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Tales of the Nexus Guardians

Chapter Text

“Would someone mind taking this…fine gentleman to the hospital, please? It’s a Code Yellow.”

Oracle paid little attention to the request. Drunkard and stupid, that person, whoever they were, were of little consequence to him. Though, he had to admit that he was curious as to what a Code Yellow was. Hospital jargon, of course, but there had been a few such cases in recent days.

“You sure he’s ok? He was just talking before he just keeled over on me.”

Hearing Drayce’s voice was what pulled Oracle’s attention from the book he had been deciphering. He glanced over to where the redheaded dragoon stood with Lynus. The violet-eyed medic appeared to be reassuring Drayce, placing his hand comfortingly on his arm and speaking with him quietly. His expression remained placid, even as two guardsmen began to haphazardly pick up an unknown bar patron that was slumped face first upon the table next to the two.

“Don’t worry, the hospital visit is just a precaution. I’m sure it’s nothing more than excessive alcohol consumption.” Professional and courteous. And yet, there was something else hidden in the tone of Lynus’ voice.

“That’s the third time someone collapsed on me, though,” Drayce continued with his concern with a frown. “What-?”

“Don’t go blaming yourself,” Lynus immediately interrupted, softly yet firmly. “It may be that they can’t handle their alcohol. I’ll speak with Cass about perhaps lowering the alcohol content.”

Drayce didn’t look wholly convinced, but he nodded his head in acceptance regardless. “Ok. You’re probably right.”

Lynus gave his arm another reassuring squeeze before he turned away and moved toward the hapless stranger. Likely wishing to inspect him one last time before he was taken to hospital. Drayce watched the scene for a moment before he sighed, shook his head in annoyance and moved away.

Oracle idly closed the book he was reading as Drayce sat down at the table with him, his expression contorted into a look of confusion and frustration. “Another Code Yellow with me nearby. I’m starting to think I’m curse or something,” he complained.

Oracle allowed his gaze to flicker back toward the seemingly unconscious stranger as they were literally carried out of the bar by two guards in full armour. One holding him by the armpits, the other by the ankles. Not a comfortable position and if the stranger was truly in an emergency state, he was certain that one of the many medics would have intervened. 

Lynus especially, with his innate skills to detect a person’s status clear across the room. Yet, he didn’t. Most curiously, he was the one that had made the request.

“I don’t even know what Code Yellow means,” Drayce lamented, prompting Oracle to turn his gaze toward him once more. “No one would tell me. It’s just hospital jargon, they tell me. I just can’t help but think it’s something more to it.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know either,” Oracle confessed. 

Drayce folded his arms atop of the table and rested his chin upon his forearms, an annoyed little pout on his lips. “I’ve asked Lynus, Fiorello, Simon, Darrell, and even Owyn, but they all tell me it’s just jargon for someone who has drank too much or has an adverse reaction to alcohol. But I’ve seen others who are clearly intoxicated and blind-out drunk, and they’re never referred to as Code Yellow. It’s got to be something else.”

A small smile of amusement spread across Oracle’s lips. Trust a treasure hunter to pick up the small details. “Must be a conspiracy.”

Drayce huffed out a breath that pushed aside a strand of his red hair. “Nah. I’m sure it’s not done in malice. But it is bugging the hell out of me.”

“I imagine it would.” Treasure hunters were a notorious for their nosiness, after all. “Well, perhaps I should ask around.”

Drayce looked up at him in surprise as Oracle placed his hands atop of the table and pushed himself to his feet. He soon smiled, however, a rather cheeky and knowing grin. “Ah, you’re insatiably curious, too?”

Oracle picked up his book and slipped it into pocket of his jacket. “Indeed. With all the secrecy, it must be quite an interesting tale somewhere involved.”

“Be sure to tell me what you learnt, ok?”

“Of course.”

With that, Oracle turned away from the table and cast his gaze around the Stickleback Mk2. Lynus was nowhere in sight, perhaps having decided to follow the stranger to the hospital to ensure their treatment. But perhaps he wasn’t the best person to ask about the secret meaning behind the mysterious Code Yellow. He was far too nice, too careful with his words. Anything and everything that could potentially frighten or concern someone would be said with perfectly chosen sentences and words.

Oracle didn’t have time for that. He wanted the blatant truth. Something that Isiah was quite comfortable with himself. Alas, he wasn’t within sight either. But another medic was. Darrell. He was rather blunt himself at times. He’d do.

