I own none of this.

***

"All right, people, listen up." I took my place in the center of the war room. "Like Leknaat said, the war is entering its final stages, so it's time to move."

The liberation of Greenhill was three days in the past. After a rest, the Dragon Army's inner circle had assembled to plan the final campaign of the war. I couldn't help a major feeling of accomplishment; we'd been through so much together, and now we were going to end the bloodshed.

Shu took the floor. "Our first objective is to free Muse from Highland control. The population is either dead or fleeing, so civilian casualties should be easy to avoid." He spread out a map. "Lord Julian will lead the main force, accompanied by Jowy, Viktor, Flik, Luc, Han, Tir, and Kiba. I believe the enemy's forces consist only of Lucia and Yuber's units, so getting in should be relatively simple."

Teresa raised a hand. "What of the rest of us?"

I sighed. "This is where it gets dicey. This morning, I received word that Gorudo of Matilda has surrendered to Highland."

Miklotov cursed. "The scum probably didn't even try to fight. Just as he hung Muse out to dry."

"No kidding." Dart was, if possible, even angrier than the Blue Knight. "I take it you've got a plan?"

I nodded. "I do indeed. Teresa, while the rest of us are securing Muse, you'll take Gilbert, Mazus, Hauser, Ridley, Ayda, and the elder Dragoons and assemble at the Greenhill-Matilda checkpoint. Once Muse is secure, I'll send word with Viki, and then our to forces will converge on Matilda simultaneously. Camus and Miklotov can guide you into Rockaxe Castle. With armies to the west and south, Matilda should fall quickly."

"I understand."

I looked around the room. "Anything else?"

"I have something," Luc said. "I know what that monster was that we saw in Muse."

Kiba frowned. "Go on."

"It was the True Beast Rune," Luc continued. "Luca and Silverburg must be trying to free it."

Tir swore violently. "Just great! I've read about the True Beast Rune, and I can tell you for certain it's even worse than my cursed Soul Eater."

I shook my head. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Everyone, let's go."

***

Either Highland doesn't have many troops to spare, or they're up to something. I have an unpleasant feeling it's the latter. "Anything yet, Shu?"

"I think they've noticed us." The strategist checked his map. "There is only one gate, so a frontal assault is our best option."

I nodded. "Agreed. All units, attack!" Suiting action to words, I spurred my horse forward, driving through a group of Highland infantry. "Coming through!"

"Judgment!" Tir's spell smashed the survivors of my little charge.

"Lord Julian!" A mounted messenger barely caught up with me. "Message from General Kiba: the Highland troops are scattering! They were caught completely unprepared.."

"That was quick." I gave the situation a quick once-over. "Okay, here's what we'll do. Find Jowy, Nanami, Viktor, Flik, and Tir. I want them for the fight inside."

"Yes, my lord!"

I grinned fiercely. You're in for it, now, Highlanders. You can't possibly defeat the Dragon Army. We've become far to strong. An officer tried to stop me, and got a face full of tonfa for his trouble. "That looked like it hurt."

Jowy appeared out of nowhere. "Take this! Twinkling Blade!" An entire company bit the dust.

The remaining four rushed up to me. "Julian, are you alright!?" Nanami asked.

"I'm fine. Any trouble getting here?"

"None." Viktor was smug. "A couple of morons got in our way, but they didn't last long."

"Excellent. Let's move."

We ran for City Hall, knowing that Highland would have it occupied, and we'd have to win it back in order to dislodge them. I will not be in the least surprised if Silverburg is there in person. Well, I've got news for him. As of today, Muse is free.

I skidded to a stop just inside, an eerie sense of déjà vu flooding through me. Just months earlier, I had witnessed Annabelle's death in this same room. Never again. "Hello Silverburg. Are you ready to surrender?"

He laughed. "Now why would I do that? We finally have Matilda, so it's not like we're losing."

"Have you lost your mind, Leon!?" Tir demanded. "We fought side-by-side during the Gate Rune War, and now you've gone so far as to ally yourself with Luca Blight and try to free the True Beast Rune! If that thing is released, everything we fought for will be for nothing!!" I'd never seen him so angry.

Silverburg laughed again. "Tir, Tir, what's the matter? Like Julian here, you would have no recognition without war."

McDohl's face reddened. "I don't want recognition. And even if I did, it isn't worth the deaths of thousands!" He took a step forward.

"I don't think so." The strategist backed up. "Perhaps the Golden Wolf will entertain you." He slipped out a back door, while we were in no position to pursue.

I transformed in an instant. "Time to die! Atomic Mind!"

"Thunder Runner!" Flik shouted.

"Judgment!"

"Rose Storm!"

"Freezing Ring!"

Viktor lunged at the beast, stabbing deep into its chest. "Bet that hurt---oof!!" The Wolf had knocked him back at least ten feet.

"Enough of this." A shot a quick glance at Nanami. "Family Attack!" The synchronized pounding reduced the Golden Wolf to dog food.

I helped Viktor to his feet. "You okay?"

He winced. "Cracked rib, maybe. Nothing serious."

