Part One

"Hello me, it's me again. You can subdue but never tame. Gives me a migraine headache, sinkin' down to your level. Yeah just keep on thinkin' it's my fault, and stay an inch or two out of kicking distance! Mankind has got ta know.. it's limitations." Megadeth, Sweating Bullets

Arashi once again found himself in the presence of his God. He supposed this was because he was the greatest of his people's warriors, but it was more likely due to his having been less affected by his people's curse than the others.. ironically the very features which made him acceptable to be in his God's presence often caused him to be scorned by his people. Fair of face and relatively fair of body save for his wings and birdlike legs, he reminded his people too much of what they had once been. Talon had taught them that they were being punished for the times before the Scarring.. why should one of their number be less scarred than the rest?

Even Arashi had to admit it wasn't fair that he should be less fully Scarred than his brothers. He accepted his aloofness with quiet strength and dignity, and though he was mistrusted for his differences, none could argue his competence and battle prowess. He led the elite Striking Talons division. The group of fearsome flying warriors and scouts was second only to the Bloodguard. The nineteen Bloodguard, each with one of their original eyes replaced by a blood red ruby, waited impassively in the huge expanse of Talon's pavilion. Arashi looked at them and inwardly shivered. He'd known a few of the men before they'd become Bloodguards and when each one had gouged out their eye for the honor of serving their God and master personally, it had been as though they'd gouged out their very souls for him as well. Though they were immensely powerful, and completely invulnerable (Arashi had seen one stand up after losing his head and re-attach the severed body part without a single change of facial expression) Arashi preferred his admittedly rather limited freedom over the fanatical servitude they lived.

Not that he'd ever admit this to anyone other than himself. He wasn't a fool.

He entered into Talon's presence and knelt. His master was hunched over a board marked with checkered white and black squares upon which numerous small figurines were placed at seemingly random intervals. Arashi stared at it in curious confusion. He'd seen his God staring at this same board many times, though he'd never divined it's purpose. Talon apparently noticed his gaze and looked up.

"You have something to report?" he asked, his tone bespeaking boredom.

"My lord, the Striking Talons are in position, and I have received similar reports from all other divisions. The enemy appears to be content to allow us to make the first move... we have had no reports of any attempts from them to make any offensive maneuvers."

Talon smiled. "Of course not. Queen Sailoon has turned her army into a glorified police force. They aren't taught anything other than how to defend their positions." He frowned. "Still... they are vastly outnumbered though admittedly in a highly defensible position... It is a wonder that they haven't fled in the face of such vastly unfavorable odds. One wonders what sort of commander Sentinel has drawn that he has garnered such loyalty." He closed his eyes and concentrated. Arashi waited patiently. He was used to his God's eccentricities.

Talon opened his eyes and smiled. "Ah I see... how very interesting. The commander is a Shard. How unfortunate for her."

He rested his elbow on the board and looked deep in thought. "We will allow them to get complacent, tired and exhausted from waiting for the inevitable blow all night... while we rest from our long march. At dawn.... first light... We attack."

Arashi nodded. "As you wish my Lord... will that be all?"

His eyes snapped to the still kneeling Arashi. "Oh do get up. It strains my neck trying to look at you like that.... Arashi was it?"

Arashi stood and nodded. "Arashi it is, my Lord..."

Talon's grin grew sly. "You seem interested in my Chessboard. Have a few... questions for your God do you?"

Arashi paled. "No... my Lord I would never presume-"

Talon waved his hand. "Of course you would. Everyone does. You just wouldn't out loud. How very loyal of you. Sit down. I'm feeling... generous today. I will answer any questions you might have." he smiled. Talon enjoyed playing with his pawns... rather like a cat would playing with a mouse.

Hesitantly, Arashi seated himself opposite his God. Sitting in a chair not designed for his frame was far more painful than kneeling, but he dared not show discomfort in his God's presence.

Talon tapped his chin gently, then waved his hand. "Go ahead, noble Arashi. Ask your... questions."

Arashi frowned, then seemed to resolve himself. If he were going to die today for his impertinence, then so it would be. "Lord... Why did you maneuver the Axeman to fight the Soul of Fury? Regardless of who wins the conflict, the victor would become a greater threat-"

"Greater than me, Arashi?" Talon asked mildly.

Arashi shook his head. "Never... still... I cannot divine the meaning behind it... Lord."

Talon smiled. "Very well... this board," he gestured at the checkered square before him, "is the explanation."

Arashi blinked. "I don't..."

