With obsidian sleek undertow and Mount Hochibe rising above the horizon, Lord Nomado and Conqueror Gogaru slashed away at each other with their enchanted swords, locked in a battle to determine the fate of their respective territories.

"You shall never rule my homeland!" Lord Nomado yelled over the bursts of magic that sparked off their swords when they clanged together. "You may have conquered many, but my people are strong. We shall not falter! We shall not fall!"

"The grandeur of your delusion is breathtaking," said Conqueror Gogaru. He knocked Nomado's sword back in a flash of electric blue. "I have taken over every surrounding province, and yours shall be no different. As we speak, Lady Fiori ascends the mountain. She shall wake the dragon that rests in the belly of Mount Hochibe, and then your tiny, proud dominion shall cower before the vastness of my influence."

"I will never allow you to succeed in this vile plot!"

Conqueror Gogaru knocked him back again with the ease and attitude of swatting a fly. Lord Nomado's sword dulled in his hands, its magic swirling away from fatigue, but he rose on shaky legs and held it out before him, fully intent on continuing the battle.

"Why are you doing this? Do you not have enough power already?"

"This is not about me," said Conqueror Gogaru. "This is about uniting the world."

"A world united only under your rule!" Lord Nomado's tone was indignant. He rushed forward, bringing his sword down towards Gogaru's head. "What could the world possibly achieve from a unity that comes at the cost of our individuality, our honor?"

Conqueror Gogaru dodged to the side, breaking Nomado's sword beneath his own. He did not strike the final blow. Instead, he sighed, watching Nomado grunt and cough, sliding in a pool of his own blood on the black ground when he tried to stand.

"You shall not take my home. I will stop you, and if not me myself, my people will rise up and defeat you."

"Pride, honor, individualism," said Conqueror Gogaru. "Such short-sighted things, yet so many have preached them before dying pointless deaths. Why can no one see my vision for what it is? I only wish to help the world."

"You are… a fool." Lord Nomado pushed past the pain in his legs, sucked air into his aching lungs, and got back up to his feet, reaching for the hilt of his sword. He took a ready stance with the broken weapon aloft, ignoring the blood that dripped down his body, shaking away the splotches in his vision. "I… will stop you."

Conqueror Gogaru raised his sword. It crackled blue, pointed skyward. Lord Nomado braced himself, clenching his teeth.

Then the obsidian beneath them shook and fractured, pulling until it split into a great fissure. Stumbling and startled, they both fell through, grabbing at anything they could to keep from sinking deep into the crevice, where steam rose to burn their exposed skin and surely lava awaited at the bottom.

It was Lord Nomado's hand that saved Conqueror Gogaru, snapping out to catch his arm at the last moment, when Gogaru's sword had scraped the walls and forced its way out of his grip. It fell through the steam, and neither of them heard it hit bottom. Somehow, miraculously, they shimmied out of the crack in the Earth together, heaving over each other until they were both sure they were on solid ground again. For a long time they only breathed, then Gogaru spoke.

"Why save someone you were so determined to defeat?"

"Because it was the right thing to do," said Nomado.

A red dragon flew overhead, spewing lava and smoke. Lady Fiori rode atop its back, her robes and hair twisting behind her in torrents of hot wind.

"Incendiary," grumbled Gogaru, squinting against the waves of heat. He could swear she was smiling, though there was no real way to tell from the ground, since she was so high up.


"I instructed her to await my orders, but she woke the dragon without my consent. I had a feeling she might betray me someday."

"And you employed her anyway?"

"Better get moving," said Gogaru as he offered Nomado a hand. "There is no point in ruling over a land that has been scorched beyond repair, and I doubt you want your homeland to become uninhabitable."

Nomado could offer no argument, so he set off with his former adversary to track and slay the dragon.