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A Duke's Dilemma

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"Buwaro," Kieri murmured, her voice full of pain, "please run." Buwaro tried to protest, tried to move, tried to do something, as the lightning flared and stabilized in the hands of the Angel that had been attacking them. Buwaro knew he had to do something. He knew that he should take the blast. That Snowy should survive, even at his own expense.

Especially at his own expense, really. Heathcliff had made it clear how valuable Buwaro really was – not at all.

But his limbs felt too heavy to move. He felt afraid. He couldn't move, couldn't do anything but watch as the spell sailed forward. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as he saw the inevitable path of the bolt of lightning finish as it struck Kieri.

As the green-glowing spell struck her, the Suizahn girl jerked and froze, every muscle, every nerve, frying in agony. In a moment, it stopped, only for her to collapse, unconscious. Sitting still for three seconds in his shock at what had occurred, Buwaro finally began to crawl towards her, scrambling to her side, eyes wide, shaking with grief.

Unaware of how to check for signs of life, he only saw that she wasn't moving. He wasn't even sure if she was breathing. Tears began to form as he feared the worst, and his stomach dropped out from under him, falling into a pit of despair. He felt helpless, weak, worthless as he picked up her lifeless form and hugged it. His eyes clenched shut as the tears flowed like rivers. Everything was just as Heathcliff said – he could do nothing.

He was nothing.

[Soundtrack 01: Awakened Resolve]

It was in that thought, that moment of pure despair, that Buwaro felt something fill him. A heat in his chest, flaring out to his belly and legs, his arms and head, even his tail and wings. What filled him was rage, unlike any anger he'd ever felt in his life, far greater than the couple times he remembered going Berserk. He felt rage fill his entire body, filling him with power, with strength, with a purpose to fight for, a person to fight for.

But more than that, he felt a need to be more than just a failure. And in that moment of grief and anger, Buwaro Elexion made a vow as his eyes snapped open, the sobbing frown twisting into a snarl of blind, unrelenting fury. 'I refuse to be nothing,' he swore upon Kieri's body. 'I won't fail anyone ever again.'

And in that moment, as those words of resolution echoed in his mind, the rage that filled him grew unbearable, and he felt some strange power fill him, flowing from his very core.

 


 

 

Hanei Denevol, last of his clan, furrowed his brow in confusion as he watched the Fire Demon hover over the body of the traitor. This didn't make sense. Demons were cowardly monsters, not capable of compassion or empathy, filled with hatred for Angels. He knew what they did firsthand, he knew everything there was to know about their evil.

Yet, here was a Demon, pretending to care about an Angel he'd corrupted, now that she was dying, if not dead already. He cradled her body as if she were his lover, or his daughter.

Hanei almost felt a moment of sympathy with the monster before he squashed it. He wondered if he himself had looked like that on that horrible day.

But then, the Demon's expression changed to one more fitting – one of rage, of hatred. For a moment, Denevol wondered if it was finally showing its true self, before he realized that something was off about this Demon's wrath.

It was frightening him.

He knew this Demon was weaker than he was, but its fury terrified him. He wasn't sure why, but he could feel the weight of this monster's wrath sink down onto him like a ton and a half of ice-cold water. It was then that he realized that this Demon's anger wassomehow being projected outwards in a psychic wave. He could literally feel the rage rolling off this Demon in waves.

This unnatural phenomenon, this empathic projection of hate, awakened within Hanei a primal terror, one that all his training to bring these monsters to their just end had not prepared him for, could never prepare him for. This monster's mere presence was enough to send paralyzing shocks of pure fear into his legs and arms.

The Demon did not speak as he let go of the Angel's body and stood up, his tiny wings swelling into shadowed black things far larger than before, black mist rolling off of them as they extended to the size of a typical Wind Demon's wings – and even though the Demon's body grew, it was barely more than a few inches, certainly not enough to require such huge wings. His eyes glowed for a moment, and yet the pupils were still clearly visible.

"What are you?" Hanei choked out, and the Demon glanced up at his words. Its eyes, now deep crimson of sclera and iris alike, turned to focus on Denevol, and the fear crippling him, weighing him down, doubled, then tripled, then tripled again. Only now, feeling the weakness he felt, did Hanei realize that he'd awoken a sleeping dragon.

That dragon's only response was to lunge at the Seraph, a scream of wordless fury echoing through the entirety of Weyville.

 


 

 

Buwaro didn't know where his power came from, but neither did he care. All he knew was that he could use it to punish the monster that had hurt Kieri. He would make this Angel suffer before he died. Vaguely, he noted that this wasn't something he would normally want to do, that he would even consider.

It was hard to care with Snowy dead. It was this murderer's fault she was gone, and he would make the man pay in blood.

Lunging forward, he was soon upon the killer, and his claws lashed out. Though the Angel dodged to the other side, slipping to Buwaro's side and preparing a spell, Buwaro was quick to backhand him with all his might and weight. The spell fizzled as Denevol stumbled a quarter-step, and looked up in time to see Buwaro's fiery breath fill his face. The screams of pain were music to Buwaro's ears.

The warrior staggered back, barely conjuring a shield of light, which shattered a moment later with a set of claws tearing into a cheek. The murderer didn't have time to recover from the onslaught as Buwaro lashed out with more claws, cleaving through a shoulder, then his chest, a fist breaking his nose, and a pair of fists colliding with the top of his head.

The Angel staggered back, doubled over and blasted wildly with a gust of sharpened Wind magic, pushing Buwaro back. The Angel spent a moment healing himself with magic, but by then Buwaro was punching him in the gut, then the throat, causing him to double over and fall to his knees. Seeing the opening, Buwaro slammed his heel into the small of the Angel's back.

Ignoring the Angel's screams of pain, Buwaro fell onto his knee, slamming it against the Angels' shoulders as his heel released, the claws still in his back. Every last one of his toe-claws ground downwards, tearing up the killer's back. Buwaro's clawed hands pulled up his head by the hair, eliciting a gasp of pain. Leaning to the side of the murderer, Buwaro snarled loudly. His words were audible to the few people watching in horror as he growled, "You hurt her, you – you damn monster. You killed her, and she's never coming back. I'm going to make you suffer worse than you ever have before I tear your worthless – "

A fireball smacked Buwaro in the face. He let go of the Angel's hair, roaring in fury at the jerk responsible for –

He found himself staring at Sammy. She flinched, hiding behind Heathcliff and Miranda as Buwaro felt his rage die nearly to a pile of cinders. Every last one of the Sinclair family stared at him in shock and terror – even Duster looked ready to fight, if he had to. "Don't do it, kid," Heathcliff said, anger and fear in his voice, his face stern.

"He hurt her," Buwaro growled, his anger flaring up again as he swiped his hand in the direction of Kieri's body. "This pain is the least he deserves. For actually killing her, I'm going to make him scream. He's going to suffer before he dies."

Miranda was already hustling to Kieri's side, and knelt by her, putting a hand to the side of her neck, then below her nose. "She's breathing, Buwaro," she sighed in relief, propping her up and pouring a green potion down Kieri's throat. "She'll be fine now." Buwaro blinked, still angered, unable to believe her words.

Then he flinched as Kieri coughed a bit. He stared at the Angel girl he thought was dead as she shifted uncomfortably, then at the man below him. He saw the bruises, the burns, the blood, the cuts. He'd done that. He'd hurt someone, just as that someone had hurt a friend of his.

At that moment, a horrible realization occurred to him. 'Is this how the Great War got so bad?' he thought weakly. Was he any better than the warriors who had killed his parents, or Iratu's, or Sakido's?

[Soundtrack 03: Grieving]

His teeth grit and an expression of pure fury covered his face once more as tears of rage filled his eyes. Finally, he stepped off of the Angel, then began stumbling as he ran from the scene. He heard shouts behind him, but he couldn't make them out, didn't care what they said, with the sudden feeling of pure hatred in his heart.

Hatred reserved for himself alone.

The Fire Demon was out of town soon enough, but he kept running at full speed, despite his aching chest and limbs. He didn't care. He wanted to hurt himself, and if running like this did it, he'd keep going until he couldn't move.

His legs made the decision for him about half a mile from town, and nearly collapsed out from under him. He fell face-first into the dirt several yards from the road, and he panted, still furious with himself, still raging at the Angel that attacked them, still shaking with worry for Kieri.

And in that moment, he remembered Heathcliff's words: "Sometimes, loving someone means letting them go when you know they'd be better off without you."

Now his words made sense, and the boy's rage turned purely to himself. He hated himself, he hated being here on Medius, he hated everything that had happened since he'd gotten up here! All these people thought that he was just a monster, and no one cared that he wasn't!

And then he'd gone and become a monster.

Heathcliff was right. He should leave, now. Forever.

At that moment, a hand rested on his shoulder. He was too exhausted to lash out, so he waited to be hurt, silently hoping they'd make him suffer too. The person knelt by him with a popping of joints. "You alright?" Heathcliff asked.

"I shouldn't be," he managed between gasps for air, not bothering to look up. "You were right. Everyone hates me, and I deserve it. They have plenty of reason to."

Silence reigned for a moment. "Are you serious?" the grumpy man asked quietly, his voice sounding shaken. Calming down, he continued, "If everyone hates you, why did Kieri try to stand up for you?" Buwaro didn't have an answer. "What about Rhea? Sammy took a liking to you. My wife thinks you're adorable."

"For how much longer?" the Fire Demon snapped, whirling his gaze on the grumpy man. "You were right, okay? Is that what you want to hear? That I'm not worthy of the love people give me, like you said?!"

The man winced at the words. "That's not what I said," he said, though his voice had little bite to it.

"Easy, Buwaro," Duster said, hovering in front of Buwaro's horns. The young Demon lifted his head, and Duster rested on Buwaro's nose. "Heathcliff said that stuff to make you more careful, he didn't want you or Kieri hurt."

"I don't care," Buwaro replied. "I just...I hate myself. I hurt him because I thought he'd killed Snowy. And she was okay the whole time. And I..." He shook his head, knocking Duster off, and slammed his forehead into the dirt repeatedly.

Heathcliff caught him by the horns and held him up, keeping him from causing any more harm to himself. Buwaro's rage flared again, and he lashed with his hand to backhand the middle-aged man. The man actually fell back, mostly due to his precarious position, and Buwaro stood up and began to run again, stumbling as he made his way.

By now, Heathcliff had had enough. "Buwaro, stop it!" he bellowed as he stood up, causing Buwaro to whirl in surprise. Though the young Demon was still raging, the old man had the boy's attention, so he continued more calmly, "You're throwing a fit like a child because you lost control. Quit it. You're doing more damage to you, to your reputation, right now than anything you did a moment ago."

"I hurt him!" Buwaro roared. "Even I know you don't hurt people, and I'm an idiot! It's like you think I don't listen! I know I'm an idiot, okay? Is that what you want to hear? What do you want from me?!" Heathcliff glared at Buwaro, before pinching his sinuses as he took a breath. "Well?!" Buwaro shouted.

Finally, the middle-aged merchant replied. "You reacted to that situation appropriately, believe it or not." Buwaro's jaw dropped – his utter disbelief was enough for the man to get in more. "If you hadn't reacted to defend her, to fight off Denevol, he might have killed her, and you, for real. Yes, you went overboard, but considering you honestly thought he'd killed her, and considering he wanted you to die, you had a good reason to react the way you did."

"Last I checked," Buwaro growled, "two wrongs don't make a right."

"No," Heathcliff replied with a serious expression, "you're right about that. But he really was going to hurt you two, or worse. Would you rather you died than attack him like that?"

"Yes!" Buwaro snarled. "I would rather have died than kill him, if Snowy was really still alive!"

