**Disclaimer: I don't own digimon.
By: TK Takaishi
Takeru did not remember the sleep that came afterwards. Try as he might, all he could recall of the days that followed after the Last Seihad was a black, dreamless nothingness even emptier than the thought-plane. The earth could have heaved, the sea could have roared, the sky could have thundered, and it would not have woken him from his coma. He was later told that even his heartbeat and breathing had slowed to the bare minimum needed to keep him alive, as if some voice had bid him enter the deep healing trance the healers knew he needed.
As he looked back on his youth in later years, he would recall the fact as a good thing. For the first time in years, nightmares, visions or troubles held no dominion over his slumber. Time passed like a fleeting shadow; minutes, hours and days blended together into a seamless eternity, eluding all his half-hearted efforts to capture and measure it. He did not know how long he slept and he did not truly care. Despite his still sharp grief, it was as if something within him recognized that his shoulders were free at last of the thousands of cares and burdens cast upon him as the heir of Ishida and the long-prophesied Tenken. His duty was done. What then was left to disturb his slumber? After a week filled with hardship brutal enough to kill lesser men, his body craved rest.
And rest, mercifully, was what he got.
As his body gradually healed, the haze fell away in stages. Like a man re-emerging from a great depth, Takeru felt rather than saw the blackness around him turn into gray, then lighten until it parted like mist under the sun's glare. And although he would have liked nothing better than to stay peacefully in the dark forever, he knew it was time to rise.
When he awoke at last, it was to a dry mouth, a pained right arm and yet another unfamiliar ceiling. After all that he had suffered in his young life however, inconveniences such as discomfort and pain were mere trifles to him.
It was the ceiling that interested him.
Where am I?
Weakly he licked his lips. His mouth felt sticky and his limbs stiff, as if he had been lying in bed for a long time. Automatically, he tried to sit up but found that he could not. As his swimming senses finally focused enough to tell him why, he drew in a quick breath as he felt blood rushing to his face.
Kari was seated on a sturdy wooden chair next to him. She must have waited for him to wake all night. Normally that would have been fine, except that sometime in the night, she must have succumbed to sleep herself. Now, she was sprawled, fast asleep, over his chest.
And judging from the way his sheets were brushing against his body, he was not wearing a single stitch of clothing save the sling around his right arm.
Yes they had kissed before, but they had never done…well…that!
As the initial shock wore off however, Takeru was grateful that he had not given in to the sudden impulse to wriggle his way out from underneath her and find some clothing. As the bright morning sunlight played through her untied dark hair, Takeru caught his breath at the sight of the halo that surrounded her peacefully sleeping face. She was beautiful, he realized for the thousandth time as he reached up to brush her long hair from her eyes. Surely more breathtaking than was possible for a mere mortal. And he would never tire of telling her.
Before him, Kari stirred as she felt his fingers play with her hair. Withdrawing his hand, Takeru smiled nervously as her blurred eyes opened slightly, then snapped all the way open when she saw that he was awake.
Blood rushed to her face as she pushed herself away. "You're awake!" she blurted. "I'm sorry, I must have…"
"No, no," Takeru said as he felt his own face blush again. "It's…um…it's alright. Really," he finished lamely.
"I mean, I didn't mean to fall asleep like that," Kari said as she looked away. "It's just that, well, it was late and…"
"…the room was warm and, to be honest…"
"…I haven't had a lot of sleep in the past few days…"
"Kari!" Takeru said, exasperated. "Calm down! It's fine, you hear? It's fine. I know you didn't mean anything."
At that, Kari seemed to calm down slightly. "I'm sorry we didn't clothe you," she said in embarrassment as she ran a hand through her hair. "It's just that, well…you were covered in so many slash wounds, we'd have to completely undress you every time we changed the bandages. And that would be-"
"Traumatic to the patient and highly inconvenient," Takeru said, nodding sagely. "I understand perfectly."
Kari blushed again. "Don't tease me about it! It was a purely medical decision. Nothing more!"
Takeru chuckled, but stopped when Kari grabbed and raised a pillow threateningly over her head. "Negotiate yourself out of this one, master diplomat," she said playfully. "Laugh again and I'll conk you a good one right where it hurts."
But Takeru couldn't stop laughing. Even as Kari's pillow descended upon his head (lightly, of course. She was a healer after all), he laughed and laughed and surprised himself with the sound. Was that really him laughing? He didn't think it was possible to be so lightheartedly anymore. Not after all that had happened. For a few moments, Kari joined him and together their rich laughter echoed off the walls; as it did, Takeru felt the last of his burden evaporate from his heart, never to return. Peace is here, he thought in amazement. I can laugh like this all day if I want to. The thought boggled the mind. All day!
It was not long before the sound attracted company. Rapid footsteps paced down the hall, then the room to his bedchamber opened to reveal the eager faces of his friends. "He's awake!" Davis shouted as he ran in. Leaping onto the bed, he gave Takeru a bear hug, completely heedless to his protests. "About time, you lazy piece of-"
"Davis Motomiya, get off him this very instant," Yolei shrieked as she stamped into the room. "The poor man has a broken arm and goodness knows how many-"
"Relax Yolei," Cody said. He gave her a friendly pat on the back as he stepped past her to Takeru's bed. "If Kari doesn't have a problem with hitting him with a pillow, then he must be fine."
The whole room went silent as everyone stared at Cody.
"What?" he said defensively.
"You just told someone to relax," Ken said, poker-faced, as he too stepped into the room.
"You're the last person I'd expect to say that," Ken continued, still poker-faced.
Cody's normally grave face went pink with outrage. "What?"
"Wow," Davis murmured in Takeru's ear. "This 'peace' thing is powerful. Barely six days and look what it's done to Cody already."
Takeru felt mirth shake his shoulders again. "Oh, leave him alone fellows. He's not that…wait a minute, six days?!!"
"You didn't know?" Davis said in surprise. He turned to Kari. "You didn't tell him?"
"Didn't have a chance to," Kari said shaking her head. "He's just been awake for a minute, you know."
"I've been out for six days?!" Takeru said incredulously as he sat up. "I must have been-"
"Half dead," Kari finished for him. Her voice was dead serious. "Yes, you were in pretty bad shape when we got to you. But you're alright now, don't worry. Aside from a few scars, you should make a full recovery."
"Where…where am I anyway?" Takeru said, still feeling bewildered. Six days?
"At Atun'dar, capital of Sheid," Cody supplied helpfully. "It was closer than Falin or Ardinberg, so Bjorn took you here on his fastest horses."
"He supplied all the medicine and bandages for the wounded as well," Kari said gratefully. "Everything the triage staff needs to treat the Seitzin, he gave it all."
"I…I'll be sure to thank him later," Takeru said dazedly.
"Don't talk like that," Ken said as he sat down next to Takeru's bed.
"Because," Ken said slowly, "if anyone needs to be thanked, my friend, it is you."
At that, a quiet descended upon the room. Takeru felt a prickle of self-consciousness as the jocularity on his friend's faces gave way to grave solemnity. "Amen," Davis said as he gripped Takeru's hand tightly. "Well said. We…all of Gaea…owe you everything."
