Final Light Chapter Nine - Weed Out the Weak

"Form a line, huh?" Runic mused over the words with a furrowed brow and a roll of his shoulders. Canting his head left and right watching the others do as they were told. Pale hued gaze periodically looking back up to Nero and his dull brown eyes that looked as if they were deadened. That scar across the bridge of Nero's nose diverting any attention from the rest of his milky white face towards it; had to be a bit annoying to have such a prominent thing scarring ones face. Mouth opening unintentionally as another yawn left his throat Runic cursed something beneath his breath and moved to get in line as well. Of the fifteen or so candidates he was the tenth in line, right behind that Izunata woman. The Yagyu foreigner that Nyx seemed to be head over heels for.

She was taller up close than he imagined, Runic blatantly staring at the back of her head comparing herself to his own height and Nyx's. She was slightly taller than the latter, but still shorter than him; the top of her head coming to right around the bridge of his own nose. She was still taller than the five other women in line here that Runic hardly seemed to pay any attention to. Looking away from Izunata who didn't once even seem to acknowledge Runic standing behind her and continued to stare blankly ahead like some drone; Runic himself simply glanced off to the side on his left with another yawn. A low growl escaping his mouth now visibly irritated by the fact he kept fucking yawning for no clear reason.

"Nay. You won't do." Nero's rushed voice interrupted Runic's self irritation.

Runic turned to look straight ahead as Nero denied participation to the first person in the line. An older woman with black hair and dark skin who was slightly overweight. The woman looking a bit distraught at being denied, Nero withdrawing his open right hand from her forehead as they slid back into the confines of his robe. Listening attentively to the woman begin to demand him for a reason why she was denied, a simple pause and a clear of the throat and Nero replied in what perhaps was the most calm yet disappointed tone Runic had ever heard...

"You'd die. I have sensed it in your soul. Exceptionally easy at that... I can't allow you to throw your life away in hopes of monetary gain. I apologize ma'am, maybe next time?" Nero said condescending while nodding off to the side towards the entrance she came through dismissing her. The woman clearly holding up the line now expressing both frustration and denial that this man could so easily brush her off and tell her basically to get lost. Runic eye rolling to himself now annoyed.

"If this is going to happen multiple times I may as well walk out of line and go home." He whispered exasperated as he scratched the back of his spiky platinum silver hair. Sneering when the person behind him, an older gentleman with red hair, fair skin and chiselled features clad in crimson fabrics who was about a foot taller than Runic was; agreed with the statement. Nero having grown tired of this woman's rebellion to his words sighed to himself and closed his eyes as she rambled on to the point she sounded as if she'd get violent. Before she could say anything else Nero's left hand shot out from his white robes once more and his index finger tapped her forehead; she dropped like a corpse immediately afterwards shocking everyone except Runic and Izunata. The former merely chuckling cause he found that drastic reaction funny while the latter made no visible reaction whatsoever.

"If anyone else would like to express their disbelief at my decision you are free to do so, I won't stop you." Nero calmly spoke to everyone else in line as two students walked over to escort the unconscious woman away. "But do not hold up the line and waste my time. Time is knowledge yes? You are free to express disappointment, curse me out if you please but make it less than five seconds and move along. I don't like having to use my powers to knock delinquents unconscious. Next!" He wasted no time gesturing for the next person to step up and be judged like some holy priest. Runic watching the woman get carried away without much else to say. Stepping forward a small space with the rest of the line as the next one was judged with a simple hand pressed against his forehead and a brief silence.

"Nay. Next!" Nero's words made Runic blink and furrow a brow at him. That's two no's already... Out of fifteen people...

"Nay. Next!" Nero said to the third person in line. This was clearly not what anyone expected, three were denied already leaving only twelve left. Just how dangerous was this mission? What made this man capable of judging someone's worth through brief physical contact? What was even the requirements for undertaking this job?

"Nay. Next one!" Nero said yet again. Runic couldn't help but start to feel a little anxiety within him. The way Nero was saying no to these participants probably augmented the negative reaction they had to him. He gave off the vibe as if he were calling them useless and to be tossed aside like petty trash. All of this displayed in his tone, quickness, and casual indifference to them muttering and showing distaste. He couldn't blame them, if someone were to just basically call him a waste of space with a tone like that he'd be a little more than annoyed too. Nero came off as a huge jackass, more so than he cared to probably admit.

