Last Fighter, Last Heart

Chapter 1

Sera could sense the presence of the Heart before she even walked in the door, and according to everything she knew, that should have been impossible. There weren't supposed to be anymore Hearts, at all, anywhere. Not for a long time now.

They'd all been killed when the largest swarm of dragons ever seen had attacked en masse at the Sevastopol monastery in the Crimean Peninsula, killing everyone in sight: all the Fighters, all the Hearts, and even all the Seekers, so that even if a new Heart was to be born somewhere, he or she could never be found. The dragons had wiped them out.

The Dragon-Fighters – with their ever-present Hearts – had assembled at the monastery from all over, from Dacia to Armenia, one from as far away as Macedonia. They'd come to to celebrate the Joining, when the newest class of trainee Fighters were due to join with their Hearts, thus becoming full-fledged dragon-Fighters for the first time. It was an event held only once ever five years, so they all came.

Apparently so had the dragons.

Oh, many dragons had been killed, true. An incredible number, yes, but there were always more behind them; until finally, when it was over, the monastery had become a ghost-town.

But now, four years later, Sera knew what she'd felt. She'd been a dragon-Fighter once and there was definitely a Heart somewhere around. Fighters could always sense Hearts, even if they'd lost their own. Perhaps having had a Heart and then lost him made Sera even more sensitive, because that loss was a pain to her now, supplanting the sublime pleasure it had used to be.

Inside, the room was crowded and boisterous, full of Vandal nomads from the nearby sheep-herders camp. The patrons fell silent at Sera's approach, cowed by her striking appearance and somewhat menacing expression. Sera – now a Constable of the town of Nikopole - was used to that, and concentrated on looking for the Heart. If even one had survived, it might be important.

He or she was here somewhere, in this loud and dirty room, where the air reeked with tallow-smoke, and the floor was slippery with wine, mead, and vomit. Not that it was going to do her much good even if she did find him. If it was a 'him'. Sera had lost her Heart and she could never have another one. That was just how it worked, and she was resigned to that fact.

It had happened eight years ago on the plains of Kherson, in the Crimean north. Two pods of dragons versus just her and her Heart. That was unusual, but not too worrisome for an experienced Fighter. It would have been absolute doom for a normal person, or even for a Fighter who was trained but still not Joined. For all their skill, a Fighter wasn't truly deadly until he or she had Joined with a Heart. Until they had someone to fight for.

But they were caught by surprise, in an open valley, and her Heart had nowhere to hide. She couldn't keep two pods of dragons busy enough to protect him. They hadn't expected to find any dragons that far from the mountains.

Dragons needed cliffs to take off - they were too heavy to achieve flight from level ground. The average dragon stood on its two legs about seven feet tall, and a third of that was nothing but neck. Another six feet of muscular tail dragged along behind. The tail was the dragon's primary weapon when in flight, and had sharp, hard fins with serrated edges just before the end. They could saw through the thickest bone in one swipe. Thus, a Fighter's first job was to get them out of the air.

Once grounded, a dragon was only a little less deadly. They couldn't use their tails so well, but they spit a caustic poison, and with astounding accuracy. It burned like fire if it touched skin. They always aimed for the eyes.

Still, if only it had been a single pod instead of two, she'd have had no problem. She grounded three of them in fifteen minutes by slicing through the membrane of their wings with her six-foot-long Dragon-Knife as they swooped down. Unfortunately, she did the job too well, and the dragons fell close by. There was just no way she could protect her Heart from a pod on the ground and a pod in the air at the same time.

She eventually killed them all, but by then it was too late. Her Heart was dead, and she could no longer be a Fighter. She no longer wanted to be anything at all, not even alive. As with any Fighter in that situation, she'd desperately wanted to kill herself but couldn't: because even if he was dead, her Heart wouldn't want her to. The bond was that strong.

