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- A Road Leads to... The Urals? -

June 30th, 2013

Budapest, Hungary - 10h a. m.

Melchior's head was down, just as his spirit was. He was standing on the hospital hall with bandages covering his arms and torso underneath his clothes. Soloyev was talking to some physicians far from Elemental Alchemist, whose gaze was upon a glass window.

He could see Lunia through the glass; the Hungarian Hellhound was still unconscious, covered with bandages and hospital instruments, measuring his heart beat and other vital activities of his body. Yet Soloyev said Lunia was going to be healed up, the Salvadorian mage was unsure about it.

"Are you lying to me so that I won't feel guilty in case he dies?"

The scene was repeating over and over in Melchior's head; the memoirs of that battle were still fresh in Melchior's mind. The fire circle. The suffocating air. The wicked smile. The terrifying voice. The tainted body. The demonic form of Lunia. The explosion. The fight. Soloyev's arrival. Lunia's fall.

"Is... Is Lunia dead?"

The phrase was echoing in his mind as a wicked, gloomy funeral march. The image of Lunia injured, unconscious and bleeding was haunting Melchior.

"Is... Is Lunia dead?"

He put his hands on his head, madly shaking it sideways, tormented by his own thoughts.

"I... It was... That night... When she came after you. I protected you, remember? You fainted... She tried to murder you with her Elementals... she almost did it, but I... I conjured my Core and jumped in front of you to receive... The rest of the damage... I weakened myself by accident and... She tainted me! "

Lunia always wanted the best for Melchior; he was a fair, good man, who didn't want to give up to evil. He fought with all he had in order to continue the same Lunia Melchior once met.

"She said!... She said!... 'Your time... Has come...' Argh!... 'Your mind.... Your mind belongs to me! Will it... Will it be worth it?! Will it?!"

Elemental Alchemist stopped shaking his head. He felt the anger growing within, boiling the blood in his veins and strengthening his will. He closed his fists with anger and determination.

"The Danish Demon..." He growled. "I'll... I'll take you down, it is a promise. For myself and Lunia, I'll be the one to raze you to the ground!"

Then, he felt a hand on his shoulder; he looked back and saw Stanislaus looking at him with a sad smile.

"Well, I bring some good news." The Russian said. "Lunia will be healthy soon - he'll stay on the hospital for another week in observation. The, he'll be released and will be as good as new! Great, huh?"

Melchior looked at Stanislaus without making a single move. It took a few seconds for him to understand what was happening. Then, he opened a smile.

"It is more than great!" Melchior replied happily.

"I am far more relieved now..." Stanislaus said. "Well, now, you have an appointment with my brother... See, he's waiting for you in Moscow. While you were asleep, I received his call. He said you should take the first train heading to Moscow from Budapest..."

"Well... I'll finally finish my training, then..." Melchior said. "Listen, are you coming with me as well?"

"Well, only to the train station." Stanislaus said, slightly embarrassed. "I'll stay here in case Lunia needs. Balthazar may be coming as well, and Cynthia and Nathalie already gave me more than a dozen calls. The Danish Demon is up to something bad. Really, really bad..."

Melchior took a deep breath, with his rage killing him inside; since the day he met her, nothing but chaos and misfortune came. His mind was already made up. He had serious business to deal with her.

"Who's that Danish Demon?" Melchior asked serious. "What does she want?"

"Well... I can't tell you that." Stanislaus said. "You'll know. I am sure you will... I hope you learn it the good way..."

Melchior turned his looks to the ground, frustrated. Why did the Elemental Lords keep treating him like a child?

"Anyway... Let's go." Stanislaus said, looking at his watch. "The train will leave in one hour, and I believe traffic is bad at this time..."

***

Budapest, Hungary - 12 a. m.

Soloyev left Melchior at the main station of Budapest. Elemental Alchemist looked at the railroad and saw the train getting closer and closer; the wind gently swung his red-haired bangs as the enormous iron horse stopped at the station.

Melchior looked at his hand - he was holding his boarding ticket.

"I am almost there..." He thought. "Almost there. I just need one more Mastery. Then, I'll be able to gather my friends and chase that Danish Demon down before she causes more havoc."

He held his head higher than before, with determination. He then boarded o the train, giving the doorman his ticked to a trip farther to the East, to the borders of Europe.

While he was walking to his wagon, his phone rang. It was Balthazar.

"Long time no spoken to!" The Portuguese man said. "I am so glad you are alive! How you doing, champion?!"

"I am doing pretty fine now..." Melchior replied. "Long time no spoken to as well, Balthazar. Are you in Lisbon?"

"Not now." Balthazar replied. "I am coming to your house, kiddo."

"You what?!" Melchior asked, shocked.