“Ah, Darrell, a moment of your time?” Oracle requested as he walked over to where the redhead medic stood at the bar, scribbling something down on a small notebook.

Darrell raised his head only slightly, peering over his thin-framed glasses at him. “Need something?”

“Code Yellow. What is it?” Blunt answers require blunt questions.

Darrell rested against the bar casually as he inspected him with his eyes for a moment. “I’d tell you the truth, but there’s a few innocents I don’t want to worry,” he unexpectedly replied.

Oh? Quite curious.

“Shall we go for a walk then?”

Darrell quickly shoved his notebook into the breast pocket of his medical jacket and nodded. “Sure, why not? Doesn’t hurt to have more eagle eyes, as it were.”

Hm? He was hoping to recruit Oracle for something? Even more curious.

Without another word the two unlikely companions headed out of the bar and toward a quiet and rather secluded park area located several blocks away from the bar. It was a small place, a rather futile attempt at placing some greenery amongst the sturdy buildings and steel reinforcements.

“Is this efficient?” Oracle asked as they reached a quiet picnic area that was devoid of any souls.

Darrell glanced around almost suspiciously before he plopped himself down upon the wooden park bench and lounged casually. “Code Yellow, huh? Why do you want to know?”

“Curiosity,” Oracle answered honestly as he sat down next to him. 

“It’s short for yellow-bellied,” he explained unexpectedly and bluntly, just as Oracle had hoped. “It’s for those who use easily accessible status potions and tonics meant for monster battles and use them against their fellow explorers.”

It took Oracle a moment to fully register what he had said, what he insinuated before he bristled. “They’re spiking and poisoning drinks?”

Darrell nodded. “Yep. For experimentation and for…well, I’m sure you know what the other, main reason is.”

Indeed. Oracle felt the immense desire to burn something. Or rather, someone. Someone who had been issued with a Code Yellow only recently.

“Code Green are for victims of those who would qualify as Code Yellows,” Darrell explained further.

“Are code words necessary?”

Darrell nodded as he stretched his legs out in front of him. “We’ve often wonder that, but we know that revealing the truth would only cause others to panic, worry, and become jumpy. The last thing this place needs is a bunch of jumpy explorers eying each other with suspicion. And it may cause those with ill intentions to change their methods. This way, we have them unguarded and at our disposal. Degenerates will always find a way to be degenerate.”

Unfortunately, that was true.

“What happens to them at the hospital?”

An almost sadistic grin slipped across Darrell’s lips as his eyes gazed vacantly into space. “Stuff.”

Oracle frowned. “I want details.”

“Best for you to witness yourself. Only if you promise not to tell anyone else what I told you.”

Ah. Poor Drayce. Looked like he wasn’t going to learn the truth today, either.

“Very well. I imagine this stuff is rightly painful,” Oracle commented. “Though, I’m surprised that Lynus willingly travelled to the hospital along with the Code Yellow victim.”

Darrell shook himself from his thousand-yard stare. “Lynus is usually the one who makes the call. And he has a hundred percent accuracy rate.”

Lynus’ empathetic abilities were likely very useful in that regard. Anyone who dared to poison or drug another person’s drink did so with pure malice in mind. He’d likely sensed their attentions long before anything was initiated. “Oh? Do tell.”

Darrell grinned as if recalling a memory. “Given the opportunity, he would purposely swap the contaminated drinks with the perp and then idly stand by until they experience full effects of their own drugs.”

Oracle honestly hadn’t expected that. “I must admit, I find that surprising.”

“Nah, not really,” Darrell said nonchalantly. “Lynus is equally protective, just not as up-front about it, like Axel. Or violent like Tobyn. Everyone of the Guardians is protective. He’s just more passive about it. Giving them a taste of their own medicine, as it were.”

“Well well, seems Precious Medic is more intriguing than it first appears.” Sarcasm was heavy in Oracle’s voice, but in truth he was quite fascinating by the reveal.

“That’s why he’s always prowling the place whenever he visits,” Darrell explained before he hefted himself to his feet and turned to stare down at Oracle. “Now, keep this to yourself, remember? And I’ll allow you access to certain Code Yellow cases.”

Certain cases? Did that mean…?

“Jaxen is a usual target, isn’t he?”

“And Kardos, believe it or not.”

Oracle bristled violently. “You have yourself a deal.”

