Chapter 25

For thousands of years, people have relied on the Gods do to for them, what they could not do for themselves.

Humans are only humans after all.

The Gods are there to protect, to make life more livable for those who choose to believe...

But what about the ones who don't? What of the ones that were thrown into belief by someone else's accord?

What say do they have?

Are they really humans at all...?

...or just pawns...

"RED!"

A bright light flashed and flew forward, enveloping Nina's body in a matter of seconds. The air screamed past, and her hands covered her ears.

This light...it's the same as before...

Her blue eyes widened and the pupils shrunk to pinpoints. The air collected into what seemed like a tangible force and forced itself down on her. The ground beneath her cracked and sunk. She stumbled and strained to glance up.

The light above her thinned and contorted into vivid beams of color that curved to swirl around her shaking body. Breathing raggedly and mind muddled, she threw her head from side to side frantically.

"Ryu? Ryu! RYU!" She shrieked, reaching out into the blinding light. Where the hell was he? Her arms flailed and her unconfident fingers stretched. Her eyes filled with panic.

The same light that destroyed that man...

She screamed for him again, and the world's sound boomed out all around her.

Without her consent, her arms shot forward and sliced through the light.

In the beginning, all the Gods were the same; they all had the same believers, and all worked as one. The ultimate team; what one could not do, another could, and they accepted the help with the utmost gratitude. They were happy and the people were happy. The world and the heavens were in harmony.

...Until the day "it" was discovered.

The human God was destroyed by an unknown force. One day he just, disappeared. Left in the shadow of his defeat, his followers who once had everything, lost it all. For hundreds of years, the Godless heathens searched for the "perfect" replica of the God that created and loved them, but all they found were the "monsters"; The Dragon God and the Woren God.

Desperate for a "human" god, they looked to the Windians who believed in a Goddess. Worshiping a female figure was a preposterous idea to them, but, she was "human" after all... and...the epitome of beauty.

Humans had always envied the Windians for their beauty and wings, and decided that believing in this Goddess would give them the hope that they believed they wanted...and deserved.

The Goddess accepted them with open arms, and drew in the overflowing belief that came from these lost souls. As a result, her power grew over a thousand-fold.

Thus... "it" was discovered.

"It" being the realization that a God's power was only as strong as the belief of it's followers.

So what had happened to the human's God? It was obvious that he had an overabundance of followers, so why did he suddenly disappear?

Some would say that some Gods, in the beginning, might have discovered their source of power before the others.

Some say...that the Goddess's heart, is as cold as the smile she bestows upon the ones she despises...

Voices flowed through her head and all she could do was scream and claw at her hair. The pain seemed to dull them, but the damn things wouldn't leave.

She threw her head back and forth. What was that story? Why did it hurt her head to hear it? Wasn't that what Red had told her in the beginning?

That bitch of a goddess is what started it...

She knew the people began to believe in the Goddess and she became greedy. That was what started the war. She knew that! Why was her mind trying to remind her of it? And what...?

Open your eyes.

Before she even realized they were closed, daylight snuck in with a force that made her head snap back.

The rushing sounds disappeared and all that was heard, was the deafening roar of silence.

She squeezed her eyes closed a few times and tried to focus.

Everything was the same...Shyong, Red...

Wait.

Her heart quickened. No...it wasn't the same. The air...the people...were all..still.

Sucking in what breath she could, she stepped back...and into something wet. She spun around and her eyes widened. The raindrops, which were cascading over the valley just moments ago, were now hovering timeless in midair. With trembling fingers, she reached up and touched one of the clear floating masses and squeaked when it broke apart into smaller droplets and settled on her skin. "How is this...possible?"

She swallowed and brought her hand back to touch her lips. Her voice was grainy and muffled and felt like...it didn't belong here. Her head turned and the visions before her stretched and bent like curving mirror, creating a twisted, distorted atmosphere.

