The pain in Diego's head lessened once he confirmed it was the Citadel floating over the planet. His geas relents, and he is able to think clearly without his head being clouded by pain.

Curiously, there isn't a massive field of black below, like what was usually left over after the Warlock went on a rampage, stealing the life from everything around them. That meant they had caught them early, or something else was going on. Either way what happened next was going to be difficult.

Diego pressed a button on his ships console, patching through to every member of his crew. Four, including him.

"Citadel sighted, but no death field below. The warlock could still be down there, so prepare for direct confrontation. Meet on the bridge in five minutes." He shut the system off, and set the ship to autopilot, before heading to the bridge himself.

As a battle mage, he was already as prepared as he could be.

Still he checked his mana supply, it was as full as ever. He checked his weapons, summoning them from his Ether, a grey dagger, a spear with a serrated edge, spectral gauntlets, and a chest plate, he hadn't been able to find the rest of a set of armour. And of course, he sensed his familiar waiting to be called upon. He doubted it would be enough, but the geas wouldn't let him retreat. Well, it would. It's just that it would also send waves of pain directly into Diego's head until he started hunting for the Warlock again. And he'd dealt with enough of that on the travel here.

Steph was already on the bridge when he got there, the black orb on one end of her staff pressed against the ground, while she rested her chin on the orb on the other end. She perked up as she saw me approaching, giving a small tired wave of her hand. She might have woken only minutes ago; it was early in the morning on the ship's timetable. If she was drowsy before the fight even started, she might be a liability.

Diego shook his head. No point thinking that. They were here now, and she'd stayed with him this long. They sat on one of the benches near the landing and waited for the other two crew members to arrive.

Monet was he first to arrive. She was unique in a lot of ways. She was the youngest of the crew, being sixteen, and also because she wasn't a typical mage. She was an Adroit, a mage born with a spell type etched into her soul, only able to learn and become better at that one type. This didn't make her weak, her abilities were one of the more versatile ones, vibration. She had a sword strapped to her side.

They waited for the last member as the ship reached the ice-covered ground of the planet. A minute passed and Hector still hadn't showed up. An itch began to grow in Diego's brain, he gritted his teeth. Another minute. With a barely restrained snarl, Diego hissed, "I'll get him."

He entered Hector's room to find the boy frantically working on a gauntlet. Soldering a blue gem unto the device, which had a green gem already set into it. The roar of the torch must have made it hard to hear the announcement, and the iron mask around the kid's face.

"Who's there?" Hector turned his head around quickly, then back to his work.

"Diego, I'm sorry. I just need to finish this, a min – a few more minutes please."

The itch was giving way to pain, Diego could feel it starting to spread through his body. Most of the time, the pain was a low headache, barely noticeable except for when he tried to relax. He had a mission, whether he liked it or not, the geas wouldn't let him forget it.

"Steph and Monet are already waiting, and I can feel the ache in my fingertips. You have other items you can use."

Hector turned towards him. "Yes, but those are bought. If I build the weapon myself it resonates more with me and becomes stronger when I use it. And I think this one will really help. Please, let me finish."

"...Alright." Hector didn't know much about construction magic, but he knew Hector enough to believe him. And if he was delaying only a few minutes for the chance of a stronger weapon, the geas would go lighter on him. The more prepared he was, the closer he was to taking down the warlock.

Diego waited while Hector finished his work. One the metal on the gauntlet had cooled, Hector slipped it on. He nodded at Diego, and the two of them finally joined with an impatient Monet and a relieved Steph. AS one, they stepped onto the planet.

There was a chill on the wind, that but into them as they began their march. Diego took charge not just because he was the captain, this close to the warlock he could sense where the bastard was.

They had a brisk pace, keeping a constant jog as they explored thanks to Steph's healing magic keeping back their fatigue. Diego couldn't help but wonder why here? Why had the warlock bothering to come to this planet? Even ignoring the tundra, the planet was too cold to support life. Diego knew little about the warlock, but he knew wherever they went they left massacres in their wake. Nothing to kill here, so seemingly no reason to be here. And yet they were.