Takeru looked around. The sight of his friends arrayed around him, all alive and well, was too much for him. After all that they had been through, to be here together at the end of their long, arduous task, was the greatest reward he could ever know. No matter what they bestowed upon him, no crown, no scepter, no title could be worth this. Tears rose in his eyes, then spilled down his cheeks. "Not just me," he whispered. "Yamato as well."
A silence fell upon the friends as their leader wept. As one, they bowed their heads. "Yes indeed," Kari said quietly. "When we found you, we knew…we would never find him."
"I have no doubt," Cody said gravely, "that he heard the words we all want to hear at the end of our lives."
Takeru sniffed. "What's that?"
Cody looked up. " 'Well done, good and faithful servant'," he said with a smile. "Now, I want to know what that feels like."
"You can ask him yourself what it felt like," Takeru said with a slight smile, "when you see him across the rift." He shook his head. "Come," he said as he wiped away his tears. "I will not have you grieve on a day such as this. Tell me what happened. Tell me everything."
And so they did. They told him how eighty thousand men fought and died defending the sangrias for the crucial hour of his absence; the greatest and bloodiest battle in recorded history. They described to him the sight of a hundred violet fires igniting at once as the mirrireid bearers died with their master. They told him how the Seitzin charged and broke the suddenly leaderless and panicking Khaydarin forces and drove the shattered remnants into the hills. They told him how that even at this moment, a full hundred thousand Seitzin were still abroad, searching for and destroying those remnants until not a single soldier remained. With each word Takeru felt…he didn't know how he felt. It was as if his friends were describing some far off tale whose only purpose was to confirm what he already knew in his heart. After twenty-two years of blood, sweat and toil, the war was finally over.
But Takeru sat up straighter when Ken leaned forward and began something entirely unexpected.
"On the second day after the sangrias came down," he said quietly, "plumes of heavy smoke were seen rising from beyond the eastern horizon of the sea. At first, we didn't know what it was, and we had no way of finding out. All the large vessels of my country were destroyed when Khaydarin invaded the ports. Only yesterday, however, news arrived of a group of foolhardy men who took a small fisherman's rowboat beyond the horizon to see what was causing it."
Takeru felt his brows knit together. This was something new. "What did they see?"
Ken exchanged glances with everyone else. "They didn't know what to make of it at first," he confessed. "They saw a far off land, which I think we can safely assume is the Isle of Akeldama, but they also said that it seemed to be…on fire."
"The mountains there were spewing fire," Yolei explained. "They saw a range of large mountains lining the coast, and out of fully half of them were flowing streams of liquid fire and thick clouds of smoke. Even from a great distance, they could see the tremors tearing the coast apart. They dared not approach any closer for fear of being sucked into the current, but returned with all haste." She glanced at Takeru meaningfully. "Does this sound familiar?"
Takeru nodded wordlessly. It did indeed. It sounded almost exactly like Adun's description of the last battle of Seihad, when the mountains had exploded in great fountains of molten rock and torn the Isle of Akeldama away from the mainland. But Akeldama of the present was nothing but a small spit of land about the size of Ichijouji. For the same explosion to happen there, now, would mean…
"The island is sinking isn't it," he said. "If it's the same force that ripped the Isle from the mainland, then this time it must be enough to shatter it completely."
"That's what we're thinking as well," Yolei said, nodding. "If the streams of fire there left anyone alive, the smoke and ash will kill them within the week. And if that doesn't kill them, well, they will drown when the sea washes over the island."
"Some of us believe it was the collapse of the sangrias that triggered the eruptions," Cody said as he pursed his lips in speculation. "The explosion might have unstopped something in the earth." As he looked around at the others however, he shrugged. "But I think that in the end, we will never know for sure. Perhaps it's better to think of it as long overdue…divine justice."
"I saw at least eight hundred thousand war-worthy men through the sangrias," Takeru said grimly. "And goodness knows how many Tichon had in reserve, not to mention how many women and children stayed behind the lines. To think that all of them are going to die…although I know I shouldn't, I almost pity them."
"Almost," Davis grunted. "Yes, I know what you mean Takeru. I almost feel sorry for them as well."
"Either way," Cody continued, "Aidan and Bjorn has agreed to send a fleet of his warships to guard the Ichijoujan coast in case anyone tries to escape the Isle by ship and invade the mainland that way. But both of them know it's a remote chance."
"The Creator's justice has fallen at last," Kari said, nodding. "The entire nation of Khaydarin…will be nothing more than a bad memory now. Forever."
A silence fell.
Takeru looked up. "What's going to happen to us now?" he said simply. "I mean…it's over."
They all looked at one another. It was a good question.
"I've never given it much thought," Davis admitted.
"You never give anything much thought," Yolei said as she ribbed him.
"Hey, hey," he complained. "All I want to say is that it seems that I've been trying my whole life to defeat Khaydarin. Now that they're gone…"
"Nothing will be the same again," Ken sighed. "The world cannot go back to the way it was. Not in a thousand years."
"In fact, it should not," Cody interjected. "But I know what you mean."
"It's just that…" Yolei said, then paused, as if struggling for words. "…everything seems so everyday now. And although I know there's a lot of important stuff left to be done, it just feels like there's, well…nothing to be done." She looked around. "You know the feeling?"
A chorus of murmured assents affirmed her. Kari however, sat back.
"I'll have to go back to my little farming village in Novinha," she said, pulling a face. "And I'll be a good respectable girl, just like my mother always wanted. I'll tend to the house and crops, marry a solid, respectable man, do the cooking and cleaning, and never venture out at night because heavens above, the wolves will surely devour me alive if I do."
By the time she finished her last sentence, everyone was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down their cheeks. Davis especially laughed so hard that he began to choke, and for a moment panic reigned as everyone began slapping him on the back. By the time it became obvious that he had only choked on a bit of spit and that he was perfectly all right, his back had already turned a bright, candy-apple red. When Kari concernedly volunteered some salve for it, he blew up at her. It was a full two minutes before the laughter died down from that one.
When it finally did, however, Takeru felt a strange sense of determination arise in him.
"There is…," he stammered, "one last important task to be done. At least, for me."
At once, he felt five pairs of curious eyes turn towards him.
"What is it?" Ken asked.
Takeru looked around. Now that he thought about it, he knew it had to be done, but did he really want to tell them now? "Um…"
"Takeru," Davis sighed. "You know after an admission like that, we're going to find out eventually. We Taelidani are nothing if not stubborn."
"And curious," Yolei chimed in.
Takeru looked away.
"Takeru," Kari said concernedly as she took his hands. "You're burning up. Is something wrong?"
Burning up? Takeru thought incredulously. She thinks I'm burning up!
Who would he do this with, if not with this band of brothers and sisters? Why not them? And heaven knows how little time it'd take Davis to find out even if he didn't tell him now.
He turned to Kari. Never before had his face felt so hot, or his voice so unsteady. The courage that had enabled him to face down Tichon had deserted him at this most critical of junctures. But his decision was made. And this decision would have to be carried out sooner or later, or the Creator burn him, he was going to regret it for the rest of his life.