"Nay. Next!" Nero said again... Runic clenching his fists in his black jacket pockets trying to stop himself from shaking. Why was he suddenly nervous? As the line got shorter and shorter and the people who were denied took their leave a bit more than sour, Runic couldn't stop subtly shivering now from anxiety he was confident he didn't have up until now. Why was he shaking? What was he so nervous about? Being told no? Why would he care if he was? Being embarrassed like the others for being denied? When did he care about what someone thought about him? No... It had to be something more... It had to be...

Maybe it was Nero himself that made Runic uncomfortable? He recalled that unsettling brief eye contact they both had prior to the line assembling... That stare that made the amnesic tense up without even realizing...

Nero denied everyone up until it was Izunata's turn... She was the ninth in line, which means after her there were six left for a job that made it sound like it needed an entire army to complete. The quiet woman stepped forward with a calm empty gaze in her powerfully hued red eyes; their beauty accentuated by jet black bangs of hair parting down the center and framing both sides of her face all the way to the base of her neck where they ended. Her slightly longer than shoulder length hair shifting slightly from the oncoming night-time breeze that blew stray strands across an unblemished, symmetrical and pale face. Nero staring a bit more invested in her with a small creepy smile that was visibly apparent to Runic which made him eye roll.

"Ahh... What do we have here?" Nero chuckled quietly while eyes hungrily looked over Izunata's figure admiring her perfection. From head to toe she was stunning to look at, something he rarely admitted to anyone. "Your attire is very interesting, are both of your arms so grievously injured that you wrapped them in bandages so completely from shoulder to tip of finger?" He inquired looking at both black bandage wrapped arms resting at Izunata's sides exposed by her sleeveless black shirt. The solemn looking woman turning her gaze upwards to meet the man's own in silence. The two staring at each other for several seconds, Nero taking the hint and waving dismissively.

"Ah, not much of a talker are you? Very well I understand I understand. Business only yes?" He outstretched his arms towards her and chuckled hiding away his right and resting his left on her forehead under the bangs of black hair. Izunata not doing anything at all, standing like a statue awaiting the verdict just as much as Runic standing behind her was. It took a while longer for her to be judged, Nero's hand not leaving her forehead as quickly as with those before her. Runic raising a brow in confusion, wondering why this was taking twice as long as with the others before his thoughts got interrupted by the sudden wide and toothy smile made by Nero and him quickly pulling his hand away from her forehead and sneering.

"Yes! We have a winner! You are accepted!" He exclaimed visibly happier than he ever was before. While Runic couldn't really say he was surprised, half expected that girl to be accepted given the hype Nyx did earlier; the five behind him weren't as expectant and the gasps of disbelief could be easily heard as well as the muttering. Izunata upon hearing the acceptance simply stepped out of line and went back to the decorative pillar she was near before the line formed and leaned against it once more with closed eyes and crossed arms. Runic watching her walk away with no visible expression or glare, turning back to Nero and freezing up mentally when he saw that man's glare again. However this time the older man looked as if he was just finishing what he started by examining the rest... He didn't look expecting or anything. Even his tone following Izunata's departure from the line hinted he didn't really feel like examining anyone else, he had what he needed.

"Come along now let us hurry and finish what was started yes?" He quickly gestured for Runic to step forward. The all black wearing amnesic hesitating a moment, forcing himself to stop shaking from anxiety as he stepped forward to right before Nero's taller sickly frail stature. The grey-haired guild master looking him over much less intensely than with Izunata as if he expected less. Well, Runic wouldn't necessarily blame him if he did... He was nothing special and having even got this far was nothing short of luck. He was pretty sure he only got past the gates because Nyx the other day basically promised him a spot since he protected Tatsumi. Still...

Runic did not like the vibe Nero gave off... It made him nauseous...

Nero's hand moved up to brush away the silver bangs of hair obscuring his forehead, Runic instinctively pulled back his head at the start like some danger was clear which startled Nero slightly however he said nothing. Simply beckoning with fingers that Runic return closer. The moonlight above gleaming off his hair, Runic reluctantly leaned his head forward again and allowed the guild leader to press his palm against his forehead and judge his worth. Eyes closed and fists grabbing the inside of his jacket pockets as it took all he had to not start shivering again in anxiety. That brief contact felt like ages to him... wait...

It was ages... Nero had his hand against Runic's head longer than he did with Izunata's... Then hi's eyes opened and that ecstatic look in them could only be...

"... You... !" Nero's tone was rather darkly gleeful. Runic's soft pale eyes opening to look the man in the face as his forehead was still pressed under his palm. The two staring at each other closely with Runic looking confused and wary, eyes narrowing in hesitation at that man's tone. "You... accepted!" The man removed his hand and smiled a bit too hard at the amnesic! "You are accepted! Rejoice! For your chance for glory is upon you!" Nero chuckled genuinely excited as he then looked to Izunata who was looking at Runic with an unreadable expression once she heard the master say he was accepted. The five behind him muttering again in disbelief, the one who agreed with his comment earlier lightly tapping him on the shoulder in congratulations.