A large mound of ice could be seen in the distance, Diego could faintly sense the warlock's presence there. He and his crew went back to the ship and flew it closer to the mound, better to have it closer if they needed to run or if they came out of this injured.

After re-exiting the ship, something they were all more reluctant to do now that they understood how cold it was, they approached the ice structure.

It was large, easily over a hundred meters. It was oddly smoothed, almost a perfect cube except for its rounded edge shaved by the wind. They walked a quarter's way around its outside before coming to a strange site. Chunks of ice littered the ground, obviously from the large hole in the side of the structure.

The inside of the hole was ice, but at a meter in, it changed to dark stone.

There was a tunnel that looked like it went deeper into whatever his structure was. And patches of melting on the stone in the rough shape of boot prints. There were too many to be from a single person.

"So, they've gotten help." Steph said.

"It doesn't change much. Just means we have to be on guard." Diego said.

"We're already on guard." Monet said.

"A little extra guard never hurt anyone." Diego said lamely.

"They're the ones who need to be on guard. We're focusing on offense, and even if they have help, it'll still be two on one." Hector chimed in.

"How do you know that?" Diego asked.

"There are two different types of shoe tracks."

Diego checked and Hector seemed to be right. There were two patterns in the ice on the stone. Looking at the stone, Diego noticed something familiar about it."

"Oh shit. This is the same type of stone the citadel is made from."

"That's bad?" Steph asked.

Diego didn't answer immediately. He broke into a run that startled the rest of his crew before they fell in step with him.

"Xander got his powers from the citadel. If he's looking for more, he could be trying to make himself stronger by absorbing whatever powers this place." he explained.

The crew was silent, remembering past battles with the warlock. They had gotten stronger as they journeyed, but the warlock got stronger too. They're progression was almost inhuman in its speed. Between one combat and the next, the crew could go to narrowly being defeated and total failure. The failures had been stacking up lately. If they got another power boost from whatever they were doing here, they could reach a point where the crew simply wouldn't ever have the chance to beat them. If that happened, Diego didn't even want to imagine the pain the geas would unleash on him.

They raced through corridors but stopped to recover after they'd been running for ten minutes. It was clear they weren't going to reach the warlock running around recklessly.

After weighing his options, a few minutes of pain versus a clear direction and chance to plan, Diego ordered a stop.

The pain was low this time, small discomforts in his muscles. They felt just a little too tight, sometimes when he moved them, he got a stabbing feeling.

Monet sits with her back and hands pressed against the world, shutting her eyes in concentration. She was resting but still using her powers to help, sensing for any vibrations that indicated people nearby. Monet could be surly on the best of days but was usually willing to work with the crew.

Diego decided to lighten her work and began summoning his familiar. This took more time than summoning his weapons, as he had to shape his familiar, but still only took a minute and some mana.

A green ball of raw mana appeared in Diego's hands, he imagined his familiar taking their usual shape and invested that image into the mana. The ball's shape distorted, and its texture changed. It stretched squashed, became physical and furred. After a minute of concentration, Diego's familiar plopped into existence, in the form of a tabby manx cat.

It blinked and shook itself out, realizing and remembering their own sentience. "I need you to take a look around this place. Find the warlock." Diego brushed the cat once, they brrred and raised their back in pleasure, then ran off. Diego could sense where they were through the bond, and what paths they took.

Hector briefly looked up, his eyes widening with excitement as he saw the familiar, then dejected when it ran out of sight.

"Aw. Can you summon them back later, after this?" He asked Diego.

"What is your fascination with that familiar? It's not even a real cat." Monet asked, taking her concentration off searching.

"Yes, but I'd never seen a cat before joining. People don't bring their pets to stations for some reason, so I relish any chance I get to see one. Also, the cats cute." Hector said.

Monet tilted her head to the side, then nodded. Steph hummed in assent.

"It takes a bit out of me to summon them then any of my weapons, but sure. We make it out of this alive, I'll let you pet the cat."

Hector smiled, clenching his fist, ignoring the dire conditions.

Diego felt his familiar going deeper into the citadel, their padded paw helping them sneak soundlessly. They went around a corner and saw a sickly green light reflecting off the walls, and words that were garbled when Diego tried to understand them through his familiar's ears.

