Chapter Twenty-two

Prepare For That Day as Well, For We've Spent Our Whole Lives Doing So For You.


", what?"

Nina and Ryu's melded voices reflected their bewilderment.

Red's lips parted into a smile. It, coupled with the black suit so perfectly attuned to his immaculate physique, made him look like a handsome Grim Reaper covered in tiny veins of glittering blood. He kicked snow onto Gray's still chomping muzzle and stepped toward Nina. She stiffened. Ryu swallowed and took a step forward. "Do not worry, your master is safe for now." Pausing to regard the quick flash of anger he caught in Ryu's seemingly emotionless face, the dark dragon leaned in close to Nina. Slender, ruby laced fingers twisted a scraggly red stained piece of her bangs in them. "If it makes any difference to you, o Lovely One, as your predecessor most adamantly adores to be addressed, I prefer long, luxurious hair on my deities. Though," He let go, the hair fell awkwardly askew to the rest. "I confess, I am not sure how long she'll deem appropriate for your conditioning. I suggest you not touch it until then, alright?" he lightly pat her shoulder and stood back. "And you, Destroyer." he said to Ryu. If the name meant anything, he didn't show it. "Prepare for that day as well, for we've spent our whole lives doing so for you."

"You...preparing" Nina couldn't help uttering when she realized he wasn't talking only of Ryu. Preposterous! How could they-

A flashback of Ryu lying broken and battered in the treetops reminded her why.

The dark dragon laughed, even using the harsh language of the dragons his voice still had the same strange poetic beauty Ryu's possessed. "The Kaiser isn't something to snub your nose at, o Lovely One. The Destroyer -as your guardian was known in his time- wrecked enough havoc to have his name mentioned quite a number of times throughout history." He turned back to Ryu. "There's a story young warriors are often told where he single handedly took out a fifty man light dragon camp without the help of our armor -he was too proud to use it-, relying only on shadow dances and what meager Myrmidon traits he could muster without the Kaiser devouring his already blackened soul." Ryu didn't waver in Red's intense stare. "Our Goddess' ancient army's trump card, a fragile minded killing machine relishing the blood of his enemies more than any woman's touch..."

And here they were both thinking these guys were the monsters.

Red continued, "I know I should not anticipate the kind of ruthless power you exhibited in your prime, what with you only having half of that madness inside you." Part of Ryu's head was in the "bubble" around Red; snow was making an odd shaped pile on his crown. "but I do expect for you to put on a damn good show. You'll have to. You'll be fighting to the death to stop us from taking her away."

Rowan appeared behind Red. Nina noticed for the first time, they were twins. He said something to his brother hurriedly, his eyes darting to the skies. Red shook his head, barked something back. Nina took advantage of their distraction to check on Kittah. The blow to her head had forced her to revert forms. She held onto her torn clothes and busted leg, watching with large eyes Gray still cursing and trying his best to bite Red's feet.

Just as Nina glanced down at him, one of those feet slammed Gray's muzzle shut. Bloody bits of teeth scattered the ground.

"Caleb!" Kittah screamed. Gray twitched in a growing pool of blood. "Why ya gotta do that ta 'im, huh?! He ain't nothin' ta ya!" She turned to Nina, tears streaming down her hysterical face, "Tell 'em that, Nina! Ya'll his friends! Tell 'em ta stop hurtin' 'im!"

She was damn right she was about to tell them.

Ignoring Ryu's soul's frantic protests and the hand grasping her arm with its nails drawing blood, she strode forward and stood on her toes so she was nose to chin with Red. Rowan stopped mid-sentence to stare. "That woren is my friend," growled Nina slowly, feeling the Kaiser dip her words in the acid fury coursing within her before allowing them departure from her clenched teeth. "Both are my friends, and if you're half as afraid of the Kaiser and me as I think you are, you'll leave them alone right now and get the hell out of my sight."

Ryu's hand fell from her. There was no rhythm to describe the torture she bestowed upon his heart. Kittah gawked.

Nina held Red in her crimson tinged gaze for a full minute, never faltering once. Both of the brothers' hearts were calm. Hers was a lost cause.

