The wanderer's Path
chapter 3: The path of fire and the mask
Based on El Hazard OVA's + tv2.
This is my first attempt to write a fanfiction based of anything and I cannot promise I will ever be able to finish it. El hazard belongs to Pioneer as do most of the characters included in this fanfiction. I want to apologize in advance for borrowing (m)any ideas from other people who write El hazard fanfiction and whose skill I can never hope to achieve. Also you have to know that English is not my native language. If I used my native language it would be Greek to you. Literally. So I really need a second opinion (and a third, and a fourth..) as well as any C&C you can spare.
There are three ways of acting wisely.
The first through imitation; that is the easiest.
The second through meditation; that is the noblest.
The third through experience; that is the bitterest.
If all fail, everything is then a matter of luck and faith.
She entered the extravagant office.
It looked more like a throne room, the ceiling a blue glowing dome, the walls full of elaborate golden symbols.Her sensors could feel the sheer endurance of the walls, the technology of building them unknown to her. At the center of the room she saw him. The holy minister of military affairs, her master. She didn't want to look at his face, the face of the tyrant he was. Before him numerous panels were glowing, and a multitude of contact spheres and buttons were close to his reach.
At the far end of the room, she noticed a figure. At first glance, it seemed to be an exquisite colored statue. As soon as she scanned it with her sensors, she knew it for what it was.
A demon god.
"You are late, Diva." Said the man, a scorn reflected to his voice.
She knew the man was old for human standards, perhaps a hundred years older than the average two centuries. But for her, he was still young, she being three times older, nearing a thousand years. Ten centuries full of bloody war and unthinkable sacrifices.
"My apologies, master. I was integrating the data you have sent me for the new bugroid model and..."
"I can't believe we still use junk like you and your army. A thousand years ago, it had been a worthy addition to our war effort. Our enemy's power amplifiers were no match for you. But since then, the world has moved on. The new weapons can easily penetrate your armor, and the amplifiers are becoming better and better, giving their owners great elemental power."
"We are effective against them, master. For each elemental priest or priestess we only lose ten or twenty soldiers."
She looked at his face. It did not reflect his age, his appearance effectively locked through science.
But his expression was somewhere between malice, bitter amusement and contempt.
He indicated at the figure behind him. "I believe you are familiar with demon gods. Their structure is similar to yours, only many orders of magnitude more advanced. Eighty years ago, one of the older models destroyed your hive within a day. This model is a prototype, yet our spies say it is only of average power compared to what our enemies have."
Diva stared at the demon god again. It was a female one, made to look twenty years old. Her skin was as dark as Diva's, only more hidden under her sparkling white and blood red uniform. Her green, emotionless eyes and orange hair gave her a unique appearance. She was holding her Zenmai, an elaborate halberd with a green handle, golden symbols all over it and three black, glowing orbs of variant size.
After a dramatic pause, he continued. "All in all, we just can't use you anymore. It is much more efficient to have a demon god instead of a hive full of weaklings. And we have enough captives to use for hard labor, that are smarter, eat less than your offsprings and physical intercourse is not required to maximize their numbers. So you will have to self-terminate."
She felt the accumulated hatred of centuries of abuse and she started trembling with anger.
Your race has build us to become slaves and now, after we have sacrificed so much for you while gaining nothing, not even gratitude, you want to kill us because we are not so strong anymore. And, even now, I cannot tell you what I think about you, your cursed people and your cursed war.
"So, Diva, this is my last order. We do not need you anymore. You are free to.."
A deafening alarm echoed through the huge building. Diva saw the demon god assuming a battle stance, her back on the impenetrable wall, her Zenmai charged.
Her electromagnetic sensors showed nothing. Then she remembered. They were in the middle of the city. But there was no usual electromagnetic noise. That could only mean one thing.
"A cloaking field. Something is here, master." said the demon god, her voice stern.
He bolted from his chair and moved close to her, a source of safety. The three of them stayed very still. Diva could only hear the sounds of three hearts. A human one and two, both genetically and mechanically, enchanted ones.
Then, suddenly, the wall behind the demon god smashed to multicolored shards and she stood really still for a second. The back end of another Zenmai had been inserted through the wall, in the small of her back, having locked into her power socket, paralyzing her almost completely.
Then, there was a blinding flash and then nothing. The only thing Diva could think, as the building collapsed, was her late master's last order...
Diva woke up and smiled. She had seen that old event many times. It was her favorite dream and the moment her life changed.
"It seems you are in need of some more exercise, boy" exclaimed Fujisawa, as he effortlessly walked the rough path. "If you are tired already, then we will have to stop soon."
As he moved away, Fatora mumbled a wide variety of curses directed to her two climbing companions.
"Cheer up, lady Fatora, um, I mean master Makoto" whispered Alielle, who was just behind her. "Climbing can be really enjoyable, if you try a little."
"Shove it, Alielle. If we don't stop in the next five minutes, you will have to carry me."
She was a bit out of breath, so Alielle gathered she was almost serious. She streaked ahead to find a suitable shelter from the intense sun and the cold breeze.
After a while, she noticed an unremarkable cave, not far from their path, that was deep enough for them to fit in, with much room to spare.
"This is a fine place to stop for a while" she cried nonchalantly.
"You expect us to get in there?" shouted Fatora, nearly exposing herself.
"We could continue forth, Makoto. The real fun will start in a while."
After Fujisawa's words, she promptly entered the cave saying "A rest would be good before so much fun..."
After finding a relatively comfortable place to sit, each of them started doing something different.
Fatora was trying to keep her feet from falling apart. This wasn't the type of exercise she was used to.
Fujisawa opened his prized bottle and took a sip. He was no more so desperate for a drink, married life getting to his head instead, but he really enjoyed drinking while climbing.
Alielle was not really tired. Being used to heavy weights and long treks, she possessed strength and stamina unusual for her age. But being so energetic also made her bore easily. She started kicking some rocks that rested on the cave floor.
The cave was really old and nobody of the other scant climbers would stop there. It was also unstable, due to the last time it rained, when they tested the Eye.
The entrance caved in, leaving them in pitch black darkness.
And Fatora's keen nearly buried them more.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with her" resigned Rune, as she ate her breakfast.
Nanami, Parnasse, the three great priestesses and Miz were all joining her this morning.
"Has she done that before, Rune?" asked Nanami, though she could guess the answer.
All except, Parnasse and Qwaoor, had accepted to call their princess by name, when meeting informally, lest she also used their titles of honor, that were large indeed.
"Numerous times, of course, and more often than not sneaking in the dark like that."
"Well, sneaking is not really true, after scaring those two guards so much." stated Afura.
"Yeah, the poor things were terrified having to face her and report to you at the same night, Rune." added Shayla.
"Which reminds me that I should probably give them a bonus this month, as a reward for their courage. With soldiers like that in my army, we have nothing to fear."
"But will she be okay, lady Rune, going alone and unguarded like that?"
"You shouldn't worry that much, Qwaoor, but you are right. I will send some guards to Arliman to keep an eye on her."
"Are there female guardsin the palace? I have not seen any." Said Nanami.
Rune looked at Miz, who, as the oldest also knew, and they both smiled.
"This is supposed to be a secret, but half of the female servant staff are actually guards adept at hand-to-hand combat and there are also six lesser elemental priestesses in disguise among them." whispered Miz.
"But are there guards of any gender that would accept to do that, after what she said"
"Which reminds me, sister Shayla, why isn't Alielle with her? My sister told me nothing about them having a quarrel, and she seemed really happy this morning."
"Wait, Parnasse. Isn't your sister with mine at Arliman?"
"No, Rune. I saw Makoto, Fujisawa-sensei and Alielle leaving early this morning, while I opened the restaurant."
"This is unusual even for my sister, leaving Alielle behind. And where have those three gone?"
"They went mountain climbing, Rune. They will be back in one, two or three days, depending on how strong that wine my husband took with him was."
They all smiled and remained silent for a while, savoring the last of their meal.
Until Parnasse tried to reach a distant plate, intentionally leaning too close to Shayla.
The breakfast ended soon afterwards...
"So I, their king, am not allowed to command the capture of one of our enemies. Let me guess, it was Zenthar again."
"Indeed, master. However hard I try, he always manages to sway the council to his whim. And he also never addresses you as king. Does the fact that he was your teacher gives him the right to do so?"
"He had never addressed any king with his title, except to mock him, even before me. He says that since there was no such title at the Homeland, he has no obligation to use it. I wonder how he knows so much about it."
"Could he be that old, master?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Nahato. He is old, but our ancestors were taken from the Homeland more than six thousand years ago."
"So, master, what will we do with the princess?"
"We must take our chances. This is an unusual occasion and to be exploited. You will order the soldiers still loyal to us to capture her and you will lead them. But take no more than ten with you, or there will be questions."
"What about anyone who might accompany her, lord Galus?"
"If they are anyone other than the Earthlings, kill them, but cancel the mission if those Muldoon bitches are with her. We have no soldiers to spare."
"What about Zenthar?"
"There is not much else we can do, apart from watching him, at least for now. Just be sure to keep the surveillance as active as possible."
"What if he sees the spies, master?"
"He already knows, Nahato. We must just keep it low enough for him not to be able to prove it."
She reflexively covered Fatora's mouth with her hand and screamed too, both terrified and trying not to blow their cover.
The deep darkness was ripped asunder by a blinding beam of light.
