"Your black looking clear, my work is done soon here, try getting back to me, get back what used to be! Drink up, tune in... let the beatings begin. Distributor of pain. Your loss become my gain! Anger, Misery, you'll suffer unto me... Harvester of Sorrow! Madness comes with me... Harvester of Sorrow! All have said their prayers, I've made their nightmares, to see into my eyes, you'l find where murder lies... Harvester of Sorrow! Madness comes with me... Harvester of Sorrow!" -Metallica P.S.E. (Pre Suck Era), Harvester of Sorrow

Two combatants stood, separated by a field trampled into mud, and covered in the fear, pain, and gore of the life or death struggle of that morning.

One,--a tall, lean, wolfish looking woman with short wavy red hair and a hard penetrating look around the eyes--stared hard at the other combatant, a slim, almost girlish man. His long black hair had been bound into a ponytail behind him. He grinned cheerfully, his handsome face alight with an intensely cynical inner amusement, and one would have thought he was about to participate in a contest rather than a life or death struggle. At least... until one got a look at his eyes... the two empty pits of deepest darkness belied the fact that this little contest was in deadly earnest.

Tess glanced over her shoulder at the ruined city wall behind her. It had begun to sink in exactly what she had gotten herself into - this arrogant little shit grinning his ass off before her had put a hole where once a gate and wall had stood for over five centuries, a hole several hundred yards wide - and she'd just challenged him to single combat.

She sighed and gave her bastard sword a few lazy looking test sweeps. She winced... her left shoulder was still bothering her. She didn't know when during the madness of this morning she'd gotten cut by a stray sword or arrow... and it hardly mattered now. She was injured, exhausted, and facing an opponent not only completely out of her league, but who looked well rested and uninjured.

"Well Tess, this is not exactly something they cover in the Sailoonian Gaurd recruiting brochure, now is it?" She muttered quietly to herself. She had a habit of talking to herself (a habit she picked up from her many years alone standing guard in Private Garret's shoes... the unfortunate problem with the military is that almost all of the people above you that you're trying to get one over on, be it to get out of work or slip something past them, have almost undoubtedly done the same thing in their days on the lower end of the chain) when she was nervous or tired - and right now she was both.

It was one thing to say you'd give your life for your country, quite another to actually do it.

Talon for his part simply watched her as though she were an amusing animal doing some form of trick. "Just let me know when you're ready my dear... I'm in NO hurry. In fact, you appear injured... I'll tell you what." he placed one of his gloves over his left hand. "There, now we're... even." he chuckled as though he'd made some sort of private joke.

She hated his sarcastic, unctuous, ingratiating manner of speech. He already counted her as good as buried. With a start she realized that she had been thinking the same thing. Grinning, she shook her head. "I'm not dead yet asshole", she muttered. She still had a few tricks under her sleeve. Slipping her foot nonchalantly beneath her breastplate, she took up a neutral combat stance, then took a deep breath.

"Ready." She said, as she let out the breath-

-and kicked the breastplate into Talon's grinning face.

The second battle for Sentinel City had begun.


Mina had backed away from Red, or Gaav, or whoever he was, when the flames of his aura had gotten too hot to stay close to him. As his aura died down, he turned slowly until she caught the left side of his face in profile... he had his old cocky grin on, but this time it was not full of black, ironic humor.

It was a challenge to the whole world... and it promised to set it all on fire.

Zelgadis' hand hovered over his sword and Pix's hand hovered over her mouth. She cast a worried glance over at Mina. Mina closed her eyes, opened them, then shook her head.

"Red?" she asked hesitantly.

The giant turned around completely and rested his sword on one shoulder. "Sorry. Red has performed his task admirably and well... but his time is done. I am Gaav... The Demon Dragon King."

Mina looked down. "What do you intend to do now... Gaav?"

"Mina-" Zelgadis started, but she raised a hand, silencing him.

Gaav grinned. "There are so many things that need taking care of... my brother to kill... the world to conquer..." he narrowed his eyes. This girl was going to be a problem. It was best to set things straight now. That pathetic fantasy man Red was truely gone. It was time to be Gaav again.

"I know... I've got a bit of unfinished business to take care of. Lina Inverse... I think... it's time to put an end to her meddling. Nothing personal you understand... it's just that I hardly think she'll allow me to take over the world."

Zelgadis growled. "You fiend!"

Pix glared and stuck her tongue out at him...

From behind Zelgadis' shoulder. One could hardly blame her though, this was an extremely large and scary dark lord in front of them.

