After who knew how much time, Mayumi pulled away. "I... I have to get back to helping."
"Yeah... I should go back to the frontlines." He wanted to say something to her, something important and... you know, important. But for all the stories in his head his tongue wouldn't do what he wanted. "I just wish there was a way to keep them from rising so fast."
Rubbing her eyes underneath her glasses, Mayumi sighed. "It's probably some kind of outside augmentation field or something. I wish Yomiko was where, she'd probably have read something on this at some point."
"My friend who works out of the Royal Repository of Learning. I could never understand how she could get a good night's rest after reading those horrible books on the undead, but I guess it was more important that it was a book rather than what was in it." Kensuke knew she was randomly prattling on at this point, but let her talk. When she was done he'd have no more reason to stay... and he wasn't all that certain he'd be coming back this time. He wanted to be here, with her, for as long as he could.
"I mean, I'll have to introduce you to her, once this is all done. I'm sure you'll get along. You both like books."
"Yeah... Yomiko? I think I met her once: when I was looking for ways into the Cathedral to... get you out."
Mayumi's face tightened up at the memory of her time being put to the question. Pushing the images aside she forced herself to ramble on. "Oh, I'm glad you've met her. She's such a nice person, but not always so good with people. I remember this one time..."
Kensuke closed his eyes, to lock in the sound of her voice so when he went back to the frontlines, he would carry it with him.
"... and when I woke up, she had her nose buried in a book on structural plans and magical designs. It was unbelievably top secret information, but because it was in a book, she just had to read it..."
Heart heavy, he knew it was time...
"When I found out she was reading the design plans for the Sentinel Towers I almost fainted."
"Yeah, too bad she's not here," he said absently as he pushed himself away from the statue he'd been leaning against. "Maybe we could get her to start rebuilding the Towers." He had no time left. Nervously he reached out for her. "Mayumi..."
"Rebuild... the towers? Wait a minute... Kensuke!" Her eyes lit up in eagerness.
She dropped the bandages she'd been carrying and grabbed his hand. "Come with me!"
Mayumi dragged him out of the Cathedral's chaotic main chamber and into a hallway. Down deeper into the depths of the building she turned corner after corner until she pulled him into a small prayer room that had had its door violently ripped off. Inside he saw a priestess, head down.
"Ritsuko!" Kensuke shouted. "What the fu-!"
"The dead are animating all throughout the city!" Mayumi said, cutting off the bard's angry shout.
The bottle blonde woman looked up wearily. "Huh... I wondered what all the commotion was about. As if we needed more proof the time of Adam's return is neigh-"
"It's more than that," Mayumi cut her off. "Kensuke, tell her what you saw."
"Why are we dealing with her?!"
"We need her."
"No one needs her!"
Grinding his teeth, Kensuke bitterly told the ex-high priestess about the undead rising instantly upon the death of the living. Ritsuko frowned. "That shouldn't be."
"But it is. Obviously something else the Church got wrong."
"We didn't get it wrong, boy. Something must be different from before." Ritsuko stayed silent for a moment, then grimly continued. "If it's powerful enough to affect the whole city, as you say, it's not a harbinger. It's probably not even just Tokyo, but everywhere. The rules themselves have changed. In which case, Adam might even now be... be..."
Kensuke's throat closed up. Mayumi was trembling, but forced herself to go on. "How could this happen? How could undead infusion instantly overcome the fading protection a departed soul leaves in a body?"
"It... it would require a massive augmentation field to supercharge the necrotic energy." Ritsuko's eyes were wide. "Merciful Lilith... to have that much power to spare..."
"So the undead's new abilities are from an outside source? Could it be blocked?"
"Well, I suppose... but you'd need something with incredible power, designed specifically to involve protection."
"Like the Sentinel Towers?" Mayumi asked.
Ritsuko thought for a moment. "Yes, I suppose if the Towers still stood, they might hold back the augmentation field. It certainly would fit within what they were designed to shield against." She shook her head. "But we have no time: it took my Mother five years of her life to build them, and there's no way to speed up the rituals she used."
"What about something temporary?"
Ritsuko glared. "It won't work! I know more about the ways of the Towers than anyone alive! And I'm telling you there's no way to make that happen! I can't change the laws of magic!"
Trembling, Mayumi pulled down on her the neck of her blouse, exposing part of the infidel mark branded above her heart. "Th-this was supposed to prevent the victim from ever using magic again! And while I can't cast any more, guess what? I can still sing! I can sing and the songs will have terrible powers to them! That's why you fear it so much, why you tried to control it! This ability of mine is all about breaking the rules, isn't it?! Well, the Towers were made by rules you know better than anyone else Ritsuko... so tell me which ones I have to break!"
Ritsuko rocked back, shocked; even Kensuke was astonished. Quickly however, she started to think. Her eyes darted around as she thought, calculations and mystic procedures running through her head. "It... could work. We get some people to pray, form that into a thaumatergical grid, have others cast wind, water, and earth spells into the grid so we basically set up the Towers in miniature... then use the cheating ability of the song to amplify them and then cheat some more to create mother's Sentinel matrix..." Ritsuko looked up, appraisingly. "This... won't be easy. It would be much simpler if you simply turned your song to destruction and blasted the undead."
Mayumi let go of her blouse and rubbed her arms. "Easier, maybe, but not better. I don't expect you to understand, but... if I sing that, it's not destruction, but Destruction. Would it be better to win the world but lose your soul?"
"I'm not sure we'll have either the world or our souls left after all this. Still, it beats sitting here feeling sorry for myself."
X O X
"Hold the line!" Takashi shouted, cleaving down into a zombie with his sword. The monstrosity took the hit on the shoulder, the blade cleaving halfway through its chest but not stopping the dead thing. Its cold hands reached for Takashi's neck so he had to raise his foot to the thing's chest and yank his sword free while pushing the body back a step. As it recovered its footing Takashi swung again this time severing the head. The monster dropped in two pieces.
