7

Albion

Marcus crossed his arms. It was a crisp morning and he finally had a job. The princess had given him a letter to Prince Wales of Albion. At first Marcus was skeptical, he was a Courier sure but he really hated wasting time with love letters that were easily sent by another way.

It turned out that the letter was extremely important because Albion was a melting pot; it seemed that there was a rebellion there and the royal family was all but wiped out. Wales Tudor was the prince of Albion and he was Henrietta's lover. Henrietta herself was already betrothed; she was going to marry a prestigious noble in Germania to secure an alliance with them in case things go wrong in Albion.

Louise and Marcus were to deliver the letter secretly to Wales and get out in one piece. Marcus had done something like this before countless times, but this was Louise's first foray into what could turn into a brutal fight, with Dispel hidden in her sleeves she had a secret weapon and combined with her familiar's devastating gunplay they could make quite a team. Henrietta had also given Louise a ring with a blue jewel; she said that it would let Wales know that Henrietta had sent them.

Marcus was still nervous however and had asked for some support.

/

"Well…since you were willing to go you might as well bring the mole along," Marcus said to Guiche as he crouched petting his familiar, the giant mole known as Verdandi. Seriously it was a big furry mole with bright eyes and a blue mark on its forehead.

The mole chuffed and it watched as Louise walked over.

Guiche had apparently overheard the conversation with the princess and asked to join up, Marcus had no problem with it but he made it very clear to the blonde that he wouldn't accept any screw ups. It was a fact that Guiche De Gramont made sure to remember considering that he had foolishly challenged Marcus in a duel all those days ago.

"Verdandi is not just a mole, Sir Marcus." Guiche bragged to the stony faced Courier "In fact she possesses a talent for finding rare stones."

Marcus blinked at that, rare stones?

"That's…actually pretty damn useful" Marcus remarked surprised "Why don't you invest in prospecting?"

Marcus and Guiche turned suddenly as Louise screamed, Marcus had drawn Maria and the nine millimeter pistol was aimed down. The Courier then lowered the pistol and palmed his face with his other hand as Guiche looked on in confusion.

Verdandi chuffed and the mole had mounted Louise, attempting to get at the ring on her finger.

"Familiar! Guiche! Help me!" Louise shrieked fending off the mole with little success.

Marcus looked, with a hint of amusement, at Guiche who apologized. "I'm sorry, she's usually much more well behaved than this I'll-"

A sudden blast of wind carried Verdandi off of Louise making Guiche cry "What the Founder was that!?"

Marcus just looked around, looking for the attacker guns in both hands.

"Partner watch out, something's coming!" Derflinger called from Marcus' back and the Courier looked to see something approaching.

The creature was a strange mixture of lion and eagle and on its back was a cloaked figure in a wide brimmed hat. The rider's mount landed gracefully on four legs and the rider dismounted. He looked up and Marcus saw that he was a middle aged but handsome man with a well trimmed beard.

"My apologies…" the man said in a polite tone "But I had thought that my fiancé was in danger and I had the need to assist."

Fiancé? Marcus thought and looked at Louise who was still on the ground, her face now a luminous pink much like her hair. He didn't give a damn about who Louise was seeing but she was his employer, he worried about her sometimes.

"V-Viscount W-Wardes?" She eeped meekly as the now named rider bowed in a gentlemanly fashion. Wardes may look pretty but Marcus knew he was no pushover. He was strong; Marcus felt it in his bones. But the Courier wasn't afraid; he never got to where he was now by being arrogant.

This Wardes fellow bared a watch, he did.

The well dressed man helped Louise up chuckling "Light as ever, little Louise…"

Louise just blushed and stammered "Don't…please there are people present." She was extremely nervous. Marcus just kept a wary eye on Wardes who noticed.

"And the both of you are?" Wardes asked.

"That is my familiar, Marcus…" Louise introduced. The Courier gave a polite nod, eyes filled with caution. "And that is Guiche de Gramont."

"Ah, so you are Louise's familiar…" Wardes said "How do you do? I am Wardes the Lightning, Captain of the Griffin Knights."

"Marcus, just Marcus is fine. I'm a…Courier for the Mojave Express." Marcus spoke politely but distant.

"Mojave Express?" Wardes said tilting his head in confusion.

"Ah…long story, let's just say I'm a freelance messenger, I deliver things…" Marcus spoke pedantically.

/

The ride was uneventful, and it was Marcus' second time to ride a horse and he found it boring.

"I can hardly contain myself, the leader of the elite Griffin knights leading us on a noble mission!" Guiche spouted, Marcus found that he was a romantic at heart, speaking with flowery terms of chivalry that Marcus barely understood. "How inspiring!"

