stuttering. I have never seen you this nervous before", the blonde man said and chuckled.

"It must be true then, sir Salome. Sir Roland is indeed in love with lady Nei", a young boy riding a pony said beside him. He had handsome features, and he's clad in leather armor. He was still too small to wear plate armor, and he's still technically a squire, but his duties were no longer as helper of the knights. He is in combat duty now. He wasn't very happy about the change, but he got used to it after a few battles. He is not exactly the best footman in the Zexen army, but there is potential there.

"As much as I'd like for this conversation to continue, Louise, I must regretfully inform that we have arrived", Chris said as the group came closer to the castle gates. As she looked around the entrance, she spotted someone. "And we share our arrival with a friend", she continued and walked up to a blonde man leading a gryphon and a duck. Hugo turned around and faced them when he heard the sound of their horses' hooves.

"Morning, Lady Chris. You're looking fine as always", he said with a smile. Chris returned it as she dismounted from her horse. The rest of the knights did the same.

"Thank you for your kind words, Hugo. You seem well", she replied. Leo laughed heartily and approached Hugo.

"More than well, it seems to me! You have grown quite a few since we last saw you", he said, roared, actually. Hugo smiled sheepishly and scratched his head.

"Well, glad to see all those milk haven't gone to waste", Sgt. Joe said as he looked back and forth between Hugo and the knights.

"SERGEANT!", Hugo yelled as he snapped his head towards the duck and put his index finger to his lips. The others laughed loudly as Hugo started to turn beet red. Roland suddenly drew the short bow he slung on his back and aimed at the bushes directly to the east, 50 meters from their position. He let loose an arrow. To his surprise, a much bigger arrow flew up and met his arrow midway. The big arrow shattered the small one and clattered to the ground after flying a few more meters. The others turned to look at what just happened.

"Yo, calm down, ya crazy elf! It's just us, Harmonian Frontier Defense Force, 32nd division!", a loud, high-pitched male voice called out from behind the bushes. The person came out moments later. He was a rough-looking man wearing leather armor, multi-colored. On his belt was slung a pair of sais. His dark brown hair was full of leaves and twigs.

"Well, ain't their fault, Ace. Even the great Joker, that is to say, yours truly, would've done the same thing if it was me up there", another man walked out of the bushes. He's an old oriental man wearing purple robes. His black hair was tied in a small ponytail. Before they could do anything else, another arrow, smaller this time, flew out of the bushes, whizzing in between their heads and flying straight for Borus. Hugo surprised them all when he intercepted the arrow, breaking it into two when he swung his blade at it. Borus had not even begun to draw his.

"Come now, Aila. Someone could have been hurt", Hugo called out to the person behind the bushes who let loose that arrow. A Karayan girl stepped out with a triumphant smile on her face. Ace and Joker immediately set on her, accusing her of trying to kill them with that stray arrow.

Her hairstyle had changed from the one she had a year ago. It now hangs loosely on her shoulders, with some tied at the back. She had changed it when she found out that her old hair style was not very common among Calerians, and it made her the center of attention. Her current clothes were bought in Holy Harmonia, a set of blue and white leather and cotton armor that allows free range of movement and has some magic-channeling properties, which helped boost her abilities as a tracker.

"C'mon, Hugo. I just wanted to test his abilities. That arrow would have flown straight over his head even if you did not block it", she replied. Hugo felt a little shock when he heard her speak. She still spoke with a Karayan accent when they last spoke a year ago, but she speaks like a mercenary now, rougher, calmer, and more to the point. A palm suddenly smacked the back of her head. She ducked from the impact and held the spot where she was hit with both hands.

"Cut it out. You nearly started the next war between Grassland and Zexen. You know what Geddoe would do if that happens, don't you?", a woman wearing greenish-blue jacket on top of black shirt said as she came out of the bushes. Her hair was done in a strangely concise manner, keeping most of her probably shoulder length hair out of her eyes. On her waist was slung a slender sword which looks light enough to be twirled around. "Same goes to you, Jacques", she continued.

Silence….

"You can come out now…", the woman said again. A young man wearing a blue coat and what looked like a white sweater underneath stood up just inches beside her. He didn't say a word as he folded his incredibly big bowgun and slung it behind his waist. He wore a thick and broad bandana on his forehead, keeping his blond hair out of his eyes, and had a small ponytail. "Forgive these two, if you will, Lady Chris. They didn't mean any harm", the woman said to Chris who walked to Queen's spot.

"It's alright, miss Queen. Roland was the one who fired the first shot, anyway", Chris said to the woman.

