ANGEL AND DEVIL'S ROMANCE: Revivial
Well, this is a pretty long fic, strangely enough. I usually write short stories. Anyway, just a few notes: the title is a reference to an English phrase that is printed above the cover of every one of my (Chinese) manga, and it does seem strange because A) I'm not sure if it appears on any other Seimaden in any other language, and B) it's actually wrong, considering the main couple consists of a humand and a demon. (Unless, of course, it's a nod to the yaoi 'angel-demon' subtext that continues throughout the entire story.)
The second note is that I can't speak/read/write Chinese to save my life, so the names of the characters were leeched of various sites, and some plot details are either totally sketchy or totally gone (or even invented), I think. Yes, this is because of my bad Chinese skills and the bad Chinese manga I got, and has nothing to do with the way I skip everything Laures says – he's such a dope, I swear.
The third note is about the word 'makai', that I use interchangably with the word "Netherworld", noth to refer to Laures' world. Makai means, quite obviously, Netherworld. Not all the time, though.. I just like Disgaea terminology.
But please enjoy! And so, without further ado… raise the curtain and bring on the angst!
"They're at the gates! To arms! To arms!"
Once, it would have been a jest about wartimes never seen, but now the shout was all too real. Soldiers gathered at the ramparts, faces grim, weapons held in firm hands, and turned to their commanders for instructions, ignoring for a brief time the enemies below. They numbered many, and many times many, leathered skins clothed in metal armour, as latecomers scurried to designated positions and comrades hailed each other towards their various outposts. The air had been thick for a long time now with warning shouts, positions and numbers being called out harshly, horns baying as flights of lower-level demons – capable of flying and biting but little else – clustered in the sky. The very air seemed to reflect the oncoming battle – it tasted like copper and held a grey tinge like the smoke of war.
The mob had grown since the last time humans had dared attempt siege – it swelled to cover almost the entire plain, a hissing, seething, shouting mass of flesh and anger. Most clutched badly-made spears and crude iron swords, and looking at their faces one immediately knew that they had never had any military training, but they numbered twelve times the meager forces on the ramparts at least, and their anger and fear were more powerful than any amount of weaponry.
Up near the castle walls, Gerumu fought to keep his features stoic and his hands from clenching in frustration. The attacks had been growing steadily worse, and their forces were almost completely gone. Ordinarily, demons could clear a human mob like this with a wave of a hand, but ever since the loss of its king, the magical power of the entire realm had been running dangerously low, low enough to allow humans in. And more importantly, low enough to allow humans to attack, pinkish, sore flesh scrabbling at stone, short unkempt nails biting through leathery skin.
Yes, the youkai thought. If Laures were here, he'd trash this rabble with a flick of his eyelid…
He shook his head – commanders are practical. Dreaming about their lost majesty would get them nothing but a blade in the head. But that same practicality was telling him that he would soon have to face the inevitable… The humans were growing ever more bold in their attacks, and soon there would be too, too many of them, too many to stop, too many to kill. Even if they continued to stand against every time they came, it was still just a matter of time. So many had been lost.
So many that his soldiers would fall, he would fall, and soon after that…
Suddenly, he felt anger, the white-hot rage that had blinded him so many years ago, that he felt only when that which he treasured more than life was gone. His beautiful Iriah, and now his homeland, the Makai to which he had given all that remained – his service, his duty, his honour. Though he rallied troops again and again to battle, inwardly he saw the end, a final day when the sun set blood red for all eternity, and his home no longer lived. Its king had left; the land would soon crumble.
It had been a year since his Majesty had forsaken the throne, a year of secrets kept and hidden sorrow, as everyone prepared for the invasions they knew would soon come, and come again, and again. He had hoped, painfully, that the land would recover, that it would, given time, once again brew its own magic in its bowels, and nourish them again. And that with the new magic flowing through its veins; it would repulse the oncoming invasions that threatened it.
And it did! He gritted his teeth, the rage was too powerful and too dangerous – he had to force it down. It came! And what did our esteemed steward, caretaker of this land, do? Waste it all on a lifeless hunk of meat, who does nothing but sit and wait to rot!