Looking around, he saw this battle line barely holding. Damn it, he really shouldn't have sent Rei, Saeko, Saya and Kohta out to check the flanks. Not only were his friends important to him, he had a feeling he'd be doing a lot better against these undead if they'd stayed together.
But for the moment he had a job to do, keeping this mixed group of civilians and soldiers from the icy claws of the walking dead. A mass of zombies and faster moving ghouls were assaulting the line. But for the moment, the line of steel welded by everybody who could hold some kind of weapon was keeping the dead at bay. Now if only--
A scream rose up from the front line. Turning swiftly, he saw one of the men there spasm suddenly, then crash to the ground. *Through* the solid mass of moving dead flesh came what looked like a billowing tattered grey cloak, with eyes of fire and claws of smoke. The man it had touched twitched once, then from his body rose another grey cloak, eyes pin-pricks of hate.
"Wraith!" Someone shouted and Takashi cursed as his battleline fell over themselves as they tried to back away. He could (just barely!) deal with walking corpses, but incorporeal undead? He didn't have any priests or mages here! Damn it, those two things would tear his people apart! And for everyone that died, another wraith would rise up!
"Hey! Over here!" he shouted, picking up a piece of rock and throwing it at the nearest ghostly shape. The rock passed harmless through its head, but got the thing's attention as it turned soulless embers towards him. He felt his blood run cold, and shouted in surprise and fear as both of them leapt through the air. The two twisted and arced towards him, their shadowy bodies fluttering in some wind felt only by the dead. They reached for his warm soul with claws that promised death.
He dove to one side and the two shot by, screeching a heart-rending cry. Nearby someone was shouting something, but he had no time to pay attention. The nearest one reached for him again and in desperation he swung his sword, knowing it was useless.
The blade pierced the sheet in the midsection, and with shock he felt a bone chillingly cold jar run up his arm. The wraith let loose another screech, then broke apart into little fragments. Takashi looked surprised; it almost cost him his life as the other wraith darted down low and shot towards his legs.
"Again!" A strange voice called out. "Solidify!" the previous voice repeated. Takashi twisted his sword around and stabbed the approaching sheet in the place its face would have been, had it possessed a body. Another icy shock ran up his arm as it seemed to connect with solid smoke, and the undead burned his ears with a soulful cry of impotent rage. Then it made a noise like tearing cloth and disintegrated.
Bending over, Takashi took in big gulps of air. "Whew! Th-thanks! If you hadn't come, I don't know what we would have done!" He looked up at the spell-caster who had just saved his life... and promptly fell over backwards, crying out in surprise.
Makinami stood looking down at the human with a narrow-eyed glare. Behind her, Soriel was looking over her shoulder as Kimiurel and Sammael stood guard nearby, each one cutting down a ghoul that tried to feast upon their flesh. Nearby, some of the humans were doing double-takes at the dozens of dark elves suddenly appearing to support their line... but most were too busy trying to survive to care about what kind of help they were receiving.
"On your feet human," Makinami said. "There is still much work to be done."
Takashi gaped for a long moment. "Ar-aren't you supposed to be in prison?" he asked stupidly.
"Your Queen made us a tempting offer... I think we'll take her up on it." Makinami smirked, and with carnage all around her joyous expression made her look more than a little crazy.
Despite himself, Takashi though she looked hot. With a sinking sensation in his stomach, he realized this just added to the evidence that he had a thing for crazy girls.
X O X
The air in front of Shinji rippled, the magical barrier in front of him becoming visible as Shinji plunged his blades into it. He was so close! Adam's dark energy was so thick now it was almost tangible. And Rei was at the very center of it. She was there at the end of this passageway, hidden from sight by two heavy metal doors. He had just a few more obstacles to overcome!
Within, the berserker howled in impatience. Shinji could understand, he had felt the wave of dark energies heralding the revival of Adam. The berserker had almost gone out of control and taken over in that instant, but Shinji had been able to rein him in. Time was a luxury he couldn't afford.
The barrier suddenly gave way when Shinji felt it. The Wind Chosen stopped short, his swords slipping from his hands as he felt a spike of soul-numbing cold pierce him, leaving a void behind.
Shinji fell to his knees, the berserker howling in rage, but too stunned to take this opportunity to come to the forefront.
They had lost her.
Shinji rebelled against that idea the very moment it formed in his head.
No! It wasn't too late! He just had to get to her! She was there! Just a few steps away!
So what if he couldn't feel her anymore? He just had to get to her! She would be fine! And even if she was injured... Rei... Mayumi... Hikari... even Misato! All of them could use healing magic. Why couldn't he? Just as Rei could manipulate water, an essential element for life, so could he manipulate air. Surely he could do it. He just had to learn on the spot!
Groping for his blades, Shinji made a dash for the doors. Another barrier blocked his advance. With a cry of outrage Shinji slashed at it, pain exploding in his arms at the impact, but the barrier breaking nonetheless. Shinji ignored the pain and moved on, willing his right blade to be surrounded by wind magic. He thrust the blade forward, and with the strength of a trebuchet shot the gust of wind hit the doors head on, smashing them in.
The room was dark, only illuminated by an eerie purple glow. He could make out two bodies on the floor, the chamber thick with the stench of blood. Shinji ignored the details only focusing on one thing: the pale, naked figure sitting on an altar in the middle of the room.
Shinji rushed in, but suddenly stopped as the berserker within howled in rage, deafening him.
"Shinji?" asked the elf.
"YOU FAKE!" voiced the berserker through Shinji. "WHERE IS MY WENCH?"
Shinji felt fear claw at his guts as a rictus twisted Rei's normally impassive face. Her red eyes glowed an eerie purple, making his heart thunder painfully. He could see it now, could feel it. Only his desire to find Rei safe and sound had blinded him to this truth.
It wasn't Rei who was standing in front of him. It was the dark god Adam.
"Where is Rei? What did you do with her?"
