No, you're not dreaming, although you can pinch yourself if you really want to. I'd like to say that "Death" is back from hiatus, but I'm going to have to take the Seraphim route and promise nothing. I think I can handle a chapter a month, but, I think it's best to just let the chapters come as they will. Bah, you don't want to listen to me ramble. Well, go on! Enjoy!
Hotarubi ya kawazu mo kô to kuchi wo aku
Firefly lights up! Even the frog has his mouth hanging open.
(a haiku by Issa, translated by me)
"Our most powerful blade?" Mikoto repeated, looking almost doubtful.
"Yes," Tabito nodded firmly.
"What good will that do?" asked Zeru, looking very doubtful.
"Quite," agreed Ketto.
"Well," Tabito listened to his voice echo through the room as he spoke, "in my experience, you can only stop an eidolon with a more powerful eidolon, or maybe one of equal power. This may leave us out of luck, but if I can delay the summoned creature, it will be weakened by the time it gets to the city..." The room was so still that Tabito could count the number of computers by the hums they made.
"You need the most powerful blade because?" Geomo prodded anxiously.
"A normal one wouldn't even get its attention."
"Lady Mikoto?" Zeru questioned. The governess gained a glazed look in her eyes for a while, but before anyone could ask her again, she locked her strongest gaze on the crown prince's eyes.
"You realize-" she began.
"Everyone is dead anyway."
"Follow me." Mikoto strode swiftly across the room and out the door. Tabito chased after her, not feeling nearly as majestic as she. This, however, did not affect his determination in the least. The advisors trailed after the two like a trio of ducklings who'd be lost without their mother. The procession made its way through the grand halls of the capitol, until they found themselves in front of a great display stand. Mikoto touched the surface of the protective barrier around it. It made a few beeping noises and then dissipated. She then reached in and pulled out a sword, its blade made of a clear blue crystal. It had only one edge on the blade, but it looked very solid.
"This is the second of the ultima blades," Mikoto said. "The first was strong, but impure; the third was supposedly the most powerful weapon ever...your father bore it. This one is something in between." As she spoke, she put the sword into its decorative glass sheath and held it out to him. Tabito drew a deep breath, wondering for a second if he were really doing this. Then he reached out and took hold of it. "Use it in good fortune," Mikoto let him take it.
"Thank you...I shall attempt not to let your people down," he bowed.
"Good luck, Tabi," Geomo smiled half-heartedly.
"Yes, good luck," Zeru had the same expression.
Tabito nodded again to them, then ran for the exit. He had slowed down once he reached the bottom of the stairs in the main hall and happened to glance at the wall. That same hoshina deity, the one posed with the winged horse, seemed to be staring into his soul. Tabito stared back at him, for a second. He then turned back to the door, raising his fingers to his lips to call for-Marital was standing right in front of him. He started at first but then smiled.
"You sensed it too, eh old friend?" Tabito reached out and stroked the proud white head. "We must do this." The great horse blinked his storm gray eyes, then turned and walked through the door. Tabito followed, although he opened it first. Marital watched him then nickered gently, tossing his head. Tabito mounted and then they took to the sky, heading straight for the Fields of Magdalene to meet their foe.
Life had come to a halt within the city of New Bran Bal. Reichia stood outside watching the great screen downtown with crowds of other people, waiting for the report from the Central Control. She could have watched on her family's private screen at home, but the atmosphere was depressing enough without her father's comments. The screen, at the moment read "Analyzing current activity. Please remain calm." People around her were muttering. She slouched in her car and wished that Anie had wanted to come with her. It was rather unnerving to sit out here by herself. Suddenly she heard gasps and screams, and people began to race around her. She quickly looked up to the screen.
We require all citizens to evacuate the Capitol Area. Please proceed calmly to Donna Heights. May the gods have mercy on our souls.
She stared at it, dumb stricken, awhile. Then she looked to the sky out over the water, where people were pointing and, for the most part, screaming. The sky was tearing open, vertically, and ever so slowly the tear was taking the shape of a door. Or something that looked like a huge wooden door. In the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of white and blue. She looked to the great winged horse sailing overhead. And the rider.
"Tabito?" she whispered. The pair flew out towards the Magdalene plain...towards the enemy. Reichia watched after him, questions forming and reforming in her mind. He was about to do something drastic, if she knew him at all. She started the ignition.
