Chapter 10: Tears of God

After so many years of wandering, searching, and fighting, the Ghosts, who had been joined by Galatea, Miata and Clarice, discovered that the Army of the nation, which had been waging war against the mysterious Dragon Tribes of a distant land, was responsible for the creation of the Organization and the experiments of Awakened Beings on the Continent. As the final battle drew near, the supreme commander of the Army, Grand General Lord Carmelo, was revealed to have orchestrated everything on the continent since the beginnings of the Organization. After receiving news of not just the Western Gate Marshal's defeat at the hands of the Ghosts, but of Raphaela's as well, he formed a vast force of seven armies to personally initiate the Awakening of the Ghosts, and consolidate his vision of victory against the Dragon Kin. Leading these seven armies were his Pacifying Generals: the Eastern, Northern and Southern Gate Marshals Antonius, David and Frederick, the Organization's Black Twins, Alicia and Beth, and the Abyssal One Isley and his consort Priscilla. As this terrifying expedition crossed the plains near Darene, the ten Ghosts were joined by reinforcements from Rabona, led by Cid and Galk. Together, the Ghosts and the Rabona elite guard stood their ground, determined to mete out justice against the leaders of the Army, who had caused centuries of untold misery amongst its own people. As this final onslaught raged beyond the city, it seemed that, for a moment, survival was possible.

However, the losses were already tremendous. Frederick, David, Antonius had fallen. Tabitha, Yuma, Helen, and Deneve were unaccounted for, feared dead. Alicia had died at the hands of Galatea. And to Miria's horror, Clare had moved against Priscilla by herself.

Amidst this carnage, the conclusion of Darkness Falls unfolds…

*

Amidst the plains beyond Darene lay the corpses of thousands of men. Many had travelled back from the Isles, away from their archenemies the Dragon Kin, to do battle with a mere ten women. Many others were warriors from Rabona, who had sacrificed themselves in the name of protecting their people from their own Army.

These two personages were His Eminence Lord Carmelo, and the former Number Six, Miria. Thousands of human beings hailing from the Isles and across the Continent gathered to die in the name of these two leaders.

From the distance, it was clear that despite having a massive numerical disadvantage, the combined forces of the Ghosts and Rabona elite guard were slowly gaining ground. The Rabona riders, although having their forces reduced to a quarter of their original size, had routed most of the seven armies, thanks to the defeats of Marshal David, Frederick, and Antonius. The deaths of these Pacifying Generals had demoralized the Army to the extent that many of its soldiers opted to flee the plains of Darene rather than face Galk and Cid, who remained alive amidst hundreds of their comrades' corpses.

This battle had become almost an absurdity. But it was a pivotal one. One that would steer the course of humanity's war against the Descendants of the Dragons.

It is a price worth paying. The Dragons must not triumph.

With these reflections, a golden eyed, raven-haired man, spurred on his horse, and began to ride towards the bedlam in the distance…

*

"Get out of my way!" roared Miria, as she dodged another thrust from Isley's lance. Dammit, I have to get to Clare! She slashed wildly at the centaur, who bashed her away. She felt her arm break. She could not fight him on equal footing like this. Even as she managed to force herself up, the Abyssal One had kicked her away with a raise of his hooves, sending her sprawling several yards. She grunted in pain, clutching her Claymore close to her. Although she was not dead yet, it was clear what he was trying to do.

Isley was torturing her. Soon, she would, out of desperation, tap into the entirety of her Yoki, and it was then that Isley would have fulfiled his orders.

Awakening…

Time was running out.

How – how could it have ended up like this? she thought, as Isley's shield easily blocked an attack from her New Mirage.

I have to resist. If I don't, I'll end up dead. It's as simple as that, she affirmed, as his lance cut past her, drawing a stream of blood from her face.

For the warriors who trusted in me… for those who chose to follow me… for all the suffering the Organization has caused…

For Hilda…

I will not lose.

