Disclaimer: No money is being made from the writing and posting of this work of fan-made fiction. Suikoden and all other copyrighted and trademarked material are owned by their respective owners. The only thing I can claim are unique ideas and original characters and the like.

A/N: Not that many Stars of Destiny were recruited.

Legend:

"*" - denotes a change in perspective, focus, or that only a short period of time has passed

# - denotes a significant shift in perspective, forcus, or passage of time

The Bad Ending

Hai Yo's Madness

He'd taken a little peek at the Stone Tablet was was gifted, or more like lent really, to the Dunan Unification Army to keep track of important people, the Stars of Destiny that were to help bring about peace in their particular part of the world and found it wanting. He'd heard about the thing from his late lover, Shun Min, and her father, Retso, back when he'd still been an active member of the ruling council of the Black Dragon Clan. They, much like him, had been on the Tablet during the time that the pair had chosen to aid the brother to the Queen of the Queendom of Falena.

Such a charismatic leader, one, while not raised to rule, had many respectable and recognizable leadership qualities to him. This prince, the Prince of Falena, had been someone that knew what needed to be done and had done it.

Hai Yo had grown somewhat disillusioned with the state of the army, of the incomplete list of Stars of Destiny. Much of the slots were still left blank. There was surely not going to be some great miracle, unlike the tales he had heard from his family on Black Dragon Island. Tir McDohl had gathered the stars and Lady Leknaat had utilized such a gathering of cosmic forces to resurrect the most loyal servant of the McDohl family, and before that was how the Prince of Falena had been able to stave off the hand of death from his lady love.

He wondered what miracle might happen once all the fighting was done, should his own Tenkai Star manage gather all of the stars under his banner. But that wasn't likely to happen, not anymore, not after what he'd help do.

Shu had seen it shortly after he was in the very heart and thick of things. That man was incredible, but the chance to do something great had blinded him from seeing the truly inexperienced and innocent boy that hid behind a mask of false confidence and naive determination. When the man had come to the realization that perhaps Jowy Atreides was perhaps more suitable to bring about a unified and long lasting peace, it was too late, he was far too tangled in the life and destiny to Riou of Kyaro Town.

The man was a very good liar, and so could hide his bitterness better. He would ensure the victory of the side that he had chosen to be on and could not escape from, but would make sure that the conclusion that followed would not last and the world would be forced to one day plunge back into the chaotic fires of war.

If their leader thought that Shu could be cruel, the kid hadn't seen anything truly terrifying yet.

An example of which was where they got the food to feed their army and the funds to keep everything in order. Sure the city-states that were allied with the army sent supplies and funds, but that wasn't really enough for their ever increasing numbers.

Hai Yo may have once been one of the masters of the Black Dragon clan, the premier culinary clan in their world, but even he couldn't multiply one loaf of bread to feed a thousand. Raw materials, ingredients, were needed to make all the food that was consumed, from the most bland of dishes to the feasts that his fellow stars could afford, with their own salaries, to enjoy.

'Shu,' the yellow wearing chef thought to himself as he checked over the growling and wailing supplies in the storage room that he used for the army's food supplies, 'You too shall fall when the time comes.'

The room was one of many that most people weren't aware existed, a secret room that even their leader did not know about and wasn't about to be made aware of. Shu had found it with the help of that wanderer Killey, there were parts of North Window Castle that had once been part of some long forgotten Sindar Ruins hence how the red and black wearing man had managed to stumble upon all the rooms.

Killey wasn't someone that would go against Shu, once the long haired tactician commanded the wandering hunter of the Sindar not to venture into certain places, the man actively avoided such places. Plausible deniability should whatever illicit activities in them be found out by the greater populace.

Back to Hai Yo and his additional ingredient supplies…

The quest to either obtain or keep a true rune away from the war, the Punishment Rune, had granted him a special rune of his own, a child of the Rune of Punishment was attached to one hand. It was the Retribution Rune, a rune that was sure to consume him one day not that he really cared anymore. He'd already nearly sold his soul to the Rune of Punishment after all. A moment of weakness was all it had taken the rune to impart the gift unto him.

He might not have chosen to gain the original power that he True Rune had offered, he had still gained something from even considering its offer.

It was a devastating rune in its own right, and he wasn't quite sure about everything that it was capable of doing. He knew that it caused any that wronged him to suffer, and had helped him most recently win in one of those cook offs of his. It even helped him improve his technique, he could blend part of the Blue Moon Bird recipe into his dishes, watering its effects down greatly, but still making sure that the one that consumed the dish felt a little bit more than simply satisfied, insuring his win.

The additional healing properties brought about by the dishes close proximity with his assistant, the bearer of the Bright Shield Rune was just a bonus.

It also helped him silence any that would still choose to betray him, like some of the black market suppliers that Shu had gotten him into contact with. A few slave traders, rare monster hunters, and the like, that thought to double-cross him or outright try to kill him for one reason or another.

He made them...disappear.

He was dangerous. A chef could kill you via feeding you something, his rune could do all sorts of crazy things with the things he prepared. Something that was designed to bring happiness, could have a secret effect of making a person go berserk, rampaging and killing friend and foe before it was put down.

There were some fights that he'd gotten himself into where he threw dumplings into the mouths or force fed them to his opponents, who would then aid him in defeating his foes. All he needed to accomplish such feats, to use his rune, was to keep in mind that the whole of the world was to blame for his need to run from the Black Dragon Clan, keep the Blue Moon Bird recipe from falling into the hands of those that his late love had stolen it from, and also for said late love's death. He needed to blame the world, everyone in it, either directly or indirectly for the death of Shun Min, or else the rune would not work for him, and would probably begin the process of consuming him.

Another thing that he knew the rune allowed him to do was cast illusions on his creations and even on the ingredients that he used. Presentation, like plating, was very important when making a dish and making sure that the consumer enjoyed the dish or even simply considered eating it. Some ingredients, while tasting exquisitely, looked incredibly disgusting even when covered in all sorts of normal additional ingredients, hence the need for an illusion to hide the ugliness.

As he was double checking his supplies, and gathering some that he needed up in his restaurant's kitchen, he noticed that he was running out on some of them. He would need to place an order once again. One of the most satisfying of his dishes required this ingredient that he was running low on. He was actually running low on two vital ingredients for the dish.

It wasn't the time to be getting in contact with his suppliers, and so he needed to do it alone or with a party, discreetly of course. Shu would have to be notified, the man had grown fond of the particular dish, especially after he began his descent into pseudo-madness.

The remains of Luca Blight had been salvageable after the night raid, the parts that he'd recovered, in secret, had provided quite the interesting flavor. Some spiciness thanks to the rich in flame runic power that had flowed through his body and veins for much of his battle filled life.

He was short on rune wielding warriors, soldiers from the enemy and those that Huan had presumed dead or dying, and kobolds.

Kobolds provided a very rare meat that was extremely hard to come by, seeing as their communities were very tight knit, like the dogs that they really were, at least in the chef's opinion. There was a bitterness to them that was quite unique.

He'd managed to get his hands on some high quality kobold meat, enough for a few dishes to be made from it. The quality was so high that he might never be able to get such again, or during the campaign at least. It wasn't likely that Boris would be overlooked if he so happened to go missing. Ridley's death had been a godsend, something that wasn't likely to happen again.

It was all thanks to Shu really, the man had grown to dislike the doberman quite a bit hence the suicide run that he'd convinced the kobold to go and die in. Allowing the New States Army's chef to secretly venture onto the battlefield and carve up the corpse for useful ingredients.

Finishing up with his inspection, inventory, he left the room and sealed up the still living, barely alive really, ingredients that he didn't need at the moment back into darkness. What sanity any of the sentient ones had left was slowly dwindling away, turning them into something that didn't deserve to be viewed as anything more than just ingredients to be used by the Master Chef that was Hai Yo.

#

Shu's Madness Unleashed

It was already too late to switch sides without chancing looking even more evil or cruel than some already saw him as being. He cared little that he sent men and women to their deaths for the sake of reaching the goal which Leknaat wanted to achieve. She'd chosen a mere youth to unify a nation, to resolve a conflict, and bring about peace.

She had chosen a mere boy to bring about a miracle, and unfortunately he wasn't really doing a great job at it. He wasn't even doing his duty to actively recruit the stars of destiny, to unite them all under one banner, his. The true and lasting peace that many had joined the army with the hopes of achieving it could not truly come to pass without a complete set of 108 stars.

Something that had already been made impossible.

He'd made sure of it once he'd realized that he'd made the wrong decision, that he should have sided with that other young man, Jowy of Highland, the first of his name. He didn't have a choice now, but he did at one point in time.

He was sick and tired of having to deal with that boy, that naive little boy that led the army. Sure there was something that drew others to him, that drew others in. But it was probably because he was too nice, too compassionate, too innocent. He hadn't really experienced any real loss and betrayal, unlike many of those that followed him.

He was still trying to figure out a way to end the foolish behavior of that irresponsible little boy. Bring him into the real world, force him to cast away the bonds that bound him to the King of Highland, to the enemy of the people he was supposed to be prioritizing.

Shu believed that Riou was far too reckless, not only did he fight on the front lines, while that did boost morale, it would have a devastating effect should he actually fall in battle. Sure he got stronger, and sure the rune upon his hand coerced him to do so, but that was still no excuse to neglect his duties to the heavens, to gather the stars, and fight even more ruthlessly or just as ruthlessly as the enemy. That's not to say that he needed to tread down the path that Luca Blight had.