"Kari," he said as he tightened his grip on her hands. "I…I hope I count…um…in your eyes at least, as a…how did you put it…a 'solid, respectable man'…"
Yolei sucked in a deep breath as both hands flew up to cover her mouth.
"…because I love you so," Takeru continued awkwardly. "I put it off for a long time because, well…you know…I didn't want…one of us to be left alone if something…happened. But now that it's over….well…I guess what I'm trying to say is…"
He looked up. Kari's eyes were as wide as saucers with shock as they gazed into his. Complete and utter silence had fallen in the chamber as everyone held their breath. Takeru's heart twisted in embarrassed agony, but with a Herculean effort, he refused to look to his left and right. He had eyes only for the woman before him. He had eyes only for the love of his life. He took a deep breath.
"Will you marry me?" he finished weakly.
The Shienar healers and assistants paused in their work and looked up in bewilderment as the din of shrieks, roars, laughs and sobs shook the entire healer's ward to its foundations.
**Fifteen years later. July 25th, AS. 538**
THE LAST SEIHAD: EPILOGUE
Much has passed in the last fifteen years, and much has been accomplished. In retrospect, I begin to realize that the Last Seihad was, in many ways, only one stage in this land's larger and ever-moving journey, just as my life was only one link in the long chain of stories that will lead to the End of all Things. It was an important part to be sure, but things did not end when I unleashed Shun Ten Satsu into the Lord of Lies. In fact, things had only begun.
The rebuilding of our land was of course the most pressing priority, and there are days when I doubt the recovery will ever truly cease. Simply remaking what has been shattered has become, for most of us, the work of our lives, but there have been encouraging signs of progress. Halidan is rebuilt now, and while it still bears scars of its razing, it is once again a busy center of commerce for traders around the Gaean sea. Palas too, has been rebuilt. The royal palace is now fully restored, as is most of the lower two levels, but in what many of my counselors called a foolish leap of faith at the time, I have left the walls unfinished. Praise the Creator that I have never had cause to regret that decision.
Matters were delicate between the nations for the first few years. Without the pressing urgency of the impending Khaydarin doom hanging over their heads, the people reverted, for a time, to their old ways. Retreating to their provincial towns and countries, they haggled and disputed over a myriad of issues too numerous to count. Prophesied Seihad or not, twenty years worth of spilt blood and lost territory are not easily forgotten. Too many times, the people almost broke out in arms again, but always the Creator had mercy on us at the last instant. Refusing to stoop to the fray themselves, the monarchs of the stand-nations rose to the challenge of rebuilding and redrawing the map of our world so that all would be satisfied. Although the redrawing of the Gaean map was obviously only a temporary measure, their help was so invaluable that I feel justified in saying that this age of peace belongs as much to them as it belongs to me and my fellow stand-masters.
This too, was not the end. On the historic meeting at Ardinberg, I swore to the delegates that I would redraft and see to completion an entirely new Charter of the Council. It took one whole year for the people to decide on the committee that would draft this Charter, then two years for the drafting itself. On June 7th, AS. 529, almost seven years since Tichon was defeated, the draft was completed. One year later, on August 1st, AS. 530, the draft was ratified by the thirty-seven nations of Gaea, all six stand-nations and all six stand-masters; on January 1st, AS. 531, it came into full force and effect. Today, while copies of the Charter can be found everywhere, the original Charter and seals remains immortalized in the great kondou beneath Palas where it accompanies the original Prophecies. It is fitting that the fruit of our labours be given back to the one who made it all possible.
With the passing of the Charter, our land changed in ways more lasting and dramatic than any war could have achieved. With one fell swoop, the national borders that had been the cause of untold centuries of war and strife were abolished. It was then that the New Council came into being; a Council not only to mediate between nations, but to rule the land.
It was decided after much deliberation that the monarchs of the stand-nations, along with the stand-masters themselves, would each have a seat in the ten-member Council. These men and women, the beginning of our land's ruling lines, I list here:
Councillor Aidan Trakand, King of Yagami
Councillor Bjorn Sheid, King of Sheid
Councillor San Farrier, King of Fan-Tzu
Councillor Ida Xinar, Queen of Jakt
Councillor Ken Ichijouji, Emperor of Ichijouji, Last Heir of the Chironsala Stand
Councillor Davis Motomiya, Last Heir of the Fan-Tzu Stand
Councillor Yolei Inoue, Last Heir of the Jakt Stand
Councillor Cody Hida, Last Heir of the Shienar Stand
Councillor Hikari Kamiya Ishida, Last Heir of the Yagami Stand
Councillor Takeru Ishida, Emperor of Ishida, Last Heir of the Ishidan Stand
With the passing of the Charter, a Councillor no longer has sovereign reign over his nation, but shares his power with the other nine in their rule over all of Gaea. Now, the concerns of Sheid are also those of Jakt. The concerns of Novinha are also the concerns of Ichijouji. One man's strength is everyone's strength, one man's weakness is everyone's weakness. Some have been unsettled by this new system of governance strange and I would be a liar if I said there are none who oppose the New Council, but only time can heal the scars the Seihad left behind. In time, and with the Creator's help, I know that the Council will-
Takeru looked up from his desk and smiled. Sticking his quill back into his ink bottle, he turned in his chair and opened his arms to the small boy that stood beside it. "Shin," he murmured as his seven-year-old son leaped eagerly into his arms. Laughing a little as he swung the little boy around to sit on his knees, he pressed his chin against the boy's curly brown hair. "How goes the battle?"
"Wonderful, father," Shin giggled as his bright blue eyes eagerly took in the desk before him. "The Master of the kitchens says this year's feast will be the greatest ever."
Takeru suppressed a smile as his son bounced on his lap. "He says that every year."
Shin turned slightly to give his father a mischievous smile. "Ah, but Mother says she's never seen Master Clio this excited. She thinks it's going to be wonderful as well."
"And as we both know, Mother is always right," Takeru sighed.
Shin nodded gravely. "The fifth Rule of a proper household," he intoned. " 'The wife is always right, even if she is wrong.' And the sixth is like it: 'The husband is always wrong, even if he is right.'"
Takeru laughed as he shook his son gently. "Who told you that?"
"Mistress Delphine, Mistress of the Chambers" Shin answered as he squirmed. "She talks a lot!"
"I'll have to have a word with her…" Takeru murmured to himself. Some of these so-called 'Rules' were so outrageous that they would put any young man off marriage for life. "What else has she told you?"
But Shin had lost interest in the subject. He turned once again to Takeru's large desk and stared wide-eyed at the mountainous sheaves of paper that lined every available corner. His father's desk had always been a source of constant wonder to him, filled as it were with a myriad of wonders, stories and pictures. "Are you almost done your book?"
Takeru shifted slightly in his chair so that he could place the inkpot out of Shin's reach. He loved his little boy, but Shin was very excited. "Almost," he said. "I just need to finish the epilogue."
"You're taking ages to write this," Shin said as he pulled a face.
"That's because it's a very long book," Takeru said as he blew on the ink. Satisfied that it was dry, he closed the leather-bound volume. Shin's eyes widened as he saw the almost inch-thick book slam shut with an appreciable thump. "And father has to be very careful when writing it."
