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Of Blood and Honor
Of Blood and Honor
By Shadow Dancer

AN: This is a deviation from my usual stories – which, I've noticed, tends to be romantic heartstring-pullers. I will warn my readers now, as I feel rather obliged to. This is a gruesome tale of horror. Not a horror story intended to scare, rather something I have been knocking around in my head for a very long time now. I've been watching my brother play Counter-Strike and Half-Life for too long… I also reread one of my old fanfics where I say that my job is to kill off characters and write scenes of horror and devastation. I'm picking up that job here. I tend not to pull punches in descriptions, so this will be vivid for those with active imaginations. People with weak stomachs, don't read. So, if you find this gory, disturbing, gruesome or sickening…well, I've warned you. War isn't pretty. It never was, it never will be. It's necessary sometimes though.

This is a story I wrote to accompany a picture I drew long ago. People who have seen it say that I captured the horror of the event on Milgazia's face. I'm not done coloring it yet. But that picture will be tame in comparison to what I will describe here.
What is this event?
The Kouma War.

Milgazia awoke, his entire body protesting as he did. Where am I? He tried opening his eyes, and was alarmed when he could not open them. My eyes?! Have I gone blind? He tried to reach up with his right hand to scrub at his eyes, but found he had to pull his arm out of something...sticky. As his fingers touched his face, he shivered in disgust. Whatever it was, it was slimy. He managed to find a clean portion of his hand though and wiped his eyes clean of something that was crusting over them. Slowly, he opened his eyes, revealing at last what had previously been denied to him.

The dragon's golden eyes widened in horror, as the first thing that came into focus was the morbidly grinning skull of another Golden Dragon. Rather, what remained of one. Half of it was gone, blown away in the blast that must have killed the dragon, revealing the cavity of the skull where his or her brain used to be. The pinkish bone was still striped with red-black flesh, and Milgazia saw that the head was severed from the rest of its body, which lay nearby.

Alarmed, Milgazia sat up and scrambled backward. He fell, his claws slipping out from under him instead, cracking his own head on the ground. He skidded a short distance before bouncing off against something soft yet unyielding. He landed with a wet sound, and the young dragon realized what he was sitting in.

Milgazia slowly sat up, trembling and shaking, his heart shriveling inside within the cage of his ribs as he saw and understood.

A sea of blood, dragons' blood, the blood of his kin, his friends, the other dragons whose names he did not know and never would now know, was what he sat in. He turned to see the unmoving bulk of another golden dragon, which lay on its back atop a black dragon. Both were dead, their eyes open with nameless fear, their mouths agape with silent shrieks of agony. The gold's ribs pierced toward the sky, what was left of its belly hung in tatters. Its wing bones had stabbed through its back and rose like shattered pillars from within the archways of its ribcage, soft entrails hanging from them like grotesque buntings.

Milgazia moaned softly, whimpering his horror, and stopped. Realizing that there was no sound save his terror-filled whine. He held still, and realized he was wrong.

There was no sound… save that soft splash of blood, which dripped still from the opened veins of dragons, the gentle hiss of steam as it rose from the bowels of the dead. There was another sound, one that took him some time to identify: the settling of bodies that once soared the sky with such glory that it broke the heart and tugged at the soul; but now littered the ground like scattered jewels, never to rise again. The wind whispered in mourning, it's song subdued and heavy with the echoing death keens of the dying and dead. The sky hung dark and low, the clouds an odd steel gray smeared with red, mirroring the earth below. The mist around him was stained pink, heavy with the stench of death and pain. It choked him, filled him with anguish and despair.

The young golden dragon inched slowly from between the bodies of his dead comrades, his heartbeat loud in his ears, his throat dry but yearning to unleash howls of sorrow and dismay as one truth burned in his mind.

Only one Mazoku caused this…all this death!!!!

Impossible, his heart replied. There may be others who have survived.

Seizing that thought and curling his soul protectively about this one hope, he tried to rise, but found he could not without a pain shooting up his spine and strangling back the scream of torment that rose from within. When he was able to breathe once more, he looked down at the source of his agony: the disembodied claws of a black dragon that had raked into his left leg and stayed there. One claw had wedged itself where his joint was supposed to bend. Slowly, gingerly, he grasped the arm with his own hands and eased it out of his leg. He healed the worst of the wound, then rested a little, feeling nauseated by the sight of so many dead.

He checked himself to see how much damage the Priest of the Beastmaster had wrought upon him. His ribs were broken, one in three places, and his wings were too badly shredded to heal immediately. Only time could return the precious membrane…time he did not have right now. He sighed in relief as he healed the worst of his broken bones and stopped the greater internal bleeding.

Milgazia heaved a shuddering gasp as his bones snapped back together, a whimper that rang too loudly in his ears suddenly became a choke as the stench of death was sucked into his lungs, leaving him with the foul taste of burnt flesh and blood in his mouth. He coughed, doubling over and falling to his knees. His wings flapped convulsively, and he almost screamed in pain. It was that pain that brought him back to his senses.

Coming to a quick decision, as the sting of the torn wings was growing to a biting ache that threatened to drain away his stamina, Milgazia changed into his smaller, human guise with the last of his magic. His cape recalled the damage done to his wings, but he felt better. He tore the skirts of his robes to bind his lesser, but still terrible wounds, and gingerly stood. His leg could not support him well, the young dragon discovered. Leaning on the bodies of the dragons for support, he limped around them until he faced the cavity of the golden dragon's belly.

Milgazia stopped, closing his eyes, forcing revulsion away. The inside of the dragon was charred, as though he had burst from within. But lying amongst what remained of his lungs Milgazia found what he needed: a longish bone, which he could use as a crutch to aid his steps. Steeling himself, praying for the forgiveness of the dead, he stumbled into the body of the dead dragon and plucked the bone out.

It was of the right length. He fit his arm over it and whispered a prayer of thanks. He hoped the dead Ryuzoku would understand.

With painstaking slowness, he limped away from where he had woken. Each step brought him further into the great plain that was now the graveyard of his people.

Milgazia climbed over the bodies of the dead when the slippery paths between the corpses of his people were too close together for his smaller body to slip through. He lowered his eyes to avoid the accusing gazes of the dead, their soundless screams still echoing in his mind. Why did you live and we did not? How dare you walk amongst us, mocking us with the sight of the life we have just lost? The sight of so much death had numbed him with horror, but he shoved it aside, seeking life amidst the murdered. He fell twice; breaking his leg on the first and cutting his brow on the second fall in a hidden splinter of bone, after tripping on his long braid of hair. His own blood welled from the wound and spilled down his face, stinging his right eye. Grimacing, he pressed the ball of his hand against his forehead, until pressure closed most of the cut.

Dizzy with shock and the fall, he sat down on the horns of a once beautiful golden dragon female and rested, splinting his leg with more strips torn from the tatters of his cloak and another charred bone. He bit down on a blood-covered stone to keep from biting his tongue as he set the femur. It shattered to dust between his teeth, but muffled his shriek of pain.