Darrell made a sound that was a half snort, half laugh. “Well, I better get back. With Lynus away, I need to keep an eye on the place.”

“Indeed. I best get back, too,” Oracle said as he pushed himself to his feet. His protective hackles were still raised, but he consoled himself with the fact that he had never heard the words Code Green used to describe the treatment for anyone of his extended guild, let alone his own.

But god help anyone who dared to put his guildmates in such a state.

The trek back to the bar was a quiet one and as soon as they reached the interior of the bar, Darrell went on the prowl, focusing in on areas of explorers he did not know or recognise. And Oracle himself scanned the area with an air of suspicion. His gaze soon focused in on Drayce, however, as he spoke with Cass behind the bar. Likely questioning him about what Code Yellow was as the brawny man himself had issued the statement often.

Oracle walked over to him and took him by the elbow, abruptly pulling him away from the bar so that they could speak in somewhat privacy. “I’ve spoken to Darrell,” he said simply as the dragoon have gifted him a look of pure confusion.

Drayce perked up. “Did he tell you?”

“Indeed he did, but I’m not telling you.”

“What? Why?” Drayce practically whined, frustration evident.

Oracle planted a hand on the dragoon’s shoulder and looked sternly into his eyes, startling him greatly. “It’s for your benefit. The secrecy behind the code isn’t malicious, but those who obtain such a code is.”

A crinkle appeared in Drayce’s brow. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s not something you need to worry about. Just don’t go accepting drinks from strangers, ok?”

Drayce had absolutely no idea what was going on, or even how to respond. “Ah, ok?”

Oracle nodded his head and folded his arms into the sleeves of his purple robes. “Now, you must excuse me; there’s something I wish to witness at the hospital. This should be both educational and amusing.”

And quite entertaining.

Chapter Text

“Lynus? Can I talk to you?”

It was just sheer instinct that caused Simon to pull his gaze away from the book he was skimming and over to the door of the infirmary’s office. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to pop their head into the office in search for Lynus.

And it was more common for someone to seek out the orange-haired medic from Lagaard to simply speak with him. Rather, seek counsel from him.

“Of course.” The smile that Lynus wore of his lips was his usual patient, caring smile. He placed his hands upon his desk and pushed himself to his feet. He immediately made his way over to the blond that had called for his attention and they stepped out of the room.

As the two moved to stand together in the corner of the infirmary, in front of the glass windows of the office, Simon tried to turn his focus back to his book. But he couldn’t help but glance at the two from the corner of his eye every now and again.

He wasn’t able to hear what they were saying, and it truly wasn’t his business, he just knew that Lynus was comforting or reassuring the other. Due to how he gently pat his arm or reach up to pat down his blond hair, earning a tearful look of relief.

Whenever Simon sighted the blond alchemist from Lynus’ guild, his mind automatically shifted toward Arthur. While the two blonds were so different in personality, that did little to halt the lamentation he felt. If only Villard had told him that he could bring along anyone he wished to join the expedition. Arthur would have gotten along well with many of the others under the roof of the Sanctuary. 

And in all honesty, that boy needed time with those similar to his own age.

He was safe with Raquna and her family. Same with Ricky. He knew that the redheaded protector would care for them well. 

There was still that voice of doubt in the back of his mind. If something happened were to happen to him…

He was the only family he had left.

Simon shook his head abruptly and returned to his task of sorting and shelving their medical books. He tried not to dwell too long on what had occurred in Gotham, his hometown. His birth place. The pain was still too raw, all these years later. How long had it been? Ten, no twelve years now?

Time certainly moves on, doesn’t it?

As Simon shelved another book, he glanced up to witness Magnus give Lynus a quick hug before scurrying away. Lynus stood still for a moment, watching until the blond left his sight before he made his way back into the office. Completely unperturbed by their conversation.

It…it must be nice to be able to seek counsel from another. Unconditional support and reassurance. It was no wonder that Lynus was often sought out to simply speak to.

Not that Simon could do such a thing. His secrets, his pains were far too old now.

“Is everything all right?” Lynus suddenly asked him as he closed the door to his office out of habit. That was a question Simon had heard multiple times, though usually directed toward others.

“Hm? Why do you ask?”

Lynus sat down on the edge of his chair, leaned forward and folded his arms atop of his desk. Clearly giving him his full attention. “I sense a hint of pained nostalgia from you.”

Sensed? Ah, right; he was an empath. For some reason he kept forgetting. Most likely due to him having little experience with empaths. 