Marcus gave a nod. "He's tough…" he said looking up, Louise was on Wardes' griffin.

Guiche looked curiously at the Courier. "What do you mean by that Sir Marcus?"

"I mean…that he's not someone easily beaten…which means I've got to keep my eye on him." Marcus said "Paranoia is a good thing, its one thing to think that everyone's out to get you. It's another when it actually is happening."

He scratched the back of his neck "Stormy times are coming, I can feel it."

Guiche kept silent then he asked "Is this feeling…common where you are from Sir Marcus?"

The Courier shrugged "When you've been out on your own Gramont, you'll know too…" he said simply. "Just because you're stronger than most doesn't mean that there is no one else that can beat you."

Marcus kept a look out. Damnit something was watching them, he checked the area. They were headed towards higher terrains. Who in their right mind would look for a port near a mountain? The Courier expressed his confusion with Guiche who simply answered "You'll see."

Impatiently the Courier sighed keeping up with Guiche on his horse.

/

La Rochelle was a port city, but it wasn't what Marcus was used to. For one thing they had ships that looked like they were supposed to be in the water but instead they sailed on the air. Marcus was beyond fascinated and Louise took the time to explain that the air ships ran on Wind Stones, infused obviously with Wind Magic.

The architecture was incredible as well, the town seemed to have been carved into the mountains and Guiche said something about the use of Earth magic. The Courier was impressed and he actually wanted to explore the town for once.

Wardes paid for the lodgings in the fancy inn that was in the middle of the port city, seeing as he was a Viscount he could afford all the luxuries. He mostly directed the luxuries towards Louise's affections, which served to make the pink haired girl all the more flustered.

Marcus didn't give a damn in the slightest, but for some reason he could not bring himself to trust Wardes with Louise. He shrugged off those thoughts immediately; Wardes was Louise's fiancé, so he had no right to say anything. Still the wheels in his head turned, something in his brain kept telling him that something was going to go wrong.

"Sir Marcus," Guiche called him as he opened the door. "Viscount Wardes has called you to say that dinner is ready."

Snapping out of his musings Marcus turned from the balcony and he scooped up his duster, pulling it over his shoulders. He fixed his collar but he did nothing more. Sure he had some lessons in decorum but the Courier was mostly remembered as a deliverer of packages and death to many. Fancy dresses, suits and all that jazz didn't suit him in the slightest.

/

Dinner was a private affair seeing that they were sitting in a reserved parlor. The servers were much more polite to Wardes than anything else. Marcus didn't care really; he just ate the stew which was absolutely delicious but nothing special when compared to the food he was used to eating thanks to Siesta and the cooks back at Tristain academy. The wine was also a nice touch, smooth and a fine taste as well. Siesta had also stated an interest in getting her own vineyard; it was second to starting a family as Marcus overheard her murmuring.

He barely paid attention to Wardes who was talking with a bright red Louise.

"You summoned a most interesting familiar, Louise…" Wardes commented nodding his head at the small pink haired girl sitting next to him. Louise, still flushed, smiled slightly.

"W-Well it-it wasn't what I e-expected…but my Familiar has proven to be quite skilled…" she said softly but with a hint of pride in her voice.

Marcus took a careful swig of wine; skill had nothing to do with it. The only reason he was still standing was because he was willing to do what was necessary to survive. You didn't win fights by being the most skilled or the strongest, it helps but permanently putting the poor bastard in your way six feet under worked wonders for your reputation.

That and having a loaded gun and a silver tongue got you farther than just having a silver tongue alone.

"There is no need to be so shy, dear Louise." Wardes said smiling "I truly am rather amazed." The viscount then turned to Guiche "Is it true that you fought with Sir Marcus?"

Guiche nodded, nervously looking at Marcus. The Courier decided to answer quietly "It was a case of an unfortunate misunderstanding, I can assure you Viscount." Guiche nodded, agreeing with the Courier.

"Ah but I hear you also stopped the thief Fouquet from getting away with the Staff of Destruction…" Wardes said seemingly impressed "Not many can stand against a Square Earth Mage in combat, familiar."

Marcus shrugged "I was lucky then," he answered downplaying his talent. The wheels in the Courier's head began to turn once again. "You are very well informed, I assume you get a lot of this from the royal court am I right?"

Wardes nodded "I receive a lot of information because of my position in the court yes." He answered and smiled "You seem quite familiar with political matters my friend."

