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· Chapter VII · Hopeful Elegy ·
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Rokuna opened her eyes to reality, finding messy black hair and a worried face above her, her head was on someone's legs. The lack of red bangs confused her for a moment, then she recalled the dye.
His face brightened. "Rokuna-chan, are you okay?"
"I get really sick of that question, you know." she said, but she could show her first genuine smile in a long time. Then her brow dropped and on came her firm look.
She hopped up and looked around. Mondo was right on his feet after her and spoke the spell to undo the possession on her. Clouds of dark energy came from her skin and vanished in a breeze.
Where had the walls gone?
"I did this?" she asked in shock.
"Uh .... I don't think so?" Mondo wasn't quite sure what was going on today actually. With a proverbial sweatdrop, he added :"This whole invisible sixth sense, I just don't understand it."
"Oh, I guess I will have to explain you some time. But first, Mon-chan, I'm going to try and call back the Dryad's Children. Can you handle them?"
He nodded with determination. "I made it over here, didn't I?"
She folded her hands and concentrated as well as she could. Clearer than ever before, her sight expanded into the awareness of the monsters under her contract.
No more weakness, she promised herself and so she dove into the hive mind. Battles against the Children had erupted throughout the city and their pain set down a weight onto her, but her anger measured up equally now. Anger with herself, predominantly.
Rokuna had raged over all sorts of things in her life, but never had she experienced something this fierce and ironically, it was only for herself. To stand at the root of the death of innocents, unable to undo any of it, only that rage allowed her to see it through.
No, wait, there was another element that helped her.
Mondo stood before her and cupped his hands around hers. There was little he could do, he thought. Yet he did everything for her by helping her hold onto herself now, Rokuna knew.
"- Just be with me. -" she quietly told him.
While her eyes were closed, she could tell he was teary eyed again .... he always got like that in these situations. She loved that about him.
Hm, whether 'fate' was real or a fabrication by the residents of the seventh realm, it had given her Mondo and many other friends. She took his strength and her own anger and so forced her will upon the monsters, forced their retreat. Citing out a line she learned them the difference between self defense and needless attack, one stubborn and wild mind at a time.
The first Child returned only minutes later, but soon the speed with which they replied to her bid increased. Leaving behind parts of their makeshift bodies on the plain before the factory and keeping the useful parts, soon they merged into a single entity again and twirled together at the bleeding end of the dragon's head.
A calmness set in now the violence in the city subsided. She noticed an entirely new story going rounds, one that wasn't quite accurate but many lips carried it and it caused a strange sort of joy in the citizens. A new collective mood that they all shared..... its name was hope. They were waiting for the crowning.
She opened her eyes.
"Is it over?"
"Almost, Mon-chan. We just need to help the dragon and then .... "
She kept one hand in that of Mondo and contacted Arash, asking him for directions, sharing with him the information the Dryad's Children provided. When she received his answer, it wasn't a happy one, but not a very sad one either. They wouldn't be able to save the dragon's life, but there was another way to preserve it.
Rebirth. In tandem with her thoughts, Mondo called forth energy from the ground.
Where Rokuna's pillar of light had been now was a spiraling pillar of darkness. It fed the dragon with the energy it needed while the light Rokuna had given the Dryad's Children healed the dragon in the same process.
The Children started to move in unison once more and Rokuna tried to remember what it felt like months ago, within the Terror Dragon. Responding to her memory now, the dragon itself started to form its makeshift 'womb'.
She let go of Mondo's hand and placed her hands on the dragon's skin. Inside she could feel the healed essence of the dragon being severed into a new being, blood of the same blood but an untouched spirit and soul. Under the instincts of the Dryads, new life was born of a creature that only was meant to exist once. Simultaneously she felt every cell of its being die quietly as they pulled the Green Wind away from it, instead granting it to the newborn.
Now, Rokuna's hands pushed through the skin and she reached into the gradually disintegrating dragon's head. Out she pulled a tinny little blob, small enough to fit in her hands.
