Standard Disclaimer: I don't own the characters found in Legend of Dragoon, or the idea of the Dragon Campaign; these belong to Sony, and I just adore them from afar. However, the storyline, the character histories, and the other minor characters were created by me. Please don't use any of these without permission, but if you ask I probably won't say no.

Author's Note: Hello! I'm writing this fic because the former Dragoons fascinate me, especially Kanzas, who seems so out of place within the idea of Humanity's revolution against the Winglies. How was Shirley able to persuade him to join the Dragon Campaign, and what is the connection that holds him there? That's what this is going to be about.

As of February 2014, this story has been completely revised and finally updated, so if you haven't read it in a few years, you may wish to start over from the beginning! It hasn't changed too drastically, but I have now made everyone their canon ages and changed some things in the backstories, as well as added and removed some scenes entirely, so there are quite a lot of new details. It's also long (obviously) - as long your standard fantasy trilogy, when it's done, so I split it up into books as well.

Anyway, there's language (minor), violence/gore (especially), and some sexual themes, so if this stuff offends you, beware!

By Amanda Swiftgold


Chapter One

The darkness, thick and heavy, is held back by candleglow. Scentless incense fogs the air, and the low firelight casts a dancing golden blush across rows of figures, clay and cloth, faceless. There are so many of them there, the voiceless reminders of hundreds of crumpled corpses. They watch over him - they are there for him, because no one else is there for him.

There is no one else at all.

For eleven thousand years he has haunted this tower; for over four million days he has waited. His fists, clad in the ghost of armor, ache as each small doll upon the shelves cries for a new companion. His rasping undead voice calls through the candlelight into the blackness that is ready for him, the terrifying blackness to which he has sent so many others. He cannot go; he will not go, because one more victim still awaits his violent release. One more, two more…more and more and more.

"Anybody…just satisfy me…"

Screams pierced the night repeatedly, the only sort of alarm the household would receive. The Wingly woman named Jolene paused in tucking a blanket around her sleepy young son, her eyes flying wide. Pressing her hands to her face, she ran from the small bedroom and into the alcove at the end of the hall.

What she saw through the window there made her pull back sharply. The bodies of two of the family's Human slaves lay bleeding on the path, bright pools of red surrounding them and reflecting the light of the unsetting moon. The front gate was open, and the magical drones which were to have guarded it were also lying mangled on the ground. "The bandits!" She spun on her heel, taking two steps forward before turning and moving slightly the other way. "Oh no, oh no…"

A pounding sound began to ring out below. The front door sounded as if it was being bent inward by the sudden assault, and it seemed to her that the entire house had started to shake in response. That Humans could be bold enough, strong enough, to attack her home so directly was shocking.

"Mother?" the child called from his room. "Mother!"

"I'm coming!" Pulling her long, silky skirts up out of her way, the silver-haired Wingly turned firmly back toward the small bedroom, but the buzzing noise of the teleporter at the end of the hall stopped her short. She threw her arms out as if to bar the way into the room, but instead of the fearsome Human she'd expected, the figure of her husband appeared, a blood-streaked sword in his hand and his translucent, glowing wings jutting from his back. "Riyan!" she cried, running to him, but he held out a hand to halt her. "How did they get past the defenses?"

He stepped forward, shaking his head. The buzzing of his wings faded as he released their energy and they disappeared. "No time - Jolene, take the boy and fly-"

The teleporter sparked green, making its whirring sound as it spat its occupant out onto the pad. The Wingly man didn't even have time to turn around before long metal claws, attached to a tightly-wound fist, drove hard into the side of his neck. Blood flowed from four points protruding out the other side, barely visible before they were pulled free.

Jolene screamed, half-flying and half-scrambling back into her son's bedroom. Her husband's body fell to the floor, revealing the short, muscular Human dressed in rags that stood behind him. Riyan's lifeblood spattered the bandit's fist and chest, mingling now with the dirt on his skin. "Only three," she heard him say in a hoarse voice before the door shut tight. She quickly jammed her finger, glowing with energy, into the hole at its side to lock it.

More rhythmic pounding soon sounded on the other side of the thick door, steady but not particularly furious. She gathered her young child up in her arms, breathing heavily in an attempt to stay calm. Frightened, the boy whimpered and clung to her tightly. She looked at the plate-glass window, her hand shaking as she tried to trace the correct magic sigil to cast a wind spell to break it open.

The sound of splintering wood rang alarmingly through the nursery, much sooner than she'd anticipated. She backed up into the corner, her son's small bed between her and the Human breaking through, as she completed her spell. The loudness of the window shattering nearly blocked out the noise of the latch giving way; the metal piece swung wildly as the door slid halfway open and jammed there.

Jolene let her wings free, curling her body over her boy as she launched away from the wall. The cool night air streamed strongly through the broken window. Almost there - but her hope was abruptly cut short by a sharp tug on her ankle and the feeling of a large, rough hand yanking her backward. Before she'd realized what had happened, he spun and let go, and the momentum slammed her into the far wall.

Chunks of sculpted plaster fell around her as she collapsed to the floor, her head whirling, her only thought the knowledge that she was still holding her son. "Run - run!" she whispered to him, giving him a shove away and watching him crawl tearfully under the bed.

Looking up, the Wingly saw the Human man standing above her, regarding her with a terrifyingly blank gaze. What she'd thought was Riyan's blood was actually oozing from a shallow gash across his chest, a wound her husband had probably caused, though it didn't seem to have hurt him enough. "Please," she begged, "please, you can have anything you want, just don't kill us!"

"I'll have both," he answered calmly, and her sobs increased as her feet scrabbled against the floor, as if she was trying to push herself through the wall.

Shaking her head frantically, Jolene wailed, "Why? What did we ever do to you?" She hid her shaking hands beneath her pulled-up knees, letting the fabric of her skirt mask the pattern of the spell she was casting.

However, before she could finish, before she could even blink, he'd lurched forward, his fingers wrapping around her neck. The Wingly woman squeaked, forced to fight for breath. "You did nothing," he told her, sudden sparks flashing in his eyes. "You're just here. That's all the reason I need."

"But I - I don't want to die-" She squeezed her own eyes shut tightly, her nails digging into the flesh of his arms as she tried vainly to push them away.

"You won't be alone there." In one swift motion, he snapped her head back, breaking her neck. The long green light strips built into the wall of the nursery suddenly went dark, plunging the room into blackness, but the man didn't react, quite used to the phenomenon of Winglies' magical spells breaking when their casters died.

