Well, it's been another long, fun ride. I want to thank everyone for all the good reviews and sticking with this fanfic despite my lack of updates. I hope you enjoy this last chapter.
I felt a horrible jolt as I came back into my own body. Soma slammed against me, and I almost didn't have the strength to catch him. We sank to the floor together, his breathing heavy and uneven. I held onto him, pressing his face into the side of my neck as I looked him over. His arms no longer looked mutated, but his clothes were a mess.
But…he was back. I just knew he was!!!
"Mina…" he mumbled into my neck. I leaned away slightly and looked into his face. God, he looked so tired!!! And probably not just because of all the fighting he did. "I'm so sorry…"
"You don't need to apologize," I told him, cupping his cheek in my palm. "I don't blame you." I looked over my shoulder at Julius. "He's all right, yes?"
"…Yes," said Julius. He wound up the Vampire Killer and attached it to his belt. "I do what I must to protect the world, Mina. I like Soma, but if I have to kill him to prevent a catastrophe, don't think I won't."
"I understand," said Soma. He sat up straighter with some difficulty and looked at Julius. "Thank you for that. But have I ever told you that whip packs a hell of a punch?"
Julius snorted with amusement. "Yeah you did, about four years ago."
"Guys?!" Yoko shouted suddenly.
I turned around completely and gasped. A figure was kneeling on the floor not too far away. Silver hair pooled around his bent head, and fingers dug into his own shoulders tightly. White energy swirled around him like mist, though it was crackling like embers in a fire. "What…" realization dawned upon me and I stood up. "Arikado-san?!?!"
"…I can't," he grunted, his teeth clenched. "The seal…I can't maintain it!!!"
"Hang on, I'll throw a seal on you!!!" cried Chessa. She stood over him and began chanting.
But Arikado shook his head. "No, it won't work!!! It has to be by a power of Dracula to reseal myself!!! But Castlevania cannot sense Dracula anymore…it's trying to call to ME to be the Master!!!"
"But if you're the Master, it'll never disappear!!!" cried Soma. He struggled to his feet, and I helped him up the rest of the way. "Not unless…" he trailed off and fear flooded his face.
"Not unless what?!?!" I cried, looking between the two of them.
Arikado lurched, almost pitching forward as the energy pulsated around him. "…You have to kill me," he said.
"Kill you?!?!" cried Hammer. "But we can't!!!"
"Banishing Dracula vicariously cost me a great deal of energy. I have very little left to fight off this call. I won't be able to do it for very much longer. You…" he grunted, clutching at himself tighter. "Soma. It's up to you. Only you can reseal me. Otherwise you have to kill me!!!"
Soma looked aghast at this. "B-But I've never done anything like this before!!! I don't even know where to start the spell!!"
"I can guide you. But I don't—" the energy crackled again. I realized it was starting to change color. The white was fading to a shade of gray. "Now. You must do it now or I'll be lost!!!!"
I looked at Soma quickly. "You can do it. I believe in you. I'll help Arikado-san guide you."
"You can do that?" asked Soma, though his tone was hopeful.
I smiled at him. "I'm a Shinto Shrine maiden, remember? I've helped Dad banish evil presences before. This should be no problem."
"But what if you—"
"Arikado-san has helped us greatly. And…well, he is our son." I could feel myself blushing as I said it, and Soma's pale cheeks turned red as well. "We can't leave him like this."
Soma was silent for a long moment before he nodded. "I'll try. Hang on Arikado, I'll save you."
"We should set up a perimeter!!!" said Yoko suddenly. "Just in case the seal doesn't work!! Here, let's form a quadrangle around them!!!"
Yoko, Hammer, Chessa, and Julius ran to get into position at four-corners around us as Soma and I walked towards Arikado. His hold on control seemed to be slipping more and more as the second ticked by, and the color of the energy became darker and darker. We had to hurry, otherwise we couldn't save him.
But I knew that we could. He'd done so much to save us. And now…now I knew who he was, and what we were to him. He was really Lisa's son, but I was Lisa. I wouldn't leave him to face this alone, and neither would Soma.
Soma knelt in front of him. His fingers made the formation of a Shinto prayer. Arikado whispered to him; he seemed to only have the energy to do so now. Soma began chanting aloud, his brows knitted in deep concentration. I couldn't understand what he was saying, but it sounded similar to the spell Arikado had chanted to unseal himself.
