Chapter 1: Seraphic Gate
Ewald was not entirely certain what surprised him more: that the Seraphic Gate really existed, or that Wynnia was able to find it. Actually, her being able to enter it was the most unlikely thing, once he thought about it. A crass, blasphemous, woman such as herself should have been obliterated by Odin or one of his servants upon her first step into the holy place.
"But don't you understand, Lezard?" she shouted at him. "This place exists beyond the gods! It's a doorway between the past, the future, and endless realms!"
"Please stop calling me that," he groaned, pushing his glasses back to a comfortable spot on the bridge of his nose. "If you must insist that I refer to you as Alicia then I will, but I have a name, and it isn't Lezard."
"But it is," she replied angrily. "It was, anyway." She put her hands on her hips and raised her chin high. "Very well. If you do not like that name, then I shall simply refer to you as Court Mage."
Ewald rolled his shoulders and sighed in defeat as Wynnia's crew bustled all about, roping their ship to the silver deck which stood out of the grey waters. The horizon itself was out of sight. Where were they? How she had ever gotten so many people to believe that she was really the princess of Dipan was an even bigger mystery. He figured that she did look an awful lot like the painting in the castle, especially after she had cut her hair and bought similar clothes. But that was just an artist's representation of an 18-year-old girl who had been presumed dead, and showed up out of nowhere for a single day, only to disappear again. Who knew if it was even accurate? Wynnia was in her late twenties and still somehow fit the part.
She did know a lot, as well, he had to admit. That was really what sold her story. She could tell each person who had been close to the royal family every intimate detail of their relationship as if she had actually been there. She knew the history of Dipan, the secrets of its royal class, and even more mystical pieces of knowledge that by all means a simple girl from Coriander really shouldn't--such as the location of the Seraphic Gate. Ewald did not want to give into this fanciful notion that she was channeling memories from her reincarnated soul's drama-filled past life, but there was no other way to explain how she could know these things. The Seraphic Gate loomed before him as a gigantic piece of evidence towards that.
This place was beautiful but hauntingly detached from the rest of the world. As the others went about preparing for battle, Ewald examined the crystalline fixtures of light. They were powered by a form of magic that had once been commanded by the mages of Dipan. He was fascinated by the idea of it--a power source that would never fade. Lighting was only the beginning of the breakthroughs such energy would bring! If only the gods would have let Dipan prosper in peace... But after all, that was why Wynnia was on this ridiculous hunt for this most likely non-existent sword, Angel Slayer--a blade with the power to strike through the heart of a God.
"And why am Ihere?" he mumbled to himself as he began to wonder what sort of stone the fantastic structure of the gate could have been built from. Its silvery grey columns and walls curved up into enormous open-air passages, its thousands of panels free in constant motion. Runes wrought of pure light hung in the air, resonating every few seconds, as if the entire thing was alive and breathing.
"Time to go!" Wynnia demanded, raising her sword into the air. A group of roughly twenty men and women armed to the teeth raised their own weapons and began to holler to announce their comradery. Ewald watched this uncouth show of bravado and groaned. How did Wynnia ever convince so many to fight for her? Most of them seemed convinced that they were Einherjar, or reincarnations of other historical figures. The red-haired woman in the black armor thought she was Queen Celes, and the blonde one--who appeared to be no older than seventeen--was convinced that she was Queen Phyress! Wynnia had gone around collecting these psychotic people for the last few years until they had formed a small army of crazies. How many of them were completely convinced that their stories were true? How many were going to die for it?
"Court mage!" their flaxen-haired leader shouted.
Ewald looked up in chagrin. "Yes, Lady Alicia?"
"We will be relying on your command of the lost magics, so be prepared to cast them!"
"In other words, you are relying on my skills to actually defeat this creature," he answered with a sigh. "Whatever creature guards a relic capable of defeating a god must surely be as powerful as a god... otherwise, I strongly doubt that the gods would simply leave him be..."
"I have faith in your magic, Lezard!" she said cheerfully. "And I believe in all of my Einherjar!"
"Einherjar," Ewald groaned, looking back at the others. The creepy mage who always kept the upper half of his face hidden by his big, ridiculous, pointy hat said nothing, as usual, but nodded. The heavy blade who fancied himself the royal family of Dipan's personal protector, Guilm, gave him a glare that he would question their identity.
