A/N: Merry Christmas, min'na-san! I meant to put this up a little closer to Christmas, but I can't wait any longer. I'm impatient. I know it starts off slow, but please give me a nice Christmas present by reading and reviewing!


La Ra Everlasting Frost
Chapter 1- The Lion, the Magician, and the Cage


Black leather creaking, he leaned against the cold, metal railing and gazed down in satisfaction at the smoldering ruin below him. Smoke still drifted up from the glowing embers of the city- of the entire country -stinging his nostrils. He breathed it in deeply. The fires had burned hot, for the smoke to come this high. Another would have coughed and turned away from the heat of the fires when they had raged in their full force. But he, he had walked among them like the god of death himself. The fire was the lifeblood that ran through his veins. As a rose reached to the sun for its life, he, the poison flower, drew upon the fire for his strength.

Thin, wiry hands tightened around the railing. Large eyes of a frightening crimson narrowed in anger. Those fires down there also marked a failure. The Emperor had finally given the command to begin this war. The Dragon Slayers had been put together specifically for this one task, just as he had been created and existed entirely for this one task. It had seemed so simple- to take, to seize, to kill whatever may attempt to stop him from reaching that goal. Capture the Dragon; that was what Strategos Folken had told Dilandau. Despite Folken's status as a former prince of that country- A prince! A prince for heaven's sake, and he claimed that he didn't know where the Escaflowne was kept! -Folken had told Dilandau that he did not know the location of the legendary guymelef. That in itself had not been a great disappointment, for it gave Dilandau an excuse to release the wonderful fire. It was not entirely illogical reasoning to believe that this Dragon could be smoked out as vermin were smoked out of thatched roofs and dwellings. And if it was, none of his underlings would dare tell him, and those few above him would only shake their heads and sigh, for it was of his usual nature to fail to act in accordance with logic.

Beside the voice in his mind that whispered to Dilandau of his failure, there constantly spoke another. Dilandau had always prided himself upon his ability to read others, but the passive manner with which the Strategos had delivered his statement of his lack of knowledge of the location of the Escaflowne had left Dilandau absolutely clueless as to whether Folken had been lying. Dilandau had a hard time believing that, as the heir to the Fanelian throne, Folken really knew nothing about where the White Guymelef was kept. If Dilandau's suspicions were correct, Folken's leftover sentiments toward his country had caused Dilandau this humiliating failure. True, it was not due to some failure on Dilandau's own part that the odd pillar of white light had snatched away the Escaflowne before the Dragon Slayers could. However, if Folken had some knowledge of the exact whereabouts of the Escaflowne that could have allowed Dilandau to capture the Dragon before that damned light had, he would receive hell from the Dragon Slayers' commander before the sun sank.

Of course, if Folken really did know nothing, then Dilandau would have a great deal of explaining to do once he had finished screaming at the Strategos.

He released the railing and smirked. Since what time did Dilandau Albatou ever need to explain himself? Folken, on the other hand, would have a great deal of explaining to do. He had told Dilandau that all of the possibilities had been taken care of, all of them, even those that seemed the least likely. Well, what the hell had that pillar of light been? Dilandau couldn't tell by the look on Folken's face, but he was damn certain that the Strategos had not predicted that!

Then again, maybe he had. Perhaps, somewhere in the back of that stony heart of his, Folken's loyalties still belonged to Fanelia. Perhaps Folken had summoned up that damn light to protect his little brother without revealing his sentiments to anyone.

Folken, with sentiments? Hah! That would be the day! If Dilandau were to suddenly sprout wings like one of the Dragon-people, Folken would only stare at him passively. Of course, Dilandau couldn't really point fingers when it came to stony hearts, either.

Yes, he could. Dilandau's heart was not made of stone. He was not a statue in some Asturian palace. His heart was made of fire, fire like the flames that had torn through Fanelia only a short time ago. Dilandau didn't understand how Folken could be so uncaring toward everything, when he himself threw his spirit into everything that he did. Why bother doing something if it won't be done with vigor and energy?

Where had he been going with all this?

What thought had he started at?

Beneath Dilandau's feet, the last of fifteen blue Alseides units floated back up into the floating fortress Vione, and the lower hangar doors closed with the soft hum of machinery.

Ah, yes. The root of the matter was that today the Dragon Slayers had failed to capture the Dragon, failed to fulfill their one purpose in life.

