This article, 2nd Strand: The Challenge Ahead, is property of Spit_fire0x0.

Don't Be Late!

The sun rose up beutifully today, and the entire morning at Masquerade was full of life. Too bad Emilly wasn't awake to witness the day. Right now, she's at home completely knocked out on her bed and, not so suddenly, her alarm clock rings for the third time today. Emilly yawns like an ox and reaches over to her dresser to grab the alarm. Bringing it closer to her face, she rubs her eyes and sees that it's two minutes to noon. Immediately, Emilly dramatically rolls off of her bed and crawls to her bathroom. She strips down, trips over her pants, and falls into the shower. To save some time, Emilly brushes her teeth while showering. She then comedically flies out of her bathroom and into her closset, then quickly puts on a green t-shirt, sweat pants, and sneakers. Running down the steps at her apartment, she drop kicks the door down and exaggeratedly leaps accross three blocks and lands in front of the training site. Staring at her wrtist watch, she notices that it is 12:05. "Oh, I thought it would be worse.", says Emilly; nonchalantly.

Before even entering the building, a voice from the inside shouts, "That's 50 laps!". Not even trying to question how HE knew, Emilly starts jogging away. "I'm pretty sure I said you had to run those laps, yesterday, did I not?", says the voice. Emilly starts sprinting lightly around the guild. "It looks like you need some inspiration!", yells the voice. SEAM suddenly appears behind Emilly sprinting at the same pace. "I think you should start running now." SEAM suggested. Emilly looks towards SEAM and sees that she has leaped into the air. SEAM then says, "Digital Requip, Split Decission!" SEAM requips a grey, full body suit made from nylon and cotton. She gains a dual toned cybernetic armor with with some gold and silver trimming. Her leg armour looked like spiked stilt walkers with scissor-like blades on her knees. The shoulder armour is attached to her chest by gold pieces connected to a center piece pressed against the top of her chest; which has a purple magic aura resonating within it. On her right arm, she gains a long, rectangular cannon with several magic laces wrapped around it.

On her left elbow, SEAM released two semi-transparent, blue and red blades from the armour piece. Her hair, apart from the front strands, turned red and her headphones became spiked outward and dual toned. At a single glance of SEAM's transformation, Emilly "pressed the nitrous button on her legs" and ran for her very existence. SEAM casually jogged and was still able to keep up with Emilly. Slashing away at her every step with a huge smile on her face she sarcastically says, "Come on woman! Are you gonna let a fifteen year old girl take your life?!". And in about an hour and a half, Emilly's laps met the requirement. Totally gassed from the run, she drags her lower body accross the floor and enters the training site. Waiting for her, in a meditative state, was Reikon Roland at the center of the room.

"Well you're already on the ground, so drag your butt over here.". says Rei. Emilly does just that. She takes a deep breath and asks, "So what do you have planned for me ki...I mean Rei.". "Well today we're going to work on controlling your magical energy." he replies. Emilly noticess an orange feather in front of her, "So what's the feather for?". "This is a phoenix feather." replies Reikon. "Aren't phoenix feathers supposed to be really REALLY rare? How did you manage to get one?" "Don't lose focus." he demands. "As you know, phoenix's are magical creatures; meaning they have magic abilities like us mages. How would you depict a phoenix?", he asks. Emilly takes a quick thought and says, "A big, flaming, bird.". "And why is it on fire?", he asks. "I'm guessing magic?", she replies. "Exactly. Phoenix's have a natural flow of magic that funnels through their skin, into and out of their feathers, causing them to be cloaked in their specific element. The feathers themselves, act as conductors of their magic. So what do you think would happen if an outside force were to emitt magic onto the feathers of a fire phoenix, just as this one?" he asks.

