Numb. She felt numb.
The fact that she could feel anything at all surprised her. She thought for sure that she would have died. She should be dead. She had known the consequences of her choice. Without a cleric to bring some life back to her drained body, her life should have ended.
But she was alive. Weakened beyond reason, but alive.
It took a lot of effort to open her eyelids. It didn't hurt, her body didn't even have the energy to register pain. They simply felt heavy, as if her whole self was made of lead and not flesh. At first her vision was blurry; only shadows of light and darkness, spots without recognizable form were visible. But slowly her eyes began to focus.
She could see rock... a natural formation of rock above her. It took her mind long moments to equate this with her experiences, but she finally realized she had to be in a cave. Slowly, some of her other senses provided her information about her surroundings. She felt a kind of warmth on one cheek, and the characteristic crackle told her a camp fire was nearby. It was the smell of food being cooked that convinced her she wasn't alone. It made sense, since she was lying under shelter and with a warm fire close by instead of on a ruined battlefield. Inwardly she smiled. So, she had done it.
She had kept Shinji safe.
"You are awake."
The words sparked action from her long-honed danger instincts, but her body was too weak to accomplish more than a single finger twitch. The attempt to get up only left her feeling even more tired than before. She struggled for a moment, then relaxed. The voice had been soft, not life threatening. And there was... something about it.
Misato tried to move her head, but found herself unable to. But there was no need for that, as the sound of approaching footsteps made itself heard. Someone sat down beside her, and as Misato's eyes sought the source of the sound, she saw her. The elf that had helped them in battle. It was impossible to mistake her short, wild hair, or her red eyes for anyone else.
And it all seemed strangely familiar. As if she had seen her before the battle...
"Do not try to move. You are weak."
"Yeah, no kidding," thought Misato, feeling the urge to smile at the irony. She was helpless, unable to do anything if someone attacked her. To be unable to rely on your own body was the worst kind of betrayal she could imagine. And yet... somehow the elf's presence was comforting. Her voice was oddly soothing.
"My magic has prevented you from commencing your final journey. However, you were very close to the Goddess' embrace. Had I used a stronger healing spell, you may have chosen to remain with Lilith, so I have only bandaged your wounds. You will need to gather strength for me to use a full healing spell on you."
Misato would have nodded if she could. So that was the explanation.
The elf girl got up and promptly returned.
Misato found her lips parted and a lukewarm liquid delicately being poured into her mouth. She recognized the taste as that of elven tea, and hazarded to guess that this specific brew was laced with healing herbs. Swallowing was a chore, both in the amount of effort required and the way the liquid savaged her raw throat. But soon the burning was replaced with a welcome warmth, the medicinal tea soothing what it had once inflamed.
After it had become easier to swallow, Misato's senses were assailed as she felt something else against her lips. It smelled of spices and herbs, a smell that brought back both good and less pleasant memories. She had become rather familiar with the smell of elven mambea bread with the years. One couldn't find better traveling food. A few bites could sustain a person in the same way a normal meal could.
"You need to eat."
Misato parted her lips and tried to bite the piece of bread the elf was holding for her. But her teeth didn't even seem to have the strength to sink into the hardened elven bread. Silently, she felt tears gather in her eyes. She knew she had done the right thing, but, right now, she felt utterly humiliated by being so weak.
The elf silently removed the offered piece of food. There was a soft crunch and silence for a moment, then Misato was surprised to feel something new pressed against her lips. Something soft and warm. Had they been able to, Misato's eyes would have bugged out as she realized these were the elf's lips. Under normal circumstances the feel of female lips against her own might have caused her to freak, but in this situation she could only silently thank the girl for going to such lengths to feed her.
For long minutes, the elf helped Misato to alternatively drink and eat while Misato did her best to help. If she wasn't dead yet, then she intended to live and get better as soon as she could and that meant building up new strengths. However, the experience slowly drained away what feeble energy the knight had left and soon she found herself unable to eat any more. She could feel herself slowly drifting to sleep when, from her peripheral vision, Misato saw a blur - that might have been an arm - extended and heard the unmistakable sound of a weapon being picked up. Her weapon. For a moment, she wondered if she shouldn't be afraid after all and the extra adrenaline stopped her descent into slumber. She tried to relax. It didn't make sense, the girl wouldn't have made such efforts to save her just to kill her now. But still...
Misato heard the overly long sword being drawn from its sheath.
"The Murasame," the elf spoke softly. "A sword that
can only be used by the Holy Knights of Lilith. Forged over two
millennia ago, it has been handed down from generation to generation.
It is now the official weapon of the White Knight, Captain of the
Holy City Royal Guards, as it has been for hundreds of years. Its
most powerful attack is the 'Spirit blade'. However, that power is
not without a cost, as it requires a willing sacrifice. The blade
will draw the wielder's life force, and transform it into a blade of
pure white energy to vanquish evil. Strong enough to shatter the
Absolute Terror Field of a Yami-armor."
Misato found herself puzzled. How did this girl know so much about her sword? It was a closely guarded secret. She found herself unable to ponder much on this matter, as her eyes closed despite her best efforts.
"That was reckless of you, Misato."
"Do I know her?" was the last coherent thought that came to Misato's mind before sleep finally reclaimed her.
An Evangelion inspired fantasy elsewhere story
Based on characters created by and copyright GAINAX
Written by Alain Gravel
Assisted by Myssa Elaine Santos Rei Darren Demaine
CHAPTER 3 - The way of the warrior
"We're here! We're here!"
The young teenage girl could barely restrain her enthusiasm, much to the annoyance of her friend. She was jumping up and down, her body unable to contain her excitement.
"Really, Misato, you're such a kid," complained the brown haired girl standing beside the raven haired one, whose ponytail rocked from side to side with her body's motion. Both girls were wearing the simple white dresses that were customary of novices of the Cleric Order of Lilith, although Misato's showed apparent signs of wear, especially compared to her friend's spotless and wrinkle-free garb. Still, it was bright enough in the sun to bring out the purple highlights in Misato's hair.
Misato stuck out her tongue at her friend. "And you're too serious, Ritsu! How can you stay so calm? We're finally here! We're gonna see elves!"