As she wandered through the crowded inn, letting her feelings guide her, she realized something else – this Heart had already given it away. Furthermore, it wasn't broken, as hers was. That meant there must be a Fighter somewhere too. And if that was so, he or she ought to be easy to find – there ought to be a Dragon-Knife sticking up somewhere, perhaps leaning against a wall with its accompanying shield. There ought to be someone wearing chain-mail armor on their shoulders. The Fighter ought to stick out like a sore thumb.

She was close now. The Heart would be harder to spot because they had no special clothing, but they were close. Somewhere within her sight, probably. In fact, the feeling was so strong now that she should be able to reach out and touch-

The boy?

There was a boy sitting alone at a small table, his back to the stairs. He was awfully young... maybe 14. Way too young to have offered his Heart to a Fighter. It took a decade of training to be a Fighter! Even apprentices who started as early as possible were at least 20 years old by the time they were allowed to accept a Heart... The Priests would never Join a Fighter to a 14 year old kid! That would be... well, it just wasn't done! She tried to imagine what it would have been like, back when she'd Joined, if her Heart had been that young. A grown woman Joined to a child... Disgusting.

But there he was, and she knew it was true. Just being this close to him was bringing up deeply buried memories for her – memories of her husband, her love, her Heart. Memories of times that weren't cold and gray and dreary, as her life had been ever since. She hadn't smiled in eight years. She didn't smile now – even just to seem friendly. She didn't need friends. She didn't need anything, she didn't enjoy anything - even the best wine was merely something to drink. But finding a Heart... when she'd thought they were all gone... well, she needed to know more. Perhaps somehow it would give her purpose. Something to live for, rather than just to live. Sera hadn't felt anything like that for a long time.

"Never thought I'd see one of your kind again," she said, taking the chair opposite him and pulling it around to his side so that her back, too, was against the stairs. She did such things out of habit since becoming a Constable. She'd made lot of enemies.

The boy looked over and up at her questioningly, "My kind?"

"A Heart."

The boy was obviously shocked at being recognized for what he was, and looked her up and down, as if it would help him figure out how she could know. Sera's skin was a little darker than usual for a Scythian – probably due to some Asian blood – and her jet-black hair hung in a braid thrown over her left shoulder. Her features were severe, her cheekbones sharp, yet her chin rounded. Her right eye had a tell-tale almond-shape to it, while the left eye was covered by a black leather patch. Her left arm carried a small shield, round, only a couple of feet across, and leather – nothing like the five-foot-tall metal shields that Fighters carried. And she had no Knife, either, only a common sword. But she still wore a Fighter's chain-mail armor around her shoulders.

And her scars...

The exposed portion of her right arm had three old, deep scars running parallel. Her face had scars too, a triple-set of them running diagonally from the right side of her forehead all the way to the left side of her jaw. That was probably how she'd lost that eye, the boy thought.

Triple slashes. Like dragons make...

"You're... you're a Fighter?" the boy asked.

"Used to be. Now I'm just a Constable. Call me Sera."

"Oh. Uh... Stefan," the boy said anxiously, as if he wasn't sure that he wanted her to know. "Used to be?"

"Don't wanna talk about it," she answered curtly, putting an end to his questions about that, "So, Stefan – where's your Fighter? I don't see her around. And anyway, aren't you a little young to be Joined?"

A troubled look crossed the boy's face, and he looked away, hiding his light brown eyes with his light brown hair.

"I... we didn't... I mean..." he stammered, obviously fighting for time to pick his words, "My Fighter's dead."

Well, Sera knew that was wrong. She knew the boy's mate was around there somewhere. If he'd lost her – if his heart were broken - she would've known it right away. She'd have felt it. And if she'd felt that, she wouldn't have been able to stand it in the first place, and certainly wouldn't have sought him out. So why did he say that? Why was he lying?

"I see," Sera said, while considering her options. Something was being hidden from her, she knew. Best to play along - "So you've already lost your Heart, eh? How long ago were you Joined?"