"Commander, please get out of here! They've taken another level – we must move to deeper into the castle!"
He was still stewing as he turned to flee up the stairs once again, watching them crumble behind him even as the land, bereft of his magic to warm it, rapidly began to frost over. Ice twined around the ramparts, snaked up the staircases, added sharp petals to the flowers, and he heard the crunch of heavy, booted feet through it all - demons can fly, but humans must always walk.
Tetiyus…! Once, he had respected him. Now, he owed him only his loyalty, nothing more. But that loyalty still forced him, heavy-footed with a heart of leaded grief even as he ran, to ascend the stairs, hearing the dying screams of brave warriors as they fought for his – and Tetiyus' – lives.
He would protect the caretaker of their Makai, even if it cost him his life. He was soldier, after all.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Laures' palace had once been a marvel of the underworld, a sprawling complex that had held thousands of years' worth of magic and power. At the heart of the land, his palace had been the focal point of all magic generated, but now it was nothing but a tower of rusting iron and decaying rock, a mere shadow of its former glory. Much of the castle, no longer fuelled by magic, had fallen to ruin, and terrible, deathly-cold frost had begun to form around many of the unused, rotting passages, a symptom of the Netherworld's dire circumstances. Each day, more and more of it crumbled, lacking the magic to hold itself together, until the craggy rocks on which it stood themselves had begun to quake in their moorings.
And as the humans attacked, again and again, more and more of the dilapidated defenses fell to the careless crunch of heavy boots, the walls shaking from angry cries, the treasure vaults ransacked by greedy hands. Their hatred would only be satisfied when every last rock of the palace had crumbled to dust, every last jewel held in a brutal grasp, and every last demon lay dead upon the halls that had once celebrated the dark race's greatest triumphs. It was only justice, the humans saw – they would take back all that was stolen from them, repay millennia of this twisted status quo in blood and mana.
It was sadly poetic that all that remained of the true tale remained in the heart of young dancer, famed for her beauty, her spirit bearing the weight of great sorrow.
Whenever Tetiyus thought of Hilda, he simmered with a dull anger that he had always known would go nowhere. Hilda, the beautiful, the wise, whose heart was filled with love enough for a thousand demons. Hilda, Laures' bride. When he had become part of the evil of the Netherworld he had finally understood – Hilda had embraced all that he had sought to destroy in himself to become more than he could ever be.
Understood, yes. But he still had a long way to go before he could accept it. It had been, what, a year? A year of making a mockery of ruling the realm, a year of missing Laures desperately, a year waiting. Oh, he had heard the rumours of the court, seen the demons who once respected him now look at him in open askance, listened to the lords as they raged and watched fields and valleys quietly die, and deep within the night had listened with half a mind to the sound of his own weeping.
Perhaps Laures would come back, perhaps I will look at Hilda and smile, perhaps someday my heart will stop aching and spare me this pain…
A year of imperfection. And a year of sorrow.
He heard Gerumu's boots crunching in the ice before the captain had made it even halfway up the stairs, and turned smoothly to meet him, such that the captain saw his superior the way Tetiyus always looked to the Netherworld now – composed, serene, and barely breathing. Gerumu saluted sharply, making a sloppy attempt at disguising the disgust on his features.
"Tetiyus-sama, the humans have taken these levels. We must make our way deeper into the castle. I will be your escort."