It unfolded to reveal a short stumpy neck with a closed eye and pudgy multi-feeted legs, all in all a miniature version of the Terror Dragon with a healthy dose of cute, in some opinions. Certainly not Rokuna's. Aesthetically, she found it awkward at best, but emotionally .... it was adorable.
"Hey little one?"
She held it close to her, innocence was something she had lost but still loved in other things. Mondo reached out and petted it, causing the cub a soft tickle.
"Its calling for a master." Rokuna whispered.
She looked up through the broken ceiling. There, far above, Zaha and Shiru still fought off the Praetorians, who had only their orders of Malakoda and cared not the attacks had ceased. Following her gaze, Mondo remarked :
"But he doesn't want to be the Guardian of the Darkness."
"That's because he is afraid of himself, but he cares too much to ignore that they need help, just like he did. He won't deny them." Rokuna said softly. "Not now. We're kinda alike, you know."
He didn't exactly get it, but he trusted her.
"Alright. Me and Pegasus will cover you!"
Rokuna requested the help the Dryad's Children once more. Four faces separated from the ring that surrounded the two children. Once again they pulled parts of the surrounding world to them in order to form bodies, but this time not for the intent of destruction.
Mondo went ahead and guided Pegasus into creating a hurricane.
The angels caught onto the plan and stayed in the center, close to them, while the winds swept away their enemy. Said enemy would find their way back soon enough though. The two Praetorians were hardly like the demons that inhabited the city, but much like Malakoda, vaguely skeletal, stonelike and biomechanic in appearance, neither wind nor fire did much to them. Heck, Zaha had only tried keeping them at bay and already looked more beat up while they were unscathed.
"- Mondo, what is that about? Shouldn't we be leaving? -" Zaha asked.
"- We're gonna have to proof something first. -" was the answer.
"Proof something?" he muttered.
"- To Pandæmonium. -"
At that moment, Rokuna rose to the air on a platform similar to what Saki could create from roots, except hers was made of earth, water and stray plants, some bones here and there. Four dryad faces led the way, curling up like solid fog, almost like petals on a flower .... a rather morbid flower, though.
Zaha spotted the dragon cub her her arms. As she halted before him, she held it out.
"Zaha, will you please take care of it?" she asked with a light tone that he hadn't heard from her in months.
Reminiscent of that desert beneath the war an even light came from all horizons and like that day, he did not hesitate long before he accepted the invitation.
There, Zaha had lost himself. Now he reached out his burned left hand, he took up a part of what he had lost there.
Rokuna carefully set the cub in his hand and looked him in the eyes, giving him a grateful nod. Around them, the faces formed an asymmetrical circle and closed their eyes in a respectful bow. As they did so, his burned hand was healed and violet rokumon flashed from the cub as it accepted its new master. The circle faded away quickly, but the city had many long distance eyes to see. From all around in the city, a loud cheering erupted. Theta had been right, so. Now they saw no longer enemies threatening to destroy them, they saw the children of the Saint Star Dragon appoint a new Demon Guardian.
The Praetorians too held off their renewed charge, confused at the meaning of the cheers. But they knew who the child was, who the fallen angel was and what that dragon meant. And so did the lord Pandæmonium himself. He ordered them to remain back.
"What do they say?" Zaha asked uneasily as he looked around at the distant crowds.
"They praise your choice, Zahariel." Rokuna said happily.
This surprised him.
"You know my full name? Did I tell you?"
"Only indirectly, but we know that name on our Earth. In Hebrew, it means Brightness of God, the name of the angel said to aid in resisting temptation. I think you deserve that name. Thank you for helping me return to myself."
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"Adara .... Kadara .... Buu!"
Set for their last mission in Kharon, Mondo and Rokuna merged with the young Dread Dragon.
As they had hoped, Kharon's system seamlessly hooked into the genetic coding of the dragon cub. A chaotic sea of information stood at their service, together they faced it down.
First they tore away the anti-gate code, then they called forth the information regarding the prisoners and transferred the Names they found to a line of crystal spheres.
