. What The Hell Is Going On?

Chapter 8- Hiroko vs. Dragonov Part 2- The Assimilation Begins

Dragonov sniffed the air around him. "Hiroko Echo. Took you long enough." Hiroko stepped into the center of Battleon, eyeing Dragonov's back. Dragonov had discarded his chainmail and was topless. His leggings were ripped in half and no longer had a waistline. "Why the alterations to your attire?"Hiroko asked, hardly interested. "Dragonov grinned to himself.

"Better mobility Echo. That little light display you pulled earlier, along with slugging me from Battleon to Dragonstone let's me know that you're finally serious about beating me. And once I know that, I have to fight you with everything I've got. That's how I was made." Hiroko nodded. "And should I defeat you-" "Then I'll tell you everything I know."

Hiroko inhaled. His Golden Dragonslayer was one with him; he felt his heart beat echo in the metal. He summoned his Ice Dragon Blade in his right hand in a brilliant flash of light blue. He did not need to look at the weapon since he could feel it glowing brightly. He summoned his Dragonslayer Shield cross his left arm. He felt the dragonsbane react and heard the spikes reveal themselves.

Dragonov quirked an eyebrow. "Well, aren't we all worked up?" Dragonov inhaled through his large nostrils. Hiroko shivered slightly as Dragonov's sage green mana radiated off of his body and his scales brightened. He was now a grass green hue. Hiroko's irises narrowed. "Interesting," he spoke with bass in voice. "You get lighter in color as you get stronger." Hiroko exhaled, his own Golden Dragonslayer armor began to give off a glow.

"Are you ready, Echo?" "Let's do this, lizard." Dragonov sneered as his legs bent before leaping towards Hiroko. Hiroko mimicked Dragonov, raising his blade as he charged Dragonov and roared…


Just outside of Battleon, the evacuated citizens looked up into the night sky. There were flashes of green and gold along the starless night sky. "Fireworks?" A child asked. "Uh, yeah." Their parent replied. "We all came out to see the fireworks show." The child laughed. "Why are there only two colors?" The sky lit up; the gold flashes were submerged in red. "Never mind!" The child giggled. Warlic strode next to Aria who was holding Adrianna in her arms.

"Mistew Wawic," Adrianna began. "Yes?" Warlic responded to the child who was wide awake and watching the red light burn brighter. "Don't wowwy; Mistew Echo is going to win." Warlic smiled. "I think you're right." Adrianna looked at Warlic with a very annoyed expression on her face. "I wasn't asking a question." Warlic quirked his eyebrow looking from Adrianna to Aria.

"What can I say? When she's right she's right." Aria smiled at Warlic before looking up. "It's weird, isn't it?" Warlic looked at the sky himself; the red light had been exchanged for a cool blue shade of light that casted the image of a sword against the black canvas of a night sky. "That all depends on what 'it' is, Aria." Warlic smiled, having an idea of what she was going to say next.

"He has that kind of presence; just looking at him kind of makes you calm." Aria smiled as there was a large flash of gold that illuminated those who stood in front of the group and closest to Battleon. "Wow! That one was huge!" A teenage girl yelled. "It's kind of romantic, isn't it?" Her boyfriend spoke, putting his arm over her shoulders. Warlic sighed. "Weren't they told what's going on?"

Aria smiled at Warlic. "That's what I meant. Somehow, even though he's fighting what could be the most difficult battle of his life, he's giving off this feeling of peace that everyone can feel." Warlic nodded. "That's Hiroko for you."


Dragonov panted. He wiped some purple ooze from his snout and glared at Hiroko. "Well," he chuckled. "This is definitely an improvement." Dragonov's body began to glow red. Hiroko sighed. "This move again?" Hiroko's cocky demeanor dropped as he felt Dragonov's mana spike. The red light outlining Dragonov's green body turned crimson. "That's not a good sign…"

Dragonov grinned. "I picked this move up from a friend of yours…" Hiroko's eyes widened as he pumped energy into his Dragonslayer Armor. "You don't mean…" Dragonov nodded. "Can't we talk about this?" Hiroko suggested as the tips of his fingers on his right hand began to glow red. "Hell no," Dragonov chuckled as flames began to crackle in his mouth. "Really?" Hiroko stalled as a flicker of flames gathered on his finger tips. "I know you love me!"

"YOU PISS ME OFF!" Dragonov howled as he shot forth a crimson sea of blaze. Hiroko's entire hand burst into orange flames. Using his Dragonslayer energy, he forced the flame to envelope his armor and dove into Dragonov's flames…Dragonov stared at Hiroko blankly. '(Is he going to die intentionally, just to be brought back again? If that's the case, I'll just make sure that he has no body to get back to!)' Dragonov stepped forward, intent on burning Hiroko away to nothing.

"Face it, Echo!" Dragonov managed as he walked closer to his target. "There is no where to run!" Dragonov gloated. "I have seen through your pitiful attempt to die, only to be brought back at full strength! I will destroy your body-" Dragonov felt Hiroko's Dragonslayer energy. '(Dragon's Fire? Why would he use that technique?)' Dragonov's eye widened.

Through his crimson flames, a single hand, coated in orange flames, reached out towards his mouth. '(Well I'll be damned…)' Hiroko gripped Dragonov's snout, forcing his mouth closed with a single hand. "You pathetic," Hiroko lifted his Ice Dragon Blade; the cool blue glow reflected his rage. "Worthless iguana! You stole that move from the Guardian Dragon!" Hiroko swung his blade down, hitting Dragonov atop the head with his scabbard.

"I will not tolerate plagiarism!" Hiroko kneed Dragonov in the stomach. Dragonov felt the crimson flames burning the inside of his mouth and the orange Element X flames burning the outside of his snout. Hiroko repeatedly struck the top of Dragonov's head. Dragonov placed his claws on Hiroko's armor. "Get off- agh!" Dragonov pulled his hands back. '(What the hell…how did that burn me? Damned Element X!)' Dragonov suddenly fell backward, catching Hiroko off guard.

Hiroko fell forward and felt Dragonov's feet on his torso. '(A monkey throw!)' Hiroko released Dragonov's mouth. "A fatal mistake!" Dragonov pushed Hiroko upward with his feet instead of backwards as Hiroko expected. He then opened his snout, unleashing the crimson sea of flames that quickly submerged Hiroko. Dragonov laughed as the blaze shot Hiroko higher into the sky.

"That was clever Echo; coating yourself in flames that your armor is accustomed to in order to decrease the heat of my attack! But you fell for my-" Dragonov gagged, finding something piercing and smoldering the back of his throat. His sage green eyes froze once they viewed the obstruction. Hiroko, who was able to block Dragonov's flames just in time, laughed as he fell. "How do you like the taste of my Ice Dragon blade?"

Now it was Hiroko's turn to gloat, and gloat he did.

"What's the matter, Dragonov?" Hiroko called out as he began to fall towards Dragonov. "Can't spit flames with a sword down your throat?" Hiroko pulled off a seem-less front flip as he free fell. "Allow me to help you with that!" Hiroko stuck out his foot; he landed atop the scabbard of his sword, pushing it further trough the back of Dragonov's throat and deeper into his protruding mouth.

Dragonov's eyes grew blood shot as Hiroko's body weight came crashing down on him. Hiroko grinned and leaned over as his sword sank into Dragonov. "You okay? You're looking a little green around the scales!" Hiroko laughed. "No response? I guess that this marks the end of your little saga." Hiroko felt Dragonov's mana steadily rise. "What in the name of Galanoth? You're alive?"

Dragonov's hands rose up. He gripped the hilt of the Ice dragon Blade. Hiroko turned up his nose at the sage green fumes rising from his weapon. Dragonov, with very visible pain and effort, slowly began to pull the blade from his mouth. Hiroko wobbled as the blade of his sword became visible. Hiroko leaped off of his weapon, executing a rather shaky back flip as Dragonov extracted the last of the Ice Dragon Blade from his mouth.

Hiroko gasped; he could see straight through the hole in the back of Dragonov's head. Purple ooze dripped from his jaw and the back of his head, gathering in small pools on the ground and his smoldering hand which still gripped the Ice Dragon Blade. "You…" Hiroko began. "Have no, brain?" Dragonov shook what was left of his head.

"I have no need for organs." His voice was raspy as excess air blew through the opening in his head. "They're only a hindrance, unless cooked to my liking." Hiroko had a queasy look on his face. "You eat organs?" Hiroko put a hand to his stomach. "Yes," Dragonov spoke, his voice sounding slightly less raspy. "I ate hundreds while I was still a part of you." Hiroko doubled over, gripping his belly. "That's right! You have a weakness for… internal matters." Dragonov laughed; the sound becoming less raspy by the second.

Hiroko exhaled, calming himself down and stood. "Wait, you have no heart, no lungs and no brain?" Dragonov, in an out of character motion, rolled his eyes. "Did we not just go over this?" His voice almost sounded normal. Hiroko noticed that the hole he had created was almost fully closed. '(He's been healing this whole time? Just what the hell is he made of?)' Hiroko chuckled loud enough for Dragonov to hear. "What's so funny Echo?"

"I knew you were a heartless hunk of scales," Hiroko trotted towards Dragonov with purpose in his step. "The no lung thing surprises me," Hiroko picked up his speed, moving into a jog. "But I could tell from you getting back up and still wanting to fight me," Hiroko broke into a full speed run. "That you have no brain!" Hiroko jumped, turning his whole body and delivered a round house kick to Dragonov's near fully healed head.

Hiroko felt a tremor run through his body, causing him to fall flat on his back. Hiroko rolled, avoiding Dragonov's heel which left a small dent in the grassy earth in the center of Battleon. Hiroko stood, taking a second to eye the dent. '(Holy…that could have been my head!)' He leaned back, avoiding a swipe from his own sword. "Doesn't that burn?" Hiroko asked, blocking his Ice dragon Blade with his Dragonslayer Shield. Dragonov's hand was black by now; charred beyond recognition. Dragonov grinned sadistically as the hole fully closed.

