XXII

Patience did not come easily to Sohee. She'd gotten there a good twenty minutes before sunset, and stood in the warrior ground, her knife hidden in her dress. She contemplated the hallowed earth she now saw; this was where the demon first killed innocent people. This was where most battles in the many civil wars were fought. Past duels had been won and lost there. Trees and small bushes grew, drinking the nutrients from the years of spilled blood. There were a few houses here as well; most were the ruined homes of the caretakers of the ground. Others were priest-homes, or places for traveling monks to stay. It was a place rarely seen by the common folk; as far as the temple and the royal family were concerned, common blood was too dirty and rotten to be spilled here, nor to ever feel the prescence of so many notables. The first chief, of the Payon family, had died here in bloody battle. A carved stone marked where the martyr of the temple had been executed by the Glast Heim soldiers, long before they were forced out and the native religion was reinstated. Kicking at the dirt, she saw a kaledioscope of stones; poisonous violet, burning red, rusty iron, the glint of silver here and there, all remnants of arrows used in battles long ago. She sighed. If not even Bongun turned up, how could she possibly claim him without her father learning of her bitter humiliation?

****

Marisol stood at the balcony and waited. A long scroll lay before her on a pedestal. Her servants mopped sweat and blood from her body.

She could still hear some of her knights carrying on, but- THERE! One of them had screamed, and now she could hear the cries of his Peco as well. In the distance there was rustling, and a soft bouncing noise. So the beast had it's minions.

"God of blood, giver of fire, angel of wrath, demon of revenge, Lord of Vermilion, hear my cry.."

****

Munak began walking through the outskirts of the sacred warrior ground. Already, the earth was red in places, stained by blood. The trees grew strange here, and the area was permeated with a strange smell.

She saw Bongun running to the ground, and ran to join him. As soon as she'd caught up to him, though, he stopped and grabbed her, kissing her tenderly. She made a noise, too shocked to do anything, and stared at him as he put her down. "Bongun.."

"I'll fight for you, Munak. Don't risk your life. It's not worth it. We saved you so you could live, not so you could be brought down like this." Bongun said, clutching her hands.

Munak gasped and grabbed his arm, running. "Oh my god, it's time!"

****

Angelring was happy, relaxing with her loving faithful and enjoying life on earth, until a drunken knight crashed her party.

She now pursued the foolish knight, surrounded by twelve Poporings, with steadily more joining in. His Peco was no match for holy speed and revenge.

Bursting out of the forest, she came to a jiggling halt. A woman stood on a strange tree-like thing. Before her, a huge ball of fire was slowly growing, taking shape, evolving into something terrible. Transfixed, she stared at it, as the poporings mauled the poor drunken knight. Had she had the ability to speak, she would've asked about it, but all she could do was watch and wonder.

****

Sohee turned, seeing Munak running in. She smiled. The foolish child was already worn out. She stood still, her back to a twisted and gnarled tree. Though it looked like her arms were folded, one arm was already in her dress, stroking the hilt of her knife. Her eyes flickered red, then went back to their lovely brown as Bongun ran in. He grabbed Munak, shouting something, and she made her move, first walking slowly to sneak up, then darting forward. She drew her knife, and shrieked, her blade hitting home..

****

Marisol shook uncontrollably. She'd never summoned the Lord of Vermilion before. He kept growing, a behemoth of flame and death. She could vaguely see the beast below; a strange pink creature with wings and a tiny halo. She wondered where it kept it's leaf of the Yggdrasil tree. Her voice shook as she recited the lines of ancient text, a forgotten language known only to this creature before her.

The beast turned, and it stared at her, one large burning eye turned on her. Her voice died, and she instead felt it drawing the power from her body, her hands. Something was reciting it for her, but she was sure it couldn't be her.