Shin twisted again to look at his father. "Why?"
"Because a lot of people are going to be reading this," Takeru said. "Not just now, but in the future, when Mother and Uncle Davis and Uncle Ken and I will be gone. So if I make a mistake, nobody will ever know. And I don't want that to happen."
Shin's eyes grew wide. "Will it be an important book?"
Takeru brushed the surface of the leather bound volume, allowing his fingers to trace the embossed golden print. He read again the title of his first, and greatest work:
THE LAST SEIHAD
And underneath it, in smaller gold print:
Councillor Takeru Ishida of all Gaea, Keeper of the Charter, Last Heir of the Ishidan Stand.
"Yes," he said softly. "I think it will be."
It was almost five years to the day since Cody had first approached him with the idea of reconstructing and immortalizing the events of the Last Seihad in written form. If the age they had constructed was to last forever, it was important that future generations know exactly how it had began. Instead of allowing rumour and legend to distort the events of the twenty-two-year Seihad into myth, Cody had proposed a project to document, in its entirety, the key events and nuances of the entire war, told only from the viewpoints of those who had been intimately involved in its happenings. And naturally, it had been Takeru, the leader of the stand-masters, and the one who had entered the sangrias and delivered the blow to end the war, who he had approached first.
"Adun wrote Prophecies," Cody had said then. "It is only fitting then that you, the Tenken, the one who surpassed Adun himself, write a book to tell our children how those Prophecies were fulfilled."
"I am no scholar," Takeru had protested. "How can I hope to pen a book like that?"
Cody had laughed. "And mountain farmboys don't grow up to defeat evil Emperors," he had pointed out. "You're Takeru Ishida. Like it or not, you're famous."
"I wouldn't know where to-"
"Think of this as you have always thought of the Seihad. You are nothing. It is only the Creator that is doing his work through you."
Takeru had had nothing to say to that.
"Tell the world how the stand-masters saw the war," Cody had urged. "Tell them how the Creator saved us time after time. Tell them so that, five hundred years from now, there will be absolutely no doubt that it was the Creator, and not us, that had brought about the end of Seihad."
So Takeru had started to work. With Cody's help, he gathered from every source possible every record of every battle, every political maneuver and every fulfilled Prophecy that the stand-masters encountered over the course of the war. He talked extensively with Ken about the invasion of Halidan, with Davis about the encounter with Fan-Tzu and with his wife about the invitation of Yagami, and carefully and painstakingly detailed their answers in his notes. He thought long and hard about his own memories and constructed, on paper, the timeline of the entire twenty-two-year Seihad, seen from the eyes of all six stand-masters, in as much detail as he could muster.
Then he had begun to write.
Five years and some thirty chapters later, his book was almost complete. Within its lengthy pages were diagrams and charts, bloodlines and alliances, maps of countries and of battles, and page after page of first-hand accounts of the war. All of his friends had contributed; there were passages in the volume both devoted to and written by Davis, Yolei, Cody, Ken and Kari. He had included everything from the destruction of Ishida and his flight to Kurtal to the exile of Sai Aiua before the first Khaydarin invasion to the battle at the sangrias. Takeru felt a small glow of pride and apprehension as he regarded the book before him. Yes, it was going to be a very important book indeed.
Shin grabbed the book and tried to lift it but soon gave up when it would not budge beneath his tiny fingers. "Father," he exclaimed in disgust. "It's heavy!"
"You're going to have to learn this book sometime," Takeru said as he ruffled his son's hair fondly, then laughed out loud at his son's horrified expression. "Don't worry, you'll have me to tutor you. And after five years, I can probably recite the thing word for word."
"But mother said-"
"Mother said nothing," a soft, melodious voice said. "And mother happens to agree with father. You're going to have to learn it."
Takeru felt a warm thrill shoot through his heart as he turned and saw Kari, dressed in a simple white gown and delicate gold headband, standing in the doorway to his study. After fifteen years, he did not think it was possible that the mere sight of his wife could still do that to him, but there it was. At thirty-eight, Kari no longer appeared young. But neither did she appear old. And if anything, everyone who laid eyes on her swore on their honour that her beauty, like that of a flower coming to full fruition, only became ever more radiant with each passing year.
Men said that her agelessness was due to her Stand, which lent her life and vigour beyond her years. After all, the Stand-masters of old had lived to almost two hundred years. The same agelessness could now be seen in all of them as youth melted away from their faces. Takeru knew that he himself did not look like he was almost forty and the effect would only become even more pronounced as he aged, but whatever it was, he did not care. No matter what happened, he did not think there would ever come a day when he would tire of looking at his wife's face.
As Takeru's face brightened however, Shin's face fell. "But Master Julius already has me working for-"
"I thought," Takeru said as he put on a hurt expression, "that you always wanted to learn more about the Seihad. You never seemed to tire of my stories."
Both Takeru and Kari smothered grins as they watched their son pause with a solemnly thoughtful expression on his young face. "You mean," he finally said slowly, "this book won't be like those boring scrolls on Old Gaean that Master Julius has me working on?"
"Oh no," Takeru said, shaking his head. "I can't write Old Gaean for the life of me. Besides, I promise you that this book is going to be exciting."
Shin's eyes grew bright. "Really?"
"It's like all the stories father told you beside the fireplace put together," Kari continued for her husband, "It's all about how we rallied together at the last moment, and-"
"Beat the evil Emperor Tichon," Shin shouted as he punched the air. "Yeah!"
"That's right," Kari grinned as she stroked her son's round cheek. "But if you don't want to read it, I suppose we can-"
"I take it back!" Shin said, shaking his head vigorously. "Can I start today?"
"When you are older," Takeru said, shaking as he laughed. "And only if you work hard at your studies. Otherwise, you won't be able to read it even if we gave it to you." With a sigh, he heaved his son from his lap and deposited him on the ground. "Run off now. It's time to prepare for the feast. Go choose your clothes and father will be along soon to help you dress."
With a whoop, Shin ran from the study and pattered down the hall. Kari shook her head as she laughed. "You shouldn't have let him choose his own clothes," she remonished him. "You know he'll choose the greatcloak Davis gave him for his last birthday."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Don't play dumb with me, TK," she said teasingly. "It's far too big for him; it's almost a foot taller than he is! The only reason he wears it is because it looks almost exactly like your Royal cloak. You know Davis's sense of style and size hasn't improved one bit with the years."
"Is that true?" Takeru said in genuine surprise. "I never knew. It was always you that helped him dress."
Kari stepped up behind her husband and rested her hands on his shoulders. Leaning down, she planted a light kiss in Takeru's hair. "He looks up to you, you know," she murmured. "You're his hero. He tells everyone but you, and that's because he doesn't think it's manly to."
Takeru said nothing as he reached up to touch his wife's hand on his shoulder. Of course he knew. He could see it in his sons' eyes whenever Shin thought he wasn't looking. Out of the high window of his study, he could see his young son jumping and whooping with excitement as he ran across the large, open courtyard of stone to his room. It still amazed him that despite his many duties and charges as Councillor and Keeper of the Charter, he still had the time to play with his young son. It was a blessing that he never ceased to thank the Creator for.