Wynnia's smile changed into a familiar smirk that let him know that she was about to win the argument. "It takes you too long to cast the lost magics on your own. You need us to protect you while you pull it off. If you want to study the Seraphic Gate, I suppose you're just going to have to go where we want to go."
"Let's just get this over with," he sighed. "And it would be great if you didn't get me killed."
Wynnia huffed a hearty laugh in triumph. "Onward, my Einherjar!" she demanded, chopping her sword through the air excitedly over her head. The brigade began to move out.
- - -
The journey to the bottom of the Seraphic Gate was a long and arduous one. Ewald stopped at several points and begged Wynnia to allow him to rest. She granted his request grudgingly, and he knew that it was only because he needed to be in peak condition in order to command the lost magics. She should be so cruel, and yet something about her confident spirit drove him onwards. He simply could not refuse her when she smiled that way.
He found himself trailing close behind the two warriors who fancied themselves Phyress and Celes.
"So, I thought that you were happy in your retirement," the blonde, supposedly Phyress, said. "What made you decide to rejoin the group?"
"Perhaps I'm just fascinated by this new Alicia," the armored, sword-toting woman replied.
The archer girl replied with a giggle. "I know, isn't this spunky rebel Alicia just the cutest?"
"I'm concerned about Silmeria," Celes replied. "She isn't within Alicia, and I believe that if she were transferred, she would have come to intervene in this tirade of hers."
"You don't think this is the most fun we've had in a long while?" Phyress answered in disbelief. "Oh, don't be such a killjoy!"
"It is dangerous," Celes answered. "Of course, none of us should worry about losing our lives... I thought that I would enjoy having a normal life as a freed soul, finally released from the shackles of a warrior's fate... but if we can't age, can't grow old... then what's the point? The only true way to start life anew is through death. I am merely concerned for the girl who carries Alicia's soul."
"Uhk," Phyress grumbled. "Why are you always so morbid?" She shrugged her shoulders in an aloof gesture and sighed. "Well, this Alicia is certainly fun, but the old, demure Alicia had a certain charm as well. They are hardly the same person."
"They are not the same person," Celes answered. "This girl's name is Wynnia."
Ewald forgot that he wasn't a part of the conversation and interjected here. "Finally, someone comes to their senses!" he exclaimed in a sigh of relief. "Won't you please tell Wynnia that?"
"Shut up, Lezard," Celes snapped, sneering at him. "I don't know why we let you hang around after all that you've done."
"My name is Ewald!" he retorted, clenching his fist in frustration. "Ewald Valor! If everyone insists that this is not my name, then I shall be forced to make you learn it! You shall be made to respect my name!"
"Sure thing,Lezard," Phyress snorted hysterically. She and the other woman turned away from him and continued to walk ahead, ignoring Ewald completely.
- - -
Wynnia led their group through several small battles with her sword held high, making haughty challenges as they went along. Ewald found himself impressed with how well she fought, and even more blinded by the incredible skill of their strange companions.
"Whirling ripper!" shouted one named Fraudir. Ewald paused to look and found himself staring at both her agility and her mode of dress. She sort of... lacked pants. Her sword tore through the enemies in a green gust of blades formed from the wind itself.
Wynnia, Celes, and Phyress took turns striking a foe as it hung helplessly in the air. Segments of its body flew off in sparkling bursts of light. Blood and magical crystals sprayed everywhere, staining his childhood-friend-turned-princess with crimson splotches as well as ethereal glitter. She looked ravenous, like a beast, and yet somehow beautiful.
She led them into a chamber that was empty of monsters. The air was stagnant there, and it was strangely quiet. Wynnia ran into the circle heedless of the obvious danger. "Come forth, master of this realm!" she shouted. "I have come to challenge you!"
Ignorant mortals! A voice shouted from an indiscernible distance. Wynnia's lips pursed in determination as a lithe figure with white wings and long golden hair appeared before them.
"You must be Iseria queen!" she greeted the celestial being. "Hand over the Angel Slayer, or I will beat it from you!"
