(A/N)- Wow, thank you for the alerts and reviews. –laughs nervously- I'd originally intended to make this a throwaway ficlet to tranquilize the rampant plotbunny itch but I'm happy there are a couple of people who are genuinely interested in Ad Infinitum. This chapter will be very long and its fluffy segments very short. I'm pushing that toward next chapter.
Sylvie or Silvie? Gah. It's the whole Mykage vs. Mikage and Toma vs. Touma ordeal all over again.
Some of the things I will most likely address (some based on tak-10's post on tumblr) throughout the story will be: how Shrade's spirit remained in the vector of episode 26, Cayenne's vision of the wedding in mourning clothes, Kagura's seemingly sudden surrender of his smelly wrench, Kagura's and Zessica's vision (and Mikono's) of said wedding, Mykage's crystallized coffin, "Apollon" and "Sylvie", Amata's memories and how EVOL came to exist, Altair's future and the Curse of Eve, Mykage's and Fudo's future, Crea's purpose and her relationship with Apollonius, how Mix got her "big bangs" back, and why Kagura calls Amata "Wings of Sun."
If there are any questions you may have concerning the other plotholes Kawamori has left behind, please be sure to leave them in your review! :) And I'll do my best to have them answered, within the constraints of my own imagination of course.
"High Commander Fudo," spluttered out the shocked, choked voice of Chief Commander and Commanding Officer of the Male Cadets Donar Dantes. He tried standing up to properly greet his superior—then, remembering his burden—quickly sat back down. "You're back!"
All commotion in the command center waned and then died off as Zen Fudo unceremoniously strode into the immense space. At the Neo-Division of Earth Vitalization Advancement Holy Angel Academy (or Neo-DEAVA for short), a range of Element Users ceased their celebratory actions and snacking and took in with owlish eyes the sudden appearance of the well-recognized tall figure. After the power network was turned off, everything in the command center was just decoration, even the teleporters. The commander probably made a call to warn them he was coming back, they thought feverously. He usually wouldn't show up without giving his version of a heads up. But since they'd foolishly turned their radars and faulty power lines off, his signal wasn't intercepted. Scrambling to their feet and their faces blushing, they bowed their heads in respects to the top of their chain of command now gracing the premises.
From the back of the room, a girl with long, iridescent locks sitting down on her customized stainless steel chair furtively shoved a white bakery box behind her. Arranging her dress calculatingly, Chairwoman Crea Dolosera crossed her legs and plastered on the most innocent expression she had in her arsenal when Apollonius slid a knowing look in her direction.
The woman in charge of the female cadets, Commanding Officer Suomi Konepi, felt her face flushing deeply when she saw the high commander tearing his eye away to stare at her unusual position—was that a smirk she saw on his face?—before moving on to take in the vandalized control center. She shot up to her feet as well, bobbed a short curtsy, and smoothed over the invisible creases in her white monastic scapular to avoid meeting his flickering gaze. She refused to look at the equally-red Donar whose lap she had been occupying merrily moments before.
"Oh no, don't stop on the account of me," Apollonius drawled lightly, once more falling into his role as their mentor and superior 'Zen Fudo.' His one green eye zipping past the visible baked goods and party streamers messily dispersed among the room within the limits of his field of vision, he clasped his hands behind his back and insisted, "At ease. After traveling that many miles to get back to Neo-DEAVA, I'm happy to see everyone in good spirits. We've finally gained the upper hand so…festivities…are to be expected. I'm making it a requirement, in fact. Is this everyone?"
"Yunoha's in her room," Andy contributed, sinking back in his swivel chair. The anxious mood dissipated under the weight of his blasé discourse. Adjusting his beanie, he related, "She said she wasn't feeling so tight so we let her go. Everyone else that wasn't feeling up to the party probably went to sleep. So, yeah, this is pretty much it."
"Hmm…what about our two lovebirds, cadets Sora and Suzushiro? Has anyone received any word from them?"
"L-lo-lovebirds!" Suomi and Donar gasped, simultaneously staggering back until their legs bumped against the chairwoman's console. Crea glared at the two when they jostled the stack of papers lying on the table.
"Oh, love is permitted once more, did I forget to mention?" Apollonius whistled innocently, bellying his wolfish grin, at the stupefied expressions on their faces. "But I'll make similar words to that effect another time...when I see everyone's gathered together. But seriously, no one's answered my question. Have the two contacted anyone or are they still considered MIA?"
Hours before the chairwoman had informed the Element Users that their absent high commander took a lengthy expedition to find a way to turn the tides of war in their favor and wouldn't be back until everything was in working order. Now that Fudo was here, everyone could officially breathe a sigh of relief. Some were a bit curious what he had done to 'turn the tides,' since it seemed the two missing Element Users were the main driving force behind their success. No one dared voice their question in fear of challenging the high commander's honor. It would seem like they were accusing him of a cowardly nature and no one wanted to charge a higher-up with such an allegation.
"I think they're commemorating their Union in their own way," chimed in a chipper, giggling Sazanka Bianca. She tried not to flinch when she could feel the eldest, handsome Suzushiro sibling glowering at her from the corner where he was seated. She pressed her sweating, chilled juice box against her hot cheek.
"What I think," suggested another female Element, twining one of her green side bangs around a finger, "is that the two took my advice to get a room and made themselves scarce while we worried over them." As an afterthought, Zessica, who looked like she had aged quite a bit in the last 24 hours with the pasty pallor her skin had taken and the gray shadows beneath her eyes, added, "Nice to have you back, High Commander Fudo."
After changing out of her Neo-DEAVA battle gear, the female Elements—including the chairwoman and the surprisingly still male Mix—had surprised Zessica by walking up to her in the shower stall and, crying, hugging her so tightly she could feel her lungs bursting. They did their best to make her welcomed back and she had appreciated that. At the girls' insistence, she had the short back of her green tresses plaited, then tied with the green cord that previously laced Fudo's coat together. Currently she was wearing one of Crea's spare Lolita dresses—she couldn't stand looking at the same dress she wore when she naively made a devil's deal with Mykage—and loosely draped over her shoulders was the high commander's red coat. Unbeknownst to her, the man was slightly amused that his beloved coat was worn by someone other than the one he had initially gifted it to at a whim.
"It's nice to be back," he answered just as succinctly. His sharp gaze lingered on the newest addition to the team. "And I've see you brought your friend along."
Zessica buried her face in her hands when said friend leaped up onto a table and crouched down with his hands in place between his obscenely splayed legs to hold himself upright on the wobbling counter. Two female Element Users squealed, fanning themselves at his rugged good looks and ripped clothing. They'd offered him a change of clothing and he'd turned his nose up at each of their spare combat gear presented to him.
The men of the room simply rolled their eyes at the girls' response. Typical, particularly when one of the girls was Sazanka.
"Hello, Old Man." Kagura grinned savagely, giving him the mockery of a two-fingered salute. "I've heard so much about you, I'd thought I'd come and see what all the fuss was about." He then toasted Apollonius with his own green apple juice box. "You have worse foods than the ones back at Altair's."
"He means 'better,' I think," Zessica clarified, her voice muffled. "Turns out his element is really the power of reversal—as you had said, High Commander—so everything he says is backwards. It's really weird."
"Keep talking, bitch, or I might shove this into your face so that you'd have something to match your hair."
"Asshole," she retorted, glaring at him between her fingers, "it's only labeled green apple because the flavor tastes like green apples, not because it's actually green!"
The redhead scrunched his nose up. "That doesn't make any sense. Why would anyone—" His head abruptly whirled around and he leaned closer in Apollonius' direction to take a stronger whiff of the man's scent. His brows furrowed in a deep dip. "Why do you smell like—?"