Mina shook her head. "I can't let you do that R-... Gaav. My mother... isn't the sorceress she used to be. She'd be nearly defenseless. You used to say you'd never attack the defenseless..."

Gaav narrowed his eyes. Crying he'd been prepared to deal with. He hadn't had the strength to fight off his "urges" before but with Dnarc's unrestrained rage and hatred coursing through him, he felt more than powerful enough to deal with the weaker emotions his human soul inspired within him. Acceptance... and quiet disappointment... he hadn't expected... not from this girl. He knew her too well...

Knew her too well? This was ridiculous... a tiny human... a tadpole... nothing but a...


He frowned. Best to push forward. Lina defenseless? Hardly. It was too laughable to even consider. "If it's true then I shall apologize to her when I kill her... though I doubt that will matter much THEN."

Mina looked down at the shattered blade in her hand. Then she raised it up into a guard position. "You're going to have to get through me first."

Zelgadis blinked at this strange turn of events, then sighed and, fighting a severe case of deja vu, walked forward, his sword held ready before him. He stopped next to Mina.

"Zel?!" Mina started. "You don't-"

Zelgadis grinned ironically. "Yes I do. Lina would kill me if she found out I let you get yourself killed." He sighed. "Something tells me I'm going to regret this... again."

Gaav glared at them. Anger... sadness... he's been prepared to deal with that. Hard determination and disappointment? In him? This was unbelievable.

"Very well, if that is how you want it..." His eyes burned crimson and heat distorted winds began to twist and turn around him like angry serpents. "Prepare to die..."

Dnarc had said he was fonder of tragedies... it was ironic that his death looked as though it was more likely to cause one than his life.


Talon blinked suddenly as the breastplate streaked out towards him. Raising his gloved hand he battered it away from his face, glaring at the wolfish woman before him. "Cheap tricks won't-"

He stopped hastily when he realized that as she'd kicked the breastplate into his face, she'd also charged him viciously with a lunge that would have speared him through the chest had he been a normal combatant...

Not a God.

He stepped forward but slightly off center from her lunge and brought his bare hand down sharply on the gauntleted hand she held her sword with. She twisted away from him like a cat, turning his numbing strike into a glancing brush, but pain still exploded in her hand. Glancing down, she was horrified to see that a part of her gauntlet had simply been erased from existence. She grimaced. Great.

Talon grinned. "Do you finally begin to realize what you've gotten yourself into?"

Tess grinned back. "You must have a hell of a time scratching yourself."

Talon narrowed his eyes. "You have NO idea."

He darted in, his bare hand striking like a snake. She narrowed her eyes... she'd seen this stance before... why was it so familiar? She twisted away and received only a slight gash that opened up a hole in her shirt. She slashed her sword around to keep him at bay and he batted it aside with a slap of his gloved hand almost lazily.

She gritted her teeth. -Think.. think! You've seen this before... yeah he's not using any form of martial arts you've ever seen... but he's not holding any weap-

She almost received a slap for her inattentiveness that would have erased her face-

- Save for her catlike reflexes as she darted her head back at just the right moment, and then she recognized his form.

She HAD it now!

-Of course! His hands ARE his weapons! I've seen this before! If his bare hand were a rapier and and gloved hand were a dagger... then he'd be fighting Florentine!- she grinned. -Well... his form of Florentine was all well and good, except he's fighting like he's in some kind of duel. I think it's time Mr. Gloom and Doom learned he was in a life or death struggle. Time to show him Sergeant Gustav's school of fighting.-

He lunged in again, and this time, instead of twisting away she battered down on his arm with her sword full force. He winced and leaned in locking "blades" with her, forearm to blade. She was still somewhat surprised when her sword didn't cut through his arm - even though she'd been expecting something like this..

He, however, was definitely not expecting her to smash her forehead into his nose.

Nor as he reeled back in pain did he expect her to kick him full force in the groin with her steel-toed combat boots.

A painful collective groan echoed across barbarian horde that was momentarily eclipsed by another sound.

The pitiful remainder of the Sailoonian guard laughing their collective ass off.


"DUG.... HAUT!!!" Zelgadis shouted, slamming his fist into the ground. A series of sharp stone spikes erupted from the ground at Gaav's feet, impaling him like a mime on a spork-

-Or rather would have, if he hadn't leapt a full twenty five feet into the air. The group scattered as Gaav slammed into the ground raising a huge cloud of dust and leaving a large crater. Mina thrust her hand out. "ELMEKIA LANCE!!" she shouted, as a pristinely white blast of holy power arced towards him.

