She had enthralled the Emperor, stolen his heart when their ancient animalistic warring had ended. She was not the only one, but it was clear to all that she held Rome's eye, that she'd found a special place in his heart. Fearsome and terrifying as she was in combat, the terror she could bring as one of the final few, Greece seemed to slide well into her new and much more peaceful life. She was a consort to their alpha, yet she enjoyed her freedoms as well. Rome was a wanderer, and she was happy to let him dally with others he wished to bed. A lightness had fallen over her, something easygoing and friendly, and she found it such a welcome change to the savage mindless beast she'd been before.

Nothing could have prepared her for the joy she would feel when she created her son, when she tore from herself a successor. A son she crafted, and she was careful in her creation, she would not follow the disastrous example Rome had. Happily she shared with her son, walking amongst her people with him held tenderly in her arms, sharing everything she had with him. She did not know it at first, but in time it became clear to her. This child, this son who looked at her with vigor and brightness, who seemed to grow swiftly with strength, would inherit everything she had. Perhaps she would create more children, perhaps she would not. One thing was so very clear to her however, a fact she could not stop.

She would leave him her name... yes, should she ever fall, he would be Greece.

It startled her, when she began to see the children of the other Ancients grow up, when not tiny new Nations but juvenile adults began to wander and explore, talk and yes war. Her own son was no longer a mere child, boisterous and in love with activity and sport. She made certain to temper him, of course, sharing with him tales of history, having him sit with her while her human philosophers wove their wonderful words in profound ways. He could not be only one thing, she wanted to share with him this balanced life, something she'd not had when she'd been created.

She was wary at first, when a foreign son began to spend time in her lands. Her first instinct was to drive him away, force him out of territory that was not his, away from people connected to her and soon her son. He backed away easily at first, young and no doubt uncertain about crossing an Ancient. Yet time and again he would return, and the look in his eyes was not warlike. Greece had seen the look before, had seen it in the eyes of Rome after they'd changed. It was fondness, perhaps attraction. She knew not what to make of it, of this child who seemed to play at an adult. It had never occurred to her to consort with the younger Nations in such a manner, and perhaps it was this curiosity that lured her into letting him into her lands.

He was so young, and at first it was sweet. It would not last.

His true inner nature, the failing of his own parent in his creation, or the truth of their existence. She knew not what to blame when he turned on her, when he wounded her deep and swift, when he gutted her before she could bring against him her age old experience in combat. To be brought low by what seemed no more than a babe when compared to her, it was almost more intolerable than the killing wounds. No insult was greater than when he began to feast, when lips that'd kissed her and adored and flattered her parted to allow teeth turned sharp to rend her open. She truly had become a shadow of her former self... she truly had diminished.

He left her, alive and incomplete, bleeding and wasted and open to death. Why he hadn't made certain to snuff the life from her body she did not know. Would not know. Would never ask, even if she survived this. Unable to move or react as he took over all she'd come to claim, her vision so very dim and dark, a shadow had crept to her side. Her son... the one who would inherit her all... he looked at her with such strange eyes... and she wept as he did something she knew Rome's son would never even consider. Her son... her beloved son. Pride and heartbreak made her chest burn.

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

When he finally woke, Japan was certain that his insides had been converted to ice. That powerful winter deity had surely left a mark within him, and he wondered if perhaps the winters of his own lands would change from now on. He wondered if his people would suffer colder seasons. He blinked his dark eyes slowly, determined not to allow it. This winter general may have sway and influence in Russia, but Japan would not give in. He was the Nation, the influence, of his lands. He felt frozen now, but just as he knew he must master the monster inside, so too would he drive away the cold in his bones.

Sitting up slowly, frowning at the heavy stone beneath him, Japan was not certain where he was. Not his home, and he had to conclude it would not be Russia. He was sure he'd been cast away from there. So... where was he then? He let his eyes drift, moving slowly from side to side. It didn't take him long at all to recognize this spot, to remember sitting not far from here before. Last time he'd come here, he'd sat upon a grassy hill, held cats and had idle conversation. Now... now he rested upon ancient stone, ruins left behind to the Nation who held power here.