"Has anyone told you how rude it is to openly sniff at other people?" Apollonius interrupted, with the ever-present teasing smirk over his angular features. He patted Kagura's shoulder, a seemingly innocuous action which launched the redhead through the air, slamming him back into the seat which had been near Zessica's. Apollonius tutted, "Down, boy, before Sazanka there faints from blood loss."
All heads turned to the indigenous girl whose hazel eyes were glazed over. She was holding her hands over her nose which bled rivulets of blood over her fingers. Her friend, the one with the paper bag over her head, silently handed her a tissue box.
Kagura groaned and slid an irritated golden eye open. "The hell, Old Man? You've got the power of telekinesis or something?"
"Or something," Apollonius agreed, filching an uneaten jelly donut from one of the boxes lying in the open. Crea groaned silently once she realized what he was about to do. "Why are you here, our once previously known Abductor? Not that you're unwanted but what are your intentions?"
"High Commander!" Zessica leaped to her feet and shot an arm out in front of Kagura defensively. "This man defied orders to bring Mikono back to the Altairans when she was suspected to be their True Eve and he was one of the main driving forces behind Mykage's defeat! He has no place left on Altair! He also saved my life! He's the one who brought me back after being possessed by you-know-who!"
She didn't want to mention he was also the one who had restored some of her confidence in herself back when she was imprisoned deep within her subconscious, when he loosened his iron grip on her neck and calmly told her that Amata wasn't worth the sacrifice she was willing to make to atone for her sin—the careless bargain struck between her and the Shadow Angel. When he had turned his back, from just his tensed shoulders she had also understood his unspoken words—that his "Sylvie" wasn't worth freely giving up her life for either. Kagura shot her a grateful, if a bit reluctant, look.
"Sir! If I may!" Suomi bowed to her waist and she continued on respectively, "This boy risked his life to help us win the war when he had little to no reason not to. Whether we like it or not, Demuri, Kagura has willingly committed an act of treason against his people by siding with us. He is also Amata's other half, the chairwoman told us so! What use is there casting away one of our students, even if he is the missing half of him? I feel we cannot leave him to fend for himself after all he's done for us!"
"Yeah! We owe him!" Lowering her voice, Zessica muttered, "Especially when he is a surprisingly kindhearted little bastard…."
Murmurs of quiet assent filled the command center. All eyes were drawn to the stationary High Commander who was listening to their appeals quite attentively, much to some peoples' surprise.
Raising a brow at their united front, Apollonius serenely raised his donut into the light. Fifteen physical pairs of eyes followed the line of motion. Seeing that he had their attention, he drawled, "While I do not doubt his sincerity—after all he has done—I have to question his motives for doing so. Kagura, for what reason do you have to promptly change your mind when you've made it clear from the get-go you desired our youngest Suzushiro?"At the redhead's bewildered expression, Apollonius added wryly, "Cadet Suzushiro, 'Mikono-saaaan,' your smelly wrench?"
The Elements struggled to keep their faces straight at the excellent impression of Amata Sora. Several of them had to hide their incredulous laughs behind unconvincing coughs.
Kagura's confusion melted away into one of grim assent. Rubbing the back of his neck, he muttered, "I let Amata borrow my smelly wrench so that he could save Sylvie from my childhood torturer."
Before he thought all he needed was his Sylvie, and the rest of the world could go to hell for all he cared. Every time he saw her or sensed her floral scent, his conscious thoughts would then go blank and fuzz over with the ever present metaphysical fog. Sylvie's presence was like a beacon to him, an irresistible drug he desperately wanted to chase away the fog clouding his mind. But unknown to the Vegans and Altairans, he felt like a cross between the little boy who was crying for the mother and the marionette being manipulated by a master puppeteer. Shouts of love were wrangled from his throat and memories that were not his own were dredged up from within the dark corners of his mind.
It scared him a bit that he was following Apollon's destructive path but there was always that insistent prodding at the back of his mind working overtime to soothe his fears and to encourage him to go after 'his Sylvie.' He'd almost always followed that voice because when he didn't a throbbing, malodorous-smelling pain stabbed at him from all directions, making him regret each small acts of rebellion against its encouragements. It wasn't until he threw caution to the wind and went along with the voice's suggestions that he felt respite from the constant mental ache. The fog was his friend and the cold lack of sensation his constant companion. He welcomed the numbness and, although he was essentially chasing after a stranger of another dimension—an alien from another planet—he really didn't mind spending the rest of his life with this attractive Rare Igura. She seems like a nice enough girl, he'd thought.
Very rarely did he get a moment of clarity but when he did he always used it to justify his actions and fortify the impenetrable wall of denial, that something was obviously wrong with his deeply-vested attachment to her.
Then his world turned upside down when his mentor—taking on the female pilot's features previously unknown to him and then warping it to give a vague impression of his own—betrayed him by holding his reincarnated love against her will and transmitting a haunting lullaby through Aquarion's communication systems. At first he was baffled why his mentor was broadcasting such a childish thing but then his head began to pound and a million sharp knives pierced his mind as the humming persisted. His world had turned dark and when he awoke with a sharp, clear awareness he'd never thought he'd get back, he found himself in a confounding Escher Room and his Sylvie tied upright by vines to the stained glass window overhead. Habit sent his legs pumping furiously to go reach her but now that the artificially intense feelings generated by Mykage for the girl was shattered by the lullaby, he no longer felt the same extreme compulsion to have anything to do with her.
When his vector Unioned with the girl he had rescued and the bane of his existence, at that moment their emotions and memories were connected and combined. Amata's strong feelings for his Sylvie installed a sense of grudging respect in him and Kagura, however reluctantly he felt about backing down from his rival, let him go to her. Though, to be honest, his abrupt compliance might've something to do in part with Zessica's resonating acceptance of Amata's ultimate rejection and her own willingness to help him get back the girl he wanted.
A side of his face twitched and he sent a stealthy, silent glare in Zessica's direction. Really, what a woman she was. She'd asked him to kill her—for a moment there he was taken aback a random stranger was asking him out on the spot until he realized she'd meant something else—and his hands had automatically winded around her swanlike throat and flexed. His halfhearted attempt to fulfill her suicidal request—hey, if murdering her ended up getting him and Sylvie out of there, he was all for it—had all but subsided when she started crying and hoarsely whispering her last goodbyes. He had to struggle to hear her, her voice was that low. The name which slipped past her lips brought another moment of clear-headedness to him and, at that moment, he knew he couldn't do it. Here was a girl who was willing to give up her life like a sacrificial lamb in order to save the dolt and millions of lives because she saw no other way to get out of the situation. He knew, had his Sylvie been awake, the same thought wouldn't have crossed her mind. Gorge had filled his mouth. Mikono wasn't a warrior, it took no leap of logic to understood that. This girl, on the other hand, was eager to atone for her sins by bravely putting her life on the line for others. It was both cowardly and admirable at the same time. It sickened him.
Her blood wasn't worth spilling on his hands.
"Nothing was making sense so I figured I'd give him a chance to play her knight in shining armor in the spur of the moment when I saw how determined he was to get her back from my crazed mentor…I've only acknowledged his feelings, to let him destroy the present Mikono, nothing more," he finished firmly, bunching his hands into fists and tearing his gaze away from a confused violet set.
In his opinion, the idiot could go woo and champion her for all he cared so long as she was happy with him. It didn't matter to him, Kagura no longer wanted the smelly wrench the same way he once did. However, as the saying goes, old habits die hard. Although his infatuation had ebbed, there was still a secret part of him that was roaring to get her back, that she was his possession, not Amata's. He visibly winced. The contradicting feelings made his head hurt.