"Don't be so afraid, Alielle. I still have that ancient flashlight Makoto repaired three months ago. Say, Makoto, how long will the battery last?"
Fatora regained her composure and tried to produce a correct answer "Not really sure. I had my hands full with many things then and.."
Alielle changed the subject "So, master Fujisawa, can you get us out now?"
He gave her the flashlight and tried to move the rocks. He actually managed to move one about a tone heavy, but after that he sighed. "We have to wait a bit. My power is at low levels after that great wine..."
"How long will it take, sensei?" asked Fatora, having assumed Makoto's scientific expression.
"A day or two I suppose..."
Alielle stepped on Fatora's foot to prevent the impending swearing and quickly added, "Should we look for another exit, master Fujisawa?"
"That's the spirit, Alielle," cried Fujisawa, actually all worked up for a new adventure.
Fatora sighed. "Whatever.."
After a while, they realized the cave was actually a long tunnel, heading to the heart of the mountain. Ten minutes later, Fujisawa turned off the flashlight, and pointed forward. They could see a faint glow at the far end of the tunnel, biding them to approach.
Instead of a way out, they reached a great circular cavern. On the walls they saw numerous glowing green orbs, all part of an intricate pattern, that were connected with golden runes, etched on the rock.
At the center of what seemed to be a temple, there was a small shrine, made of white marble, adorned with silver marks. On a short, black pillar, standing on the top of the shrine a plain green sphere rested.
All of them stood there, unable to believe such a place existed inside a mountain.
Then Fujisawa patted Fatora on the back. "This is your lucky day, Makoto. You get trapped in a mountain and you find ancient relics. So, go get it, boy."
Alielle grabbed Fatora's hand and surged forward saying "I'm going with you, master Makoto. I will help you."
When they reached the center, Alielle motioned Fatora to take the orb.
"Are you sure, Alielle. Perhaps we should wait for Makoto to..."
Alielle sighed and with a fluid motion, she grabbed the sphere and placed it in Fatora's hands.
"See. Nothing happened to.."
She stopped, as the green orb started to shine by the time it touched Fatora. The globe fell to the hard floor and bounced back up, apparently unharmed. Alielle quickly found a piece of clothing from her bag, covered the sphere with it and handed it to Fatora again, relieved to see nothing happened this time. Before they could say anything else, they heard a loud roar and some peddles fall from the ceiling. They instinctively hugged each other.
"We activated a death trap." shrieked Alielle.
"We're gonna die." added Fatora.
Then they slowly turned to see sunlight coming from the wall behind them.
"The wall was really thin here", shouted Fujisawa cheerfully.
For a few hours she just laid on the ground, staring as a red sun ascended from the edge of the horizon. Then, her demon god self took over again.
Processing facts. My energy, a little more than half. This world cannot be earth. I have not learned the technique. So I will not be able to send Makoto to El hazard. So I will never meet him.. She closed her eyes again, as her line of thought was pointless. She regarded other possibilities. I may find a way to fill the missing parts of the technique. Or this world is advanced enough to help me. Either way I must move on. Makoto depends on me.
She thought about flying, but quickly decided to walk instead, to conserve energy. If I keep my battle implants powered down, I can maintain myself for more than twenty thousand years, and if I eat as a human would, I can waste almost no power at all. There is still hope.
The place she had landed was the equivalent of a forest, but she had never seen such a forest in either El hazard or Earth, through Makoto's memories. She reached a small stream of water and decided to follow it. All the life she could see depended on water and it was her best chance to meet sentient beings.
For the next week she walked through the alien forest, eating whatever she could find, so that she wouldn't have to tap the energy of her Central capacitor.
I certainly had tried it before, but that was so much time ago. Fortunately, I now have the freedom to eat what I want. In the battlefield I was commanded to use any biomass available... She pushed the disturbing thought out of her mind, feeling it with images of her soulmate instead. Then she reached the end of the forest. As far as she could see with her human senses, she saw plains full of a great variety of crops. The sign of civilization.
She decided to use her sensors. There was motion in many of the fields, but she could not detect matching life signals. Machine workers. So this world is advanced after all.
She thought about how the advanced civilization of El hazard destroyed themselves by using their technology. With weapons like me. She had no choice but to keep moving forth.
For many days she continued, following the roads that many automatic vehicles used to carry the food from the fields, where man shaped but non-sentient robots worked. Then she decided to climb such a vehicle and ride it to wherever it went.
A week later she saw it. All the roads ended to a city her eyes could not readily register. The word colossal was actually inadequate to describe the sheer size of it. The plains ended abruptly and then a new world started. Even with her sensors, she could only see a part of the city's side. For all she knew, it could occupy a whole hemisphere of this planet, effectively having only one side…
Hope is not lost yet. Please, Makoto. Help me to believe in myself...
So, there she is. thought Nahato and motioned to his soldiers.
Princess Fatora was sitting alone in the middle of a forest clearing, in front of a small campfire. Behind her loomed the shadow of her small cruiser, currently deactivated.
Nahato gathered his soldiers and whispered "Alright, this is going to be a piece of cake. You said she is alone and the fire compromises her line of sight. Get to it and remember we need her unharmed."
Three of his ten soldiers approached a very oblivious Fatora from behind and suddenly grabbed her. Only to almost burn themselves, as their hands passed through her image and they staggered towards the fire.
Before Nahato could register what had happened, three small bolts of energy hit the three soldiers, apparently knocking them unconscious.
As he frantically searched for the source, a soldier pointed towards the cruiser. "There, master Nahato. In this shadow."
His eyes went wide, as he saw the interloper. Mizuhara Makoto came out of hiding, holding a familiar Staff with one hand. His voice was obviously amplified. "The game is over, gentlemen. Nahato, I know you are there, I understand you are their leader, I can see and hear all of your ten soldiers and your illusions won't work on me. I have used non-lethal shots this time, but if you don't back up, this will have to change."
Nahato cursed silently and motioned his soldiers to kill the damn Earthling.
The energy shots left their weapons, only to bounce harmlessly on an invisible shield around Makoto's body. Damn, this is as fighting a demon god itself. We have no hope to win. Now I know why Miraya lost. He ordered his troops to retreat, and then saw, to his own surprise, their target to climb down the cruiser, place the Staff's back end in the fire and casually fall asleep next to it.
No hope at all...
Jinnai stood on a hill and gazed at the capital of Gannan, some kilometers ahead. Then he turned to his ten soldiers.
"Now that we have reached the center of this meek country, you will build a tiny outpost here to use as a base of our operations. This hill is ideal, because nobody would climb up here."
They all nodded in unison.
"Stop nodding, you morons, and start digging. Katsuo, I leave you in command, as I go to do a little reconnaissance in the city. When I come back, you must have it ready."
Then he changed his clothes to some ordinary ones and walked towards the city.
As he walked through the city gates, none of the soldiers suspected anything.
They are idiots. I could have sneaked half my army in here before they realized anything is amiss.
Then he saw a poster. And resisted the urge to shred it to pieces. The poster referred to the last great celebration. His rival's birthday.
I will get you, Makoto. Sooner or later I will get you, and nobody would be able to save you
As he entered an alley, he started his maniac, utterly annoying laughter.
And stopped after a while, when a pail of water from a nearby window landed on his head.
As soon as they entered Makoto's room, Fatora collapsed on his bed.
"This must have been the single most tiring experience of my life. How do they dare calling it entertainment."
"Don't be like that, lady Fatora. The good part is when you relax afterwards. For example, I can now give you a massage and then we can go soak in the bathtub. It is as big as that in your own room."
"You know, Alielle. Mountain climbing might not be so bad after all..."
During said soaking, Fatora spoke again "So, this happy excursion took us two days. Now the wonder boy is far away. We should become a bit more risky."
"Have you thought of a plan to exploit master Makoto's one?"
"Of course I have thought one, I'm a genius, right?"
"Definitely lady Fatora. Perhaps even more than master Makoto."
"Hey, don't overdo it. He is a greater genius. See how many girls have fallen for him? Anyway, the only way to take anything more than a kiss, like last time, without dropping our cover, is to make them drunk, and I mean really drunk."
"A brilliant plan, lady Fatora, but there will be difficulties."
"I know, Nanami hardly touches alcohol. But Shayla is a piece of cake and Qwaoor can be easily persuaded. Heck, Qwaoor might not notice even when somber."
"But there is another problem. Makoto seldom drinks and you have a severe alcohol problem. How can you make them drink without joining them as well? Half a glass of wine can knock you unconscious."
"Yeah, some times I envy my sister."
Alielle's eyes went wide "Princess Rune drinks?"
Fatora smiled "Almost never, but when she does, neither Shayla nor Fujisawa can hope to keep up. The only one that has a chance is Afura."
"Yeah, I know about that. I mean, she recovers from serious injuries in one day and survives inside a typhoon she does not control. Talk about constitution."
"But the problem remains. How can we make them drunk without me drinking. When we tried that with the palace stuff, you discreetly disposed of my drinks. Half of the plants in the palace are now alcoholic. But now you have to remain hidden."
"I have an idea, lady Fatora, but it is a bit farfetched."
"I can use any idea, Alielle, and those unlikely ones are the ones that usually work."
"Do you remember what had slipped from master Makoto a week ago?"
"Something about an entity?"
"That entity, Arjah, who had transported us to Cretaria and was able to possess anyone."
"He said he wanted to find a way to temporary nullify the power of anyone, in case that happens again. He had already found a way for himself and.."
"And master Fujisawa, lady Fatora." Alielle's face was beaming.
"You don't suppose it has something to do with alcohol?"
They both looked at each other for a moment, then leaped out of the tub, exhaustion washed away.
After a while they stopped searching.
"So, we managed to make this place a worse mess than it was, but we found nothing like a lab journal. Perhaps he has it with him."
"No, lady Fatora. He has started a new one. I saw it. The old one was a huge leather-bound book."
"So he must have hidden it somewhere. We just have to outwit the wonder boy. Good luck to us.."
"What do you think this piece of paper is, lady Fatora?"
"It looks like a riddle..."
The oldest spire goes up fourth.
The circle's center then 6 north.
At doctor's height just walk forth
"Why would he leave such a clue, lady Fatora?"
"Perhaps, if this is about the journal, he has hidden it so good, he might not be able to find it without a reminder.."
"So what will we do, lady Fatora?"
"For now, we will go to bed. We have a riddle to solve tomorrow."
"What should I be tonight, lady Fatora?"
"After today's events? Why, a nurse of course."
"Coming in a minute."
"Hurry up, sister Alielle. I have a funny pain exactly here."
"Damn it. Why should I be the one to pick those stupid herbs? I should be training instead of running those stupid errands."
The young girl could not have been older than 15, but she was pretty tall and well build for her age. Her clothes were unusual, all in shades of red, and revealed the extraordinary toned muscles of her lean body. She was walking in a dense forest, apparently furious, ranting constantly. She kept her unruly, deep green hair in a long braid that almost reached her waist and her sparkling eyes were light orange, neatly contrasting with her rather dark complexion.
Then she suddenly stopped moving and stood very still in the middle of a clearing. A second later, three large figures stumbled through a nearby bush.
As they saw the girl, the three Katsuo-like bugs abruptly stopped, expecting her to flee in terror. She just stood there, her face lowered and hidden. And then she met their gaze and smiled. She reached for a small satchel, attached at her waist and produced a weird item. A brass knuckle, adorned with a large red orb and numerous small ones.
The great bugs were terrified, as a large tongue of fire hit them. They knew enough about the great priestesses of Muldoon to realize their folly, and prepared to flee. But then they also realized that the flames were not so hot...
They looked at each other, and attacked. The first one launched itself in the air, meaning to crush the adversary. She leaped herself and dodged the attack, lunging forward instead of backwards and then rolled towards the second bugrom. He attempted to slash her with his claws, but she hardly stopped moving, using the extended limb as leverage to fly above the second opponent and, exploiting her momentum, to deliver a fiery punch to the third bug, who just stood there looking her dumbfounded. As he crushed on a tree, temporary out of the fight, she turned to regard the second one, confident of her advantage.
But she couldn't predict Jinnai's elaborate training sessions. As she prepared herself to dodge the next attack and retaliate, the bugrom feinted a bearhug attack, then fell back, leaving her exposed, as the first one leaped behind him, his trajectory meant to smash her.
It was too late to dodge, so she whispered an ancient Muldoon curse, and prepared a weak fire shield to brace herself, knowing fully well her chances were faint.
As she closed her eyes, she heard a loud blast and then nothing. She opened her eyes again and saw the second bugrom looking sheepishly at something behind her. She slowly turned and, as she saw the source of his amazement, her jaw fell to the ground. She could see the slime staining the trunk of a tree, through a ridiculously large hole at the chest of her late opponent.
Then she turned the opposite direction, as the remaining bug rushed to his third companion and then vanished with him. There stood a young man of average height with brown hair and eyes, holding an ornate staff, its narrow end pointing towards her general direction. As she prepared for another battle, he lowered the staff and spoke.
"Are you all right, miss?"
From the jumble of her emotions, only rage managed to surface.
"Who the hell are you?" she shouted at the top of her lungs.
"Just a simple traveler. I was just passing through the forest and thought to give you a hand."
"What made you believe that I, Kiku-Kiku, a priestess of fire in training, would need your help. You just spoiled my fun."
"So you are a fire priestess."
"What have you thought, that all fire priestesses must have red hair or something?"
Makoto managed to hide his chuckle. "I could tell you are a Muldoon priestess from the amazing way you fight, but your Lamp is a bit unusual."
"Completely useless, you mean. That lesser Lamp is far too weak, but I'm not allowed to use a stronger one yet. So you want something else, or are we going to stand here all day?"
"Actually, I was hoping you could show me the way to the Shrine of fire. I am new to this parts an the maps are not detailed."
Her first thought was to refuse, mostly out of spite, but then she had an idea. "Ok, mister, but before that I want you to help me find a particular herb I'm looking. It is called platina lusis and..."
"...it has small orange and white flowers, can be used as a medicine for fever and infections and as spice in many foods."
"Hey, are you a scholar or something? How do you know all that?"
"Just an amateur."
"So will you help me find it or will you stay rooted there all day?"
"There are ample of them just behind you..."
"If you even dare smile, I will fry you."
"Lady Fatora, wake up. Somebody is at the door."
"Ngh… Damn, I start to understand why the wonder boy left. Is there any chance to let him alone a single day?"
"You are talking about master Makoto. There is no such chance."
"Ok, you hide somewhere, I will open the door. Do I look like him?"
"A perfect match, just turn the hat a bit left. It is exactly at the center now."
As Alielle hid behind the dressing screen, Fatora went to the door.
"Good morning, Makoto. You shouldn't look the door. I wanted to wake you when the breakfast would be ready."
"Hi, Nanami. What breakfast?"
Nanami brought her face close to hers and winked. "I thought it would be a great idea to take breakfast together this morning. Do you have other plans?"
Before Fatora could conjure any kind of response, Nanami barged in, placed her oversized basket on the table and started preparing a meal worthy of a legion.
"Are we really going to eat all that?" Asked Fatora, who usually wasn't intimidated even by the palace's grandest servings.
"Of course, Makoto. I know you work hard every day and you need much energy. I can't have you losing weight and becoming weak. So we are going to eat all of it to the end."
"Wow, thanks Nanami. I think..."
"I actually like that we seem as being married, after all" said Nanami, and landed a swift kiss on Fatora's cheek.
"Married? What do you mean married?" said Fatora, trying to recover of Nanami's unexpected actions.
"Come now, Makoto. I won't believe you have forgotten it again. You are just too shy. By the way, would you like to go for a walk after we finish here?"
You will have to roll me around after all this food.
Suddenly, an idea surfaced in Fatora's mind.
"Alright but I want you to solve a riddle before. Dr Schtalubaugh gave it to me and I haven't really thought about it yet, but I think you could manage too."
"Ok, Makoto. I know how much you like those things. I'll help you."
Fatora gave her the piece of paper Makoto had written.
She read it many times aloud and then she started thinking. After a while she spoke.
"So, Makoto. I'm pretty sure you have solved it yourself by now, but I want you to tell me if my train of thought is correct."
Fatora's eyes gleamed, but she just nodded.
Nanami continued. "First of all, we need to find an old spire. There are many spires in El hazard, but you have told me which is the oldest. The thing you try to find is a book, right?"
Fatora was stunned "How... how do you know that?"
Nanami smiled "Oh, don't mock me Makoto. Anyone could realize that. The oldest spire is the library and there is no better place to hide a book than among thousands of others."
Fatora managed to hide her elation, and answered "You have done well, Nanami. What about the rest?"
"No idea, actually. Perhaps somebody has drawn a circle and you must go six steps from its center? And doctors usually don't have a specific height or anything. Maybe it means something else."
"Alright, I will go to the library at once."
As she tried to leave, Nanami caught her with iron grip. "Mr. Mizuhara, you have nowhere to go before you finish your breakfast. It costs four Roshtals as well, a really special price just for you."
"You mean you are charging me?" asked Fatora, barely able to believe her ears.
"Business is business Makoto. By the way, as you eat, I will tell you my plans for the next months. I will introduce franchising to El hazard. A truckload of money it will gain me."
For the next half hour, Fatora tried to eat all of the delicious but oversized meal, while pretending to be interested in something she had no idea about, and nodding all the while.
After they had both finished, Nanami said, "So lets go for that walk now. And you will have to remove that silly hat. You always wear it wrong and it doesn't fit you either."
Too close to disaster. Must do something, but carefully. She knows Makoto better than anyone.
"We haven't solved the riddle yet." complained Fatora.
Nanami had a mischievous smile on her face "Never agreed to solve it. I just said I'll help you a bit."
Fatora cursed under her breath "You won, Nanami, but I get to keep the hat."
"Fair enough. So off we go. Just a walk at the garden. I don't want to keep you from your work."
As they moved to the door, a strange light filled the room. Nanami promptly hugged Fatora, nearly knocking her hat.
"Have you touched anything, Makoto?" she asked trembling, obviously not having fully recovered from the black sphere incident.
They looked at the source of the light. It was the spare sealing circuit of the eye.
"It is pointing towards the east, Makoto. What does that mean?"
"I have no idea. I don't remember it doing anything like that, since I found it."
"I do. It was glowing when you freed us from that infernal prison last week. It was pointing at The Key Staff."
As the crystal stopped glowing and moving, Nanami spoke again "By the way, where is it, Makoto? I have rarely seen you away from it."
Oh, shit. What do we say now? Think Fatora. She knows him really well. Think carefully.
"I won't be needing it for a while, so I locked it away."
"I'm very happy to hear that, um, I mean I like that you keep your wits around you. The guards might not stop a sneaky thief...or a servant might misplace it.. or anything."
I hope Makoto did not realized what I almost said. Perhaps he is starting to forget her, but I must be patient. I don't want him to hate me.
Hopefully Nanami won't ask any more questions about the damn Staff. She must be really busy trying to cover that slip. Lucked out again. Your luck is persistent wonder boy. I can't even figure why I keep bothering about it anymore. You probably are way too far for them to find you right now.
Nanami changed the subject as fast as possible. "Lets go for that walk already." She said, as she virtually dragged Fatora towards the garden. "I want to talk to you about our future in El hazard. Economical future of course. Mostly..."
Here we go again. I hope Alielle will manage and stop us after the kiss again. I don't think I can do it myself... Makoto, you lucky bastard, I don't know if I envy you or pity you anymore...
"So, how came you drive a royal Roshtarian cruiser, stranger. Or do you have a name you can tell me?"
"I just have a certain link to Roshtaria and you can call me Makoto, miss Kiku."
"Strange name you have there fella. The shrine is just after those trees. You are a decent pilot after all."
"My first time."
"As hell it is."
The Shrine of fire was in fact much more than a simple temple. A large wall, which could belong to a fortress, was built around the numerous facilities that included, but not limited to, the main Fire temple, the fire seminary, the Holy order's embassy to Gannan, an orphanage, office buildings, living quarters and great lengths of open space. To support the Shrine, a small town was erected just outside its walls. The forest ended just where the Shrine begun and one could see many mountains a day's walk away, some of them obviously volcanic. As a result of the old geothermal activity, the plains close to the Shrine were very fertile, their value even more enchanted by the small river, obviously a tributary to the Holy River of God, that exited the forest and crossed the fields.
As the cruiser reached the massive gates, Kiku made a hand signal and the guardian priestesses let them pass.
"There is an area for cruisers just left from here. And if you want to see the Shrine's retainer, you are really lucky. It is uncommon for her not to travel and I am to meet her now."
"I would be grateful. Wow, those wall are pretty massive."
Kiku smiled with pride. "When Gannan was invaded, less than a year ago, this was the only place the Bugrom could not conquer."
"You fought at the war then?"
Her face fell and she scowled "Junior priestesses were not allowed to fight. We just had to take care the refugees and other such boring tasks."
Makoto turned and regarded her "But that was as important as the battle. If the people are not safe, there is no reason to fight."
"What would you know of that?"
Makoto said nothing.
After a five-minute walk, they reached the central building.
"This is the Hall of Visitors, where people like you come to meet with the priestesses for spiritual guidance or whatever. I hate stuff like..."
"Oh there you are Kiku. You have returned sooner than I expected. I hope you have found the herbs."
The woman stopped talking as soon as she noticed Makoto. She was at her late thirties and could have been Shayla's mother, her hair the same tone of red but shorter, her complexion equally dark.
"Hail, honored traveler. My name is Crayna-Crayna, former great priestess of fire and retainer of the Holy Shrine of fire, under the power of the Holy order, but you can just call me Crayna. Everybody is welcome here. We can provide you with a temporary place to stay and we will share our humble food with you."
She turned to Kiku "I hope you didn't fry him when you met him. You have a tendency to first attack and then ask questions."
"He spoiled my fight with some Bugrom and..."
Crayna's face changed immediately from nonchalance to astonishment, then to severe worry.
"You encountered Bugrom at the forest? How many? Where?" , she asked frantically.
"Just three of them, an hour from the shrine. Mr. Mysterious stranger here blasted one and scared the others away, before I could destroy them and..."
Crayna's face was now a scowl "You tried to fight the Bugrom? Silly girl, you are talented but should never overestimate yourself. At your current level they would have ripped you apart."
She turned at Makoto, ignoring Kiku's meek complains "It seems you hide much, young master, to defeat Bugrom like that. We are at your dept for saving Kiku. Could you please tell me your name?"
"I am Mizuhara Makoto and..."
Crayna's eyes were as big as saucers "The Mizuhara?" she gasped.
"What's up elder Crayna? You know that person?" asked Kiku.
Crayna regarded him carefully and then said "You know him too, Kiku. Shayla has told me much about him and you have heard much as well. Meet the famous Mizuhara Makoto, great sorcerer, demon tamer, twice world savior, champion of Roshtaria, great hero of the last Bugrom war and hailing from another world. We should be celebrating for his presence."
Makoto's face was deep red. "Please, this is too much praise for one person, lady Crayna. You should just call me Makoto."
"And humble to a fault, of course", smiled Crayna.
Kiku was stricken dumb.
"Both Miz and Shayla have told me much about you, master Makoto. Especially Shayla seems to be really fond of you, I can tell." she winked at a very uncomfortable Makoto.
"You should tell everybody about the Bugrom sighting, lady Crayna, and I would appreciate to keep my presence here confidential. And afterwards I would like to ask you of a boon."
"My pleasure, young master. Kiku, go and tell everything to the other elder sisters, then return here."
As Kiku left, she continued "I presume you will want access to all our archives. Well, it's granted for as long as you want. But I can see you want something else as well."
Makoto felt uncomfortable "It is a bit complicated. I know a stranger should not be given a holy Lamp for any length of time, but I was wondering if I could borrow a spare one for a few days. I will not leave the Shrine and..."
Crayna smiled "The regulations are strict and for a good reason, but we can do that, provided you are under the surveillance of an actual priestess. It is the least we can do for you."
"I actually wanted to request the presence of a fire priestess for safety reasons."
"And I know just the person for such a job." Said Crayna smiling.
"You don't mean.."
"Master Makoto, are you there?"
Nanami quickly stopped what she was about to do, still savoring the new sensation in her mouth. She tried to motion Makoto and herself away of the disruptive person, but that oaf answered immediately in his familiar voice.
"Is there something wrong, Alielle?"
"Princess Rune has requested your presence as soon as possible. It sounded important."
"Well I can't keep her waiting now, can I?"
Nanami wasn't about to just leave him go the way Shayla had. "Oh come now, Makoto. How important could it be? You can go in a while. Right Alielle?"
The look she gave to the younger girl was a murderous one, with hints of suppressed insanity.
Gulp. I hope it's not a genetical trait, or we are in serious trouble.
"Come now, Nanami. We can continue that conversation somewhere more private, later. Wouldn't that be better?"
She settled down a bit, nodded and walked away smiling.
I know him for so much time, but I can't figure out if he realized just what his words implied…
As Nanami walked away, with steps barely touching the ground and face blushing, Fatora let a deep sigh. She turned to Alielle. "That was another close call. I can't keep like that for much more. My peerless patience and unmatched luck will run out pretty soon."
"So let's head to the library, lady Fatora. We have no time to waste and we will be really isolated there too."
"Is that a good thing?", frowned Fatora.
"We must focus on our goal, lady Fatora. That was the reason you accepted to do that in the first place."
"You are right, Alielle. Our glorious search will shame Makoto's petty attempts to find love. We will be triumphant as we always are, when we follow my flawless plans."
"You are truly incredible, lady Fatora. Lead the way."
"Of course I will, Alielle, but... could you remind me where the library is? I haven't been there in ages."
Makoto, Crayna and Kiku walked along the gloomy corridor made of gray, unimposing stone blocks. It was hard to connect this dark underground place with the rest of the colorful and filled with life Shrine, but it was to be expected. Powerful secrets were to be kept hidden from the light.
Cranya, was leading the way, holding a bright orb of flame just above her open palm, the only source of light down there. Makoto marveled at how easily she could maintain it, without even using the lesser ring-like Lamp she wore on her finger.
She noticed his amazement and said, "It is almost nothing to me doing that. It isn't really so much time since I retired, less than a year and a half."
He looked at her incredulously "I didn't realize that Shayla has so recently attained her station."
"You should know that Qwaoor Towles is an exception to an unwritten rule, master Makoto. She became a high priestess just before closing her 18nth year, mainly because of her extreme talent and the former great priestess' eagerness to retire just after marriage, which is not really compulsory. Miz was always like that."
Her face fell a bit. "I fear that my reason was different. Afura became a priestess at 18, just after the former priestess of wind died on duty. After a week, I retired and Shayla took my place at 19."
They reached at an unremarkable storage room, filled with useless junk. Crayna stopped abruptly and turned to Kiku. "Use your elemental senses to see if we are alone."
"All clear" she answered after a while.
Crayna nodded too, and removed a half-covered and apparently irreparably damaged painting from the wall. Underneath, there was a black sphere, half buried into the wall. She touched it briefly, and then a section of the wall opened, revealing a great room with intense artificial lighting.
As they all entered, the secret passage closed behind them.
Makoto gasped at the sight, the last thing he expected to see. The room was rather big and reminded him of a cross between an advanced laboratory and a museum. The walls were metallic and pure white and numerous ornate showcases hang from them. An equal amount of table-like glass cases filled the center of the room. And all the cases were full of artifacts, all sharing the same three colors. Brass, silver and red.
He expected there were many Lamps of fire kept in reserve and had noticed Shayla and Afura changing theirs, but could never have imagined such numbers or such variety of shapes and sizes. Among them, there were rings, tiaras, bracelets, gauntlets, swords and other weapons of all types, hairbands, cloaks and numerous others, even a complete suit of mechanical armor, adorned with a multitude of red orbs,
Crayna smiled at his bewildered look "You take that much calmer than when I did the first time I came here. As you have already assumed, The "great" Lamp is merely the strongest active outside this room, and for a good reason."
He managed to smile "I cannot even try to imagine Shayla wearing that armor daily."
After the general laughter subsided, Crayna continued "You can chose any of them, except the most extravagant ones, of course. How about this one? It was used till recently, but Shayla said it was too slow for her." She indicated the Lamp Shayla wore the first time Makoto had seen her.
With the edge of his eye, he saw Kiku stifling a curse. "I think it would be best to try the weakest one available, for safety reasons." Both Crayna and Kiku looked at each other in astonishment. Then Crayna gave him a golden ring with a tiny red orb, half smaller than her own ring. "I believe this is the weakest ever build. But I don't see how it could be useful to you. We haven't used it for a long time, because it hardly amplifies the elemental power.
He took it gingerly and then nodded. "It is fine with me."
Crayna turned to Kiku. "For as long as master Makoto has this Lamp, you are to accompany him everywhere, except for his room, and help him in every way possible." As Kiku tried to complain, Crayna added "And if you satisfy my directions, I will administer you a new Lamp, a bit stronger than the one you have now."
Kiku smiled broadly for the first time since she had met Makoto and bowed.
Afura walked out of the library, her eyes staring down, her attention elsewhere.
Rune turned abruptly around a corner without looking, apparently lost in thought.
The collision was inevitable and painful.
"Oh, I'm so sorry lady Rune, I was so distracted."
"It's my fault, Afura. There are many problems that occupy my thought."
Afura regarded her friend and monarch. "Would you like to share them, Rune?", she whispered low enough not to be heard by a nearby guard,
Rune nodded and they entered a side-chamber.
They sat down as equals and Afura could see that only that fact lifted a weight from Rune's shoulders.
"Let me guess", she started "Those alliance oafs are causing trouble again."
"If you consider that they are all leaders of their countries, it is to be expected. But sometimes they just behave like children."
"But I thought that after Makoto's impressive act, they all agreed to cooperate."
"Makoto did a wonderful job, reminding them of our common enemies and our common goals just enough to unite them, but not enough to spread panic. But then..."
"The party. That assassination attempt was too much for them."
"Roshtaria's palace is considered one of the safest places in El hazard and our guard one of the best. But both our enemies managed to infiltrate both directly and indirectly. In the alliance lords' eyes, it means that their lives could be in danger any time and at any place."
"But such fear is supposed to make them cooperate instead of making them cocky."
"They are terrified but their pride makes them act completely the opposite than that. And panic cannot produce any kind of desirable result."
"Perhaps I should follow Makoto's footsteps and give you a hand next time."
Rune smiled and said "I would be grateful, Afura. I wanted to ask Makoto for another round, but I feel awful burdening him so much."
Afura's face was concerned "I met Makoto a while ago. I am worried about him. He tries hard to hide it, but he is not himself after the party."
"Perhaps he is more afraid than we thought. Have you noticed anything different?"
"Well, just minor things. He asked me to help him with a riddle that was pretty simple for his caliber and seemed awfully happy when I solved part of it. He usually tries to do that himself as a means to relax."
"I have an idea what might be wrong. I shouldn't really tell that to anyone, but he asked my permission to leave on a trip alone."
"But he knows that his fan-club would never accept that. They would follow him even if they had to hang from his cruiser's edge."
The thought of Nanami, Shayla and Qwaoor all hanging from a speeding cruiser brought a smile on Rune's face. "He said that he had thought a way. I am surprised he is still here. He seemed determined to do it."
"You think it is despair?"
Rune silently nodded "We know he hides much strength inside him, but he is only a young person, barely a man. Has he ever told you of the nightmares?"
Afura's face was grave. "He doesn't want to talk about it, but I managed to make him talk one time, to describe me his dream and share the burden. When he finished, I was starting to sweat myself. It is truly too much for him and, as the time passes, it becomes worse."
"We have to find a way to help him. We own him as much."
"And he really is such a nice person..."
Rune raised a brow and looked at Afura incredulously.
"So, lady Fatora, we now know what the second verse means. Sister Afura helped as a lot."
"But still it seems so simple, Alielle. Sure the library is a great circle, and we must count from its center. But count library bookcases? It could have been anything else. Steps, books, shelves or something that only existed in his own world. And what about the last verse?"
"This is the trickiest part, lady Fatora. The first one required history knowledge, the second was almost stupid. But the third must be the most difficult."
They started counting the massive bookcases. It was difficult, because there were no regular gaps between them and they had to backtrack several times to find the place. They stood before a massive bookcase, which color was different than the rest.
"Now what? We could be totally wrong, Alielle, and you know it."
"No, lady Fatora, look here." She indicated the full to capacity selves. "These books have almost no dust at all. And read those titles."
"Ancient Wonders, Legend of the demon gods, Flora and Fauna of El hazard, A quick look to the Eye, Time travel, yes it seems his kind of stuff."
She picked one of them and opened it randomly.
"Yep, it's definitely his kind of stuff. I understand one word out of every five. But what about the height of doctors?"
They checked all the books in the bookcase, and, after an hour, they stopped and lied exhausted on the floor.
"This is so difficult. I mean, there are doctors as tall as Londs and as short as you, Alielle. For example, Dr. Schtalubaugh is tall as..."
She stopped talking and turned to Alielle. She saw a mirror of her expression.
"There is no way that can be right."
Alielle walked at the bookcase and stood still, this time examining the container instead of the books. The third shelf was thicker than the others and made of two parts. She reached at the side of the bookcase, at that height. And pulled hard.
All three shelves opened like a door would, revealing a concealed compartment behind the case. In it there was a large, leather-bound book.
Alielle managed to speak first "The third verse was the silliest of all."
It was late afternoon, when the two figures exited through the grant Shrine gates.
"I cannot really understand you, mister. First you ask for that junk of a Lamp, when you could have selected anything else, and now you want me to show you our training grounds. I warn you that this Lamp is the opposite of an amplifier. I doubt I could produce a spark with its help."
"Well, I only have the slightest idea what I am doing, and I want to take no chances."
"But there is no connection between that pathetic ring and danger. It can't even be used for parlor tricks."
"We will see..."
After a while, Kiku spoke again hesitantly.
"Well, anyway, I wanted to.. thank you for helping me with the Bugrom, though of course I could have done it myself, have no doubt."
"I have to say you were really impressive there. I can assume you are training hard."
"Well, yes...whatever. Anyway, this is one of the places."
It was a tiny vale, enclosed by hills and absolutely barren. The countless scorched rocks were more than enough an explanation.
"Well, the training seems to be hard in general...This place in just what I need."
He closed his eyes and mentally reached for the Staff.
Initiate fire shield on standby. Auto-engage on immediate danger.
#Fire shield ready for Auto-engage. #
He motioned the Staff to Kiku and said, "Would you mind holding this, while I try something?"
She looked at the Staff, then at him incredulously. "You don't mind giving me something so powerful? I mean, it could go off by itself somehow and..."
He smiled "No danger, Kiku. Only two persons can use this Staff now, and the second is really far away." Kiku, saw his smile faltering a little, but ignored it and answered.
"Well, would you mind if I try?"
"Not at all."
She eagerly took the Staff, staring at it with awe, marveling at its light weight.
"Can't promise I won't break it, though."
"I can promise that you won't. Would you mind stepping a bit further, just in case."
Kiku shot him a curious glance, but complied.
Makoto closed his eyes, wore the ring and concentrated.
A minute later, after making sure he was in a trance, Kiku looked at the Staff eagerly.
If only I can use this Staff, I will need no damn Lamps. This baby is more powerful than even Shayla's Lamp. I will finally prove my worth with it.
She too concentrated, trying to use the Staff as she would with a Lamp. She managed to form a weak link, but could go no further than that. After a while, she lost the link and slammed the Staff on a rock in pure frustration with all her strength. And flinched as the fragile-looking Staff broke the rock in two without sustaining even the slightest dent.
Wow, even as a simple melee weapon, it is awesome. How can it be so durable and so light at the same time?
After smashing some more rocks, she turned to regard Makoto. And took a step back as she saw him and the ring glowing.
She tried to assure herself Even if he can use a Lamp, it is only a child's toy, right? There is no way he can produce anything more than...
A fiery battle-aura appeared around him. At first she thought he was on fire, but then she realized he had full control over the flames.
Impossible. I cannot create such an aura with my Lamp yet. I am trying for three months now and he did it in ten minutes. Damn.
The aura doubled in size and then doubled again. Kiku felt the temperature rising around her, though she was now more than ten meters away. The ground under him was bright red, nearly melting away. Then, an immense wave of white fire shot forward from his hand and many smaller ones scattered in every direction. The main shot hit a large black basalt boulder, disintegrating it and digging a tunnel behind it. And one of the smaller ones headed directly towards Kiku. She fully realized that to be hit by it would cause her to suffer the same fate as the boulder, so she used her Lamp to create a flame wall in front of herself.
The white wave passed through it, as it didn't existed. She could only await the collision now. Just before it reached her, the Staff shined and a translucent red veil appeared around her. The white beam caused it to bend, and pushed both it and Kiku hard, until her back connected painfully with a large rock.
Then the onslaught stopped as suddenly as it had started. As Makoto opened his eyes, he saw Kiku sitting very still, her back on the rock wall.
He ran towards her. "Are you alright, miss Kiku?'
She was still too dazed to stand and she looked around her, trying to register the changes to the area's topology. She managed to speak "How the hell did you do that with that joke of a Lamp?" she demanded.
"All Lamps have such potential, regardless of size and apparent power, I think. Fortunately, I had that fire shield ready and..."
"Wait a minute. You mean that the only reason you gave me that Staff was to protect me? Who told you that a priestess of fire needs protection from flames of all things?"
"Well, I also wanted the Staff to record the experiment. I can see exactly what happened while I was concentrating."
She was less than thrilled he would see just how much she had needed the Staff's protection and so she said nothing, as they walked back towards the Shrine.
In a few days the Eye will be functional again, allowing me to leave Floristica for some time.
The modifications before the emulation that I must do are in circuits #A56 - #R45. In detail I must (...).
My meetings with Fatora are also fruitful. I believe that, at such rate, we will both be ready for the shift right on schedule. It will be much more difficult for her, but, with Alielle's help, she may last more than half a week. I only hope the other girls won't try to kill me too hard when they found out.
I have finally found a way to nullify my power in case I become possessed again. The way is rather simple, involving (...)
Another bad dream about Her tonight. I won't even try to write it down. I have to remind myself that the one dream about Arjah that I saw before Cretaria was just a coincidence. These dreams are in no way related to facts. I just hope to bring Her back soon...
The scientists that work with me on the stairway are so eager that we are actually ahead of the schedule. I must remember to modify the ion amplifier and (...)
I started working on sensei's power today, but it seems to be more difficult than I thought. The next experiment shows that (...)
I also found a book that contains some hard facts about the Eye, in addition to the usual quasi-mystical junk. It seems that two or more timespace interfaces can collide and create (...)
"Well, master Makoto was really busy all that time, lady Fatora."
"Thanks for stating the obvious, Alielle. The guy is growing nuts. He becomes more and more obsessed every day. And look at that "Her this, Her that" he is hopeless."
"I found it sweet, lady Fatora. He is devoted to his love."
"Well, if there is one person who can find her, it's him. The wonder boy is serious. Let's skip some entries."
(...) Also, I finally found a way to temporary contain sensei's superpower. I don't really know what that substance is and how dangerous it may be in the long run, but the only visible aftereffect is the mother of all hangovers. One drop of it and I nearly passed out, five drops and sensei reacted as having emptied the wine cellar, again. The purifying procedure is very complicated. For starters (...) . I have a small, but potent quantity kept in a glass vial in my room, just in case. The label reads IFI, which stands for Instant Fujisawa Immobilizer, though it can make anyone and anything drunk. (...).
Fatora and Alielle stopped reading and looked at each other. Then, they hid the book back to its place and rushed to Makoto's room. After some effort, Fatora searching the vial and Alielle trying to save the other vials from shattering to the floor and potentially killing them, they found the tiny glass bottle. Alielle opened the cork and smelled it, holding it as far of her nose as possible. She then closed it again.
"No doubt about it. I feel a little dizzy even from that distance. We must be very careful with it, lady Fatora. Especially you."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, alcohol is bad for me and all that."
"So, when will we make the party?"
"The sooner, the better, Alielle. Tomorrow night is perfect. If we are careful, we can do it again the day after. How many nights can that vial buy us?"
"No more than four, lady Fatora."
"No fear. We can still make some more. We have the recipe after all. And I am omnipotent, so I will decipher how to make it. "
"This is great, Lady Fatora, but do you know what that "2,3ethyl-methyl-ester" is?"
"Four nights it is then..."
Qwaoor was sitting by a large fountain, a common sight inside the palace. Being close to her element, she could usually focus herself, the water actually talking to her, helping her find her center. But today that was not the case. The place she had chosen was a quiet one, in an honest attempt to stay away for everybody for a while, to collect her thoughts. But she could not concentrate and her distress was evident.
"Are you alright, sister Qwaoor? You look awful."
She quickly looked up and managed to partially hide her unusual expression.
"Don't worry, Parnasse. I am fine. I was just a bit distracted, that's all."
Parnasse was not convinced. Since they had first met each other, Qwaoor at her final lessons under High priestess Aurora Darsal at the Holy order, himself her appointed servant, they considered each other almost as siblings. However, it was the first time he had seen her in such a fit.
"Sister Qwaoor, you always try to help everyone around you. Just once, you should let somebody else help you. It is obvious something bothers you. If that wretched sister of mine had tried again to..."
"No, Parnasse, Alielle has nothing to do with it."
"So, there is something wrong..."
She did not answer, but her gaze dropped and she discarded her cheerful façade.
As a response, Parnasse sat down next to her, allowing her to take her time.
After a while, she spoke. "Parnasse, what do you think of miss Nanami and sister Shayla?"
He looked at her for a while, trying to understand what she really wanted to ask.
"Well, sister Nanami is a bit weird. She comes from an alien world of course. She really likes making money, mostly to feel secure than out of greed. She behaves nonchalantly but can be scary at times and has a certain family problem, as we all know...And her cooking is great."
"This is rude, Parnasse, talking like that when she is not here"
"But it is true. As for sister Shayla, she is stubborn and most of the time angry, but I know she is a great person, if you get to know her, and reliable too."
"I am really happy to know them, but they constantly fight each other. Someone might get hurt."
"You shouldn't let that bother you, sister Qwaoor. In reality, they are friends. They just have a really good reason to fight and..."
He stopped abruptly and looked at Qwaoor, now close to tears. And realized the source of her discomfort.
Qwaoor managed to speak, valiantly holding her tears back. "And what do you think of me?"
He looked at her hesitantly. "Well, what can I say. You are almost always sweet and cheerful and you always help others. And you are the strongest of the three great priestesses as well. You should really think more of yourself. And you are beautiful too. Better than both Nanami and Shayla."
Qwaoor blushed and smiled honestly for the first time. "Thank you, Parnasse, but I think you are exaggerating."
"So, when will you tell him?"
She regarded him incredulously. "Tell what to whom?"
Parnasse smiled. "Come on, sister Qwaoor. Even if I wasn't Alielle's brother, I could easily tell what's bothering you. You should talk to master Makoto while he is still at the palace."
Qwaoor's face was a deep red. "Master Makoto has nothing to do with..."
"Sister Qwaoor, lying is not one of your strong points. It is obvious you love him."
She was almost sobbing now. "Even if that was true, why would he look at me. Nanami and Shayla know him for much more time."
Parnasse smiled. "That is true, but I believe that, if he had to chose among the three of you, he would chose you. Have you not noticed how much he worries about you? And he behaves much more comfortable around you than around the other girls."
She settled down a bit. "I wish I had met him before, when he first came to our world. Even now, I know so little about what had happened before I met him at the river. The story has become a legend and the others won't talk much about it. I would like to know what really happened with those demon gods everybody is talking about."
"Why don't you go and ask master Makoto? It is a great way to start a conversation."
"I don't want to interrupt him from his work. Whatever he tries to do, it seems really important to him."
"I am sure he wouldn't mind. You are much better company than sister Shayla and sister Nanami. You actually listen to people."
"Sister Shayla and miss Nanami really love him, Parnasse. I don't see why he doesn't respond."
Parnasse looked her intently, not allowing her to protest. "It is common knowledge that the three of you have fallen like crazy for him, each in her own way."
"It's not like that.", protested Qwaoor.
"It sure is. Sister Shayla stutters half of the time and feigns to be angry the other half. Sister Nanami tries to hide her love by charging the food she brings to him. And you try to act like nothing is going on, secretly sitting here and lamenting."
Qwaoor was apparently counting the ripples on the fountain's water, avoiding to meet his gaze.
"And I'm perfectly sure he knows about the three of you, all too well. Master Makoto is anything else than stupid."
She looked at him again. "Then why doesn't he tell us. Even if he loves someone else, perhaps back in his world, he should tell us."
Parnasse sighed. "All this time, I'm trying to convince you to talk to him. You think he is not shy himself, perhaps more than you are? But there is another reason he says nothing. Think about it, sister Qwaoor. Three of his dear friends love him and if he makes a choice..."
"You mean, he doesn't want to hurt the other two? Or is there somebody else in his life. If so, I am content to just stay his friend..."
Parnasse noticed how sad her voice was. "It is not fair to give up before you try. I will tell you about another person in his life..."
Qwaoor grabbed him from the shoulders, anxious in spite of herself. "You know something, Parnasse? Please tell me. I need to know."
He smiled mischievously. "I will tell you, sister Qwaoor, but, in return, you will go and see him. The real reason you are restless is because you have been avoiding him since his birthday."
She thought about it a little. "I guess I should go see him a little. Perhaps try and calm sister Shayla and miss Nanami down."
"Well, I don't know if it is true, but they say he tries to bring back the demon god Ifurita."
"From what I know, she managed to control her and use her to stop the Eye from blinking."
"It seems he believes she is a human being rather than a machine. The Eye sent her to his world, only to its past, and then she sent him here."
"So he wants to rescue her because he has her Power Staff Key. But does he love her and is she capable of love?"
"Even if he does, his feelings can change. I think that is what sisters Nanami and Shayla try to do."
"But if he loves her then we shouldn't interfere." She said meekly.
"Don't be like that, sister Qwaoor. You too have the right to try. You can't keep trying to fool yourself."
She thought about it a long time then smiled again. "Thank you, Parnasse, you are right. I can always try and hope."
"So let me suggest what to wear."
"What do you mean?"
"As appointed servant of the great priestesses of Muldoon, it is my duty and my pleasure to suggest the dress code required on every occasion."
"But I think I am fine right now."
"Of course, but we want to leave him a lasting impression, don't we?"
"Yes but..." Parnasse virtually dragged Qwaoor with him.
As soon as they were away, Alielle slipped from behind a pillar and run to Makoto's room.
I own you one, Parnasse. I wanted to find a way to invite her, but you did all the job for me.
It has been three days since the General left. I hope he is safe, or mother will kill me.
Katsuo continued inspecting the newly dug tunnel, chattering orders to the other soldiers, while worrying at the same time. Complex thoughts for a Bugrom indeed...
Then his worries flew away, as a messenger bug, the only one accompanying their team, reported Master had been sighted.
Jinnai entered the tiny hive and immediately demanded a report.
"Great work, Katsuo. It seems you barely managed not to screw anything up during my genius's absence."
Gruble, gruble (I'm very happy you are pleased, master.)
"Indeed, my pleasure ought to be your source of happiness. And you can be less formal with me, Katsuo. You can simply call me General or Teacher."
Gruble (my honor, master.)
Jinnai then noticed that some of their soldiers were missing.
"Where are the rest, Katsuo?"
Gruble, screech, grable (They are scouting the perimeter, master. Don't be alarmed, I ordered them to stay out of sight and avoid the city.)
The color vanished from Jinnai's face "You idiot! You really believe they can manage without somebody leading them? Don't overestimate them, comparing them to you. They are even more stupid. When are they expected to return?"
Gruble…creek screech (Well, master.. actually they are late. Only a little, mind you, not even a day.)
Jinnai was starting to lose his composure "Damn, damn it all. Do you know what lies two days from here? Don't you remember? The flaming fire shrine! Those imbeciles could have hit their gates face first and notice it after they are fried."
Gruble, frable drabble (Even then, master, they wouldn't have a way of spotting us. )
"Not immediately. But they will surely beef up their defenses, jeopardizing the progress of my brilliant plan."
Drabble, frable, crable (What plan, master?)
"I should let you guess it as a punishment, Katsuo, but I am merciful. If everything goes right, in only two days we can start anonymously blackmailing the Mayor of Gannan's capital, the most powerful man in Gannan, outside the royal house. And this is only the beginning. Since we cannot seize this country by force, we can use subtler methods."
As the other Bugrom stood stunned and Katsuo was scratching his head, Jinnai's immensely insane burst of laughter filled the hollow spaces of the underground outpost.
And nearly caused it to collapse...
She checked again, just to be sure. She could find nothing.
No weapons, no fortifications, no guards. Just what is this world?
As soon as the automated truck reached the city, Ifurita jumped down and walked in.
All thoughts of energy conservation dismissed, she fully engaged her sensors. The residents seem to be very close to human form and have the same needs and metabolism.
She also noticed that the air was pure, free of toxic gases, often the result of large settlements.
There are plants everywhere, just like the way Floristica was. But I have never heard of those species and the city beneath them is far more advanced than that. They must be equals to the people they built me...
She thought she would feel irritated and jealous, encountering a civilization that seemed so peaceful, but the feeling that flooded her was joy. Joy for the sake of this world and of her hopes rekindling.
Now I'm sure I can find the way to Earth somehow. But first I must contact the residents of this city.
She saw the first one after a while, regarding her curiously. And her eyes lost focus despite herself.
The person was just like a human. Only his skin was blue.
Nahato walked the narrow, dark corridors, mentally preparing himself to report the failure. He actually hated the way his tribe was living. More like a custom than due to lack of resources, the Phantom tribe's bases and fortresses only featured the basic necessities. Enjoying luxuries was considered sacrilegious while they were away from the homeland. And if the custom had atrophied in the last six thousand years, it was strengthened all the more during Galus's reign. Zealotry was one of his master's traits he abhorred.
At the old times, when we were new to this world, that custom was a means of survival, while now it is nothing more than plain stupidity.
He stopped thinking as he heard commotion from behind a twisty curve. And then he saw a peculiar scene. His master was walking forth, ignoring the protests of the two nurses that followed him.
"You have returned, Nahato, and I can tell from your expression the mission was a failure."
"It was due to lack of information, master Galus. The subject was the lookalike earthling instead of the princess."
Galus was momentarily stunned. "Very well, Nahato. I will hear the details later. Now I am bound to speak to the council and reclaim my status."
"But master" protested Nahato, while eyeing the equally frustrated nurses. "You are not supposed to move or stain yourself yet."
"It can't be helped, Nahato. There are matters more important than my health right now. Just follow me."
They hastily walked toward the council hall, one of the few ornate rooms of the complex.
Without wasting time announcing himself, he breached the protocol and simply opened the door. He could hear somebody speaking, but expected everybody to stop as soon as they saw him.
Everybody became silent.
Except of the speaker.
Lord Zenthar continued talking as if nothing had happened.
"...and the last subject I want to discuss is a cut to the outsider tax. I believe it should be reduced by fifty percent. They might live above the ground, but that doesn't mean they are rich."
The other councilors remained silent, neither daring to speak in front of the king nor daring to interrupt lord Zenthar.
Galus was just about to lose his temper, when Zenthar pretended to notice him. "It seems our leader is back. It is great to see you are healthy, Galus. It has been long since we last met."
Nahato froze when he heard the obviously sarcastic tone and feared his master will just kill the interloper on the spot.
Instead, Galus managed to conjure a similar greeting, featuring more loathing than sarcasm.
"I never dreamed of such luck, a worthy councilor in my stead while I was incapacitated. It is good to have my former teacher back after a century of absence."
Everybody else in the room was struck dumb, as Galus continued.
"Since I am back, this council loses the burden of authorities that had to shoulder all this time. Alas, I have to leave soon in order to achieve our main goal. In my absence, the council will not meet formally, since my heir, Nahato, will act as my regent. I trust him completely and his word will be law, except when contradicting mine. And as the last act of this council session, I have decided to increase the outsider tax by fifty percent. I would insist to just execute the traitors, but they still have some uses to us. Council dismissed. Have a good day gentlemen."
As Nahato left the room beside Galus, he turned and regarded lord Zenthar.
The elder councilor was not smiling this time.
As Makoto went to the library, Kiku started walking around aimlessly, watching everybody in the Shrine preparing for the night.
"So, what happened?"
She turned around and saw an uncharacteristically expression on the face of the elder priestess.
"Well, nothing important really, sister Crayna."
The elder grasped Kiku's hand, led her to her office and shoved her to a chair.
Her tone was supposed to be angry, but she was actually smiling. "Listen here, Kiku. I know you for a long time, as good as know Shayla. It is quite obvious to me you are lying. For the sake of the Order, I need to know what happened."
Kiku pointed Crayna an accusing finger. "You care nothing about the Order. You are just curious. I know you equally well, old lady."
She now was doing her best not to burst into laughter. "Such impudence. Alright, you twerp, I am curious. Now spit it out."
"My behavior is nothing compared to what you did at my age. Okay, I'll tell you."
After she was over, Crayna looked exited. "Simply amazing. I wish I had the chance to see it myself. Will he be doing it again tomorrow?"
"He said he will be leaving tomorrow morning. It seems he found what he was looking for. A pity."
"Indeed. You seem to have taken a liking to the guy, Kiku. Beware, I have heard there is a line a kilometer long."
"Don't de ridiculous, sister Crayna. I just respect a person that wields such power. I would like to stick with him for a while. Amazing things happen around him."
"Well, if you really want it, it can be done."
"Are you teasing me, sister Crayna? I really want that."
"Well, we need to deliver a message to Gannan's King about the Bugrom sighting. And lord Makoto is heading to Gannan's capital as I recall."
"Can I go? Please..."
Crayna smiled. "It would be good training if what I hear about him is true."
As Kiku left, an extra jump in her steps, Crayna entered the library. While nowhere near Floristica's library in size, The fire Shrine's library was large in its own right and contained many unique tomes. Mass production of old scripts was not popular in El hazard.
Five of said unique tomes were placed open on a reading desk in front of a very absorbed Makoto.
After a while he noticed her. "What can I do for you, lady Crayna?"
"I am sorry to interrupt you, lord Makoto, but I wanted to talk to you about Kiku."
"She was very helpful indeed. A shame I have to leave tomorrow."
"She told me about the experiment. You must know she respects you much after the display."
"I noticed she is behaving strangely. Is she alright?"
"If you don't mind, I would like her to accompany you to Gannan's capital. She is to deliver a message to the King."
"No problem. I'd be happy to help. She seems a competent companion for her age. "
Crayna's expression became sad. "There are some things you must know about Kiku. Since she entered the Order, she has been top in her class and was always the prime candidate to become the next great priestess of fire. I estimate she would need less than three years of training to reach the right power level. But since Shayla became the great priestess a year ago, Kiku's chances are feint. She has always been trying to gain power, because she is prideful. And she has been training so hard, she will surpass Shayla."
"So she is jealous of her?"
"It is not that simple. Both Kiku and Shayla are loners by nature. Before Shayla came to the Shrine and after she left, her only friend must have been Afura Mann. But while she was here, she and Kiku were as sisters. You know that most priestesses are orphans for a variety of reasons. Shayla was Kiku's only family. But now she is jealous of her and loathes herself for it."
"So, since she can't become a great priestess, what is in stock for her?"