Diego stood, "Familiar's found them." He waited for the rest of his crew to collect themselves, together they took off in the direction of his familiar.

Diego turned a corner, seeing his familiar sitting dutifully against the wall, he knew he'd reached the right place.

From previous encounters with Xander, they knew it was a bad idea to let the warlock know he was under attack. Better to launch a surprise attack, knock him off centre, and try their best to seize on the sudden weakness. As one the crew picked up speed. Monet drew her blade from its scabbard, Hector adjusted the gauntlet, the gems on it beginning to glow, and Steph twirled her staff, bringing the black orb around to the front. They sprinted ahead of Diego as he slowed down to gran his familiar, returning it to raw mana and reabsorbing that into his body. He'd need all he could get.

Diego joined his crew, and turned the corner into the room the warlock was in. He saw them, adrenaline blocking out all other details. His geas sang in his head, urging him on. Diego gathered raw mana in his hands, converted it to heat and fire, and launched it at the warlock.

Before the fireball could reach them, a blue flash lit the room. The raw mana of the fireball burst apart, as it hit a shield spell.

Dammit, Diego thought.

He looked at the ground, there were multiple lines of runes stretching from one end of the room to the other. Multiple shield spells?

Diego looked up and saw the disdainful glare of the warlock. There was nothing special about the warlock on first glance, other than their bright blonde hair. They weren't especially pretty or ugly, plain.

Not focused only on them now, Diego tore his eyes away to see what the rest of his crew was staring at. On a dais was a pale skinned man, completely naked and shivering in the cold. Most importantly, the warlock has a hand pressing into their head. The warlock's sleeveless arms were tense, as though he were clutching the man's brains.

They smiled.

"I'm not sure if you've noticed this, but you're very predictable." He raised a hand and pointed at Diego. "Every time we meet you launch a spell at me, then that sword girl tries to stab me, followed by one of the other two hitting me with whatever they have at the time." He looked at Hector and leaned in. Hector flinched despite the distance. "What have you got this time, hmm? A gauntlet? Quaint."

Anyway, you always seem to open with the same few spells, so I've taken precautions." They indicated the runes on the floor. If they were telling the truth, that meant the runes were meant to stop specific ranged combat spells of his. Diego didn't think he had any in reserve, ones he hadn't shown the warlock. In life or death battles, it was better to go in spells slinging then get killed because you waited for the right time to unleash a hidden spell.

He couldn't get close without the warlock blasting him, especially when he was out in the open. So, despite his geas beginning to scream in his mind, Diego resorted to stalling.

"What are you doing to that man?" he asked.

"Oh, you're talking now? Not going to come screaming at me again?"

Diego said nothing.

"Hmph. Well I'm in an honest mood so I'll tell you. "I'm making a friend for myself."

"A friend?"

"Yes. I've gotten tired of the whole lone wolf thing, its leaving me too vulnerable, and with the powers I intend to take on, that's not going to last me. I need allies who'll have my back. People who can keep up with me. Protect me from psychopaths like you four. What is your problem with me? You must have chased me across half the galaxy by now."

Diego gave them an incredulous look. "You're a genocidal maniac. You've left dozens of planets without life. Why would we let that pass?"

"That doesn't explain why you specifically are after me? I doubt you're so moral you'd pursue as you've done instead of defaulting to authorities."

Diego looked at his cremates. They'd all been left scarred by the warlock. He'd take something important from all of them. Diego wouldn't talk about what happened to them. Especially in front of this piece of shit.

"I won't speak for the others, they've their reasons to hunt you down. As for me, I've got this nasty compulsion on me."

"A geas?"

"Exactly. It physically hurts me to not hunt you down."

"Oh, that makes sense. I could never understand why a sane person would throw themselves at me multiple times." They paused, tapping their free hand against their chin.

"Oh. I might be able to help you. My patron lets me block mental attacks, that probably extends to compulsions Tell you what, if you let me finish what I'm doing here, then I'll wipe away your geas."

"Why would you do that? Why do you think I'd ever agree to that?"

"It gets you off my back and lets me focus on serving my master, and you get to live the rest of your days not having to deal with the pain of not finding me. In fact, I'll sweeten the deal." He tilted his head, addressing the rest of the crew.

