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Xander took claim of the spoils of war immediately; it was only prudent, really, because only fools left their just rewards to be torn, claimed or trampled in the chaos of a battlefield.

Doubly prudent when that prize was flesh and blood.

Triply so, when that flesh was so very recently Hoshido's prince and heir.

So Xander took no chances, and the moment he saw the light beginning to die in Ryoma's eyes he'd lunged forward in his saddle to seize the crumpling man's armour and drag him up over the cantle, a limp bundle of red and gold and deeper scarlet, wild hair rippling where it wasn't clotting with his own lifeblood --


But that had been battle frenzy. The battle was over now -- over, won, once and for all -- and Xander now led his mount and its burden to a makeshift command tent guarded by the patiently-waiting Laslow. Xander favoured him with a thin, dark smile, twisting the reins he still held in one mailed hand.

"I trust that the messenger reached you and all is prepared."

The answering smile was oddly cheerful, for all the carnage recently caused. Laslow was speckled with blood in places but appeared uninjured; good. One less thing to worry about.

"Of course, milord. I've also heard tell that scavengers may have already recovered a sword matching Raijinto's description; shall I see to it?"

Good man. Xander nodded once.

"Do so. I won't have his ancestral blade pawned by camp-followers."

Laslow sketched a bow and was gone in the next moment, leaving Xander to his work. His alacrity pleased his lord, and one small detail of it in particular -- by sending him off, he would spare Laslow the need to be a witness. Or, perhaps less 'need' as 'insist upon', but the results would be the same --

Nohrian you may nearly be, now, but I don't feel like testing you. Not now.

Well, that and Xander wanted some privacy.

Some things were rather personal.


Divested of his armour, Xander bent to his work, and shortly Ryoma lay stripped of his own armour and mail and gleaming ornaments, bloodied and still on a low-legged table inside Xander's biouvac. That cuirass has been neatly stacked aside; and now Nohr's prince found he had a new and fleeting appreciation for Hoshidan clothing and how they did not seem to believe in fasteners of any kind. It made baring Ryoma's torso so much easier.

The next task was cleansing away the bloodstains with watered wine. There was no need to indulge in wanton butchery --

No, you've never known want in your life, have you.

The thought was clinical, admiring, and entirely avaricious in equal measure. Xander finished his work quickly, traced the muscles of Ryoma's shoulders, the scarless tracts of skin, with measuring fingers -- and then, with one swift motion, lay the side of Ryoma's throat open with a hair-fine knife. Perhaps he'd not bleed much, after their battle, but it would still be such a waste; a low bronze bowl was swiftly positioned to catch whatever remained.

Now, to the greater prize. Choosing a stronger blade, Xander paused again to regard Ryoma's slack features, the half-closed eyes --

"You'll be returned to your surviving kin without desecration. Have no fear of that. There's only one thing I desire."

-- and once again,then, to work.

Fine muscles split and ribs separated neatly under Xander's well-practiced strokes of the knife, aided by a few sharp raps of a mallet, and before long Ryoma's chest lay open, bloody and inviting. And there it was. Flanked by the ivory segments of ribs and severed sternum like the ribbing of a cathredral vault, surrounded by lungs like dark, fleshy wings, rested Ryoma's heart. So recently beating, it was still warm in its cavity.

There was the prize of all prizes, his well-earned reward for bringing sun-blessed Hoshido finally to heel. Xander fancied he could already taste the iron sweetness as he leaned in closer to -- with sure and measured precision -- slice the darkly glistening organ free from its nest.

Held up in the light of the witch-lanterns, it was perfect.

"They say you demonstrated excellence in every task you set yourself to. If that is true -- and I see no reason to doubt it -- then I consider you must think my words an honour now.

"Your excellence, prince of Hoshido, lay on the inside as well."

A bit too familiar? Perhaps, but Xander felt like indulging himself for the moment, exactly as he did a breath later when the sacrament commenced in truth.

The first morsel carved from Ryoma's parting gift -- wet, bloody, so dark as to seem nearly ruby black, dense muscle so fine-grained it appeared solid -- was a blessing. Xander resolved in that moment to take his time and savour the richness of the taste, the feel of each sliver between sharp teeth and lingering velvety on his tongue; he would, after all, not experience its like again.

Again, and again, the curved carving knife flashed delicately; and, at the end, for the first time Xander felt satiated.

Lifting the waiting bronze bowl with hands stained crimson, he drained it dry, saluted the pale form that surrendered such a gift.

And leaned in once more to touch the cold lips with bloody fingertips, colouring them with the remnants of Ryoma's life.

"Sleep forever, now.

"Tomorrow I return you to your people."