Upon the altar the newly reborn god Adam stood, his deceptively frail body crackling with dark magic. He flexed one of the body's thin, well-muscled arms and nodded approvingly. "Yes," he said in a strange double-echoed voice. "This feels... proper. Eternity can be faced in such a form."
The god gazed at him... and for an instant, Shinji forgot how to breathe. Those eyes... were not Rei's. There was something... dark... ancient... and terribly malevolent within them.
"The elf is gone," simply said Adam.
Shinji fell to his knees, all inside going hollow. He had been too late after all.
"Damn it! Damn it! Rei, I'm so sorry!" In his mind he saw visions of Rei: from their first meeting when he was playing his harmonica by the river, to all the times of camaraderie that had built up between them and the slow coalescing of emotions that had led him to discover just how much he cared... and now was gone.
He raised his head and let loose a wail of torment. No rage, just pure human suffering over the loss of something so precious. He felt... shattered. Then, twisting sharply, he turned his tear-streaked face to look up at the thing polluting her image. Rage, cold, terrible rage rose in him. "YOU!" he screamed at the avatar of darkness standing in front of him. "Give her back!"
"There is nothing to give back," Adam said, his voice using a disturbingly familiar monotone. "She has been extinguished. Only Adam remains."
Shinji screamed, clenched his fists. This couldn't be! She couldn't be dead!
Yet, Shinji knew. He had known the very moment Rei had died.
The dark god spoke the truth. She was gone.
With acceptance of this fact a new type of rage grew within the Wind Chosen. Adam. Preventing his revival had been Rei's goal, her reason to live.
Shinji could recall how Rei had been perturbed by the prospect of Tabris being Kaworu the Brave. Now... The exact same thing had happened to her. To have Adam use her body like this, for her to be his vessel of rebirth was an affront to all that Rei had ever been! It was as if the dark god polluted the very ideas she had fought for.
Shinji knew what he had to do. He took a deep breath and wiped the back of his hands across his eyes; once. There were no more tears.
Shinji screamed, clenched his fists, then shoved his arms towards Rei's body with a hard thrust. A tornado twisted into existence before him and rocketed towards the newly reborn creature at fantastic speeds. Within a blink of an eye, Shinji had crossed the distance between the two of them.
Adam didn't move. Didn't even react. Shinji just slammed to a halt, his advance abruptly stopped by Adam's Absolute Terror Field, as the tip of his blade almost touched the throat of the god's stolen body.
"Understand this, human: I am a god. As such, all I do is Right; is Holy. You have no basis by which to judge Me. To raise arms against My Person... is sacrilege." Adam reached out an arm and perverted reality. The air around him hardened into fabric, and a dark shroud covered the body's nakedness as a cloak.
"I go now to end a war thousands of your years in the making. Your goddess, Lilith, shall give up her power, her place, her children, her life. Then My long years of needless toil and struggle will be over. I will remake this world into a stronger, better place fitting for Me. I will correct the errors made by elves and beasts and humans upon this world. It will be the birth of a new age, a more perfect one. And your screams shall be My herald." Adam's eyes looked down at Shinji with only vague interest. "While I was limited in the shell called Tabris, that fabricated consciousness feared you. Odd... I am infinite, and I cannot imagine why."
With a flick of the hand Adam commanded a wave of darkness that threw the Wind Chosen back. Shinji barely managed to twist around and skid to a landing on his feet, growling. His whole world had become rage and hate. It was not warm, it was not comforting, it was cold and it was hard. The berserker would take no pleasure in what was to come: he and it only wanted vengeance.
"I will kill you."
"You will try, and you will be shown to be mortal," Adam replied. Rising up from the altar, his pale body floated towards the ceiling. Without moving he bade energy to congeal around his form. Around him the walls and ceiling of the ritual room broke down, pulsing and shifting as their very matter was rearranged into a dark haze. Like a horrible aura it swirled around, hardening into something grotesque and sickening. It was a mockery of humanity, enormous and armed with spikes and claws of smoke that could rend stone.
Higher and higher Adam rose, converting more and more stone and matter into his growing humanoid mount. With nothing more than his will, the dark god consumed the things that separated him from the outside and turned them into his dark magic. When he was done a vast crater was now craved upon the Wastes. Where once the city of Neriak had been sheltered by the earth it now stood exposed and Adam took his created titan into the sky. Floating in the center of the blank face was the elven body in which Adam resided.
Ignoring falling debris, Shinji ground his teeth. "Fuujin," he called quietly. "Come forth."
A twist of wind blew a gale over Shinji, hiding him from sight. For a moment there was only dust, then with a *thump* felt in the soul a huge knight of metal appeared where the hurt young man had stood. The grey metal of its body did not gleam in the strange light. The cape only barely shifted in the winds. But the eyes, the lights in the eyes were strong, and so very, very focused. Fuujin raised its hands, and in each fist swirling winds twisted into a blade. To fight a god: this was the battle that was about to unfold.
No... not just to battle a god. But to kill one.
"Rrrraaaaaaaaarrrggggg!" With a soul-tearing scream Shinji commanded, and Fuujin sprang up from the ground to battle.
X O X
Dashing down the hall from a side entrance, Myssa leapt over the broken remains of a guardian golem. That wasn't a good sign, something was attacking the inner sanctum! But it didn't matter as she was so close now, just around the corner and she would be there! Whatever it was that threatened her lady would have to deal with her. The power in the air was so thick it was almost as if she was pushing through cobwebs. It made her heart thunder as she pressed forwards. She could hear distorted voices ahead and drew her sword. A few more steps!
But the hall shook, throwing her into a wall. This place, carved deep in the mountain for the best protection possible, shook and loose rock and dust fell from the ceiling. Stones cut to fit seamlessly together broke apart, turning the once even floor into a hazard of twisted rock and up-thrust boulders.
She grabbed a pillar to hold tightly to as the floor danced drunkenly beneath her. Her sword clattered to the floor and the shifting stones knocked it away. She could feel the whole structure of the place morphing, changing. What was going on? What was Lady Armisael doing?
