The Princess and the Beast
I do not remember the circumstances of my birth. My earliest memory as a conscious being was when they placed a blade in my hand and gave me my name: Viral, just Viral.
"Listen well, Viral. There were many like you. You are here because they are dead and continuity of the gene pool must be preserved. When you die, you will be replaced. Kill with the blade in your hand, eat what you kill, and you may survive long enough to become more than a beast of instinct."
I did as I was told. My reward for surviving selection was knowledge so that I was no longer beast but beastman. I received clothes to cover myself in, authority over others, and weapons with which to carry out my mission. It is the only life I ever knew.
When I was fourteen, a lieutenant in the Spiral King's Army, I met her.
I knew who she was the moment I saw her, even though I never saw her before, for no living human was allowed to approach within a hundred miles of the palace. She carried a doll in her arms and homed in on me; later I learned it was because she was attracted to colorful things, and my red outfit stood out in the drab surroundings like a wine-apple. I bow low; we were not permitted to meet the Princess' gaze on pain of lashes and confinement, but she ducked beneath me and I stare into startling large eyes that were all the shades from the sky.
I stumble back, she continued to look at me, her innocent gaze unsettling me more than looks filled with hunger, despise, fear, or killing intent; looks I was accustomed to receiving and giving. She was curious, but why, when there were others just like me?
"What is your name?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"My name is Nia."
"I understand, but we are forbidden from addressing you by name."
"Because... you are different from us; you are perfect, like the God King himself."
She was confused. A drip of sweat travels down the side of my face. She looks at her dress and then up and down at me in my crimson garbs. A minute later, she gestures for my hand. When I comply, she places her small hand in my paw; perfect pink digits to my hairy claws.
"See? Five fingers. We are the same."
We were told everything we knew—that humans are beneath us, that we beastmen are a higher order, that the Spiral King and the Princess are higher still, the highest. We did not question; we do not question, which is why the simplicity of the Princess' statement left me without a response.
"It is as you say, Princess." My nervousness grew when the young girl gave me a difficult look. "It is as you say… Nia."
I know not why she smiles then, pleased simply because I called her by her name. In my mind, I understood it was not against my duty to please the Princess, but I did not understand at the time why I liked to see her smile.
"No survivors, no stone left unturned. You have done well destroying the human settlement, Viral."
"I'm honored by your words, Lord Thymilph."
"Of all my officers you perform your duties with the most precision and least casualties. Name your reward, it shall be yours."
"To serve the Spiral King is enough for me, my lord."
"Yet another reason why I must reward you; no service rendered to the God King can go unrewarded, just as no offense is forgiven."
"In that case… I ask that you grant me a short leave, to return to the capital; five days will suffice." Deep laughter rumbles from the Commander's chest, clear amusement appearing over his heavy features, and I wonder whether my request will be denied. "My lord?"
"I see, it is about that time for a young beastman like you to take interest in mating."
The suggestion activity clashed so utterly with who I had in mind that I was mortified. "That is not my intent, my lord."
My panic was evident, and only added to my commander's humor. "No need to be ashamed of what is only natural; we are not humans, after all."
"My Lord, I…"
He chuckled and waved me off. "You have two weeks. Do not return before then."
"… Yes, my Lord."
A small glowing creature sprints and leaps into me when I enter the garden; a place built solely for her play and pleasure, the top her head barely coming to beneath my chest. In the midst of the awkward but not unwelcome reception, I congratulate myself on my foresight for bathing beforehand. "I have returned, Princess."
Having been away for three months, it takes the pout of displeasure on her face to remind me of my mistake. Scanning and finding no others on the premises, I correct myself. "I have returned, Nia, and I bring you gifts as you have commanded."
She bursts into smile and hugs me again before looking up at me with sparkling eyes. "You only needed to bring yourself, Viral. I was lonely without you."
An unspeakable feeling arises in my chest at her words. "I apologize for leaving you so long, but perhaps this will help make up for it."
I remove the velvet pouch from my waist and reveal the prize under her eager anticipation, the warm feeling returning when her eyes grow stars and she claps when she sees what I brought her. "It is my share of the loot. I took them before others could grab them from the pile."
She held up the pair of matching lockets and bracelet, made of gold and encrusted with rubies and emeralds whose colors reflected the brilliance of her irises. "Do you like them?"
"… They're beautiful. Help me put them on?"
As soon I see the result I berate myself mentally for failing to take into account the size and weight of the ornaments which hung off her like burdens rather than accessories. "Forgive me for the oversight, I will take them back immediately and exchange them for something more suitable."
She shook her head her fiercely as I moved to remove them. "I like them. I shall keep them."
"They are not so heavy. I will wear them until I grow into them, it won't be long; I've already grown nearly a centimeter while you were gone, you know."
I noticed. "If it pleases you…"
"It does. Thank you, Viral. I have something for you too."
Bare feet stamp across the soft field of grass before she returns, carrying something delicate in her hands, a ring weaved from yellow daisies. I bow so her small hands can reach up to place it upon my head. Taking a step back, she admires her handy work with a look of pure delight. "It looks pretty on you, Viral."
It is not praise that I'm accustomed to receiving, but the simple gift lifted my heart nonetheless.
She folds her hands behind her back. "I made one for Koni before making yours…" I follow her slightly embarrassed gaze to the crooked example sitting on the head of her doll. "I'm still not sure I've got it right."
A smile finds its way onto my face, brought to the surface by the girl before me, hiding the yellow stains in her nails from my sight; certainly not just one. "It is perfect. I shall treasure it."
She blushes with pleasure at my acceptance of her offering. "I'm glad; I only make them for people I like, and I like you best."
I realized then what my desired reward was, and always will be: To bring her happiness and witness that smile which made answers to my all my questions unnecessary; she was all my answers.