Stefan answered without answering, "No one's ever been able to tell that I'm a Heart before..."

"Fighters can always sense Hearts. Nothing like the Seekers can – I wouldn't be able to sense you a thousand miles away - but we can still tell, even when we're no longer Fighters. How is it you don't know that? They should have told you these things right before your Joining..."

If he'd even had a proper Joining, that is. Maybe that was why he was so nervous. A non-sanctioned Joining was a bad idea - it was asking for the worst kind of trouble. Once Joined, the act couldn't be undone, and the Heart couldn't be given back. Being permanently bound to the wrong partner could drive both members of the couple mad. That's why they depended upon the wisdom of the priests to join them to someone appropriate.

Stefan began to fidget. This woman – this Fighter – was asking him personal things, the most personal things possible. Things he didn't want people to know. And yet, he also felt ashamed for feeling ashamed in the first place. He knew he shouldn't. He knew he'd done nothing wrong. His Fighter had been the best Fighter ever, had killed six dragons! In the first battle! He was proud of being Heart to a Fighter like that! And this woman had been a Fighter once, too. Wouldn't she understand? Would she make him feel... ashamed?



"We... my Fighter and me... didn't have a Joining. We... just kind of did it ourselves. We had to – there were dragons after us! I was out picking grapes in the vineyard, and... and, uh... my Fighter... was just coming back from town when the dragons came."

"The dragons that destroyed the monastery? At Sevastopol?"

"Yeah. There were... a lot of them. We got away – but a couple of pods saw us..." Stefan let the words trickle down to silence. He'd almost messed up already, and didn't feel safe talking to her.

"So she had to either accept your Heart, or die, yes? How old is –" Sera corrected herself, still playing along with the boy's lie, "I mean, how old was she? Had she finished the training?"

"Almost.. they were going to give... I mean, they were going to Join... uh..."

"She was of age?" Could it really be just as she'd imagined it? An adult and child, Joined. Because once joined, a Fighter and Heart couldn't help but have certain... feelings... about each other. The kinds of feelings and thoughts an adult shouldn't have about a child. "You couldn't have been more than ten..."

The boy looked away again, and his shoulders began to heave. Not with sobs, though. He was fighting to hold something back, but it wasn't tears.

"I... my Fighter was..." he struggled for the right words, but then just blurted out, "I'm NOT ashamed..."

Sera's eyebrows went up. No, he shouldn't feel ashamed. His Fighter-woman, though... It must be awful for her. Imagine, having feelings like that for a child. Well, Stefan wasn't so much a child anymore, true, but he certainly wasn't an adult, either. And he'd damn sure been a child when he'd given his Heart to her.

Ah - maybe the boy's Fighter was in hiding, or at least disguise. Maybe the boy had been told to make up that story about his Fighter being dead to cover it up. That made sense.

"Stefan... listen – you can stop lying to me about her." She noticed how Stefan winced subtly as she spoke, which was curious, but she went on anyway, "I already know that she's-"

"HE! My Fighter was a 'he'! And he was the best ever! I'm proud to have been his Heart!"

"Damn! They spotted us!" Julian said.

"This... this cave doesn't go very far back... it stops just a little ways from here..." Stefan observed, his voice trembling with fear as the realization dawned on him that they were trapped, and would probably die horribly in a few moments.

"It doesn't? Fuck! There's TWO pods coming! Fuck!"

"But... you're a Fighter, aren't you?" Stefan asked the young man. He LOOKED like a Fighter – he had the Knife, and the Shield, and the armor. Two pods was still a lot, but he ought to be able to handle it okay.

"Not yet I'm not – I was supposed to be Joined tomorrow. Supposed to find out who she was tonight. Guess I'll never get the chance now... Guess you won't either, little Heart. Dammit!"