"What about Snowy?" he snapped back. "Would you rather she died?! She would have if you hadn't intervened!" Buwaro froze, eyes wide, as he was forced to consider that possibility. "You see?" he continued calmly. "It wasn't so black-and-white a decision. Every action taken, no matter who does it, no matter why or what it is...all actions have consequences. Sometimes they're all good, or all bad, but usually they're both. You avoided a choice that would have ended all bad, and chose the 'good and bad' route."

"I still hurt him," Buwaro muttered, sagging at the shoulders, head drooping.

"Buwaro," Heathcliff replied, "if someone is trying to kill you, it is legal, and it is right, to hurt them if you have to, to get them to stop." The boy's head shot up again, stunned. "You don't try to kill them in that case, but you are still in the right if you hurt them. In some places, that even works if you kill them on accident." Heathcliff slowly advanced on the conflicted young Fire Demon. "I know, it sounds strange to some people. But that's the principle of self-defense, and especially defense of others. If someone is getting hurt, and you can stop it, you have the right, even the duty, do so. That's one point where things are black and white – if you had just run from him, my opinion would have been worse than if you'd gone so far as to kill him."

Buwaro's jaw quivered. His mind was still trying to find reasons to not believe what he was hearing, to not believe what he did was okay. He wanted to be wrong, to be hurt for what he'd done. "But," he managed finally. "I enjoyed it. Like, like I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to die!" he whimpered.

"But you didn't kill him," Heathcliff replied strongly, stopping his stride as he got within arm's length. "You didn't make him suffer, any more than it took to take him down." He placed a hand on Buwaro's shoulder. "You wanted to, but you stopped. You were more concerned with Snowy's life than with his death. That means that despite your less than lily-white desires, deep down, your intentions were right. You reacted to a wrong that had been done to you, and to her. When you realized you were acting in the wrong, you stopped."

Buwaro stared at Heathcliff in disbelief, tears forming once more. The middle-aged man smiled sadly. "You did the right thing. Especially considering what you wanted to do to him. You denied that hatred that he put into you, you didn't give it any power over you." He then sighed. "I know I said some things a few nights ago, and I think they're why you feel so awful." Buwaro nodded quietly, ears drooping even more than his shoulders. "Well, I didn't mean for you to take them that way, and if I'd known this whole mess would have happened, I'd have kept my damned mouth shut. For that, I'm sorry."

Buwaro finally wrapped the man in a tight hug, beginning to sob again. The man grunted at the force, but just hugged him back, sighing as Buwaro let out all his pent-up emotions.

 


 

 

The next morning, Buwaro, Heathcliff, and Rhea walked down to Weyville again, visiting the hospital. The entire hospital, staff and patients all, flinched on seeing Buwaro and his huge wings. For his part, the young Fire Demon kept his gaze down and tried not to think the dark thoughts he had dealt with yesterday.

It was a lot harder than he'd expected it to be.

When they arrived at Kieri's room they learned that, while she was still unconscious, she was already doing much better than yesterday, according to the doctor. She would likely wake up sometime today.

Then, they went to see Denevol in the next room. He was awake, and when he saw them enter he glared at Buwaro. The boy hardly noticed, his eyes downcast as he thought about what he had planned to say. He wasn't sure it was right, anymore, but he was going to try anyway. He walked up to Denevol, his face somewhere between angry and apologetic, which got the Angel to pause. "I'm sorry," Buwaro finally managed, his voice small and weak.

Silence was all that answered him at first, the Angel's expression turning to confusion. "Why?" he asked. "I'm your enemy."

"You weren't until you hurt her," Buwaro snarled, the fire of anger pulsing in his chest again. He squashed it instantly, not allowing himself to be angry with Denevol again. It wouldn't be worth it to hurt him over his temper. Once calmer, he continued, "I don't know what's up with this Great War thing. And whoever named it was dumber than I am.

"It should be the Stupid War, 'cuz it hurt my friend, and I guess it means we're not supposed to even be friends." His brow furrowed as he glared at Denevol, though his anger was only partially directed at the Angel. "I'm going to say this right now. No one. Absolutely no one. Has the right to tell me who I'm allowed to be friends with."

Denevol stared at the boy, long and hard, before grimacing and looking away. The intensity in the boy's eyes seemed far too familiar. "And if someone does?"

"Rhea," Buwaro asked, "what's that phrase you use? Push it?"

"Shove it," Rhea corrected with a smirk.

"That," Buwaro said, rolling his head towards Rhea to gesture. "That's my response."

Denevol took a deep breath, then sighed and closed his eyes, as if pained. "So you intend to befriend an Angel, despite being a Demon. Are you a fool, or do you take me for one?" he asked, his gaze once again falling on the boy.

"Yeah, I'm stupid," Buwaro sighed. "I want to be smarter, though. Rhea told me I can become smarter by reading, but that means I need to learn how to read. I need to learn to fight, too. Use magic. Learn about Medius. A lot of things. I know I'm dumb, I know I'm weak. But I'm willing to fix whatever I can, however I can. I can't change being a Demon. If I could, I would, but I can't."

"That's not what I meant," Denevol replied, surprised.

"Then you mean that I'm lying," Buwaro said, not a question but a challenge. He was silent as he glared at Denevol for a moment. The Angel slowly became more nervous at the boy's intense gaze.

Finally, he grabbed the Angel's arm gently with both sets of claws, and put the attached hand against his own chest. "I'm vulnerable, and I'm not going to defend myself. If you still want to kill me, go ahead," he said, shocking them all. "But before you do, and even if you don't, I want you to swear on pain of death that you will not harm Kieri Suizahn again." Denevol flinched at the name. "If you ever do," he continued with a low growl, his eyes glowing again at the mere thought of her in pain, "I wish the worst of pains and deaths on you and everyone you know. She's one of the few people willing to give me a chance up here, and I will die and even – even kill for her if I have to."

Rhea's eyes had bugged out of her head, and she finally found her voice. "Buwaro!" she scolded. "Don't even joke about letting him kill you!"

"Rhea, please," he said, his voice clipped and filled with a bitter sorrow, "not now. I have to make a point." He continued to glare at Denevol the whole time, and for another minute on top of that. "Well?" he finally asked, his voice taking a surprisingly mocking tone. "Are you more bloodthirsty than the Demon? Are you going to kill someone you don't like, just because you can? Or are you going to take the top road and accept that two wrongs don't make a right? Because I did that years ago," he said, leaning into Denevol's face, "and I did it yesterday.

"I wanted to kill you yesterday because I thought she'd died. When I realized she was fine, I wanted to die because I hurt you more than I needed to. Because I still wanted to hurt you some more. Because I thought I really was a monster like everyone else thought."

He swallowed hard, leaning back and looking down. "I'm still mad at myself. More than I was at you. And I'm still kinda mad at you, too." He glared once more at the Angel, all of his rage focused on the man. "So if you hurt her, I swear on everything I am that I will come back from the dead, somehow, just to take your arms off. And I won't rest again until you die."

A shadow seemed to fade into existence around Buwaro and Denevol, but it was gone before anyone could react. Finally, after a moment of silence, Heathcliff spoke. "High road," he corrected quietly.

"I really don't care," Buwaro sighed in exasperation, dropping Denevol's arm to sink his face into his hands.

Denevol pulled his arm back gently. "You would truly go so far, for an Angel?" he asked.

"Of course not," Buwaro snapped. "Not for just anyone. Not for just any Angel. If someone's getting hurt for no good reason, I want to help, I want to stop it. But I'd only go that far for Snowy. I love her, and I don't ever want to see her suffer like that again. If you have a problem with that, that's your fault, not mine. And if a lot of people have a problem with that, then that just proves my point about the Stupid War."

"My family died because of Demons," Denevol replied angrily. "I am the last of my clan, because of your kind."

"And my family died because of Angels," Buwaro snapped, surprising the Seraph. "What's your point?" He quieted and forcefully calmed himself, his face twisting in concentration.

When his eyes opened, he was quiet of voice. "Mine is that I survived because of an Angel. My brother and sister, all three of us? He adopted us. We survived, we were a family, because of Darius." Both of Denevol's eyebrows shot up at the name, but Buwaro didn't really care. "Heck, I didn't even know about him until recently. I hadn't seen him at all, but he'd left behind a diary I couldn't read. Snowy's been reading it, and translating it for me.

"And you know what?" He took a deep breath. "I don't care who gets mad about it. Angel, Demon, Jakkai, Human, whatever. My name is Buwaro Elexion. I am Darius's son. And I don't know where he is, I don't know if he's even alive. I don't know his family, I don't know if they'd be happy or mad about what he did for me. But I'm going to make him proud of me, and if his family has a problem with that they can go to Hell. Literally. And then they can find him, wherever he is, and they can go apologize to him."

Rhea's ears were drooping as she realized just how much having a family meant to him. Perhaps Sakido's death had hit him harder than she'd thought. She smiled sadly. "Buwaro's just different," Rhea told Denevol. "I hate to interrupt this, but is it possible that Hell, or some part of its society, is the problem? Not the Demons themselves?"

Denevol hesitated, staring at the ceiling. "Then why would they kill my family's children?" he asked. "Why would they massacre our children?"

"According to Darius's diary, Angels do the same," the Jakkai woman replied grimly.

The Angel's eyes widened. "They – what?" he choked. Seeing Rhea's expression of anger and grief, he grimaced and looked to the floor. Finally, he leaned back on the bed and closed his eyes. "I see," he murmured. "Then, I'm going to have to think on this for some time. Perhaps you are right, in that the problem is not Demons themselves." His eyes opened again. "If that is the case, I'm not sure what to do," he admitted sadly.

Rhea frowned. "You can start by not trying to murder everyone for being different," she said, her voice full of disdain.

"I meant what to do to stop the deaths that are occuring," the Seraph muttered. "And now, on both sides."

"She's waking up," a doctor called from Kieri's room.

Buwaro started, but managed to keep himself together for a moment longer. "Thank you," he said, bowing deeply to Denevol, much like Kieri did, before hurrying over to Kieri's room, nearly knocking the doctor aside in his rush. He could see that Kieri was groggy as he walked into her room. She whimpered softly, then opened her eyes. She turned her head to him weakly, before her eyes shot open and she scrambled off the bed, falling with a yelp. Buwaro winced. "Are you okay, Snowy?" he asked, his voice soft and nervous.

A moment of silence passed. Finally, Kieri's head poked up over the bed. "Wh...wha? Buwaro? What happened?" she asked, eyes wide at Buwaro's new form.

Buwaro looked away, grimacing. "Yeah, I'm not sure either," he muttered, trying to hide his now-huge wings in a self-conscious gesture. "I got mad at him for hurting you, and then my wings just...grew."

Kieri blinked, sliding back onto the bed carefully. "I'm sorry too," she replied. "I did not recognize you in the silhouette."

"It's okay," he smiled, sitting in a chair by her bed. He moved a hand out to gently rest on hers. She smiled back, holding his hand.

"You could've waited for us," Rhea joked as she walked in with Heathcliff. "She wasn't going anywhere."

"Neither was Denevol," Buwaro replied, sticking out his tongue.

"D-Denevol?" Kieri managed. Then it clicked. "The Angel that attacked us?"

"Yeah," Heathcliff replied. "We talked to him today. You were out for a day," he clarified.

"W-what happened?" Kieri asked with a stammer.

"Buwaro beat the crap out of him over you," the middle-aged man said. "Didn't know he had it in him, but he cleaned his clock, Seraph or no."

Kieri's jaw dropped as her eyes went wide as dinner plates. She stared at Buwaro, and he could practically see the gears turning in her head. "You are unaware of how you got this power?" she asked, her voice barely a breath above silence.

"N-not really," Buwaro replied, now worried.

Kieri turned pale. "It can't be," she murmured, shocked. "You're...a Duke?"

