Price of the Cloth

Chapter IV: Fallen Angel

© 1999/10/22 by Stayka deyAvemta

Angelo ran up the slopes of the Etna once more. By now he knew every stone and every crevice of the steep, winding path. When he had reached the crater, he was supposed to run a zigzag course among the fumaroles and hot spots on the ground.

When his Master told him to do so the first time so long ago, he had been utterly afraid. What if the volcano erupted while he was down there?

What if he mistepped and fell into one of the crevices because the mountain quaked and he lost his footing?

Eridanus Silver Saint Charon looked at him coldly and told him, "You have to be faster than the mountain. Remember that you are chosen to be a Saint of Athena. Moreover, your powerful cosmo marks you to be one of the most powerful ones. So you have to live up to your capabilities and become as fast as the light and as strong as any natural force."

"But what if I will be caught while I'm not ready?" he asked.

"Then you have failed. You'd better hurry to fulfill your potential, boy."

He had been mortally frightened, but Charon had insisted that he go. To be precise, he had virtually beaten him up the volcano. Physically, Angelo never had a chance against the tall and well-trained Eridanus Saint, but worse was the humiliation - he called him a weakling and coward.

"There is no place for weaklings among Athena's Saints. Then you'd better die before you disgrace these formidable warriors."

"Death is preferable to embarassment. Death is preferable to weakness. Death is preferable to failure. Death is..." His Master had beaten these mantras into him.

Neverending hours, days and weeks of brutal training went by, and more than once Angelo wished himself dead rather than enduring one more minute, but the taunting words of his Master enraged him and forced him to go on.

- - -

Angelo stood at the range of the volcano and smashed large sized rocks into dust with only the tip of his finger. Now that he had mastered the first of the mental exercises, he was able to concentrate his Cosmo to destroy virtually everything.

It was almost getting boring, he thought, but his teacher had told him that his potential was far vaster than this, but he had to master his seventh sense to be able to use these other powers.

The young Saint-in-training sensed his teacher's Cosmo approaching. He turned around and discovered that Charon wasn't alone this time. A boy about Angelo's age accompanied him.

"This is Fabrizio," the Eridanus Saint introduced the newcomer. He spoke Greek as it was custom among the Saints of Athena. "You two will train together from now on. Time will tell who of you will earn the Cancer Gold Cloth - if any."

Angelo examined Fabrizio with a frown. The new guy had a shock of firy red hair, freckles and bright green eyes that gave back his gaze aggressively.

"Don't think you will manage to get this Cloth that is rightfully mine," Angelo told him.

"Rightfully yours?" Charon laughed out. "First you have to prove yourself worthy to face the Test of the Cloth, and if you manage to pass it, then you can claim it is rightfully yours. How long have you trained here with me?"

"One year, Master Charon." Angelo felt the blood rise to his cheeks.

"And you're how old now?" Charons purple eyes that contrasted so strangely to his flowing, turquoise mane seemed to pierce the boy like hot needles.

"Eight, Master Charon."

"You have yet to master your true powers before you can even think of attempting this test. Remember what I have told you - only the one who can go beyond death is able to attain the Cancer Cloth."

Go beyond death... Angelo sighed inwardly. He still didn't know what the Eridanus Silver Saint actually meant by this. Probably the real test was to find out the meaning of this and then find the hiding-place of the marvellous Cloth. But he would never allow that this new guy attained it, after all of the torturous training he had already gone through.

"I leave you now to go through your usual schedule while I try to teach Fabrizio the basics," Charon said and left his older disciple to himself.

Angelo grinned when he remembered his first time here. Fabrizio would virtually go through hell in the beginning, and with a little luck he would even give up soon. He really didn't need a rival for the Cancer Gold Cloth.

The boy concentrated, and a golden aura manifested around him. With one light touch he pulverized another rock, and he wondered what other powers might lie in store for him. Already he could run faster than his Master, and his plain destructive power surpassed Charon's as well. The only reason he had not killed the Eridanus Saint when the man decided to punish him again was that he still needed him to teach him what he needed to attain this Cloth.

- - -

"Concentrate!" Charon's subdued but still sharp voice made Angelo cringe. He didn't feel at ease at all in this dusky room with the dying old man on the bed.