"How long will you be gone this time?"
"There are reports that humans to the East have captured a ganmen of ours. This is unprecedented, so the commander has given orders to be cautious."
We stand at the base of the capital, the city spiraling into the clouds above us. In the distance, the land battle ship Dai-Gunzan awaits, too far out of sight in the horizon haze for anyone to see that the princess is with me. Her blue-gold hair captures the light of the newborn sun and the wind, unnecessary concern in her eyes that I seek to assuage. "Do not worry, I shall make quick work of them."
She wraps her arms around my waist and holds me; she is taller now, tall enough for me to rest my chin against her head, a temptation I resist desperately with all my will. I content myself to wrap one arm loosely around her slender shoulders. A minute later she pulls back, her small hands holding mine. "Come back safely. I will wait for you."
That is all I live for. "I shall."
I return a defeated, wounded dog; my lord slain, our base of operations lost, seized by the hated humans. In spite of all this, I return to face disgrace and punishment that is certain to be worse than death, because of a promise made, and some foolish hope that I might glimpse her once more.
The Generals Cytomander and Guame are tasked with my torture, as befitting of my rank. Guame has performed countless such tasks in his long life, and Cytomander is eager to learn. In the dungeon, I endure seven days of unspeakable horrors that are my just deserts; I bear them without a word of protest. I survive the ordeal to the surprise of my tormenters, my heart beats jerked but never wholly stopped, the exhausted tissues pushed to pulse one more time with thoughts of her.
On the final day before my release, as I lay half-dead in my cell, Guame the stout visits me; I recognize his presence from the stifling fumes from his pipe, my eyes bruised too swollen to see.
"For your tenacity I applaud you. Few have received the ends of my devices and lived. To show my appreciation, I've come with a bit of news that might interest you... concerning the Princess."
My body reacts involuntarily; Guame sees, and chuckles in his throaty way. "We know that you've been seeing her for a while now. For reasons unfathomable to us, the Spiral King ordered you two left alone, until recently, that is."
The pounding in my ears increased in volume, the armadillo's every word multiplying the dread in my chest. "The princess incurred the King's wrath. She asked many questions, silly questions, about feelings and human concepts like love—love, as if such a thing existed. The King deigned to answer none of her inquiries, she asked why she was born, the King's patience ended then."
"What… have you… done to Nia?"
"I suppose it's fit to call her that, now that she's no longer princess." He exhaled the fumes directly into my face, for I had struggled my way to the bars that separated us. "She went the way of her predecessors."
"Young ones these days… you truly know nothing, do you? The King creates Princesses like he does you and I, except we are his instruments, while they are… a hobby. When he tires of them, they are discarded, and a new one is made. In the centuries I lived I have seen them come and go, but this one lasted an especially short time due to unforeseen circumstances: you."
His drawn out explanation is worse than any torture, and more than I can bear. He leaves, satisfied that I am more broken now than I was before. He had been saving his worst for last.
I drag myself to the Valley of Refuse before my wounds heal and find coffins as far as the eye can see. It has been not a week, she may still live, her life prolonged by the induced sleep meant to provide a gradual death. I search through the scrap and the mud, rain and mist conspiring against me, obscuring my vision and sapping my strength with wet and cold. I find innumerable skeletons like those of the humans I slaughtered and for the first time I'm horrified by their sight—horrified that this may be what she has become. There are many coffins, some hundreds of years old. I search for days.
I find a new-looking casket, recently dumped and opened, perhaps by accident. I know it is hers; the flowers laid around the interior have not fully wilted, but she is not there. My hope collapses and I fall to the mud as warm moisture pours from my eyes; I shed tears for the first time in my life.
"I saw her today."
I lie in commander Adiane's bed on board the submarine. I begged and was granted a place in her command. I know my place; in return for an opportunity to avenge my slain commander I am her slave, disposed to her every bidding in war and in private. It matters not; my pride is not wounded because I have none left to wound.
I sit up, pulling with me bed sheets that had covered us both, convinced my ears deceive me. My new master gauges my reaction with one narrowed eye. I realize I've made a mistake. "So it is true, what Guame said of you and her."
"Filthy swine." The blow from her scaled tail sends me crashing to the floor. When I attempt to stop the room from spinning, she descends and drives the heel of her foot into me, knocking the wind out of me. "Dirty, despicable vermin. I knew you were a failure and a corpse, but your foulness exceeds even my estimation. Tell me, beast, did you mate with her?"
"Never! I would not…"
"You say her name in your sleep." She struck me across the face repeatedly, the end of her tail drawing flesh and blood like a leaden mace. "Disgusting to even contemplate. You, someone… some thing borne from the grime and primordial sludge pit, reaching for one made after the King's very own image; the complete, the perfect. Swine suckling on pearls have more dignity than you."
She has her way with me, beating me to the verge of consciousness, then calls for guards, who drag me to the brig. But the only thoughts that fill my mind are that of joy; the knowledge that she lives, even if in the hands of the humans, Nia lives. For now, that is all that matters.
To be Continued
Author's Notes: After seeing a cute comedy fan art made by a Japanese artist, I've taken quite a liking to the idea of Nia-Viral; "thermonuclear fluff" is how I like to describe them. Of course, I never would have thought of them on my own just by watching the show, but now that I consider it, the idea that the two might have known each other growing up in the Capital city has filled my mind with endless ideas. This short story was written based on some of those ideas, and roughly runs in correlation to the anime's progression. Later I may diverge the path slightly from the anime's (alternate universes are permitted, Gurren-Lagann proves so!) in order to make something of a happier ending, because Viral suffers too much already Honestly, Viral-Nia is like a triggered disease that surely must wear off soon, and this is work driven by that madness. Still, if I manage to infect others with the virus... go me.