Drinking up the brooding emotions flickering past the young pilot's face, Apollonius nodded sagely. Ah. He saw where this was going. "So here we have reached the conundrum." The High Commander rotated the donut twenty centimeters to the right. "With what has happened, we have a shaky peace between Vega and Altair that we must maintain and espouse. With your appearance…"
Everyone was entranced as the middle of the donut depressed inward, like someone invisible had poked their finger at the pastry. Even one Shadow Angel, who had been merely observing things from the doorsill, took notice of the unbelievable feat of magic. His arms dropped from their position against his chest and he soundlessly floated closer.
"…we tip the balance to our side, especially if one of Altair's key pilots is genuine in his promise to offer us his assistance. With it Vega might be able to be restored to its former glory and, if the situation permits, the reconstruction of Altair. But if our turned Gnis Pilot intends to disrupt the harmony by going after his smelly wrench…"
The invisible finger shot through the dough and red jelly, leaving behind a gaping hole in its wake. The Element Users' jaws dropped. A singular thought ran through their heads—holy shit.
Chuckling softly, Mykage's flight sojourned nearby his former lover. He draped his arms over the high commander's shoulders, overlaying his chin on top of his long white sleeves and angling his feathered head centimeters away from the side of Apollonius' face. "Is it true? Is your Element really the power of telekinesis or are you just playing them?" Silent puffs played along the back of Apollonius' jaw line with each syllable pronunciation.
He was bored out of his mind. At first he was bemused by the Wingless intermingling—wasn't a certain someone skilled at playing a normal human?—but his initial enchantment with their perplexingly emotional dealings had quickly lost its appeal for him. He was more interested in how Apollonius' reincarnated soul was operating his current human host and how his subconscious had overtaken this Wingless being.
To his credit, Apollonius barely twitched at his newfound burden. It would take someone very observant to notice the miniscule clenching of his jaw.
When he was sure the Wingless' attentions were properly distracted, Mykage decided to kick it up a notch by lazily swiping a finger across the smear of jelly which had landed on Apollonius' cheekbone. He still wanted to see how far he could take it before he infringed on what Toma's lover considered as his personal boundaries. The bridal carry apparently was tolerable. The Shadow Angel lifted the stained digit to his lavender mouth, licking the red substance off uncertainly with his tongue.
A forced Cheshire smile suddenly made its way up Apollonius' face at the same time as he was concluding between gritted teeth, "…the harmony would be disrupted and we'd have a hard-time trying to fix the hole left behind."
Some of the Elements were confused as to why their High Commander's voice sounded strained near the end of his monologue but they shrugged it off. Another oddity of their high commander's. It was just water off their back.
Apollonius' right eye spasming involuntarily, he ignored the Shadow Angel who was unmistakably taking advantage of his vast patience. It was easier to pretend nonchalance when there was no visual reminder of what frustrated him in the first place. Adding to Apollonius' inner turmoil, Mykage's deep, melodious voice flitted through their shared mindscape, murmuring a disappointed, "It's rather sweet…"
Crea watched their interaction with widening eyes. Opening her mouth to voice her disbelief, it clicked back shut when it occurred to her no one else seemed conscious of their previous Public Enemy No. 1 being in the same room as them. Catching her partner's warning glare, she settled for viciously biting down on the same jelly donut Apollonius had been holding until she had teleported it into her own gloved hands.
He clapped his hands together to get rid of any remaining crumbs the donut had left behind. Roughly rubbing a gloved thumb across the same cheek to make sure there wasn't anything else on his face, he implored firmly, "So I ask you, Kagura Demuri, do you intend to steal away her away again but this time when our backs are trustingly turned to you?"
"Choose wisely," Cayenne scowled, crossing his muscled arms and leaning back against his seat. All eyes swiveled over to his direction. "Because your next words can spell your doom. I'm not entirely okay with how she ended up with that dork but, if it makes her happy, I will tolerate their relationship."
"What was that, spice boy?" Kagura growled.
He jabbed a finger in Kagura's wake. "You heard me! To preserve Mikono's happiness, I will not tolerate anyone who comes in between them! Even if that means you, beast boy! Stay away from her!"
Enraged, the Gnis pilot shot to his feet and he grabbed the man's green undershirt, yanking him up. How dare he order him away from Mikono? Even if he was someone who Kagura could now call a dubious ally, he had no right saying such things to him. Growling through clenched teeth, he demanded, "Who do you think you are telling me what I can and cannot—?"
"I'm her brother!" Cayenne snapped, squeezing his grip on the black high collar.
"So what! She's my smelly—!"
"So you intend on carrying out your plans to whisk her away with you?" Apollonius broke in coldly, the smile on his face dropping. Taken by surprise, the two Element Users relinquished their throttleholds and stepped the hell away from each other and High Commander Fudo. A frigid air permeated the command center, and everyone looked in alarmed wonder at their suddenly somber high commander. The last time they'd seen him drop his smile was after Jin's demise and the murderous rage on his face wasn't a memory anyone was fond of recalling.
A soft croon escaped Mykage's lips at the controlled display of Apollonius' ire. He rubbed his nose gently against his lover's cheek. "How beautiful, your rage. It's so breathtakingly different from you were merely my—Toma's twin soul."
Before Apollonius would explode in a flying rage, leaving behind ruin and destruction and mountains of Wingless corpses in his wake until his temper cooled, his thirst for blood sated. Now he was just as calm and collected as the glaciers that once peppered the freezing waters Apollonius had brought Toma to as a surprise engagement gift to listen to the songs of the ocean. Although it had been raining that day in the lower world, it was the first romantic overture the recently christened Angel of Massacre (or Angel of Death as he later became known) made to the just-as-recently-christened Exalted Holy Angel. That was what made the memory of the experience even more treasured amongst all the memories Mykage had inherited from Toma, and Toma had come to love the rain, which was a singular experience that could only be experienced in the human world, after the trip. Every time he visited, sometimes dragging Apollonius along, to feel the memories of the ocean against his hair and skin, it would remind him of his cherished gift.
It was also the first time Apollonius acknowledged their engagement arranged by Johannes, the first time he looked at Toma with something more than the same impassive indifference he'd shown when the verdict to matrimonially join the two most esteemed Frontline Commanders was passed by the Council of Elders.
Matching the arctic green gaze with his own indigo set—with a disappointed, heavy pang, he was reminded of another of the jarring dissimilarities between reality and Toma Epanortho's fond recollections—his eyes never left Apollonius' as his pale fingers trailed down and skirted past the sparse stubble, reaching the smooth, tanned skin underneath and then to the sharp jut of his Adam's apple. Swallowing hard against the hot feeling lodged in his throat and slamming his emotions behind a glass case deep within their conjoined mindscape, Mykage shakily traced the small bump as he plastered on a fake, confident smile. He repeated breathlessly, "So beautiful."
…You must derive amusement by purposely trying to find new ways to test me, Apollonius projected quietly, dryly, doing his best to ignore the featherlike caress against his unguarded throat. Inwardly he narrowed his heterochromic eyes at the different pitches Mykage's voice had taken. His last accolade sounded softer, in a lilt that Apollonius would never associate with Toma's richly baritone echoes. The compliment…while he could tell the weight behind the words was sincere, did the man not understand what personal space meant?
Apollonius wished there was an invisible force field, complete with electrical fences and guard dogs, to stymie the other soul sliver from crossing his boundaries. At times he could put up with it because of the awkward way the Shadow Angel went about showing his affections was adorably childlike and innocent, like something he'd expect to see between a child and his or her father. Then there were times he was reminded why the former Apollonius chose Celiane in the end. He didn't know how long his open-mindedness could last before his patience eventually run out and this thin, odd balance they had inexplicably reached between them would be broken. Once he breaks under the pressure and he has no choice but to lash out.
The wide smirk on Mykage's face unquestionably broadened, much to Apollonius' dismay. It was a slow, almost carnal smile. "Yet nothing you have done suggested your discomfort. Why the sudden protest? I've done much worse since you've accepted me into your body."