"Killing you with your own blade," Dragonov's voice was normal, albeit a bit crazed. "Is well worth the pain!" Hiroko jumped back as Dragonov spewed out more red flames. "Isn't that a bit much?" Hiroko asked as he rolled away from more dragon fire. Hiroko placed his hands on the ground as they glowed blue, summoning a torrent of water with his mana. The flames collided with the water, making a hot and dense steam that Hiroko could not see through.

Hiroko tried to sense Dragonov's mana, but could not find any trace of it. "So now you're hiding from me? What happened to killing me Dragonov?" Hiroko goaded in an attempt to draw Dragonov out. He picked up the smell of burning dragon scales behind him, and turned just in time to block his own sword once more. "There you are!" Hiroko focused his mana into his free right hand. "Blue Lightning!" Hiroko shot the energy spell in front of him. He watched as it broke through the steam and hit a house in the distance.

Hiroko picked up the smell yet again and turned around, quickly raising his shield to stop an attack that did not come. "Huh?" Hiroko heard something crackling as if it were on fire. There was a red glow coming from a short distance away from his. Hiroko made his way cautiously through the steam and found the source of the light. Sage green dragon skin lie on the ground; it was on fire, emitting a black fume of smoke that Hiroko quickly recognized.

"That bastard shed his skin and burned it to throw off my smell since I can't see!" Hiroko cast a small water spell to douse the flames. "If that don't beat it all…" He muttered unaware of the sage green mass behind him. Hiroko groaned and fell to his knees; Dragonov had bludgeoned him in the back of the head with his heavy leathery tail. "Boo." Dragonov chuckled as he raised Hiroko's Ice Dragon Blade with the little bit of a hand he had left on his wrist.

Hiroko, upset more by the joke than the sneak attack fell forward as he turned. As his back hit the ground, he lifted his feet, effectively catching his sword between his armored boots. That caught Dragonov (and admittedly Hiroko) off guard, giving Hiroko the advantage. He placed his left hand over his right wrist as his right hand picked up a white-ish blue smoke trial. '(Ice magic?)' Dragonov realized.

"Ice Nine!"Hiroko's voice rang out. '(Ice Nine? He didn't know that spell when I was still attached to him!)' Dragonov pulled back, attempting to retreat into the little steam that remained. However, he found that Hiroko's feet had a much stronger grip than anticipated. Dragonov could not move as long as he held the Ice Dragon Blade that was held securely by Hiroko's feet.

Dragonov let go of the blade and moved back once more. '(What the hell? Why can't I move?)' Dragonov looked down at his hand, or where it used to be. The Element X of the Ice Dragon Blade was more potent than expected. In a matter of minutes, it had completely dissolved Dragonov's hand and was now lodged into his wrist, preventing him from moving away from Hiroko.

Dragonov growled, not only in anger from being trapped, or in slight terror of the on coming high level ice spell, but from the stinging of the Element X that now traveled up his arm to his chest. "Damn it!" He roared as a large ice crystal, about half the size of his body, neared him. Dragonov counted his losses, and teleported.

Hiroko watched in shock as Dragonov vanished in a blur of green. His nine ice crystals found no target, and dispersed into little individual drizzles. Hiroko felt nothing between his feet. He stood quickly, on his guard for an attack from anywhere. '(He was able to teleport out of my grasp…)' Hiroko's eyes scanned around him. He flared his nostrils, hoping to catch a whiff of Dragonov's stump of a hand. '(Had that been anyone else, they would have lost their whole arm.)'

Hiroko gritted his teeth. '(There is no, doubt about it; Dragonov is the toughest enemy I've ever faced.)' Hiroko spun around quickly as a precautionary measure. Dragonov was still no where to be seen. The settling darkness of the night was against him as well; his bright gold armor could be easily seen, while Dragonov's dark scales could easily blend into the night.

'(Blend into the night…)' Hiroko thought slyly. Suddenly, he sensed Dragonslayer energy behind him. His own Dragonslayer energy at that. Hiroko sidestepped and from the corner of his eye, saw his cool blue sword hit the round. Hiroko swung his body weight, lifting his leg and catching Dragonov with a strong back snap kick to the chest. Dragonov growled as he fell onto his butt.

Hiroko brought down his Dragonslayer shield. In the presence of Dragonov, its ability was triggered. The gray shield sprouted spikes from the side and its Dragonslayer emblem became visible. Hiroko drove a spike into Dragonov's legs, pinning his to the ground. Dragonov howled, opening his snout and shooting forth flames. Hiroko shot forth his own orange Element X flames from his hand.

The two collided, making both Hiroko and Dragonov sweat. "DAMN YOU!" Hiroko roared, pumping mana into his Dragonslayer technique. He felt a painful twinge in his right arm.

"Dragonslayers don't use mana!" Galanoth struck Hiroko in the back of his head. "I know Hikiro taught you how to use some magic, but now you are a Dragonslayer!' Hiroko rubbed his head. "C'mon! I wasn't even wearing my helmet!" Thirteen year old Hiroko complained. "And why is that, Hiroko? You're on the training grounds during a training session!" Hiroko turned, holding a pickle in his hand. "It's hard for me to eat through the helmet…"

Galanoth's anger melted at the sight of Hiroko happily munching on the snack. Galanoth sighed. "As I was saying…" He snatched the pickle away from Hiroko. Hiroko quickly complained and jumped after the pickle Galanoth held high in the air. "Dragonslayer energy is different from mana in many ways. Should a Dragonslayer use magic without the proper training, he could end up dying."

Hiroko, paying little attention to Galanoth's words grabbed Galanoth's arm. "Give that back you jerk!" Galanoth chuckled and dropped the remainder into his own mouth. "Sweet kosher. Nice choice." Hiroko roared as tears slightly stung his eyes. "You didn't!" Hiroko strapped his gray helmet onto his face. "Mana flows along the blood stream," Galanoth crunched happily as he spoke.

"And Dragonslayer energy flows against it. To use the both at the same would be asking for death." Hiroko, enraged, jumped into the air, "I'll kill you!" He swung his long sword at Galanoth. Galanoth chuckled. "Yes Hiroko, use your anger! Use the power of pickles!" Galanoth blocked Hiroko's sword with his own…

Hiroko gritted his teeth against the pain in his right arm. '(C'mon…hold out for a bit more…)' Hiroko reached his left arm towards his sword. His fingers touched it, sending his right arm deeper into the jaws of pain. '(Damn it Hiroko!)' He scolded himself. '(Don't give in to the pain!)' His right arm felt as though each nerve was being stabbed with thousands of needles as his left arm drew closer to the Ice Dragon Blade. '(The mana in the right and the energy in the left…)'

Hiroko felt both of his arms being to falter.'(Either I die by the separate energies or I die by this bastards flame…)' it was then Hiroko noticed the difference in the level of pain in his arms. '(My right arm, the arm I'm channeling mana into hurts more than the left with only Dragonslayer energy… is that because I'm wearing my Dragonslayer armor?)'

Dragonov felt Hiroko's Dragonslayer energy level spike. He also felt Hiroko's mana level rise drastically. '(He's using two energies that conflict with one another! Doesn't he know that can kill him?)' Dragonov found that his flames began to come towards him. '(What in the name of Akriloth?)' He sensed Hiroko's Dragonslayer energy repulsing his Dragon's Fire even more than before.

Dragonov roared in absolute anguish as waves of his own flame ensnared him. The Element X's effect in the Ice Dragon Blade was sky rocketed now that the Dragonslayer shield was impaling his legs. To make matters worse, Hiroko's Dragonslayer energy itself carried trace amounts of Element X, furthering the damage to his scales. Dragonov opened his mouth; not to spit fire but to bellow out in pain. He stopped once his eyes fell upon Hiroko.

Hiroko, wearing his white tank top and baggy sweat pants more, held his left hand along his right wrist. "Hey reptile," He grinned. "You look a little charred over there." Indeed Dragonov did; his sage green scales were blackened, his sump of a hand was now a stump of an arm and his legs were damaged beyond recognition. Hiroko's right hand let off a white-ish blue trail of smoke.

"Let me help you chill; Ice Nine!" "Lame!" Dragonov roared as his body was rocketed by nine boulders of ice. Pebbles, grass and a whole lot of dust was kicked up into the air where Dragonov once stood. Hiroko panted tiredly. "Most. Annoying. Final. Boss. Ever." He held his right hand forward, summoning his Ice Dragon Blade. It flew hilt first to his hand. He did the same with his Dragonslayer shield; it wrapped around his left arm.

Hiroko noticed that the spikes of his Dragonslayer shield were still sticking out. "What? I don't have dragons blood anymore." Hiroko spoke to his shield. "Are you reacting to Dragonov's remains?" There was a silence. "What do you mean 'he isn't remains'?" Hiroko stared at the dust cloud as it dissipated. There lay Dragonov's sage green body, motionless. Hiroko glanced at his shield once more.

"Shouldn't you only react to living dragons?" Hiroko suddenly felt a surge of mana behind him. He turned raising his shield to block "Dragonov?" Hiroko pushed Dragonov off of him and jumped back in order to put distance between them. "How the hell are you still alive?" Dragonov chuckled. "I actually wouldn't have survived if you reminded me of one very simple fact, Echo."

Hiroko stood near what he had assumed what was Dragonov's corpse. He looked at what remained of it studying it closely. "You reminded me that even though I was made from the mana of my creator and yourself, I was still made into the image of a dragon. And dragons are indeed reptiles, albeit a bit more ferocious. And a little common trait between all reptiles is that-"

Hiroko cut Dragonov off, raising his blade at the dragon. "You bastard! You shed your skin right before I attacked you!" Dragonov laughed. Hiroko then looked at Dragonov before covering his eyes. "Ah, geez, you're naked!" Dragonov looked down. "Echo, I have no, need for organs. That includes both internal and external." Hiroko still covered his eyes. "You're just Freiza naked!"