"Are you almost done?" Kari asked as she gestured at the book.
"Almost," Takeru said as he patted the leather-bound volume in front of him. "I just need to finish the epilogue, which I'm devoting to the start of the Council."
"Things are still changing," Kari said. "Are you sure you want to-"
"Just a brief mention of the main points," Takeru said reassuringly, "I don't think the book will be complete without it. Are we ready for the Feast to begin?"
"The food is almost ready," Kari said. "The guests will be coming down soon. It's about time we started preparing ourselves. That's why I came to get you. The Shinas Athan is about to begin."
Takeru sighed as he took out his quill and carefully laid it aside. After screwing his ink pot shut, he stood up. With a smile, he extended his hand to Kari. "Come on then," he said. "The Festival of Everlasting Peace cannot start without the master and mistress of the house. We have to give the Blessing."
Kari took his hand and together they left the study and entered the Royal Library of Ishida. Walking past the long rows of shelves, Takeru nodded at the gatekeepers as he passed. "Have a blessed Shinas," he murmured, and was received with smiles and bows. "May your day be blessed."
Soon, they were descending the spiral staircases that led from the upper floors to the grand hall of the Royal Library. Takeru sighed once again as he saw the mostly empty shelves that lined the gold-inlaid walls. The entire, priceless collection of the original Library had been lost in the first year of the Old Council Calendar, when Khaydarin had besieged and sacked the city in a single night. Despite generous donations from Aidan, Bjorn, San and Ida, it would be generations before the shelves would be filled again. Still, all things had a beginning. With time, the Library would grow. Takeru was certain of it.
Noticing their Lord and Lady passing, the liveried servants who tended the shelves hurried to open the door, but Takeru waved them away. "Away with you," he said kindly. "I can open doors myself! Will I see you at the Feast, young master Lore?"
The servant he had addressed smiled and nodded nervously. "As soon as my duties are finished, my Lord. I would not miss it for the world!"
"Then we shall talk then," Kari said, her eyes twinkling. "Have a blessed Shinas!"
Lore bowed. "May the Creator shine on you, milady," he called back as Takeru opened the door and stepped out with his wife.
Although work had commenced scarce months after peace had settled, the rebuilding of the palace of Ishida, set as it were on the rocky third tier of the once ruined Palas where construction was difficult at best, impossible at worst, had taken almost ten years to complete, and it was still ongoing. Many of the priceless artifacts, scrolls, paintings and tapestries that had once graced its halls were irreplaceable. Takeru knew that again, with time, the palace would grow in richness and build a tradition of its own, but he had always felt there was a certain…unfinished look to the place when inside. On the outside however, the palace had been fully restored down to the last brick. And it was only when he had first gazed upon this beautiful hall that Takeru had at last fully understood the rich and mighty tradition of his line.
Before him, the white palace of Ishida thrust upwards in all its proud glory until the peak of its highest tower seemed to pierce the sky. The blue roof tiles of the palace gleamed in the fiery dusk sunlight like clouds of sapphires as Takeru and Kari walked, hand-in-hand, through the central courtyard towards their apartments and the Great Hall. Around them, the graceful arches of the gated entranceways cast long, curving shadows on the blue-veined flagstones beneath their feet and the neatly ordered rows of the Royal garden. This deep in the center of the palace, not a sound could be heard save the rustling as blue and gold flowers in full summer bloom, cast in the pattern of the legendary Ishidan crest, nodded in the gentle breeze that brushed through them. Takeru smiled as he saw his son disappear behind the arched entrance to the main castle on the other end of the courtyard, but his step remained unhurried.
He knew that there were four more courtyards just like this one interspersed through the huge grounds of the palace, but this one had always held a special place in his heart. He could scarcely walk through it without feeling his heartbeat slow and his breathing deepen. And this time was no exception.
He paused as he approached the middle of the courtyard. Kari leaned her head on his shoulder as together they took in the white monument before them. Set underneath the shade of a fifteen-year-old Sakura sapling, it was little more than three tiers of marble rock, at one end of which stood two paler-hued stones, each of which were as tall as Takeru. Between and in front of the slabs, the carven likeness of a shed cloak lay, partially covering the broken sword that could be seen beneath it.
Walking forward, Takeru reached out and touched the left stone. He read once again the words engraved on its smooth white surface:
Praetor of the Gaean Seitzin
Hero of the Seihad
And on the right slab:
Last Heir of the Ishidan Stand
Beloved Friend and Brother.
Hero of the Seihad
As it always did, Takeru's gaze rested on the word "Last" in Yamato's title. A mixed flurry of emotions stirred in his heart as it did. Most people did not know it, but that word that was the greatest sign of peace Yolei could have put on this memorial when she designed it. At least, he felt it was.
Perhaps more would understand why when his book was finally finished.
He knew that neither of their bodies were really there. After Yamato's passing, nobody knew what Locke looked like, so his body had never been recovered. And Yamato…only the Creator knew where his body was now, trapped as it were somewhere on the thought-plane. The graves that stood before him were nothing but memorials, but they still held meaning. Sighing, he looked down.
Below the white cloak, a third inscription had been carved into the rock. It read:
TO THE UNKNOWN KHAYDARIN SOLDIER WHO GAVE
HIS LIFE FOR A LAND AND CREATOR HE NEVER KNEW:
MAY YOUR REST BE PEACEFUL
For a long time, neither Takeru nor Kari said anything as they stood, lost in their memories, before the memorial of the true heroes of the Seihad. Takeru knew there was a larger one just like it in the main courtyard of the city, just as there was one in the courtyard of Meitzin, capital of Yagami, Halidan, capital of Ichijouji, Atun'dar, capital of Sheid, Falin, Capital of Fan-Tzu, and Caliro, capital of Jakt. He had, after all, given Yamato his word. The sacrifice of his men would never be forgotten as long as these memorials stood.
"He died today," Takeru said softly. "He would have been forty."
Beside Takeru, Kari sighed. "I wonder what he would have made of everything that has happened since his passing?"
"Well," Takeru said as he turned slightly to grin at his wife, "you can ask him when you see him."
Kari made a face. "True," she admitted. "But then…"
"It'll be a long time before you can," Takeru said softly. "I know."
Kari reached out and touched the white tombstones, allowing her fingers to slide across the smooth surface just as Takeru's had. Again, they fell silent.
"I think he would have approved," Ken's voice murmured behind them.
Takeru and Kari turned around. Already dressed in the full regalia of his Ichijoujan uniform, the Councillor that stood before them was a far cry from the plainly clothed traveler that had entered Takeru's courts only yesterday with his three honour guards. When Takeru had questioned him about the rather plain entourage, Ken had only shrugged. "One does not need a great procession with trumpets and heralds," he had said, "when one is simply going to attend a feast with dear friends."
All that seemed distant now as Ken stood before them with a scroll of paper in his hand and a wide smile on his face. Happily, Takeru extended a hand and clasped his friend on the shoulder. "My, you look smart today," he said teasingly. "And happy too. It seems that the Shinas spirit affects even you."