"Well, then, how 'bout we go see how boss is doing before the sun sets?", Ace said to the entire congregation. There were nods and murmurs of approval before they all walked into Budehuc's gates.

"He's WHAT?!", a male voice rang out in the Budehuc castle's garden. The owner was Ace, and he was shouting at Tuta, the resident doctor.

"Uh…He was hospitalized yesterday night with several broken bones and lots of tissue damage. Nothing that will endanger his life or career, however", Tuta answered.

"Who could have beaten up Sir Geddoe that badly? In terms of physical combat, he's easily my equal", Leo pondered. Borus and Percival nodded. Geddoe had defeated Borus during the skirmish at the former Karaya village.

"Well, he is awake, and healing nicely. I must say, his constitution is incredibly high for him to be able to recover so quickly from such injuries. It's as if his body is already used to handling these sort of injuries many times before…In any case, he's healthy enough to answer questions if you want to talk to him", Tuta responded, checking Mio's medical charts once in a while.

Chris looked at Queen and Hugo. They both nodded and the group went into the ward, which was situated nicely behind the war room. 'Heh, the crack is gone', Jacques thought as they neared the ward, referring to the huge hole in the wall that was just patched up recently.

Geddoe looked up when the group entered, his left hand was in a cast, and his bare chest was wrapped with several layers of bandages. His right leg was suspended, a cast over the knee area. The group immediately rushed to his side and started asking questions almost all at once.

Joker: "What happened to you, Boss?!"

Leo: "How did you end up like this, Sir Geddoe?"

Borus: "Who could have done this to you?"

Ace: "Yo, you OK, Boss?!"

Hugo: "What in the spirits did you fight this time?"

Chris: "Does this mean there will not be a reunion?"

Louise: "Is there going to be a reunion?"

Percival: "Did you use the wrong lines to get a girl again?"

Roland: "I assume you are fighting a very strong enemy?"

Salome: "Were you using the rune?"

Aila: "Wow, what ran into you?"

Jacques: "….does it hurt?"

Sgt. Joe: "Qua…."

Fubar: "Kweh…"

Queen: "…I think everyone else asked what was on my mind already"

There was a minute of silence before Geddoe start to recount what happened the previous evening.

Geddoe slashed diagonally at Juan's midsection. He was sure it would hit, since Juan's odd position leaves him with little choice in the manner of escape he could use. The hit should register right about…now!

His sword only finds air, however. Juan had lowered his body in an almost impossible way to evade the attack. He dropped his body and supported it with only his right foot. His whole body was vertical and his torso was mere millimeters from the ground. Geddoe's sword passed harmlessly in front of his face. As soon as the sword passed, he sprang up and grabbed Geddoe's right hand with his right arm, which was holding the sword, and pressed on it to incapacitate the weapon. His left arm came up in a reverse hammer strike towards Geddoe's head. Geddoe's left hand came up to block it and he shifted his body position and launched a right thrust kick at Juan's torso.

He landed the kick, but it was like hitting an empty sack. Juan had exhaled at the moment of impact and absorbed the blow, letting his body get thrown backwards to reduce the impact. He landed like a log, rolling to stop just meters from where he landed. He quickly got into another odd position. His left leg and right elbow supported his entire body, which was parallel to the ground. His head was placed on his right fist and his left was placed beside his waist. He looked like he was sleeping, but Geddoe knew better. He closed his distance carefully, not wanting to get another surprise.

Juan sensed his opponent's hesitation to attack and decided to launch into action. He flew up, still in that horizontal manner, with his sides facing Geddoe as he rolled his body. Geddoe quickly put his sword up in anticipation of an attack. Juan's hands flew out and Geddoe could feel a barrage of strikes beating against his blade as Juan threw his rolling strikes. Geddoe waited until Juan's body was too low to throw an effective strike, then shot out with a swing towards Juan's head. Just as he removed his guard, he saw Juan's left leg coming up from the right side to hit his face, however, and he tried to cancel his swing and bring it aside to block the kick. It was too late, however.

Juan's kick connected squarely with Geddoe's right cheek, and the latter reeled to the left from the blow. Juan had supported his head and body on his right arm and leg when his body descended, and thrown the left kick using the odd base as a support. Geddoe took several steps back and recomposed himself. He smiled. Not many people could land a blow that squarely on his face. He brought his sword up in preparation of another bout. Juan stood up this time and swayed like a drowsy man. The two stayed that way for a while. Without a warning, Juan launched himself forward.

He was in front of Geddoe in one breath. Geddoe reacted with a swift backslash. Juan rotated his whole body, following the direction of the slash, and dropped down just enough for the slash to pass just millimeters from his nose. He waited until Geddoe's face became open before he launched into a barrage of palm strikes towards Geddoe's head. He managed to get several good blows in before Geddoe pulled away.

