THE LION IN THE SKY
Shiohi bit her lip, looking at the latest results. It hadn't quite eradicated the virus. It needed just a bit more…
It felt like a pandemic. Perhaps it was, because in such emergencies, the drugs were only tested for immediate effect. For all they knew, if she did succeed in creating a "cure" and administering it, the mutation, and the powers and deformities and degradation it brought about, could all resurface at a later date. Days, months, even years…
But Katashi had sounded so urgent.
It didn't matter. They needed an immediate effect.
She tossed the results aside and started with a new culture.
The Lion in the Sky
They'd almost backed onto the highway, which was a very bad sign. The beach had turned into a cliff…or rather, the edge near the highway had turned into a cliff-face. The rest of it was nothing save a pile of decomposed matter lying deep under the ocean floor.
Luckily, the ocean wasn't so easily dominated, as even after been drained of scores of litres of water, it still flowed to fill the gap. That might even be advantageous, Tsubokura mused to himself, watching the water crawling further inwards. It meant some of the lower-lying islands would survive for a few more years with the Global Warming effects and the polar ice caps melting and all. In fact, it was the only good thing about this whole mess…and apparently the bird had something against the water, which could only be an added bonus.
The land was still pretty bad off though. And so were the remaining Talents, having come up with absolutely nothing to stop the vulture. Every attack or combination they'd thrown hadn't even fazed the bird. And they were only marginally succeeding in keeping those domes that disintegrated everything within them at bay.
'Is it just me?' Junpei asked from the air, sending another burst of electricity and wondering why he wasn't falling from the sky in exhaustion. 'Or are those dome thingimabubs getting bigger?'
They actually were getting bigger.
'Oh no,' Katsuharu groaned. 'We are dead meat.'
'Maybe you don't have a family, or friends,' Takuya snapped with another burst of fire. 'But we do. And we care what happened to them. And the rest of the world.
'I do have friends,' the plant-user pointed out, attempting another leaf cyclone. 'They're dead too.'
He didn't say "your friend killed them". After all, he didn't think it was entirely the kid's fault. After all, the heart was dead. And he hadn't asked to wind up as the world-destroyer. In fact, he'd done quite a good job not doing that for the most part, if one chose to ignore the messy end.
And Tsubokura was standing on the highway with two bodies safe in the car. You couldn't call either a murder really, in the end. And the others were trying not to think about that…and doing a rather good job for the most part. Unfortunately, the downside was they were getting their butts kicked. Figuratively of course.
However, it was quite distracting. And quite pressing.
Izumi's gales hit the dome and were absorbed.
'Kuso,' she cursed in Japanese…surprisingly. Normally she cursed in Italian. 'Merda. It's not working.'
Electricity surged through a blast of ice, cutting a small hole through the dome which immediately sealed up.
'Hold on.' That was Katsuharu, withdrawing his vines again. They just weren't piercing through. 'Do that again.'
Junpei and Tomoki immediately followed the request, and this time he managed to get his vines through.
Only, they weren't doing a whole lot better. Tomoki caught on though, climbing onto the nearest vine and scurrying down its length up to the hole, icing it before it closed completely and leaving a small hole inside.
'I can't get much ice in,' he declared.
'No problem.' Junpei, Izumi and Takuya had flown up. 'Leave it to us.'
'Hang on,' Izumi cried as the other prepared another electric charge. 'What exactly are we doing?'
'We're creating a bomb.'
'We don't have a choice,' Takuya pointed out. 'We can't get close enough to take him down, so we'll have to blow up…how?'
'We have to blow up the entire air space, using the domes to our advantage by changing the air composition,' the electricity-user explained. 'Between your air control Izumi Takuya's fire, and my electricity, we should generate enough force to rival a small-scale bomb. The domes will keep the energy inside, and even may absorb it, but so long as it hits where it's supposed to…'
The blonde took a deep breath. That's not a human, she had to remind herself. The human's dead. Drowned. That's just a monster, man-made and about to destroy your entire world.
Then something occurred to her.
'Why hasn't it destroyed everything yet?'
The clouds in the sky rumbled in answer.
'Maybe because the night hasn't fallen yet,' Junpei theorised, gritting his teeth. 'We're all more powerful when the moon comes out. And it's a full moon tonight.'
'So you're basically we've got till sun-down before the whole world's completely toast.' Takuya took a deep breath, before summoning fire to his fists. 'Let's get this over with.' There was a pause. 'And under no circumstances is anyone telling Shinya I tried to cook a bird, you guys got that?'
It was a mark of how bad the situation was that they both burst out laughing.
Tsubokura watched the makeshaft bomb detonate. He watched the domes fall. He watched the Talents cheer…and he watched the particles of darkness floating in the sky regenerate.
'Impossible,' he breathed.
But it was true. The vulture of death was undying. Regenerating in front of their very eyes.
A soft glow caught his attention, and he diverted his eyes slightly to stare at the contents within his car…or more specifically the boy he had carefully laid in the back seat.