"I am Gabriel Celeste," the angelic figure replied. Ewald noticed Wynnia start when she heard the masculine voice spill out.
"Y-you're a man?" she stuttered, then steadied herself. "No matter! Stand aside and let us face Iseria Queen, or you'll be annihilated!"
The feminine but reportedly male angel arched a brow and smirked playfully. "Don't you have worlds to save, gods to defy, and better things to do than waste your time challenging me? You won't succeed! Escape while you still have your life!"
Ewald make a high-pitched noise in alarm as Wynnia refused further communication and dove at him with her sword. "Wynnia, that thing is an immortal!" he shouted as her sword reflected off the shield of light that revolved around its body.
"Stop standing there and cast your magic!" Phyress scolded him as she strung an arrow. When her shot flew from her bow, it erupted into several points of light that swirled about, precisely targeting the enemy. They impacted against the enemy. Then Celes went sliding across the floor, swinging her sword wide. It struck him in an explosion of violet light. His guard broke immediately, leaving him completely prone to Wynnia's attacks.
"In my hand, the creator's sword which calls eternal sleep," Ewald began to chant over the sounds of the ladies beating the master of the first level of the gate to bits. Guilm and Mithra joined in, along with Fraudir and a few more who were just as talented. Phyress and her fellow archer Sha-kon shot well-timed bursts of power from their bows to keep him from recovering.
"Honor our pact and hear my command!" he went on, but before he finished the encantation, he heard the defeated cry of their enemy.
Wynnia panted for breath, holding her sword still raised. "Dammit, Lezard!" she barked at him in her little voice. It wasn't quite so small and sweet when she was angry. "You didn't even finish before we defeated him!"
"What do you care then?" he retorted, brushing the sparkling dust from his dark robes.
Gabriel Celeste coughed and admitted his defeat. "Here is your treasure," he said. "This is your reward..."
"Finally!" Wynnia exclaimed. "The sword Angel Slayer!"
"No, I'm afraid that only Iseria Queen holds that prize," he laughed weakly. "Take this, the Wand of Apocalypse." With that, he disappeared, leaving behind only a magnificent staff of incredible power.
"A wand?" Wynnia complained. "But the much anticipated court mage didn't even do anything!"
"He's only the first master," Ewald replied. "Surely Iseria Queen will be more difficult."
"Yeah, okay," she replied, and handed him the wand. "Take that, and try to use it next time."
He took it into his hands. It's power was so immense that he could feel it racing through his body. "He was powerful," he said to himself, glancing down at the glittering remains of their opponent. "Wynnia and our allies must possess some true power after all in order to defeat him so easily..."
- - -
Several enemies were felled, and finally the Seraphic Gate seemed to come to an end. Its glorious chambers had grown more and more fanciful and bizarre. Ewald wanted nothing more than to stay and study them, to bask in the light which seemed to shine through the mane gates and windows from other world. How he longed to explore them--to see what sort of powers ruled those universes!
Yet Wynnia paid no heed to the magnificence of the Seraphic Gate. She pressed on single-mindedly obsessed with obtaining her sword, the Angel Slayer. Why was she so obsessed with it? Sure, it contained the power to bend a god to one's will by show of force, but did she really think that she could lead a revolution with a single artifact such as that? The All Father who sat on the throne of Asgard--though Wynnia claimed that he was no longer Odin, as little sense as that made--still possessed Gungnir, to which even the fabled Angel Slayer would pale in comparison to. Why was she so determined? Was she really that obsessed with the prosperous future of Dipan, a foreign nation that had been crushed by the gods long before her birth?
It had to be something more than that. Wynnia was after something more--something related to this overblown delusion of hers and this Alicia person who she claimed to be.
They came to the last of the masters' circles, where another blonde-haired and angelic figure greeted them. She looked very much like Gabriel Celeste, but her power was obviously more extreme. Around her, the air sparked with crackles of energy, as if her power simply could not be contained.
"Brave warriors," she said to them. "I congratulate you. You are the first to reach this level of the gate. For this, I will reward you each with your own world--each of you shall have one reflection of the universe to rule under me."
"I rule under no one!" Wynnia replied, and pointed her sword directly at the mistress of all creation. "There is only room for queen of my stature in all the worlds!"
