And so it returns. This story mysteriously disappeared from Fanfiction.net a few months ago, but since I still haven't had an explanation as to why, I'm simply re-posting it. The R-rating is totally unnecessary really, but it probably pays to be on the safe side. Anyway, this gives me a chance to introduce the remastered version of the story- now with fewer misprints and nicer formatting.
Here's how it's going to work: Every week I'll upload a chapter. This will make it a less terrifying prospect for new readers, give old readers the chance to refresh their memories of this long-neglected project, and allow me to finish off the final chapter... yes, this story will at last have a conclusion!
So read on, my little ones! Heheheh...
El-Hazard is property of AIC/Pioneer. All other characters and events are property of dooky.
Lyrical thanks to bis, Honeycrack and X-Ray Spex. Proofreading is courtesy of Firebird, and special thanks to Incantrix, for suggesting that I resubmit.
Prologue: "The Streets Are Paved With Tarmac"
It was a good colour.
Not everyone liked it, of course, but you knew where you were with black. It had always been her favourite.
And what you like, you use to define yourself. Or do you? There was no intended symbolism in wearing black, she just liked it. But for the people around you, such a simple explanation is never enough. You like black because you're miserable. You like black because you don't want to be like the rest of us. You like black because you want to send a message, loud and clear, to all the people around you, that says "I hate myself and everybody else".
Christ, it was only a colour.
But life, or society, or whatever you wanted to blame, had a funny way of moulding you to people's expectations. You were a mirror to the perceptions of others. If enough people called you something, you became that something.
That's life. She had never intended to become a goth. She had objected when people had first used the term to describe her. But gradually, a goth was exactly what she had become. And here she was. A sociologist's dream.
It was just after five in the morning, and the first signs of light were appearing over the skyline. The night was receding. That was a shame. There was something very beautiful about the city at night. In the early hours of the morning, after the drunks and partygoers had staggered back to their respective homes, the city was still and silent. A city- designed for transport, work, shopping, people! Designed in an effort to somehow bring order to the chaos. And yet now it stood deserted, devoid of all that usually gave it meaning. A vast concrete contradiction. Magnificent.
She stopped. Her wandering had brought her to the school. A large board covered with a sheet of clear plastic bore the recent exam results. Clearly located next to the entrance for all to see. You couldn't escape from the results. Because, after all was said and done, these results, these numbers, were all that mattered. You were the number. Granted, you might be a big number rather than a small number, but you were still a number.
She let the figures drift out of focus, and caught her reflection in the plastic. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark clothes, dark lipstick. Absurdly light skin, and unlike most goths, make up was not required to maintain it. It was natural, although the mascara, eyeliner and lipstick were all artificial. Goths were artificial. But everyone else was artificial as well, to some degree, and, as somebody once said, "that's the way a girl should be in a consumer society."
She ran a hand through her hair. Short, spiky, a little chaotic perhaps. Glancing down at her clothes, it occurred to her that she would have to return home soon and change into her school uniform. A pointless gesture, if the intention was to make all students the same. No. She was 'different', and nobody, least of all her, would ever be permitted to forget that.
There were footsteps approaching.
A noticeably thin woman, her mind clearly elsewhere, walked quickly in her direction, with her head down. The woman glanced up, and let out a shriek.
"Oh my God!"
"I'm sorry. Can I help?"
"You scared me, you freak! What are you doing walking around here at this hour?"
"I was just... admiring the city at night. What about you?"
"I was at a party. I got lost, and... hey, I don't have to tell you anything! Don't you know who I am?"
There was a very awkward silence.
"What do you mean, 'no'? Of course you know who I am."
"I'm afraid I don't."
"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?"
The goth sighed. This conversation was going nowhere.
"I don't know who you are. I'm not really in the mood to guess. Why don't you just tell me?"
The woman frowned, then said, as if it was the most blindingly obvious thing in the world, "I'm Sakura Tamaro!"
"Okay..." the goth replied, desperately searching her memory. Then something struck her. "Oh, you're famous, aren't you?"
Sakura's face lit up. "Yes! So you have heard of me?"
"Are you an actress?"
The smile immediately left Sakura's face. The goth quickly offered another possibility.
"A voice artist, then? Hey, do you do Sailor Moon? I love Sailor Moon!"
"I'm a pop star!" Sakura finally revealed, indignant. "I'm Sakura Tamaro, Japan's favourite solo artist!"
"Oh, that's great!" the goth said, still trying to appear friendly. "I'm Mari Kurai, high school student!"
"I don't care who you are, you... apparition. When you've had three number one albums, then I'll care who you are."
Mari was, justifiably, rather offended. "Hey! Leave me alone. You have no right to talk to me like that. What have I ever done to you?"
"You... didn't... know... who... I... was!" Sakura hissed, furious. "You're a female, aged thirteen to eighteen. You're in my demographic! You're supposed to idolise me!"
Mari shook her head, almost apologetically. But not quite. "I can't idolise someone I've never heard of."
"You mutant," Sakura snapped, pointing a representatively skinny finger at Mari. "Who do you idolise, then?"
"Umm... Sailor Saturn? Yeah, she's so sweet, in a sinister kind of way..."
Sakura shook her head. "I hate people like you. Always trying to be different. Thinking you're better than the rest of us."
"You can talk," Mari casually replied.
Sakura continued. "You deliberately cut yourself off from other people, That's why you have no friends."
"What?" Mari objected. "You don't know me, so don't kid yourself that you know anything about me."
"Oh, please. It's obvious to me that... who the hell is that?"
Mari looked over her shoulder and followed Sakura's gaze to the playing fields. Sure enough, somebody was standing there. It was difficult to make out any details at this distance, so the two observers moved cautiously closer.
A woman. Yes, definitely a woman. But not one that Mari recognised. Her hair was white, or possibly blue.
"What is she wearing?" Sakura whispered. "She looks ridiculous. Is this one of your people?"
"I don't know who she is," Mari replied, too intrigued to be insulted.
"You don't know who anyone is," Sakura added unhelpfully.
The pair suddenly recoiled at the appearance of a brilliant light. As her eyes adjusted, Mari could make out a second figure at the centre of the light, carrying a large staff of some kind.
The first figure ran towards the second. They embraced. Now they seemed to be having a conversation.
"That's it," Sakura said calmly. "This is too weird. I'm going."
She turned and began to walk away.
A flash. The two figures were gone. All that remained was kind of residual charge, a series of sparks that clung to the air where the pair had been. The charge didn't fade, though. It just sort of... stayed there. Mari was just considering how strange this was when she noticed something disturbing.
A bolt of energy was snaking along the ground towards her. Moving reasonably quickly. She turned and ran.
What's her problem, Sakura thought as Mari streaked past her. Then, noticing the trail of energy following the student, she found her answer. For a second- but only a second- she wondered if she should help. But why should she? Weird people really did bring stuff like this on themselves.
What was that noise behind her?
She turned her head to discover its source.
There was an identical bolt of energy, moving equally quickly. And it had its sights set on Sakura.
She ran in the opposite direction to Mari. She could move at a fair speed. Thirty seconds later, the school was out of sight. The energy bolt was still following her along the tarmac, but she was definitely outrunning it. Ha! She knew that personal trainer would pay off eventually. That chubby little goth had probably been vaporised by now.
