Your Holiness

Cynthia x Galatea

Random romance from Cynthia's perspective after her encounter with Galatea in Chap. 79

Disclaimer: I don't own Claymore

1

The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was a holy woman.

Scarred across her face, blood pouring from her ruined body, her left arm severed… the lady they called God-Eye Galatea remained on her knees in front of the church we had saved from Agatha. But she still exuded an aura of great dignity, as if she was a noblewoman trained in all the manners one could expect of her.
She's not, I reminded myself. Claymores are never from noble families.

But it was more than that. She seemed like a natural at it. It felt both glorious and horrible, to see this wounded woman on her knees, silently observing the aftermath of the battle with nothing but her ears.

I hurried to her and stretched out my hands. It was a long time since I had approached such a powerful woman. More than seven years, in fact.

She noticed me, hearing my footsteps, my greaves tapping the ground. "Ah… using Yoki to help my wounds heal," she confirmed. "It's too bad, I'm already a defensive type. I can do this alone."

"It'll be faster with two people," I replied quickly. "Let me help you."

She paused, a wry smile making its way on her lips, as if asking me not to strain myself. I nodded, grinning eagerly. I concentrated, pouring my effort into helping her recover. I stole a glance at her as I worked away at her wounds – I don't know why I avoided her eyes; it wasn't like she could see me gazing at her like a puppy. But her presence… seemed to near mine, despite neither of us having moved.

"Why should I regret it?" came her strong, smooth voice. I snapped out of my quasi-trance and stared at her. "For me, this city… this place… is more important than light itself."

She's talking to Miria, I thought. Talking about her blindness? No, about this city. But she had no opportunity to elaborate; the brown-haired warrior had stepped up, Claymore in hand. She was trembling. I couldn't blame her; she was obviously a weaker fighter, even weaker than the least experienced of our team, Yuma. She stood no chance against us.

Especially not if she hoped to kill Galatea. I paused, unsure of whether to place my hand on my sword's hilt.

"Kid, you want to take us on?" challenged Helen, her voice breaking in.

"No!" called Galatea. "Her task is to kill me. I'm sorry about earlier," she said, turning to the dark-haired girl. "Now that we've dealt with that, my life is yours to take."

I held back an expression of shock.

Brown-hair collapsed on all fours, unable to do the deed. Tears flowed from her face; tears which I suspected were of fear, indecision, and inner turmoil. I could only continue with what I had offered to do – to accelerate Galatea's healing.

I wasn't sure what I would've done if she had attacked her. For a moment, I felt a primal protectiveness rise within my chest and throat, something that I usually didn't feel quite so often. Not since the tragedy of the Northern Campaign.

But why now?

2

"That's a shock, isn't it?" I offered, taking Galatea's hand and helping her up. I was only slightly shorter than her, so my eyes could meet hers quite easily. I glanced at the receding group of my team, who were following the two men called Cid and Galk. "This land being a testing ground for Awakened Beings?" "I'm not sure I want to believe it."

"I must admit, Miria is not spouting rubbish. She has become strong and wise," conceded my senior. "Her research may lead to some rather… diconcerting outcomes." She paused. "You've all become strong. To be able to take down Agatha as a team, with no harm incurred, is something I feel rather proud of."

"Proud… of us? It's been a long time since a higher warrior assumed a caretaker's role for weaker fighters."

An eyebrow made its way up flowing hair. "I mean it, you know."

This time I really blushed, unsure of what to say.

She frowned. "That warrior who was able to deduce the Yoki flow of Agatha…"

I took the hint. "Oh, you might remember Tabitha, former Number Thirty-One?" I replied. "She survived the Northern War with us."

"I see. That Tabitha… is already close to surpassing me." She raised her face to the darkening sky, a brief expression of wistfulness crossing her face. "I suppose it's not a surprise. I have remained here in Rabona for so long; it would be strange for the younger ones not to catch up with me."
"No," I said quickly, slightly disturbed by the sigh in her voice. Her left arm was now slowly, visibly reconstituting itself, but I still took her right hand, clasping it with my own two. "You held out much longer than any of us individually could against Agatha," I tried to reassure her.

