Balkus and Shin were closeted in Balkus's office when the door opened, and they were both startled to see Imakarum step inside. He hadn't been seen by any of the remaining council members since his injury at the hands of Guyver 3, even though Balkus knew that Archanfel had used the Ark to awaken him.
The younger Zoalord looked tired, and a little unsteady as he approached the desk.
"Elder Balkus, Lord Shin," he acknowledged, putting a flat black box down on the curved desk.
"What is this?" Balkus asked.
"I encountered a most interesting female, she was a Guyver," Imakarum replied.
"You killed Guyver 4?" Shin asked, surprised.
"Yes. I retrieved the control metal from her. Lord Balkus, you will do what needs to be done with this, yes?"
"I will start work on recreating the Guyver unit immediately. Does Archanfel know you have gotten this?"
"Not yet, I shall go and tell him now, I thought it more important to get it to you, so that you could commence work," Imakarum said a little pointedly.
Balkus's lips compressed slightly at the thinly veiled hint, but said nothing, rising from his desk.
"Indeed, Shin, will you assist, the quicker we can get this done, the better,"
"Of course," Shin agreed, and Imakarum watched them both leave the office. He smiled faintly as he heard Shin's voice, just before the door closed.
"Are you going to let him get away with talking to you like that?"
He didn't hear Balkus's answer, but it didn't matter either way, he answered to Archanfel, and no-one else. He turned to leave the office himself, and a wave of dizziness hit him, he caught himself on the doorframe as the door slid open, steadying himself and forcing the momentary weakness away. He was relieved that there was no one in the corridor to see him as he pulled himself together, and straightened from the support of the doorframe, stepping out into the hall. He just needed to let Archanfel know that he had gotten a control metal, even if it wasn't from Guyver 1 or 3, and then he could rest for a while, the battle against that damn female Guyver had taken a surprising amount of his energy.
He flew to Sihla instead of teleporting, concerned at the possibility of another moment of weakness when he was in transit. As it was, his knees buckled as he touched down at the top of the temple. He knelt on the sun heated stone for a long moment, gathering himself. He knew what was happening to him, and that there was little he could do about it, but he was damned if he was folding before he had reached Archanfel. He forced himself up to his feet once more, balancing himself with one hand against the stones of the temple as he carefully descended the stairs as he determinedly headed down to the chamber where Archanfel lay.
Reaching the altar, he leaned heavily against it as he reached out and laid his hand over Archanfel's heart.
"Wake up, my Lord," he called softly.
Archanfel's lashes fluttered at the summons, golden eyes drifting open.
"Masaki?" he murmured tiredly.
"Archanfel, a short while ago, I delivered a control metal into the hands of Elder Balkus," he said.
Archanfel sat up, his eyes widening.
"You killed Guyver 1, or 3?" he asked.
"Neither, she was Guyver 4, apparently. Elder Balkus could probably tell you more," Imakarum said with a faint smile.
He swayed then, and Archanfel grabbed his arm, steadying him.
"I…" Imakarum trailed off with a sigh, crumpling so suddenly that Archanfel couldn't maintain his grip on the younger Zoalord's arm.
Archanfel hurriedly rose from his resting place, moving around to where Imakarum lay sprawled against the foot of the altar, his dark hair and cloak stark where they spread over the whiteness of the stone.
He felt a twinge of an unfamiliar emotion when he couldn't rouse Masaki, and recognized it as something he hadn't felt in a couple of million years, fear.
"Hold on, my Masaki, we'll soon find out what's wrong," he whispered, gathering him close, the dark head coming to rest on his shoulder.
He teleported to where he could sense Hamilcar, appearing in the small, dimly lit lab where Balkus and Shin were working on the control metal.
"Archanfel," they said as one, going down to one knee as they saw him.
"Hamilcar, Masaki has collapsed, I can't wake him," he said without preamble.
"Damn it, I thought he looked off when he delivered his prize, but he all but ordered me to start working on it," Balkus hissed, crouching to feel for a pulse. It was regular, but almost imperceptible, and Imakarum's skin was cool. Balkus had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach; these symptoms were achingly familiar to him.
"He probably didn't want you to pay too much attention to him," Archanfel sighed, looking up. He saw the look in the other man's eyes, and frowned.
"What is it?" he demanded.
"I would have to run more tests, to be sure, but his symptoms, they match yours when you sleep, Archanfel," he sighed.