I knelt down beside him and withdrew prayer beads from my pants pocket. I made the signs for Shinto prayer as well. I didn't know what sort of good I could do, but I wanted to help somehow. "Spirits of purification, created for order and the mother that they inhabit the Sky, exactly as when, The God Izanagi no Mikoto bathed in the narrow estuary, of a covered river with trees, permanently leafy. With all the respect from the depth of our hearts, We ask that they hear us, such as the spirit that hears our intent, with sharpened ears, together with Spirits of the Sky and the Land, Take the badness's, disasters, sins and purify all. Miroku Oomikami, You bless us and protect us. Meishu Sama, You bless us and protect us. For expansion of our soul, And the fulfillment of your will!"
Soma continued to chant, and the others around us chanted. I knew not what Arikado's state was because I was concentrated on the prayer. I wanted him to be all right, and I knew he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he did become Castlevania's Master.
A sharp ringing noise erupted in my ears and I cried out as I was knocked backwards, flat on my back on the floor. I opened my eyes, only to squeeze them shut from the brightness of the energy. What was happening? Was Soma successful?!
Then, the ringing was gone as quickly as it came, and so was the light. I slowly sat up, unsure of what happened, but I quickly looked to Soma and Arikado. Soma looked horrible; he was breathing raggedly, and his complexion looked translucent. He also looked like he was in pain.
But Arikado…Arikado looked equally awful, but his hair was once again black. His body relaxed slightly, and his breathing was a little more even. "…Thank you," he said finally. "I haven't accessed my full powers in so long…I could hardly control them."
"Huh," said Hammer, helping him to stand up. "If you've only been operating on so little of your real strength, I'd hate to see what you look like at full power!!!"
Arikado's lips turned up slightly, as though he might smile. "Yes, you would."
I rushed over to Soma, helping him to stand. "Are you all right?"
"…I will be after I'm out of here," he mumbled.
"Speak of which," said Chessa. She looked at her wrist, but saw it was bare. "Oh, right, I gave it to you!!!" she ran over to Soma and checked his watch. "Not every member of this cult is dead, but the key players are. That should be enough to stop them."
The room suddenly shook and I grabbed Soma's arm. "S-Soma?!?!"
"The castle's coming down!!!" shouted Julius. "We have to get out!!!"
"Here, I know where a portal is!!!" shouted Chessa. She ran towards an open doorway. "Follow me!!!"
We did, each of us running as fast as we could. Soma had so little energy now, and we had to drag him along with us. Arikado was a little more energized than we thought, given what he'd been through. Chessa pointed out a giant orb of light and we didn't think twice. We just ran at it.
It happened so quickly. One minute we were in Castlevania, the next we were consumed in light. Then…the light faded, and we stumbled onto the street.
I gasped and looked all around us. We were out!!! This was Tokyo!!! It was nighttime, but I didn't care. I still held onto Soma as I turned to look at the castle. It was crumbling like sand, the debris falling everywhere. But, nothing was damaged in its wake. It just fell apart, though I could hear horrible noises coming from it. Nobody else seemed to be fazed, though, just simply watching it come down.
Then…it was done. The menacing fortress was gone and faded into the night. For a moment we stood there and stared at the empty space where Castlevania use to be, the sounds of our breathing the only thing that could be heard.
I cried out a spun around. We were standing right in the middle of the street, a taxi directly behind us. "S-Sorry!!!" I shouted, running for the sidewalk.
As we cleared the street, the taxi sped off. And more cars started passing us. I looked up and around and I saw the neon splendor of Tokyo light us all around us. People seemed to appear out of thin air, going about their business. Going home from work or out for a night of partying. It was all back to normal as if nothing that had happened over the past few days had happened.
My knees felt rubbery and I collapsed to the ground. Soma tried to catch me, but he was still weak. We both tumbled to the sidewalk roughly, but neither of us seemed to mind.
"Are you okay?" he asked me.
I stared at him mutely for a moment. I felt it then. Joy began to swell in my chest and tears filled my eyes. "We…we did it, Soma. It's over. It's really over!!!"
Soma slowly nodded, smiling slightly. "The threat of this cult is over, surely. More forces lay out there, but the danger is gone for now. And…you're safe."
I threw my arms around him, unable to believe just how selfless he was. His life was a constant battle against evil and against Dracula, but he never thought of himself. Only for others!! But…it only made me love him more. "Thank you, Soma. Oh, thank you so much!!!"
"For what?" he asked me.
"Everything!!! I never would've gotten through this without you!!!"
Soma sighed heavily. "You never would've gone through this without me. But…you're welcome."
"So, when's the big day?" asked Yoko loudly.
