Sweat stinging in his eyes, Kensuke pounced forward, his borrowed mace crashing hard against a zombie's neck. The dead thing let loose a hungry sounding moan as its head twisted to one side but did not stop the cold hands from clawing at his shirt. The dead woman's mouth opened unnaturally large as bloody teeth reached for his warm skin.
Putting his free hand on the mace's head he used the weapon's pommel like a prod and pushed with all his might. His strained muscles screamed at the abuse, but he managed to break the thing's grasp. It groaned again, almost sounding sad, then reached once more for his flesh. He two-handed the mace and brought it down on her skull. He got only a glancing hit in and the walking corpse came on. Behind her, other dead bodies lumbered forwards like a wave of pestilence.
Dropping the metal mace into her skull again and again, Kensuke finally made the corpse stop moving. The holy knight to his left and the civilian to his right pushed forward, closing the space he had occupied in the defensive line. They swung their weapons into the advancing dead, and the bard sucked in painful gasps of air as he used this moment away from the fight to bend over and wheeze.
All around him were the moans and shrieks of the hungry dead, the cries and shouts of the living defenders, and too many screams as the defenders fell and joined the attackers. A line, three to four deep, of whomever could hold a weapon were giving ground as the weight of the dead pressed them back. Blood and gore was thick on the unnatural winds, the sky above churned with terrible clouds. Time and time again the living had been forced back. A warrior could slay one or two zombies, but fatigue or an unlucky moment took their toll and the warrior became a foe. A single ghoul would often slay three people before it could be brought down, and then the rush was on to kill the fallen before they too rose to feed. And when the wraiths and specters and wights took to the field...
Wiping a hand across his bloody mouth, Kensuke motioned towards the battle. "Push!" he screamed at the ragged line of defenders, his well-trained voice screechy and hoarse. "Give not one inch! You fight for your home! You fight for your loved ones! You fight for the girl you're going to ask out after all this! Or the guy you'll ask! I don't care which! Just fight!"
Behind him, on the steps leading up to the Grand Cathedral a line of clerics and mages stood, firing spells beyond the defenders into the roiling mass of the dead. Cracks and booms of combat magic echoed off the damaged buildings all around them, almost deafening him. Dark things, like tattered cloaks of black fabric and burning eyes arced over the battle lines and fell towards the magic users. There was a furious blast of close-quarters magic, and the fluttering sheets died again. However there were fewer spell-slingers now, and for a moment they had to turn their own magics against those that fell, only to swiftly rise as soul-tearing monsters.
A wight, wicked and wily, leapt atop a zombie's shoulders and pounced. It cleared the line of defenders and landed on all fours. The thing had once been a dark elf, but the skin was now a terrible pale color that only added to the unnaturalness. Hissing like an angry cat, it raced towards the mages and the open Cathedral doors, but Kensuke gritted his teeth and barrelled into it.
The two went down in a tumble of bodies and limbs. The wight hissed and clawed, drawing blood from the bard. Kensuke screamed and accidentally dropped his mace. Pushing away from the thing he rolled to his feet, his hands scrambled for his lute. The undead lunged for him and he used his precious instrument as a bludgeon, cracking it as he smashed the monster's face. Pain was nothing to the beast, but fragments of instrument did distract it for a second. .
Holding the neck of the destroyed lute, Kensuke yanked out the dagger he'd kept hidden there. Darting forward he slammed the point into the neck of the wight, driving it in as far as he could. The beast screamed and twisted as it attempted to get away, but that only allowed the dagger to cut more deeply through the neck muscle. With a sickening *crack*, the vertebra of the thing broke. Kensuke took a shuddering breath.
Then had to throw himself back as the wight, its head on by the merest strip of flesh, lashed out in blind fury. "Damn it! Die and stay dead!" He tried to close, but the thing's wild flailing made using the dagger too dangerous. He looked around for a moment then his gaze fell on his shattered lute. A quick glance at the wight, and he picked up one of the lute's strings and yanked it free from the destroyed instrument. Wrapping it around his hands he skipped around to the back of the thrashing undead and looped the string over the beast's head like a garrote. Putting his shoulder against the thing's back, he pulled with all his might. The garrote pulled tight against the flap of skin and neck muscle as the undead lurched wildly. The thing's own violent motions as it tried to pull away made the strings saw through the remaining bit of muscle and with a wet *shink*, the head dropped away and the undead finally dropped.
Limping heavily now, Kensuke staggered over and picked up his mace. There was no time to feel loss for the instrument that had seen him through so much. A holy knight had just had his face cracked open and his brains feasted upon. Now the man's dead body rose from the ground, two sparks of cold, blue fire where eyes had once stood.
"Lilith is watching over us!" he shouted to his line of valiant, battered defenders as he lumbered back towards the battle. He certainly hoped she was.
X O X
Inside the Cathedral the people who could do nothing else were praying. Led by teams of nervous priestesses they recited hymns that many had not truly sung since childhood. In a world where physics could be brought to heel by a strong will, the community of voices and power of thought could be caught, focused, and utilized.
It seemed like the whole Cathedral vibrated from the energy being generated. The stones, the air, the people, they all rang with a chorus of joy and triumph. It was juxtaposed by the terrible screams and sounds of desperate battle from just outside.
Near the center of the main chamber and its sea of people stood nine priestesses, three to a group. Each group looked towards the two priestess standing in the middle of the hall. "Remember," Ritsuko said to the others from her place beside Mayumi. "The spell matrix will set up a feedback loop inside your group. You must keep your respective elemental spells in a state of constant casting. As any spell nears completion, force it out into the matrix. Draw in new mana from the chorus around you but don't attempt to bask in the power, there's too much for anybody to hold."
Looking scared but determined, the priestesses nodded. Ritsuko took a deep breath, and started to move her hands in a circular pattern. Harsh light began to emanate from her hands, crackling and angry as she started to chant a litany of mystic phrases and power words to force the magic circuits into existence. As she did the priestesses faced the center of their specific group and raised their hands, palms forward. From the devotion of the crowd that filled the Cathedral, the holy women started to channel that vitality into their casting. One group summoned air, another water, the third focused on stone.
And at the center of all this Mayumi stood, head bowed, breathing deeply. The sound of the music around her... it was so beautiful. She would never be a true part of that chorus of voices. The breathtaking sound was made up of people joined in community of friendship, of common need for each other. All she had ever wanted was to be part of that community, to love and be loved as nothing more than herself.
