This is the second story in the Times' Change trilogy, which started with "A Second More". In ASM, available at, an injured Prince Stryfe is taken away from the palace by Redd and Slym Dayspring after they defeated Apocalypse and raised as their son, Sean. Now with their parents gone, Nathan and Sean are left to survive in the middle of a world at war. They can either be swept away or learn to control the current...

I'd like to thank Persephone Kore, Mitai, and Timesprite for all their valuable help in beta reading and just general encouragement. I couldn't have done it without you! *hugs* Feedback is worshipped and adored at

"Minute By Minute"
By Andrea


Maps, more maps, and even more flonqing maps.

Maps of troop movements. Maps of terrains. Maps of trade routes. Maps of towns. Maps of battle sites. Maps of armies. There were maps for every conceivable situation, drawn from at least three different viewpoints and in varying levels of detail.

If one wished to truly debilitate a mighty army without firing a single shot, the Lord General thought bitterly, just destroy its maps. The commanders wouldn't have the first idea what to do.

He absently toyed with a dagger, imagining with great delight taking it and slashing into one of the flonqing maps and--

"It does not seem, Lord Stryfe, that you are giving our plans your whole attention."

Lord Stryfe, the Chaos-Bringer, High Commander of the Revenant Forces, raised his head from a contemplation of the maps spread out before him and stared impassively at the unfortunate speaker. An uncomfortable silence grew as Stryfe simply stood there while Commander Halpern looked as if he was trying to spontaneously develop the ability to teleport. When the silence grew thick, Halpern finally blurted out, "Meaning no disrespect, of course, my lord."

Stryfe arched an eyebrow. "Indeed," he said coolly, holding Halpern's gaze for a moment longer before looking back at the maps. Halpern's shoulders sagged in relief... then he gave a shriek of agony and collapsed on the floor, writhing and screaming.

"I think, gentlemen, we would be better served in attacking from the east," Stryfe continued as if nothing had happened, indicating the maps with a thin wooden pointer.

The other commanders in the tent cast one last look at their unlucky comrade, then stepped over his twitching body as if it wasn't there and continued planning the coming battle. Blank-faced servants stepped forward discreetly to carry Halpern back to his own tent. He'd recover within a few days and return to command his Lord's troops. Everyone knew Stryfe would not waste his resources so lightly. But memory of the agonizing pain would not fade so quickly, and Halpern would be slow to speak out against the High Commander in the future.

The Chaos-Bringer had learned self-control. But there were a few who'd served in Apocalypse's old forces that spoke almost wistfully of the days when you could just be set on fire and be done with it.

Stryfe strode quickly through the camp, nodding his head slightly in acknowledgment of soldiers' hails and ignoring the calls for favor. Another planning session, another battle. Soon he'd be back in that flonqing tent to plan the *next* battle, then the next. Dealing with yet another idiot who thought he could lead better than the young prince of a fallen empire. Stryfe thought his entire life this past year could be pared down to one endless battle, thousands of bedamned maps, and one never-ending scream of agony...

Sometimes he longed desperately for those carefree days where his biggest concern was scrounging for food, his only challenge the light-hearted competition with his brother for who could gather the most. Or for those halcyon days with Redd and Slym, where all the horror of his past and uncertainty of the future didn't matter as long as they were with him...

He was shaken out of his contemplation by a hand on his arm. "My lord, your brother has returned and?" The eager young page quailed under the fierce glare and jerked back his hand as if he'd been burned. He stared down at the dirt and muttered, "He's in your tent, Lord."

Stryfe ignored him. Where did they *get* these servants from, anyway? He pushed past the boy and slipped through the entrance flap of his personal tent. The inside was shadowed, but Stryfe felt an enormous weight slipping off his shoulders with his first step inside. Out there, in the camp or on the battlefield, he had to be Lord Stryfe, ruthless commander. In here, he could just be Sean Dayspring.

...Sometimes he *really* missed Sean Dayspring.

"Oath, I didn't think you were going to make it back this season," he said into the gloom, tossing the scarlet cape that marked his rank negligently to the side. He lit a handful of lamps with a thought and crossed the open space to a basin in the corner, splashing water on his face.

There was a light chuckle, then Stryfe's cape halted in mid-flight and redirected itself to hang neatly on the appropriate peg. Long legs unfolded from the cot in the rear, raising a handsome young face into the light cast by the lamps. A face that, except for a few scars, was identical to the Chaos-Bringer's.

"I got lucky," Nathan Dayspring admitted with a shrug. A mischievous smile lit his features and he added, "General Varlo had heard so much about you that I barely had to mention I represented you and he was *begging* me to take command." He flexed the metallic fingers of his left hand with a rueful grimace. "They've also apparently heard about Lord Stryfe's freakish cyborg brother. I think I enhance your reputation."

