by Midori Kusanada
Note: The following tale was conceived as a side-story to the title Angelique: Tenkuu no Requiem and became the basis for the game Angelique: Maren no Rokukishi / Maren no Roku Kishi / Six Knights of Dark Love.
About naming: Leviath's blond staff officer was referred to in certain materials released around the time of Requiem as "Kiefar" but is named "Kiefer" in Maren. I've used the seemingly original spelling of "Kiefar" here, but if you want to do a find-and-replace, feel free.
"Elis" almost certainly refers to the mythical Eris, but "Elis" has been in use for so long in the English-speaking fandom that to heck with it.
Translation by R. Capowski, 5/25/13. I can be contacted through the usual channels.
Book 1: A Dream Before the Dawn (1)
1. A Home Too Far Away
2. Day of Departure
3. Twilight of Blood
4. Life and Death
7. The Holy Boy
8. A Shadow Clad in Black
I've always been watching you...ever since I met you.
So I know - all about your kindness...all about your weakness.
It doesn't matter what the others say.
It doesn't matter if they hate me for it. I love you.
Even if the whole universe turns against us, I choose you.
...I love you, Leviath. No matter what happens, I'll be by your side...
It was midnight when I awoke.
It was a night that seemed frozen in silence - a night where I was alone.
And that was convenient, actually - all the better for me to occupy myself with my research. Time slips by when I am absorbed in my work, and I can feel a sense of accomplishment - even happiness.
But...there are times when an odd feeling creeps over me, and I suddenly snap back to reality. Times like right now, for instance.
This is not the universe where I was born. I have no idea how far I am away from my place of birth. I am in a lone room deep within a vast palace that lies some unfathomable distance from home.
Even I am not myself, properly speaking.
The figure that looks back in the darkened window before me is a boy with short platinum-blond hair and dark skin, with a confident look in his eyes. Not me at all.
My name is Sionna, and I have long been dead. I am nothing more than a spirit called back into a fabricated body.
Severed from life, bereft of a home...how long has my soul traveled to reach this place? I myself have no memory of the journey, I am afraid.
And so, little by little, this idea called "death" eludes my grasp.
Am I alive now, after all? Or am I dead?
...I still don't understand. I don't understand any of it, Cain!
Yes, Cain and all the others...each of the resurrected Knight Captains is somewhere within this palace, preparing for war as I am.
To put a swift end to the lingering resistance kept alive by the Queen's supporters - and in anticipation of the day that we return to our home universe - to the universe that killed us - and give its inhabitants a taste of sweet revenge.
Cain, Kiefar, Eugene, Ka-Fai, Gerhard, Giovanni, Walter......and Renaud.
What are they all feeling right now? What does he feel......?
Ahh, this dark night cannot help but bring back memories. Memories of the golden fire that burned in his eyes as he swore, "Never will we know defeat."
Those words gave our dream wings - let it take flight to the distant night.
The pain lingers fresh in my heart as that day, proof - perhaps the only proof - that I am among the living.
The final battle - in this universe, anyway - is at hand.
And I am left with a strange, silent emotion within.
No matter what happens from this point onward, our journey will never see an end so long as those golden wings remain within our hearts...this I believe.
There is yet some time until dawn. I decide to continue my work.
The work to return the people of this world to the forms they by rights should have had at birth.
The essence of humanity lies not in kindness or compassion, no matter how keenly their presence may be felt. Beneath the pretty facade, people are no more than savage beasts within - and I'll prove it.
I will restore them to their base natures.
A world where people live by their hearts and indulge their primal bloodlust, gleefully laying waste to each other in mutual murder. If all the universe were such, then perhaps no one would be so quick to condemn me.
And then, perhaps, things would be a little easier, and I'd never again have that dream...that dream of my faraway home......
A Home Too Far Away
I was born on the planet of Nog, in the far-off countryside of the Metamoria district.
My grandfather and his children - my uncles - ran a huge farm together. Their houses were all clustered close, atop a big hill with a breathtaking view below.
All around us lay fields and farmland, with meadows and forests in the distance perfect as painted backdrops.
I was my parents' second child - the first boy, and as such cause for much celebration. I'm told I spent my early childhood the very apple of their eye.
My very first memory was of our thriving vegetable garden - of sitting in the field in the back of our house, playing. A true cavalcade of life filled my vision - all the many different plants...and the insects, the birds, and the small animals that would gather around them.
The caterpillars that would feed upon the tender sprouts of the seeds we'd sown, just as their first soft buds began to stretch toward the sun.
The huge bees that would fly upon the caterpillars' backs and pierce their hearts with their sting.
Our dog, Lute, who would chase the field mice from their burrows to devour them.
My father, who would would snare the wild birds that infested our fields in his nets and pluck them bare.
A neverending cycle of life and death that unfolded before my eyes - this glistening pantomime of light was a neverending source of shock to me in my childhood.
What had until a moment ago been filled with life became in a heartbeat something altogether different.