Ritsuko shook her head in desperation.
"Yes, Misato. And they won't run away either, so you don't need to make such a fuss about this."
"But Ritsukoooo..." whined Misato, before the sound of someone clearing her throat caught her attention. She suddenly went still and turned toward the priestess in charge of their class, blanching a bit under the reproachful and severe gaze.
Ritsuko smiled smugly in triumph.
"Now, if some people here will calm down," said the priestess, "I have a few explanations to give you all."
Misato gulped as a few of her companions gave her stern looks.
"Beyond this clearing lies Kelethin, the elven city. The entire forest is protected by a holy barrier, which only those whose hearts are filled with pure intentions and have been touched by Lilith may enter. So I want you all to clear your minds, seek the Goddess' blessings, and follow me."
Having said so, their teacher walked forward, and when she reached a line of birch trees, vanished as if she had never been. The novices exchanged nervous glances, then, one by one they advanced, heads bowed.
Seeing her companions move forward, fear filled Misato's heart. What if she wasn't pure enough? What if she wasn't really meant to be here? She knew that she made a poor novice. Always getting into trouble and causing havoc to the people around her. She had a problem with authority and the stern environment of the temple would often be too much for her... and then she would do something stupid.
As each step brought her closer and closer to the invisible holy
barrier, Misato prayed harder and harder to Lilith to let her in. She
had heard the stories about elves in her youth, of their unsurpassed
beauty, of their skills with the elemental and holy magics and of
their city, built in the trees. She wanted to see it all, she wanted
to meet them, she had for so long... She prayed, prayed more than she
had ever before...
After a few more steps, she opened eyes she hadn't realized she had closed and found herself dazzled by the sight before her.
Misato seemed to have lost her voice as her eyes attempted, futilely, to take in every detail. Kelethin wasn't a city in the trees, but a city of the trees. There was no line that separated the beauty of nature from the order of civilization. Flowers, plants, animals, and elves existed together in a seamless pattern that touched the novices deep in their hearts. There was no clutter here, nothing like the crowded streets that so often infested human settlements.
Here, houses were more than simple wooden structures, instead being circular chambers built around a central tree, allowed space from its neighbor. The walls were covered with carefully tended vines and creepers, while wild flowers grew on the roofs above. Gardens surrounded each building, a mix of ornamental flowers and simple crops existing side by side. Everywhere you looked there was another plant, or another delicately shaped building.
Unlike a human city, Kelethin grew up as well as out. Several great trees, huge and old, reached skyward. Into these living giants platforms had been added, some cradled among the branches, some held to the trunks by what looked like delicate spider silk. The levels rose up and up, some of the platforms stretching from the trunk of one great tree to another. Bridges of rope and carefully formed staircases of wood connected the whole of the city together, and the novices could see elves traveling throughout the city, both before them and among the leaves overhead.
Man-sized pillars of frosted glass stood in several locations, while other ones no larger than a hand were located on many roofs. Some were shaded by the canopy of leaves overhead, but those that weren't caught the sunlight and threw rainbows of colour all around the forest floor. The light beamed from crystal to crystal, so that at no time of day would the ground ever lack the touch of the sun's vibrant hues.
Misato could not help but feel pangs of guilt within her. Here, the elves lived in a perfect harmony, a symbiosis with nature, that humans, herself included, all too often ignored or simply never considered. How had human kingdoms leveled such beautiful forests to erect looming stone castles and towers? How many of those kingdoms were destroyed in one or two human generations, not even half a life-span for an elf?
The young cleric realized that the elven city and forest did not end or begin anywhere. They ended and began together in harmony.
"What do you know," said Ritsuko with a playful tone, bringing Misato out of her contemplations. "You might just be priestess material after all."
Misato playfully punched Ritsuko's shoulder and giggled as she ran toward the city, the head priestess frantically trying to catch her. The girl stopped short, however, as two men appeared out of thin air right in front of her. She gasped and tried to take a step back, but only managed to fall on her butt as she tripped over her own leg. For a moment her mind was paralyzed, only registering the sudden appearance of these persons and the weapons they bore.
"NO! Stay away! Stay! away!"
Her eyes took no notice of the surprised look on the two men, neither of their pale skin tone. She could only remember another time where she had seen another armed man appear before her in such a fashion. The impact of the memories it brought back was too much for her, and she could only close her eyes and curl up into herself in fright, shaking and whimpering.
"Please.... no... don't touch me... I don't want to... please..."
Misato shuddered as soft fingers touched her cheeks, but instead of the past replaying itself, she felt a warmth spread into her. Had she been in a normal state of mind, she would have realized that someone was using on her a harmony spell, having learned herself the basics only a few weeks ago. Slowly, her mind began to clear, and her body relax, her sobs receding.
"Are you all right, little one?"
Misato opened her eyes to see a man kneeling in front of her. His skin was pale, but not in the way of someone who was unhealthy. It looked more like living porcelain. The man had a fair face, with gentle and delicate features, and eyes of the purest blue Misato had ever seen. Long raven hair cascaded down his back, interrupted only by his pointed ears. He seemed young, barely an adult. Misato pegged him at seventeen or eighteen, but the sight of him had made her forget the rumors of elves being blessed with a longer life span. He only wore leather moccasins and pants, his muscular chest free to the soft breeze. A rapier was sheathed at his hip. He gave Misato a warm smile and the last of her fears left her heart. Misato couldn't help but smile back. Part of her noted that this man was probably the most gorgeous she had ever seen. And... this was an elf... a real one. Not one of those... She shuddered at the old memories.
"I... yes... I'm alright, Sir. Dear Lilith... you're really an elf, aren't you?!"
The man chuckled as he helped her get on her feet. Misato felt her cheeks grow red as she took his hand. It was warm, and the skin was soft, as soft as a baby's.
"Yes, little one. That I am."
His voice was like honey to her ears. Misato knees almost gave under her and she stumbled right into the elf's chest. Misato's blush grew in intensity as her face met the unrestricted skin of his hard chest.
"I am sorry we frightened you, little one. We did not intend to surprise you so."