"They'd lite on fire?" she questions. "That's right. So your training for today, and this will be how we start all of our trainings as long as you're not late, is to release enough magical energy through your hands and onto this feather. I wan't you to create a flame between four to six inches high." Reikon balances a ruler to use for measurement. "Um, sure. Ok.", says Emilly. She places her palms in front of the feather. Emilly then focuses her magical energy through her hands. After 5 seconds, the feather caught a fire that almost reached the cieling. Emilly quickly retracted her hands and the fire wen't down. "I had feeling that would happen." says Rei. "The first time a person does this training, can tell a lot about one's magic control and their personality." "How's that?" asks Emilly. "Well lets take you for example. You took one look at this training and assumed that it would be too difficult since you're not a full fledged mage. So you put as much magical power into it as possible, causing that huge flame to ignite. You're too insecure about your own capabilities. Don't sell yourself short, you MUST be confident in yourself. That way, you can cast spells with confidence which will give them the extra punch needed. And that is the first rule of our training." explained Rei.

"Wow, you're pretty good at this. I didn't think that", Emilly pauses, "someone of your age could be so wise." "Well, I have my own training to do, and you pretty much wasted my time by comming late, so I want you to keep this feather. Train on it every day as much as possible." says Rei; completely ignoring Emilly's compliment. "Really? I can keep it?" Emilly asks with a suprised look. "Well I don't need it anymore. I've mastered that training and repeating it any more is a waste of time in my opinion. Just make sure you don't burn your apartment down." he says. "Thanks a bunch for the help, but why did YOU choose to train me?" she asks. "Because I wanted to see for myself, whether or not you TRULY wished to join our guild, or if you just made a decission on the fly without taking the time to think.", replied Rei. "So, did you get your answer?' she asks. "You just ran fifty laps around this guild and almost got your hands burnt off. If you really don't want to join this guild then at least MY time wasn't the only time that was wasted.", Rei replies with a smile.

"I should get back home now. On my way here, I left a huge mess in my room this morning." Emilly gains the strength to stand up and walk towards the entrance. She opens the door a bumps right into a man with blue hair. "Oh I'm so sorry! Are you alright?", she asks. Emilly takes one look at the man and becomes completely enfatuated with him. "Hey Clyde, don't go breaking my training partner!" said Rei. "Haha! My bad. So this is Emilly Rosaria, the Clover. She looks more like an Emerald Rose in my eyes." Emilly giggles like a little school girl. "Oh! I have an idea! Clyde's going up to the fourth floor to spar with Shura! Why don't you go upstairs and watch their fight. You could learn a lot from watching them.", suggested Rei. "Thats a really good idea. Just follow me to the elevator.", said Clyde. Reikon notices that Emilly is still in awe. He stomps over to her, drags Emilly by her legs and tossess her into the elevator as Clyde follows. "Aren't you comming Rei Rei?" asked Emilly. "I don't have a reason to watch this. It would be a waste of my time anyway." he replies.

Clyde hits the number four button on the elevator. As it travels upward, Emilly's shoulders become tense and her arms get stiff. "Relax." calmly said Clyde. "It's not like you're the one who's fighting." he added in a friendly tone. The elevator reaches the fourth floor and the doors open. "This floor looks just like the first." says Emilly. "Well each floor looks exactly the same. However, they each have different properties. This floor in particular his indestructable from the inside. I don't know the specifics, but SEAM can turn the room into any location in her database.", explained Clyde. "Well actually, it doesn't REALLY transform." entered Shura. "We pick a place up on that small pad on your left. Then SEAM's tower digitizes the minds of everyone in the room; placing them into a virtual reality realm with the same appearance as the place we picked.". "Woooow. Thats so cool. But, if its just your mind, how exactly is it considered training?" Emilly asks.

"Its because it is our mind, that everything that accures in that digital realm affects our bodies." replied Shura. "So if you die in that world.." questioned Emilly. "Then you die in reality." said Clyde. "But you don't have to worry about that, if someone were about to die, the Archive Program used in this room would immediately shut down, and we would regain conciousness." "And our bodies just lye here while in that world right?" says Emilly. "They stay in the position they were in when we entered." said Shura. "And no, people can't come in and harm our bodies because the room is sealed off completely once SEAM runs the program." "You guys keep mentioning SEAM. I know she's like the guild's computer, and earlier today she use some wierd type of requip magic that scared that crap out of me. I also know that she's made out of Archive Magic, just like this guild. So is she, like, connected with the guild physically?" asks Emilly. "SEAM is connected with her tower, and tower power's the guild's electronics, so yeah you can say that. But she DOES have a free will and can leave the guild's premesiss if she wanted to." said Shura.