Miria's grip on her sword tightened. "…ISLEY!!!" she roared, even as she felt his hooves dig into her stomach and send her flying, above the roaring crowds of warring soldiers…

*

Amongst the many corpses of Knights and Rabona riders stood the former Number-Seven, Clare. She had wandered the land in search of revenge, against a young girl named Priscilla. This young girl was, without a doubt, the most powerful Awakened One the land had ever bore witness to. As she lost the remnants of her humanity and Awakened, she had killed the most formidable Number One in history, Teresa, with her own hands. Ever since this shocking victory, she had engaged in a wild rampage, devouring the insides of countless human beings; and crushed her former rivals, Isley and Rigardo, with little effort. And now, by order of the Grand General, she lent her destructive hand against the Ghosts.

Clare had loved Teresa.

It was for this simple reason that she now stood before Priscilla, her grip tightening on her sword. After more than a decade of scouring the land for any sign of her, she now looked upon the despicable face of Teresa's murderer. "You killed Teresa," said Clare quietly, her voice simmering with hatred. "I won't forgive you."

Priscilla had not transformed into her Awakened form yet. She stared absently up at the sky even as Clare lunged, roaring in fury. Priscilla looked at her. Her mouth opened slightly. "Do you… want to hurt me?" she mumbled. Her body began grow slightly larger as Clare advanced. Gradually, her skin darkened, and her eyes grew yellow. Her hair shrunk back, and a geyser of Yoki erupted from beneath her, ripping her pink dress away, revealing a completely naked Awakened Being.

"I don't like people who hurt me," she murmured, claws sprouting from her slender fingers. She suddenly opened her mouth, hissing. Her teeth had become fangs, and her roar was deafening.

The hated horned head. The disgusting purple, taut body. Those demonic, leathery wings. Clare inched forward, her eyes flashing yellow. Her arm tightened, as she prepared to use Quicksword. Then, as fast as an elemental zephyr, she lunged, bringing her sword up –

She was too slow. Too slow for Priscilla, at least. The Awakened Being calmly raised her hand, and her five fingers elongated int organic spears. They whistled and shot towards Clare, who managed to evade three of them, but one stabbed into her foot, the other past her calf. She swore quietly and quickly sliced them apart with two vigourous strokes, landing painfully on the ground. Priscilla advanced calmly, raising her two hands and shooting all ten fingers at her. Clare unleashed her Yoki and sprinted forward, her Windcutting technique slicing through three of the blindingly fast fingers. I'll reach her quickly and put an end to this

"That probably won't work." Priscilla's claws tore through Clare's body mid-air, and the momentum only heightened the pain as Clare felt her inner muscles flayed out in the open. Swearing through the pain, she attempted to hide her Yoki and step past Priscilla's line of sight. But even this strategy was far too immature for her monstrous adversary, whose clawed foot dug into her stomach, mauling it beyond recognition.

Barely able to stand, her legs trembling uncontrollably, Clare roared in desperate frustration as she attempted a wild slash at Priscilla, but even that was futile as the other calmly slapped away her sword with one of her fingers. With shocking ease, her other four weapons shot upwards and impaled Clare in the thigh, arm, right breast and shoulder. Swinging Clare up with her weapons still piercing into her body, she slammed her painfully on the ground, again and again. Clouds of dust rose from the prairie as Priscilla mercilessly hurled Clare down one final time, leaving the younger warrior choking sand and blood.

It was a crushing defeat. Humiliating, and utterly one-sided.

Clare twitched and moaned in hopeless agony as her life spilled out across the plains. How could she lose? She had fought for so long, against so many enemies… all for this?

It seemed… so unjust. Is… the summit this high? So high that I can never scale it? she thought in despair. No matter how many years… no matter how hard I've fought

Can I really never reach her?

Priscilla rose, and brought her hand up. "This is the end for you," she said quietly. "Goodbye, weak one." But just before her elongated fingers came down in a killing blow, a straight, double-edged broadsword from behind suddenly punctured her chest, its tip emerging almost a foot from her torn breast.

She looked down in astonishment.

Impossible.

Although she was lying face-down, Clare could also glimpse Priscilla's stupefied expression. Her bloody mouth also dropped open in shock. Who could possibly have approached Priscilla without having its aura detected?