Julian considered his options. There weren't any good ones, but maybe he could save a little something out of it. "Look, kid – I'll do what I can, okay? Maybe you can run off while I keep 'em busy and-"

Suddenly, and with ice-like clarity, an idea in the back of Stefan's mind came forward. Stefan didn't know exactly what it meant to be "Joined", but he new it involved giving his Heart, and he knew that a Fighter without a Heart – against that many dragons – stood no chance whatsoever of surviving. One final thing he knew – something all Hearts were born knowing – was how to give it away.

"You... we could... Join... You're a Fighter, I'm a Heart. I mean, if you wanted to..."

Julian gawked at him. Did the boy really mean what he'd just said? Join with him? Julian didn't know what happened in a Joining either – he was supposed to be told about all these things tonight - but he did know that ALL Fighter-Heart couples were – in every way that mattered - married. This little boy couldn't possibly know what it meant to be "married". He couldn't possibly know what he was offering. And he probably didn't know that – once Accepted – a Heart couldn't be given back, either. They'd be stuck like that. HE'D be stuck like that, married to this boy, for the rest of his life.

Which probably wouldn't be all that long, actually.

"Yeah... well, thanks for the offer kid – but I don't think-"

"If you had a Heart you might win..."

"Well... maybe... I mean... my first time fighting actual dragons and there's SIX of them... but... uh..."

While the apprentice dragon-Fighter stammered as he tried to sort out what to say, the boy came up to him and held out his hands. "I'm Offering you my Heart. I think that's what I'm supposed to say... You can take it. It's okay..."

"Kid... look, uh, I appreciate-" Julian was cut off by the sound of talons scraping rock as the first of the dragons landed above the cave's entrance, and began scrabbling its way down. "Shit!" he cried, knowing that his life had come down to this one short moment.


Looking down at the boy and his outstretched arms, his up-turned palms, his light-brown eyes... Well, it was him or death. It would probably be death anyway... but maybe...

There was no time to think about it. He took the Heart's hands in his own, following the boy's lead, and repeated the two words he'd been rehearsing for a week now: "I accept."

Whatever happened only took a few seconds, if that. Long enough for the apprentice to realize that he suddenly had something filling a space in himself that he hadn't even known was empty. Looking into the boy's eyes, he simply realized it, all at once, no questions asked, no doubt to be resolved, absolute and unmistakable -

This is my Heart, I'll do anything for him. I'll die for him if I have to...

Then he heard the bone-chilling shriek of the dragon, no more than thirty feet away, and another thought - blinding in its intensity, crystalline in its clarity, undeniable in its truth - wiped out everything else. He whirled around, his shield instinctively coming up to cover his face, tucking the handle of his Knife into his armpit.


And he did kill. He killed and killed and killed - but the dragons took their toll on him, too. When it was over, a little more than an hour later, he collapsed on the ground entirely spent, lying in a pool of his own blood.

He'd been cut by the dragon's tail-fins in eight places, three of them down to the bone. Five-inch-long talons had punctured him in two more, neat triple-holes in his shoulder and chest. One of the dragons had managed to hit him with its spit on the exposed skin of his Knife-hand, burning the flesh and eating through the skin. His breath shuddered, and red foam bubbled up from one of the talon-holes that had punctured a lung.

By the time Stefan got to him, the Fighter was unconscious and barely breathing. In his anxiety, Stefan didn't think he was breathing at all. His Fighter looked so torn, there was so much blood, and he'd only just been Joined such a short while ago... Could he really lose his Fighter so soon? HAD he already lost him? WAS he dead?

The boy did what he could - which wasn't much - and waited for... he didn't know what. For something to happen. For help to come.

Three days later he couldn't stand it anymore. No one had come, he had no food, his water had run out the day before, and as far as he could tell, the Fighter was dead. The keeper of his Heart... was dead. Stefan was nearly out of his mind with grief.

He had to leave.

And when he did, he didn't dare look back, either. He wouldn't look back until the next day, by which time he could be absolutely sure that there would be nothing to see. He'd left his Fighter's side, at first thinking that he was only going to get help, but now - now that he was on his way - he only wanted to keep going. It was too late for "help". It was too late for anything.

