Chapter 1: Kanzas

He laughed in the old woman's face, of course.

He was never some noble-hearted fool. What did he care if the world burned? He only cared for glorious slaughter.

(And for-)

Thus spitting in her face, he flew from Ulara, and reveled in the blood he so loved, caring nothing for any cause. The battles against the Winglies had given him great fun. That was all. They had been fools enough to want to enslave him, and so he had broken first his collar and then their necks. If the God of Destruction crushed the whole world for nothing more than a laugh - he could only sympathize, and find it amusing that Soa himself had created a god in his image. When that time came, he would go to his own death with nothing more than a savage grin.

It was for the best, anyway. With the Wingly empire gone and no truly impressive fights left, he would get bored.

(And the light went out of the world with-)

He could draw matters out, at least, by abstaining from his Dragoon form.

It let his victims pretend they had a chance.

She came to him, one night, in radiant disapproval.

He leapt to his feet and struck before she had a chance to speak. His fist went right through her.

"As you may have noticed, I died," she said dryly. It sounded so much like her - as it would if some Wingly witch were impersonating her.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" he spat, jumping back and looking around. With a moment's concentration, he assumed his Dragoon form, but even his enhanced senses could not detect the magician.

"What are you... Ah." Her shining form closed its eyes. "Kanzas, I'm no illusion."

"Ha! As though that isn't what an illusion would say?" He shot into the sky and surveyed the ground below, but could detect no trace of life save for his latest kills. "Come out, damn you! I tire of this."

She appeared beside him after a moment, the edges of her form wavering like a candle in the wind. "There is no one to find." She seemed to give a heavy sigh, but there was no sound of breath. "It is me, Kanzas. Merely... dead."

"Right. Like those specters in Mayfil?" He gave a barking laugh. "Wingly trickery! Why should I believe in such nonsense? The dead stay dead! And I make sure of that."

They had done a very fine job; they had even gotten that tired, drawn look just right, that look she had whenever he disappointed her.

(That look that made him comply, however grudgingly, like a trained dog-)

"You should believe me," she said after a moment, "because you yourself are little more than dead, Kanzas. And you know it."

He was thunderstruck for a moment, but then let out a roar of laughter. "Me? Dead?" He spread his arms and laughed some more. "I'm more alive than I've ever been! Look to those witless hunters - or should I say, hunted - down there, if you want to know dead." He gestured downwards and chuckled. "I'm free of that mindless Campaign, of all of Zieg's leadership, of Diaz's great cause, and I can kill and kill and kill as much as I please." He grinned like a wolf. "What more could I want?"

Her wavering form eyed him with unimpressed pity. "You kill to hide, even from yourself, that you have no purpose to live." The indifferent pity deepened in her eyes. "You always did."

He punched her again. It was no more effective than last time, and the sight of her eyes gazing down the long line of his arm at him disturbed him. He withdrew it, and caught himself wiping off imaginary contamination, like a superstitious child. Snarling, he glared at her; this was beneath a Dragoon! "Enough playing, magician," he snapped. "Come out and face me, if you dare!"

"You know it's me, Kanzas," the specter said, in the tone one might use on a superstitious child. "No amount of denial will change the truth. You only hope there's a magician, so you can lose yourself in slaughter for a little longer, and forget..."

"Forget what?" He pounded his fists together. "Don't attribute weak feelings I don't have! I fear nothing!"

"Except emptiness."

He tried to laugh, but it died in his throat. He coughed and glared at her instead. "Emptiness? What is this nonsense?"

"You cling to your dolls like a child, and slaughter like a child's game, but you're not Michael, Kanzas." She gazed at him with infinitely tired eyes. "Violence alone does not suffice for your life. If it did, you would have never agreed to fight for our cause."

"I needed to kill," he said carelessly, glancing away. A moment later, she was staring him in the face again. He blinked rapidly and looked in the other direction, shutting his eyes this time. If she was a mere illusion, the magician could get a free shot at him. Her look - disturbed him, in a way he was not used to being disturbed. "That was all. You lot were useful allies." He forced a laugh. "Even I might have been hard-pressed to kill an entire Wingly city by myself."