A pause of gentle silence. "What is your name, warrior?" she asked, smiling. "These seven years have dimmed my memory quite a bit; though it is always difficult to forget Miria and that troublesome Clare."

My heart skipped a beat, even as my own grip tightened on her hand. "I'm former Number Fourteen, Cynthia. I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself properly."

"I thank you for helping me with my wounds, Cynthia," said the older woman. "I didn't expect anyone to help me, really."

"Please, you're welcome." It took me several moments to realize that Galatea was beaming. What had initiated this change within her from a powerful warrior of the Organization into a deeply caring nun, I had yet to find out. All I knew was that she was moving closer, so that our arms were touching; our hands had completely interlocked. I could not help shuddering slightly. I didn't expect to let out a short sigh, unable to suppress a surge of desire.

"Come to this church tomorrow morning," she whispered, her lips close to my ear. Her blind eyes were softly closed, as if savouring my trembling. "I will personally bless you, in thanks for what you have done for me today." She suddenly frowned, although it was more from irritation than sadness. "It seems I will have to impose on the Brothers for another night of accomodation."

I fell silent as Galatea reluctantly released me and walked past, fingertips gently brushing my hand. She began to speak to Miria and Clare. Even as Helen dropped in on their conversation, I zoned out, unable to understand their strange goodbyes and farewells. Everything seemed strange now. Miria said something about Galatea's future; Galatea replied with some sardonic repartee. I couldn't really tell.

The words rung in my head. "I will personally bless you, in thanks for what you have done for me today."

"Cynthia!" I blinked. Tabitha was amusedly tapping on my the back of my head with her knuckles. "Come on, you. We're going to find somewhere to rest for the night."

"Oh… I see." I turned my back on the church, only to look back longingly. Galatea had only just closed the door behind her, and I could still feel the warmth of her hand. I felt a little troubled that she did not linger to hold me again, despite having already invited me to her sacred house tomorrow.

"I'm mad," I mumbled to myself, as I let Tabitha take my hand and drag me away from the church.

*

The rest of the night passed far too slowly. All that haunted my dreams was of that holy woman and her smile.

3

The next morning, just as the clocktower of Rabona rang, I made my way to Galatea's chapel. I had told Miria that I would be back soon – we couldn't stay for long, although Clare's connections with Cid, Galk and Father Vincent made our stay more or less hassle-free. I set aside my sword outside the church and entered the hall, nervously calling out her name. "Sister Latea?" I inquired. "Are you here?"

Silence, save for the quiet tapping of my feet.

Slightly awestruck by the sacred atmosphere of my the stone walls, the light shining from the windows above, and the ethereal musky wood, it took me a moment to re-orient myself back to my goal. "Galatea?" I called again, slightly discouraged.

To my relief, her voice came. "There you are." A figure emerged from the shadows behind the pew before the altar, where the morning sun hadn't shone yet. The scarred whiteness of her eyes did not fail to haunt me, down to my core, even as she smiled, holding up a small bowl which I assumed contained baptismal water. "Thank you for coming."

She looked as holy as the moment I laid eyes on her, and her nun's clothes, her aesthetic declaration of chastity, as far as I was concerned, accentuated her beauty all the more. "I'm here for your blessing, Holy Sister," I said shyly.

My senior tilted her head, carefully deducing where I was. Then, with purpose, she moved across the room and placed her new hand on my shoulder. "Kneel, Cynthia," she murmured.

Submissively, I went on my knees. I awkwardly placed my hands in a gesture of prayer, bowing my head and closing my eyes. "Take it easy," came her quiet, soothing voice. "Let the presence of God wash away the bloodshed of yesterday." I flinched slightly as the cool water trickled gently down my head, dampening my bangs and slipping down my forehead and cheeks. "And let me cleanse you in preparation for the dangers that will lie ahead for you," she murmured, as she completed the anointing.