So he headed North, and just kept going.

A month later, in the delta of the Dnieper River, he ran into a tribe of Vandals grazing their sheep and goats, and an old childless pair "adopted" him, for lack of a better word. Only ten years old, the boy wasn't a lot of help - but he was better than nothing. The tribe was heading north, too. Towards Kiev. Away from Sevastopol. And that was good enough for Stefan because he didn't really care about anything anymore – except that. Get away. Get away and don't look back.

It was only a coincidence that the tribe was headed North. It was just a direction, to them. All they really needed was land for their livestock to graze upon, where nothing and no one would bother them. In the delta, they'd lose an animal to a dragon now and then, so they kept going, trying to get out of their range. Dragon territory didn't extend very far from the coast of the Black Sea. Now, four years later, they were in Nikopole.

"HE?!" Sera cried in shock. Bad enough this child being Joined to an adult Fighter... but, a male fighter? Sera had to shake her head to clear the cobwebs. That was just so wrong, in so many ways! And for both of them, too! The kid... well, he was old enough now that he was probably having... thoughts... about his Fighter. Maybe not when he was ten, but certainly by now. And the Fighter! God... what kind of thoughts must he be having? She actually felt a little sick just thinking about it.

Stefan had turned away again. "Yeah! He! A-and he's was the best Fighter ever, too! I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for him! But..." he stared at the table in front of him, mortified by the woman's reaction, as well as by his own humiliation because of it, "He's dead. And I'm still here. So I'm... I'm not ashamed! I'm NOT!"

And truly – he wasn't. He wasn't ashamed of having Offered his Heart to a man. He wasn't ashamed of how he felt about his Fighter, either. He was proud of his Fighter. He was proud to have given his Heart to him. He'd do it again – even if there weren't any dragons around, even if he didn't have to. But of course, Stefan had no choice but to feel that way now. He'd given his Heart, after all.

Stefan had another reason to be so adamant about not feeling ashamed about it. For the last year or so, he'd been having feelings that he was ashamed of – or at least thought he should be - but no one knew about those. He wished as hard as he could that the feelings would go away, but they wouldn't. In fact, it was only getting worse. He'd been hoping that maybe if he got far enough away, the feelings would go away too.

But they didn't.

"Stefan..." Sera began, not sure what she intended to say. The poor kid. And his poor Fighter! Why would the Fighter even have Accepted the Heart of a child like that? And now, to have those kinds of feelings for... And Stefan, having feelings like that, too, probably! Well, at least the kid didn't know what he was missing – he'd been too young when he was Joined to have had thoughts like that about girls. But the Fighter wasn't. It must be awful for him, having his manhood taken away like that, turned into... some kind of pervert, unable to help it. An unwilling Sodomite. Joined to a boy. Forever.

Then, as she thought about that, she realized something else: But at least they're Joined. They have that. Joined and alive...

It was a damn sight more than she had.

Alive? But the kid kept talking like his Fighter was dead... And it no longer seemed like a cover-up, either; he seemed to actually believe it. Sera put aside her disgust for the time being and asked, "Stefan - why do you think your Fighter is dead?"

"I was there! I saw it! There was blood... everywhere, and he was... cut-up... and... I... I had to leave him... I couldn't stand it anymore! I stayed as long as I could, but..." Stefan trailed off, afraid he might sob out loud. The memories of that day were too painful to remember, let alone tell.

Sera could see that pain. And despite everything else, she couldn't just let him keep feeling that way. No matter what. And as she thought about how she was going to put it, she also realized that her life was going to change. That she – and this boy – were about to hit the road.

"Stefan, listen. I was a Fighter – and Fighters can sense Hearts. I guess you never got the chance to learn this stuff... We can also tell when a Heart is broken. And your's isn't. He's not dead. Trust me on this – if your Fighter were dead, I'd know it. He's alive. He's out there somewhere."