She stumbled over a piece of debris in the road. Managing to stay upright, she nevertheless found, to her annoyance, that she had lost a shoe. Now, a dilemma. To go back and rescue the shoe, or to carry on and save her life? There was only one realistic answer.
Those shoes were bloody expensive.
She crouched down to retrieve the shoe. The energy hit her full in the face. Japan's Favourite Solo Artist touched her shoe just in time to take it with her.
Mari sat on top of the bins, swinging her legs over the side, watching the energy snake around below her, snapping hungrily at her feet. How curious. The energy was unable to leave the ground.
There was a decision to be made. She couldn't stay up here forever. So she could either jump down and try- probably unsuccessfully- to outrun the energy, or- and this was the interesting one- let it catch her, and see what it did.
Perhaps it would do nothing. Perhaps it would kill her. Perhaps it would just tickle. Perhaps... well, there was an infinite number of possibilities, wasn't there?
Life, apparently, was all about infinite possibilities, but in reality this wasn't true. In life you had to be realistic. The number of paths open to you was staggeringly limited.
Yes, the energy was starting to look more inviting.
She hesitated. Did she have anything else on today? She ran through her timetable in her head.
PE this morning. She could do without that.
Without another thought, she jumped down. The energy washed over her. For the first time in her life, she was truly facing the unexpected.
It was a risky, and probably quite stupid, thing to do.
But just occasionally, the stupidest choice turned out to be the best.
And who wanted to be a number forever?
"Not really sure what I am looking for today..."
The First Month: "Back In Love"
Yes, that would be what the doctor would say when they emerged from the rift to greet him. In his quest to understand the underlying principles of dimensional transfer, that long-neglected, almost completely forgotten science developed by the ancients of El-Hazard, Makoto had worked closely with Doctor Schtalubaugh for four long years, and had come to recognise the old man's habits. The man was an expert in many fields, but if there was one thing he could truly be said to excel at, it was understatement. He could always be relied on to provide an insufficient adjective no matter what the situation.
Throughout the trip, Ifurita said nothing. She simply clung feebly to Makoto, her face buried in his chest, trying to shield her eyes from the brilliant light that surrounded them. Once the most feared warrior of all time, with seemingly infinite power at her disposal, she now had barely enough strength to stand up straight. Her power levels were practically zero, and yet somehow she was still alive. This wasn't remarkable; it was nothing short of a miracle.
Makoto had reached her just in time. He'd been fortunate, he knew that. Naturally, he'd put everything he had into rescuing Ifurita, but luck had played a significant part. It wasn't simply a matter of opening a dimensional rift. With the technology at his disposal, that wasn't a problem. The difficulty was opening one to a precise time, place and dimension. That was what had eluded him. It was a chance discovery that the Eye of God maintained highly detailed records of the portals it had previously opened, and with some manipulation could be persuaded to re-create them. So Makoto had found a way back to Earth, albeit the Earth of ten thousand years ago. In order to retrieve Ifurita without disrupting the delicate paradox that had sent him to El-Hazard in the first place, it was necessary to somehow turn the clock forward by ten thousand years. It sounded easy, although completing the required calculations for the alteration of this single parameter had taken over a year.
At that point, the prospect of returning to Earth was no longer an ambition, it was close to being inevitable. Makoto had begun worrying. Three problems constantly nagged at him. The first- should he return to Earth permanently? To begin with, he had longed for his old life. But years passed, and as they did, the prospect of going home seemed ever more ridiculous. How could he possibly return to Shinonome and carry on as if nothing had happened? However much he wanted his old life back, it wasn't possible. Things had changed.
His second problem- what would the people of El-Hazard make of Ifurita? While people knew that she was the one who deactivated the Eye of God, she was also one of the most feared weapons in El-Hazard's history. During her brief period under Jinnai's control, she had destroyed three towns and part of the palace. People weren't going too forget that. Fortunately, the Roshtarian royal family had publicly voiced their support for Ifurita, and in recent weeks Princess Fatora's army of PR managers and publicists had sprung into action, reminding the public of Ifurita's noble sacrifice, transforming her into some kind of folk hero. How successful this would be remained to be seen, but if anybody could change public perception of Ifurita, it was the people who had made Fatora Roshtaria's all time favourite princess, despite her unquestionable talent for upsetting nearly everyone she met.
The third problem- the one that kept him awake night after night- what if, despite all his efforts, there was nothing he could do to save Ifurita? What if the act of sending him to El-Hazard had killed her? It was a possibility too terrible to contemplate, and yet, Makoto simply had to contemplate it. That was the way his mind worked. He was a scientist, so he considered all possibilities. Including the worst case scenario. And no amount of reassurance could change the fact that he would have to wait until he returned to Earth to find out Ifurita's fate.
But suddenly, it no longer mattered. Ifurita was safe. Such a weight had been lifted from his shoulders that he was grinning broadly without even realising it.
Shapes began to appear. What had been uniform light became colours. The world around them came into focus. Blurred noise became voices. They were back in Makoto's specially constructed test lab.
Doctor Schtalubaugh signalled to the two research assistants to terminate the connection with the Eye of God. The light faded, and the two figures were fully visible at last. The doctor stared at them- a smiling Makoto, and the weakened Ifurita draped over him. Only one word seemed appropriate.
Ifurita's exertion had left her very disorientated. She now sat on the edge of the bed in Makoto's little house, trying to gather her thoughts.
Upon her return, Makoto had re-wound her as soon as possible. Curiously, he had seemed a little embarrassed about performing this simple act. She smiled to herself. That was Makoto all over. He hadn't changed.
The energy was confusing her. She had been running on reduced power for so long, that she had quite forgotten the strange, rushing sensation in her head that this much energy could produce.
Makoto hurried back into the room and sat gingerly next to her.
"Are you... feeling better now?"
"I must wait for the power to become evenly distributed throughout my body," she said weakly. "Makoto..."
"How long has it been?"
"Almost four years."
"Are they all still here?" she asked. "Nanami? Mr Fujisawa?"
Makoto nodded. It was a difficult concept to grasp, but Ifurita had effectively lived his life, having witnessed its every detail through his memories. She knew Nanami and Mr Fujisawa almost as well as he did, despite meeting them only briefly in reality.
"They're here. But a lot's changed since you last saw them. Mr Fujisawa's married. He has a daughter. And Nanami, well, she's become quite the entrepreneur."
Ifurita took hold of Makoto's arm, and rested her head on his shoulder. "Oh, Makoto... I want to know everything. Everything that's happened..."
"Um, well," Makoto wondered where he should begin. "The priestesses are due to visit from Mount Muldoon in a few days. And of course, there's the royal wedding. We..."
Ifurita had fallen asleep on Makoto's shoulder. Despite her enthusiasm, she was still thoroughly exhausted.
Makoto smiled and lay her gently on the bed. For now, she could sleep. They had all the time in the world.
The first thing Sakura noticed was that she wasn't dead. Good start.
The second thing she noticed was the fact that she was in immense pain. A terrible, stabbing sensation in her lower back. It felt as if her vertebrae were being prised apart. But the pain wasn't limited to her back. It was all over her body, in a greater or lesser capacity. Her neck, her arms and legs, her chest, her fingers... it was the greatest pain she had ever experienced in her life.