Had they lost their lives? Or had they been given a gift in death?
To resolve this question, I took a stick and tried stabbing a caterpillar through the back.
It stopped moving - as if it had become encased in a stiff garment.
And it became clear to me - that in losing its life, it had achieved a state of transcendence upon which no one could intrude.
The strong take the lives of the weak by force. And at the end of this cycle, all returns to the earth, to become fodder for new life.
And I had no questions about this divine pattern, so beautiful in its wisdom. To me, nature was my ever-present teacher - an unending, brilliant tapestry of innumerable lives and deaths.
I began to steal the lives of small creatures, one after another.
Nothing unusual for a child that age, I imagine.
The numbers were a little extreme in my case, though.
My mother let out a scream when she finally discovered the pile of corpses stacked outside my door.
My father began to look at me askance, and our relatives stopped coming to the house.
My sister, two years my senior, was the only one who worried about my welfare. She'd come to me with tears in her eyes.
"Sionna, please, please...please stop killing!"
I cast my eyes downward. I wasn't killing them because I hated them. On the other hand, I didn't enjoy it, either.
They were all destined to die. I was merely the instrument.
My mind developed so much more quickly than those of the other children. I wonder if there was some connection between this disagreeable inclination of mine and my early maturation.
Naturally, then, I was fully aware of the aberrancy of my fixation. But I couldn't stop myself - and the guilt led me to become a sullen child.
My parents called me a demon child and shut me away from the other family members. I was to sleep in the loft of the barn. I even ate alone, my food brought to my allotted space.
Out of pity, my older sister would often sneak behind my parents' backs, pillow in hand, to stay the night.
"Sionna! Why are you looking at me like that?! Let's sing a song together - let's have fun!"
She'd bring me some candy, and we'd eat it together; we'd talk to each other, looking up at the stars in the night sky through the skylight. Those were the only times I ever felt like a normal child.
But I did it anyway.
There was no way I could resist the dark pull of the temptation that reached out like a black hand from the depths of my soul.
And so, in the middle of the night, I crept upon my sister's soundly sleeping form, held the pillow over the face that looked so much like my own, and -
"KELLY! KELLY, KELLYYYY--!!"
I heard my mother's cries from far away. I had shut myself up in the barn. All throughout her funeral, I could think of nothing but her pale, peaceful face.
Gone was the last smile I'd ever know. It was regrettable, but it couldn't be helped. I had to do it eventually.
More importantly, I alone now knew the full truth of my sister's life and death...and to get closer to what it all meant, I had to experience it all with my own eyes, my own hands.
My mother's screams continued without end. She fell ill eventually.
My female relatives took turns making my meals. They were left, along with my other daily necessities, outside my door.
Sometimes they would forget, but I never felt hungry. One day, I fell gravely ill with fever. They didn't find me until the third day. My aunts took turns nursing me back to health. They disappeared, of course, once I was up and moving on my own.
When I was old enough, I was permitted to go to the public school in town.
It seemed, though, that word about me had reached there as well. None of the children would come near me.
From my perspective, the schoolhouse filled with its young pupils was little more than a cradle of death. I found the company of these naive children, so infuriating in their ignorance, dispiriting.
Every now and again, a teacher would have a kind word for me, but by and large, I had already forsaken the comfort of human contact.
My only company were the books in the library, which I would read night and day...day in, day out...
I wrote a biology dissertation once, just for a lark, but one thing must have led to another, and it somehow caught the attention of some college professor somewhere. The old man came to see me in person; we talked for a while. He left, his face deathly white.
But I was labeled a "boy genius," the likes of whom were unknown throughout the entire continent. Not that it did me any favors.
Ever since my sister's death, I had taken great pains to stay my hand from harming other living things.
There were times when I just couldn't help myself, but I always made myself bury the body afterward.
In the corner of the cemetery where my sister slept, I would dig a hole and mark the grave with a stone.
I had dug another tiny grave that very day, in fact.
"What are you doing?" It was a young man's voice, calm and composed. I turned around to see its owner.
Indeed, a young man stood there. He was tall, and his long silver hair blew in the wind. His eyes were so still.
He wasn't from the village. Not a traveling merchant, either. He held himself erect, in the proper manner of a scholar or official, but exactly who he was was at the time unfathomable to me.
"......Is that a grave?"
He asked again, and I at last nodded my head.
"Yes. Something died......and I killed it."
"Who died?" The reply came without a hint of surprise or shock. The calm in his eyes spoke to me...for some reason, it gave me the impression of a man who had experienced death himself.
"A rabbit. He was a dear friend!...... But I had to. I just......"
I pointed to all the other graves I had made. I couldn't say the rest. I knew he'd understand anyway.
"Why do you kill them?......"
"I don't know. They're important to me, so I want to see them die......that's it, I guess."
I brought my head up to face the man and found a slight smile on his lips.