She had a voice, but a voice that would drown out all the others. It would overwhelm what she heard now, and that hurt her, for what she heard made her heart ache because it reminded her that in some ways she would always be alone.
From outside the Cathedral came the furious sounds of battle. Mages and priests chanted, knights and freeman shouted. Weapons clashed. Men screamed. People died.
So be it. If she could not join the chorus, she would ensure that others would. And so, she began to sing.
(song: Brave Song. Anime: Angel Beats!)
"I was always walking alone/
When I turned around everyone was far behind."
Her voice filled the hall, overwriting all the noise that existed there. The words brought forth tremendous power, grasping the thin strands of magic that Ritsuko had laid the groundwork for. Connections that would require years of work to intertwine and build danced to the power of the song and thrummed with power.
"Even so I kept walking/
That was what strength was."
Each group of three priestesses burst into light, a pillar of energy shooting up from them as each group became a miniature Sentinel Tower, vibrating with water, earth, or air elemental power.
"I'm not afraid of anything anymore/
I try and whisper to myself."
One of the priestesses in the water tower group twitched, then seemed to suffer a seizure. She started to cry, and a river of water fell from her eyes. It poured from her ears and she opened her mouth to expel a torrent of water. She dropped her hands and grasped at herself. A moment later the power running through her converted flesh, organs, blood and skin into water with a wet *splorch*. An empty, waterlogged robe collapsed to the floor. The pillar of energy began to shake.
"Everybody becomes alone someday/
Living on only in memories."
Priestesses leading the congregation in prayer looked on, horrified. But one, after a searching look at the door and the terrible battle outside, stepped forward and took the fallen priestess' position. Raising her hands, she gritted her teeth and joined the casting. After a long moment the pillar of energy stabilized.
"So that I can love and laugh/
Even in loneliness I will fight/
I will show no tears."
Mayumi kept singing. The song filled her and made all else seem miniscule and trivial. But she knew this from the last time and had accepted the song's sweet addiction. But only to live within the song was not what she truly desired, and so directed the music to a task.
She observed the pattern for a long moment, just staring at the web of magic and the form it took as Ritusko added layer upon layer. Complex and intricate in ways she couldn't understand, Mayumi recognized it as a thing of incredible beauty. Here, in this place, with suffering and death drawing close, something gorgeous was being created.
And then, with a quiet sigh in the song, she poured vitality into the matrix. The song took hold of the magic and enriched its power far beyond what should have been possible. It howled in exhilaration, a rhapsody of function and ability brought together. Like a shockwave, a pulse of warm white light harmlessly exploded out from the Cathedral.
Outside, Kensuke and his thinning rank of defenders cut down another wave of rotting corpses, only to see yet another shambling horde lurch forward. The stench of the dead, dying, and those who should have been dead filled the air. "Just one more attack and they'll break!" he called out in his hoarse voice. "I need just one more attack from each of you! Surely you can manage that!" He'd used same call a half-dozen times before. He knew better and so did the people with him, but they clung to his words and the belief that this time was different. It wouldn't be, but belief was one thing they could claim as their own in this desperate moment. Then the wave was upon them.
There was a frantic and chaotic swirl of claw and blade. People screamed, creatures were hacked apart, and overmatched defenders died. After minutes that seemed to last hours, the wave thinned. It took a moment for anybody to realize, but this time things had been different.
Kensuke wiped blood off the side of his face and looked around. The line was battered and he'd lost far too many who had answered his call, but they still stood. "W-what happened?" he gasped out.
"I...I don't know, sir," one of the men with him said, leaning heavily on his spear. "But that seemed... easier than the others."
"Hey," someone said. "The dead... they're not rising. They died... and they're not getting back up!"
Kensuke looked around, surprised. Raising a hand to his glasses he stroked the arm, activating the magic lenses. They read the flows of magic in the atmosphere, showing the huge foul miasma had been... pushed back. A pure, white bubble was expanding from the Cathedral, and wherever it pushed against the dark energy in the air, the latter gave way.
"She did it! She did it!" He cried out, joyously. His troops looked at him in confusion but he didn't care. Jumping up on a nearby toppled statue, he motioned to his warriors. "The priestesses have done it! The dead will not rise!"
Exhausted, beaten, battered, bloody, the troops and mages nevertheless broke out into an ecstatic cheer. They'd done it!
Another mass of undead was shambling towards the Cathedral, but Kensuke felt ten feet tall. "They've done their job, now it's time to finish ours! Cut the undead down! Finish them! They had all the advantages and they couldn't break us! Now, they are weakened, and we are still strong!"
More cheering, before the mages unloaded a wave of magic into the oncoming monsters. Jumping down, Kensuke almost didn't feel the pain in his wounded leg... almost. For a moment he looked at the advancing dead and thought back to the nightmare the Kagenoshi had made him live. Being forgotten, unimportant, left behind... useless... that fear had dogged him: it always would. But between what he'd done for Mayumi and how people looked up to him here...
He swallowed against a terribly dry throat and raised his gravelly voice. "Let's roll!"
X O X
The manticore let loose a fearsome roar past its three rows of shark-like teeth. With terrifying swiftness it pounced, erasing the distance to the half-elf line in an instant. Myssa dodged to her right, bringing her blade up as she moved and cutting a narrow furrow in the beast's hide. The monster roared with something that sounded like savage joy and slashed out with its hind legs and claws. Myssa threw herself back from the thing, rolling along the rough ground. As she twisted back to her feet her hand snapped out and grabbed some of the iron spikes lying discarded upon the barren earth.
These were the manitcore's own weapons: spines that grew on the beast's own tail, hardened by its own mystical nature into sharp, iron thorns. By snapping the tail around the manticore could fire these shards to wound or kill before pouncing to bring triple-tooth or claw into play. The spikes were heavy, strong, and perfectly weighted for being hurtled at an enemy.
So as the manticore turned away from the refugees and toward the thing that had hurt it, Myssa pulled her arm back then snapped it forward, launching the manticore's own spikes against it. Flying straight and sure they stuck the beast around its disturbingly man-like face. Two bounced off the hard leather of the thing's body, one dove deep into the beast's foreleg, and a spike found each of the monster's eyes.