The high commander didn't reply, purely choosing to redirect his uneasiness by staring impassively at some random spot beside Gnis pilot's head. To borrow a cadet's words—fuck him.
Zessica shuddered and rubbed her naked arms underneath the coat, her fingers dancing over raised goose bumps. Good lord, was Fudo's ears turning red? He was that angry against Amata's other half? If she didn't know any better, it seemed after a few moments after his smile dropped and the air got colder, an even more intense chilliness had settled in the area around him. She thought it was a trick of the light when four thin white lines skittered over Zen Fudo's chin, which then faded into pink and eventually back into the natural pigmentation of his skin.
She groaned and rubbed her stinging eyes. Having your body previously possessed by an otherworldly supernatural megalomaniac with a god's complex definitely had its side effects. Hallucinations seemed to be one of them.
Alarm bells were screeching inside Kagura's head. Was the old man glaring at him? A million curses and expletives skyrocketed through his head. Refraining from his urge to whine like a newborn puppy and roll over to show his belly, he simply bowed his head in deference. Peering up warily through crimson bangs, he muttered, "No, I will not. I stand by my decision to let her go, however much I regret doing so. If she's happy with my lighter half, then I will entrust her to him."
The agonizing iciness eased off and Crea breathed a sigh of relief now that the crisis had been averted.
"But that's not to say I'll give up chasing after her!" he continued stubbornly and, while the Zen Fudo did not directly glower at him like Cayenne was presently in greater intensity, Kagura hunched his shoulders when the frown didn't dissipate from the high commander's features.
Everyone winced at the teenager's insistence. If only he kept his mouth shut.
Kagura closed his eyes and resolutely finished, "I'll respect her wishes, yes, but if Amata does anything to make her unhappy, I will be the first to happily care for him!"
"You mean 'reserve the right to kill,' right?" Cayenne snorted, looking at the redhead with new, grudging respect. "It's your weird reverse speaking we're hearing, so I'm guessing you mean the opposite of 'care' seeing as you said you wanted to 'murder' my sister 'all night long' ever since you laid eyes on her—yeah, I heard it from Amata—but that's obviously not true seeing as how you're so hanged-up on her." Heaving a sigh, he clapped Kagura roughly on the shoulder a couple of times. "At least we agree on one thing. If that dork does anything to make her cry, we'll string him up by his toes and castrate him."
Kagura blinked at the violent imagery, then grinned from ear to ear. It seems he found a new comrade in Sylvie's kin. "I've noticed you carry a machete on your gear? Maybe we can use that, or do you have any dull knives?"
Cayenne blinked and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I have a dull pocketknife, if that's any—"
"As nice as consultations on the finer points of castration are when we're around children," Donar interrupted, appearing slightly queasy at the talk of such act, "we only have his word that he won't do anything weird to one of our students. How can we be sure he won't go against his assurances?"
Kagura scowled, "Bastard, I'm a man of my word—"
"If he says he won't, I'll believe him," Apollonius' booming voice carried in the air, silencing all the people that were chattering.
The man made an odd motion, which looked like a cross between nonchalantly rolling his shoulder and elbowing someone invisible, and he marched straight over to where the redhead stood. His green eye boring into Kagura's amber ones, he demanded, "Will you take her against her will? When she shakes her head no and cries for you to stop?"
Mikono is such a lucky gal, Zessica thought dejectedly, tugging at the green cord in her hair. Traces of a bitter smile lingered at the corner of her lips. She doesn't have to do anything and all men fall over to do whatever her pretty head wants.
While the Element User knew the high commander didn't aim to play favorites, he certainly had Mikono's best interests at heart with his how-dare-you-even-think-of-doing-such-a-thing tone against Kagura. Speaking of which, she surveyed the Gnis pilot's response.
Kagura visibly recoiled, his head slamming against the back of the chair. "No! I would never!" He wouldn't be able to stand seeing her cry, especially if it was by his hands. "I would never do anything that she doesn't want me to! I hate her passionately!"
"…I'm glad to hear that." Apollonius slapped Kagura's shoulder, the same shoulder which Cayenne had clapped. Inwardly snickering at the pilot's wince, he pronounced, "I now officially welcome you to the headquarters of Neo-DEAVA! I hope you enjoy your stay!"
Kagura stumbled under the weight of Apollonius' palm. His golden orbs flickered up at the taller man's angular face suspiciously. "I thought I was always welcomed here."
"As an enemy we could always count on to act as our constant thorn on our side, perhaps, but nowadays you get an official pardon and approval for an extended stay here within the borders of Neo-Kowloon from a higher up, which precedes all previous animosity and ill will." He ruffled Kagura's hair. Blunt nails scratched Kagura by the ear. The pilot thought he was being treated the same way as if he were some kind of a dog.
Apollonius cautioned, "Not everyone's going to be happy by your being there. We still have many bridges to cross before the people of Vega can accept a turned Abductor to our side but at least, now with my sanction, people will know you're acting under my protection."
"We need good PR," Crea sighed quietly, her red gaze settling on the two Shadow Angels in the room, one redheaded hybrid and one iridescent white, "to turn peoples' opinions in a favorable direction. With what had happened with the second 'Great Catastrophe' and our most recent victory, prejudice against the Altairans and Shadow Angels will have amplified. With the way things are going, we might have to imperialize the planet of Altair."
"Imperialize?" Kagura repeated, scrunching his nose up in distaste. "You mean, like 'Age of Imperialism' imperialism? You Vegans are gonna colonize my home planet?"
"Imperialism and colonization are two separate things," Apollonius corrected, crossing his arms and leaning his hip against a stainless steel table. "A Palestinian literary theorist once made the distinction that imperialism was 'the practice, the theory and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory' whereas colonization involved the 'implanting of settlements on a distant territory.' I agree with this view. There's no need setting up settlements and colonies over Altair just yet."
"Edward Wadie Saïd, born 1935, died 2003, ages before the Holy Genesis, year 0011," Crea murmured, smiling broadly. "He was an influential cultural critic and author. Since Vega is better off than the unhealthy conditions on Altair and thereby making us more developed, we'll have no choice but to forcibly impose our various foreign governments' control on their weaker lands which were previously without a unified government."
Apollonius scratched his cheek. "Weren't they militant? Altair's government?"
"Some might argue dictatorship but I say most of Altairan government or governments, based on our prior investigations of Ianthe, operated under a form of stratocracy."
"Sirs," Suomi disrupted, holding up a hand. Both High Commander and Chairwoman glanced at her. "I thought Altair was drained of its life force to fuel Ancient AQ. Wouldn't it be time and cost-beneficial to simply disregard Altair's existence now that life no longer exists on that planet?"
"Who said I drained all existence from the motherworld?" Mykage huffed by Apollonius' ear, offended by the gall of that Wingless woman. His lavender nails dug into Apollonius' skin. How dare she suggest him capable of a criminal offense? While he didn't care as much for the lower world as his predecessor did, even he understood the severity of committing such crime. Shadow Angels encouraged life and could only take several, not each and every life, in order to maintain balance.
Bristling, his mood darkened when he twisted around to glower at the other brunette, this time female, in the room. The Wingless human, while unintended, had inadvertently besmirched his honor. He could see the sorrowful, aghast looks on each of the Element Users' face.
How dare she—? Turning his head back, he pleadingly beseeched his lover, "You know I'd never do anything like that. How dare she suggest such a…such a foolish thing! I've merely absorbed all of Ianthe's energy, using the life force of the Altairan capital city to feed Ancient AQ, to rejoin the two worlds. I kept it localized to one area!" His fluting voice veered into bitterness when he sourly tacked on, "Unlike the humans you are so fond of, I do not wreak destruction anywhere I touch."