Marital dropped gently to a landing trot a good mile from the edge of the guardian. Tabito looked up at the huge gate building up before the Gaian troops. His heart pounded in his ears. Well, if this was it, at least-
"Don't think! Focus!" Amarant growled somewhere in the back of his mind. Tabito snapped his attention to the Gaian front, searching for the summoner. No, no, for the red mage. He strained his eyes, but couldn't see the man anywhere. He was probably behind the gate. He sat back and noted, with a start, that Marital's wings were changing color. They shifted, quite majestically, from a crystal blue to a shimmering white as he flexed them out. Marital tilted his head into Tabito's stare, then gingerly raised one wing to touch the second model Ultima Sword in Tabito's hand. The blade shimmered, and changed color as well, to the clear white. The prince stared in amazement, and it changed back to its normal blue when Marital moved his wing. The horse summon snorted with displeasure and repeated the motion.
"Focus!" Tabito focused on the energy insignia of the blade and removed it from the shimmering wing. It changed back, and Tabito noted its change. Carefully focusing his own energy into the blade, he thought of the one he'd felt before, and there before his eyes, it copied. White blade matched white wings, and Marital turned his head to the fore, satisfied. Tabito watched his blade a moment longer, dropping his own energy push to see if the change would hold. It did. His eyes strayed back to his summon.
"Marital..." he whispered. "Are you...?"
The horse shrilled, raising his white head, aglow with ultima, in challenge. The prince looked up to see that the gate had dropped open like a drawbridge, and out of it rode one...two...in the end, thirteen horsemen. They charged forward, steeds throwing their heads.
"The most powerful summon!" Chizitsu grinned in wild fascination. "Made up of the greatest heroes in legend. The Knights of the Round! It hasn't been seen in over three thousand years!"
Marital charged forward, intent on giving the ancient swordsmen a warm welcome for their first time on the surface in millennia.
The silence of Central Control was deafening. Geomo tried to fix it.
"I can't watch..." he muttered nervously to Zeru, who paid him no mind in favor of watching the stoic Governor.
"You'd better," Ketto replied beside him, his voice low with significance. Geomo turned to watch the other turn hollow eyes unto the main projection. "This is it."
Thirteen sets of hooves roiled the earth as they made north for the city on the mountain's foot. But where Marital's southbound hooves touched down, the ground crystallized. The air that he beat his wings through steamed, casting a haze before Tabito's eyes and rainbow pieces across his skin. Tabito felt energy...as though a blaze threatened to consume him from below. But it was neither hot nor cold. It was light.
Tabito snapped his sights before him, searching out his target. Sir Lancelot led the pack with hotheaded gallantry, his sword raised as the speeding horses closed the gap between them. Tabito leveled his sword in answer. Ultima Wings flared, the right one sweeping through both Lancelot and his mount, leaving dust and shattered light in its wake. Sir Bors, who had not been far behind, suffered a similar fate at the left wing. Marital swerved in his charge, giving Tabito a clear shot at Sir Tristan while Marital lined up to take the brothers Balin and Balan. Tabito struck true, and his confidence soared as Tristan and his mount stumbled into a cloud of shining smoke. The prince and the horse-god blew through them, the shimmering smoke billowing in their wake: Sir Yvain, Sir Bedivere, Sir Gareth, Sir Mordred, Sir Percivale, Sir Gawaine, and finally-as they passed through banishment mist of Sir Galahad, they came upon Arthur.
Marital soared head on into the hero king's mount, and, with a deafening crack splitting the air through to the sky, Tabito found himself falling. He flipped over, landing on his shoulder blade and rolling away upon impact. He lay on his stomach a moment and tried to process what had happened. His mind, for the moment, seemed to accept that Marital was in fact a very powerful summon, and that he had defeated one of the most powerful summons known to Gaia-the summon perhaps more powerful than even Alexander. His mind refused, however, to give him any emotional reaction to this. But when he raised his head to try to sit up, one came very naturally.
Half-crouched on the ground, Arthur surveyed the area; deep dissatisfaction seeped through his armor. The dark slits in his helmet came to rest upon the Alexandrian prince, who was cautiously drawing his feet beneath himself.
"Uh, good afternoon?" Tabito half whimpered as he chanced a glance at the sword in his hand. It had returned to the crystal blue. Arthur rose to his full nine feet of height and spoke something in a language Tabito had never before heard. The prince took a step back and tried to look non-threatening, even though Amarant kept yelling instructions in the back of his mind. The knight king readied his sword and advanced a step. Tabito settled into a couple round steps as he gulped back his panic. He had to focus the energy back into the sword, and at the same time, he had to focus on Arthur's movement, and furthermore, had to plan his own responses. Without thinking. Thinking was the one thing that would stop him. Search out your targets and hit them, without letting your opponent find theirs. Simple.