"Eh?" I looked up to see most everyone looking at us with knowing eyes. To my growing embarrassment, I realized we were the focus of several other people on the sidewalk!!! I quickly released Soma. "What big day?"
"Don't be cute on us now, Mina!!!" laughed Hammer, walking over to smack Soma on the back. "You mean to tell us after everything your white knight has done for you, you still won't get together with him?!?!"
"Get toget—" I covered my face in embarrassment. "Stop it!!!"
"Come on, Mina doesn't have to do anything!!" said Soma defensively. "I don't mind protecting her for free!!!"
Hammer started laughing hysterically. "Oh man, Soma!!! You ain't no Dark Lord, that's for sure!!! You ought to be nominated for sainthood!!!"
"S-Sainthood?!?!" sputtered Soma, hiding his face behind his own hand.
"He's certainly more couth than you," said Yoko blandly.
"Aw, don't be like that Yoko!!! I-I wasn't—"
"Am I wrong, or didn't you fake an injury to try and steal a kiss from me back in that safe haven? Or was that your doppelganger?"
"Hey!! I didn't hear you complain about it until now!! And who says 'couth' anymore, anyways?!?!"
"Don't you two want to get married?" asked Chessa matter-of-factly. "You had no complaints those other two times you two tied the knot."
"I'm NOT having this conversation!!!!" I yelled, trying very hard to ignore the curious murmurings around us.
"Uh…guys?" said Julius suddenly. "Are those uniformed police officers, or is that just my imagination?"
"I'll leave this to you all," said Arikado. He stepped to the curb and hailed a cab. Before any of us could react he calmly climbed in and it quickly sped off.
"HEY!!!!" shouted Soma, jumping back to his feet. "Thanks for nothing!!!"
"Soma, is your energy back?" I asked suddenly, jumping up as well.
"Maybe anger's fueling it!!! Arikado did this to me in Burma once!!"
I gaped at him. "Arikado-san makes it a habit to grab a cab and bail on you?"
Soma snorted in disgust. "Only if we have some idiot tailing us—"
"I'm NOT an idiot!!!" shouted Hammer defensively. We both looked at him blankly.
"That's it, I'm hailing a cab too," fumed Julius. He managed to get one just as the police officers arrived to lecture us about our public behavior.
Out of that small mess, only Hammer was ticketed (much to his own displeasure). But, the absolute worst was over. Soma was right, though; defeating this one cult wouldn't stop others from springing up in its wake. But, he said he hoped it deterred these others from ever targeting me again.
Because I was who I was.
The Shrine…I was so afraid of how much time it would take for us to rebuild my home again. However, I was very surprised to see it standing again once we arrived home!!! The grounds were still broken in some places, but my house and the shrine were standing as though an earthquake had never destroyed them!!
"Mina!!!!!" Mom enveloped me in a tight hug. "Oh, Mina!!! You're alive!!! You're all right!!!"
"I'm glad to see you," I said, pulling away to look at her. "Mom…I remember everything."
Something flickered across her face. "Really?" she looked at Dad briefly and then looked at Soma. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. I remember everything about Elisabetha and Lisa." I took a deep breath and let it out shortly. "And I know you both knew about it this whole time."
"Mina…" Dad walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. "Yes, we did know. But we didn't keep it from you to hurt you. We knew that you would remember everything on your own, and we wanted to give you a life that wasn't in the shadows of two women. Of course, we never realized that one of these cults would deliberately target you. But we thought it was for the best." He paused before he continued. "I'm sorry, Mina. We both are."
I didn't feel like I was in either Elisabetha or Lisa's shadow. But I knew it was because I was allowed to grow as a person, even while in the dark about everything, and be Hakuba Mina. My own person. "…Thank you, guys. I don't hate you for this."
Mom looked like she was ready to cry. "Mina…" she threw her arms around me once more.
Everyone stayed idle at the shrine for a few days and we managed to have a little fun without worrying about cult members or monsters. We even through a very belated New Year's celebration, mostly in part because we knew everyone had to go their separate ways, and we didn't know when the next time would be before we could be together again.
Still…it was still hard to see everyone leave. Yoko, Julius, Hammer, and Chessa all left on the same day, and not on the same flight. But it gave us ample opportunity to say goodbye to everyone.
"I told you I'm on the next flight out!!!"
Somehow, this one shout stood out from all the hustle and bustle in the airport. I froze in my tracks, even as everyone continued on by to security, and looked to my left.
