THE FIRE RAGED HOT

Disclaimer: For cryin' out loud, of course I don't own Escaflowne. If I did, do you think I would have let it end the way it did? I don't think so…

The fire raged hot, singeing his body as sweat rolled down his face and between his shoulder blades. A sharp pain pinched into his left side and he turned, outraged.

Who had dared to touch his blade to him?

You!

Lunging forward, he plunged his sword deeply into the bastard who had dared to touch his unworthy sword to his flesh. Blood from the man who had scratched him sprayed onto his face and mouth; he licked his lips. The man fell forward as blood poured from his mouth, his eyes going dim as his torn heart stopped beating.

Dilandau laughed.

He felt his side, now sticky with blood. "You are an example of what happens to anyone who dares to touch me with their steel." Dilandau placed his armored foot onto the dead man's shoulder and shoved his sword from the man's body, smirking as the man fell back with a sickening thud. "Unworthy bastard." Dilandau mumbled as he stalked on towards the castle gates.

"Dilandau-sama!" Gatti called. "You melef is here and ready for you. All the dragonslayers are in their units and in position. What are your orders?"

Dilandau sheathed his sword and climbed up and into his red Alseides. As all of the controls snapped into place, Dilandau shivered with the anticipation of a few damn good fights as the protective gel spilled up and over his body.

"Dilandau-sama?"

Dilandau knocked Gatti's guymelef to the ground. "Patience, Gatti. The smell of their fear is strong in the air. Waiting for our attack will just make it stronger." Dilandau giggled sadistically. "Burn it," he said through the huge grin on his face.

"Sir?" Chesta asked carefully.

"BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND!" Dilandau screamed as his guymelef crushed through the castle's gates and began incinerating everything in sight.

Iris cursed as the room convulsed again, and more of the fragile roofing crashed down onto her head. Covering her head with her arms, she made her way down a hallway to where she could hear her younger brother screaming his little lungs out. Cinders and smoke from the burning city stung her eyes and choked her lungs. Wiping her long red hair from her eyes, she fought her way through the furniture as it dived and fell towards her. Truly it seemed as though not only whatever or whomever was doing this was against her, but her own home and furniture as well.

"Dammit," Iris swore again as yet another piece of roofing fell on her. This one had a jagged edge, and it laid her forearm wide open. Disregarding her wounded arm, Iris threw her shoulder against the jammed door that stood between her and her screaming brother, Eric. "Eric, I'm coming! Hold on!"

"Iris! Help me!" He cried, sobbing.

Focusing all her strength, Iris gave up on her shoulder, and began kicking the door down. Finally it gave against her persistent foot and Iris ran into the room, kicking other broken furniture out of the way. Her foot connecting with something heavy, but not quite solid. Thinking it was some melting carpet, she continued to kick it out of her way. Then she heard a sickening crack. Iris looked down.

The face of her mother looked up at her, an expression of lifeless horror on her face that forever etched itself into Iris's memory. Her mother's hair had all been burned away, and her clothes were soaked in her own blood. The smell of burning flesh filled Iris's nose and made her wretch. A large and jagged piece of wood protruded from her mother's throat, obviously from one of the beams in the house that had splintered when hit with other burning debris.

Fighting the reflex to vomit, Iris swallowed her sobs when her brother's cries finally tore her eyes away from her mother's corpse. Stepping over her mother, and whispering a prayer for her immortal soul, Iris called out to her brother, trying to find him in all the ashes and smoke.

"Dilandau. That will suffice. You've done more than enough damage to get Zaibach's message across." Folken's monotone voice ordered into Dilandau's ear.

Dilandau rolled his eyes and aimed his flame-thrower at another building, smiling gleefully as he watched it explode into bits.

"Dilandau! Return to the Vionne immediately. That is a direct order."

Dilandau growled. "They haven't learned their lesson yet! This entire town needs to be pulverized! How dare they threaten Zaibach!" Dilandau screamed and swung his guymelef's arm, knocking the roof off of the building next to him (which had surprisingly not been burned yet).

"Dilandau, you have been given a direct order from a commanding officer. Follow it." Folken's voice was low and dangerous.

Dilandau closed his eyes in annoyance. Great. Now Folken was pissed and he would be punished. "Well," Dilandau reasoned. "If I'm already going to be punished, I might as well earn it." Dilandau laughed as he crushed one more building before ordering his Dragonslayers back to the Vionne.

Iris coughed as she and her brother ran from shadow to shadow. She stopped short when a maniacal laugh filled the air. Iris gasped and pushed her brother behind her.