Finally, Red grinned. His teeth were longer than Ryu's. "Axel," he said, backing up with a respectful bow, "That is what I'm called. I look forward to our next meeting, my Lady."

And then they were nothing but fading lights in the air. Nina blinked. Behind her eyelids the glowing sinewy remnants of their suits objected to her mind's questioning on whether she had imagined their existence.

Ryu sank to his knees. Merybel, apparently having watched the whole thing from the earrings pinned to Ryu's cloak, popped out of them and went immediately to the heap of silver in the snow that was Gray without question. Wolfie staggered over and fell into Kittah's arms while she tearfully begged Merybel to save her brother.

Nina turned her head slowly to Ryu. The look on his face froze her blood solid.

He was afraid.


He only stared at her in silence, letting that fear show through uninhibited by the invisible walls he always held between him and the world.

Nothing could have ever unnerved her more.

Zeth's lazy black eyes gazed past the bandages covering his nose and what parts of his torso he could see down at the communicator sitting upright on a table connected to his bed. Jaxx Roman's tanned bald head shined in the sun on the screen. He squinted his one good eye at Zeth. The other was sewn shut and sported a wicked scar making its way into black flames tattooed over that side of his face. "So you're done?" his raspy, cigarette violated voice asked dubiously, "What does Lyut have to say about this?"

"He's dead," Zeth drawled, sounding bored as always, "I no longer have the desire to put myself into a situation I know I will not come out victorious."

Zeth's counterparts were programmed to sacrifice themselves for him when it came down to it. Without that lunatic, Sesimhan's rantings made a lot more sense.

Jaxx shook his head. "First Ivory, now you. I wonder if I should pull Lesley out... Adelaide reported being near them as well." The big man sighed, wiping his hand through the sweat dripping down his sunburned cranium. Behind him, Zeth could see a blue ocean lapping at white sand. Seagulls screamed into the air. "I hate to send Luc out so soon. He's dying to have a go, but I'm afraid of the damage he'll cause. Maybe a trap out in the middle of the desert..."

"Don't ask anyone to talk to me if you don't want them to hear the truth."

"By all means, tell 'em the truth! I ain't happy about losin' Ivory, ya know?" Jaxx rubbed his fingers on the wiry gray hairs lining his jaw. "One of Ironsides' kids is with her, ain't they?"

Zeth nodded. "He would go if you told him."

"Nah. He might lose it around a dragon."

"Deception is Adelaide's forte. She might have a better chance than most."

Jaxx's coat colored eye shifted. "Alright. Thanks for contacting me. Heal up and think about changing your mind. I could pair you up with someone, two even. Want Lesley? Phoebe?"

"Thanks for your concern, but no thanks," Zeth said, cutting off the communicator and leaning back against his pillow.

Through a window in the wall in front of him, he could see the Wyndian girl Chasta sleeping.

The Angel of Death's wide glowing eyes flashed in his mind. His palms began to sweat.

Whatever they did, they needed to keep that girl as far away from the Angel as they could.

First Ivory, now Alabaster.

Ethan stared at his communicator's blank screen, sweat beading on his forehead. Two hits, Zeth said. Two hits and Lyut was dead.

How could Nina be capable of this? Even if she had all the power in the world her heart was, she was too innocent to-

He thought back to her teeth tearing into the wolfman's throat at her execution, her frying Ludia's advisor to a crisp, the hole in Ivory's neck...

The dragon had nothing to do with it, only her. Zeth had made that very clear.

And now both Lesley and Adelaide were reportedly in the mix. Jaxx even mentioned Lucas' name...

Hunter green eyes went down through rafters at Isabella sleeping soundly in her bed. Jaw hardening, he turned his communicator back on and scrolled down his contact list until the name Phoebe was highlighted.

Gods help him, he wasn't going to last one more minute in this place.

"She's alive. She has to be," said Ryu, hiking Gray's unconscious body up higher on his back. Merybel didn't heal him completely, just enough to allow him to be carried safely.