"No, I didn't stick with them!!! Why?!?! Because that bitch blew up my hand instead of re-attaching it!!! Why in the hell should I owe any loyalty to someone like that?!?! No, she's dead. Yeah, Dracula killed her. No, he wasn't revived!!"
It was Sixx-Bit, and he was yelling into a pay phone. His right arm was heavily bandaged and in a sling, a big wad of wrap around the area where his right hand had been. I almost felt sorry for him, except that he'd tried to kill me. But Carmilla blew his hand up? That was pretty cold.
"No, no, no, I'm not through," he continued to the person on the other line. "There's a small but incredibly more stable group forming in Italy. I'm meeting up with them there. What, are you kidding?!?! I'll never rest until Dracula's revived, but I sure as hell won't let Soma Cruz get away with what he's done to me!!!!"
A hand tapped my shoulder briefly. "I'll take care of this."
I looked up at Arikado. "What will you do?"
"I'll take care of it," he repeated neutrally. He gave me a light push to follow the others and then started advancing on Sixx-Bit. A knot formed in my stomach, but I didn't look back as I did what I was told. The other had gathered in front of security to say their final goodbyes.
"Well…until next time," said Julius. He gave Soma a firm handshake and me a small nod as he left to catch his plane to the United States.
"I should be back in the country in a few months," said Yoko. She flipped open her cell phone to check a few messages. "I have another job awaiting me in Brazil, but the Amazon is always so beautiful at this time of year. I might stay there a few days once I'm done."
"Need any company?!" asked Hammer, throwing an arm around her.
But Yoko sidestepped to avoid the arm, sending Hammer crashing to the floor. "As I recall, you have a covert op. to be done in Siberia, correct?"
Even I couldn't help but wince at this. Siberia's weather was absolutely awful in wintertime.
Hammer grumbled forlornly as he picked himself up off the floor. "Can't I get a kiss then?"
Yoko ignored him and walked over to Soma. "It's been fun, and I'm glad you're still you." She gave him a light peck on the cheek. Hammer cried out in outrage and Soma's whole face turned red, but Yoko held onto her smile. "Stay in town for a little while and spend some time with Mina."
Soma mumbled something incoherent under his breath. Yoko gave me a quick hug as well. "Keep an eye on him, okay Mina?"
"Sure," I said, not quite sure how I should feel about her kiss. "It goes without saying."
"Well, as Julius said…until next time." She left to pass through security. Hammer didn't even say goodbye to us; he grabbed his bag and chased after Yoko, complaining about how she kissed Soma.
"MINA!!!!!" I was nearly knocked over by the body slamming into my back. "Mina, can I have your email address?!?!"
I gaped at Chessa for a long moment before giving it to her. She was back in her nun-esque outfit, which I could guess fit as the Ecclesia uniform. While I was plenty happy that this whole mess was over, Chessa seemed even more pleased than me to be out of reconnaissance, even for a short time.
Chessa punched my email address into her phone and turned to Soma. "Can I have yours, Soma?"
"I…don't really use it often," he said warily. "Even if you email me, I might not get back to you for a few months."
"Oh, that's okay!!! I'll just email you through Mina!!!" she positively smiled at me. "This has been the best job I've ever worked on, and it's thanks to you guys!!! It'd be a real shame if I didn't see you two again!!!"
"I might be back in Italy in March," said Soma. "So if—"
He was cut off as "Pomp and Circumstance" filled the small area. Chessa stiffened, as did I and I grabbed her hands. "Carmilla's still alive?!?!"
Chessa forced a brittle smile at me. "No…that's my real boss." She quickly answered her phone and ran towards security, waving to us briefly, switching to Italian. "Sì, imbarcare sull'aereo ora—"
Soma and I stared after her in silence for a long moment. I glanced at him briefly. "She…must not like "Pomp and Circumstance", huh?"
"Most likely she doesn't like her bosses," he said dryly. "She's fluent in multiple languages, so I know she's smart. But she seems like a…bubble head to me."
I burst out laughing. "Soma, did you just say bubble head?!?!"
Soma gave me a sharp look. "So what if I did? That's what she is, isn't she?!"
I couldn't help but laugh harder. "T-That's always like you, Soma!!! Always making calls the way you see them!!!" I wiped at my eyes because tears had built up. "S-So…how do you see me?"
He seemed surprised by the question. Then, uncertain. And then very thoughtful. "You…seem deaf, don't you?"
"Deaf?!" I cried, feeling offended.
"You don't like to listen to suggestion, or reason. You let your heart guide you instead of your head, and that gets you—and me—into trouble."
