Disclaimer: Black Cat isn't mine.
Summary: Slightly AU (alternate ending).
Let the ring of clashing metal and hum of our weapons swinging
through the air sing an elegy for the death of Time.
Pairings: Various. (Janus/Rins is the obvious one. There will be others as well.)
Notes: I've been thinking ever since this series ended (as a manga -- I'm not even going to start on how much I detest the anime) that it had a whole lot of potential... But never quite lived up to it. Starting from about where River was introduced, the story just kind of... deteriorated. Started to lack any real depth, and turned into the standard shounen manga succession of fight scenes with only a weak plot to tie it all together. (Well, I think it started a little before River, but it was still tolerable at that point.) It was disappointing, anyway. Imho, Yabuki should have just stuck to the characters/concepts he had already introduced and actually developed them properly, rather than introducing more and more random minor canon-fodder type characters even as the series drew closer to its end. The ending itself was, I feel, too rushed, with revelations coming far too quickly one after another and again not given sufficient development.
SO. First off, I am only following the storyline from River onward very loosely. Also, I took liberties in creating my own backstory for Chronos and the Numbers system and Sephiria (and other "side characters"). So while this fic is actually a natural continuation from where the manga left off (and goes in a direction I would have expected Yabuki to take the story in if it weren't for the fact that his main character is Train, who is totally carefree and all blah whatever), you will notice that there are a few significant deviations from canon for post-River events. Sort of an alternate ending I guess. But yes, if you haven't realized already, I'm going solely by manga canon. The anime can go... Ahem. Yeah. (HATE the anime-verse.)
Final note: I am going by artbook spellings except when I don't know them or they hurt my eyes. (i.e. janus over jenos to keep the mythological reference intact, and xiaoli over shaolee to keep proper pinyin standards)
As the flaming leaves of autumn came drifting down past her window one bitter gray morning, Sephiria Arks thought suddenly of change. The thought frightened her for a moment, terrified her more than she had ever been in her life. And so she pushed the thought aside.
She could not afford to fear.
She could not afford to doubt.
She headed towards the training room and splashed cold water over her face before drawing her saber. Christ. It was a beautiful sword, though she had always found its name ironic. Christ, the Savior. Hardly anyone remembered the old stories anymore. Chronos discouraged the practice of religion, though even they did not dare to try and abolish it completely. The aged churches stood still in the older sections of the cities, quaint little buildings made of stone and lined with stained glass. Even a few synagogues and mosques and even temples had been erected over the years, hidden away behind skyscrapers and bustling streets.
Sephiria herself had no use for religion. She knew its terrible power, and she had no use for power.
But she had always loved the old stories.
She stood for a moment, unmoving. It was as if all time had stopped. She felt the utter dark stillness of the room, the crisp morning air and the drops of water on her skin like a thousand icy daggers, the coarse material of her uniform rubbing against her chest. Forget, she breathed. Forget. When she opened her eyes again her mind was blank, and Christ sliced through the air in one swift motion as she stepped into her daily kata. Her wounds had been deep, vicious; the lingering stiffness of her limbs a testament to her near death. She could not afford to relax, to lose focus, not now.
But the Thought soon returned, in full force. It refused to leave her. It was like a weed that had suddenly taken root in her mind, that could not be destroyed.
No. The seeds had been sown long ago, taken root in years and years past within the dark recesses of her heart. This she could not deny.
And it terrified her.
She stopped abruptly. "Good morning."
She heard him shift slightly, as if startled out of a silent reverie.
He was always there. Every morning, without fail, standing by respectfully, watching, waiting for her to finish before he began his own warm-up. There had been a time when his silent observation made her uncomfortable, but that was many years ago now. Today, his presence gave her comfort, reminding her of her duty, her responsibility.
"Has there been news, Belze?" Her voice was cool and soft as water, rippling gently across the silence.
"There have been no new developments," came his deeper, chocolate-smooth reply. "Number Seven has everything under control."
She said nothing, instead sifting quietly through her thoughts until they finally slowed to a trickle.
"The Elders will be pleased."
There was a slight pause before Belze said, "Yes. Number Seven has performed excellently in recent affairs."
Sephiria sheathed her saber and turned at last to face him. "I think I shall stop here today. Thank you."
His face was as impassive and unreadable as ever as she strode out the door.
- - -
As she stepped into her bathroom and began stripping, she caught a glimpse of the angry red slash running from under her left breast across to her hip like a bright, shredded ribbon. For a while she gazed at her reflection in the mirror, contemplating the web of scars crisscrossing her pale skin, running her fingers over her most recent acquisitions. Then she stepped into the shower and turned on the water, holding back a gasp as the icy stream hit her body.