"Sorry to interrupt, but… might you come to fight with us, when we leave Rabona? Against the Organization?" I murmured, keeping my hands tightly clasped and my eyes tightly closed.

I felt Galatea pause. "No," she finally replied after a few tense seconds.

"You're the former Number Three; your guidance would be of vital help," I said. "Please, come with the seven of us. We all have grievances against the Organization, don't you?"

I heard her sigh. "I don't think I'm cut out to be the wandering warrior I once was. I may still be able to fight, but these days, I am Sister Latea of Rabona, not God-Eye Galatea of the Organization."

"I'm just suggesting – "

Her tone didn't change. "I think you seven should go ahead without me. Fight your war against the Organization. I don't know if you can really defeat them, but I wish you the best of fortune. And when this land is at peace once again, perhaps you can come back, back to this little chapel of mine." Another pause. "I will wait here, for you all."

Disappointed beyond measure, I opened my eyes, looking at her with a mixture of distress and frustration. She seemed to sense my Yoki's indignation. She set the bowl to one side on the pew to her left, and turned to me. "Did I say something you did not want to hear?" she asked, a slight drip of sarcasm in her voice. I blinked, realizing that I was pouting. I quickly snapped back to what I hoped was a calmer expression, because she was suddenly reaching for my face with both hands.

Good thing I opened my eyes then.

I tried my best not to tremble again at the touch of her soft fingertips. They felt wonderful, pressing protectively around my cheeks, massaging my countenance, brushing away the drops of baptismal water that remained on me. I resisted weakly, struggling feebly, straining my neck to avoid her unseeing gaze, but she merely pressed at my nose with her forefinger, and that was enough to compel my surrender. I closed my eyes in obedience. "Sister… thank you," I mumbled, my previous disappointment mysteriously forgotten.

"I bless you, brave warrior." I raised my head to look at her. She was smiling, one hand now playing with my hair. Timidly, I offered my whole face to her, straining upwards, almost how I imagined a holy woman would strain her arms upwards, in search of the Divine. But for me, I was in search of her.

Oh, God. She was so beautiful.

Suddenly her mouth opened to speak. "I wish I could see you…" she whispered.

I felt tears sting the corners of my eyes. I panicked, trying to blink them away, but to my horror, I sniffled involuntarily. Galatea paused. "Cynthia?"

"Can you… give it some thought?" I blurted. Embarrassment, self-reproach, and determination all rolled themselves inside me, tying my insides up. "I mean… don't say no to me yet. It was a sudden question. You don't need to give a quick answer." I forced a smile. Why? I grumbled to myself. She can't see me, you know that already. "Think about it. We can wait for a bit longer. I don't know where Miria and Clare want to take us, but Miria is a truly wonderful leader. You aren't in bad hands, if you follow her. Who knows? You could even take up her lead, as a former Number Three."

"I don't want to lead brave warriors who are only going to die. It's tough on the leader," grumbled Galatea.

"But you said earlier we could come back anytime here!" I protested. More importantly… "You said I could come back to you, when the land is peaceful again!"

She smirked, as if acknowledging my talent for remembering corny lines. "Alright. If you insist, former Number Fourteen," she whispered, drawing closer. "But be honest – you just want to see me again, don't you?"

And before I knew it, our lips had touched. I had no idea who initiated this affection; I wish I could say for sure it was her. But then, all I felt was myself inhaling sharply, and my heartbeat accelerate monstrously. Oh, it felt so good. Our soft lips as one. My eyes closed, my heart stirring in the same longing I had felt last night, only more intensely; more strongly.