There weren't many left alive, but they did what they could for the remainder. Angels had come once more and various summoners were prepared for the heavy task. They no longer needed to build full camp to catch up the prisoners, though. The Forest and Wave Angels had arranged a healing lake in an area far off, there the ill and injured were teleported for care, till they had homes to return to.
An exception existed for some of the demons and those aligned to the dark element. Pandæmonium had sent his Praetorians, who led a whole group of equally solemn faced demons. Their organization was far superior to what the previous missions to Kharon's labyrinths had seen, they quickly scourged the prisons and efficiently divided the prisoners to the right gateways in accordance to their elements.
Those they recognized from the families of their own cities were brought to the city of Pandæmonium at once and they spoke no more than absolutely necessary to anyone. Perhaps they had also been ordered to measure the atmosphere too, they kept a close eye on Zaha as he guarded the dragon cub. But the Blackwinged Angel never made a claim to the throne of Kharon.
There were three labyrinths left, once all these had been unlocked Mondo and Rokuna emerged from the dragon cub and promptly collapsed. While the circle around them faded, many gates all over the plain opened and closed. Many passed through, several died of exhaustion, all blinked out of existence. Rokuna simply held onto Mondo's hand as they caught their breath and waited it out.
"Theta-san!" Mondo suddenly called. He had spotted her amidst some of the workers from Pandæmonium.
The homunculus paused and cast a glance at one of the larger demons in her company. He nodded and she darted over to the children.
"Ai weird folk!" she greeted them.
"You're okay! What are you doing here?" Mondo asked, happy to see her in healthy.
"Community service. Malakoda said that I am in no way going to be pardoned from my crimes, but since I calmed down the crowd before they completely drove greeny insane, well, I don't have to spend it in jail. Still stuck like this for a few centuries though and I lost my entire collection! On the nice side, they're helping me regrow my wings. Oh, flying would get boring and I'd go back to collecting curiosities, but it is rather fitting that I'd be one myself!"
She half turned, showing them two brown stumps on her back.
"Awesome! I mean, bummer about your collection .... but you kinda did have it coming." Mondo remarked. "Which reminds me, I think we should also do something for Pandæmonium in return for the trouble we caused!"
"They don't trust you for a dime." Theta said as she rolled her eyes. "Good luck getting them to accept any help!"
"I'm sure they will!"
Theta shook her head. "Ai ai, the idealism really can't be beat out of you, can it?"
Rokuna shook her head resolutely. "We are being realistic! It would be crazy to bridge our two worlds while the demonic and heavenly realms are in nothing but a cease of fire. Our world is very prejudiced too, you know."
"Yes, so we need both of them in absolute harmony before we even consider introducing the two worlds to each other. So we'll be starting small and befriending Pandæmonium is our first step!" Mondo added.
Zaha had sat down a little distance from them and watched them chat with Theta. Doubts still spun through his head, but he didn't listen very intensely anymore. He was more concerned with what was going to happen to the children at this point.
How odd, actually, he found himself considering them friends, but couldn't really tell what that encompassed. Then again, his friendship with Lark hadn't been particularly complicated either, it just meant simple things that had carried a lot of expectations. In retrospect, so simple it didn't seem.
"This is just the start, isn't it, Zaha?" Looking aside he found Ruth. The usually cheerful imp hadn't been so cheerful over the past few days, and now he looked downright serious.
"I guess so." he said.
"Well, this whole thing here is nearly done in any case. The folk of Pandæmonium say we can leave."
Zaha looked around. Indeed, the servants of Pandæmonium were starting to thin and all around on the desert the lines before the greater gates became less and less. The summoners started to store their spheres too. This had taken a welcome short amount of time, though when it came to the victims, that didn't do much on the overall scape of things.
He stood up and walked to the children.
"Rokuna, is it truly empty?" he asked.
She folded her hands and concentrated for a long time, then opened her eyes again. "It is."
"Alright. Then I will be doing this for the last time."
Mondo helped Rokuna up and they said goodbye to Theta, who quickly rejoined her supervisors. The children on their turn followed Ruth to a nearby gate.
Zaha rose to the sky and waited for Rokuna to tell him all was clear; this didn't take long either.