Spitting out the shards of rock and sand, the young Ryuzoku retched, reeling with the strain of remaining conscious. He slid down from the dead female's horns and leaned against her head. Gazing at the blood-tinged sky, his earlier hope began to falter. He lifted his hand to gaze at the blood that stained his fingers, suddenly fascinated by the color. >i Milgazia hugged himself, remembering. He had been with his elder brothers and sisters and cousins, as part of the Ryuzoku royal family, he was leading the fatal dive toward the enemy. He remembered their foe moving slightly, then he heard the screams of shock and death, heard the explosions…

Milgazia froze as he came to a realization: The Beast Priest could still be around! He pulled himself to his feet, his leg protesting violently. Surely the servant of the Beastmaster would ensure he had finished his task… Limping away as fast as he could, the young prince of the Ryuzoku kept his senses open for anything that moved, for any sound that even vaguely hinted of life. He forced himself to remain calm, for the beating of his heart rang so loudly in his ears that he was unable to hear anything else. Too engrossed in trying to hear and remain inwardly calm, he unwittingly placed too much weight on his broken leg and collapsed.

"Get away!!!" a voice. A living voice! "Filthy Mazoku, get away from us!"

Milgazia found a wild surge of hope giving him strength and overwhelming his weariness. He forced himself to his feet once again and hobbled over as fast as he could to the source of the sound. The need for life overcame the respect for the dead as he painstakingly climbed up the back of a large, headless golden dragon to see better. His eyes gleamed with urgent need as he raked them over the landscape of the dead, seeking the owner of the voice.

There! He saw them – two young Ryuzoku, one female and one male. The male had fallen, and lay unmoving in the blood-soaked ground. His hair was matted with thickened blood, making the ordinarily perfect golden hair seem black. The young female was waving a horn back and forth, pointing it threateningly at three lesser demons.

Milgazia noticed that no one had seen him just yet. He slid slowly down the sinuous neck of the dragon he stood on, and was surprised when he fell off it and down a short cliff to land in the skull of the body's owner. The brains inside cushioned his fall with a sickening splat, sending a red flash of agony up his leg as he tried desperately to get up. He forced himself upright and peeked out of the skull. The female was shrieking like a banshee, laying about her with the horn, keeping the attacking Mazoku away from her companion, knocking them back with her strength and desperation.

Milgazia scrambled out of the skull as best as he could, desperately pulling his legs from the quagmire of the ruined mind and limped over as closely as possible to the other dragons without being noticed. He raised his hand and considered his course of attack carefully. He had recovered a bit of his strength and magic, but he had to conserve it well. A shamanist spell, perhaps…?

He began to whisper under his breath. The initial chant completed, he peered out of his hiding place, his power surging around his hand. The lesser demons were reeling and the female was reading herself for another attack. Now!

The young dragon prince stepped out from behind the dead dragon he had used as his hiding place. "Get down, girl!" he yelled, and threw the spell crackling in his hands. "Ra Tilt!"

The young dragon female heard him and fell unquestioningly over her companion, shielding him with her own body. Milgazia's Ra Tilt blasted through the lesser demons, tearing apart their physical and astral essences and washed over the two young Ryuzoku to explode some distance away. Milgazia reeled a little in bemusement, surprised his spell was that strong.

Reserving his wonder for a different time, he hobbled over to where the stunned female dragon lay. "The lesser demons are gone. Are you all right?"

"Yes, thanks to you…" the girl looked up and her eyes widened.

So did Milgazia's. "…Inelo? Is that you?" his jaw dropped open. Golden hair raggedly coming out of it's braid, and beautifully slanting golden eyes that took up most of her face at that instant… his cousin, Inelo…! "It's me! Milgazia!"

"Cousin Milgazia!" Inelo flung her arms around him with a cry of joy. Milgazia hugged her close with his free arm. "You're alive! Ceiphied, what happened to you!? You look like you've…"

"I fell a lot," Milgazia explained, torn between laughing and crying in relief. He looked her over, relieved to see that all the blood on her was not hers, or if she did have any of her own staining her, she had healed herself.

"I thought we were the only ones left…" Inelo pulled away, her eyes filled with tears. "But we were wrong. I'm so glad that I was wrong! I had believed…that I had lost everyone!"

Milgazia shook his head, then raised a hand to push his gore-smeared bangs away from his face and eyes. "I thought so too… with luck, we're not all that's left." He suddenly grinned at her. "It's good to see you, brat."

Inelo's face flushed with instinctive anger, and she raised her fist to punch her cousin. At the last moment though, she pulled the punch and pinched his nose instead. "I'd blunt your pointy beak for you if it weren't for-"

"…Prince Milgazia!" The other injured Ryuzoku had stirred and was looking up at them. "Thank Ceiphied that you live! I had thought that the royal line had…" he trailed off, seeing Milgazia's face flash with pain at the reminder that perhaps out of all his family, he alone had survived. "Forgive me, my lord…"

"There's nothing to forgive. You might be right." Milgazia painfully staggered over. "Are you all right? What is your name?"

"Janus, Milord Milgazia, son of Atrus and Ushia, of the Rushe family." The young dragon sat up. "Just dizzy… I fell and hit my head…" he looked embarrassed at this admission. He looked up concerned at his Prince. "You need healing, my Prince… allow me…?"

Milgazia nodded wearily, his leg giving way under him. As his leg began to heal under Janus' soothing powers, Inelo spoke. "I'm fairly certain that if there are any others alive… they will find us. That Ra Tilt was surprisingly strong. The explosion should lead them to us, right, Cousin?" The thought of seeing more of their people brought a bright light to her eyes. Milgazia looked grim. "It should also have alerted any other Mazoku to our presence." Inelo's face fell. "If that spell blast alerts our people, it will also bring our foes to us."

Janus looked worried. "My powers have not been the same…I have felt fear in my heart." He raised his eyes to Milgazia's. "This will take longer than usual, I am afraid."

Milgazia tensed, hearing something. "We might not have that luxury of time, Janus-san…"

Inelo gripped her makeshift weapons. "I'll keep them at bay, Janus. Just make sure you heal our stone-headed Prince." She managed to grin impudently at Milgazia's outraged expression of protest. "You'll just slow us down, you know."

"She is right, my Lord." Janus said, his face a study of blandness.

Inelo readied herself as the footsteps grew louder, every muscle in her body tensed for the attack. Milgazia watched her with worry, fearing for his cousin's safety.

What emerged from between the scattered corpses made them relax and sigh in relief. Three other young dragons, two Black ones supporting a slender Golden Ryuzoku stepped forth, their bloodstained faces alight with joy. Milgazia noted with approval that they too were in fair shape. The two Black Ryuzoku, the male named Gareth and the female named Oreen, had found the frail-seeming Valeth near death some distance away. They had managed to heal the worst of Valeth's injuries, when they saw the explosion light up the sky. Realizing that other dragons had survived, they hurried over as fast as they could.

"Perhaps together we have a greater chance of surviving…" Janus murmured, finishing his healing of Milgazia and moving on to Valeth.

Valeth's golden eyes glimmered with grief. "We were a clan and we were slain by one Mazoku. I saw my beloved slain beside me, the attack taking her from within! What hope have we now, injured and few?" he rasped, coughing blood.

Milgazia glared at the grief-stricken Ryuzoku. "We live. There is still hope, and we will continue living, no matter what happens!" he snapped. "The last thing we need to do is to give into despair!" His gaze softened. "Besides…that was no ordinary Mazoku. He didn't kill us all, and that's something at least…" he fell silent, knowing that nothing he said would comfort Valeth and the loss of his lover.