"Please." he scoffed, batting it aside with his sword. "If this is the best you two can do this won't even be a distraction."

Mina caught Zelgadis' eyes from across the way (Hey... give those back! He needs those! Er... sorry -DT) and grinned. "Red was right... this him IS an asshole."

Gaav remained crouched, simply waiting for them to advance. He still couldn't believe they were willing to attack him like this. His friends! His-

He shook his head irritably. -What am I thinking? A mazoku has no friends! A mazoku lord NEEDS no friends! He...-

He lost a lock of hair for his introspection as Zelgadis, streaking through the air like a blue lightning bolt, slashed at him in passing and nearly took his head off. Gaav growled. Enough playing around.

Landing lightly next to Mina, Pix hanging on for dear life on his shoulder, he crouched next to Mina in the small depression they used to take cover from Gaav's attacks. "I hope you've got some ideas, Mina... because otherwise this is going to get ugly very quickly. He's just playing with us."

Mina frowned. "No... he's not playing with us Zel... he doesn't really want to do this. Don't you see? He's forcing himself to be angry with us."

Gaav turned growling and standing up to his full height. His aura blasted forth, rocking the small band back with its concussive force. He clenched his hands into fists and the aura began to grow.

Zel blinked and looked at Mina. "He doesn't really want to kill us? You could have fooled me."

Mina smiled grimly. "He CAN'T fool me. That may be Gaav, but he's also Red, and I know how he thinks. Right about now he's going to-"

"This is been fun, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut you two short." Red grinned.

"-Bluster about what he's about to do." Mina grinned. Zelgadis blinked.

Pix smiled. "Wow... talk about applied psychology." Then she frowned. "Mina... what do you want us to do? How are we going to get him to realize what he really thinks?"

Zelgadis turned pale. "Should I be hearing this? This sounds suspiciously like one of those conversations girls have when they-"

"SHUT UP!" Mina and Pix growled at him.

Zelgadis was a wise man. He shut up. "Yes'm."

"We have to force the issue... but we have to do it in a way he'd understand..."

Pix grinned. "In other words, we have to beat it into him."

Mina grinned wolfishly. "Exactly... I'm going to need your help."

Pix nodded and raised a thumb. "You can count on me!"

Zelgadis shook his head. "Scary.."


If Arashi had had any doubts as to the veracity of his god's... well... godhood, they'd been completely shattered. Any normal man would have buckled like a belt after that blow to the hairy gumdrops, and Talon looked unaffected. Well, almost unaffected..

Though it may have been a trick of the light, he did look a bit paler than normal.

"I'm getting... tired of you-" Talon muttered darkly.

"-kicking you in the nuts?" Tess finished sweetly, weaving a hissing pattern with her bastard sword. She was on her last legs and they both knew it.

"-rather quickly my dear." Talon finished. He frowned, this little insect was beginning to become more than a nuisance.

Tess stepped back and gasped heavily. Her vision had become one long dark tunnel, and at the end of it was this evil bastard, always just out of reach of her blade. It was time to make a stand before he realized just how much she was relying on sheer mean stubborness to keep standing. She almost lost her chance when she tripped over something... a limb... an arrow, it hardly mattered. She went down, falling backwards and Talon lunged forward again, cutting a straight razorlike gash down her flank as she continued her tumble backwards into a roll that ended with her in an unsteady crouch facing him. Her left leg trembled uncontrollably beneath her, almost collapsing though there was no blood. Looking down she was morbidly fascinated to see the meat of her leg cleanly where he'd cut her, but no blood... as though it had been cleanly cauterized.

"I think it's time we finished this little farce, what do you say?" Talon asked pleasantly, walking towards her.

She gritted her teeth against the pain and grinned fiercely. "I agree." Then, with every last bit of strength she had remaining in her body, she lunged forward.

His eyes widened and he took a step back, raising his gloved hand up in front of his face. Her sword pierced it and continued easily through all the way to the hilt.

She froze in shock. "I... I beat him?"

Talon looked around his hand and grinned. "Not quite dear Captain... though I admire your persistence. Say goodnight."

He pushed her now bladeless sword away from his hand to reveal a cleanly cut hole in his glove over his unmarred palm. He brought his other hand up in an open palmed strike against her chest....

She crumpled slowly backward to the ground in dazed shock as a hand-shaped hole opened up in her chest. The empty hilt of her sword dropped to the ground at her side with a dull clatter. She blinked.

"NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!" A heartrendingly griefstricken voice shattered the stillness that had descended upon the battlefield.