Pulling his hand away, he dragged the point of one of the claws he wore across the exposed skin of her throat, watching with a rapt expression as the thick, bright red fluid seeped up and began dripping from the gash. Cradling the Wingly woman's body in one arm as if holding a baby, he pressed his hand to the wound, feeling the rivulets of blood running between his fingers, staining the dirty skin a fresher reddish hue.

Momentarily leaning his face into the silver curls of her hair, the Human man then let the body drop, drawing himself up to his feet. "Four," he breathed aloud, unthinkingly sucking the smeared fluid from one fingertip.

His gaze fell on the rumpled sheets of the child's bed behind him. Stooping, he caught the curved edge of the frame, flipping it over and away to reveal the young boy with platinum hair who had been huddling beneath…

Glass sprayed across the wooden countertop in the manor house's kitchen as a Human man struck a jar down on its edge. Dipping his grimy fingers into the preserves he'd just revealed, he shoveled a handful of the loganberry jam into his mouth, sighing happily. Around him, other gaunt figures were raiding the larder and cupboards, tossing whatever food they could find out into the center of the room.

One of the older bandits swatted at him, a scowl on his face. "Hey now, stop the eatin'! We gotta get this loaded up an' outta here before them Wingly guards come!"

"Yeah, well, we can't go till the boss gets back, so we might as well get a mouthful or two in," another complained, shoving loaves of bread into a sack. "I wish he wouldn't go around slittin' them girls' throats first off like that; I ain't had a woman in months!"

"You ain't never had a real woman." There was a round of low, unpleasant laughter.

The older man shoved a jar across the counter toward one of the others. "Gripe if ya want, but get in his way an' he'd cut yer throat instead," he warned, his frown barely visible through his thick, tangled beard. "Kanzas is more 'n a bit strange, ya know that fer fact."

Another of the thin men snorted derisively, throwing a burlap sack full of dried meat and spice bottles onto the pile of goods. "I say he gets his jollies from doin' it, me. S'why he kills Human slaves too, 'stead of just the Wingly bastards we raid."

"Mebbe so," the older one said grudgingly. "But I was 'round when he joined the gang, ya know, escaped his owner, and word was his ol' master messed him over real good. So it's all the Winglies' fault, same as ever."

"Yeah," one of his listeners agreed, unconsciously repeating the statement they'd all learned to make since childhood: "it's all because of them, all our troubles."

Heavy footsteps sounded near the doorway, and the small group raised their heads in unison and reached for their weapons, looking around for the intruder. However, the voice reached them before its owner did, and they all perceptibly relaxed, though an undercurrent of tension remained.

"Six…no, seven, I almost forgot…and eight." Looking around the doorframe, Kanzas poked his head into the kitchen long enough to carelessly toss a jangling handful of golden chains and rings onto the counter. "That's almost it. Hurry 'em up, Col," he said with a short grin. "We've got to get out of here."

The oldest one nodded deeply, grabbing eagerly for the shining trinkets and shoving them into hiding spots beneath his ragged vest. "Sure thing, boss, sure thing," he answered slimily, almost too quickly. The wild-haired man, however, simply returned the nod and moved on past the doorway again.

The bandits finished their looting, but the darkened room was silent until one said quietly, "I really wish he wouldn't count 'em like that."

"Just keep yer gob shut! I swear, we're all more 'fraid of 'im than the Winglies sometimes," another returned, he too speaking more softly than usual.

The footsteps returned, but before the men realized there was more than one set, the outside door to the kitchen was flung open and Wingly soldiers were crowding through. "Stop there!" one bellowed, but the order went unheeded as the Humans grabbed what they could and fled inward through the house.

None of them got very far, finding the manor surrounded by armed men. One by one, the scattering bandits were taken down by the Winglies' spells, until a last was captured, left barely alive.

He was dragged out onto the front lawn, and the commander of the troops stepped forward, crossing his arms as he looked down at the thin man hanging from the hands of two of his soldiers. His plate armor gleamed in the moonlight, its dark brown metal liberally inlaid with silver. "Where is your leader?" the Wingly named Arturo asked him coolly. "He was supposed to be here to…'stop' us."

All the panic had left the Human as he realized that he, like the others, wasn't going to make it out. The ambush had gone so well that it was obvious now they'd been trapped, that it had been planned for their gang to be wiped out at this manor. "If he's not here, he's with the dead," he answered wearily. "And so'll be anyone who goes after him."

"Interesting," he responded slowly. "Very interesting. Men, please, relieve him of his burdens."

As the two guards moved to strike the bandit and finish him, another came flying down from above, his wings shimmering into nothingness as he landed in front of the Wingly commander. "Sir, upstairs," he began in tones of horror, "the bodies of the landowner, his wife and child - and two of our men, sir!"

"Ah," Arturo acknowledged, drawing his longsword from the sheath at his side. "So he is still here. Show me."

Releasing his wings, he shoved off into the sky, following the soldier. They flew in through the broken upstairs window and landed lightly in the midst of a room that looked as though it had been hit by a tornado.

Blades raised and glinting dully, Arturo and his subordinate turned to scan the darkened nursery. His eyes flickered without emotion across the sprawled bodies on the floor. "Human, show yourself. There is no escaping this place."

There was no response. The two moved slowly through the room and out into the rest of the upper story, but there was no motion to betray their quarry's location. Arturo nodded at the other man, who understood his orders without needing to be told. He stopped where he was, casting a wide-area spell to drive the Human from hiding, and Arturo began his own spell to shield himself from its effects.

Suddenly, with a quick hitch of breath and a gagging noise, the soldier crumpled and fell. Blood sprayed from the deep slashes gouged into his throat. His fingers flying, the commander immediately traced a darkness spell and cast it into the shadowy area just behind the fallen Wingly before he himself could become the next target.

He was rewarded with a hissing cry and sudden swift movement as the Human launched himself from his hiding spot, his clawed fist clanging against the commander's sword. The blade slid between two of the long claw-pieces, and Arturo twisted it, locking Kanzas' hand there. However, he wasn't ready for the blow to his face that came from the other fist, or the foot that slammed against his armored knee.

Staggering back, the Wingly gasped in pain, already starting the sigil for another spell. A misty shadow seemed to wrap itself around the Human's arms, clinging to his skin, and Kanzas' dark amber eyes widened. His arms felt as though they didn't exist anymore, simply hanging at his sides no matter how hard he tried to move them. "Arm-blocking," he snarled, "what a wonderful trick."

"Murdering Human bandits receive no honor in the chase," Arturo informed him in clipped tones, his fingers to his bruised cheek, "and one must always be prepared, facing something like you." A moment later, more soldiers arrived through the door on the other side, having come up using the teleporter. "Take him into custody," he ordered, waving a hand in his direction before immediately beginning the gesture for the spell that would heal his own wounds.