I don't belong here. She thought, fear escalating. Why am I here? Am I still standing here, in Worent? What of Ryu?

What of Ryu?

She almost didn't look back at Ryu's frozen figure. It was to be expected. If everything else was still, why wouldn't he be? Even so, her heart seemed to sink. He couldn't help her. All he could do was stare ahead with wide unmoving emerald eyes.

Her fists balled and her eyebrows furrowed together tightly. Why was she here? What had happened? "Okay..." She whispered softly in that scratchy unreal voice. She had to think back.

She remembered Shyong getting bombarded by Red and then...Red was hurt and she had screamed. Her brow furrowed even more. But how could that have any connection with this?

But don't you remember? You screaming is what killed that man.

She whirled around. Nothing, just the odd bending world. "Wh-who's...there?" She managed to whisper. Another voice, different, but strangely familiar floated past her. She shook her head and thrust her fists back behind her. Her eyes closed to stop the coming of tears. No, she was through being scared. "Who's there!" She attempted again, louder. "Answer me!"

haha...

That laugh...was like a dozen tiny ice cubes rolling down her spine. Soft, songlike, and felt as though the one who was laughing, had a joke that if you didn't get...you would die.

The Goddess was known to have amazing powers. Greater than even Ladon's, some would say.

Nina scowled and turned. "I don't care about the Goddess!" She cried swinging her arm in front of her. The rain drops parted to give it clearance. "I've heard that story before...Why do I need to hear it again?"

Story? haha...my dear, that's no story. It's the truth.

"Even if it is..." She murmured. "What does it have to do with me?"

Look around you, my child... How come you are allowed to move about whereas your Woren and Dragon friends cannot?

She shook her head and glanced back at Ryu, wondering if that silent face had any clue of the events unfolding before it. "How should I know? I'm just..."

To them...you are moving at a pace their eyes cannot follow.

Her hands dropped. A pace that their eyes could not follow? That didn't make any sense? How could she have the strength or the ability to do something like that?

Maybe to them, YOU are the monster.

Her eyes widened and her chest tightened. "...Monster?"

After all, they know that you murdered that man.

"I didn't murder him!"

What happened then, Princess? Did he burst into pieces out of his own accord?

Breathing more raggedly, she clutched at her chest. "I...didn't do that! How...how could I do that to him?"

You wanted him to die.

"I didn't!"

You didn't want to go back, so you killed him.

Frantic breathing was making her feel light headed. "It's true, I didn't want to go back to Windia..., but that's no reason to kill someone. I know that!" Her gaze went to the ground. "I don't know what happened. Maybe...I didn't kill him...but if I did, it was a..."

So you admit that you are a murderer?

She clutched her chest tighter. "No! It was an accident! I don't know what happened! I...didn't...want to do it!"

Silence.

Suddenly, she felt very alone. Wiping the tears from her eyes she stumbled backwards. Who was that speaking to her? Why was he bringing up Mikhal? And how...did he even know?

"It...was an accident..." She repeated, every syllable flowing from her lips taking a static-like tone. "I don't have that kind of power. That's...the kind of power people like Ryu have..."

What makes you think you aren't as strong as him?

The voice returning brought a much resented wave of relief over her. "He's a dragon." she muttered dumbly.

You are stronger.

"I..."

Something told her to look to her left. Slowly, cautiously, her hands released her dress and allowed her body to turn. The raindrops above Shyong and Red's struggling statues shimmered and began to dance wildly. Light burst forth and Nina's eyes threatened to close.

From within the swirling particles of illumination, a snowy, static figure of a white robed man faded in and out of view.

Her lips shook and formed a word her mind screamed to never utter again.

"Meros..."

Limbs...tingling...

Were they shaking?

Was she not in reality before?

Nina moved her head to the side in a slow, fluid motion. Tiny rainbow colored specks of light fluttered before her vision like tiny butterflies. She tried to wave them away with a heavy hand, but they returned and moved even more erratically.