Valeth gazed back at the young Dragon Lord, trying to protest, then he let his eyes fall away. "Forgive me, my King." The Ryuzoku's thin features looked even more sunken in his grief.

Milgazia rocked back on his heels. "I'm not King!" he cried out. "I'm the youngest of my family, and I cannot be King of Law!"

"I fear that you are now, even if temporarily, Milgazia of the house of Lawrizia." They all turned to see who had spoken. Led by a wispy Golden Dragon female, five more dragons stepped out into the small clearing, two carrying a sixth on a gruesome stretcher fashioned from dragon bones and wing membrane. "Until we have proof that either your elder siblings or your parents still live, you are our King, Milgazia-sama." The young female's long ash-blonde hair had come free of it's braids and hung about her face in stained ropes. In her hand she carried a staff, to which a horn had been attached. Her eyes were harder than agates, filled with the grim determination to survive and take revenge making what should have been gentle features harsh and drawn.

"Sister!" Janus cried. He rose to his feet and was in the arms of the fierce dragoness in the blink of an eye. "You're alive! Alive! My Jannia!"

"Janus?!" the warlike mask fell away to reveal the maiden's true face, wide-eyed and softening with her smile of joy. "You're alive!" she hugged her brother tightly, laughing in thoughtless glee.

Milgazia turned away from the happy reunion, trembling. King? I? he hadn't thought about that distinct possibility. He had nursed a naïve hope that perhaps one of his elder siblings lived, since he had survived…

Responsibility was a duty that Milgazia never shirked, and he quietly crumbled that dream. He looked around and saw the faces of his people as they automatically turned to him for leadership.

For countless years Milgazia's family had ruled, chosen by their God to care for the Ryuzoku in the Northern quarter of the world. Of thirteen children, Milgazia was the youngest, the baby Prince of a family so ancient its founders remembered the world when it had been newly shattered. The House of Lawrizia's children were famed for their adherence to duty, taking on responsibilities that were essential to the Clans, and carrying out their tasks with the best of all in mind.

Why shouldn't they rely on him? He was their hope. He was a descendant of Rugradia's Chosen! He was of the Ruling House, the son of the King of Law and the Queen of Wisdom, wasn't he?

He was. Milgazia drew himself up straight, looking every inch the leader despite his rags and his gore-covered body. "We'd better get moving. If we stay here any longer, it will be easier for the Mazoku to attack." He tore off the last remnant of his cloak and tossed it to Janus. "Just bind the wounds of the injured now, Janus-san. Time is of the essence."

Janus nodded, his expression professional and out of place on his young features. "Right away, your Majesty."

"Let me help," Jannia said, taking her brother's hand and leading him to the wounded Ryuzoku lying on the stretcher made of the remains of their kindred. The two siblings worked faster as a team than Janus could on his own.

One of the newcomers, a Black dragon with marble-like skin and blood-soaked ebony hair peered at him with wide red eyes. "What about our dead kin…? We should bury them…" two large tears formed and spilled down her chin. She buried her face in her hands and wept bitterly, her slender body shaking like a willow in a strong wind.

Milgazia placed his hand on her shoulder in grim apology. "It would take us far too long to bury the whole clan, Sister. The dead are dead, we must try to live for now… we can grieve later."

Jannia nodded. "I like the way you think." She bent and picked up the stretcher, Janus taking the other end. Jannia turned to the group she had been leading earlier. "You heard Milgazia-sama!" she barked, "Let's move out! We're running for our lives here!"

It took them hours of furtive, tense walking until they were able to start seeing more than the corpse-filled plain. In the light of the setting sun, the river they had found burned. The dead fouled the bloodstained waters, but it was the only source of water they had encountered. They drank the dread waters, but it took several tries before they were able to keep it down. They tried to wash their bodies, but the iron hued water would not take any more and only softened the stains upon them, smearing them even more. Valeth refused outright to drink, no matter how much the others coaxed him to. "I cannot drink that." He turned resolutely away from Oreen, who carried some water in a bowl-like stone. "I cannot stand the smell of burnt flesh and drying blood. I don't need to taste the stench of death." He tore his arm out of Oreen's grasp and stalked off to brood some distance away.

"I only tried to help…" Oreen whispered, letting the water spill to the ground. It spattered her ankles and trickled redly down her pale skin.

Gareth hugged her, wiping away her tears. "Shh. Valeth's being a bastard, but don't mind him…Come on. There are others who need you. I think Janus needs someone to help hold down his latest patient…" the young Black Ryuzoku led his friend away.

Milgazia agreed on a rest but did not sit down, weary to the bone but unable to grant himself the rest that he so desperately needed. He sighed, wanting no more than to lie down and cry himself into unconsciousness. His family, his father, his mother and siblings were all gone! Dead! And he was not ready for this, the responsibility of leadership. What if he made mistakes? What if the decision he made was wrong? Each error would mean the deaths of the few that remained…

Milgazia pulled himself out from the doubts that had been plaguing him with every step since they had started their forced march. Whether he liked it or not, he was responsible for them. He was Eldest now… To remind himself of his duty and the hope he had stumbled on, he began counting the survivors.

They had met more Ryuzoku, both Black and Golden. Fifty young dragons, youths that had been pulled into a war whose outcome they did not know yet. All were young, none of them past the age of four hundred fifty years, Milgazia's age. The young Dragon Lord blinked. Why did that seem odd to him? Why did only the young survive? It didn't make any sense. Why did they survive when the older Ryuzoku did not? Certainly, the ones who were older were stronger and more likely to survive…but they were the dead, the ones who lay still and breathless upon the blood-soaked mud of the plain. Maybe it was because it made us smaller targets, and harder to hit…

Milgazia lowered his gaze to the ground, trying to think and failing. It had been scorched and in many cases, melted and afire because of the cataclysmic forces that had torn it apart. The blood of thousands had quenched the burning earth, and turned it into foul mud.

A memory came to him, a memory from his older brother, Eria. He had been teaching the young Milgazia to hunt for himself. Young Ryuzoku needed to eat, and his elder brother, the youngest before Milgazia's surprise hatching, had taken it upon himself to teach his newest sibling how to forage and hunt. At first it was Eria who hunted for him, ending each kill with a strange ritual that the hatchling had not understood. Eria would almost reverently slit the throat of his newly slain prey with his great claw, and spill the hot blood onto the earth. Curious, Milgazia asked his brother why as Eria gently breathed a tongue of flame over the deer, cooking it.

"Because, Mil-chan, when you take something from the world, you must give something back." Eria replied, nudging the freshly roasted deer carcass forward for Milgazia to eat. Hungry, the hatchling almost forgot his curiosity, but he scolded his rumbling belly and looked up at his sibling with inquiry. Cocking his head sideways in the Ryuzoku equivalent of a smile, Eria nuzzled his younger brother and settled to explain. "Look around you. Everything grows, and our prey feed on what grows. What grows green needs to eat too, and takes nourishment not only from the earth, the air, light and water, but also from what is in the earth. When we die, we become the earth and nourish it as well." He nodded at the roast deer that he had placed on a boulder for Milgazia to eat comfortably from. "Since Ryuzoku do not often die, we must give back something else. I spill the blood of my prey onto the earth so that it will nourish the earth, which will feed the grass that the deer feed upon…which you will now eat, Mil-chan." He chuckled.