Galatea… this woman, who I saw as a goddess in her own right… as a holy Bride of God… one who was reaching upwards alongside the Divine… she had come down, come down on me. Her pale face was also blushing, although even in love, she was so much more dignified than me. Even as she held me and kissed me, she was composed, stately. She was like a queen, and I a whore. At least I think I gave that impression, as my hands clasped and scrabbled at her shoulders, and I pressed my mouth harder against hers, rapidly losing control of myself. She momentarily retreated, slightly taken aback by my aggression, but I didn't relent; I was merciless to my new conqueror. My right hand found the back of her head, and I pulled her in closer, deeper. Galatea gasped as I forced myself in her mouth, and I barely managed to recognize the fear that flared slightly in her aura of Yoki.

Taking heed, I retreated slightly, panting loudly. Our flushed faces were still close, my eyes meeting her unseeing whites. To my relief, she was still holding me, even as she fell back from my assault of passion, landing on her backside with my trembling body in her arms. Her expression was one of amused exasperation.

Thank God. She still wants me.

It was too much – the smell of the fresh morning dew outside the church, her body's scent of wild flowers, the sun-dappled tranquility of the church. "Your Holiness…" I moaned, my mouth opening wider and my lips deepening in colour. I pushed more forcefully against her breasts with my own hardening nipples, eliciting a quiet grunt of lust from the supposedly chaste woman. Already I had discarded my cloak, revealing to the trembling nun my skintight black leather. I straddled my spiritual benefactor, eagerly tearing away at my top. My fingers were beginning to work at her clothes too, starting with her annoying stockings –

But she would have none of that anymore. Despite her sighs of pleasure and despite how much I wanted to see her naked, she could still control me. She could still command me. "Cynthia… Cynthia! Stop that, you rascal. Not in a house of God." Galatea's grip on me suddenly tightened, and she physically carried me off herself and set me gently aside, next to a pew. Sweaty and moist, I was in no condition to resist. I could only lay there, legs spread and hoping she'd accept my welcome. She stood up, brushing herself off and smoothing back her disheveled hair. Her eyes were closed in rebuke… and if I wasn't mistaken, frustration. "For goodness' sake."

Still overcome with pleasure and desire, I looked up, not completely sure of what was going on. I reached for her desperately, a trail of her saliva trickling down my chin.

Her wry smile was back. "Look at you, you wily beast. You're a mess. Off you go, Cynthia." She turned away. "You've overstayed your welcome, as far as the Brothers are concerned. I cannot keep the congregations waiting on us for the whole day."

She told the priests she wanted to bless me here? Of course, she needed permission… It took me a while to process her words, but I got the gist. "Yes, Sister…" I sighed disappointedly and forced myself up. Well, this sucks. I picked up my cloak and somewhat ashamedly wrapped it around myself. Did I go too far? I've never felt such yearning before. Galatea is the only one who… I inwardly slapped myself. Just walk out with the little dignity you've got left, Cynthia. I made my way shakily towards the door. The silence that pervaded the church, once so welcome to both of us, was now so awkward. I wished one of us would say something. Anything.

"Cynthia."

I perked at her voice and turned back to her. The morning sun was reflecting on her soft countenance, and her smile had turned from its characteristic sardonic wryness to one of encouragement and affirmation. "It is as you said. It's an open question. Let me think about it for a while. Hurry to Miria and the others. I will give you an answer shortly. About whether or not I will come with you."

My expression turned hopeful. "You… aren't angry with me?"

She frowned. "What? Why would I be angry at you, of all people?"

"Nothing," I said quickly. "I just thought… what happened here…"

Galatea bowed her head. "Ah, yes. You were wondering why I forced you off me." I nodded. To my horror, she scowled – at me. "Well, isn't it obvious?" she groaned. "You're making such a fuss in a church with one of its residents; has your sense of propriety been fed to a Yoma?"

What a sledge. I retorted with what little I had: a "Hmph!" and a pout.

My lover smirked. "Well, it's not that complicated. It'll be our little secret, one that if you'd like, we can always resume."

I grinned helplessly. I turned to open the door and leave. But just as I thought things couldn't get any better, she then said something wonderful. They rang in my ears long after she had uttered the words.

"Don't fret, dear Cynthia. We'll be seeing each other again very soon."