"You heard me." Balthazar mischievously replied. "See, Mirabelle and Ushuriel have asked for my presence here. We are concerned. I have already told the last Elemental Lord you are coming, so..."

"Thanks very much, Balthazar." Melchior replied, smiling.

"So, if you have nothing more to say..." Balthazar said. "I'll hang off..."

"Wait!" Melchior asked, opening the wagon's door. "I have one question... When I finish my training, will I return the Bracelet to you?"

"No, no!" Balthazar replied, laughing. "The Bracelet is yours to keep. I know the Warlock smiths who craft them, and they are sort of tailor-made, you know?"

"So, you mean I was designated to have that one?!" Melchior asked, closing the wagon's door.

"Well, yes, I think." Balthazar replied. "So... any more questions?"

"Uhm... No..." Melchior replied, surprised.

"Then, I have to go! Bye!" Balthazar said, hanging off and finishing his conversation.

"Okay then..." Melchior slowly replied, putting his phone back to his pocket.

"You seem very, very busy. And you are quite more mature then the last time I saw you."

Melchior froze; the voice was coming from the corner of the wagon, which he assumed had nobody. It was a female voice with a strong Russian accent. Her voice, yet childish, was quite metallic. Elemental Alchemist knew the owner of that specific voice.

"Impossible!" He whispered. Then, he turned around and saw her. "Oh my Lord... Zoe?! Zoe, is that you?!"

He was looking at a small, thin, white-skinned girl with long, straight, light-green hair and golden eyes. She was wearing a light brown leather overcoat, dark-brown leggings, black leather boots and a black, woolen Cossack hat with the Russian Coat of Arms engraved on it.

"Zdorovat'sya*." She mischievously said. "Relax, I do not hold a weapon here."

"What are you doing here?!" He asked, surprised. "Weren't you supposed to be..."

"In jail?!" Zoe mischievously asked, crossing her arms. "Nyet**. Well, I actually am in jail. House arrest. I am living with a former Russian president. International affairs, nothing like the age I was designed to act. Come here..." She tapped the empty spot of her seat. "Sit here with me, Elemental Alchemist."

Melchior hesitantly obeyed; Zoe turned her body to his side, crossing her legs, looking at him. The train began moving at that time, leaving Budapest and Hungary behind. At that time, Melchior knew he'd have hours and hours of forest ahead of him.

"May I ask you what are you doing here?" She asked.

"I... I am going to see a person in Moscow." Melchior replied, suspecting of Zoe.

"Interesting." Zoe replied, smiling. "Are your fellow Blue Moon Knights here as well?"

"No... They aren't." Melchior replied, widening his eyes. "I am alone in this trip."

"Oh..." Zoe's eyes widened; she was surprised by Melchior's information. "I thought all of you were together almost all the time..."

"They are all waiting for me back in Guatemala." Melchior said with a smile. "Why do you ask?"

"For I..." She got slightly embarrassed. "I just wanted to know if... If Kimi was nearby, that's all."

"He is in Guatemala, like everyone else of our team." Melchior smiled. "I think he is slightly different from the last time you saw him - his hair got a bit longer."

"Nice..." Zoe commented, looking at her hands. Then, she looked back at Melchior. "It is nice to see you guys are doing so well... Wish I could see all of you."

"As strange as it may sound, so do I." Melchior replied with a laughter. "The reason I am going to Russia is because of my friends and I - the power I am gathering is for them. The person here in Russia will give me more power so that I can yield it to Kimi."

"Do you know this person's name?" Zoe asked. "I may know him or her."

"Well... It is Karkaroff and something." Melchior replied. "I know he has a compost name and a brother called Stanislaus Soloyev."

"Hmm..." Zoe reflected. "This surname isn't weird for me... Perhaps he is one of the Blood Brothers."

"Blood Brothers?" Melchior repeated.

"Da***." Zoe replied, nodding her head. "They are performers, circus artists. Both are masters of trapezes, and often perform at the center of many Russian cities and abroad. I heard about them a few months ago, and I found them amazing."

"Fascinating..." Melchior commented. "Is there any possibility for you to show me them?"

"I don't think it will be possible." Zoe sadly replied. "I'll have to go back to home as soon as I set feet on Russia, or else I..."

"I understand." Melchior interrupted Zoe with a sad smile. "I think I am fine on my own. I'll find that man for sure."

They smiled at each other, and Melchior went to the large, free seat in front of Zoe. He lied down and suddenly fell asleep. Zoe smiled at him and closed the curtains, ready to do the same.

***

July 2nd, 2013

Moscow, Russia - 12h a. m.

It took two days of travel for Zoe and Melchior to arrive at the capital of Russia. He slowly woke up, feeling tired as he had ever felt. The first thing he saw was Zoe's scared countenance, which suddenly became full of relief.