Older now, Milgazia gazed at the mud that stained his boots. Then this plain will become one of the most fertile in the world, he thought sadly.

The young Dragon Lord looked up as more of his people approached, weary and wounded, all young, all frightened, barely more than children themselves. They were too young, Milgazia thought. None of them had seen their first mating flight, none were not old enough to rely only on the wind and the sun for food. They needed to eat, but hunger did not come when grief and sadness filled the belly.

They were too young, but who indeed was too young to witness war and its horrors?

Milgazia squared his shoulders and answered his own question as he moved to help the newcomers. There are no innocents in war, and we can no longer claim youth and its blissful purity. We have been scarred and aged by the night of battle. The grownups are dead, where does that leave us, the children?

To grow up and survive.

Two days of trekking had brought them to glimpse hills, and they had found many more survivors, including survivors of other races. A cluster of elves with their stained armor and battered blades had approached and joined their exodus, rallying behind the weary-eyed young dragon who found the weight of responsibility heavy on his shoulders. Several humans, not all of them warriors or mages, sought comfort in numbers. Milgazia found he could not bear the hopeless eyes of the human children, who gazed at him as though he could reverse time and make it so that the War never happened. The dead no longer horrified them, and he found he was able to gaze at the strewn corpses of dragon, human, elf, dwarf, and beastman with no emotion other than a brief acknowledgement of the presence of yet another dead body.

Their numbers had swelled. Milgazia had lost count at somewhere past five hundred. He had tried to rally a small guard somehow, a watch who would keep alert and warn them of any Mazoku. But even as he gave the command, he knew that they could not be as watchful as they should have been. As a result, he himself kept a wary eye and forced his senses open for the black presence of Mazoku. It didn't make any sense that he hadn't seen any Mazoku since he had found Inelo and Janus.

His waiting and watching soon came to an end. They had entered a narrow valley that lead into some mountains. The plains filled with the dead had been left far behind, but the death-stench of decay still filled their nostrils. It remained like a foul taste in the back of the mouth, and it almost kept him from noticing the darker hint behind the ruin of the air. Milgazia had been foraging for food, often letting himself go hungry to feed the others. He had forced himself to try draw nourishment from the air, the way he had seen his elders do, but he only tasted the sunlight, and the air itself was too tainted to do more than sicken him, so he gave up on it for now. He caught the black presence between digging for another wild potato with his bone-staff and plucking the tuber from its loamy womb. Throwing his senses open, he felt it laughing at him, evil and deceptive, feeding on the suffering of the people he led with amused delight. He discovered how close the darkness was, and little pinpricks of fear crept up his skin, raising his hackles and draining the warmth from his body. Most terrible of all, he knew this evil. He knew it all too well, and fear sent his heartbeat to racing in his ears.

Milgazia quashed the first thought that had come to his mind: namely sounding the alarm. He realized with a sinking heart that if he warned them of the danger, there was a very large chance of the entire populace panicking, and uncoordinated flight would result in many of the wounded being trampled underfoot. He had to get them all out of here, before…
Milgazia shuddered. Even if they did run, there was the undeniable reality that he could easily destroy them at his leisure. The malevolent presence seemed to congratulate the young dragon's deduction. It was with a chill in his veins that the young Ryuzoku realized that he was playing.

Playing. Milgazia's brow furrowed and he forced his heart to calmness. It was a gamble, a very faint chance, but… Deliberately picking up his meager harvest, Milgazia wrapped it up in the tatters of his robes and turned back to the ragtag group of refugees who followed him. As he walked, his soul heavy with his decision, he turned the potatoes he held in his hands over and over, examining them and brushing the last bits of clinging dirt back to the ground, his long braid of hair swaying behind him.

We must give something back to the earth to continue living, after all…

Janus looked up from his newest patients as his liege came down the slope, a small bundle in his hands. The Ryuzoku recognized the cloth as what was left of his Lord's once white robes. Now it was stained with blood, mud and worse, but his king carried the bundle as though carrying a newborn babe. Janus felt his heart stir in admiration and pride, watching the tall, slender but solid figure clad in bloodstained rags. He was proud to follow this son of the house of Lawrizia, and would obey any command that Milgazia put to him gladly. Janus knew though that Milgazia would not order him beyond his capacity as a healer. The young Lord was always polite and kind, never abusing his station or rank – indeed, he acted as though it didn't exist, though he allowed them to call him their leader and Lord. Janus knew Milgazia well enough by now to realize that the rank meant responsibility and duty to the young ruler, not power. He allowed them to name him "King" because he knew it comforted them to have a leader, someone they could turn to in this time of confusion, even though the title chafed at him and his senses.

He serves, not expecting to be served. He searches for food for us, not the other way around. He gives away whatever morsel he finds, leaving his own belly hollow. His heart and soul is noble, worthy of his bloodline. Had this been a different time, a different place, we all would have been glad to follow him to the jaws of Hell itself, and he would have made an excellent ruler over us all. Human, Dragon, Elf, Beastman…we all follow him. His parents would be proud.

Milgazia looked at him as he approached. Janus finished healing the scrapes of a human child and made a futile attempt to smooth the little girl's tangled dark brown hair. "Any luck, my King?"
Milgazia nodded. "I found a few potatoes…" he bent and gave the little girl the bundle of precious food. "Go back to your parents, little one. Your mother needs this food for your baby brother."

The girl shyly accepted the package and bowed awkwardly. "Thank you, Dragon-Lord sir…"

Milgazia smiled at her in reply, and the little child darted away, clutching the priceless packet of potatoes to her thin chest. When she was gone, Milgazia's face fell into grim lines. "I want you to find Inelo, Jannia, Faran, Nerisar, and Grendik, quickly." Milgazia named the leaders of the humans, the elves, and the beastmen. "I need to talk to them, immediately." He explained softly.

"At once, your Majesty." Janus leaped to his feet and dashed away.

When he had gathered together the people in Milgazia's list, Janus returned to his Lord. They gathered around Milgazia, awaiting whatever it was he had to tell them. There was a brief argument between Nerisar and Grendik concerning the elf's scarf, which snapped in the wind and was tickling the large beast-man's snout, making him sneeze. Faran resolved it before they came to blows by making the two stand far away from each other. The elf looked sheepishly at the beastman, his eyes the only visible part of his face above the obscuring mask of the scarf. Grendik grinned apologetically in return, and the two were friends again. The young Ryuzoku Lord gazed pensively at their interaction then seemed to come to a decision.

"What's wrong, Cousin?" Inelo asked, worried, sensing her cousin's moods far better than anyone else around her.

"We have a problem." Milgazia said grimly. "We are being followed."

"Mazoku?" Jannia asked. Seeing Mil's eyes flicker slightly, she gripped her makeshift weapon. "I'll take care of it, my Lord." Her eyes blazed with a hungering bloodlust.

"No, as a matter of fact, you're not." Jannia blinked in surprise, her mouth dropping open. "You're going to take all these people as far away from here as is possible." Milgazia informed her in a low tone of voice before she could protest "And as fast as you can. I'll stay back and hold him off as long as I can."