*

I closed the chapel door behind me, cheeks as red as Helen's apples. It was still early; Deneve was probably still trying to drag Helen out of bed. But so much had happened... my time with Galatea replayed itself over and over again in my head: her blessing, our conversation, our sudden kiss, our dangerous scrape with consummation... I shook my head, clumsily wiping my lips off of some drool. Was I that engrossed? I glanced around, hoping none of the townspeople saw me. Damn it Cynthia, get a grip. That's it. I'm off to take a cold bath.

But there was an even greater pleasure, an even happier knowledge. It was now not impossible that she would be fighting alongside us. She was going to consider coming with us seven warriors. To fight the Organization together.

But even that possibility was not as wonderful as her strong reassurance that I would see her again. To be able to return to Galatea… the thought of her as my refuge, my home… it made the sun shine brighter, the morning dew sweeter, the gentle breeze of winter all the more refreshing.

That I was welcome in her chapel was wonderful.

That I was welcome in Sister Latea's arms…

I took up my sword outside the church and made my way back to Miria and the others, my footsteps light and jubilant.

I knew Tabitha would be suspicious, but I didn't care.

It was a beautiful new day.

4

The mornings always felt cold.

When we hid ourselves up in the North, the winds and snowstorms would come out of nowhere, catching even the most prepared ranger by surprise. But in Rabona, the elemental mood was chilly, gradual, biting into your skin and digging deep into your muscles. Of course, living in Rabona was preferable to living up North, but in the winter the sudden cooling of the air was remarkable. It felt freezing, despite the warmth we received from the local citizens, from the simple folk of the marketplace to the light-hearted mateship of the soldiers who patrolled the bustling streets. Although the inns and taverns invoked a true feeling of hearth and home despite our Yoma heritage, it still felt cold.

Yes, it felt cold to me… despite my having basked in the warmth of a woman who was once renowned and feared as 'God-Eye'… I shuddered in my cloak; whether it was due to the sudden draft or my thoughts about her, I didn't know.

"She's taking her time," said Miria, adjusting the strap on her waist. "Are you sure she's coming? Even Miata and Clarice made it," she added, nodding to the younger warriors who stood at ease, the long-haired child hugging the brown-haired woman like she was the most precious thing in the realm.

"Yes," I said. "Please wait a bit longer." Miria nodded, although her silver eyes reflected a slight degree of uncertainty. I couldn't blame her. Clarice may be the weakest Number Forty-Seven in history, but she was still technically part of the Organization; her discipline hadn't withered at all. Miata… well, it seemed like she looked to Clarice almost like a mother, so I felt my heart at ease in regards to her. But Galatea…

She must be used to doing things her own way, at her own pace.

Was that why she pushed me away when I tried to… I had no time to convince myself otherwise, because Galatea had finally arrived. She had emerged from the corner of a market street that connected to the locale where her church was. Still robed in her nun's outfit, she glided towards us nonchalantly, like she was expecting us to be waiting for her. In one hand she held her Claymore and the other, a small bag of what I suspected were provisions. I guess she was leaving her church for good anyway; there was no point in hiding anymore.

For the people who shuffled out of her way had fear in their eyes.

Miria breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. But are you still going to wear that holy uniform of yours when we're taking down the Organization?"

"Don't worry. We'll see what garments Fortune has me don," replied the older warrior in her usual wit.

As she approached, my wandering thoughts began to make their way back to the night before…

*

"I've decided." I felt my heart leap into my throat as I stared into the unseeing eyes of the woman I loved. It was midnight, and the entire city was quiet. I was standing outside Galatea's chapel, and she stood in front of the slightly open door. She had called me all the way out here, in the dead of the sleeping city, to give the answer that I had prayed for, and dreaded, since morning. The entire day had been agony; I should have been recuperating like the others, but I simply remained curled on my bed in the inn Miria had arranged for us to stay in, unable to think about anything else. When Yuma had knocked on my door and given me a scrap of parchment with Galatea's scrawled message to meet her, my excitement – and trepidation – knew no bounds.