A sudden roaring noise from ahead drew her attention. Recognizing it a second before it hit, she tightened her grip on the pillar before a massive rush of wind battered its way down the hall. It howled and moaned as it threw everything not restrained or heavy enough down the hall. Dust and rock chips battered her face as her grip was sorely tested by the blasting winds.
But she was so close! The pounding in her skull got worse. Frustration boiled up inside her and ate at control. "Lady Armisael!" she screamed, the sound of her voice instantly lost the howling thunder and wind that blasted around her.
Then the winds ceased. She looked up, seeing something metallic spin through the air to bounce off the rocks and come to rest nearby her feet. As it came to a stop, Myssa recognized it as one of Armisael's swords! Her lady was close! Elated, she released her grip and stood up, staring down the ruined hall for some sign of-
Yes! There! Lying upon that up-thrust of rock was a shock of white, the telltale hair of a pure dark elf. Those terrible winds must have thrown the leader of the dark clans down into the hall, dropping her prone on that jagged rock ledge, tearing one of her swords from her. But even so, such a thing would not stop her lady! Heart thundering behind her ribs, all thoughts of what to say to her leaving Myssa's mind, the half-elf sprang forward. "Lady Armisael!"
And her lady... hissed.
Myssa ground to a halt.
Then her lady levered herself up and stared down at her prot?g?. For the first time Myssa had a clear view and her eyes widened as everything went cold.
The body was thin, the skin sucked back painfully tight against the bone. Muscles and fat had been drained dry leaving behind something akin to the worst victims of famine. Ill-fitting clothes hung grotesquely off the emaciated figure that hunched over and stalked like some beast. In that gaunt face where bright red eyes once shone, now only dead-gray orbs stared out at the world. It opened its mouth again and the once rich voice came out only as a cat-like hiss. It sniffed the air, hungry for warm flesh.
The wight hurled itself off the ledge at Myssa. It slammed into the half-elf, knocking both prone on the uneven stones. Howling, spitting, clawing, the wight snapped its jaws at her, trying to get a hold and tear into juicy flesh. Myssa struggled against the horrible thing that her lady had become, contesting the undead's freakish strength. The thing was cold, draining the very heat from her blood, but even worse was the ghastly sense of failure that overwhelmed her. "M-my Lady!" she wailed. The wight merely hissed and drooled stinking bile.
The two rolled around on the rough ground for a time, before Myssa finally managed to get a leg up between them. Crying out in rage, she extended the limb, throwing the undead off her. The wight slammed into the far wall, but twisted as it did so, landing like a beast. It turned back to its prey and cackled madly.
Heart beating wildly, her body shivering with cold and distress, Myssa scampered back. It wasn't Armisael anymore, her combat training told her. What had once been her lady was now an empty shell, a threat. Hold no attachments to such a thing. Attachments were weaknesses, they got the strong killed.
Her shaking hand fell upon the hilt of her mistress' discarded sword and she closed her fingers around it. The wight howled and leapt from the wall towards its uncooperative meal. With a sob-filled cry, Myssa took up her lady's sword and rolled to her feet. Armisael came on, and Myssa forced emotion from her mind and let trained reflexes take over. The undead leapt, and the half-elf swung the blade.
A severed head flew in one direction, the emaciated body instantly crashing to the uneven floor.
The half-elf sank to her knees. "M-my Lady," she croaked out, her voice cracking. Tears, weak, shameful tears rose in her eyes as her throat closed up. She hadn't known what she would say to Armisael when she saw her again. How could she explain herself, how she had betrayed all that the older woman had given her. All the training, all the support, all the precious, precious time the leader of the dark clans had given a lowly half-breed daughter of one of dead friends.
And now she would never have the chance. She didn't know if Armisael knew about her betrayal of not slaying the Wind Chosen, or of Myssa's slow development of some kind of kinship with the enemies of the dark clans. She didn't know if the woman hated her, had turned away from her in disgust at her weakness. Or maybe the news had never reached the dark matriarch; maybe she had not thought about Myssa away on her mission of assassination. Maybe she had been just another half-elf to use to advance the goals of the clan.
Crawling, Myssa approached the head. Reverently, she cupped the dead woman's head, finding the cold of it to be shocking, even though her rational mind had expected it. She could still see the features of her lady, twisted in the mockery of undeath.
The ground rumbled as something crashed down from above. Dust and small rocks fell from the ceiling and Myssa knew it could collapse at any time. She looked down at the head and swallowed hard: she could not take even this.
Attachments were weaknesses; they got the strong killed.
Smiling through her tears, Myssa stroked the dead woman's hair. "I know I haven't always been the best student, my Lady, but I do remember what you relentlessly drilled into me: watch, learn, then act decisively. And I did, my Lady. I watched you for many years, I learned from you the best I could.
"And now that I can no longer watch you, I must act on what I have learned." Myssa bit her lip. "The decisions I make... they might not be ones you would agree with. But... I will act with the courage and determination you fought so hard to teach me." The ground shook again, and Myssa knew she was out of time. "Forgive the presumption of a bastard half-breed not of your blood, but I will miss you, because you were the only mo-" she choked up, then pressed her lips against the dead woman's forehead. "-only mother I ever knew."
Clenching her teeth, Myssa gently placed the head down. Then she let it go and spun around and rose. Swiftly she took up her lady's sword and headed back down the broken tunnel back the way she had come.
She didn't look back.
X O X
Arael found himself slightly put out.
That toy he had gone to so much trouble to break was throwing a most unattractive tantrum.
"DIE BITCH, DIE!"
She was such a willful child. To spurn the gift he offered, to turn her back on such agony and suffering... why, the mere thought of it was enough to wound his gentle spirit.
"I WILL SEE YOUR HUMAN BODY FED TO DOGS!"
Who knew how long it would be before he could once again enjoy the simple things in undeath, like a good, honest killing?
"I WILL KILL YOU AND KILL YOU AND KILL YOU UNTIL YOUR RED HAIR TURNS WHITE!"