Stefan's hair flew wildly as his head whipped around to look at her, his mouth open, his eyes brimming with a mixture of terror and hope – but mostly terror. The terror of wanting to believe something without knowing if it's true. The terror of being let down.

"H-he... he's..."

"He's alive Stefan. So I guess we'd better go find him... You two may be the only-"

Before she could finish he sentence, Stefan jumped up from the table, tripping over his chair and falling clumsily to the floor. He scrambled back up to his feet like a cat – never saying a word - and ran for the door, slamming into people right and left as he went, shouts of angry derision from drinkers who's shirts were suddenly soaked with beer following along behind him.

Then he stopped, just in front of the exit, breathing hard, his shoulders heaving. He turned around and looked back at Sera, and now his face and eyes had but one message: What do I do?

Sera sighed tiredly – she really didn't feel up to this. "I'm coming, Stefan... I'm coming."

Little by little, Julian became aware. Aware that he hurt, firstly; followed by the awareness that he was, at least, alive. It took awhile for that to filter in - still alive... Alive and in a great deal of pain.

"You awake? Good. Here, drink this before you pass out again."

Something was being held to his mouth, which made him aware of new things – that he was thirsty, and that he was starving. Julian tried to open his eyes, but it was just too hard, the effort of even thinking about it was exhausting. He drank from the bowl. It was thick, and cold, and tasted exactly like dirt, but he drank it anyway.

After finishing, he did indeed pass out.

"Figures. Well, at least you took the whole thing this time..." said a voice Julian didn't hear, "Really, I wish you'd make up your mind - live or die. I'm getting bored talking to myself."

The speaker's name was Andreas, a Macedonian Greek who'd been on his way to Sevastopol to sell some information he'd learned in Athens. Andreas was mostly a thief. He was bone-thin and on the short side, with long black hair but fair skin and blue eyes - the result of various barbarian movements through his homeland over the generations. He'd arrived at Sevastopol two days after the dragons had destroyed it, which was both a good and a bad thing. Good because it meant he had first pickings of the spoils; bad because there was now nobody around to buy what he'd hoped to sell.

And bad again - because there really wasn't anything of value in the monastery. No gold, no jewelry, no books, nothing. Andreas left the monastery with four horses, three saddle-bags full of food, a few weapons, and some furs. Not much of a haul. Before he left, he set fire to the the buildings, in order to burn up the bodies scattered about everywhere - both human and dragon. They stank.

He'd run across the Fighter's body as he made his way north. At first, Andreas thought the Fighter was dead, but while searching his body for valuables, he learned otherwise. The man was still warm. And sure enough, breathing - although just barely. It looked as if someone had tried to patch him up – albiet somewhat clumsily - yet there was no one around. So Andreas dragged him into the nearby shallow cave, and then considered his new situation while he camped there for the night. After hours of deliberation, he finally decided to try and nurse the man back to life.

Not out of the goodness of his heart, to be sure - Andreas never did anything without weighing out the pros and cons, without thinking things through, without considering the angles. That was how he survived. He'd figured out as a child that he'd never be able to fight his way through life; he was simply too small and thin and weak for that. He was going to have to think his way through. He was going to have to be smarter than all the strong people.

If what he'd heard about the 'dragon-Fighters' was true, then perhaps he had an opportunity here after all.

The morning after Julian had blindly drunk the awful soup, he was finally able to open his eyes and got his first look at Andreas, whose back was to him as he squatted at the mouth of the cave, apparently cooking something. He tried to speak, but ended up only coughing and hacking for a long time. By the time he caught his breath he was too tired to try again, and let the fragile-looking man feed him more of the same gruel he'd had last time. Then he fell asleep again - but at least he didn't pass out.

When he next awoke, it was evening of the same day. This time Julian cleared his throat first, as a test.

"You need to piss yet?" Andreas asked him.