Kanzas only put up a token struggle as the guards dragged him into the green energy and then through the front door of the sacked manor, not even seeming to notice the corpses of the other bandits he had led here earlier in the night. It was as if a strange calm acceptance had fallen over him, the realization that he would probably end up dead as a result of this.

The Winglies 'dropped' him several times on the way to wherever they were going, giving themselves an excuse to kick and shove him back to his feet, probably in retribution for the men he'd killed here. The soldiers' small base of operations was just outside the farm manor's perimeter wall, and apart from the troops the only thing there was the large movable teleporter used to transport them. By the time they reached it, his ears were ringing and he could barely see out of one swollen eye, but he refused to give them the satisfaction of showing his fear at the sight of the large glowing pad. He was forced onto it, and he, the three guards surrounding him, and Commander Arturo were instantly moved into some sort of headquarters where the Wingly had his office.

Arturo smirked, moving behind his desk and sitting down in a high-backed cushioned chair that was large enough to accommodate armor. One of the men grabbed a handful of the captive's hair, pulling back sharply as Kanzas' numbed arms were yanked behind him and locked into tight manacles. He could hear the familiar noise that meant the chains had automatically sealed, a small snick that seemed to confirm his fate was just as inescapable. He kept staring straight ahead as they did the same to his ankles, without emotion, only wincing involuntarily as one soldier or another gave him a kick to the ribs or cuff to the head that their commander pretended not to notice. The thick links clanked loudly as one of them finally gave him a shove, sending him falling awkwardly to his knees.

"Thank you, men; you are dismissed." When the door to the office had closed, Arturo smiled thinly, taking a look at his freshly battered prisoner. "Now, what is to be done with you?" the Wingly mused slowly, leaning forward and resting his chin on folded hands. "The obvious choice is to send you to Zenebatos for your long-awaited execution."

"So, then do it," Kanzas snarled, lifting his own chin sharply. "Quit patting yourself on the back and get it over with!"

Calmly, Arturo extended his finger, tracing a glowing mark in the air. Flashes of shadow sparked up around the bound man, driving spearpoints of pain through his skin. "How ironic," he murmured, his voice low, almost lost beneath the sound of Kanzas' hiss of pain. "A murderer begging for the mercy he denies his victims."

He spat at him, though the glob of blood-streaked saliva didn't even get near the polished surface of the desk. "At least I don't toy with them. At least I don't kill little by little, like you people do your slaves. At least I'm not a damned torturer! And I do not beg, you sorry sack of shit!"

The commander gave a little bark of laughter, sitting back in his seat and regarding the bandit leader with raised eyebrows. "And now I have the fortune of hearing a murderer attempt to justify his crimes!" he declared in tones of disbelief. "There is a great difference between the treatment of slaves and your casual killing."

"I justify nothing," he retorted, glaring balefully. His bearded face drew into a sneer, his lips a tight line almost lost against the paleness of his skin. "But you're right - what I do is better than that."

Arturo leaped from his chair, his hands nearly shaking too much to weave the spell before him. His eyes seemed to glow with pleasure as another wave of darkness descended around the man and black acidic rain pierced his flesh.

The cry left Kanzas' throat involuntarily, his arms pulling vainly at the restraints binding them behind him. Losing his balance, he fell hard to his side on the office's stone tile floor, curling up slightly and trying to catch his breath as the magical assault ceased. It didn't hurt as much as it once would have, but that didn't mean he was enjoying this reminder in the slightest.

There was stillness as the Wingly watched his reaction carefully from behind the desk, smoothing his long blue-silver hair back as if preening ruffled feathers. The Human licked his lips for a moment, feeling the remnants of the choking blackness on his tingling skin. "Temper, temper," Kanzas rasped, shoulders shaking with morbid amusement.

Footsteps sounded, boots on the stone, and then Arturo's foot pressed down onto his neck, his weight gradually increasing. "Every race has its ignoble killers," he began, his voice regaining its calm, "even the ones created as docile as Humans. Its portions of rot and decay, you might say. They kill for many reasons: jealousy, avarice - ignorance. What is your reason, Human disease?"

Chuckling slightly, Kanzas closed his eyes, feeling the coolness of the broad tiles beneath him. The Wingly commander let his foot up a bit to allow him air to speak with. "You, Wingly soldier," the man said, giving the words the same disgust as Arturo had used, "you think you fight…for noble reasons. Have you…ever felt blood as it is running through your fingers?"

"I do not enjoy the deaths that must be caused!" he snapped back, perhaps a bit too quickly. "A soldier does what must-"

"I love it," Kanzas whispered, his harsh voice steady now. "I feel a beautiful life running through my hands, and I know there must be more-"

His voice was cut off sharply by the foot delivering a sharp kick into his stomach. Another followed fast after the first. "Human swine!" Arturo hissed in revulsion, his foot flying forward again. Kanzas simply bit his lip, grunts of pain escaping with each strike. "The darkest, loneliest hell of Mayfil waits for you!"

He laughed, the sound startling enough that the Wingly stepped back, his eyes widening. "Even in Hell, never alone," the russet-haired man declared. "They will all be waiting for me - they will never forget me - their hate will last for eternity, and there will be more!"

"Feh," the commander spat, spinning on his heel to return to his desk. "It is clear, it is quite clear, that a swift execution is too good a fate for you." Arturo settled back in his chair once more. "You will be sent to Mekadris and sold in the slave auctions there as a gladiator," he decreed finally, a bit taken aback by his prisoner's sudden intake of breath.

"I will not!" Kanzas answered, the words almost trembling. He tried vainly to twist into a sitting position, the beads of sweat on his neck and temples feeling weirdly cold. He'd known since he had escaped his last master, years ago, that there was always a chance he would be captured again, but he would never have thought the Winglies would keep him alive after what he'd done.

"You are in no position to make demands," the commander informed him, recognizing the strange panic his words had stirred within the man. "No - in fact, you've cleared me of any misgivings about this course of action." His smile growing coldly, he went on, "Yes, in the arena at Kadessa you will learn what it is like to have your own heart in someone's fist. You will learn fear, you will learn humility, you will beg for mercy, and you will die as the spectators around you scream for joy!"

I am free, he thought to himself, trying to stop shaking. I am free, I will always be free. No one will own me again. No one will. "No," Kanzas answered softly, his eyes closing as he pressed his face against the chill tile once more. "I will never die by another's hand - mine are the only bringers of death…"

"You are scared," Arturo deemed, looking down his nose at him. "Good. That's very good. I want you to know how it feels before you meet your end."