"Of course not. You couldn't. Not yet anyway... possibly not ever. I will try to explain it however. In the game of chess, each piece has a very specific form of movement. The object of the game is to maneuver these pieces about the board, capture your opponent's pieces, and finally... force your opponent's king..." he gestured at one of the figurines... an older man with a crown and a sword. "Into a position from which he cannot escape."

Arashi frowned.

"This game mimics life. The best way to defeat someone is to know which way he will move... given a stimulus." Talon's grin became a sneer. "This is what I have done. Dnarc is my piece... my knight if you will. I know how he will move, no matter what forces are arrayed against him. He is a very simple creature... he is motivated by simple instincts. No matter how powerful he should become, should he defeat The Soul of Fury, though I highly doubt it, he will always be what he is... A Knight... nothing more. He cannot defeat me."

Arashi widened his eyes. "But what if the Soul of Fury wins?"

"Ah... there in lies the masterstroke of my plan. Remember, a piece can only be planned for if one knows how it will move." He gestured at a figurine of a woman with a crown and a wand. "This is a queen. Tell me, how would you capture it?"

"I could not....." Arashi blinked.

"... Because you don't know how it moves." Talon finished. "This is how the Soul of Fury is now... unpredictable... human and mazoku... but more human than mazoku. Humans, as we all know, are unpredictable... it is only due to their limited power that they are prevented from ruling over both Gods and Mazoku alike. As a human with the immense power of a mazoku, the Soul of Fury is nearly unbeatable." he grinned. "Now... suppose he destroys Dnarc. He claims the power Dnarc once held... suddenly the Soul of Fury is no more. He becomes Gaav, the Demon Dragon King. In short, he returns to his former self... still thinking in mazoku terms... motivated by mazoku needs... wants... fears.... he becomes a mazoku with the frailties of a human, one who discounts a human's strengths as weaknesses. His moves become predictable." He tipped the queen over. It fell on its side and rolled back and forth along the axis of its base.

"In short he becomes just another piece on the board... Gaav was defeated before, by a combination of underestimating his various opponents, and refusing to back off once he realized that he was beaten. He can be defeated again. Regardless of how powerful he might become."

"Everything can be determined this way... even Xellos, cunning trickster and mazoku that he is, can be planned for... he will always be motivated by self interest , and because of this, he assumes everyone else is motivated by the same." Talon gestured at the board, and more importantly, at the black king. "I show him a man bent on conquering Sailoon with the intent of ruling over all... and that is what he sees, because it is what he WANTS and expects to see."

Arashi snapped his fingers. "He cannot see that you intend to destroy Sailoon and return it to it's rightful people..." His face was full of admiration, respect, and enlightenment.

Talon smiled, trying to keep from laughing in the ignorant savage's face. Save it for barbarians? If Arashi knew his true motivations... the REAL reason why Talon had uprooted the monstrous clan... he chuckled. "Just so... just so."

Arashi's eyes widened. "All of this can be determined from a simple game?"

Talon shrugged. "The basic rules are the same in any conflict... what is a game but conflict?"

"Would you teach me this game... Lord?" he asked hesitantly.

Talon seemed to think about this for a moment, then he smiled. "Very well. I grow tired of endlessly playing against myself. Perhaps you will prove... amusing."

The night moved on...


Red snarled at the ironclad giant taking up the entirety of their way out. Pushing Mina to the side, he drew his monstrous two handed sword and grinned mockingly at Dnarc. "Damn - I was hoping your little bath might improve your looks a bit. I see that was a lost cause."

Dnarc's eyes glittered. "Heh. Perhaps, but then, looks aren't everything. I see no "gravity" to save you this time, Pretty Boy."

Zelgadis whispered something to Pix. She listened with wide eyes, then nodded determinedly and braced herself.

Mina drew her own longsword and growled. "I am getting so tired of this blustering crap! I get enough of it from him." She jerked a finger at Red.

"Hey!" He glared at her.

"Enough of this. You DIE!" Dnarc roared.

Zelgadis took a deep breath, and in a perfect pitcher's stance, threw a fast ball (namely, Pix) at the metal monster before them. With the added momentum provided by Zelgadis' not inconsiderable strength, Pix made a whizzing beeline; straight past Dnarc. He startled involuntarily, then looked at the grinning chimera as though noticing him for the first time.

"What the hell was..."

"Mina, Red... hold him off for a second!" Zelgadis bellowed as he began to advance, muttering beneath his breath.

Red, who was already in motion, grinned in response. "Whatever!" He struck the slightly distracted abomination with his shoulder and drove him back out of the cave entrance. Mina sighed.