She washed quickly, tugging out the tangles in her hair with her fingers. She had kept it short as a girl, but as she had grown older she had come to have a certain pride in her hair, wild and inconvenient as it was. It was the one single vanity she allowed herself. Most days she reasoned that it gave her a quiet air of femininity that led others to underestimate her, giving her even that small advantage over them; other days she thought to herself that it was a true mark of her skill, that even with the added encumbrance she remained the strongest fighter of them all. But she knew that neither was the true reason.
The whim had come upon her one day, as she watched the sheet of pale yellow hair resting upon Belze's back as she had watched it for years, a sudden desire to just toss back her head and feel silky flowing strands whispering against her shoulders...
They worried and frightened her, these sudden urges and rare bursts of fancy.
"This is different," she told her reflection as she dried herself off with a towel. "I have brushed against Death; I have been changed. I doubt because it is only natural to doubt. This soon will pass."
Her hand brushed against the tattooed number on her forehead, and she dressed slowly, carefully, before beginning to blow-dry her hair.
There was a knock on her door and she slipped out of the bathroom, barefoot and hair still half wet.
It was Belze. She opened the door.
His eyes rested for a brief moment on her hair before flickering back to her face. "We've lost contact with Number Seven. The Elders have summoned you."
Her hand clenched slightly. She turned to grab her boots and her sword. "How bad is it?"
"The reports from the backup team are vague. Most of them seem to be preoccupied with damage control at the moment. It is unclear exactly what has happened... He was fine just an hour ago."
Sephiria stood and joined him in the hallway, sword at her side. "I shouldn't have sent him alone."
Belze did not reply immediately. "You could not have foreseen that things would escalate to this point."
"Something must have set off the crowd," she murmured.
"Even the most trivial thing can trigger a mob. It may not be anything serious."
She shook her head. "There have been too many riots lately, Belze..."
They walked in silence for a few moments.
"Creed --" Belze began, hesitatingly.
She stopped. Belze turned and looked at her.
"Creed is dead," she said. "His organization is scattered to the winds, and he is dead."
She felt his large strong hand, curiously gentle, upon her shoulder, and looked up. But he had turned again already, waiting for her to follow.
She stepped forward and settled back into her position at his side as they continued wordlessly down the hallway to the conference room.
- - -
Dinner was a quiet affair. She picked at her rice alone in her room, having asked to have her food sent up instead of eating at the restaurant she usually frequented.
The Elders had demanded that she send another Number in, but she had demurred, reminding them that the appearance of another Time Guardian would further inflame an already delicate situation. But the truth was, even if she wanted to, she had no one to send. Belga was dead and had yet to be replaced; Nizer remained yet in a coma. Xiaoli, who would have normally been her top choice, was already handling affairs elsewhere, and Baldor and Kranz were hardly a viable option for such a mission requiring tact and discretion above all else.
That left the four Quarters, none of whom she was particularly eager to move, and the obvious choice of Belze.
Belze was perfectly suited for the job. He was a skilled fighter and a smooth diplomat, dependable. But most of all, he was a man with presence -- unlike Janus, who was charming but lacked steadiness, or Xiaoli, who was effeminate and quiet and invisible.
Let them spend their anger, she had said. Let the turbulence simmer down on its own. The mob is like a force of nature; we can do nothing but wait it out. Our interference will only make the pot boil over. Number Seven is capable of handling this on his own.
It had been a lie, and she knew it, and perhaps they knew it too. It was true that there was nothing they could do short of imposing strict martial law on the area for a few weeks, but there were other cities, other regions to worry about as well. If they did nothing soon, the entire situation would spiral completely out of control.
The Elders were not fond of crises.
As she sipped at her tea she thought of the broken heads of Cerberus, the dead lion and the sleeping wolf; of Janus, loyal and puppy-dog eager, whose condition was now unknown.
And then she stood, leaving her food half eaten on the coffee table, moved to her desk, and sent out a summons to Belze.
I have chosen to concentrate on Sephiria in this story rather than Train and co. For one thing, Sephiria is my favorite character (in fact, a year ago this was originally going to be a Sephiria-centric one-shot, but...) and I absolutely hate the anime's take on her; the anime characterizations are ridiculously exaggerated. I'm probably the only fan out there who feels this way so I'll shut up now. :D Also, obviously most people (are going to) write about Train anyway, since he's the main character. No need for me to add even more. However, I will be writing this story probably from three POVs (possibly even one or two more): Sephiria, Rins, and Eve. (Girl power:P) So Train and co. definitely will have big parts to play.
Probably the most important reason Train's not the main character here though is that, well, Train just doesn't give a damn about Chronos. Without Creed, he has no motivation to have anything at all to do with Chronos. Not very helpful for a Die-Chronos-Die story. Sephiria, on the other hand, is perfectly positioned for such a tale...
Speaking of Creed: Yes, he's dead. Having him be alive would bring in a whole other layer of complexity to my already screwy plot. However, the reverberations of his attempted revolution will definitely continue to be felt throughout the story. What exactly happened in that final Train/Creed confrontation in my universe though will be revealed later.