Tetiyus wanted to laugh. The situation was beyond desperate, he knew already that the land could not take much more, and already he could feel the rot beginning to set into the ground. Gerumu was probably thinking something about how he still looked like a china doll even when Laures' castle was about to collapse. But really, what did it matter? He would never be Hilda… never be near Laures again…
When its ruler had left, the land had been furious in its sorrow. Thunderstorms of cataclysmic proportions ravaged the plains, volcanoes long dormant erupted with renewed vigour, spewing forth rivers of lava and clouding the skies with smoke. While other demons had run for shelter and Gerumu – ever the bleeding heart – had rapidly evacuated thousands of children and women to secret caves in the rockfaces, Tetiyus had reveled in it. The destruction had encompassed his grief, his sorrow, and he had lived vicariously through every explosion, every crack of thunder, as they expressed thousands of years of anger and hurt. The rain had wept his tears, and the chasms in the ground had been those in his heart. It had been the only time had had ever felt so connected to the land, when they shared and expressed their pain. And at the end of the storms and the fury, the sky had swirled with dark mists. The soil had changed from brown to grey, and those that peeked out of their shadows that first morning had known that the land would mourn forever.
And as he limped back to his rooms, a small shrouded figure, drenched to the bone, Tetiyus had felt a certain sense of peace in knowing that he, too, would weep forever. He had lost Laures, and with him, his heart, his soul..
"Because Laures isn't the only one who can give you life, Teti…"
"Tetiyus-sama!" Hands were shaking him, violently. "As much as I dislike you, as much as I think you're a coward, you are still the ruler of the Netherworld! And I am sworn to serve you! I will guide you the catacombs, Tetiyus-sama, where hopefully the mob will not find you… Do you hear me? You are king, the king of this realm, my homeland! DO YOU HEAR ME?"
No, it was all wrong. It was Laures, always Laures. Bright and shining, the only royalty the land would ever know. The world still wept, and if he were king, he would weep with it. But…
"I will be going deeper into the castle, and yes, to the catacombs. But I don't want you to accompany me. Stay here, and defend the entrance."
"But, the mob is approaching! If I stay here, there are too many… I won't be able to fight them off…"
"I serve you, Laures-sama! I cannot rule…"
"With your life, Gerumu. I command you as the Ruler of the Netherworld."
The other gasped sharply, the sound brittle in the chamber in which they stood. Tetiyus looked calm as ever, lashes slightly hooded, eyes flat and beautiful. His hands were clasped loosely at his waist, and his long wings arched away from him in perfect counterpoint. Gerumu met and searched his eyes, took in the stance in which he stood.
The youkai captain breathed a long breath, perhaps thinking of duty and honour, of love and loss. He might have thought of the dead and dying, or remembered the badge in his pouch at home that said "Captain of the Guard," or heard a voice, young and pretty as a bird-call, beckoning...
"Tetiyus-sama, you're going… to him, right?"
Tetiyus didn't respond, and he knew he shouldn't have asked. The wind left his body in a soft sigh.
"Yes, sir." He saluted, and turned to face the door, sword drawn.
"Thank you, Gerumu..." Tetiyus could not help but smile. "It's strange, isn't it? All those years, and I never got the chance to say thank you…"
The tips of his wings brushed the cold, slimy walls of the passageways as he literally flew down the tunnel, heading deeper and deeper into the palace's central magical pentagram. The 'heart' of the Netherworld, it conducted all mana generated towards a single point. There, Laures' throne had once stood. Now the room that housed the seat of the Netherworld lay below layers of rock and enchantments, to guard it from the angry mobs, and every route to its doors was equally dangerous.
Tetiyus gritted his teeth against the pain from multiple wounds, the most notable being the deep gash at his side. He had flown into, and past, many of the traps and threats, relying on his superior magical power to dispense of them, and taking more than a few hits. There wasn't any other way – time was of the essence. He couldn't waste precious seconds disabling the wires and banishing the demons, not while the mob was hot on his heels, and the Netherworld crumbled. He had very little faith in how long Gerumu would be standing – the captain had already been exhausted, both in mind and heart, when he had come to him, and all that had been keeping him from death was duty.
And now I have given him the order to die, Tetiyus thought. All his wishes, on a silver platter. I hope he at least is grateful enough to fight hard.
He pulled his wings tighter against him, both against the rapidly thinning corridors and the pervasive chill. It was the secret that had turned Gerumu against him – here, nearest to the mana core of the entire Netherworld, things should have been warm and growing, but the frost was even more powerful, so cold it seemed to freeze not only the walls and fixtures but also the very world. The mana had been leeched away so completely a white mist hung permanently in the air, and his breath turned to ice the moment it left his lungs.