Recovering from the sense of betray she had inflicted upon him would take so much time.
"I WILL REND YOUR FLESH AND -yikes!" The vampire had to duck out of the way of a fireball.
*Sigh* It was his lot in unlife to suffer...
These ruins that had been his home for so many years; he had spent so much time making them a place worthy of his presence. And now they were indiscriminately being reduced to so much rubble. That horrible, ungrateful toy of his was wreaking havoc upon his home. It would have annoyed him had he not been nearly driven mad with stark terror over the need to protect his own undeath.
First he fled from the wing holding his personal chambers, Asuka's spell having caused the whole section to violently explode. Calling forth his servants, he threw servitor vampires into her path. Lusting with pleasure at the thought of tearing down the once favourite, they hurled themselves towards her.
Most burned in the inferno, undead flesh and bones combusting and flashing into ash just trying to get close to the Child of Fire. Those who were stronger made it to bring claw and fang into play, only to fall to the burning sword that danced with lethal purpose.
As Asuka advanced, all around her burned. Beautiful tapestries, stolen from only the best families, became torches. The wooden supports that held the floors charred and shattered under the unrelenting heat. Where Asuka walked, destruction followed as supports broke and walls collapsed in on themselves.
For long minutes the chase continued. The vampire ran and howled at the injustice forced upon him. Again and again he came across his undead minions and stood screaming profanities as he threw them at the burning champion that stalked him. Then he howled more as they burned in holy fire, forcing him to repeatedly flee. His home, his precious home that he had shaped over centuries to match his dark moods was burning. Things, items he had once fancied and brought here, then ignored, then mostly forgot about... these previous, precious items caught fire and turned to ash. How dare she?! All these items, this castle, they were his to destroy!
All of a sudden a massive inrush of power flooded Arael's body. A dark pulse of pure abhorrent energy filled him. It made him giddy, made the stolen blood in his veins sing with terrible power. Was this what Tabris had intended? Oh it was joyous! Never had he felt such wicked prowess run wild through him! It was almost like experiencing his first kill all over again!
He would use this, use this gift that was so rightly delivered to him in his moment of need! He turned back to face the bitch that dared stand before him. Empowered, he stared across the long, burning hall into the eyes of the thing that he would break over his knee. With his new power nothing could stand against him!
She glared back. There was a moment where the only sounds were that of the vampire's home falling into flames. After a moment, the girl and the fire advanced once more. The vampire turned and ran.
Madly scampering, Arael headed down to the slave cells to find hostages to place before the Chosen of the Lilith. Upon arriving there he found nothing but scraps of dead flesh. With unchained fury he recalled he had slain everyone living in order to save himself from the King's horrible spell, and howled in rage. Unfair, unfair, unfair! How was he to win when the world was so unfair! Blood would spill and the living would scream for this insult! He then had to tear down a locked door and escape through the shattered remains as Asuka filled the space he had just occupied with that horrible fire.
While bounding back up the - shudder! - servant's stairwell, Arael noticed something pleasing: the fire was not reaching out as far as it once had. Ah ha! Since she was weak flesh and blood, his toy was tiring! His clever strategy of withdrawal and playing with her was bearing the most delicious of bloody fruits! Mortal weakness was his key to triumph! All he had to do was get her to exhaust herself! So sweet, to have his victory so preordained!
"Ah ha ha ha! You will die by my hand, bitch! I, and I alone will break you! I will teach you your place! A place at my feet! Always and forever!" An incoherent scream echoed up from the stairwell, followed a moment later by a massive inrush of air.
"Uh oh," the vampire muttered, bolting for the nearest door. A huge roar shook the whole staircase, and he shouldered his way out of the tunnel just as an enormous backdraft of fire raced up the stairwell. Rocks cracked under the heat and the floor he was lying on sagged.
Sprinting to his feet he yelled out, calling forth mystic commands. Reaching out with his will he violated the physics of the world and made connections from Here to There. Throughout Japan and the mainland he had carefully seeded vampiric servants to extend his reach. Driven wild by the influx of Adam's necrotic energy these lesser vampires were currently madly chasing and feasting on the living anywhere near them. Grabbing these blood-drenched minions by the pacts they were bound to, he forced them to leave their unfinished hunts and submit to their master's call.
Asuka, still surrounded by a swirling torrent of protective flame emerged from the ruins of the stairwell. As she did, shadow portals burst into existence throughout the hall as Arael brought forth ammunition for his quiver.
"Kill her!" he screamed. His overcharged playthings wasted no time in pouncing towards the blazing Chosen. Some still burned in the terrible heat, but unlike before most made it into melee range. None touched the Fire Chosen as she chopped and cut and burned them to ash. But no sooner had she slain those undead then another wave arrived.
This time they tried to dogpile the girl, a few managing to claw her red armor. This wave broke eventually, all members burning in the purifying flames and ending their undead existence as piles of ash. However Asuka was breathing heavily, her flames noticeably weaker.
"Ha ha ha! It ends here! It ends this night! I will kill you and kill you, and then torture you until you come back to life! And then... do it all again!" Arael was getting a bit frazzled; he had just recalled almost all of his toys. This human was singlehandedly wrecking centuries of work, destroying his carefully set up web of servants all throughout the lands. If this continued, he'd have nothing left!
Then he laughed. What did he care? He had the time to rebuild, he was immortal! A world without Arael was not something to even be imagined! It was her time that was at an end. Reaching to the far depths of his mind he called back the last few of his servants, forcing them to give up the warm victims they had under fang as their master pulled them back. These servitors burst forth from pools of shadow, dodging flame bursts. And for the first time, Asuka had to give ground.
Arael's laugher only increased as the Fire Chosen was forced on the defensive. "Bite her! Break her! Kill her! I want to hear her scream!" he instructed his minions, his primal terror at the thought of his own destruction fading as the proper order was restored. The girl was doing well to still be alive, he guessed, but her arms were shaking, her footwork uneven. There! Finally! One of his minions got a good claw in, driving the girl into the wall. Poor, poor human: living blood and live flesh were delicious as food, but horribly inefficient to actually live in.