“Magnus just reminds me of someone,” he decided to reveal, keeping his tone passive and idle. “Someone I wished I had brought along on this expedition.”

Lynus granted him a sympathetic look. “I assume Villard just so happened to forget to tell you they were welcomed?”

“Yes, and I curse that man every day.”

That earned him a light laugh from Lynus and Simon inwardly congratulated himself from expertly dodging his inquiry into his wellbeing. Yet, the amusement soon faded from Lynus’ expression as he focused those far too knowing eyes upon him once more.

“The two of you quite close?” It was structured as a question, but to Simon it felt like an observation. 

Simon turned his attention back to the bookcase. “He’s like a brother to me, I suppose.”

“He’s quite special, then?”

Special? Maybe. Important? Seemed more plausible. After all, “he was the only family I have left.”

Simon immediately cursed himself for allowing those words to escape his lips. He furrowed his brow, angry at himself as he glanced over his shoulder to Lynus. Once again finding the other medic regarding him far too gently than anyone should. “Sorry, ignore that.”

“Actually, I don’t think I will.”

Simon sighed at the sheer defiance in Lynus’ voice. He should have known. “It’s not important.”

Lynus shook his head resolutely as he pushed away from his desk and took to his feet. “It must be if you’re still in agony about it.”

Agony? 

“It really is nothing. It happened twelve years ago, anyway,” Simon stated.

“And?”

“And that’s too long ago to dwell on it.” He just needed to get over it. Just get over it.

“Grief and mourning don’t have a time limit.”

Simon uttered another sigh as he deposited the book in his hands upon the book shelf and finally turned to face the other medic. Lynus stood by his desk, his attention (always so gentle and imploring) directed toward him.

“You’re not going to stop until I tell you, are you?”

Lynus gave him a small smile. “I can’t force you to do anything. But I would like to know. I would like to hear what you have to say. Especially since it weighs so heavily upon your heart.”

The sincerity in Lynus’ voice and his eyes caused Simon’s determination to keep all his burdens to himself to waiver. Yet, he also hesitated. To talk, to speak about what he felt, what he had felt for a very long time just wasn’t…right.

“Simon.” Lynus walked straight over to him, stood before him as he continued to look so…unfairly gentle and sincere. He then reached up and framed Simon’s face with his hands, startling him greatly as he looked him straight into his eyes. “You are allowed to feel. And you’re allowed to express it.”

…Express himself? Make himself vulnerable? He…he couldn’t do that. That wasn’t right. He wasn’t allowed to…

“Tell me,” Lynus implored. “Everyone, everything else is fine. It’s your turn. It’s your turn to grieve.”

He…he didn’t truly know what happened next. Just that he had his arms around Lynus’ neck in an embrace as he mumbled incoherently into his shoulder. Words of memories just poured from his lips.

A blinding flash of light, briefly illuminating the faces of his family members. Unknowing to him, the last time he would ever see their faces. As the light faded, a sound that could not be described any other way than absolutely brutal rattled their surroundings. Shook the walls, shattered the windows, buckled the floors.

Memories after that sound were blurry at best, due to how quickly everything had occurred. He remembered distinctly, however, the look of absolute horror on his father’s face. He had been the one who registered before all else that something horrifying was occurring. And it was his instinct, the last act he would ever commit, to attempt to shield his family.

Simon credited his father’s actions to saving his life. He had been the closest to his father as they sat at that dinner table. He was the one his father instinctively turned to in a desperate attempt to shield.

His father had saved his life. But, in the minutes and seconds afterwards, as dust filled his nose and lungs, as a deep ringing rung through his head, as he unwittingly pushed the dead body of his father away from him, he wished he hadn’t been saved.

Especially…especially since he was all that was left. Out of everyone in that house, out of his stronger siblings, of his witty mother, of his powerful father…why did he live? Why was he cursed to live?

He didn’t have time to mourn back then. Not with the constantly rumblings, the licking of flames from destroyed homes, not from the deafening shrieks of pain and devastation around him.

It was then, as he sat atop of the wreckage that was once his home, did he hear another voice. A cry. A child’s frightening cry.

Something in that cry urged Simon to step away from his father’s body. To stumble over the broken brick of mortar of his home. And toward a young boy, just a child. Blond hair caked with blood, standing amongst the rubble of a place that was likely his home, crying into his hands.

A survivor. Like him, the only one left.