It roared with terrible fury as it was blinded, but seemed oblivious to the pain. Myssa used the momentary distraction of its blindness to rush forward and jam the point of her narrow admantine blade upwards into the monstrosity's mouth. The manticore's death throws tore the sword from her hand.
Gasping for air, Myssa doubled over for a moment. She was sweat-soaked and bloody from fighting their way here. Escaping the rapidly collapsing caverns had dumped the refugees into the Wastes, and all the monsters that now howled and hunted with no thought beyond the killing.
"How -- by all the dark gods --- can such unforgiving Wastes support so many damn top-tier predators?!" she gasped out. Sometimes she really hated magic and the reality-defying that came along with it.
Speaking of which, she straightened up and looked over her shoulder past the train of evacuees to what had once been Neriak. She could still see the unnatural storm that circled above the ruins of her abandoned city. And even from here she could make out the busts of light and darkness that clashed there. Booming explosions like thunder rolled over them and the ground shook even here as titans battled for supremacy.
After uncountable years, Adam, their All-Father, patriarch of their race appeared to have returned in glorious triumph. And he had broken their residence beneath his feet, and driven the remnants of the dark elf nation to once again flee across lands hungry for their blood.
"If it's worth anything," she muttered as she wiped sweat and blood off her brow. "I hope your goddess treats you better than our god did us, Shinji."
A sudden squawking noise turned her attention from the far-off battle. Off to the front and to the left of the column of march, a flock - a damn flock! -- of mad cockatrices crowed and screamed as they awkwardly ran towards what remained of the dark elf nation.
As the spell-casters evoked lightning and fire against this new wave, Myssa reached down and yanked her sword free. Others needed a miracle... she would be satisfied if she could just catch a break.
X O X
With the howl of a windstorm Fuujin shot up from the ground to give battle. While both the Holy Armor and Adam's dark giant were huge, the distance between them could not be crossed instantly. As Fuujin advanced, Rei's body casually raised a hand. A half-dozen black globes swirled into existence around the giant. They crackled for a moment before one spat out a bolt of red-fringed black lightning, the others ripple firing in sequence a moment later.
Shinji jerked his body to the side, Fuujin mirroring the motion. The huge Holy Armor lurched off to the right, the foul lightning shooting through the space he had just occupied. The beam touched an uncovered building in the abandoned city below and the stone structure violently ripped asunder. The following beams all tracked towards Fuujin, forcing it back as it opened up the distance.
"Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!" Shinji cursed as he dove for cover. Ducking back amongst the rocks and shattered formations, Fuujin flew just above the ground. Attempting to circle around the dark god, Shinji took turns and corners seemingly at random. Beams from Adam rained down upon the dark elven city touching stone and earth, causing them to explode. Huge clumps of rubble and structures were blasted free from the earth and tossed haphazardly into the air.
Reaching back with his hand Shinji called forth a gale. The tempest rocketed out from Fuujin's hand and enveloped one of the previously underground towers that had been blasted free. With the power of all earthly tornadoes behind it, the stone keep was given flight and shot off towards the god's face with the howl of a thousand banshees.
Inside his giant of black smoke and hardened magic, Adam's feminine features did not change from their customary indifference. The dark giant raised its hands before its head and caught the approaching keep, the arms only slightly recoiling from the tremendous force. The giant then simply pulled his arms away from each other, tearing the tower apart with a single gesture.
Growling, Shinji made a vertical circular gesture in front of himself with both hands. Fuujin did as well, compressing and forcing winds into a screaming vortex of cyclones and vacuum. Suddenly slamming his hands against them rapidly, the Wind Chosen forced the vacuum blades to fire out at the god like arrow volleys.
Touching solidified magic, the blades gouged chunks out of the giant's form. It appeared to have no more effect than paper cuts, as Adam lazily blinked and dark tendrils sealed over the wounds, binding the great form back together.
"Futile," Adam said, his double-echo voice reaching everywhere despite the violent noise of the storm roiling overhead. "All of the Chosen together were created to challenge Me. But alone? Know your place, which is less than that of a single neutron." Rei's body raised a hand and he closed a fist. "Fist of an Angry God."
Suddenly all the colors in the vicinity inverted: dark became bright and white turned to shadow. A rushing of noise told Shinji something was approaching but he couldn't see anything. Which way should he dod-
The force hit Fuujin like a castle dropped on a peasant. Pieces of armor rocketed away from the force of the impact, then Fuujin's whole body was viciously slammed into the broken earth. Inside, Shinji vomited blood. Always before he'd remained standing in the middle of Fuujin's command bubble, even when taking terrible hits. Now he was lying at the back of the bubble, his ribs burning with pain.
"I... am... hurt," Fuujin's voice rumbled in his head. He hadn't realized Fuujin could need to gasp for air. Shinji forced a hand to the wall and strained to push himself upright. His chest screamed at the motion and his arms trembled, completely unable to move him. Whimpering like a wounded beast, he tried again, twisting around and using both arms, but their strength had fled.
Adam disinterestedly looked down at the broken thing lying in the dirt, where it belonged. "It is good," he declared.
"D...damn it..." Shinji croaked out. Everything hurt; even the berserker inside was whimpering. It wasn't supposed to be like this! He was supposed to have Rei, Asuka, and Touji with him. The four Chosen would stand up to Adam together. Instead it was just him alone fighting a god. A god! How was this fair? How could he do anything? How could he continue in the face of such pain?
Growling, he asked his soul one question, "Which hurts more: the pain in your ribs... or the pain in your heart?"
Steeling himself he pushed against the walls of the command bubble again. It was agonizing, but he pushed himself away from it till he could stand on his own feet again. Breathing drove blades of pain into his ribs and he forced himself to look up at the thing that hovered there in the sky.
Just beneath the churning and roiling cloud cover Adam's dark giant awaited. At his mental command Fuujin focused on the slim figure standing where the giant's face should have been. He could see Rei's features, her ears, her eyes, her skin, but it was devoid of all that had been the elf. It was now a temple that had been defiled and usurped. It was everything she had stood against.
The berserker growled, and the sound came from Shinji's throat. "Get up, Fuujin. We're not done."