"I can't stand this place, Belzac," the red-haired woman murmured fervently. She rubbed her hands together under her cloak as if for warmth, then reached for the chain at her neck and folded her fingers around the small silvery-white orb that hung there.

The huge man next to her gave her a sympathetic look, placing one large hand on her back briefly. "Then let's not waste time," he said gently before pulling his gray hood up over his own head, hiding his features from both the afternoon sun and the onlookers - not that anyone would have any trouble picking him out of a crowd. "We'll be heading for home before we know it."

The woman nodded, her own strides lengthening as his shortened, providing an easy pace for both of them as they passed beneath a thick marble archway and into the large square of the Mekadris slave market.

The shouts and bellows of traders filled Shirley's ears, a common enough sound, although they were not the cries of farmers selling vegetables. Rather, Humans were being sold here, auctioned like any other property on top of long stages. Despite their late arrival today, the sheer volume of people being traded in this one city meant the market went on until evening, and the noise and crowds had not diminished with the light. Thanks to teleporters, most slaves were sent here for sale no matter their land of origin, and she could never quite allow herself to count just how many there were.

There was a different feeling in the air today, Belzac noticed, his gaze sweeping far across the market square, taking in the silvery tops of Wingly heads along with the far rarer Human colors dotting the bidders. Something was going to happen - he knew it in his blood. I wonder if that's why we had to come here now, he mused, saving the thought for later.

The slaves on the blocks were above the crowd to be seen, more at his eye level, and he quickly picked out the figure of a small girl being roughly shoved up the stairs onto an auction stage not far from where they stood. "This way," he said quietly, resting his hand on Shirley's shoulder to direct her. After a moment's hesitation, he left it there, smiling inwardly with both relief and pleasure when she let him.

Visiting the slave markets had become a routine for the two, both of whom had been slaves once but had since been freed. Shirley and Belzac had been liberated thanks to a Human named Diaz, and in his service they traveled here to buy others free of slavery. Both of them felt guilt over having to pick and choose, however, deciding on only one or two amongst hundreds. Though they had been instructed to find fighters especially, Belzac had a soft spot for children and often chose to purchase them above any others.

Knowing this, Shirley shook her head, smiling a sad smile as they approached the auction for the young girl. A strange feeling inside, however, stopped her short, and her hand flew to clutch at the orb around her neck once more, her brown eyes widening. "Belzac," she whispered, standing on tiptoe to more closely reach his ear, "we must buy her."

"As you wish, Shirley," he answered, his milky gaze narrowing as the auctioneer stepped up, and he pushed forward through the milling crowd to get closer to the block. The pale girl stood there in only a ragged shift. Her hands were fettered, and a chain ran through loops on the cuffs around her thin ankles, long enough to walk but not to run.

"Here we have a female," the Wingly announced, "age about twelve, heritage Human and mercreature." He reached out, lifting a handful of the long, wavy teal hair spilling over her shoulders and down her back. It slid like silk through his fingers, earning appreciative comments from some of the prospective buyers as well as further exposing the girl's large, oddly pointed, almost ragged ears. She was visibly trembling and making soft sobbing sounds, tears running in streams from ruby-colored eyes down her cheeks. "As she was wild-born, her papers include a special existence exemption, but please note that under the Interspecies Breeding Law she will not be allowed to reproduce."

Belzac hissed in a short breath through his teeth. Another half-breed - they were rare, anymore, thanks to one of the many laws the Wingly dictator Melbu Frahma had enacted regulating things that once had been left to nature. Most of the species in Endiness couldn't intermix, but there were some that could, and the Winglies had declared the fruit of such unions unlawful and deserving of death. He himself had been born before the law, and had no exemption papers, but luckily most officials preferred not to demand proof from a man who was nearly seven feet tall and carrying a waraxe.

More determined than ever to help this child, he narrowed his eyes, watching the horrible scene on the stage.

"You'll find her fine enough for serving, cleaning, or as a bed-slave," the auctioneer was saying. "She is strong and well." He turned her around to be viewed, the chains clanking, before stepping back. "How much do I hear for this rare girl?"

"Four hundred," a young Wingly man called out, raising his arm.

Belzac's voice carried clearly, though he was near the back of the crowd. "Four hundred fifty," he bid.

At his side, Shirley raised her hands to her mouth in nervousness. There seemed to be quite a few young rich men in the throng today, and they were the type who fancied an exotic girl like this one; she'd never seen a monster half-breed before, hadn't known it was even possible, and she had a feeling they were thinking the same thing. She and Belzac had certainly been given enough money to bring the bidding high, but Lord Diaz would frown on them using it all for one child, not even a warrior to train for his army.

"Five hundred!" called another voice.

The bidding increased steadily, threatening to turn into an all-out war between two of the same rich Winglies Shirley had noticed before. Finally, one dropped from the bidding, and Belzac spoke up again. "One thousand," he said reluctantly, though he managed to mask the sound of it in his voice.

"One thousand fifty!" a voice cried triumphantly.

Sighing inaudibly, Belzac glanced at Shirley, who had her eyes fixed upon the weeping child on the block. "Eleven hundred," he offered.

There was silence all around; the price had become very high for such a young girl, unique though she was. Another hundred gold would have bought a field worker in his prime, and so the young rich man stepped back with a scowl, quickly turning and striding away in search of a better bargain.

"Sold, at eleven hundred gold!" the auctioneer declared, slamming down a small gavel.

"You did good," the woman whispered to her friend, squeezing one thick forearm between her hands briefly. He smiled down at her affectionately before they started toward the block. Their purchase had already been led down the wooden stairs to make way for the next person up for sale.

The teal-haired slave girl watched with apprehensive eyes as Belzac pushed forward through the crowd with Shirley close behind him. They both opened their purses; the money they carried had been separated so, if something should happen, they couldn't lose it all at once.

Giving her portion to the man, Shirley turned her attention to the twelve-year-old as Belzac handed over the money and signed the papers that were presented to him. "My name is Shirley, and this is Belzac," she said, bending down a bit to face the slim girl on a closer level. "What's yours?"

"It's Damia, Mistress Shirley," she volunteered reluctantly.

"No, Damia, just call me Shirley," she said kindly. "We aren't your masters." Taking the key Belzac silently handed her, the young woman shook her head emphatically before unlocking the manacles and cuffs, the chains clanking as they fell. No magically sealed Wingly manacles here - there were too many Humans involved in selling their own kind to make that feasible. Even thinking about it made her stomach roil with even measures of sadness and anger.

The girl cringed as the woman took her hand and led her away from the bidding crowds, looking warily over her shoulder at the big man who followed. Belzac returned her gaze stoically, used to the effect he had on strangers. It was as if they believed that someone as tall and muscular as he could only be moments away from doing something violent and destructive, no matter how little evidence there was to support it. Nothing he had been able to do had ever changed this perception, and he doubted anything ever would.