Gazing up at the sky, leaning against a massive cross, was Greece himself. The Nation looked weary and sleepy as ever, his clothes disheveled. Still... there was just something in his posture, something most often lacking, that gave Japan reason to pause. Greece's body had always looked too strong for one who simply seemed to sleep away his days. He could too easily dig and bring up the ruins left to him by his ancient mother. Watching the Nation gaze at the clouds, it didn't feel as though the other had been faking it all this time. He didn't get the sense that it'd been an act all this time... but it was impossible not to notice Greece's strength right now. There was power in the Nation... power that seemed trapped... siphoned?

"You're awake," Japan quickly looked in the opposite direction, shocked to see Turkey of all Nations approaching him. Not that he showed it with anything more than a raising of his eyebrows, but still, he'd felt it. Nations were turning on each other, reverting to cannibalistic monsters... and these two grudge-bearing Nations were choosing now to seemingly get along? They could tolerate each other on a good day... Japan would have thought they'd be tearing at each other's throats after Rome's awakening. The masked Nation walked over, kneeling down at Japan's side and reaching out with his hand.

"Don't touch him, you'll leave your stink on him," came Greece's words, blunt and unyielding. Turkey turned his head, a sneer on his lips and an argument not doubt on his tongue. Japan didn't want to be here if these two started up a bloody battle now... but at least this helped him regain his bearings. Greece and Turkey antagonizing each other was familiar. He shook his head lightly, and looked between the two of them. Greece was coming over to check on him as well now, cross carried over his shoulder.

"Greece-san, Turkey-san... how did I get here?" It seemed unreasonably far for the winter spirit to toss him this far out of Russia.

"We found you in Georgia," Turkey said, smirking at Greece as he managed to 'win' by answering Japan first. The sleepy Nation looked at him with unhappy shadowed eyes.

"Ah... and... what were you... doing there...? And... together...?" It was too curious to think of them teaming up. Once again Turkey was quick to answer, talking right over Greece when the Nation started to speak.

"Reconnaissance. Heard a rumor Georgia went down, wanted to check it out. Got to know who's still left in the game... and it's best to know who's started devouring." Turkey offered a mirthless grin, even if the fire of competition heated his words.

"We haven't been traveling together," Greece supplied slowly, pulling Japan's attention his way. "But it was inevitable... that we would have to deal with each other." The two Nations shared a long meaningful look, one that wasn't open hostility, only unpleasant history. Before the tension could raise further, Greece turned back to the Asian Nation. "He owes me a debt."

Turkey barked out a retort, a nasty string of words that showed how much he disagreed with the statement. He stood up from where he'd been kneeling, looking down on Greece with loathing. "I don't owe you anything."

Greece stared up at him, not cowed in the least. "You tried to kill her."

Turkey scoffed. "It was the way of things then."

"No, we had changed. You fell back on old ways. You gave in!" Greece rose to his feet again, hand snapping out in an uncharacteristic display of speed. Turkey's mask was removed, and Japan gasped, staring up at inhuman scaly flesh, coarse and discolored. Turkey snarled, making his face seem that much more monstrous, and Greece stood taller, arm moving about the cross, as if preparing to use it as a weapon. Turkey's hand found the hilt of the blade at his hip, his eyes furious slits.

"What does it matter? You saved her." Greece said nothing in response, though Japan wondered very much how Greece had apparently saved his mother. The typically drowsy Nation didn't relax, didn't take his eyes off of Turkey and that hideous deformation around his eyes.

Turkey's body shook with fury, though at last he looked down at Japan. He didn't seem ashamed of his face, of the half beast it seemed to make him. He didn't try to reclaim his mask either. Instead it seemed as if he was allowing Japan a moment to glimpse what lay beneath their skin, to have a chance to see a sliver of what they were. Japan's mind collected this new information, absorbed what he was being offered. It wouldn't let him ignore the fact that Turkey, no matter how human and tame he was acting now... had devoured the flesh of an Ancient Nation. He bore the glimpse of his true form like a battle scar. 'He knew... never would have forgotten, the monsters we are. He's known and played nice... he's known and watched us all move about in ignorance.'