"So tell me Emilly. You ready to see how S-Class level mages do battle?" asked Shura. SEAM suddently appears besside Emilly and says, "I'll be here to explain what happens. Just in case there was something you didn't catch. Oh! And I'm just gonna pick a random place for you guys. You know, to make it more interesting." Full of excitement, Emilly says, "I can't wait!" "Re-locate!" says SEAM. And their minds begin to get digitized.

Clyde Mana vs. Shura Lute

The group enters the Archive Realm and seem to be within the forest above Akane Beach; located South of Masquerade. The area is full of tall trees like any other forest. "Hey before you guys start, why not just train outside if this place is so close by?" asks Emilly. SEAM sighs and says, "Because we don't want random people, or enemies for that matter, to spy on us." "Ok, thats a good enough reason. I thought you guys were just lazy." says Emilly. Clyde and Shura walk to the center of the forest with company following. They stop and have a classic staredown. And when the mood was at its peak of intensity, Shura makes the first move. Leaping into the air, Shura raises his right hand casts "Wind Blade!"; creating a crescent shaped blade of pressurized wind, launching it at Clyde. Swifly and smoothly, Clyde dodges to his left; creating a slight after image with one step. Shura continues the onslaught by firing continuous Wind Blades at his target. However, Clyde seems to be able to dodge them with ease.

"Wow, Shura looks pretty good out there." comments Emilly. "Are you kidding?", replied SEAM. "Clyde is dodging each one of his attacks without any effort. Not only that, but he's pressing forward and forcing Shura back with every dodge.". Emilly watches the match closer and confirms SEAM's statement. Frustratedly, Shura lands back on the ground and flies back up using Wind Magic. "I'm guessing that Shura uses air magic?" Emilly asked. "He can do more than that. Shura is working towards mastering every air magic available so that he can one day be as strong as Clyde. He can use lots of types of air magics. This right here is just the tip of the ice berg." Easilly amazed at the fight, Emilly continues to watch. Shura suddenly raises both his arms and swings them down in an X formation; casting "Cross Blade!". Two powerful wind blades are sent at Clyde in an X shape. And before the attack was able to reach him, Clyde suddenly appears above Shura and stomps on his head, sending Shura pummelling to the ground.

Before Shura was even eble to react, Clyde uses "Full-Body Bola "; restraining Shura in a ball and chain. "Do you understand yet Shura?" asked Clyde. "You need a sparring partner that is difficult to defeat. Not one who's impossible to defeat. For it is with YOUR method that you shall only learn how to lose graciously". Shura begins to humm in a deep tone, he then uses sound magic to change the wavelength of the sound to cause a disturbance within Clyde's skull. Rattling his head, Clyde loses focus on his spell; allowing Shura to escape. And from that exact moment, Shura uses his "Razor Cage" spell, creating an orb of high speed wind blades rotating around Clyde; intended to tear his body apart. When the spell dissipated, Clyde was wrapped in magic chains. "You see that? Spells with aggressive natures can still be used to defend if you put some thought into it" stated SEAM. Clyde releases the spell, "Well that was the most intelligent move I've ever seen you perform. You ARE getting better at this.".

"Thanks for noticing." replid Shura. "But, it is till impossible for you to defeat me in you current state. I've seen enough. SEAM! Terminate the program, this match is over." said Clyd. SEAM did just that and turns off the program. "That's it?" asked Emilly. "That's all there was? I really didn't learn much". "No offense, but this match wasn't intended to teach you anything."replied SEAM. Shura, with a look of sudden shock and utter dissapointment, collects his emotions and walks away with a full understanding in their gap of power. The group takes the elevator to the first floor and leave the training site. From there, they bid adiue and head home. After a long day of training, Emilly decides to stop by the Gathering Hall to grab a quick drink. On her way, she spots Skiel on a rooftop with a girl, wearing clothing similar to his own, whispering in his ear. The blood of gossip began to run through Emilly's teenage body; causing her to rush into the Gathering Hall with suprising news for everyone.