"It is a blessing to be able to take care of those you love. And those in your care are happy to die in the hands of such a dear friend, I imagine."
"......You're a strange person."
"You think so?"
I realized it was the first time I had ever spoken with another person about myself.
I attempted to tell him everything - everything that had happened in my life up to this point. My words ran together in my impatience, and to my disbelief, tears flooded my eyes. I couldn't stop crying.
"To live is to die...so am I living or dying right now? I don't know! At this rate, I don't think I'll ever find the meaning of life."
The man had listened in silence. Once I paused, he opened his mouth.
"You've killed so many, and you still don't know?"
The man's pale eyes shone with a trace of steel.
"Then allow me to show you far more death than this..... Come with me. I can give you as many as you wish, for as long as you wish, until you find your illumination!......"
I was shocked. The man wordlessly put his hands on my shoulders to steady me.
"You'll come with me, won't you, Sionna?"
The man introduced himself as Cain.
He told my father that he was going to open a private school across the sea in the Gaia district and said he wanted to take me with him as his assistant.
He dropped a purse containing a king's ransom on the table. My father couldn't look him in the eye.
"...He's a smart boy. He'll be a big help to you."
With that, my father stood and left. To go back to the fields, probably.
My father's life went on as ever, whether I was present or not.
Cain stood and put his hand on my back.
My heart set to leave, I took one last look back at the house where I was born.
At the second-floor room where my mother now spent her days, the curtains drawn...
Nothing happened. Life doesn't have a sense of drama.
I turned around. Eyes fixed once more upon Cain's back, I walked away.
Day of Departure
When we left town, a carriage was waiting for us on the main road. We got in.
"We'll be there in about an hour. Go ahead and rest if you're tired."
"...I thought we were going to Shiva."
Cain was taken aback by my words.
"Shiva district? Why?"
"You told my father you were going back to Gaia, didn't you? So Shiva's the farthest you can go in the opposite direction."
"Can't get anything past you, can I?" Cain folded his arms and cracked a wry smile. "We're not moving on to Shiva for several days. We'll be staying in the meantime at the villa of a certain nobleman of this country."
"We're what you might call a mercenary organization. We travel from star system to star system, to wherever there is conflict or unrest, and lead to victory whichever side offers sufficient compensation."
"We go to war, then?"
"But...what if we lose?"
"It's our job to win. If we fail, in lieu of compensation...we receive a death sentence."
The revelation struck me dumb with shock.
Cain had told me he would give me all the death I wanted. That it would come from hulking men with weapons and armor clashing on the battlefield and hacking off each other's flesh never entered my mind. I was small and sickly even for a boy my own age; how could I stand a chance in that arena?
"Are you afraid?" Cain looked at me with searching eyes.
"No, I'm not afraid. ...But I'm not confident I'll survive."
The man let out a small laugh. His smile was unexpectedly kind.
"I'll give you my unit. They're a practiced troop of archers, and my lieutenant, Gaillard, is a trustworthy man. I'll teach you the art of command; you'll pick it up quickly, I imagine."
It seemed as if the path before me was set before I realized it.
But I couldn't go home anymore, and so it seemed better to go anywhere that I would be the least bit needed.
I felt a sense of apprehension toward the looming unknown, but I couldn't say any sense of "sorrow" or "joy" accompanied it.
The manor cut a black figure, like a silhouette, against a vast twilit meadow.
The front gate opened, and the carriage entered the courtyard.
Inside, a plaza surrounded the manor on three sides, and the estate was packed inside and out with soldiers as far as the eye could see. Soldiers tending the horses; soldiers on what must have been K.P. filling buckets with water and vegetables and hauling them away; soldiers in uniforms of silver and violet and pale blue. I'd never seen before laid eyes on such a sight.
"This way," Cain urged, but when I tried to follow him through the palace doors -
"That's enough, you PIGS!!"
A woman's enraged voice rang through the plaza, seemingly out of place in the surroundings.
""You won't get away with this - not TODAY, you won't!!!
The soldiers all rushed at once toward the source of the voice to rubberneck.
I, too, was swept up, and I looked to see.
A girl was shouting up to the second story, one leg on the staircase leading from the courtyard up to the balcony. Her long, curly red hair was worn tied back, and she wore the same blue trousers as the rest of the troops; a turquoise scarf was tied over her shoulders.
Her fair face, with its large eyes, was twisted in anger, and she had dragged one of the soldiers in the violet armor before the staircase by his throat.
"My own BROTHER! And the so-called captain of these MAGGOTS! I KNOW you're both up there! Show your FACES, you cowards!" screamed the girl, and a figure appeared just above her in the second-story balcony.
"What's your problem, Maria?" It was a man's voice, deep and rough.
When he came into view, the big man was, as expected, wearing a blue uniform. He was leaning back over the railing, not yet having risen from the table.
"'What's your problem?'!? Don't give me that!!"