Dilandau Albatou did not fail. He settled for no less than perfection from himself, and he would not allow his own men to hold themselves to lesser standards. If they wanted to be lazy, they could return to the gray armor of the ordinary Zaibach soldiers.

Dilandau Albatou was furious. Dilandau Albatou poured his energy into every aspect of his life, and the force of his anger made the very god of death himself quake.

Pity to the mortal men who would soon feel that anger.

Dilandau turned away from the railing and strode back into the dark recesses of the Vione, the soles of his boots clicking loudly on the metal floor, the sound echoing through the halls. He folded his hands at the small of his back. His sword slapped against the side of his leg rhythmically as he walked. He passed from the fading light of the sun into the shadows and the pale, artificial light of the blue Zaibach torches that made everyone almost as pale as himself. The Dragon Slayers had all returned to the Vione and would be making their way quickly to his command room, if they knew what was good for them. Dilandau unlaced his fingers and cracked his knuckles. That sound had always irritated Folken, he recalled with delight. Oh, he was very much looking forward to this.

Dilandau reached out and pressed a button on the wall, his finger a dark streak over the softly glowing glass. It was hard to think of anything as soft in this place of hardness and sharp angles and lines, but there it was. The door opened smoothly with a quiet whirr, and he stepped through.

Most of the Dragon Slayers had already assembled, and when they spied their leader they all dropped to their knees, pressing their faces to the floor. Ah, so they already knew that they were in trouble. Good. Dilandau allowed himself a moment to savor their cowering, quaking forms, lined up in two neat rows, before he snapped: "stand up!"

"Yes sir!" came the reply in unison, and they leapt to their feet, standing board-straight, shoulders squared, in their two neat rows.

Just like puppets, Dilandau laughed to himself, or trained dogs. Trained attack dogs. And these nine weren't even the ones in the most trouble. Dilandau licked his lips in anticipation of the arrival of the other six, especially the doomed pair, and sat down in what he had heard the servants term his "throne," that chair in front of the lion statue.

He hated that statue. He thought it ridiculously gaudy. He had General Adelphos to curse for the lion; the general had always been one to enjoy pomp. At least Adelphos hadn't ordered a demon's face carved into the side of the Vione! Dilandau assumed that the statue had something to do with his surname. Apparently "Albatou" had been a lion-god that the people of Freid had used to worship or some other such nonsense, or so Dilandau had been told once when he was small. Dilandau had never thought of himself much as a lion. Were he a beast, he would be a serpent, or a bird of prey. Or perhaps a dragon, he thought, taking off his sword and shoving it in the mouth of that ludicrous lion statue, that would be ironic.

The Dragon Slayers remained standing there, terrified and stock-still, just like those stupid Asturian statues. Where were the other six, Dilandau wondered irritably. He hated it when anyone made him wait, but especially when it was one of his own underlings he hated it. He entertained himself by fixing all of the present soldiers with threatening glares. Oh, look at them sweat! The first one to flinch, he decided, gets kitchen duty for a month. His unnerving, scarlet gaze wandered over his men, studying them closely, searching for any remaining imperfections that he might beat out of them. Dilandau Albatou was perfect, therefore, the Dragon Slayers should be, too.

The door snapped open and the six remaining Dragon Slayers scurried in like black and blue wood mice, arms pumping at their sides, tassets flaring at their hips with their movement. Dilandau straightened with their entrance.

And if the others had cowered, these six virtually melted, dropping immediately to their knees in a third row in front of the other nine. Good. All of the victims were here, he could unleash his wrath upon the two that had most incurred it today. Now, how to begin?

"Let me get this straight," Dilandau spat out. All fifteen of them jerked. "You're telling me that you let those bumpkin samurai damage two of my Alseides units? Two?" It was not the number itself that had him so angry. He would have been equally furious were it one Alseides damaged or the whole fifteen, because he tended to be either as angry as possible or not angry at all. The problem was that there should not have been an Alseides damaged at all! Those Fanelian samurai had been little more than a bunch of simpleton woodcutters waving pitchforks and running around like a half-flooded ant colony! He didn't care if that White Guymelef was supposed to be legendary or magical or any of that folktale nonsense, and he didn't care that one of the warriors fighting against the Dragon Slayers had been Balgus Ganesha. Dilandau had never put any stock in "Legendary Swordsman of Gaea" status, either. Ganesha had died just as easily as any other mere mortal. No, his men had absolutely no excuse for the damage to their units.