The Gather Hall doors burst open with Emilly running through them shouting, "Skiel has a girlfriend!". After actually opening her eyes, she sees that the gathering hall is almost empty. "Where is everyone" she asked. "Well we DO have homes you know. We're not always at this chill spot.", entered Reikon. "Now what was that about Skiel having a girlfriend?", asked a boy sitting next to Rei. Emilly walks to the couch and notices that the boy is wearing a costume of the black mage class in the final fantasy games. "Umm, who are you again?", asked Emilly. "The name's Maverick. Shikijo Maverick." says the boy. "And why are you dressed that way?" she continued. "Because Final Fantasy is the BEST gaming series in existance!" shouted Shikijo. "Yeah yeah, I'm a fan too. But WHY are you dressed like that?" replied Emilly. "I always wear this before I play final fantasy." says Shikijo. "It's almost ceremonial. But now that you've mentioned Skiel having a little girlfriend, I must witness this rumor for myself!"

Shikijo swipes the costume off and is revealed as a white haired boy with green eyes, black pants, and a blue jeen vest; a look that just screamed rock and roll. "You're a jumpy one aren't ya" stated Emilly. "My brother always told me that a mage's attitude is an indirect reflection of his ability as a mage. My loud personality shows that I am a very aggressive and confident fighter!" stated Shikijo. "That makes sense, Shiki? I can call you Shiki right? Your last name is Maverick?" asked Emilly. "Yep. I'm Lex's younger brother. Although you might know him as the second guild master." replied Shiki. "Let's skip the formalities, where exactly did you see Skiel and his female friend?". "On the roof of his house, she was whispering something in his ear like something straight out of a dirty romance novel." commented Emilly. With a look of disgust, Reikon snuck away from the two and walked home. "ALRIGHT! Let's do this Shiki.", shouted Emilly. Sprinting with a look of hunger in their eyes, Shiki and Emilly rush to Skiel's house and spot him and the other girl on the roof top.

"Ok, I don't think they saw us. Now how do we get up their?" whispered Emilly. Shikijo scales the side of Skiel's building and flips over the edge, landing right in between the two of them. He looks towards the girl and says, "11.2". "What?" asked the girl. "I rate your hotness, on a scale from 1 to 20, as an 11.2. Not anywhere neer Emilly's 18.7, yet still pretty good.". The girl kicks Shiki into the distance. "Sorry for his idiocy.", says Skiel. "Hey you guys!", says Emilly dramatically. "You shouldn't be here, leave us!" demmanded Skiel. "Wait!", said the girl. "Maybe she can help us.". "Oh yeah deffinitely. I'm really good with relationships.". says Emilly. "This isn't a relationship problem!" yelled Skiel. "So what IS the problem?" asked Emilly. "This girl's an old friend of mine, her, name is Chloey Sitara. She came here to tell me that there's some people gunning for my head." explained Skiel. Shiki returns to the scene, "Hmph, what kinda trouble did you get yourself into this time Lor?"

"If you're going to explain it to them, you might as well tell your guild in general." said Chloey. "She's right." added Shiki. "But you should wait till tommorow when everyone is at the Gathering Hall. Hey SEAM!". SEAM phases through the roof of Skiel's apartment, "What's up?". "Can you put up an urgent bulliten telling all available members to meet up at the second floor of the Gathering Hall?", asked Shiki. "Yeah Yeah. But don't go ordering me around casually. This is a one time thing." replied SEAM. "Then it's settled, you go take your mate home with you and tommorow morning we'll gather however many people we can. Then you tell us what's really going on." said Shiki. Chloey grabs Shiki by his hair and tossess him away like a rag doll.

The day ends with a feel of forboding danger. Who exactly is after Skiel and why are they after him? Continue reading to find out.

3rd Strand: Rajin of the Gaikotsu