Just be a bit more ruthless. Admiration, respect, and fear, in the amounts that were currently present, were alright, but a bit more would be great.

Shu needed that boy to become a man, a hardened one.

The man also believed that the two halves of the Rune of Beginning needed to be removed from their part of the world. The only way to do that is to make sure that his bet won the race and erased the enemy, taking the other half of the True Rune, reuniting the pieces, and leaving to wander the world in solitude like many of the other bearers of True Runes.

In order to harden the hero, he needed to orchestrate something truly daring, something that would have the needed and intended impact upon the psyche of the leader of their forces. Someone close to the hero needed to die.

The way to go about it didn't come until just before they were to storm Rockaxe Castle.

Leknaat was the lady that helped him find the way. She came to him while he was alone in his office.

"I grow tired of the way my latest choice has gone about doing things," the lady said, a frown marring her otherwise beautiful face, "He has forsaken the other stars, leaving them floating, lost in the farther reaches of the heavens. Their power squandered, and some of their lives lost."

"What would you have me do, my lady?" Shu asked the lady, he had been sitting behind his desk at the time, contemplating how to improve the tonfas that he guided.

"It isn't likely that he'll bother trying to gather the fallen stars now," the lady said, "I revoke my blessing and protection of the foolish boy. My last choice probably succeeded in his quest of uniting the stars due to the losses that he suffered throughout his journey."

"I might be a rather intelligent man in my own right," Shu stated, "But any suggestions from you would be welcomed."

"Who, in the whole of the army, is he tied to? Which person anchors him to his past?" the woman questioned, "Who would push him over the edge? Who has tried to convince him, time and time again, to give up?"

"I...see," the man finally coming to the realization of just what he needed to have done, it wouldn't take much, the girl wasn't at his level when it came to manipulating people after all, and he also hated her cooking. His chef of an accomplice in certain matters would probably cook him one of those high quality meals for free if he managed to rid the cooking world of the blight that was Nanami of Kyaro town.

There was also Dr Huan to think of, one of the most helpful members of the army. The man was a medical genius the likes of which the world was not likely to see again for a hundred years or more. His apprentice was far too compassionate and kind to continue the legacy the man was sure to leave.

The army owed Huan quite a lot, from providing medical assistance to disposing of unwanted members of the army, to providing special boosts for the troops to use in battle. Doctors and Chefs were the most knowledgeable when it came to killing people and keeping them happy and healthy.

"You know what you have to do," the lady told him, before vanishing from his room, as if she had never been there or had merely been either an apparition or a figment of his imagination.

"I do," the man said to no one in particular, "Nanami must die."

He set about convincing the girl that she should put herself unnecessarily in danger, unecessarily in the eyes of her adopted brother at least. He needed to no longer worry about her as well as a more solid reason to fight, to end the fighting. He spewed out lies and managed to convince her to step out of the war, promising her that everything would be alright, she'd get to be reunited with the young man after everything was resolved.

Once she gave her consent to go with the plan and put herself close to the hands of death, the rest of the plan for the mission was formed.

Huan was informed that he'd get a body to dissect and possibly experiment upon. Hai Yo was informed that he was going to be able to collect the much needed resources from after the battles ahead, and also about the destruction of the blight upon the culinary world.

Both men were quite satisfied with the news. Each one was getting a reward for all that they had done for the army. Both men were also the only other people that needed to know about the fate that was to befall Nanami.

#

Barbara's Madness

Early on, due mostly to Nanami's interference, it became obvious to Shu that the army would need a lot more funding. It would have been nice if able bodied merchants and skilled and talented artisans had set up shop in North Window. It would have lessened the need to purchase supplies and arms from other places to keep the army running at tip top shape.

Riou hadn't understood that, he simply went along with the manipulations of his sister who insisted that he didn't need to uproot people to join his army. He didn't need to visit each one of them individually to ask them to come, they should be drawn to him and should do so voluntarily, not charmed or coerced into doing so.

Barbara, the army's quartermaster, was very good at keeping stock, keeping count of things, and getting what was needed or lacking. She was also good at handling money, which made her the treasurer of the army, and account too. Not that she minded.

What she did mind was that it was left, mostly to her, how to go about acquiring funds sorely needed to fund the war and ensure victory. Donation and agreed upon sums of potch was not enough to sustain the army. An influx of potch was needed to keep things running smoothly.

Shu had informed her that previous gatherings of the Stars of Destiny, information he had obtained from being the student of a former star himself, had merchants and artisans of the highest calibre which helped greatly when it came to the economics of the war.

She was familiar with the darker side of the world, the part that most heroes tried to, but ultimately failed, to really get rid of. Or get rid of permanently.

It was that familiarity that she managed to bring in some extra income for the army to use and not only survive but appear powerful. Though they really were powerful.

A force to be reckoned with, a might to be feared.

She gathered together some old friends of hers to help her in the money making.

There was Leona who knew how to work a bar, among other things, and Hilda who met Alex in the most unlikely of places. It was easy to see how Leona might have connections with the underworld or even the red light districts of the lands, but Hilda with her mild mannered and gentle appearance, it was really hard to think that she'd once served as one of those women who gave comfort to the lone and depressed.

Barbara didn't ask her to take up that profession once again, Alex would wring her chubby neck if she even so much as thought of it. What the quartermaster had her friend do was open up a brothel, hiring girls that had needs, like debts that needed paying or were really into giving comfort to men, and women, who were in need of some much neeeded loving and had some potch to spare.

Some of the stars needed the extra potch, while some had the experience and wanted to contribute, no coercion and the like. Though their identities were kept secret either by mask or mere makeup.

Hilda would run the house of ill repute, which was squirreled away in one of the harder to reach corners of the city-fortress. Leona would run the ground-floor bar there after her tavern in the castle closed up for the night.

The two women didn't really need all that much sleep, mostly thanks to practice but also thanks to a concoction that Huan created after some experiments that he didn't share the process of or everything that it entailed. He'd mentioned farming monsters for medical resources, but that was about it. He was a tight lipped individual when it came to his miracle cures and the like.

Barbara also managed their connections to the Black Market, something she was sure that Hai Yo wasn't aware of. She knew some of the secrets of that deranged chef which was why she only ever at at his restaurant during those cook offs, he wouldn't dare use some of his more exotic ingredients in such official and highly public matches.

She had thought of dabbling in the slave trade, but had decided not to do so since there was a chance that one of the would-be slaves could escape and spread word of her, and by affiliation the New States Army, dark dealings. The reputation of the organization was more important than acquiring funds, serving them on platters for unwitting people to consume gave her some satisfaction, though she normally ignored the disturbed feeling she got whenever she thought about the chef and his hobbies and preferences.

She did participate, somewhat in the sale of arms, the resource was mostly gathered from te battlefield. There was no time to deliver the dead to the otherside, and instead of leaving bodies to simply rot, they were stripped of all valuables, some sold and some used by the army.

A large portion of the bodies would mysteriously disappear overnight. She kept track of the ones that either the head chef or the head doctor managed to collect for their hobbies, but the others she didn't care about of think about all that much. They were just corpses after all, being left for any passerby to see would be a bad thing image-wise. If someone or something was out there taking care of something that the army she was an integral part of couldn't be bothered to do so themselves, then she would not bother investigating.

But that did not mean that she did not suspect anyone. There were a few individuals in the amy that she suspected had what it would take to get rid of all those dead.

There was the winger Sid, that bastard was mad, insane, creepy. He sent chills racing up and down her spine whenever she had to deal with him, and she'd dealt with a lot of scums of the earth before becoming the quartermaster of North Window Castle.

There was Taki too, the kindly grandmother act could be just that, an act. She could potentially be hiding something sinister beneath her wrinkled skin and gentle helping smile. Richmond wasn't the best at what he did, he lacked a lot of skills and resources to do a proper job. He was just an investigator, not a master spy or assassin unlike what the Queendom of Falena had had access to.

Then there was one person that also stood out, one person that should not stand out. It was that ditz, Millie.

She kept her eye on that blue wearing girl with the abnormal groundhog for a pet. There was seriously something off about that girl, but she just couldn't put her finger on it. A girl couldn't be perpetually clueless and happy. There was something definitely wrong with that girl, she was sure of it, just what exactly was something that she was extremely hesistant to find out.

She might not have been in on the plot to have their leader evolve from a mere boy to a real man. But she knew that something was up the moment that a platoon of soldiers that were steadfastly and even zealously loyal to Shu transferred Nanami's body from the infirmary to just outside of Hai Yo's secret storeroom.

She kept her watch. She knew how to hide, probably even better than that kunoichi Kasumi, who actually did work part time at Hilda's Hideaway aka house of ill repute.

She watched as the body was brought into the storeroom, and waited for it to be brought out.

It was a grusome sight, one that she should have been used to.

Hai Yo left the room, dragging the body behind him before handing it over to the Shu's soldiers whom she followed to Huan's secret lab. The chef was covered in bloodstains, but the maniacal grin he sported on his face was the stuff of nightmares.

Huan's reaction to the body was just as gleeful. The way he rubbed his hands together in anticipation for whatever it was to happen next was surely quite sinister.

Before she could head on back to her quarters, she was pulled into a shadowy corner by the true leader of the army, the mastermind of everything that had occured. Her real boss, Shu.