Silent for a moment, Apollonius then carefully tiptoed around the concerning matter he was about to bring up. He whispered, What about Ianthe?
A chill gripped Mykage's heart and he fell silent. Anguish crossed his face. "…Nothing should remain of Ianthe."
Nodding to himself mostly, Apollonius settled back from his mindscape and addressed the military personnel in the room in a way he knew would drive in the point best: bluntness and cold, hard facts.
"Who said Altair was dead?" Apollonius deadpanned flatly, ignoring the shocked intakes of air upon his answer. Glancing meaningfully out of the corner of his eye at the hovering Shadow Angel, he persisted, "Altair was a heavily industrialized planet powered by Ianthe—a machine developed by Commander Kamurogi's mother and was the true cause of the Curse of Eve—where the energy it provides comes from the planet's own mana. It would be a good thing that Ianthe was destroyed. The remaining Altairans are better off without it and the city which hosted it."
Mykage stared impassively at Toma's former partner, and then raised a skeptical brow. "The Wingless imitations of Shadow Angels' quandary originated from, ironically, Ianthe?" He burst into laughter. "By my own selfish actions, I've managed to reverse the Curse of Eve! How ingenious fate works!"
Rolling his eyes, Apollonius murmured, "It's really a shame that there wasn't any time to evacuate its citizens from the city before a certain someone we all should be familiar with—yes, it's the same Shadow Angel who masqueraded as Ianthe's High Priest—drained all life force from Ianthe, including the Altairans there. Yes, it's also a shame there were a number of casualties on either sides which would've been avoided had we sat down and had a few talks to round out our differences instead of pointlessly engaging in meaningless combat. There is nothing we can do about it except accept what's past is past and look to the future with no regrets. The planet's disease is now contained. With our better, recovered resources, it is Vega's responsibility to help the surviving Altairans switch to renewable energy seeing as that their machine is no longer poisoning the planet."
"Sir, I mean no disrespect," Donar chimed in reluctantly, also raising a hand, "but have you failed to recall we need a dimensional rift to get through to Vega? None of us have that ability now that the Shadow Angel is gone and I doubt there will be anyone left on Altair willing to man the controls to open the Warp Gates and let us through. We can't knock on its doors and expect—"
All the steel window panels which had shrouded the command center in darkness swiftly slammed up, unveiling red and white luminosity into the once dim lighting. Apollonius threw a hand out over to where the windows were and pointed with all five fingers up at the large red planet dwarfing the moon nearby. Mykage's brows shot up into his hairline. "Not anymore, we don't. Behold, our next-door neighbor, Altair!"
All eyes widened to the size of dinner plates at the dramatic demonstration. But almost immediately, remarkably, Suomi was the first to snap out of her initial shock and vociferously cried out his name in protest. Her hands planted on the sides of her hips, she insisted, "Are you out of your mind? We are just out of war! We must focus on the reconstruction of Vega, which should be our priority over Altair!"
"And just who would our representatives be?" Donar interrogated, falling to her defense. "Because I cannot imagine this cross-planetary matter being settled with one sit-down. There must be consecutive meetings, not to mention any follow-ups, investments, time and expense…who is willing to do all that? Very few to be exact. We would need to plan—"
Inwardly Apollonius rolled his eyes again at the stream of disapproval coming from his commanding officers. Outwardly he adopted a happy, approving stance by beaming widely in forced cheerfulness and mockingly clapping his hands, as if he'd born witness to a spectacular feat. "Thank you for seeing my view! That's precisely what I was trying to say!"
Good girl, good boy, he snidely thought and Mykage, having overheard the unguarded thought, cracked up. Mykage buried his face against Apollonius' neck, his shoulders shaking from mirthless laughter.
"Huh?" the dumbfounded officers could only utter.
"Hilarious, this is simply hilarious." Tears gathered at the edge of his long lashes and he bit his lower lip to quell his hysteric merriment. "You are a wonder!"
Spreading his arms out, he drawled, "Like you said before, we will be the ones to handle the negotiations and redevelopment on both planets. Given that Neo-DEAVA is a militant organization with ties to the United Nations and its diplomats and its many connections, it's quite apparent we're to be part of negotiations as military advisors."
Their heads swimming light-headedly with delirium, they spluttered, "But-but—"
"Kagura Demuri," Apollonius didn't glance over when the Gnis pilot stood at attention, "you and Cadet Mix—Cadet Andy W. Hole, settle down—will be our selling points. As former inhabitants of Altair, you two would make the most impact in gaining the Altairans' trust. Even if you are considered MIA or defected traitors, your roles will be pivotal when we commence the Vegan-Altairan ceasefire."
"We might have to play the pity card too," Crea murmured, steepling her fingers under her chin and gazing at the formerly possessed Element inquiringly. "If worse comes to worse, we can use Zessica's circumstances to garner sympathy. That is, if she doesn't mind making it known to public."
"Oh, oh, um," stumbled the green-haired combat pilot. She nervously looked down at her shoes and fisted in her lap the white cotton fabric of the intricate, ruffled dress. "Okay then. If it helps…yeah, it's fine with me."
"I'm afraid that'll be our last option," Apollonius said softly, sensing the girl's embarrassment. Dropping the ruffles, she timidly peered up at him beneath her long fringe in speechless wonder. "We'll try to keep it under wraps, if we can."
A relieved smile picked up at the corner of her lips. She gave him a very small nod of thanks and his reassuring smile thinned into a thoughtful one.
"Although, what we might offer in lieu of that…," Apollonius faltered, stroking his jaw. "Most likely we will be revealing the true origins of Cadet Amata's birth."
"Amata's?" Andy squeaked into his juice box. Zessica's response was a somewhat similar one.
"His pedigree is the same as mine," Kagura scowled, lifting his hands behind his skull. The back legs of the chair tilted unsteadily back as he swung his boots up high on the surface of the Vector operators' console. He sighed, "Supposedly we were born to Alicia and Izumo Kamurogi, a Vegan actress and commander of the Altairan forces. We symbolize the possible union between Vega and Altair, that's what you're trying to say, Old Man, isn't it? It's obvious what you're going for. It'll give either side hope a peaceful concession may come to exist between Altair and Vega."
"That's why I want you to play nice when he comes back." Apollonius slid his hands into his trouser pockets. "Even if you have to fake it, it's crucial for there to be impressions of goodwill between you two. No one else, aside from us, is aware of you and Cadet Amata's exact relation. To anyone else, you'd look like distant brothers."
"Cousins," Crea corrected, tilting her head, "if not for your similar parentage."
"That is why our three key players will be cadets Sora, Mix, and Gnis pilot Demuri. Cadet Wong is our wild card, one that we won't play on the table unless absolutely necessary." His green iris flickering past three pensive faces, he pulled out a pocket watch and snapped it open. "Kagura and Mix, please set your alarm clocks to 05:00. I will send personage—most likely your commanding officer—to escort you to the chairwoman's office or, if you'd prefer, you could knock on someone's door and that person could bring you to there."
"I don't need an escort—" The protest died on Mixy's lips when, out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed Andy tossing a sharp look at him. Sighing despairingly over Andy's newborn protectiveness, Mixy crossed his arms over his flat chest and jerked his head down in affirmation. He muttered mulishly, "Andy will bring me, I guess."
"What about you, Kagura?" Crea posed. "Unlike Mix who had spent some time with us until her abduction and sex-change into Mixy and temporary amnesia which was thankfully restored," she ignored Andy's muttered "you're welcome" and pressed on, "you've never fully navigated Neo-DEAVA's halls. That could be a problem."
"It's fine." Kagura waved an impatient hand. "I can sniff you guys out."
Apollonius raised a brow. Yeah, that's definitely not happening. He pointed a gloved finger at Zessica. "Cadet Wong, I name you in charge of leading Kagura Demuri to the chairwoman's office. Please get him to us by 05:30, at the latest. The same applies to Cadet Hole and Cadet Mix. No more than 05:30 maximum."