Once again though, she told him he had company. He hadn't even spotted them, against the dark gray clouds, but now he looked over, he recognized one of them as a Praetorian he had fought in the city of Pandæmonium, the other was a stranger.
They said nothing, but signed they would take care of the two labyrinths, Zaha was to deal with the third.
So, the desert of Kharon burned black for the last time.
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A cold evening two days later, the stage was far away in the deepest forests of the Earth Realm.
Autumn had painted the forests in browns and reds and the first stars appeared in the purple dusk. In an already shadowed meadow stood two girls, one short and green haired and one black haired with ten green wings breaking through her curls. They softly hummed a wordless song, one voice inexperienced, another skilled. So they spoke to the lifeforce of the forest in a ritual to prove their benevolence.
More than a few birds had gathered in curiosity and here and there a fairy or unfamiliar dryad, but the one they sought was shy to show herself. Uncertainty however did not have a long hold on her and the lonely dryad eventually appeared from the undergrowth. She still bore the scars of her imprisonment, lacking the vitality of the other dryads. A cloud of dust with hollow eyes, lonely and not serene as she ought to be.
Rokuna no longer hummed, instead carefully approached the dryad, hoping not to startle her. Just a few steps while telepathically reaching out to her. She was recognized.
"- Lady dryad, I have a request for you. -" she said.
The answer was wordless curiosity and great distrust.
The Forest Angel now called forth a green circle, from hence the dryad's children slowly crept. In their fully condensed state they were only a few meters in span, still they soon filled nearly the entire meadow. Fearfully the forest life drew back, including the mother.
"- Please, don't go. I promised you that I would find your daughter .... and ..... well .... "
Rokuna looked over the many faces. The hive had become much calmer, lost its perpetual acidity since she had inadvertently healed them and they carried an affinity to the holy element now, but still, they were not quite natural. They might never be.
"- They aren't really the daughter you remember and very little of your blood is in them. Still, would you take care of them, please? They are children who need a mother and you are the only dryad here to know what it is like to have lived in the Labyrinths, so you would understand. -"
The broken dryad lingered for a moment, fearfully beholding the many faces behind Rokuna. Then she slowly pulled back.
The Forest Angel was disappointed and continued her hum in a softer tone, but Rokuna made a decision. Maybe it was a test for herself, somewhere, but first and foremost she simply wanted a home for her new friends. She would not cross the line.
Gently she linked the dryad to the children, ever so slightly, but forced nothing onto her mind.
"- It is your choice, but allow me to show you something you can't see. -"
Rejection were her initial answer, but spiritually blind the dryad was not. Fear made way in the appearance of compassion.
Rokuna breathed out in relief as thin hands appeared from the now expanding dryad. At the same time, the many children somehow shrunk in size. The trees started to whisper and the other dryads fell into the clearing to reach out as well. The sky soon was hidden in their cloudlike, glowing forms and Rokuna looked up in wonder. It may have been a dance if it wasn't their natural movement already.
The mother started to lead the children into the forest. Other dryads assisted her, smoothing them into a more natural form until they merged into the trees. And then, there only was that forest.
"Shall we go?" the angel asked once they were entirely alone.
"No. I'll think I'll get another ride." Rokuna said as she turned her face to the west. The Forest Angel followed her gaze and saw through the trees.
"Oh? Well then, I will be on my way." She blinked an eye and then sparkled into nothingness.
Rokuna made her way to a thicker part of the forest, here several tall trees peeked out above the roof of leaves. Zaha leaned against the bark of one such tree, high in the crown where he could see across the land yet hidden by the shadows. Rokuna climbed it and saw down on one of the branches close to him.
His usual, wordless greeting, he raised his hand and then looked ahead again.
"How are they doing?" he asked.
"Well enough to survive. I hope soon they will integrate into the natural world, but I guess they'll never completely be dryads."
"And how are you doing?"
"Well .... " she shrugged tiredly. "I'm going to face my role as the Eyes of the Saint Star Dragon, at Mondo's side."