Suddenly he stumbled, feeling his wings falter, then fold. He crashed to the floor, feeling splinters of ice and rock cut into his legs and hands, his wings dead weight behind him. Panting, he accessed himself – barely strong enough to keep going, even by foot. His own magical power was being drawn out of him, as it had been for almost an entire year. He had fed a steady trickle of mana to the source of this frost each day, depleting himself a bit more every time, but now, so near to him, his power was being leeched out rapidly, leaving him cold and empty.
Well, Tetiyus knew the man to be a greedy-guts, so this wasn't anything surprising, though it did not bode well. Pushing himself up to his feet, he set his eyes on the sphere in front of him, its glow barely visible through the layers of frost, and began to walk.
"Here you go, Grandmother." The lovely maiden placed the dish on the table, as near to the old lady as she could put it. This particular elder was rather clumsy with a spoon, and her fingers shook when cold winds blew, so Hilda always made sure to serve her plate hot and close-by.
"Aah, me… Is it lamb stew today? Oh, you make it good for a young 'un, indeed you do. Right, me sweetheart, don't she make it good n' thick?"
"Yes, yes, she does, she does." The elder's daughter sat across from her, smiling as she tended to her mother's needs. She was younger, but not as young as Hilda, her slightly-pursed face showing her to be a woman involved in the business side of things, though she obviously cared for the old crone. "So, Mother, don't spill so, please! It will look so awkward, you slopping around like that, and you will get the stew on this maid's pretty dress."
"Oh, no!" cried Hilda. "I mean, it's perfectly alright.." she trailed of awkwardly.
"Yes, yes, perfectly all right, they always are when they're young. And why, she's a pretty lass if I ever saw one! Take more 'n a dirty dress to turn the gentlemen's heads from you, I'll wager! So, have a young man in mind? Ooh me, I'd take you up to my farm, too… my boy's such a an untidy scamp, he'd need a firm woman like you…"
Her cheeks burning in embarrassment, Hilda stuttered a response, her mind whirling at the old lady's direct words and twinkling eyes. Seeing her state, the daughter quickly sat up, flushing, and made to hush her mother. "Please, it is so cold these days, Mother, you shouldn't be making that long trip! And Michel's not at home anymore, he's gone to fight up at the pass… The demons are backing down he says, and if I come back from taking their castle I'll have riches and jewels to spare! He's so very brave…"
"The pass? Fighting demons?" Hilda couldn't help when the words burst from her mouth, but fortunately the young lady immediately seized the opportunity to ramble on her brother's courage, ignoring the uncharacteristic look of shock and worry that marred the dancer's beautiful face.
"Ohhh… yes.. Didn't you know? Well, I heard from Linda, down by the grocer's, ever since their king died, the demon realm is free for the taking! That's why there's this chill, because the brave soldiers and fighters are taking the fight back to those filthy breeds, and… oh, but it is so terribly exciting!"
"Demons? My boy, gone to fight demons?" The old lady suddenly shrieked, as her voice grew in pitch until it became a wailing screech, piercing the chatter of the tavern. "Brave, to do such a thing? Oh, for a shame! He is foolish! The powers that demons have, they'll fry his blood and freeze his spleen! His skull they will drink out of! Oh, fighting demons? Of all stupid, rash things… Oh, I will never see him again, I know it…" she trailed off into hacking, piteous sobs, curling herself into a ball of grief, as though her son was already dead.
"Mother.." the young lady tried desperately to calm her distraught companion, kneeling and touching her mother with gentle, tentative fingers. "That was before, when demons were powerful. Now, now there is nothing to worry about… This cold shows that the demonic power is weakening, Mother, so you mustn't.."
"Weakening?" the old one trumpeted again. "Weakening? The cold! Oh, the cold is a sign, you stupid, stupid girl! It is the sign of the King, the King of the Netherworld! He rules the land of ice and frost, and his heart is of darkness impenetrable…" The tavern-goers had started to chatter amongst themselves as the old lady once again found herself wracked with grief, lamenting her son.