****

Bongun growled, twisting the knife out of Sohee's hands. The pain was incredible, and he tried desperately to keep from passing out. He felt his senses being overwhelmed by pain. Whiteness replaced his vision, and he vaguely heard Munak screaming his name. He felt something shove his shoulder down, and rip the knife from his hands, and tried to open his mouth to warn Munak, but chills set in. He felt like his body was freezing, as he closed his eyes, unable to fight the unbelievable pain. Not a regular palace knife, something in his head said. She got that from the demon. This is what Father felt..

****

Munak couldn't stop screaming. Bongun just lay there, his skin turning blue rapidly. His eyes and mouth were open, but his eyes were clouded and unfocused, and no sound came from him. She could tell he was still alive by his shaking, but she didn't know how long that would last.

Sohee's face was blacked by shadow. Only two cold, angry, red eyes showed. She lunged at Munak again, missing with her knife, and the littler girl stabbed the princess in the arm holding the knife, screaming. Sohee stumbled, then turned, not seeming to notice her wound. "Die.." she said, her voice warped as she lunged again.

****

Angelring snapped. Half her Poporings were dead, and the fire thing no longer looked interesting, instead it looked scary. She called her Poporings together and began to bounce straight towards the tree-like structure.

****

Marisol felt something inside tear, and her body jerked. Her legs gave out, and she grabbed the pedestal, before her arms collapsed too. The fireball swelled more, then a tongue of flame reached out, grabbing her and dragging her inside. Before being completely incinerated, she reflected that at least now her body would be totally cleaned of the Payon plague.

The Lord of Vermilion, no longer having a caster, had no choice but to detonate. Slamming into the earth, it rapidly burned Angelring and her poporings, and shook everything in the area. The fortress was destroyed. Most of the knights were knocked off their Pecos, and said Pecos ran away in terror. Pillars of flame shot up, each in the image of the Lord himself. Most notably, the explosion rocked a fault line, that ran from just southeast of Prontera to the Payon river, and continued down to the sea. The Payon mountain, where Prince Hosang had found his resting place, was rocked by the shockwave traveling underground. The mountain began to crumble, dropping huge boulders everywhere.

Munak kicked at Sohee's legs, and stabbed at her again. Sohee backed off a bit, and Munak fell, the tremors running through the ground. Sohee merely stood - no, FLOATED - in place, smiling wickedly. Terrified, Munak crawled over to Bongun, hugging him tightly and sobbing. She looked up, seeing the statues of the graves falling into the village, huge boulders crushing everything.

Sohee jumped at her again, and this time, Munak grabbed her arm and kicked her in the ribs. The force was great enough to make Sohee drop her knife. Her face and eyes cleared, and she looked around frantically, grasping for the blade, then looking up. Screaming, she watched as a huge chunk of the mountain came down from the sky, propelled by a force greater than anything she'd ever known. Munak simply closed her eyes and embraced Bongun, and he shifted and hugged back slightly, the pain being replaced by the numbness of death.

XXIII

Deep inside the heart of the temple, a bell rang lightly.

The ground seemed to cave in, and up jumped a girl. She wore shining golden fox skins on her chest, and fox paws on her limbs. Other than that and a hat made from a fox's head, she wore nothing. She carried a huge bell, though, and surrounding her were several golden foxes, each with nine tails.

She looked up, confused. It was dark this time. There were no stars in the sky, neither. She touched her chest. The holy arrow that the human had shot at her had broken off, but no matter; the holiness had worn away ages ago, and it was now just a chunk of metal under her skin.

She began wandering through the cave, surveying all she saw. She left the temple, and found herself on the sacred battleground. She winced. It looked like there had been a bloody battle here. A pretty young girl lay on the ground, her spine and neck broken from falling rocks. Her long black hair lay around her, and her beautiful lavender dress was stained with blood. Not far from her was a boy and a girl, hugging each other tightly in death. The boy was frozen solid, seemingly by the Princess's own power. Dried blood stuck through the girl's hair, from a large gash on her head, the result of more rocks. The Fox Princess picked up a knife from the first girl's hand. It hummed with her power, but had been wielded by someone far too weak to hold it. She gave it to one of her Ninetails, who barked around it and ran back to the temple. Sitting on a fallen rock, she contemplated what to do.