"Isn't that plagiarism?" "No, it's a reference. We all know that the copyrights don't belong to- Hey! Don't sidetrack me with disclaimers!" Hiroko charged Dragonov. Dragonov flapped his wings and took off into the sky. Hiroko looked up before throwing his shield over his face. "Aw! C'mon! I know there's nothing to see but that just makes it even more awkward! Hey, wait a second! Did you get your hand back?" Dragonov laughed evilly.

"Yes, Echo, I have fully recovered from our previous encounter." Hiroko grumbled to himself. "Final boss fight logic using son of my mana…" Hiroko went into his pocket and retrieved a peach colored vial. He uncorked it and quickly drank it. "Yeah!" He cheered out as he felt his health and mana being fully replenished. Dragonov felt Hiroko's vitals increase. "And you call me the cheater?"

Hiroko scoffed. "I'm just leveling the playing field!' Hiroko jumped up after Dragonov. Hiroko only managed to get a foot off of the ground. Dragonov, who was several tens of feet closer to the night sky then Hiroko, laughed. "Did you really expect to get far while you're not even wearing armor?" Hiroko cursed under his breath. '(He's right, the armor does enhance my abilities…)' Hiroko's eyes lit up. '(Enhance means that I have my own abilities to work with!)'

Hiroko looked up at Dragonov, ignoring the fact that he was 'nude'."Hey Dragonov," Hiroko called, casting away his sword and shield with two separate flashes of cool blue and gray. "What is it this time?" "What would you say to your creator if he tells you to jump?" What does that have to do with anything?" "Just answer the damn question!" Dragonov groaned. "How high must I jump?"

Dragonov was taken aback by Hiroko's growing image approaching him as Dragonov continued flapping his wings to maintain altitude. Dragonov sighed in shame. "I walked right into that one…" "Pretty damn high!" Hiroko laughed as he struck Dragonov with his fist. Dragonov growled; "The only thing weaker than that punch was your joke!" Hiroko grinned. "Who said that was supposed to hurt you?" Hiroko stabbed Dragonov's wing with a Fire Throwing Knife.

"That's supposed to hurt you!' Hiroko stabbed a second knife into his wing before angling himself behind Dragonov in order to stab his other wing. Dragonov swung his arm backwards in an attempt to hit Hiroko. Hiroko laughed before piercing Dragonov's shoulder with a knife, forcing him to lower his arm. "Now, in the human anatomy…" Hiroko muttered to himself as he worked another knife into Dragonov's back. "You back stabber!' Dragonov spat, beginning to twist rapidly in mid air. "Organ eater!" Hiroko replied, clinging for dear life.

Hiroko narrowly dodged flames from Dragonov's mouth. "Crap, forgot you could still-" Hiroko began to feel extremely dizzy. Hiroko felt his stomach lurch. "Oh no…" Dragonov heard the weakness in Hiroko's voice and smirked evilly. "What's the matter Echo? Feeling nauseous from a little turbulence?" Hiroko coughed a bit. "Hahahahaha! If this is too much for you, Echo, then allow me to help you down!" Dragonov managed to reach behind himself and grab Hiroko by his shirt. Dragonov held Hiroko in front of him before laughing darkly.

This is going to be one satisfying splat." Dragonov lifted Hiroko over his head. "Oh no!" Hiroko coughed and covered his mouth. Dragonov looked up, just as Hiroko could no longer control his nauseous stomach. Dragonov's eyes widened. "Echo, you had better not-"

The crowd of villagers on the outside of Battleon had grown restless. "Where are the fireworks?" "When can we go home?" "What the hell is going on?" Warlic glanced around, noticing that many were starting to look at him with curious and angry stares. '(Hiroko,)' He thought agitated. '(Will you hurry up and give me some type of sign regarding your progress with Dragonov?)'

There was a single bellowing, ear shattering roar accompanied by a massive flood of crimson light along the sky. Many children began to cry at the sudden loud noise. '(Did Hiroko defeat Dragonov?)' Warlic wondered. He sensed Hiroko's mana signature approaching the outskirts of Battleon at an extremely fast rate. '(Is he retreating?)' Warlic felt Dragonov's mana level rise. Warlic looked up as he thought he heard something nearing the crowd. "Hiroko?" He pondered aloud.

"!" Hiroko yelled as he hit the ground. His body caused a crater that quickly formed into a trench as he slid along the earth. Warlic summoned a magical barrier over the townsfolk, shielding them from the kicked up debris. He walked out of said barrier as the dust plume that was Hiroko continued to travel further beyond Battleon. "Now what did he do to deserve that?" Warlic wondered.

Warlic waved his hand, teleporting himself as close to the second crack in the earth Hiroko's body made at the end of the trench. Warlic sighed, focusing his mana as he lifted the dislodged earth. He then set the rocks and soil ablaze, melting it into magma that flowed evenly into the damage Hiroko caused. Once it evened, Warlic conjured water to quickly cool the magma, forming a new paved road into Battleon. "I always knew he'd leave a mark on this town somehow."

"Berry bunny!" Hiroko complained as he stood swiftly, his mouth chock full of dirt and debris. He spat the soil from his mouth and coughed. "Just what did you do to Dragonov to get…?" Warlic trailed off as he caught a whiff of Hiroko's breath. Hiroko was walking past Warlic, muttering about Dragonov. "Hiroko," Warlic began. "Why does your breath smell like bile?"

Hiroko exhaled into his hand then gagged. "Probably because I barfed on-" "ECHO!" Dragonov flew past the citizens in Warlic's barrier, flames cracking in his mouth. "Right on time." Hiroko smiled as he got on his hands and knees. "Stone pillar!" just as Dragonov neared Hiroko, a gigantic pillar of stone smacked Dragonov in the jaw, causing him to back flip in mid air.

Hiroko took advantage of this; he jumped towards Dragonov, stepping off of his summoned pillar in order to get above the dragon. Hiroko's hand glowed red as a Fire Throwing Knife formed in his palm. Hiroko stabbed this one directly into Dragonov's spine, triggering all five Fire Throwing Knives to glow a bright red. "Really? You're using fire to battle a dragon?" Dragonov chuckled as he went to flap his wings. "What? Why can't I move my wings?" Hiroko chuckled. "You're a dragon; your nervous system reacts in the same way as dragons. I'm a level ten Dragonslayer trained directly by Galanoth. I know dragon anatomy better than human anatomy."

"Quit beating around the bush Echo, and explain what you did to me!" Dragonov went to spew fire, but found that he could not. "What?" "Can't spit fire? Can't spread your wings? That's because I know how to cripple dragon kind. I knew what to hit, but since you mainly follow human anatomy, it took me a bit longer than expected." Hiroko smiled at Dragonov. "But I think it turned out pretty-" Hiroko felt Dragonov's mana levels grow.

"I totally forgot that you could cast spells…" Hiroko sighed as a strong gale lifted him from the ground, throwing him towards Warlic. "Oh Hiroko..." Warlic said as Hiroko landed head first next to him. "Yeck?" Hiroko groaned as he spat more dirt from his mouth. "Don't forget that Dragonov can use magic." Warlic smiled. Hiroko grumbled something foul before turning his attention to Warlic.

"Warlic, give me your mana potions." Warlic eyed Hiroko suspiciously. "Haven't you taken eno-" "I'm in the middle of a fight here!" Hiroko noticed Dragonov pulling a Fire Throwing Knife from his shoulder. He placed his hand on the outside of his right leg and muttered the incantation, summoning several more into his hand. He chucked on at Dragonov just as the dragon removed one.

The new knife sank into the same wound the other had left and burned a brighter shade of red. Dragonov snarled as he shot a death glare at Hiroko. "Warlic…" Hiroko began, "Hiroko, you've already taken several potions. Take any more, and they will do more harm than good!" Warlic cut him off. "Than leave if you're not going to be any help!" Hiroko complained before taking off towards Dragonov. "Hiroko, wait, you're injuries!" Warlic outstretched his glowing hand.

Hiroko was already out of range of Warlic's healing spell. "Hiroko…" He muttered. "You must feel the extent of your injuries by now…" Hiroko's vision began to blur. '(Even with those potions from earlier, my body is sill beginning to feel numb…)' Hiroko felt his legs wobble as he ran '(I can't stop now… Dragonov is still alive…)' Hiroko examined himself. His clothing was torn and tattered and his skin was far from unscathed.

Hiroko blinked, clearing his head of the foggy pain. '(Those small scratches should have vanished already… Is something effecting my Echo blood, stopping it from healing me?)' Hiroko glared at Dragonov who still struggled with the Fire Throwing Knives suck in his body. Hiroko focused on his mana, summoning some more Fire Throwing knives. He groaned, feeling that he was running on empty.

'(Geez… even summoning the knives she gave me is starting to take a toll on me, and they require little mana. If I don't finish this now…)' Hiroko exhaled as he threw them; half of them missed their mark while those that didn't missed Dragonov's vitals. "Are you done playing with these ridiculous toys, Echo?" Dragonov roared; clearly he was upset at being treated as a pin cushion.

Hiroko noticed that a Fire Throwing Knife had found its way into Dragonov's collarbone. Perhaps, if Hiroko beheaded Dragonov, this battle would end. Dragonov smelled Hiroko nearing him. Dragonov turned, extending his right arm, catching an off guard Hiroko with a vicious clothesline. Hiroko gagged and fell unconscious to the ground. Dragonov chuckled. "Too bad, Echo,"

Dragonov positioned himself over Hiroko and placed his clawed foot on Hiroko's chest. "This looks like the end for-" A massive gust of wind blew Dragonov off balance. Dragonov snarled as he picked up the scent of his new enemy. "Cyrus, the Dracomancer…" Cyrus landed, his mighty blue wings shrinking as the spell he had casted on them wore off.

"That's LORD Cyrus to you, imitation." Cyrus advanced a few steps towards Hiroko's body. "How the mighty have fallen…" Cyrus stepped over Hiroko's body as though it smelled foul. Dragonov noticed the detested look on Cyrus' face. "You turn up you nose to your own comrade?" Dragonov chuckled evilly. "And the Echo fights to protect his 'allies'. What a waste of potential…" He laughed louder. "Now I can see why my creator wants Hiroko to wake up." Cyrus' ears perked up at that moment.

