Pairing/Character: Azkadellia, minor DG, Cain, Zero, the Queen (can be interpreted as Cain/DG and Azkadellia/Zero)

Warnings: angst and bloodshed

Spoilers: whole miniseries

Disclaimer: Characters not mine, of course.

Author's note: Inspired by the contest on azkadelliazero (and, of course, not finished in anything that might have a passing resemblance to "in time"). As always, thanks go to vagajammer for the beta.

Blood Price

The wind barely penetrates the closely packed crowd, whistling down alleys to poke at the exposed edges and above heads to tug at hair. On the dais, sturdy and elegant for all that it was so quickly thrown together, the Northern wind howls unopposed, plucking at skirts and hats and fiercely bright banners alike; it stings Azkadellia's eyes and mutters icily into her ears. DG shifts restlessly at her side and reaches a hand to briefly grasp hers; a bright shudder of light sparks through her, an explosion of warmth that leaves Azkadellia colder still when it ebbs. DG's Tin Man looms behind them, as stoic and unmoving as one of the statues that line Central City Square.

Her mother the Queen rises from the throne; she has the same self-contained dignity whether she's holding court in her richly appointed throne room or here, today, exposed to the overcast winter afternoon and the cruelly gleeful crowd. Azkadellia tunes out the speeches; she's heard too many of them the last few months and even without her mother's notes could reproduce the spirit and the form, if not every carefully chosen word. Healing, forgiveness, and moving on: that triad has underlain every public appearance, every entreaty the newly-restored Queen Lavender has made to her people.

But first, blood must be spilled to appease the people's bitter betrayal.

Azkadellia ignores the occasional scowls and curses directed her way. She's had over a decade to practice her uncaring mask. Less hostility is directed towards her than she expected, given that she has become the cause of untold nightmares. A few glances—very few, but more than she ever dreamed possible—are even kind and supportive. None look too long, however; old stories say a witch can bespell you if she catches your gaze, and no one will take the chance.

Witches hide in seeming innocence. Azkadellia's possession was living, breathing proof.

She can't fault their lingering belief in stories. Those fireside tales of witches and sorcerers and other monstrous entities of untold and unknowable origin, all capable of catching the unwary and enslaving them to their evil wills, are the only reason she stands up here, whole and unscathed.

Sometimes she wishes the people hadn't been so forgiving, that instead they had torn her down and ripped her apart to slake their need for vengeance. That by offering up her flesh in penance, she could scour her soul clean and break free of the lingering nightmare.

Perhaps instead her penance is to be chained here, watching as her family struggles to put to rights what she destroyed.

DG endlessly insists Azkadellia did nothing wrong, earnestly nattering about PTSD and Stockholm syndrome and other words that have no meaning here in the O.Z. Azkadellia can hear—can feel, through bond they share—the weight of her younger sister's guilt. But DG doesn't know the truth, and Azkadellia buries it in the depths of her tainted soul and hopes no one will ever reach far enough inside to uncover it. If anyone knew, she would get the merciless death of which she dreamed, but the shame of meeting DG's broken eyes would be too much to bear.

DG deserves to keep what little innocence she has left.

The speeches ends just as the crowd begins to grow restless. to A cacophony of boos and jeers erupts as the prisoners, their black coats snapping in the wind, are led to the dais. The sorceress may have been behind the atrocities, but the monsters in their long black coats were the tangible evil, the one whose heavy hands were felt by all. Few here have seen Azkadellia before this day, but everyone had a story about how her minions destroyed lives.

The guards make a half-hearted attempt to stop the barrage of refuse and the jabs of makeshift weapons; Azkadellia knows it's for their own benefit, not that of their wards. A sharp rebuke from the queen echoes across the square, bouncing off the stone of the surrounding buildings only to be carried off in the wind. The harassment stops, but people surge towards the dais in eager anticipation. At the edge of her sight she sees Cain's step forward, hand twitching over his gun, and the twist of DG's hand holding him still.

The thirteen prisoners are chained in order of rank, and at the last she fists hands into her skirt, trying, as fingernails pierce her palms even through the heavy folds of velvet, to keep her reaction confined to those half moons of pain.


She knew he would be there, one of the high ranking officers chosen to pay for her sins, the ones who carried out her law with the least regret. Men without the excuse of possession to allow them escape. They had fought for her, died for her, and now they would be sacrificed in her stead as they all pretended that chopping off the worst of her hands would absolve her of responsibility.

Zero raises his head to study Cain, raking eyes over both him and his charge. Before Cain can make a move, DG turns and says soft words Az cannot hear; Cain minutely relaxes, but doesn't take his eyes away from Zero.

Zero's eyes flick over to Azkadellia. A smirk twitches at the edge of his lips and he gives the smallest of dips of his head in acknowledgment. She fights back a shudder but can't break his gaze, trapped by the bond that runs between them.