"I think I can feel it," Angelo said.

"When the souls leave the body, they emit an aura called sekishiki," Charon lectured. "Your Cosmo gives you the power to manipulate this aura. Not many Saints of Athena have an affinity towards death - usually the Saints work with energies that are connected with the living world like those of Aries, Lion, Dragon and most others.

Only Cancer Gold Saint, Eridanus Silver Saint and Ara Bronze Saint are able to cross the threshold to enter the limbo that connects the world of the living with Hades' underworld. You will be a wanderer between here and beyond, and your most terrible power is that you are able to pull your adversary into the world in between.

Only the Death Saints are able to find their way through the limbo and back into the world of the living. The others will lose their way in the twilight world and unevitably end up at the Mountain of Yomotsu where they will fall into the Pit, a never-ending abyss without return, which leads them directly into Hades' Realm."

"What are the different powers of the Death Saints?" Angelo asked curiously.

"Ara Bronze Saint Lethe's attacks make the victims forget - they lose bit for bit of their selves until they pass away into the world beyond."

"I see." Angelo examined his Master thoughtfully. He had seen Charon attack an intruder once - a silvery torrent of energy seemed to sweep away his opponent, and when the attack had faded nothing of the other man remained. "So you do not simply dissolve your opponents, but transport them into this limbo, too?"

"That's correct."

"So what is the difference between these attacks if they all throw the enemies into the twilight world?"

"The main difference is the level of the available Cosmo energy. As a Bronze Saint, Lethe will never be able to win a fight against you or me. She will always remain one of the lower ranks. If you win the Cancer Cloth, you will outrank all of the other Saints by far. Even the other Gold Saints will find it highly difficult to counter your kind of attack. You may very well become the strongest among them all."

"I think I might like that." Angelo said with a smug grin.

"It is time now. Follow him to the gate to the underworld! Concentrate!"

Angelo spread out his senses. The pale aura of the man's soul left the body and soared towards the sky, into the direction where Praesaepe waited, the doorway of souls. The star cluster was the physical representation of the gate that let the souls pass into the limbo where they where once more clothed in an astral body and began their long march towards the Hades.

"Follow him!"

Angelo concentrated and followed the soul into the uncanny twilight world. Pale, dusky colours prevailed - a lifeless landscape of rocks, stones and eerie blue-green flames stretched out in front of him. The milky white comet of energy took the form of an old man who immediately began to walk towards the distant horizon.

Curiously, Angelo followed him, closely observed by his Master.

"Can you see the mountain over there?"

Angelo squinted his eyes. "You mean where all of those guys seem to go?"

"Exactly. In the crater of this mountain, the Pit of Yomotsu is hidden, and whoever falls into it will never return."

"Where does this pit lead?" Angelo wanted to know.

"It's the threshold to be passed to enter the Hades, the underwold that is reigned by the God of Death. Once within there, the souls are judged and led to their final destination - be it the Tartaros for the evil ones or the Elysian fields for the good. Not even we can return to the world of the living if we fall into this abyss, but we are at least able to walk freely through the limbo. If you send an opponent into this land, he will inevitably feel drawn towards the Mountain of Yomotsu and not be able to turn away from the lure of the darkness within."

"I see that you and I both seem to be solid compared to the souls," Angelo observed.

"This is because we entered the limbo bodily, while the souls have to leave their bodies behind to reach this place. Every opponent thrown into the twilight world will also be sent only with his non-corporeal essence, so you always have the advantage over him."

Angelo continued to walk the path the dead man's soul had gone.

"You do not need to walk here," Charon said. "Concentrate! You have power over this world. Imagine that you are able to fly! In a mystical world such as this the willpower is stronger than in the Earth Realm, and you know what you are able to achieve even there!"

Angelo closed his eyes and felt how his Cosmo expanded around him. It was an exhilariating feeling as he spread unseen wings and virtually took off.

"Stop!" The command hit sharp like a whiplash, and when Angelo opened his eyes he found himself floating in deep space, the Crab Nebula a distant speck of mist. Charon was nowhere to be seen, only his mental voice gave the young Saint-in-training a vague assurance.