X O X
The beast Touji was fighting was fast, wild, and overwhelmed with rage. It was no longer a person, only a storm of fists, teeth and knees that desired nothing but blood and death. In this current state, fighting Bardiel wasn't much different than fighting an orc. A very fast, very tough, very, very angry orc. Enhanced healing or not, Touji's extended reach with his sword should have given him the edge but for one fact: that damn armor. It turned away glancing blows and weakened even strong hits to wounds that stopped bleeding far too quickly. Even if his reinforced blade could cut into it, he wasn't certain he could penetrate deep enough for a killing blow. He wasn't going to run the risk of swinging really hard and possibly his sword getting stuck in the metal, because as long as he held the sword he could drain its reserves and not take so much from Hikari. Supporting him had to be a terrible burden for her.
So brute strength wasn't the answer, he had to be fast and precise. And as Bardiel had shown him in so many different ways, he had to fight smart. The huge dark elf's shell was tough, but like all armors, it wasn't seamless. It had its weaknesses.
Draining power from his sword, Touji levitated a large rock and thrust it at Bardiel's face. The furious warrior batted the stone aside, striving, always striving for his opponent's death, but the stone exploded in a cloud of debris at his touch, blinding and distracting him for a second. Through the cloud Touji shot forward, the edge of his sword snapping forward towards Bardiel's right shoulder. Rewarded with a hit, the Earth Chosen scrambled back as the enraged warrior lunged in a blind rush and just barely missed catching Touji's arm in his terrible grasp.
Three clasps down. One to go.
Against an opponent aware, going for clasps and armor straps was difficult. If he were himself Bardiel would have sussed out the attempt and shifted defences accordingly. But this beast, this thing was only further enraged by the hit-and-run strikes, leaving more and more openings. Now Touji was the smarter one and ruthlessly used it to his advantage.
But just then, the ground shook. Dust fell from the ceiling as the whole arena rocked and shifted enough to throw both combatants off their feet.
"What da fu-"
"Exponential increase in background count of mana type: unholy, detected," said a voice in his mind, that of the Earth Armor. "Manifestation of celestial entity, class unlimited, detected at mana origin site. Classifying... Match found in shared archive. Entity codenamed: Adam. Warning, extreme caution is advised."
"No shit! What about Shinji? Anything on him?"
"Sub-dimensional transition to actualize airstream sanctified safeguard noted."
"Wind Holy Armor activated."
Touji bounded to his feet and put some distance between him and Bardiel, who was yowling as he rolled upright.
"What about da Water Armor?"
"No return on IFF query."
Touji swore. No matter the state she'd been in, Rei would never have left Shinji to fight alone. Either she was incapacitated or... dammit!
"Alright, we gotta-"
Touji didn't get to finish that as a thick fist smacked him in the side, sending him flying. Seeing stars, he struggled back to his feet, only to have his legs give out under him. This was fortunate, as it made Bardiel's strike pass over his head. Blindly, Touji summoned stone spikes to make a rough wall and give him some breathing room. There was no time to be concerned about the other Chosen, even without his mind Bardiel was too dangerous to ignore.
The underground city shook again. This time large pieces of rock broke from the ceiling. Touji didn't even try to dodge but rather gathered them and with a magical push, shoved them right at Bardiel's face. The Weapons Master staggered under the impacts but somehow still remained standing. In the middle of the barrage, Touji jumped forward, his gaze focused on his enemy's left shoulder. The dark elf screamed as the blade cut into his armor and pierced his flesh. What happened next was what Touji had feared: the beast twisted, tearing the sword from his grasp, leaving it in Bardiel's broken shoulder armor.
The beast swung wildly, forcing Touji to spring back. Bardiel wailed and grabbed the sword hilt to rip it free. Still moving away, Touji called forth every scrap of power he could. All around them, the large, loose boulders and stone debris shook, then hurled themselves at Bardiel. The impacts shook the Weapons Master like a rag doll, and under the barrage the damaged clasps finally gave way to allow the breastplate to fall free from his body.
Finally, the turtle was out of its shell.
With a scream on incoherent rage, Bardiel launched himself at Touji. The Earth Chosen jumped back again and again, always staying out of reach, driving the thing to even greater heights of blinding rage. This had to put an unbearable strain on Hikari and he couldn't make Shinji wait forever. One last shot... come on...
Enraged, hate burning all thought from his mind, Bardiel roared and tossed the sword at the thing just out of his reach. The sword flew end over end, and Touji ducked underneath the spinning blade.
"Hey Bardiel! Eat this!"
As the dark elf was almost upon him, Touji reached out and magically grasped the stone fragments remaining in his sword. Pulling it with all his might, he snapped it back in the direction it had come from. Passing an inch beside his ear, the blade shot like a missile past Touji and right into the dark elf's chest. Even without his armor, the weapon sunk only a small distance into Bardiel's chest, appearing to be stopped by now broken ribs. Bardiel howled in pain and tried to grab the blade to pull it free.
"No you don't!"
With his fist, Touji poured in all the power he could and punched his sword's pommel. With the force of an avalanche the sword finally broke through the ribs, internal organs, and out the back. Bardiel let out a gurgled scream... then fell to his knees.
Panting, Touji heaved in great gulps of air. Finally! Never had he faced such a- Wait! To Touji's horror, he saw Bardiel put his hands on the sword. Touji's eyes widened. He wasn't going to try and pull it out, was he? What did it take to kill this guy?
But then the dark elf let go as his arms fell to his sides. His body slumped.
"...you won, Earth Chosen."
Touji blinked. Warily he looked at the figure impaled on his sword. Had he regained his senses?
"Yeah, I've got people to return to. People to protect. Ya lost the moment ya forgot about who ya have to fight for."
"Yes... you are right. This... this peace you spoke of. Can... can it really happen?"
"Hikari ain't da kind to lie. If we survive this, she'll do what she can to make it happen."
"Hurry then. Adam... lives... you..."
Whatever he wanted to say, Bardiel didn't finish. He was dead.
Touji gave it no further thought. There wasn't time. By the way the city was shaking, Adam and Shinji had to be dancing all over his head. This place was ready to fall apart. He had to get out of here if he didn't want to end up buried alive.
"Armor? Any sign of the Water Armor yet?"
Shinji needed his help. Touji raised his right arm. Time to call the Earth Armor and join the real party.