"Huh." I folded my arms over my chest and narrowed my eyes at him. "Is that all?"
"Well…no." he seemed to be struggling with his words. "You're kind, very kind. And giving, too. You're not self-centered at all, and the only reason you even get into trouble is because of other people. Yet you just go with the flow, and you constantly hold the regard of others over yourself. You're mature, you always have been, and yet you know how to have fun."
I shrugged, my anger having softened by his flattery. "I hold the memories of a kind noblewoman and a giving doctor. They're bound to rub off on me."
"No." Soma walked over and cupped my cheek with his hand. "You're Hakuba Mina. You're your own person, and this is you. This is how I see you. It…" he stopped again and looked away.
"This is what you love about me?" I offered.
He looked back at me. "……Yes."
I smiled at him, and reached up to his hold hand to my cheek. "Soma…"
"So everyone has gone." We both jumped away from each other as Arikado approached. His face was neutral as always. "I have a few more days before I have to leave, and I know you're taking a well-deserved vacation, Soma. I'm glad you are, and if I see you floating around Europe in less than two weeks, you'll be sorry."
Soma laughed shortly, but I stepped forward. "Did you handle Sixx-Bit?"
"Sixx-Bit?!" asked Soma, suddenly on alert.
"Yes, he was here trying to catch a plane," said Arikado. "I took care of it." He blatantly left it at that, and I realized I didn't want to know anything more.
Soma shrugged and relaxed a little. "Huh…don't worry Arikado. I fully intend to enjoy this vacation."
"What do you guys feel like doing?" I asked, looking between the two of them.
Arikado's eyebrow rose slightly. "I will be sleeping for a few days. This battle has left an immense toll on my body. A few days rest will restore me."
"You're going to sleep through your vacation?!?!"
"Yes." He glanced at Soma. "I'll see you around." Without another word he turned on his heel and walked away.
I looked at Soma. "I guess that leaves the two of us. Did you have any plans?"
Soma looked at me. I was surprised to see a bright smile break out on his face. "I want to spend it with you, Mina. After everything we've both been through, I want to stay by your side."
I returned the smile, even as my heart swelled in my chest. "I'm glad to hear it."
Romania was such a beautiful country. It's such a shame I didn't know…or rather, I did know. Dusk was approaching, but it was still a very warm July day.
It didn't bother me, though. Blisters could be forming on my skin and I'd still feel the same…this total happiness that hasn't faded.
I parked my rental car and got out. It was my own decision to do this alone, even though Soma had misgivings. But he was still so tired and needed some more rest.
And…it was still just the beginning of our honeymoon.
Two bouquets of white roses were sitting in the passenger seat. I gathered them into my arms and got out of the car. I looked at my surroundings, the silence almost eerie but I wasn't afraid. This was only a cemetery, after all.
I don't think I've seen so many tombstones in my life. Thousands upon thousands of tombstones, many filthy, cracked, or broken, lined the grass and extended out far beyond what I could see. Statues and Mausoleums stood out amongst their smaller counterparts, but I simply walked past them. It seemed almost impossible that this one cemetery held them, but the possibility became greater as I walked past graves. More kept springing up around me as I walked over hills and rounded corners. A person could almost get lost here, and my Romanian was still very shaky.
Still…I knew where to go. Arikado had told me before where they were, but somehow just by letting my feet guide me was enough to keep me on track.
Then I saw it. A rounded tombstone made of some sort of reddish stone. It was slightly unkempt, but not nearly as poorly as the others surrounding it. By comparison, most of the others were in pieces.
I held out one bouquet as I approached it. A feeling of unease began to form, but not because of an omen. This was her grave…my grave, after all.
I stopped in front of the grave and knelt down, placing the bouquet in front of it. "Hello, Elisabetha."
The lettering on the tombstone was broken and quite faded, but I could still read it measurably: Elisabetha Cronqvist. 1064-1093. Meu Dragoste , De-a pururi.
I traced the lettering idly. I was expecting Latin to be carved here, but it didn't seem to be the case. I still understood very little, but these words…it was a clear message. Meu Dragoste, De-a pururi…My Love, Forever.
I withdrew my hand. "This is very strange to come here like this. I suppose I have you to thank for everything that's happened. Sometimes I wonder if you still would've died if you hadn't married Mathias. Or if Mathias had not been so misguided in his love for you? I don't curse you, Elisabetha. Mathias and you just wanted to love each other and be together. It's just a shame you lived in a time where life was so…hectic.