"What you have witnessed must not leave your lips, seal them," the man whispered, the dark aura surrounding him telling her that he would do many unpleasant things to her if word got out or so much as a rumor reached the ears of Riou, "Is that understood?"

"O-Of course," she stuttered out, and added fearfully, "Sir."

"Good," Shu said as he let her go, "No more straying from the path, no more wandering where you are neither needed nor wanted. We wouldn't want you to have an accident now, would we?"

"N-No sir, o-of course not sir," she stammered before hurriedly heading in the direction of her personal quarters, 'That man is truly terrifying, the darkness of the night did not help matteres...at all'

The use of the blinking mirror had been how Riou had managed to bring his sister back to HQ so swiftly. Huan forbade him from visiting her as he needed to concentrate on healing someone so important to him, someone worth leaving the battlefield for. Thankfully the battle was already over and the leader leaving so spontaneously didn't really do anything to morale, just left a few people thinking that maybe their illustrious leader just wanted to celebrate the latest win at home earlier.

Their leader spoke to his sister for the last time that same day, after Huan informed him that she didn't have much time left to live. In truth, she was sluggish, weak in comparison to normal, because of the slow acting sleeping draught that the good doctor had fed her, telling her that it would add to the drama that was needed for Riou to become stronger.

When she'd finally fallen into her death-like state, the hero had to be forcibly removed from the infirmary. He was further informed that he had to harden his heart for the remaining trials ahead of him. Which was why her death was the last time he ever saw her body as it was again.

It was that same night that her body was brought to the chef, then back to the doctor.

She had indeed died, and suffered, unlike what the leader, the hero knew. He believed that while arrows had pierced her mortal shell, her final end had been a bit more peaceful, since he suspected that she was drugged up to not feel any discomfort or pain.

Hai Yo had made sure that it was terribly painful.

Barbara was sure of that.

#

Millie's Secret

It was sometimes hard acting against one's truer nature. But sometimes it was necessary to do things that one would normally not bother to do. But it was life and death, or close enough to it.

She had help of course, her good friend Sierra, a master actor in her own right, able to fool Viktor, Kahn, and that Star Dragon Sword aka the Night Rune. She wouldn't have been able to keep up the ruse that she was just some ditzy girl who had a weird pet for a companion, if it hadn't been for the sane vampire.

Well, sane in terms of crazy people. Sierra was quite mad in her own right, or quite dark in her own quest, just not as obvious about it as Neclord had been.

But enough about the dark creature that had been transformed into what she truly was by the Night Rune, and back to Millie the ditzy girl who was simply too nice. It was truly a wonder that she was part of the army even though all she could seemingly do was look cute for the troops.

She hid her face, her true face and intentions. She was very good at it, and she was somewhat sick of it. But she had to do it. She had to hide, lest she be hunted down and killed.

She did, in fact have a True Rune, she just chose not to use it. It was how she'd been able to bind her beloved pet Bonaparte to her very soul to serve her until her body and soul expired.

It was during her younger days when she'd gotten the rune, it was interesting too how she'd managed to acquire it. All she'd done was stab a woman in the back like she was taught to do with strangers that didn't look like they had good intentions for her.

The True Rune transferred itself to her, branding her as one of the cursed bearers. The Rune sensed her darkness and her untapped potential and so enhanced it and made her even stronger. It was thanks to the Front Gate Rune that her potential was unlocked, and it was thanks to the additional powers granted to her by the True Rune that she'd finally managed to find and bind a friend to her, that friend being her pet mutated groundhog, Bonaparte.

The normally pint sized critter both loved and hated his master, he was also often annoyed with her careless attitude. Being poked in the eyes was sometimes annoying, he could stand it some times, but other times it just got so frustrating that he needed to let off some steam. He did, of course, understand that those careless actions of hers were byproducts of her need to keep a low profile, to remain under the radar, to be underestimated.

She deceived all those that she encountered. Which helped the demon really. She used his tantrums to help feed him, by luring unsuspecting travelers or adventuerers deep into forests where he would lie in wait, attack them, and devour them. Feeding on their bodies, while she fed on whatever magic those bodies might hold.

She was greatly thankful for her pet having been defeated by a truly inexperienced young man or little boy. Her induction into his group had opened up so many possibilities that she would have otherwise been labeled a a monster for. Scores of dead were left after small and large scale battles.

Bonaparte didn't need live pieces of meat, they just needed to have been alive at some point. Her cute pet and herself served as the army's cleanup crew. Cleansing the battlefield, cleaning up and getting rid of all traces of said battle. It just wouldn't do to have to fight on ground that was litered with corpses.

She was fancied herself as some kind of environmentalist, blood soaked soil didn't encourage the growth of new life. She avoided such a thing as much as possible by having her cute pet drink every last drop, or at least keep it sealed up in one of his hidden compartment for sharing with Sierra at a later date.

She suspected that there were those that saw somewhat past her impecable acting skills, one of which was Barbara who kept looking at her funny whenever they talked with one another, or perhaps that was because of her act as a ditz and a clutz. There was also Shu, whose eyes appeared to be able to see more than he led people to believe. Flik, being the more observant of the duo that he belonged to, also seemed to notice that something was up with her, but didn't act on whatever his instincts were telling him probably because Shu didn't do anything.

There were other things she did aside from cleaning up after the soldiers and generals and other military officers. She wasn't one, of course, she was just one of the glorified members of the army, glorified thanks to her position as a Star of Destiny.

Her hobby was magical experimentation, which, somehow, included attempts to seduce Pesmerga who clearly wasn't interested. There was just something about that black knight that appealed to her. She suspected that he too had a True Rune, but just like her, kept it from being seen.

She thought that it might be possible for her to be attracted to powerful men, either that or those that were as mysterious as her, or maybe even just the simple fact that he wasn't interested.

She saw how some of the men in the army looked at her, their malicious gazes raking over her form and undressing her with their eyes as their imaginations ran wild. She heard and saw their surface thoughts, they broadcasted too loud for her not to notice after all.

She found a lot of the men disgusting, even some of the seemingly good looking ones. If it wasn't for the fact that Oulan might discover her secret and for the fact that she needed to appear like she didn't have very much between her ears, she would have hired the bodyguard and sick her on those perverted bastards.

The woman might end up getting their fearless leader involved, and she didn't really fancy having to have that soft headed teen enter into the equation more than he already had.

Other than attempting to seduce the resident mysterious black knight, she also played with the normal looking critters, combining their bodies and souls with those of creatures from the World of Emptiness and creating new monsters to feast on the flesh of mortals, excluding her.

Bonaparte wouldn't be happy if other creatures could but her in their mouth.

During some large scale battles, she would have Bonaparte slaughter her allies just so that she could unleash her cute critters on the enemy and just so that she could let loose without anyone being the wiser.

She had somehow managed to convince others not to investigate or reinforce her position. A little bit of mental manipulation such as memory modification really helped smooth things along. Sure she belonged to group of three lead magic-users, but that didn't mean that they were positioned or stationed that close to one another.

Her True Rune made sure that the others didn't feel the massive amounts of magic that she could dish out.

Her one problem was what was she going to do with herself after they won the war. She couldn't just go out and indiscriminately kill people during the post-war time. A disappearance or more would surely be investigated.

Thankfully, Shu was metaphorically just around the corner, waiting for her to need some guidance. He might have not had a True Rune bonded to him or any other extraordinary power other than his superior intellect, but that was more than enough for him to convince the powerful immortal sorceress to do his bidding. It mostly had to do with taking a vacation in another country for a few years before returning and wreaking havoc, disturbing, and ultimately destroying the peace from teh shadows. Perhaps this next time around, this third time, would be the right time for a right ruler to rise up and above.

He claimed to have Lady Leknaat's blessing in the venture, and that was more or less more than enough to convince the girl to keep from going nuts for a few years. What were a few short years compared to the lengthy lifetime ahead.

She could and would wait.

She didn't care for whatever secrets the man held close to his chest, but he seemed to already have a plan and was just waiting to unleash it upon the world.

War changes people, and Shu was just one of those casualties.

#

Boris' Sin

Lust isn't only defined as having a very strong sexual desire for someone, but also feeling a strong desire for something. Envy is the feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck. Pride is the feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

His father was a great leader, a great general, one of the most respected people not only in the New State Army, but also in Two River, he was after all the leader of the Kobolds of Two River. Many people looked up to him for guidance and many drew strength from him.

It was for these reasons that his son wished and wanted to get out from under his shadow and become not only like him but greater than him. He wanted the respect, the prestige, the admiration, he wanted everything that seemed to easily come to his father for himself. It was a tall order as the kobold's shadow was large and far reaching.

So it wasn't all that surprising that he chose to work with Sid when it came to sabotaging his father during a campaign. Sid had a deep seeded hatred for the kobolds, for Ridley especially. So the mad winger didn't really mind working with the son of Ridley Wizen, if the result was the removal of the top dog in the army.

As they didn't want to leave evidence of their involvement in the sabotage of the general. They did not use bribes, they did not involve anyone that didn't need to be involved.

Sid had considered asking that mysterious source of malevolence that he kept feeling while wandering the castle, seeking someone to scare, but had discarded that idea as he might find himself in a situation that he wouldn't be comfortable dealing with. He'd also considered seeking out the rumored mad doctor, but the only doctor he knew was Huan, and the man was as harmless as a hamster.