Except he never got the chance. Before he realized it, something large and fast tackled him to the ground. Touji screamed as an impossibly strong grip grabbed his left leg and with inhuman strength, twisted. Pain, terrible pain shot through him, as skin, muscles and ligaments were torn apart. Instinctively, without focus, Touji called forth the earth.
The underground chamber shook as stone pillars shot from the ground. Stone fell from the ceiling, crashing against him and whatever was causing him pain. Touji barely noticed as he tried to crawl away as he felt the thing no longer holding him back. Turning around, he looked down and could only stare in frozen shock: his left leg had been torn off at the knee joint. In a daze his eyes followed the blood trail to find the missing piece of his leg a few feet away. An arm's length away from that, he saw the mangled form of Bardiel. His body had been crushed by a block of stone, yet, in spite of that, in spite of him dying on Touji's sword... he was moving. Except... it wasn't Bardiel. At least, Touji didn't think it was. His eyes were... a void. Even as a berserker Bardiel's eyes had shown something. This... it just laid there, trapped, jaw snapping, as it tried to crawl away from the boulder trapping it, towards his ripped leg. Touji averted his eyes. He... he had to do something. He felt dizzy. He looked at his leg again.
He was losing blood, a lot of it. He felt weaker too. Not just from the blood loss. He couldn't feel the power anymore. He couldn't feel Hikari.
Had she felt that? He hoped she hadn't. Lilith, he hoped she hadn't...
Touji tried to focus through the pain, to call the Earth Armor. If he could get inside, maybe things would get better. He reached out, but couldn't find the Armor. He couldn't summon the earth magic, he couldn't feel the connection.
The room shook.
Touji tried to get up, and failed. He started crawling. Pain and wooziness dulled his senses. He had to get out, now. Hikari. He couldn't let her down. She was stubborn, careless. Someone had to watch over her. He had promised her father, had told her he'd return. He'd hold her to her promise. They would kiss again. Nah, forget a kiss. They... they were going to do it! Yeah! Dammit, they should have done it back in Darnk, when it was just the two of them. Before that whole Chosen crap... She probably would have said it was improper. Fine! He'd ask her to marry him then! Someone had to watch over her anyway. Might as well be him...
Touji tried to get up again. He succeeded this time.
The room collapsed. He could do nothing to slow the tons of rock.
X O X
Yui was terribly worried, although very few would have been able to say it was so. To show a mask of calm and serenity in dire times had become an acquired skill over the years.
Nevertheless, the Queen Mother was worried. Was it the battle raging outside, the very terrible risk of her kingdom and its people dying by undead claws?
Or was she concerned over the safety of her eldest child? Who could have blamed her; the boy had left for what was more than likely a suicide mission.
Though both assumptions were in fact true, the focus of Yui's worries was closer to her: was sitting right by her in fact.
She could tell something was wrong with Hikari, but the girl... no, the woman, let nothing show on her face. Just a tightening of the grip upon that damned scepter of office. She had her spine straight and her feet firmly planted on the floor.
Hikari seemed to sense her mother's gaze, as she turned her head her direction. Yui was almost taken aback by the grim smile her daughter gave her.
"Don't worry mother. Everything will be fine."
The girl's body was still strained as tight as a lute's cord, but that confidence in her words...
"You words are naive. Adam has awoken, Highness," said Gendo. Ever since the beginning of the attack, the mage had been quiet. Yui wasn't really sure if he was just planning some other scheme, or if he simply had plain given up. "The Chosen... have failed us."
Yui swallowed, a horrible pain clutching her heart as she glared at the man beside her.
Hikari seemed to consider this, her jaw tightening. "It is very possible. However, we will not give into despair: the Chosen have not fallen."
"Irrelevant. They failed, and so-"
"They have not failed," Hikari cut him off. "Until they no longer draw breath."
Yui turned to Hikari. "How do you know they're still alive?"
Still keeping her back straight and her feet planted solidly, Hikari smirked. "The Earth Chosen... Touji... and I are linked."
"Yes. It was necessary to save my life. He's been sharing the strengthening powers of the Earth element with me."
"And through that link, you know he's alive."
Hikari nodded. "Yes... but... where he is now, it's... bad. The soil, the rocks, they're tainted, foul. For him, it's like he's trying to draw water from a poisoned well."
"What of the others? About Shin... the Wind Chosen? Or the Water Chosen?"
"No, I'm sorry, I don't know. I can only tell what's happening with Touji."
"I see. I pray Lilith looks after him then. How well can he fight, with such poison in his element?"
"Oh, he's not going to let a little impediment like that stand in his way; he's kind of thick-headed and stubborn. Besides... he's not drawing upon the poisoned earth for his power."
Yui frowned. How could the boy-
"Oh Goddess! Hikari, he's drawing from you, isn't he?!"
The Queen nodded, her face breaking into a slight grin. "Normally it feels like a slight inrush, but now I can actually sense the power flowing the other way. The stronger my posture, the more solidly I plant my feet, the more energy flows through me."
"But... you can't use earth magic. How is that possible?"
"It looks like the magical circuits in her body were rewritten to channel earth magical essence," said Gendo as he took an appraising look at the girl. "Interesting."
"Interesting? This is all you have to say? Interesting? The amount of power a Chosen uses... This could kill her!"
"Mother," Hikari looked up into Yui's eyes, her face set. "We all have our own battles to face." A smile appeared on the Queen's face. "It's fine now. He's safe. He won."
"No, not Adam. Touji's worried about that now, and about what Sir Shinji's doing. He needs to go help."
"He won't need her help anymore then," said Gendo. "Once the Earth Chosen summons his armor, the power channeled by a lone human would be insignificant."
"Yes," said Hikari, her body showing signs of relaxing. "He doesn't need my help any- TOUJI!"
The Queen screamed in pain, her scepter falling out of her grasp as to Yui's horror her body began to spasm.
"Yui! A sleeping spell! Now!" barked Gendo.
The former queen hadn't seen him move. He picked the thrashing young woman off the stone floor and positioned himself behind her, his left arm holding her at the waist. Hikari thrashed against him, but he simply let his body take the hits of her flailing limbs.
Yui finally shook off her shock and pressed a finger against her daughter's forehead, reciting the mystical words.
Immediately, Hikari's body relaxed in Gendo's grasp. Delicately the High Mage lowered her to the ground in a position midway between her side and belly.
"Check her breathing. If she tries to expel any fluid, let her," he commanded.