Everyone was silent for a moment. "A what?" Buwaro asked, swallowing hard.

"No way," Rhea stammered loudly, her tail puffed out in shock. "Buwaro? As in our Buwaro? He's a – " She lowered her voice. "A Duke of Hell?" she finished almost as a whisper. Kieri only nodded.

"It seems likely now that you mention it," Heathcliff nodded, stroking his chin thoughtfully. His eyes held concern in them. "The old stories talk about some Dukes growing wings, or re-growing them if they were mangled."

"Um, what are you guys talking about?" Buwaro asked, concern clearly overwhelming him.

"A duke is a sort of leader, a ruler of other people," Heathcliff replied. "A Duke of Hell is a legend from the Great War, of Demons who would gain sudden surges of power that could potentially put them on the level of a Guardian. A Heavenly Baron was the Angel version of that, though somehow they seemed rarer. Anyway, no one knew what caused a Duke to appear, though it was said that a truly tragic moment, for an Angel who stood for the right things, would cause the rise of a Baron."

For a moment, he was silent, staring at Buwaro, calmly reasoning through the details. "You gained that power when you thought Kieri was dead, right?" The boy nodded, and he sighed. "You have two friends to your name. No family. Half your relations had been cut down before your eyes. That sounds pretty tragic to me, even if it was a mistake on your part. So maybe it's simply some kind of emotional trauma that creates a Duke."

"And it's happened before," Rhea muttered. "He lost his sister a while back, too..."

Heathcliff winced, now feeling even worse about what he had told Buwaro a while back. He hadn't thought the boy had been through that much already, with how happy-go-lucky he'd been so far. "Okay, yeah, you were probably a dam waiting to burst. No wonder you cringe so much..." He sighed. "Either way...you're gonna have to learn control over your power. Master what you have, and develop what you can. You can defend Kieri and yourself now, if you need to, but the better trained you are, the better you'll be able to do so."

Buwaro nodded, looking thoughtful. "My power, huh?" he murmured. "...Snowy?" he asked.

"Yes, Buwaro?" she asked, wondering what he was thinking.

"Is there any spell to heal people?"

Kieri smiled sadly. "There is," she replied, "but it's a spell only Angels can use, because of our Light element. I've heard Demons can heal themselves with Dark magic, but..."

"Okay, dang," he sighed, trying to think. "Because I don't want to just hurt people, if I can. I mean, that's what people think of Demons, right?" he added as everyone looked at him oddly. "Step one: Change people's minds about that."

Rhea snorted a laugh. As Buwaro glared at her, she responded, "Sorry Buwaro, but changing people's minds is one of the hardest things to do right. Besides," she added, losing the humor for a somber realization, "some Demons aren't so nice as you. They might take advantage of that."

"So?" Buwaro responded. All eyes were on him. "I'm a Duke of Hell, right? I'm like a ruler, I could tell them to stop."

"It's not that simple," Heathcliff responded, then smiled, "but if no one tries, it doesn't happen anyway, right?"

"Exactly. I guess," Buwaro smiled. Chuckles filled the room, including the young Duke's. He finally had the ability to do something about the hurt everyone had felt. And he would do something about the War.

He just had to find a way.

Chapter Text

Miranda gave Kieri another dose of healing potion before they left. The next day, Kieri was released from the hospital, with orders to be careful for another week or so. That afternoon, Kieri sat in the wagon with Buwaro as they left the town. As he sat with her, she taught him some basics of reading at his request. He was a fairly quick learner – but he still had a long ways to go.

The next morning, as they were about to get on the road again, Kieri asked him, "Buwaro? You truly wish to learn to defend me, right?"

"Yeah, why?" Buwaro replied.

"Then you'll want to start with conditioning your body," she said. "This morning, I want you to walk with Rhea; we'll read in the afternoons and evenings. See if you can run around the wagon a few times while you're walking."

Buwaro did so, but it was clear his endurance was fairly lacking. The young Fire Demon would tire fairly quickly from the exertion. Seeing this weakness, he was discouraged, but Rhea told him, "Don't worry. Everyone starts out at the bottom. Come on, keep walking – it's better for you to keep going slowly after you just ran."

[Soundtrack 05: Learning]

Between reading, running, and Kieri getting him to do push-ups and sit-ups before breakfast, Buwaro went to sleep exhausted every night, and woke up somewhat sore every morning – but he was building his body up. In just a week, he began to see a huge difference in his endurance alone – rather than at most four laps around the wagon, he was already doing as many as ten before getting tired, and the wagon would move at a fairly decent clip. On top of that, he started running faster laps as he did – Rhea got a stopwatch from Heathcliff to measure his time after the third day, and he was shaving off a half-second a lap after six. By this time, Kieri was joining him on the walk and run, having recovered almost completely, as well as on the push-ups and sit-ups.

On the eighth day since they left Weyville, Rhea prodded him to ask Heathcliff to teach him the basics of magic. The man was somewhat reluctant at first, since the boy was a Fire Demon – for all he knew, they naturally had explosive firepower – but he reasoned to himself that Kieri could put out any unnecessary flames if it came to that. So, when they stopped for lunch, Heathcliff began to teach Buwaro how to use a basic fireball. He expected that a novice like Buwaro would take a week to get it to a reasonable level.

Instead, at the end of the lunch hour, Buwaro rushed over, showing the middle-aged man a palm-sized, crackling fireball that flickered about two inches above his palm. The man blinked several times. "That took me a full day to get down," Sammy grinned. "Nice job, Buwaro!"

"Yes," Heathcliff smiled, "that's very impressive."

"Well, I put in lots of energy," Buwaro admitted, "way more than I'm supposed to. But at least I can do it," he beamed.

"You just pump up the fireball, huh?" Sammy smirked. "Cheater." Buwaro shrugged, chuckling. "Well, once you get it to that point, I guess you can learn how to make it with less, so you'll do fine," she told him.

The next morning, during his conditioning training, Buwaro began conjuring the occasional fireball while he ran. He always put it out in short order, as his goal was to boost his endurance as much as possible by exerting himself more. It worked – two days later, he could run ten laps while creating his fireballs, or fifteen without, before getting tired. It also helped him generate the meditative focus he needed to create the spell, so even his spell improved from the training. Kieri admitted that his idea was something that her schools back in Heaven could benefit from.

That thought made Buwaro feel quite proud of himself. Even if he had a long way to go, he was finding ways to make that route go by a little faster.

In addition, he had already learned the characters of Lingo and was putting them together into words with relative ease. Seeing this, Heathcliff loaned him a small book with instructions for several fire spells scribed into it, including the basic fireball, and the boy took to studying it with all his energy. Kieri had to help him make sure that he'd read the words right, but he usually did.

By the time they had dropped off Eve and Willow at the Southern Forest, Buwaro had learned to use a more powerful fire spell called Flame Shot. Though it wasn't much stronger than a fireball, it had the advantage of distance: it could easily be used at four times the range without trouble. He'd also learned a spell to douse flames, pulling the fiery energy from them with his own magic, and from his basic Fireball and the Douse spell, he began learning to use Smokescreen that evening.

Heathcliff was a bit concerned by his rapid growth. "He's taking to magic very well," he said casually to Kieri as he watched Buwaro work on the spell.

"Most Demons are somewhat better with magic than Medians," Kieri explained, "but he does seem to be better at it than most Fire Demons. Even better than some Fire Angels," she admitted. "Perhaps it is part of being a Duke?"

"Maybe," he sighed as Buwaro conjured another smokescreen – this one a good two yards across. "That kid's gonna be a terror to fight soon, isn't he?"

"Yes," Kieri smiled. "But I think he knows a bit about when to fight, now, too." Heathcliff only nodded and smiled sadly. 

 


 

 

The next day, Kieri gave Buwaro an assessment of him at his best. Both before and after breakfast, Kieri had him relax. As the last of the wagon was prepared, she got him inside, then put him on a one-minute timer with the stopwatch and had him do push-ups as they moved. He was able to do twenty in one minute, and forty-four sit-ups in the same time after a five-minute break. She then had him take another break of fifteen, then got him to run about five hundred yards, timing him as he went. He managed to complete it in just under 82 seconds.

Kieri, satisfied with his conditioning, began to teach him some basic fighting stances at lunch, and then what she knew of unarmed fighting and wrestling. Buwaro took to the art of wrestling fairly quickly, thanks to Kieri's instruction and his conditioning; he wasn't that far behind in terms of punches, kicks, and blocks. After a week of practicing combat at every meal and before bed, he was able to wrestle Kieri to a standstill.

To be fair, she'd never been great at any of the fighting arts, but it was nice to see her tutoring had brought him that far, and that quickly.

Then he learned how to suplex – Kieri made sure that her arms were loose when they practiced, so that she wouldn't get injured, but she taught him all the same. Between his wrestling skill and claws, he was a beast to fight before they reached the mountains of St. Curtis's valley.

By this time, he was also reading far better – Kieri said he was at about an Angel school's first-grade reading level when they stopped the physical conditioning, on account of the people they were now meeting on the road. So since they couldn't train his body, they got him to mastering reading better.

By the time they reached St. Curtis, he was about a second-grade reading level – though there were almost none of the other academics behind it.

As they arrived in the city in the morning, Buwaro found himself too excited to stay in the wagon, despite Heathcliff's quiet pleading. Surprisingly, most people gave him a look of surprise, then ignored him. Rhea was almost more concerned about that fact, than about the possibility of them lynching him.

Buwaro held Kieri's hand as they walked, but he was obviously bouncing with interest at almost everything. Kieri giggled at his pointing at certain things, watching the entire city closely. "It's such a pretty place," he said, gently running his hand along a huge root from the tree at the center of town.

"I know," she smiled, "it is beautiful."

As they rounded a corner, Buwaro heard a yelp. He turned to see the source – a Jakkai woman with a bag of groceries, backing away from him. He slowly backed up, motioning with his open hand to let her pass. She stared at him, as if confused. "What is this?" she asked suspiciously. "A Demon, being nice?"

[Soundtrack 10: The Noble Duke of Hell]

Buwaro paused, thinking about her reaction. He knew that people were afraid of Demons, even hated them, but now he had a chance to do something about it. Finally, he sighed and sat down, looking the woman in the eye, letting go of Kieri's hand in the process. "I don't get it," he said frankly.

"Huh?" the woman asked, confused.

"Maybe I'm the weird one, at least as far as Demons go," he said, gaze lowering a bit. "Maybe I'm not supposed to be nice. But if that's the case, I'm perfectly happy how I am. The only time I've ever really wanted to hurt someone was because they hurt Snowy. Uh, Kieri," he said as he motioned to his friend. "I thought he'd killed her. And when I found out she was fine, I felt really bad about hurting him." He stared at her again, saddened and angered at his thoughts, and she shifted nervously under the intense gaze. "Am I really that weird, because I'm a nice Demon? If so, I have one question: what is wrong with all the others?"

Kieri stared at him, surprised, before she kneeled by his side. "Buwaro," she said sadly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I don't think you're entirely alone, no. I don't know why there aren't more as nice as you, though. Maybe they don't think they can be."

Buwaro stared at her, confused, before it clicked. "Because of the Stupid War," he said quietly.

Kieri chuckled in spite of herself at his nickname for the Great War. "Probably," she nodded grimly.

"So you're friends," the Jakkai said, slowly walking closer to them. "I mean, seriously friends."

"Rhea said something about exploding her," Buwaro said sheepishly. "I'm guessing it's a slang or something, though."

Kieri blushed brilliantly. "That's...yes, 'bang' is a slang word," she managed, embarrassed, her hands covering her face. The Jakkai giggled in spite of herself.

"What does it mean, then?" he asked, tilting his head as he stared at his girlfriend.

"It..." She hesitated. "It means sex."

"What's that?"