"If you're not my masters, then who will be, miss?" she finally asked quietly, scrubbing a hand across her damp cheeks.

"You're free now," Belzac told her with a quick smile, "though, of course, you're welcome to come back with us. There are many others we have bought and freed, and you may choose to join us in Gloriano."

"Gloriano!" Damia whispered piercingly, her eyes wide. She had obviously heard of the Human country in the Northlands, to most slaves known only as a fabled promised land. She looked around at the crowded slave market, however, and her hand tightened around Shirley's. "But I've got nowhere else to go. I've got to come with you."

Nodding seriously, Shirley replied, "Yes, Damia. However, we couldn't deny you the choice in case you had family to return to."

The girl shook her head glumly, pulling her hand back and crossing her thin arms across her chest. "My mother's dead," she said evenly. "We lived by the sea, where the ocean whispered. But everyone's gone now. Please, Master Belzac," Damia turned her face up to him, "let me go with you! You paid so much for me-"

"Yes, you will go!" the man replied, his face breaking into a grin. "And forget the money. No one will sell you ever again." Swinging the pack from his broad back, he knelt briefly to rummage through it, pulling out a length of folded cloth in a faded blue color. "Here, you can use this to keep off the chill. We'll get some better clothes for you before we go." Tucking it around her shoulders, he ruffled her hair lightly before standing again. "What would you like to do now, Shirley?" he asked politely, angling his gaze down at her.

The healer was standing still, her eyes focused across the busy square toward the back of the markets. "I…still feel something here," she mumbled. The strange wanting of something, the sensation of a soul tugging at her own, had not abated since they'd bought Damia - so what was it? Where was it?

Belzac noticed her hands at her neck yet again, covering the Dragoon Spirit she carried, and he frowned a bit. "Still? You're sure?" Two in one day…it doesn't seem possible.

Since she had received her spirit eight years ago, Shirley had begun to have strange pulling feelings, a kind of other sense that drew her to one person or another. At first he had been skeptical, but this sense had not yet been proved wrong. It had been these feelings of hers that had led them to Zieg and to Syuveil, both recently accepted by Dragoon Spirits, as well as many of the other warriors currently training to fight for Lord Diaz. It had also been the reason for their trip to Mekadris now, so perhaps this was only to be expected.

Shirley didn't answer his question, her body growing tense, her short form rising on tiptoe as she peered as well as she could over the heads of the crowd. Damia watched with growing awe as the woman, with all the suddenness of a bowshot, suddenly burst into a run, shoving between people heedlessly. "Master - I mean, Belzac? What's wrong with her?" she asked.

"Hm?" he asked, breaking out of his thoughts to look down at the girl.

"She went away-" Damia began, pointing toward the crowd, but she could say no more as Belzac immediately set off in the direction she'd indicated, looking this way and that almost wildly for the telltale red hair or white cloak. Forced into a jog in order to keep up with his long strides, she nearly ran into him when he stopped again.

The man groaned, his shoulders slumping in defeat. "Ah, Shirley," he sighed disapprovingly. I hope this doesn't lead to trouble.

Shirley had realized too late that she'd left the others behind, but she didn't stop to wait for them, caught up in the call of the Dragoon Spirit. She hurried toward what seemed to be its source, the slave markets at the back of the square, which were filled with a great noise of excited voices. Household workers were sold near the entrance to the markets by the arches, field workers along the sides, and at the back were the blocks where criminals were sold for use as miners or gladiators, traded off cheaply to do dangerous work. When she pushed past bystanders here, the disturbance that was usually ignored was greeted with a curse or a hand on the hilt of a blade.

The source of all the commotion was the figure of a slave up on one of the selling stages. He was a short, tan man of rather indeterminate age, lean and well-muscled, fighting like a rabid animal against the Winglies and Humans trying to restrain him. The crowd, loving the spectacle, was cheering on his desperate efforts to break free.

The criminal auctioneer was a Human, large and florid with a loud, thundering voice that carried even over the struggling man's enraged snarls. "Don't waste him on mining or labor - this man would make the perfect gladiator!" he called out over the crowd. "He's in fine, fine shape, as you can see - whoops-"

He danced out of the way as the slave whirled around, a loud sound of snapping metal ringing out as one tightly-balled fist jerked away from the other, breaking a weak link in his manacles' chain. His hands came flying from behind his back and a moment later his punch connected with the jaw of an armored Wingly guard, who collapsed like a falling sack of bricks.

Shirley, her eyes wide, watched as another platinum-haired man traced a sigil in the air. The crowd, almost as one, gasped and cried out with glee as turquoise flashes of lightning struck down from a point above the slave's head, slamming into his unprotected, nearly naked body and sending him reeling backward with a grunt.

Panting with the effort, the russet-haired man pulled himself back up again, charging headlong for another of the four men trying to restrain him and driving his shoulder into his chest. Broken pieces of chain whipped around his arms, slicing small cuts into taut muscles. She would be surprised if he even noticed such scratches, for his back was covered in scars, the new crossing over the old to create a thick tangle of ridges. Most Winglies were rather free with the whip - Shirley even had some lash-marks of her own, and she had been far from troublesome as a slave - but to see the evidence of so many punishments was startling.

"Better watch out, boys!" the auctioneer called brightly, waving the man's papers as he egged on the crowd. "Says here he has thunder affinity! Magic doesn't even faze this one! You'll sure have a fine gladiator on your hands here, folks!"

Biting her lip as she watched the slave struggle, the red-haired woman held onto her silvery-white Dragoon Spirit, feeling it warm beneath her fingers as if trying to tell her something. He was the one she'd been looking for, but if he was here, it was because he was a criminal. Of course, under Wingly law there aren't many non-Winglies who are completely innocent, are there? she reminded herself. His crime could have been as simple as daring to look a Wingly in the eye against the law of veneration; she hoped it was true, despite the evidence of the scars, as she'd never tried to buy a criminal for Lord Diaz before.

"Well, come on," the auctioneer cried out once more, his hands resting on his large paunch. Having wound up the crowd, it was time to move on to the bidding. "Get him down, we've seen what he can do! Just don't damage him too much for his new owner!"

Tossing a glare at the Human auctioneer, the conscious Wingly wove a spell once more, much to the crowd's delight. Bright, multicolored flashes like shimmering clouds appeared around the slave, blooming and exploding against him. His low groan as he crumpled to his knees tore at Shirley's heart, and she cried out softly in empathy with his pain.

"What do I hear for this exceptional Human?"