"Did you hear? A sign, she said…"
"…Thank God I didn't go, Barry from over yonder asked me, but I said no…"
"But she's just a raving old woman, to be sure! I've been there, and there's nothing! If there's a king, he's probably dead or just scared.."
Glaring at everyone, particularly the last speaker, Hilda turned and stalked over to the old woman's side. Kneeling, she placed gentle, warm hands on the withered shoulders, letting her fingers massage soothing circles against the trembling skin. "Grandmother," she called softly. "It's all right, Grandmother. Your son is alive… he will come back, safe and sound…"
Continuing the move her hands across the heavy cotton scarf the old lady wore, she kept up a steady stream of the soothing words. "You will greet him at the door, Grandmother, and embrace him and kiss him… And he will smile at you, smile gently, for he loves you… Don't worry, he will say. I have returned… for the King of the Netherworld is dead… The King of the Netherworld is dead and gone…"
But the old shoulders continued to tremble, and a wavering voice muttered, "A new one. There will be a new one."
"No," said Hilda, her eyes full of sadness. "I will never know another King of the Netherworld."
Sleep well, she thought as she gathered the crone into her arms and rocked her as she would a child. As she had rocked him, when he wept. There was no king of the Netherworld, and she knew beyond a doubt that this person would see her son again. But there would never be another to take her heart, never be another to rule the dark land.
Sleep well, Laures… my heart, my only. Sleep well.
It had been a year… No, not just a year. It had been a very long time. He could hardly remember it, for demons live for thousands and thousands of years, and the passing of each month is like a drop of water in a great stream. But the last year, while he had grieved? He had aged a great deal, learned more than he ever had while he had served Laures-sama. He felt a pang of something like guilt as the thought came to him, but shook his head against it. Knowing the former ruler of the Netherworld, it would've been what he had wanted for him.
Those thoughts died away as Tetiyus approached the throne, one of his wings dragging behind him. It was severely injured, blood leaking from beneath the feathers, and could no longer lie straight, but it wasn't destroyed by any means. Idly, he wondered if it was the same wing that had once been ripped from him, never to grow back – and started when he realised he had forgotten.
Tetiyus idly wondered if he would be angry at being forgotten, but the figure on the throne lay still, unaware of the angel's troubled musings. Tetiyus could not say he lay peacefully, though – even in repose, the lines of his face were too cruel, the cut of the eyes and mouth too harsh. He still wore the thick black armour he had donned on that fateful day, and even slumped against the glowing embers of Laures' throne his body seemed to hold untold ages of power and majesty. But the long claws lay limp, though the stones under them were cracked as though a mighty force had broken them of their moorings, and did not move even when Tetiyus called his name, hesitant and soft in the wide chamber.
He felt a certain sense of disappointment about that – he used to always respond when he called, be it with a biting retort or later, a half-formed, awkwardly comforting jibe, loud and brash and utterly crass. He had grown to rely on it, on the other's presence, during the war. Not because he'd wanted to, but his death and subsequent life at the hands of this demon-lord had forced him to into his service. Almost without realising it, his hand moved beneath the folds of the shirt he wore, touching the smooth flesh of his chest. Flesh that had been restored by Laures' divine grace, but had once borne the mark of a powerful seal, one of the darkest of magics, that had bound him irrevocably to the sleeping man.
His steps had been slow and pain-filled – his feet were tender as a lamb's skin, for angels never walk the earth when they can fly – but now he stood before the throne. He breathed deeply as strange, powerful emotions swept him again as he regarded his... what? He hated him still, in those rugged features saw the crass, brutish fool who would never even approach Laures' refinement and grace. What would he have done with the Netherworld, had he gained it? Probably spent it all on wine and girls, squandered his days eating and sleeping. And if he had gained him? Tetiyus already knew – he had been taken, bruised to the core of his heart and soul, and this man… This man had ripped his wing from him in a fit of anger… This man had been his nemesis.. his master…..