"Thank you, though. So many terrible things came out of your death. Mathias became Dracula and many…many people died. But evil can't simply be blamed on one person. If it wasn't you or Mathias, then it would've been that Walter-person Mathias succeeded. And if none of this happened, I wouldn't be here. Or rather, I wouldn't be the person I am now. Most importantly…I wouldn't know Soma."
I bit my lower lip before I continued. "I love him and I want to be with him no matter what. Mathias was a good man and you made him a better man. And Lisa…she tried to save Dracula. Now I'm here, and Soma's here and he's not evil. I hope you can rest easy in knowing this." I looked up at the sky. "I'll take care of him. Life is so unpredictable, and Soma—more so, Dracula's spirit—needs to learn how to survive without me if I ever die before him again. But I'll teach him. I'll be there with him every step of the way and I'll make sure that no evil ever touches him."
I felt there was nothing else for me to say. I said a quiet Shinto prayer for Elisabetha before I stood back up. I wasn't quite done here yet.
I still had no problems finding the next spot, though I was taken off-guard by this gravestone. Unlike Elisabetha's simpler one, a statue of an angel stood in this spot. It looked like it was made of marble and it looked very fresh, considering the era in which it came from. Unsure that this was the right one, I looked for the name engraved on its surface:
Lisa Farenheights Tepes. 1418-1450. The past is history. The future, a mystery.
But we will hold dear our memories of her, her smile, the sound of her laughter...forever.
I squinted at the lettering in confusion. "English?" I shrugged it off and went to set my flowers down. I nearly did a double-take when I saw a massive bundle of colorful flowers sitting there already!! My white roses paled in comparison.
Looks like someone beat me to the punch. And I have a feeling of who it is. I set my flowers down beside these ones. "Hello, Lisa. I just visited Elisabetha. I've been thinking though, for a while. How hard all of this must've been on you. Carrying the memories of two women was difficult for me, but I have friends and family to support me. You only carried one woman's memories, but you did it alone. If you told anyone about it you could be condemned…the only ones you could rely on were Dracula and Alu—Adrian.
"You met a monster and you fell in love with him. He was salvageable at that time, and you nearly did it—but fate worked against you." I sat down in front of the statue. "I saw it though—your death as I saw Elisabetha's. I lived it, and I could…" Tears stung my eyes and I looked away. It took a long moment before I regained my composure. "I feel…well, Dracula turned on the human race because of your death. The same way he turned on God because of Elisabetha's death. But for the fact that you continued to have faith, in the people who condemned you and you gave freely of yourself to help others…I hope I become as strong as you were one day.
"I already said this to Elisabetha, so I'll say this to you; thank you. Thank you for existing and thank you for loving him. The love you gave him helped to shape Soma into the person he is now. And your son…h-he's a really great person, too!! I didn't know he was who he was at first, but now I can appreciate him even more!!"
I looked down at the other flowers. "And it looks like somebody else appreciates you, Lisa."
"I always bring flowers for her."
I jumped up at this new voice and turned around. "Arikado-san!!!" I ran over to him. "I didn't know you were in Romania!!!"
"I just came off a job," said Arikado. He looked me over quickly, his eyes resting on my left hand for a long moment. "I'd heard you two had gotten married, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to attend the ceremony."
"It wasn't much of a ceremony," I said. "We simply filed the necessary paperwork and had a party at my house. Nothing too major."
Arikado nodded to this. "That sounds like the two of you." he looked at Lisa's gave for a long moment. "Soma had said you wanted to pay your respects to them. I didn't realize it would be in this way."
"This is their homeland, and unfortunately their deaths caused heartache to a man who loved them." I looked down at my feet. "I do love Soma, Arikado-san. And I keep in mind what you told me that day. I…I try not to think of the what-ifs, you know? I don't like thinking about either of us dying, but it's always possible. But I am trying. Soma continues to grow as a person, and I know I can help him change somehow. He's perfect as he is, but my near-death proved you right. He can't live without me, and he can't be a whole person unless he can live without me."
Arikado reached out and patted me on the shoulder. "Don't worry. I believe you can do it. You've both come so far already as it is."
"Thank you." I looked back down at the colorful flowers alongside mine. "It's very sweet of you to keep thinking of your mother…Adrian."
His hand tensed on my shoulder, but he didn't correct me. "I love her dearly, Mina. Even now I can see a little of her in you." He removed his hand and turned slightly. "Many people I knew and fought alongside are buried here. Even as a cemetery, it holds many reminders." He looked at me over his shoulder. "Shall we head back now?"
