Celi hadn't been in this situation in some time. She felt utterly helpless, looking at two of her three sons fighting for their lives in the battle below her relatively sheltered position.

A bit of wall crumbled beside her, and she closed her eyes briefly before checking that the rest had decided it could remain upright for a few hours or days longer. Her arm twinged, and she cradled it more closely to her side, willing her magic to heal at least the outer layer of skin so she wasn't bleeding, though she was too tired for much more.

"Conrad, what are we waiting for?"

She turned a little, seeing the young king through her dripping bangs, as eager to rush into danger as ever, never seeing that for a young thing like him it would have been death so many times over if the maoh inside of him didn't take over, if his soldiers didn't place themselves between him and the grim specter.

"You will remain here, your majesty." Conrart was already removing the more constricting shirt he'd been wearing as part of his disguise, or rather, the straps that held the sleeves. He shifted his shoulders, feeling the freedom of his arms in slight relief even as he tightened his sword belt a notch.

"Conrad, I can—"

"No," he countered shortly.

Her sons weren't foolish, and had always understood death and their relationship to it; none more than her half-human son, the son who aged far more quickly than her heart could bear.

"But Conrad! I can help!"

"You will remain here, and look after Mother." Conrart smiled gently, but his eyes were cold, already on the battle below even as he fought the most important one up here.

"Conrad! I really can—"

"You're still weary from using your power earlier. You will remain here."

"But I'm the—"


"Conrad, you can't make me stay! I—"


Yuri clenched his fists, glaring up at Conrart. "I'm the King."

"I know. No, you aren't coming unarmed into a battle." Conrart turned fully to face the young king, the weary weight of battles that numbered far more than seasons Yuri had seen cloaking him in a solemn dignity and strength that made the King look more awkward and young than ever before.

"But, Conrad… I could help. I—"

Conrart shook his head. "No."



Yuri growled, striding forward, closing the small distance between them. "You can't expect me to stay here while everyone I care about fights for their lives!"

"Yes I can. You shall remain here."

"You can't order me." Yuri was shaking his head, looking so confused, anger and fear painted large and bright in his eyes. Celi waited for Conrart to turn to her, to silently ask her to speak up and explain that they were fighting so he wouldn't. Some little part was poised, ready to step in at the first sign her son needed her, even for something as small as this. It had been so many weary years since he'd relied upon anyone. Anyone other than Josak, anyone other than others in similar situations.

She wanted him to need her, again.

"I am your guard, your majesty. It isn't safe for you to go. If you insist on accompanying me, I shall remain here."

Black eyes widened, staring down at the battlefield just as Gwendal received a wound. A shallow wound, and he slaughtered his opponents with just a slight shift of his brow to betray the injury, but the field seemed painted red. "But… your brothers are fighting. Gunter… Josak…"


In the face of Conrart's stoic acceptance, Celi thought for a long moment that Yuri was defeated, would allow himself to be ordered behind so Conrart could go fight. Could go help those who needed any additional sword, needed desperately one wielded with the skill of Conrart's. But the instant of indecision passed quickly, Yuri's brows drawing together in a petulant scowl. "Conrad, I can help! Really I can! I'm not that tired, and you've been training me—"


The shout startled her, and Yuri as well, both left staring at Conrart for a moment. Conrart's smile was gone, his eyes violent in their emotion for the moment before he moved, shattering the stunned tableau. His hand cupped Yuri's jaw, pulling the king's head up as his descended, his mouth slanting roughly over the king's slack one. Conrart's body bowed over the younger king's, sheltering, guarding, even as he devoured.

"C-Conrad," Yuri whispered, eyes wide when Conrart lifted his head.

They stared at each other from the scant distance for a speaking moment, and Celi felt her son was farther from her than he'd ever been, even when on the brink of death that he'd seen too often.

Conrart leaned in again, Yuri's eyes fluttering shut as he tilted his head for a tender, gentling kiss. Sword-roughened fingers brushed lightly at a bit of stone dust on Yuri's cheek, and Yuri nuzzled into the touch with a sigh before opening his eyes.

He seemed older, in that moment, as if he'd gained the years his body would claim him to have by the ways of their kingdom. "Come back," he said quietly.

The hand brushed one final time down the pale cheek, and Conrart stepped back, slowly, bowing his head slightly. "Always, Yuri." And then he was gone, and Yuri began trembling even as the Lion's blade flashed in the dim light given by torches and spreading fire, by magic and lightning as the heavens wept at the destruction they couldn't stop.

The King wiped at his cheeks, and Celi stepped forward, resting a pale hand on his shoulder. Her son was lost to her, always and forever.

She'd never been prouder.