"Good." I grinned. "At last, Muse is free."

***

I wasn't grinning two hours later. "How many dead, Shu?"

He sighed. "Five thousand."

"Blast it!" While we were occupied with the Golden Wolf, the Highlanders had set up an ambush. Han's force had been virtually annihilated. "Do we still have the strength to take Matilda?" With the Knightdom in our hands, the entire City-State would be secure.

Shu nodded. "Absolutely. Remember, we are much stronger than when you first took command. Matilda will fall easily."

"I know, but all those deaths…" I shook myself and turned to Viki. "Viki, inform Lady Teresa. We march for Matilda in the morning."

***

The last prisoners were herded to the camp. Shu had been right, the defenses at Matilda were pitiful compared to our army. In less than an hour, we held the town itself, leaving only the castle, which I was unpleasantly certain would be much more difficult. "Shu, take charge out here. I'll take Nanami and Jowy and deal with Gorudo."

"Are you sure, Lord Julian?" Shu frowned. "It will be dangerous."

I laughed harshly. "A standard attack won't work. That leaves an infiltration. We'll be fine." I beckoned to Nanami and Jowy. "Come on."

"Good luck."

The three of us made good time through the castle. Few guards opposed us, making me very nervous. Something's not right here. Where are all the guards? "Nanami, Jowy, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Jowy nodded. "Gorudo's planning something nasty."

"Exactly."

We turned as one, to see Gorudo near a door, flanked by archers. "How good of you to join us," I said coldly. "Let me get to the point surrender, or you will regret it. Assuming you survive the consequences."

"I think not." He pointed at us. "Fire!"

"No!" Nanami leaped in front, blocking arrows with her rod. "Julian, get back!"

"Nanami!" I couldn't move. She deflected arrow after arrow. But I knew it couldn't last, one would eventually get through…

And then it happened. A single arrow slipped through her guard, striking her in the center of the chest.

"NANAMI!!" Jowy and I screamed in unison. I rushed to her side. "Nanami, no…"

She looked up at me. "Julian…I'm sorry. It looks like…this is the end…"

I shook my head violently, tears streaming down my cheeks. "No…"

"I love you…brother…"

Suddenly, a redhead in winged armor appeared: Shirley. "I'll take care of her. You handle Gorudo." Seeing my hesitation, she added, "She'll be alright, I promise."

"Thank you." I slowly turned, shaking with rage, dimly aware of Jowy doing the same. "Gorudo, you worthless bastard! You surrender to Highland without a fight like the coward you are, and then you nearly kill my sister! I'll kill you for that!"

"Me, too," Jowy said, in a voice I'd never heard him use before. "What you have done, I can never forgive. Prepare to die."

Gorudo drew his sword. "Go ahead, try it."

"'Try it'," I mimicked savagely. "Buddy Attack!"

"Hungry Friend!"

"Forgiver Sign!"

The old man took a swipe at me, which I easily dodged. "Nice try, bastard." Jowy and I transformed and summoned our Dragons, mortally wounding Gorudo. "That is for the people of Muse, for the soldiers who died here, and for my sister," I snarled, gazing contemptuously at the dying man. "It's over."

Miklotov charged in. "Lord Julian, the town is secure…" He broke off, seeing Shirley and Nanami. "Lady Nanami!"

"She's fine, she's just asleep," Shirley said.

The Blue Knight sighed with relief. "What happened?"

"One of Gorudo's archers shot her, so we killed him," I bit out, then forced myself to calm down. "Sorry, Miklotov, I shouldn't take that out on you."

He laid a hand on my shoulder. "Your sister was nearly killed. I don't blame you for lashing out."

"Thanks." I managed a smile. "Find Shu. Once Nanami recovers, we're hitting L'Renouille."

"Gladly."

***

Five days later, I stood before the Dragon Army, flanked by the top generals and my sister, who had recovered nicely. "Brave soldiers of the Dragon Army! Thanks to your valiant efforts, South Window and Two River have been protected, and Tinto, Greenhill, Muse, and Matilda have been freed. Now the time has come at last. Today, we launch a final assault on the Highland capital, L'Renouille. When this day is done, Highland will cease to exist, and Luca Blight and the vampire Neclord will be no more."

I paced a little, gathering my thoughts. "When this war began, I was nothing more than a former Highland foot soldier. Now, I have risen to command a great army. You have all stood by me through victory and defeat alike. I ask that you stand by me for just a little while longer."

"This is not a war for revenge. This is a war for survival, a war to ensure our freedom." I gestured expansively, the Bright Shield Rune shining on my hand. "Today, we win freedom for the people of the City-State and Highland alike!"

The cheering which followed was deafening. I had no fear of revenge killings. A good chunk of the Dragon Army, particularly those who came with Han and Kiba, where like me, Highlanders betrayed by their ruler. After this fight, they would finally be able to go home.

"Well said, Lord Julian," Shu murmured.

I smiled. "Thanks. I have a feeling I'm going to have to get used to making speeches."