Misato turned to the source of the new voice; it was the second man. He was older than his companion, appearing around thirty in human years. Even so he also was a man of uncommon beauty, the gentleness and delicate look of his companion having made their way to grace and a nobility. His eyes were of a deep green, and he too sported long raven hair, this held in a ponytail. His garb was less revealing however. While he wore the same kind of pants and moccasins as his companion, he also wore a tunic of forest green, partly hidden beneath breastplate and arm bands of shining silver. On his back was a quiver filled with arrows, and in one of his hands he held a sturdy looking fighting staff.
"No, I... I shouldn't have been running off like that..."
"Indeed you shouldn't!" scolded the priestess leading the group of novices, who had finally caught up. "I'm really sorry for this incident.. this child is wild, she only causes trouble..."
Misato looked down, in shame.
"Ah, but this child is full of life, a trait blessed by the Goddess, maiden of Lilith," said the younger elf to the priestess.
Misato looked up again, smiling, despite the frown from the priestess.
"Come," said the older elf, "Lady Ayanami has sent us to welcome you. She wishes to meet Lilith's future messengers."
The priestess nodded and soon the group of novices followed the two elves.
While some opinions could differ, Kelethin's high priestess was generally recognized as the most important figure of the clerical Order of Lilith. While Tokyo's high priestess was recognized as the leader of the Order, the spiritual heart of the Order laid in Kelethin and its high priestess. So, each year, the Order novices came to Kelethin to receive the high priestess' blessing, in order to move to the next step of their formation as clerics.
The novices followed their guides from one wooden platform to another, being greeted along the way by warm smiles and waves from residents of the city. Misato felt a warmth within her chest. These people were so beautiful and friendly, you could almost feel the goodness in the air. Anxiety, however, filled her heart as they arrived at a huge platform held between four great trees on which stood a temple. Into the wooden doors, a skilled hand had carved a figure of Lilith with but a few carefully placed lines. The two elves opened the door and invited the novices and their guardian to enter and then closed the doors behind them.
In the temple the air was filled with a strange, yet not unpleasant mixture of incense and a flowery perfume. The main room, lit only by candlelight, was bare except for a small wooden altar standing in front of a wooden statue of Lilith. The novices looked around, feeling strangely humbled as they compared this simple glory to the rich ornaments of the Order's temple in Tokyo.
A door opened in the back of the room and a person entered. A few of the novices, Misato included, gasped as they found their imagined ideal for beauty suddenly redefined. The newcomer was a woman, and while appearing about forty in human years, she was easily the most beautiful woman any there had ever seen. Her body was covered by a semi-transparent white silk ribbon, which passed behind her neck, moved down on each side to cover her breasts, continued behind her back emerged behind above her hips, then crossed in front of her to hide her sex, before climbing up again to cross at the level of her waist to be finally tied behind it, and fall to the level of her ankles. The elven woman, as attested by her pointed ears and flawless pale skin, was standing tall and a long mane of lavender hair fell down to mid-thigh. Her face, despite showing a few laugh lines, possessed features that spoke of an exotic beauty. Her most striking features however, were her eyes.
"Red eyes..." Misato found herself whispering.
"I've heard that red eyes are the mark of High Elves," Ritsuko whispered back in her best 'know-it-all' tone.
Misato nodded. High Elves... elves that were direct descendants of the first elves, three millennia ago. To insure the survival of their race, or simply out of love, a number of elves had, with time, coupled with humans. Only the High Elves were of pure blood. Rumor said that Kelethin's high priestess was a descendant of Kaworu the Brave. It was also said that the name Ayanami was the original name of Kaworu's wife and had been handed down from generation to generation to the current Ayanami. If all this was true, then... the woman standing in front of them was the High Priestess herself. Understanding seemed to dawn in most of the novices' minds as a good number of them knelt down in humility in front of the woman.
"Children, there is no need to kneel before me, as we all stand equal in Lilith's heart."
The woman had spoken with such a soothing, peaceful voice that Misato could not help but relax. As she and the other novices got to their feet, another elven woman emerged from the far door and presented a wooden cup filled with water to the High Priestess. The crimson eyed woman took the cup, blessed its contents in the name of Lilith, then beckoned the novices to approach. One by one, they came to her and for each she dipped her finger into the cup and anointed each teenager's forehead with the water in the form of Lilith's cross. Misato suddenly found herself rooted with fear as the High Priestess motioned her to come. This was it... the moment she had so eagerly awaited. Yet... she couldn't move.
"What is wrong, Child?"
For a few seconds, Misato found herself unable to speak, before the words finally came.
"I... I'm not worthy. I... I know I'm not. My teachers are right. I... I'm not meant to be here. I'm dirty, soiled. Just a worthless orphan they took in out of pity. I can't do anything right. I'm not worthy of the honor of being blessed by the Goddess."
Misato was crying now, some of companions murmuring things her ears couldn't register. Misato suddenly gasped, however, as she felt someone hugging her and opened her eyes to see the High Priestess kneeling on the floor, holding her against her chest.
"We are all worthy of the Goddess' love, as her love for us is boundless. All life is precious to her, even those who turn to embrace the darkness. Despite the fact we are forced to battle them to preserve our lives and the lives of her believers, and that of Gaia itself, she never turns her smile away from any of her children. The tears you are shedding, this desire of being accepted, despite recognizing your flaws, has touched her heart and she will welcome you with her love, if you desire it so."
"I am glad. I see in you a bright future. Never hesitate to go forward and walk the path you chose for yourself."
The High Priestess broke the embrace, traced the pattern of Lilith's cross on her forehead, then to everyone's surprise, kissed Misato's forehead. The High Priestess then finished her task of blessing the other novices, as if nothing had happened, leaving a stunned Misato. The girl didn't really hear the following prayers, as only one thought filled her mind.
She had been accepted, she was an apprentice now.
- - -
Her black cloak hugging her like a shadow, the woman stood in the middle of a small crater in the road. This landmark, and the other numerous scars on the surrounding area, was a testament to the fierce battle that had taken place here mere hours ago. While travelers had turned back at the sight of such carnage, she marveled at such a destructive sight. She had never doubted her... ally... about the potential danger the White Knight and her protegeacute; represented, but she would never have expected them to stand up to a Kagenoshi in such a way.