"Me?" Zessica whined. "High Commander, why? He's not a little boy. It's hard to miss that gigantic head office of yours. He can go find you himself—"
"Zessica!" Suomi scolded. "Do my ears deceive me or am I hearing backtalk against your superior?"
"No, ma'am," she grumbled, closing her violet eyes resignedly. All she wanted was to fall against her much-missed pillow and sleep the days away, never waking up and forgetting all that had happened in the past 24 hours. Blowing her green bangs out of her face rudely, she mumbled, "I hear you. I'll bring him over."
"Good!" Apollonius clapped his hands. "And, with this, I adjourn our meeting. Only this once, you may bring your celebrations to your quarters. Please do watch your time. I don't want to hear anyone past 00:00. Cadet Mix and Kagura Demuri, stay behind. We need to discuss your living arrangements."
While the other Elements picked up their food and left the command center upon the dismissal, Andy and Zessica lingered after. Each had a reason to stay behind for the remaining two pilots. Andy immediately sidled up close to Mixy, grabbing the long-haired boy's hand and squeezing it for reassurance.
Mixy's face immediately flushed red. "I-I'd thought," he stammered, his hand squeezing back and his eyes gazing anywhere but at High Commander Fudo, "that I'd go back to my original quarters but I can see the problem with that now that I'm a boy."
"You can bunker over in my quarters!" Andy volunteered cheerfully. "Amata's bed is up for grabs now that he's being lovey-dovey with Mikono at who-knows-where."
"What? No, I can't do that! That'll be so weird—!"
"I approve your submission for Cadet Mix's temporary lodgings," Apollonius declared, his notorious Zen Fudo smirk appearing back on his face upon sight of Mixy's pinched expression. Her face seemed torn between horror and gratefulness. "You two may leave. Your commanding officer will escort you back to the Girls' Dormitories for any personal belongings you may want to bring with you."
Suomi jerked her head in a nod of confirmation and she beckoned for the two cadets to follow her out. Still within his line of vision, Apollonius caught sight of the transformed cadet shoving Andy's shoulder and whispering harshly that the hole-loving pilot better not peek at the other girls. He wanted to laugh. Honestly, the two Wingless teenagers' antics reminded him of the time when Celiane told him he had to close his eyes when they snuck into her chambers because she didn't want him to get any funny ideas. Long, brown strands swayed side to side when he shook his head in exasperated fondness. The Wingless Ones' misguided beliefs were always so charming.
It was too bad there had been no Atlandians alive who shared his same opinion.
"They remind me of when we were adolescents," Mykage purred, instantly snapping Apollonius out of his relaxed posture and back to being on his guard. Twin indigo orbs trailed after the two cadets. A faint, nostalgic smile touched the corners of his lavender lips. "You were so self-conscious of your body."
Apollonius' right eye twitched underneath the eye patch. He felt vaguely offended that anyone would dare suggest he wasn't confident about his appearance. He projected adamantly—I'd been transferred from the Alician Empire and I find myself to be the new resident celebrity practically from the moment I landed in your division. Anyone would feel uncomfortable when they could feel eyes on them whenever they would enter the same room!
"Shyness does not become you. You had a beautiful body," Mykage offered instead, snaking his fingers through his long, avian locks. He made a face at the ends of a quill. Split ends and cracks in the stiff shaft, how positively droll. Those 36,000 years spent recuperating his weak body in stasis until he was capable of long-term astral projection had meant years of molting and unclean remiges, his asymmetrical, multicolored flight feathers. He muttered, "Never doubt that. We also never had an overnight transfer. Once word got around you weren't any regular frontline commander, everyone was desperate for a look at the illustrious Solar Wing. You were said to have lived up to your impressive reputation as the only surviving vessel for the Sun's Gift since the Fourth Holy Genesis, which you know the Shadow Angels' application of the term 'Holy Genesis' is different from the Wingless' inaccurate christening of their 0011 year."
Apollonius heaved a sigh, rubbing the back of his neck. Not lifting his eyes from the remaining Element Users in the room, he returned silently, I saw no point in correcting them.
"You wouldn't. They can do no wrong in your eyes," Mykage sneered. Coiling a long brunette tuft around his finger and bringing it to his face for a closer look and comparison against his, he commented, "Admiration was to be expected. Your hair reflected the sun's fiery rays and your eyes…the exquisite blood of our enemies. It would be a great injustice were your loveliness to go unnoticed. I merely was doing my duty appreciating and giving thanks to what we had been blessed after millenniums of unproductive prayers, as was the rest of us. Oh, don't look so embarrassed. Everyone admired you, not only for your looks and reputation but your physical prowess and acumen and potential, the glory you could bring to us in the battlefield. You were a blessing to us."
Lips twitching downward at the silky softness against his skin—he had always thought the Wingless physical traits was inferior in quality compared to Shadow Angels'—he matched Apollonius' stunned gaze slowly, almost hesitantly. Rubbing the brown strands distractedly, he expressed, "Your physical form now, while not as stunning compared to your first one, is…bearable. Much better than your second."
I heard a pause before the word 'bearable,' Apollonius projected sardonically, bringing up a mental picture of an arid desert. Mykage smiled inwardly at the metaphysical projection. I can't believe this is coming from the same man who had the audacity to ask me where my other body was because he was displeased with how ugly my current container looked like, he pretended a look of hurt, even though I had fussed over its physical features for a long time before accepting the final changes.
Before Mykage can make a retort or press Apollonius on what he'd meant about "final changes", Kagura began tapping his foot against the floor impatiently, grimacing when the Old Man presumably zoned out after the two bickering cadets disappeared out the door. He was feeling a bit edgy being in the same space with three total strangers—and once upon a time his former enemies too—and it was a small comfort that the Little Miss Weepy chose to stick around and wait for him. He was sort of glad she didn't grab his hand like Beanie Boy had done to Ponytail Boy. "Old age catching up to you?" he asked nastily.
"I feel old," Apollonius muttered wistfully, his subconscious gently drifting back to reality. Being a sentient 24,000 year old being, his physical shell constantly withstood the test of time. That meant watching loved ones die, watching humanity drastically changing and shifting with each passing year and new technologies being created, dodging suspicion by constantly changing locations and forging identification, putting up with the heavy weariness settling into his heavy bones, etcetera etcetera.
He was fortunate Crea—formerly known as Rena—accompanied him willingly throughout the millenniums. At the back of his mind he was amazed Mykage didn't make a snappy quip about how little he had endured compared to Toma's 24,000 years of resentment and heartache.
Drumming his lavender nails along a white sleeve, Mykage, now that Apollonius' attention was no longer focused on him, was once again bored with the continuing Wingless affair and he turned his attention to the remaining human his lover hadn't addressed. His plumed head angled and he floated closer curiously to the Wingless little girl whose scarlet eyes had been staring unblinkingly wide in his general direction from the moment when his astral foot had hovered past the entrance threshold. A bemused smile replaced the spurious one when scarlet irises trailed after his smooth movements warily.
"No matter. Unlike Cadet Mix and Cadet Hole, you and Cadet Wong are of different genders." Apollonius said apologetically, tugging the lace caveat around his neck. "You'll be rooming with Commanding Officer Dantes until further notice."
Donar gave a startled start at his name. Then he signaled his acknowledgement of the silent order by tapping his index and middle finger to the brim of his beret. He, as well as Fudo, were aware that there were plenty of spare bunks in the Boys' and Girls' Dormitory—even if there weren't, they'd be able to lay out futons—so he could reasonably conclude the high commander was subtly relaying a hidden message within that act of contrition. He narrowed his eyes, replaying the dialogue in his head. So basically the high commander was telling him to keep an eye on the Gnis pilot and to guard him discreetly until their situation changed for better or for worse. Okay, he could do that.