"Uh-oh." The man tossed the cards on the table and peered below with a smirk on his face, as if this were all one big joke to him. He was powerfully built, every inch the man of battle. He bore a resemblance to the girl with her hair tied back; he must have been the "brother" for whom she was calling.
And then another figure rose languorously from the opposite side of the table. His beauty was evident even from afar. With his soft chestnut curls and light confection of a blouse fluttering in the wind, he looked like a bird of paradise.
He leaned on the railing in unperturbed amusement and gave a titter, seeming more feminine than masculine.
"What're YOU laughing at?! Get DOWN here this INSTANT!!" the girl screamed to above.
"My, oh, my!"
The two exchanged glances and shrugged their shoulders - then both flew up into the air at once.
A moment later, they reappeared right before her eyes.
Everyone watched the incident without a bit of shock; were these two acrobats? No normal person could accomplish such a feat.
The girl fixed the two men with a deathly glare and began to unleash a torrent of invective.
"Listen here, brother! This nancy-boy's minions have been making passes at our crew! AGAIN - for the eighth time since yesterday!! There was blood drawn this time, and even I got dragged into the stinking mess! I've HAD it - I'm fed up!!"
"Myy......'nancy-boy'?! How dreadful! My dear Maria, call me Giovanni!" So trilled the beautiful man with the chestnut curls in a honeyed voice, extending a pale hand to the girl. His fluttering lace outfit clung to his body to an indecent degree; he was practically naked. He was a slip of a figure, tall and slender, yet still apparent as a young man - not that identifying his gender was a problem.
"*Tuh!* Shove it! I'm not touching your hand; your lies are contagious!" The girl jerked her head away, refusing even to look at Giovanni.
"Ohhhhh...I get the feeling that you don't like me! That makes me feel just horrible...... Can't you do something, Gerhard?!" Giovanni made a sad face, and his voice seemed thick with regret. He stared up at Gerhard - who was a head taller than him - waiting for a reply.
Confusion played across Gerhard's distinctly masculine features. "Huh?......Uh--um, come on, Maria. In a fight, it's not a matter of who's right and who's wrong. They're both wrong, OK?"
"NO, they're NOT! GERHARD, you IDIOT, he's playing you!!"
Sure enough, you could tell that the easygoing, eager-to-please Gerhard was completely flummoxed, unsure of with whom to side.
"They use the hulking meatheads on their side to muscle in on our territory, make fun of us for being ex-pirates every chance they get - it's UTTERLY DISGUSTING!! And it's all because of HIM! He's a BAD INFLUENCE on you, Gerhard!!" The girl's voice grew ever louder. She pointed a finger squarely at Giovanni. It was a clear tirade, but the soldiers around her in blue uniforms chimed in with a growing chorus of "yeah!"s and "that's right!"s. They seemed a coarse and rowdy bunch.
Giovanni threw up his hands as if in surrender. "All right, Maria, dear! If my soldiers have been impolite, it is due to a mere failure of education on my part. I apologize; I am truly, truly sorry."
"As a sign of good faith, I'll forgive your brother all the debts he's accumulated to me in our games."
"Huh!? You're SERIOUS?!" Gerhard's eyes lit up.
Maria's eyebrows, meanwhile, shot up. "BROTHER!! Have you been playing cards with him again!? You know he's a cheat--"
"--What is your problem!? He apologized like you wanted! Tell the crew to be more careful from now on, all right?"
"C'mon, Mariaaa~~. Just kick your brother's arse on this one and let it go, OK?" Gerhardt clapped his huge arm around his sister's shoulder in a shameless attempt to placate her.
"'Kick' *that* big arse? You mean 'cover your arse', don't you?"
"*Oh* - yeah, yeah! I mean, whatever, just--please? For me!"
Even Maria's strong will wilted in the face of her brother's plea.
"Well......all right," she muttered, suddenly releasing her grip. The manhandled soldier in the violet armor crumpled to the ground.
"Thank you, my dear Maria......I am so forever grateful to you." Maria pointedly ignored Giovanni and his outstretched hand.
"Now, don't get suckered into any more card games, all right?" she shot at Gerhard before turning and storming away.
Giovanni crouched down before his subordinate, examining him with his chin in his hands. "What disgraceful behavior...... How can you call yourself a member of Kirin?" The wind caught the frills of his blouse, and a card slipped from within his sleeve to his palm.
"Too ashamed to speak? Ohhhhh. Better we get your miserable existence over with, then, hmm?" Card poised in hand, Giovanni gave a cheerful smile and aimed a slicing blow at the back of the soldier's neck.
"HOLD IT!" Cain spoke for the first time, having watched the scene unfold in silence at my side. Giovanni looked his way in shock, as did Gerhard and the rest of his crew. Cain advanced toward the group, so I followed.
"Giovanni, I will not permit you to harm the troops for your own amusement. They are your subordinates, not your property," said Cain in a deep voice, calm and forbidding. The high cheeks of Giovanni's becoming face flushed a bit; his amber eyes glared at Cain.