This new reality was very exhilarating.
She walked toward the forest, or at least what was left of it, as most trees around what had been previously a road had either been cut down or burned to ashes. She advanced until she reached a massive form on the ground, which she knew that only herself was able to see.
She pushed back the hood of her cloak, revealing hair as white as snow, pointed ears, eyes as red as blood and dark chocolate colored skin.
"You're a mess," said the woman, as she jumped on what was the chest of the giant form of Sachiel. The Kagenoshi didn't react, his injuries far too severe to do so. "I'm actually surprised that you're still alive," she added as she as made a gesture towards a massive gash in its torso. "Not that it's doing any good."
A gust of wind pushed her cloak back, revealing the body it had previously been hiding.
The woman wore a sleeveless tunic, which ended slightly above mid thigh. The tunic was high collared, both sides braided with gold patterns somewhat reminiscent of the form of an eye. But the way it was cut, from shoulders to beneath her navel and the amount of impressive bosom it left visible, made the White Knight's usual attire look unadventurous by comparison. The gold braided leather choker she was wearing, her tall, slim and curvy body, and the amount of skin exposed between the end of her tunic and her ankle high leather boots added to the overall image her attire was projecting. While the White Knight looked gorgeous and attractive, this woman seemed to ooze sensuality. Only the blackened iron bracers and the two longswords at her hips suggested this woman was trouble. That is, if the color of her eyes and skin, and her pointed ears and dangerous smile weren't indication enough.
A few long minutes passed. While Sachiel wasn't dead yet, it appeared evident that he wasn't even strong enough to speak.
"I am very disappointed in you, Sachiel."
At the sound of the voice, the dark elf turned toward the newcomer as its form slowly emerged from shadows on the ground. Despite herself, she smiled at the sight of the male who floated in her direction. She watched in interest as her associate turned his attention to the follower lying under his feet.
"I gave you a simple mission, Sachiel. To kill one boy. And what did you do? Not only did you fail to carry on your mission, but you were beaten in combat and you revealed your true form to the White Knight. Now, High Mage Gendo will know for certain that our forces are on the move. Lady Armisael?"
The woman rose from her kneeling position and looked at the high elf. She did not answer for a second or two, marveling at him. Rarely did she have the opportunity to look upon his face in daylight; his long gray hair, the red eyes, the pale but pleasant face.
"Yes, Lord Tabris?"
"Do you think this lowly servant deserves another chance? Do you think it is worth wasting, for a second time, a portion of my power and the life force of more of your brothers?"
"No," was her simple reply.
To her surprise, Tabris then knelt down and punched the Kagenoshi's chest. His fist broke through the armored skin and slowly his arm dug within the flesh. He had pushed his arm in almost up to the shoulder when he suddenly removed it, dark blood staining the black clothes he was wearing. Armisael then gasped in surprise as flesh began to dissolve and metal began to corrode itself and rust. Following on her master's example, she jumped off the now dead Kagenoshi and watched it wither away to become a barely recognizable corpse.
"What's happening?" asked Armisael.
Tabris shook the sleeve of his shirt, the blood that had been coating it now also turning to dust. He then opened his hand and showed it to Armisael, palm open. In the middle of the porcelain-like skin, she noticed a tiny, barely visible, black crystal shard.
"This shard," explained Tabris, "is a shard of Adam's heart. In the Black War, Adam created the Yami-Armors to be his servants, by giving life to fallen human magi-armor, with a shard of his heart. The soul of the dead pilot became a slave to the darkness and the device he rode was turned into his new body, a machine of death and destruction. By removing the shard, I removed the magic that inhabited this thing, and by taking its life and power away, it turned to dust as it should have millennia ago. And now, I will make this power mine."
Tabris clenched his fist hard, and then fell to one knee, screaming in agony. Armisael rushed to his aid, but he kept her at arm's length. A moment later he pushed himself to his feet, panting and covered with a cold sweat but apparently no longer in pain.
"Do not concern yourself. I am alright. In fact..."
He extended his palm toward what remained of Sachiel's corpse. A ball of energy formed in his palm then flew toward its intended target. Armisael gasped as she suddenly found herself right in the middle of an explosion. Instinctively, despite a shield of darkness that surrounded them, she clutched at Tabris, who chuckled. Once the flames died down, they were floating at the center of a large crater.
"I feel better than fine."
As they touched ground, Armisael looked at him with renewed respect.
"This is but a mere fraction of the power possessed by Adam. Once we have harnessed all his power, we will be able to shatter this world. From its ashes we will create a new world, one where you and your dark elven brothers will no longer need to hide in caves, shadows and the wastelands."
"As agreed, I will assist you in this task, Lord Tabris," she replied sincerely. The idea of cooperating with one of his kind was unpleasant, but if his plan could benefit her people, she would do so without hesitation.
"I expect nothing less from the woman who united the chaotic dark elf clans under her banner," he said. Tabris then turned his attention to the devastated landscape surrounding them. "You were witness to the battle. How was Sachiel defeated?"
"The White Knight weakened Sachiel through the use of the powers of the Murasame, then the boy attacked Sachiel with enough raw power that it's impossible now to deny that he is, indeed, the Wind Chosen."
"Yes, I felt the unsealing of the boy's power, as well as another power that I have not felt for a long time. At least the White Knight is dead now, which means one less thorn in our side."
"Forgive me, but she still lives."
"Using the Murasame's full potential drains the life from its user. For that matter, why have you not presented me with the Knight and the boy's heads upon your swords?"
Armisael looked down in shame.
"They were aided in this battle. Someone joined their group."
The dark elf woman then looked up, a glint of passion in her eyes.
"An high elf girl. Who could cast cleric spells and use powerful water elemental spells. She's the reason I couldn't finish them off. Her magics have hidden them from scrying after the fight. I've spent an entire day looking for them without success. I don't think it will be possible to find them as long as she's with them."
Tabris smiled. "The Water Chosen. So it appears that we will not need to look for her."
"Indeed," said Armisael, beaming.
"You seem eager."