Dilandau stood. It had always unnerved everyone around him when he made sudden movements. "Chesta! Dalet! Step forward!" he ordered. Those two had been the guilty soldiers in the damaged Alseides guymelefs. Dilandau had expected as much from Dalet, Dalet wasn't exactly the most skilled member of the Dragon Slayers. (Though his mere status as a Dragon Slayer proved that his fighting skills were far above that of an ordinary samurai.) Chesta, however, was one of the best guymelef pilots in Zaibach, the best in the Dragon Slayers apart from Dilandau himself, better with his Alseides than a sword. Alas, Chesta, the little blonde had performed miserably today by Dilandau's standards, and, judging by the mournful look on his youthful and very un-soldierlike face as he stepped forward, he knew it all too well. Dilandau struck both Dragon Slayers sharply with such force that he knocked them to the floor, a strike somewhere between a slap and a punch. He didn't want to actually hurt them, hurt as in breaking bones, wounded soldiers couldn't fight for him. He did want to leave a painful bruise. Dilandau had learned control from a very young age, how to control the exact amount of force to inflict specific degrees of injury and pain. The skill had proven very effective.

Chesta and Dalet remained kneeling on the floor, staring up at him. Dalet's face showed only a hint of resentment; he had earned more punishings than the rest of the Dragon Slayers and was used to them by now- that is, earned more than the others, apart from those dealt out simply because Dilandau enjoyed slapping the Dragon Slayers around on occasion for really no reason other than for his own pleasure and to reinforce his dominance. Little Chesta, on the other hand, looked like he might cry, those big, blue eyes wide and pitiful. Dilandau had considered attempting to remove that weakness and innocence from Chesta, but his face seemed to make people more receptive to and trusting of the unit and their brutal ways, especially their allies.

"I will not tolerate incompetents in my Dragon Slayers!" Dilandau snapped. "Do you understand me?"

All of them cowered anew. Chesta and Dalet looked like they wanted to burrow down into the floor to hide from him. "Yes sir!"

Dilandau turned, sitting back down in the chair in front of that ridiculous lion statue. Leaning against one armrest, he propped his feet up upon the other. Ah, large chairs were wonderful. "Get out of my sight," he ordered. "Now."

"Yes sir!" they chorused. They bowed in unison.

Dilandau smirked. He didn't believe that he had ever seen a room empty so quickly. It never ceased to amaze him how fast a teenage soldier, bone-weary from the day's battle, dressed in heavy armor, could move when fear of his leader prompted him. Dilandau chuckled to himself and reached for the half-empty bottle of red wine on the small, round table next to him.

"Dilandau."

Dilandau jerked in surprise, dropping the wine bottle. It shattered, scattering glittering, sharp shards of glass across the floor. The red wine splattered, like blood pouring forth from a fresh wound. The smell of alcohol filled the air. Dilandau looked up at the back of the room.

It was hard to surprise Dilandau Albatou, but this was the man who could pull it off every time, as he had performed so many other seemingly impossible feats.

"Folken, dammit!" Dilandau exclaimed, "why do you always sneak around like that? Have you been spending too much time around your pet Dopplegangers and whatever assorted other freaks you keep holed up in that laboratory of yours?"

"Hmph." The Strategos glided forth from the corner of the room in which he usually stood while waiting for Dilandau's attention, the shadows pulling back slowly from his pale face, his black cloak swishing softly on the metal floor. The broken glass crunched beneath his shoes. "That was a very interesting little display of discipline that you just put on."

"You think so? If you're surprised, you don't know me very well, Folken." Dilandau swung his legs over the armrest of the chair to sit up normally. "We've just begun a war today!" he proclaimed. "I can't have my men letting their opponents damage their Alseides units every time we go into battle! The next time they may not be facing a bunch of yokel swordsmen who barely know which end of the sword to hold!"

Dilandau's display of confidence did not faze Folken. "Fanelia is well renowned for her military prowess, Dilandau. I think you underestimate your men. Lesser soldiers would have lost their lives today."

"Pretty words from the man who sold out his country today, Strategos." Dilandau bit his index finger, the leather of his glove creaking- it tasted terrible, he noted, but then, it was not made for tasting -and watched Folken eagerly for a reaction to his words.

Folken only looked back at him passively, the way that he always looked at Dilandau. Damn, now that was control. It was no wonder that Emperor Dornkirk always used Folken as an ambassador. Didn't Folken ever have any emotions at all? Just one? Maybe he had slept in too long the day that they were handing them out, Dilandau thought wryly.