Again, Donar was reminded of how deviously sneaky the high commander was. The missive had been dispatched through a disarming introduction of a quandary and then a presentation of a "solution" to throw off awareness of the instruction made. Keeping a straight face, he grunted a low "Yes, sir" to keep up appearance. Verdant eyes flickering left, he clasped his hands behind his back and peered stilly at the scowling redhead alien.
"Whatever." Kagura tsked, looking down in acquiescence and shuffling his feet. He didn't mind playing house pet for awhile. Golden orbs fleetingly flashed to the remaining Vegan cadet who was watching their proceedings with fascinated violet eyes. "Hey, you know where his room is?"
Zessica crossed her arms underneath her breasts and scowled darkly at the inquiry. How dare he question her navigational skills about the military base which she knew like the back of her hand? Was he insulting her intelligence? "Of course I know! I'll pick you up, don't worry about it."
Donar grinned savagely, his metal jaw creaking open to reveal pearly whites. "I'll be sure to wake him up oh-five-hundred straight, you can count on that."
"You have my permission to use any means necessary," Apollonius added, smiling guilelessly when Kagura whipped around to stare at him with a betrayed expression. Waving his hand distractedly in a little shoo-shoo motion, he gave them a nonverbal cue for them to leave his sight. He had one last thing he had to finish up with before he could officially deem the night over and get some well-deserved sleep.
At the back of his mind, while he was dreading the eventual confrontation between Crea and Mykage, he knew he had to get it out of the way by the end of the day. He'd honestly prefer if the meeting was to their eyes only though. The Wingless humans—never mind the old souls some housed—wouldn't be able to comprehend fully with how Shadow Angels or reincarnated Shadow Angels with all their memories attached conducted their business.
Donar nodded faintly and grabbed Kagura's ear and pulled his cargo along, ignoring the outraged squawks emitting from the young Gnis pilot's mouth. Zessica made to follow after them but out of the blue a sea green sleeve shot directly in front of her face, and she had to dig her heels into the slippery terrazzo flooring to avoid slamming headfirst into the projectile.
Her perplexed violet eyes shot up, meeting a bright green iris. "High Commander Fudo?" she addressed uncertainly. Various scenarios as to why he wanted to talk to her flitted around her mind like a hummingbird darting from place to place. She took a step back, feeling discomfited by being so close to her intimidating superior. She kept her head respectfully bowed and her eyes pinned directly to the floor.
She was ready for the verbal tongue lashing she'd come to expect from one of her commanding officers. She hadn't however expected it from someone at the top of the chain of command. It didn't help that he was so incredibly tall—not abnormally so, mind you—towering well over her. She was close enough that she could make out from where he stood the defined planes of his muscular yet surprisingly slender torso straining against the formfitting vest. Her eyes widened when she belatedly realized she was basically checking him out and her eyes nipped back down, scurrying past the expensive leather belt rounding narrow hips and dark woolen trousers wrapped around what she could tell were powerful legs and then high-end leather shoes, and back to the floor. Her face felt hot. Yeah, she wasn't used to being so close to the commander.
Inclining his head, the man merely looked down at her, silently studying her rigid form. The blanket of silence was heavy in the air and Zessica shifted on her feet when it persisted. A feeling of foreboding settled deep within her bones. What exactly did he want to say to her? It had to be important if it was taking him this long to collect his thoughts. She refused to look back up. At the back of her mind she was embarrassed it took her this long to realize the high commander was fundamentally an attractive adult. Eccentric, definitely, but nice on the eyes.
"Self-sacrifice is admirable but for those who won't appreciate it," he said finally, his voice rising like a cavernous rumble from his diaphragm. Her eyes shot up to his face in shock. That, she wasn't expecting. Where were his remonstrations? She felt like a little girl who was expecting all sorts of nasty things for her detention, only to find herself been sent to the library to read a book. Placing a heavy hand on her shoulder, in a soft tone he continued wistfully, "There was a…soldier I'd known from long ago. She was a lot like you. A warrior, someone you could always trust to have you covered and watch your back. Talented and gifted as she was in battle, she'd always thought she was ready to give up her life for the people and their cause."
The color of his iris seemed to burn intensely as he focused on her heart-shaped face. Zessica shuddered, her thin shoulders trembling underneath his gloved palm. It was like he was peering into her soul, however clichéd it sounded. She felt like her very existence was being evaluated by an astute, wise bearer of judgment, measuring her worth before making the final, clanging verdict. She swallowed the saliva which had gathered in her mouth. Why was he telling her this?
"What she didn't realize, by preparing herself to throw her life away, she was about to abandon something more precious than her honor, more precious than a life. She was throwing away her potential." His grip tightened against the supple flesh pliant underneath his fingers. It was by the skin of his teeth he'd stopped Warrior Angel Moroha from murdering Celiane in cold blood for her perceived slight against Toma, who had been all the more willing to grant her mercy should Apollonius would come back with him to Atlandia. With a grim look on his face and half a hopeful heart, he'd quietly requested for Moroha to spare her and to give the woman who his betrothed had been having a clandestine affair with to him. Both Apollonius and Toma knew they'd both be shamed Shadow Angels, the social pariahs of their society and traitors to their kind—most likely to be imprisoned or exiled—had things not gone the way it did 24,000 years ago.
Apollonius' shoulder blades twinged at the memory. Of course he'd strained and twisted until he could hear the painful snaps of bone and ligaments breaking from his vertebral column, and his wrists and ankles shoving against the looping black thorns until he pulled the bonds forward with him with his momentum to stop the graceful arch of Moroha's blade from reaching Celiane. The paralyzed look on all the Shadow Angels' faces, especially Toma's, had been contorted to horrific proportions of overwhelming disbelief when they took in the sight of his blood coloring the altar and twisting a snaking path to where his hunched form had landed perfectly over the Wingless human, his arm stopping the blade and his broken body shielding her bound form.
Shuddering at the memory and wiping his mind of haunted indigo eyes filled with nausea and betrayal, his voice hardened, "I know you were about to do the same and thank god someone was there to stop you. Neo-DEAVA would've lost one of the talented pilots of this generation and your companions a much loved friend."
She turned her head away, guilt hitting her from all directions. She'd never really thought she'd be worth something to anyone, that was why she'd been ready to throw her life away. It was easier offering up your life when you didn't think you mattered to someone.
Three fingers cupped her chin and gently guided it back to face him. "I know you'd lost your family a long time ago in the war against the Abductors and for that reason you've trained hard in our organization for the day you could avenge your parents." He ruffled her hair, deftly plucking the cord tying the plaits back and watching as the green curls fell around her face, framing it like a halo. "I hope the time you've spent invested in our operations have endeared Neo-DEAVA to you and that you have come to see us as your second family."
Unshed tears prickled at the edge of her eyes and she smiled weakly at the high commander. "Yes," she said hoarsely, tugging his hand down from her hair. She kept her hand in his, marveling at their different sizes. The warmth of his skin underneath his gloves seeped into hers, thawing the ice coursing through her veins. "I have, sir."
"I don't know how Cadet Sora endeared himself to you," he stared, fascinated, as the color pink bled into her cheeks, "but what were you expecting with your sacrifice, Cadet Wong?"
"To turn the tides of war, sir!"
"Wrong. You were sacrificing your life to save your comrade, your crush to be specific. Don't be ashamed." His knuckle gently rapped her cheek. "It's normal for teenagers to have crushes. But I want you to be honest with me, if he weren't your romantic interest and purely another faceless cadet, would you freely offer your life in his stead? Ah-ah. I want you to think over your words before answering. And don't tell me the things you think I'd like to hear. From your bottom of your heart, cadet."