"Yes. I wish to battle with her. She might be a worthy challenge."
Tabris nodded. "You will. But in its own time. For now, we must adjust our plans to incorporate the new information we have gathered. Sachiel was perfect to test their abilities. If we had fought them ourselves, we might just have underestimated them and lost. Instead we have seen the abilities of their knights, at no more loss than that of a single pawn."
"What will we do?"
"We shall let them do as they please and try to revive the Holy Armors. While they are busy, we will concentrate our efforts on unsealing the power of Adam. Let them beat all the Yami-Armors if they want... it will just add to our strength in the end. And if our puppets do actually defeat them, then all for the better."
"As you wish, Lord Tabris."
Tabris looked up at the sky, which was getting darker as rain clouds approached them.
"I believe the near future will be entertaining, my dear Armisael."
The dark elf nodded heartily, as she gazed at his profile, despite her better judgement.
- - -
"Why did I dream of the past?" wondered Misato as the sound of thunder woke her. It felt as if those days had been centuries ago, yet her dream had been so vivid. She smiled. Those days had been amongst the happiest of her life.
The smile disappeared however, as Misato winced in pain when she tried to move. She felt like crap. This was, she supposed, an improvement over last time since she could now feel *something*, even if it was to feel how hurt and weakened she was.
Resorting to her last recourse... It had been foolish of her. But she knew deep down that it had been her only choice. She knew the legends of Gaia well. Only an handful of humans had the raw power to hope to break down a Yami-armor's Absolute Terror Field. She had doubts that even High Mage Gendo would have been able to do it, now that he had passed down the Murasame to her. Only someone fully mastering one of the elemental crests or the Murasame could hope to accomplish such a feat. Otherwise, to beat a Yami-armor, one needed the powers of an Holy Armor.
She could still hardly believe she was alive at all.
As she opened her eyes, her musing returned to the now fleeting memories. Why had she dreamt of those days in Kelethin? Was it because of the elven girl? It was true that she had not seen many elves since those days. And most of the ones she had seen had been the kind she had needed to slay.
Painfully, Misato tried to sit up. She gasped in pain as some bandages in a few places slowly showed a red tint, and broken bones sent signals that nearly overloaded her nervous system. Only pig-headed determination and years of training learning to handle pain permitted her to reach her goal. Tears ran freely from her eyes and she had to fight against vertigo and nausea as her body protested against the treatment she was forcing upon it. Still, she was now in a seated position and began to scan her surroundings. First she noticed the fire that was burning close by. Beyond the flames she could see the entrance to the cave. From the darkness outside and the howling winds and occasional roars of thunder, she guessed it was stormy outside. Looking in the other direction, she saw another form lying close to her.
She tried to move towards him, but the pain her movements caused was too intense to allow her. She calmed down as she noticed that he seemed to be sleeping soundly. His body was covered with the white cape of the elven girl, as her own body was with her own cape, Misato noticed. Nasty bruises could be seen on his face, but Misato didn't think he was seriously hurt, though with the cape covering him she couldn't know for sure.
She was about to try and reach for him again when a voice stopped her.
"Do not strain yourself. He was seriously hurt, but I have treated his worst wounds. His mind, however, needs rest, to recover from what happened. As you do."
Misato gasped in surprise, then in pain as she turned toward the source of the voice. She had not sensed anyone approach her.
"You should not move yet. Your wounds still require treatment."
Soft hands touched her skin and gently helped her to lay down. Misato looked up toward the elven girl. Wet blue hair was sticking to her pale face and her clothes seemed drenched, indicating that it was indeed raining outside. As her eyes crossed the girl's own, Misato finally remembered one of the things that had been bothering her about this mysterious ally.
"Red eyes and blue hair. Only high elves have red eyes and blue hair..."
The elven girl didn't say anything, she only touched Misato's face with her fingertips, the touch feeling warm and comforting.
"Rest now. I have almost finished preparing a special healing salve to treat your wounds. The next time you will wake up, you will be feeling better."
Misato nodded, her eyes feeling heavy now. Was it really due to exhaustion, or was it somehow due to the elf girl's desire to see her rest? She didn't know, and didn't really care. Her mind had drifted back to her earlier puzzle. This girl... she was certain she knew her... but where from?
Her eyes closed and a slight smile appeared on her face as she remembered in her dreams.
- - -
It was the beginning of a new day. The sun's rays filtered through the tall trees, bathing the forest in an intricate pattern of light and shadows. Birds chirped as they took flight. Forest animals rose from their slumber to hunt for their daily sustenance. Flowers opened to bless the rising elves with their bright color and sweet smell. A sense of equilibrium and harmony reigned on Kelethin Forest that morning.
"Aaaaaaaaaarg! Where am I?!"
Birds scampered in all directions, fleeing at the scream, as did the rest of the wildlife within earshot.
A disheveled Misato stood alone in the middle of the forest, utterly lost.
"How did I end up here?" moaned the young girl, as she leaned against a tree. She had a splitting headache, her stomach felt queasy, she'd rather not ponder on the taste she had in her mouth and she was sore all over. Oh, yeah, and she was lost too. And probably late, judging by the way the sun lit the forest.
"Miharu-sensei is gonna have a fit about that..." thought Misato as she sat down to rest a bit. Closing her eyes she tried to think about what had happened. Slowly it came back to her.
A party. An elven summer festival of some sort. She hadn't asked about the details really, and her teacher had been unwilling to provide them, saying that good clerics didn't seeks such frivolities. Of course, again and again she liked to remind Misato that she wasn't cleric material, so that didn't stop the girl from sneaking out of her room once everyone was asleep.
It had been so fun!
She had danced. That she could clearly remember. Danced a lot. On happy and cheerful rhythms. A sort of wild, carefree dance that needed no practice to perform, that only needed for one to let their body move with the flow of the music.
It had felt very good. Entertainment wasn't part of temple life.
The food and drinks had been exquisite, although it was clear that she had abused the liquor. She wasn't so sure now that it had been worth it, however, as she could no longer prevent herself from throwing up. Feeling dizzy, part of Misato prayed that she wouldn't faint while apparently puking her guts out.