"Guymelefs," she whispered. She recognized the design right away, and her eyes narrowed in pure hatred. "Zaibach." She saw the guymelefs start to disperse, and was quickly overcome by blinding rage.

"Eric! Find shelter! I'll come back for you, I promise." She started towards the guymelefs.

"Wait, Iris! Where are you going? You can't just leave me here! Where am I supposed to go?" Eric pulled Iris to a stop by grabbing her arm, his little blue eyes bright with panic.

"Eric, Aunt Cary and Uncle Stephen live only a day's walk from here. You can make it there, I know you can. Please, I have to go, they'll get away!" Iris pulled her arm from his trembling hands and ran towards the leaving guymelefs.

"But Iris!" Eric sobbed.

Iris ran back towards him and grabbed his shoulders. "Listen to me, Eric. Listen!" She shook him a bit. "You have to be strong for me. Remember when daddy died and mama asked you to be strong for her? I need you to do that for me now. Mama is gone, and I can't be with you for a while."

"Why?" Eric hiccuped.

"Because those bastards are not going to get away with it, do you hear me?" Iris gently shook his shoulders again. "Do you want them to just get away? To never pay for what they did to Mama, and our city?"

Eric looked down and shook his head.

"Then I have to go after them."

"Why you? Iris!" Eric called her back when she turned to go.

"Look around you Eric! Who else is there? They are all gone. Everyone is gone! It is up to me. I have to go now or I will miss my chance." She kissed the top of his head quickly. "I love you. Get to Uncle Stephen's. You'll be safe. Goodbye."

Iris hitched up her thin white nightgown and ran towards the last guymelef on the ground. It was different from the others, she noted as she sprinted towards it. A spark caught her eye, and she reached out her hand and snatched the dagger that was sticking out of a body on her way past. The red guymelef loomed in front of her and prepared to go into flight mode.

"Oh no you don't," Iris said as she neared the great machine. "You are not getting away from me."

Dilandau surveyed the destruction and felt a satisfied smile creep across his face. Assured that there were no survivors within reach, Dilandau switched his guymelef into flight mode, and prepared to take off.

Just before the two legs of his guymelef could snap together, Iris jumped up into the space between the two legs and was caught inside of the guymelef. She gritted her teeth and swore as she was jostled roughly around inside the small space, and the wound on her arm was opened further.

Swearing, she ripped a band of cloth from her white, sleeveless nightgown and tied it tightly around the wound, crying out and getting a bit woozy when the shock wave of pain hit her. Then, she ripped another strip of cloth of and tied her newfound dagger to the outside of her thigh. Suddenly, the guymelef spiraled in the air and she heard a horribly frightening voice cackle. That was the last thing she would hear, as her body took a tumble inside of the small space and her head connected with the hard metal of the guymelef.

Migel, Gatti, Chesta, and Dalet all climbed out of their guymelefs once they had docked them and clustered together on the deck of the Vionne, not relaxing until they saw the gleam of Dilandau's melef in the sky approaching the Vionne.

"Here he comes." Dalet spoke, and cleared the way for Dilandau's melef to lock into its holding place.

The red Alseides unit floated into position and locked in. Dilandau jumped out of his melef as soon as the gel had dropped away. The dragonslayers snapped to attention.

Dilandau was in one of his moods, they could tell that immediately by how hard and fast his footsteps were.

"D-Dilandau-sama?" Chesta stammered.

"What?" Dilandau snapped, not stopping as he walked past Chesta and the other slayers.

"I…I'm sorry, sir, but something is hanging from the bottom of your Alseides unit, sir. Shall I take care of it for you?" Chesta knew that no one was EVER allowed to touch Dilandau's guymelef without his absolute permission.

Dilandau turned and slanted an unhappy, annoyed look at his guymelef. He saw the piece of white material hanging from the bottom of the guymelef. Scowling, he walked over to it and yanked on the material. It seemed to be stuck on something inside. Grumbling, Dilandau climbed up the guymelef and leaned inside, deactivating the flight mode of the guymelef so that it stopped hovering and dropped heavily, the lock catching and holding the melef in place. The legs of the guymelef snapped open, ready to touch the ground, but with the lock holding it in place, the melef stayed suspended in the air, swinging. Yet, a sickening thump was heard.

The dragonslayers immediately went for their swords, ready to protect Dilandau.

"Dilandau-sama! Below you! A stow away in your melef!" Migel began racing forward and was followed closely by the other slayers.

"Hold where you are." Dilandau called out. He had been studying the stow away, and had concluded that it was a girl, and she was quite unconscious.