Ewald had learned quickly to begin his spell before the battle had even started, while Wynnia was taunting the enemy. "No mercy for the damned," he began. "No escape from catastrophe..."
"Who dares challenge me?" the Iseria Queen bellowed.
"I am Princess Alicia of Dipan, and I have come for the legendary sword, Angel Slayer!"
The woman pointed a long slender finger accusingly to Wynnia. "You are not the one known as Alicia," she said in a voice that shook the foundations of the very gate itself. "You claim to be the very saint who gave her life to preserve the valkyrie trinity and the sanctity of time itself? This is blasphemy!"
"I am Alicia!" Wynnia shouted, enraged to a state of sheer fury. "Iam Alicia, and I'll prove it to you!"
"Meteor Swarm!" Ewald shouted. Bodies of star-bound stone appeared overhead, smashing into the circle where Iseria Queen floated, about to strike. The powerful spell shook the platform they stood on. The Einherjar knelt to hold their ground as their enemy was bombarded.
"What the Hel is this?" Phyress shouted over the eruption. "You'll kill all of us with a spell like that!"
"It is the power invested to me alone!" Ewald proclaimed above the sound of all of this. He was enthralled with the incredible materialization of his own strength into such raw power. "She is no goddess of the realms!" he cackled, enjoying himself far too much. "Look at me Alicia, see what power I have wrought!"
Wynnia paid little attention to this, and struck at the heart of the smoldering aftermath where Iseria Queen still stood undefeated. "Insolent mortals!" she shouted, and waved her heavy lance in an arc. It caught Wynnia right in the gut and tossed her all the way back to where Ewald and the others stood recovering their bearings after the blast. Then she began to chant a spell. "Powerful name!"
A rune formed underneath Wynnia's body just as Ewald knelt to help her. He watched in horror as jagged thorns jutted upward from the ground all around her body like sharp, horrible claws, and enclosed themselves over her, releasing painful barbs of energy that sparked with pitch black and crimson red. "Wynnia!" he shouted desperately.
When he reached her, she was unconscious and heavily wounded. "Damn, if only I had a healing spell within my arsenal," he grumbled to himself bitterly as he held her.
One of the mages traveling with them knelt beside him whilst his comrades began an open assault on the Iseria Queen. He was young and had a kind face. "Don't worry," he said softly. "She's pretty tough. She'll be fine." He closed his eyes and cast a spell. "Invoke feather," he said in a gentle tone. Light spread out from his fingers to Wynnia's body, healing her wounds. "It isn't much, but it should rejuvenate her."
Wynnia's thick eyelashes fluttered as she opened her eyes and looked up at Ewald, and then to the mage. "Thank you, Seluvia," she said. "Did I draw her attack?"
"What?" Ewald spouted as she pushed herself out of his arms and attempted to stand. "You mean to tell me that you did all of this on purpose?"
"Well, she's got this attack that will put even the strongest person under in one blow," Wynnia replied innocently. "If you're healed quickly enough, it isn't fatal. But, if it were to hit a lot of us at once, it would be devastating. So yeah, I did it on purpose."
"You ignorant fool!" Ewald shouted angrily. "You could have died! Is this ridiculous sword really worth your life? You aren't a goddess, Wynnia! You're a fool mortal just like the rest of the pathetic human race!"
"Don't call me by that old, common name!" she retorted as she lifted her sword once more. "Call me Alicia or nothing at all!"
He grimaced and clutched his fists. "I am growing tired of this..."
"Then you can stay behind!" she shouted. "Come, Seluvia!"
"Yes," the young mage replied. "Lady Alicia, I am at your side."
Ewald watched, grumbling incoherent curses under his breath as the two of them joined the fray.
- - -
The battle against Iseria Queen lasted a great deal longer than the struggle against her male counterpart. Ewald did not see them making any progress. They were not failing, but their opponent was not weakening, either.
Finally it came to a point where Iseria Queen held up her hand and called a halt to the battle herself. Wynnia humored her, and motioned for her Einherjar to pause. "Giving up?" she asked her.