The eidolon advanced another step. Tabito shuddered as fear gained another foothold in his mind. The world continued to slow as adrenaline kicked in, so when Arthur swung, Tabito found he had plenty of time to respond. But then there was a backswing. Tabito dropped into a low stance, letting the enemy blade miss him by inches overhead as he watched for an opening, hoping his sword had changed already. He couldn't spare the attention to it because Arthur's third stroke was coming down overhead. Fast. Tabito lifted his sword to meet it. The clash sent shocks through his back leg, momentarily paralyzing both knee and ankle with pain, but the timely shimmering white overhead settled the prince's sense enough that he easily shifted to his leading leg to roll away from the blow. He up and hopped back to a defensive stance, attempting to hide the injury in his left leg by switching it to be his leading. No avail; the king charged as though he could smell first blood.
Tabito snorted and dodged forward into the attack, tumbling past the charging eidolon's leg and wishing he had either a lighter or longer weapon to use. Aurthur certainly wasn't having any problems using his. The prince staggered back, searching for a reliable angle in his left knee. Aurthur had already rounded on him, a swing from his broadsword nearly decapatating the young half-terran who quickly charged forward as he anticipated the backswing. One chance. Damn, this sword was heavy. Tabito's knee gave out as the eidolon initiated the backswing. But the target had come closer.
Like magic, the Ultima Sword slid into the weakness in the eidolon's armor that Tabito had marked out. The eidolon's attack wavered and thoroughly missed as he attempted to right himself. Had he still been human, he'd have been without a kidney. Tabito adjusted his grip and lept upward, the sword splitting through the armor like it was butter. Tabito felt a little silly for panicking about it as he hop-stepped back on his good leg to admire his handiwork. Arthur was kneeling, his sword arm mostly detatched from the rest of his body and drooping on the ground.
"Never show the same stroke twice if you can absolutely avoid it," Tabito quoted along with his teacher Amarant's brooding voice, and it began to fade as he took over the words. "A repeated motion is begging for a counterattack." He carefully approached the wounded eidolon, who watched him with what seemed more like interest than anything else. With a deep breath, Tabito whacked Authur's head off and watched the shimmering smoke dissipate. He stared aimlessly downward, trying to collect his being and mind as the adrenaline slowly wore away. New Bran Bal was saved. The Guardian stood and the eidolon had been vanquished. The Terran people had been saved.
"I did it, Dad," Tabito whispered through the dryness in his mouth. "I--I wish you could have seen. But you didn't need to, right? You knew I'd do it, didn't you? That's why... Why you weren't here..." Perhaps the tear that was forming in his eye magnetized the looming danger, for somehow, even deep within his sorrow, he noticed the incoming volley of arrows in time to drop to the ground to avoid them. But not soon enough to avoid four scratches on his back and left shoulder.
Thoroughly awakened from his reverie, the prince of Alexandria looked out to see the row of archers lined up against the edge of the Guardian preparing to take another shot. Sure, they themselves couldn't go through, but the Guardian did not discriminate against objects that were not alive. Tabito's heart pounded so hard that his head resonated with it. He could not run in this condition and he was well within their range. And they were being very careful with their lining up...they let fly. Before he could even think of which way to dodge, a very familiar vehicle skidded to a halt before him, taking the volley in its side. The door opened on the other side, and he thought he saw a flash of yellow from over it. He peered around the back of the vehicle to see Reichia, pirhouetting with a yellow ribbon flowing behind her. His mind went blank with confusion and did not clear much when he looked back at the archers, who were all taking a very long time to draw their next arrows from their quivers. Before he could even think of the words to ask for an explination, Reichia barked at him as she continued dancing:
"Get in already! I can't do this forever!" This was reasonable enough, so Tabito hauled himself to his feet and, using the sword as a crutch, hobbled over and got into the vehicle. Reichia pulled one last twirl before she lept back in as well, slamming her foot onto the accelerator before she had even gotten the door closed. The engine whined horribly with the change but seemed to get the idea when its backside became a pincushion. They tore back towards the city, leaving doom well behind them.
"Thank you," Tabito said, looking over at Reichia's very focused face. "I do believe you just saved my life."
"Well, we're even then," she threw a quick smile his way before returning a frown to the rear-view mirror. There was a moment of silence as she eased off of the accelerator, during which he managed to formulate his question.
"Was that, just then, some form of magic dance?" he asked tenatively. "You...told me you liked to dance, but you never told me you could do that."
"You never asked," she replied shortly.
"No," he agreed, but a little stung by her tone, "I don't believe I've ever asked anyone if they knew any magic dances."
"I...didn't mean it that way," the coldness in her voice had retreated.
"I know how you meant it." She glanced at him, a troubled expression passing through her features before she returned her attention to the road she was easing the vehicle onto.
"How's your leg?" her voice sounded a little broken.
"In pain," he admitted a lot more than he would have liked too. It was throbbing dreadfully, now that he had let his mind return to it.
"Is it bad? Should I take you to the hospital?"
"No, no," he shook his head. "I need to go somewhere quiet." Reichia bit her lower lip. Should she? It needed to be done...