He didn't say it out loud, but he expected her to understand what he felt about this all. She agreed.
"Mon Colle Knights, Saint Star Children, Black Winged Angel, Guardian of Darkness, Saviors of the Six Gates Universe ..... they expect a lot of us. But I'm still just a little girl and you're only an angel without heaven." she mused.
"And you screwed up, too."
Now it was her turn to be silent.
"Then again, so did I." Zaha continued. "So I'm not going to tell you that it wasn't your fault, that you just got carried away .... cause it is your fault. You should've confronted yourself much earlier."
"I know." she said sadly. "I can't become arrogant, can't become afraid, can't become sad, can become angry at myself but can't rage too much at others, and I can't stop feeling either. And .... I don't know whether I'm a murderer or not. But I think I'm going to find out in the future."
Murderer? A killer, certainly.
He didn't know either. In fits of rage he had burned forests and surely lives had been lost there, but like her he had never stood before anyone and wished their death, let alone carried it through.
This topic was getting too haunting for this beautiful evening, or rather, this early night.
"You know, Zaha? I think I'm happy, actually. How many people live their lives locked into a pattern they cannot escape, no matter how much they would like to have the power to change the world? But it's the sort of happiness that drives people to sorrow because they want to share it."
"That's .... an interesting way of seeing your fate." He didn't sound completely convinced.
"Fate? I doubt it. We discussed it with Namiko-sensei. She agrees .... if I were to get into a mindset like in Pandæmonium back in our world .... if I were to lose myself again, the people there wouldn't be able to deal with it. So, we're going to be living in Rokumon Sekai for the time being and so I can concentrate on whatever my role will be."
"This better not mean I'm going to have to cover you two all the time." Zaha smirked. "I'm not a babysitter."
"Sometimes you're actually a mildly funny guy." Rokuna chuckled.
There, that 'you are insane' type of expression again. She answered with silent glee. He sighed exasperated, but then suddenly said :
"It's a whole lot easier having a conversation like this."
Now she laughed for real. "I'm really glad you think like that. Many people at my new school are already paranoid about whether or not I'm constantly reading their secret thoughts."
Then she remembered something.
"So .... was it just the lightning or did you actually have cotton candy pink hair in your holy form?"
While Rokumon Sekai lacked the consensus of pink being a weak color, at most seeing it as a color of daytime, he caught on quick enough when she sent him a few mental image of a certain twirly candy sold at carnivals in her universe and how much of a joke he could be when that was known.
"Oh crap, what the heck is that? People eat that? .... Are you going to tell anyone?"
"My lips are sealed." she vowed solemnly, but then added with a kitty smile : "Unless off course it becomes vital for your well being that everyone knows you looked like a candy blob."
He needed no further hint to understand what event she was referring to. Softly he hit the back of her head with two fingers, she still nearly topped over.
"Hey!" Glaring, she tried to hit him back but he intercepted her hit easily.
"You do understand this increases the chance of me finding that necessity somewhere, ne?" she said as she rubbed her hand that had collided painfully with his arm.
"You little witch." he grinned.
"Oh, I'll be more than a little witch soon. I might just be the Occasionally Wicked Witch. So you watch out."
"Maybe." Zaha dropped off of his branch and spread his wings, hovering with his back towards Rokuna.
As he turned his head over his shoulder, he said : "Does that threat go to the point I can't afford to safely give you a lift back?"
"Maybe." She took hold of the encasing where his wings melted into his back and he leveled forward so she could sit on it. Flying all the way back would certainly take longer than simply passing through a gate, but it was a beautiful young night. Neither minded.
"This is going to go very fast." he warned.
"I'm not that much of an ordinary 11 year old, I won't fall!" she said with a mock insulted voice.
So he took off. As Rokuna leaned forward and held into the biomechanic wings, she looked past his red hair and horns to the similarly red-brown forest. There she could feel a lively congregation whirling around, full of uncomplicated joy. A welcoming dance to the Dryad's Children and their first lesson on how they would live there.
"You know, .... maybe I'll give my mother a call before we leave Isekai." she said.
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