She didn't deserve this, God damn it! She was a celebrity. She knew people. She had seven cars.
She wanted to cry out. But she couldn't. She was totally immobile. She couldn't see or hear. Her natural reaction would be to panic. But she couldn't even do that.
Somehow, she was compelled... to sleep.
Blossoms were falling.
Nobody saw the blossoms. This was just about the deepest part of the Greater Roshtarian Forest. The nearest town was miles away, and few ever ventured this far away from civilisation. So the blossoms continued their business of falling undisturbed. Falling on the grass. On the lake. And unusually, on a girl sprawled out on the ground.
Face down, unconscious and dressed entirely in black. She looked strangely at odds with the rest of the scene. As if by way of compensation for her incongruity, one by one the blossoms did their best to cover her up.
"How beautiful!" Qawoor exclaimed.
"I'm not sure about beautiful," Shayla observed, "but it sure is different. Somebody obviously likes purple."
"Quite impressive," Afura agreed.
The three priestesses walked slowly through the main royal garden, which had been entirely replanted in preparation for the royal wedding. The garden was now resplendent with flowers of every shade of purple imaginable. The Roshtarian royal family's first wedding in twenty-eight years was clearly going to be an extravagant affair.
"You girls are late!" a familiar voice called. Qawoor smiled. Shayla and Afura shuddered.
"Miss Miz!" Qawoor called back, waving enthusiastically.
Miz marched over to the three women, her daughter and husband in tow.
"I see you haven't got any more punctual," she said dismissively. "When I was a Muldoon priestess, I was never..."
"Aw, come on, Miz, what's an hour our so?" Fujisawa interjected. "Leave the poor girls alone, will ya?"
Qawoor did her best to change the subject. "Miss Miz, I'm certain little Mika has grown since our last visit."
Miz cheered up a lot upon hearing this. If there was one thing she enjoyed, it was showing off her daughter. "You're absolutely right," she beamed. "And not only that, she's highly intelligent for her age. Mika, aren't you going to say hello to the priestesses?"
The child smiled timidly and clung to her father's leg.
"What a lovely little girl," the young priestess commented. "I hope one day I'll have a daughter just like her!"
"Oh, please," Shayla sighed. "So, have you seen her yet?
"Her? Who do you mean?" Miz asked, perturbed.
"You know. Her. The Demon God."
Fujisawa shook his head. "No. No one has, except for Makoto and the doctor. I think she's resting."
"Hmph." Shayla folded her arms and turned away. The others looked around nervously.
"Come on, Shayla," Fujisawa offered. "How about a drink?"
"Yeah, why not?" she mumbled in response.
Qawoor leaned in to Miz. "Miss Miz, may I speak with you in private?"
"Of course," she nodded. "Masamichi, will you..."
She noticed that he and Shayla were already halfway across the garden, quickly making for Nanami's restaurant.
"Well then," Miz frowned, picking her daughter up, "I suppose Mika will have to join us. Will you excuse us, Afura?"
"I have to admit I was a little worried, Ifurita. You were asleep for two solid days..."
Makoto trailed off, deciding that such an observation probably sounded ridiculous to Ifurita. Two days was nothing compared to the ten thousand years she had spent waiting for him.
"Makoto, I did not mean to cause you concern."
"I know that. I'm sorry."
The pair stepped out into the midday sun. At last Ifurita was strong enough to go outside.
"Well Ifurita, where do you want to go first?" Makoto asked.
"Nanami," she answered, smiling. "I want to see Nanami."
Makoto took her arm and led her along the path.
Qawoor, Miz and Mika sat on a bench, under a recently planted tree bearing purple blossoms.
"I do like what they've done with these gardens," Miz said. "I've always liked purple."
Qawoor nodded in agreement.
"But... you didn't ask me here to talk about gardening, did you? Tell me, Qawoor, what's troubling you? Is it Shayla-Shayla?"
Qawoor looked up, puzzled. "Shayla?"
"I saw how she was acting back there," Miz continued. "That girl... and to think she's the senior chief priestess..."
"Shayla's just upset about Ifurita coming back." Qawoor justified. "Poor Shayla. She still likes Master Makoto, even if she won't admit it. When I first met him, I... liked him too. But then I found out about Ifurita, and, well... I thought it would be unfair on him if I..."
She sighed. "Shayla must feel awful. But maybe this way, she'll be able to get over him at last."
"Well," Miz pondered, "if it isn't Shayla that's troubling you, then what is?"
"I'm worried about sister Afura," Qawoor said. "She's been very quiet."
"Yes, but Afura was always quiet," Miz reasoned.
Qawoor shook her head purposefully. "Not like this. She's totally immersed herself in her studies. She hardly says a word to us. And... the other day I asked her what she was reading, and she told me to keep out of it. I really think something's bothering her, Miss Miz."
"You're right," Miz replied, a little concern showing in her eyes. "Afura always took studies seriously, but she was never unsociable."
"Would you talk to her, Miss Miz? I know she looks up to you. If she'll tell anyone what's wrong, then it's you."
"I'll see what I can do," Miz answered.
"The people... they're all looking at me," Ifurita whispered.
Makoto could only nod in acknowledgement. As they crossed the main square, they were the centre of attention. There didn't seem to be a single pair of eyes that wasn't looking in their direction.
"I know, it's to be expected," Ifurita sighed.
"They're not used to seeing you," Makoto whispered back. "They're just a little curious. Before long, the novelty'll wear off, I'm sure."
He hoped he was right. Being watched by so many people was certainly unnerving. Ifurita suddenly let out a gasp of astonishment.
"What is it, Ifurita?"
"One of the Phantom Tribe people! I can see one of them... over next to that building!"
Makoto's heart skipped for a moment until he realised that Ifurita had just seen an Opaque.
"It's okay," he reassured. "I guess I haven't done a good job of updating you on what's been happening in El-Hazard. That man isn't one of the Phantom Tribe- at least, not really. They're known as the Opaques. The Phantom Tribe treated them as underclass, since they don't have the power to cast illusions. So a few years ago, they banded together and left the Phantom Tribe."
"I see," Ifurita said. "And they have become integrated into Roshtarian society?"
Makoto looked a little awkward. "Well, I wouldn't say integrated, exactly. Roshtaria was one of the few countries to accept them, but even here, a lot of people don't like them. It's a shame, but... I guess you have to give people time to adjust."
Makoto hoped that Ifurita wasn't thinking what he was thinking. The situation with the Opaques was an indication of just how bigoted the Roshtarian people could be. It made him wonder just how readily, if at all, they would accept Ifurita.
Shayla downed a glass of fortified wine and turned to her drinking buddy.
"You have no idea what it's like," she slurred. "Stuck in that temple with only Afura and Qawoor and Parnasse for company."
"Come on, Shayla," Fujisawa replied. "I'm sure they're not that bad."
"Ha!" Shayla laughed mockingly. "It's hell, believe me! Afura's just been downright weird recently. Qawoor's just... Qawoor. And every night I have to check my bed before I get in it in case Parnasse is there waiting for me."
An Opaque couple entered the restaurant and sat near the window. Two men immediately stood up and made for the door in response. Fujisawa tutted in disapproval.