Are you cold?

The voice was muffled and distant. She answered with a shiver that cascaded down her entire body. Teeth chattering, she pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them. Instinctively, her wings came forward and covered her. Somehow, it calmed her.

Slowly, she glanced up from beneath the wavering snow white feathers and into...

...hell.

Her pupils constricted as his image burned itself into them.

"What do you want from me!" She mouthed, unable to produce any sound.

Come home...

She watched as his white bangs dripped gently in front of his cold amber stare. "Why?" again, no sound.

A smile crept it's way across his youthful face, the lips parting to reveal perfect white teeth.

Why, you ask?

The smile widened and the amber deepened. Nina felt thin fingers graze across the top of her wings. It burned like acid.

Because...you belong to me...

A high pitched scream filled the air.

All at once, the rain fell.

Lucia bit almost through the quill dangling in her mouth. The ink bottle near her toppled and as darkness spread over the parchment, she watched the thin fibers swell. Her slate eyes narrowed and she pushed away from the table.

"Nina! What's wrong with you? Snap out of it!"

The young Windian's eyes shot open. Rain hit them and she pawed fiercely. "Wh-..."

"Nina, please calm down!" Her head went back and forth as she was shaken. "What happened?" Ryu's soaked mane gathered onto her shoulder when he leaned down.

Mumbling something her dragon friend couldn't decipher, she threw herself forward and out of his grasp.

"Where are you going?" He cried. "Nina!"

I have to stop this. Nina thought racing towards the battle, tiny feet slipping in the mud. I can't let anyone else die here!

Shyong slid back with his arms crossed in front of him. "Idiot..." he murmured panting heavily. "It's useless fighting me!"

Red growled in response, dropped his shoulder down, and barreled forward, his huge clawed feet tearing into the soft muddy ground. Shyong clenched his teeth and attempted to break the tiger's advance with his own arms, but the wound in his shoulder protested. Blood cascaded from it upon impact and he screamed when the pain shot throughout his torso.

He shook his head violently and sneered up at Red who's giant jaws were at eye level. The cat's hot breath steamed in the already humid air, seeping through razor incisors and past glowing crimson eyes. "You...don't scare me..." Shyong sputtered, mouth full of rainwater and mud. His hands closed in on the Woren's short spiky fur. Red snickered, reared back, and pulled Shyong's still attached arm, out of it's socket.

The soldier's face went white and he stumbled back with the appendage hanging limply at his side. Red swung out his enormous paws and Shyong ducked, barely missing the impact. He spat out water and sneered. "You...bastard..." His good arm went back behind him and the hand opened, the fingers curling in a clawlike fashion. Violet sparked and the energy crackled, spreading up the through the spaces between his fingers, resembling tiny erratically moving threads. The purple sparks reflected off of his sudden wide smile. "You're dead..." He hissed, bringing the hand forward.

"Stop it, Tsunaia! You must not hurt him!"

Shyong's eyes widened when blood and feathers flew before him.

"All I want to do is protect her."

"Do you really believe that is your purpose in life?"

Shyong nervously rubbed the back of his neck. "That's what the King told me..."

"No Tsunaia, that is what you told yourself." Lucia's slate eyes bore down on the young soldier and he glanced quickly away.

His fist clenched. "I don't expect you to understand." He bit his lip.

Lucia paced in front of him, her long tail swishing angrily behind her. "What's there to understand?" She muttered. "The girl's spoiled. Everyone pays attention to her...just because she's..."

"No, she's not like that." He said shaking his head.

"Take it from me," Lucia snapped, eyes wide. "She's a Princess. They're all like that. Don't bother telling me otherwise."

Again, Shyong's anxious hand went to his already irritated neck. "Ever since I first saw her, I've felt something."

"Felt something? Like what?" The Woren inquired, never taking her cold gray eyes from him.