Bidding often started quite low at these auction blocks, but the show they'd seen had made the onlookers appreciative of the potential gladiator's strength and resilience. "Five hundred!" a deep voice shouted.

"Seven hundred!"


"Nine hundred!"

The fat auctioneer looked around, his eyes shining. "Do I hear any more?" he asked into the momentary silence.

Before she even realized it, Shirley's arm flew up in the air. "Nine-fifty!" she called out, easily heard because of her closeness to the stage. The chained man raised his head at the sound of her obviously female voice, his dark amber-brown eyes meeting hers, and she swallowed heavily, hoping he could read the good intentions in her expression.

The man standing next to the slumped slave laughed delightedly. "Nine-fifty from the little lady! Sure you could handle him, sweetheart? He's not afraid to use those fists!"

"Nine-fifty," Shirley repeated stubbornly.

"One thousand!" a gruff voice bid.

"Thirteen hundred!" another cried.

It can't get much higher…we can't afford this and the supplies for the trip back, not after buying Damia too. But I can't - I won't see this man go to Kadessa to die! Wincing, the woman shook her head but once again raised her hand. "Thirteen-fifty!"

"Thirteen-fifty!" the man declared, clearly having decided to pick on her for being the only woman, not to mention the only Human, amongst the active bidders. "Fellas, I think we're seeing true love here! Go on, sweetheart, you're too pretty for this convict!"

There was a collective low, suggestive laugh, and one man put his hand on Shirley's shoulder. "Forget the slave, girl," he purred. "I'm much cheaper-"

Shrugging his hand off angrily, she furrowed her eyebrows and kicked back at him, the heel of her boot colliding with his shin. He spun away, cursing, accompanied by the sound of jeering from the crowd, and the auctioneer bellowed, "We've got thirteen-fifty from the little lady! Anyone going to stand in the way of true love?"

"Fourteen hundred!" a high, clear man's voice bid, followed by more nasty laughter.

Shirley could not take her eyes away from the slave's face. A scruffy, tangled beard covered his jaw, his russet hair just as wild and unruly. His eyes, however, were regarding her with interest, an odd calmness in them despite his frantic fighting before.

"Fourteen-fifty!" she shouted, almost daring someone to outbid her. And if they did - well, then she was through, for there was only fifteen hundred gold left between her and Belzac if they wanted to make it back to Vellweb safely.

A voice raised once more, the same high young man's voice. "Fif-" However, it was suddenly cut off, and a confused silence descended.

Rallying against the surprise, the auctioneer began slowly, "Any more? Going once…going twice…" He paused, looking around, and then shrugged, beaming broadly. "Sold to the lady up front! One thousand, four hundred and fifty gold is the price of love, folks!" Amidst the peals of laughter, he winked exaggeratedly like a street performer, beckoning toward Shirley. "Come and get him, sweetheart!"

Determined, she took a step forward, pressing up against the side of the stage to slide past the men crowding against it. A haphazard gasp from the more observant members of the crowd and a jingle of chains were her only warning as the slave suddenly lurched forward, one hand flying out toward her face.

Instead of the crack of a gavel to seal the purchase, there was the loud crack of a guard's club slamming into the side of the man's head, dropping him to the surface of the auction block, his balled fist relaxing right in front of her nose. Shirley gasped in shock and horror, sagging backward and hitting against someone. Spinning around, she looked up to see Belzac looming above her and sighed, almost collapsing back against his chest in relief. "Oh, thank Soa it's you."

He took her hand, squeezing it once before letting go. Damia was at her elbow now, looking at her questioningly, but she shook her head to forestall the conversation. Standing straight again, she pushed her way through to the auctioneer, followed by the other two.

"You women sure like a challenge, don't you?" the auctioneer baited, having noticed his appreciative crowd was sticking around. "That's fourteen-fifty, little lady."

Belzac narrowed his eyes, his deep voice rumbling, "You will have more respect for the lady, sir."

Not at all displeased by the fat man's visible discomfort, Shirley once again counted out her portion of the money, Belzac without further comment coming up with the rest.

Clearing his throat, the auctioneer stowed the payment away in a lockbox before waving toward the comatose figure of the slave she'd just bought; he had finally been pulled off the stage and deposited at their feet. "Your slave, my lady," he said, glancing nervously at Belzac and holding out the ownership papers. The sour-faced Wingly guard next to him produced quill and ink. "Or, your owner's, anyway. Please make your mark or sign."

"I make this purchase in the name of my owner." Coolly, Shirley leaned forward and signed the name of the Wingly who was formally the 'owner' of the slaves they freed. Upon reading the name, the auctioneer paled, and the winged guard next to him took a step backward. She forced herself not to smile at their dismay. "Will you need to see her seal?"

Wiping his brow, the auctioneer cleared his throat and proffered an iron key. "No, no, that'll do just fine. I do suggest you leave his chains on - and get stronger ones. Whatever you wanted him for," he leered, raking his eyes across her despite Belzac's warning glare, "he'll do nothing but fight. The seller is not responsible for anything he does to you."

"I understand," Shirley forced out, quickly pulling the key away from his sweaty fingers and ignoring the implications in his statement. Belzac's quiet disapproval of what she'd done was enough, even setting aside the inferences this man had been making during the bidding.

She folded the key into her palm, watching silently as Belzac crouched to pick up the limp form of the slave before them, slinging him easily over one shoulder. There was only one thing she knew now: the odd tugging feeling had gone away. She'd found the one she was supposed to find, no matter who he was or what he had done. "He must be treated," she said softly.

"Yes," Belzac agreed shortly, pushing forward to lead the way from the slave markets and back toward the house where they were staying. "I hope you know what you're doing, Shirley."

"I do," she answered firmly. She blinked in surprise as Damia shyly slid her hand into hers, then smiled and held it tightly, swinging their arms and walking as if a weight had fallen from her shoulders. "We got a real warrior for Lord Diaz, Belzac - and everything's going to be just fine!"

Kanzas opened his eyes to a bright white glow. Rays of light were streaming out from between a woman's fingers, clasped together near his head. Her eyes too were closed, and what was undoubtedly healing magic cast a pale shine onto her lovely, serene face as she sat next to him on the bed.

The woman from the slave market- His hand lashed forward, startling a shriek from her before his fingers closed over her throat, pressing her head back as he slowly sat up. Another female scream rang out from elsewhere in the room, but he didn't pay it any attention. Whatever had been causing the glow fell from the woman's hand, clonking hard onto the floorboards and rolling with a glassy whir under the bed.

A second later, he found himself pressed flat back against the mattress again, two huge hands on his shoulders and a knee in his gut preventing him from moving. Kanzas struggled, growling angrily at the giant of a man who was apparently holding him down without effort. "Bastard!" he snarled in a rasping tone, trying to kick, but to no avail.