"Hmph...so you say. But what about the subordinates that someone we know chops up day after day like chicken dinners? Isn't he a worthier recipient of your attentions than I am?"
Cain was unmoved. "Of course. But keep your own house in order."
"If this situation escalates and he hears of it, I can make no promises as to the consequences."
The chill that ran through the air was palpable. A single mention of this "him," it seemed, worked like magic.
"If we understand each other, then I'll leave the situation in your hands." Cain put his hand on my shoulder to lead me inside the manor.
"Cain, wait!" A buoyant voice held us back.
When I turned around, Giovanni was waiting for us with a cheerful smile completely at odds with his earlier demeanor. The complete lack of resentment on his face had the opposite of the intended effect - it seemed unnatural, like a mask.
"Who's the child? Aren't you going to introduce me?"
Maria's eyes widened further; this seemed to be the first time she'd noticed my presence.
"Whyyy, goodness gracious!"
"Who the what now?" offered Gerhard, out of it.
"Ahhhh - allow me to introduce you. This is Sionna. He's going to be a new Knight Captain."
"What?!" shrieked both Giovanni and Gerhard at once.
"This little boy!?"
"Oi - is this a joke, Cain!?"
"No. His age is irrelevant. Sionna's intellect far exceeds that of the average adult."
Gerhard seemed in shock upon hearing this. "That true, boy?"
"...Unbelievable!" Giovanni's eyes were those of a raptor sizing up its prey.
"Cut it out, you two! You'll frighten him!"
"No, he's not frightened. He's strong. That'll be clear to all of you before long." I remained silent throughout the exchange. Cain stood behind me, as if to establish that I was under his wing.
"I'll make formal introductions after dinner. Until then..."
Stares of curiosity and anxiety and doubt surrounded me. No different from before, I thought. I entered the manor with their piercing glares burning into my back.
Twilight of Blood
The sun sank beyond the horizon, and the manor's interior was bathed in twilight.
A certain breed of malice had congealed within this old house, grown hard and resilient over the years; I could almost feel its fetid breath spewing forth from the shadows. This wouldn't die as easily as a human would.
I ascended a giant staircase in the front hallway leading to the second floor and proceeded toward the left, further in. Cain opened the door to one of the rooms near the far end of the building and beckoned me inside. The room within was plain but tidy; this would be my quarters, Cain said.
"My room is next door. Come to me if anything happens. Once you've unpacked your luggage, we might as well proceed to the dining hall; it'll be time for dinner before long."
He had turned to leave when it happened.
An ear-splitting scream ripped through the air.
Cain reacted first, running out into the corridor; he seemed to have already guessed its source. The door in his sharp sights opened noiselessly, and a man splattered with blood staggered out.
Behind him followed several men clad in silver armor. Their gait was unhurried - unconcerned.
The bloody man reached out with both arms in a plea for help. In response, one of the soldiers withdrew his thin sword with a hiss and brought it down smoothly into the back of the man's neck.
The man convulsed.
When the sword was withdrawn, a gout of blood the same width as the blade spurted out, and the man collapsed forward on his face.
My disbelieving eyes gazed blankly before me at death's newest visitation.
"KIEFAR!!" Cain shouted in rage.
"My apologies...I never intended for you to see that."
A clear, strong voice rang out into the corridor. The soldiers in silver armor swiftly formed twin lines on either side of the hall and stood at attention still as statues.
From the darkened doorway emerged a high-strung young man of the same age as Cain - perhaps a little younger. He carried himself like royalty. His dark blond hair was slicked back neatly, without a hair out of place; his chestnut eyes were sharp and slanted, nose high-bridged, lips thin. His facial structure may have been flawless, but the expression upon it gave the impression of severe cruelty.
The man himself seemed to be in high spirits, eyes merrily darting hither and yon over the dead man bleeding out in the hallway.
Cain glared at the man from the entryway. "You have been forbidden time and again from disciplining your soldiers in private. What compels you to such brutality?"
Kiefar answered with a defiant grin. "And as I have explained to you time and again, Cain - I find it necessary."
"In what way is this 'necessary'?"
"For my unit. I have to maintain discipline. I appreciate your input, but you must understand that I have my methods."
"Are you telling me to keep quiet?"
"If I give you an honest answer, will you?"
Cain was always so composed, but the man's passive aggression got under his skin. This Kiefar certainly is a quick thinker, I mused absentmindedly, watching the two stare each other down.
"Are you two quarreling even here?" came a slight, soft voice from behind me. "You're upsetting the little one!"
When I turned around, I saw a young man leaning against the wall, arms folded, looking my way and smiling. He was a tall, thin man, simply clad in a blouse and slacks, but nonetheless carried a certain aristocratic air about him. With his eyes of palest blue and his silver hair tinged with violet that fell like strands of silk around his face, he seemed a ghostly image of ephemeral beauty, like a mayfly dancing in the twilight.