"Why… why could I not avoid this attack?" murmured Priscilla, looking behind her. Her astonished eyes fell upon those of a relatively short, youthful-looking man. A man of royal purple and melancholy grey robes and a flowing black cape tinted with shining saffron. A man of mournful, raven hair, and passionate golden eyes.

As she lay helplessly on the ground, Clare's eyes widened. "You… you are…"

"It's 'Your Eminence' to you, young lady," smiled the newcomer darkly. "I am the Grand General of the Army, Lord Carmelo. You will address me with the appropriate honorifics."

The supreme commander of the nation's military had personally made his way onto the battlefield. He had also stabbed his own Pacifying General.

Why?

"God's wounds," exclaimed Lord Carmelo irritably, as he twisted his blade, eliciting another choked cry of pain from Priscilla. "You were supposed to Awaken her, not kill her, foolish girl," he chided. "I do not kill needlessly. In fact, I need these young women as part of my army against the Dragons.

"Really. I should have thought more carefully about recruiting Isley. A great man is not worth a troublesome woman."

Priscilla suddenly gasped. Something was wrong – horribly wrong. Black fluid continued to pour out from her vital organs, regardless of her incredible Yoki. Her flesh was refusing to close up. It could not pull itself together and regenerate. A sword wound through her chest usually would not have meant anything at all. Her Yoki was simply too strong to allow such a common wound to hurt her at all.

Then why was her flesh visibly shrivelling before the metallic touch of his blade?

Why was she feeling so terribly weakened before his very presence?

Priscilla staggered. "I'm scared…" she mumbled, as she began to revert to her human form. The horn receded, and the hair darkened back into that of a brunette child's. The naked little girl teetered before the older man, as he looked at her swaying back emotionlessly. Clare was rapidly losing consciousness, but her thoughts still ran through her head, barely able to understand the sheer level of power she had just witnessed.

W hat power could possibly defeat even Priscilla? His aura pressure is like Galatea's, only infinitely stronger. Priscilla can't even use her basic Awakened powers to heal herself from the wound he inflicted!

Carmelo raised his eyes, even as he pulled his weapon out of the slumping body of his victim. "Ah. Welcome," he smiled, as a black-and-cream body flew past him, slamming into the sand. "You're just in time to witness my final victory."

It was Miria. The leader of the Ghosts struggled up, confusion in her silver eyes. She had just landed, having been thrown back again by Isley's overwhelming power, and was only just recovering her winded body.

"What…" she looked at him. "Who… who are you?"

Carmelo laughed. "I know of you from the Western Gate Marshal, yet you do not know of me? You have never seen my journals, my war diaries in all the records you have stolen from the Organization's archives? You have never heard of my name praised in the annals of this Continent's history? As its creator? As the Organization's benefactor and sponsor of Yoma experimentation?"

Miria felt her stomach open in dread. "Could it be… that you're… Carmelo…?"

The Grand General smiled affirmingly. "Truly, you are your comrades' leader."

"You!" shouted Miria in enraged realization, as she looked upon the face of her archnemesis. "You are the orchestrator of all this carnage! All this treachery! This betrayal of your own people!!"

Carmelo blinked. After a few moments of unsure silence, he smiled again. "You're raving," he said quietly. "Be silent. Although I suppose I have to kill you eventually anyway – "

Gargantuan hooves landed nearby, resonating through the bloodsoaked plains. The giant Awakened Being Isley stood before Carmelo, about to aim his lance at Miria again when he caught sight of the lifeless Priscilla on the ground.

"No. Impossible," he said, shock in his voice. "What is the meaning of this?"

"I executed her, because she failed in her task. I want these women Awakened, not dead," snapped his commander.

"How… how could you… a human – " now Isley's voice was rising in anger. "How… how could you have killed her?"