This man was…
"Why will don't you look at me Teti? I know… You can't forgive me, can you? Curse you and your pride.."
Tetiyus turned his face away again, he had never been able to meet those golden eyes. Yes, he thought and felt a terrible clenching around his heart. Perhaps all of that.
All of that, and more…
… trembling fingers reached to touch black hair, caress war-scarred cheek…
A loud, wavering song suddenly broke the air, a song of many mouths chanting to the fires of war, praying for victory and wishing for bloodshed. Gerumu had fallen, and the mob had swelled with the death of that noble officer, grown in confidence and therefore strength. Their boots kept rhythm like a great drum, their clashing voices made raucous, violent harmony. Brightly-lit torches waved in parade, completing the spectacle. Around and behind the human's passage, the Netherworld lay crushed in shattered ice and broken fixtures, as the mob mounted the final stairway to the heart of the Netherworld – Laures' throne, gem-filled, symbol of darkness.
But he was not the king of the Netherworld. Poor Gerumu, laying down his life for what he thought would be his final, brave action… But there was no such thing. Tetiyus had not planned on any last crusades, any death-dealing spells. He could have cast a few, yes, killed a few hundred humans – but ultimately he would fall, and this world with him.
If he were here, Tetiyus thought, he'd have killed them all with a flick of his eyelid.
But Laures wasn't there, he had never been, and even when Tetiyus had braved the barbaric humans lands to find him, Laures hadn't been there for him. He had never stood by his side and looked at him the confident way one looks at a comrade-in-arms, had never gestured wildly to the grey war-torn skies and named them a call to battle, never looked at him with such a fierce light in his eyes and such a shy cast to his smile…
He wasn't the ruler. He was Tetiyus, former-servant, current-steward of the Netherworld, titles he didn't even want. Just Tetiyus, nothing more, nothing less.
" Someday, I'll make you mine."
He gasped, and the sound was drowned by the war-band approaching. The Netherworld had crumbled around them, Laures was gone – he had nothing left except himself.
"Even if I've got to take down the entire world to do it, I'll have you."
"Zardei, I… cannot! I..."
He was still for a long, long time. Then, with a shuddering breath, he finally lay his head down against the armoured breast.
Laures' last words were to believe in him. And he had sworn to do so, till the ends of the world. But he lived, as well, and as he had searched for his king he had found… He reached up, closed his eyes, and bid Laures a final farewell.
"Don't cry, Teti." And a soft, warm tongue licked his cheek.
The humans never knew what hit them. The same instant their forces shattered the thin barrier of ice, pure mana seemed to explode from the world's core, blasting all in its path. The first rush wiped out almost the entire mob, while roaring flames and chilling cold followed to exterminate the last stragglers. As the wave reached the last few ranks, they broke and ran, but land itself, seeming to shake off layers of dust and ice with apparent ease, broke into large chasms, that swallowed the humans were they stood. Within seconds, not a single man remained. The Netherworld had revived again, and the demon hosts rejoiced.
"Even if I fought till this entire world fell around me, you still wouldn't be mine, would you?"
"I… couldn't say."
"Heh. Well, it doesn't matter… I love you, after all."
"And that's why one way or another, I'll give you life."
Well, it's done. Yes, the ending is ambiguous. No, while I think they would be sweet, whether Teti loves Zardei or not is totally up for debate and is only the point of the fic if you think it is.
I hope I got everything across, considering that this fic resembles nothing so much as a well-disguised attempt to to Teti-bash like mad. I wanted to Laures-bash too, but unfortunately if I had done so, the fic would've turned out OOC. Goddamn that bloody positive and romantic way Higuri-sama INSISTS on potraying Laures in! What's so romantic about being a MAN who wears LIPSTICK?
But that's just me. I read 10 volumes of the bloody series just to see Zardei and Marduke, who are the only characters who manage to kick-ass. And all that being said, I still love Seimaden, and yeah, I understand where everyone else – Laures, Teti, Hilda, god-knows-who – is coming from, and it wouldn't be the same without them.