"It would be so embarrassing... being found unconscious lying in my own vomit..."
Once done with emptying her stomach, Misato leaned against a tree nearby, waiting for her upset stomach to calm down. After a few moments, she did realize that she felt much better now. In fact, now that her head was clearer, she remembered a self-healing and purification spell she has learned in the last year. While it was mainly designed to cure the body from poisons, diseases and dangerous toxins, she could remember the old priest who had taught her class jokingly mentioning, to the grief of Miharu-sensei, that this spell worked great for hangovers.
"What do you know, the old man was right..." thought Misato, as relief washed over her with the spell. "Might want to remember that one... If only I could rid myself of that taste in my mouth now..."
Closing her eyes, the girl strained her senses. She smiled as she recognized nearby the sound of running water. She had noticed the river from the tree city, and had hoped that she had at least gotten lost close to it. It would also help her find her way easier now that she had a bit more clue of where she was. Getting up, she hastily made her way toward the river, and the promise of water to clean her mouth and satiate her dry and sore throat.
As she reached the river, Misato suddenly stopped in her tracks, transfixed. In the middle stood wooden poles, of length that randomly varied, as did the distance between one another. Standing on one of the poles was a young elven girl, as much as the term could apply to elves, looking only slightly older than Misato.
The girl wore a plain white robe that reached to her mid thighs, the only accessories being a sort of golden medallion with a strange blue character carved in it, and a belt with a sheath. Rapier in hand, eyes closed, the girl seemed to be training. It was that training that caught Misato's breath and had her gaping in awe. The girl moved in a way that seemed better fitted for a dancer, her movements graceful and flawless, each following the other in what seemed perfected practice. The cold precision in which the blade moved, however, left little doubt to the girl's deadly skills.
The girl then began to move from one pole to another, without breaking her beautifully complex sword dance. The girl almost seemed to glide from one pole to the other, her feet never missing their target, never even seeming to doubt that they would land where they were intended. The girl's movements flowed like the water of the river: fluid, undisturbed, serene. The long pale blue hair that seemed to float behind her adding to the impression.
For several minutes, Misato watched the girl, feeling many things, some she couldn't even identify. The beauty of the intricate sword dance warmed her heart. But at the same time, the girl's beauty and skill made her feel small and envious; deep within herself, Misato knew that she would never be able to show as much grace as that girl currently was. More importantly, however, Misato felt envious of the freedom expressed by the girl's movements. It called out to her, beckoned her. She wanted to free herself from the heavy robe she wore, free herself from the silent and strict ways of the temple. She wanted to be out, to DO something, beside learning magic.
But she couldn't. To reach her goal, fulfill the promise she had made herself, she had to endure those invisible shackles she wore.
Misato found herself pulled from her contemplative mood as she realized that the elven girl had stopped moving and that her eyes, red eyes, were staring straight at her.
Her breath found itself caught in her throat, as she felt paralyzed by that gaze. While the color was the same as the gaze of Lady Ayanami, it was completely different. The priestess' eyes were soft, full of a promise of love. These eyes, however, were cold as ice and seemed to bore into Misato's soul in a razor sharp fashion. For an instant Misato wanted to flee that gaze, but something like a primal instinct rose up inside and told her to stand fast.
'I won't lose.'
And so, she stood her ground and glared back at the girl. This reaction brought a brief, surprised look to the elf's face, before her gaze softened. It still seemed distant, but more in the way of someone keeping to himself, than driving people away. Suddenly, those eyes seemed lonely. They were the eyes of someone whom was carrying a weight that seemed too heavy for her frail shoulders.
"Why are you here? You should be training in the temple."
"I got lost," answered Misato sheepishly.
Only then did she notice that the girl had been, somehow, standing all along straight on the pole on which she had stopped on training without showing signs of losing her balance.
"How do you do that?" asked Misato, pointing at the elf's feet.
"I have been training all my life."
Misato nodded. Knowing that this girl was likely several times her age, it made sense.
"Your training was really beautiful. I've never seen anything like it. It's nothing like the knights' training, back at the temple."
"Humans rely on the strength of their arms and steel to win their battles. We focus on the equilibrium of body, mind, and soul."
"So in other words, you elves enhance your natural speed, dexterity and agility with magic and ki, uh?"
The elf rose an eyebrow at Misato.
"I some times sneak out of boring classes at the temple to watch the monks train," explained Misato, blushing.
It was faint, but the elf actually smiled.
"You're partly correct," added the elf as she sheathed her blade with another fluid-like movement. "But we also have years to train."
"So, with enough time and training, I could do that too?"
"Do not do that, you will hurt yourself." said the elf, guessing Misato's intentions.
But it was too late, as Misato tried to jump on one of the shorter poles. She quickly realized, however, that a single wooden pole offered very little standing surface. Carried over by her momentum, she jumped to another pole, in an attempt to gain a bit more balance. She found herself forced to jump again to avoid falling, however, and soon found herself hopping from pole to pole, in an effort and hope to manage to remain stationary. She eventually succeeded in staying up on her two legs without threatening to take a swim in the river, and flashed a victory smirk to the elf.
The elf seemed unimpressed.
"The goal of the exercise is to achieve balance. Standing with your feet on two different poles detracts from that goal."
"Hey, give me a break, okay? I'm just starting, I don't have Lilith knows how many years of training doing that."
The elf nodded. "True enough. But I wonder, how long can you remain balanced on those poles?"
Misato snorted. "I can do this all day!"
"Really? Then you will not mind some extra weight."
The elf unsheathed her rapier and threw it at Misato. The raven haired girl caught it, but her knees found themselves suddenly buckling as the sudden movement threw off her balance. She flailed her arms in an effort to remain still, but the weight of the weapon, even as light as it was, was enough to break away what little balance she had left, and the girl found herself falling into the river. The cool water welcomed her, but that was no comfort to a suddenly fuming Misato.
At least she had her chance to wash herself, as well as her mouth, now. And she certainly had managed to get a drink of the pure cool water.
Misato's frustrations, however, grew even more as she watched the elf move effortlessly from pole to pole, until she reached ground.
"A child should learn to walk, before jumping around."
