"The killer's breed, or the demon's seed,
The glamour, the fortune, the pain…
Go to war again; blood is freedom's stain
Don't you pray for my soul anymore…"
-Iron Maiden, "2 Minutes to Midnight"

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It was almost time. The tension was like a rope, so taut it was in danger of snapping. Almost time. A practiced eye could note the subtle change in the Moon's glow. A very practiced eye, mind you. It's an art that can only be picked up after a long, long time.

Night had fallen. It was almost time. But not yet.

He was practically jumping in the air. Patience had never been one of his strong suits. Belzac always said that Kanzas' fidgeting before the signal was enough to drive him up a wall. The companions had always predicted that sooner or later Kanzas would throw himself into the fray prematurely, but they were grudgingly impressed when he never did.

It only took an instant. The Moon's glow turned bright red. The color of screams. The color of slaughter. The color of hell. The Black Monster spread its wings and descended.

He lived for that moment—the moment the signal was given to begin the attack. He was like an arrow aching to fly from the string and impale the first thing that crosses its path. And like an arrow he sped; he was always the first one there.

Black burning fire fell upon the houses at the Monster's command. People began running and screaming, but it was too late. The Black Monster had taken good care to give little warning to the unsuspecting villagers.

The sky exploded with violet electricity. Any Wingly foolish enough to come within fifty feet of the Dragoon was obliterated. He was killing them faster than a cook could pluck feathers from a chicken; it might have been comic were it not for the bloodied, mutilated corpses he left in his wake.

Any entreaty for mercy from the Black Monster was an entreaty made in vain. A heavy beam fell from a burning house, crushing a man's leg. A woman, his wife, halted from her flight and attempted to free her husband, despite his urging her to go on without him. The Monster alighted before them. The woman stopped and stared. The Monster reached out its arm and seized her neck.

"No!" the man cried. "Please! For the love of God, let her go!"

The wife was audibly choking. The man vainly struggled to free himself, tears running down his face. "I beg of you! Stop it!"

The woman's eyes bulged and rolled madly in their sockets. Her chest heaved one more time in a fruitless effort to draw oxygen, and then her entire body went still. The Black Monster finally let the woman go; the corpse crumpled into a heap at its feet.

"You… you monster!" cried the man. "You demon! You—" His words transformed into wordless shrieks as he was stuck with a dark blast that burned him to death.

The Birth City was aflame. The Dragoons and their dragons were nearing victory. It was only a matter of time before the place fell. The Violet Dragoon was speeding through the air until a small movement caught his eye. He halted, spun, and followed the perpetrator.

Kanzas' quarry flew into a floating house, a typical dwelling place for Winglies of lower rank. Kanzas forced his way in, and faced the object of his pursuit. Huddled against the wall at the far end of the building was a Wingly child, who appeared to be the Human equivalent of ten years old. His arms were tightly wrapped around a second child, several years younger than himself.

"Kanzas…"Rose had followed him. "It's not necessary…"

Kanzas ignored her. The smaller child was sobbing, and the older one was staring at the Dragoons with a pleading look in his eyes. Kanzas' stare had no pity.

"ATOMIC MIND!"


At last the sun rose. The town was nothing but a smoking heap of rubble. A lone woman, dried blood coating her like an extra skin, emerged from the wreckage. She looked exhausted, as though she had marched from one end of the earth to the other, and then back again. She grasped the handle of the rapier at her side, not to be prepared for an unsuspecting attack, but simply to keep her hand from shaking and to give herself an illusion of self-support.

She needed to leave quickly, before someone from another village came to investigate. She came before what was a house at the front of the town. She bent down and touched some of the stone, and then departed. She made damn sure to not take one look back.

The blood-coated woman went on until she was far, far away from the destruction before she allowed herself to collapse, exhausted.

"Kanzas," said Rose as she stepped into the room, "Shirley wants you to…" She stopped dead, at a loss of words. Three of the four walls of Kanzas' room were nothing but shelves from floor to ceiling. Resting on the shelves were… dolls, grotesque, crudely made dolls. Many of the faces were impossible to interpret, but those that weren't wore expressions of twisted horror or agony. "What… what are those?" she asked.

"Mementos," he said bluntly.

The woman dropped her belongings, removed her clothing, and washed the blood away in a steam. There were unsoiled clothes next to her, but the first thing she reached for was a knife. The knife engraved twenty-five hash marks on the skin on her right leg. The wounds bled, of course, but that would soon cease, just like the twenty-two scar marks that had been made one hundred and eight years earlier. There were many, many scars… but they were easy to hide.

The scars were the only mementos she could afford to carry.


Quite honestly, it astounded Rose. She never dreamed—and if she did, she would have thought such a dream would have been completely fucked up—that she would ever, ever be able to relate to Kanzas. Or rather, she never dreamed that she would ever become like him. Yet here she stood…

Rose did her best to block out the memories of the distant past; there was no point in wallowing in pain.

He would have made an excellent Black Monster, though.

But fate didn't play out that way…

Rose could only stare as the Violet Dragoon called upon the last of his strength to self-destruct. Had Zieg not pulled her out of the way, she too would have been engulfed in the blast. Kanzas was dead… she couldn't believe it…

It was a death worthy of a hero of the war that would liberate the Humans… and a death that Rose herself hadn't managed to obtain. She envied him. That was the irony of all ironies: She envied Kanzas.

If the two of them had traded places…

But thinking about that wouldn't do any good.

The wind picked a mournful howl. It was likely that those from neighboring villages had discovered the ruination. The Black Monster took a glance over her shoulder, and then stepped once more into the mists of myth and obscurity, carrying the memories of a certain Dragoon with her.