"Return to Praesaepe," Charon urged him.

Angelo concentrated and followed the distant tug of the Pit of Yomotsu. It wasn't actually a real tugging, more a faint echo to show him the direction, but it sufficed. In a split second, he had returned to the limbo.

When he landed next to Charon, the Eridanus Saint lashed out and hit Angelo so hard in the face that he staggered back. "This is for losing control over your powers," the older man hissed.

Angelo's Cosmo flared angrily, but he still didn't dare to strike back as he knew he could. Promptly, he was hit again.

"Never act from anger! It weakens you. You have to be in control of your powers every single moment of your life."

Soon, soon, he would kill the Eridanus Saint, Angelo promised himself. But not before the man had told him how he could obtain the Cancer Cloth. And he would get it, he was sure. Certainly, Fabrizio was still there, the second candidate, but Charon had given his training to Lethe, probably because he was weaker anyway.

Charon looked at his disciple and saw the cold rage in his dark blue-violet eyes. Angelo was strong, he thought. But was he really the one who should win the Gold Cloth? There was still the second candidate, Fabrizio. He had to separate the two after the boys nearly had killed each other during a training fight.

It wouldn't have been a problem if one of them had died, but they were at practically equal powers, and losing both at the same time was absolutely no option. The Pope had insisted the the vacant positions of the Gold Saints had to be filled as fast as possible, because the next Cycle of Holy Wars dawned faster than anybody had expected.

It was rare that two suitable candidates were found for one Gold Cloth, and it was a waste that one of them would inevitably die in the process. But whoever lost the competition unfortunately wasn't eligible for another Gold Cloth as the Cloths were attuned to their wearers by the stars under which they were born - and both Fabrizio and Angelo were born as prospective Cancer Gold Saints.

Charon remembered his discussion with Lethe when he had given Fabrizio's training over to her...

- - -

"What a waste," Lethe said. She was a petite young woman with long, silvery hair who didn't look as if she could have endured the barbarous training every Saint had to go through. But Charon herself had sent her through this hell, and so he knew that she had an amazing inner strength that let her survive when the others had faltered.

"I know. But only one of them can attain the Cancer Gold Cloth."

Wouldn't it be more merciful if I would take one of the boys and make him forget everything so that we can concentrate on the training of the other?"

"We are not here to be merciful, but to find the best candidate to become Cancer Gold Saint," Charon said matter-of-factly. "We have to train them to the best of our abilities and hope that the Cloth chooses the worthier candidate - and preferably before they have killed each other."

"It would be easier if we could manipulate them to become friends. Then one of them might give in for the sake of the other."

"I don't think this is a good idea. No one who is destined to become one of the Death Saints should become too attached to human frailties like friendship. He will see thousands of souls pass the final threshold and it will be better if he can watch them dispassionately. The last we need is an unstable Cancer Gold Saint, but you know as well as I what the ancient writings say."

"Yes." There were many Cancer Saints throughout the Cycles who became emotionally and mentally unstable due to their experiences in limbo - they watched friends or loved ones die and tried to persuade them to return before they reached the Pit of Yomotsu and never succeeded... "It would be really better if we could leave the Cancer Cloth vacant."

"We both took an oath to support Sanctuary, to obey the Pope and to follow Athena - and the Pope ordered us to train this Cycle's Cancer Saint as it was always the duty of either Eridanus or Ara Saint throughout the times."

"Yes, Master Charon." Lethe bowed her head.

- - -

Angelo had been happy at first when the obnoxious competitor for the Cancer Cloth was given over to the Ara Saint. After all, she was one of the inferior Bronze Saints, and thus Fabrizio's training certainly would be inferior as well.

But only two or three days later, he began to miss the other boy. Okay, they couldn't stand each other, but on the other hand, they had quite some fun in their scarce spare time.

Angelo remembered the day when they sneaked into the village at the other side of the volcano and teased the children. It had been cool to be admired by the two cute dark-haired girls when they outperformed the other boys in every game and contest.

Of course, Charon had beaten them up soundly when he learned of their escapade, but it had been worth it nonetheless. Maybe he should try to sneak away and meet Fabrizio in secret, so that they could repeat their visit to the village - or better another town farther away.