Marcus in no way thought that Wardes was his friend. "I've done my travelling and politicking, I've done my share of killing as well, viscount." He said simply "You have too,"

Wardes laughed "A most curious observation, Sir Marcus. It makes me wonder what kind of life you had led before you had become my Dear Louise's familiar." He commented. Still smiling he spoke "I would like to request to have a match with you, Sir Marcus."

The Courier kept quiet as Louise said "That won't be necessary," she glanced at Marcus nervously.

"Y-Yes…Lord Viscount, I agree with Valliere…S-Sir Marcus is most unforgiving when it comes to duels…" Guiche gulped, still feeling the wounds in his side sometimes. Poor bastard was traumatized. Then again nobody wouldn't be if they had been shot at.

"I can assure you that I have no such wish to cause any harm to Sir Marcus." Wardes said trying to assure Louise "It is just a friendly sparring match"

The Courier shrugged "If that's what you want I can't stop you." Marcus answered. "I don't make a name for myself by using swordplay however." He stood up "Please excuse me."

/

The balcony again, Marcus was watching the stars and Louise stood nervously behind him. "I-It was arranged." She told him as though she was guilty of something "I…I met him when I was a child, and well I was quite smitten with him."

Marcus shrugged "I understand," he answered Louise "I'm not…mad or anything, just surprised." The Courier and his employer/master kept silent for a bit.

"You like him still?" Marcus asked Louise, just curious.

"Um…He's a good person, i-it's just…" Louise stammered "Marriage…I couldn't do magic so my mother and father wanted me groomed as a bride, then I was engaged to Viscount Wardes. I-I don't know if I'm r-ready…"

"Who is?" Marcus said shrugging his shoulders. "Do what you want, Louise, it doesn't matter to me. I still got your back."

Louise blinked as he turned to look at her. "We're partners aren't we?"

/

The spar was set to begin early in the morning, Marcus and Viscount Wardes stood staring at each other in a private area of the inn. It was clear of bystanders, save for Louise and Guiche.

"Why do men always have to do this?" Louise grumbled annoyed as Marcus held Derflinger in a two handed grip. The stony faced Courier exhaled once as Wardes drew his weapon. It was a short sword with no tip; in fact it more resembled a wand more than anything else. Marcus tightened his stance.

"Good luck Sir Marcus," Wardes said "I won't hold back."

"I was hoping you would" Marcus answered sarcastically. With a chuckle, Wardes readied his stance and advanced.

The Courier swung Derflinger in a horizontal arc, a move that Wardes parried easily and riposted with a thrust. Marcus moved his head to the left to dodge. He brought Derflinger up for a vertical swing which again was parried by Viscount Wardes. They traded blows but gradually the tide turned against Marcus, Wardes was evidently a better swordsman than he looked.

Marcus swung Derflinger again and Wardes sidestepped, leaving Marcus open. "Ah shit," Marcus muttered trying to get back into form Wardes took the advantage, keeping up a barrage of blows that Marcus could barely keep his guard against. Pushed back Marcus suddenly realized that Wardes was also casting a spell at the same time.

Finishing his chant Wardes blasted the Courier backwards with a gust of wind. The Courier crashed through several crates and lay still for a couple of anxious seconds.

"Marcus!" Louise rushed over in a storm of pink as Guiche just watched the Courier get up slowly, a small piece of wood embedded in his shoulder.

Marcus growled in pain as he gingerly tried to pry the chunk of wood out of his shoulder. Not the worst injury he ever had but still…it hurt. The blood loss was also making him lose it. He had to go back to get some Med-X, a couple stimpacks and bandages. His Pip-Boy helpfully indicated that his left arm was crippled. "Gee…thanks" Marcus muttered to no one in particular.

Louise approached, looking extremely worried. Strangely enough Marcus felt better once she was there, that plus Louise just looked absolutely adorable when she didn't have a scowl on her face. Marcus shook his head.

Where the hell did that come from?

/

"Stupid, STUPID FAMILIAR!" Louise shrieked at Marcus as the water mage finished bandaging the Courier's wounds. It had actually looked worse than it was and the water mage was a capable man. Marcus looked at Louise calmly.

"Why did you accept the challenge when you knew you would lose!? V-Viscount Wardes isn't someone to underestimate; he's one of the best swordsmen to ever grace Tristain!" Louise looked ready to start bawling her eyes out. "And…And you got hurt…"

Marcus breathed evenly "Well, it wasn't that bad." He said wincing slightly. His shoulder still hurt quite a bit though a stimpack would help recovery, but the healer had done a nice job. Louise was hearing none of it and tears soon started to flow. Marcus didn't know why but he felt like absolute shit when he saw her start to cry.