Kouji was just how he had left him, eyes closed, blood drying on his chest area where the bones had been smashed in.
The only difference was that area seemed to be glowing.
Now, Tsubokura didn't believe in miracles. He was an adult. He worked very closely with a medical scientist. The only reason he himself was not a scientist was because he had found IT more interesting. Never had he dreamed twenty-six years ago he'd be standing where he was today.
So it didn't seem all that odd to hold his breath in the hopes that by some magical and divine power, the other was going to heal and come alive again. That would solve everything…but if Shiohi couldn't get a cure made, it would only be a temporary fix. Perhaps it was better to fight it young. They had a better chance at winning. Even after seeing death in front of their noses, they could fight when someone lit a flame under their feet…and struck the match.
Maybe he was a wet matchstick, but he had done his job.
But he was wrong. There was no miracle coming. The light faded, leaving nothing changed.
Save a shriek resonating in the empty space.
And then the bird was souring through the disintegrated roof of his car, screaming and convulsing in the air.
It hadn't worked. Well, it had. But they hadn't expected the entire body to regenerate. And even if they had, they hadn't been expecting it to regenerate so far away from them.
They hadn't expected it to regenerate almost on top of two dead bodies…but it made some degree of sense. After all, all animals were attracted to food sources, and the primary food source for vultures were corpses. They were scavengers after all.
That did not however explain the pained shrieks or the convulsing.
Nor did it explain why light was starting to burst through clouds.
'Guys,' Junpei said quietly. 'The sun's beginning to set.'
'Well…shit.' Takuya muttered. 'That didn't work.'
'Then we'll come up with something better,' Tomoki said. 'There's got to be something he's tied to right. Some reason why he regenerates? If we destroy that…'
'We're not in fairytales Tomoki,' the eldest of their group snapped, rubbing his head. 'Then again, no-one ever mentioned this stuff happening in real life.'
By that time, Tsubokura had abandoned his car and decided that joining them would be safer than heading into town. In any case, he wouldn't make it far on foot, and being on his lonesome, he would be an easy target. There was no way any of them would be able to watch the bird gulp up the body of two human children though.
Luckily, it appeared they wouldn't have to, as the vulture was still struggling with something.
'If you're going to do something, do it now!'
'Like what? We already blew him up,' Takuya retorted. 'But hearts can't beat forever. There must have been some way to…'
His voice trailed off, watching the shrieking vulture as light suddenly exploded from his third eye.
'Err…what's happening?' A pause. 'Oh great.'
The domes were starting to rise again.
The Japanese were one of the people that cremated their dead, leaving behind nothing but bones and ash for funeral. Of course, that wasn't to say all Japanese cremated their dead, but that was what occurred at a typical Japanese funeral. Bones weren't so easily burnt though; they were buried. Flesh burnt pretty easily, as did all the internal liquids, the various organs, and all the other systems.
The heart burnt as well. And when that was done, there was no turning back. No undead, because even they had hearts, albeit still ones.
Once the ashes returned to the earth, they would stay there. Forever.
Maybe that was the only way to end it all.
The readied themselves for a fight again, but by that point they could feel their energy and power draining. They had to win fast. They were on a time limit by two fronts, their own capabilities and the moon showing its face. Because it was too much to hope that their power will increase enough to be able to combat death at its full potential.
Never had any of them thought they'd be fighting death of all things head on. But maybe it wasn't death. Perhaps Armageddon was a better word.
They were about to launch another assortment of attacks to blast the domes when Tsubokura stopped them.
'You have an idea?' Tomoki asked eagerly.
'Yes,' the older man replied. 'But none of you are going to like it.'
He had considered not mentioning the details, but in the end had decided against it. True it would have been easier in the short run, and that was the more pressing one now, but the reactions after…
They really wouldn't be children then.
To top it off, he wasn't even sure of what he had seen.
So he didn't elaborate. Not then.
When a soldier, or someone similar, died on sea they gave a special type of burial. Casting off, letting the water claim the body for itself, sinking into the depths and defying the laws of gravity.
The funeral rites were rapidly done in war. The carcasses were piled up and burnt. There was little time for prayer, except what came after with the survivors. And their friends and family, and nameless people paying their wishes to people they had never met. People whose names they didn't even know.
In some circumstances, the funeral rites were altered.
It looked like this was one of those circumstances.
It was the beak dipping that did it.
The vulture was making absolutely no sense whatsoever. The domes followed no pattern, simply detonating at random. The body itself still shrieked as if in constant pain, flying upwards and away from the car and the two bodies as if he couldn't stand to be near them…
And then suddenly he was diving forward, about to bury his beak into the two inhabitants.
That was what did it.
Ice and thunder shot at the bird, who screeched in mid air and grinded to a halt as his wing and half his chest was seared off. As the darkness began to repair it, something began to glow in the backseat. Kouji, they realised slowly. Or more specifically his chest.
The bird screeched in pain again, and hurtled downwards. Apparently it had decided the glow was the source of its pain. And it must go.