The Jakkai's jaw dropped as she stared at the two. "Yeah I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that last bit," she said, quickly walking away from the scene.

Kieri was likewise stunned. "Ohhh my," she murmured. "I'll explain it this evening, alright?" she laughed nervously. Buwaro simply became more confused at her nerves, but shrugged and accepted that answer.

 


 

The Angels and Demons wandering openly in St. Curtis had shocked and confused everyone within the Sinclair wagon. Concern was fairly high among the visitors and residents of the city, but most were at least willing to live and let live, if they even believed it was real.

Most people didn't, and considering their encounter with the Jakkai woman with the groceries, that was somewhat of a relief for Buwaro and Kieri.

As the two wandered the streets, though, they came across a very young Angel, and soon found his mother. {Thank you for finding Tirol,} she said pleasantly. {I'm surprised he wandered off again – normally, he does not like other Demons.}

Buwaro hesitantly said, "Um, I didn't understand that."

"Me either," Rhea added.

"Oh, well," she said sheepishly, picking her son up, "Tirol is normally shy around other Demons. My name is Kinako, by the way."

"Other Demons?" Rhea asked.

"What the...?" a heavy voice asked, as if frightened. All turned to see a boar-like Earth Demon, who was staring at Buwaro. "Wh-what...who are you?" she asked quietly.

"I'm Buwaro," the Fire Demon replied friendlily, "What's your name?"

She blinked. "Um, I'm Sahne," she said, as if still nervous. "Just Buwaro?" she asked finally.

Buwaro hesitated, unsure why she'd ask. "Uh...Buwaro Elexion," he said finally. "I was adopted, it's a long story."

The Earth Demon's jaw dropped. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you," she deadpanned.

"What is wrong, Sahne?" Kinako asked.

"...it's nothing," Sahne said, in a quiet tone that made it clear that it was anything but nothing.

The slight fear in her eyes suddenly filled Buwaro with understanding, and he facepalmed a second later. "I think I get it now," he sighed. "No, I don't know how I got to be a Duke. Well, not exactly. I had a – what'd Rhea call it, conniption or something – over Snowy getting hurt by an Angel, because she was defending me."

Silence. Even Kinako seemed nervous now. "A Duke? S-seriously?" she asked Sahne.

"Why'd you think I was so scared?" she chuckled, though there was no humor to it. "Kid could fight a Guardian toe-to-toe. I'm surprised he's even friends with an Angel, much less talking to us."

Buwaro stared at them. "Buh?" was his dumbfounded response to those statements. "Really?"

Kieri hugged Buwaro with one arm. "Buwaro is gentler than that," she told them.

"Well, not when that Denevol guy nearly killed you," Buwaro muttered nervously.

"S-still, he's not well-trained as a warrior, since I only recently began teaching him," she admitted. "The main reason he fought off my...assailant – far better trained than I – was because he basically went berserk, without going, you know, Berserk berserk"

The pair before the two lovebirds fell silent at that. "Lemme get this straight," Sahne said quietly. "A Warrior-clan Angel and a Duke of Hell are friends, and willing to fight for each other. What next," she half-shouted sarcastically, "is Syndel gonna be at the stage tonight doing a violin show?" Kinako merely shrunk away from Kieri, looking to shield Tirol with her body.

Buwaro stared at Sahne, then Kinako, then began to massage his sinuses with a groan. "Look," he said, his voice now on edge as he glared at the two, "I don't know what your problem is with Snowy all of a sudden, and I don't care. She's the nicest person I've ever met. I don't know why, or what, but she seems to have family problems, and I'd really appreciate it if you stopped looking at her like she's going to explode and hurt someone any second now." He shook his head and stalked away. "Come on, Snowy," he said, "let's ask someone else about your brother."

Kieri shook her head in disbelief. That had been fairly eloquent and quite angry – she'd never seen him like this. "Buwaro, please," she called after him, and he stopped, looking back sadly. "Please calm down, they're not threatening me."

"Like we're that stupid," Sahne snorted.

"Okay, ya know what," Rhea growled, "Kieri here's been through more than enough shit lately, okay? Who gives a flying fuck what her family does?"

"We care," Kinako snapped, "because she's like those other two ruffians, the ones that got arrested for causing an avalanche! She's trained from birth to be a killer and miscreant, just like the Sanjulo and Suizahn boys!"

[Soundtrack 06: An Angel's Tears]

Kieri felt something snap inside of her. "Oh yes, trained from birth to kill," she muttered lowly, her expression darkening, her voice dripping with sarcasm and anger. "So what if I failed every combat test I ever took?!" she shouted as she whirled on her two accusers, startling them all and causing Tirol to jump in his mother's arms.

In her anger, she switched back to Angelic, barely aware of the change, barely even aware of her tears starting to flow. {So what if I learned Lingo despite my mother desperately trying to keep me a simple, stupid soldier, to ban me from the class?! So what if I simply didn't have the heart for fighting despite hours and hours and days and weeks and months of drilling that did nothing more than make my hands bleed?!

{So what if my mother told me how worthless I was every time I failed to be even an average warrior?! So what if she literally punched me for any perceived failure?! So what if I literally had no friends my whole time in school, because everyone was either disdainful or afraid of me?! So what if my brother was my only comfort my entire life?!

{None of that could ever matter! After all, I'm from a Warrior clan, so I must be an accomplished, willing, bloodthirsty killer!} She struggled for something foul enough to say, and finally switched to Lingo in order to do so, tears streaming down her face as she managed a weak, squealing snarl of, "Well fffff-FUCK YOU TOO!" With that last outburst, Kieri took to the air and flew away.

When she finally landed, well outside of town, her self-loathing and her impotent rage boiling over still, she curled up under a tree, sobbing uncontrollably.

She wasn't sure how long it was before Buwaro showed up. He was huffing, but he was approaching rapidly, before slowing down as he got within speaking range. A moment later, he plopped down at her side and hugged her with one arm. That broke the floodgates again – Kieri began to bawl into his chest as she squeezed him tightly. Buwaro's hand merely stroked her hair for a time, until she quieted her sobbing for a time. "Snowy?" he asked quietly. "What happened back there?"

Kieri looked up into his eyes, her own eyes soaked with tears, and found she couldn't hide anything from him anymore. She no longer wanted to. Perhaps if she told him, he would see that she wasn't worth the effort he kept putting into being her friend.

But by now, that was fine by her.

So she began to blurt out, quietly sobbing every couple sentences or so, all she could remember about her long, horribly painful, worthless life. Buwaro let her get it out, his expression turning stoic as he stroked her head, comforting her as she recounted the many times that she'd been hit, shouted at, told how sick she was, for not being a perfect warrior, and the time she realized that she didn't deserve to live. The time she tried to correct that error. How her father was at least more caring, but often very distant, and how she realized that she didn't deserve his help. How her brother was stupid to have tried to care for her at all, and how she wished he'd had a sister that was worth something, instead of a waste of space, of time, of flesh, of training, like her. How the Warrior-clan Angels thought little of her for her weak fighter's instinct, but the other Angels thought her to be too scary to even try to befriend, because she was a Suizahn.

When she was finally done, he wordlessly picked her up and carried her back to the Sinclair family's wagon. She glanced up at his face, and she immediately looked away. She said not a word as they walked, and now she was concerned about what he'd do. Would he reject her now? Would he finally see how useless she was? Would he abandon her, like she deserved?

But if that was what he would do, why were his eyes full of tears, as much as barely-fettered anger?

 


 

[Soundtrack 15: Blind with Rage]

It was almost sundown before they got back. Buwaro let her walk in, hoping she would be okay. Rhea had already returned by then, and she hugged Kieri's leg. "Kinako said she's sorry," she said quietly. "She told me you'd apparently put up with a lot of shit you no one should ever have to deal with."

"Sounds about right," Buwaro said quietly, his eyes darkened with rage.

Rhea actually flinched – his eyes weren't glowing, but he was clearly furious. She'd been less scared of the time he'd gone Berserk, and was suddenly glad that his anger was obviously not directed at her. "Buwaro?" she asked, managing to keep the quiver out of her voice. "What's wrong?"

"Snowy's mother, that's what," Buwaro said, then quieted as his eyes shut, as if fighting back his anger. Finally, he spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. "Denevol tried to kill her. He thought she'd betrayed people. I get that. I hate it, but I get it.

"Then there's Snowy's mom. If I ever see that horrible hag, and if she doesn't beg Snowy for the forgiveness she doesn't deserve, I'm going to tear off both her arms and shove them in her mouth. And if I can't get them both down her throat, I'll beat her with the one that remains, and after she's dead, I'll string her up by her intesti-cles." Surprisingly, he was quiet the whole way through his threat, his voice almost monotone.

Heathcliff winced, certain he meant "intestines" but not really wanting to find out. "It's that bad?" he asked quietly.

"Do you recall your parents ever punching you?" he asked Heathcliff, his voice finally gaining an edge. "Hitting you, shouting that you're 'sick' or that you're worthless? Telling you that you can't do something they want you to do, so you're not obviously good enough for anyone?" He shivered. "Have you ever been so full of hatred for yourself...that you tried to die?" he murmured, the words sending his bile into his throat.

It was as quiet as the grave for a moment. "Holy shit," Sammy breathed.

"Language," Heathcliff murmured, though it carried little weight as a reprimand.

"That's not all she did to her, either," he growled, shivering as he forced his fury down again.

Kieri nodded quietly, only as a confirmation. He was sure she didn't agree with Buwaro's assessment that this woman was a complete monster, but then, he didn't agree with hers, that she was somehow a worthless person.

Buwaro finally spoke again. "I was angry at Denevol, but what that...that thing did to her? Kieri's – the thing that just happens to be her mom? I can never forgive her for hurting my friend like that. My girlfriend," Buwaro snarled. "My love," he finished with a mutter.

The group was mostly silent for the rest of the evening. Kieri's eyes were so puffy from crying so hard that a little indigo makeup could have made one think she'd been punched out in both eyes. Buwaro did little more than comfort her the rest of the evening, and to Rhea's shock, he didn't even eat dinner. He'd completely lost his immense appetite tonight.

He was definitely shaken up...but from the sounds of things, he had more than a right to be. His girlfriend had literally been abused by her own mother. It suddenly occurred to Rhea that the girl was about as broken as a person could be, and her retreat during the argument over Buwaro's Star Pendant began to make sense. And so, after dinner, Rhea sat with the two and slowly stroked Kieri's hair. It was a comforting action that soon soothed the exhausted girl to sleep.

Rhea was already something of an older sister for Buwaro, and it sounded like Kieri needed a proper mother in her life. Frankly, even though they were so close in age, the Jakkai was glad to step up to the plate.

'Man,' she thought as she closed her eyes, attempting to sleep herself, 'all three of us are total headcases here, aren't we?' The thought left her to chuckle darkly as she drifted off.

Chapter Text

Kieri woke up fairly early the next morning. Heathcliff was already up and about, from the looks of things, so she quickly got prepared for the day. Buwaro and Rhea were both still in bed as Kieri left the wagon.

The sunrise was a beautiful thing to see, but Kieri had to wonder how something like her could stand to be in the face of such beauty. She had to wonder how she could have the friends she had, how she deserved them. She had to wonder why they didn't just push her away like everyone else had.

Why they didn't hurt her.

That thought brought back Buwaro's words from the previous evening. "If I ever see that horrible hag, and if she doesn't beg Snowy for the forgiveness she doesn't deserve..."

Could she truly have gone through something horrible? Could she really have not deserved the pain she'd gone through?

" Have you ever been so full of hatred for yourself...that you tried to die?"