Boris' hatred of his father was clear as day to the mad winger, and so it was easy to work with him. The kobold joyful at the prospect of taking his father's place in the greater scheme of things. He went along with Sid. He took antidotes for several days before he decided to play his role in the death of his father.

He didn't know it, but his ploy was similar to that which Jowy Atreides used to get Luca Blight the crown.

Similar, but not exactly the same. Ridley died in battle, his judgement had been impaired by the poison that ran through his veins, but he couldn't show weakness in the face of the enemy or his men, so he just had to grin and bear it until the killing blow was dealt. He could have won, kept his life, and all that, had it not been for the treachery of his son, not that he knew about it. He suspected one of the wingers or the humans from Two River that resented him for who-knows-what really, but not his son.

Boris had been ecstatic when he'd been informed of his father's demise, even more so when it was reported that his body could not be found and had probably been desecrated by the enemy. He didn't show any visible signs of his joy however, since that would have looked bad. Someone would have suspected foul play if he started strutting around, and so he played the part of downtrodden heir to a mighty legacy.

He was finally in his father's shoes, and the dubbed kobold stew that Hai Yo had shared a bowl of with him had been extremely tasty, it had the taste of victory in it somehow. He found the name a bit disconcerting, but he supposed that chefs could be eccentric enough not to care about such a thing. The dish was exquisite after all, so who cares if it insinuated that a kobold had been killed in order for the stew to be made.

The only thing he could not emulate of his father was the kobold's many years of experience. That was the one thing he was lacking, but Shu made him feel better about his lack of experience, the man really knew his stuff. Knew what to say, how to say it, and what words would and could surely be used to boost one's confidence and apparently the ability to lead, fight, and win.

What Sid got out of the deal was anyone's guess, other than finally ending the life of one of the kobolds he hated. He just did that mad laugh of his when he heard the news of the fall of the great Ridley Wizen, no one knew whether he was saddened by the news or ecstatic, other than Boris and Shu.

Shu knew everything that went on in the castle. He was more well informed than even Riou, who was the leader, though Boris and Sid knew better. They both knew that he was merely a figurehead, especially after each of them were eventually approached by the man and asked if they would be interested in another age of chaos, but in the future and not immediately after peace was established.

There were plenty of dispensable kobolds, Sid could have an equally dispensable winger attack and kill one, when the time was right. The peace, according to Shu, that they'd gain from winning their war against Highland would not be a lasting one, it would be a semi-short lived one, a decade or two at the most, then war would break out once more. Riou was going to be leaving them one way or another after all, which was part of Shu's plan.

Boris found a few loyal sympathizers of his father, ones that would now and then question what had happened to his father, they wouldn't say anything out loud, but their looks, their stance, even their scent, gave off the suspicion that they sometimes felt. Not exactly, towards him, but they suspected some foul play.

There were two that kept returning to the thought of there having been foul play, two other Stars of Destiny. One was a sometimes idiotic, yet professional kobold, while the other was a nuissance. They were two lose ends.

He eventually brought up the matter to Shu, who knew the truth of things, and was advised to wait until the Battle of L'Renouille, where deaths were expected, even Stars of Destiny.

Upon the battlefield, in the confusion of rushing troops, swords drawn and shields splintering, several stray arrows found their mark, slamming painfully into the bodies of two particular kobolds.

Captain Gengen and his most loyal subordinate never made it off of the battlefield alive, their bodies were never officially recovered either.

#

Tying Up Loose Ends

Not all the soldiers that needed company vsited Hilda's house of ill repute, others managed to find company to warm their beds without having to shell out as much potch as was required to avail of the services offered by the girls, and even a few boys, at Hilda's place.

Some girls, and women, may have a price, but of course there would be some men that didn't need to pay it.

Four men who held positions of importance of their own were in this category. Three of them just needed to smile or smirk in the right direction, while the other one just had to be drunk for his charm to come out.

Of these four men, only one ever really did use his charm for nefarious purposes, the other three had come up with reasons not to indulge themselves in such earthly pleasures.

Camus, Captain of the Red Knights, was the only one of the four men that chose to bed any fair maiden, and a few experienced ones, that caught his eye. This side of him mostly only came out at night though, he somehow managed to keep his night time adventures secret, managing to convince all those unimportant women not to blab. It was probably his prowess under the sheets that helped them to think that it had all been a dream.

Miklotov, didn't think it was right. He was the most knightly among the knights. Something that somewhat annoyed his bestfriend. But since he was the red knight's bestfriend, he did have a duty to look out for him, keep him from too much trouble and the like. It was his duty to pull his friend out of the fire, if he ever somehow, managed to fall in.

The Red Knight had a lot of conquests throughout his stay with Riou's army, Miklotov somehow kept track of all these night time adventures, he wasn't all that surprised when his friend managed to catch more than a glimpse of Leona's secrets, though for some reason his friend never bothered to even try with the Rune Mistress of their group.

All these conquests had consequences once the war was over and won. There were a few loose ends that needed tying up, since not all the women accepted that their time with the passionate knight had been nothing more than a mere fling.

Some wanted some form of payment, after they'd realized that it had all been just lust or one sided feelings on their part, and the Blue Knight had to be the one to fix things, since his red counterpart wasn't really all that level headed when it came to such situations, especially when the sun was up.

Then there were those that hadn't exactly been safe to be with on certain knights. Those ones had to be tracked down, Camus still had a long and fruitful career ahead of him, he didn't need such distractions, such as offspring, to keep him from performing his duties. Those were the sort of thing that the blue knight unpleasantly had to deal with for his friend. The man also shouldn't have to worry about some odd woman visiting Matilda somewhere down the line demanding child support or marriage even. What if the man finally found love and wanted to settle down, he wouldn't be able to do that if there were such loose ends runnings about.

They had to be taken cared of.

Luckily the number of them was small. Luckily a few of that number chose to have it in writing that the child that they carried was of another member of the army, none of the higher ups, but one of those that were at the bottom of the ladder like they were.

Then there were those that thought that he would be reasonable and would take their side in things. He was a knight after all, they had honor, a code. Unfortunately for these women, there were some things more important than such things as words and sworn oaths, like friendship.

He hated himself deep down, but his actions were done in the name of his friend, his best friend. They were done to protect not only his friend, but their friendship.

No one knew of the acts of violence and sadism that he performed behind securely closed doors, or at least that's what he thought before he was approached from the shadows by one of the most unlikely of people.

Shu.

The man had somehow found out, after only the second occurence of what he, Miklotov, was doing. Systematically erasing Camus' mistakes by any and all means necessary. These were things he'd done several times before, which made him rather confident in his ability to cover his tracks.

The man didn't share how he'd found out, or how much he'd found out. All he'd said was that if he didn't want such information to leak to certain parties, then the blue knight had to do what he was told to do.

In exchange for the bodies and records of these mistakes to disappear, Miklotov had to swear to close Matilda's borders once the fighting began again, irregardless of whether or not he was still in a position of power by then. The borders would only be allowed open, once foreign powers once again took interest.

The blue knight didn't really have much of a choice, he had this feeling that Shu truly was a dangerous person, one that even though he had no True or special Rune to speak of, he had power and promise behind his back. A powerful accomplice or backer perhaps.

So he gave his word, his solemn vow, along with signing a document that would serve as proof of his treachery should he ever decide to renege on his end of the bargain.

After the strategist left him to his own devices, he sought out his friend and informed him that he didn't have to worry about anyone one day knocking on his door to shatter his perfect life.

"Thanks Miklotov," Camus said to him, "I know I'll always be able to count on you."

There had been something in his tone of voice when such gratitute was freely and openly given. The red knight was hiding something, hiding it carefully that the blue knight barely noticed.

'I have my secrets, he should be entitled to his own,' the blue knight thought to himself, before excusing himself to head back to his own quarters.

Had he stayed a little longer or forgotten to tell his friend or ask his friend something, had he gone back to his friend's quarters, he would have seen Shu slip in and he would have found out how the man had found out about his secret hobby.

Camus had known all along that his friend had been covering for him, had been doing the dirtier deeds than sleeping with a hundred different women, toying with their feelings and flesh before casting them aside as if they were nothing more than mere playthings. He wanted to ensure that Matilda would have a future past what he felt would not be a truly long lasting peace.

He'd heard tales in his youth of wars waged where the leader bore one of twenty-seven important runes, where the leader was some sort of chosen by the gods of their world. Riou did not live up to that legend, to the hype. He failed miserably, and so even with their victory, it was a short-lived one at best.

Everything would relatively go back to the way things were, not all the problems from the land had been purged, a lot of them still remained, such as all those seven deadly sins.

So he went to Shu, he wanted to ensure that Matilda would be safe, secure, and ready to accept the brighter future ahead of that third war, third time's the charm and all that.

The man made promises, and they were the kind of promises that the man could surely keep. He had, after all, managed to get their motley crew to survive so long with a nearly incompetent leader at the figurative helm. Shu, was truly a man of miracles, even if most of them were carefully laid plans that were followed to the letter.

Camus also wanted to protect his friend in ways that he still didn't know how, hence why he also went to Shu.

One of Shu's promises was that he, Camus, would find himself at the top of the hierarchy of Matilda. As he'd gone well beyond the call of duty, he felt that he deserved it, and Shu agreed with him. The two of them agreed that Miklotov, who was just as experienced and respected, lacked the cold hard convinction to do what was necessary for peace.