Shyong glanced down. "Something deep within me. A strong..." He squinted slightly. "...familiar feeling." Lucia opened her mouth to comment, but stopped when he looked up, locking her in a strangely determined stare. "Lucia..." He whispered. "I saw my mother..."

Nina's head flew back, her wide blue eyes leaking tears. Blood hit Shyong's face and he dove forward to catch her. His right arm screamed in protest, but he shook it off. "Princess..." His voice came out choked as he dropped to his knees and pulled her close to him. Her damp wings hung limply from her and spread their white beauty onto the dark muddy ground.

"Nina!" Ryu screamed as white lightning streaked overhead. Weretiger pounced back at the sudden shriek and crouched low to the ground, his tail swishing behind him.

Shyong's hands came out from under his princess, trembling and covered in blood. "Princess...Nina..." He murmured, his crimson fingers curling. "Why...?"

Her lids fluttered for a second, and then opened slowly. She started incoherently at him for a second and then shook her head. "I...don't want you to hurt him..." she managed to sputter through the pouring rain.

"But he..."

"I said no one is to be hurt!" Her face flinched slightly, but she continued, despite the incredible pain surging up and down her body.

Shyong's hand went to the back of her head and pulled her up until her forehead touched his lips.

Ryu's fists clenched.

"You know I would never want to hurt you, Princess..." Shyong whispered gently, keeping a wary eye on Weretiger and the dragon. "I just wanted to get you back... Your father is so worried."

"He's lying!" Ryu cried, but he wasn't quite sure why. Of course her father missed her, and for heaven's sake they thought she was kidnaped. But still...there was something... Not a man like Shyong. Ryu thought bitterly. I should be the one to take her home.

"I know he does." She said softly, closing her eyes.

He pulled her head back and buried his face in her neck. "I missed you too, Princess... I couldn't sleep. I couldn't bear that thought of that...thing...being near you."

Ryu growled. "I think the same thing of you."

Keeping his face pressed against her skin, he turned towards the dragon. His blank eye went wide. "I won't have your filthy hands anywhere near her..." he seethed.

"But I..."

"Don't waste your breath." Nina whispered, lifting her hand to Shyong's face. She brushed the back of it against his scars. "He means nothing." Ryu's emerald eye widened and his shaking fists dropped to his sides. She slowly turned her gaze towards him. "After all...he is a monster." Her lips moved slowly in Ryu's mind, every syllable coming out and piercing his heart.

"You can't be serious, Nina..."

Shyong's mouth curled into a vicious smirk. "Of course she means it."

Ryu clenched his teeth and stomped forward "No...that's not it!" He shook his head and threw his hand out. "Nina whatever you are trying to do, just stop it now!"

Her eyes narrowed in the rain. "What do you mean...?"

Ryu ground his toe into the mud absentmindedly. "We talked...about how to save the world, Nina. I told you I wanted to do something about it...and you told me the same." He looked down and let the rain wash his dark blue locks slowly over his shoulders. "I know you want to help... I know you think you can, and so do I, but..." He closed his eyes. "You can't do it by yourself...so please don't try. The last thing I want is for you to be hurt."

"I don't know what you're talking about." She snapped. "I just want to go home."

"No you don't!" He cried baring his teeth, "Stop it, Nina! You can't help everyone by yourself! You need me...you need..." He motioned to Deja and Gabe. "You need us..."

Nina shook her head. "Tsunaia...please get me away from here. I want to go home..." she whispered pulling gently on the front of his cape.

"Don't do this, Nina."

"Don't speak to her, dragon!" Shyong growled standing up. Nina whimpered in his arms. "You heard what she said. She wants nothing to do with you."

"She wants everything to do with me." The dragon spat, casting a murderous eye to him.

"And what did you expect?" Wind whipped through and pulled Shyong's cape over Nina's dangling body. "A girl born of such high prestige would never have anything to do with someone like you. While the blood in you may run strong...it's not our kind of blood." He smirked. "Right now...you stand before me looking like a human, but I know behind that pretty boy face, is a monster that wouldn't think twice about destroying everything."