Buwaro was naive and uneducated, but the fact was, he was not stupid. He was also not one to lie, save by omission it seemed – and with his Pendant, he seemed to be just as afraid of people's reactions as she was of his Pendant falling off. Besides, when he said those words, the previous night, his expression was so filled with sadness and fury alike, for her sake, that there was no way he was lying.

But...perhaps he didn't know her that well. They'd only been together for, what, perhaps two months?

"I can never forgive her for hurting my friend like that. My girlfriend...my love."

She knew he had a big heart...but was it really big enough for a ruined mess like her? The thought sent her into tears, and she began to weep silently.

[Soundtrack 04: Hope]

Heathcliff put a hand on her shoulder, to her surprise, an unknown time later. She noticed the sunrise had long since finished. He sighed. "Are you going to be okay?"

"I don't know," she replied. "I would have said 'never' yesterday, though," she admitted, "so maybe that's an improvement."

"Ouch," the man grumbled. "Look...what Buwaro said, minus the threats of course. If what he said about your mother is at all true, then that person isn't a person. If she's really responsible for hurting you, making you hurt yourself, isn't it wrong to hurt a child? You've been shouted at and hit your whole life. There's something wrong there, and it's not you. It literally can't be you; you'd be too young to know what you're doing wrong." Kieri frowned in thought. "Anyone would. That is why you never hit a child, not with intent to truly harm. Spankings are one thing; bruises, bumps and blood are another thing entirely." His eyes grew harsh as he stared at the ground. "That shows an intent to kill, at least in a fight. Treat it like that." He turned to her again, his eyes only softening slightly. "She is an enemy combatant, Kieri. Never submit to her again. Promise me that."

Kieri closed her eyes. "I don't think I can," she murmured. "Not right now."

"Then promise me before we part ways, or before we leave St. Curtis, whichever happens first," he told her. "There is no excuse for her behavior. Period."

Kieri's eyes opened as something seemed to click. "I need to talk to Sammy," she said quietly. "But first...Mr. Sinclair, forgive me this question, but you aren't a 'friend' in the closer sense of Buwaro or Rhea, are you?" He frowned, confused, but shrugged. "Then...for these purposes, you are merely an outside observer. You do not know me, nor my mother, as well as we know each other." Fearing that she was dismissing of his concerns, Heathcliff was about to retort to that, when he saw the smile forming on her lips.

A smile of hope. "Yet...you are still defending me," she continued. "From my view, if an 'outsider' can agree with my friends...that other person, someone on the outside of the situation, would be more objective, would they not? Which means, more likely than not, that I was wrong to believe my mother." She began to cry, not in sadness or self-loathing, but in relief. "Thank you."

Heathcliff smiled, pulling her into a one-armed hug, misting up himself. He'd been afraid for her for a moment. "No problem."

They sat together for a while, before the door to the wagon opened again. They looked over to see Buwaro and Rhea, both of them looking concerned. "You okay?" Rhea asked

"Yes," Kieri replied. "I'm fine. Better than I have ever been, in fact."

"...okay?" he murmured, but smiled. "Well, that's good, I guess. Come on, let's get breakfast."

 


 

 

The street-side shop had plenty of customers all day, and the three began to their keep with the Sinclair Wagon. The day was fairly long, and almost a bit boring, though there were plenty of folk around to see and talk to.

Due to his appearance and his pleasant nature, Buwaro had attracted a few stares, which he managed to take in stride by politely answering questions honestly, and as fully as he could. Surprisingly, no trouble started about the boy being a Demon, though Heathcliff noted one young lady, a Khamega, approached the stands because of him wasn't even looking at the wares at first. Finally, as Rhea was heading to the wagon to help restock, the woman asked, "Is that...I mean, are you...real? Or is that just a costume?"

"Uh, yeah, I'm real," Buwaro said, smiling sheepishly. "In the way you mean. And yes, so is Snowy."

The woman took a moment to compose herself, seeing Kieri was holding his hand to reassure the young man. "That doesn't seem...possible," she muttered.

"Why?" Buwaro asked, frowning. "Honestly, we're all people here."

"Not what I heard," the woman said, looking away with a grimace.

Buwaro's eyes closed as he frowned deeper. "So you're telling me Demons aren't even seen as people," he sighed.

"Well, you do tempt innocents and destroy their souls," she replied. "And Angels are supposed to be the fight against that."

"Who told you that nonsense?" Kieri asked, curling her lip.

"R-Reverend Gallard wouldn't lie!" the woman balked.

"But he's still wrong," Kieri pressed. "An Angel's duties depend on their clan. Some take care of the saintly, others fight in the War, still others craft items of power and armaments. And no, Demons don't actively tempt Medians – who would trust them?" she asked rhetorically. "After all, the Great War was a bigger PR nightmare for them than anything that has ever happened to anyone."

"I seem to recall Death talking to R...uh, talking about reincarnation?" Buwaro said, puzzling the memory over.

"Huh?" Kieri asked. "You really met him, then? Well, yes – Median souls usually reincarnate after their reward – or punishment – is done."

"Hm." Buwaro frowned, crossing his arms in thought.

"But..." The woman frowned. "That doesn't make sense," she protested. "The cycle seems almost pointless then."

Kieri grimaced and shrugged helplessly, looking away. "Our Gods are not perfect," she admitted. "If they were, the Great War would never have started."

"How did it start?" Buwaro asked.

"According to records," Kieri replied sadly, "Demons invaded Medius for some reason, and we retaliated."

"I've heard tales that Syndel was being rejected as evil back before the Great War even started," Rhea piped up, "despite being part of how Medius was even made. So for all we know he was just trying to stop the stupid, and ended up making more of it."

"...I've heard that old tale, too," the woman said, frowning. "I don't know how anyone could take it seriously."

Kieri frowned. "You don't think it's possible, then?" she asked. "It's not like anyone in Heaven knows these days – they don't care. Just fear and hatred of their enemies. I felt that way once, until Buwaro here showed me kindness beyond anything I'd ever seen before."

"A Demon, kind?" the woman scoffed. "You must have led a pretty horrible life until now."

"She did," Buwaro growled, incensed at the memory, before squeezing his eyes shut and looking away. "Tell me," he asked almost flippantly, "if Demons aren't people, where do they come from?"

"Th-they're made by Syndel," she seemed to recite, "directly spawned from his evil power, and Gaia does the same for the holy Angels."

Buwaro stared at her in both pity and disgust, before laughing bitterly. "Oh I wish," he groaned, turning back to the woman. "Snowy here was born. She has a twin brother. And a mother who..." The Fire Demon's eyes glowed with anger as he thought about the woman. "Let's just say I want her to suffer for what she did to my friend here." The Khamega backed away a step, surprised at the sudden vitriol, as the glow faded from Buwaro's eyes. "I told you, she led a pretty horrible life until now," he shrugged, still angry. "As for me, I never knew my parents. I hatched all alone, basically."

"...hatched?" the woman asked, stupefied.

"Yeah, hatched," Buwaro huffed, starting to get irritated. "It's a blessing that I didn't have my head filled with lies about Angels, but I still wish I'd had someone around when I was little. Rhea says I'm clingy because I didn't have enough people to hug me when I was little."

"But...but you're...I mean," the woman stammered.

Buwaro grimaced, glancing at the crowd that had gathered around their little debate. His eyes turned to the woman. "Your head's been filled with lies too," he said. "I don't blame you for it. What I'm concerned about is what you'll do with those lies."

He stood up and stalked into the wagon to cool down. As he left, he heard the woman mumble something, then heard Kieri say something angrily. Once inside, he laid down on the bedroll and tried to calm down. After a moment, he heard the door open behind him, and Kieri knelt by him and put a hand on his shoulder. "It's alright, Buwaro," she sighed.

"No, it's not," he grumbled. "People believe this weird crap about us. Like they don't even think we can think for ourselves."

"Most Medians are very surprised by that when they arrive in Heaven, yes," Kieri replied quietly.

The boy grimaced. "...is there any point, then? To trying to fight against this stupid war? Will anyone care enough?"

Kieri frowned deeply. "I hope so. But even if they don't...we have to try, or it won't happen either way." Buwaro sighed through his nose, unsure how to respond, and Kieri simply stroked his head.

When the two returned to the shop almost twenty minutes later, Heathcliff glanced over, looking fairly pleased. "I'm glad you didn't let it get to you publicly," he told them. "Seems like you're a little sore over it, though."

"Can you blame me?" Buwaro grimaced.

"Not really," the merchant replied. "Problem is, there are people who will. It's best to learn to hold that temper." Buwaro nodded, now feeling down again. "It'll come in time," Heathcliff shrugged. "Just remember you can't hit anyone for being an asshole."

"I know that much," the boy snorted.

 


 

 

Several hours running the stall passed. Eventually, an older Human, probably in his mid-60s, dressed in a plain set of monk's robes, came up to the table, staring intently at Buwaro and Kieri. He quietly watched them for a moment, his bright brown eyes examining them very closely. His stare, though gentle and nonthreatening, was enough to make the couple nervous. Finally, he said, "I never thought I'd see this day."

"Huh?" Buwaro asked. Kieri nervously fingered her sword under the table.

"I have seen strange things," the man said, "things that many would never believe. Things that boggle my mind to this day. But I had hoped this day would come – when a shadow would learn to dance with the light." He smiled sadly. "I am blessed and cursed to live in these times – blessed to see that the bitterest of enemies can truly fall in love, and cursed because times are about to become far too interesting for these old bones."

Kieri blinked. "Curse? Interesting?" she asked, confused.

"An old curse from another land," he said, "is to say, 'May you live in interesting times.' That's besides the point, though." He straightened a bit, as if preparing to speak of something of a weighted nature. "Young lady, young man, I have seen your peoples suffer from the conflict you have. More than that, I have seen a future where you finally allow each other's wounds to heal, and even help each other to recover. I had feared the day would never come for you, but it seems that it will finally happen."

Buwaro blinked. "Then, you're a prophecy?"

The man paused. "I uh, I believe you mean prophet."

"Yeah, that," the boy replied sheepishly.

The man stared at the boy for a moment, then finally chuckled. "Yes, of a sort. In any case," he said, "you, boy, will need a title. Any nobleman worth their salt has one, and a Duke such as yourself has power in his title."

"A title?" Buwaro asked, swallowing nervously. He wasn't sure if he should ask how the man knew about his "position."

"It is said that each Duke had an elaborate phrase that was associated with their power and status," Heathcliff said slowly, "one that could strike fear into their enemies just by announcing it. It was said that any who served the Duke could also draw on that name's power, with their master's blessing." He watched the prophet closely, obviously concerned.

"More than that," the prophet stated, seeming to ignore Heathcliff's nervousness. "The Duke's title could bring the weight of destiny itself onto his promises, and bind the land to his will that he may have a home where his power was greater."

Kieri shivered slightly. "That would be incredible. How would he...?"

"I do not know, myself," the man shrugged, "but the boy could find it out himself if he had his title."

Buwaro closed his eyes, thinking. "You said," he murmured, "that I was a shadow that danced with light." The words held a weight as he spoke them, and a few people passing on the street turned to him as he said them. He smiled at the words. "The Shadow That Dances With Light," he replied, more firmly.

The prophet nodded with a sad smile, seeming to understand. "Destiny will be a difficult thing to stand before, with such a title," he said quietly. "I wish you the best of luck, and the blessings of all the Gods," he said with a bow. With that, he purchased an irregular pearl that Heathcliff had and left them to be.

Rhea had deliberately not spoken until he left. "Weird guy," she muttered. Buwaro didn't pay her much mind. Instead, he found that the phrase was on his mind often for the rest of the day. He was sure this was meant to be his title. But how exactly did it work? He supposed he'd find out eventually.

Hopefully not too soon – it sounded like he'd be involved in stopping the Stupid War, which meant he'd be involved in the War itself. He shivered to think of it.