He couldn’t mourn or grieve in front of Arthur. It would scare him, more than he already was. And he couldn’t in front of others, for they would see him weak. He wasn’t weak, they would constantly tell him. He was strong. Pain, fear, suffering; they were all pointless emotions. He needed to look forward.

Keep looking forward…

He tried. He truly did. But his mind, his heart would betray him. Memories, pain of what happened. Would always return. And he would always push them back. Nothing he could do about it now. It was an act of nature, as he was told.

Until he learnt that it wasn’t.

Yggdrasil Project. Gungnir. Scientists from hundreds of years ago deciding that it was perfectly acceptable that people could be in the way, could die. Someone or something had activated the Gungnir of Gotham. Without a care, seemingly.

And destroyed everything with one powerful blast.

It wasn’t an accident. The deaths of thousands weren’t a mistake. It was on purpose.

All on purpose.

When he learnt that, when he heard it from both the machine and the being who aligned herself with those responsible, he had wanted to scream. He wanted to rant and rave. To let out all of his pent-up emotions there and then. 

But he couldn’t. He wasn’t allowed to. His feelings of discovering the truth did not matter. Especially when there was a possibility that it could happen to Etria.

No time to mourn. No time to grieve. He had a job to do.

He didn’t want to hate Ricky after that. He truly didn’t. It…wasn’t her fault. But she…she had tried to do the same to Etria. After she got her memories back, she kept pushing forward with the mission. She kept trying…

How could he trust her after that?

He had to. He wasn’t allowed to feel that way. It was about Ricky. It was about Etria. It was about the Forest Folk.

It was about everyone and everything else. Never him. Never his feelings. Never his thoughts.

Everyone else…

Simon truly didn’t know when he started to cry, to bawl his eyes out into Lynus’ shoulder. He didn’t know when the other medic had guided him over to the couch under the window. He didn’t know when he moved to cry into Lynus’ chest as he ran his fingers comfortingly through his hair.

“Your pain and grief, your resentment and anger; they’re all important. They’re all valid. Just like you are.” 

Simon felt truly exhausted as he rested his head upon Lynus’ shoulder, his glasses having gone AWOL at some point. His eyes burned from the tears, his throat felt dry, and he felt boneless and tired. He felt foolish.

And yet…

“I can’t take away your pain, though I wish I could,” Lynus continued. “But I can tell you, I can promise you that by accepting your grief, by accepting your pain as real and valid, then your path forward will become easier. And you won’t have to do it alone. You are surrounded by others who care for you very much. Who will drop whatever they’re doing to help you. When they reach out to you, all I ask is that you meet them half way.”

He felt…he felt comforted. He couldn’t recall a time where he felt such warmth. Been so many years.

Simon knew that his painful memories weren’t going to leave him. The pain of his heart when he recalled them would always, always be there. It was going to take more than one conversation to help. But the warmth of someone simply validating his feelings, encouraging him to express himself helped with some of that pain.

Not all of it, but some.

And what was enough for now.

“Thank you for telling me everything.” Again, Lynus sounded so sincere as he continued his comfort, where Simon himself felt too tired to say anything more. “Needless to say; I won’t tell anyone. It’s not my place to say. But I do hope that one day, you’ll tell this story to another and you allow them to give you the comfort you deserve.”

Tell another? He wasn’t sure. Would there truly be a day where he would be able to speak about his past freely? To willingly reveal his pain? It seemed so implausible. And yet, he didn’t think he’d tell anyone anything, so today was certainly a surprise.

Maybe…Maybe Lindis?

“Until then, you can always speak to me,” Lynus continued further. “You can’t hide anything from me; I will find you and I will comfort you.”

Simon smiled tiredly to himself. That sounded close to a threat, but one he didn’t exactly mind.

Chapter Text

It was late at night as Guildmaster Mueller kicked out the remaining stragglers out of the guildhouse and closed up for the night. He may be a studious guildmaster, but he couldn’t stay at the helm all day and night. Even he needed to sleep.

Despite that need, he knew that he was in for a restless night.

Mueller felt his eye give a small, distinct twitch when his gaze fell upon the city’s daily newspaper. Usually filled with the shenanigans of the myriad of explorers, the headline of todays was far more frustrating to him;

Third Jewellery Store Robbed – Could It Be Magina’s Infamous Thief Blazing Shadow?