"Hiroko, explain that to me again…" Galanoth had asked Hiroko as he lay bandaged on Warlic's extra cot after the ordeal in Dragonstone. "For the last time, Galanoth," Hiroko sighed wearily. "I kept hearing a voice in my head saying 'wake up, wake up'… and when I did, you and Warlic were there and Cyrus and Robina were…" Cyrus, who lay across the room, had heard every word of Hiroko's explanation each time Galanoth had asked him to repeat it. Cyrus decided then and there to do some investigating of his own regarding the dragons blood mana poison, the 'Sage Green Dragon' case and the Echo bloodline.

"So, the same person that made Hiroko go berserk in Dragonstone is the same individual who created you?" Dragonov nodded. "My creator has powers that feeble minded beings such as yourself cannot comprehend." Cyrus would not allow himself to be moved to anger by words; much less from an abomination such as Dragonov. Cyrus smiled in a pompous manner.

"What are you smiling about?" Dragonov asked Cyrus, becoming slightly annoyed. "I just can't help but laugh at your very existence… what was it Dragonov?" Cyrus laughed whole heartedly. "That sounds like a name for some sort of saga specific, plot device villain… oh, wait." Cyrus' lips formed a cruel smile. "Ignore what I said; I think the name Dragonov suits you perfectly."

Dragonov snarled as his pent up rage began to boil over. "What did you just say to me?" Dragonov growled as sage green mana began to outline his body. "I just paid you a compliment." Spoke Cyrus as he distanced himself from Hiroko's body, angling himself to the right of Dragonov. "What? Would you like more praise?" Cyrus placed a finger on his chin and feigned a smile.

"You have an unusual and unique scale pattern, one I have never seen on a natural born dragon. I wonder why that could be…"Cyrus moved his finger from his chin, and his feet from the ground; Cyrus flapped his wings and flew into the air just as ground expanded beneath him. From the small crack, a stone pillar rose, chasing him into the sky. '(He does indeed have power similar to the Echo's)' Cyrus thought. '(That confirms that budding from the Echo's mana was indeed a pivotal part in his creation. But why would someone target the Echo specifically?)'

Cyrus flapped his wings harder as he performed a swift back flip and flew towards Dragonov. Dragonov's mouth opened as flames crackled from them. Cyrus pulled back so that his wings folded over him. Dragonov's flames engulfed Cyrus. '(And whoever created this abomination knew what they were doing! Not only is his flame strong, but it almost feels like genuine dragons fire.)'

Cyrus allowed his own Dracomancer power to rise. Cyrus roared as he spread his wings, dispelling Dragonov's flames with his wind magic. Cyrus' face protruded; his teeth grew into fangs and his claws grew long and sharp. Cyrus opened his mouth and unleashed his own torrent of flames. Dragonov leaped back, flapping his wings to cover more ground.

"So, the Legendary Lord Cyrus comes to the Echo's aid?" Cyrus scoffed. "I came to destroy an abomination to Dragon kind, and find the one truly responsible for the senseless murder of dragons!" Cyrus flapped his own wings as he charged towards Dragonov. "And what, bring them to justice?" Dragonov laughed as his mouth began to crackle with flames. "No," Cyrus vanished from in front of Dragonov. "I will bring them death!"

Cyrus, now behind Dragonov, opened his own draconic snout, spewing forth purple tinted flames that surrounded Dragonov. '(Poisonous fire? How…)' Dragonov coughed and sputtered in the flames. '(I must escape!)' Dragonov took a few steps away from Cyrus until he felt a burning hot sensation in his body. '(What the hell?)' He looked down at his cloth less body; many of the wounds Hiroko had inflicted upon him with the Fire Throwing Knives remained open.

'(But, wasn't the Echo drained of almost all of his mana?)' Dragonov felt the poison and still lingering flames of the Fire Throwing Knives beginning to take their toll on him. '(This is impossible! If Hiroko can't even cast anymore spells how can his mana continue to fuel the flames of those accursed Fire Throwing Knives?)' Dragonov suddenly remembered his encounter with the five elite Dragonslayers that occurred quite sometime ago and his singed hand at the time.

The realization hurt him almost as much as his recent injuries: '(The flames burn on, not because of this dammed fool Cyrus or because of Hiroko's mana, but due to the enchanter's mana! But how long ago did they enchant the knives? And where could they have found the technique to enchant the flames to differentiate Hiroko from his foes?)' Dragonov, now overcome by his injuries howled in pain as the poison in the flames brought him to his knees.

'(What kind of allies does the Echo have? How can they be capable of such sorcery?)' Cyrus noticed the smoldering sage green lump within his flames fall forward. He decreased his flames to a small ember before stopping completely. "Yes, abomination," Cyrus spoke in a cocky manner. "Bow before the power of a Dracomancer." Dragonov's eyes rolled before they fell upon Cyrus.

"Don't think your power alone did this to me. The Echo's assault was much more damaging than your tie-dye flame." Cyrus' eyebrow twitched. "Did you just call my fire 'tie dye'?" Cyrus' nostrils flared. "What?" Dragonov asked laughing. "Everyone enjoys a little variety. Cyrus' clawed hand clenched tightly. "Not only that…" In a split second, Cyrus' power rose exponentially.

Dragonov felt the spike in his power and quickly lost confidence. "But, did you say that I was weaker than the Echo?" Cyrus bellowed, barely maintaining to keep his anger in check. Dragonov sensed Cyrus' calm demeanor sway. "I did not say that you were weaker than the Echo. I said that you are weaker than the Echo." Dragonov managed a raspy laugh before sputtering up purple blood.

Dragonov's comment drove Cyrus beyond his tolerance limit. "ABOMINATION!" Cyrus roared as his blue skin glowed brightly. Dragonov was pushed backwards by a sudden gust of wind emanating off of Cyrus. Dragonov's weary sage green body was easily lifted from the ground and tossed further from Battleon. Some distance behind Cyrus, Hiroko's unconscious body was also uplifted from the ground and tossed in the same direction as Dragonov.

"I will end you here and now!" Cyrus flew after the now distant Dragonov, baring his fangs in an expression of rage. Dragonov heard Cyrus' snarling nearing him and knew that he needed to find a quick way to distract Cyrus. It was then; right as Dragonov managed to open his own torn wings and fight against Cyrus' wind did he notice a faint source of mana and white hair.

'(The Echo!)' Dragonov smirked as he outstretched his hand, catching Hiroko by the collar. Dragonov managed to pull Hiroko into a full nelson, wrapping his arms over Hiroko's shoulders from behind, just as Cyrus neared him. Cyrus' eyes widened; Dragonov was using Hiroko's body as a shield! In a millisecond's time, a thousand thoughts ran through Cyrus' head.

'(That bastard wouldn't hurt his precious Echo frie-)'' Dragonov's eyes grew bloodshot at the sudden pain in his back. '(What the hell…)' Dragonov turned his head. '(Type of magic did Cyrus use?)' Cyrus placed a hand on Hiroko's shoulder and pulled the unconscious man from Dragonov. "That was despicable, Dragonov." Cyrus snarled, raping Hiroko over his own shoulder.

Dragonov looked at Cyrus' extraordinarily long tail that pierced through his back and now jutted out of his chest. "Oh, that?" Cyrus commented on his tail. He shifted it, causing Dragonov to let out a bubbling groan. "Of course, an abomination like you wouldn't expect a Dracomancer to be able to manipulate their hybrid abilities in such a manner."

Cyrus curled his tail, bringing Dragonov's soon to be lifeless body towards him. "But of course, I am no, ordinary Dracomancer." Cyrus held Dragonov at eye level. "Now, Dragonov, tell me who created you and where I can find them, and I may make your death a quick one." Cyrus heard Hiroko groaning, as his head more or less hung on his chest. "I wanna know, too." Hiroko mumbled groggily.

"Echo?" Cyrus asked, landing on the ground because he grew tired of flapping his wings to support two other weights. "I wanna know about the Easter bunny, too, Blackhawk!" Hiroko balled his hands into fists and swung feebly in the air. "Stay away from my oven! My underwear hasn't sprouted trolls yet!" Cyrus gave Hiroko a blank stare before glancing at Dragonov.

"He's gone delirious…" they spoke in unison. Cyrus shrugged Hiroko off of his shoulder. Hiroko landed with a thud followed by a grunt. "Ow…" Hiroko lifte4d a hand to his head. "Where am I?" Hiroko sat up with some difficulty. He noticed Cyrus' tail impaling Dragonov and quickly remembered everything. "Well, Cyrus." Hiroko rolled over onto his hands and knees. "First you save Robina and now you've saved me." Hiroko chuckled, standing on his shaking legs.

"That's twice as much debt, Cyrus." Hiroko glanced at Dragonov. "Although I wanted to finish off Dragonov myself." Hiroko stumbled towards Dragonov who hung limp from Cyrus' tail. "Echo, the abomination is not dead." Cyrus explained. "But he is close to it." Hiroko scoffed. "It's pretty obvious that Dragonov-" Dragonov's body jerked suddenly, kicking Hiroko square in the chest.

Hiroko fell onto his butt, uttering a small wail as he fell. Dragonov panted heavily as purple ooze dripped from his wounds. "Alive… and kicking…" Dragonov chuckled as best he could. Hiroko groaned in pain and rolled around on the ground. "That hurt!" He complained. "That kick barely had any power behind it." Cyrus snapped at Hiroko. "Not the kick, the joke!" Hiroko laughed a bit before coughing. Cyrus grumbled something unpleasant.

"Abomination," Cyrus moved his tail, clearly causing much pain to Dragonov. "I want answers. Now." Dragonov took in a few raspy breaths. "Wait a second," Hiroko stood rather quickly. "If you have no organs how do you breathe? And eat? And bleed!" Cyrus glared at Hiroko. "Does it really matter, Echo? He'll be dead in a while." "Can something without organs be killed?" Hiroko pondered.