 


 

 

As the day ended, the stall was packed up for the night. The trio were in the wagon, eating and talking about the day. After a while though, Buwaro noticed the dark expression on Kieri's face as she sat by herself in the corner of the wagon. The best course of action, he decided, was to cuddle up to her, and though she was surprised, all that mattered to him was her pain.

He desperately wished he could take away whatever pain she was feeling inside. If only he could...

"What's wrong, Buwaro?" she asked quietly.

"Just wishing I could make it so whatever was hurting you stopped," he replied.

Rhea glanced up, nodding quietly. "You've got friends here, you know," she said. "If you have something that you need to get off your chest, say it."

Kieri hesitated to even speak, but finally decided that she should explain. Apparently, she'd had an argument with Kazai before they got separated, and that they hadn't gotten a chance to make up before Lazuli attacked. She had begun to feel some doubts, and was considering the possibility that, perhaps, she was looking for someone who didn't want to see her again.

Buwaro grimaced. "Kieri," he said quietly, "do you think your...experience with your mom is making you think these things?"

Rhea nodded. "I'd say so. I dunno much about psychology, but I know that, according to the guys who do know it, your childhood and how you're treated during that time shapes you, for better or for worse."

Kieri was about to speak, but then hesitated, thinking about that. "You think...you think I'm wrong?" she asked quietly.

"If you're right," Buwaro said, "then I'd say you're better off without him, or anyone else in your family. But I'm gonna bet – and hope – that you're wrong." He smiled sadly. "Don't give up on yourself."

"Thank you," Kieri smiled, hugging Buwaro and Rhea both. "I couldn't ask for better friends."

"Well, I mean, you could," Rhea joked, "but that'd be like asking for the moons." They all chuckled at that.

 


 

 

The next morning, Rhea told Kieri that seeking people out was doable with her nose, not just with her eyes – she assumed Kieri's brother would smell similar to her, since they were twins. Kieri blinked. "That...okay," she said, not sure how it worked.

"Heck, Buwaro's nose could probably help too, who knows?" Rhea grinned, taking a few whiffs of the air. She started. "Is that who I think it is?" she muttered, looking under the wagon, and dragging out a familiar face. "Jake? What're you doin' here?" she asked.

"Wasn't he the guy from the clothing shop?" Buwaro asked.

"Good to see you too, Snake," Jake grinned. "I got a delivery job. Now, about you – I heard you were dead, like a year ago?"

Rhea laughed, obviously faking. "Who told you that bunk?" she asked.

"Ramirez wrote to me for the first time in a year," Jake snorted. "'Sides, you've got Angels and Demons all over the place. What's going on?"

Rhea sighed. "Yeah, I...I was murdered. I've still got the scar. I, uh, actually met Buwaro here first," she admitted.

Jake nodded, then started when he got what she meant by her previous statement. "Okay, wow. Shit."

"So what was with that suit?" Buwaro asked suddenly. "The one Rhea had the freak-out over? A couple of bandits came at me over it, said something about money?" Jake stared at Buwaro, then began laughing. "What?!" Buwaro asked, feeling a bit hurt by his laughter.

"They actually – oh Gods they thought you really were a pimp!" he guffawed, collapsing from his laughter.

Buwaro got him to stop after about a minute by kicking his side. It was only once, it was gently, but it was enough. "Stop laughing at me," he grumbled.

"Ow, sheesh. Careful with those claws," Jake chuckled, standing up.

Kieri piped up at that moment. "Um, Jake, was it? Would you, perhaps, mind helping us out? If you don't have to be home anytime soon," she amended.

"Nah, I'm good," he grinned. "You mind, Rhea?"

"Heathcliff shouldn't," she shrugged. "If he does, well, we can vouch for ya."

"Thanks, Snake," the blond Human grinned. "So, your names?" he asked Rhea's friends.

"Buwaro Elexion," Buwaro smiled. "I'm adopted, it's a long story."

"Kieri Suizahn," Kieri said with a bow. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Jake chuckled. "You don't have to be that formal, sweetheart," he said sheepishly.

"I wouldn't try it if I were you," Rhea smirked. "Buwaro's got a claim on that territory."

"A patch of land?" Buwaro asked. "I didn't – I didn't buy a place, did I?" he asked Kieri.

"I think Rhea means me," Kieri chuckled, and Jake snapped his fingers in disappointment. Buwaro blushed as he realized what they actually meant, laughing weakly.

 


 

 

In time, the group had set up shop again, Heathcliff placing the Rainbow Reverie out on display. Customers came and went all day, word having spread of the potions themselves.

About mid-afternoon, after a glaring, pale-green-scaled Wind Demon walked past their shop in the street, an Earth Angel with an ornery expression came to the stand, glaring at Buwaro. Buwaro stared back, frowning, not feeling very intimidated, though still nervous that this one would try something violent like Denevol originally had.

[Soundtrack 14: Tenser and Tenser]

The two boys held their gazes to each other for some time, Buwaro grimacing as the Angel continued to glare at him. He was starting to actually get angry. Finally, Heathcliff stepped in. "May I help you?" he asked evenly.

"What is this Demon even doing here?" the Angel asked, not taking his eyes off of Buwaro.

"Earning his keep," Heathcliff replied.

The Angel snorted. "You are risking a lot by keeping this monster here."

Buwaro frowned as he stood up. Much to everyone's surprise, he walked around the stall and slowly stalked into the Angel's space, pushing the would-be attacker back with merely his intrusion, his huge, black wings slowly flaring out to his sides. The Angel became more and more intimidated as Buwaro drove him further back, and the crowd watched in concern, some even stopping a ways from the actual fight. Finally, Buwaro stopped driving the Angel back about fifteen strides from the booth, standing still.

He then retracted his wings, turned around, and walked back to take his seat again, smiling pleasantly at the passersby. Several folk chuckled at his attitude of dismissal.

The Angel blushed, feeling humiliated. Angrily, he prepared to storm back over, and was stopped by a friend, a Wind Angel. {You shouldn't push him any further,} the Wind Angel said in their own tongue, grabbing his friend's shoulder. {I think he's actually trying to not hurt you.}

{Why would it do that?} the Earth Angel asked incredulously. {It's a Demon, for crying out loud.}

{And he has been nothing but kind to me since he's met me,} Kieri retorted. {Unlike you, he's a complete gentleman.}

"You need to teach me how to speak Angelic sometime," Buwaro chuckled nervously.

"I'd like to learn too," Rhea piped up.

{You don't understand, do you?} the Earth Angel sighed, irritated. {Why would it do anything 'nice' without some ulterior motive? It's obviously trying to corrupt you, and apparently it's gotten pretty far on its attempt!}

Kieri stared at him, before her gaze dropped, and she began shaking. Buwaro, seeing this, gently put a hand on her shoulder. "Rhea, give her a hug," he said quietly, before standing up and stalking towards the Earth Angel again. The Angel quickly prepared a Light spell in his hand, and sent it forward at Buwaro, the Fire Demon stepping aside and letting it fizzle out behind him. Still walking forward calmly, he shot a fireball into the Angel's face, sending him stumbling back a step from shock. By the time he'd recovered, Buwaro was atop him, and had grabbed his wrist tightly. "I don't know what you said," he snarled as the Earth Angel struggled to try and free himself, "and I don't care. You hurt my friend. Do it again and I'll take this arm for my own." He jerked on the wrist for emphasis.

{Tevasta,} the Wind Angel whimpered, {you might want to concede.}

"I will never surrender to a monster like you!" the Earth Angel snapped defiantly. "You'd sooner destroy this city and everyone in it!"

Buwaro was hurt by the accusation, but he didn't show it, still glaring at the man before him. Finally, he closed his eyes. "If I can do no right, because I'm a Demon," he said quietly, "then how do I not be a Demon?" The Angel blinked, as if surprised, though Buwaro didn't see it. "Do you not care that people are people, that we have our own beliefs, our hopes, our dreams?"

His eyes opened, glowing with rage. "If you're stupid enough to believe that line, then you're stupid enough to keep the Stupid War going, and I want nothing to do with you." He let go of the man's arm, his teeth grit into the most horrendous snarl the Angel could imagine. "I want nothing more than the end of that war. People like you are the reason it continues, killing people every day. People like you are the ones that will bring ruin to this city, not me."

[Soundtrack 10: The Noble Duke of Hell]

Finally, Buwaro took a deep breath. "Because on my name, as the Shadow That Dances With Light, I vow today, here, now, to end the 'Great War'. I vow to not let any more innocent blood be spilt, so long as I can prevent it. I vow that people who do not care who suffers, that people who care only to kill their 'enemy,' be my eternal foes."

The entire crowd could feel the weight of Destiny wrap around his words – everyone knew there was power in his speech. Somehow, he'd made a vow that would punish him for defying it – and everyone knew the legends of the words of a dreaded Duke of Hell. Murmurs began to ripple through them as the Earth Angel's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. "Y...you...you're a..."

"Very, very angry Duke," Buwaro confirmed, glaring down. "Run away, coward. Return only when you are willing to see what harm you cause." He then turned to his Wind Angel friend, eyes softening considerably, before he bowed in the Angelic style. "You, however, are free to come by whenever."

The Wind Angel blinked, having already been in a semi-cringing state, as he heard Buwaro's words. "You...but you said..."

"Do you intend to kill Demons, and damn the consent-messes?" Buwaro asked.

"C-consequences?" the Angel asked.

Buwaro paused, before sinking his forehead into his hand. "That," he replied quietly.

"Th-then no," the man said.

"Then you are not my enemy," Buwaro replied. "And just as any who fights the War for Heaven is my enemy, so is any who fights the War for Hell. I refuse to allow it to continue, to hurt anyone else."

"B-but you're a Duke!" the Earth Angel protested. "You're a symbol of the evil we fight! How can you claim to protect innocents?"

"Because I actually will," Buwaro snapped back. "Do you know nothing? Even I know that a Duke's word, given on his name, is his bond, and I grew up knowing nothing. I know what kind of suffering you and I can cause, what we have caused, and I say that enough is enough. If anyone here is evil, it's you, for not understanding, for not caring, that people are getting hurt because of a war I want no part of!" he bellowed. "Even if you don't care that Demons have families and friends that they don't want to see die, the Medians suffer because of your stupid War! What kind of 'true, decent, and good' Angel are you?!" he roared.

The silence that echoed after the shout was even more deafening than the words. Finally, murmurs came from the crowd.

"He's right – a Duke's word is their bond."

"But he's still a Demon, right?"

"If so, I don't think that Angel is a very good one."

"Well, if an Angel can fall, can a Demon rise?"

"Ha...that's a legend if I ever heard one."

The Earth Angel, shaking, humiliated, fled the scene on his pearlescent wings. "And don't come back!" Buwaro shouted after him. Shaking with fury, he stalked away, towards the wagon. "I need to cool it," he grumbled as he passed Kieri.

The young woman grabbed his arm and pulled him into a hug. "It's okay," she said finally. "It's okay. You did just fine."

It took a moment for him to hug her back. He shook with fear and grief, feeling sick to his stomach. He wasn't sure he could keep anything down for much longer. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I'm sorry."

"You don't need to apologize," Kieri murmured. "You haven't done anything wrong. You've stood up to a bully. That's all."

The crowd departed, the rumors already beginning to circulate of the kind Demon, the Duke of Hell who strove for peace.

They were even in Buwaro's favor.

Chapter Text

Thankfully, the rumors of Buwaro's presence, the existence of a Duke, didn't drive business too far down, as apparently it also got around that his intentions were peaceful. A few people even came by just to see if the rumors were true. Buwaro managed to hold back his concern, having already gone through a trial by fire and come out only singed.

Of course, Toby, the Mixling Hukai that was hanging around Sammy, was a bit more wary of the Fire Demon now, and many of the other Medians seemed nervous to be around him too long. Buwaro tried not to feel too self-conscious over it.