"My goodness...what a darling little doll you are! Wherever did you find him?" The man inclined his head and transfixed me with a dreamlike stare.
"He's a new comrade I've brought to us, Eugene. His name is Sionna," Cain responded, the calm having returned to his voice.
"Comrade...?" The smile faded from Eugene's face. "And does *he* know about this?"
"Not yet; I'll be reporting to him right after this. I know he'll be pleased by such uncommon talent."
"But he won't be pleased with you taking such initiative, will he, Cain?" said Eugene in a singsong tone pointedly laced with poison.
"I never had any such intention."
"I suppose...but you bring the poor child to a place like this, and right away he witnesses someone's death...you probably want to go home now, don't you, Sionna?" He flashed me a smile that was at once gentle and frightful.
"It doesn't scare me to see someone die...I suffer from probable homicidal mania myself."
"Sionna!" Cain hissed.
"Well, well, well...!" Kiefar stood snickering behind him.
"I'm sorry, Cain," said I, lowering my eyes to the floor. "But they're going to find out eventually...that's why I came here, wasn't it? To kill a lot of people? I have to let them know where I stand."
"Ha ha ha!! For such a sweet face, he certainly can talk! I'll be looking forward to seeing him in action!" Kiefar clapped his hands in outright glee, applauding a silent Cain. Eugene stared enrapt into space and gave a peculiar smile.
"Of course......I understand you now, Cain. But please don't go leaving this scary doll in my room."
Eugene extended a pale, thin hand to me.
"Welcome, Sionna. Allow me to show you to our dining hall."
But I wouldn't take his hand.
Eugene assessed my expression and withdrew. Cain turned back to Kiefar. "Clean up after your...well, you know your duties. At least give him a proper burial."
"Don't you worry!" shot back Kiefar in a tone of playful resignation, a snicker still stifled behind his smirking lips.
Life and Death
Six people including myself were gathered around the wide table in the dining hall.
There sat all those I had just recently met - the "Knight Captains" who stood at the pinnacle of the mercenary army. Cain and Kiefar were the staff officers, but they clearly didn't get along. Eugene, Gerhard, and Giovanni all commanded units ranging from 30-40 to several hundred soldiers - which seemed a bit unbelievable to me, save for the indeed physically-impressive Gerhard. But indeed, I myself probably seemed supremely out of place in such company.
Only Gerhard and Giovanni were in high spirits in the dining hall, happily chatting and enjoying their meals. The other three took their sustenance in silence, seemingly off in their own little worlds.
They seemed like such a motley, fractious bunch; could they really fight effectively together? It was impossible to say. Could the force unifying these deeply disparate personalities be this "him" of whom Cain had so often spoken?
Suddenly, the soup in my dish jumped up, splashing out of its bowl.
"Boy! This's your bread; eat up!" Gerhard barked. My eyes darted to a huge chunk of bread he'd thrown in my bowl.
"*Ohhhh-wah* - Gerhard, you're so rough...... --'Sionna,' wasn't it? You'll have to forgive him, Sionna - he's got nothing but mush and mischief up in that head of his!!" Giovanni cackled, apparently already feeling the effects of his wine.
"Shuddap! C'mon, boy, eat up! Not satisfied like that, are ya? Don't you wanna grow up big 'n' strong!?"
I wasn't accustomed to such sumptuous meals. I had no appreciation for the culinary arts - nothing beyond the knowledge that hot food was a bit easier to eat than cold.
"Ha ha......" Eugene chuckled to himself from the other side of the table. "I do so pity him, having to eat with barbarians like you."
"What?" Giovanni arched a well-formed eyebrow. "You look down your nose so at us, Eugene; what do you find so different about us?"
Eugene rolled his eyes and threw a cold stare Giovanni's way. "......Everything."
"You look like you want to kill me, Eugene." The two beautiful men seemed hopelessly at odds. With visible reluctance, Cain intervened.
"None of this petty bickering at dinner. Control yourselves."
"They're not children, Cain. Let them go; they'll settle it themselves," said the ever-coldblooded Kiefar, a leer upon his face that plainly hoped the petty bickering would continue.
"HOLD IT! Hold it, hold it, HOLD IT!! This conversation's gotten completely off-track here!! I want to know why THIS BOY ISN'T EATING!!" Gerhard's drunken voice boomed above all the others, instantly commanding the floor. Everyone's stares turned to me. Even Cain was watching silently; he wanted to see how I would get out of this.
A wrong answer could earn me a thrashing. I chose my words with extreme caution.
"Mr. Gerhard...do you know what causes flowers to bloom?"
"Huh?" Gerhard knit his thick eyebrows, causing his blue eyes to twinkle.
Giovanni suddenly clapped his hands and burst out laughing. "Ohhhh, no, no, no! That question's lost on him, little one!!"
"Then do you know, Mr. Giovanni?......"