Geddoe staggered backwards, and Juan quickly grabbed his trailing left arm with his right hand. Before Geddoe could react, Juan had encircled his left arm with both hands and spun his whole body along the arm's length. Geddoe's left arm, caught in the twisting motion, couldn't withstand the pressure and there was a loud crack as his elbow was pulled out of its socket. Geddoe winced, but stood his ground. Juan's original intention to make him fall was halted there and he quickly untangled himself. He leaped back, but Geddoe was already rushing towards him.

The 2 fighters became black and blue blurs as Juan narrowly dodged Geddoe's sword swings. The electricity flowing through the sword singed his robe in places where the sword passed really, really close. Juan continued to dodge until he found an opening when Geddoe swung his sword past him. He quickly kicked at Geddoe's ribs, the left side. There were audible cracks as several of the ribs broke from the impact. 'Chainmail is useless in this situation', Geddoe thought to himself as he tried to slash at Juan before he could get away. Juan's used the force of his kick to assist his getaway, however, and Geddoe slumped on his knees from the pain on his ribs.

Before he could get up, Juan swept along the ground and kicked his right shin. Geddoe was by no means a weak man, but the force of the full-body swing swept cracked his shin. He fell in a heap, and Juan did a flip, landing on Geddoe's torso. His body was sitting on Geddoe's right arm, effectively disabling it. His right fist was drawn back, and aimed at Geddoe's face, and he smiled lazily.

Geddoe knew it then.

He was beaten.

"Juan beat you? Damn…", Ace said once Geddoe finished recounting his battle.

"'Tis a battle I had hoped to see. Alas!", Leo chipped in. Geddoe smiled.

"…I am sure you would, sir Leo. As for the reunion, do not worry. I should be fully healed in a matter of days", Geddoe replied, switching the topic as rapidly.

"Well, that is good news. I can't wait to see everyone again", Hugo replied. Chris suddenly snapped her fingers and opened her mouth as if she just remembered something. The others turned to look at her.

"That's right, Hugo. Lily told me to remind you to bring some presents for her", she said to Hugo, who frowned.

"Why me?", he asked. Chris shrugged. She has no idea what goes on in that girl's mind either. Sgt. Joe chuckled, and this attracted everyone else's attention. "Is something the matter, Sgt?", Hugo asked again.

"No, no, nothing at all", the duck replied. 'Just thinking what a lady killer you have become...Yet I pity you…', he thought to himself. The others looked at him with frowns on their faces, but they decided to let it go and move on to the planning of the reunion.

Juan yawned. He was at Mt. Hei-Tou. He just finished his training for the day and several golems could be seen…well, actually, the rubbles from several golems could be seen scattered all over the mountain floor. He himself was lying on top of the bodies of several wolves, boars, and birds. He looked like he was sleeping with his hands behind his head. He opened his eyes when he heard someone approaching him and turned in the direction of the sound.

"Oh, it's you", he said lazily when he saw Emily coming towards him. She looked around the mountain top, at the rubbles and the bodies of dead monsters.

"You did all this?", she asked. Juan nodded lazily and yawned. "What kind of techniques did you use? I've never seen you do this much damage with your usual techniques", she asked. Juan laughed lazily.

"If all I need to do is train the way I usually do…", he said, but was interrupted when Emily said, "You don't usually train. You sleep". Juan stopped for a moment, realizing she was right. Flushing slightly, he continued, "Well, I don't need to train here if all I do is train the way you do"

'Yeah, right', Emily thought. 'But he did train', she continued. She had come up here to check if he really was training. Considering the mess, he must have been training like a madman.

"Well, why are you here?", Juan asked. Emily's face turned a little red as she tried to think of a good reason.

"Er…I, I'm just…uh…wondering when the match will start?", she stuttered, thinking it was her lamest attempt yet. Juan, being Juan, didn't give a damn.

"Well, that's easy. During the reunion, of course", he said.

"What makes you say that", she asked. Juan sighed and slapped his head. 'She can be so stupid…', he thought silently to himself.

"Think about it, how many people will attend the reunion?", he asked her.

"More than a hundred, why?", she replied.

"Now, if you want to defeat someone and humiliate him, where is the best place to do it?", he asked again. Emily thought for a moment before the realization struck her.

"In a big crowd…", she said. "Like a reunion…", she continued. Juan nodded and closed his eyes.

That's it for this chapter.

….Is it a little too long? I hope not.

Anyway, Thanks for the reviews. Good, bad, encouraging, and critical ones.

Just do me one favor. Don't quarrel in the review board, please.