"Give up, sweetest meat," he called out, smiling. "I promise to only make it hurt for a few years!"
Asuka growled and pushed herself to her feet, her back to the wall. A red stain marred the floor, the delicious scent of it driving the vampires to heights of ecstasy. She was barely able to stand, the trials of the past few days weighing heavily on her body and her recklessly plowing through her mana reserves not helping. Her aura of flame was but a whisper now, her arms shaking and the sword unbelievably heavily. Her side where the vampire had clawed her hurt abominably and she was barely able to get a breath in through the pounding of her heart.
But what she did still possess, undaunted, unbowed, and undiminished...
"Come, come, beautiful screamer... you know I'm the best thing you've ever have."
...was a full tank of rage.
Raising her sword, she ignored the circling pack of bloodsuckers and pointed it at the hall's ceiling. "Reign of Fire!" she called out, her legs shaking. A phoenix of flame burst up from her sword, its cry the purest thing that had been heard in these ruins for a long time. The firebird slammed into the stones of the vaulted ceiling and exploded.
"Fuck you bitch! Fuck y-!" Arael screamed like petulant child, as the Fire Chosen's spell brought the roof down upon them all.
X O X
The ground rumbled and shook, throwing Myssa into a wall. Pushing herself back up she raced on down the tunnel, ignoring the bits of rock that shook themselves loose from the ceiling. Dust made it hard to breathe but she pushed on. Ahead, the sounds of combat reached her sharp ears and she moved even faster because of it.
Rounding a corner she came onto the small ledge that overlooked the Southern caverns' barracks. The Nursery, as it was often nicknamed by her people. As expected, she saw the non-combatants of the clans --- the young and elder craftspeople - and the slaves waiting here watched by a number of half-elves and dark elves... but there were so few soldiers! What had happened to her people?
The half-elves had formed a phalanx in front of the slaves and non-combatants, holding a line between them and...
What she saw stunned her. Thirty or so dark elves, each tight with eagerness were standing as a dispersed group, but each one was a boiling kettle of simmering rage. She could feel imminent violence in the air, held back by control hair-thin and fraying.
For two dark elves, even that had failed. Two warriors were locked in battle with each other. They circled around, lunging, twisting, striking, cutting. Blades and flashes of magic stuck out, snapping against the other. They and the other dark elves ignored the groaning stone around them and the shaking of the earth under their feet. Instead, the dark elves looked at their two brethren fighting with unchained bloodlust in their eyes.
Something moved close by, and Myssa threw herself back. A dagger clanged off the wall where she had just been standing. Turning, Myssa saw a dark elf sentry staring at her, his eyes wide and burning red. He was trembling, actually vibrating with eagerness for battle, for blood. This sentry should have been disciplined, controlled, patient. Instead he appeared... wired.
He sprang towards her and she barely got her blade up in time to block the strike. The unnatural hate that choked the air sang in her blood. Strike now! Kill him! Triumph!
"Stow your weapon! I am Myssa! Assistant to Lady Armisael! I am of the clan!"
Another rumble shook the very cavern itself, and the dark elf's lip twisted with glee-filled madness. She fought back against the same dark desires pressing against her mind. She... they... had no time for this!
"Are you nothing more than a beast?!" She shouted, her muscles straining against his. "Fight this thing that wants to control us! Don't waste our strength with meaningless slaughter!"
The dark elf looked nearly euphoric with bloodlust. "I will slay you! I will cut you! I will break you! I will-"
Myssa gave into the human part of her nature, hauled back her fist and socked him one right in the kisser.
"All of you, LISTEN TO ME!" She stood over the prostate form of the sentry she had just cold-cocked. Dark elves, half-elves, and slaves... humans... all looked up at her. She could see the humans looked frightened. The non-combatants looked uneasy and sick. The half-elves looked worried and concerned about the strangeness of the pure's actions. And the dark elves... well, they looked crazy. "We. Do. Not. Have. Time. For. This. Where is Weapons Master Bardiel?"
One the dark half-elves guarding the young replied. "Unknown. He assigned those of us left to defend the outer gate, while he saw to Lady Armisael's protection. When holding the gates became untenable we attempted to fall back through the city, but whatever is causing this did too much damage. We were forced to regroup here and things... became as you see them." The dark elves gazed at her hungrily, sizing up this new challenger. "Neither the Clan Leader nor Weapons Master have joined us."
Myssa's clenched her jaw against painful emotions as did a quick head count. "Where are the others?"
A few of the dark elves hissed angrily at her words and the half-elves looked distressed. "This... is all who remain."
There was a terrible silence for a moment, then Myssa took a deep breath through her nose to calm herself. Whatever had caused this... disaster... was irrelevant: she could find out why later. Right now, she had to focus on what was happening here and now. "These caverns are no longer safe. We must evacuate."
One of the dark elves who had been battling his brethren a moment ago sneered. He was breathing heavily, excitedly. In his eyes shone a terrible redness. "Why do you give orders, human-blood? You are a servant, you do not rule!" His mouth twisted into a mad fevered grin. "I will gut you and then gut all rest of the bastards like-"
"You feel the taint in the air, don't you?" Myssa demanded. "You all feel it, right? That desire to fight, to kill, to slay?" Reluctantly, heads nodded. "Look around you, whom has it affected the most?"
Angry glowers met her words. "We are not beasts; we have survived the Northern Wastes because we are smarter than beasts. We observe, we learn and we face the hard truth. Nothing less than that has allowed us to survive. So: who has been the most affected?"
No answer came. None was needed.