Stryfe snorted. "You exaggerate as always, brother. But it's good to have you back." He smiled faintly, then shook his head. "I wish I dared *keep* you here more often, but I don't trust any of those sycophants and opportunists any farther than I can throw them! If I sent *them* out to recruit allies, I'd wind up with a new army to fight instead."

"What're brothers for?" Nate replied lightly. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a disk, tossing it at his twin. "Varlo's fealty agreement."

Stryfe waved a hand and directed the disk to a table. "No business now, Nate." He grinned and walked over to grab his brother in a back-pounding hug. "I *have* missed you."

"I missed you back," Nathan replied, hugging him back tightly. He let go and slapped Stryfe's shoulder with another grin. "Oath, you look fancier every time I see you, Lord General."

Stryfe shrugged off the hand and turned away. He sat down at the cot and started prying his boots off wearily. "Don't call me that."

"Sorry." Nate snagged the tent's only chair and reversed it, sitting down and resting his arms on the back. "Rough day, Sean?"

Stryfe smiled faintly. "You're the only one who calls me that anymore. And no, not any worse than usual. Just... every day it's something else. I've got the troops pretty well convinced that they'll do as well following me as anyone else, but half the commanders still aren't sure about following a general who's barely past the age of majority."

"They would've followed you at twelve when Apocalypse died if you'd been there then," Nate pointed out contemptuously. "You're older now, so I don't see what the problem is. And you know flonqing well you're a *better* commander than anyone else out there, or you wouldn't be here! Prince or not, they wouldn't keep following you if you didn't keep winning."

Stryfe sighed and tossed his boots aside. "Sometimes I wonder if they will anyway. It's taking more and more to keep them in line..."

Nate frowned. "What do you mean?"

"It was Halpern this time, but *someone* tries to challenge me before every flonqing battle! How long before..." His voice trailed off and he shook his head. "I have *enough* trouble trying to band the scattered generals together without having my OWN men turn against me!"

"You'll do it, Sean. I *know* you will." He grinned. "None of *these* generals were trained by *Slym Dayspring*, after all."

Stryfe chuckled. "True, but I don't think any of them recognize that for the severe lack it is."

"Still." Nate frowned. "You're all right? You weren't hurt at all?"

"A big brother to the last," Stryfe laughed, then winked. "Calm your protective instincts. I'm fine. It wasn't a physical attack."

"Oh. What *did* happen, then?"

Stryfe waved his hand. "Nothing much. Halpern tried to challenge me, I dealt with it."

"No blow-by-blow account?" Nate asked with a grin. "Come on, I've been off on boring 'diplomatic' missions lately. Share!"

Stryfe leaned back on his elbows and laughed. "All right, all right." He cast his memory back to the short dealing with Halpern and pushed it along the link with his twin. "It wasn't much. Halpern's a decent commander, but not very strong on his own."

Nate blinked and re-examined the memory several times, chewing on his lower lip. "Um... maybe you didn't start this early enough. It looks like all he did was say you weren't paying attention."


"...That was a *challenge*?"

Stryfe straightened, his jaw set. "He was challenging me. I couldn't just *let* him!"

Nate frowned and scratched his arm. "You know more about army types than I do," he admitted uncomfortably. "But did you have to--"

"YES. I can't afford to make any exceptions. My position is too tenuous!"

"Okay, okay. You're the expert." Nate looked away for a heartbeat, then abruptly hopped out of the chair. "Look, I came straight here when I got in, so I'm starved. Think we could dig up some food, little brother?"

Stryfe chuckled again and stood up, summoning his cape to him. "I think we can manage that."

In a camp at war, there were always people walking around. Soldiers relaxing off-duty or on their way *to* duty. Messengers darting across the camp. Commanders surveying their troops. An array of camp followers selling their wares or just seeking favor. But even in all that commotion, two young men attracted everyone's attention just by strolling across the camp.

They would have been a sight to attract attention anywhere--both tall, young, and handsome, with brightly-glowing left eyes and identical features. But the one on the left wore the red cape of the High Commander, and the one on the right half-hid a metallic arm behind his travel-stained purple cloak, so they attracted more attention than most.

Nate was munching on the remains of a roll as they walked, Stryfe using the excuse of conducting an impromptu troop review to spend a bit more private time with his brother. "Do you *ever* stop eating?" he asked in amusement.

Nate took another bite and grinned. "Not as long as there's food." He gestured around him with the crust. "Oath, this place gets more impressive every time I come back. You'll be a flonqing *city* soon."