Dragonov's eyes glowed green. "You doubt yourself, Echo." Hiroko locked eyes with Dragonov. "What?" "It took you this long to understand the anatomy of your enemy. A true Guardian would have recognized such a paradox much earlier." Cyrus noticed Dragonov's glowing eyes. "What form of trickery are you trying now?" Cyrus tightened his tail muscles to hurt Dragonov.

Dragonov, who seemed to be in a trance made no reaction. "A true Guardian?" Hiroko uttered quietly as he felt his consciousness slip. "Aren't I a true Guardian?" "If you must ask that question Echo, then you already know the answer." Dragonov replied calmly. "I'm…I'm not a true Guardian." Hiroko spoke in a depressed tone. "Echo?" Cyrus turned his attention to Hiroko.

"That's right," Dragonov spoke gently. "And if your Guardian status is false, would that not also cast doubt on your skill as a Dragonslayer?" "Would it?" Hiroko asked much like a child. "Yes, it would. You are a miserable Dragonslayer, Echo." "Mis…erable?" Hiroko repeated lowly. Cyrus felt Dragonov's mana level rise. "What the? Hiroko, snap out of it!"

Hiroko continued speaking to Dragonov. "But, if I'm a terrible Dragonslayer, how did I manage to become a level ten Dragonslayer?" "Galanoth pitied you, Hiroko. He knew you aspired to be like your uncle, and promoted you to try and hide your shame." "Shame?" Hiroko asked, sounding almost soulless. "Yes, Echo. Your shame. And his." Cyrus noticed that Dragonov's body was slowly becoming reanimated. "Echo it's a trick! Don't listen to this fraud!"

Hiroko did not hear Cyrus."Galanoth…is ashamed of me?" "Yes. You have failed him, and your uncle." Hiroko's eyes began to water. Cyrus then noticed a small trickle of what appeared to be white steam trailing from Hiroko's mouth. It slowly changed sage green before being inhaled by Dragonov. "What are you stealing from him?" Cyrus stretched his hand out in order to interrupt the steam.

He gritted his teeth as Dragonov sank his claws into his wrist. "And you've failed Cyrus." Dragonov gripped Cyrus' wrist tighter until small trickles of blood dripped down his arm. "Cyrus?" Hiroko asked curiously. "He offered to train you in Dragonspine. But, you lost control of yourself and nearly killed him." Hiroko groaned. "I remember…" "And do you remember who else you hurt?"

"Robina…" Hiroko closed his eyes tightly, tears threatening to overflow from them. "That's right. You almost killed the girl you love." "Love?" Hiroko looked up at Dragonov. Hiroko's own ocean blue eyes had been shifting to a darker shade of green momentarily returned to their normal color. "I wouldn't say love…" "And look at how you break her heart, Echo." "I broke her… heart?"

"Damn it Echo, will you quit giving into this vermin!" Cyrus exhaled flames at Dragonov. To his shock, a sage green wall of mana deflected the flames. They washed over Hiroko, singing his skin. Cyrus growled. "You are the lowest level of scum I have ever encountered, Abomination." Dragonov paid Cyrus no mind. "She loves you, Echo. And you are incapable of returning that love."

"I do care for her." Hiroko began. "But, I can't lover her." "But you can love Galanoth? And Warlic?" "That's different!" "How so, Echo?" "They took care of me-" "And Robina did not?" "No! I mean, yes! I… ugh!" "Face it, Echo," Dragonov grabbed Cyrus' tail with his free hand and pulled it from his back with a single motion. The hole in his back was closing rapidly.

"You are worthless." Cyrus howled as Dragonov snapped his wrist. "You are worthless to yourself." Dragonov threw Cyrus by the tail before placing both hands on Hiroko's shoulders. "And to those you love." "Worthless…" Hiroko repeated blankly as his eyes grew to a single shade away from sage green. Dragonov heard flapping wings and slapped his tail to the ground.

A stone pillar sprouted from the earth, catching Cyrus off guard. Cyrus fell from the blow to his head. Dragonov whipped his tail a second time, rendering Cyrus unconscious. "Yes, worthless. Your actions mean nothing. Your hopes and dreams mean nothing. Your existence means nothing." "My… existence… means nothing…?" Hiroko sniffled as his eyes grew darker.

"Your promises mean nothing." "Promises?" Hiroko's eyes stopped shifting to green. "I made…promises?" Dragonov, who was nearly fully healed, snarled slightly at Hiroko's resistance. "Several. And you could not keep a single one." "I… made promises… I know I did…" Hiroko struggled to remember…something.

Dragonov, who was thoroughly enjoying crushing Hiroko's spirit, decided it was time to end him. Permanently. "Your promise to protect Battleon? You've caused severe damage to the village and were out casted by the people. Your promise to protect Robina? You nearly killed her, and on top of that, you've broken her heart and left her grief stricken. You even broke your promise to a little girl." "A…girl?" Hiroko blinked rapidly several times.

"Yes. You won't be able to attend her birthday party." "Party?" Hiroko asked. "I don't remember… Adrianna…" "Look at that, Echo. First you broke Robina's heart and now you've made a little girl sad." "But… Adrianna isn't… who was she?" Hiroko lifted his hand to his forehead. "There was another girl… she was young… I was young…" Hiroko placed both hands on his forehead.

Dragonov's grip tightened on Hiroko's shoulders. "How are you moving, Echo? You're under my influence! You shouldn't be able to do as much as blink!" "I promised… a little girl…no… a little girl younger than me? What was it?" Hiroko shrugged off Dragonov and fell to his knees. Dragonov growled. "You're so close to assimilation, Echo! Just give in!"

Dragonov fell to his knees as well, forcing Hiroko to stare into his eyes. Hiroko's eyes were a fraction of a shade away from sage green. His own ocean blue eyes flickered like a dimming candle. "I promised… her…" Hiroko groaned. "Your promises mean nothing!" Dragonov hissed. "You are worth nothing! Those you know are worth nothing! Give up!" Hiroko gritted his teeth. "I…promised…her…" Dragonov's mind clicked. "Of course! He means that girl he grew up with! What was her name…?"

"I promised…R…Rachel?" Hiroko shook his head. "Raven… no." Hiroko pushed Dragonov away from him before curling into himself. He struck his head on the ground. "Remember, Hiroko! She's important to you!" He grunted as he struck his head on the ground once more. Dragonov exhaled a plume of flame in a display of his frenzied state. "No she isn't! Nothing is important to you! You're worthless!" Dragonov wrestled Hiroko to the ground.

Hiroko looked away from Dragonov. "Roberta…Rachelle? Ra… Ra… Ra…" Dragonov snarled; Hiroko was beginning to break the trance just as his eyes turned sage green. Only his irises remained ocean blue. "That girl is meaningless, Echo!" Dragonov exploded, delivering a crushing blow to Hiroko's fore head. Hiroko closed his eyes from the pain as a bit of blood gushed from the broken skin. Dragonov panted; had he accidently broken his own trance?

Dragonov suddenly felt Hiroko's mana level skyrocket. "I've done it!" Dragonov cheered as he recalled Hiroko's mana signature falling below detectable levels. "I've tapped into his mana! I can absorb it for my own and continue to exist!" Hiroko's mouth opened slightly and he exhaled. "All that I just do now is wait…" Dragonov crawled off of Hiroko, sitting beside his now unconscious adversary. "Wait until the Echo's mana reaches its peak! Then, I can assimilate his mana…his body and then I can live forever!"

Hiroko exhaled something again. Dragonov cackled aloud to himself. "First, I'll destroy this miserable excuse of a life known as Cyrus. Then, I'll burn Battleon to cinders. Particularly that accursed mage. I'm sure that Dragonstone would become aware of my power by the time I've dealt with this miserable town." Dragonov laughed loudly. "Then they'll come, all dressed in their armor and weaponry, and I can eat their insides! Hopefully some of them taste as good as Dragonov, if not better!" Dragonov licked his snout.

"Hiroko!" "Huh? What?" It had been almost a year since Hiroko had moved in with the woman and her daughter. At first, he kept to himself; he cleaned whatever needed to be cleaned, he took out any small vermin like spiders and insects and even a few B.U.R.P.S. that had gotten too curious. He even went hunting on his own for dinner on several occasions, much to the woman's dismay. "I said that I need you to go to market and lend Ra- a hand."

Hiroko nodded. "Yes ma'am."Hiroko headed towards the door."Excuse me?" Hiroko cringed. "I mean… yes…mom." The woman smiled and brushed her black hair back. "That's better." Hiroko ran out of the door and headed into town. He had learned many of the shortcuts of Battleon quickly; he figured that even though the woman who took him in tried to change his thieving ways, he would always be ready to leave any second. Just incase.

He reached the market in little time and began looking for the daughter. "How'd she look again?" Hiroko placed his hands behind his head and began walking around. He stayed out of their home during sunrise as much as possible; he had grown accustomed to sleeping outdoors during the day and hiding at night. It wasn't until a week ago did he really pay attention to her daughter.

He spotted her chocolate brown hair in a small clearing of people. She had several bags around and struggled with them. Hiroko sighed as he approached her. "You're weak." He must have startled her; she yelped before letting out a small laugh. "Oh, you scared me, Hiro." "Hiroko." He corrected her. "It's not complicated." Hiroko grabbed many of the bags and managed them into his arms.

"Come on. Your mom is complaining about you to me and it's annoying." Hiroko turned to leave the market. "Get those two-""She's your mom now, too, Hiro." She interrupted him. "What?" He turned to her halfway. "She told me that you didn't have a mother of your own, and that she'll take care of you. That's why you're-" "What are you, like nine?" Hiroko cut her off rudely.

"I'll be ten soon!" She spat back quickly. "Well, I'm ten already, and I don't need anyone 'taking care' of me. I'm just here because I need to eat." The girl looked at him with wide eyes before she smiled. "What're you so happy about?" Hiroko grunted. "She was right." "Who?" "Mom." "About what?" "She said that you're hurt." Hiroko scoffed. "Am not. If I were hurt, I wouldn't be able to carry more bags than you." "No, Hiro," "Quit calling me that!"

She giggled at him. "Hiro, Hiro, Hiro, Hiro, Hiro!" Hiroko growled. "She said your heart is hurting, and that you're really not angry but sad inside." She lifted the bags and ran ahead of Hiroko. "Mom knows how to read people really well!" Hiroko growled before chasing her. "So now you want to go! Wait!"

Hiroko finally got to the front door quite sometime after her. "What took you?" The woman smiled. "Your daughter is nuts. She says that you told her my heart hurts, but I feel fine."Hiroko dropped the bags on the table. "Where is she anyway?" "Your heart is hurting, Hiroko." The woman smiled as she petted his head. He shook her off. "I'm not your pet!" He spat rudely.

The woman gave him a warm but stern look. "You shouldn't be so disrespectful to your mother." Hiroko mumbled a quick sorry. "Where'd that girl go?" Hiroko looked around. "She's playing hide and seek with you." She laughed. "What?" Hiroko asked clueless. "She's hiding somewhere, and you have to find her." "Why do I have to find her?" Hiroko crossed his arms.

The woman kneeled down to Hiroko. "Because, you need to find her." "Says who?" Hiroko laughed crudely. "I know that I never said I'd find her." The woman quirked her eyebrow. "You found her at the market didn't you?" "So?" "So? So, I didn't tell you where she was." Hiroko uncrossed his arms. "Okay, what are you getting at?" "You have to find her, Hiroko. It's in your heart to do so."

"Since when?" Hiroko asked, holding his chest. "What did you do to me?" He scratched at his chest. "What type of sorcery…"The woman laughed. "Hiroko, close your eyes." Hiroko did as he was told, having had learned from his uncle that closing your eyes calms yourself and helps you concentrate. Also, it worked well for trying to sleep."What do yo-" "Shh. Listen." "For what?"

"Can you hear it?" "Your breathing?" Hiroko felt a hand hit his arm. "Ow, I was serious!" "No, can you hear her voice?" "…No." "Listen, it's faint, but she's calling for you to find her." Hiroko sighed heavily. "If she's not even in the room-" "Hiroko!" "Isn't this taking a game too far?" "Hiroko Echo, if you do not close your mouth and open your ears, I can promise you that Ra- will be hearing you cry. Again." Hiroko stiffened. "I understand, ma'am…mom!"

The woman smiled. "Now, listen very carefully." Hiroko breathed slowly. Just as he went to open his mouth to complain, he heard a voice. "Is that…her?" "Hiro…" "For the last time, it's Hi-ro-KO! Wait that is her!" "Come find me." "Where are you?" "I don't know…" "How did you get lost in your own home?" "Come find me." "Why do I have to-" "Find me, Hiro, please." Hiroko felt his face sting. "What...what's wrong?" "Please, Hiro, find me…"

Hiroko began to feel anxious. "Hey, are you scared or something?" "A little." "What's getting at you?" Hiroko asked, genuinely concerned. "I'm afraid that you don't want to find me." "Why would you think that?" "You just said that you don't want to find me…" Her voice was lower, almost sad. "Hey, hey, that's not true! I found you at the market, didn't I?"

"Mom told you where I was." "No, I found you all on my own." "Really?" "Yeah, and if I did it once, I can do it again." "Really?" "Really really." "Are you sure?" "One hundred percent. In fact, I can find you no matter where you are." The woman had to stifle a giggle. '(He takes things seriously, doesn't he?)' "But… what if I'm far away?" Her voice was sadder now and Hiroko didn't like that. "There's no such thing as far away. I'll find you."

The woman smiled. '(He truly means that.)' "You're just saying that, Hiro." "I mean it. I'll find you, no matter what, alright? Just don't be scared." "Do you promise?" "Promise? Why should I have to promise you-" "Words don't mean anything if you don't make a promise, Hiro." Hiroko was silent for a short time. "Hiroko?" The woman looked back at the table. She waved her hands, shooing her daughter away from Hiroko and back underneath the tablecloth.

"I promise. I promise that I'll find you, no matter where you are, no matter the danger or how many times you need me to find you. I'll find you before the day is done." Hiroko spoke sternly. The woman looked back at him. '(When did his hair grow? It's standing up in the back…)' "Only for today?" She asked quietly. "Huh?" "I need you to find me Hiro, not just today, but forever and always."

The woman sighed quietly. "Don't overdo it!" She hissed to her daughter. "I won't overdo it." Hiroko commented quickly. "I'll find you today, tomorrow, that day after and everyday! I'll find you, Raine, I promise." "You do?" She sounded extraordinarily happy. "Yeah, any day, all day and always!" Hiroko waited patiently. "Raine?" he opened his eyes. The woman stared at his narrowed eyes. "Where'd her voice go?" The woman shrugged. "Shouldn't you be looking for her, Hiroko?" Hiroko nodded before taking off upstairs. "Raine!"

Raine crawled from beneath the table, holding her stomach as she giggled. "You were right mom! Now, he'll definitely play hide and seek with me!" Her mother looked at her sternly. "What?" "Don't you think you worried him?" Raine laughed. "He'll probably just give up in a bit." There was a loud thud and a plume of ash shot downstairs. "She's not in the chimney shoot! Or on the roof!"

Raine glanced at her mother. "Uh oh." "Wait… Is that her on the roof? No, it's just a bird! Raine, I'm coming for you, just hold on! Did she wander back downstairs? Maybe she's outside… or a B.U.R.P. got her!" Raine laughed nervously. "I'll just go make sure that Hiro doesn't do anything drastic…" "Mom! Where did you hide my Longsword this time? I'm only going to need it for today! Oh, that and some cheese or something to use as bait to lure the B.U.R.P.S. out of their nest so I can see if they kidnapped Raine!" Raine sighed. "You're right mom, I did go too far." Mom sighed happily. "He cares about you, believe it or not."

Raine shrugged. "I like him too. He's just a little weird." "Mom! I found her! She was hiding in the closet! Wait a second, ahh! Monster! Oh no, false alarm, it's a winter coat. To the nest!" Hiroko's footsteps echoed in the stairwell. Raine quickly dove underneath the table again, returning to her giggling fit. Hiroko looked around for a bit. "Something wrong?" Mom asked curiously.

Hiroko extended a hand in front of him."She's here." His hand glowed a faint white. "I can feel it." Mom quirked her eyebrow. "Magic?" "My uncle showed me. She has a faint mana signature; I'd recognize it anywhere now." "Oh? Why now?" Hiroko shrugged. "I dunno. I never felt it before. Must be pooberty or something." "Puberty, Hiroko." "Yeah, that guy." Hiroko waved his hand. "She's…under here!' He lifted the tablecloth. "You cheated!" Raine whined.

"Huh?" Hiroko asked completely lost. "You cheated!" "But…I found you." "You used magic!" "I found you, like I promised." "But you used magic…" Raine complained. "I told you I'd find you, no matter what it took." Raine looked up at Hiroko "You meant that?" Hiroko nodded. "I promised didn't I?" He looked at her. "Why is your face getting red, Raine?" Raine hugged Hiroko tightly. "Uh… what are you doing?" Hiroko nudged her shoulder. "Hugging you." Hiroko looked towards Mom. "Uhm… help?" She laughed before walking away. "Hey, don't leave me! Okay, you can stop now Raine." She shook her head no.

"Let go Raine," "No," "Raine." "No," "Raine…" No," "Raaaaiiiine…" "Nnnnnoooo." "Raaaaaiiiiiinnnne." "Nnnnnnnooooo." "Raine…"

"Raine." "Of course, after I conquer the northern hemisphere and acquire a massive army of the strongest warriors and dragons, I'll spread my influence of terror… no, what's a better term? Conquest of terror? Crusade of terror" "Raine." Hiroko mumbled louder. "What?" Dragonov asked, so caught up in his own jubilee that he had not heard what Hiroko had muttered. "Raine." Hiroko spoke clearly. "Right, right. Reign of terror. Thanks Echo… hey, wait a second, why are you speaking?" "Raine…"

Dragonov suddenly remembered who Raine was. "I might as well allow for you to think of some wench before I end your pitiful-" Hiroko's mana level suddenly vanished. "Did he die?" Dragonov cursed himself under his breath. "Maybe that final blow to the head was too much…"

Back in Battleon, Warlic had made sure that all the citizens of Battleon were home and calm. Warlic was tired himself, but he knew that he needed to check on Hiroko- Warlic's eyes shot towards the outskirts of Battleon. "Where did his mana signature go?" Warlic strode towards the energy he recognized as Dragonov.

Cyrus was beginning to come to. "That bastard…" Cyrus struggled to wake himself out of his stupor. Cyrus realized that he no longer felt Hiroko's mana signature. Cyrus looked around, expecting the worst. "Augh!" Cyrus rolled to his right, avoiding being crushed by Dragonov's body. "What the hell?" A black figure landed on top of Dragonov; it vanished before Dragonov could cry out.

"Wait a second… I know that blur…" Cyrus muttered as he distanced himself from Dragonov. "Shinobi Shozuku." Hiroko muttered as the black light faded. "You-you're a ninja?" Robina asked. "I'm a lot of things Robina. Cyrus, keep up." Hiroko muttered a single illegible syllable before taking off at break neck speed… "He used that armor to reach Dragonspine…" (ATTN: Chapter 5)

Dragonov swiftly stood, hectically spewing from his mouth. "Damn you Echo!" Dragonov panted between each burst of fire. "Where are you? You think you can just play games with me and get away with it?" Cyrus deemed his distance from Dragonov safe, and let out a small laugh. "That explains why the Echo's mana signature vanished." "Amazing what one can do with the right armor, isn't it, Lord Cyrus?" Cyrus turned to the new non-hostile presence.

"Indeed, Arch mage Warlic." Warlic's eyes fell upon Dragonov then quickly scanned the area. "That's cruel of you, Hiroko." Warlic spoke, closing his eyes. Cyrus quirked an eyebrow in curiosity. "The Echo? But where-" "I can't help it." Hiroko's voice was too low to startle Cyrus. Cyrus turned. "How dare you sneak up behind-" Cyrus saw only trees and night behind him. "Echo?"

"Hiroko, you should take care of Dragonov while you have the chance…" Warlic exhaled in defeat a split second after his sentence. "Arch mage?" Cyrus turned back towards Warlic, finding the sight of Dragonov double over in pain much more interesting. "He left before I finished my sentence." Warlic grumbled. "How can you detect him, Arch mage?" Cyrus asked with a twinge of jealousy.

"It's simple really," Warlic began. "Can you hear him somehow?" Cyrus interrupted. "Perhaps you can sense him more acutely than I because you've trained him longer. Or maybe you have some sort of tracking spell…" Warlic chuckled. "No Lord Cyrus. It is much simpler to track Hiroko while he is wearing his Shinobi Shozuku." Cyrus stared at Warlic, ready for a lecture. "How so, Arch mage?" "If his enemy is in pain, he is over there. If they are not he is near allies."

Cyrus slapped his fore head. "As I said, Cyrus, simple."

Dragonov felt something bounce off of him. He looked behind him and saw a rolling pebble. "Really, Echo? You've had to resort to hiding and throwing-" Dragonov grunted as he felt an all too familiar burning sensation in his back. He looked down at his chest; Hiroko's glowing Ice Dragon Blade was lodged in his chest. Dragonov turned around; all he could make out was Hiroko's sage green eyes with his normal ocean blue colored irises.

"What's this?" Hiroko's hushed voice asked no one in particular. "No organs…" Hiroko tried to dislodge his blade. "No armor…" Hiroko placed his foot on Dragonov's back as he tired to pull harder. Hiroko stopped and struck both of Dragonov's arms twice. Dragonov felt his arms tingle. "There's no interference…" Hiroko grumbled. Hiroko stopped pulling on his Ice Dragon Blade. "No visible interference." Hiroko shifted his hands and fingers in several different positions.

"Are you speaking in sign language?" Hiroko chanted a few illegible syllables, activating some form of spell. "How are you still casting spells?" Dragonov roared. He tried to turn towards Hiroko fully, but found that the Element X had him paralyzed. "What? You're not wearing your Dragonslayer armor! How are you breaking the logic of armor sets? What type of trickery-?"

Hiroko's hands began to glow. One hand was red while the other was a white-ish blue shade. Two katanas, one cackling like fire, the other, gave off an ice like vapor, grew from his palms. Hiroko swung each blade once. Dragonov's eyes grew bloodshot as he felt his chest separate from the rest of his body. Hiroko's eyes did not change. "Astonishing…" He muttered in monotone.

Warlic let out a low whistle. "So, that is what makes Dragonov tick…" Cyrus shuddered. "How does that not count as an organ?" Dragonov let out a low, sickly groan. "A core." Hiroko explained aloud. "A physical object that your mana is bound to, right Dragonov?" Dragonov nodded. "Fueled by organs of other beings. Humans in your case." Dragonov chuckled. His core retracted and thumped in tune with his laughter. "Sickening…" Hiroko groaned his voice still monotone. "Impressive, Echo." Dragonov's core constricted with each word.

"Now that you know how I exist, why don't you tell me how you managed to use your Dragonslayer weapon without the armor and then cast magic with no mana on top of that…?" Dragonov fell to his knees, he panted heavily as the purple ooze from his body slowed to a drip. Hiroko sighed, pulling the cloth covering his mouth down to his neck. "My Golden Dragonslayer Armor is not what makes my Ice Dragon Blade powerful." Hiroko's voice was normal.

"Yes, holding that blade while in the appropriate armor does grant me a bonus, Dragonov, but the weapon itself is forged specifically to destroy dragons and their kind, meaning its power can be used regardless of the armor one is wearing. Dragonslayer armor isn't exactly the best thing to wear when constantly casting spells, so I removed it in order to strengthen my magic while still having an advantage over you. I think my plan worked pretty well."

"Tell me, Echo… when did you learn Ice Nine?" Hiroko shrugged. "I've seen Warlic do it countless times. I've even been hit by it a few hundred times. I figured I might as well give it a shot." Hiroko sat down. "What are you doing Echo!" Cyrus scowled. "Quit talking to that Abomination and destroy it!' "Not until I get my answers." Hiroko yawned. "Where was I…?"

"You lucked out on using Ice Nine. Tell me, if you were almost out of mana how did you manage to summon so many of those Throwing Knives?" "It takes very little mana to summon them. I can summon maybe, twenty or thirty on… maybe two percent of my total mana." Hiroko laughed. "They've saved my life countless times in the past." Dragonov nodded. "Then your mana signature vanished." "That would ne the work of my Shinobi Shozuku."

"I see. It conceals you not only from the eyes, but from the senses." "Well, yeah…" Hiroko scratched the back of his head. "That… and I have absolutely no mana left." "Then how the hell did you summon those blades of fire and ice?" "Ninpou." "Bless you." "No, Ninpou. It's the equivalent of mana… but for ninjas." "I see now. Even with depleted mana, you can still use the techniques from other classes if they have their own forms of energy."

Hiroko nodded. "Now that we've cleared that up, Dragonov, you have answers that I want." Dragonov chuckled. "Yes… now that my core has been revealed and I have no energy to move…" Dragonov sighed depressingly. "My dream of freedom comes to an end…" Hiroko felt pity for Dragonov. "Well then, let's start with that, Dragonov." Dragonov's dimming green eyes shifted to Hiroko. "What?" "Who did you try to free yourself from and why?"

Dragonov coughed harshly as his core constricted further. "My 'life', and I use that word loosely, is not my own to control. I was told of my creation; I was an imitation of the fabled dragons' mana blood poison that was to be placed into an imitation Akriloth that would imitate his previous actions and eventually lure out and poison you, Hiroko Echo. If that did not succeed at waking you up, and my creator was correct; it would not, then I was to develop my own manifestation whilst within your body, starting with your voice, and working my way to your mana, finally forming around a provided core. As you can clearly see, Echo, the core is-"

Hiroko cut Dragonov off. "I don't think anyone wants to know what… that is." Hiroko felt his stomach lurch. "Oh my goodness… it has a scent!" Hiroko pulled the brim of his Shinobi Shozuku over his face once more. His expression vanished, but he still held his stomach. "That's just inhuman." He complained in monotone. "After I composed a body of my own, I was to either assimilate your body into my own shell, thus gaining a fully developed and immortal form or…" Dragonov began to cough violently.

Hiroko lifted his arm to Dragonov's shoulder. "Or do what?" Hiroko asked in monotone. "Or…" Dragonov's core shrank rapidly, a strange purple and sage green liquid taking its place. The liquid began to form around his body in a pool of foul smelling acid that ate away only at his body. "Or awaken you, Echo. I was created by the Ad…" Dragonov's throat constricted tightly.

"By whom?" Hiroko asked, clasping his hands on either side of Dragonov's neck, forcing the front and back of his neck to bend and allow air to pass through. Dragonov's eyes rolled into the back of his head. "How is he suffocating if he has an open airway? Right, he doesn't need lungs! His mana is being attacked." Hiroko evaluated quickly. Hiroko pulled a mana potion from a fold in his Shinobi Shozuku. "Hiroko, wait, what are you doing?" Warlic asked.

Hiroko tilted Dragonov's snout upwards and slowly poured the blue liquid down his muzzle. "Hiroko, how can you help the being that tried to kill you!' Warlic glided over to Hiroko's side and attempted to retrieve the mana potion. Hiroko pushed Warlic back. "I need him alive for answers!"Hiroko's voice was a loud whisper. Cyrus was right behind Warlic, and worked his way to the other side of Hiroko. "Echo, you fool! That's exactly what that abomination wants you to do! He knew that you were desperate for answers and would restore his power to get them!" Cyrus stuck out an arm to get the bottle from Hiroko's hand.

He reeled back, narrowly avoiding Hiroko's Ice Dragon Blade. "Echo…" Cyrus gasped, looking at the scratch that stung on his exposed arm. "I can't have some lunatic trying to 'wake me up' and getting those I care about hurt, especially when they could die by my hands!" Hiroko finished pouring the mana potion down Dragonov's throat. The purple/green liquid surrounding Dragonov's knees began to shift green. Hiroko felt a stinging in his head.

"Hiroko, your eyes…" Warlic spoke quietly. Hiroko's eyeshade finally become completely sage green. "What about them…" he trailed off. Dragonov's core began to pulsate, growing in size as the now sage green liquid reversed its flow and pumped into Dragonov's now steadily beating core. "Hiroko, get out of there!" Warlic commanded. Hiroko showed no, sign of recognition.

"Hiroko!" "Echo!" Cyrus chimed in, opening his wings and flying towards Hiroko. "You hard headed bastard!" as Cyrus reached Hiroko, he noticed that Hiroko's irises were fading, giving his eyes a hazy look. "Echo!" Hiroko's eyes snapped to Cyrus. "Cyrus." Hiroko replied in a voice that wasn't his own. "Echo?" Cyrus felt Hiroko's body heat rise. "Escape." Hiroko spoke once more in an awkward and distorted voice.

Cyrus shook his head. "Cyrus." Hiroko muttered before letting out a scream. "Echo?" Cyrus outstretched his hand and laid it upon Hiroko's shoulder. Warlic felt a massive and sudden surge of Dragonov's mana. "Cyrus!" Warlic yelled all too late. "Get out of there!" Cyrus looked back at Warlic. "What about the Echo?" Cyrus then sensed the power radiating from Hiroko's body. "Abomination?"

Hiroko roared in agony as his body was set ablaze in sage green flames. Cyrus' voice joined Hiroko's as the green flame traveled up his arm to his shoulder. Cyrus suddenly felt ice cold water fall onto his body. Looking up, he saw a blue portal close in the air above him. "Move now, Cyrus," Came Warlic's urgent voice. "I doubt the fire will stay doused for long!"

Cyrus swiftly lumped away from Hiroko and regrouped with Warlic. "Arch mage, his eyes." Cyrus began. "They've changed to sage green." Warlic's eyebrows peaked in interest. "Is that not the same color Dragonov is?" Warlic asked as he looked at Hiroko. Hiroko was drenched; his body was limp as he rested on his hands and knees, his shoulders moving slowly as he breathed.

"Yes, arch mage, before you arrived, the Abomination had the Echo in some type of trance. I believe that he used some form of mind control on the Echo. His eyes were changing from blue to green during the process, and for a time, only his irises were still blue. Now that the Abomination's core has been exposed, it seems as though the Echo is now under his complete control."

Hiroko let out another cry as green flames surrounded his body once more. Warlic took a step towards Hiroko, but Cyrus' on his shoulder stopped him. "Perhaps, arch mage, I spoke too soon." The pair watched Hiroko as he struggled onto his feet. He crossed his arms over his chest and a black light engulfed him, momentarily protecting him from the flames. "Fight it, Hiroko…" Warlic muttered. The black light turned a brilliant red as Hiroko fell face first to the ground now adorned in Flame Guardian Armor.

The green flames returned, only to be absorbed by the Flame Guardian Armor. "Genius," Cyrus muttered. "He knew that his previous armor was helpful against the Abomination but not this new form of it." "So he changed his armor with his last bit of consciousness." Warlic whispered with dread in his voice. Cyrus noticed his tone. "Wait? Isn't Hiroko being unconscious a good thing? Now, he won't be able to attack anyone…" Cyrus trailed off as the events of Dragonspine played over in his head. "A sleeping Hiroko is dangerous." Warlic began.

"But a sleeping Hiroko, being tormented both physically and mentally at the same time… whoever made Dragonov must know Hiroko very well, if not better than me…" Warlic made his way towards Hiroko. As he neared Hiroko, Hiroko's body would spontaneously combust in sage green flames. Then, the green flames would turn red and be absorbed by the Flame Guardian Armor. Warlic waved his hand, his crystal ball glowing blue.

A portal opened above Hiroko's body, and every time a green flame would appear, a torrent of water would fall from the portal, dousing the flames. Warlic boldly stepped into the steam, sighing to himself slightly. '(This humidity is dreadful.)' He thought as he knelt by Hiroko's side. '(Not only is it laced with a foul feeling mana, but the damage its doing to my skin is increasing the longer I stay here. Even after doused, the fire continues to ward off anyone who attempts to help Hiroko.)' Warlic wiped his fore head. '(Not to mention it damaging my hair.)'

"Hiroko?" Warlic whispered. He sensed Dragonov's mana flare up from Hiroko's body. Warlic raised a magical shield over his body and leaned into the flames in order to inspect the nature of the flame. What he discovered nearly made him cringe. Hiroko's skin was burned; the burns appeared to be a part of some type of spell due to the fact that they formed symbols and patterns on Hiroko's skin that Warlic recognized as both magical and archaic.

Warlic expanded his magical shield so that he could scan Hiroko with his crystal ball. Hiroko let out a pained moan and lifted his fist. Warlic sensed Hiroko's mana level rise slightly. "Ice Ball…" Hiroko murmured. Warlic placed his hand on Hiroko's fist and gently laid it down. "Relax, Hiroko. I'll take care of it…" Hiroko managed a small nod. Hiroko's mana level vanished. Surprisingly, the green flames stopped as well. '(So the flames activate each time Hiroko tries to cast-)'

Warlic remembered what Dragonov had explained: "I was to develop my own manifestation whilst within your body, starting with your voice, and working my way to your mana, finally forming around a provided core." "His mana was never attacked! The whole thing was a ruse!" "Very good, arch mage!" Warlic looked above him; Dragonov, in his sage green glory, fluttered above him.

"But you realized too late!" Dragonov inhaled. To Warlic's surprise, he noticed a single lung inside of Dragonov's chest increase in size. '(Is that… an organ?)' Warlic raised his magical shield, protecting him and Hiroko from Dragonov's flames. Warlic felt a bead of sweat form on his brow. '(His fire… it's hotter somehow!)' Warlic noticed a blue blur moving towards Dragonov.

"Abomination!" Dragonov was tackled out of the air by Cyrus. Cyrus, who had his hands around Dragonov's neck, felt a pulse coming from Dragonov. '(A heartbeat?)' Warlic lowered his barrier and looked at Hiroko. He placed a hand on Hiroko's neck. "His breathing is labored and his pulse is faint." Warlic quickly put two and two together. "Dragonov is assimilating Hiroko! But how?"

Cyrus felt Dragonov's mana surge. Cyrus released Dragonov and distanced himself. Dragonov's lung split, forming two separate lungs. "Ah… yes, I can feel the Echo's power becoming my own!" Warlic heard this and waved his hand over Hiroko a few times. Dragonov sensed Hiroko's life signature vanish. "What the?" Dragonov looked down at where Hiroko was last. He saw nothing there.

"Arch mage!" Dragonov roared. "There is no point in interfering! I will absorb the Echo, one way or another!" '(One way or another?)' Warlic thought as he casted a levitation spell on Hiroko's body. Warlic kept his focus on the barrier surrounding him and Hiroko, masking them from Dragonov as well as carrying Hiroko as far away from Dragonov as possible. But before he could retreat, Warlic needed to focus on a third spell.

"(Lord Cyrus, can you hear me?)" Cyrus' ears perked up. "Arch mage?" "(Please, Lord Cyrus, do not speak out loud. I am communicating with you through telepathic magic.)" Dragonov turned his attention to Cyrus. "I see the Arch mage has left you to deal with me, eh, Lord Cyrus?" Dragonov spoke tauntingly. "(Where have you gone, Arch mage?)" Cyrus thought-spoke.

"(I have formed a hypothesis regarding the assimilation rate and proximity between Dragonov and Hiroko.)" "(So, you're taking Hiroko away from here to try and slow down, if not stop, the Echo being absorbed by the Abomination?)" "(Correct, Lord Cyrus.)" "(And you want me to buy you time.)" "(Your intelligence is astounding.)" "(That had better not be sarcasm, Arch mage.)" "(You'll have to forgive me, Lord Cyrus; I've yet to perfect the tones of telepathy. I sincerely meant that comment.)" "(How long do you need, Arch mage?)"

"(Can you keep him occupied for a week?)" "A week!" Cyrus yelled aloud, piquing Dragonov's interest. "A week for what Lord Cyrus?" Dragonov mocked Cyrus. Cyrus noticed this and scowled at Dragonov. "(I will attempt to restrain myself from tearing this…excrement, limb from limb until you devise a plan, Arch mage.)" Warlic sighed as he found a clearing to lay Hiroko's body. "(You are too kind, Lord Cyrus.)" Cyrus growled at Warlic. "(That was sarcasm.")

"(What? Oh, the connection is failing. Just buy me time. Thank you.)" There was a click in Cyrus' head. "Arch mage?" Cyrus sighed. "Now I see why the Echo is… the way he is." Cyrus sensed Dragonov nearing him and snapped himself from his thoughts. Cyrus looked up just in time, and raised his arms to defend against Dragonov's clothesline. Cyrus reeled back in the air, lashing out with his whip like tail. Cyrus' attack connected, leaving a gash along the back of Dragonov's neck.

Dragonov felt the back of his neck. "That actually hurt…" Dragonov lightly the gash. "A lot. Way more than it should have." Cyrus regaied his balance. "Then you underestimate me-" Cyrus stopped abruptly. He felt something dripping off of his tail. Curious, he moved the tip of his tail into his field of vision. "Blood?" Cyrus muttered as he watched small, crimson droplets fall from his tail. '(But isn't the Abomination's 'blood' purple?)' Cyrus pondered.

"It's happening." Dragonov chuckled. "In less than two hours, I will have my own body, and the Echo will be no more!" Dragonov cackled. "So, Cyrus, do you think you have what it takes to destroy me in less than-" Dragonov sputtered on Cyrus' claw. Cyrus turned his wrist, effectively severing Dragonov's head from his shoulders. "I'm sorry, what?" Cyrus taunted.

Cyrus claw continued downwards until it met with Dragonov's new lungs. A wave of shock flowed through Cyrus' mind. '(I know that I can sense the Echo's mana. But am I actually feeling the Echo's mana?)' Cyrus wondered as he felt something that he could only describe as a ghost like breeze. "You can feel it too, can't you?" Dragonov's severed head spoke as it lay on the ground.

Cyrus' keen hearing picked up Dragonov's chuckling, which annoyed Cyrus to no end. "The Arch mage may have masked Hiroko's life energy from me, but I can still take his mana from him!" "(Is that so?)" Warlic's voice rang in Cyrus' head. "(Arch mage?)" "(I figured keeping the line open would be a good idea. Thanks to my genius, I've heard everything Dragonov has bragged about.)" Cyrus heard Warlic chuckle. "(I thought the connection was bad, Arch Mage…)"

Warlic's chuckle quickly stopped. "(Well what do you know; it seems I've perfected the telepathy spell. Anyway, I'm attempting seal Hiroko's mana as it seems to be a crucial factor in he assimilation process.)" Cyrus could hear a humming coming from Warlic's end. "(Arch mage, the Abomination's blood is red.)" Cyrus heard the humming stop momentarily.

"(That is a sure sign of the assimilation process.)" Warlic looked down at Hiroko. "Please forgive me, Hiroko." Warlic conjured a small wind around his hand and focused on it. It gained speed until it looked motionless. Warlic placed his hand near Hiroko's exposed collar bone; the wind cut through his skin. "Please, let me be wrong…" Warlic muttered as he moved his hand closer to Hiroko.

And this is where I draw the cliff hanger line for chapter eight! I'm deeply sorry that chapter eight took forever and a half to complete, but my mind has been befuddled with everything that's going on in my life right now… I promise that chapter 9, the next to last chapter will be out within two weeks1 Sorry if I disappointed you, readers, but even I have limits. I am not Chuck Norris…

Sincerely yours,

Xen Kenshin