Finally, she decided. She snapped her fingers and held up her hand, and the pretty girl in purple rose up from the ground. Standing, the princess led the levitated girl to the other side of the grounds, so she wouldn't attack the other girl. She lay her down on the ground, smiling and brushing her hair from her face, and gave her a weak rusty knife. She raised her bell over her and held it for several seconds, then rang it a few short times. The girl shimmered, then floated up, her body vanishing. She blinked at the princess, her eyes red.

"Welcome to my cave, little girl. What's your name?" The Fox Princess asked, smiling.

The other girl opened her mouth, then closed it and looked down, slightly confused. She gasped, then finally looked up. "Sohee.. my name is Sohee."

The Princess grinned. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Sohee. This is your home now, you can wander this cave as you please. If any pathetic humans touch you, you can kill them. But kill nothing else here. Understood?"

Sohee nodded and floated off, burying her face in her hands at intervals to cry. The Princess smiled and ran back to the other two, pushing them apart a little. She produced a paper, and cut their arms just a little, dipping a stick in the girl's arm first and writing on the scroll. Reading it over, she nodded and took a bottle of resin from a waiting Ninetails, smearing the sticky glue onto the scroll and smacking it onto the girl's hat. It fluttered and lay there for a while. Glancing at the boy, she frowned. His skin was frozen, and she wasn't really sure if he was dead or not. Taking a chance, she drew up a scroll with his blood as well, and stuck it to his hat too. While holding it down, she blinked at him, blushing. He was very handsome, and it was tragic that he'd meet such a terrible end.

Looking away, she began petting one of her Ninetails, only to hear another bark and look over. The young man had sat up, and was looking cross-eyed at the scroll. Reaching up, he tore the bottom half off, the glue keeping the rest in place. She gasped and grabbed her bell. "Why did you do that, I was trying to bring you back!"

He looked around. "What happened? Where are we?" he murmured, then looked over and screamed, grabbing the young girl. "Munak, wake up, please wake up!"

The Princess blinked, confused. "The scroll takes time to work... I suppose you weren't dead afterall. No matter. This is my cave, the remnants of that human town Payon."

He stood and grabbed her shoulders, shaking her. "Why won't Munak wake up?! Where's Sohee? What happened?"

She pushed him away and pointed. "Look, you fool. She's awake."

It was true. Munak stood there, bouncing a little in place. Her cheeks were still flushed from the fever, and her eyes were clouded once more. She stared at them for a while, blinking, then bounced closer.

The Princess held her hand up. "Stop there. You are the queen of the undead in this cave, young girl. You are dead as well; drink blood to preserve your beauty. Seek humans with their warm blood; other undead can give you nothing, and demon blood will kill you. Now go!"

Munak nodded and bounced away, a soft moan pulling itself from her throat. The Princess smiled and looked at the boy. "So, what's your name, King of the Undead?"

He glanced away. "Don't call me that, my name is Bongun."

She smiled and bowed. "Alright, Bongun. You are very beautiful as well, go and keep that beauty, and protect Munak. The humans will come soon, so hurry!"

He sighed and bounced away after Munak, calling her name. Sohee floated up, blinking. "Who was that, Princess?"

The fox girl smiled. So the ghost-girl couldn't recognize him. "It's nothing for you to worry about. Go on."

Bongun returned just as Sohee was leaving. He kept his hand tightly around Munak's wrist, and held her close. "Forgive me, I neglected to ask you.. what's your name?"

The girl smiled at him and bowed, her bell ringing merrily. "My name is Moonlight Flower, and I am Queen of this town now. It's a pleasure to meet you, I'm so happy to have friends now."

XXIV

June 10th, 39 years into the fifth century.

Parras sat at a markedly different table than he had six months previous. King Tristam had aged so much in so little time. His youthful brown hair and sharp blue eyes were replaced by steadily greying hair and worn, sad blue-grey eyes. His name had been forever tarnished in Midgard's opinion. The king who murdered a city. Parras sat across from him, so he had the best view.