"Hey, that wasn't fair!" protested a soaking wet Misato as she dragged herself out of the river.
"Life never is."
Misato threw the sword at the elf, who caught it effortlessly.
"I'll get it right this time," vowed Misato as she headed towards the poles again.
"Why do you stay here? Why are you not returning to the village? Do you dislike Lady Ayanami's lessons?"
Misato stopped on her tracks.
"No... I like the High Priestess. She's nice. She was kind to me. I just..."
Misato turned to face the elf, and the elven girl found herself surprised by the sadness on the human's face.
"When we go back, I don't know when will be the next time I'll be allowed to leave the temple grounds. When I finally do... my breasts will probably be four times the size of that flat chest of yours!"
This feeble attempt at cheerfulness didn't convince the elf, however.
"Why learn the arts of healing, if it causes you pain?"
"I... I have to..."
The elf sat down, and invited the human girl to do the same. Misato complied.
"Is someone forcing you?"
"No... it's... it's a promise I made to myself..."
Misato could feel the elf's inquiring eyes, despite turning her face to not see them.
"Have you ever heard of the village of Oshimino?"
The elf's face darkened. While Misato didn't see it, she could sense the elf's change of mood in a slight variation of her tone of voice.
"Yes, I have. A peaceful, mining village in the north. Until five years ago. A group of dark elves attacked the village. All of the males present at the time were killed. The women that were not killed are presumed to have been taken away to act as slaves or breeding stock." The elf eyes locked with Misato, who was now looking her way again. "You are from that village, aren't you? You are a survivor of the Oshimino massacre."
Hesitantly, Misato nodded.
"Yes. My father hid me under a pile of dirty clothes. Clothes get dirty easily in a mining village, and it was the cleaning day. He made me promise to stay there no matter what, to keep quiet. I had to stay there and hear my father being killed, then... then... those dirty dark elves... take turns at raping my mother before taking her away." Tears were running down the human's face now. "I... I... I wanted to go to help them, but I had promised... and I... I... I was too scared to move! I don't know how long I stayed there... maybe a few days... I just know that I was too hungry and thirsty to stay hidden any longer... The... the first thing I saw was the dead body of my father... I ran out of the house... then all the bodies... outside..."
The elf surprised Misato by hugging her lightly. The human welcomed the sudden contact.
"Before I knew it... a fist appeared from nowhere and I was thrown on the ground. A dark elf appeared in front of me... he was scary, his clothes and dark skin covered in blood, this crazy and hungry look in his eyes. He... he grabbed me... ripped my clothes off... tried to... but before he could... there was a loud scream... the sound of an explosion nearby and white light blinding me... The dark elf swore and let go of me, then I felt pain on my chest as he slashed me with a dagger..."
Lightly, Misato's finger traced a line from her modest left breast, to the right of her navel.
"I still have the scar. The cut wasn't very clean and regular, his blade probably old and damaged. Or maybe dark elves takes pleasure in using rusty weapons to kill their victims."
Feeling slightly better, Misato freed herself from the elf's hold. Her speech was steadier now.
"The man who saved me was a Holy Knight of Lilith. He used a healing spell to close my wound. When I asked him to heal my father, he shook his head sadly, saying that it was too late and that only a high level cleric could bring back life that had been taken away. At that time, I swore to myself that I would become such a cleric."
The elf nodded in understanding, before her eyes bore into Misato's.
"But is this what you truly desire? Would you feel any less helpless if you were capable of bringing back the dead? Even if you had that power, you must have realized by now that the spell necessary for such a feat must be cast within at most minutes of the victim's demise. You could not have done a thing for your father or the others who died in your village."
The elf could see the tears threaten to overtake the girl again.
"I... I... I know! I just want to do *something*... to prevent something as senseless from happening ever again..."
The elf turned her face and looked at the clear blue sky.
"Lilith loves all life, because she created that life. But to give that life a purpose, she made us free to choose our own paths, so man has the potential to be good or evil. Those who choose evil threaten that life that Lilith holds dear. Lilith does not promote the use of violence, but sometimes a sword is the only defense there is against another sword. Like that man who saved your life... he made more of a difference in Oshimino than a cleric would have... because he saved a life."
For a moment, Misato pondered those words. For a reason, they struck a chord within her.
"A sword that protects..."
"This is my path. Yours might be of another nature. But if you choose the way of the warrior, then I believe that Lilith would gain a worthy ally."
The elf smiled.
"Your skills are weak, but you have potential. And a courageous and noble soul."
"A warrior..." whispered Misato, her mind whirling with possibilities she never considered before. "What about you? Why do you follow the way of the sword?"
The elf closed her eyes, and spoke.
"A time of infamy,
Of Darkness long foretold,
When One long fallen will rise against,
The Light most revered,
Aligning with those who are Lost,
To bring a tide of Blood and Tears,
Yet hearten all, despair not,
All is not lost,
Heroes four, of heart disparate,
Shall take up the Sacred Torch.
One of Wind, a child whose heart is torn,
Whose gentle touch is like the breeze,
Can become a whirling storm,
Whose yearning is to be accepted,
But whose past brings pity and scorn.
One of Water, Tempest blue,
Her eyes a sea of fire
Whom nature sheltered and Magic raised,
As soft as the ocean's spray,
As cold as the azure depths below.
One of Fire, Heart Unreadable,
Her soul a battleground,
Whose passion, a fickle blaze,
Can give needed warmth,
Or burn and most often scald.
One of Earth, of Rock and Steadfast strength,
Quickly dismissed and misunderstood,
Whose bluster is a steely mask,
A thick fa?ade,
Hiding a heart of Gold.
Listen all, never despair,
Lest ye fall victim to the Night,
For in the world's darkest hour,
The Four shall carry on the Fight!"
Misato stared at the elf in consternation. "That... that's the Chosen prophecy!"
Slowly, the elf got up and approached the river, before turning toward Misato.
"For a while now, we have felt the Darkness slowly awakening from its slumber. It is only a matter of time now, before it starts spreading again. Years from now, war will be waged once again, and I will be on the front line."