"Actually," Ken confessed as he hefted the package and waved the scroll, "it's this that I'm smiling about. A servant passed it to me not too long ago. I was going to give it to you at the feast, but I saw you in the courtyard."
Curious, Kari took it and spread it open. "What is it?" she asked.
"Read it and see."
However, as soon as Kari turned it over and Takeru saw the trademark sigil of the Shienar seal, he already knew. It was a message inked on the special diplomatic paper that Bjorn used whenever he wished to trade messages with his fellow Councillors. Whatever the letter was, it must have come through with the regular courier that carried messages back and forth between Palas and Atun'dar. Judging from the smile on Ken's face however, this was no ordinary letter.
"It's from Davis," Kari said as she read the front of the scroll. Breaking the seal, she cleared her throat and began reading.
"Greetings dear friends,
I wish you a happy and meaningful Shinas Athan festival. Our friends Yolei, Cody and Bjorn are all with me as I pen this letter in Atun'dar, and we are all in good cheer and health."
"Well, this is interesting," Takeru murmured as he put his arm around his wife's waist and started reading over her shoulder. "But since when did Davis start writing letters to talk to us? What couldn't he tell us over the thought-plane?"
"It's not only to us," Ken explained. "It's addressed to Lord Marc, Isendre and Corin as well. They must have thought a personal letter would be better than having us relay a message to them."
"Preparations for the Shinas festival go well as usual," Kari continued. "Bjorn tells me his Master Chef seems especially excited about this Feast, the fifteenth Festival, than he has been for years. The entire city is abuzz with excitement, as I imagine the rest of Gaea is. I am not one to complain. The mere prospect of mountains of good food has always been enough to raise my spirits, no matter where I am."
"He needn't have bothered with the special ink seal," Takeru laughed. "That certainly sounds like Davis."
"Our work goes smoothly as well. Cody tells me he is nearing the completion of his second book on the Shienar history of the Last Seihad. Now, with the history of Sheid and Fan-Tzu complete, he believes he will be moving to Ichijouji soon to start on his third book; Ken, you should be expecting his arrival within a month or so. If you ask me, he's turned into a stuffy academic ever since he started that project of his ten year's ago, and all the time he spends in the Library and Royal Archives certainly doesn't help. Now don't get me wrong; even I can see why it's important to record the Last Seihad as thoroughly as possible. It's just that I can never see myself doing so much. Even with you, Takeru, writing a book for him, it will take him at least another twenty years to finish writing a volume for every stand-nation. He uses words now that even King Bjorn has never heard of, never mind us uncultured Taelidani savages. A stuffy academic indeed.
(And yes, he has read this letter. He says that I have no appreciation for history and culture. Who knows? He might be right)"
Kari looked up. "I'd say Cody's right," she said as she tried and failed to suppress her grin. "But then, who would have thought Cody would have turned into a scholar? He might be the first of his people to do so."
"Just keep going," Ken said as he gestured at the letter. "I'm surprised Davis wrote so much. But then again, better him than Cody. Cody's letters are always ten times longer than they have to be."
"Yolei and I are both in good cheer, but although the rest here in Atun'dar has been warmly welcomed and sorely needed, I do not believe we will be staying here for more than a week or so despite Bjorn's repeated entreaties for an extended stay. After all, we haven't stayed in one place for more than a month ever since the Charter was signed, and we don't see any cause to start now. As the Taelidani say, 'The call of the wide horizon is loud within us'. Not to offend those of you who have put down roots, but a domestic life is simply not for us.
"Where shall we go next? We have no idea yet. Perhaps further west, into Novinha and those mountains Takeru and Kari are always talking about. We might spend a few months wandering the valleys and passes. The cool of the mountains should shelter us from the worst of the summer heat. And yes, Takeru, we have been diligently taking notes. I shall be sending them to you via courier in a few days' time. You were right by the way: despite having escaped the worst of the Seihad, there are still a lot of people here in Sheid, particularly the traders and merchants, that need help rebuilding their homes and livelihoods. With my notes, you and Bjorn should be able to come up with a scheme to help them. After all, my dear friend, you always do."
"What does he think I am," Takeru snorted. "Some kind of miracle worker?"
"Takeru," Ken said in all seriousness, "the whole world thinks you're some kind of miracle worker. Why shouldn't we? And besides, you were the one who suggested this scheme to him."
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Takeru muttered.
"It still is," Kari said reassuringly. "There are a lot of people out there that need help and order. Without Davis and Yolei, a lot of them would probably have slipped through the cracks." She squeezed his arm. "I'm sure you'll think of something. Like Davis said, you always do."
Takeru grunted. "Does he have anything else to say?"
"A little bit," Kari said as she scanned the letter.
"Bjorn is in good health despite his age, though he cannot travel as often as he would like to anymore. He sends his greetings along with ours, with best wishes on your continuing work.
Takeru, I heard from Cody today that you should be finishing your book soon; I look forward to reading it. Knowing you, your book should be a little less boring and a lot more exciting than Cody's.
Kari, remember to keep Takeru in check. As I'm sure you know by now, he will drive himself far too hard if you let him. Tell Shin that I won't be able to attend his birthday celebration this year, but that Uncle Davis sends his greetings. And I'm sorry about the greatcloak. Perhaps you can find some way to shorten it?
Ken, I hear encouraging news from Bjorn about the reconstruction of Ichijouji. Sailors from Halidan tell us that the city port is almost back to its former glory. We have also heard a rumour that for the first time in recent memory, grass has started growing again in Paen province. Is this true? If so, I rejoice for you; it may be a sign that the soil is returning to normal. We wish you blessings in your endeavours.
Marc, blunt as this may seem, you are no longer a young man. If these rumours of you gallivanting about the countryside on the slightest whim is true, remember that if you fall off the horse, you could break your back. It's peacetime! The people can get by with a visit once a month rather than once every week.
Greet all our friends in Palas for us as well. May the Creator shine on you and shelter you always.
Your friend and brother,
Councillor Davis Motmoiya
Last Heir of the Fan-Tzu Stand"
There was a silence as Kari's voice trailed off. Then Takeru closed his eyes. "Marc is going to kill him," he muttered in dread. "Why oh why did he have to-"
"You know Davis," Kari said as she rolled up the scroll again. "He speaks before he thinks. He can't open his mouth without offending at least someone."
"I agree," Ken said, his eyes twinkling with amusement. "I was getting worried until the end that our Davis had lost his touch."
Takeru sighed. "But he does sound happy, doesn't he?"
"And why should he not?" Ken said as he shrugged. "He's doing what he wants, and he knows his friends are doing the same."
As Kari tied up the scroll again, Takeru paused as he reflected on that. We are?
When he had departed from the ruined remnants of Kurtal, the only life he had ever known was that of a humble farmer boy. Whatever dreams he had had of glorious adventure and mighty deeds, not even his wildest ones could have predicted that he would become the leader of the stand-masters and a Councillor of All Gaea, much less the long-prophesied Tenken that would bring about and end the Last Seihad. When he had left, he had always assumed that he would go, finish his task, and come back to his crops when fate and destiny and all that stuff had had their way with him.
