Aster

DISCLAIMER: Knights in the Nightmare, Dept. Heaven © Sting. Story belongs to me. As a note, every other scene in this story is from the cutscene that takes place right after Scene 30; the alternating ones (with a single exception) are flashbacks.

(how to be dead – caring is stupid and it makes you stupid, but she still does.)

She was cocky and exhilarated and raring for a fight when they burst into the perverse dark womb that used to be the heart of the castle, the throne the king ruled from. Together they'd mown everything in their way down, from minor demons to the human perpetrators to her useless other half. As long as they were together—as long as she stood by the Arbitrator's side—there was no way they could lose.

Zolgonark didn't scare her anymore; nothing did. She was punch-drunk on team spirit.

Then she hit the barrier and it electrified her body, and she started to realize her own arrogance.

---

Meria would never admit to anyone that she'd been perpetually scared as hell since shortly after she was born.

She'd barely escaped being stamped out by her own other half—Marietta had not been happy to see her free and in a body of her own, and had lashed out. Meria had then had the ill luck to run across Zolgonark, and although it sure had been nice of him to free her, she had not liked the way he'd looked at her like a fly to be swatted one bit.

Marietta was caught in a trap of her own making, and Meria—she wasn't needed any more. So she hid in the recesses of the castle for fear of being killed by anything that passed by her. She watched.

And the time came when she had to decide. She made off with the king's soul because even though she was risking death no matter what, it was a lot scarier to wait for someone to come find her and stamp out her life before it even began.

---

First it frustrated her, and then that frustration slowed and stilled into realization. And horror that expanded exponentially by the breath.

Oh, shit.

She stood in the room and let the lord of demons speak, his sonorous snarling rolling around her without meaning, as it sunk in how far in she was over her head.

Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit…

It was a fine time to make her first really stupid decision, this.

---

The soul of the king was first and foremost a power source.

A warm, pure power source that eased the ache of her body, the impossible strain of simply living. Just a touch from that soul filled her muscles with strength she could barely control, and sent adrenaline ripping through her veins.

Battle had been a dangerous roulette before, and now it was fun. The monsters that had hounded her every step were nothing but an annoyance now, and she could cut them down one after another after another as long as she had that wisp of soul at her side.

She still got hurt, sometimes.

She was mortal, after all.

"I need—a minute," she managed to rasp out, and found a broken piece of fencing to slump against, clutching her side. The monster that had attacked her had ripped four long slashes across her ribs and flank, and the wounds were still bleeding. Luckily, it didn't seem as though the scratch had done any damage to her organs, but that had been too close.

She sat there, ashen, breathing erratically, trying not to faint from the pain; it took her by surprise when that pain dissipated and warmth filled its place.

…There was a little ball of soft light hovering around her injured side.

"I'm fine," she told it. "Or will be. In a little bit." It floated in sharp loops, erratic terse fluttering, never far enough away that that warmth disappeared.

Meria smiled.

"Yeah, yeah. You're a real nag, you know that?"

---

She'd overshot herself. Her expectations had been too high. Somehow she'd let her arrogance get the best of her.

Well, damn it, she already knew she'd gotten all the balls Marietta had ever had, and was working to expound on them. Being ballsy was entirely her own job. Even if it led to bad luck like this.

…She couldn't have walked away, neither of them could have.

But they hadn't been ready, and so now…

Now they had to pay for it. Even if they just cut and run—they couldn't escape a second time quite so easily.

---

Well, Marietta had gotten away, Meria hadn't been able to find Ancardia—damn it, Marietta would lord it over her if she ever found the damn thing, and there would go her perfect revenge—and to top it off, there was some big scary thing in the castle dungeons.

She never pretended to be sane, but she had a nice healthy self-preservation instinct—and she knew she'd better stay away from that thing if she wanted to live. Especially since she and Willimgard had gotten separated again.

…She needed to stop running off all over the place—she felt guilty about it, ditching him to let Marietta lead her in a wild goose chase all over the demon-infested castle.