"Fanelia is my country no longer," Folken told him. "My loyalties belong to Zaibach now."

Dilandau rolled his eyes. "Sure, Strategos. Whatever you say."

Folken sighed. "I need to speak with you, Dilandau."

"Oh, you do?" Dilandau raised an eyebrow. "What would you call what we're doing now, then? It feels an awful lot like talking to me, but if I'm wrong, do please set me straight."

"You know exactly what I mean. Come with me."

Dilandau grinned. "Make me."

"This is not the time, Dilandau." Folken's voice held a slight warning tone to it.

"Oh, very well." Dilandau stood, sweeping aside the broken glass with his foot. The shattered pieces tinkled and clattered on the metal floor. He jerked his sword free from the lion statue and hooked it back onto this belt.

"You're an insult to artists everywhere," Folken told him.

"Pah! This ugly piece of crap?" Dilandau waved a hand back at the lion statue. "Art is useless, whether it's actually good or not. What purpose does it serve? What is its function?"

"To please the eye," Folken replied.

"This one doesn't even do that much. You see? It's useless."

Folken turned wordlessly, strode silently to the back of the room, and pressed his hand against the button on the wall to open the door. He used his real, organic hand, Dilandau noted, not his mechanical replacement.

Was the Strategos ashamed of his mechanical arm, Dilandau wondered? He only wore that cloak outside of his own quarters, specifically to conceal the metal limb. Folken had told him that he kept his arm out of sight because it unnerved and even disgusted others. Dilandau didn't buy into that. He had sword sparred against Folken before, late in the night when no one would come upon them unbidden, and when the Strategos did not hold the hilt in both hands he gripped it in his right. Why teach himself to be ambidextrous when he had a perfectly good right arm, an arm that was, in fact, superior to an organic arm in almost every way? In that regard, Dilandau didn't understand Folken at all. He knew that his own vividly red eyes startled and frightened almost every person that looked at them, but Dilandau wasn't about to start hiding them behind dark glasses!

Dilandau followed Folken through the door and down the cold, metal hallways. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"Be patient. You'll see," the Strategos answered.

"Why won't you tell me now? I hate it when people make me wait, Strategos!"

"And you have just proven to me again that you need to learn more patience."

"Meh."

Folken turned a corner, and they started up a long set of stairs. Well, this was interesting. The Dragon Slayers had nearly everything they needed on the lower floor. Dilandau rarely ventured to the topmost level of the Vione, where Folken had his own room and his laboratory.

"Are you certain that you've told me everything that you know about that strange pillar of light?" Dilandau questioned, trying to break the silence. That was the thing that he hated most about the Vione, that heavy, lonely silence that settled, smothering, over everything. It wasn't the peaceful silence that accompanied the nighttime chirping of the crickets in Fanelia, or the soft running of the water through the canals in Palas.

"I have," Folken answered. "What do you believe I could possibly gain by withholding information from you?"

"With you, how the hell can I ever know?" Dilandau shrugged. "It's just that I feel like I've seen that light somewhere before."

Folken glanced back at Dilandau with dark red eyes. "Really? Are you certain?"

"Yeah. I don't know, maybe it was just a dream or something."

"Even mere dreams can hold vast importance. Especially yours. You never dream."

Their footsteps echoed loud and metallic.

"I'll bet it has something to do with those damn Sorcerers," Dilandau added.

Folken stopped. "It would serve you well to watch your mouth in the future," he warned.

"Why?" Dilandau sneered. "Did I hurt your feelings because you used to be a Sorcerer?"

"I admit that I do not always agree with their ways, but they are still men that you do not want to cross."

They started climbing again.

"Why not? What can they do to me? They can't touch me!" Dilandau grinned haughtily. "Wouldn't that defeat my entire purpose of existing if they harmed me? Even more if they killed me? They keep telling me every damn time I see them that I was created for Zaibach, and I live for Zaibach." Dilandau fluttered his hands abstractly. "Why throw away their own hard work?"

The stairs ended, and they turned down another hallway. Dilandau had lost his sense of direction and location by now; these hallways all looked the same, and with the infrequency that he visited this level, he didn't have a clue of where he was.

"You know that they have other means of exerting control that do not involve harming you," Folken reminded him. Dilandau immediately sobered.

"They do."

"Very good." Folken stopped at a door that looked exactly the same as all the others. "I want you to keep that in mind." He pressed the button on the wall, and the door slid open.

Four green-and-black cloaked figures nodded their greetings.