"Hey!" Nanami ran angrily over to the men. "Don't even think about leaving when I have your meals almost ready. I don't put effort into preparing food just so people like you can get up and leave whenever they feel like it! Now sit down there and enjoy yourselves!"
The men meekly complied with Nanami's request.
Nanami marched back past Shayla and Fujisawa's table. "People like that ought to be ashamed of themselves," she said.
"Wow," Shayla commented. "I know that was a matter of principle, but I'm surprised she has any customers at all with an attitude like that."
"Don't knock it," Fujisawa replied, instinctively defending his old student. "Whatever it is, it works. You're looking at the woman who introduced franchising to El-Hazard."
"What the hell is that franchising thing about, anyway?" Shayla continued. "Why would I want to go to another town just to visit the same restaurant? If you ask me..."
Fujisawa blinked. Shayla appeared to have frozen, staring at the restaurant's doorway. He looked over his shoulder. Aha. That was why.
Makoto and Ifurita had just entered the building.
Nanami noticed and ran over. "Makoto! Ifurita?"
"Nanami!" Ifurita grabbed Nanami and hugged her, much to her surprise.
"Uh, hi," Nanami acknowledged, confused. "Why don't you sit down? Um, Ifurita, you can eat, right?"
"I can ingest solid and liquid nutrients if necessary..."
"Good enough for me. Come on."
Makoto gulped as he saw Shayla looking in horror at Ifurita. He tried to distract Ifurita but it was too late.
"Mr Fujisawa! Priestess Shayla!"
He followed her to the table in desperation. "Maybe we shouldn't sit here, Ifurita..."
"Well, because..." Makoto's eyes flitted helplessly between Ifurita and Shayla. Ifurita had already sat down. This could be unpleasant.
"I'm so excited to see you all again," Ifurita smiled. "Mr Fujisawa, is it true you're married?"
"Well, yeah, it happened not too long after you left us." He leaned over to the still livid Shayla, and whispered- "Come on, Shayla. Please, try and keep it together."
"And your daughter?" Ifurita continued, oblivious. "I hear that she's... oh..."
Ifurita suddenly shuddered and began to fall backwards. Makoto immediately caught her and propped her up.
"Ifurita? What's wrong?" he asked urgently.
"N... nothing," she attempted to reassure. "I'll be fine. Just give me a moment..."
"It's okay," Makoto said, putting his arm around her.
Shayla could take no more. "Unbelievable! She's only been back three days and already you're feeling her up!"
"That's ridiculous!" Makoto countered. "I'm supporting her! She's weak!"
"Weak? Ifurita? Tell me, Ifurita, were you weak when you started blowing up the palace? Were you weak when you were killing innocent civilians?"
"Shayla!" Makoto objected. "Please stop!"
"How could you choose her? How?" Shayla fumed.
"Now just a second, Shayla," Nanami protested. "I can see you're upset, but this isn't..."
"Save it!" Shayla stood up and stormed out.
Ifurita was distraught. "What... have I done?"
When the Eye of God blinks, the path to the sky will open up, and the Shadow Nation becomes one.
And so it had happened.
The Eye of God had blinked when it was used against the Bugrom. Shortly afterwards, the path to the sky had opened up, sending Ifurita to a distant dimension. And the Shadow Nation? The Phantom Tribe were one, for a while. Until Galus' sabotage of the Eye of God failed to bring them the revenge they sought.
So ended the Holy Apocalypse.
And life continued just as it had been. And the people were generally pleased about this, having always assumed that the coming of the Holy Apocalypse would bring with it the end of the world.
Evidently, it hadn't, but nobody was complaining.
But four years on, all was not well. Nobody could put their finger on exactly what was wrong, but it was as if the public's sense of certainty had been eroded. A collective paranoia was spreading throughout the people.
It all went back to that one moment. When the Eye of God blinked, everything changed. The Bugrom were gone. Gone! But when your greatest fear is vanquished, do you cease to fear? Of course not. You simply find something else to fear instead.
Then there were the newcomers. Only three of them. They could adjust to that. But soon, even more newcomers were on their way...
Galus was dead. The Phantom Tribe fell into chaos. And soon after, the Opaques saw their opportunity and escaped.
They had tried to survive on their own, but they had neither the resources nor the numbers to sustain themselves. So they turned to the Allied Nations for help, and were largely ignored.
Only Roshtaria, Styrenia, and a few of the smaller, richer countries heard their cries for help.
Oh, there were advantages to having the Opaques around. They had brought with them many technological innovations which were previously exclusive to the Phantom Tribe. And they were an advanced people. Already, some of the best doctors and engineers were Opaques.
But this created as much resentment as it pacified. What right did these outsiders have to march in here and take all our best jobs?
In the fullness of time, such bickering would seem so... pointless.
Her train of thought was interrupted by a voice from behind.
"Afura? Are you alright?"
Afura looked over her shoulder at Miz. She hadn't heard her coming.
"Fine. I was just... thinking."
"You were miles away," Miz corrected. She stood beside Afura on the balcony overlooking the busy street. "Now, are you going to tell me what's been playing on your mind? Or do you want to worry us all sick for a little longer?"
Afura looked up, and glanced at Miz's concerned expression. In Afura's eyes, a hint of... fear? Now that was unusual.
"It's not me you should be worried about," Afura said finally.
"Well, what do you suggest we worry about instead?"
Afura made a frustrated gesture to the general area around her. "Everything!" she sighed. "People have no direction any more. They're constantly suspicious, Miz. They're edgy. Old disputes between nations that have lay dormant for years are suddenly erupting again. People are taking it out on each other, they're taking it out on the Opaques... and it's all because of the Holy Apocalypse."
"The Holy Apocalypse? Why?"
"Because we misinterpreted it!" Afura affirmed. "Since ancient times, we always assumed it foretold our doom. It was a certainty. It was the end! And now, we know we were wrong. People are having to adjust to the idea that the most fundamental prophecy in our society was a fake."
"Afura," Miz challenged, "the Holy Apocalypse wasn't a fake. It just happened differently than we anticipated."
"That's not how people see it. Think about it, Miz. When you expect the world to end and it doesn't, that's a pretty fundamental change of plan."
"The seminary are already debating this problem. I can see it concerns you, but..."
"It's not the problem that concerns me. It's the solution."
"Solution?" Miz asked. "You mean to say you've found an answer?"
Afura turned around, and leaned back on the balcony's guard rail. "I decided that in light of the new meaning given to the Holy Apocalypse, a complete re-evaluation of our theology was in order. After months of research, I came to a conclusion... that goes against everything I believe in."
"Go on," Miz prompted. "Whatever it is, I won't judge you."
"You're familiar with the legend of the Heretic Prophecy?"
"Yes, of course. The prophecy contradicted Holy Law. It was condemned."
Afura continued solemnly. "Do you know how it contradicted Holy Law? The exact content is a mystery, but it was said to foretell events that took place after the Holy Apocalypse. The Holy Order of the day were unanimous. The Holy Apocalypse was the end of the world. To claim that anything could occur after it was to directly contradict it. The prophecy was declared unholy and banned."
"I see your point," Miz nodded. "Our distant predecessors thought the Heretic Prophecy went against the Holy Apocalypse... but now it seems it may not have. However, I seem to recall that all copies of the prophecy were destroyed. We'll never know what it predicted."