"Oh my god!" She said. "You scared the hell out of me! How can a normal person sleep that much?!"

"Well, I..." Melchior replied, confused. "I have no idea..."

Then, he looked through the window and saw the train station, which was gently receiving the first snowflakes of the day. Then, he looked at Zoe.

"Are you coming?" He asked.

"Nyet. I'll stop at Saint Pittsburg; it's where I am living."

"Well... Nice to see you, Zoe." Melchior gently said, smiling.

"Nice to see you too, Melchior." Zoe replied.

"I'll tell Kimi I saw you. he will be thrilled!" Melchior said, leaving Zoe on the wagon.

"I appreciate..." Zoe replied with her face completely blushed.

Melchior waved at Zoe and left the wagon, going out of the train. As he set his foot out of the transport, he felt the cold breeze of Moscow, which made him shiver.

"Brr... It's cold out here..." He complained, crossing his arms and trembling.

Then, he looked at his feet - there was a thin layer of ice over them! He followed the ice path with his eyes and he looked ahead. Someone was watching him.

"Are you lost, child?"

The icy path lead to a white-skinned man who was dressing a black, woolen overcoat, black, woolen pants, black leather shoes and a small, black hat. His voice was strong, just like his Russian accent. Melchior looked at him more carefully, seeing that he wore a pair of glasses and his eyes were light purple.

"I'll ask again..." He said, slowly walking towards Melchior. "Are you lost?"

He stood right in front of Melchior, and he was slightly taller than Elemental Alchemist. His looks were cold and hostile, quite intimidating. Melchior looked at him, slightly intimidated.

"My name is... Melchior Raven-Hayes." He said.

"There was no need of you telling me your name." The man replied. "I already knew who you were." He put his hand in his hat and half-closed his eyes. "Balthazar and my brother have told me plenty of you..." As he talked, he removed his hat, looking at the bottom of Melchior's eyes. "... You are the one who the Danish Demon, Mary Hellheim, chased and almost killed. Lately, your presence and weakness caused Lunia to be cursed and tainted. Am I correct?"

The Russian's judging gaze was terrible for Melchior to withstand. Mary Hellheim. For the first time, he heard her name. Finally, he had an answer for that question. Still, he owed a couple of answers to the man in front of him.

"Unfortunately... You are." Melchior replied terribly embarrassed. "But you have to understand I never wanted anything like this to happen!"

"I understand that." He replied with a less aggressive gaze. "I also understand you had no choice than fighting for your life. You could have just given up, but you didn't. I am quite impressed by your bravery, but you will have a much longer way to go if you want me to give you the certitude of Mastery on Ice and Water."

"Wait..." Melchior was surprised. "So, you are..."

Cynthia's voice echoed in his mind.

"... The Russian Vladimir Antoniev Karkaroff. As soon as you leave my training, both of them will be notified..."

"I already heard his name!" Melchior thought.

"...And the choice is yours to head either Hungary or Russia first."

"My name is Vladimir Antoniev Karkaroff." The Russian said. "I am Stanislaus' elder brother and I am the Elemental Lord of Ice and Water. By the surprised look you are giving me, I assume I am correct supposing you have already met the other Elemental Lords."

"Y-yes!" Melchior replied.

"So, I am the last Elemental Lord standing on your way. Interesting." He said seriously, with a mischievous smile in the end. "You must be eager to finish your training. How many months have you spent in Europe?"

"Three months and a couple of weeks, I guess." Melchior replied.

"Hm... You learn fast. Very fast." Vladimir Antoniev said. "So, I'll give you a choice. Pay attention, for I'll be doing this only once."

Vladimir turned his hat upside down, showing its bottom to Melchior. Then, he put his left hand a few centimeters above it, and he raised two things from the bottom of his hat - an enormous ice shard and a large, yet delicate water drop.

"Choose." Vladimir asked. "What do you want to learn first - Ice or Water?"

Melchior became reflexive. Yet it didn't seem to make much difference, he knew that, in terms of magic, the choice of an element would determine if he'd stay more or less in Europe. Though he was enjoying the experience, he was already homesick. Melchior wanted to see his friends and his family again; he couldn't wait to set his feet on Guatemala again and show off his new skills and abilities. And this choice was, as Vladimir stated, the last thing standing between Melchior and his Certitude of Mastery.

"Well, I already have the Element which suits me better, and that would be Fire." Melchior thought. "I acquired Nathalie's and Cynthia's training only to give Anael and Thalas more power. I think it is time to reward the longest friendship I have, and that one is with Kimi. Ice is his strongest suit, not mine. Besides, he'd learn a new thing or two. It will be for the best."

"So...?" Vladimir asked, driving Melchior's attention to him.