Inelo's eyes widened in horror. "No! You can't stay here alone!" she gasped.

"I must agree with her, Dragon Lord," Nerisar said, his face grim, his sibilant voice stern. The elf pushed his bangs out of his eyes. He fiddled with the ends of the tasseled scarf, then let it fall from his fingers. "Surely we have a greater chance of defeating this Mazoku if we fought as a group." The scarf flared out behind him. sibilantMilgazia shook his head vehemently. "No, we will not. I don't seek to defeat him, only delay. By then you should all be safely gone."

"My Lord, I must protest!" a young Golden dragon named Kasher spoke up, his face twisted with anguish. "I have pledged my life to protect you, as my family have sworn to guard over yours for thousands of years. Let me take your place upon the field of battle!" he knelt fervently before his liege. "It is my most sacred duty to die for you, King of Law."

Milgazia shook his head again. "Kasher, I know your duty, but realistically, you stand less of a chance than I do. I'm counting on my powers to be enough, to hold him back for a little while. You would last only seconds where I might last minutes or perhaps even an hour." His face hardened. "You all swore to follow my every order, did you not?" he asked, his young voice steeling with a note of command.

"That is because we trusted your ability to lead us to safety, Lord Milgazia," the scar-faced Faran replied, his frown revealing his discontent. The large-bodied human nervously clicked his sword in and out of its sheath, shifting his stance every so often.

"You really can't lead us if you're staying behind and getting yourself killed." Grendik replied, his tail swishing in disapproval. "We're staying with you." In an unconscious attempt of body language to make Milgazia back down, Grendik loomed over the smaller Ryuzoku lad.

"And needlessly die, to be slaughtered like sheep in a fenced pasture? No, I won't let you stay." Milgazia held Grendik's gaze and gestured behind him, indicating the wounded and the weak. "We promised to protect them. My life is just one life. It is a small price to pay for survival. Would you rather they all die?" Milgazia looked at them grimly. "I promised to get you out of here alive. I'm keeping that promise. We're wasting time. He knows, everyone. I think he has known for some time now." He looked around and saw that they had accepted what he had been trying to say. They accepted it, but they did not like it at all. Janus was openly weeping, casting dignity to the winds, and his sister was stabbing the ground with her spear in frustration. They understood. One life was nothing compared to many.

A strangled whimper escaped the still kneeling Kasher as he struggled with himself. "My Lord…!" he rasped. "I cannot….let you…"

"You will have to, Kasher." Milgazia knelt and grasped the younger Ryuzoku's shoulders with his hands. He shook him until Kasher's eyes met his own. "Protect them, Kasher. By protecting them, you are protecting me." He shook Kasher again. "Do you understand, Kasher?"

"I u-understand my King…and I obey." Kasher choked, then rose. "What do you want me to do?"

"There is a family of humans amongst the refugees. The one with twelve children…" Milgazia began.

"I know of them, my Lord. I will protect them." Kasher replied, bowing deeply. "Good luck, my Lord Milgazia." He turned and left, moving purposefully to the crowd of anxious people, not turning back once. To look back would have been his undoing.

Faran bowed his head, then smirked. "There aren't many people who would do what you're going to do, Milgazia of the Ryuzoku. Most would rather run away and save their own hides." His fingers tapped the pommel of his sword, his fingernails clicking against the metal.

"I wasn't raised that way, Faran." Milgazia murmured.

"No…you're not. I admire your courage." The mercenary looked at him, his eyes serious. "I've never been scared of death…but you're not sure about dying quick. That takes guts."

"Courage? Guts? Faran, I am afraid. More than you'll ever know." Milgazia replied, his eyes flickering. You had to say I might not die quickly…but you are right. Xelloss might not kill me fast, and I must not let him kill me quickly, else… Nothing will change my mind, even knowing that I am nothing but a toy for whatever perverse pleasure Xelloss will devise…

"Admitting that and still going to your certain death because you're hoping your plan will succeed…" Grendik growled. "You're braver than us all put together. We'll obey you, Milgazia-Dragon Lord." He looked at Nerisar.

"We'll get them out of here, alive, Lord Milgazia. This we swear." The elf replied. He unwound his scarf from around his neck and tied it around his head like a bandanna. "It will be cold tonight. We must reach those foothills before nightfall or else many of the people will get sick." He squinted at the distant northern end of the valley. "There should be caves there that will keep us all out of the wind."

"Then you'd best get started." Milgazia nodded. One by one, they left, each one pausing to clasp his hand or grip his shoulder in farewell. Jannia wanted to give him her spear, but he refused, saying that his crutch of dragon bone was enough, and that she might need her weapon later on. Finally, only Inelo was left.

Milgazia gazed at her, a thousand memories flooding his mind. He remembered when they were both young, hatchlings of the two greatest families in the clan. He remembered his father taking time from his duties to tell them the stories of the time when Ceiphied and Shaburanigdo walked the earth, his mother telling them many bedtime tales as they curled up in Milgazia's den after a day of hard playing. He remembered Inelo's mother taking them to the human cities and the elven villages, wearing the forms that they wore now. Inelo's father, his uncle, teaching them how to swim in a great lake, gently shoving them out of the water when they floundered with his massive snout, the two hatchlings clinging desperately to the horn on his nose. His memory lingered on how long it had taken for their elder sisters to explain to them the necessity of clothes when they walked amongst the smaller folk, and how he had hated the braid that his sisters insisted in twisting his hair into. Milgazia remembered chasing rainbows with his cousin and falling into rivers only to be fished out by any adult that was nearby, knowing that there was always someone watching over them, how when Eria had discovered them playing in mud, his brother had ended up as dirt-spattered as they…

"It's not enough that everyone else we knew and loved are gone… now you're going to die too!" Inelo raised her head, no longer the brave dragoness who had driven back three Mazoku with no magic and only the remnants of her strength. Tears ran down her face. "You're all that I have left and you're leaving me, Cousin!"

Milgazia caught her in a rough, desperate hug, kissing the top of her tawny locks and rocking her back and forth in his arms. She hugged him back, her nails digging into his shoulder. "Mil-niichan, don't go!" she wailed. "I can't stand it, the thought of you dying too! We've lost everyone already…"

"Oh 'Nel, I'll always be with you." Milgazia whispered, dropping his brave façade and speaking to her as he always did before the War had begun. They were children again, the hellions of their respective families. "Living always requires a sacrifice of some kind… You know that! Before it's always been someone else's life for ours, the prey we hunted and ate. It's just my turn now." He cupped her face in his hands and pressed his forehead against hers in their special secret gesture, one they used to make sacred promises and keep secrets with. "Besides, you're of Mother's line, aren't you? You know this is the wisest course to take. And you also know that I will be there… in the air that you breathe, the sun that will warm you, the water that you'll drink…"

"I rather have a hug." Inelo replied sulkily. "And I'd rather have those fights we used to have. And a mudball on your face."

"Yes, well…" Milgazia froze, feeling soundless laughter from behind. "We're not kids any more." He pushed her gently but firmly away. "Go, Inelo." He said, his tone that of the young Dragon Lord who was their youngest emissary to the human races.