The dragonslayers stopped obediently. "Dilandau-sama! Be careful, he could be faking his condition." Gatti warned.

Dilandau knelt next to the girl and pulled back a bloody piece of her long red hair. An angry red gash still seeped right along her hairline. He snorted and dropped her lock of hair. "Highly unlikely this wound could be faked, Gatti. Even if it was, I'm hardly in any danger."

"Sir?" Gatti asked, not understanding.

"It's a girl." Dilandau stated simply, and rose from his kneeling position.

"What?" Scattered murmurs of disbelief came from the dragonslayers as they inched closer curiously. They all stooped down and stared, suddenly all quiet.

"What's with you all?" Dilandau smirked and walked towards his troops. "Never seen one before?" He stopped and looked Migel in the eyes. "Think she's pretty?" He asked, raising his eyebrows and snorting when Migel blushed. "Do you think she's beautiful?" he asked Chesta, laughing out loud when Chesta looked away in embarrassment.

"Well," Dilandau said as he made his way back to the unconscious girl. "I promise you she'll be neither when I'm done with her." He drew his sword and raised it above his head, his eyes flashing as visions of what she looked like on the inside danced in front of his eyes. "Sleep tight," he giggled.

"Dilandau!"

"Arrrrgh! FOLKEN! Can't you see I'm busy?" Dilandau growled, never taking his eyes off of his prey.

"Don't harm that girl." Folken said as he descended the stairs.

"Why the hell not? She stowed away in my Alseides unit! I've killed people for a hell of a lot less…"

"She could be very valuable to us. Much more so alive than dead." Folken inclined his head towards Dilandau's sword.

Dilandau rolled his eyes and sighed in disbelief as he sheathed his sword. " This is just fan-fucking-tastic, Folken. Now word is going to get out that Zaibach destroys cities for daring to even speak about rising up against us, but if you stow away in a Zaibach melef, and infiltrate our fortresses, all you get is a "naughty, naughty" and a slap on the wrist."

Folken ignored Dilandau's sarcastic remarks and knelt down, scooping the girl up into his arms. He turned to Dilandau and dumped her into his own arms.

"What are you doing?" Dilandau asked incredulously.

"I am putting her under your protection. She could be very valuable for us, Dilandau, for Zaibach. It is important that you keep her safe. Take her to the slayer's quarters. I'll have an extra cot set up…next to yours." Dilandau thought he saw Folken grin as he turned his back and walked back up the metal stairs to the control deck.

"Folken! Get back here! I…" Dilandau trailed off angrily. He looked down at the girl that had been tossed into his arms. "Son of a…" he swore, the tossed the girl over his shoulder, being careful of his armor spikes, and carried her limp body to the slayer's quarters.

As Folken promised, there was indeed an extra cot set up right next to his bed. And it was definitely right next to. Dilandau shoved it back away from touching his bed with his foot, then tossed the girl down onto it. He narrowed his eyes at the girl, looking at her in complete contempt for even the air she was breathing.

"Great. Now I have to look after this pathetic prisoner. When will Folken learn it is so much easier to just kill everyone?"

Shaking his head, Dilandau turned to leave the room. That was his first mistake.

Iris opened her eyes and narrowed them at Dilandau's back. Sitting up, she ignored the painful drumming in her head, and pulled her dagger from its hiding place. Crouching quietly on the bed, she raised the dagger, grasping its hilt and preparing to spring.

Dilandau heard a sharp creak and stopped. Iris knew the creak of the cot had given her away, and immediately leapt at Dilandau's back, aiming directly for his heart.

Dilandau turned and grunted as she knocked him to the floor. Quickly gaining the advantage because of his strength, Dilandau forced Iris onto her back and grabbed the wrist in which she held her weapon. He banged it onto the hard floor, and Iris cried out in pain, dropping the dagger.

She brought her knee up, ready to shatter Dilandau's family jewels, but Dilandau was ready for that. He smirked, hauling her up and twisting her arm painfully behind her back.

"Typical," Dilandau sighed in mock disappointment. "A female would rather disable a man with a move like that and run than truly fight."

"I assure you, I am far from the typical female." Iris promised, and shoved her elbow sharply into his ribs. When Dilandau bent double, she punched him square in his jaw with her free arm. She spun on him them, taking out his legs with a low kick. Dilandau fell hard onto his back, his breath knocked out of him. Iris retrieved her dagger and ran from the room.

"Bitch," Dilandau coughed and sat up, forcing air back into his lungs. He stood and took off after her, sword drawn, and eyes wild. He grinned. This girl was turning out to be surprisingly entertaining.