"The Awakened One so many feared to be stronger than all the Abyssal Ones?" shrugged Carmelo. He raised his gleaming broadsword. "This was forged specially for my office. It is called the Sword of Heaven. Made from the same metal as that of your swords," he added, looking pointedly at Miria. "The ultimate in anti-Dragon technology; it nullifies many of the powers that Dragons possess. And before you accuse me of foul magicks, know that I am no Yoma; no Awakened Being; no Claymore. I am simply a mortal human being, my body forged in the fires of battle and the mind forged in the steel of the academy." He paused. "No tricks. I am as powerful as they get."

Isley stared at Carmelo in rage. "How dare you, Grand General."

Carmelo blinked. "Is something amiss?"

"You turned your back on our promise! I cannot rule this Continent without her. And now you have – "

"Ah, I see. So you dare speak to me as an equal? Pay for your presumption!" declared Carmelo, his golden eyes narrowing. He smiled scornfully as Isley angrily re-aimed his lance at him. "Know your place. You are but my Pacifying General. So disobedient."

With his consort dead, Isley charged, thrusting his lance at Carmelo. The Grand General lashed out with his sword, and the two weapons clashed. For a moment, it seemed that Isley would easily overwhelm Carmelo, who was at least twenty-five feet shorter than him. But as Miria realized to her shock, they were evenly matched. In fact, Carmelo, a slight, mere mortal human, was pushing back the titanic Isley slightly.

"Wh… what?!" roared the centaur.

"I thought you were one of my greatest warriors, Lord Isley," said Carmelo, his hand not even struggling against Isley's massive bodyweight. "A pity Priscilla turned out to be a brainless girl who couldn't follow orders, and you turned out to be an immature, disobedient brat." Suddenly, Carmelo's knees bent. His sword began to tear through Isley's lance, and the human leaped upwards, piercing straight through his adversary's arm, ripping Isley's limb to shreds. Isley's eyes widened. "Im… impossible," he sputtered, as Carmelo hurtled upwards, and slashed at his chest.

The comparatively tiny sword, which should have caused a minor scratch, cleaved a massive, ten-foot, wet wound across the Awakened Being's upper body, and continued to enlarge even as Carmelo descended back onto the ground, landing lightly on his feet. Black blood showered the battlefield as Isley staggered and lost control of his Awakening powers. "My Sword of Heaven will not just multiply the power of its own blade. It will not only nullify the aura of others and conceal my own. Its damage penetrates so deeply that even the physical functions of beings with Yoki abilities are compromised – regeneration included," said Carmelo quietly.

Cynthia gasped. "How… how could he – "

No longer did Isley resemble a centaur. He had shrunk dramatically, returning to his blond-haired, handsome, human form. His eyes shone with futile fury, betrayal, and… despair. "I… should have never placed my trust in human beings a second time…"

He collapsed on his knees as what little of his Yoki dissipated into the air. He landed face down in the sand, unable to support even his human weight. "Carmelo…" he murmured, his weakening voice muffled further by the sand and blood in his ruined mouth. "A curse upon the traitorous human race of which you so proudly belong to." And with those last words, the Abyssal One, Isley of the Silver Locks, fell silent, his long life finally leaving his body forever.

"Awakened Beings that cannot be controlled are useless," said Carmelo quietly, as he flicked Isley's blood off his sword. "Better that I should wrong others, than others wrong the world." He gazed outwards towards the darkening horizon. "Dusk is falling," he murmured. He glanced up, as several nearby Knights were hurled away into the air. Galatea, who was supporting the silent and wounded Beth with one arm, had forced her way through the remnants of fighting soldiers, followed closely by Cynthia. They halted in their tracks upon catching sight of the corpses of Priscilla and Isley. Cynthia cried out in shock as she saw the now unconscious Clare's wounds.

With her free arm, Galatea pushed Cynthia behind her. "No… it cannot be," she muttered wildly to herself.

He glanced at Galatea. "So, Raphaela failed to kill you. And not only that; but you have defeated the Black Ones as well." He smiled amiably even as his remaining Knights fell around him. "I am thankful I arrived at this moment in time. You are as good as your reputation boasts."

"Cynthia," said Galatea quietly. "Take Beth." Cynthia obeyed, and Galatea reached back for her sword. "You are the enemy leader?" she demanded. "Your Generals are falling around you even as we speak. It won't be long before we defeat you as well."