"Just like how you destroyed this town?"

Shyong's smile contorted into a snarl. "Why you goddamned little..."

"Tsunaia...he's not worth it...let's just go..." Nina said from within the navy of his cape.

The soldier's blank, glaring eye lingered on Ryu for a few seconds and then he turned from him, muttering obscenities under his breath.

"You...you turn back around you coward!" Ryu cried, feeling panic flood over him. She was really leaving him. This...bastard was really taking her away. "I said turn around!"

"Ignore him." Nina said softly, feeling the muscles tense in Shyong's arms.

"You can't do this!" The dragon's voice became shrill and he felt his fangs once again begin to lengthen.

Not again...

Shyong's cape swung out into the rain.

She's turning away from me again...

The veins in Ryu's arms pulsed.

The feel of her skin against his was amazing. Just the mere thought of her being so close to him: so fully enveloped with him, was enough to send him over the edge.

Before, he had had thoughts of what it would be like to be in love...

Probably none of them were like how it really was. How could they have been? He was socially inept.

...the pariah of all the races but his own...

But as he felt her fingernails dig into his back, heard her voice whimper his name softly, and as his wide eyes locked with hers...he felt accepted.

Love...

Was that what made his heart beat fast?

Was it the feeling deep in this chest that made his soul feel like it would explode?

Or was it the feeling that rushed over him when he grasped at her wings and tore at her tiny body?

The overwhelming feeling of passion and aggression that both frightened and amazed him?

The Dragon seemed to understand...

...so why couldn't he?

Weretiger, growing bored with being excluded from the action for so long, growled and stretched his mighty claws deep into the mud.His jaw wretched open and his large pink tongue lolled forward. Ryu whirled, nostrils flaring. He had forgotten about the cat. It had been so damn quiet! Red shook water from his massive head and reared back, an even louder growl rumbling from deep within his throat.

Shyong's ears perked and he turned. Nina tried to see from underneath his cloak. She felt his chest heave when he snickered. "So he finally decides to do something." Her eyes barely caught a violet spark trailing down his arm to his fingers. "I can easily end this you know." He said stretching the fingers and allowing the spark to disperse over his entire hand. Nina opened her mouth to protest, but was cut short by a blur of movement that startled even Ryu.

Weretiger suddenly howled and went back on his hind legs. Ryu's eyes frantically traced over the tigers body.

What the hell was that fast?

Finally they stopped on a pair of tiny white hands groping and grasping at the thick fur on the cat's neck. Some of the anxiousness in him eased. So Deja was alright after all.

The fox woman cried out something inaudible due to the rain and in seconds, Gabe was there, his arms wound tightly around Red's right wrist, and shining crimson beads in hand. Shyong laughed again and held his hand up. "Are you sure you wouldn't like me to deal with him?"

Deja shot a glare at him through her soaked ebony mane. "Be gone soldier...!" She cried, clawing at Red's neck while he tried to throw her off. "You have what you want so let us and Worent be...!"

The sparks on Shyong's hand crackled and his eyes narrowed. "How dare you speak to me in that tone, you half monster fuc..."

"Tsunaia..."

Energy faded and at once, the soldier's eyes were fixed upon his Princess. "Princess Nina...I..."

She shook her head. "Please...there's no need for that... If they want to deal with a monster like that...by all means, we should let them."

"M-monster?" Deja stuttered through clenched teeth.

Princess Nina forced a smile. "We don't have time for this and..." She stopped suddenly and coughed.

Shyong covered her shivering body with his cloak. "You're right...If I don't get you back to the castle, you'll catch your death out here."

"If you take her, you'll catch your death out here!" Ryu bellowed.