"I knew we should have left the chains on, damn you," Belzac hissed, raising his fist to deliver a punch to the prone man's jaw. Much to his surprise and grudging respect, he rolled his head to absorb the blow, staying conscious. "After she went to all that trouble to free you, and you do that!"

"Free me?" he spat thickly around the explosion of pain, letting his muscles go deceptively slack. However, the big man didn't fall for it, holding him down with as much pressure as when he'd been struggling. "Pretty lies from a traitorous Human slave-trader! No one pays that much to set someone free, collaborator!"

Another face intruded into his vision, strands of straight red hair trailing down toward his chest as the woman leaned in over an arm like a tree trunk. "We do," Shirley told him quietly. There were pinkish impressions from his fingers on her pale neck, but she didn't appear to be very angry about it; instead, her face held a vague horror at his accusations, as if she'd never been called such things before. "We aren't collaborators - by Soa, I'll swear to it. If Belzac lets you up, will you promise to listen?"

Kanzas narrowed his eyes at her, his thoughts running quickly. There was something familiar about this woman, but he couldn't quite place her. Despite all the many places he'd been in his forty-one years, he couldn't think of anywhere he might have met someone like her. "Who are you?" he demanded, ignoring her question for the moment.

"My name is Shirley," she replied calmly, laying a hand at her collarbone, "and this is Belzac. Over there is Damia. We are here to buy and free slaves at the behest of Lord Diaz of Vellweb."

His mind skipped across the rest of her explanation, fastening on her name. Now he knew why she looked familiar. What an odd coincidence, that he might meet her again after so long. Shirley…I know who you are. "Shirley," he whispered, closing his eyes almost dreamily. "All right, I'll listen."

She and Belzac exchanged cautious, wondering glances before looking down at the man on the bed. Slowly, Shirley stepped away, well out of reach, before her friend let up his grip on the former slave. They watched him warily, but he continued to lie there with his eyes closed, all the tension suddenly drained from his body as if he had fallen asleep. "And what is your name?" the woman asked him, finally stepping closer once more.

The man's eyelids fluttered open, and he watched her expression closely as he said in an offhanded tone, "It's Kanzas." He felt rather pleased at the sudden realization that she didn't - couldn't - remember him, not after so many years, not when she had been so much younger than he. Pillowing his head on his arms, he winced at the soreness of his muscles, especially the tenderness of what was going to be a nice bruise on his jaw, and glared up at the Giganto-like man who'd done it.

Belzac gave him a similar look full of ire in return, looming over Shirley protectively. However, when he spoke, his deep voice was tempered with restraint. "Did the Winglies give you that name?"


"Do you know what it means in their tongue?"

"Of course," Kanzas answered, amused when Belzac raised his eyebrow sharply in response. "What, you're saying you do?" he went on mockingly, but before the bait could be taken, Shirley broke in to forestall the argument.

"Well, I don't speak Wingly. What does it mean?"

There was a moment's silence, but when Kanzas didn't enlighten her, Belzac did. "It's a word for…dirt, I suppose. They use it to describe something useless, worthless."

"And it's your name?" Shirley asked in disbelief.

Unwillingly, his thoughts drifted back to images of dark, cold stone rooms and the sound of the equally cold voice belonging to the Wingly magician who had ruled them. It had seemed an act of defiance, then, to answer to the insult, to twist it into something of his own. But he didn't like to think about that time, as long ago as it was, for the memories still had a power over him that he despised, and so he forced the sounds and images back to the far corner of his mind.

As he did so, Shirley's concerned gaze above him suddenly replaced those stale remembrances of fear. She was close enough that he could smell her scent of rosemary, and Kanzas exhaled deeply. One corner of his mouth curved up into a smirk.

"It's good enough," he said finally. Indeed, he'd answered to it for nearly twenty years, almost as long as he'd had the first one. There was no use trading it back now, was there? "Besides, shows what they know, living up in the sky. Plenty of uses for dirt."

"Don't you have another name, a Human name?" she pressed hopefully. "I don't really want to call you something like…like that."

He considered telling her for a moment, but one glance at Belzac's possessive figure behind her made up his mind for him. Besides, it would be so much more fun this way. "No," he lied. "That's it. Use it or don't. I don't care what you call me."

"Well…Kanzas, then, if you really don't mind," Shirley said. "Like I was saying before, we bought you to free you."

"Huh," he snorted derisively. "There's gotta be something in it for you. I don't care what you say, no one goes around paying that much to set slaves free."

A soft, new voice spoke up, and he glanced over to see a young teal-haired girl standing at a safe distance away, her hands clasped up in front of her. "It's true. They bought me, too."

"We're looking for fighters," Shirley pressed. "Lord Diaz of Vellweb sends us here to find Humans who wish to fight for him. But when we say you're free, you truly are - if you have somewhere to return, you may by all means go. Even so, we'd like you to stay on with us. I believe you could be-" She stumbled a little over her words and reached for her neck, looking confused as she discovered that whatever she was reaching for wasn't there. "Oh, no-"

"I know where it is, Shirley," Damia volunteered before ducking down, her slim body wriggling under Kanzas' bed. She hauled herself to her feet again with a small silvery-white orb in her hand and placed it back in the woman's open palm. Belzac breathed a soft sigh of relief, seeming to relax a little.

Nodding to her, she said, "Thank you," and closed her fingers around the trinket. "You're powerful," she continued finally, turning back to Kanzas, "and Lord Diaz would likely make you one of his elite fighters, his knights." Perhaps even a Dragoon? she dared to think, before quickly shoving the thought away. Just because she'd been drawn to him didn't necessarily mean he was one too. She'd felt as though they had to buy Damia, after all, but she surely wouldn't be fighting.

"That scrawny half-breed, too?" he said as if reading her mind. "Why'd you buy her, then, if all you want are new fighters?"

"I had to," Shirley answered in a low voice, ducking her head. Her hair fell forward over her shoulders, bright against the pale turquoise of her robe. "Just as I had to buy you. That's really all I can tell you right now."

Kanzas fell silent, thinking for a moment. "What does this Diaz want warriors for? Why not just hire mercenaries?"

Belzac spoke up again, almost reluctantly. "How many Human mercenaries do you know? Besides, this isn't about some clan feud. Lord Diaz - he will unite the Humans, and together we will topple the Wingly cities-"

The lean man's derisive laughter cut him off. Kanzas rolled to his side on the bed, curling up as if his stomach hurt him. "Overthrowing the Winglies? That's a real joke, isn't it, Giganto? Even a handful of them are hard enough to kill, let alone armies full of the flittery bastards. What care do you have for Humans, anyway?"