"That might not be the case. I discovered a reference to the prophecy being translated into a strange code and hidden away. I was considering trying to locate it..." Her eyes looked to the floor.
"I think we should take this matter to the seminary," Miz suggested.
"Are you kidding?" Afura recoiled. "They'd never approve of something like this!"
"Don't be so sure," Miz advised. "You already have my full support."
The wedding. God, it was everywhere.
Everyone expected the press to be full of it, but the sheer volume of royal wedding-flavoured fluff that was filling every newspaper in Roshtaria was staggering. Tabloid editors must have fallen on their knees and given thanks to the almighty when the wedding was first announced. Everybody had been interviewed. The royal couple. Their families. Their families' friends. Their families' friends' pets. No matter how spurious your connection to the wedding, you still counted. "Meet the man who went to school with the brother of one of the royal gardeners!" headlines would exclaim.
And predictably, newspaper sales were through the roof, as members of the public spent their hard-earned money on collecting every different newspaper there was- even the ones they really hated- just to read facts about the wedding that they'd already read ten times before, and to peruse full-page advertisements for collectors' edition plates depicting the royal couple.
Shayla studied the Roshtarian Observer's Super Pull-Out Colour Guide to the Royal Wedding, and tried to find herself on the guest list.
'Number 312: Her Holiness Miss Shayla-Shayla, Chief Elemental Priestess of Fire. Description- Shayla-Shayla's warm personality and sense of humour have won her many friends within the royal household.'
That was supposed to be her? These guides were so sycophantic it was beyond belief. Something along the lines of 'Shayla-Shayla has caused more damage to property than any priestess before her' would have been much more appropriate.
Now, where was she supposed to be sitting? She turned to the guide's floor plan of the cathedral, depicting the seating arrangements for the endless number of wedding guests. 312, 312... there she was. Right at the front.
This wedding business wasn't helping her. Everywhere she went there was talk of romance and love. It was the last thing she wanted to think about.
Somebody sat down next to her on the bench.
"I have to get ready for the wedding soon. But I wanted to talk to you first, Shayla."
"How do you do it, huh?" she challenged. "You and Qawoor are taking this a lot better than I am."
"That's because me and Qawoor talked about our feelings for Makoto a long time ago," Nanami said. "We always knew he wanted Ifurita. And we knew if we learned to accept it, it'd be easier when she came back..."
Shayla slammed her fist down. For most people, this would have seemed aggressive, but considering the massive destructive power at Shayla's disposal, this was an act of considerable restraint.
"Makoto was the first man I ever liked. I really thought I could be happy with him." She sighed. "I must have been so stupid."
"No, Shayla. That's just how I used to feel. I understand. But... I think what you said to Ifurita yesterday was a little unnecessary."
"I know." Shayla looked guiltily to the floor.
"I found out something interesting about Ifurita yesterday. She has Makoto's memories, right up until the point when she deactivated the Eye of God. So she knows me. To a certain extent she knows you too. She feels the same way about us that Makoto does."
Nanami stood up suddenly and called- "Hey! Makoto!"
"Makoto?" Shayla echoed. "Where?"
Then she saw him. Makoto had been walking towards the palace with Ifurita when Nanami had spotted them. They were now cautiously making their way over.
"What are you asking them over here for?" Shayla panicked.
"You just admitted to me that you're sorry about what you did yesterday," Nanami explained. "But I'm not the one who really needs to hear it."
Shayla reluctantly approached Ifurita. They both looked at each other for a while, neither knowing what to say.
"I want to apologise, Shayla," Ifurita said, quite unexpectedly.
Shayla looked puzzled. "You? Why?"
"I was not sensitive to your feelings. In the excitement of seeing you again, I forgot how deeply protective you feel towards Makoto. I should have given you more time to..."
"Don't blame yourself," Shayla interrupted. "It was my fault. There. I said it." She looked momentarily into Ifurita's eyes, and was somehow compelled to give the tiniest hint of a smile. "Don't make me say it again."
"Wow!" Nanami laughed. "Hey, Shayla, for a second there I thought you were gonna walk up to Ifurita and set fire to her!"
"I considered it," Shayla replied, leaving the others to decide whether she was joking or not.
"Hey, look!" Makoto exclaimed, excited. "A floor plan! I wonder where we are?"
"Oh, that reminds me!" Nanami suddenly said. "I have to be getting to the palace. I'll see you later!"
Nanami quickly made off in the direction of the palace. Shayla shook her head.
"Just why did she end up getting picked as a bridesmaid?"
Makoto was busy reading his entry on the guest list. "Number 248 and 249: Mr Makoto Mizuhara and guest. Description- Makoto Mizuhara is the famous researcher from Shinogome... Shinogome? Aw, that's not right..."
"Mr Fujisawa, is it time yet?"
Fujisawa stopped writing on the blackboard and looked over his shoulder. "I'll tell you when it's time, kid. Now come on, settle down."
He continued to write.
Over the past year, Fujisawa had rediscovered his love for teaching. When he first approached Central Florestica's main school, he had been given a job on the spot. After all, having such a famous war hero as part of the staff was worth it in prestige value alone. But then there was the problem of what he would teach...
History was out. He knew plenty of Earth history, but very little that was relevant to El-Hazard. Likewise geography. Science too- El-Hazard was behind Earth in some areas of science, but streets ahead in others. As for languages- he'd only just mastered the Roshtarian writing system himself, so was hardly in a position to teach it. PE was a possibility, but he was now so ridiculously strong that no student, no matter how fit, could ever hope to keep up with him.
So he had ended up teaching mathematics. After Makoto had introduced him to the thankfully simple El-Hazard numerical system, he had been given the task of introducing some of the youngest students to the subject.
It may not have been intellectually challenging stuff. But teaching wasn't only what you knew, it was how you taught it.
"Alright," he challenged the class. "Who can work out nineteen plus twenty-seven?"
All heads went down to their books as the students scribbled furiously, competing to see who could get the answer first. Half of the students put their hands up.
"Asibi?" Fujisawa prompted one of the students.
"Forty-six, sir," she answered confidently.
"Good job," he congratulated. Then, noticing a frustrated face in the front row, he crouched down next to the puzzled student.
"Do you understand, Ruwal?"
"Forty-six," the boy answered.
Fujisawa nodded. "Yes. But do you know how it's done?"
"No," he sighed.
"Well, let's try it now." He picked up the boy's pencil and pointed to the sum on the page. "First, nine plus seven is..."
"Sixteen," came the immediate answer.
"Okay. So we put the six in the box, and the one goes here."
"But... why? Why does the one go there? I don't understand."
"We need to add the one to the numbers in the tens column, to..."
"Oh... wait, is the one really a ten?" the boy enquired.
"Well, really, yeah. But we write it as a one so that..."
The boy grinned. "I understand now. Thankyou, Mr Fujisawa."
Just goes to show, Fujisawa thought. A lot of people might have dismissed the boy as slow, but in fact he just thought differently. An enquiring mind. He wasn't prepared just to follow what others were doing, he wanted to know how and why a system worked. In that sense, he was probably ahead of the other students.
Rewarding business, teaching. Back in Shinonome, he liked to think he'd had a positive influence on many lives. Except...