A terrible groaning rumble came from the rocks around them. The whole place shivered. Myssa tightened her grip on the sword that had once been Armisael's and spoke when the noise died down. "Neriak is dying. Lady Armisael... is dead. Weapons Master Bardiel is not here, and thus... probably dead as well. For the clans to survive, we must leave and leave now. I will need every one of you at your best." She looked down on the dark elves with everything she had learned about command from her lady. She pointed at one of the tunnels leading out. "We cannot waste our strength fighting ourselves. If the lust for battle is boiling your blood, making you crazy with rage... then clear the way for your kin. This is a matter of our very survival."
The earth shook again, and a loud crack echoed through the chamber. The noise rolled like thunder over the assembled people as the ground swayed dangerously. Myssa waited until she could be heard. "Be useful to the clans. Either assist in our escape, or serve by dying with an enemy's blood on your blade."
The dark elves appeared ready to murder everything. They trembled with terrible eagerness, the dark power of Adam flowing in their veins, calling - demanding! -- that they battle and revel in an orgy of blood and death. They looked at Myssa, they looked at each other. Slowly, they looked to the dark elf and half-elf children behind the protective steel of the half-elves.
One dark elf woman whimpered, then hurtled herself towards the tunnel heading out. As she did so she pulled out her sword, her whimper changing into howl of rage. In a second she was swallowed by the darkness and out of sight. A few moments later, the dark elf who had challenged Myssa also broke into a half-sob and sped away down the tunnel.
But the rest finally, agonizingly, lowered their weapons. A heavily bandaged dark elf wizard ground his teeth. "Your words... are true, half-breed. Our thoughts are... corrupted." He looked around, making eye contact with the others. There was rage and hate visible there, but also a certain amount of fear. "It does appear human blood is less susceptible to this contagion. We must... entrust... the clan to the half-breeds."
"The clans will survive," Myssa promised. Another tremor shook the caverns and more rocks fell from the ceiling. This whole region wasn't safe anymore, she recognized, and no matter where they struck out for it would mean crossing the Northern Wastes. "Gather up all rations, water, and supplies you can carry for a long trek. Weapons go to the half-elves, who are responsible for security. We leave immediately. Go!"
The half-elves sprang into action. With only some reluctance, the dark elves also moved to their assigned duties as well. Myssa descended from the ledge and walked over to the clustered group of slaves. Nearly all were women, some in various stages of pregnancy Myssa noted. Around them sat children; clusters of forced bred half-elves and the precious few pure elven children as well. The humans looked at her with vacant, broken expressions and despite the terrifying situation, only the very youngest of children made any noise. None of these - human, half-elf, or dark elf - thought there was anything left to lose.
Myssa grimaced, realizing how much hope and life had been crushed from the clans in their attempt to survive. It had been necessary... but at what price?
Questions to ask when she had time. "Slav... Humans. We will abandon this place and make across the Wastes. The lands are more dangerous now then they have ever been, but to stay here is to die. We will... need your assistance."
"Assistance?" a young, thin woman said, dull confusion in her eyes. She looked so fragile a thing that Myssa was amazed she could hold that baby in her arms. "We are slaves. You order, we obey."
Myssa opened her mouth, but then closed it. That legion of leaden, vacant eyes would mock her words, and she really didn't know what to say anyway. "At this point, human, I doubt any of us will make it out of here alive. But if any of us do, we will not sacrifice your lives for our gain."
The frail woman looked at her with strange, purple eyes. For some reason, the gaze of the slave... the human... made Myssa uncomfortable. Then the woman nodded and rose to her feet, one hand grasping the hand of a young dark elf as the other held the baby to her chest. The other humans and the children also rose to their feet, picking up supplies as they did so.
"Lilith guide our path, my Lady," the frail young woman said. Myssa paused, then nodded and turned away, troubled, as the earth shook again.
Right now, more gods were the last thing they needed.
X O X
Kensuke, Mayumi and Ritsuko hurried back to the Cathedral's main chamber; the place had become even more packed the short while they had been gone. People were still streaming in through the shattered doors seeking some kind of sanctuary. The air was heavy with the sharp tang of terror and the hubbub of voices raised in fear.
"There should be enough people here," Ritsuko said, scanning the crowd. "If we can get enough of them to pray properly, we can use that devotion to build the ritual upon." She flagged down a dishevelled-looking priestess and gave her orders. While Ritsuko was officially stripped of her rank, the girl still obeyed. The three split up, hurrying through the chamber to organize people into something that could undertake the steps needed.
As they were getting the groups in order, a commotion was heard from the front of the hall near the doors. All of a sudden, the atmosphere in the room shifted from fear to near panic. "What's going on?" Kensuke asked a newly arrived bloodied guard.
"There's a huge group of those things headed this way! They're coming here and they're going to kill us all!" He gestured wildly toward where the huge doors had been wrenched off their hinges. They still had not been repaired and the opening was too big to block. Everyone could see that and the room started to fill with panic.
"Lilith, save us!"
"We're all going to die! We're all going to die!"
"What do we do?!"
"Help us! Save us!"
"I don't want to die!"
"Waahh! I'm going to die a virgin!"
"Please, protect my children! Protect my children!"
"I'm too young to die!"
Kensuke felt the terror rise in the room, rise in himself. He looked around but couldn't see Mayumi through the sea of terrified people. There wasn't time! There wasn't time to get the rituals set up! That cold, horrible sensation boiled up in him: despair. Like in the nightmare, how he could do nothing, was nothing... it was magnified by the distress in the room feeding back on itself. His heart began to pound with terrifying force. They couldn't do it! They couldn't do it! They couldn't-
"Where are the Chosen?"
"Why don't they save us?"
"They've abandoned us!"
"Damn them! Damn the Chosen!"
Cold despair was replaced by white hot rage. Before he realized what he was doing, Kensuke found himself scaling the statue in the centre of the chamber. Fifteen feet off the floor he stood on Lilith's shoulder and sucked in a tremendous breath.
"LISTEN TO ME!"
Years of being an entertainer had trained Kensuke to pitch his voice for the room. And the acoustics of the Cathedral's main hall were excellent.