She felt guiltier when Willimgard gave her a present. Well, for about five seconds, until her stomach twisted into knots, she broke out in a cold sweat, and realized those feathers had something to do with Marietta. Or something like her. Thinking about it really—really—hurt her head.

And then right when she was about to say No thanks, I really do not want this, can't you put it some fucking where else, the power kicked in. Like some kind of backwards drug trip. Her body kicked into overdrive, her ability to process her own angelic strength increased about a hundredfold, and a few swipes of her sword were enough to wipe out every demon lurking in the hallway.

It really was like some inverted overdose—first the crash and then the high. She felt better than she ever had, and it was all thanks to that little soul. Her ally, and the one person that gave any kind of damn about her at all.

Then the exhaustion kicked in. And she started feeling like she was going to die. She tasted blood, and the nausea was a solid fist to her belly.

With the soul of the king fluttering anxiously behind her, she dropped hard as her legs collapsed beneath her, and threw up.

A few minutes later—once she'd mustered the strength to crawl away and curl up in a corner, weak and sick and miserable—she'd regained the presence of mind to glower at him.

"I said I didn't wanna see that," she whined.

…That wasn't fair. She couldn't stay mad at anything that managed to look so completely apologetic without a face.

---

Meria was fundamentally selfish.

It was the first time she'd been able to do something for herself, or consider her own needs at all, so of course she was going to place them higher than anything else.

Of course she was.

She had to survive—to kill Marietta and finally assume her rightful place as a life in the world.

Living was more important than anything else, and Zolgonark was far more concerned with Willimgard's soul than with her.

If she took her chance now—she could probably get away. And she didn't have much time left at all.

She only had a few seconds left to decide.

---

"You really need to stop waffling about this," Meria scolded as she loped through the halls, a swift pace that ate up the miles of floor ahead of them. "There's nothing ahead of you or behind you to be afraid of. If all you ever do is look back, you'll never move forward. And the only damn thing either of us can do is move forward.

"And when it comes down to that—who you were before doesn't matter a damn thing. You have the power to fight, and you know what you want to do, so do it. You promised to help me, but in the meantime I'm your sword, right? Little good a sword does if its wielder doesn't even know if he wants to swing it or not.

"There's always a choice, but when your choice is between sitting, overthinking, and dying here or coming with me to make a fight for it—"

The soul of the king still seemed indecisive, its feeble flicker telling her that it could not let the past it only half remembered go.

"Even if you wanted to, you can't change the past," she told him. "Keep looking forward. We'll go together. And we're almost there. I'm counting on you, and I want you to rely on me, too."

His obsession with his past, his fear—they hurt her, even though she knew he didn't mean them to. All of this was Marietta's fault anyway, and she—

To so many, she was still worth nothing because of where she came from—

---

…She didn't even have to think about it. She had no time to think, anyway; she just did it.

She didn't know why she—well, that was a lie. She knew exactly why she was doing it, and she'd never meant any gesture more.

The warmth of that bright soul left her side—to escape, to claim victory, she would have prayed if the gods would ever have deigned to listen to her—as she was enveloped with white light.

She couldn't remember if she screamed or not.

It hurt almost as much as being born.

---

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Meria didn't know how long she was lost there, in the place between life and death, but however long it was, he came back for her. That was all she cared about.

Pulled abruptly back to life as though slapped awake, she stood and shivered, her breath hitching, as the luminescent soul of the king gave orders to the mostly-dead knights. She was having trouble breathing, she ached all over, and her eyes hurt. Marietta's memories and life told her that the warm wetness down her cheeks were tears.

She wondered why she was crying.

She'd been scared. Scared and mad at herself and everything around her—that had been such a fucking brilliant move back then. They could both have died. It would have been for nothing. She'd thought she was dead, and that was scarier than anything she'd ever faced before.

But it also made her feel warm. He'd come back for her. And saved her. And paid her back for getting him out of here in the first place.

She—would continue to be his sword for this battle. And she could only hope that he would keep lending her his strength when it was over, and she began the hunt for Marietta.

Meria raised her sword, and ran forward again, into battle.