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the Night of the Eclipse

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((Sequel to this.))

The summer night was warm and clear and from the hill, the sky seeped to go on for ages and ages, the stars a sea of dancing, glittering lights. And dominating it all was the great silver disc of the moon, the world bathed in its silver light as it might have been bathed in gold under the sun.

The silver light faded as the Earth's shadow passed over the moon.

Their shadows stretched behind them, dark blue on grass that had turned a pale silver, five figures around a campfire, the colours of the world bled out to silver blue but for the fire itself. Four of them watched, their attention rapt; Joan, her plate armour resting on a blanket to keep it from getting too wet, took a bite from the dried meat they'd picked up in town and watched the four of them.

Tseng's attention she could almost wrap her head around. He was some kind of weird damn martial artist. No armour, no weapons... but still grounded. For all his talk of 'chi' and 'chakras' and all that, his simple curiosity about the random, stupid ways the planets moved around each other made sense. There'd been an eclipse a long time ago, but Tseng had told her he'd not been able to see it because he'd been locked in his cell at his convent or whatever they called it. She'd always asked why he'd been locked up, but...

Well, getting him to talk about things like that was as hard as getting him to talk about anything. Or as hard as trying to knock him over.

But the others...

Well, they were mages. Listening to them talk, they were more than mortal. Of course, they still bled like mortals. Honestly, she had a hard time thinking of them as more than glorified archers. But that's what Efram kept calling the 'fundamental disconnect between the physical and the metaphysical', she imagined. Or something like that. They'd ran across a weird monster-mage along the way who tried to explain where the monsters came from, but the mages she ran with were skeptical...

Titan's toenails, the conversations she had since she started this whole quest nonsense...

Efram, the mage in white, watched the moon. Or at least he'd muttered that he was. He had a book out in front of him and kept his fingers running over a bunch of weird shapes in an even weirder pattern. Something about maintaining energies and understanding the underlying order of the universe... But for all his weird talk, he'd saved her life at least eight times since they'd started--it was hard to not like him for that. And now he seemed more like a scholar than she'd ever seen, no more quiet words about the surety of orderliness in the universe, no more little light tricks. Just rapt attention.

She couldn't help but feel that he was diminished somehow by that.

Finishing her dried food, she picked up her armour, digging out an oiled cloth from the leather pouch on her belt and began to wipe the plates down.

Esque, creepy bastard that he was, was just as still. He'd drawn some kind of weird circle of bizarre, eye-hurting symbols around himself, the back of his head fallen into those too-deep shadows that made it all just seem to disappear, his eyes glowing strangely, little sparking motes jumping out from them as he... Well, whatever he was doing.

But, again. Worth the trouble. Kept in the back, talked his weird words and suddenly the monsters died in a flash of light. If he and Efram could just stop fighting about whatever it was they fought about (something about order and chaos and magical theory that Joan had never learned about because she was too busy actually DOING things), she'd be happy enough for his company; he didn't talk much and when he did it was usually something not entirely stupid. His magic was the kind she could see as immediately useful: it hurt things. Walls in the way? He'd knock them down. Great Blue Dragon? A bit of fire to knock it down.

But away from light? Away from the sun or even the moon? Odin's Antlers, the way his skin just faded away to shadow and those little sparks of magic... It made her spine crawl.

She'd seen him go down often enough to know that if Efram was right and he had some sort of ulterior motive or evil scheme (which he didn't really seem capable of... but, hey, mages), a good sword through his gut would end it. She wasn't so sure on that score when it came to Tseng.

Oh, well.

Putting her armour aside, she tilted her gaze up at the moon, most of which was darkened, the remaining chunk glowing bright as if to make up for shadowed part, and stood, stretching her muscles and taking a few steps. Unrolling her bedroll, she cast a glance to the last member of the motley crew, Ethan, who was staying true to his loud personality and flamboyant dress; under the starlight and the sliver of remaining moon, he'd stripped off his hat, coat, boots and shirt.

He'd tried to get rid of the rest, but the other four put their foots down.

And, half-naked, he was dancing. Drawing shapes in the air, howling at the moon, throwing his hands out this way and that...

She was just amazed that even his chest hair was white. He said it was something that happened to all white mages when they did whatever it was they did to become red mages. Bathing in order and chaos or eating it or whatever. It was hard to follow when he started talking about higher dimensional energies. She was vaguely sure he made up most of it up. Like somewhere he was just part dragon or chimera or something and he'd read a lot of crazy books written by some crazy prophets.

Bahamut's balls to those prophets and their "Warriors of Light" nonsense. When Ethan started in on it, Joan was hard-pressed not to just roll her eyes.

It was hard to say that they weren't doing more than just fighting monsters. They'd saved a princess, a town, a CITY... but at the end of the day, no matter what mystic power her sword found itself imbued with, she was a soldier. She'd fought in the king's army, she'd fought dragons. She was a fighter.

But something prophesied? Ordained?

The shadow engulfed the moon and Joan could just FEEL the difference. Maybe it was magic coming down. Maybe it was something from the mages or Tseng. But in that instant...

Something happened.

And then it was over. She shook her head and chuckled some, watching the three of them come down from whatever mystic ecstacy they'd been feeling as the bright sliver of the moon appeared... except...

She gestured up at the moon, the four men's eyes followed her gaze, "Hey... what's wrong with it -now-?"

The side of it, bright white, was stretching, elongating and it had begun to open like a massive seedpod; Efram dropped to his knees as Ethan pulled his sword from its scabbard on the ground and Esque gaped, his bizarre half-shadow face slack.

And something long and thin and gleaming white began to stretch from the rip in the moon down toward the Earth.
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