"You will find my head a most uncooperative target," retorted Carmelo, raising the Sword of Heaven. "Have at you!" he somersaulted into the air, his blade touching Galatea's. She pushed forward – and felt herself staggering back, as if an invisible, magnetic hand had repelled her without the Grand General even moving. She gritted her teeth. "Fall!" roared Carmelo, stabbing at Galatea, before slashing upwards diagonally and back down again. He rolled away from a desperate counterattack by his blind enemy, before raising his sword down and slashing down in a violent motion, igniting the air in flames behind its bladetip. "Fall, and Awaken! Awaken, all of you!" He pivoted, turning in a circle and slashing horizontally, forcing Galatea away and cutting Miria through her arm, who had attempted to attack him from behind. As Galatea reeled, he thrust forward, his broadsword stabbing into her stomach, and as quickly he pulled it out and slashed outwards again, and a powerful shockwave radiated around him, hurling them back even further.

Cynthia protectively wrapped her arms around the trembling Beth, her eyes betraying frustration and helplessness. If only I could help Galatea

Miria scrambled up and hurled herself at him, her sword raised. "What an eyesore!" exclaimed Carmelo, counterattacking. Miria felt her stomach open, blood vomiting out from her torn abdomen. She screamed, barely able to hold her sword. "You are the leader of these women?" cried Carmelo, countering her desperate attack. "Do you still not see reason? You should be honoured! Pleased! You hold the key to this land's salvation against the Dragons!"

"Freedom is the only true salvation," spat Miria at her archnemesis. "You've damned us to a life in Hell!"

"You are adamant?" cried Carmelo, rolling aside. "Your methods are those that will only prolong this bloody conflict against creatures far stronger than us! My way is the only way!"

Galatea slashed at him again, but she slammed painfully into the ground as Carmelo's new shockwave sent the two veteran Ghosts flying back again. She blinked, and Carmelo was upon her. There was nowhere to evade.

It was useless. Whatever they did, he had an answer for. However they responded, he pre-empted them.

How could they possibly survive, let alone triumph?

Galatea crumpled to the floor, physically incapacitated. "Perhaps a wound to your stomach would help you rekindle those pangs of Awakening," declared Carmelo, raising his hand.

"NO!!" screamed Cynthia.

The broadsword descended.

Galatea closed her eyes, and waited for the inevitable. "I will not Awaken. I'll die before I make myself useful to you," she said calmly.

But just as she steeled herself for the inevitable pain, a sword blocked Carmelo's way, the clang ringing audibly through the air.

The Grand General's eyes narrowed.

A scar across the left eye. Shortened hair to the shoulders.

Raphaela stood before Carmelo, blocking his blade, her sword pushing against his. "Raphaela!!" cried Galatea in shock. Cynthia gasped, and Miria's eyes suddenly shone with a glimmer of hope.

The Grand General's eyes narrowed. "What is the meaning of this?" he snarled. "You failed to carry out the mission I assigned you, and now you attack me directly? You are committing treason, young lady."

"She told me everything," said Raphaela. "Everything about the Army. The Continent. You." She struggled to force him back. "It seems like you missed out certain pieces of information when you recruited me."

For the first time, Carmelo audibly grunted in frustration. "Damn you women."

Galatea glanced at Miria and Raphaela, who both nodded. Raphaela blocked Carmelo's surprise attack and thrust, forcing him to engage her in earnest. To his disturbance, Raphaela seemed to at least match his speed. He waved his sword, and a trail of elemental mana spilled from his blade, sending Raphaela staggering back. She desperately held up her sword in a forced block, but his relentless slashing was going to break through her defence sooner than later.

But as the swords of the veteran warriors screeched against the other, with Carmelo on the advantage, Miria came from his flank, and aimed her sword directly at his head. Narrowing his eyes, he moved to evade –

But for just one moment, he could not.

What? he thought in astonishment.