"What's going on? What happened to her? I thought you said she would be fine!"
The High Mage ignored the question, instead turning to the two nervous Royal Guards who had rushed over at their monarch's distress.
"No one enters and no one leaves this room!"
The guards seemed uneasy, but acknowledged the order at a nod from their ex-queen.
"Gendo! What's going on?"
The mage turned his attention back to Yui, his usual cold expression softening somewhat.
"The girl went into shock. The sleep spell calmed her down."
"How is she? I can't tell! Is it because of the power she was channeling?"
Gendo shook his head.
"No. She was fine. I think her reaction was empathic in nature."
"What do you mean?"
"The Earth Chosen may be severely injured," whispered Gendo. "Or dead."
Yui swallowed hard at the words. If Gendo was right... this was... the worst thing possible.
If the Earth Chosen had fallen, then it meant that Shinji was fighting alone. Unless he was already...!?
And Hikari. If her life was intertwined with the Earth Chosen... what happened to that bond? Would it break? Or would he take her with him in death? If she lived, would she recover?
"Will she be fine?" she barely dared ask.
"I have no idea," admitted Gendo. "The Goddess may be the only one who knows... and I'm afraid she'll soon be too busy to answer."
X O X
Slowly, in defiance of the god hovering above, the battered Wind Holy Armor pushed itself up from the crater it had made when it landed. Ignoring the pain Shinji raised his hands to the heavens and bade Fuujin to do so as well.
Through the battered system holy energy and wind magic flowed. It made some of the pain plaguing its operator fade, but that was not Shinji's goal. Instead the churning clouds above became more agitated and violent. With cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning the clouds evolved to a storm of primal winds. The air howled and a cyclone burst forth. A moment later another appeared, then another, and yet another joined its brethren.
The cyclones passed above the battlefield, spawning enormous tornadoes. Frightening winds screamed as they twisted and bent, circling and blowing with terrible power. Their movement had them pass over the smashed remains of Neriak where they grabbed hold of pieces of rubble, earth, and shattered rock. Driven by incredible force boulders were tossed into the air, the whole region filling with broken projectiles.
Fuujin leaned down, then burst up from the ground and hurtled itself into the middle of the tornadoes.
Adam looked unimpressed. Dark spheres coalesced around him and blackest bolts shot out, hitting stones and blasting them to fragments. The air became even thicker and turned into a blinding soup of boulder and dust.
Then the boulders started impacting against Adam's Absolute Terror field. Again and again, thousands of hits were scored each second as the storms drove tons of rocks against the field like battering rams and the abrasive dust like rivers of sandpaper. Ignorable normally, but driven by holy winds there was just enough divine power behind them to be annoying. Nothing that could actually piece his field, but it certainly was distracting.
Adam pushed his senses against the blinding storm that surrounded him. He didn't need eyes, but it would take a bit to push through all that disgusting holiness in the air-
Suddenly pain shot through his form. Adam cried out in surprise as his arm hurt. Looking down his form he saw the right arm of his giant was cut and bleeding dark magic like smoke. "What? How can I be-?"
A moment later another explosion of pain across Adam's back. Twisting, Rei's body looked and saw another cut on the giant's back. Again, dark smoke fled from the creature of magic. Rei's demonically violet eyes narrowed.
In the storm, Fuujin was a blur. Driven by all its speed and power the Holy Armor danced from one tornado to another. "Faster!" Shinji cried out, holding his twin swords in his hands. Outside, Fuujin held two swirling blades of focused wind. Darting back and forth between the boulders and dust that existed all around them, the Holy Armor rocketed around the center of the battle.
Appearing out of the tornado for only an instant, the Holy Armor slashed its blades into the skin of the midnight giant and disappeared back into the swirling chaos. The holy-infused wind swords cut through Adam's Absolute Terror Field and ripped the skin of the beast, making it bleed the dark magic that made it up. Then the winds roared in, grabbing the eddies of magic and forcefully pulling them away from the giant.
"Again!" Shinji shouted. "Keep us moving! I'll handle the attacks, you just get us close enough to give me a chance!"
"Understood," Fuujin said. All Shinji could see outside the command bubble was rocks and dust. Somehow the Holy Armor could figure out all the particle motion and knew where to be. Shinji had to be ready because Adam appeared without warning and he had the barest instant to slash out with his blades. But he made sure to never miss a moment Fuujin gave him. Again and again he struck as the dark god's giant body became blink-and-you'll-miss-it visible.
Dark beams of energy blasted through the rocks and dust. Fuujin danced and weaved. One beam caught the Armor's cape, blasting it into ash and making Fuujin twist and roll crazily. Getting its flight under control, it rocketed up. For a moment it cleared the dust and Shinji found himself shooting up the head of the giant. He could see Rei's body in front of him, clouds of hardened dark magic surrounding it. Despite the speed and the fact he was inside Fuujin, he felt Adam lock gazes with him. The alienness, the malevolence, the utter lack of empathy made it clear that this... thing... was not Rei. He lashed out with his blades.
A blackest arm managed to interpose itself between the two. The wind blades scored deep into the profane flesh, but the giant protected its master. Gritting his teeth, Shinji growled as Fuujin disappeared once more into the chaos.
"I do not believe this is working," Fuujin said in his mind.
"We're hurting him!"
"True, but not enough, and not fast enough." Fuujin rolled and jinxed as the tornado became a dark bullet hell. "Were the Chosen all here, we would have more opportunity. It was never envisioned that any Armor would battle Adam."
"What...! You're not supposed to fight him?!"
"No. Our role is and has always been nothing less than the protection of that which is most holy: the Chosen of the Goddess. We have been charged to safeguard our masters wherever they go. We give you the means to battle Kagenoshi on more even footing, but it is you who must do the fighting." Shinji felt Fuujin looking at him. "We are Holy Armors; against the darkness and the void we safeguard that which is most holy: those souls touched by Lilith to be her Chosen Warriors. You are her Holy Weapons. I thought that obvious."
"Well, it bloody well wasn't!" Shinji cried out, the berserker expressing itself violently. A sudden movement brought Adam's giant into sight again and he lashed out at it before vanishing back into the debris cloud.
"So what happened last time? Why didn't Kaworu kill Adam back then?"