And now, her lovely lips parted as she spoke. Her words were spoken very quietly, but to me, they shook the earth. "I will come with you."

I stared at her for several moments.

"I will come with you," she repeated, her face sincere, "to find my own answers. I want to find out why the Organization has had such an insidious influence for so long. I also want to destroy the people who were able to complete their… experiment on the new Number One and Two. To force two mere children to Soul Link is… abominable, and I believe following you will be the only way I lay this part of my conscience to rest."

It took me a few seconds to understand the full meaning of what she had uttered. I will come with you. I think she said something else about the Organization, something about the new Number One and Two. But I didn't really get the gist of that. As far as I was concerned, all she had said was: "I will come with you."

She will… come with me?

Oh, yes.

I tumbled forward, taking her by surprise, and embraced her, clasping the slightly taller woman by her shoulders. "Goodness, Cynthia," whispered Galatea in a scandalized voice. "You don't have a private audience with me anymore, you know. Should someone catch us –"

It's midnight. What are you so worried about? "Oh, Galatea," I mumbled, refusing to release her, her soft garments muffling my voice. "Thank you. You won't regret this, I promise."

"I hope I won't," she grumbled, somewhat hesitantly returning my hug by wrapping her arms around my waist. I snuggled closer encouragingly, and for a short while, we stood at the entrance of her chapel, holding one another, savouring the intimate tranquility that entwined us together.

"Where must I meet you tomorrow?" she asked quietly.

"In the town square," I whispered. "When the belltower rings."

"I understand. Then, go get some rest now."

But before I could release her, her head shifted, drawing even closer. My eyes fluttered in mild surprise as her lips pressed against mine lightly, before shyly withdrawing. When she let me go, I could only stand there and gaze at her, lost in her unseeing, scarred eyes. I felt a shade of pink making its way across my face.

"Now, go," she commanded, the authoritative finality of her voice returning.

It was strange how it could feel so warm in the dead of night.

*

"Galatea," called Miria, her voice breaking into my wandering thoughts. "We're going." She turned to the rest of us. "We'll continue our journey down south, to attack the heart of the Organization." She pursed her lips. "I have a feeling our former 'contractors' know many things that are still in the dark to us. As I said before, we can't let anyone realize that we know that the Organization produces Yoma somehow, and that this land is but a laboratory for Awakened Beings. For now, we'll keep our agenda secret, until we've rounded up as many of our foes as needed. Keep on the lookout for any Yoma." She turned away. "Let's go, everyone."

"Goodbye, Rabona!" cried Helen, stretching her arms and offering her face to the rays of the warm sun above. "Deneve! Don't get left behind," she called, bouncing forth in Miria's wake. Yuma and Tabitha hurriedly gathered the remaining provisions we had and began to follow Clare, who had turned towards the city gates.

With nothing more than a wave of goodbye to Cid and Galk, who happened to be on patrol that day, we crossed the threshold of the city and walked beyond its walls. Our journey, momentarily halted in our battle against Agatha, had resumed.

Once we were seven. Now we were a ten-warrior strong team. Miria had taken the lead, followed closely by Clare, Helen, and Deneve. Tabitha, Yuma, and I followed, and trailing behind us were Clarice and Miata. I blinked in surprise as I noticed Galatea was already walking beside Clare, talking quietly with her.

I shuffled up to the holy woman, somewhat bashfully. I discreetly brushed my hand along hers, hoping that she would notice. To my pleasure, she did, turning to me with her usual bored smile. "Take care of me," she requested quietly.

She couldn't see me nod so hard that I felt like my head would fall off.

5

Several hours passed, and before I knew it, we were passing through one of the forests that dotted Miria's parchments south of the Rabona landmark. It was a quiet, shady haven, where the sun seemed to shine perpetually through the tall, benevolent trees. It felt a lot like Rabona, with the citizens of flora crowding up the entire area, much like the vendors at the marketplace in the mornings.