Inelo wiped her face of her tears. "Is that an order, my King?" she too, forced away her grief and sorrow. She too, had responsibilities.

"It is the last order I will give." Milgazia reached up and behind him, forming one of his fingers into the sharp talon of his true shape. Grasping his braid of hair, he carefully slashed through it, the remaining ragged locks falling about his shoulders like spun sunlight. He shrugged at Inelo's shocked expression. "It will get in the way when I fight." He explained.

Inelo picked it up and coiled the braid around her arm like a rope. "Goodbye, Son of Lawrizia. May your strikes be swift and your mind just as canny." She turned and ran after the retreating crowd of refugees.

Milgazia watched her go, and smiled. Then he noticed the sky – grey with storm clouds, rushing westward, the winds tearing the clouds into tatters. A chill breeze slowly rose ghostlike from the east, caressing his skin with the promise of ice. He tore his eyes from the sky to look desperately back at where his cousin was. He managed to pick out the flirt of her braid as the refugees moved with swiftness borne of fear and the knowledge that it was going to rain. They moved from the valley, and Milgazia lost sight of his cousin's pale blond head. Overhead, a lightning bolt sizzled from one cloud to another, detonating deep within the black mists.

A death knell for the one to die.

"Touching." A voice murmured softly from behind him. Milgazia froze, but did not jump in fear. "You could have continued your line you know, with her. I was more than willing to wait. She's quite a pretty one."

Milgazia felt his stomach twist in revulsion. "I love my cousin…but not that way." He turned slowly to look over his shoulder at the darkness. "But what would Mazoku know about love, Beast Priest Xelloss?"

The figure that stepped forward was smaller than he was, and did not look fearsome at all. Shoulder length hair the color of Zefirian grapes hung straight from his skull like a helmet, the long bangs not hiding the cheerful, handsome face with it's eyes closed in perpetual laughter. He was cloaked in blackish gray, trimmed with dandelion-yellow wool, with matching trousers and shirt. A staff of dark wood clutched a large red ruby in its fork, and the gem seemed to pulse deep within. Milgazia looked at his youthful face and thought He could pass for a young wandering priest.

"More than you could ever believe, hatchling. So, which one of Lawrizia-sama's survived, if I may know your name?" Xelloss casually lifted his staff and set it against his shoulder, tapping his foot on the ground. "I'm fairly certain it isn't 'Mil-niichan'. Your cousin, eh? Don't they say forbidden fruit is the sweetest?"

With a soft intake of breath to calm his racing heartbeat, Milgazia drew himself up. "My name is Milgazia, Prince of the House of Lawrizia! I won't allow you to pass, Beast Priest Xelloss."

Xelloss eyed him lazily. "King of a dead clan, Milgazia-san. And what makes you think that you can stop me, my lord?" Xelloss bowed mockingly, sweeping his cloak out with his hand.

"A wager, Xelloss." Milgazia replied, staring at him, keeping his rage under control.

"A wager?" Xelloss' eyebrows vanished into his bangs. "My, Milgazia-san. What would you have to wager with?"

"My life." Milgazia replied.

"Why would I wager with >i<THAT? I can easily take it, you know, and not bother with any silly wagers…" Xelloss grinned. "But you got me curious, little king. Go ahead and state your terms."

"I'll fight you, Beast Priest, with all my strength. I'll be the sacrifice on your altar of hate. I know I'm going to get killed, but if I last more than five minutes against you, you will leave my people in peace."

Xelloss smirked, his eyes open. "You mean I get to play with you as much as I like in exchange for letting the people you're protecting live?" he smiled evilly. "You are very brave, little dragon. Do you have any idea how much pain I will put you through in exchange for the lives of those you protect?"

Milgazia quashed the wild spark of fear that chilled his blood and almost sent him running from the small clearing. "Whatever you do to me will not matter, Beast Priest." He said softly, sounding calmer than he really felt. "Do you swear upon your Lord, the Beastmaster Xellas?"

"I swear it." Xelloss smiled, his eyes opening, revealing the unholy gleam of anticipation that had been hidden before.

Milgazia's heart shriveled in his chest as Xelloss licked his lips and raised his staff. "Now fight me, little dragon king… fight me for the lives you so dearly care for. If you last the time allotment you gave me, I promise I'll kill you quickly as well." He stood ready. "Do try to make this fun, hm?"

Milgazia's eyes narrowed as he forced himself as alert as possible, yet keeping his body in a relaxed state. Let him make the first blow.

He didn't have to wait long. Xelloss vanished, and Milgazia immediately ducked and rolled out of the way, throwing himself to the side and catching a glimpse of the black energy that seared right over where he had stood only moments before. Knowing that he dared not stay still, Milgazia came out of his roll and jumped up into the branches of a tree. Having begun his spell as soon as Xelloss had finished speaking, he caught sight of Xelloss flickering back into the physical plane. He threw out one hand, his palm pointing toward the Mazoku Priest. "RA TILT!!!!!!"

The explosion of blue and white light tore the once peaceful glade to shreds. Milgazia did not pause to consider the damage, raising his hands again, calling upon the power of his heritage. It was difficult, casting a spell and having to remain alert, but he somehow was able to shriek out the proper Chaos Words as Xelloss appeared in front of him, grinning with vicious delight. "Elmekia Flame!"

Gold-hued fires enveloped the dark-cloaked figure and again, Milgazia retreated, choosing to leap through the branches and running on the ground. He selected his next spell, but before he was able to cast it, the ground beneath him exploded. The young Dragon Lord went flying, along with the debris and fell down the slope. Through the fall, he clutched the bone he had been using as a crutch and used it to slow his descent. Bruised and battered, he finally skidded to a halt further down the mountain. He hid, hoping to catch his breath, but the air around him suddenly was filled with tiny little black cones, cones which darted toward him and past him, leaving a stinging, bloody scratch where it had struck. Yowling with pain, he ran again, stumbling half-blind down the slope till he almost ran right off it. Milgazia stared at the cliff that had suddenly swallowed the ground at his feet, and looked down. The drop was lost to the mists below, and he thought he could hear a river…but he was not sure nor was certain he had the luxury to find out. Seeing the jagged rocks that lined the drop down, he decided he was quite sure he did not want to find out.

The young Ryuzoku fled once more, throwing several Elmekia Lance spells out behind him. When no reply salvos came, he threw himself down on the ground in mid-run and went sprawling. The blast of black energy that tore like claws of darkness through the air where he had been made him shudder. How did I know that he was going to…?

"Very masterfully done, little King of the Dead…" Xelloss' voice floated out of the empty air. "You are making this very interesting. I've never had so much fun in a while."