"Wha--do I know!? Weeeeellll... Plants need flowers to bear fruit, don't they? It's to ensure propagation of the species and all that. But that's dreadfully dull, so plants put their all into putting on a pretty show."
"A typically libertine answer coming from you."
"Shut up, Eugene!! Now, what does this have to do anything, boy?"
"As you said, Mr. Giovanni, plants blossom in accordance with natural instinct." I never had been good at speaking. My hands were pale, and I spoke haltingly, overwhelmed. "When the season comes, flowers bloom, scatter their petals, then spread their seeds and wither. Next season, new flowers spring up from the seeds, and the cycle begins anew... Every organism behaves according to its nature, and humans are no exception. We live as slaves to instinct, to pass on the genetic code inherited from our parents...and we eat to live. We should not, then, question the nature of how we eat - for to do so would be to question the nature of life itself."
"'Should' not...hmmm?" Giovanni promptly leapt upon the meaning between my words.
"Yes...I've been trying to understand it since my early youth, but my attempts have so far come to nothing...... Why flowers have to bloom; why humans have to live; the ultimate point of this cycle of life and death. It eludes me. So I can't give you an answer for why I eat as I do......why I exist as I do."
Giovanni rested his chin on his hands and gave me a gentle look filled with pity. Gerhard, meanwhile, threw him a stymied glance.
"......I don't get it!..."
"That's because you're stupid."
"What?! You too?!?!......"
"Indeed, what an intriguing child he is. You brought him here, Cain?" A deep voice cut through the conversation. Everyone recovered themselves, stiffening in their seats; the atmosphere in the room had dramatically shifted.
A man was seated at the head of the table where no man was seated just a moment before.
He was a young man, clad entirely in black. His hair was coal, and his right eye was covered with a black eyepatch. One could imagine him as the bewitching lure of night itself made flesh.
His left eye shone a brilliant emerald green and exuded an almost magnetic pull; its gaze made you almost involuntarily shrink back. A slight smile played across his face, and there was a regal, masterful air about him that almost masked his beauty and youth. It was clear to me in a heartbeat - he was the leader of this group.
He crossed his long legs and silently held out his right hand. A servant supplied it with a goblet and poured some red wine.
"Lord Leviath, welcome back!" It was Eugene who had spoken, the new life in his voice evident. Those pale blue eyes that regarded everything with weary disinterest sparkled with uncharacteristic joy.
"Leviath"...didn't that word mean "pure" and "just" in the old tongue?... The name had a striking sound that seemed to suit its owner. He responded to Eugene's greeting with a quick nod and turned his attention to Cain.
"Is something the matter?"
"No, nothing. As you're aware, I've brought Sionna here with the intention of inducting him into your service - without your permission; forgive me. He may be young, but his potential contributions to our organization are invaluable. I request permission to install him as a Knight Captain."
"If he has your confidence, then I have no objection. I'll leave him in your care; make him Captain material within a month."
The conversation over, the black-haired young man turned abruptly away.
Hm? I thought. The man veritably radiated personal magnetism from head to toe, and yet he seemed deliberately to be trying to repulse. As if he hated his dealings with the others themselves.
Even to me, so lacking in social graces, it was plain at a glance.
As I sat absent-mindedly considering this thought, my eyes suddenly met his.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, like a wild rabbit who had happened upon a hunting dog.
A malicious sneer curled one corner of his lip.
"Do you find my face so fascinating?" His tone was vicious, but carried a surprisingly soft undertone. I panicked; it felt increasingly as if I were being pushed toward the edge of a cliff.
"Y, yes - it's fascinating!!"
Everyone's eyes were upon me. Giovanni whirled around to face the wall and exploded in laughter he tried but failed to hold in.
The young man in black--Lord Leviath...he, too, cracked a smirk as he stood. "Cain, Kiefar...the final battle will be joined the day after tomorrow. We will proceed to Shiva district immediately afterward. Prepare the men."
"Yes, sir!" The man's words were spoken in an almost offhanded manner, yet his two staff officers snapped to attention and remained as such until he took his leave.
Eugene sunk into his chair and watched him with a blissful smile upon his face.
"Didya hear the boss just now?"
"The final battle at last! I'm just tingling with anticipation!!" Gerhard and Giovanni were all a-twitter with news of the forthcoming battle.
I suddenly realized that Cain was standing at my side. "Were you watching Lord Leviath just now?" he whispered in my ear. I nodded. "Then you probably noticed how he appeared before us in the blink of an eye. That was the power of magecraft you witnessed. Our leader is a magician of skill unparalleled in this universe."
"That......was magecraft?!......" A chill ran down my spine at this encounter with the unknown.
Magecraft was generally not spoken of in public - not in detail. Commonly known as "magic," it was thought of as a dark art that allowed the caster to fly up in the air or bend space and time. There were many forms of it devoted to such tricks, of course, but magecraft's basic nature was completely different.
