Epilogue: Last Sight
He still expected a censure. And he certainly got one.
Standing before the chairpersons of the Office of the Executive, he stood apart from Galatea, who was commended for bringing back a fellow warrior from a combat zone alive. Instead, he was debriefed, accused of negligence, fouling up a critical meeting with Adnen and returning with only one out of four of the doomed hunting squad. They gave him time to defend himself, as they huddled and deliberated on an appropriate sentence.
He knew that Galatea, standing at the periphery of the proceedings, was watching him with pity. How far have the favoured fallen. He did not return her stare this time. But you could've spoke up to defend me.
Once the consultations were over Rubel, part of the sentencing committee, broke the news to Ermita with a wide grin on his face. A Luciela-false kind of smile. His established contacts still too valuable to the Organization, he was to be consigned to be posted to head the Organization's Crisis Negotiation Branch, stationed in Staff itself. His mistakes and inability to act properly before warriors (and to set a good precedent for them) meant he was to be stripped off the honour of mentoring the 'Eye'. After all, Rubel added as a conclusion, rotating handlers would prevent "unduly favouritism and untoward behaviour among warriors and their handlers".
He accepted their critique and his demotion without comment. The meeting adjourned, he did not wish to speak to Galatea. Not yet. But he noted with some satisfaction when she went up to Rubel and spat with contempt at his shiny black glasses.
Self-righteous, you are.
He would not see Galatea for many more months, but he knew the rumours of war circulating within Staff. Then came the Pieta incident. And, deciding that finally the time was right, he decided to confront her.
He found her outside Staff, away from the stuffiness of the Organization's walled fortress, her head in her hands.
"I've seen what the Organization's been doing in the dark," she told him. He noticed her eyes: they were, for the first time in all the years they had been living day to day together, red and swollen. When he pressed further, she gave in: "Alicia and Beth."
He asked her why she had been crying. Which she vehemently denied
"I've lost at least fifteen comrades in Pieta. And I'm human, am I not?" she said to him. He nodded. "Well my new handler thinks I'm invincible."
He observed her: in full battle regalia, recently having been censured not once – but twice – over some incident with a certain missing Number Forty-Seventh warrior and again over a refusal to support the Organization's assassin-warrior in tracking down Pieta deserters. Rubel had taunted him just the other day: if it were not for the manpower shortage, your precious Number Three would have already been garroted – twice.
He watched her, like he did in the old times, quietly. Like he was by a fire in a distant southwestern forest, his senses recording the way the shadows cast by the flames trickled down the relief of her face, the bridge of her nose, the crest of her elfin face –
He wondered aloud if those were the good times.
Then he told her, in a single damming breath, that if she wanted to disappear she'd have to erase all trace of her yoki and live as a human with a decent, well-respected occupation, like a healer, or a surrogate mother, or a nun.
And he added that if she wanted to go, she'd have to do it now. Before the changing of the sentries, before they reestablished contact with their assassin-warrior again. She needed to leave now, he insisted. As for him, no one would acknowledge the word of a disgraced mentor anyway.
He sat waiting for her to leave. He told her in conclusion that he hated goodbyes, being unaccustomed to them, not having the opportunity to bid goodbye to his own family when the yoma took them. So go now, he finished his advice, and don't come back. He knew she had experienced what leaving everything behind meant – too.
Her hands clasped as if in prayer, she cast one look at him, then at the imposing city of Staff looming behind. She probably wanted to ask why he did not desert too, he thought. But, again, he was wrong.
"I've one request, since I'll never see you or this place again." He noticed her hands were trembling, her face strangely distressed – in a pensive, thoughtful kind of way. "Will you let me see your real face, Ermita?"
Her appeal stunned him. He could not even remember when he had last shown his face to anyone else.
Grimly, he pulled off his cloak, then his hood. His hands slid underneath the complex folds of his face covering and pulled them loose with one tug. Facing her, without any veil or hood, felt like he was facing the sunshine: a gentle, soft warmth.
She did not flinch as he had expected her to. But as she approached him, bent lower, and anointed his bare forehead with her lips, she whispered to him: "I've have seen the face of an angel."
Later, much later, when he had almost forgotten what it was like to see Galatea's face framed against the sun, he would learn from the warriors sent to kill the former number three that his was the last face she beheld before she put her eyes out and sacrificed sight for a devout life of utter darkness.
Righteous one. At last.
It's been 9 months. But it's finally been completed.
All the hard work in editing & proofreading goes to Arakan7 (T35). His advice helped to guide & make this humble story what it is.
In the end, I guess I've grown to like Ermita as a character, even though the canon has changed hugely ever since the time I put my thoughts to this story. There's no indication as to whether Ermita is still alive in the canon, or what would his fate be should the current Ghost 7 achieve success in destroying the Organization - but hopefully he makes at least 1 reappearance :)
I will break from writing short stories in Claymore for now. I'll be focusing on Proximity (one-shots) & Mononoke-Hime fics, the genre that first got me watching & writing fanfiction about anime.
Syukur Kepada Tuhan untuk tulisan saya. All glory to God.