With a disgruntled sigh, Mueller set the newspaper aside harshly and set about removing his armour in order to get comfortable. Of course it was that infuriating Blazing Shadow. The methods, the lack of evidence, the knowledge of the guard roster; it was no doubt him.

Blazing Shadow…such a preposterous name given to him by the public. Mueller, on the other hand knew him as Norbu. Someone he knew. Well, someone he thought he knew.

That was the most frustrating aspect of the entire situation. Norbu was once a loyal and trustworthy guard. Someone that Mueller himself trusted. Skilled, courteous, though hardly modest. Someone who got under his skin, but not entirely in a negative way. He read him. Knew him. And Mueller considered him a friend. 

Until one day he disappeared. Simply vanished while on patrol. Which was quite a feat as the city had been airborne at the time. Confined to one place, unable to leave; locating the missing in action guard should have been easy.

Yet, it wasn’t. And for good reason.

Pirates. Sky pirates at that. A ludicrous notion and he had laughed outright when someone first revealed them to him. Unfortunately, it was true. 

Airships, similar to the ones that were crafted and made in Tharsis, only a lot less structured and in all honesty, completely unsafe. Made from scrap and from the minds of restless inventors. Built in the bowels of Maginia, hidden from view. Out of sight, out of mind.

The day that Mueller learnt of the existence of sky pirates was the same day that he learnt that Norbu, someone he had trusted with his life, was the notorious jewel thief Blazing Shadow.

Two shocks in one day.

Mueller felt absolutely foolish when he learnt of the sky pirates. He should have known such Ruffins and never-do-wellers would have resorted to such methods of leaving and entering the city, even in flight, at will. And he felt infuriated that Norbu, the man he had trusted in finding that slippery, talented thief was the very man he was looking for.

His ego had taken quite a battering that day. And the memories still made him bristle.

Norbu’s crimes were petty, simple robbery. No one was ever hurt. No one was ever even alarmed by his actions. It was as though he purposely ensured that his methods, his antics were someone benign, if one discounted all the stolen wares, of course.

Still, Mueller couldn’t wait to wring his stupid neck. If not for the thefts, then for the crime of breaking his trust in him.

That was what angered him the most. It was something he had initially denied, but he had come to accept it finally. Betrayal was a painful emotion to feel. Worse still, he wasn’t able to demand answers from Norbu. Not that he would have gotten a straight answer, most likely. He left the city upon one of those contraptions, roguishly blowing him a kiss and the promise of his return.

Seemed like he had kept that promise.

The sudden and startling feeling of someone standing behind him, well into his personal space pulled Mueller from his musings. Before he even had the chance to reprimand himself for getting lost in his own thoughts, something wrapped around his middle, pinning his arms to his sides. An easy accomplishment thanks to the removal of his armour. Something else crossed over his chest and pressed something cold against his throat?

A knife? Mueller immediately tensed. Worse still, he was held captive? How was that-?

“You let your guard down there, Mewler~” 

Mueller froze. That voice. That ridiculous and demeaning nickname. Only one person was responsible for both.

“Well, isn’t it Norbu,” he said in response, subconsciously relaxing the tension in his back and shoulders. “Or would you rather, Blazing Shadows?”

A deep laugh in his left ear prompted Mueller to wince in an attempt to cover up a shiver. As soon as Norbu loosened his hold on him, Mueller stepped away and spun around, coming face to face with someone he thought he never wanted to see again.

Wild black hair with red highlights. Deep brown eyes, his square jawline lined with stubble. Dressed in clothes that were honestly surprising for him, yet were sure to blend in with the new inhabitants of Maginia.

Mueller quickly looked at his hand, where Norbu twirled an object casually with his fingers. And infuriatingly, it was just a pen. Mueller had been held captive by a pen. Although, he had to remind himself how skilled Norbu truly was. Even a pen could be a deadly weapon should the need arise. Even so, something told him he wouldn’t have used it on him, regardless.

“Surprised to see me, Mewler~?” Norbu asked in his usual drawl, plopping himself down at his desk and propping a foot onto the table. All with his usual casual flare.

He…hadn’t changed a bit. Same cocky grin. Same overly-confident swagger. He even had that baritone voice, purposely empathising his blasted nickname in a way that brought shivers down his spine. How or why that occurred, Mueller didn’t know. Nor did he care to learn.

Everything about the man frustrated him to no end.

“I’m surprised to see you as an Arbalist,” Mueller said simply in return, half surprised at himself.