"I don't know what I've done to you to each of you. I understand it was probably awful enough to have you dedicate your lives to hunting me down. But, if you promise to forget all that, I'll let you all join me, even the captain there."

Stunned silence filled the room. This maniac believed they'd join him after all this time trying to kill them? Xander continued.

"I know it's not what you wanted, but it's the best option for everyone. I'm already stronger than all of you combined, our last few tussles should have proven that. You can't keep up with me, and if you try, you'll just be killed. But, if you forget your vendettas and join me, you get to continue living, and I promise to make you all strong enough to keep up with me. What do you say?"

"Fuck off." Monet said.

"Screw you." Hector said.

"Nah." Steph said.

"No." Diego said.

The warlock's smile vanished. "Fine suit yourselves." They twisted their hand in the man's head, and the sickly green light they'd been glowing with exploded. Diego covered his eyes from the sudden shine, when he lowered his arm, he saw the warlock with both hands free and the pale man standing with green veins sticking out from under his skin.

"You made me cut this short, so this guy is fucked. I didn't want to do this, but I'm low on mana. You've left me no choice." Their hands crackled, Diego summoned his spear in defense, the rest of the crew fell into battle stances preparing to dodge.

Green light enveloped the warlock, they vanished. Diego stared in shock. They can teleport now?

The man who had been on the dais stood with their head lowered, they hadn't reacted to the warlock leaving, and appeared catatonic now.

Diego clutched his head as pain exploded within it. He almost fell to his knees, clenching his teeth so hard he thought they would snap. He'd let them escape, he'd been useless and the geas was punishing him for his perceived failure. It was merciless.

Steph came behind him and pressed the green orb of her staff into Diego's back. Some of the pain went away, now a blistering headache instead of a debilitating one. He nodded at her in thanks.

"I don't think they could have gone far." Steph said. "It's likely he only learned teleportation within the last few months, and his would be at a weak level in that case. He probably just went back to his station; we can catch him if we leave now."

"Alright, let's go." The geas lessened its pain.

"Wait, what about this guy?" Monet said, indicating the naked man with her sword. As she did, the man raised his head, eyes burning with green light as they darted around the room. They finally locked onto Diego and his crew. They screamed, a high piercing sound that reverberated across the wide room. They charged.

Hector reacted first; he had never left his stance since entering the room. The green gem on his gauntlet lit up, a wave of green crystal burst from his hand. It flowed like liquid on to the ground just beyond the wards.

They were just there to block my spells, Diego thought. Xander might not know the extent of the rest of the crew's abilities.

Monet charged forward with her sword; Diego could hear it humming already as she channeled her power into it. At the same time, the blue gem lit u on Hectors gauntlet, and sharpened blue crystals fired out and landed in the green.

The man charged into the middle of it, still screaming. The blue crystals shone with light, and the green crystals suddenly shot up, flowing over the man like liquid before hardening back. The man was encased in green crystal.

Monet surged forward, her blade stabbed through the crystal and into the man's head. Not satisfied, Monet withdrew her blade and stabbed repeatedly through the crystal, at the man's chest, neck, and legs. She pulled her blade back when the crystal suddenly cracked. Monet jumped backwards, and the crystal surrounding the ma shattered.

This was the breaking point for Diego, even without the geas egging him on, he knew he'd taken too long to react. He rushed forward, Steph trailing at his side.

He traveled over the wards, they were meant to stop spells not people, a slight oversight on the warlock's part or maybe he hadn't cared. Diego summoned his spear and thrust it at the revealed man, skewering him through the chest.

Diego thought that should have been enough to stop them, but the warlock seemed unbothered, raising their hand to Diego's face.

He released the spear, leaving it stuck in the man's chest, and summoned a spectral gauntlet to one hand. He caught the hand in his gauntlet, just before it released a concussive blast. Diego was thrown backwards, the gauntlet absorbing much of the force, although he knew something in the hand had broken despite that.

The man gripped the hilt of the spear and tried to pull it out, grunting in pain when its serrated bade got stuck. They grunted harder but couldn't pull it out despite their strength. Leaving it summoned would prevent Diego summoning much else. He couldn't do something big like his chest plate, but if he released his gauntlet, he could summon the knife, or switch to the other gauntlet. He'd need to improve his summoning capacity.