Valgaav streaked down upon Talon like the vengeance of the Gods. His pike flashed downward as Talon turned in surprise, a grimace on his handsome face. Batting the pike in half with his bare hand, he caught the enraged half-dragon by the throat with his gloved hand and held him up in the air, smiling tightly at him. "How very touching... the grief shattered lover coming to avenge his true love's murder. Sorry... you should have listened to her when she told you to leave."

He felt something wet make its way down his cheek and glanced down. A line of red marked his once unmarred face. He looked up at Valgaav.

"You... cut... my.... face." His voice was toned dangerously low.

"I'll do worse than that you- HERK!" Valgaav choked as Talon squeezed his throat until he could feel his fingers meet in the flesh.

"It seems that you'll be joining your poor departed lover in the afterlife..." he stopped for a moment. "Oh... I'm sorry, I forgot. Shards don't have afterlives... They just become a part of the victor." He grinned. "Well, it would have been an unpleasant ending either way you look at it. Goodbye puppy." He felt something weakly clutch his leg and he looked down to see Tess trying futilely to drag herself up to stop him.

"You... aren't..." she stopped for a moment, trying to draw a breath that just wouldn't come. "Finished with me yet... asshole."

Talon shook his head. "Amazing! Absolutely amazing... It's simply too bad you had to die my dear... I don't know how much you would have cost but it would have been WORTH it." He turned to the struggling half-dragon, whose struggles had begun to weaken. "Well.. I suppose I don't have to kill you myself. Still... you scar me, I scar you."

His grin became a grimace of hate. "Begone!" He slammed his bare fist hard into Valgaav's side. Though hardier than Tess (who may have been a shard, but was a relatively weak one, having never absorbed another's power) Valgaav still shrieked in agony as he arced towards Sentinel. His mind gave way under the pain of nothingness tearing at his soul and astral body like a rabid wolf. Two things remained in his psyche... the hatred of that grinning, spiteful demon... and a promise he had made to his love. The small group of fighters (under protest) had beat a hasty retreat towards Sailoon in case Talon decided not to keep his word... he knew that Tess had intended him to do this from the start but he hadn't been able to convince them to abandon their Captain... especially if he wasn't willing to go either. Finally, misty eyed, Talgus had acknowledged his order, painful though it had been. Valgaav had intended to save Tess but things had happened so fast... then he'd meant to avenge her, but he'd failed at that... failed..

There was only one thing left that he could do... if he didn't get word to the Queen... then Tess would have died for nothing. Flying weakly in the direction where he felt some sort of pull, he fought against the agony in an attempt to get word of Sentinel's capture to Sailoon...

To salvage some sort of honor from the wreckage that his life had become.


Talon picked Tess up by the ruins of her shirt with his gloved hand and grinned at her. "You might think me heartless but I have my own reasons for doing this, I assure you." He leaned in close and looked into her dying eyes. "There is nothing out there beyond this farce Captain. This world rests in a sea of chaos... a mistake... a forgotten experiment gone wrong... vomited forth by a bitch of a goddess who cares nothing for her own creation."

His grin disappeared and his face lost all expression. "You said that you were fighting and dying for something you believe in, to be a part of something greater. Bold, noble words but empty of any true meaning. Your kingdom is a laughingstock, a place of pacifistic fools who think that just because nothing has ever attacked them that nothing ever will."

He snorted. "Well it's come true Captain. For I AM nothing.... and soon the rest of your kingdom of pitiful mistakes will join you." He grinned again. "You wanted to be a part of something greater Captain? Welcome to TALON!"

Tess couldn't see him, but she knew he was holding her up. His voice was an annoying buzz in the cold darkness she felt herself falling into, despite her best efforts. -Valgaav... forgive me...-

His words cut into her mind like a hot razor. The dying spark of defiance jumped within her and she gritted her teeth, shuddered, then spit bloody saliva into his face.

"You... son... of..... a..."

Talon grinned coldly as bloody spittle ran down his face. "Son? Monsters aren't born Captain... They're made."

He shoved his bare hand violently through her chest. She stiffened, convulsed, then collapsed limply in his grasp. He turned slowly, then tossed her off of his arm like a sack of garbage. Looking up, he gazed coolly about the silent battlefield; his army watching him silently, then he crossed his arms and watched the retreating speck wavering slightly in the distance. Tess's body turned to dust and red lightning struck him, though he absorbed it without reaction. He narrowed his voidlike eyes.


The Bloodguard came to attention. They watched him coldly.