Softly, the symbol on the medal the elf wore began to shine, and behind her, water began to rise from the river. The shape of the water, almost similar to a snake, slowly rose up and climbed over the elven girl's body, twisting and turning, with a life of its own. It rose until it reached the girl's hand. Then, slowly, the mass of water began to gather there to form a new shape, that of a dragon, which roared as it stood at the elf's fingertip, defying the law of gravity. Misato could only stare, eyes wide.
"I am the Water Chosen. My fate has been set at my birth. The Darkness is coming, and I will face it. Now, human, what fate will you choose for yourself? Will you be part of those who will heal the wounded and provide the last line of defense to the weak, or will you join those who seek to shield the weak by battling darkness, fighting in the line of battle?"
Misato stared as slowly, the dragon began to dissipate as a light mist cloud. Her mind raced, as the implications of what she had seen and heard weighed upon her mind and heart. As she looked within herself, she could only come to one conclusion.
'I won't hide this time.'
The elf gave her a slight smile. "Good then."
The elf walked towards a bundle that had been set against a tree and pulled from it two practice wooden swords.
"I had a strange feeling that this morning, I would have a sparring partner. It seems that Lilith has offered you a choice, and has given me a small part in helping you decide. It has been a long, long time since I last had a partner. I will try not to be too hard on you."
Misato grinned as she took the sword the elf offered her.
"Give me your best shot!"
The elf nodded, then went into motion. Before she could realize what had happened, Misato had been disarmed, and she felt a stinging pain on her chest. As she touched the sore spot, she realized that it was where her heart was. She looked at the elf, and understood the unsaid message. If the elf had used a real blade, she would be dead.
"Maybe you should show me the basics first?"
The elf nodded again.
For hours, the two practiced, the elf showing something to Misato, and the raven haired girl emulating what she had seen. After hours of practice, Misato eventually managed to reach a point where she could either block or deflect some of the elf's attacks. She had yet to even come close to touching the elf, however, and Misato was certain she was holding back. Nevertheless, despite all her muscles aching from the continuous effort, and her body being sore all over from the hits she had taken, Misato felt oddly happy. This had been truly fun.
The fun ended however, as a much too familiar voice made itself heard, earning Misato a hit to her already bruised right shoulder.
The teenage girl groaned as she heard the voice of her teacher.
Misato had seen the Tokyo priestess mad before. Very often, in fact. And most of the time, at her. But never this badly. She cringed, awaiting the doubtlessly imminent explosion.
"I can't believe this! You skipped this morning's lessons, made us look all over the village for you and your were HERE playing with STICKS?! For the love of Lilith, what kind of example are you setting for your comrades! Of all the irresponsible things you've done, this..."
"This isn't playing!" countered Misato before the priestess was done, infuriated herself. "It's swordsmanship practice!"
"Call it however you like, this is no way for a lady to behave, even less a cleric apprentice!"
"Then maybe you were right all along! Maybe I'm not meant to be a cleric!"
That stunned the priestess to silence for a moment. Misato was still fuming, however.
"What... what do you mean by this, child?"
"It means I quit! I'm gonna be a warrior! I'm gonna be a knight! I'm gonna be the very best knight you'll ever see!"
That said, Misato pulled off her cleric robes and angrily stomped on them.
"Misato! What are you doing?!"
Before things could deteriorate further, the familiar and elegant form of High Priestess Ayanami emerged from the group of students who had been standing at a distance, gawking at the scene. Both Misato and her former teacher watched the elegant woman walk up to the teenager. In her hand she held a bundle of clothing that she handed to the young girl.
"So, you have chosen your path."
Misato took the clothes and looked at them, nothing that they were identical to the ones her new friend was wearing. Then, she blushed and tried to cover her chest, as she realized that all she was wearing was a pair of underwear.
"Yes," replied Misato, still red as a tomato.
"I am glad. I am certain that you will serve Lilith well."
The elven woman then turned to the human priestess.
"For the remainder of her stay here, this child will learn the art of the sword from my daughter Rei. When you return to Tokyo, I wish that you inform White Knight Gendo that Lady Ayanami commends this child to train with the Holy Knights of Lilith."
The priestess nodded mindlessly, quite obviously overwhelmed by this new development. On her part, Misato gave the elven priestess then the young elf puzzled looks.
"Your... daughter? I've... I've been fighting with the High Priestess' daughter?"
The younger elf nodded.
"I am Rei of the Ayanami Clan."
That last revelation was too much to handle, after the exerting exercises she had submitted herself to, the previous night's lack of sleep and making a life changing choice. So Misato fainted.
- - -
When she woke up this time around, Misato noticed the pain had lessened considerably. No doubt due to the treatments the elven girl had administered her. She still hurt, and she doubted that she would be going anywhere soon, but now the pain was tolerable. Quite enough to be able to sit up. Quite enough to be able to sit down. As her eyes found Shinji's unconscious body, she frowned. If he was still unconscious, something serious must have happened to him.
"You are awake now."
Misato's heart skipped a beat as she heard the soft voice almost whispered in her ear.
"Rei! You know I hate that! And I can't even beat you up for that..." complained Misato as an attempt to do so caused too much pain for it to be worth the effort.
"Ah, so you remember now."
"It's not like I had forgotten you, you know. I mean, before I had been too focused on the fight to wonder why some elf coming out of nowhere was familiar... and the previous times I woke up, I was worse off then after a few casks of beer. Besides, you've cut your hair and grown some breasts since the last time I saw you."
This time, it was the elf turn to show an hint of hue.
"Short hair is preferable in battle," she simply said, not wanting to venture on the subject of her mammary development. As a teenager, Misato had loved to vaunt her superiority in that domain. And looking at the now mature White Knight, it was clear that the human now had a lot more to brag about.
"It's really you alright... always focused on the battle."
Misato was smiling, however, as she said those words. It had been long... far too long...
"It's good to see you again, Rei."
Awkwardly, Misato hugged the smaller and younger looking girl. It hurt to do so, but it was worth it, decided the White Knight.
"It is good to see you too. Although, I wish it was under a different circumstance. The Darkness is rising, and threatens to swallow us all..."
Misato nodded. Time was short now.