The man stopped pulling on the hilt and let it stay where it was. Skin started to close over the wound, sending fear down Diego's spine. Xander had a healing ability like that, and the concussive blast felt familiar as well. He must have turned this man into a crude and weaker warlock.

The new warlock turned to face Monet, who darted in with their blade, cutting through their arm. The warlock faced her but backed off, raising their arm again. A wave of green crystal shot into their back, launching them forward and into another stab from Monet before she rolled out of their way.

The warlock landed on the ground hard, slamming their fist as they fell and sending out a shock wave, causing Monet to trip and fall. The warlock twisted onto their back and shot a green blast from their mouth. Monet tried to roll out of the way, but the blast still clipped her side. She cried in pain; the warlock started to fire another shot.

Diego shot to his feet and charged them; he was too far away. Hector appeared behind Monet, shooting green crystal onto the floor, then mixing blue into it. A rising wall of crystal met the next blast from the warlock, shattering it but absorbing most of the blast. Steph skidded over to Monet and started treating her. Pressing the green end of the staff to the blistered and burnt skin. A glow began to spread through the staff.

The glow hit the black end of the staff and was absorbed into it. The black pat didn't glow or give any indication it had done anything, but it was charged now.

The warlock marched towards the fallen Monet, crossing the wards to do so.

Diego instantly raised his hands and fired a fireball at the warlock, who was unfazed as it struck them and set half their face ablaze. They continued marching.

Diego cursed and released his gauntlet, and mentally released the spear. The warlock stumbled a second, adjusting to their new weight, then readjusted themselves. Diego summoned his chest plate, the mana stretching over his skin before becoming physical and settling on him, and his grey knife. He knew it was a poor defense, but it was all he had on him.

Diego charged at the warlock, hurling a wave of fore at the warlock. They stumbled again, and before they could right them self, Diego kicked them to the ground. It felt wrong to kick them, their body wasn't hard, but it also felt different to kicking a normal person's body, the ribs were sturdier and bulged.

Diego dived at them, jamming the knife into their neck. It cut it easily and blood flowed out, but the warlock raised their hand to blast him still. Diego batted the hand away and continued cutting. He put all his rage and frustration, of months of trying to kill Xander and to stop the pain. All the anguish of his failures.

The warlock's skin healed each time it was cut.

The hand came up, too fast.

Diego felt something dense hit the side of his head, realizing a minute later it was the floor. He'd been sent flying.

He gingerly lifted his head, fighting back the nausea that came with the action.

The warlock was being doused in green crystal from Hector's gauntlet. The green was growing taller by the second, easily weighing the warlock down, but reaching higher still. Hector kept shooting blue crystals into the mix, they must be what was fostering the growth. Information contained inside them; Hector had explained the concept to him before.

Steph raised the black end of her staff towards the entrapped warlock, a black mana cloud came out of the end. It was intangible, acting like a gas. It blanketed the area around the warlock in a haze of pain.

Diego stood despite the immense pain. This was his chance to finish the fight. He tied to sprint but collapsed halfway through the action. Groaning and rising once more, he limped to the battle.

Hector continued to pile more crystal onto the warlock, but it was clear that wasn't going to work forever. The green kept breaking apart under the strain of constant growth and the warlock's efforts. He might have gotten out faster if he could concentrate, the pain was driving him mad. Making him act more on instinct. Hector looked tired and kept glancing nervously at his gauntlet. Diego wasn't sure what that meant but it couldn't be good.

He summoned his spear again, stabbing it at the trapped warlock. The spear bounced off the crystal, Diego felt the counter force burn up his arm. The crystal was tougher than he thought. Monet cut through it earlier, thanks to her power she was the only one who could. Diego shot a worried glance at Monet. The pain had been taken from her wound, but it would return soon. She needed treatment before that happened. That would take time. Time away from hunting down Xander. Time Diego would have to face the relentless pounding inside his head.

"Monet, can you stand?" he asked shamelessly.