Perhaps the rest of the Nations could exist in ignorant bliss, but never Turkey. Never him when the proof of what they were sat right under the mask. Japan looked over to Greece, noticed the way that Nation watched him now instead of Turkey, and realized that Greece had never forgotten either. No doubt whatever price he'd paid to save his mother had left a lingering effect upon him.

"What were you doing in Georgia?" Greece asked, cocking his head to the side just slightly. Japan dipped his gaze, furious with himself over his failed mission to keep tabs on and possibly stop Russia.

"Someone needs to watch Russia. China refuses to see him as a threat... so I stepped up instead." Greece frowned at him.

"You shouldn't be here... you should stay on your island... this all doesn't need to concern you..." Greece's words stabbed at Japan, hit him deeply even if the barb had not been intended. His lips thinned as he thought of isolation... of the state he'd tried to remain in for so long until he was forced open. It hurt, even now, and perhaps forever. He would always, in some fashion, want it back. He and his people had moved with the times, integrated into the global community yes... but it was so cruel, like dangling a water bottle before a parched man in the desert.

"I will not... wait... for this conflict to come to my shores..." He said slowly, as reasonably as his carefully chained emotions would let him. He found his way to his feet on his own, pride prickling at his skin, almost making him burn it seemed. Hotter and hotter, and for a moment Japan wasn't certain if it was anger making him feel such heat or something else.

'You can have it back of course... you simply need to win... or... devour enough that none will be stupid enough to come after you...'

"You can't listen to it..." Greece's words seemed to drag Japan out of whatever was afflicting him, the heat mostly vanishing under those deep even tones. Both of the Nations with him watched him with eyes that clearly understood what he'd just experienced. Turkey smirked, reaching up to tap the hideous skin about his eyes.

"It doesn't lead where ya want it to," he said, and it wasn't exactly regret in his words, just a grim familiarity.

Japan reached up, rubbing at his temples a bit. Pulling himself together, he looked at each Nation in turn. "What are your plans?" He asked at length. Turkey gripped the hilt of his sword firmly.

"We kill Rome, of course." Japan frowned, looking at Greece who gave a slow unhappy nod.

"... that will not 'fix' this though... will it?" Though the 'madness' in them all had woken with Rome, Japan couldn't see it simply disappearing with the Ancient's death.

"It will not..." Greece conceded. He hefted the cross a bit, resting the weight part on the stone, part his shoulders. "Any Nations that have let the madness consume them will have to be dealt with. But... with his death... at least... no others should give in to what's inside..."

Jaw set, Japan gave a slow nod of acknowledgement. His eyes slid to Turkey, however, and he arched one brow. "There is no redemption?"

The formerly masked Nation gave an aggravated sigh. It seemed there had to be, not that the tiny voice in the back of Japan's mind wanted there to be. He squashed it down, refusing to listen. The evidence though... if Turkey had turned savage in the past... yet managed now to live in a 'civilized' manner... how had he done it? Turkey stared at the mask Greece still held, shaking his head. "I don't know how it happened... how I 'settled down'... If there's a way to restore sanity, I don't know it. I benefited... but I don't have that answer."

Crossing his arms, Japan considered the situation. He was still concerned with Russia... yet it seemed that if he allied with Greece and Turkey here... in the end... he'd be in a better position to deal with any threat. They seemed able to control the beasts inside, seemed to possess more personal experience and knowledge of the situation than China had shown. Japan wasn't convinced China had been completely upfront with everything he knew... though perhaps old grudges and conflicts were the cause of this. It wasn't anything near perfect or all trusting, their relationship.

"I would like to go with you," he declared at length, and he could see they weren't pleased with the idea. He was set on the idea though. No matter how much he wanted to go home, seclude himself away and will the rest of the world to leave him be... it wouldn't work. The world didn't function that way anymore, and he simply didn't have the military might to enforce the isolation he wanted. People looked at 'the world' more than they looked at 'countries' sometimes. They moved and traded and grabbed resources from whatever lands they could. Even he knew he had to.