It had not taken him long to realize that that wish was nothing but a dream. Too much had happened, both evil and good, for any of them to go back. The world, as Ken had said all those years ago, would never be the same again. And when the Last Seihad had ended, the Creator's hand had simply tugged them in the directions it had, and here they were.
Are we happy?
As Ken's words sank in however, Takeru began to see the truth in them. Looking around, he felt the beginnings of a satisfied smile tug at the corners of his lips.
Ken was right in one thing: they were all doing what they wanted. Ken, as a Councillor of All Gaea, had nevertheless maintained strong ties with his home nation and had, years ago, set as his work the rebuilding of the entire Eastern seaboard. The task was mind-boggling. What had taken Khaydarin one month to desecrate and destroy would probably take the remainder of his life, long as it would be, to repair, but his friend did not seem to mind. Progress was slow but steady and the signs were encouraging. Every time Ken gave a report on his progress whenever they met, Takeru could always glimpse a satisfied smile beneath the smoothly polished words.
Those of them that had wanted to put down roots, had. Impulsively, Takeru hugged his wife closer to his chest and gave her shoulders a squeeze as his gaze fell upon the sapling beside the memorial. It would not be long now before the tree he had finally planted all those years ago began to sprout blossoms in the spring. Already they were beginning to see signs of buds on those branches. In time, he knew it would grow as broad and tall as the one that had stood in front of his yard back at Kurtal. Yes, he missed his life as a wanderer, but those days were over. He loved his wife and he loved his son; he would not give his home for anything.
There were those among them that had yet to put down their roots. Davis, Yolei, Cody…it would be a long time before they settled in anywhere. The wild, free Taelidani spirit was still strong in them. Cody's love for knowledge and history had taken him far and abroad, and Takeru knew that his friend would not stop until he had finished his work. Davis and Yolei…who knew when they would stop wandering. If the call of the wide horizon had not waned in fifteen years, Takeru doubted it ever would. And if traveling was what made them happy, then he was glad for them.
"You know," he said thoughtfully as he turned to Ken. "I think you're right."
"Not everything is perfect," Kari said as she shook her head. "But it's certainly a relief to not have to fight anymore."
"There is so much left to do," Ken said softly, "that there are days when I feel it would take a hundred lifetimes to complete. But-"
"If the Lord calls me back right this instant," Takeru finished with a smile, "I would be content with a life well lived and a task well done. Yes, I know what you-"
Takeru looked up as Shin's distant voice rang across the otherwise quiet courtyard. Shin was waving wildly at them from the third floor balcony that led from their quarters. Cupping his hands to his mouth, the brown-haired boy yelled again. "You said you were coming right after me!"
"I'm coming!" Takeru called back, then gave Ken an apologetic glance. "My son calls me. Kari will take you to the Great Hall. Wait for me there, it should not take more than few minutes."
"The joys of parenthood," Ken said, his eyes twinkling.
"You don't know the half of it," Kari said with a mock groan.
Ken shook his head. "Don't let me impede you then. We'll see you in a few minutes at the Feast."
"You know how you said I would have to learn that book of yours?"
Takeru slowed as he walked down the hall towards the Great Hall and turned slightly to look at his son. "What about it?"
As he walked, Shin's hands unconsciously tugged on the velvet blue cloak that Takeru had put on his shoulders and adjusted the collar of his white silk shirt. The little boy loved dressing up, but it was always a constant battle to keep him from "adjusting" the shirt-hem to a rumpled mess and tugging the little gold buttons loose. Still, Shin looked thoughtful, not excited as he usually did at the Shinas Athan. "Will I have to learn the sword too?"
Takeru felt a small frown furrow his brow as he resumed his pace. "Why do you ask?"
"Because they say that it should be about time for my training to start soon," Shin explained matter-of-factedly to his father.
"Pray tell me who 'they' would be."
"Lord Marc and Master Julius and others. Well, Lord Marc called it something else. Kenja…something."
"Kenjutsu," Takeru said. "The art of the sword."
"That's right," Shin said, nodding. "It's tradition, they say, for the Heir of the Ishidan throne to learn the sword."
"The Ishidan throne does not exist anymore," Takeru corrected automatically.
Shin shrugged. "That doesn't seem to bother Lord Marc. He says that if I have any hope of mastering the Shun Ten Satsu, I should be starting to train now, when I'm still young."
Takeru did not respond for a long time. Instead, he reached out and rested his hand on Shin's shoulder as they walked. How should he explain this?
For he knew that the answer to Shin's question was moot. Both he and Kari had known, ever since Shin had been little more than a year-old babe that, regardless of his will, Shin would never be able to master Shun Ten Satsu. At least, not as well as his father had. And it had nothing to do with talent or training.
It was simply because Shin had no stand.
No matter how hard Takeru or Kari tried, they could not sense the slightest spark of the talent within their son. As always, a mixed flood of emotions churned in his heart as Takeru gazed upon his son. There were those that regarded Shin as a freak accident, and those who eagerly waited for Takeru and Kari's next son in the confident expectation that he or she would be a stand-master, but Takeru knew better. He did not believe in freak accidents. He also knew that if Davis, Yolei, Cody or Ken ever had children, they would be as devoid of the talent as Shin.
Although Shin was still too young to understand, he had been the reason for the word "Last" that was now included in their titles. For the Creator had deemed that the legacy of the stand-masters would end with their generation. The new bloodlines He had created, the Motomiya, Kamiya, Inoue, Hida and Ichijouji families, were not destined to be bloodlines of warriors. They were to be bloodlines of leaders.
In a way, it made Takeru feel sad. Hundreds of years worth of tradition would be lost. The Ishidan stand that had lent its strength to his mighty fathers would no longer run in his line's blood.
But in another way, it made him feel peaceful. For it was the best sign the Creator could have given his people that they would never have to face war, pain and death ever again. The awesome power of the Stand, the symbol of strength that had stood for five hundred years, would no longer be needed.
It was no coincidence that Shin's name was so similar to the name of the Festival that even now was happening all over Gaea. Takeru and Kari had named him "Star of Peace" in the Old Language for a reason. For even as Takeru Ishida had been the one to end the war, Shin Ishida, his successor, would be the one to usher in the peace.
And that was an encouraging thought.
"No," Takeru said slowly. "You won't have to learn the sword."
Shin looked up with his wide blue eyes. "Really? But Lord Marc said-"
"I will talk to Lord Marc," Takeru said reassuringly. "The Shun Ten Satsu will be meaningless in this new age."
Shin frowned. "Why?" he said innocently. "I wouldn't mind. It sounds fun."
Takeru paused for a moment as he searched for the words to explain it. "Perhaps some traditions," he said slowly, "old and good as they might be, are meant to simply…disappear."
"Father," Shin said reproachfully, "you're talking all funny again."
"You'll understand someday," Takeru said. As they rounded the corner, his eyes lit up as he saw Kari and Ken, both dressed in their finest, waiting for him at the open oak doors that led into the palace's Great Hall. "Now stop fidgeting with your cloak. You'll rumple it."