"N... no..." Julian answered weakly, wondering why he'd been asked that, of all things.

"No? Well, you haven't had a leak since I brought you in here... two days ago. Who knows how long you were out before that. Here - you'd better have some water - as much as you can drink."

Julian was given a skin to drink from, and once he started he realized just how thirsty he really was. "The... the boy..." he managed to say between filling his mouth with the cool water.

"Boy? No boys around here - just you and me, friend. Lemme refill that for ya."

"There... there should be a boy..." The boy – his Heart – was naturally the most important thing in Julian's life now. He wasn't sure he'd killed all the dragons that day, and if he hadn't... then his Heart would be dead. And that would be... horrible. But... but no... he should KNOW if his Heart was dead, shouldn't he? He'd heard Fighters talk about that. He ought to know.

"No boys, I'm tellin' ya. Just you, me, and six dead dragons. I already hauled 'em off and burned 'em - nothing stinks like a dead dragon, does it... Makes me glad we don't have 'em where I'm from."

"Six dragons? You're sure? And... you didn't find a... body?"

"No boy, no body. What's all this about a boy, anyway? I'm Andreas - the guy who saved your life. Might wanna thank me or something."

Julian's head collapsed back down onto the fox-fur that was serving as his pillow, "He... wouldn't have... gone far... You... You have to find him..."

"Back to the boy again, huh? Look - nobody's gonna go off boy-hunting for a while yet. Maybe he'll come back. What's he to you, anyway? Son? Brother? Lover, maybe? Didn't think you barbarians were into that sort of thing."

But Julian was already asleep again.

And when he awoke, he needed to pee worse than he ever had before in his life, but was far too week to even sit up without help.

"Okay - I'll hold ya up this time, friend - you still haven't told me your damn name, y'know - but next time I expect you to do this yourself," Andreas said, stumbling with him toward the mouth of the cave, "Okay - let 'er go."

It went on a ridiculously long time, but at least Julian was free of that particular pain. "I'm Julian. From Scythia. You... haven't seen the boy yet? Has he come back?"

"Again with the boy... damn, man, were your back-teeth floating or what... So what's this boy's name? How old is he? What's he look like?"

"He's about... 10. Maybe 11. I don't know. Brown... brown hair, brown eyes... light-skinned. His name's... his name's..." For awhile, Julian thought that he'd just temporarily forgotten, and was amazed that something so important could be so blank in his mind. But eventually, he remembered the horror of he truth - "I... I don't know his name... I... I don't know. I don't know!"

"All right, all right! You don't know his name - I got it! Shees. 'Bout time you finished - god, I've never seen anyone piss so much. Let's get you back down again , then we'll eat – if you're still awake by then. And then you can tell me all about this precious boy of yours."

So Julian began his long recovery – it would be three more weeks before Andreas would even let him attempt to get on a horse, despite Julian's insistence that he could. Another week before he actually did it - even with Andreas helping. And yet another before he'd be able to stay there long enough to ride anywhere.

In all that time, Julian never once asked about the boy again, lest his savior Andreas begin to wonder why. He wouldn't be able to explain – it was just too shameful. Apparently Andreas wasn't aware of the Fighter-Heart relationship, or even exactly what it meant to be a full-fledged Dragon-Fighter, and that was fine with Julian. Besides, what did it matter now? The boy was long gone, apparently. Julian might find him again, somehow – but... not knowing his name... "How could I not know his name!?" he asked himself constantly. The single most important person in his life – ever, and now always would be, and he DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HIS NAME!

A month and a half after the attack on the monastery, Julian and Andreas finally packed up and left the cave by the now-abandoned vineyard, heading across the low but rugged mountains to Yalta, the nearest city.

Maybe the boy would be there. Maybe Julian would find his Heart again. It was embarrassing, humiliating, and shameful that his Heart was a young boy, but he still needed to find him. Whatever else the boy might be, he was still Julian's Heart, and he couldn't even imagine life without him.