There was one student he'd known. She was polite, she was clever. But she was also... difficult. He couldn't claim to have changed the life of every single student he'd taught. But at the very least, he'd been able, by whatever method, to reach them. To understand them. All except for one.
He'd never reached her. Most teachers wouldn't have given it much thought. She was a high achiever anyway, so what did it matter? But it bothered him. He felt he'd done her a disservice.
"Mr Fujisawa, are you going to the wedding?" a student asked.
"Of course he is," another responded. "He's friends with the princess."
Fujisawa laughed quietly to himself. Wedding fever permeated every institution. The school was no exception. But he had to wonder how much of the excitement in his class was due to the royal wedding, and how much was due to the fact that they were all getting the afternoon off to watch it.
"Can we go now?" one of the students moaned. "Please..."
"It's not time yet!" Fujisawa reaffirmed.
The door opened and Miz leaned in.
"Miz?" Fujisawa jumped. "I'm working! What are you doing here?"
"We need to get ready for the wedding, Masamichi," she hissed. "I've been waiting!"
Fujisawa panicked, and found himself saying- "Class dismissed."
The waiting was over. The time was now.
The royal bride stood patiently at the altar.
The cathedral was packed. Just about everyone she had ever known was here, along with plenty of people she'd never met.
The priestesses. The travellers from Earth. The palace staff. And, of course, her sister. They were all here.
Yes, it was a big day for Princess Fatora.
Most people thought they would never see the day. Admittedly, it was hardly what she had foreseen as her future. But here she was.
Nobody likes rules. And yet they exist. They must, for the survival of the species. And it was the survival of the Roshtarian royal line which the ancients had had in mind when they created the Rule.
The Roshtarian royal family's maternal line was unbroken. It had been since the creation of the Eye of God, and this was all thanks to the Rule. The line could not be broken. If it was, the family would no longer carry the gene which allowed control of the Eye of God. The royal family would be effectively powerless.
The Rule: All Roshtarian princesses must be engaged for marriage by the age of twenty-two.
To keep the gene alive, an average of two new princesses must be produced in each generation. The rule ensured that took place.
Princess Rune had followed it. At the age of twenty-two, she was engaged to Galus.
Naturally, Fatora never dreamed that the rule would apply to her.
Five months ago, she discovered to her absolute horror that it did.
What was she going to do? She was twenty-one already. There just had to be a way she could weasel out of it.
Her world began to crumble. Suddenly members of the Royal Advisory Committee were asking her if she'd be interested in marrying such-and-such a prince from whatever-land. She had tried explaining, as calmly as could have been expected under the circumstances, that princes held no interest for her, except as target practice. Some were sympathetic. But it didn't make any difference. The Rule was the Rule, and nobody, not even the royal family themselves, had the authority to change it.
It had not been a happy time. Finally, Fatora had gone to ask her sister's advice. She had expected to be given one of Rune's standard "for the good of the country" speeches. Instead, Rune had mysteriously advised her to seek out a legal document in the Roshtarian Law Library. Namely, Law number 1696a.
1696a. It was very, very old. In fact, it dated back a good few thousand years. And it was hardly a riveting read. Not exactly explosive stuff. Fatora could barely make sense of it, but kept going out of sheer desperation.
When she got to the end, she noticed something odd.
Three years ago, somebody had amended the law without telling anyone. Only two people in Roshtaria had the power to do that. And this was not Fatora's doing.
In the light of this amendment, Fatora read the document again with increasing excitement. It looked like there might be... yes!
There was a way out of this!
A cascade of whispers echoed through the cathedral, indicating to Fatora that her betrothed was approaching down the aisle.
Not long now. Very, very soon, she would be married. Who would have guessed she'd beat her sister to the altar?
Her future spouse stopped next to her. They exchanged knowing smiles.
Nice outfit, Fatora thought. Alielle looked good in purple.
"Oh, Fatora," Alielle whispered with adoring eyes.
"What?" Fatora smirked.
Alielle waved her hand in the direction of the congregation. The mass of dignitaries, acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances and royal correspondents from the press, all packed into the main chamber.
"Wouldn't it be funny if we sounded the fire alarm now?" she grinned.
The two brides couldn't help but giggle as they pictured the scenes of chaos, elderly lords barging each other out of the way...
Had it been anyone else's wedding, Fatora would have been tempted. But there would be no mayhem at her wedding. That sort of thing could wait for the honeymoon.
Yes, on that day in the Law Library, Fatora discovered that, three years ago, her sister had discreetly altered the wording in one of the laws governing marriage. It was now entirely legal for Fatora to marry anybody, regardless of gender. And the law had been waiting here all this time. Waiting until she really needed it.
The look of complete bewilderment on Alielle's face when she proposed to her would stay with Fatora for the rest of her life.
Behind them knelt the two head bridesmaids. Fatora had chosen her sister, and Alielle had chosen Nanami.
"How wonderful," Rune whispered. "My dear sister, a bride at last."
Nanami nodded in acknowledgement. "There are certain things in life I never thought I'd see. Fatora in a wedding dress is one of them."
"I can't tell you how happy I am for her," Rune sighed.
That's nice, Nanami thought. It seemed to her that Princess Rune shouldered most of the responsibility as far as the monarchy was concerned, so that Fatora didn't have to worry about it. Fatora did things for pleasure, while Rune did them for the people. In all likelihood, Rune would marry for political reasons, not love. It would be she that would give birth to the next generation of Roshtarian princesses. And here was Fatora, entering into a marriage that left the political landscape unchanged, and by its very nature was unlikely to produce any children. Rune could be forgiven for resenting Fatora, but she didn't. She supported her. That, thought Nanami, is how siblings should really treat each other.
"Dear friends," Doctor Schtalubaugh began, "we are gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of Princess Fatora of Roshtaria to Miss Alielle Ralielle. As is the tradition, the bride will now say a few words."
The doctor looked expectantly between the two brides. "Which bride will be speaking?" he whispered.
Fatora stepped up, and turned to face the public. Her public.
"There are some people here," she started, "who disapprove of this wedding. Now I won't stand here and name names. I'm not a vindictive woman. But I also believe in freedom of information, so a full list of offenders will be made available to satisfy the curious."
A little nervous laughter from the congregation. She smiled. The bastards knew who they were.
She continued. "Of all the women I've slept with, and continue to sleep with, none can compare to Alielle. No offence to them, but, you know. Five years ago, Alielle did the Roshtarian public a great service. She transformed me into the woman I am today. And for that, let us all be thankful."
Sat right at the front, Alielle's proud mother sighed and whispered, "What a lovely girl the princess is. Hasn't Alielle done well for herself?"
Parnasse frowned up at his mother. "Lady Fatora could have been mine, if only I'd got to her sooner."
"Well, you're not going to find yourself a nice girl by complaining, are you? You need to think more positively if you're going to do as well as your sister."
"Mother! She's marrying a princess! How can you expect me to compete with that?"
"Fatora's not the only princess here, Parnasse. Her sister Rune is still single..."
"Please, mother! It's not like I haven't tried..."
The service was long. And God, it was boring. Fatora was living to regret her demands for a big, elaborate wedding. It had sounded so romantic at the time. Now she was wondering whether some of the older members of the congregation would live to witness its conclusion.