She mumbled something almost inaudible and although he could perceive what was being said, he feigned incomprehension. "I'm sorry, you must speak up. I cannot hear you."
Zessica repeated glumly, "…No, sir, I wouldn't."
"And why is that?"
"Because he is another faceless cadet, another grunt of the organization, among the hundreds that make up the various Neo-DEAVA headquarters around Vega."
"And what is Cadet Amata Sora?"
"…Another grunt of the organization. A newcomer, not finished with his training and unaware of the full circumstances surrounding the altercation between Altair and Vega." If she wasn't embarrassed before, she was now. It hadn't occurred to her that had Amata not been someone she had a silly crush on she wouldn't have so happily flirted with death to ease his suffering. She desperately wished Andy was still here. She wanted the Earth to swallow her whole.
"And how would he feel once he finds out you sacrificed your life to save his?"
Forget the hole. She wanted to crawl under a rock and never come back out. "He would feel survivor's guilt, PTSD. I would be damning him to years of therapy and self-reproach. And knowing the sort of person that he is, he'd find a way to illogically blame himself and Kagura for my death even though I was the one who told Kagura to end my life to save theirs."
She hung her head. Stupid, how could she have been so blind?
"I know you'd thought offering your life was the only way you could see out of the situation," he said softly, "and I admire you for your courage—not many would willingly offer up their lives—but now you see your effort would have been in vain. Cadets Sora and Suzushiro did turn the tides of war but without you there to pilot the third vector, we might've had a different result than a victory at the battlefield. And Neo-DEAVA would be mourning more than the death of one more pilot." He stared indiscernibly at her. "Do you understand what I'm trying to convey?"
That I'm a brainless, selfish idiot who could've made the situation much worse had Kagura actually gone through with my request, she thought viciously. Hell yeah! She was never, ever going to offer her life up that easily ever again. "I won't do it again!" she said determinedly, her lips twisted into a thin line. "You can count on me, sir!"
His green eye not leaving hers, he must have found what he was looking for because he then gradually withdrew his hand from hers and took a step back from the door. Apollonius said lightly, "Don't forget. 05:00, at Donar's door, Cadet Wong."
"I'll drag him kicking and screaming before 05:30." She nodded stiffly at him and, before Apollonius could prepare himself for it, she flung her arms around his middle and squeezed tightly.
From the back of the room, Mykage's head swiveled over to stare imperceptibly at the two. Prior to his witnessing of the embrace, he had half mindedly soaked in the sound of that velvety voice which played as lulling background music while he circled the young girl whose hair color was the featherless version of his own. He was intrigued by it, and by the girl who Apollonius and the others had referred to as their chairwoman. His curiosity was further piqued when she simply monitored his movement and hadn't fallen for the traps he'd set in his tests to judge whether or not she could detect his astral form.
Jealousy and ugly resentment were bubbling hotly in his veins. His jaw clenched and before he could soar in their direction or call up vines and separate them from each other, Crea grabbed the thin material of his garment and yanked. A choked gasp escaped from him when he felt resistance to his movement and he looked back down at her with wide indigo eyes. Making sure his eyes were trained directly on her, she shook her head no and silently motioned her him to stay put and watch.
"Thank you, sir," Zessica whispered, squeezing her eyes shut when the commander carefully slid his long arms around her shoulders and patted the small of her back with a hand. At this moment Zen Fudo was like the father she'd never had, never mind the one she had lost at a young age.
Her real bàba was a softhearted, sometimes goofy man, very much like Amata. People had always said she was a daddy's girl and she was proud to be the daughter of such a respected pilot. She was also proud of him for protecting her māma to the best of his ability from the Abductors, in spite of it being at the cost of both their lives. She was determined to follow his footsteps and that was why, once she turned of age and her Element power manifested, she voluntarily signed up for service at Neo-DEAVA instead of waiting for them to reach her at the orphanage.
Reluctantly pulling away, she saluted him, this time with genuine respect and gratitude instead of mechanical deference. "I won't forget this lesson. You're the best!" When a warm, lopsided smile slithered across his features, she bowed low to her waist and turned around and exited the room.
Apollonius surveyed her retreating form attentively until he could no longer make out her presence. Twirling the green cord skillfully between his fingers, he stuffed it into his pocket and reluctantly turned back to the last pair he had been dreading to have met face to face since he'd accepted Mykage into his body. A cold feeling washed down his back when an emotionless crimson stare shot pointblank into his while the other vehement indigo pair of eyes was set ablaze with restricted fury and torn between glowering at her or Apollonius. Their bodies also rather close together. He wondered what the hell had happened between them to have caused such a fissure.
"So I see someone else has brought their friend along," Crea said quietly, her eyes burning into Apollonius' head. "Who's failed to mention so in front of the others and making a hypocrite of himself by pointing out the Gnis pilot in his stead." Slamming her hands on the console and sending the stack of papers scattering, she shot to her feet and yelled, "Zen, what were you thinking!"
Heaven kill him now. Or better yet give him another international crisis to distract her from taking the full brute of her anger out on him. The last time he saw her this angry was when she was starving 200 years ago and he'd forbidden her from sucking Prana from anyone because they'd both agreed to fast like never before. She'd only raised her voice once, which she rarely does to this day, and it had been enough to send goosebumps down his skin.
"When I told you to get off your butt and do something instead of silently allowing all those deaths in your place, I didn't mean..." She gestured wildly in Mykage's direction. "Doing whatever this is!"
Apollonius patted the air before him placatingly, sending a tendril of calm through the link in their connected minds. "We have a lot to discuss," he admitted, ambling closer once he saw her taut features relax. "I realize in retrospect it wasn't exactly a good idea keeping it from you but I wasn't that confident you would be able to see him, as I'd been informed from a reliable source no one should be able to. When I saw that you could, well, I didn't want to chance bringing it up just yet in front of everyone."
"Oh, trust me, I see him as plain as day." Sliding to her feet, she let go of Mykage's sleeve and made a short, elegant dip before the irate Shadow Angel. Various emotions were coursing through her veins upon initial sight of the astral projection—melancholy, resentment, contrition, nostalgia, yearning, and most of all shame. "Hello, I am Crea Dolosera, chairwoman of Neo-DEAVA, formerly known as Rena Rune and…"
She cut a wide berth around him and the console, stepping back fluidly until her back made contact with Apollonius' bottom torso. The little girl looked up and smiled hollowly, "…the Angel of Death Apollonius."
(A/N)- Does anyone beside me see the problem behind hosting two different, partial soul pieces within one physical container? –hums- A food for thought.
I figured since Neo-DEAVA is a militant organization, mentions of ranks and cadets should be more abundant than familiar lingo and Japanese honorifics/ suffixes. Therefore I think I'll be straying a bit from canon with this. Also Altairans are people from the planet of Altair whereas Vegans are people from the planet of Vega. Isn't that funny? "Vegans?" –cracks up-
To address reviews:
Ayame. Tenou: Well, if there was such a thing as a story's virginity, you've certainly popped its cherry! :) Your review was certainly uplifting and it inspired me enough to churn out his chapter, so thanks! I'm glad you understood what I was trying to convey in the last chapter. I was a bit worried they wouldn't carry through but, since you got them, I'm more than relieved. I hope the chapters to come will please you, dearie. And my interpretation of Kawamori's characters! Thank you for your support!
xNINJABLADE45x: Ooh, are you a supporter of Amata/Mikono or am I just shooting? Actually at the moment I see no need deviating from canon but there are definitely ways to break up an established pairing, regardless of Aquarion LOVE. I currently feel like simply giving background and rational explanations for episode 26. But, like I said, I would need to watch the rest of the anime to get a good feel of the characters and ultimately decide whether or not I will be keeping the couples together.
Until next time!