Biting his bottom lip, the courier reached out "Hey…I'm sorry alright?" he apologized "Come on, don't cry…I'm okay, really I am!"

The water mage had apparently noticed and smiled "He's right, milady. The injury really does look worse than it is." He said. The young man had a cheerful look about him; he had jet black hair and green eyes and even though he was a mage he wore no ostentatious clothing, preferring to don unadorned robes over a white cloth shirt and work pants with scuffed boots. Marcus could scarcely remember his name, Harridan? Horace? His first name was John. There was some steel in this guy, the Courier mused. He wondered what kind of person this healer was.

"He shouldn't have been hurt like that…there was so much blood." Louise sniffled, still glaring at Marcus. The Courier exhaled through his nose. The healer just smiled again then stood up.

"Well, it looks like my job is done. Now, Sir Familiar I suggest not making any strenuous movements, your shoulder needs some time to recover," he said. The young healer stopped at the door. "Please be careful"

John Holden. There it was. "My thanks Holden" Marcus said "You're a good healer."

The healer smiled.

/

"I am sorry Sir Marcus, but I cannot allow you to protect Louise any longer." Wardes told him. Marcus stretched his left arm, per instructions of the healer. "You are not strong enough."

Marcus said nothing of course but he did feel a little pissed off that this arrogant prick thinks that he could protect his master/partner better than the Courier. Bastard, Marcus thought annoyed, I'll play along. The Courier rolled his left shoulder. There was a slight twinge but nothing he couldn't handle.

"I…understand" Marcus spoke quietly "I'll take Guiche back to the academy with me then," the Courier looked up at the two moons. At sunrise the boat leaving for Albion would be departing, with Louise and Wardes in it.

"It's a fine night," Marcus commented. "Reminds me of back of home"

/

Later that night, just as Marcus had finished clearing out Maria's barrel Guiche had walked in intending to ask about why Wardes was sending them home when something big moved outside, blotting out the moon.

The giant, whatever it was, smashed off part of the balcony. The Courier, in the nick of time, had pushed Guiche back into the room and he barely made it off the balcony.

"Shit," Marcus said drawing Derflinger as he rushed outside to meet this enemy head on. Guiche followed after him, scared as hell.

When he reached the street Marcus looked up at the giant, it was made of rock. Getting a serious case of déjà vu the person commanding the golem spoke out loudly.

"I really am impressed with your footwork Gandalfr! It won't save you this time!"

Marcus frowned. This bitch again…

"Now…I'm in a bad mood." Marcus sighed. Guiche looked at him; fear was evident in his eyes.

"Don't look at me, boy." He said "Our opponent is standing on the golem's left shoulder. I'm going to go say hi…and I am promptly going to cut off her legs."

Marcus held Derflinger in a two handed grip "Sorry Derflinger, it looks like she'll be your first victim."

"No sweat partner," the sword answered "And she was quite a looker too."

/

Exhaling once, Marcus charged as the golem raised its foot. The Courier jumped to the side, narrowly dodging the stomp, he made it back into the inn.

It was a bloody mess inside; Marcus caught sight of a servant girl who was crushed under some timber. He briefly muttered a prayer for her soul, taught to him by Daniel of Zion, before moving up to the second story.

Fouquet got annoyed apparently because a stone fist smashed into the hallway behind him. "Ah shit," Marcus kicked the door of the first room open. Nope, he only saw the golem's side. He had to get higher. The stone fist smashing through the room just as he left made that fact abundantly clear.

Rushing through the ruined halls of the building Marcus felt a small grin on his face, this feeling was similar to the one he got in the gunfight at Goodsprings. Sometimes battle wasn't just two people trying to kill each other, sometimes it wasn't just about survival. It was a beautiful red thing, an end in and of itself.

That same smile was still on his face as he jumped from the third story balcony of La Rochelle's finest inn and onto the shoulder of Fouquet's golem.

Right in front of Fouquet.

/

"You killed a servant girl you know." Marcus told Fouquet as the square class earth mage swore explosively and jumped off her golem and onto the roof below her. Marcus followed, surprised that the action was easier for him. He could feel warmth emanating from the runes on the back of his hand.

He shook his musings off, now was not the time.

Surprisingly Fouquet smiled sadly "Damn..." she said grimly "I never meant for that to happen."

"Nobody does" Marcus answered and advanced swinging Derflinger menacingly. She sent rocks after him with a flick of her wand but the Courier dodged with the reflexes born from wandering the Mojave Wasteland. Twisting to avoid a large spire of rock Marcus swung his sword straight at the earth mage's head. Fouquet ducked then backed off. The Courier switched Derflinger to his off hand and drew his knife. He threw it at Fouquet who barely avoided catching it with her face but now she was off balance.