Eventually, the doctor reached a part of the ceremony she recognised.
"Should anybody here know of any reason why these two should not be wed, may they speak now..."
Alielle looked tense suddenly. True, there was no shortage of people who objected to this marriage, and quite a lot of them were here.
Fatora placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. They wouldn't dare.
After a suitably dramatic pause, the doctor continued.
"Alielle Rianna Ralielle, do you accept this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?"
He turned to Fatora. "Princess Fatora Sama Yasuko Bellum Puyo Dunoon Kirilo Fuzuki Chihiro Leena Washu Manda Hentai Kerokero Chichan Upsy Daisy Ramsy Hiiragi-Fullerine-Jagdhar-Al Roshtak..." He paused for breath. "Do you accept this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?"
"Why not?" Fatora grinned.
"Well, in that case, Schtalubaugh continued unfazed, "I hereby pronounce you married. As a consequence, from this day forward Miss Ralielle shall be known as Princess Alielle, third sovereign of Roshtaria."
"Yay!" Alielle squealed.
"Well?" Fatora looked expectantly at Schtalubaugh.
He looked hesitant. "That concludes the ceremony."
"The hell it does. What happened to the part about kissing the bride?"
"Well, princess," he answered discreetly, "as this is a royal wedding, the council felt that such a public display might be inappropriate..."
Fatora threw him a withering look, grabbed Alielle and kissed her.
Conversation rippled through the chamber in response.
Makoto, Ifurita and the Fujisawas sat together.
"I must admit," Makoto commented, "when I first met Fatora I didn't imagine I'd be sitting here four years later."
"Yeah," Fujisawa agreed. "Alielle a princess? I don't think anyone could have predicted that."
"Such a display of emotion is inspiring," Ifurita noted.
Fujisawa nodded. "I don't think I've ever been to such a romantic wedding."
He received a discreet but painful kick from Miz.
"Wuh... what? What did I say?"
Nanami addressed the crowd of royalty, ambassadors and dignitaries of all shapes and sizes outside the purple marquee.
"Alright, no pushing! The more you people co-operate the sooner you'll all be seated. No pushing, I said! Now, do we have the Acrisian delegation?"
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed somebody going to enter the marquee.
"Hey! You! I don't care how important you think you are, you're gonna wait in line like everybody else!"
The woman looked up. Nanami gasped.
"Princess Rune... I'm sorry, I didn't realise it was you..." she apologised.
"Please, Nanami, don't mention it," the princess laughed. "I'm very impressed with the way you're able to keep them under control. Have you ever considered a career in politics?"
"Not for me. I have enough stress in my life already." She suddenly turned her gaze back to the crowd. "Hey! Second Prince of Gunan! Don't think I can't see you!"
"You're doing an excellent job with the catering," Rune added. "I'll be sure to come to you when my wedding comes."
"Oh? I didn't know you were planning to get married."
"I have no immediate plans," Rune sighed. "But it will happen, very soon, I'm sure. The time will come."
Alielle's mother marched over to the pair, dragging Parnasse behind her.
"Princess!" she called. "Princess Rune!"
"May I help you?" Rune asked.
"I'm Adena Ralielle," she said. "Alielle's mother."
"Of course," Rune nodded in recognition.
The woman continued. "I was wondering... have you met my son, Parnasse?"
"Mother!" Parnasse hissed. "I told you! We've already been introduced!"
"Yes," Rune agreed. "We've met on many occasions. Your son is most popular with the women of the palace."
Parnasse turned to his mother. "You see? Now, I think I can hear Lady Qawoor calling." He wriggled free of his mother's grip. "I'm on my way, Lady Qawoor!" he called, running towards the marquee.
Parnasse entered the tent and saw Qawoor, Shayla and Afura sat at one of the tables.
"Parnasse!" Qawoor beckoned, "have you seen Lady Fatora and Alielle?"
"They're getting changed," he replied.
"Changed?" Afura pondered. "How come?"
"Lady Fatora said something about the wedding dresses being too hot and difficult to move in."
Afura smiled and nodded knowingly. "I see. Impeding their pursuit of women, are they?"
"Sister Afura!" Qawoor objected. "They're married now. I'm sure that means they won't be getting up to any of that any more."
"That's a point," Shayla agreed. "Maybe now they'll leave us alone."
Afura laughed. "I can't believe how naive the two of you are! There are some things in life that will never change, and Fatora and Alielle are two of those things."
Upon hearing the sound of Alielle's voice, the four turned to look at the entrance. Fatora and Alielle had returned, now dressed in their favourite skintight leather outfits.
"I rest my case," said Afura.
Qawoor approached the pair. "Excuse me, Lady Fatora, Lady Alielle, but I was just explaining to Sister Afura that you'll be faithful to one another now that you're married... right?"
Fatora put her hand on Qawoor's shoulder. "Listen, kid. This monarchy, in fact, just about every monarchy, has a proud tradition of debauchery to uphold. If I was to ignore that tradition, I don't think I could live with myself. That's why Alielle and I have made a solemn pledge to take this legacy to new heights. Wanna help?"
"Um... no thankyou," Qawoor smiled nervously. "So... is your honeymoon all planned?"
"Oh, I can't wait for the honeymoon!" Alielle squeaked. "We're going to my favourite place ever!"
"Where's that?" enquired Qawoor.
"Arliman!" Alielle replied. "The funnest place in the world!"
Afura was mildly shocked. "You can't! Arliman is a holy shrine, not a honeymoon destination!"
"Besides," Shayla probed, "weren't you two banned from there?"
"You'd be amazed what a few bribes here and there can do," Fatora smirked.
"Impossible!" said Afura. "I refuse to believe the Holy Order accepted bribes from you."
"Not accepting bribes from a Roshtarian princess is a serious breach of the most basic royal etiquette," Fatora replied. "Alielle, you should be taking notes. You're one of the elite now, and your training starts here!"
Alielle grabbed Fatora by the waist. "What an honour! Fatora, my love, will you teach me to be just like you?"
"Please," Shayla pleaded. "For the sake of humanity, don't!"
"On the contrary," Fatora smiled. "I consider that to be our ultimate goal. Now, Alielle let me show you how to fire servants..."
"But... why would I want to do that?"
"Isn't it obvious? Firing people is one of the best parts of the job!" Fatora continued, leading Alielle away.
"But I don't think I want to..."
Qawoor shook her head. "I don't know how the Holy Order could have decided to let them back into Arliman."
"Well, never mind," Afura said. "I suppose we can let it go, just this once. It is their honeymoon, after all."
"You seem a lot happier suddenly," Shayla noted. "We were getting worried about you for a while."
Afura smiled and said nothing. True, she was feeling much better. Miz had passed her quandary over the Heretic Prophecy to the seminary. It could go either way, but the important thing was that it was no longer just her problem.
Alielle and Fatora ran over to the table where Makoto and Ifurita were sitting.
"Hi Alielle," Makoto greeted in response.
"Alielle!" Fatora instructed. "Rule number one of being a princess. From now on, nobody is Master, or Lady, or any of that crap. That's because we're far, far superior to the scum we have to interact with. Oh, hi Makoto."