Vines suddenly erupted, tearing at the wings and slowing the bird down. It was a show of how single-minded the other was that it made no move to combat its assailants, simply flying forward whenever it had the means to do so. Sooner or later his beak would have the heart between it, and with a ferocious snap, it would be gone. Dissolved. Destroyed.
'Cremate them,' Tsubokura said slowly. Somehow it sounded better than "burn them". 'That bird's not going to stop for anything.'
It roared again, as if to validate that.
Takuya and Izumi exchanged glances, before nodding slowly. It wasn't something either of them particularly wanted to do, but right then it seemed either that or watch the body of one of their best friends disappear into the stomach of a monster. And they'd have to watch the body burn in any case. Perhaps it would be more bearable like this.
The fanned flames easily engulfed the car, and the fuel helped it spread. Within a minute, the entire vehicle exploded, by which time the vulture had its beak halfway through the hood.
The entire contraption, bird and all, soon became engulfed in flames.
They all waited, breaths held…but it didn't regenerate.
Izumi sunk to her knees, but the others remained standing, though most of them felt the urge to follow in the female's suit. Perhaps it was manly pride that kept them from collapsing. Or perhaps it was just the differences in character showing up.
Takuya was just staring at the ash. He'd been largely responsible for the fire, but he knew in his heart it was the way things had to go. It still felt horrible, even if all he had done was cremate a dead friend, a person he didn't know all too well, and a vulture that should have been long dead.
But the bones and scraps of metal…
He stifled a gasp as green smoke began to rise.
It was the same stuff that had originally caused the virus. He was sure of it. Perhaps that was why he panicked. Why he yelled.
The group reacted instantly. Winds divided the air into two distinct phases separated by a barrier, helped along with ice and electricity. Aromas shot out from the earth, carrying with them flame.
The green vapour ravelled around the vine and surged onward. Straight through the barrier. Straight through the vine. Straight through empty space where no matter or even light should be able to travel through.
Before they could panic, or come up with something else to combat it, before Tsubokura could speed-dial Doctor Ryuusui in the hopes she knew something that could help them, the moon suddenly appeared in the sky as the clouds moved.
For a moment, time froze.
And then stars began to appear as the clouds further retreated. For a moment, they looked simply like little pinnacles in the sky, but then they began to connect. There was a wolf, pawing towards the earth. A lion, turning its head away from the sky.
And then light was pouring down. Not sunlight but the gentle light that the night brought. A lion was literally leaping upon the green smoke, suppressing it was the wolf prowled below, biting into its base.
They watched in awe as the smoke literally shrieked, then quelled under the two beings of light.
And then it was gone. And it was just the pair, turning over to them. Each with blue eyes that were oh so familiar. Each with a smile on their face, full of thankfulness…and love.
And then they were just light, spreading across the ground, and sparkling in the sky beside the moon.
The heart was truly an amazing organ. Some even believed it to have mythical or divine attributes.
Very few however denied it had a link to the soul. Perhaps that was why it was better for them to burn into nothingness once they were dead. That way, the soul was freed…forever.
But when it had no earthy ties, where did it go?
And then, just like that, it was over. No-one could quite believe it. For about an hour they just stood there, waiting for something to rise from the ashes. But nothing came. The sun went down. The clouds parted. The moon rose, bathing the fractured highway and new cliff formation with its light.
It would take a lot of cleaning up to make it easy on the eyes to look at again.
The stars sparked in the sky. The lion was still there, plain as day, but the wolf had vanished. The face faced westward, ready to greet the God of the Sun when it next came.
And they knew it would come.
They would have stood longer, but the phone rang. The conversation was brief, and the message even more so. A single statement, bringing the final chapter to a close.
'The cure's ready.'
And so quietly and with heavy hearts, they began the long trek back into town, the stars guiding their path and the full moon smiling from the sky.
The lion smiled too, but it was a smile purely for them. And if they looked closely, they would have seen the shadow of a wolf's smirk on the face turning further west.
End of Chapter 12
A/N: And that's the end of the story…and also where the title comes from. The lion is actually a real constellation. It's called Leo, one of the signs of the Zodiac. You find it if you type "The Lion in the Sky" into Google. Although Kura'Baee brought up a good point I actually hadn't even realised, ie. Kouichi having both lion and bird as a part of his mutated Talent. Well, there you go. Even titles can be interpreted in different ways.
Man, it's so hard to write fighting scenes how they show up in the little VCR player in my head.
And yeah, the twins are dead. Again. Come on, how many of you saw that coming?
Now that I think about it, how many times have I saved them? Not a rhetorical question. Seriously, does anyone remember?
There's a reason there's no epilogue. Once everything dies down, there's going to be a lot of emotion involved. Depending on the reader, the perception of that might differ. I'll leave it up to you…basically because that's a really tough chapter to write. And it's not really a part of the story. I never intended it to be. Twelve chapters…for once it stuck with the original plan.
Ciao next fic. And thanks for reading. :) Next Tuesday will be the first of a three-shot called Turning Towards Light…only because it bugged me till it was written. You know how fics are…