This was not counting all the murders that the man did in Camus' name.

That was the difference between the two men. Camus' passion was reserved for the bedroom, while his rational mind and logic were for everything else. Miklotov had a tendency to use both at all times, but was more focused on his connections or relationships with people, especially his best friend, than anything else.

"*"

Viktor and Flik, two rather experienced men. Viktor more than Flik though, but those days were behind them.

Too many deaths of those that he cared about more had changed Viktor's outlook on life and willingness to get into a closer or more romantic relationship with anyone. He slipped up sometimes, mostly when he was drunk. Those were the times when he would only realize what he had done the morning after his drinking binge.

The women didn't mind at all, as they'd known full well that it was mostly the drink that had allowed them to bed the bear.

He could still find women attractive, it was just the way he was. But he no longer had the heart or capacity to love at he'd before been able to love. Daisy and Anabelle, were just two among a list of roughly a dozen or more people that had fallen like flies around him.

Only Flik had somehow managed to keep the curse from affecting him, though even that infamous blue wearing man had experiened devastating loss. To the point that he shunned the affections showered onto him by many a maiden, with Nina being the one that he needed to literally and physically push away at times.

Viktor and Flik, Flik and Viktor, two men who were disillusioned with love due to similar yet different circumstances. Viktor had his loved ones dying all around him, both before and after his acquisition of the Star Dragon Sword, and Flik who'd lost the one woman that he was originally destined to spend the rest of his life with. Flik's very sword was a constant reminder of what was once lost and could never be regained ever again.

Blue Lightning Flik, he'd gotten a nickname while Viktor didn't. Which he didn't really care all that much about. He'd experienced having women literally throw themselves at him, some begging to be the mother of their children. Lots of those women actually scared him.

Somewhere down the line, not necessarily while out adventuring with Viktor, he'd gained a specific phobia. Not a phobia of commitments, seeing as he was still Viktor's friend and the bear of a man probably being the only person in the world he would feel comfortable sleeping with. Gynophobia, fear of women.

It wasn't at a level that was obviously obvious, but he had it. Nanami practically drove him insane, especially after Nina entered the picture. There were a few others, but those two girls were the most persistent.

He found some morbid pleasure from the fact that one of the girls that drove him batty would no longer be bugging him anymore.

He didn't share that tidbit with Viktor.

Shu did not bug the two men, as he knew that they'd leave the lands soon after everything had settled down. They were natural born wanderers after all, and there was quite a good possibility that there were other nefarious creatures and plots that had nothing to do with him in the world for them to attempt to destroy.

#

Templeton's Curse

He'd met Millie before, back when she was knew to her power, not that the girl remembered him all that much. But he remembered her, and the curse that she'd laid upon him.

He wasn't sure whether or not she had been aware of what she'd done to him at the time, or aware that they'd met before joining Riou's army. What he was sure of was that he had to get rid of the curse.

He had consulted with some experts on curses, ones placed using runes of course. Jeane had helped him some, which was how he'd gone from merely making maps as a hobby to making maps as a necessity. He needed to map out the world, a world that had been touched by war. He needed to live through the wars themselves, either playing a role in those at war or just watching from a distance.

Originally the reason why he was so concerned for the end of war was to keep the things on his precious maps from needing to be either altered or erased. He didn't care for keeping track of everything, only the creation of a perfectly marked map. There were other scholars to keep track of what vanished and what remained, all that mattered to him was what presently was.

He needed to complete a map of the entire world, showing everything that a map maker would deem as important. Everything. The completed map was his ticket to returning to being mortal, and return him to being someone to be safe around during times of peace or when traveling.

The map would only be deemed satisfactory when all of the world was on it and it had to be during a time when nothing needed to be added, also known as a world-wide time of peace. A very difficult thing considering the True Runes constantly being at work, and the many men and women that walked the world of mortality with only their wants being what was important to them, thus leading to minor coflicts that eventually led to war.

How in the world a map of the world was going to lift the curse from him was anyone's guess. But at least he'd been given the chance to try. He didn't really enjoy the prospect of living forever, or probably as long as Millie lived. Sure he didn't need to eat or sleep, but he didn't like the fact that he'd be like those True Rune bearers who did not age and wandered the world as those they cared for died around them.

In his case, people generally did die around him. He didn't have control over it, but it did just happen.

Portals would appear from out of nowhere, connecting this world with the one of Emptiness, demons and monsters would slip out or parts of them would, and anyone he was with at the time would be snatched away or simply killed.

It was a horrible existence, and such a thing would just keep happening until his curse was lifted. He believed it was some kind of mutated Pale Gate Rune that protected him from harm and also threatened connections he had with others, sometimes ending those connections.

It was really the close proximity with Millie and the Bright Shield Rune that had quieted the mutated Rune for the duration of the war with Highland. Now that it was ending, or had ended with the defeat of the Beast Rune really, he had to get back on the road.

He'd heard rumors that after he was healed from the final battle, Riou had run away. For what reason was anyone's guess, but it was a widespread belief that he could not take on the burden of weight of having so many lives that had fallen under his banner, sure it was for the greater good, but they had still died and each death was supposedly on his conscience.

Then there was also the fact that he had one of those eternity and agelessness granting runes bonded to him. Why should he remain with people that he would watch slowly age, while he remained so young, and then watch them die while he remained alive to bear witness to each additional death.

At least the bearers had some sort of purpose to their lonely existences, what did he have, map making. Immortalizing the world in a single moment. He didn't really know, all he knew was that he did not want to suffer the same fate as the bearers, he wanted to be able to die just like everyone else.

He was trapped and he knew it.

He needed to leave and fast, he could sense it, the mutated Pale Gate Rune was stirring around him. The war was over, the side he'd joined had won, and now the curse was activating.

Since Riou was nowhere to be found, he visited Shu to bid the man farewell, even he knew that the strategist was one of the many reasons that they'd managed to survive so long. He owed the man a farewell.

"Thank you for at least coming to say goodbye," Shu said, "I appreciate it, I would like to ask you for a favor."

"Anything, sir," Templeton said in response.

"Keep in touch," Shu said, "I may run a business, but another pair of eyes and ears is always welcome. I'd also like to warn you, war is still a possibility, this peace that we've managed to achieve is shaky, temporary, it will not last long."

"But…" the map maker tried to say something, to try and assured the strategist that all was not for naught.

"Don't worry about it for now," the man said, "I'd appreciate it if you'd lend us your services should such a time come again. You are a valuable member of our group after all, an indispensible Star, a trust worthy guide, and a faithful comrade."

"I," the young man began, "I shall keep in contact and inform you of any major events in wherever in the world I find myself. Should you have need of this map maker, send for me and I shall come as quickly as I am able."

It was the right thing to do.

He hadn't noticed that his bastardized form of protection hadn't so much as stirred in the presence of the strategist. It had actually stilled. His death had been in that room, and he hadn't been aware of it. Neither had Shu really, all the man had known was that there was a darkness, a dangerous darkness that surrounded the young man. He was an asset that needed to be retained in some way.

With the farewell given, the map maker made his escape from the castle, he needed to leave swiftly as the rune awoke with shadowy tendrils opening up portals around him and seeking out victims to pull through.

#

Huan's Hobby

There are two professions that should scare a person more than a soldier should. There's the chef that knows all sorts of combinations of ingredients that can make you happy and healthy, to just dead. Then there's the doctor, if he knows how to cure you, he damn well knows how to end your life as slow or swift as possible.

Huan was one of the apprentices of reknowned medical master and hermit Liukan. It was because of how legendary his master was that he was able to claim being that good in his chosen field. Medicine.

Many turned to him for cures from the regular aches and pains, to easing away worldly pains in preparation for the great beyond, for death. He was the go-to person for the more dire of medical problems, the ones that his subordinates in the army just couldn't figure out at all or simply quickly enough.

His knowledge in medicine, and the techniques he used off and on the battlefield were not purely from his time under the great medical master, but from self study and experimentation.

He got the basics from his master, then went ahead and explored the world and the human body as much as he could.

It had been rather difficult for a time, but while he could heal most illnesses and fix most physical problems, there were still some things that hadn't been within his grasp, the greater understanding of physiology and anatomy of the many races that populated the world being one of those things.

He needed or wanted to know the difference between the living and the dead, he needed to find out how a body ticked while alive and after the soul had already left. This could only be done by either torturing a poor soul or mutilating a corpse well beyond possible recognition.

Things that polite society would most definitely frown upon, and would probably get his head cut off for should he ever be caught practicing such things. This limited his personal evolution.

He was in great spritis when he'd been recruited into Riou's army, since there were a lot of people that could afford to go missing. That was where he began his journey into human experimentation. Delving deeper than any medical practitioner had ever gone before, or at least within recent history and memory. He even managed to avoid being suspected of such seemingly fiendish things. Not even the mysterious and knowledgable Jeane had managed to find out about his thirst for knowledge.

Then he was found out, he never should have underestimated Shu.

Thankfully the man understood, and didn't mind his kidnapping, torture, and experimentation sessions. He was warned though that his hobby had better not interfere with his work and role as chief medical officer of their army.

The man further encouraged him even, to find other ways to kill people. The size of the army wasn't that great after all, therefore they needed to keep casualties on their side to a minimum.

He obliged the man, he owed him for understanding and allowing him to continue his not all that normal practices.