The soldier laughed loudly and pulled Nina close to him. He pushed her damp bangs from her forehead and trailed his lips over it. "Why do you want to fight for someone that doesn't even care about you?" He asked mockingly. "Do you enjoy living in that fantasy world? Do you like to lie to yourself dragon, or are you just hard of hearing?"

The skin on Ryu's hands started to harden and take on a reddish tone.

No...you can't come back out... That's not what she wants...

"But who care's what she wants? All she did was use you."

No! That's not it!

"...You're such an idiot..."

Ryu growled and reached up to grasp his head as searing pain went through.

"Like I said before...useless. Dragons are unstable, emotionless, monsters... There's no reason for my Princess to want anything to do with you..."

The dragon shook his head hard until the pain dulled. What was this? "He" usually didn't try to break out on his own... What did this mean?

"Tch...I can't even stand to look at you, you freak..." The soldier scoffed turning his back to him. "But rest assure if I see you or your friends again...it will be different."

Deja spat out water and dirt. "How so?"

Shyong kept his back to them and smiled. "...You'll all be dead..."

Ryu opened his mouth to retort, but stopped when he caught sight of Nina when the wind blew the soldier's cloak back. She spoke and the rain drowned out her voice, but it didn't matter. He didn't need to know what she said to actually know. Her eyes glistened with new tears.

I'm sorry, Ryu...

Muffled noises became clear.

Touch became another recognizable sense.

The world came into view.

Red felt the rain pound at his face with the same pressure at the blood in his temples.

What...happened?

He tried to lift his arm, but it was too damn heavy. What was that on his wrist?

Oh...it's those goddamned beads... What the hell are they doing...

Oh... Oh Gods no...

His crimson eyes widened as the wrist with the beads shook violently in front of his face, the clicking of the bracelet filling his ears more than the rain ever could.

Why...? Why did this happen? Who...did this to me?

Before he could bask in ignorant bliss, his head turned and with one eyeful, everything came flooding back.

His crimson eyes widened and he felt the tears start to flow.

"NO...!"

The morning breeze felt cool on Ryu's face as he stepped outside. Pity, he though rubbing his eyes. It was such a beautiful day.

Worent was bustling with people, but strangely, it was silent. Black feathers were everywhere; on people's clothes, in their hair... Ryu assumed these were traditional funeral decorations. He was proven right when Kisa handed him one.

"Put this behind your ear." She said as he took it gingerly. He nodded and did so, staring at her attire. She was clad in what looked like a long black silk sash that covered her entire body. The same black feathers were tied to her arms and tail. She smiled slightly. "Usually we don't dress like this," she said noticing his stare. "But it's not just any funeral." He watched as she joined the crowd of people milling towards the middle of town.

His head ached, for his dreams were filled with dragons and angels. He was pretty sure he had hit something because a few of his limbs didn't feel good either. A long drawn out sigh escaped his parted lips. It would have to wait.

The town square was a mass of waving tails and silent stares. Ryu waded to the middle without as much as a glance. Everyone seemed to be eyeing the giant statue, so he did as well. Some sort of black flower was strewn across the Woren god in thousands of tiny strings like a gigantic spiderweb. Torches lined either side of a large wooden box placed in front. Juun's body rested within it, amidst an array of different colored wild flowers. His eyes caught the crimson glimmer of a string of prayer beads attached to the Woren's arm.

The crowd suddenly hushed even more, and Ryu turned his attention to the pathway forming in the middle of everyone. His eyes widened. Red was walking somberly forward, his head bent. His hair was down and strung together with various onyx colored beads that clinked together with every step he took. He was bare chested, but wore a necklace of large black feathers that went almost to his navel. The dragon watched as he made his way through the crowd and to the make-shift casket Juun was in. The Woren turned, his millions of beads coming together loudly and faced them.

"My fellow Worens, I would like to thank you all for coming here today." He said in a voice that was much softer than usual. There was a chorus of nodding heads and "of course"es. Red smiled slightly. "Juun Warin, my father," he said giving a glance at the box, "Was an amazing man, and...the best protector this city has ever had.