"Kill him." He nodded towards Valgaav's retreating form as he picked up and pulled on his other glove.

The Bloodguard nodded silently and gestured, muttering sibilant words of power. Each lifted from the ground and took off after the retreating half-dragon on wings of chaos, drawing black bows as they did so.

He looked at the army around him. They seemed to approve of his handling of the situation. They'd seen him best his opponent in single combat, then give her a quick death. They only awaited his orders.

He looked back to Sentinel. A grin played across his face.

"Loot it, kill any stragglers, burn it to the ground." He chuckled. "Have fun."

The valley became one continuous roar of victory...

And Sentinel began to burn.


Mina walked towards Gaav slowly, her hands before her. Gritting her teeth, she stared defiantly up at him. "Ok "Darklord" if this is the way you want it, this is the way you'll get it."

Gaav blinked and gave her a confused look. "Huh?"

She grinned. "You're forgetting who my mother was."

Gaav grinned confidently. "I know you well, Mina Inverse... you don't have enough magical talent to cast the Ragna Blade."

She let out a deep breath. "Maybe I don't... there's only one way to find out."

"Sword of cold and darkness, free thyself from the heaven's bonds..."

Gaav narrowed his eyes, his grip tightening on his sword. He searched her eyes... she was really going to do this... she was going to...

"Become one with my power, one with my body, and let us walk the path of destruction together..."

Well... he hadn't exactly given her any other choice. Now it was time to put his money where his mouth was so to speak. It wouldn't be all that hard... he was wiser than he'd been before... a quick stroke..

"Power that can smash even the souls of gods!"

This was it... one of them was going to die here. One of them...

He froze for a moment, memories playing in his mind... and not the memories of his long, twisted, useless, dark, headlong flight of a past. Good memories... fighting with Mina... teasing her... tickling her... her embrace, warm arms around him... the look she gave him sometimes when she thought he wasn't looking or that he was asleep (yes, during that far off interlude by the woods when he hadn't actually been asleep).

All of that was about to come to an end...

"RAGNA BLAAAADE!!!" She screamed, straining and at the limits of her power. Even with Pix supplementing her limited reserves, she couldn't maintain this forever.. it was now or...

Leaping upwards she brought the mammoth blade of darkness high overhead, shouting as she did so. Gaav tensed, looking upward, then relaxed and lowered his head. "No."

He tensed again as he sensed her downward plunge with the blade, preparing for destruction for the second time, this time permanantly. He may have survived the last Ragna Blade cast at him, but that had only occured because he'd been at his full strength. The way he was now... he was done for. So stupid... so weak... to fall like this... a slave to his own weak human emotions... he had been created to be a rampaging Dark God of fury... a demon of destruction with the will and rage to tear apart the souls of the Dragon Kings themselves... and he had been defeated by this... this.... woman. She'd barely even had to lift a finger.

She landed hard next to him, stumbled and leaned against his chest heavily.

Pix let out a contented sigh.... that Ragna Blade spell was suuuuure tasty...

He fell to his knees and looked at her, his face full of sorrow. "I... I couldn't do it."

Mina looked up at him and whispered softly. "I know."

"What good is a dark lord who can't..." he looked like he was about to cry. Zelgadis goggled. This was something you didn't see every day.

Mina touched his lips with a finger. He stopped. "Who says you have to be a Dark Lord?"

He blinked. "It's what I am... I can't change that."

Mina shrugged. "So who says you have to be an EVIL Dark Lord?"

He blinked as though any other possibility had never occurred to him . "Uh... I guess... no... one?"

She smiled. "Who's going to TELL you that YOU have to be an Evil Dark Lord?"

He grinned weakly. "Heh... no one's going to tell ME I have to do anything!"

She nodded, then turned and slugged him in the jaw. "If you EVER do anything like that again, I swear to Ceiphid I'll-"

He leaned down and kissed her roughly. Her eyes widened... then she blushed....and she would have fallen over if he hadn't wrapped his arms around her and crushed her against his chest.

And it went on. Pix grinned softly and pushed at Zelgadis. "I think we should leave these two alone."

Zelgadis blinked, shook his head, then let her push him along. "I think I'm going to need therapy after this." he said dazedly.

Pix growled. "OHHH no you don't..."

Red broke his kiss and grinned at her. "What'll you do?"

She blinked and shook her head. "Wuzzat?"

"What'll you do if I ever do anything like that again?"

She blinked through the fog of hormones. Speech was still impossible because her brain was currently on vacation in happy land. She shrugged.

He grinned. "That's what I thought, Hero."

They kissed again.


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