"Here we go again..." she shrugged and followed him out.


Tess drank black coffee, crouched on the wall underneath a cloak to ward off the night's chill. Once the initial panic of seeing such a huge army arrayed against them had worn itself to death, the guards of Sentinel had reacted admirably; following their Captain's hastily barked orders with great efficiency. The first order of business had been to get the noncombatants out of the city, and the noncombatants in question, mostly merchants, women, children, and the elderly, had been more than happy to oblige. Despite the mass exodus of city dwellers, (not unlike that of rats fleeing a sinking ship) a surprising number of men and women chose not to leave, and these were either given weapons and sent to man the walls, or if they had any healer training whatsoever, were sent to the medical tents to assist with the casualties that would be coming in. Tess's grip on her bastard sword tightened when she considered how many casualties they would undoubtedly take...

All in all the beleagered forces of Sentinel city numbered some five thousand, five hundred souls, barely four thousand of which could be considered professional. The early estimates of the army arranged against them, if one took into account that the actual number could not be divined since a large majority of it extended beyond the horizon, numbered somewhere in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions...

-Where in the hell did an army this size appear from? Why have there been no reports of troop buildups in our neighboring kingdoms? Where the HELL is Queen Amelia?-

These questions boiled over in her mind and she could make no sense of it. She'd finally set it aside as trivial... something to puzzle over if they survived. Though the odds were highly stacked against them, Sentinel was the most heavily fortified city in all of Sailoon, and they had a few tricks up their sleeves that she was betting these barbarians had never encountered before. She grinned evily... too bad for them. She gazed along the wall where other troopers held whispered conversations and huddled together with their weapons and what little food they could prepare. The barbarian horde seemed to be content to wait for the moment, and she'd ordered her troops to sleep in four hour shifts, catching as much rest as they could before the coming battle. She had a feeling... they would need it.

As she finished her coffee a great roaring cry could be heard from outside the gates... as the first rays of sunlight struck the South Wall, the barbarian horde began to move.

A few of the troops around her muttered curses. She grinned. "Well boys... looks like they don't have enough manners to wait until after breakfast."

A few uneasy chuckles greeted her admittedly poor jest. Her gaze hardened. "Let's teach them what civilization is all about."



Dnarc finally managed to throw Red back from him, charging immediately after the off-balance bandit with a vicious two handed blow of his axe. Red continued his backwards stumble, throwing himself out of the axe's whistling path and coming to a crouching halt a short distance away. Several micro-meteors struck the behemoth as Mina unleashed a Burst Rondo at him. Growling, Dnarc shrugged the attack and brought his ax down on Red as though he were attempting to chop firewood. The Bandit King met his attack with a two handed upwards parry, standing as he did so.

"RAAA TILT!" Zelgadis shouted, throwing a screaming ball of astral energy in Dnarc's direction. The ball tore up the ground on it's path toward the monster. Passing the straining axeman by a hair, it flared on harmlessly. Dnarc grinned.

"Ha! You missed!"

Zelgadis stony face cracked into a grim smile. "Did I now?"

Red forced Dnarc back a bit and backed up several feet, an incredulous look on his face. Dnarc grinned. "Finally learning your lesson, Pretty Boy?"

Red grinned. "You might want to turn around, big guy."

Dnarc narrowed his eyes. " HEH! I'm not falling for..." He trailed off when he suddenly noticed that his shadow had been thrown in stark relief... too stark for the early morning. He turned slightly. His eyes widened at what he saw...

Pix, now the center of a much larger ball of raging blue astral flame, pointed, winked, and smiled at the stunned Shard. The now several times multiplied Ra Tilt shrieked forward, catching Dnarc square in the chest. For the second time in his life (the first being his fight with Talon) Dnarc felt his soul being rent asunder.

He shrieked high and loud, his wings coming out at full extension.

Red did a double take. "Holy shit! You scream like a girl!!"

Dnarc clutched his head in agony, then began lurching around smashing anything in his path. The pain and fear hitting him in equal measure, he reacted as any large animal would when backed into a corner.

He went berserk.



The sound of Sentinel City's Battlecannon being fired in anger rattled down the pass for the first time since their construction.