That was truly when he'd evolved from a mere doctor to a mad scientist, and somewhere down the line he became something of an assassin.

Huan, as Shu found, was very reliable. When someone needed to be removed, he was one of the reliable men for the job. He could do things that would make others not suspect anything, seeing as he had the medical history of nearly everyone on their side. He could fake allergic reactions, sudden bouts of depression, paranoia, anything really. He'd even mixed in some medicines that helped with hormonal imbalances, some fixed those problems, while others enhanced them.

He was particularly annoyed with Siegfried. Why Riou had recruited that pervert was anyone's guess, but he'd made sure that the blasted horse with one horn wouldn't be able to get his other horn up after the end of the war.

His apprentice was his legacy, and therefore one's legacy needed to have the tools to outstrip the master. The next generation was supposed to be better than the last, inheriting and improving from where the previous generation had stopped. So after he'd imparted the basics unto Tuta, he'd introduced him to the fine art of cutting up dead bodies.

And that was how he instructed his apprentice of the more in depth stuff, the things that other doctors wouldn't really bother thinking about teaching.

The boy lapped it up, soaked it up, absorbed everything that that he, Huan, had to teach him. Though he didn't inherit Huan's joy at cutting people up.

The boy did show a little bit more enthusiasm when they'd been given the chance to investigate the body of a young woman whose identity was uncertain due to the sheer amount of damage her face had suffered.

It had been a gruesome and groteque sight to behold, one which sent Tuta nearly to the waste basket to relieve himself of all that he had eaten for the day. A pill was forcibly popped into his mouth which got rid of the sick feeling, as Huan did not enjoy wasting time, and so the lesson began.

It ended several hours later with a greener, yet more knowledgable, apprentice. One who'd been intimately exposed to the dead. At least the boy wouldn't have a problem seeing any other, more deformed, bodies in the future.

The boy was an innocent in the war, and Huan didn't have the heart and lack of caring to inform the boy that the mutilated educational aid had once been one of his friends, a young woman who many apparently found irritating, though only a few believed deserved death.

Huan had much to thank Shu for, most of which was allowing him to perform his dastardly deeds. So he stayed on and continued to help Shu. His clinic remained within North Window Castle, where occasionally some people just up and vanished as if Neclord's ghost or something lingered now that the Bright Shield Rune no longer resided within.

#

Mukumuku's Demise

The flying squirrel was in a bad place.

A really bad place.

He didn't have any allies around him, not even Shu who had played with him on occasion in between the sneaking around and the fighting.

Now that the war was over, people stopped minding him all that much, well most people. There were others that started to show their true colors, like the ones that threw bottles at him.

He didn't feel safe at all, especially now that Riou, Nanami, and Jowy, were no longer around. Riou especially, he was the only reason why the flying squirrel had decided to join something that really hadn't had anything to do with him.

He should have left the castle as soon as he'd found out that Riou had left, Nanami's death had been a painful blow, Jowy becoming the enemy wasn't that hard a pill to swallow, but Riou abandoning everyone was something that really hurt him. He was lost, adrift in a world that apparently had been barely tolerating his existence.

There were many soldiers that had been watching him, keeping track of him, probably even wondering what manner of loot they might receive if they killed him. They probably wouldn't get much from him. He was just a flying squirrel after all.

He dearly wished that Riou would have looked for his family and gotten them to join the army, that way he wouldn't feel so alone and vulnerable.

He kept away from shadows, those places were very dangerous. He also kept away from that blue girl with the freaky looking groundhog, there was something off about her and her pet. Then there was that map maker that had left the place in quite the rush, he'd nearly been swallowed up by a shadow with teeth when he'd gotten to close to a darkened alcove.

He'd hardly gotten any sleep since the war was won.

He needed to keep awake lest those winged ones like Sid found him, and did terrible, terrible things to him. He'd seen what that madman was capable of, he was a deprived individual, one that didn't care whether or not he tormented a human, kobold, or a fellow winger even.

It was a horrible, horrible sight, he'd barely managed to get out of the dungeon alive, who knew why he'd been in there in the first place. He could barely remember even.

The things that depraved winged demon had done to that one winger, and the things he'd said, like how it was good practice for the real thing or something. They were hints at what was to befall yet another fellow winger.

The squirrel wondered why his hero had bothered to voluntarily seek this demon out and recruit him. There were surely others in the world that were more worthy of being a Star.

Yes, even he knew the significance of a Star of Destiny, it was just one of those things that one became aware of once one actually became one.

One night, he finally found the courage to leave the crate he'd hidden in in the armory, it was time to return to the forests, where he was probably more safe than where he presently found himself. There weren't that many humans there, just fellow animals and the occasional monster. It was time for him to be reunited with his family, sure he had to seek them all out in the greater wider world, but anywhere else was better than North Window.

Apparently, being around humans for so long had dulled his natural ability to blend in with nature, that ability that animals had that allowed them to vanish at a moment's notice while in the woods, forest, or even the plains.

He was caught even before he'd reached the walls that he'd intended to bounce over.

"Finally!" one his captors exclaimed, "We've collected the whole set."

"Hee hee hee hee hee," a purple shirt wearing winger laughed with glee upon landing on a nearby roof as he looked down upon him, Mukumuku, and the hunters that had been moments ago gleeful at completing the set of flying sqiurrels that wore different colored capes.

Mukumuku found the rest of his cape wearing family, but they didn't look so good, almost starved even, whereas he was rather plump thanks to all the wonderful food that the chef Hai Yo always prepared.

"I found you~ " Sid said in a sing-song voice, smiling down with all his pearly whites showing up in the darkness, the light of the moon shone down on them like a spotlight.

"What do you want winger?" one of the hunters said, "We found 'em, they're ours, now get lost before we're forced to get rid of you."

"Get rid of me? Hee hee hee hee," Sid mockingly laughed, "I saw that red caped wearing one first. You can't have him. He's mine."

"Well, too bad for you," the hunter said, "He's ours now, and we'll be selling the complete set to the highest bidder in the grasslands or maybe even in Highland."

"Have it your way~ " Sid said with that annoying mocking voice of his, the hunter didn't really know what to expect.

He hadn't expected to find the winger suddenly behind him and shoving a piece of wood through his throat with one hand, while the other hand shoved its way through his back and out his gut. It was a surreal experience. This was one demon whose property should not be fucked with.

"Wha…." the hunter unintelligibly said, or gurgled really, seeing as there wasn't really anything else that he could do now that he'd been dealt terrible fatal blows.

There were, of course, more than just one hunter. It took a lot of men to capture one of these higher in intelligence flying squirrels alive after all.

They grabbed their weapons after the display, and attacked. Or they tried to.

They hadn't been exposed to the horrors of war, of thinking on one's feet as multiple bladed weapons were thrust against you.

Sid had been, hence why he was definitely faster and stronger than the merely experienced hunters. He was an experienced killer, while they were merely hunters and trackers, they used traps and ambushes, while he, he killed.

He could do the whole torture thing, but sometimes he'd become a bit too passionate in his work and his victim would snap or break too soon. Hence why he needed all those practice sessions with wingers that would not be missed.

It was one of those sessions that the red cape wearing squirrel had seen him. He'd thought to give his fellow Star of Destiny some time, a kind courtesy of sorts, before he'd hunt the thing down and expose it to what true terror felt like, to what real despair was.

Then he found out that his toy had tried to leave, get away from him and the darkness that filled North Window.

The hunters were merely an obstacle, he thought to himself as he snapped a man's body in two before using said man's arm to spear another one through the chest.

Not even three minutes had passed, and the party had been dispatched by one winger with a manic grin, one which grew upon finally and actually noticing the complete set of flying squirrels in his midst.

He hurled Mukumuku into the cage that had been prepared for the little guy, and hauled all the squirrels down to the dungeons, his lair, where he proceeded to play with them.

Makumaku, Mekumeku, Mikumiku, and Mokumoku, were the first ones to undergo the grueling torture sessions, each of the five squirrels could do nothing but watch as each of their number was pulled forcibly from their cages and toyed with by the mad winger.

The four non-Stars were the first to die, but not by the mad winger's hands, but by one of their own. It was a mercy that Sid chose to grant the red caped bouncing caped thing that had spied on him. Death by friend was a mercy compared to what the mad winger described that he'd be doing to the living plush doll.

Mukumuku was forced to take a hot knife and cut his family in two, from crotch up. If he failed, then Sid would get a turn, and the winger knew how to keep things alive through torture now. There were certain magical items that really helped alot, and a water rune, as he'd learned, could be really helpful when it came to keeping his victims alive.

After five gruesome murders, it was Mukumuku's turn to be killed.

With reckless abandon, he tried to actually fight back. Hoping and praying that someone would hear him, someone would hear his struggles and would come to his aid.

A flash or light green light briefly appeared beyond the door of the dungeon room that the two of them were in was seen, stopping Sid momentarily before he renewed his playful efforts to bisect the squirrel once it became obvious that the light show was not who they thought it had been.

"I think I broke it," echoed the cheerful voice of Millie as she skipped into the room, her faithful pet Bonaparte draped over one arm, "Did you enjoy it? The dimming of the look of hope that spread briefly over his furry face? Did you like my present, Sid?"

"Present? I didn't ask for one? It isn't even my birthday," the winger replied to the normally ditzy girl, "What was that anyway, an earth rune spell?"

"Nu-uh," the girl said, "A good magician never reveals their secrets, just like a good serial killer doesn't get caught."