"If that's what you want..." Turkey offered at last. Japan nodded, looking between them.

"Where do we go now?" He asked, and Greece pointed off into the distance. He fixed tired eyes to the island Nation, sober and serious.

"We go find my mother."

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

The door rattled, steel creaked, and sharp scratching could be heard. He pursed his lips, staring at the shaking barrier, wondering if against all odds and precautions he'd taken... it wouldn't hold. He paced back and forth for a moment, slowly, thoughtfully, willing the feelings inside to go away. He needed a level head right now, he needed clarity he was content to pretend he didn't have most days. He paused and swallowed slowly.

She was trying to escape again.

The shiver of fear that sent down his spine was illogical... it seemed ludicrous that he should fear her as he did. But what she lacked in size and strength she made up for in sheer tenacity and ruthlessness. Oh he could be ruthless... but she could be so very single minded. She could also, if let out to devour... become so strong even he would have no idea how to survive. What tactics could he use if that happened?

Play to her love? Oh no... that had been twisted and warped long before all of this. She would be joined to her big brother... one way or another.

Smoothing one hand down his scarf, other hand holding that rusty pipe of his, he moved on. He left her door behind, tried to ignore the pounding and scratching and muffled shouting coming from the other side. He had other concerns, things and Nations he did not fear yet he kept here all the same. A smile couldn't help but grace his lips, a giggle flutter up through his throat, as he imagined the world outside this stronghold he'd forged for himself.

He paused at another door, taking a moment to peek inside of this one. Huddled in the far corner of the room was his little guest, staring at him with the widest most terrified eyes he'd ever seen. Poor little thing, he looked like he was going to tremble himself to death. He would have gone inside to comfort him, to give him a warming pat on the head, but there were other things to be done now. That... and he was feeling hungry... so it was best to simply move on. He didn't want to do anything on accident he may regret later.

The food in here wasn't for him anyhow.

He passed his pawns, all tucked nicely into their squares on the board. Well, not all were pawns, but none here in these little squares were his King and Queen. So much of the game still to play, though to say 'play' implied this to be a much lighter situation than it was. The tormenting ache around his neck grew as if to remind him, calling to mind forms that so many had claimed were nightmares and madness. How very silly, the forms had simply been what lurked on the inside. There was much pain that would happen, but he understood pain. He understood that pain was no excuse to fail.

He kept smiling, pleasant and simple and as blessedly innocent as part of his mind would like to be. He smiled and contemplated that fool from the west, contemplated a splinter that sat under his skin, one that festered across the ocean and just would not ever let itself be forgotten. This little splinter... it was such an important piece, and it was a piece not yet on the board where it should be. Fingers drumming along the length of the pipe, he pondered what moves he needed to make to ensure this very important piece moved where he could catch it. Capture it. Make it his own to enhance his own side.

Chess was a game of pairs... there were too many who thought they could be players moving about. This misconception would have to be corrected.

He could have skipped up the stairs in his glee at this challenge within challenges. A boring opponent was always a bit disappointing. An unworthy one even more so. Thankfully the one he wished to view across the board was quite worthy. Very much so. Therefore, he would make certain to do his best, present his very best game for this opponent. He would use his best strategies, would select only the finest pieces for the game. He paused, tilting his head to the side.

"Perhaps I shall have to capture another piece before the one I want moves within my reach..."

Moving his pawns had done nothing to draw out the piece he wanted, or so it seemed. Quite frustrating, and he felt vaguely annoyed that behavior he predicted was not being followed. Was it the madness, adding a new randomization to his target? It seemed impossible... for surely the one he wanted had already been mad... had always been mad.

Hadn't he helped to make him so?

Author's Notes:

Yes yes, we all know that Turkey isn't hideous and monstrous under his mask, that he's a normal handsome guy. No need to point out that he's been officially unmasked before, I know. I know. ;D

The last segment was intentionally typed without names. Personally, I think you can figure out who everyone is, but if you can't, well, that's part of the fun.