"I do not remember the exact details; things were very chaotic and three thousand years is quite some time, even for myself. I know that the Fire Armor did not respect its Chosen and the two did not work well together. The Fire Chosen was the first to fall and his absence hurt the endeavour. The Earth Armor was never bonded, and without its protection the Earth Chosen was taken by darkness. Myself and the Water Armor battled to Adam's location where the two Chosen left our presence and attempted to destroy him. I know not the details, only that Adam was broken but not eliminated. After that we Armors were sealed away; without Chosen to guard we tended to get a little... squirrely, I believe the correct phrase is."
Shinji barred his teeth in a frown. There wasn't much help there and so there was nothing else to do but keep fighting.
"Wait..." Fuujin said. He paused for a moment, then continued, "Something is coming." Shinji looked to his right, only seeing the swirling dust and rocks around them. What was-
The rivers of dust and boulders parted before him as something *huge* slammed into their surroundings. Fuujin twisted his flight and shot off at an oblique angle from before, just skimming the... unending rock-face before them?!
Fuujin gunned his flight, flying up and as fast as he could. Still the seemingly endless face of solid stone followed them. Finally the tornado broke apart and Fuujin was able to get some distance so Shinji could see what had happened. His eyes bugged out.
Adam had reached out beyond the tornadoes and swirling dust with his divine will and simply ripped a whole mountainside free from the ground. Levitating the enormous pile of stone, the dark god had commanded the land feature to circle around him. Tornado winds met rock-face and the air had parted before its irresistible bulk. Its passage disrupted the cyclonic motion that held the boulders and dust up. Shinji's tornadoes were being bulldozed into inexistence and the dust and stone he'd be utilizing were crashing against the cliff face, only to fall back to earth as he could not maintain the tornadoes in the face of such a thing.
Having finished banishing the tornadoes Adam casually tossed the mountainside to one side, no longer needing it. He looked at the far off Fuujin for a moment.
"Insignificant. And no longer worthy of My time."
Dismissing the petty mortal, Adam closed his eyes, focusing.
"Rrraahhh!" Shinji screamed, furious. Reaching up, he thrust Fuujin's arms toward the clouds tossing above them. Air currents forced things into motion at his command, and static charges built up as differentials were increased beyond natural limits. Flashes of brilliant light arced across the inverted grey sea.
"Wait! Lightning is-!"
With another roar, Shinji pointed towards the dark giant. A bolt of blinding lighting seemed to crawl across the sky in a tortuous path, even though in truth it lasted but a second. Turning the sky purple with its fearsome light the bolt raced towards the distracted monster.
In the time between the start of the strike and its arrival, Adam casually made a dismissive gesture. Almost touching the giant's head the bolt suddenly arced away as if recoiling. A heart-beat later it crossed the distance to Fuujin and slammed into the Holy Armor.
Shinji screamed, this time in pain. He could feel each tooth in his mouth because each nerve there sent a message of pain to his brain. Everything else in his body was afire. Smoking, Fuujin dropped from the sky and only barely managed a semi-controlled crash.
"Lightning... lightning is the weapon of the gods," Fuujin said, sounding gravely wounded. "Be careful using it against them."
Above them, Adam took a deep breath. "I believe I am done here. Time to deal with Lilith." He raised Rei's slim arms and... rent reality.
A globe of seething energy formed around Adam's giant and a good portion of the nearby terrain. A terrible keening noise assaulted Shinji's eardrums, making his head nearly burst in pain. Then there was a moment of silence, before a humongous thunderclap echoed across the Northern Wastes as a sizable section of Neriak and its surroundings simply... translocated.
Now hovering above one section of Tokyo, Adam looked at the globe of materials that had transported with him. "I must work on My control. Three thousand years without coherent thought is no excuse for sloppy work." Turning his will to other things, the globe dissipated and thousands of tons of the city of Neriak and its countryside crashed onto Tokyo's eastern side.
X O X
The earth shook and rumbled as giant rock debris appeared out of nowhere and fell from the sky outside the capital. Many of the defenders of Tokyo Castle screamed as parts of the already structurally damaged building fell down on them. Those who weren't threatened by debris almost didn't notice. All they could look at was the dark and foreboding giant that had appeared with parts of the now ruined city of Neriak.
"Dear Lilith..." breathed Misato.
"Not her I'm afraid," said Kaji.
Even what was left of their undead aggressors had stopped fighting, their gazes drawn to the terrible dark form by divine majesty.
Instinctively, Misato sought Kaji's hand. This was... a disaster. Adam was awake, and was here. The Chosen had failed. Misato wanted to believe Shinji and his friends were still alive, still fighting. But she now stood before a god... and her heart trembled. In her other hand, she tightened her grip on her sword. It would be futile, but she wouldn't go down without a fight. Assuming they were still alive, the Chosen would need any help they could get.
"I love you," she said.
"I know," Kaji replied quietly. Jackass. Misato scowled, but didn't let go of his hand.
X O X
"I am Adam." The proclamation was unnecessary, but carried undeniable weight. "Humans, your time has passed; prepare yourselves for death."
The voice boomed in the heads of the dark elves and humans like thunder. Every word made their hearts skip a beat.
Makinami stared at the dark god with a mixture of fascination, fear and reverence. Their god was alive! And he was magnificent!
Adam turned his head and somehow found the dark elves throughout the city. "Dark elves... yours is an experiment now reached conclusion. You have been judged and found wanting. You too shall join the others in meaningless death."
"Co-commander! What... what do we do?"
Makinami looked at Kimiurel. He was scared, and confused. This realization cut through the fog of elation in her mind.
Yes, their god was magnificent. And he also looked very, very dangerous.
Certainly, his revival should be reason for her kind to celebrate. But she couldn't forget that his avatar had tried to kill them all.
And now he had just promised their death.
Glorious death! At his very hands!
But such a thing... had the dark clans shed blood and sweat and lives for thousands of years to now lay down at their god's command? Was this another test of their devotion? Did they love their divine master enough to follow his orders into oblivion? What greater prize could they present their god than blind obedience?
But what of Adam's creed: to fight, to struggle, to take, to claim, to overcome? To never show weakness nor allow any mastery over you. Her blood sang for battle. Was that not Adam's will as well?
Which was the truth?
The dark elf narrowed her eyes and gave the half-breed a manic grin.