Lying on the ground, Galatea raised her bloody face and smiled. "I guess that's all I can do to help. Not too bad for a wounded cripple." Her Yoki had suddenly clashed with his aura, and he struggled to move; only for a second. Within that short time he had crushed Galatea's influence with ease, but it was one moment too late. Miria's Mirage blade punctured his jugular, prompting a gush of blood and tissue from his flesh. His windpipe snapped sickeningly as his eyes widened in astonishment. The Claymore blade, thicker than his entire neck, lodged itself in the latter, a disgusting, lethal wound which was Miria's last card. Gore poured uncontrollably down his robes, dyeing his dark purple and black vermillion. His life poured out of his sliced neck as Galatea paused. Was he going to attempt some miraculous healing through Yoki? Or perhaps his sword could…

He spoke the truth. "I am no Yoma; no Awakened Being; no Claymore. I am simply a mortal human being, my body forged in the fires of battle and the mind forged in the steel of the academy."

Suddenly, everyone seemed to fall silent.

Carmelo lifted his gaze to the woman who had inflicted the fatal wound. "Self-righteous naiveté… cannot save the Isles of Man from the wrath of the Dragons," he muttered to Miria, who gazed at him with sombre eyes. His voice was barely a whisper, his windpipe already crushed by metal. "My methods may have seemed harsh in contrast to my true intentions… but your obsession for so-called justice will lead to nothing more than humanity's oblivion."

"Do not fear," said Miria, stepping back. For the first and last time, compassion for the man who had committed so many atrocities in the name of winning a war reflected in her eyes. "I will not abandon the Continent and its people. I will fight the Dragon Nations. But your time has passed. I won't sacrifice my own people to protect them. I will treat their lives as sacred, in memory of all the young women whose lives you ruined."

He grimaced, about to say something, but for whatever reason, he desisted. Whether he had acknowledged in his heart that Miria had been right all along, or if he had decided that it was impossible to persuade her, she would never know. "Then… carry on the fight against the Dragons. That is all I ask. With that said… I leave the fate of the Isles of Man to you."

With those last words, the Grand General's hand loosened, releasing his feared Sword of Heaven. His robes and cape billowed as he fell back. He closed his golden eyes as his black hair fluttered in the wind.

He was dead before he hit the ground.

*

Dusk

The Battle of Darene Plains had lasted for several hours, from afternoon till sunset. As news of the Grand General's death spread, the seven armies had panicked and pulled back, retreating from the plains in earnest. Only the dusts of cloud were visible now; the rest was but the darkening backdrop of the sundered sky.

The Ghosts had overcome the impossible.

Cynthia collapsed on the ground on all fours. Tears flowed silently from her eyes as Miria gently eased the bodies of Helen, Deneve, Tabitha and Yuma beside each other. Yuma's eyes were still open, testimony to her final moments of anguished pain. Tenderly, Miria closed them a s she crouched on the ground, her hands gently brushing the grime, dust and blood off their bodies. Miata stood clutching at Clarice's clothes as Clarice choked back sobs. And having healed ever so slightly from her lethal wounds thanks to Galatea and Cynthia, Clare stood silently apart from the others, gazing at Helen's corpse.

They had been too late for four too many.

One single tear trickled down her face – nothing like her lament after Jean's passing, but it was difficult to compare the Battle of Darene Plains to the Invasion of Pieta.

With only a dozen surviving men behind them, Cid and Galk stood at attention, their faces glum. Usually full of camaraderie and sardonic humour, they felt lost for words as they observed their onetime enemies, the 'Claymores', preparing to send off their friends one last time.

Beside the four corpses of their comrades lay the salvaged bodies of David, Frederick, Antonius, Alicia, Isley, and Priscilla. "I will burn the Grand General's corpse, so that he can never find a true place to rest," said Miria bitterly, looking at the almost serene countenance of the Grand General. Save the blood, his robes have barely been ruffled, thought Miria bitterly. He had remained convinced of his legitimacy until the very end, but at the very least, he seemed to have found some peace in passing the duty to a new leader. That leader was none other than Miria.

She had chosen to accept it; she now was their leader against the Dragons.