Marcus hit her brutally in the side with the back of Derflinger's blade. Fouquet gasped then spat out blood as she slammed into the wall. She probably fractured a rib or two, but he really didn't care right now. Answers, that's what he needed.

Coughing Fouquet just smiled. "Looks like I actually managed to dig myself a deeper hole huh?" she asked the Courier smiling in pain as he stood in front of her. He simply leaned on his sword as he drew one of his guns; it was a beautifully crafted weapon she realized before he pointed the barrel at her.

"If you tell me who sprung you out of jail I'll kill you quickly." Marcus said looking down at her "If not...I start getting creative."

"Your knife's over there Gandalfr" Fouquet said coughing up more blood, still smiling. For some reason Marcus liked her smile. "I was thinking that you were going to use that instead. It's hard for an artisan like you to work without your tools."

Marcus shrugged humbly "I try," he said quietly "Quit stalling Fouquet I want information. Who sprung you out of jail?"

"Since I'm gonna die anyway, it was Wardes." Fouquet answered sighing and closing her eyes. She opened them and asked the Courier "Are you surprised?" He shook his head slowly. He really didn't look surprised.

"No," he said slowly "Tell me though, is Fouquet your real name? It's a cover story right?"

Fouquet blinked at the question, and then snorted humorously as she got what the Courier was getting at. "My real name is Matilda of Saxa Gothe Gandalfr," she said smiling. She went into a spasm of coughing.

"Beautiful name" Marcus commented. Matilda just nodded her head and was about to say more but coughed, and coughed again.

Marcus made his decision right then and there.

He knelt and took out a syringe of Med-X from his coat.

"Wait, what are you-" Matilda said before the Courier injected her with the stuff.

"Easy, this is a painkiller." Marcus told her "It'll help until we can get you some better first aid."

"What-" Matilda said confused "Why help me now? I'm your enemy aren't I?"

"A wise man once told me that waging war on good people is bad for the soul." Marcus said looking at the thief with a weary expression. "And that killing righteously becomes a chore, like any other." He chuckled once "I don't know why, I guess I'm just tired... Matilda."

Matilda smiled "You're strange." she said already feeling a little loopy because of the Med-X.

"We all are..." Marcus spoke simply. Footsteps caused him to look up and he saw someone approach, a black haired young man holding a wand and a knife in both hands. The Courier recognized him, and the knife which was his, immediately.

"Holden?"

The healer just smiled "I thought I saw you so I came here to look." John knelt down beside Fouquet who looked at him, all loopy from the drugs.

"She's the one who summoned that golem...Fouquet" he commented.

"Yeah I know that," Marcus exhaled through his nose. Could he trust this guy? Marcus didn't know but he made his choice. "Listen, she got sent to stop me from getting back to my employer. Obviously she failed in that regard so..."

John nodded "You need my help," he smiled and reached into his robes and revealed a small patch. It was Tristain's coat of arms; it seemed that John was a spy. "Don't worry I'm on your side. I was contracted by Her Majesty the princess to do some underground work for her you see." He and Marcus got a woozy Matilda to her feet.

"I can arrange for a ship to go back to Tristain...You want me to take her with me yes?" John asked.

"Keep her alive, she may have info we need." Marcus said and holstered his gun. Leaning Derflinger on his shoulder he saw the familiar sight of Tabitha's dragon landing a distance away from them. He knew where he had to go now. The Courier looked at John "If we don't come back, get to Tristain and tell the princess what happened."

John nodded and turned to leave "Good luck Mister Familiar," he said smiling in a good natured way "The Founder protect you and guide you."

"I hope so" Marcus muttered and turned just as Kirche tried to hug him. He caught her wrists immediately.

"Ooh, I like it when they play hard to get" Kirche cooed "I saw you-"

"Cut the bullshit" Marcus snapped dangerously shutting the Germanian up at once. "We've got problems. Louise is headed up to Albion with a possible traitor. I need to get up there, blow his head off and see if Louise and the Prince are okay."

Tabitha gestured at her big blue dragon. "Ride" she said simply.

"B-But Sir Marcus…who is the traitor?" Guiche asked nervously "S-Surely we should wait for reinforcements"

"It's Wardes" Marcus said simply, ignoring the shocked looks of Kirche and Guiche.

"V-Viscount Wardes?" Guiche murmured "A traitor!?"

"A dead man is more like it" Marcus spoke. "Let's go."