When he secretly jogged through the night, taking every possible cover, he suddenly ran straight into Fabrizio. They fell to the ground, at first afraid they might have been discovered, but when they recognized each other, they laughed.

"Mind you, I still can't stand you," Angelo started with a slightly aggressive undertone, before his voice became almost wistful, "but it was sooooo boring alone..."

Fabrizio grinned. "I was about to say the same thing," he replied wryly. "I wanted to figure out if we could meet somewhere during the daytime and sneak away to one of the villages to have some fun..."

"You, too?" Angelo asked astonishedly. "Hey, cool! But we should be careful, I really don't want to be beaten up by Eridanus Charon for this again - it's enough that he loves to beat me during the training..."

"I know what you mean," Fabrizio groaned. "Don't think Ara Lethe would go easy on me - she may look tiny, but she can be really mean, too!"

They commiserated a while together until they returned, but not before deciding to rebel a little against their teachers by secretly meeting and maybe even making some friends among the villagers.

- - -

Charon looked sternly at Angelo, who stared back defiantly. "If you lose control over your powers it may mean death for you," he lectured. "You are lucky that your Cosmo enables you to survive even in the hostile environment of deep space! You could have gotten lost between the stars, and then the years of training would have been in vain because of one moment of carelessness."

"Yes, Master," Angelo replied and tried to look properly chastened, even though nothing but anger filled his mind.

"Soon you will be ready to face the Test of the Cancer Cloth," Charon said unexpectedly, and Angelo almost couldn't believe it. "I want that you are properly prepared."

"And what about Fabrizio? Won't he be tested, too?"

"Of course he will be. You will have to fight him for the right to attain the Cancer Gold Cloth."

'Fight?' Angelo barely managed to suppress the question. Of course they had to fight - but in the last time he had come to think of Fabrizio more and more as a friend and less a rival, especially as they didn't have to train together and fight each other anymore.

"You don't seem to look forward to it. Are you afraid?" Charon asked, and his tone of voices implied that he detested even the idea that his trainee might feel fear.

"Of course not," Angelo retorted heatedly.

"Good. Then I will expect you to win the Cloth or die bravely in the attempt. Death is preferable to failure."

Angelo lowered his eyes. Death was preferable to weakness... Should he allow himself to be killed before he acted weak in front of his Master's eyes when he didn't want to kill his friend? But what was friendship worth in the end? Would Fabrizio pull his attacks because of friendship? Would he risk the humiliation of defeat? Angelo had to admit that he didn't know.

- - -

'So it is today,' Angelo thought and felt a strange feeling in the stomache. Was he afraid? Yes, he had to admit. Today was the day for which he had endured the years of horrible training. But would he really succeed? Or would his victory be taken away from him in the last second?

Eridanus Charon and Ara Lethe both stood at the training range in the crater of the Etna, the smoke and desolate landscape being the perfect frame for the fateful test. Both Saints wore their Cloth - Charon the silvery grey Eridanus Silver Cloth and Lethe the stunning white and silver Ara Bronze Cloth that looked more like the robe of an ancient high priestess than the battle armour it ought to be. But then, the Ara Saint rarely fought with her body; her mind was the truly dangerous weapon that could make her opponents forget their intents and even themselves, so that they ended as mindless shells while their souls soared straight towards the gate of the underworld.

"The Test of the Cancer Cloth is the following," Charon intoned the ritual words. "The Cloth you wish to attain is deposited at the inner slopes of the Mountain of Yomotsu. You have to open the gate to the twilight world by yourself and find the way without a soul to guide you. Then you have to climb down the slopes of the mountain, just until you reach the border of no return, where you have to fight for the rightful ownership of the Cloth. The Eridanus Silver Saint and Ara Bronze Saint will stand witness for this Test as it is written in the books since the first Cycle, as no other Saint is able to cross voluntarily into the twilight world and come back unharmed."

Angelo and Fabrizio exchanged an almost desperate gaze, but they both didn't want to let their years of training be in vain, and both of them knew it.