Sentinel was the most important chokepoint for entrance into Sailoon from the south. Amelia might have been peace-loving, but she was not a fool. Ten years had given Sailoon plenty of time to develop (With the aid of Outland imports) workable cannons. The Battlecannon, of which there were four, were loaded with large canisters filled to the brim with thousands of tiny one inch diameter lead balls and were designed to explode almost immediately after being fired, creating a deadly cone of flying metal. The end result being that when the first cannon sounded the front rank of Talon's army simply disintegrated into a red cloud of gristle and gore. The next rank charged over the shredded bodies of their comrades, religious fervor glinting like madness in their eyes. The next cannon sounded shortly afterward, turning the charging rank into a bleeding mound fifty yards from the City gates. Still they kept coming.. The next cannon fired, again they were decimated, and again the army continued it's inexorable approach. Several troops on the city's walls turned away in disgust, losing what little food they had managed to wolf down in the process. Even Tess paled a bit.

"Gods... such slaughter. Who could be leading them like this?" she asked in horrified wonder.

" ' Ware above!!!" A startled shriek cut through the din of the cannon fire. She glanced upward, blinking in surprise as a cloud of closely formationed soldiers with wings passed overhead. In pairs they circled high above the battlements, each pair carrying what appeared to be a loaded down blanket...

Her eyes widened in sudden realization. "SHIELDS!!!"

The defenders raised their shields suddenly as each pair of flying warriors flipped their blanket over with a snap...

Raining hundreds of yard long steel fletchettes weighted so that the point would fall first. A whistling, thunderous rain of metal struck shields... and the occasional body. Soldiers screamed and clutched horrible wounds, blood pulsing out to feed the ever-widening pools, making the walkways dangerously slippery. One of the two cannons mounted on the upper deck exploded in a double blast of concussive fury as its crew, unable to take shelter in time, were horribly pinioned to the deck around their cannon. Their suffering was short-lived, as a lit torch dropped from a nerveless hand lit a powder keg. Black smoke poured from the ruined cannon and it's mounting, blowing out over the battlefield and playing hell with visibility. Tess gritted her teeth.

"Archers! Take aim!! Fire!" A thousand bow strings sang, and arrows arced up into the air...

A scant fifty flying warriors dropped from the sky with startled shrieks, spinning helplessly out of control in their agonies. The troops were flying far too high for the arrows to have more than a marginal effect.

"Damn!" she swore as the rest of the flying group turned sedately and headed back towards their lines... presumably to retrieve more ammunition.

Valgaav narrowed his eyes and picked up his favored weapon, a long pike.

"Captain... leave this to me."

Without giving her time to argue, Valgaav's wings sprouted and with a enraged cry he flew up...

To face impossible odds...


The first blow from the blazing, shrieking juggernaut tossed Red casually off of his feet and into the side of the mountain with bone-jarring force. Standing woozily, he was fetched another resounding blow that forced him onto his back, straining with his great sword to keep the cruel serrated edge of the ax from his sweating face. Girlishly screaming or no, Dnarc was unstoppable.

Zelgadis shouted a quick Astral Vine and charged to the Bandit King's aid, only to be tossed aside with a maddened backhanded swipe of the creature's melon sized gauntlet. Landing hard, he picked himself up and spit out blood.

"Damn! What the hell is this guy?!"

"Really... pissed... off..." Red muttered, the serrated edge coming inexorably closer to his face. Then he saw something that nearly made his heart stop...

Mina shrieked a warcry and charged forward, leaping high into the air. Red's eyes widened.


Mina began to realize that charging a burning mountain of metal was not the most intelligent thing she'd ever done. Unfortunately, the reawakening of her common sense (which had been slapped silly by seeing Red being batted around like a spoiled brat's toy) came approximately halfway through her downward plunge.

At that point, it was too late to do anything but follow through.

Landing heavily, sword first onto Dnarc's back, she shoved her sword into the join between his wing and his shoulder where there was a necessary gap in the creature's armored shell. The monstrosity immediately dropped his ax and staggered around in a circle, releasing that same pitiable high-pitched shriek again. Mina twisted the sword back and forth, gritting her teeth. Black blood spouted up at her, and one of Dnarc's wings went limp. Growling in pain-filled hatred, the juggernaut reached behind him and caught hold of Mina's leg. Ripping her cruelly from her precarious perch, he wrenched her from his back. Her longsword remained stuck in the giant's back, and when she refused to release the hilt it snapped with a high pitched whine, as though the weapon were screaming a deathcry. She was left with a hilt and less than a foot of blade.

Screaming incoherently into her face, Dnarc turned and threw her full force into the mountainside. Surprisingly, as she flew, her thoughts were of her sword.

-My dad gave me this sword... this was my...- anything else she might have thought was lost when she impacted with the mountainside. She slid down heavily and collapsed into a heap.

Then she didn't move.


On to Part Two

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