"No," said Galatea, putting a hand on Miria's shoulder, snapping her out of her reverie. "Bury them all in their own graves," she urged. "Give all of these poor souls the respite they deserve. We have done our part. We need not take the Divine's responsibility upon ourselves." She turned to Beth, who had just stood up and moved away from Alicia's corpse. "Look," said the former Number Three, guiding Miria to look at the lonely and confused face of the surviving Black Twin. "We have more important things to worry about than insulting the dead. We must tend to the living."

Miria nodded, closing her eyes. "You're right… you're right," she mumbled, turning away. "Either way, you… you and the others… should go back to the city. I'll take it from here."

Galatea stopped. "But surely we must get to burying the dead?"

"I'm not sure what we can do about the thousands of warriors who died here today," said Miria. "But with Helen, Deneve, Tabitha and Yuma… I would like to bury them personally, and alone. If you want… you're welcome to perform the last rites on anyone you wish. It's your prerogative."

Galatea nodded, her smile gently consoling.

Cid and Galk turned to Miria and Clare, saluting them. "We'll head back to Rabona. Please, if there's anything you need, just tell us. We still have some reserve troops in the city," said Galk. With an awkward silence, they urged their horses and men on, and rode into the sandy distance.

Even the usual farewell felt disrespectful.

Watching them, Miria nodded and turned to her surviving friends, her smile sad. "Thank you all… for coming so far along the journey with me. If possible… please stay with me a little longer. Our work… is only half-complete."

The remaining five Ghosts nodded in affirmation as they turned towards the direction of the sleeping city.

*

Miria had not lied. It was true that she wanted to bury the corpses alone. Although Raphaela had left long ago, Miria was sure they would see each other again. The former Number Five apparently hadn't found the answers she had been searching for. It was just as well. Very soon, war would come again, and as much as she hated to admit it, Miria would need Raphaela's help.

Especially after the loss of Helen, Deneve, Tabitha, and Yuma.

She was sitting on a small hill of sand, wondering just how she could dig holes without a shovel, when she heard a friendly voice.

"Hey."

Miria looked up to see a young girl in pink smiling down at her. Her deep, demonic brown eyes were illuminated by the emerging stars. "Riful." Miria turned away, her eyes uncaring and her voice sarcastic. "You're still angry with Clare? I don't believe you should still hold a grudge, since out of the three Abyssal Ones, you're the last one. Congratulations."

"Well, I guess I was a bit too late on the scene. But it's still worth it. I mean, look at you. It took several major battles, the deaths of some of your closest friends, and an imminent invasion of the Dragon Nations for you to realize that I was never talking out of my little behind? My concern was Isley, but only because he was connected to the Army. Now, you have an even greater foe to contend with."

Miria raised her head to the heavens. "You still want us to Awaken. I'm not going to put my friends in that kind of danger."

"I'm willing to put even that aside for the time being. For now, you and the other surviving Ghosts must join with Dauf and I, for to be friendless is to ask for death at the hands of those the Organization sought to fight against."

"A strange alliance you've planned there."

"One that I have planned for more than eight years," countered Riful. "You know there can be no other alternative, with the Grand General killed at your hands. Honestly, what were you thinking? Now I'm more correct than I've ever been." She took a short breath. "We are the only beings capable of stopping the next invasion of the Dragon Tribes. Do you want to see this Continent sink along with the Isles? I thought not."

Silence from the other.

"Awakening can wait," said Riful quickly, her voice straining to remain humorous. "But even with that on the table, don't you still have the remnants of the Army to deal with?"

It took several moments for Miria to answer. When she did reply, she only spoke two words, but they were the words that Riful had expected to hear from Clare the moment she had offered her a pact of war.

"Very well."

"We are allies now?" asked Riful keenly.

"...Only as long as the Dragons threaten the Isles and the Continent," replied Miria coldly.

The diminutive Abyssal One turned away. Her smile was broad, full of excitement and anticipation. "Most wonderful. With you by my side, we'll topple the Dragons from their shiny little pedestal of lapis lazuli," she proclaimed joyfully.