He awoke to a world of dust, a sky of altered stars, and a civilization of free people. If not for the horribly-familiar legends, he might have thought Frahma's curse had flung him onto another planet altogether.

He adapted, nonetheless. Someone far away - Rose - might have said it was because the fire within him was inexhaustible. The truth was that he had no other choice.

Swordsmanship remained the same, and the pitiful wildlife that roamed the present were nothing as compared to Wingly warbeasts. Hunting let him eat, and later earned him some coin from grateful villagers; after that came the jobs from caravans in need of protection, and he began to settle into this new world.

That was, he learned to cope with it: he knew the major powers, he spoke a modern dialect, and he no longer compulsively looked up to the sky for threats. He could never be comfortable in it. He could not fathom a world of those born free; their sheer lack of mental damage discomforted him. The cities, all compact and close to the ground, bemused him, even as their obvious humanity filled him with an odd pride. The myths of the Campaign by turns saddened him and disgusted him: children and the church had no business entertaining themselves with glorified fantasies of a war for which his friends had fought and DIED.

Even his Dragoon Spirit no longer felt like his own.

So he fought, because he'd never learned to do anything else. Syuveil could have been a scholar - he would have enjoyed that more than being a Dragoon, by far. Belzac might have run an orphanage; Shirley could have been a healer. Damia would have at last had a childhood. Kanzas... Well, for all that the man had been an unsurpassed martial artist and a fine soldier, that was the one casualty of the Dragon Campaign he did not bitterly regret.

Rose, he did not like to think about, because his instinctive response - we could have been married - had a tendency to make him gaze out from a cliff edge for a long, long time, and wonder, if he jumped, whether he might fall or fly. The weight of ten thousand years, for all that he had not lived it, was very heavy upon his shoulders. Sometimes, it seemed like the answer to the cruel trick of fate that had seen fit to give him a new life long after all he had known and all those he loved were dead was, simply, to negate it.

The flame continued to burn, but it had begun to sputter.

And that, perhaps, was what had led to him recklessly taking on a beast beyond his abilities - some sort of pseudo-dragon that had left the Mountain of Mortal Dragon in favor of devouring stragglers from nearby villages. For a man who had fought off Virages single-handedly, his near-defeat was an... indignity. For the man he'd become, the worst part was that it didn't even surprise him - and some part of him, perhaps, was disappointed he'd lived.

He shook that off and turned to his sort-of-rescuer - some other mercenary who'd taken the job to kill the beast, no doubt, and had shown up at its lair just in time to distract it before it finished off the dazed, winded human it had just sent headfirst into a tree, stall it long enough for him to regain full consciousness, and ensure its back was to him when he charged. "Thanks," he said, perhaps more curtly than he meant; his head was still aching, and his awareness still fuzzier than it should have been. "My name's Zieg. Yours?"

She took his extended hand and shook it earnestly. "Mine's Claire. It's a pleasure to meet you, Zieg."

She was young, and beautiful, and vital; she'd fought well and fiercely, for all that the monster would have done her in, too, if she'd gone it alone. And most mercenaries, he knew, would not have bothered to jump in before a monster was done with a rival. Admirable.

Her body was lithe, her movements graceful, and her hair and eyes dark.

"Pleasure to meet you too," he muttered, but he turned his face away. His eyes stung; he told himself it had to do with the pain in his head.

He knew it was a lie.