"Shit," Dilandau swore. "You planned this all out, didn't you, Strategos? I never even saw their ship arrive! If you think I'm staying here, you're damn wrong." He turned to leave. The cold, hard fingers of Folken's mechanical hand closed around Dilandau's arm. "Don't make me hurt you!" Dilandau warned.

"Calm down, Dilandau," Folken told him. "They are only here to inspect you before this war begins full-out."

"Inspect me?" Dilandau tried to pull his arm away, but the mechanical hand proved the stronger and refused to open. Probably the reason that Folken had used it. He had nothing to hide among this company. "There's nothing wrong with me!" Dilandau insisted.

"I know that, but it's for your own good, Dilandau," Folken told him. "It won't take long." Dilandau paused. Folken lowered his voice almost to a whisper, so that the Sorcerers could not hear him. "I promise that I will not let them 'do anything' to you."

Dilandau sighed in resignation. "All right," he muttered, "let's get this damn thing over with."

"Thank you."

Dilandau walked around Folken, managing to shoulder him aside rudely in the process, and crossed into the small room. The door slid shut again behind the six figures.

"Strategos Folken." The Sorcerers gave Folken more of a greeting now, bowing slightly to him from the waist. Folken, in turn, nodded to each.

"Garufo. Foruma. Kuaru. Paruchi."

Dilandau grimaced. His dealings with these men had been restricted to at most one a year, but that was plenty enough for him to know that he hated them with the burning passion of a thousand of the fires that had ravaged Fanelia. They took every opportunity possible to remind Dilandau that they had created him for Zaibach, that he owed his very existence to them. That he was one of their little, white lab mice that they kept in a cold, dark cage of steel and stone. It was the first thing that they had ever said to him. Dilandau hated owing anything to anyone. Worse, they would never elaborate upon the meaning of "created him." Folken had explained to Dilandau that the Sorcerers had experimented with the creation of humans artificially, in a laboratory, as opposed to the womb; surely that was what they had meant. That would also explain why he had no memories of a mother; Dilandau didn't buy into the story. It didn't explain why his mind was a blank before the age of five. Ten years was not sufficient time to completely forget five.

He could never remember the details of his encounter with the Sorcerers when they came to check his health, only their arrival and their departure, and that more than bothered him. That, perhaps, was the reason that he hated these men the most.

And between each encounter, he had the memory of the hated faces to keep him company. Garufo, with his pointed beard that made him look as though he had stuck his chin in the icing upon a cake, and eyebrows that could have been two large and extremely furry caterpillars resting upon his face. Kuaru, the only one out of the four who could, perhaps, not be considered as ugly as a half-rotted piece of meat, a nondescript, blonde, middle-aged man. And then there was Foruma, whose long, thin, pale face brought to mind the image of what a retarded Doppleganger's transformation must look like. And finally, Paruchi. Dilandau often wondered if Paruchi actually polished that impressively bald head of his, or if it was naturally so shiny.

Folken nudged Dilandau. "Have you nothing to say to your visitors, Dilandau?"

"Oh, you know what I want to say to them, Strategos."

Garufo cleared his throat. "You did not alert our young commander to our arrival, Strategos Folken?"

"If I had, do you really believe that he would have come up here with me so willingly?" Folken answered.

Dilandau stepped back to watch this cold exchange with intense delight. As much as Folken tried to deny or hide it, Dilandau knew that he hated the Sorcerers at least as much as Dilandau himself. Dilandau could only assume that the Sorcerers envied Folken, not only because he was a literal genius, but also because they had wanted the position of Strategos and he, so much younger than they, had taken it. For Folken's part, Dilandau couldn't really see why he would hate the Sorcerers other than hating them back for all the hatred that they sent his way. Or, conflicting ideals, maybe. The Sorcerers' last visit had turned into a brawl over the issue of experimentation upon children. Dilandau had immensely enjoyed watching the normally calm and stoic Folken break Paruchi's nose and nearly decapitate Garufo with his sword in defense of the little urchins before the gray-armored Vione soldiers had rushed in and broken up the fight.

"Shall we begin, then?" Kuaru gestured, with a sweeping motion of his arm, to the table of black metal in the center of the room. Dilandau shuddered when he spied the tough, leather straps built into the table's surface. By their positioning, they were clearly meant to hold down a human Something about them seemed familiar, and sent an uncharacteristic pang of fear through Dilandau. He looked to Folken questioningly.