Monet got to her feet with a groan, holding a hand to her side. Diego stepped close to her, throwing an arm around her shoulder, and holding her up. They hobble over to the warlock. Crystal shattered around them, for a moment they were free. They thrust a handout in Hector's direction, a purple energy blast springing forth.

Diego tried to raise his hands for a spell at the same time Monet rushed forward. What she was trying to do Diego had no idea, but the result was both of them falling as they failed to untangle themselves.

Hector shot a last shot of green from his gauntlet, encasing the warlock's hand and body, then raised the gauntlet to protect themselves. The blast hit the gauntlet and slammed into Hector; he flew backwards through the air. Diego winced with sympathy.

He was too far away to check on, and the nascent warlock was the closest threat. Monet got to her feet first, Diego had to admire her perseverance. Her sword had fallen somewhere, knocked away in a scuffle. Diego summoned his spear and handed it off to Monet.

She stepped close to the warlock, the spear humming and shaking, and stabbed through the crystal and into the warlock's head. She withdrew the spear, taking far too long, and stabbed his head again. She was unused to the weight of the spear and untrained in its use. The barbed edge catching didn't help either.

With a sigh, Diego summoned the spear, re summoned it, and handed the product back to his frustrated teammate.

After several agonizing moments of worrying about Hector, worrying if Steph would run out of pain and the warlock would regain their senses, the mental effort of re summoning the spear, handing it off to and ever worse looking teammate, Monet relentlessly stabbing the warlock and sending burst of her power through the spear, the wound in her side opening ever wider and leaking blood onto the freezing ground – the warlock died

Its body stopped moving, its head pulped and no longer capable of thought. Monet kept stabbing until she was satisfied, then fell to the ground in a heap. Steph descended on her and began setting out her medical supplies.

Diego checked on Hector, suffering the pain of running when he saw the boy crumpled on the floor. He turned Hector on his side, their eyes were open, conscious, but unfocused. In their arms they cradled a heap of broken metal, two colored gems shining in the scrap.

"I worked so long. I'm sorry." Tears sprouted in Hector's eyes.

"...Its fine. You can make another." Diego said lamely. He was too drained to put much effort into the comfort. Hector nodded, wiping tears from his eyes that cried anyway, and limping back to the others as they waited for Monet to recover.

Diego's foot tapped on the stone, the sound echoing lightly around the room. It had been twenty minutes. Xander was definitely off the planet by now. With teleportation, he might not even be in the system. Diego didn't know what their range was, at the rate they progressed he couldn't even guess where their ability would be in the future. And they were still waiting for Monet to be patched up.

Pain, throbbing in the back of his mind.

He was sick of it. Never feeling like he could take a moment to relax because the moment he did, the moment he realized he was too tired to do anything constructive or not in the right frame of mind to do this healthily, the geas would blast him with pain until he got back to his job. He hadn't asked for this and he was stuck anyway.

Steph put the last of the stitches in place. "This should hold her until we can get her back to the ship. I can do further repairs once I have my equipment." she lifted her head to Hector and Diego. "Can either of you carry her back?"

"They don't need to." Monet said getting to her feet despite Steph's protests. Diego wanted to offer her support, insist that he or Hector and him together would carry her. But it still hurt too much to offer. He nodded and ran off towards the exit, ignoring the pain grunts from Monet when she and the rest of the crew started following.

The bitter cold hit his face once Diego exited the structure. He took out his locator for the ship, waiting for his crew to catch up.

The wind had gotten stronger since they'd entered, though Diego was sure this was because of natural events and not Xander's magic. It would be a nightmare to trek through, but it would be worse to wait it out.

Diego scanned the sky until he saw the black pinprick. The citadel was already outside the planet's atmosphere and was getting farther by the second. He could just barely feel it coming back unto his senses.

He turned back to the tunnel and saw his crew mates coming behind. "Winds bad. We're gonna have to run back to the ship, or else we'll be spending the night inside here."

Knowing his crew wouldn't want to do that, Diego started sprint back to the ship, setting the pace for the rest of his team to follow.