"So, um, princess," Makoto began, trying to ignore the rather obvious insult, "that was one impressive wedding. I don't think I've ever seen anything on such a large scale."
"Hardly surprising," Fatora said. "The little people are always impressed by royal ceremonies and traditions, no matter how pointless or incomprehensible. Make a note of that, Alielle."
"Well," Alielle replied, "the press seemed to enjoy it."
"Ah, the press," Fatora smiled. "Makoto, you wouldn't believe how much money we made selling the wedding rights to those talentless hacks."
"So you sold your wedding rights to the press?"
Alielle nodded proudly. "Mm-hmm!"
"Oh, you have to be selective," Fatora warned. "You have your broadsheets- the proper newspapers with semi-literate journalists. They get the wedding rights. Then there's the tabloids, full of scandal, intrigue and so on."
"They get the honeymoon rights!" Alielle finished.
"Honeymoon rights?" Makoto echoed in disbelief. "I think I need something to drink. 'Scuse me."
Makoto got up and wandered off. Fatora and Alielle tentatively approached Ifurita, neither quite brave enough to speak.
"Where is your honeymoon?" she asked suddenly. The pair jumped.
"Arliman," Alielle replied. "You should try it, it's nice."
Fatora sat down next to Ifurita. "Yeah. You are... waterproof, right?"
"I am capable of anything a human can do," came the calm reply.
"Really?" Fatora asked intrigued. "Maybe you could answer something. I know it's personal, but... are you... you know... fully functional?"
"In a sexual capacity?" Alielle clarified.
Ifurita frowned. "Makoto warned me about you."
Alielle and Fatora giggled nervously.
"You misunderstand," Fatora continued. "This is strictly out of scientific curiosity. How exactly do you and Makoto intend to... you know?"
Ifurita stood up. "I might ask the two of you the same question."
"Good point," Fatora relented. "Shall we... compare notes?"
Qawoor marched over. "Miss Ifurita, are they bothering you?"
"I am fine," Ifurita acknowledged. "Thankyou for your concern." She placed her hand on Qawoor's shoulder, then suddenly stumbled backwards. Alielle caught her.
"Are you alright?" Alielle urged.
"F... fine..." Ifurita stammered. "How strange. Please, what is your name?"
"Qawoor Towles," Qawoor replied.
Ifurita looked puzzled. "Qawoor Towles. I have no knowledge of your name. And yet... somehow, something about you is familiar..."
The sun was setting. A small crowd gathered around Fatora's newest transport, the Glorious Fatora IX. A pilot stood at the helm, and three figures stood at the rear.
"Have a wonderful honeymoon, both of you," Rune smiled.
"Thankyou, princess!" Alielle replied.
Fatora took Rune quietly to one side.
"Sis, I know you altered that law. But why three years ago? And why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I didn't want to worry you unduly. But I knew that eventually, you'd have to face the Rule. It seemed such a shame. It was obvious to me that the two of you were meant to be together. So I did what any sister would have done in my position."
"You've always looked out for me," Fatora sighed. "Why are you so obsessed with making sacrifices for my benefit, Rune?"
Rune smiled, and made her way down the steps. "You know why. Have fun, little sister."
Alielle approached Fatora. "What was that about?"
"Oh, nothing. Are you gonna do that bouquet thing?"
Rune rejoined the onlookers. Alielle was waving a bouquet of purple flowers over the side of the transport.
"Get ready!" she called.
"What's she doing?" Shayla asked.
"Oh, it's an Earth tradition I taught her," Nanami replied. "The bride throws the bouquet, and whoever catches it will be the next to get married."
"Really?" Shayla looked surprised. "And is that legally binding?"
"Here it comes!" Alielle shouted, hurling the bouquet over the side. All eyes followed it as it sailed down towards them...
Instinctively, Afura caught the flowers. Fatora and Alielle collapsed with laughter.
"Congratulations, Afura!" Alielle called.
"Congratulations... for what?" Afura asked, wondering what exactly everyone around her was finding so funny.
Damn blossoms. They were everywhere.
Mari walked sadly through the trees. What had she done?
She'd been wandering around this stupid forest for days, surviving on nothing except an unfamiliar type of fruit which, while rather palatable at first, was perhaps just a tad acidic for her tastes.
She caught her reflection in a small lake.
She looked terrible. Her clothes were torn from stumbling through the undergrowth, and she was paler than ever before.
At least she still had her makeup. From a survival point of view it wasn't the most useful thing she could have brought, but it was still strangely comforting.
For all she knew, she was the only person in this place, wherever it was. This could be another time, another universe, in which she was the sole representative of humanity. So she was happy to have her consumer goods with her. They were quite possibly the only ones on this planet.
Using the lake as a mirror, she reapplied her mascara and black lipstick. A pointless task, perhaps, but she had ceased to think rationally some days ago.
And that's when she heard... voices.
Three Roshtarian soldiers sat in a clearing. The Greater Roshtarian Forest was an occasional route for smugglers, so the military took the precautionary measure of dotting soldiers around the vast area.
The younger soldier let out a sigh of boredom. "I wish we'd been stationed somewhere with a few more people."
"This is your first time in the forest, isn't it?" the old sergeant asked. "You know what they say about this forest."
"What?" the soldier smiled. "Are you going to tell me it's haunted?"
"More than that. They say Death itself stalks this forest."
The soldier laughed mockingly. "Very funny. You think you can scare me with some folk tale? I'm not a little kid."
The captain couldn't help but join in. "Death... yes. Death is a woman. She has no colour at all. Just black and white."
"Lady Death's face is pale and sad. Her eyes are small and staring. The few men who have survived an encounter with her did so by bargaining for their lives. For most, though, the story is the same. With one glance, she makes your heart freeze! And then..."
"Alright, sergeant," the captain interrupted. "Let's not scare the boy."
"I'm not scared!" the younger soldier protested. "In fact, I'm..."
"What?" the captain asked. The soldier was staring in terror at something behind them.
"Lady... Death..." the soldier whispered breathlessly.
Slowly the captain and the sergeant turned their heads...
And watching them was the very woman they had described.
"Hello," she said cautiously.
"Lady Death!" the captain and sergeant cried in unison.
They grabbed their weapons and pointed them at Lady Death. The other soldier stayed rooted to the spot, his expression unchanged.
"Lady Death," the captain pleaded. "Do not harm us, please!"
"You're the ones with the guns," she pointed out.
The captain dropped his weapon instantly, and turned to the sergeant. "Put down your gun, you fool! Do you want to offend Death?"
The sergeant did as he was told.
"Lady Death, please forgive us," the captain continued desperately. "You do not have to take our lives. We can give you anything you want, anything!"
Mari didn't know what the hell was going on, but after six days with only fruit for company she was willing to overlook such technicalities.
"Got any food?" she asked hopefully.
"The Streets Are Paved With Tarmac" and "Back In Love" featured-
Makoto Mizuhara, Shayla-Shayla, Ifurita, Miz Fujisawa, Masamichi Fujisawa, Princess Fatora, Princess Alielle, Nanami Jinnai, Afura Mann, Qawoor Towles, Mari Kurai, Sakura Tamaro, Princess Rune Venus, Doctor Schtalubaugh, Parnasse Ralielle, Adena Ralielle and Mika Fujisawa.