"No, that isn't possible," he whispered, looking down at the young man he held. He curled protectively around him for a moment, holding him tightly, and then pulled back, kissing his temple.
"Take him, run your tests," he said quietly, transferring him into the other man's arms.
"Shin, put that in sterilizing solution, and lock it down, please," Balkus said, rising with Imakarum in his arms.
"Of course, Elder Balkus," Shin acknowledged as Balkus left the room.
Archanfel took one step in the direction of the door, and then stopped with a sigh, sensing Shin's curiosity, he smiled faintly.
"Hamilcar doesn't want me in medical while he is examining him, he thinks I'll get in the way," he said.
"Oh…I'm sure Imakarum will be fine," Shin said hesitantly as he lowered the control metal into the sterilizing solution to make sure that all traces of the former host's cells were destroyed to stop the Guyver regenerating her.
"I hope so," Archanfel breathed, hoping that Hamilcar's suspicion would be proved wrong.
"You seem…I'm sorry, it is not my concern," Shin said, turning away to lock the container down.
"Go on, Shin,"
"You seem very tender with him," Shin said, not meeting his eyes.
"Of course, I love him," Archanfel said simply. He caught the shocked look in Shin's eyes and smiled again, once more looking in the direction of the door.
"He's my son, Shin, my flesh and blood," he said gently.
"Your…I had no idea that you had a son," Shin breathed, stunned.
"Of course not, no-one knew, bar Hamilcar of course, and that only because he delivered him," Archanfel tilted his head slightly in Shin's direction, wondering if he would dare to ask him the question he could tell was on his mind, or if he would wait and ask Hamilcar.
"Does Imakarum know?" Shin asked, not the question Archanfel had been expecting, obviously that one was going to wait for Hamilcar, but he had to give him points for asking this one.
"Yes, he has known since he was 16, I took him from the people who had raised him then, there was much he needed to learn."
"So, you always intended for him to be a Zoalord?" Shin asked uncertainly.
"Yes, but not really until he was older than he is now. Things…got out of hand," Archanfel told him wryly.
"But…" Shin trailed off, unsure how to phrase his question without sounding critical.
"Guyot?" Archanfel prompted, leaning against the wall.
"Well, yes. If you had someone already suitable to make into a Zoalord, why optimize Guyot?"
"As I said, I wanted Masaki to be older; it is difficult to command respect when you permanently look that young. It isn't as if there were not other Zoalords that I suspected would need to be replaced," he reminded grimly.
"You doubted their loyalty?"
"I doubted their commitment, but unfortunately, not their loyalty," Archanfel sighed.
Shin opened his mouth, obviously having more questions, but Archanfel raised one hand to stop him.
"Please, you can ask Hamilcar your questions later, he has completed his initial examination now," Archanfel said, pushing away from the wall and turning to the door.
He was gone from the room without another word, or a backward glance. Shin stared at the door for several long minutes after it had slid shut again, still stunned by what he had learned. He couldn't quite wrap his mind around the concept, that Archanfel had a son, and he wondered what was wrong with Imakarum, finding himself hoping it was nothing serious; Archanfel had lost far too many people already. Shin finally left the lab, his mind already compiling a list of questions he wanted to ask Hamilcar later.
Archanfel hurried into the medical section, cutting straight across the room to the secure private treatment center that was used only for Zoalords.
"Well?" he demanded as soon as the door had closed behind him.
Balkus looked up from the still figure on the examination table, and the expression on his face answered the question far better than Archanfel liked.
"The preliminary scans show that the problem is not quite as serious as your condition, but it is the same thing. The crystal matrices are degraded, causing damage to his body that it's draining his energy to keep on top of repairing. I don't think he will be forced to sleep as long as you, not for a good few years yet anyway, but he is going to require extended periods of rest," Balkus said quietly.
"Why has this happened, Hamilcar?" he asked, looking down at Masaki.
He found that he looked ridiculously young, vulnerable, lying here like this without his uniform, armor and visor, he lay too still, barely seeming to breathe.
"I have a suspicion," Balkus admitted a little reluctantly. He really didn't want to say this.
"Spit it out," Archanfel growled, frustrated.
"The only common link that I know of, aside from genetics, which we ruled out long ago, is the pod, Archanfel, the artificial womb in the temple," he sighed.
"What?" Archanfel rasped, disbelieving.