***

Four hours later, everything was going according to plan. Luca's field army had been utterly destroyed in the first hour of fighting. The city itself proved a tougher nut to crack, but not insurmountably so. Luca had, not surprisingly, stationed his best troops in the castle, augmented by hordes of Neclord's zombies. To combat this, I brought every Star who could possibly fight, including Hai Yo the cook and that whiny rat bastard Zamza.

"Careful, Julian," Han said. He nodded to a door. "According to what I've heard, Luca and Neclord are in there."

Jowy spun his staff. "Then let's get them!"

Luca Blight was expecting us. "Here at last, are you?" He raised his sword. "It ends here."

"For once I agree with you," I responded icily.

Neclord fixed his gaze on Viktor. "Ready to die?"

"Ready to kill you, more like it" Viktor shot back. Sierra, flanking him, agreed.

"Enough talk," I snapped. "Everyone, attack!!"

Despite our tremendous advantage in numbers, we had trouble just holding our own. I was slashed in three separate places in the first minute. If Albert hadn't tackled me I'd have lost my head. He's not making it easy, I thought. Just as expected. Seeing an opening, I delivered a snap kick to Luca's arm, breaking it.

He cursed. "You little ingrate!!"

A shout diverted his attention. Viktor had plunged the Star Dragon Sword into Neclord's chest, finally destroying the vampire. "This is for North Window."

Taking advantage of the distraction, I attacked Luca from the side, breaking his neck. "Goodbye, Luca. Don't rest in peace."

For a moment, we all just stood there, taking a brief rest. "It's not over yet," Jowy said at last. "We still have Silverburg to deal with."

"Right."

Leon was waiting for us. "Welcome. Now you will see the power of the True Beast Rune."

Luc glared at him. "I don't think enough blood has been shed for that, Leon."

Silverburg grinned a madman's grin. "Soon there will be." With that, he stabbed himself in the chest. "Now it will be free!" He slumped over, dead.

A huge, two-headed wolf formed before us, with a rune in the middle. I recognized it immediately as the same creature I saw in Muse. So Luc was right. This is it. I brought up my tonfa. "Let's make sure this thing never harms anyone again! Go!"

"Hit the rune first!" Luc yelled. "That'll make our job easier!"

Kongol heard him, and destroyed it with one swipe of his axe. "Done!"

That was only the beginning. The thing had healing powers, along with a list of spells that gave us headache after headache. At least ten of us were knocked out, but our victory, though, difficult to attain, was certain. The Bright Shield Rune, the Black Sword Rune, the True Wind Rune, and the Soul Eater were more than enough to put and end to the beast.

"Luc, Tir, Jowy! Let's combine our runes and finish it off!" The eruption of power defied description. When it faded, there was no trace of our enemy. That didn't mean we were home free; the castle started to collapse.

"Hmm," Mazus mused. "My professional opinion as a mage is: let's run!"

"He's right!" I shouted. "Run!" A falling chunk of debris landed on my head, and everything went black.

***

"Julian? Julian, are you alright?"

I moaned and opened my eyes. "Nanami? We're safe?"

She smiled. "Everyone got out alive, thanks to the Blinking Mirror."

I sat up, wincing. "What do we do now? The war is over, right?"

Nanami took my hand. "Come on, everyone's waiting."

The war room was more crowded than it had ever been. "Lord Julian, welcome back," Shu said.

I braced myself. "What's the crowd for?"

"The war is over, but we still don't have true peace in this land," Teresa said. "Lord Julian, there is something we wish to ask of you."

My heart sank. "And that is?"

Jess stepped forward. "We want you to lead the new nation."

I froze. "What!?"

"There is no one else the people will truly accept," Ridley said. "You are loved both by the City-State and the remains of Highland. The mayors are unanimous."

"I…I can't…" I looked appealingly at Jowy and Nanami. "Help me out here."

Jowy shook his head, laughing. "Sorry, old friend, they're right. We need you."

"Nanami?"

She grinned in a manner that always made me nervous. "I'm with Jowy."

They're ganging up on me. I sighed. "Okay, I'll do it. If my sister and my best friend think I should, then who am I to argue."

Kiba knelt. "I will serve you, as I served Highland."

"Kiba speaks for all of us," Shu said. "The Dunan Republic will prosper under your leadership. Of that we can be certain. Thank you, Lord Julian."

I chuckled ruefully. "Nice name. I guess Dragon doesn't fit as a name for a country. I'll do my best."

"That is all we ask," Teresa said.

I glanced at Tir. "Will you be returning to Toran?"

He shook his head. "I'm going to stick around for a while."

"And I don't think my dad will want me back yet," Sheena muttered. "I guess you're stuck with me for a while longer."

I laughed. "We've caused enough destruction. It's time to start rebuilding." I smiled. "The sky's the limit."

***

Author's note: Sorry I took so long; I've been busy. I apologize for the abrupt ending, but I know very little about the final stages of the game, so I had to improvise. Besides, I had to wrap it up, since I'll be getting a separate internet account soon. Once that's done, I'll be able to register separately.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed. I hope you liked the story. D.S.