Further, it seemed there was now an undercurrent of fear. It appeared that the vow had gotten people to realize that the Demons and Angels walking around were not, in fact, Medians in costumes, and that worse, the Great War was back on.

As the afternoon dragged on, closing in on evening, the crowd suddenly began to part on the way to the Sinclair shop, those in the way giving little murmurs of surprise and fear. Kieri and Buwaro tensed for a moment, then gaped as they saw the incoming faces – those of two Angels.

Kazai Suizahn, and Zahariah Sanjulo.

It took Kieri a moment to stand up. {Kazai?} she called, stepping around Buwaro and into plain view.

Kazai blinked as the two Angels halted. {K-Kieri?!} he breathed. {What are you doing here?! There's a Duke right behind you!}

{Y-yes, I know! Please, just give me a moment,} she replied.

{What could possibly be so important?!} he shouted. {This is the fate of all of Heaven at stake!}

{It's not!} Kieri protested. {Buwaro has saved my life twice now!}

{Who is Buwaro?} Zahariah asked, frowning. Kieri hesitantly jerked her head backwards. Both boys glanced at each other. {Him?} the Fire Angel asked, obviously disbelieving.

{I know you think it's impossible, but – }

{Think nothing!} Kazai shouted, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her once. {Those monsters never do anything without an ulterior motive!}

{You haven't spoken to him,} Kieri managed, somewhere between a whimper and a snap. {He's been nothing but gentle and kind to me. The only violence I've seen from him is the Angel that was threatening him earlier today, and the Angel that tried to kill us because we were friends. And that one, he managed to convince him to not do so anymore.}

{To avoid his just desserts,} Kazai frowned, gently pushing his sister aside. {I don't know what hold you have over my sister,} he snarled, {but I will end it now.}

Buwaro frowned, glancing to Kieri, then back to Kazai. He then began to pantomime, shaking his head, pointing to his jaw, and then at Kazai: "No, speak, Angelic," he said as he mimed his words.

Kazai frowned deeply. {He doesn't speak Angelic?} he asked Kieri.

{Not a word,} she replied, looking down. {He barely knows how to read Lingo.}

{...okay then,} Kazai grumbled, massaging his sinuses. {Zahariah, would you translate? I don't trust my sister to not try to paint this monster in a better light.}

{I don't know that much,} Zahariah protested.

{Kazai!} Kieri shouted, dismayed.

{Well?} he asked. {Do you really expect me to believe you're not being corrupted by this fiend?}

{You mean the 'fiend' that showed her kindness and threatened to beat the feces out of the mother that abused her?} All eyes turned to Heathcliff Sinclair, who looked even more irritated than usual. {He was furious that she'd been hurt by her own parent, to the point where I think he'd honestly try to kill her. And I wonder if you'd blame him for that,} he snapped in perfect Angelic, {solely because he hurt an Angel.}

Calming himself during their moment of shock, he continued, {The boy has been nothing but respectful and polite to me. He saved a fairy from a fairy dealer, with some help; he fought someone and nearly killed them because he thought the person in question had killed your sister; and he has no love for the Great War that, quote, 'means that we aren't even supposed to be friends.' I once would have agreed with you, but the boy before you has never done anything even morally questionable.}

{But...that's impossible,} Zahariah protested. {That is what Demons are for crying out loud!}

{And a Median is more easily corrupted than any Angel,} Kazai replied angrily.

{If that's what you believe, you know nothing,} Heathcliff said darkly.

 

[Soundtrack 02: Fight For Your Life]

 

Kazai roared in anger and lashed out with a blast of Water magic, directly towards Heathcliff. The man countered the spell with a fireball, but Kazai began preparing a bolt of frost a split second later, blasting the man in the chest and knocking him back. Buwaro leaped over the stand to tackle Kazai, and the young Angel was startled enough to be knocked down. The boys wrestled, but Buwaro managed to get on top and sit atop Kazai's chest, pinning his arms to the sides. "Stop it!" he shouted angrily.

Zahariah blasted Buwaro with Fire magic, but the boy didn't even feel it; only his jacket was singed. {What – oh no,} he groaned, drawing his punching daggers.

{Zahariah, stop!} Kieri shouted, grabbing his arm before he hurt Buwaro.

{Kieri, he's going to kill Kazai!} Zahariah shouted back.

{He's not!} Kieri protested. {Look at him!}

Zahariah looked – Buwaro hadn't done anything but pin Kazai. The Water Angel was squalling and struggling, but the Fire Demon had done nothing to retaliate. {Kazai,} Zahariah finally sighed. {If he wanted you dead, he would have done so by now.}

{That just means he intends to corrupt us, too!} Kazai snapped.

{Kazai, please,} Kieri pleaded. {You don't know what he's like. If you had bothered to learn Lingo and talk to people instead of trying to kill them, maybe you'd understand!}

{Don't lecture me!} the boy shouted, appalled. {You would side with a monster over your own brother!}

{I – } Kieri squeaked, before shaking and falling to her knees, only to begin sobbing.

Kazai winced. {Kieri, please, I didn't – }

Kazai was hauled up by a very angry Buwaro. "You hurt her," he snarled, eyes glowing brightly, the pupils still clearly visible despite that, his teeth visibly grit. Kazai gulped, before he was bodily thrown across the street. "YOU HURT HER!" Buwaro shouted. "YOUR OWN SISTER, YOU HURT HER!" He charged at Kazai, slamming him into a wall with a headbutt and pinning him there.

"Buwaro, stop!" Heathcliff shouted as the Fire Demon grabbed Kazai's throat. "Don't do it."

Buwaro paused, still full of rage, but let go of the Angel's throat, before grabbing his ear and hauling him back over to Kieri. "Heathcliff," he said, "tell this punk he's going to apologize to his sister, and he's going to stay away from her for a while. If he doesn't stay away from her, I'm going to throw him out."

Heathcliff grimaced, then translated. Kazai looked taken aback. {Why is he – }

{Because he's mad you hurt his friend,} Heathcliff replied. {That's what he was shouting at you, by the way.}

Kazai grimaced, before Buwaro shoved him forward and down before Kieri. The girl gasped in surprise. Kazai gulped. {...he...I...I'm sorry, Kieri,} he murmured quietly. {I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to hurt you. I...I will leave, if you want.}

Buwaro finally let him up, and Kieri, beginning to tear up again, hugged her brother tightly. {I don't want you to leave!} she bawled. {I just want you to understand...}

Buwaro stepped back as they continued to talk. Zahariah hesitated for a moment as he listened, before saying, "Thank you."

The young Duke blinked, before nodding. "You're welcome, and thank you," he replied quietly. He then walked back to the wagon, heading towards the door. He was already pretty worn out by the whole day.

He barely remembered his head hitting the pillow.

 


 

 

About an hour had passed before Buwaro woke back up. "Good evening, little one," a voice said, and Buwaro shook his head as he looked up at a dark-skinned man in a tuxedo with red highlights. He stared for a moment, while the man chuckled. "To think there's really a Duke on Medius, and with such peaceful intentions," he said.

Buwaro wasn't exactly a genius, but as he stood up, it occurred to him that the color scheme reminded him of something Rhea had shown him in a book – and then he recalled that there was a Guardian that Heathcliff wanted him to meet. "Meeros, I presume?" he asked, smiling and offering his hand. "I'm Buwaro Elexion."

The man blinked, then laughed. "Well, aren't you sharp!" he confirmed, shaking Buwaro's hand. "I've already heard about you – been in a few scuffles, ah?"

Buwaro grimaced, looking away. "Yeah, I've been a bit too irritable lately," he muttered.

"Oh come now," Meeros chuckled, "everyone loses it once in a while. Maybe being a Duke is like a second puberty for all we know."

"A second wha – oh right," Buwaro blushed. "Uh...wow I hope not." Meeros began to laugh, almost doubling over in his amusement. "Oh hush," the young Duke frowned, gently pushing against the top of Meeros's head.

The Guardian fell over, soon finishing his laughter. "You had to recall what – oh Gods that's too much!" he sighed, content with his chuckles. Standing up, he said, "Well, young man, I'm glad you do know what I'm talking about."

"It's a recent development," Buwaro grumbled. "I kinda grew up without anyone around."

"Oh," Meeros replied, sobering instantly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to dig at old wounds."

"You didn't," Buwaro shrugged. "It's not like it was hard living. You don't exactly need food in Hell, so..."

"Oh, fair enough," the man sighed. "At least you're not bitter about it."

Buwaro frowned. "Why would I be?" he asked, confused and concerned.

"Well," Meeros said with some hesitation, "certainly most Angels are bitter over losing their families, and I'd imagine it would be the same with Demons."

"I never got to know mine," the boy admitted. "The only family I know is adoptive – my brother and sister. I never got to meet the dad that adopted us."

"I see," Meeros frowned, pitying the boy. "I'm sorry to hear that."

Buwaro then heard Angelic being spoken outside. He peeked out to see Kazai reading Darius's diary with Kieri. "Is everything okay?" he asked Kieri, his voice hard from worry.

"It's fine, Buwaro," she smiled back. "Kazai just got to the part where Darius adopted Iratu."

"...oh," Buwaro grimaced. "...that reminds me," he muttered. "Do you think..." He gently fingered his Star Pendant.

Kieri blinked. "...I hope it's okay," she murmured softly.

 


 

 

Eventually, Heathcliff returned to the wagon, sharing the news of his new daughter. While Rhea and Jake were out partying from the news of the baby, Florina Sinclair, Buwaro spent the evening practicing Angelic with Kieri. Zahariah knew a few basic Lingo words, and used them to practice with Buwaro. Kazai began to feel left out, and asked his boyfriend if he had any pointers on Lingo. Soon, all three of them were learning a language from Kieri, much to her surprise. She'd have never expected she'd be such a good teacher.

It probably helped that she had a much better teacher-to-student ratio than her own school, but it was still a huge boost in confidence.

They practiced long into the night, and even into the morning, using caffeine from their tea to stay awake. Heathcliff offered them energy potions to help them stay active for the day, though he joked it would "come out of their paychecks." Buwaro had taken him seriously, offering an apology, embarrassed as he could be. Heathcliff had waved it off, informing them that he was joking.

The actual morning began with Jake and Rhea quite hung over, the two unable to hear anything without wincing. Kieri and Buwaro decided to let them be, to avoid causing too much trouble. As they began to work the stand, this time with Kazai and Zahariah nearby, Buwaro and Kieri spoke to each other in Angelic for the young man's practice.

After a while, though, Buwaro fell silent, looking as if he'd just thought of something. "Kieri?" he asked. "What would be the Angelic words for my title thing?"

Kieri blinked, then remembered what he'd said the day before to the Earth Angel that had attacked them. After she told him her closest estimate for a translation, he murmured the words a few times, thinking about them as he tried to memorize the sequence.

{Learning Angelic?} a familiar voice asked. Both turned to see Kinako and Sahne, along with her son Tirol and a Water Demon they'd seen wandering around. Kinako had been the one to speak. "I came by to apologize personally," she said with a deep bow to the lovebirds.

"It's alright," Kieri said quietly. "It's been a stressful...month. Or two, I guess."

{What's wrong, Kieri?} Kazai asked. {Who are these two?}

{We...had an argument a couple days ago,} Kieri replied, trying to keep the peace. {Kinako, my brother Kazai, and his friend Zahariah Sanjulo. Kazai, this is Kinako, her son Tirol, and her friends Sahne and...?} She paused at the Water Demon.

{L-Lakritz,} he replied, surprised. "And here you thought those two were just 'bloodthirsty ruffians,'" he teased Kinako. The woman blushed a bit from embarrassment.

