Author's Note: This is a little ficlet that came to mind after I read P.L. Nunn's "The Aftermath" which I consider to be pretty much the best Bastard!! fic out there. This is a scene that Gara mentioned in chapter 42 of that fic and I could see it so vividly in my mind, I had to put it on paper. The scene from the Aftermath is at the bottom of this fic. I didn't write that; P.L. Nunn did. The title is also form the same fic, chapter 38. Enjoy.

Self-Inflicted Pain

By: Silver Spider

The more he watched the endless lines of orcs, goblins, and lizard men marching past him, the more ninja master Gara was convinced he was becoming increasingly bored with this war business he somehow got dragged into. Serving an aging king of some small peaceful kingdom was one thing. Serving as one of the four Lords of Havoc for Dark Schneider's rather massive army was another. It would have been fine, except the wizard himself had no taste for strategy, so it fell to his generals to make the actual attack plans. As far as Gara would tell, Schneider just liked blowing things up.

"How are the preparations coming?" the ninja master lazily turned his head in time to see the Lord of Ice, Kall-Su, ride up to him on his black stallion. They were both a hoarse, but Gara towered a good head and a half over the blond haired man.

"If you want to send them on covert missions into the castle, I'm afraid you're out of luck," Gara smirked, looking down at the new arrivals. "But if all you want is mindless pillaging, looting, and burning, I have a hunch that they can handle it."

"That is all we shall need of them," Kall-Su replied. "These beasts are not known for their wits or cunning. This is what your ninja army is for."

"I'm not sending my men to the slaughter," Gara objected. He knew very well that Dark Schneider valued the life of a common soldier as less than that of a city whore, but Gara had a great deal of respect for the men who served under him.

"They will have the task of infiltrating the castle and opening the gates," the ice lord assured him. "A dangerous mission, but hardly the front lines of battle. They," he pointed at the arcs and other creatures, "are the pawns, and in chess, the pawns always go first."

Gara's demeanor relaxed and the lopsided smirk returned to his face. "Lucky us that we got so many willing pawns, eh, Kall?" he nudged the other man in the ribs with the hilt of the Murasame.

The other man didn't reply and, soon Gara went back to watching the troops file past them. Of in the distance, he could just make out the shadowy figure of the dark priest Abigail assembling his own garrison of creatures. Though their numbers were much fewer, Gara preferred to avoid their company. Abigail delved in sorcery far darker than anything the ninja master cared to get close to. Schneider himself was nowhere to be found, but all around them his armies were massing together in greater force than Gara ever expected when the wizard first shared his plan to invade this kingdom.

"Who's the forth?" Gara wondered quietly to himself before he noticed Kall-Su's questioning look.

"The forth what?" the other man inquired.

"D.S. said there were going to be four Lords of Havoc," Gara thought aloud, "four generals for various sections of his army. You and I are two, and there's that Abigail character who I don't know really well, but who's the fourth general?"

"Oh, that," Kall-Su looked mildly annoyed. "It's not important."

"Just curious," Gara shrugged, slightly surprised that the subject had somehow irritated the ice lord.

Bellow them, the chatter of the troops and the racket of armor suddenly quieted as all eyes fixed on the lowering drawbridge of the castle that Schneider and his allies currently occupied. Gara watched with mundane interest as the wizard rode forth followed by several armored men and greeted by the cheers of his armies. The white-haired man looked terribly self-assured as he waved to the crowds of creatures the ninja master knew would be bleeding and dying in a matter of hours.

"Smug bastard," Gara muttered under his breath. He was both fascinated and disgusted by the wizard more of the time, and this was no exception. His honor told him serving as this man's general went against everything he was ever taught, but curiosity won and here he was.

Behind Schneider rode five armored men on horses. Two flanked his left while three more were on his right. Four were several steps behind him, but the soldier closest on his right looked like he was almost riding by his side, an idea Gara found amusing because he knew very well Schneider didn't believe any other man in the would could possibly be his equal.

Yet the more he watched the soldier, the more the ninja master realized that there was indeed something different about him. For one, he was much more heavily armored than the rest. Thick bulky plating covered the man from head to toe and hid his face behind the visor of a helmet. The most striking difference was the scarlet cape that billowed from his shoulders. Clearly this was a man of some status and importance.

Out of the corner of his eye, Gara saw the faintest of grimaces pass over Kall-Su's pale features. Surprised at the rare display of any emotion from the Lord of Ice, Gara raised a brow at him.

"You know that guy?" he asked, nodding at the caped figure at Schneider's side.

"So do you," the platinum haired man replied. "At the very least, you will."

Gara was puzzled and turned his attention back to the precession bellow. They had crossed the drawbridge, and when Schneider pulled on his horse's reigns, everyone came to a stop behind him. All, that is, with the exception of the caped rider in front, who maneuvered his mount to be exactly on Schneider's level. The man bent his head and with both gloved hands, pulled the heavy helmet off his head, releasing a waterfall of dark locks. It wasn't until the soldier shook the strands from his face, that Gara realized it wasn't a man at all.

It took him a moment, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he recognized her. It was the same woman who had been lying at Schneider's feet the night he had been sent to slay the wizard.

"What the hell is a herm girl doing with that sword and armor?" Gara asked, annoyed.

Kall-Su looked genuinely surprised, then the corner of his mouth twitched and formed the closest thing to a smile Gara had ever seen on the Lord of Ice. "A herm girl? I do not advise you use that word in front of her. She's likely to bring down a bolt of lightning on your head for it. That's Arshes Nei, Thunder Empress and the fourth Lord of Havoc."

He must have been staring, because Kall-Su cleared his throat, and when the ninja master looked up, the other man had already veered his stallion to head back down to the rest of the army.

"Gara," he called back over his shoulder after a moment of thought. "May I give you a word of advice?"

"Sure."

"Don't do what I know you're about to do."

"Physic now, are you?" the ninja master laughed. "Alright, what am I about to do that I shouldn't be doing?"

"Don't fall in love with her."

With that warning, the Lord of Ice put his heels to his mount and galloped down the hillside.

Gara scoffed turning back to watch the procession, but against his will, his eyes strayed to the half-elf. She'd moved slightly to the side now, away from Schneider to converse with the generals from her own division. How regal and proud and beautiful she looked. In the back of his mind, a small voice told him that perhaps he should heed Kall-Su's warning, but another part of him knew that it was most likely too late.

"How long have you loved me?"

He faltered and she came under his guard, nicked the underside of his arm with the business end of the blade. He transferred the sword the other hand, shaking the sting out of his arm.

"Does it matter?" He felt gawky of a sudden. And lumbering and uncouth. A plain, scar-faced man compared to what she had spent her whole life devoted to. He didn't know why she was tormenting him with it. Curiosity. Some perversity she had picked up from Schneider. She had picked up enough other habits from him.

"Yes." She answered him simply, earnestly, dropping the tip of her blade. "I think it does."

They stood in the mud of the practice field, with drawn weapons held at ready, as if it were still a sparring match. He stared at her. Her ears were at half mast, her skin showing the slight sheen of sweat.

"Since the first day I saw you don armor and ride out to meet battle."

Her eyes widened in surprise. "Why then?"

"Because at first I thought you were one of his toys. A concubine. A plaything with no will of your own and you surprised me. You turned out to be a woman of courage and power -- and compassion."

The Aftermath, Chapter 42