"I'm not a serial killer," Sid defended himself, "Those were accidents in practice. I've gotten better."

"I guess," the girl said, she noticed that Mukumuku had a look of dawning horror on his face, realizing that not only was she not there to help him, but she was clearly not the girl that he knew her to be. All of his survival instincts had been killed off by his time with these former comrades-in-arms of his, and now he was paying the price.

"Can I have part of him?" the girl asked suddenly, managing to catch the winger off guard with her question.

"Part? What do you mean part?" the winger asked, curious, and just a tiny bit creeped out by the cheerful girl.

"Bonaparte wants to know what flying squirrel Star of Destiny tastes like," the girl cheerfully explained, "Just a piece, like his leg or an arm."

"Eh, why not," the winger said, and held onto Mukumuku, seemingly hugging him, while the girl allowed her pet to enlarge and chomp onto one leg.

Mukumuku didn't think that he'd ever experienced something so painful in his life, physically speaking at least since he had the lives of his family on his conscience. He felt his fur, skin, muscles, and bone snap off at the joint as those sharpened teeth bit into him, and as Sid hugged him, or more like strangled him, from the other end.

When the tiny game of tug-of-war was over, he was bleeding profusely from where once a leg had been, he thought that Sid would let him bleed to death.

"Thanks for the treat!" the girl thanked the perplexed winger, especially when she'd leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek before skipping out of the dungeons, "Maybe I'll come back to get a taste of winger one day~ "

"That girl really gives me the creeps," Sid told Mukumuku in monotone, as if mulling over the thought that there was someone else creepier than he in North Window, not counting Sierra.

Mukumuku thought that he might get to keep his worthless life, even though he now wished for death.

"We were comrades once, then you got on my bad side," Sid told him, "I've never had barbecued comrade before, guess I shouldn't waste this chance that I've been given~ "

He dragged the bleeding squirrel to another area, one that had pit, the kind that a mini bonfire could be lit. The whimpering annoyed him, and so did the blood trail, so he used his water rune to close up the wound before scorching the blood from the floor and lighting up the wood that he'd prepared for the occasion with his fire rune, which he actually forgot that he'd had all along.

He then hurled the no longer bleeding and fully healed flying squirrel into the fire, before leaving the room to fetch the already dead bodies to join the flying rat.

"Flying squirrels roasting on an open fire~ " Sid sang as he roasted marshmallows as he watched the squirrels burn, the shrieks that would have escaped Mukumuku's burning form would have echoed around him, but he'd drowned that out with his occasional laughter and the blood that had caused the thing to choke on his own tongue.

No one bothered to ask where Sid had gotten or why he even had five new differently colored towels when next he was seen out in the sunlight. They did question why he was out in the sunlight though.

#

Nature's Protectors

With the threat of Highland no longer looming above them, and with the soldiers of Highland no longer ransacking the forests for all the game that they were worth, Kinnison and Shiro, Ayda and Feather, and Badeaux, left North Window, each one heading for the forests that they each called home. They returned back to the lives that they had left.

Badeaux didn't really care about his fellow humans, he'd found glee in their slaughter, though he hadn't been all that fond of all the wasted lives of the creatures that had perished during the chaotic time. He didn't even stick around to convince Mukumuku to leave, as he'd sensed danger lurking in the shadows, preying on the little guy. He believed that the flying squirrel had become far too human to be considered as one of his animal friends, the squirrel was no longer a natural part of nature and thus no longer of concern to him.

What he wasn't aware of was that there were members of the army that he had just abandoned that hadn't liked him during their time fighting alongside one another. There were elements that resented the fact that the man preferred the company of horses and other creatures to humans.

They tracked him down to his home in the forests that served as the border of Matilda. He'd sensed their killing intent, and thought that they were after the animals, but found it odd that it felt particularly strong in his direction.

He realized almost too late that they were after him, and barely managed to fend them off long enough for reinforcement, in the forms of wild creatures, to arrive.

It never really entered his mind that he was partially at fault for the attack, that if he'd only actually put a little bit more effort during his social interactions with other people, the attack on his person would not have occured, that blood would not have been spilled in his forested home.

He silently contemplated launching a counter attack on his now former allies. He joined them to stop the pillaging of nature, and now his former allies were looking to continue the work that Highland had started.

'This is why I don't like humans, even that child that tricked me into joining his band of merry murderers and meat eaters is guilty of these many crimes against nature,' he thought to himself, as plans quickly formed in his head.

He thought of hunting down his fellow nature protectors, Kinnison and Ayda, surely they would help him fight this somewhat new and somewhat old threat that had been overlooked during the chaos of the Dunan Unification War.

"*"

Badeaux wasn't the only one that had been tracked by elements of the New States Army, there were those that had bad experiences with griffons and so decided that since there was no longer a need to keep one alive and capable of hurting others like they and their friends and family had been hurt in the past, they might as well remove the thing, Feather, from the equation.

They also decided that that girl Ayda wasn't right in the head, and that it would be a right shame if they didn't introduce her to the happier and joyful side of human life. They couldn't believe their luck when they'd found out that she rarely ventured beyond the borders of the forest that she called home and that she protected. It was only their runaway leader that had managed to convince her to leave there and experience some of the delights of the civilized world.

What had started out as a quest for revenege on the creatures that had wronged them and their loved ones, evolved into a quest to hunt down another traitor, another one that left, not even bothering to inform their lord Shu of where she was going and what she would be doing. Their fanaticism had grown due to Shu taking the reins when it was obvious that Riou was not planning on returning. The man already had so many things on his plate, on top of the business that he owned and ran, he now had an entire nation to oversee.

They resented the abandoner Riou, not caring about any reasons that their former leader had for leaving them and all they had jointly worked for behind. Shu referred to Riou as the past, and showed the abandoner the modicum of respect that was due to a former leader and a bearer of one of the 27 True Runes, or a part of it at least.

They did manage to successfuly track down the girl and the griffon that stayed with her. They cared not for the status that the particular griffon held within the griffon community, all that mattered was that they killed it and any griffon that they managed to find on the way. There was also the forceful retrieval of Ayda, alive as much as possible. She had been a valuable long range fighter during the war and and experienced tracker.

But apparently was far too trusting of those that she considered allies, seeing as how she actually greeted the soldiers wearing the New States Army uniforms.

Feather had sensed the ill intentions, and had moved to defend his human friend.

It was the last act of selflessness that the griffon prince would ever do.

There had been snipers, hiddein farther away in the trees, their intentions hidden behind the intense concentration they needed to not miss out on any opportunity to strike.

Clive had been among those men. Having once again not managing to locate Elza due to just how long it took for Riou to get from one place to another, Nanami being partially to blame with all the extra side trips that their group went to thanks to the girl, he had gone with the soldiers that told him that Ayda knew where the woman he was searching for was hiding out.

The soldiers convinced the Tensyo Star that the girl wouldn't talk unless she knew just how serious they were, which was how he ended up being the one to actually snipe the griffon that had fought alongside him. He was far too focused on his hunger to locate and finally end the life of Elza that he had forgotten and ultimately lost what humanity remained within him. He did what he thought was necessary to perform his duty, to reach his goal.

From what had once been a noble and level headed person, the years of traveling and lack of success had finally eaten away at his pesonality, at his mind.

Due to his turning into more of a beast, he was the first to rush to Ayda.

"Where is she? Tell me," Clive demanded, startling the soldiers that he had accompanied on the hunt, he placed a knife at her throat, "Tell me all you know."

"I...I don't…" she tried to tell him that she didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about, she knew his story of course, how he was hunting down some woman, something which she didn't approve of, but she couldn't understand how he'd come to the conclusion that she knew where this Elza woman was.

The fact that he was quite possibly the one to kill Feather, was one of the two facts that had yet to register in her head. She was still clueless about those facts, the events that had just moments ago tranaspired had gone over her head seemingly too fast for her to comprehend.

"Tell me the truth, you only get one more chance," Clive demanded, pressing hard enough to draw some blood.

"I…" she barely managed to say, before a gunshot echoed in the forest, sending the wildlife frantically scurrying even farther from their location. Clive wasn't, after all, the only one with a gun in hand. He had had an entire unit under his command, whom he'd taught how to wield his weapon of choice.

"Wha…" Clive barely managed to get out as the hand that held the blade lost its grip on said blade, and dropped it to the forest floor, just as his own body dropped, "Tra...Traitors…"

Even as the Soul Eater's servant claimed him, he could claim such a thing still.

"Better to put down a mad dog before he attacks his comrades, then let him live," one soldier knelt down beside his captain and told him these things and one more, "So focused on your quest, that you didn't think things through. Lord Shu has no more need for a wandering spirit like you."

Another gunshot echoed around the forest, one of the other soldiers blew their captain's head to bits, sending blood, brains, and bone flying everywhere.

Ayda, was obviously too scared and shocked to do anything but sink to her knees. Too much had happened right before her very eyes in too short an amount of time. So much betrayal and so much death.

Her mind, unsurpisingly shut down, thus saving her from experiencing even more horrors as the men decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and took turns with her. They did get rather bored fast, due to her lack of response or reaction to their deeds, and so put her on a stretcher as she was supposed to be brought back to North Window as per Lord Shu's additional orders.

She had locked herself inside her own mind as she refused to accept the reality that had blossomed from the death of war.