After a moment of puzzling the words out, Kazai frowned and grumbled, "I resemble that remark." Everyone began to laugh. "What?" he asked, confused.

"Resent," Sahne chuckled. {You said 'resemble,' not resent. And that's actually a joke people use at times.} Kazai groaned and facepalmed, while Zahariah rubbed his friend's head in sympathy.

Sahne sighed as the Angels and Buwaro began to talk to each other, the words somewhat awkward due to Kazai being unused to Demons, and Kinako being concerned about the two young men with Kieri and Buwaro. "Should we?" she asked Lakritz quietly.

Her partner looked at her in confusion, then surprise, before grimacing. "Maybe," he replied, just as lowly. "I think they should know, but I don't know if it's good to tell them just, outright, you know?"

"I guess," Sahne replied, "but how else are they gonna know?"

Lakritz nodded, and was about to speak when a pair of Jakkai approached the table, asking about wares. They stepped aside, waiting to speak with Buwaro and Kieri. A moment later, though, Heathcliff came back with Miranda and Flo, and the proud parents quickly worked out some deals, while Meeros came by and told Buwaro and Kieri to go enjoy the festival, much to Heathcliff's dismay.

It all happened so fast that the two Demons weren't able to tell their new friends what would happen soon. Sahne looked to Lakritz meaningfully, who merely nodded. He went looking for them, hoping they could warn the two lovebirds, while Sahne walked with Kinako and Tirol, praying she wouldn't have to protect them today.

Preferably any other day, either, but she wasn't about to ask for two miracles.

 


 

 

The pair in question were wandering the town, enjoying the sights. However, Buwaro's mind kept drifting back to the cloudy day. "Something's wrong," he said quietly. "I haven't been up here long enough to see this season thing before, but it seems off to me."

"I agree," Kieri replied, suddenly glad she'd taken her sword with her today. "We should be on guard."

"Yeah," the young man murmured.

The carnival was bustling, though people tended to part the way for Buwaro and Kieri. Mostly for the obvious Duke they'd heard rumors about, but the presence of what was, by all accounts, an actual Angel was a little intimidating too. Murmurs sounded around them at times, and Buwaro eventually heard a louder few.

"So she's really an Angel?"

"Looks like it. But why's she with the Duke?"

"Did he somehow corrupt her?"

"I dunno. He seemed to not really want to hurt anyone, unless they hurt him."

"Hah, a Demon for self-defense? And a Duke at that?"

"I heard he got in a fight because someone was yelling at the girl with him."

"So wait, he really means it?"

"He vowed to protect people from the Great War, and end it..."

"Wait, a Duke's vows are their bond, aren't they...?"

Buwaro grimaced, feeling more than a bit self-conscious. He had just put on a brave face when he felt something tug his tail gently, and he jumped.

He glanced back to see a Jakkai child, who had backed away clumsily and fallen to his butt. Buwaro sighed, kneeling and facing the boy with a soft smile. "Hello there," he said. "That was my tail."

The boy looked away. "Sorry," he mumbled lamely. "But I didn't think it was real..."

The father rushed in at that moment, standing before the Demon as if protecting his son with his own body. "P-please have mercy," he managed. "He's just a child, he didn't mean any harm."

Buwaro blinked, straightening and feeling nervous. Was this how everyone was going to react now? If that was the case, he didn't like it.

 

[Soundtrack 01: Awakened Resolve]

 

'So why not start to change it?' he realized, remembering his resolution in the hospital in Weyville. "I wasn't going to hurt him," he said quietly. "I didn't even mean to scare him, actually. I'm not like most Demons. Heck, I don't think most Demons are what you think they are." All eyes had turned to him by this point. "I mean, yeah, some of us are mean, I've met a few like that. Maybe even most of them are like that. I know one I've met didn't have a lot other than hurting people on her mind.

"But it's not like we don't have people we care about. Friends and family we'd protect. I mean, what's this man doing for his son, right now?" he asked rhetorically, gesturing to the two Jakkai. Murmurs sounded in the crowd as it started to dawn on some people. "It's like that.

"We have people we care about, and we'd fight and even...even die to defend them." He grimaced at the stammer, but decided to press on. "Honestly, I think that's the reason the 'Great War' has gone way too far, on both ends – someone gets killed, that person has friends. They kill the guy who hurt their friend, who had friends too. It's a viscous cycle. Uh, vicious," he corrected himself. "But yeah, I've been calling it the Stupid War for about three weeks now."

"Then, you've kept fighting all this time? Because of those you've lost?" the father asked, surprised.

"Well, honestly, I wasn't even aware the Stupid War existed until like two months ago," Buwaro admitted, "but yeah, I think that's honestly why we keep fighting – because we've lost someone close to us, on both sides.

"And it gets worse, it's like they think the same way about their 'enemy' that you do about us – that we're just killers and can-bulls, or whatever the word is. That we're not even capable of thinking, just doing, like evil animals or something stupid like that. Not just Angels to Demons, but the other way around, too." He grimaced as he thought about his own experiences with that. "I met an Angel who thought that at first. He nearly killed Sno – Kieri, here, just because she was my friend. I barely got him to stop, and I'm not really proud of how I did it."

Silence had settled over the crowd. "I know people think of Demons poorly. Maybe they're right to sometimes, but you're right to think of some Medians, even some Angels, poorly too. Not everyone's a bad person, not everyone's a good person, but there are some of each everywhere, and some that aren't really either. There's bad Angels, I'm sure, just as I'm sure there are kind and gentle Demons."

"Besides you?" Kieri asked, half-teasing.

Buwaro smiled. "Besides me, yeah. I sure hope so," he admitted ruefully.

"Either way, I can't speak for all Demons," he continued to the crowd. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself – if the old man was right, this would work too. If his Title gave his words such weight, then maybe they'd work for words that weren't threats. "But on my honor as a Duke – as the Shadow that Dances With Light – I swear that I mean no harm to Medians, or Medius, or Angels or Heaven, or Demons or Hell. If they mean me harm, I will fight back – but otherwise, I don't have a dog in that fight. Whatever that means.

"Moreover, I swear that I will stop the Stupid War, without blood if possible. If I have to fight, if I have to kill, I swear to only fight those who harm me, or my friends, or innocents, and to kill only when I don't have a choice. Children, people who won't fight – I won't hurt them, and I swear to protect them if they need it."

The words seemed to echo through the clearing as his vow reached the ears of the crowd, carrying a weight that Buwaro knew was his to bear alone. And yet, he felt no burden – rather, it felt affirming, like he was simply putting to words what he really wanted to do, deep down.

And then he saw Kieri's face, and the fear she had for him – as if worried that he was in danger now. He could tell that she felt the weight too – perhaps everyone had. She hugged him tightly, and he hugged her back, comforting her. The murmurs picked up again, though Buwaro could tell they were more positive now.

"A Duke that wants to defend?"

"He seems like he means it."

"They say a Duke swearing on his name can't go against their word."

"I don't think they can't, but I think it's like a magical oath."

Then, a loud voice rang out, her anger and challenge palpable. "You really think you can fool us?" All eyes turned to see a Jakkai, red of eye and glasses and with a flower in her headband. "I know plenty about your kind, Demon. I know what you monsters can do!" she yelled.

"That so?" Buwaro challenged, his voice normal of volume. He slowly let go of Kieri and walked towards her.

"You really don't get it, do you?" the Jakkai snarled as Buwaro came just outside of his own arm's reach of her. "I've seen the damage your kind does firsthand."

"And I haven't seen the damage Angels do firsthand, but I was adopted by an Angel who had, because he didn't want to hurt an unborn child," Buwaro snapped. "That's my point – what's yours?" She backed up a step as he stepped into her space, towering over her. "You are part of the problem I'm trying to stop, just as much as any other killer in the Stupid War.

"I don't mind the soldiers – I was adopted by one, Darius Elexion. He was a soldier too, not that he wanted to be one. But as long as they're trying to do the right thing, and they think about what they're actually doing, that's fine with me. I don't have any beef with those guys. It's fine if they're fighting to defend themselves, and their homes.

"My problem is with the ones like you. You spread fear and hate, when that's exactly what's causing the Stupid War to go on forever." He leaned down and glared at her, now nose to nose. "I hope for my sake you don't need protecting later," he growled, "because I really don't want to save your butt. I'm gonna anyway, but I really don't want to. I mean, you'll probably find some way to blame me for you being in danger in the first place."

He then straightened and turned to leave, leaving the Jakkai woman standing there, stunned. "That's not likely," the Jakkai managed as he joined his hand with Kieri's again. "And I wouldn't want help from a Hellspawn anyway."

Buwaro whirled angrily, ready to retort, when he saw something behind her. No, someone – a Jakkai with large cuts in his ears, cuts that looked to be sewn up. And then he saw something shiny in his hands – shiny and sharp. Thinking quickly in his panic, he rushed toward the lady to try and defend her, and she leaped back to avoid him, crashing into the cloaked Jakkai behind her.

 

[Soundtrack 11: Dangerous Battle]

 

A dagger clattered away from the assailant's hand, much to the crowd's screaming shock. As the Jakkai lady got off of her would-be assailant, the crowd's panicking turned into outright flight for most of the bystanders. Only a few lingered, unsure if there was something they could do or not, while the assassin rolled away and grabbed his dagger. He lunged for his target – the Jakkai woman who'd yelled at Buwaro, his red-and-green eyes full of anger as he rushed her.

Just as he reached her, a powerful blast of fire hit his entire body, sending him rolling away and growling in frustration. The Jakkai lady staggered back in shock, stumbling a few yards away as Buwaro finished up with his enhanced Fireball. "What was that you said about not wanting my help?" the Duke snapped. "Because too bad, you're getting it. I expect a 'thank you' later."

The Jakkai woman obviously wanted to protest, but the assassin had already leaped at Buwaro with a snarl of rage. The boy hadn't quite expected that, but he swiped his claws and slammed his whole palm into the leaping Jakkai, who grabbed a hold of the hand and stabbed deep into the Fire Demon's arm, the dagger coming out the other side of his sleeve. Buwaro howled in agony, stumbling from the killer's attack and throwing him off in his flailing. The attacking Jakkai rolled to an upright position, crouched and ready to move before he realized his dagger was still stuck in the boy.

Then, just as he noticed the shadow that had passed over him, something else went through his head. Something physical, hard, and very, very sharp.

Kieri's blade sank all the way into the dirt from the force of her stab. She let the blade go and clatter to the ground, the assassin's head lolling with it, followed by the rest of his body. Meanwhile, she rushed to Buwaro, helping him to sit down and then slowly pulling out the blade as he whimpered from the throbbing pain. Once it was free, she poured all the healing magic she could into the wound, nervous but resolute on halting his bleeding.

The Jakkai lady that had been the target stared at the two lovebirds, then hesitantly approached, watching the Angel girl care for the dazed Demon. "Um...thank you," she said finally, her voice surprisingly meek. "You risked a lot to save me from that guy, didn't you?" Buwaro stared at her, but didn't answer, his eyes unfocused. It was as if he'd heard her speak, but not the content of her words. "Um, you okay?" she asked, now concerned.

At that moment, he passed out. "Buwaro!" Kieri gasped, catching his head. For a moment, she panicked, before she remembered the wagon and all the strong people there. "Miss, please come with us – it will be best if we can protect both of you."

"Alright," she said, helping to haul the unconscious Demon along. "Oh, right, your sword is – " she began.

"I can come back for it with better numbers," Kieri interrupted, her tone almost clipped. "Now come on." The woman merely nodded, glancing back at the assassin as they left the scene in a hurry.

She wasn't sure, but she felt like there was a lot she was missing in this story.

Chapter Text

Just letting everyone know I'm having trouble writing for this.

 

I may give up on it.  Sorry D: