Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time is the creation and property of Tri-Ace, who created this wonderful anime/video game series, and the publishers at SquareEnix. Anything not attributed to them belongs to their respective owners, such as references to Cowboy Bebop (the Swordfish II) that is a creation of Sunrise and Shinichiro Watanabe. This story is written purely just for fun, guys; please for God's sake, don't sue me! I'm just a high school student with too much free time on his hands! On the other hand, any specific author created characters I created for this fic (despite how unoriginal they may be at times) are mine. So without further adieu, let's get on with the show!
The Surgeon General's Warning:
Read at your own risk. This might take you on a trip to some happy lovey-dovey place.
Oh, and yes, there's a very high Fayt x Maria coupling possible here, or I could completely screw everybody over and do the unexpected, ja?
Taste the Blood
A Star Ocean 3 fanfic by James "Ray" Edwards
There's an old Glyphian saying:
"It is not the heat; it is the Aquarian wench burning a hole through your backside, that's what!"
Hmph, what a fool that idiot must have been to marry an Aquarian wench in the first place.
His black cloak, adorned with a mantle of glossy obsidian feathers that once belonged to a proud Raben, warded off effectively enough the stinging embers carried by the searing hot gales. Like a Raben, he wore his deep cowl down, shrouding his face in darkness from prying eyes and the elements. He did not walk on two like mere men but, more precisely, glided gracefully with sure strides across the scorched earth, as the very picture of the dark messenger of death in the burning halls of Hell.
Raben were not birds of prey, nor were they conceited hunters. They were demons, carrion eaters of the worst lot, emissaries of the scourge, the last witnesses of the dead, and wherever they went, there was only death. With black tainted steel for talons and beaks dripping of sulfurous acid, they would never rest or know satisfaction for their stomachs were always empty, hungering for more slaughter.
He was the Raben.
"Sire, permission ter speak?" asked a voice accompanied by the noisy clank of steel plates, penetrating his reverie through the din of the roaring flames.
How cumbersome that armor was...
He rose from his perch atop a fallen cedar and strode down, with an unnerving lack of sound, to meet the black armored footman at the bottom of the tree. The sergeant was shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, as if wishing he were elsewhere, anywhere but here. It was an expression that didn't go unnoticed by keen eyes of the Raben. He spoke curtly, bringing to bar the brunt of his keen condescending gaze to better that pierced the soul with the power of an invisible sword:
"Sire, with all due respect, the men 're gettin' restless back at the bluff. The heat from the flames is just too powerful! We're gettin' cooked alive in our heavy plate armor, and we're running low on our supply of drinking water. I'm afraid that-"
"You are afraid?" the Raben snapped viciously.
"Well, uh...what I meant ter say is-"
"Who are you, man? Have you forgotten what you are in the face of doom? Has your fear conquered you at last, you spineless cur?"
"But, sire, I-!"
"Speak the truth only! Have you forgotten whom you serve? Are you not a proud swordsman of Albel the Wicked, Captain of the Black Brigade, my Black Brigade?"
"Why of cour-ugh!"
The sergeant never had a chance to finish his sentence, reduced to a gurgling heap on the sooty ground. In a blink of an eye, something metallic, gleaming visibly for an instant, shot out from the dark folds of Albel's raven cloak, smashing with a sickening crunch of metal. The man was felled in a single blow, his breast plate bearing a blatant dent from where it had suffered the captain's violence. A cacophony of hurried clanking announced the arrival of the stragglers who had remained behind, unbuckling their massive claymores in unison, with near mechanical precision.
"Sire, what happened? We heard..." the lead footman dropped off, his eyes catching the twitching form of the helpless sergeant. The rest of the squad soon fell in a hushed silence as well upon catching the object of his affixation.
Albel Nox snorted derisively, retracting the silvery object quickly before anyone caught sight of it. He hadn't realized he had been shouting loud enough for the rest of the squad to hear his anger over the roaring din of the flames. "Take him away and do something about his armor. I will not have us waste good Glyphian steel on a coward. Call the --- dragonmares to pick up the refuse."
The audible shuffle of steel and toughened leather hide punctuated the air, as the men shifted nervous glanced towards one another. Even though they had trained hard for well over two months now with mock-ups of the beasts, nothing had prepared them for the real thing. The dragonmares --- were a touchy subject, to say the least.
"Well? What are you waiting for, maggots?" the captain of the Black Brigade snarled, taking an intimidating step forward that immediately set the men on edge. "Step to it! You two, get him out of my sight; the rest, come with me, understood? I will not settle for that son of a ferret, Vox, making a fool out of me. We will find those responsible for this-!"
Suddenly, a startling death cry pierced the air. A savage bitter song that sent eerie chills jolting up the spine of the armored footmen, and grudgingly, even the formidable spine of Albel the Wicked.
Curse those dragons and all their kind!
However, it was also the sort of signal he had been waiting for, and he wasted no time mustering the troops. The Raben immediately had the "accident" prone sergeant whisked away, noting that the fool's breathing was starting to get rather shallow. He might just have to look into promoting a new non-commissioned officer sooner than expected. It was such a pity that good help was so hard to find these days, but no matter, for the hunt was on once again.
At that moment in time, Albel was reassured quite frankly that the efforts of theatric productions and plays, which had all become quite popular in lieu of the war with Aquaria (though he was touch partial to the tragedies), would never be able to match up with reality. Other more "normal" persons might have noted on how terrible the scene was: a blue-haired "boy" screaming frantically in some harsh phonetic tongue, half-digging and half-dragging out the limp form of an azure-haired "girl" soaked in crimson from the burning wreck of a dead air dragon. In fact, make that the hulks of two air dragons (on second glance) that he had rescued his companion from, who was no doubt wounded.
To Albel the Wicked:
It was simply beautiful, perhaps even poetic.
"Sire..." the black armored footmen to his left whispered, while his comrade remained in silent witness, "what's going on? Are they really the ones we're looking for?"
Albel snorted. "Who else do you think, maggot?"
"But, sire, it's just plain crazy, don't you think so too? Two dragon knights, both of their air dragons, and all of THIS!" The man gestured about the chilling spectacle of fiery destruction that was still raging across the woods and spreading. If there was not rain soon, the rampaging blaze would certainly burn everything in sight to ashes by the morning. "Just for them?"
"And that is exactly of the beauty of it all, do you not think so?"
There was a hushed silence, and without another word, the footmen both unbuckled their massive broadswords and marched forward, their steel plate armor clanking together in machine-like unison. They did absolutely nothing to hide their intent, striding forth with a cold resolution in their systematic gait. All the while, the raven cloaked man stood back and watched, pleased that at least these grunts understood that there was no arguing with his will.
At first the frenzied foreigner hardly noticed the approach of the two black knights, preoccupied completely with his limp female companion who did not respond at all to his increasingly shrill calls. It was when they had approached well within a comfortable distance of brisk charge that he finally became aware of them, his tear-streaked green eyes riveted onto the armed men with open fear. The Raben noted with some amusement as the boy practically dropped his companion on the ground, and in a slight twist, scrambled over towards the headless corpse of a dragon knight none too far away, proceeding to "liberate" the dead man's sword.
Looking some part of a murderous butcher with blood stains all over his clothes now from the girl, he stood up and began to wave the sword threateningly before him, screaming something that was unintelligible. He had subconsciously interposed himself right between the knights and the unmoving female, actions that would've been fitting for a bodyguard. With their extensive training, however, the armored swordsmen continued to bear down threateningly on him.
Albel could easily sense the foolish boy's resolve cracking under pressure. Every subtle shudder, the incessant twitch in his rapidly dilating green eyes, and the most minute of movement in his body language screamed that he was going to run. Already his tenuous grip was slackening into utter uselessness, but then to the captain's rare wonder, something --- unexpected --- happened.
The boy gave a peculiar choked gasp, his eyes rolling into the back of his head, as if he were swooning. His body gave a sickly lurch, sagging forwards on an unsteady gait, before he buried the sword blade-tip first into the scorched earth. The approaching black armored footmen stopped in their tracks, unsure of how to proceed. There was a low moan in the air that somehow drowning out the din of the roaring flames completely. It was unnatural sound that sent their guts churning with a cold clammy dread, and it was coming from the foreign blue-haired boy just within sprinting distance.
Perhaps, they should just rush in right now and club the target over the head to knock him out? The girl was obviously no threat in her current invalid state and could easily be apprehended with little or no struggle at all. Something about this fellow, though, was seriously off. He was a threat, a threat that had to be dealt with at once.
Suddenly, there was a hushed silence, all sound dead. The men stood paralyzed, rooted onto the scorched earth by a powerful intangible struggle. They pushed and pulled, willing their bodies to move, but there was no response. Albel held his tongue, his shrouded gaze scanning for the weaves of magic. A double-edged boon granted to him in his foolish youth, he could tell just as well as any Holy Mother, if not better, when somebody was using runology. The Aquarian maggots were so fond of that accursed art that it was fitting that many would fall at his hands, and by the time smarter ones noticed, it was already too late.
Threads and ribbons.
Runes and sigils.
Words of power.
Power of will.
The lines of death.
Impossible, thought Albel, an electrifying air of infuriation swirling about him.
Nothing. His cursed eyes couldn't see anything! How could this not be the work of Aquarian runology? Surely, somebody must have come up with a new spell?
There was little more he could contemplate as he beheld a sudden explosion of earth envelope the paralyzed footmen. Their armored afforded them no protection, flesh and bone ripped to gory ribbons in an instant. Death waited for no mortals.
Molten red-hot metal sprayed into the air like shrapnel, accompanied by clumps of heavy earth. A hissing metallic ring rose over the horror of noise that came crashing down with deafening force as Albel leapt back, drawing his katana instinctively, and lashed out with a defensive circular slash. Unfazed by the jarring aftershock of the "spell" being released, he deflected the offending debris skillfully in mid-air. Sharp rings punctuated the roaring din every time steel met steel, accompanied by brief scintillating sparks.
Landing gracefully in relative safety, the captain of the Black Brigade swiftly slipped into a neutral stance, brandishing his katana towards the dissipating cloud, ready for anything. His battle hardened instincts were in a rage, fueled by the addictive adrenaline in his excited muscles, but Albel did not allow them to rule his better judgment. He had misjudged his prey, certainly in respect to the boy. It was a seemingly trivial mistake, but one that had cost him two of his black swordsmen. The maggot will pay for this deception, preferably with an arm or a leg in exchange!
The raven cloaked man watched patiently, expecting his quarry to emerge at any moment. All of his senses were at full alert, his mind rifling through potential battle plans to humiliate and capture his prey. Yes, Albel admitted that "keeping things alive" wasn't particular his specialty, but he could manage well enough. None of his plans, however, accounted for the downpour of rain. The black sky groaned with thunder from up on high, and down it comes, pounding in a sudden deluge.
The flinch in your eye calls your bluff / Feel free to die when you've had enough
The whistling rapport of force through the rippling air, flashing with the gleam of steel, was the captain's only warning. Instincts kicked and defended with his katana, blocking the almost certain deathblow. A violent thundering shockwave struck the air as the reddish black blur carried him back through the red haze. Albel roaring with fury strained stubbornly against the powerful momentum of his opponent, his feet digging wide furrows into the scorched earth.
"Insolence!" the Raben shouted in anger.
Ignoring the incredible velocity that left a fantastic trail of fiery embers and debris in their wake, the cloaked man honed his haywire battle instincts to a fine needle point, focusing his will inwards to single focal point. The focus, a crystal shard more infinitely perfect in light and luster than any gem imaginable, hung serenely over a still pool of water and he grasped it tightly with his hands. Chakra (or ki as the Aquarian maggots preferred to call it), the reserves of spiritual energy stored within the human body that only a few truly skilled warriors could call upon, flowed through his veins like hot fire.
A vibrant shockwave of blue energy promptly erupted from the captain's cloaked form, hurling the indistinct interloper away with the force of an explosion that effectively killed Albel's own backward slide to a sudden halt. However, he spared no time to gloat as he heard the double staccato of footsteps landing just ahead of him. His acetic gaze immediately shot up, glaring through the crimson haze of the rain that soiled his once raven cloak with red, to catch a glimpse of his attacker for the first time.
It was the boy, a completely absurd notion initially in the convoluted mind of Albel Nox. What was the fool hoping to accomplish with that ridiculous stance? Is he trying to imitate a beast, hunched over forwards with his center of gravity low to the ground? With that sort of weak stance, the boy was asking to have his head served on a silver platter! It was the kind of service that the captain of the Black Brigade would gladly render if it weren't for his orders.
Wait a minute, what is this smell? thought Albel, taking a tentative whiff of the air. This coppery scent --- its blood! It is raining blood.
An unsettling wave of nausea threatened his shuddering being as the cloaked man struggled to stay up right, much to his private chagrin. He was a warrior, a soldier, a killer. Why was he getting skittish over a little bloody rain like some new recruit? Oh right, it wasn't just a little bloody rain; it was a whole lot of bloody rain. The entire countryside was raining blood from the damned black skies!
No, this was no maggoty boy; this was a maggoty demon.
Albel crushed the fleeting weakness with a vengeance, tearing the soiled raven cloak from his shoulders. A flash of metal punctuated the ripping shrieks of fabric, as a faint blue energy formed a humming aura about him that shielded him from the blood rain. Terrible and elegant all at once, his crimson eyes bored hatefully into the deceptive "demon" that did not even meet his gaze. He was going to enjoy tearing this abomination to pieces.
"Child's play, maggot," the captain spat, gesturing with a clawed humanoid mechanical contraption that took the place of his left hand, "if you think you are the wolf among sheep, then the only fool here, this day, is you!"
The demon cocked his head to the side in a most unnatural angle, twisting about with an audible churn of muscles and bone that would have sent lesser men screaming in terror. "Mag-got?"
"Hooo, so it speaks! How unsightly it is to witness that a filthy demon can speak Gaitt."
"The only maggot here is --- you."
"What is the matter? Do not tell me you have second thoughts about your inevitable death?"
"Come on then! Use your accursed sorcery again, maggot."
"Albel," the blue-haired demon hissed, raising his head suddenly to meet the captain's crimson gaze, "ALBEL NOX!"
Astonishment blossomed into cold fury, his body reacting instinctively before his mind could comprehend the intriguing implications. The demon smashes into the ground he once held with thunderous force, sending a wake of shockwaves rippling through the crimson haze of blood. Vaulting high upwards into the air, Albel righted himself about in mid-flight with an agile acrobatic twist to launch a counterattack. Soulless eyes, black and empty, with glaring red pinpricks of light for pupils greeted him face to face, and they nearly stole the breath from his lungs in shock. Their blades clashed, with a chilling metallic ring, in a decisive instant of sparks.
Fast; the demon was incredibly fast. Never before had the Raben ever seen anyone so swift of hand and foot in all of his years! He snarled and kicked off the ghoulish bloodstained boy with a vicious stroke, opening the distance between them. White lightning flashed in the black sky.
"Hi-ken - Kamaitachi Nishiki!"
Albel's katana shined brightly with swirling blue chakra and he slashed at his target, sending a spiraling column of sickling winds tearing violently through the air. The deadly vortex rapidly closed in on the airborne demon, but the outcome was far different from his murderous expectations, the attack easily deflected aside with a casual wave of the blue-haired demon's broadsword. A fiery explosion of air grated the captain's ears and face when the deadly cyclone slammed into some burning wreckage, causing the vibrant flames to roar even higher.
Landing soundly into a half crouch, Albel charged determinedly across the bloodstained ground that began to pool with puddles of crimson. He lashed out with a swift feint, forcing the demon into an acrobatic twist as he descended to evade the razor edge of the captain's katana. Having taken the bait "hook, line, and sinker," Albel exploited the opening mercilessly, spinning agilely into a whirlwind roundhouse kick to the demon's vulnerable gut.
The satisfying shock of fleshy resistance reverberated audibly to the joyous triumph of the crimson-eyed man. Caught off guard, the demon hurtled through the air with a pained groan, while Albel listened patiently to the helpless body skipping and scrapping sickeningly against the earth. However, the demon corrected himself swiftly as he skipped through another pool of blood, kicked off, and came streaking right back like a human missile.
"What in Hades?"
The captain of the Black Brigade pivoted aside, dodging the powerful overhead swing by mere inches. As he turned, he tried to exploit the brief opening that he sensed subconsciously on his opponent's back and ate a soled foot to his jaw instead for his troubles. The stiff disorienting blow sent Albel staggering back surprised and dizzied. He had not even seen where that accursed kick had come from!
Damnation! Albel cursed himself acidly, I should not have underestimated this maggot. I wasted too much time goading him on, a foolish, foolish mistake!
The blue-haired demon came again, pressing the advantage with a quick explosive fighting step, lunging forwards with a wicked thrust of his "borrowed" broadsword. The fatal blow to his heart it would have been, but even though dizzied, the Raben managed to parry the strike. A brilliant shower of sparks flew as the blades scrapped across one another. His attacker, however, had the edge of momentum and was carrying back by shear force. Sensing this shift in balance, Albel knew he was in trouble and threw down his gambit:
"Kai - Hakke no Kaiten!"
Abruptly, the blue aura of chakra surrounding the captain of the Black Brigade flared with a terrible shriek. He pivoted on his heels, spinning about faster than the eye could see, and released a sudden burst of concentrated charka in a powerful miniature cyclone. Stopping his fatal momentum in an instant, he killed two birds with one stone, blowing the demon away ferociously. The blue-haired youth was flattened, literally, into the soiled earth by the force of the vacuum, punctuated by an appalling crunch.
When Albel came to a stop, he nearly collapsed on his knees, shoving his katana into the earth to steady his balance. Leaning heavily upon the handle, the strain began to show evidently in the scowl on his perspiring face. This last technique had sapped a great deal of his chakra reserves, not to mention the defensive aura he was still generating to ward off the rain of blood was not working wonders for his stamina either. At this strenuous pace, the Raben wagered he could only last another good five minutes.
For shame, it seems I will have to end this game soon, he thought ambivalently. It had been a long time since he had encountered worthy sport. The latest batch of Aquarian maggots was simply just not up to par anymore.
It was groaning whisper of his name, predictable but no less eerie, alerted Albel to his target's condition. Bruised and battered, bearing tell-tale burns from the chakra burst that added the sickening bittersweet scent of sizzling flesh to the air, the demon had risen once again. His body shuddered and jerked with erratic convulsions, screaming through body language alone that it had reached its limit, yet he continued to be defiant. He placed one foot in front of the other, taking his shaky strides step by step, holding onto his broadsword in a white-knuckled death grip, as his hellish eyes bore holes into Albel the Wicked's quivering soul.
Forget the mission! The demon was soaked to the bone in blood, and the captain had scarcely ever seen anything else so splendidly terrible on the battlefield. The maggot would die beautifully, of this he was certain.
Lo and behold did Albel Nox smile.
The captain of the Black Brigade cleansed his katana free of blood, with an infusion of blue chakra, as he sheathed it into its withdrawn scabbard, an ominous hiss of steel punctuated by an audible click. Buckling the scabbard serenely to his side once more, he stepped forth, leaning his forward low to the ground in a half-crouch, one clawed limb on his scabbard, and his half-gloved hand on the hand of his katana. A deadly killing intent radiated visibly, rolling of his glowing body in red waves of heat, the corded muscles in his legs coiling up, like a panther posed to pounce. This was the battou-jutsu stance.
"Tear beautifully into ribbons, demon."
Albel shot forward explosively, like a blue comet, bounding through the air in great leaps. The twin braided ponytails of his hair whipped in the wind as each footstep drove massive gouts of earth and sparkling embers upwards in his thunderous wake. Exhilaration filled his veins like sweet ambrosia for in that instant --- he was death incarnate, the Raben. His technique was perfect, a scintillating flash of metal in an ephemeral roar of lightning. It was...
"Mumyou Jinpuu Ryu --- Hi-satsu - Zanmato!"
Clear the mind from righteousness suffered / Witness the moment of your failures prosper
"ALBEL, YOU SON OF A BASTARD, STOP!"
Got Blood? Eheheh, for those of you who might have been disturbed in my thematic choice for imagery, my bad. I kinda got obsessed after some you-know-what, but in any case, I hope I was able to do this incarnation of Albel with some justice. There's still some back story on him that I haven't touch upon yet that will explain his behavior here and behavior to come in due time. Of course, this is roughly Albel the Wicked as you first meet him in the game, so I tried to keep his whole uber-powerful Bishie of Doom (TM) schtick intact. For those perceptive among you, you might notice a little touch to his dialogue too. Think it might have something to do with his nobility?
I think I laid down a pretty good bunch of references in here, best of luck to the fellow who manages to spot them all! Bonus points to the homies who actually try to figure out where all the martial techniques are from; I'm sorry I didn't use Albel's claw arm much. This just wasn't the type of fight where I could make use of it much.
So without further digress, please! Send in your reviews (comments or flames are both cool) because I need to know where I screwed up (or what I did right), and to the courageous folks who responded previously, thank you as always for your support.
Peace out, and look forward to the next chapter! (WOMAN THE COOL SPY)