"She will become a regular priestess of fire. The only actual differences are the higher prestige and the stronger Lamp. One would say than, in times of peace, a simple priestess's work is more difficult than a great one's. But becoming a great priestess was Kiku's main goal before my retirement."
"I understand. A trip outside the Shrine will raise her spirits."
"And she might succeed in proving herself as well."
Alielle pushed the fake wall and hastily entered Makoto's room.
"Is everything in order, Alielle?"
"I have arranged it all, lady Fatora. The soldiers lady Rune has sent to Arliman will receive a message that you are not to be disturbed for any reason and I have invited sister Shayla and sister Nanami for tomorrow evening, separately of course. More importantly, sister Qwaoor will be coming here any time now. My stupid brother convinced her without me asking."
"This is so convenient. She is the only one of the three I have not met. Is the disguise perfect?"
"Just right, lady Fatora. None could tell the difference."
"Well, I won't have to try too hard to fool Qwaoor. She is the most oblivious of all."
"Nonetheless I advise caution, lady Fatora."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. You worry too much Alielle."
"There she is. I'm going."
"Is it alright to come in, master Makoto?"
"Of course, Qwaoor. Come right in."
"Good evening, master Makoto. I hope I am not interrupting you at a critical point. If so I should just..."
"No, no, Qwaoor, I was taking a break."
As soon as Fatora saw Qwaoor, her face fell to the floor.
She has never seen such an exquisite yet elegant dress.
No wonder they call her little blue fairy. It fits her perfectly. Perhaps I will not let Alielle stop us after the kiss...
Qwaoor seemed concerned. "Are you okay, master Makoto? You seem strange."
Fatora glanced nervously at a full height mirror. She just saw a perfect image of Makoto.
"What do you mean, Qwaoor? Strange in what way?"
"I'm not sure, master Makoto. Something feels wrong, that's all. Anyway, I have brought you a cake. I hope you like it. I am not very good at cooking."
Yeah, right. Her cookies last time were better than everything I have tasted before. But, damn it, how could she notice something. It is like she freaking feels it.
"But it seems you have not been working for some time, master Makoto. Have you reached a dead-end? Can I help you?"
"How can you tell?"
"Well, it seems you have been sleeping more than usual and you have put some weight too. It is good that you don't strain yourself, but if there is a problem."
Damn, damn, damn. How could she be so perceptive? She is supposed to be Qwaoor. Completely oblivious to anything but bugs.
"No, no problem at all. More importantly, was there something you wanted? Something I can help you with?"
"Well, master Makoto, if you are not busy I would really want to know what truly happened since you came to this world. I have never heard the whole story and you know it better than anyone."
Shit. What do I do now? I know even less about that myself. I was a bit preoccupied at that time. I should have asked Alielle. She knows almost everything about the wonder boy's exploits. Damn. Qwaoor is the most dangerous of all.
As Fatora tried to remember anything from what she had heard, Qwaoor's gaze drifted around the room and stopped on a certain object resting safely on a pillow.
The sphere from the underground temple.
"What is this orb, master Makoto? It looks strange. May I touch it?"
Fatora was relieved to have Qwaoor's attention distracted.
"Of course. Be my guest." "That was close..."
As soon as Qwaoor touched the green orb, a mystifying light filled the chamber. Fatora and Alielle both screamed, utterly terrified.
Qwaoor found herself inside a black vortex, drawing her into its depths. A multitude of feelings assaulted her senses. She felt a universe of hate and desire for power. A black sea of despair blurred her vision and a torrent of accumulated wrath stunned her. Then she noticed the entity. And was also noticed.
She felt as her soul was being observed, revealing thoughts she didn't know they existed. And then all her senses focused on one image. A bug.
Fatora and Alielle came to terms with their fear and regarded Qwaoor. For the last minutes, she was lying on the floor, her eyes wide open and glazed, her hands tightly holding the green glowing orb. Then she screamed and bursts of water appeared out of nowhere, soaking everything and everyone, while the sphere started glowing in shades of blue and then shattered.
In the following seconds, nobody noticed a menacing laughter echoing inside the room or a black shadow emerging from the orb's remnants and disappearing inside Qwaoor's family crest.
As the sun appeared between two faraway mountain peaks, the Shrine's main gate opened and three individuals emerged.
"Are you sure you will manage without me around, sister Crayna?"
"It will be very hard, but we will survive, Kiku."
Makoto smiled "Well, if you are ready."
"Before you go, Kiku, I have something to give you. First of all, give me your Lamp."
Kiku regarded Crayna curiously, but gave her the tiny satchel that contained the knuckle-like Lamp.
"You will not wield that Lamp again, Kiku. Try using this one instead."
She produced a brass gauntlet, adorned with a single, lens-like red orb. Kiku gingerly took her new Lamp and put it on. Her hand came in effortlessly and the gauntlet seemed to shrink to fit her perfectly.
"It is so light, yet I can feel its power."
Makoto scanned the Lamp with the Staff. "It seems two or three times more powerful than your old one, miss Kiku."
Crayna smiled. "Indeed. Lord Makoto is right. Using a weaker Lamp than one can handle is a great way of training, but since you might face real danger in this mission, this is a Lamp that compliments both your elemental power and your fighting style."
Kiku stood awestruck. "How can I ever..."
"Just be safe, girl. That is all I ask from you. And you should be more careful when you fight."
"Aren't I always? Let's go, mister. We have a long trek ahead."
"Actually we will use the cruiser. Gannan's capital is only four days away."
"And here is the message for Gannan's King and the Holy symbol of the Order that identifies you as our representative. Good speed to both of you."
After riding the cruiser for an hour, Kiku spoke to Makoto. "Well, moving with this cruiser is convenient, but I have no way to test my new Lamp."
"Nobody said you can't."
"What? Have you no idea how dangerous it is to use a Lamp while flying?"
Makoto smiled. "Believe me, I know. I have been in such an accident twice."
"Then you know it can't be helped..."
"Miss Kiku, can you fly this thing for a while?"
"Well, yes, but only for a minute or so. I am not really trained as a pilot."
As Kiku grasped the link orbs of the cruiser, Makoto secured the Zenmai at the side of the ship and linked with it. Then returned to piloting the craft.
"So, what now, mister?"
"While the Staff is on the cruiser, you can train as long as you like, providing you only target it."
"But will it endure?"
"Give it a try."
Kiku launched a medium sized fireball towards the staff, fully expecting to damage the cruiser. The bolt was simply absorbed by the staff, never exploding.
"Wow, where did the fire go?"
"This helps both you and me. You can test the Lamp to its limits and the flames will recharge the Staff."
"But if you accidentally drop it, you will have to find it."
"So the fateful hour is upon us, Alielle. Are you prepared?"
"I'm always prepared for a night of excitement, lady Fatora. But why haven't you invited sister Qwaoor as well?"
"It is too dangerous. She almost found us out yesterday. The only thing that saved us was that odd glowing ball. She might be oblivious, but she must posses psychic abilities or something. Shayla and Nanami will be more than enough for today."
"The drinks are ready, lady Fatora. Pay attention, this is very important. Your glass is this one. It contains fruit juice. Those two are for them. They only contain weak wine, but each glass has three drops of IFI in it. They will not lose consciousness completely, but they will be oblivious and will remember nothing."
"Everything is fine, Alielle. For now you should hide. After the drinks you will join too."
As Alielle hurried away, the silence of the night was shredded to pieces by two equally loud voices.
"What the hell are you doing here, box lunch girl. And dressed like that as well?"
"My words exactly, hothead. I have serious business here. Shove off."
Fatora opened the door abruptly, bringing the two quarreling girls to a halt.
"I have called both of you here for a reason. It is something you must both hear. I have made my mind."
The two girls remained petrified for some seconds, then numbly entered the room, sitting each on a pillow.
Fatora joined them and smiled her best Makoto-like smile. "But first we might as well drink something."
She quickly picked her harmless glass, tested it twice and then drank. Shayla and Nanami promptly joined, their attention elsewhere.
It only took a minute. Nanami and Shayla were rendered completely helpless.
Alielle left her hiding place, her face elated. "We did it, lady Fatora. It will be a joyous night."
"Indeed, Alielle. They will never find out what happened."
"Makoto, dear, are you close to me?" said Shayla, her voice slurred.
"I have to tell you something..." added a very drunk Nanami.
As Fatora and Alielle were ready to start the party, something happened.
The Eye's spare sealing circuit moved and started glowing fiercely, resonating to Makoto using the Zenmai far away from there.
Alielle was startled and took a step back, bumping on a table.
And a near-full small vial with a label reading IFI, smashed on the floor, releasing sweet vapors all over the room.
To be continued...
There goes chapter three. It took me a while too. Bear in mind it is not proofread, so there are bound to be many mistakes.
So, will Fatora's devious plan succeed?
Will Makoto find what he is looking for?
Will the writer stop babbling?
I hope the next chapter will be ready in less than a month...
A comment about the time Shayla and Afura become priestesses. We know from a comment of Afura in OVA2 that she became a great priestess before Shayla, even marginally. We also know that when Makoto and co arrived to EH, Shayla was 19 and Afura 18. Finally, from TV2 we learn that Qwaoor became a priestess at 17, a year too young. So Afura and Shayla could not have been on duty for more than a year when we first see them.
And a teaser: The next chapter will probably contain a battle with the Phantom tribe. Things ought to get nasty.