"He always told me that the way he wanted to die was in battle, so I assume the old man's pretty ecstatic right now..." Ryu noticed Red's eyes were becoming glazed. The Woren shook it off, looking confident that no one had seen. "He wouldn't have wanted me to have a long drawn out speech about how great he was, and do I really need to? We all know he did everything he could for this city..." There was another chorus of agreement. "...He loved this damn city."

Kisa stepped up and handed him an unlit torch. Red accepted it and held it for her to light. When the flame was strong, he lifted it into the air. "By the power of the Gods that watch over us, I deliver this man's body back into the earth from which we all were created. May he rest in peace and watch over us as we continue on..."

His grip relaxed and the torch fell into the wild flowers. The box was engulfed and the crowd stared in awe. Ryu smiled, and from within the bulging flames, he watched silently, as Red cried.

"There." Ryu said, tying togther the strings of his pack. Kisa was nice enough to give him some rations to take with him wherever he was going. He slung the pack onto his back and stared out of the window at the white clouds slowly drifting by. He didn't even know where he was going. She had looked at him funny when he told her that. He hadn't had time to think.

Ryu knew his first thoughts should have been to go get Nina back, but should he really so soon? The girl had a plan of some sort, that was obvious, but he wasn't sure whether she had had much time to think of anything either. That thought scared him. There was no way she could fight Shyong by herself if she so had to. The girl was stubborn.

"Are you going to see Red before you go?"

Ryu turned to see Kisa leaning against the doorway. She was in her regular clothes now. He nodded. "I wanted to, but I can't seem to find him."

"He's been at the graveyard for the past hour." and when met with an odd look she smiled. "We keep the prayer beads from the body and bury them. It's...sort of a traditional thing. Shows that the wearer is finally free I guess."

She looked a little misty eyed and Ryu decided not to press anything about Juun further. "Thank you. I'll head there now."

"You know, he really envies you." She said as he was walking past. He stopped but didn't turn around.

"How so?"

"You can control your power."

Ryu smiled beneath his bangs as he lowered his head. "He's a fool." he said slowly, and walked out of the room.

Ryu found Red right where Kisa had said he would be; kneeling down by a clean gravestone in the middle of the hill. He walked up slowly, trying not to disturb him, but his foot kicked a small rock in the pathway.

The rock skipped over the ground and Red whirled around, the beads in his hair clanking wildly. His sparkling crimson eyes widened and he quickly hid them in his arm. "...What the hell are you doing sneaking up on me like that, dragon?" He hissed rubbing frantically at them.

"I'm not sneaking up." Ryu said softly. "Or I'm not trying to rather." He looked down.

"Then what do you want?"

Ryu looked up into Red's face. He looked exhausted; his eyes were framed with dark circles. The dragon sighed. "I'm leaving. I just wanted to say goodbye."

For a moment, Red just stared, then his lips curled into a tiny smirk. "What makes you think I care?"

"I want to go after him."

The smirk faded and Red stood slowly. He laughed softly and cocked his head. "So you assume I go with you, huh? Just because he killed my father?"

"I'm not assuming anything of you, Red."

Red stared again and then turned his head and spit. "God, you're so fucking serious all the time."

Ryu's expression remained wooden. "These are serious times, Red. Those people came here for a reason...and I-"

"They came to get Nina and that was it." Red snapped. "And if you guys hadn't have come here..."

Ryu closed his eyes. "Please don't blame Nina for this...you know that sooner or later the same thing would have happened, but for a different reason." Red was silent. "All that talk about a war...I think it's true."

The Woren shrugged. "So what do you want me to do about it?"

"Red it's your duty as the new leader of this city-"

"Don't you dare tell me what my duty is!" Ryu blinked as Red's shrill voice flew past. The cat's face was flushed now, his crimson eyes wide. "I know what my damn duty is." He looked down at his hands, clenching and unclenching them. "...You saw how I almost killed everyone didn't you?"