"She? As in...her?" Nina asked incredulously. Wolfie pranced at her heels, head cocked. "H-how? Wyndians live longer than humans, but none have ever been recorded to live that long." Kittah was on her back, sleeping from the bit of dreamroot they'd administered to calm her down. Merybel was inside the earrings Nina so hastily had jammed into her now swollen earlobes, taking care of her wings. Thankfully after healing the siblings, the faerie had enough power to do so; if there were survivors in Lhan, the Black Wings would be the last thing they would want to see.

Snow continued to fall, Nina, Ryu and the dog had been hiking through shin deep powder for the past hour. "There was always something about her," he spoke in old Wyndian, as he always did when things meant only for her ears were said, "Her magic was too strong for her to be simply a Wyndian queen; she sealed me for five hundred years! Mighty unqueen-like spell if you ask me."

"She revived herself once," Nina said. Kittah's head lolled on her shoulder. "When she was my age she became queen and died all in the same year. She had a weak immune system and wasn't allowed to go outside most of her life. During her coronation she was said to have contracted something from the crowds; a common virus that to her might as well have been the plague. There was a funeral and everything. She was childless, so it created a stir over which of her uncles was going to take the throne. My ancestors started a fight, right over her coffin, in front of the whole country, and then she just kind of, sat up in the middle of it." Nina paused to shake snow from her head. Ryu's eyes were glued to her. "It's documented that she changed, noticeably. For one, she was healthy. Insanely healthy. Her doctors couldn't believe it. She said the Goddess had come to her in her hour of need to save her soul from eternal damnation as long as she promised to unite the world's races against all darkness. I guess that's when she had the dream about you and I destroying everything, I'm not sure. She led the really important battles, had a son somehow during all of it, and...everything's fuzzy to me after that, I'm sorry I didn't pay much attention to those old crones in Wyndia growing up." She looked to Ryu, frowning, "Why did the red one say I was their future Goddess?"

Ryu's face was dark.

He stopped walking and started to laugh.

and laugh,

and laugh.

Nina stared at him. Tears rolled down his bronzed face. "Oh Ladon this is so godsdamn amazing!" he cried, almost dropping Gray. Wolfie growled. "Is this really what she's doing? I've scorned her this much she plans to make me her slave again half a millennium later?'!" His laughter boomed throughout the forest.

"What are you talking about?" Nina asked, glancing nervously around, "Quiet down! You'll wake the dead with that racket-!"

"Don't you understand? She wants to be you! Those dark dragons, blinded by her false promises... Ladon she probably believes herself the Goddess after a story like that. Of course she would ally with them, what other race would have the technology to keep her alive for as long as it took someone to find me underneath Wyndia?" he continued laughing, stopping only to take in necessary air, "She wants what the Kaiser has made you into; she wishes to cage me once again! Well I say she try! Let her come and do her worst! I survived it, I will survive once more!" Nina watched the laughter become fury, the glint in his eye morph into fire. "I'll be ready. Don't worry you bastards, I'll be more than ready for you," he spat through bared teeth.

"Alright," said Nina softly, for she understood his anger more than anyone, "We will be ready."

The Kaiser, dark dragons, the AG, the almost corpse of Nyna the Second being kept alive by technology Nina couldn't comprehend waiting to take over her cursed body... She was past questioning the things happening to her.

"I will be ready," he said shaking his head after taking a few deep breaths in an attempt to ebb his tremendous anger. "We will try our best to evade them until Drogen and get our souls back. You will become undesirable then, but me," he smirked, "Oh she'll have a lot to say to me."

Nina's eyes went wide. "Surely you aren't suggesting you take her and those dragons on your own! How do you know there aren't more? I won't let you!"

"Once you're free, why would you care?"

Her reply died on her lips. Why would she care? Sure they were tiptoeing together around the word "friend", but wasn't what she wanted in the first place was to get as far away from this dragon as she could? To get rid of this gods forsaken curse?

Frowning through something churning in her stomach, she nodded. "Give or take what needs to be done about my sister right? You promised."

"I remember. I remember everything I promise."


They started to walk again. Wolfie cautiously padded a few paces behind.

"I remember the one I couldn't fulfill for him," Ryu muttered, nodding back to Gray. "I told him I was going to make those dragons tell us what they did to his girl."