I nodded and smiled. "All right."
I followed him past the headstones in the direction of my parked car. However, something caught my eye as we walked. I saw another colorful flower arrangement in front of a simple gray tombstone. The only thing was, these were the same type of flowers in front of Lisa's grave!!!
I stared at the grave for a long moment, and looked at Arikado, who noticed I had stopped. He called out to me, but I walked over to the grave to get a better look. In my mind, I was remembering the talk we had that day, when Arikado admitted to me that he had been in love at one point in his life.
"She was a spitfire, very sure of herself. She had her fair share of trauma throughout her life and yet it never touched her mentally. If she wanted something done she would do it, regardless of the situation. She also…she had a very caring nature to her. She seemed to know what I was thinking, what I was feeling…it made being around her, and in general around people, much easier."
"Is this her?" I asked, hearing him come up behind me. "Is this the woman you loved?"
"…Yes," he said, though he said the word plainly. "My mother molded me with the ideals I have now, but…I am who I am now because of her." he reached out and smoothed a hand over the top of the tombstone.
My heart tightened and I looked at him. "It must have been so hard to lose her…"
"It was," he admitted. "But she accepted me knowing we could never truly be together. And I…I knew I had immortality, and she didn't. I knew what would happen by accepting her into my life, and yet I couldn't deny her." He paused before he continued. "It was very hard for me, but she gave me several years of peace and happiness. I can carry that with me for as long as I shall exist."
"Is that how you can live without her? Remembering the good times without regret?"
"That is how I cope," he agreed. "But Soma is a different person. Merely being with you in happiness won't be enough for him. It is your job to teach him more."
"And I will."
"I know." Arikado held his hand on the grave for a moment longer before removing it. "Soma will get worried if you don't get back soon."
"I know." I stared at the grave for another long moment before turning away. Even as I reached my car, the name of the woman who gave Arikado his life back, and the message detailed on her grave, still stuck with me.
Maria Renard. 1780- 1848. Thank You.
It was dusk when we got back to the small inn Soma and I were staying at. An overwhelming feeling of peace came over me as we walked by the small dining area, hearing the quiet chatter. Not too many tourists came to this region, I knew, but this is where we came from, originated from. I'd wanted to see it, and so did Soma.
"How often do you come back here?" I asked Arikado.
"Once a year at the most," he answered. "Most times my schedule is so full I only have time to visit my mother. I can stay a few more days before I have to leave again."
"I'm glad to hear it." I looked into the dining room, trying to spot Soma. It was nearly dinner time, so I assumed he'd be getting something to eat.
"He's probably still upstairs," said Arikado, though he turned towards the dining room. "That last job took quite a toll on him."
"…Yeah," I said quietly. It was this last job too, that Soma got the idea that we had to marry. Our relationship had been up in the air at that point. We were more than friends but almost awkward boyfriend and girlfriend. I don't know who said that friends make the best lovers, because very little changed between us during the past few months.
Then this new job happened. And then we got married.
"I'll go check on him," I said, smiling slightly at Arikado.
Arikado didn't quite smile at me, but his expression wasn't quite so neutral anymore. "All right…Mrs. Cruz."
I headed up the stairs, but hesitated in front of the door. It was hard to picture myself as a strong person, but I knew Soma was counting on me.
Everyone was counting on me.
I entered the room quietly, noting the darkness inside. "Soma?" I called out.
"I'm here," he answered me. He was stretched out on the bed, an arm thrown over his eyes. "Did you go to the cemetery?"
"Yes, and I met Arikado-san there." I closed the door behind me and went over to him. I climbed into bed and curled up by his side. "How are you feeling?"
"…Tired," said Soma. "But wonderful. I've never felt better." He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me closer.
I rested my head on top of his chest, feeling the steady rhythm of his heart. "We're here for the next two weeks. What would you like to do?"
"Hmm, I don't know. See the countryside and relax, I guess. I just hope some fanatics don't show up and try to revive Castlevania here…"
"Don't jinx us, Soma." I smiled a little up at him. "We'll make the most of this, okay? You don't have to worry about any jobs while we're here."
Soma was silent for a long moment. When he spoke, it took me off-guard. "Maybe we shouldn't have gotten married."
"What?" a wave of fear suddenly took me. "But why?! We're happy, aren't we? And we wanted to get married!!!"
"It won't be easy being married to me, Mina," he said. "I'm not going to be home a lot. If we start having kids I won't be around them. And you're going to become a greater target than you were before."