He managed to keep the sprint up for five minutes, clearly the time he'd put in to building his stamina was paying off. Diego checked the locator; he was still several miles to the ship. He remembered the march to the structure being shorter. He looked back to his and was disappointed to see them so far back. Not spots in the distance, but it would still take them minutes to catch up to him. He wouldn't go farther for fear of them losing him. He was already puffing after the sprint, so he looked forward to brief rest.

Diego had little mana left from the fight, but he blasted the area around him with slow moving and not dense fireballs to melt the snow around him. It was overkill, but he had to specialize in that if he wanted to fight Xander. Not that it seemed to help much. That new warlock wasn't much stronger than Xander was when he'd firs gotten his powers.

He sat on the hard ground, which wasn't comfortable but was preferable to literally freezing his ass off in the snow.

The closer the crew got to him; the more details Diego could make out. Hector was still cradling the wreck of his gauntlet, clutching it tight to his chest. It seemed too broken to repair, but Diego didn't have much skill with technology, and he trusted Hector to know best.

Steph looked haunted. Not used to seeing so much blood from one of her comrades, especially one she treated like a younger sister. There had been some bad injuries during their time together, but none as bad as what Monet had suffered.

Monet herself was shuffling along, grimacing, and pressing her hand to her wound. She'd always been eager to fight, training in her spare time, when she was meant to be relaxing. She'd never truly had time to rest between all the fights if that was the case, always pushing herself and her ability forward. Was she trying to make herself more useful? Would she slow down now that she had an injury, or would she see the pain she felt as a weakness and try to train harder to overcome it, that would only make things worse.

All of them had been with him in this mission, Hector, and Monet not since the start, but they'd joined none the less. Dedicating time they could have spent recovering or rebuilding their lives focusing on hunting the warlock with him. Through the worst of fights, they'd stayed with him. They hadn't abandoned him despite multiple chances to, if they hadn't left now it was likely they never would.

At the rate they were all pushing themselves they were liable to die from exertion than from Xander.

Steph was the first to reach him. Her eyes still seemed haunted by the carnage she'd seen, but they were narrowed now. She was looking concerned at him.

"I didn't get the chance to look at you. You took a hit to the head, didn't you?"

"Yeah, but I'm fine now. I shouldn't have any lasting damage."

"Any hit to the head leaves lasting damage. True, you can't feel it now, but you don't know how bad it really is. I'll have a look at you when we get back to the ship."

Diego was thankful for her, thankful for all of them.

Hector and Monet joined Steph in standing next to Diego. His geas flared with an intense bout of pain as he considered what to say next. He ignored it.

"Listen. After what we just went through, it's not smart or us to pursue the warlock for a while. Once we get back to the ship, we're going to sail to the nearest port station and recover and resupply. However long it takes us."

Monet spoke first, voice pained. "We can't. The longer we let that maniac loose, the more people he'll kill and the stronger he'll get. That guy wasn't early as strong s him and he still almost killed me. How strong could Xander be right now, and how much stronger can he get?"

"She's right." Steph chimed in. "They can teleport now. I'm not sure how their patron pact works but that's high-level magic."

Diego raised a finger. "Not necessarily. It's likely they just went back to the citadel, that they can only teleport to there is more likely, I've heard of spells that work like that. They fled when they could have stayed and fought. They likely took some energy from themselves to create the warlock we fought."

"So, they're weaker now?" Hector asked.

"All the more reason we should keep hunting them!" Monet said, then groaned and pressed her arm tighter to her wound. She'd put a lot into that yell.

"It's okay for us to take a break once in a while. This is grueling stuff. And something you two shouldn't be dealing with at your age." Monet and Hector seemed ready to snap at that, but Diego continued.

"But you do it anyway. so please, don't kill yourselves trying." Diego put his arm around both of their shoulders. "When we get to the station, Hector: I'm going to help you look for supplies for a new weapon."

Hector looked like he was about to argue, then thought better of it, and gave a small smile instead. Monet simply didn't argue.

They started marching back to the ship again. The geas was constantly pounding Diego's head the pain almost unbearable. Almost. Diego gritted his teeth, giving a toothless smile whenever one of his teammates looked back to him. The geas couldn't retain this intensity forever, if it did Diego would never get back to hunting Xander and that was the last thing it wanted.

He was willing to bear any pain to help his crew, as they did for him.

End.