When Charon gave the sign that the Test began, Angelo summoned all of his power to tear a gateway to the limbo into the fabric of reality. He succeeded; but Fabrizio likewise crossed into the twilight world with ease.

They started their desperate race, and Charon and Lethe stood already at the crater that opened into the bottomless Pit of Yomotzu. The Box of the Gold Cloth sparkled on a ledge directly at the border of the line to final death.

Fabrizio and Angelo raced down the slope - they didn't dare float down for fear of losing their concentration and directly falling down into the underworld. It was a close race, but it seemed that Fabrizio won more and more ground.

Angelo hurried desperately after his friend-opponent. Slowly but surely, the distance grew, and he became more and more frightened that he could actually lose. But suddenly, Fabrizio missed a step and fell. Only barely, he managed to cling to the Gold Box, that began to slide towards the edge, too.

Angelo watched the scene in shock. 'The Box!' was his first thought, and he grabbed it to hold it. The jerk displaced Fabrizio's grip, though, and the red-haired boy fell down into the pit.

Horrified, Angelo watched his fall. It seemed to happen in slow motion, and the look of betrayal in Fabrizio's eyes burned into his mind so that he thougt he would never forget is, ever. For a short moment he considered to jump after him, but then he caught himself. What good would this be? Now he only wanted to get out of here, and he scrambled upwards, the heavy box in tow.

Eons later, it seemed, he reached Charon and Lethe who had watched the scene dispassionately. No - not completely devoid of emotion... Lethe had a very sad look in her eyes when she turned to Charon, and her lips formed a single, silent word - goodbye.

"Why?" Angelo shouted at the Eridanus Saint. "Why did you make me kill my friend?" In a wild burst of rage, Angelo struck with all of his power, his flaring cosmo overpowering that of the Silver Saint by far, and Charon was thrown into the Pit as well.

When Angelo watched him fall, he felt neither relief nor satisfaction, but still he turned towards the Ara Saint. Reflexively, she lifted her arms: "Waves of Oblivion!" she shouted, then put her hands to her mouth as if to hold back the words she had spoken.

Angelo was too furious to deflect her attack and struck her down as well, before he raced back into the world of the living.

Lethe tumbled down the slope and came to a halt at the ledge where the Gold Box had stood. She had cracked several ribs, she discovered when she coughed blood, and sustained other injuries, both internal and external, but nothing was as grievous as the damage she had caused the young Cancer Saint by her thoughtless action.

Charon had been right, never should a Death Saint become attached to anybody else - the death of the Eridanus Saint at the hands of his disciple was foreordained; it was written in the ancient scriptures as inevitable and necessary. But she had loved him, secretly, and so she had exerted her powers in revenge for her beloved and made Angelo forget a piece of himself, the piece he tried to cling to most when the Wave of Oblivion washed over him: his humanity.

Only slowly it dawned her what this horrible mistake might have cost. Death is preferable to failure... Lethe began to cry and put together her last strength to let herself fall down into the Pit of Yomotsu.

- The End -

- - -

Author's End Note:

Well, several people asked me why I named DeathMask "Angelo". Actually I had so many reasons, that I couldn't think of any other fitting name...

First there were two songs I played all the time during the time I wrote the stuff about DM: "Angel and Me" from Toyah and "Fallen Angel" from Alphaville -- the latter of course gave this story its name (lots of my stories or chapters are titled for my favourite songs).

Then I like Angelus from Buffy the Vampire Slayer a lot, and somewhat he reminded me of DM. As DM comes from Italy, it was logical that I'd choose an Italian name for him, thus turning Angelus to Angelo.

Well, and of course I just loved the irony to give such an evil guy a name like Angelo :)))

I push the blade into your eye
Break the bars
watch you cry
Set myself free
It's the Angel and me
...and me

I run to the wind
I run to the river
There's blood on me
It's your memory

It's the smile of
It's the smile of
It's the smile of insanity...

("Angel and me", Toyah)

- - -

Disclaimer: Saint Seiya is the property of Masami Kurumada, Shueisha and Toei Animation.

(c) by Stayka deyAvemta (stayka(at)saint-seiya.de)

Stayka's Saint Seiya Archive at http://www.saint-seiya.de