Suzette Kafra looked different as well. She sported a scrunched-cloth headband and carried a book with her. She'd started a company in Prontera, hiring young towngirls to learn magic, how to warp people to far away lands and how to summon and sort many people's belongings.

Morroc's new advisor's name was Rahan. He was much nicer and less demanding than Hamas. Unfortunately, because he was less demanding and more relaxed, crime had shot up in his city.

Geffen had a new advisor too, and his name was Tornas. He was a soul wizard who couldn't cast anymore, the one survivor of a party into Geffen Tower. Because of his knowledge, though, he was deemed more competent than Marisol had been. Despite this, Marisol's name was engraved in Geffen history as the first wizardess to summon the Lord of Vermilion.

Alberta had a new advisor, named Meigh. She was the daughter of a wealthy shipping empire, and had a lot of very good ideas for the port to become a center of commerce; however, since she talked so quietly, nothing was ever done.

And Payon's new advisor was Sungmi, the former priestess/healer of the village and one of the few non-nobles to escape the destruction of the city.

Sungmi was completeing a description of the status of Payon at the moment. "We're still trying to keep the Chief from suicide, but we've been having a hard time with it. No word yet on the status of most other noble families. The Kuman tribe is currently run by a lady, the youngest sister of the former lord. The Tenmu tribe is run by a girl who studies here, as her family was wiped out by the destruction. The Hango tribe-"

Tristam raised his hand. "That's enough, Sungmi," he said, sighing. "There had to be a better way than just crushing them all. I've gone through it in my mind so many times. I can't figure out why we did that."

When no one answered, he stood, slamming his fists on the table and turning. He leaned against the bookshelf in back, trying not to cry again.

Tornas coughed and Tristam looked sharply at him. "Forgive me, your majesty... who was the one to come up with the idea of a landslide in the first place? That much was never made clear to me."

Tristam sat back down heavily. "When containment was lost, I proposed destroying all roads to and from Payon. Marisol said that if we were going to destroy the roads, they'd use wolf-trails. She then suggested a landslide, and cited so many reasons for it that I just approved it. Something about birds carrying the plague, and other animals, and nothing but burial or fire would contain it."

Tornas nodded. "Marisol was always like that, I studied with her in the tower. She hated everyone outside of Geffen, and I guess she hated Payon even more after she caught the plague. She's also fairly pushy, and liked to force people to do her bidding. She even forced our instructor to leave the class one day, after telling him he was incompetent and worthless. While the death of another wizard is regretful, I must say it was poetic justice."

Tristam nodded and sighed again, looking at Meigh. "And the status for Alberta?"

Meigh beamed and cleared her throat, though her voice was still soft. "We've explored the forest next to the town. We've found tree fairies, thief blobs, caterpillars and butterflies, and a few rabbits. It seems that we will have nothing to worry about. I propose putting one of the Kafra Company employees in the town to help sailors and other travelers."

Tristam nodded, and gestured to Kafra. "You two may confer about that after the meeting." He said, writing something down on a paper.

Parras tuned out everything else, flipping through a few papers. In response to the Payon plague, alchemists had been charged with finding a cure; the alchemist who found it would receive five million zeny, almost everything in the kingdom's treasury. He still had to go to the basement where people were testing the cures to see what their progress was. He also felt he should ask Sungmi later about Payon's rebuilding. He stopped and read over an old newspaper, from just six months ago, when it had first happened. The people had first been shocked, then when news leaked from Advisor Hamad's servants that Tristam had planned it all, there was an in depth investigation. People rioted, and called for the king to step down.

Tristam finally stood and clapped his hands, ending the meeting. Parras stood, and left the room, carrying his many scrolls and papers with him as usual. As he wandered down the hall to the main part of the palace, he looked outside, at the bustling city. Perhaps the demon of Payon really was sealed away now. He smiled at the thought, then turned and began walking down the hall, a nagging thought in his mind, thinking he heard the laughter of a young girl, and a soft bouncing noise.

"poing, poing, poing.."

Owari~