"My mother knows first aid," she offered, trying to be casual about it. The way he glanced at her made her sure he'd seen right through it, but she continued in spite of the heat rising in her cheeks. "It should be quiet at my place."
"Seraphim! What happened?!" Shido Mart demanded with a trembling jowl. The other nobles had gathered nearby, most of them covering their mouths with their hands to hide smiles. Seraphim, for the moment, paid Lord Mart no mind, favoring focusing his attentions on the crumbling stone in his palm. When it had turned to dust, he stood and brushed it away with his fingertips.
"Did you not see? The eidolon I summoned was defeated and destroyed by a more powerful eidolon. The dismantling attempt has failed."
"Failed?! That's it?! That's all you have to say for yourself?!"
"Don't look to me," Seraphim replied coolly as he stood and wiped the remainder of the dust on his pant leg. "You're the one who informed me that the Crown Prince was not capable of summoning anything stronger than a northwest breeze, which would appear to be a gross miscalculation. The attempt has therefore come to nothing, and I will need time to initiate another."
"You...have a plan then?" Shido seemed to calm down. Seraphim sighed softly, and looked about at the other nobles, drawing them in closer.
"Yes...but it will be more difficult than the first. Short of dropping fire upon the city from airships, the only way to destroy the capitol is still a powerful eidolon." He paused and laced his fingers behind his head, casually turning his eyes up to the sky. "However, they have a combatant eidolon within their Guardian, and I currently have none. Even if I were able to bring forth Knights of the Round again, Tabito's Marital would easily take them once more. Now, there are two ways for a non-summoner to bring forth an eidolon. The first is to get lucky after decades of research and find one, as I did. A pity really." He threw in a saddened expression, drawing small sounds of pity from his audience. Except Shido, who seemed to be having problems with the sudden openness. Well, one turn deserved another.
"Supposedly, the other way is to draw one out of the body of a summoner. Given what summoners are available, and considering the relative power of each of their summons compared to that of Marital... What I'm going to have to ask for is Tabito himself." A round of silence hovered over the Alexandrian nobles.
"What..." started Lady Erkette, "what of Lady Eiko's eidolons?"
"If you can get her to cooperate, by all means," Seraphim shrugged. "Otherwise, I have no intention of going there."
"Would you please clarify what needs to be done and why?" Count de Granville stepped forward and demanded.
"Certainly," Seraphim nodded. "Even if you were to find Princess Raven, there would be no guarantee that her eidolon Ark is stronger than Marital, so the whole operation could be a repeat of today. If you can get me Prince Tabito, alive, I theoretically could extract the essence of Marital from him and use said eidolon to destroy the capitol, and a great deal more from the looks of that one. That's the optimal choice. Of course, if I could get a decently powerful one elsewhere, say, if Raven resurfaced and we caught her, then Tabito must be dead in order for it to work. Any questions?" Again silence. Was this really that hard to understand?
"Alive?" Frederick laughed. "You want Tabito alive. What, should we bargain once more? Say we'll pull back if he's handed over to us?"
"If you think Mikoto's that dense, by all means," Seraphim ran a hand through his hair, paying little mind to the bristles his comment drew from the count. "I could care less how you get him, just so long as you get him. If you're totally clueless, I might be able to come up with a plan."
"A moment, Master Shade," Erkette raised her hand. "You said you theoretically should be able to extract the eidolon from the prince."
"I've heard there's a ritual, but I'll naturally need time to do research."
"Time?!" Shido interjected angrily. "We have no more time!"
"Lord Mart, this is the way of magic."
"He has a point though," another noble agreed. "We do not know when the Terran fleet will return."
"You are by no means obligated to follow this plan," Seraphim replied. "I'm merely offering. I will be leaving now, to begin my research. Be sure to let me know if you decide to go through with this. I'll be letting you know if I discover anything." He bowed and strode away from them, thoroughly satisfied with himself. He'd completely routed the fool Mart and still had a decent chance of completing his mission. Of course, he was leading the nobles on: he had a perfectly good idea of how he was going to get a hold of the prince, and while he didn't know all the details of the extraction ritual, he knew where to find them. And, he could spare Tabito as well.
Seraphim was not ashamed to admit that he had developed a sense of admiration for the crown prince--the one who ran when all thought he would surrender, and the one who fought when all thought he had long been defeated. There was true strength there; the markings of a fine king. It would be injustice to deprive the queen of such an heir. So Seraphim added an endnote to his plan. As he recalled, the ritual would leave the subject in a deep coma that only the highest order of healing magic could cure. He could tell them the extraction had killed the prince. No one had to know. No one.
I'm sure there were typos and I'm sorry. I have no spell-check at the moment, and I'm only so good. And the formatting sucks now. This site won't let me use tildes, brackets, stars or other kinds of wonderful punctuation. I sad.