"You ask where your Chosen are?" he declared to a suddenly quiet chamber. "You ask why they are not here to fight your battles? It is because these are *your* battles! Your trials, your challenges.
"Did Nyaruko seek aid in hunting Mahiro's chastity? No! Did Sato request the Ice Witch win his battles for sustenance for him? No! Did Lawrence and Horo ask for loans to run their business? No!
"These tales and the others you have heard from your youth have been building you for this moment. Here, now, this is your story, your tale."
"This isn't a story!" someone shouted. "My children could die! This is real!"
"If it is real, then write your own ending! Stand for yourself! When others stand beside you accept their help, but above all, stand!"
"Where are the Chosen?" someone else called out desperately from the nervous crowd. "Why aren't they here?"
"Why aren't they here? Why aren't they destroying your enemies? Why aren't the Holy Armors striding through the streets slaying the monsters who torment you?" A torrent of cries rose up at that.
"Do you think the Chosen would leave for no reason? Do you think the Wind Chosen would let you die? Do you think the Earth Chosen would ignore suffering? Do you think the Water Chosen would allow evil to exist? Do you think the Fire Chosen... would run out on a fight?
"I have walked with them for a time. I have seen what rose up to face them, what they had to cast down. If they are not here, it is because they are called to fight what is truly beyond us."
Kensuke licked his lips and pointed to the open door. "But we *can* defeat what approaches us! It is *not* beyond us!" He paused for a second fighting within himself. "I believe... I believe that the trials we face we face so that we may overcome them! Lilith... Lilith has sent the Chosen to fight what we cannot, but these things we fight because we can! We will not let the Kyubeys of this world drive us to despair! This is our battle! Our trial! It is no less important, no less critical! But it is ours!
"Those of you who can fight, to the doors! The priestesses have a plan to weaken the monsters, but they'll need time. We shall give them that time! All the time they need!"
X O X
Coughing, Asuka dragged her sore body out of the rubble. The sky was a black ocean of churning clouds, but the air was blessedly cool against her fevered skin. Too weak to actually stand and one hand clutching the Fire Sword in a death-grip, she had managed to drag herself out from under the pile of stones she had found herself buried in. Bringing down the ceiling looked to have destroyed the remaining vampires, and she'd mostly gotten off scot-free.
But she was tired... oh so very tired. The days of being unconscious under that monster's spell, followed by who knew how many days of trying to escape from Tokyo and herself through exhaustion, and then throwing every little bit of her remaining mana into the fight had drained her completely. She had nothing left.
"But... I won."
And that was what was important.
A cold hand slammed her head into the rubble. "No you didn't, bitch!"
Choking back her fear, Asuka tried to twist around to swing her sword, but couldn't do it. The cold hand raised her a bit, then slammed her back into the stones. Goddess, it hurt! Then he picked her up and threw her a good twenty feet into the broken remains of a wall. Bonelessly she slid down to lay in a crumpled lump.
Her left eye was swollen shut, but she still raised her head to glare at the beast before her. Arael, his fine clothes a mess, looked off into the distance. "My castle, my servants, all the things I spent centuries sacrificing... others... for... It's all gone. Gone, gone, gone. I have nothing left anymore. Such a pain... I'll have to start all over again." He turned to look at Asuka, and broke out into a fang-lined grin. "And I think I'll start with you."
Asuka reached down deep, down into herself. What was left? What could she use?
"Do you come seeking aid, Child of Fire?" Feuervogel asked in her mind.
The world around her faded away, leaving her bathed in warmth and light and speaking with the Holy Armor. "I want this arschloch dead!" She thought back. "I will kill him! I don't care what it takes!"
"I must admit, I have been impressed with what you have accomplished. I could wish for no better master. It has been... a pleasure to serve as your guide and your soldier."
"I don't need a cheerleader! I need a weapon!"
The Holy Armor was silent for a moment. "I... cannot appear in your world except to fight a Kagenoshi or Adam himself. My role is not to fight petty evils but to protect that which is most holy even beyond-"
"Get to the point!" she screamed.
"I cannot appear, but fire is tricky, and has a habit of not doing what is expected. I can diminish myself to give some of my spirit to you." As she watched she saw Feuervogel fade slightly, then felt a burning sensation take hold of her heart. "I have given you some of my light, Child of Fire," Feuervogel said, his voice sounding weaker. "What will you do with it?"
Asuka grinned mirthlessly. "I will use it to win." She was sure Feuervogel was grinning back.
All of a sudden she was back in the real world, the vampire stalking towards her. Pain assaulted her from her wounds and her limbs were heavy with fatigue. Her breath was ragged and she knew she had only one thing left to throw into this fight.
"That's right, my toy..." Arael said, his voice trembling with eagerness. "I know you'll grow to love the pain..."
She closed her one good eye. She really didn't want to see that thing's face anymore.
"Eternal spirit of flame,
"Obey your sacred oath,
"And come forth."
Energy howled as it filled her soul. It was too much, in the state she was in there was no way to control the power she called forth. There was no one to man the gates, nothing to keep them from swinging wide. The inferno would have her, would consume her and leave nothing behind. Her body burned. Her blood burned. Her mind burned.
She gave herself to the fire, but on one condition.
"From the forever burning lands,
"Fire of Gehena,
"Become a fiery blast,
"And burn everything around us!"
That bastard was going down.
Arael screamed, a terrible, frightened scream as Asuka ceased to be. Instead she was light, and heat, and fire, and... purity. It was pure light, pure fire: it was the Sun on earth.
The grounds were the ruined castle perched ceased to be as fire hot enough to burn the atoms themselves roared into existence. There was no escape for the master vampire or his crimes. It burned away everything impure about him... and that was all he had. The light showed him the pathetic, selfish, petty thing he was, and then the fire took it away leaving behind what Arael truly was:
At the center of the explosion of pure... everything... Asuka was sure she could sense Feuervogel throwing up the horns and shouting, "Woo hoo! Fuck yeah!"... before she was swept beyond thought.
[To be continued]