"It's where you were suspended for so long, and it's where you took him, to heal the mortal injury Guyver 3 inflicted on him. You two are the only Zoalords who have been immersed there Archanfel, every one of the rest of us was optimized using medium created from the ancient records, and the Zoacrystals were all cloned in the same 'pure' medium, which is probably why they were all stable too. It's possible the Creators contaminated the medium in all of their artificial wombs before they fled, to try to ensure you didn't survive even if you could stop the meteor strike, or the disaster after you stopped it contaminated the fluid, but either way…"
"Either way, that poisoned me, and I just assumed that it was the strain of stopping the asteroid strike that did the harm, an assumption which led to me poisoning my own child," Archanfel interrupted bitterly. It didn't matter that the medium in the womb had been drained after Archanfel had first been woken, and replaced with fresh when he had put Masaki in there; it was fed by a network of vessels that would have harbored the contamination.
"You couldn't have known, I didn't even suspect that until now, what reason would either of us have to suspect it? I should examine the womb, to be certain that is the source, that we shouldn't be looking for something else."
"You can't, it was destroyed completely, when I used the stored energy of the Ark to wake him. You said yourself though, that is the common link, aside from the island itself, and you are not ill, while you have spent more time there over the centuries than he has in only fourteen years. I poisoned him Hamilcar."
"You can't think like that. All we can do now is force him to rest as much as possible, try to mitigate the amount of damage his body has to repair."
"There is always the control metal he retrieved, when you have recreated the Guyver from it…"
"No," Balkus cut him off sharply.
"Excuse me?" Archanfel's voice was soft, but Balkus had long since learned to read the threatening, dangerous undercurrents of that deceptive tone.
"You were about to tell me to bond the Guyver to him, when we have finished recreating it. I am sorry, my Lord, but no. He would never, ever, forgive either one of us if we did that."
"Last time I checked, Hamilcar, I was in charge here. That means it is not your decision, and it is not his, it is mine," he hissed, temper rising at this defiance by his oldest-and one of his most trusted-servants.
"He is my son, and I will do whatever I have to, to protect him now," he snarled.
"He is also your faithful servant, your Zoalord, intended to be your right hand. Worse than never forgiving us, he would never forgive himself if you did this. You would destroy him, if you gave up this chance to be made well, for him. There are two more Guyver units out there, but the Guyver Gigantic was created to beat you, and Makishima knows all of Imakarum's attacks now, even with a Guyver Imakarum may not have what it takes to defeat them, but bond you to the Guyver…" he trailed off, willing Archanfel's anger to diffuse, willing the Supreme Zoalord to finish that thought for himself.
"I don't think you've ever argued with me before," Archanfel's voice was genuinely soft now, the anger burned away, and Balkus knew that was as close as he would get to a capitulation from his Lord.
"I don't think I have ever disagreed quite so passionately with a decision you were about to make," he pointed out.
"Don't make a habit of it, Hamilcar," Archanfel said, half rebuke, half warning.
Balkus nodded his understanding, and Archanfel let the last of the tension bleed out of his posture, turning his attention back to the man on the table.
"How long do you think this sleep will last?" he asked.
"I think that we're looking at days, or weeks, not the years that your first sleep lasted, but other than that, I have no way of predicting," Balkus replied regretfully.
"Fine, then there is nothing more that can be done here?"
"I'm taking him back to the temple, he will be safer there than anywhere else. The biggest risk there would be this Apollyon finding him, none of our other enemies know the place exists," Archanfel said bluntly.
"And if Apollyon does find him there?"
"Then I will make sure he tells me what he has done with the stolen Zoacrystals before he dies," Archanfel's tone was dark, lethal, and the gold of his eyes seemed to darken ominously.
Balkus said nothing more, watching silently as Archanfel lifted Imakarum's limp form from the table, hefting him easily before the pair vanished in a swirl of gold colored energy. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose tiredly, before mentally reaching out for Shin, and asking him to go back to the lab. They needed to really focus on getting that Guyver recreated now. They couldn't afford to be without both Archanfel and Imakarum, not with the way everything was shaping up now.
Archanfel carried Imakarum to the altar, setting him gently onto the cool stone, laying him out carefully and stroking through his dark hair for a moment.
"Don't sleep too long, my Masaki, I need you," he whispered.
Finally he stepped back, turning from the altar and walking to the door, leaving his son to sleep in peace. He wondered if Hamilcar and Masaki always found it this hard to walk away from that altar when he lay there, it was an effort to keep walking as the heavy stone door ground shut behind him, the noise seeming obscenely loud in the silence of the temple.