"Well, I already made up my mind." Melchior said with a smile. "I choose... Ice."

Vladimir stood up in silence for a few seconds. Then, he half-closed his eyes and began talking.

"Very well. You and I are going to take the Trans-Siberian Railroad. We are heading to Siberia, where my brother will be awaiting for us. As we talk, he may be already on his way."

"Siberia?!" Melchior asked. "Can I change my choice?!"

"Hahahaha..." Vladimir ironically laughed. "Nyet."

Vladimir made a hand sign for Melchior, asking Elemental Alchemist to follow him out of the station. They left the station walking side by side.

"Well... I have just a couple of things to say." Vladimir said. "My brother is with my Elemental Key Seal, so I won't block your Seals for now. The trip to Siberia takes about four or five days by train, so I suggest you conjure some warm clothes for you, or you won't last a day. I'll make my best efforts in order to give you the best training I can on my Elements. You wake up early and sleep when Sun sets. Also... No nicknames given. Call me Vladimir or Antoniev or Mr. Karkaroff only. If you decide to call me 'Vlad' or - even worse - 'Vladdy'... I'll have you killed. Understood?"

"Gulp! Y-yes!" Melchior replied, frightened.

"Very well, very well." Vladimir replied mischievously, with a smile which revealed his small fangs.  "We will stay here for just two days more - I have to wait for some of Balthazar's delivery in my residence here, in Moscow. Follow me please."

Melchior nodded, and Vladimir took him elsewhere, in which he casted a teleport spell, driving both to the Karkaroff's apartment. It was a medium-sized place, which looked like a college dorm.

"This is where I live." Vladimir said. "The guest room is just a few steps ahead. There's some beetroot soup on the fridge and other things as well. Make yourself comfortable. I'll be here in the office in case you need. Don't you order anything without my consent!"

That said, Vladimir hasted to his office, shutting the door and leaving Melchior alone. Elemental Alchemist sighed sadly and went to his room. He lied on the bed with his notebook opened. Then, he started writing for a while. After thirty minutes, he took his cellphone and made a call.

"Hello?" It was Mirabelle's voice.

"Hey, mom!" Melchior greeted the best way he could. "I missed you... I miss you and dad. How are you guys doing?"

"We are fine. I am better now, for I've heard from you!" Mirabelle happily replied. "Are you at Vladimir's now?"

"Yes..." Melchior replied sadly. "Is he that cold and unfriendly?"

"Well..." Mirabelle started. "At first sight, he seems cold and unfriendly. However, if you know him better, deep down he..."

"He is really cold and unfriendly!" Ushuriel happily screamed. "It's Vladdy we are talking about!"

Melchior made his best efforts not to laugh out loud. He heard Ushuriel happily ask Mirabelle to give him the phone so that he could talk to Melchior.

"How are you doing, lad?!" The Vampire mischievously asked. "I am so glad you are safe and sound and just about to finish your training! How are you feeling?"

"Great..." Melchior replied. "I can't wait to return home... Are things going well?"

"Yes, they are." Ushuriel replied. "Your friends are doing a marvelous job protecting this town, and they can't wait to see you again. Friday, we will be celebrating Maya's birthday. It is a shame you won't be here..."

"Maya's birthday?! Oh my, I've completely forgotten!" Melchior said. "But isn't Thursday?"

"Yes, but she will throw the party on Friday night, so that people can relax and celebrate." Ushuriel stated. "Well, I think you are tired now... Get yourself some rest, okay? Your mother and I love and miss you. Don't get yourself in too much trouble, right?"

"Right... I'll take care of myself." Melchior replied. "I'll hang off and get some sleep..."

"Right. Sleep tight, my child." Ushuriel said. "Your mother is sending you kisses and blessings. Get some rest. Bye."

"Bye." Melchior said, hanging off.

His countenance was full of sadness. He lined his back on the wall and crouched; right now, all he could think was on Lunia and his health state. Though Soloyev said he was going to be fine, Melchior new that it was his fault, and his fault only. He jeopardized a man's life, and he couldn't forgive himself.

"Are you lying to me so that I won't feel guilty in case he dies?"

He crouched even more, hiding his head on his knees, crying. At that time, he wasn't aware, but someone was watching him.

"I... Lunia Kárdos Kárpatí, Elemental... Elemental Lord of Fire...of my age, give thee,... Melchior Raven-Hayes,... the certitude of Mastery of... Fire Element and... And its sub-classes, Ignition... and Power. May the bearer of this Elemental Gift.... Does good deeds... And good actions... With the power... Fully given."


To be Continued...

----

Glossary:

(*): Zdorovat'tsya - "Hello (formal)" in Russian
(**): Nyet - "No" in Russian
(***): Da - "Yes" in Russian

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