His eyes hooded, the large man drew himself up, tensed and angry. "My mother is Human," he snarled deeply, "and I fight for her, for all the children whose lives have been destroyed. Why do you fight, Kanzas?" He drew out the name insultingly, obviously referring to its Wingly meaning, though the other man made no new move to get up.

"You've killed Winglies, haven't you?" Shirley asked quietly. "That's why you were sold as a criminal. So-"

Giving her a twisted smile, he cut in with, "I've killed everyone, Shirley. Anyone. I don't care who." He deliberately gave her own name the sound of an endearment, and was rewarded with another flash of anger crossing Belzac's face. Just as I thought - the giant loves her, he thought with amusement. Poor, poor Shirley. And so much more interesting for me-

"Why?" she asked, her eyes wide, her voice both intrigued and horrified at the same time.

"Why? Because I can," he replied teasingly.

Her brows furrowed, her gaze becoming strangely piercing, as if she was trying to look into his head. Kanzas finally shrugged, rolling over onto his stomach and stretching languidly. It did feel good to be on this straw mattress instead of the ground, and undoubtedly they'd end up buying him better clothes than this ragged loincloth, which was all he owned now. Something to eat, too, hopefully. Getting out of here could at least wait until after that.

"Disgusting," Belzac said decidedly, sitting down hard on one of the other two beds in the room. "Send him off, Shirley," he suggested dismissively as she took a seat next to him. "Lord Diaz has no need for a man like this."

Her face downcast, she looked into the depths of the orb she held, almost as if scrying with a crystal to see the future. "I can't, Belzac," she murmured finally. "I was right about Zieg and Syuveil. And if I'm right again…"

"Oh, no," he breathed, running his hands through his cropped golden-brown hair in frustration.

Unsure what they were talking about, Kanzas remained still, feeling almost as though he might doze off. Normally the thought of actually sleeping with someone nearby wouldn't even enter his mind, but his head was still pounding where he'd been struck, his jaw was throbbing in unison with his head, and so he figured he could at least rest his eyes. This seemed to be someone's house, rather than an inn - no innkeeper in a Wingly city would ever let out a room to unaccompanied Humans - and so it was unlikely anyone new would be bothering them tonight.

In the quietness, Damia came closer to the two from Vellweb, bowing out of habit before them. "Um, I was wondering where I could sleep tonight," she asked, casting a nervous glance over her shoulder at the remaining bed.

"You can share with me," Shirley invited, forcing a smile for the twelve-year-old. "It is getting late, isn't it?"

Nodding in agreement, Damia returned her smile. "Thank you, Shirley. I think I'm going to go to bed now."

"Goodnight, Damia," Belzac told her, the anger he was feeling melting away under the force of the former slave girl's gratitude.

She turned and moved with a peculiar grace toward the empty bed, taking off the blue wrap Belzac had fashioned for her and folding it neatly before slipping beneath the blanket. No sooner had she settled in than Kanzas opened his eyes, turning the fullness of his amber gaze on the other two. "I'll go with you to this Vellweb," he announced, "and see what there is to see."

"Good!" Shirley said, her face brightening. "I'm glad! Once you hear what Lord Diaz has to say, you'll understand."

Will I? he asked silently, only giving her a smirk in return. She watched him closely again, but he was determined to endure it this time and not be stared down.

Sighing, the large man looked at them before saying, "You should get some rest, too, Shirley. I'll stay up and watch."

"Belzac," she chided as she stood, "there's no need to watch."

He snorted disbelievingly. "Maybe you trust him," he hooked a thumb in Kanzas' direction, "but I don't. I'll be fine."

"Smart man," Kanzas commented quietly, giving him a fake innocent smile. Belzac did not respond, settling back on the bed to sit against the wall, his eyes watching every move the smaller figure made.

The bearded man raised an eyebrow as Shirley approached him, her expression similar to the look of fond reproach she'd used on her friend. "Are you hungry at all?" she asked. "You've been unconscious for a long time, and we all had dinner already."

"No, I'm fine," he lied despite his earlier thoughts, not wanting to accept anything from them while he was in such a weak position. "Gonna try to mother me into submission?"

"Would it work?" Chuckling very softly, she sat down on the edge of his bed, holding the orb up to her chest. "Roll over, now." He found himself obeying, if only for the sheer novelty of it. "They gave your head a good crack back there, and I had to fix that first, so you aren't fully healed yet."

"You have no Wingly blood in you," he declared, immediately cursing himself for saying it so definitively. However, she merely nodded, and he went on, "Explain how you can do that healing magic, then."

Shirley's smile grew secretive, and she waved a finger at him. "In Vellweb, all will be revealed."

"Fine," he replied, watching with no other words as she leaned over the orb in her hands, filling the dim room with a soft white glow.

Kanzas wasn't sure how long it took, but as he lay there in the darkness he could slowly feel his bruises and the scabby gash across his chest shrinking, the tenderness of his skin and the damage done by the slavers' spells on him fading. "I could get used to this," he commented idly when the light misted away, leaving the room once again lit by a single candle.

"Mm," she replied noncommittally, giving him an appraising glance. "What's that expression for?" Shirley asked him, taken aback by the intensity of his eyes upon her.

"I was just wondering," he remarked in a soft, rasping tone, seemingly out of nowhere, "if that half-Giganto is your man or not."

Shocked, she straightened, glaring at him. It felt as if he'd demanded that she decide her feelings on the spot - she'd known Belzac since they'd been children, and did indeed love him, but whether or not she loved him like that was something she still couldn't answer. "I don't think you've known us long enough to ask about such a private thing," Shirley finally answered stiffly, she too keeping her voice low.

He shifted upright before raising his hand. She flinched slightly as he brushed back a tendril of her hair onto her shoulder, questions and surprise in her eyes. "Well, the answer doesn't really matter," he replied before quickly leaning forward and touching his lips to hers, just to see what would happen.

She pulled almost violently away from him, stumbling to her feet and back before he could make more than the barest of contact, but it was more than enough. Kanzas' smile grew as he watched her surprised expression mix with a hint of fear, the paleness of her skin flushed a bright pink. For a moment he anticipated a slap, but she did no more than stammer some kind of goodnight, moving jerkily back toward Belzac and Damia. Belzac's voice made an alarmed query, but Shirley avoided answering.

Kanzas lay back again, stretching out on top of the blanket, and stared at the ceiling. His smile turned into a grin.

Now that I've found you, little sister, we won't be parted again so easily, he thought at her. I'll see what you want from me, and then you will see what I want from you…