Iris knocked into Migel when she ran out into the hallway. She tried to shove him out of the way, but he recognized her and grabbed her forearms.

"Hey, you're that stowaway!" Migel said, and tried to restrain her.

"Get your hands off of me!" Iris screamed as she tried to break free of his grasp. She raised her knee up quickly, and unfortunately for Migel, he did not see it coming as Dilandau had. He doubled with pain, and fell to his knees on the floor, holding his privates as if they would fall off if he let go.

Iris ran aimlessly, completely lost. All I want is to find him. She thought. All I want is to find the melef pilot with that horrible laugh. The one that enjoyed destroying my country. And then I'll kill him.

Iris gasped and came to a stop when she had run out of running room. In front of her stood a huge door. She recognized it as a cargo door. Iris heard something behind her. She whirled around and swore loudly.

Dilandau grinned. "Nice to see you too, sweetheart." He raised his sword. "You wouldn't disappoint me by coming quietly would you?"

"I'll die first." Iris growled quietly, narrowing her dark green eyes at him.

"That a girl." Dilandau said softly, grinning and beginning to circle around her.

Iris's breath came quickly as she realized this man, er, boy really, would not hesitate to kill her. He circled back around in front of her, and his blazing garnet eyes caught her deep green ones, and Iris felt as if ice water had been poured down her spine. She shivered as a look of absolute hatred and amusement was sent her way.

His eyes, his smile, everything about him is so cold.

Dilandau lunged at her.

A small sound escaped Iris's throat as she ducked under his sword and swiped at him with her dagger. Dilandau's sword blocked her and rattled the arm that held onto her dagger. Iris gasped as pain shot up through her arm. The wound from the jagged piece of roof was still fresh, and her skin tore and began to bleed again.

"Dammit," Iris said, knowing that the wound would weaken her and slow her down.

"Does it hurt?" Dilandau asked, mocking her.

Iris glared at him and Dilandau laughed. Iris's eyes widened as she recognized the laugh.

Him.

"Why are you doing this?" Iris asked him.

The question caught Dilandau off guard. "What are you talking about? You're the one who tried to put a dagger in my back."

"No. Why is Zaibach doing this? Why did you destroy my country? Kill my people?" Iris choked back a small sob that tried to escape. "My mother?"

Dilandau rolled his eyes. "Because I didn't have anything better to do. Are you going to stand around and cry like a woman, or are you going to fight me?"

"Who ordered you to?"

"I don't have time for this…"

Iris screamed with rage and took Dilandau by surprise. She jumped at him, knocking him to his back. Dilandau's sword went clattering across the floor, and he felt the cold steel of her dagger pressing into his throat.

Dilandau raised his eyebrows. "Well, this is certainly a different situation than I have ever been in before…"

"Shut up! Tell me what I want to know. Who did the order to destroy my country come from? And why?"

Dilandau's eyes narrowed dangerously. His pupils began to shrink slowly, and Iris felt the icy fingers of fear tickle up and down her spine. The look he was giving her was full of pure contempt and hate. "Do you know what happened to the last person who told me to shut up?"

Iris tried to swallow her fear. After all, she rationalized, I'm the one holding a dagger to his neck, what can he do?

She boldly pressed the tip of her dagger into his neck, nicking his flesh and causing a small dot of red blood to swell on the surface of his skin. "Tell me," her voice faltered as a cold smile spread across Dilandau's lips. "Now."

Dilandau smirked and brought his legs up behind Iris, catching her head between his ankles, he pulled Iris off of him, and cracked her head against the floor.

Iris was nicely dazed by that move and by the horrible earthquake happening in her head. She was helpless as Dilandau stood over her. He picked her up by her throat and tossed her against a wall, pinning her there.

Iris coughed and choked, her feet a few inches off of the floor, and clawed at Dilandau's leather covered hand to no avail.

"Stop thrashing. If I had wanted you dead you would have been so a long time ago. In fact, you almost were. If it hadn't been for that bastard Folken," Dilandau spat. He glanced at Iris, and noticed her lips were turning increasingly blue. He leaned in closer to her. "Listen and listen well. Folken may not want you dead, but you've certainly pissed me off enough to warrant your death. Therefore, stay the fuck out of my way while you are here, do you understand? Because I promise you that the next time you piss me off," He dropped her to the floor. Iris gasped for breath and rubbed her raw throat. "I will not be so generous."

Dilandau turned and walked away, his light laughter echoing in the large hanger, and mocking Iris's pain.