"*"

It was several days after Feather's murder, Clive's death, and Ayda's capture, when Kinnison stumbled upon the bare bones of the two picked clean corpses of his two late comrades-in-arms.

He'd come to visit and further woo Ayda, whom he felt reciprocated his feelings. There had surely been something between them. He wanted to explore that aspect of their relationship, hence why he'd traveled so many miles from his own forest home.

Shiro had come with him of course and had been the one that helped him a lot in traversing the unfamiliar forest and finally locating young woman's home.

Shock and horror filled him at the sight.

He frantically searched the area for any signs of the woman he'd grown to love, only to find no trace of her still being in the area. He still tried to find her, commanding Shiro to help him even though the white wolf knew what his master already was aware of.

When he'd managed to somewhat calm himself down, the young man vowed to find his love, and somehow had hurt her beyond what was already obvious, he would make them pay dearly. Sure the unified states had just gotten out of a war, won it in fact, but that didn't mean that he'd let such things just slide. He was willing to reignite chaos, and it wasn't so farfetched that wars could be waged due to such a thing as some had been started for far less.

It was a week later when Badeaux had found the young man, trying to find clues as to where his lady love could be. The older protector of nature had informed him that he'd received word from spies within North Window that reported to him that Ayda had been brought back to the Castle, it wasn't known who had ordered her capture or the assassination of Feather and Clive. All that was known was that a number of soldiers from the army had gone out of their way to use military resources to track down the girl do what they did, and bring her back.

The older protector managed to easily convince the younger to join in his campaign. All it took was a promise to get Ayda back and make those that had hurt her pay, to convince Kinnison that it would be a grand idea to wage war against anyone not allied with nature included those that did not do anything to protect nature unlike the two of them and the creatures or minor races that Badeaux had already managed to convince to go to war behind him.

Shiro, of course, would go wherever his human master would go and was more than willing to fight alongside him against evil doers once again.

#

Freed's Freedom

It was probably a bad thing for Riou to have not thought to recruit Freed Yamamoto's wife, being so far from his wife and with all the temptations around him, the man could hardly be expected not to waver in his resolve to ever remain faithful.

Mayor Granmeyer's death was one of those things that started him down the road of instability. The man had been one of the only three anchors he had in the world, the other two were his code of honor, and his wife.

Fighting, politics, war. These things really took a toll on a person, and with Granmeyer gone and his wife so far away from him, he was eventually convinced to give into temptation. Leona played an important part in his semi-fall from grace, she'd convinced him that his wife would understand if he decided to share his infidelity with her, but he could also keep such dalliances from her which would make matters less complicated.

When asked how he'd go about that, about how he could truly possibly do that, he didn't think the other party would be able to keep their mouth shut about such a thing, what if they met while his wife was around, what if they had a fight, so many what ifs.

Leona was well versed in the problems and the minds of men, she knew just what to tell the bespectackled man. She had a way with more than words and managed to convince him to investigate Hilda's Hideaway.

He'd eventually visited, letting his curiosity get the better of him. Just finding the place was one thing, entering it was another. No one batted at eyelash at his presence, there was a different kind of code in the place, secrecy was the norm.

As far as anyone was concerned, everyone in the place as a stranger, the only familiar faces were those that they spent a few minutes to an hour with while within the comfort of a private room.

The adrenaline that pumped into his veins, the excitement that made his red blood surge. It was all new and at the same time old. The sudden resurfacing of such feelings was more than simply refreshing, it was intoxicating.

It was an addicting feeling, it had been so long since he'd last experienced such things, just as it had been so long since he'd last been in bed with his wife, each of them performing their marital duties to one another.

Duty.

Granmeyer had been the start of things, his fall from honor and grace. His wife became an afterthought and a large part of his salary went to the bordello, while a small portion was sent back to Radat, not that his wife really needed the money, not that they really needed the money. The woman was of traditional and noble stock, much as he was.

He supposed, or rather was persuaded, one night by Kasumi that his wife would understand whether she found out about his adultery from him or someone else. Some faulty logic was used, but he had been drunk enough and horny enough to accept it. His conscience clear or dead, he simply continued with his nightly visits, and unknowingly funded the war effort.

Shu had approached him after the war had been won, and threatened him with exposing his secrets to his wife's family, which was something that he hadn't actually thought about. He believed and knew that he could convince his wife to forgive him if she'd ever found out, but his in-laws were an entirely different matter. They could surely do more than simply destroy his marriage completely, they could also destroy his public image, reputation, career.

Shu promised to keep silent and even to help silence any rumors or intentions by anyone else to spread such delighful news, but only if he could count on Freed to do as he was told.

He'd be free of worry, so long as he followed the strategist's lead.

He'd agreed of course, what choice did he really have? None.

So he agreed to continue representing South Window, agreed to agree with any demands or suggestions that Shu might give him in the political arena, agreed to one day raze Radat to the ground, with his wife safely tucked away somewhere where she wouldn't become a casualty of the future planned war.

Freedom from his problems and his conscience came at a price, one that he was willing to pay. He might as well, other than not really having much of a choice in the matter, seeing as he'd done some just as horrible things during his stint in the New States Army. Shu's dirty work was nothing compared to ending so many lives, those lives of soldiers that had followed two mad men.

He didn't really understand of see where Jowy was coming from, but everyone agreed that Luca Blight was indeed a mad dog that was thankfully put down before he could bind himself with the Beast Rune, which would have led to even more problems in the world, if there was anything living left in the world after he drowned it in a sea of flames and blood.

One of the dastardly things that Freed was coerced into doing was the hunting down of a family of kraken, whom Shu had been informed had been canditates for being part of the Stars of Destiny. This was a few months after the nation had somewhat stabilized for the temporary peace that was gained from winning the war.

Shu had received reports of Badeaux going around gaining allies in some unlikely places for a war that would surely be short lived. But of course if powerful players could be taken out before they became potential problems, then why not. So he dispatched Freed to do the hunting down of the kraken family, accompanying him on the quest were Sid, Hai Yo, and Huan.

Freed had been clueless at first as to why the three men had been made to go with him. He later found out just how different their true selves were from the public images each one of them had, except for Sid who was a loony from the get go.

Somewhere along the way to the Kraken family, the party stumbled upon Tengaar and Hix on some other journey.

Sid actually found the pair quite annoying, on the one hand there was the perpetually nagging Tengaar, and on the other there was the perpetually relaxed and wimpy Hix. He hadn't been exposed to what happens when Tengaar is miles away from Hix, so he didn't know about the sleeping dragon within the young man.

Instead of letting Sid have his way, Freed intervened and convinced the engaged pair to instead join them on their quest, lying about the danger posed by the Kraken family since he doubted that the two would simply go along with the real mission if they knew about the real details.

Once they found themselves deep within the Tinto Mines, the group split up in search of the family, Freed making sure that the two young lovers stayed with him so that he could keep an eye on them and at the same time keep them from finding out the truth, or get killed by Sid who was annoyed enough with the two of them to do dastardly things to them before handing their bodies over to Huan or Hai Yo.

Somehow Freed had managed to find the family's home, where just the kid was present. He checked and made sure that the two teens hadn't noticed the kid, before he told them to search elsewhere. They didn't bother asking if he'd be alright by himself, seeing as he was a general and thus more than capable of fending off any attackers, even the Krakens or so they liked to believe.

Once he was sure that they'd left, he entered the Kraken home and forever silenced one little kraken, he did remember to stuff the remains in a bag that he'd brought with him, or had been handed over to him by Hai Yo, who was closer to Shu than he was and thus a little bit more dangerous.

Once he was done, he left that part of the mines and sought out the other members of his half of the party.

Luckily or unluckily for the teens, he found them already doing battle with what appeared to be Abizboah. The kraken had its tentacles wrapped around the girl with others fending off Hix's attacks.

A good pounding was one thing, slicing and dicing was another.

He dropped the bag, which inconveniently opened to reveal one tentacle of the kraken's child.

Abizboah, upon seeing his child's unmoving tentacle flew into a rage, he went from perverted large creature to I'm-gonna-fucking-murder-you-for-killing-my-kid, and lashed out at Freed more than Hix. The sudden burst of power caused his tentacles to constrict even harder around Tengaar, snapping not only her spine but her neck as well.

Hix went down next as tons of force slammed him against he wall, shattering his back, while the sharp protrusion in the same wall send fragments of bone, muscle, and brain away from his body. It was the impact with the rock spike that had killed him, not the wall against his back.

Once he'd finally managed to dispatch the creature, the other three members of the whole party arrived, looking a little bit worse for wear, but otherwise fine. They too had encountered one of the krakens. Hai Yo was the happiest of the lot seeing as he had even more fresh ingredients to work with, they would be having fresh kraken tonight.

Sid was rather giddy upon finding the two dead bodies of the former Tenrou and Tensui stars, well giddier than usual when it came to dead people or dead people that grated on his nerves. He preferred it when he was the one that grated on the nerves of others.

Then there was Huan who dutifully collected the bodies and placed into magically enlarged, on the inside, storage devices. Freed assumed that that was where he placed any and all dead bodies that he found on their journey, and probably even Dr Liukan for all the bespectabled soldier knew.

With their quest over and done with, the four of them began their journey back to North Window to report their success and the deaths of Tengaar and Hix.

Shu didn't appear to care about the two of them, since they were no longer his problem. He also had more important things to focus on.

#

TBC - hopefully