I shrugged. "I was a target anyways, Soma. Whether it was because of my reincarnations or the fact that I was your closest friend, people were targeting me. And I don't mind waiting around for you. I get worried a lot for you, and I know you go off saving the world because you think you need to repent. But I'm proud of you, and I'm not going anywhere. Getting married really hasn't changed anything, other than the fact that we're legally bound to one another. Don't regret being married to me, Soma, because I have no regrets."
He stared at me for another long moment of silence. "I don't regret marrying you, Mina. If I had any doubts I wouldn't have asked you in the first place. I'm just…worried, that's all."
"Well, don't worry so much about me. I'm here, aren't I?" I hugged him tightly. "And while I can't guarantee that I'll be alive tomorrow, I love you Soma. And no matter what I want you to be happy."
"……I love you, too." He hugged me just as tightly. "And I want you to be happy, too. You've had to suffer enough all this time to be denied happiness."
"Me? You're the one shouldering a terrible burden, Soma. I don't think there's anybody on Earth deserves happiness more than you."
"Thank you, Mina." He leaned over and kissed me on the top of my head. "Have you…dreamt of them recently?"
"No, I'm serious. After I relived their deaths, the dreams of them came to me less and less often. I haven't dreamt of them in nearly two months."
"Hmm…" Soma looked up at the ceiling. "Maybe it's because you've come full circle…"
"Maybe. And…and I hope it helps you, too."
"I'm all right—"
"I know you are, Soma. But I know you've been hurting for so long. I'm here with you, and so you don't have to feel the hurt. But…I'm not the only one. We have so many friends around us who can help you anyway they can. That way…" I faltered and closed my eyes. It wasn't easy to think of what could happen if I died right now. I'd already seen what happens to Soma when I die.
"I understand," said Soma. "And I'm grateful to all of you for everything. Most especially you, Mina."
"Thanks." A thought came to me and I tried not to laugh. "Did you see the wedding present Chessa sent to us?"
"Do you mean the plush toy of the bat?" Soma snorted. "She has a weird sense of humor. But it doesn't even compare to Hammer's."
This time I did laugh. "Yes, the washer and dryer he bought in the United States…with plugs only used in the United States!!!!"
"Yeah. The hell Yoko gave him over that was funny."
I laughed again. "We really do have great friends…"
"Yeah." Soma smiled a little. "We're very lucky to have them. And…I'm lucky to have you."
"Thank you, Soma." I leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. It's so funny how marriage can change perspectives. We use to be so shy around each other, trying to ignore the signs of our feelings for each other. But now… "We're lucky…after all this time, we have a chance."
We were out early the next morning to explore. Soma had wanted to check out the little shops around, which took me off-guard. I was the one a little more in tune with shopping. But I walked around the square as he waited in line at one of the shops to by something.
That was when I saw it.
It was right in the center of the square. A line of rope quartered it off, but there was no sign posted. I couldn't help but gape as I approached it, my heart hammering inside my chest.
It was a tree. But not just any tree. I knew this tree. I knew the bed of grass circled around it, even though it was much smaller than before. And the tree…it was old, the braches looked brittle and the leaves lacked the life once held on there.
But it was the same tree. Elisabetha sat underneath this very tree when she first spoke to Mathias.
I bypassed the rope, ignoring the stares I received, and ran my hand alongside the bark. Even if I hadn't dreamt of Elisabetha and Lisa in a while, my vision hummed with memories. Oh, even the trunk felt the same!! It was a blessing that this area of Romania was touched very little by the advances of technology. This tree had to be over a thousand years old and yet it still stood tall. The meadow that surrounded it was long gone, but this spot was still here.
I pressed my back against the trunk and slid to the ground, closing my eyes. I could almost picture the sunshine, the green grass, and the cobblestone of the village walls not too far away. It was all here…
My eyes snapped open and I straightened. Soma was standing in front of me, holding a grocery bag in his hand. "Mina?" he said. I realized that he'd called my name before, and yet what I'd heard was Mathias, not him.
I let out my breath and smiled. "Are you finished, Soma?"
"For right now." He walked over to me, looking at the tree curiously. "Do you like this tree?" His brow furrowed slightly. "It looks familiar to me…"
"Of course it is," I said, brushing off my clothes as I stood up. "This is where everything began."
Understanding flickered across his face and he smiled. "I see…"
Yes, this is where everything began. And everything would continue from here. For Soma and for me, because we loved each other. Life was so unpredictable, but I wouldn't live in fear. Throughout all these centuries, as Elisabetha and as Lisa my life belonged with him…and it always will.