"We live!" she declared. "We haven't struggled for survival just to die because our god wants us to! If the will of our god is for us to die... I say no! Remember the Kagenoshi and their betrayals! Remember our kin who died! We are dark elves! We don't need a god!"
In the back of her mind, she could feel the impulses from Adam's influence. Blood! Death! Carnage!
She gave them focus. She wet her lips.
"Let's show him... THE BEAST!"
The dark elves looked at her as if she had lost her mind. Then they cheered.
X O X
Adam frowned. He could feel Lilith beneath that miniscule piece of stone they called a castle at the centre of the city, but also felt something like being poked with a finger off to his right. Looking, he felt a barrier field being generated from some kind of holy building. It appeared to be interfering with the undead.
"That is a bit annoying."
He casually gestured and the power of the necromantic field increased by several orders of magnitude. The Sentinel Tower barrier field groaned, then popped like a balloon.
Throughout Tokyo, the dead rose again. Missing a head, missing limbs, missing a body: it didn't matter. Severed arms clawed themselves towards the living. Decapitated bodies lurched up and threw themselves at warm blood. Separated heads formed ghostly bodies to hold them up and then flew at screaming people.
The feast was over, now it was time to really get to the killing.
X O X
From a section of the shattered Neriak that had been dropped on the city, Shinji forced Fuujin to its feet. He was so tired, so hurt, but the rage inside was still strong. He had to avenge Rei! But worse, they were now in Tokyo! He had to protect Misato, Hikari, his parents, and little Mari since Touji...
Touji was dead. Asuka too. Shinji could feel it. The void that he had felt at the death of Rei has just grown larger. Deeper. Darker.
He was the last one standing. He was the only one who could protect them all.
He raised Fuujin's wind blades once more.
Adam turned Rei's face impassive face to him. "To properly absorb Lilith, her power can no longer be divided. Be gone construct." A dark spear formed and hurtled at Fuujin with stunning speed. Before he could act, the black spike slammed into the Holy Armor's neck.
Shinji choked, feeling the sympathetic pain. A second later, he heard the sound of metal cracking. Reaching up to his throat he pulled at the Wind Crest; it came away in two pieces.
There was a rush of air and Fuujin vanished as a departing gale. It left Shinji standing on the broken stone of the ground, the impossibly huge form of Adam's giant before him.
"What now, mortal?"
Shinji raised his twin swords and embraced the berserker inside. He took in a deep breath to scream defiance.
Adam didn't give him the chance.
"Trite," the god said, and blasted the thing below before turning his attention back to revealing Lilith.
X O X
The undead knight came at Misato with a speed that shouldn't have been possible for someone encased in full armor. Then again, it wasn't someone anymore. Head missing, it moved on all fours like a beast. It would probably be growling if it still had a mouth.
Misato slashed at it, but the strike was ineffective. Though durable, her enchanted blade couldn't fully penetrate a full breastplate. It did damage, but not enough to cripple the undead.
A spear came and pushed Adam's minion away before it could overrun her.
"Aim for the limbs," Kaji barked out, before aiming his spear at another corpse.
The fighting was taking its toll on her body, exhaustion clouding her mind. Her forces had been reduced after Adam's arrival, as corpses that should have been neutralized became a threat anew.
She didn't know why she kept fighting, what kept her on her feet. She was so exhausted. But so long as one person was still fighting, one person still holding the line...
The knight came again. Misato swung her sword. The ghoul crashed in a heap as its legs were severed.
Focused on cutting off the corpse's arms Misato didn't see her next attacker. A dead maid, one who had been fighting with her group only a few minutes earlier, pinned her and thrashed against her like an animal. Normally Misato wouldn't have had trouble getting the little woman off her, but the White Knight barely had the strength to keep the snapping jaws from biting her face off.
A spear was shoved into the undead's head, spilling blood into Misato's face. With a grunt, Kaji pushed forward, throwing the still trashing maid off the White Knight but losing his spear in the process. A moment later Misato found herself yanked back to her feet.
Before Misato could protest, Kaji dragged her away. The mass of undead followed, giving her no choice but to follow his lead.
"We have to hold the line!"
"We're the last, Misato!"
Misato's heart sank. She knew he was right. But to admit it...
"Doesn't matter! We have to-"
"There's nothing more to do!" a bleeding Kaji snapped, one hand holding onto his ribs painfully. "Dying here won't help anyone! Run for the castle gates!"
Wordlessly, Misato followed. Kaji was right... They couldn't fight this. They couldn't stop this.
X O X
Under a churning sky filled with sickly green clouds and red-tinted lightning, a crater marred the Earth. It was as if some great force had ripped through the ground and carelessly tossed tonnes of rock aside as one would peanut shells. So powerful had been the force that the floor and walls of the crater were blasted almost smooth. Near the bottom however, there was an imperfection: a man-sized lump of soil and pulverized rock.
Shinji could no longer move. He tried, but that attack had broken him, just as it had the swords he had barely gotten up before him. It had cost him the swords' blades, the only weapons he had left... shattered. His friends, the Wind Crest, Fuujin, and now his swords were gone.
He had... nothing.
Shinji let out a scream of rage and frustration as he tried and failed to get up. The taste of blood was strong in his mouth as his body protested in pain. Just breathing was difficult. The berserker howled, but even he could not push Shinji any further.
Up above Adam no longer paid attention to him. So that was it. This was as far as he could make it alone. Without the others, he just wasn't strong enough.
He didn't want to give up, didn't want to leave things like this... but right now, what else could he do?
"Stop complaining and get up already!"
Asuka? Shinji had to be closer to death than he thought. It figured she'd be yelling at him.
"Ya can't give up, Shinji!"
Touji... Shinji should never have left him alone. They should have fought together. Touji wouldn't have had to die and maybe together they would have stood a chance.
"You are not alone. We are with you."
Shinji let out a gurgled animalistic croak. It didn't matter if this was his imagination as he lay on death's door. Rei was right, they all were. As long as he lived the memory of his friends was with him. If he died then he would honor them by dying on his feet. He wouldn't give up!
Shinji pushed the pain away. He ignored cracked bones and torn muscles. Through sheer force of will, slowly, painfully, he unsteadily got to his feet. In defiance he pointed one of his broken blades at Adam.
The dark god noticed. And shrugged. "Very well."
With a finger, Adam threw a single spear of dark energies towards the human. There was no way to avoid it.
[To be continued...]