"You didn't know what you were doing."

"Exactly." Red said still staring at his hands. "I need to learn how to control it..otherwise." He sneered. "I'm just as bad as that fucking Windian bastard."

"I..."

"I want to go to that damn tower." Red said, his eyes widening. "I want to control Weretiger, and I want to kill him."

"Red..."

He made a fist with both hands and threw his head back to get the beads out of his face. "Who knows what he's doing to Nina right now!"

Ryu tried to keep the anger at a simmer. Yes...he had thought of that, but the way he had touched her face, the way he went crazy at her being injured... It was safe to say that she would be alright for the time being. Was he in love with her? Ryu was pretty sure he was; and an odd sort of love too... He closed his eyes. "So what are you doing to do?"

"I've got to go to the tower, but I can't do it alone."

"Deja and Gabriel are here to..."

"I don't want to go with them."

Ryu looked up into Red's now surprisingly pleading eyes. "You want me to go with you?"

Red nodded slowly and the wind blew, his beads clinking in almost a musical tone. "I believe, unfortunately, that you're the only one who can help me."

"...you know I still can't control my dragon all the way."

"You control it enough."

Ryu's lips formed a small smile. "Alright. I'll go with you."

The wind blew again and for the first time in a long time, Red smiled a big toothy grin.

Nina dipped her feet into the river and sighed. The cool water felt good on her skin. Behind her, Shyong paced. He hadn't wanted to take a break, but she had insisted. All this time being carried by him, was grating on her nerves. She hated to be that close to him; to sense him... He smelled like blood.

She moved her feet around and watched the ripples in the water. Her eyes closed and she shuddered. Visions of the night before still flashed in her mind. She had awoken screaming during the night, only to be held not of her own accord by Shyong. Her hands subconsciously splashed water on her arms. Anything to get that damn smell away.

"Princess please don't do that." Shyong said coming to her and kneeling. She winced as he rubbed a handkerchief over her arm to dry it off. "You might catch cold." Her eyes lingered on his hideous scar.

"I see..." she said and attempted to get up, but succeeded in only falling into his arms.

He smiled and picked her up. "Don't worry, Princess" He said softly, brushing his lips against her forehead. "I'm here to help you."

She felt herself being engulfed in his arms again and closed her eyes. How was he so calm? He had just destroyed half of a city the previous night! He killed so many people... She stopped and opened her eyes. How the hell was she so calm after that? She cursed under her breath. To think that it took no time at all for her to be this desensitized to death...

"Your father will be so happy to see you." He said smiling. "He's been waiting so long."

Her father... Would she really be happy to see him? She guessed there would be something there when she saw him. After all, he was her father.

"And Lucia was worried as well."

Now that was someone she knew didn't really care. Maybe only because she had nothing to do with her gone.

"Aren't you excited, Princess? You aren't saying much."

Nina looked up. "Ahh...well yes...yes I am." She said softly. "I'm just...tired..."

Shyong really was completely not phased by the night before. He was talked to her as if nothing had happened! She made a face and then stared up into the trees.

The clouds overhead were big and fluffy, billowing slowly over the bright blue sky. It really was a beautiful day. She let her thoughts wander to Ryu and her heart ached. She didn't mean to leave him like that, but it had to have been done. Shyong would have killed him. She nodded to herself in reassurance. Yes...that's what would have happened. She was doing the right thing.

His hands grasped her hair and he pulled her head back. Lips trailed over her throat. She gasped and felt his smoldering body press hard against hers.

"I never want to let you go." He breathed into her ear.

She felt his dark blue hair cascade over her.

"...You never have to..."

Her cheeks flushed and her heart ached even more. Looks like he'd have to let go for just a bit...

A glimmer suddenly came from the branches overhead and caused her to squint. What the hell...? She strained to look and gasped, as a pair of bright red eyes, stared back at her.