"No," the celestial Iseria Queen replied. "However, this battle is futile. We can wage war until the end of time, and nothing will come of it. You have already convinced me that I was in error. You are, in fact, the reborn incarnation of Alicia, savior of the worlds. I will grant you the Angel Slayer to use as you wish."
"You will?" Wynnia replied excitedly. Her eyes sparkled in anticipation.
Iseria Queen lifted her beautiful hand, full of limitless power, above her head. In her fingers formed a pure white sword. It's blade sparkled like the sky on a bright morning when billions of snowflakes fill the air. She held it out to Wynnia, whose hands reached forward with eagerness. "But know this," she said, stopping just before the handle reached her fingers. "Just because you possess the same soul as that person does not make you her equal. It does not entitle you to the hearts that she has won, or the happiness that she has earned. With the power of this sword, I bestow you with the potential to ruin as well as to protect. Be wary, oh warrior... whoever you decide to be."
Wynnia grasped the ivory handle of the sacred blade and felt its pure, divine energy flow through her. Ewald watched, transfixed by the words of the Iseria Queen, as his dear friend clasped the deadly blade tenderly to her chest and rubbed the pommel with against her cheek affectionately. Was she right? Was Wynnia really Alicia person?
"Grant me one last request," Wynnia said to the mistress of the Seraphic Gate. "Let me ask you one question of absolute fate."
"I will allow this," the queen replied.
Wynnia lowered the sword to her side and met Iseria Queen's eyes with a cold and serious gaze. Ewald was grateful that she was not glaring at him with those eyes. A lesser being would have frozen over caught by it. "Was there any way," she began slowly, "at the sacrifice of Brahms, Silmeria, or any other path... is there any other world, any other reality or branch of causality, in which Rufus and I were able to remain together?"
Ewald was blindsided by this question. Who was this Rufus? Wynnia had never mentioned him, not even in all of her crazed ramblings about her former life and her destinty. What did she mean by "together?" Someone as childish and self-centered as Wynnia couldn't possibly be in love could she?
"No," Iseria queen replied. "Your union was impossible from the moment that you met. Though you may have selfishly returned to the valkyrie Silmeria, leaving him to suffer alone, your demise was inevitable. The Lord of the Undead's body would have disintegrated under the immense power of the valkyries before you were able to defeat Lezard. Even without Lezard's intervention in the past, you would have been slain at the hands of Odin. For Alicia, there was never any chance for life. For Rufus, there was never any chance for rebirth."
Ewald watched as Wynnia raised the sword to her chest again and gripped its handle with such tension that if it was not such a legendary relic, he would have feared she would break it. "Thank you," she said in a dark, deep, tone of voice without lifting her face. Ewald was positively petrified. "One more thing..."
"What is it?"
"I suppose that you can look into the future?" Wynnia said, suddenly reverting to a wistful tone. "Can you tell me if there is a chance for usnow?"
"That I cannot say," she replied. "The future is always in flux." Then she smiled slyly. "What you intend to do with that sword is unwritten. It shall be interesting to watch you. Will you conquer worlds? Purify lands?"
"Not really," Wynnia answered, and turned to leave. She flipped her hair over her shoulder in a cocky gesture. "I'm going to use it to strike through the heart of a god."
Ewald was overjoyed that they were finally leaving. He walked with Wynnia away from the chamber of Iseria Queen, staying close to her as the others followed behind. For all of the Seraphic Gate's amazing scenery and boundless potential, he suddenly felt shaken by it all. Lezard, the person who Wynnia insisted he really was... what had he done? She had never told him the fine details, but according to Iseria Queen's words, he hadkilled Alicia--the soul that was now Wynnia; and his dear friend Wynnia was trying to become Alicia again.
He thought he must be crazy for even considering that all of this was true, but after all that he had seen, how could it not be true? Suddenly he felt afraid of the power that lied within him, of that incredible natural talent which had always defined him. Perhaps Wynnia was content giving herself up to revert to the form of a legendary princess who had saved all of mankind, but Ewald wanted nothing of it. If Ewald had been such a monster in his former life, then he wanted to never remember any of it. He thought that if Wynnia called him Lezard one more time, he might snap.
So, he was more than eager to leave. He wanted to be out of there, but he did not like the way that Wynnia smirked when she said her parting line. He did not like it at all.