"It's all right. Just sit down," Folken told him. Dilandau reluctantly seated himself on the table.

Foruma held out his hand. "Your sword, Commander Albatou."

"There's no way in hell that I'm giving you my sword."

Foruma looked to Folken. Folken sighed and stepped forward. "Give it to me, Dilandau." The tone in his voice left no room for argument. Dilandau took off his sword and belt and handed them to Folken.

"And remember that I know how to kill a man with my bare hands," Dilandau warned, crimson eyes roving over the four Sorcerers.

"We will keep that in mind," Paruchi told him, clearly dismissing the threat. "Your armor jacket too, please."

"Strategos!" Dilandau looked to Folken.

"Do as they tell you and this will be over all the faster."

Keeping his eyes fixed on the Sorcerers, Dilandau slowly unfastened the hooks that held his jacket closed, pulled the garment off, and handed it to Folken. Folken neatly folded the jacket and draped it over his arm. "There. Is that all, or shall I strip naked?" Dilandau asked.

"No, that will do." Garufo pushed his cloak back over his shoulders to get the long garment out of his way. The man could not take a joke.

He held a syringe in one hand.

Dilandau pointed at the Sorcerer. "Oh, no! I've gone along with you up to now, but that thing does not come anywhere near me!"

"Is that really necessary, Garufo?" Folken questioned.

"Of course it is!" the Sorcerer snapped.

"Why?" Dilandau demanded.

"You prove my point exactly! It is necessary because it never fails, Folken, he resists us every step of the way until we put him to sleep!"

"Folken!" Dilandau eyed Garufo. "Why do we have to keep doing this? You're the Strategos! Can't they accept your judgment that I'm stable and healthy and I'm not going to go insane?"

"I'm afraid not, Dilandau. They know you and your conditions far better than I."

"You know me just as well as-" Dilandau broke off as the needle pierced his arm. Oh, shit! "I warned you not to get that thing near me!" Dilandau grabbed Garufo's hand and twisted it; Garufo yelped and lost his grip on the syringe. Dilandau yanked the needle out of his arm, and a well-placed sweep of Garufo's legs sent the Sorcerer tumbling. Dilandau hopped off the table and snatched his armor and sword from a mildly surprised Folken. He slapped the button on the wall and darted out of the door before it had even opened completely. Kuaru chased after him as Foruma helped Garufo to his feet.

"Folken! Help us catch him!" Garufo roared.

Folken half-smiled. "He's your white mouse. You get him back in his cage."

Dilandau glanced back over his shoulder. He knew that Kuaru was the only Sorcerer out of the four who was still young enough to hope to pursue him. And there the blonde bastard was, flying out the door and running after him, arms pumping, gritting his teeth. At least Folken hadn't joined in the hunt, Folken could give him a good run for his money. And Kuaru's steps fell heavy, making the floor ring far louder than Dilandau's light feet. Kuaru was not a soldier, he could not catch Dilandau.

Except that, Dilandau realized as he leapt down the stairs by threes and fours, Garufo had managed to get some of that sleep drug into his blood before Dilandau had yanked the needle out. The faster Dilandau ran, the faster it would spread through his body. Kuaru didn't have to catch Dilandau, he only needed to keep Dilandau relatively in sight until the albino finally passed out.

At the bottom of the steps Dilandau sprinted off in a new direction, his eyelids already growing heavy.

He couldn't let the Sorcerer get a hold on him again. He had no solid memories to back it up, but every instinct in his mind and body screamed at him to get away while he still could, and he listened.

By the time Dilandau reached the guymelef hangar his pace had slowed considerably, and he could hear Kuaru's footsteps ever closer behind him. It took every ounce of his strength to pull himself up the stairs. He tossed his armor jacket and sword into the Alseides and crawled in after them.

"Open hangar doors," Dilandau ordered with the last of his breath. The floor split open beneath him, trapping Kuaru on the bridge spanning the hangar.

Good. He'd made it. He would be out of the Vione before the Sorcerer reached his guymelef. Dilandau's eyes, his limbs...all felt so heavy...he closed his eyes and released his guymelef from the hangar.

The red Alseides fell.

Kuaru watched the unit descend. Shouldn't Dilandau be activating the flight mode now? Unless their drug had finally taken effect. Oh, no! Dilandau couldn't possibly be asleep in there!

But the red Alseides fell.

And then a white pillar of light shot down from the sky, and the red Alseides began to rise.

You see, the Mystic Moon had been very bright in the sky as of late.