"Fun, he calls this…" Milgazia muttered into the dirt as he pushed himself to his knees. "Let's just see how much fun he'll have when I blast him with this…"

Before he could start casting though, a blow struck him firmly from behind and sent him rolling down the steep, tree-covered hill to land in a thorny bush. The thorns drove into his flesh and held him down into the bush's deadly grasp. Milgazia hissed as the wounds began to ache. Poisoned thorns…? He thought. >i he looked up and saw Xelloss quietly picking his way down the hill, almost daintily hopping from boulder to boulder. Has it been five minutes already? He wondered. No, I don't think it's been that long just yet. I can't fail the others by dying now! Cursing fervently in Ryuzoku, he squirmed, trying to pull free of the clinging thorns. With a scream of agony, he managed to free his arms, ripping off strips of his skin in the process. He held up his hands and pointed them at Xelloss. Shrieking the words of the spell desperately, he felt its power course through his veins as the power of Rugradia flared into being. "Chaotic-"

His eyes widened. The power felt wrong… something was wrong with the Seiryu-oh Rugradia! But what-

"-Disintigrate!!!" Caught in the throes of spellcasting, the young Ryuzoku had no choice but to finish it. The spell seared forth from his fingertips and clawed toward Xelloss. The ground burst in a geyser of physical and astral power, greater than any Milgazia had known before. It tore the bush Milgazia was caught in from the ground and sending him rolling down the slope once again. The bush caught on some low tree branch and was ripped from his back. Milgazia crashed amongst the roots of another tree and lay there, limply holding his crutch, whimpering in agony as the world went black around him.

Kasher, Valeth and Jannia had urged the refugees into a quick march as fast as possible, so they were quite a distance away when the first explosions rent the afternoon air. Frightened, the people forced themselves even faster. Somehow word had gotten out that the Mazoku were pursuing them at last, and fear gave them the strength they did not have before.

Oreen jogged up to Inelo, her expression worried. "I've been looking for Milgazia-sama…where is he, Inelo-sama? I have to talk to him! Some of the others are thinking of staying behind and acting as a diversion…"

Inelo's eyes filled with tears. "You won't find him here, Oreen."

"What?!" Gareth exclaimed. Next to him, his elven companion looked up in worry. Gareth turned to him. "Wynned! Quick, we must form up a search party and find Milgazia-sama at once!"

"No!" Kasher cried out, running forward and blocking young Wynned from dashing away to rally together the people. "Milgazia-sama doesn't want us to turn back!"

"Are you out of your mind, Kasher!" Valeth asked him. "You're his bodyguard! Where is he?" The crowd of people stopped, gazing at Kasher desperately. Where was their leader? Where was the Dragon Lord?

Kasher flinched, almost dropping the little girl he was carrying in his arms, her infant brother tied to his back. "He…He…" the distraught Ryuzoku stammered.

Jannia stepped forward, her expression grave. "He stayed behind… to delay the Mazoku."

A gasp of horror went up around them. "No!" Oreen cried. "How could you have let him stay behind? We should be fighting at his side!" Her protest was quickly echoed by many, and the babble of voices turned angry,.

"STOP THIS AT ONCE!" surprised, everyone turned to see Inelo, slender and pale, her lips ashen and her amber eyes glimmering with unshed tears, standing with her fists clenched and her expression grim. "My cousin is giving his life so that we may live! He wants us to survive this! He did what needed to be done so that we all could survive this! Are you going to make his sacrifice, his gift meaningless by disobeying his last request of us?" she glared at all of them. "I also want to run back and help Milgazia, but I know that the moment I step into that battlefield I am dead. I don't want to die seeing Mil's expression of anguish as Xelloss kills me! I don't want my death to be the cause of my cousin's heartbreak…do you want that too? That he will die knowing he failed in what he set out to do?" Her small fist thumped against her chest. "My heart breaks knowing that he is enduring un-nameable horrors at the Beast Priest's hands, but he went willingly and will gladly die…for you. Go ahead!" She cried, her eyes shutting and tears spilling down her cheeks. "Go ahead and break his heart with the knowledge of his failure! I won't do it though. I will walk away and leave him to die because he wants me to. It was his last wish…" she turned away from them.

Janus put his arm around her as she inched further up the valley with leaden feet. Resolutely, the young healer moved with her, keeping his eyes away from the direction of the battle, closing them when another explosion rent the suddenly deafening silence of the evening. Kasher, carrying the bitterly crying human children his Lord bade him to guard with his life, followed them, Jannia and Nerisar flanking him. Grendik cast one dark look around the other refugees and began his heavy stomping gait after the small group.

Their leaders having decided one by one the survivors of the War began to step forward and away from their dying King.

The light was painful, and Milgazia wanted only to sink back into the peaceful darkness that had been wrapped around his senses. The pull of consciousness was inexorable though, and he slowly awoke.

The roots of the tree on which he lay were digging into his ribs, but trying to sit up was even more painful, so he lay there. He coughed up blood and swallowed it, choking. Where is…the Beast Priest…?

Milgazia heard a pebble bounce off another and sat up, forgetting his pains and not even noticing the protest of his ribs. Something was horribly wrong, that much he knew but what that was, he could not discern. His foremost concern was time. Had he made it past the five minute line? How long had he been unconscious?

A low, almost sultry chuckle rippled through the air, chilling Milgazia's blood. "Very well done, little King… That actually hurt me quite a bit… it would have succeeded in destroying me…if you were strong enough."

Milgazia backed against the tree, holding his crutch at the ready. Not strong enough Oh Ceiphied no…

A hand gripped his hair from behind and pulled it sharply against the tree trunk with a loud crack. The blow stunned him enough to slow his reaction time and he found his face pressed against the dirt, being ground in by a booted foot.

Desperately, Milgazia swung his crutch upward and struck something solid. It held fast and refused to move, no matter how hard he tried to pull. Milgazia choked, unable to breathe, soil and stone filling his nostrils and mouth. He squirmed, but was unable to pull his head free.

"I know I said I'd kill you quickly if you stayed alive as long as five minutes…" Xelloss' sibilant purr wound into his ears, through the throbbing of his heartbeat. "But I changed my mind about that. I didn't think you'd be able to still cast holy magic, Milgazia… so I have a duty to make sure you never do so again…"

Confusion wound its way through Milgazia's slowly dimming senses. …able to cast holy…?

He bent down and grasped Milgazia by the hair again, lifting him easily into the air as the young Ryuzoku Lord spat dirt and gulped air down with the desperation of the drowning. "Don't worry. You won your game. I will leave your people alone." He raised Milgazia up into the air and suspended him there with bindings of his power. "How about a new wager…? I bet you won't be able to stand up to my tortures for long…After all, I do have to repay you for the pain you caused me, ne, Milgazia-chan?" Xelloss stroked his cheek almost tenderly.

Milgazia stared at him blankly, dirt still crusting his long eyelashes, half-blinding him. It didn't matter any more if he lived or died. He had won.

To Xelloss' surprise, the youth in front of him slowly smiled. He sensed no fear from him, not a single delicious lick of terror, unlike before. He opened his eyes. "I will break you and you will beg me for death, little Dragon Lord."

Milgazia grinned in reply, his golden eyes flashing in the last rays of the sun, before screaming in torment.

Inelo woke, startled from Jannia's sisterly embrace. Her friend opened her eyes and looked at her in concern. "What's wrong, Inelo?" Jannia sat up, waking her brother as well.

"Listen!" Inelo whispered.

They strained to listen, hearing nothing at first but the chirp of crickets and the soft rustle of leaves. Then…

"I thought I was dreaming…" Inelo murmured, tears streaking down her cheeks. She clutched the golden braid of hair wrapped around her arm.