"With all the problems that come with it. When I used to dream about being in command when I was little, my imagination didn't carry far enough to include establishing supply lines and sanitation systems!"

"Ugh. I think I prefer being the traveling trouble-shooter." Nate swallowed the last of the roll and brushed a few crumbs off his cloak. "So what's this battle you were planning when I came in? And will I actually be around long enough to be there?"

"Probably. You *did* finish with Varlo quicker than we thought, and the next person I was going to send you to is the same one we're marching against."

"Oath. Granthe? I thought negotiations were going well with him!" Nate frowned worriedly. "He's got the biggest consolidated army out there except for yours. And his commanders are good."

"I'm better."

"I don't doubt that, little brother, but are you sure you're ready to take him on? It'll be a nasty battle on all sides. Maybe we should give negotiations another try. I could--"

"The last messenger I sent to Granthe was returned in pieces. We still don't have all of him." Stryfe stopped in his tracks and turned to fix Nate with a fierce stare, his left eye glowing with burning intensity. "I'm not about to send you into that kind of situation." His eyes narrowed. "We fight."

Nate nodded determinedly and clasped his brother's arm. "Then I'll be right beside you. As it should be."

Stryfe covered Nate's hand with his and smiled fiercely. "Good. It's been too long."

Any further discussion of the coming battle was interrupted by a voice calling out, "My lord!" The brothers turned and looked to see one of Stryfe's advisors walking briskly across the camp towards them. Vande had been a courtier under Apocalypse and well-acquainted with the young prince then. He had a handsome face he felt was wasted out here with the lack of ladies, and a sense of his own importance Stryfe felt was wasted in the realms of reality.

Stryfe waited silently for the man to finish making his way towards them, crossing his arms and cultivating a faintly bored expression. Nate just folded his hands and tried to look neutral. "My lord," Vande repeated when he came closer, with a short bow for Stryfe and an even shorter nod towards Nate. "Lord Dayspring."

Nate nodded back. No one but Stryfe would be able to detect the hint of mocking in the movement. Stryfe quelled a smile and lifted an eyebrow imperiously. "I take it from the way you were bellowing across the camp that you wished to speak with me?"

"Yes, my lord. I didn't mean to interrupt your... review of the troops." Vande eyed Nate sideways, clearly aware of Stryfe's true purpose, then looked back at his commander. "But Commander Zain has just arrived with his troops. He was the last one we were waiting for. We'll be ready to march on Granthe in the morning."

A predatory glint appeared in Stryfe's eyes. He rubbed his hands together and purred, "Excellent."

Nate looked at him for a moment, then cast his eyes back down. "Well," he said briskly after a moment, "I've been traveling all day. I think I'll go get cleaned up while you two talk."

Stryfe nodded. "We'll talk later."

Nate smiled quickly. "Of course." He nodded at Vande again and walked off.

The former courtier watched him go with shuttered eyes. "Lord Dayspring returns early. Will he be joining us tomorrow?"

"Yes. He'll be useful."

"General Varlo is with us, then?"

"Of course. When has Lord Dayspring ever failed?"

Vande smiled benignly. "Of course. You are very fortunate to have such a capable brother, my lord. And trustworthy. Many men in your position would not feel so comfortable when the man they've sent to negotiate with one enemy returns conveniently in time to join battle with another."

"It *is* convenient. His powers will be very useful against Granthe's troops, and I wasn't looking forward to fighting with Varlo's forces still at our backs."

"A relief to be certain. We are fortunate indeed that no one was ever able to consolidate Granthe and Varlo's forces against us. Even *our* army might have fallen then..." Vande looked around, then lowered his voice. "Perhaps we should send someone to Varlo's camp," he urged. "Just to make sure it is as we have been told."

Stryfe straightened, his eye flashing angrily. "You forget yourself," he hissed.

"I am only trying to advise you, my lord."

Stryfe's eyes narrowed. "Know this, Vande--there are only two people in this world I trust completely. Myself and Lord Dayspring. Notice you are not on that list." Stryfe's voice was deadly. "If you speak against him, you speak against me."

"I meant no disrespect, my lord!" Vande replied, spreading his hands in front of him. "I only advise the best way I know how. You, of course, must make the final decisions. You are fortunate indeed to have a brother deserving such loyalty."

"Indeed." Stryfe's tone was final. He moved to go, then turned his head back to look at his advisor. "Incidentally, the next time you have important information for me, use a telepath. That's why we have them. Don't waste both our time scurrying around the camp like a dog."

Vande bowed slightly. "Of course, my lord."

Stryfe nodded curtly, turned, and swept away, his red cape fluttering behind him.

Continue To Chapter Three

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