Norbu laughed a good hearty laugh, obviously amused by Mueller’s observations. He readjusted his goggles upon his unruly hair and shot a smile at him. “Naturally. A jewel thief hiding as an Arbalist? Not every subtle, with the explosives and all. But they do come in handy whenever a stubborn safe or lock gets in the way.”

Mueller frowned. He had noticed several small explosions around the city lately, but they couldn’t have all been Norbu’s doing. After all, there were plenty of riled up and bored explorers loitering around the city now.

Which was no doubt one of the reasons why Norbu chose to return. As for the others…

“Why are you back?”

Norbu shrugged. “Seems more exciting now that you have all these explorers hanging about. Not to mention I heard rumours of this Guardian Guild of yours.”

A frown tugged at Mueller’s lips. “What have you heard?”

“That a certain redheaded, axe-wielding guy has a punch that makes you see God. Both literally and figuratively.”

For some reason that caused Mueller to laugh. A short, brisk laugh. One he soon got under control. But he had to admit that it was indeed a sound of amusement. “Is that so? Then I look forward to the two of you meeting.”

“Ooh, that’s cold, Mewler~”

“Stop calling me by that ridiculous nickname.”

“But you like it secretly, don’t you, Mewler~?”

Why was he bothering to banter with the infuriating man? He should just arrest him. Although, Norbu was likely to have a good understanding of the city’s jails and underground tunnels. Not to mention slipping out of the handcuffs would be child’s play for someone like him. So likely a pointless venture.

Still…

“Why are you really back?”

Norbu heaved a sigh as he hefted himself to his feet. He maintained that nonchalant, if somehow charming façade of his as he rounded the desk. “Now now, I won’t spoil the surprise. Where’s the fun in that?”

Surprise, huh? Right.

“Still, nice to know that Maginia’s favourite guildmaster has a strong guild on his side.”

That was said in jest, his tone light and casual. And yet, Mueller felt that there was a serious undertone. The words harmless, but insinuated something nevertheless. What that insinuation was, was of course, a mystery. Much like the man himself.

“Is that so? Will they finally prompt you to behave yourself?”

Norbu laughed and sent him a wink. A pompous, flirty wink. “Oh, you like it when I’m wild, Mewler~”

Typical response. He truly hadn’t changed a bit. And, surprisingly, that was reassuring to him. He wasn’t about to let it show, however. “As self-assured as always.”

“Better be careful, Mewler.”

The sudden serious in Norbu’s tone caught Mueller off guard for a moment, and he arched a questioning eyebrow. “Oh?”

“If I broke in, someone else can, too.”

Mueller rubbed his temples. A migraine was slowly starting to seep in. He truly needed some sleep. “Who would be stupid enough to break in here?” he muttered, not actually expecting a reply.

“This idiot sure did.”

Well, he couldn’t deny that, could he? Although, Norbu did know the layout of the guildhouse well. It hadn’t changed since he last visited, after all. As for breaking in? The only time the doors were closed was at night, when he tried to get some rest. Otherwise, explorers and guards were coming in and out all day. There was nothing to steal even if they did break in.

“Still, you better be careful there, Mewler,” Norbu continued, pulling Mueller from his musings once more. “Someone might become interested in your connection to your precious princess.”

Mueller sent him a truly puzzled look. What nonsense. Imagine him as a target. He’d prefer it, if it meant protecting the royal family. “Are you insinuating something, Norbu?”

Norbu shrugged dramatically before he folded his arms behind his head. “Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I’m the one you need to keep an eye on.”

“No doubt about that.”

“Ooh, are you getting excited about a potential cat and mouse?”

There was that haughty, over confidence of his. He was never the one to turn down a chance to flirt pompously with him. “Maybe. Just so I can finally arrest you.”

“Handcuffs? Sound fun. Just so you know, I’ll be keeping a close eye on you, too.” Norbu then sighed dramatically once more and turned his back toward him, slowly ambling away. “Welp, that will have to wait until tomorrow. Mr Precious Guildmaster needs his sleep. Until next time, Mewler~”

Mueller bit back a smirk, content to yet Norbu simply walk away for the time being. Maybe he was a little bit glad that Norbu was back. To cause untold problems, to be sure. But…he should liven things around here a little bit. 

“You really haven’t changed a bit…”

A small, nostalgic frown appeared on Mueller’s lips. He just wished that Norbu would tell him why he left him three years ago…