I shook my head. I think some strange things. From my peripheral vision, I caught Galatea smirking at me, and I turned away, slightly embarrassed.

But she can't see me!

"So what makes this forest any different, that we have to pass through here? They're all the same to me," grumbled Helen, stretching her arms. "If not for Miria, I'd be lost long ago."

"I remember this place well," said Clare softly, the afternoon sun shining gently on her impassive face. Helen looked at Clare in surprise, inviting her to elaborate. "It was to here where I followed a warrior who had saved me," said Clare quietly. "She was the Organization's Number One. It was here where she accepted me. From here we went to a city where she would commit the Organization's most unforgivable crime. And that…" she turned to look at the setting sun. "That started a lot of things."

"…Oh." Helen and Deneve fell silent, and Yuma looked at me, shrugging. I nodded, respecting the silent recognition that passed between the four warriors.

Tabitha spoke up, her voice concerned. "Miria," she said. Miria looked at her, expecting her to say something else.

"Isn't this forest a bit too quiet?"

Our leader's eyes suddenly narrowed. "You're right."

Miria suddenly grabbed her sword and stabbed upwards, impaling a Yoma that had tried to jump from the canopy. "Scatter," she commanded calmly, her New Mirage blurring her physical form. We complied, leaping back. The young Miata swung, decapitating another Yoma that had lunged at her. She jumped to help Clarice even as we individually engaged with the pack of monsters that had surrounded us.

They felt powerful, but at most, they were of intermediate strength. I carefully held up my Claymore in an overhead guard, a more offensive stance than I would have preferred. But it was a good opportunity. The Yoma facing me lunged, and I twisted to the right, bringing my sword in a diagonal slash. It fell, split in half. I pivoted, cleaving another in the opposite direction: left to right; bottom to top. I winced as the blood of the second sprayed me in the face. I rolled away just as the claw of a larger monster stabbed into the place where I had been standing. "Your left," came Tabitha's calm voice. I nodded and dashed in that direction, stabbing into the Yoma that had expected to surprise me. "One more. North-west." I pivoted and placed my Claymore in a thrusting guard and lunged, my determined gaze meeting the shocked yellow eyes of my final enemy. He howled as I withdrew my sword from his chest, collapsing and convulsing before he lay still. Glancing forwards, I could see Helen and Deneve finishing the few Yoma that stood in their way. Miria and Clare advanced in their wake, cutting down two fleeing Yoma in a haze of purple gore, staining the trees around us.

I glanced at Galatea, wondering if we could ever fight like that together.
In your dreams, Cynthia. In one smooth stroke, she had already the last three massive Yoma with that ever-present, wry smile. As she landed softly on the ground, gore trickling down her blade, I knew her skills hadn't deteriorated – if anything, she was slightly stronger. She'll probably never need me.

Tabitha approached Galatea, her eyes wide in admiration. "You are even stronger than what I saw in Rabona."

"Thanks for the observation," replied Galatea, smirking.

I was about to say something to Galatea, to politely steer her attention away from Tabitha to me, when Helen's voice interrupted my plans. "Too easy," she growled. "But why was there an ambush all the way out here?"

"It's strange," agreed Deneve. "Someone must be watching us."

Clarice suddenly leaped forwards, turning back and positioning herself in a fighting stance. True to Deneve's Yoki sense, a figure of medium height had emerged from the clump of trees behind Clarice. It was a young man of medium size, although the weight of his immense Yoki was similar to that of the deceased Rigardo, the Awakened Being who almost single-handedly slaughtered all our comrades at Pieta. "What's the meaning of this?" muttered the newcomer. He was also dressed in a manner similar to the Silver-Eyed Lion King, although his garments were black and he looked slightly older, with a black moustache and a narrower face. "All my servants… killed?"

My eyes widened. Why couldn't we sense his presence?

"Who are you?" demanded Miria.

The black-haired man nodded grimly. "I am Dante," he replied quietly. "I am the former Number Five of Lord Isley's generation."

TO BE CONTINUED