"You tried, I can vouch!"

"I said I would make them," he growled.

"Oh Ryu, you mustn't think he'll blame you for that."

"Did you not see him? He knew he was throwing himself into death but he did it anyways for this person. How could I not respect him enough to try my hardest for something he felt so strongly about? You stood tall where I could not, Na'vie."

Nina's heart fluttered. She flushed when his one of his eyebrows raised, signaling he noticed. "A-ah w-well, you just said something that well..." she swallowed, wondering why she bothered to explain herself to him, " know... I guess," swallowed again at his strange stare piercing through her, "Only, you know, good people say things like that, so I, I guess you know...well you know alright?'!" she finished hastily.

No response. He faced ahead and hastened his step. Nina couldn't help smiling at his awkward swagger. He was exactly like his soul.

By nightfall, they reached Lhan and to both of their relief, saw it was full of lights casting shadows on living people. Alive, but noticeably shaken by recent conflict. The village, just like Kittah had described, consisted of copious amounts of vegetation, or at least used to. Vines dotted with colorful flowers hugged every bit of the surrounding stone walls that weren't crumbled or burnt. In the tree tops above the village, charred, broken bridges made of the same vines connecting rooms built into the giant trees' hollowed out centers swung gently against their trunks. Candles flickered in the windows of almost every tree house. Scrawny, anxious guards patrolled the entrance; most didn't look like they had ever held a weapon in their life.

Sudden winds disturbed the torches lining the outer walls, causing shadows to leap around erratically. A few whirled and drew their swords. One struggled to pull his from his a loosely hung scabbard on his back and fell flat on his rump. "The dragons must've taken out their main defenses, these are kids," whispered Ryu, voicing Nina's thoughts, "If I go in there, these eyes of mine will only cause panic," he looked to Nina. "Can you handle them both?"

She nodded. "Kittah's a feather and Gray's not much more." She held Kittah in one arm and Gray in the other by their waists. "So," she asked, "how do I explain my ability to carry them?" Wolfie sat quietly, regarding her with interest.

Ryu shrugged. "Magic?"

"That isn't the answer for everything!"

"They wouldn't know."

"I think they might!"

Nina wished Kittah was awake so she could do all the talking. "People here know them, right? It should throw everyone off once they get recognized. Demand to see that Shyloh. Say it's their dying wish. Get the full story if she's dead. Promise me Na'vie."

"Yeah I got it, I promise," Ryu faded into the shadows. Nina stood, praying she wouldn't have a reason to relay anything to Gray. "Wish me luck," she said to his hazy form and burst out of the bushes, screaming HELP so loud half the guards dropped their weapons and the contents of their bladders.

Stella wasn't happy.

When she woke up, the little annoying blonde girl was gone along with the brunette she wanted to murder for knocking her out. She had groggily reached for her communicator to call Vahn when she noticed her reflection on a metal paperweight sitting on his desk was Vahn; she was transformed just like that little girl was! Frantically she tried to think of a way to get the spell off. She couldn't be Vahn! What was she going to do if someone came in there?

She didn't have to worry long about either thing. The door swung open just as the thought clicked, and the entire council witnessed her spell's expiration.

"'ey foxy girl, slide on ova this way, I wanna take a good look at ya."

"Piss off," she growled.

The council still hadn't found Vahn. He had never in his life missed a call from them. The only explanation was he had to be dead and who else but Stella could have done it? Treason! She'd overthrown the prince!

The cell she was in was filthy, and full of men cat calling at her. Lucky for them they were all chained too far away for her to reach.

She sighed. This was not worth the few nights she spent with that pompous jerk sipping Chamba's most expensive wine...

"Come on pretty girl, I dun care ya off'ed tha prince, I ain't like him much no ways-"

"I said, piss off!"

She felt something slimy from the ceiling drip onto and roll down her shuddering back.

Someone was going to die for this.

A/N: I decided to go ahead and put this out. I've been on a creative roll lately lol. I'm going to be randomly updating my Deviantart page (Namithepiratethief) with drawings from each chapter of this story. I'm going to try for at least 1 per. Enjoy and thanks for staying with me!