He always stood by her, no matter what her command. When Lonot and countless others questioned her merciless stranglehold on the O.Z., Zero just raised an eyebrow and smirked. Any protest he made was never about the content of her edicts or the form they would take, but about how he was to play his role. Zero was hers to send out on those tasks at which the most hardened of her soldiers balked.

The witch had gloried in his sadism. Azkadellia had delighted in his meeting her eyes without the slightest trace of fear. In his somehow seeing, not the witch, but the woman. Even now, his own death before him, he sees her. Even now, witch banished and the Outer Zone retrieved from usurper's grasp, she is relieved that someone does.

And now, for his loyalty, he will be put down like the mad dog he is.

One by one the prisoners are led forward, from lowest in rank to highest. The executioner, chosen by lots from among the resistance fighters, is a large bear of a man, dark curls of hair and beard nearly hiding startlingly green eyes that gravely take in the world around him with the same restless intensity as Cain's. There is no joy on his face as he shifts the heavy axe from hand to hand, only determination; no pleasure as the axe blade falls with a relentless thump against the wood block underneath, passing through flesh and bone as if it is air.

The howls from below grow as blood sprays and heads bounce and roll.

An uncharacteristically grim DG had offered to wield the executioner's axe even as she denied Cain the privilege, claiming it was her responsibility to put an end to this. Azkadellia hadn't been able to tell who was more horrified by the idea, her mother or her sister's bodyguard. Cain was certainly the more vocal, and, by what Azkadellia could hear of the hurried whispers as he and her sister left the queen, understood DG's reasons, although he couldn't agree. Now DG stands rigid, watching expressionlessly as each man is put in place, as each life is extinguished, as each body is carried away.

Azkadellia fights to maintain her own composure, her stomach roiling as the gore accumulates. For all she saw, for all she herself did, this is a new experience. The witch's executions had been cleaner. She favored hanging for those deaths she chose not carry out herself, and sucked away the life force for those executions that merited personal attention. Tortures she personally oversaw were more likely to be psychological than physical, and tended towards careful application of pain rather than gratuitous displays of blood.

The witch misliked the spilling of blood; it had it's own powers, ones even more ancient and implacable than the witch herself. She wouldn't willingly relinquish power or take the risk of waking something she might not be able to control.

She already had much less control than she desired.

Azkadellia keeps her eyes steady on Zero as he's brought forward for his turn as sacrificial lamb; neither she nor he betray a flicker of emotion. His eyes meet hers as his crimes are read and the crowd works itself into a frenzy. His eyes meet hers as he is shoved forward and down, neck stretched out on the scarred block of Northern oak carefully carved for this day. His eyes meet hers as the executioner bows his head in prayer, then raises his arms high for one final blow.

The axe falls.

It could have been vagaries of the capricious winds, a lapse from a weary man glad his job was almost over, or Zero's malicious spirit thumbing his nose at the royal family one last time, but the spray of blood isn't safely contained as it was twelve times before. Just as the suns' rays flit out from the cloud cover that had been hiding them all day, the body twitches and blood arcs over both the dais and the crowd, a warm red fountain that leaves splatters yards away and everywhere in between. From the laughter and snatches of conversation, most don't see this as a bad omen, but a benediction. The blood is proof the horror is over and the people are free. The last of the monsters has been slain.

Azkadellia stares at the blood that spatters the green velvet, rubs her fingers though the warm droplets on her hands. It mixes with blood seeping from the raw crescents her fingernails gorged in her palms. Zero's blood and hers mingle and blend until they're undistinguishable. There's no difference between them. No difference at all.

It's all the blood of monsters. DG destroyed the witch, but failed in her quest to banish the evil from her sister.

When Azkadellia reached adulthood, the witch lost full control of the mind she had invaded. As Azkadellia's power grew, she spent more time in charge of her own body. Each year, the relationship became less and less parasite and host and more mentor and protégée. Each year, Azkadellia let go of a little more of her childhood and more readily embraced her inevitable future. She had long ceased being scared of what her future would be. The very predictability of the inevitable was comforting.

Now, her future has become unpredictable and unknowable and more terrifying than she can ever express.

Only she remains to know the horror locked behind her careful mask.

Blood flies to the thirsty earth as she flicks her fingers in an ancient sign of warding and purification. Hope, long abandoned, is more painful than she dreamed.

The crowds around the dais break up, and her sister and the inevitable royal procession begin their slow way back to the castle. Azkadellia holds her shoulders back and her head high as she follows, reveling in the wind knotting her unbound hair and the sun warming her pale skin.

She survived everything else the fates had spun for her. She'll survive whatever the future now holds.

Or she won't.

She'll seek her redemption in the journey.

Constructive criticism is always welcome.