Shin and Balkus had almost finished the preparations to begin reconstructing the Guyver when Shin decided that it was safe to ask some of the questions that had been playing on his mind.
"Did you discover what caused Imakarum's collapse?" he asked.
"Yes," he replied without elaborating.
"You could say that," Balkus said wryly.
"He isn't going to die, is he?"
"Not in the short term, no. In the long term, and I am talking probably centuries here, yes, this will kill him if we can't stop it."
"But it can be stopped?"
Balkus looked up, eyeing Shin with curiosity.
"I didn't think you much liked him," he pointed out quietly.
"I neither liked nor disliked him; I was never really given the opportunity to get to know him. Frei'drich worked with him more than me, and all he could say was that Imakarum came across as…driven," he said delicately.
"Heh, yes, driven would pretty much cover it. So why do you care if he lives or dies?"
"Because whatever else, he is loyal, and our Lord cannot afford to lose any more of the faithful," Shin said, watching the older mans reaction.
"Indeed, we are distressingly thin on the ground right now," Balkus agreed, his attention already back on the control metal.
"What about his mother, is she still alive?"
Balkus's hands stilled once more, a sensor half connected to the control metal, and he slowly looked up at his friend.
"Stop fishing Shin, it doesn't become you. If you have questions, ask them directly. First, answer one for me, what exactly did Archanfel tell you?"
"That he is his father, that he had always intended for him to be one of us, but not this soon. He told me to ask you any further questions I might have, but…it is a shockingly hard subject to bring up, even with you," Shin admitted.
"Very well, his mother died the day he was born; she was never anything more than the most genetically compatible volunteer anyway. I don't know much about how it was arranged; I suspect he used people he could afford to kill to keep the secret. I know she worked for Chronos, in one of the labs here in Japan, I also know that there was no physical contact between Archanfel and this woman at all, it was all done quite clinically."
"So how did you come to deliver him?"
"There were complications; she was still working when she started to bleed 12 weeks before she was due to deliver. I was in the medical section, overseeing the testing of some prototypes, when she was brought in. Even then, I would have had nothing to do with it, but Archanfel arrived, he knew Shin, knew the moment his unborn son's heart began to falter. He commanded that I do whatever it took to save his son, so that is what I did. The woman who had carried the boy died, not through anything I did, oddly, the hemorrhage she had already suffered was more than sufficient to kill her, and frankly, I expected the child to die too. He was 12 weeks premature, weighed barely 1500 grams, and had been through a traumatic delivery, had nearly died in the womb…" Balkus trailed off, lost in the memories of that day, he hadn't thought about it in years.
"Clearly he didn't die though," Shin prompted.
Balkus smiled faintly, looking back down at the control metal, automatically starting to connect the sensors once more.
"One of the nurses took him, and the next thing he's screaming like a banshee. She whisked him off to intensive care, and I remained to help Archanfel deal with the medical staff, and that was the last I saw of him for sixteen years, not that I really gave him much thought," he admitted.
The door opened then, and a man hurried in, clad in the purple and white of a soldier.
"My Lords, forgive my intrusion, but Guyvers 1 & 3 have been seen heading this way," he barked, stiffening to attention.
"Sound the alert, I want every possible entrance and exit covered by doubled troops," Balkus snapped.
"Yes sir," he saluted, hurrying out.
"They must have found out that Guyver 4 is dead by now, they will be aiming to retrieve this," Shin said, looking down at the control metal.
"Well, they're not getting it," Balkus said, starting to pull the sensors off again, equally carefully, but much faster than he had put them on. He put the disk into a fresh transport case and thrust it into Shin's hands.
"Get this out of here, now," he said.
Shin looked down at the box, and shook his head, handing it back.
"I'll stay, you take this, you're the one that will be needed to recreate the Guyver, and you're the one he will need to keep his son alive. Go on, old friend, I'll catch up with you later," Shin said.
"See that you do, Shin," Balkus sighed, taking the case.
He hated the fact that the younger Zoalords kept trying to keep him out of the battles, but in this instance, he really couldn't argue with Shin's logic. He left as the first explosion echoed around the building, hoping that the Guyvers would focus on doing damage and looking for the control metal, and that they wouldn't go after Shin, because Shin had been right earlier; Archanfel could not afford to lose any more of the faithful.