"Stand off to the side with the other one and I shall be with you shortly." Nero hurriedly moved Runic out of line now quickly wanting to get this all over. Runic himself was unsure how to feel about this... Why? Why was he accepted when people who clearly looked more capable than him weren't? What was the reason behind that twisted smile? Why was Runic even still entertaining this assignment when he quite visibly showed he was uncomfortable with Nero's presence? As he walked towards where Izunata was the two made eye contact once more with neither saying anything to the other. The young man merely making his way to an adjacent side of the pillar from her and sitting down lamenting over his own thoughts while hearing Dexter quite quickly dismiss the last five without a second thought.

"Nay!" Nero said five times in rapid succession...

Just hearing that word five times repeatedly after he and the Yagyu were the only two who got a yes made Runic wonder what exactly was Nero's game plan. How did he accept only two? Why only two if this mission was constantly boasted as being rather dangerous? Why him of all people? A man who didn't even know if Runic was his real name let alone anything about his own powers aside from the fact that his wounds healed themselves upon waking? This entire thing was rather jarring to him... He didn't know what to think or how to continue.

Watching the last of the line leave disappointed they weren't accepted, Runic waved slightly in farewell to the red-haired nobody. The nameless man waving back at him out of courtesy before walking through the gates leaving only Runic, Izunata and Nero left by the fountain. The old man walking over to the two of them with aching bones and a raspy cough as his bony frail hands popped at the joints when he gestured happily to the both of them; Runic standing to his feet with a small huff and Izunata merely turning her head and opening her eyes. A chilly breeze blowing a few featherweight leaves through the air around them and ruffling fabrics and hair.

"Congratulations you two..." Nero's dry voice cracked and croaked as he spoke. "You both have... potential unlike the rest, potential that I have foreseen will be very useful on this contract." He smiled thinly. "The greatest secrets lie defended by the greatest trials, and you two are the only ones I sensed profound excellence from... Let us move on now shall we? To my personal office of knowledge..." Nero chuckled in a friendly yet sketchy tone. It was unknown if this man was really shady or if that was just how he was personality wise but regardless of any of that Runic only focused on one thing that to this second he couldn't comprehend.

"What potential are you talking about...?" Runic thought to himself, Nero suddenly turning to him as if he heard the thoughts in his own head which made the amnesic shudder a bit. Turning his head back away to look between the both equally now, the Guild Leader cleared his throat and turned to walk away towards the building directly behind the fountain while gesturing they follow. Izunata doing as implied without much response or other unnecessary actions while Runic hesitated again before following as well. Hands still clenching the insides of his jacket pockets, head raised to look at the eternal night sky one last time before he exhaled to himself and calmed his nerves. Without another word, Runic made his way towards the main building of the Archives Guild...

An Amnesic with no recollection of anything about himself and a fabled Yagyu from the East were the only candidates accepted by this sketchy Guild Master... What secret motives were the driving force behind such an odd and polarized choice?

Sometime later...

Two thick wooden doors opened up in the canopy of the tall building; Nero, Izunata and Runic entering in that order to a phenomenal sight. Runic's eyes wide with quiet surprise at the vastness of the room he had just stepped within. The scenery was within a large dome shaped room; with two 'rings' of flooring both marbled and granite. An outer ring which sat higher and was the ring they all stood upon and an inner ring which was a depression in the center of the room with an impressively large circular dark wooden table standing on marbled flooring and littered with books of various thickness and covers. Bright red and green runes and glyphs glowing across the surface beneath the texts as well as three hovering light blue hued lights illuminating the area around in a pyramid in a dim study light. Behind the table at the far end of the room was a bookcase towering and long touching wall to wall on both sides of the circular room and stuffed with literature and knick knacks.

On the left and right sides of the group entering were display cases holding various treasures ranging from bone relics to weapons and canes strung up on the walls for all to behold that spanned the entire circumference of the domed room aside from the book case at the far end. The sight could only be described as cozily amazing... The secret cove of a man who put knowledge and study above all else and dedicated their entire existence to its collection...

"Welcome to my study... Let us begin the overview of what you'll be doing shall we?" Nero chuckled as he gestured for the two to come in as the doors eerily shut behind him...

To be continued! Next Chapter - A Black Rose by any other Name