"Kanzas." He jerked at her tone - what was he, truly a child? - but did not open his eyes. "You joined us because you wanted something more than endless, empty slaughter. You know you did."

Silence hung in the air for a long time. At last, he wet his lips. If there was really a magician somewhere, listening, he would make their death long and slow after what came next. "Shirley... I didn't do it for them."

Her voice was soft when she spoke. "I know."

He opened his eyes. She hovered at the edge of his vision, but didn't force herself into view. He was grateful for that - how pathetic. "Especially not for that whining, slobbering, child-petting, smiling, goody-goody, mewling fool Belzac," he added.

"He was everything you weren't," she said. "He could have chosen your path. Easily. Nevertheless, he chose to protect, rather than..."

"Why, that's funny. You're dead, aren't you? And all those precious children - they'll die, too. By Soa's decree. And he can't do anything about it, because he's dead. So what was the point?" He glared at her, and then stiffened. "Is that what you're here for?"

"Gathering myself... was difficult." She closed her eyes. "I... would have preferred to rest. At least, for a little while longer." They opened again, as lovely as in life.

(And her approval, no matter how brief, was like the sun-)

"But I could not. And you understand why, don't you?"

"Get Belzac to do it for you, since he's so wonderful." He looked away again. "Oh, that's right. He can't, because your fine protector died failing to protect, and you're having to beg the killer to do his work, eh?"

"Kanzas. This is beneath you."

"Nothing is beneath me." He laughed, but it turned hollow as he realized the import of his words.

Perhaps she had a point.

"It's not about what Belzac would have desired - even if he would have also desired this." She paused, as though taking a breath. "It's what I want. I don't want the world we fought for - all of us fought for - to end."

He continued to avoid looking at her. "I'm not Michael. Am I some Vassal to simper and crawl at your whim?"


(always was)

The silence stretched on uncomfortably. He was about to speak, just to break it, when she replied. "No, Kanzas. Ultimately, it can only be about what you want."

He glanced out of the corner of his eye at her, and his mouth twisted in a scowl. "I'll consider it," he said, voice bland and bored. "Playing along with Charle's little game every century - why not indulge the old biddy? Besides - that's an eternity for me to kill." He grinned broadly, just to provoke a look of disgust on her face. Apparently death had lessened her readiness to rise to bait, however; her flat stare only made the smile lessen, then disappear. Bah. As though he cared... "It's only killing, anyway. That's what I'm good at..."

(That, and nothing else-)

She bowed her head. "I can only ask that you try."

He jerked his head. "No promises."

And with that, he was off, shooting through the sky.

"Impressive illusion, you bitch."

The old witch looked absolutely baffled at his greeting. "Illusion? Whatever do you mean?"

"Never mind," he said, ignoring the lurch of his stomach. "I've decided I was bored. I'll play along with your hundred-and-whatever-year game."

She eyed him carefully - probably trying to determine whether his bloodlust had given way to full-blown madness - but accepted it after a moment, and launched into her explanation of what needed to be done. It bored him to tears - righteous causes always had.

She probably wondered why, at regular intervals, he glanced over his shoulder. There was no good reason. Just boredom, and madness.

(Somewhere, she was watching.)

"Does this make you happy?" he muttered, eyes searching for a wavering sheet of light.

"I'm very sorry, Kanzas, but I didn't quite hear you," the perplexed Wingly woman said.

He made a disgusted sound under his breath and made a dismissive gesture as he turned back to her. "Nothing. Anyway, you were saying about this 'Moon Child' thing..."

Here he was, joining the Campaign all over again. Yet another senseless, virtuous cause - made for the bright and beautiful, not mad dogs like him.

But it was what Shirley would have wanted.

The approval he felt, and the faint touch on his shoulder, might have been his imagination. But it was a semblance of a brightness he would never otherwise know, and so he would take what he could get.