Involuntarily, she rose when another cry, this one long and anguished, soared into the night like some dark bird tearing upward to the stars. Janus caught her arm and pulled her back down, and he and his sister embraced her tightly. "Then pray, Inelo-san…" he whispered against her ear, his tears moistening her hair. "Pray for his death."

Inelo whimpered, squirming and reached out for the cave opening as though she could reach Milgazia and pluck him from his torment. Jannia grabbed her wrist and forced her arm back against her breast. Weeping, Inelo embraced them both, while fervently praying for her beloved cousin's death.

Milgazia hung limply from the invisible bonds that Xelloss used to suspend him into the air. Blood ran freely from his nose and mouth, and from a thousand little wounds that Xelloss had taken great pleasure in carving into his flesh atop those he had acquired during the battle. He had lost all track of time, and he was sure he had been Xelloss' prisoner for a long time. He had no idea, knowing only the unending pain, new each time the Mazoku priest came up with some creative way to hurt him. Xelloss had torn into his mind, ripped into his memories and created cruel, twisted visions for his young victim. The horrors that Milgazia witnessed were beyond any that he could ever have conceived of, the torments of both body and soul tore screams from a ravaged throat that should no longer have had the power to whisper.
But still, he smiled.

It was that smile that seemed to enrage Xelloss all the more. It escaped his comprehension, frustrated the demon which fed on his pain, rendering his meal of agony tasteless. He tried horrifying Milgazia with images of perversion, trying to make Milgazia believe that his farewell to Inelo ended with the two of them entwined incestuously, Inelo weeping beneath him, staring up at him in hate and betrayal. Milgazia's soul recoiled at the image, but a voice in its depths whispered the truth, and he laughed. So ridiculous, so inane! He would never do that to his cousin, never force himself on her, for he had never felt desire for her. He never had felt desire for a female…his body was too young for that. All those that had lived were too young to mate. The idea of children mating was so perversely humorous to the young dragon that he laughed all the harder, despite each sharp stab of pain he received for each faint hiccup.

Xelloss stared in disbelief as his victim's body trembled, not with fear, but with the faint convulsions of mirth. It enraged him that he could not break this boy, this stripling youth of the line of Lawrizia, when his betters, those elder and stronger than he, had fallen with screams of torment with a single, smiling gesture. With a roar or inarticulate fury, he raised his staff and set it afire with his black power. "Stop laughing!" he hissed.

Milgazia grinned almost madly at him. Xelloss saw only blackness. He raised his staff and struck at Milgazia, pressing the burning wood of his weapon against Milgazia's right shoulder. The young dragon lord shrieked as the fire burned him, clawing through his flesh and searing through bone. Because the fire burned his flesh, he did not bleed, but felt only the black flames as they ate him from within. He screamed, and his screams filled Xelloss' ears and heightened his bloodlust. The flames grew stronger and tore deeper into Milgazia's body.

Xelloss blinked as he suddenly stumbled forward, and blinked again in even greater surprise as Milgazia's arm fell off as well. Still held aloft by his spell, Milgazia howled in mindless horror, his eyes wide and staring at his dismembered limb as it landed limply on the ground.

Xelloss stared at the screaming Ryuzoku, until Milgazia's screams became only hoarse hisses of breath. He gazed at the silently screaming dragon with unreadable eyes. Then, he gestured carelessly with his hand.

Milgazia fell like a puppet with its strings cut to the ground, weeping, clutching the burnt stump where his arm used to be. He writhed with horror and agony, beyond any he had known at Xelloss' hands before. He heard the step of Xelloss' booted feet behind him, and he sublimed his weeping, knowing he was at last going to die.

Xelloss stared down at the Ryuzoku in wonder. He probed the boy's emotions and found pain, yes, horror at the loss of his arm, naturally…but there was no fear. There was relief in his eyes, golden eyes filled with beautiful agony…but no fear.

Xelloss knelt and stared at him. "Do you fear me, Milgazia?" he asked softly in honest confusion.

Milgazia gasped as he tried to speak, but words could no longer squeeze past his the ravaged ruin of his throat. Instead, he nodded, and tipped back his head as though to offer his throat to Xelloss.

The answer surprised the Beast Priest. He still felt no fear emanating from him. Only a cold, calm acceptance. Then, Xelloss understood.

Milgazia feared him…but he did not fear death.

For some reason, that made Xelloss feel much better.

The Mazoku Priest gazed down at his victim, quite amazed. "You endured all this for your people." He whispered. "You never broke, despite what I have done." He reached out to brush Milgazia's bangs from his face. Milgazia shrank away from the touch. "You are strong indeed, Milgazia-san…a worthy descendant of your family. Blood indeed does tell…" He rose. "You managed to wound me, and you survived me. You have earned what no Ryuzoku has earned before: my respect, and my admiration. Live then…if you survive the night, you will live to see many more sunrises."

Milgazia's eyes widened. He coughed, making Xelloss pause. "...wait…" he croaked. "…aren't…kill…me…?"

Xelloss turned back. "I don't kill hatchlings, Milgazia. Why do you think those of your people still survived? There is no honor to be gained in killing children who play at war." He looked at Milgazia. "You look surprised. Yes, there is honor amongst Mazoku…there has to be some, else we would not be. Pride requires honor, and pride is a Mazoku." He smiled slightly. "You were the oldest amongst the survivors, and certainly the strongest. I admire strength in all its forms. Only the strong survive, and deserve life. You have earned it. You are adult in spirit; though your body is still young, it shows much promise. You cast holy magic though your Water Dragon King is dead. That speaks of strength from within." Almost musingly, he put his hand to his chin. "I wonder how strong you will be if you survive to adulthood. Perhaps I am making a mistake, but I don't think I will regret this one." He turned and as he walked away, vanished.

Milgazia did not hear him. The Water Dragon King is dead… Our Lord of Water is dead. The Mazoku have killed the Water Dragon King…Seiryu-oh Rugradia…!

The clouds, pregnant with their load, gave birth to a rain of hail that rained down on him like pale white pearls. They struck him with a faint, but sharp sting, then rolled off his body, cooling his burns and soothing his tattered skin. His breath frosted in the chill air and he closed his eyes in relief.

The sky was lightening before he came to grips with that fact. Xelloss was long gone, having left him to his own devices. Milgazia had not moved, knowing he was too weak to even do more than breathe. He lay in a bed of ice four inches deep. The ice no longer melted around him.

Suddenly, a smile creased his ashen lips as he realized one truth. Inelo and the others live… he smiled wider as he realized another: I won.

His eyes found the last faint blue stars of the night. Ceiphied… he thought. Gather your faithful to thy breast to sleep with you eternally in the stars at the edge of eternity…

Milgazia sighed, at peace at last. His wounds no longer ached, even the stump where his arm once was only felt like a faint itch. So this is what dying is like.

I could live with it.

Smiling to himself at his joke, the young Dragon Lord, last of the house of Lawrizia, closed his brilliant golden eyes as the first rays of sunlight turned his pale hair golden once more.

A/N: I know that in all the pictures everyone has seen of Milgazia, especially the anime he has both his arms. His having lost his right arm is canon information, direct from the novels. Yes, Milgazia is crippled. He has no right arm. Why do all the pictures, even the ones of him in the novel, have him with both arms?
Sore Wa Himitsu desu!

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