As Shin forced himself to lower his hands, Takeru gave Ken a questioning gaze. "Is everyone in there already?"
Ken gestured at the door. "They're all waiting for you," he whispered.
"The Feast can't start without the Blessing," Kari added.
"Then let's not keep them waiting," Takeru said as he straightened his own cloak and shirt. "Let's go."
Together, they walked in. As his eyes lit upon the interior of the Great Hall, Takeru felt a rueful smile cross his face. Clio had outdone himself. Again.
The walls of the Great Hall had been festooned with lanterns and banners of blue and gold silk. The long tables that stood lengthwise across the hall groaned under the mountains of food that had been piled on top of them. As Takeru walked past them, his eye ran across everything from racks of lamb and beef to salads containing every kind of fruit known to Gaea. Flagons of wine stood cooling in basins of cold water every few paces along the tables. When the tradition of the Festival had first begun all those years ago, Takeru had always feared that there would not be enough food for the three-day Feast. As he heard Kari sigh behind him, he chuckled in amusement. Somehow, he suspected that that would not be a problem this year.
The Great Hall was packed with people, and although the excitement in the air was contagious, the din quieted somewhat as the four of them walked down the center aisle and approached the long Head Table set for them at the end of the Hall. Lords and ladies, masters and mistresses, children and servants all turned as one and respectfully fell silent as Takeru stopped in front of his seat. By the time Kari, Ken and Shin took their positions around him, the last murmur and laugh had faded away.
Takeru paused for a moment as he regarded the people before him. Some of them were old; veterans that still remembered the old Age of Gods. Some of them were his age, and like Takeru, had served with him in the Seihad. Some were younger, no more than children to his eyes, the first of many generations to share in the fruits of the Shinas Athan, the Everlasting Peace. But all of them gazed upon him with love in their eyes. All of them smiled with the smile of a contented people under the rule of the righteous and loving Creator. And as it always did, Takeru felt the same peace that had sustained him for so many years descend upon him once again as he met their expectant gazes.
As had been the custom for many years, Ken picked up the goblet set before him, thus beginning the Blessing. A great rustle spread throughout the hall as the people rose as one with their cups.
"To those who gave their lives to build this Age," he said with grave solemnity.
With one voice, the people took up the Blessing with thankful voices. "May their glory never dim, and may their rest be peaceful. Amen." And as one, they raised the cup to their lips and drank.
When the goblets were lowered again, Kari stepped forward. "To the Shinas Athan," she said, her melodious voice rising with conviction and passion. "The Age of Everlasting Peace."
"May her everlasting fruits bless our people forever. Amen." Again, the cups went up, and again the people drank.
Takeru stepped forward.
"To the Creator," he said simply as he lifted his goblet. "Through whom all things are possible."
"May glory and praise be His forever. Amen."
**Final Author's Notes:
First off, some statistics:
- Date started: May 8th, 2001
- Date ended: January 15th, 2004
- Time from beginning to end: 2 years, 9 months, and 7 days
- Total word count (approximate): 330,000
- Pages (assuming 400 words per page): 825 pages
This will be my last digimon fic, and possibly my last fic on fanfiction.net. Although Digimon was a great show, I've grown out of it. I want to write about someone other than TK for once; I want to write something entirely my own. So with this, I bid a bittersweet goodbye to the digimon category and all the people who have followed me since I first posted "Yesterday when the War Began". Somehow, I can't help feeling that the digimon genre has entered a new phase. All the "excellent/popular" authors that I used to follow religiously: Kale, Caspian, logan, Time Lady, raine, Hikari Takaishi, etc. have all left. Now, that I'm going to join them in retirement, it's almost as if I'm passing the torch to a new generation of digimon writers. Have fun with your time here guys. I certainly did.
The Seihad trilogy was, beyond a doubt, the longest and most ambitious project I've ever started and completed; that includes the Out of the Ashes trilogy, which is roughly a third the size of this one. And although there were times when I felt like giving up, I have to say that pushing on and finishing it despite writer's block, exams and university applications has given me an incredible sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and pride. Now that it's over, I almost…sad. After watching the characters struggle through six years of war and leading them from Kurtal to the Saera desert, Maran, Sai Aiua, Halidan, Ichijouji, Palas, Ardinberg, Maitzin, the Fan-Tzu forests, and finally to Paen province and Atun'dar, I feel like every one of them has become my friends. I've long stopped considering Takeru to be the kid with the white bucket hat from digimon, or Kari to be the girl with the outrageous pink gloves (someone shoot the person who gave her that, btw). They've grown and matured beyond their digimon personas until they've taken a life of their own in this story. Now that their story is finished, strange as it may seem, I feel like I'm saying goodbye to my friends for the past three years.
In the end, I believe Seihad was a good story. It has more than its fair share of rough edges and contrived plot elements, but I think it was, all in all, a far more down-to-earth and matured piece of fiction than the "Ashes" trilogy was.
Beneath all its awkwardness and rough edges, Seihad is ultimately a story of six people who gave their lives to a higher calling to fight for their land, their people, and their children. It's a story of a despairing sinner's quest for meaning in life, then the same sinner's journey to redemption. It's a story of a land cautiously setting aside old hatreds in favour of a naïve, idealistic peace despite innumerable obstacles. And it's a story of how the Creator worked through the lives of his servants to move a mountain. Although I do think it could have been handled better, I make no apologies for the prominent Christian themes in this work. Seihad is not, in essence, a Christian work. The land of Gaea is not meant to parallel our world; the peace Takeru ultimately achieved will never descend upon Earth until God returns again. But the theme of redemption and forgiveness, as illustrated by Yamato and Locke's long journey back to the right side, is very much a Christian one. The theme of empowerment, as illustrated by Takeru's commissioning at Palas at the end of Pilgrimage and his constant attribution of power to the Creator, is very much a Christian one. The theme of lies, as illustrated by Lord Tichon himself, is very much a Christian one. So you see, although this story is not Christian, its Christian themes are inseparable.
I hope you've enjoyed this story as much as I've enjoyed writing it. A big thank you to all the loyal reviewers who have put up with me for two years and nine months of frustratingly long waits. You don't know how much your reviews mean to me; a lot of the time it's kept me going. A BIG thank you to all my editors: Dreamwalker, Hell's Hauntress and KarissaEB. Without them, this story would not have become what it is now. Their help has been invaluable. Everyone, review and thank them!
And now, just for fun, let's play favourites ;)
Favourite character (aside from TK, duh) – I'd have to say Kari. I like all of the DD, but in writing Seihad I've developed a strange fascination with her. I wish I had more time to expand her character, but suffice to say, giving her the limelight for once has been a lot of fun.
Favourite non-DD character – Locke, obviously, though Talin ranks a close second. Both of them are cool.
Favourite place – Palas. I don't know why, it just is. I've always enjoyed writing about Palas.
Favourite scene – hard to say. I liked Takeru's battle with Yamato at Palas a lot. I still think it's possibly the best fight scene I've ever written. Also, it's one of the most dramatic turning points in the story.
What do you guys think? What are your favourites? ;D