Magecraft could tamper with the very fabric of the universe - it was, in other words, a manmade supernatural phenomenon that could bring about ends through artificial means. It harbored endless possibility - to the point where, theoretically, nothing was impossible.
Legend holds that its origins lie in the ancient past, invented by the first emperor, Rygius, he who subjugated and brought order to our universe. Its secret arts are passed down from master to pupil, and those who can wield them are called "mages." The field had its underachievers, but most mages were employed throughout the universe by kings and others in positions of power as prophets, alchemists, and military officers - or else sent as assassins to the battlefield or to enemy lands.
Lord Leviath, it was said, had achieved his current formidable level of power by training under Vahn, the great mage of legend. If it wasn't bizarre for such a talent to be leading a brigade of foot soldiers onto the battlefield, nothing was.
Cain became my teacher. He lectured me on martial strategy, magecraft, even government and economics...but he told me not a thing about Lord Leviath. Nothing more than a halting "we are each like him in our own way."
How, I wondered, did Cain think himself to be like Lord Leviath? I myself had no idea. Perhaps it was connected to some unpleasant business.
Dawn broke on the second day - the day I was finally to join the battlefield. Pure white armor had been prepared for me, to go with the white saddle on my pure-white horse.
"Just like a little doll," Eugene offered with a smile.
Cain stood right behind me throughout the battle; I merely issued his directives as commands. Even then, his lieutenant Gaillard had to repeat my orders, as my little voice wouldn't carry across the field.
Even from afar, the other units were magnificent to watch. As I suspected, Gerhard's blue and Giovanni's violet squadrons led the charge to break the enemy lines. "Leviathan," the blue unit was called - it was composed primarily of Gerhard's former pirate associates. They were fiercely cohesive as a fighting force, their actions well-coordinated. Gerhard's fiery sister Maria even joined in the fight.
In contrast, Giovanni's Kirin was a surprisingly disciplined and effective cavalry unit. Giovanni himself, at the head of his troops, stood out like a peacock in his brilliant violet armor as he cut down enemy soldiers. One could not be deceived by his feminine appearance; he proved a most fluid and graceful god of war.
Providing support from the rear lines were the archers Cain and I led. The unit specialized in ranged attacks, but it also had the vital task of providing an up-to-the-minute situation report on the ongoing battle.
At the very rear, Lord Leviath surveyed the battleground, surrounded by a personal guard of soldiers in silver armor. Kiefar, one of his staff officers, was close by his side, as was Eugene. Eugene's unit didn't seem to have taken part in the battle.
Several hours passed since the battle had been joined. The proceedings seemed, in a word, lopsided. To begin with, thanks to squabbling within the family of one of the feudal lords, the establishment troops outnumbered the opposition troops with whom we were allied five to one. As one can imagine, our front lines became more and more fractured as the pitched battle raged on, threatening to crumble.
Suddenly, in a cloud of dust, a cavalry unit of silver knights broke from our flank - Kiefar's Iceblade. I realized that there were intermingled with them soldiers clad in blue-grey uniforms instead of armor.
Then I heard it - a voice from behind me. I turned around, and Lord Leviath had one hand raised high. Then he brought it down, as if to point at one spot in the enemy lines. His eye gleamed with a frightening ferocity, and the gold within seemed to burn. Burn like fire...
The skies above the enemy ranks thrashed like a wild beast - then, in a heartbeat, burst.
"ATTACK!" Kiefar's sharp voice rang out across the battlefield.
The earth below seemed to quake with the soldiers' war cries. My own horse bolted to run with the tide.
The battle was over by the time I regained my bearings.
And I saw all the carnage, all the blood--
What had happened within the enemy ranks then was to me yet unknown.
All the bodies, all the flame--
Before my eyes lay enough death to last a lifetime - but as always, I didn't feel a thing.
All the savagery, all the--
This--this was magecraft!!
Come nightfall, the army began to move west for a two days' march. I lacked the stamina to ride the horse all the way, so I slept, exhausted, in the supply wagon. I remember occasionally awakening to gaze blankly at the puffy white clouds stretched out across the blue sky, then falling asleep again amidst the scent of hay.
When I finally roused myself on the afternoon of the second day, Gerhard's troops - first Maria, then others - would bring me food and fuss over me in different ways. They were a rough bunch but fond of children and seemed to form a tight-knit community.
It was then that I was able to get the first glimpse of my new surroundings since I awoke. The battle-hardened troops around me continued their breathless march without pause; even Eugene, so delicate at first glance, marched on tirelessly. I was shocked.
Lord Leviath sat astride a magnificent black charger, continuing on alone somewhat at a distance from the rest of the troops. I wondered if it was safe for our commander to travel unguarded, but Giovanni greeted my question with outright incredulousness; he said that there was no need for worry, as Lord Leviath's skills in swordsmanship and magecraft were unrivaled in the army.
Behind us, I could see black shadows scattered about the road. I wondered who they were - whether they were lonely.
Late that night, our troop reached the national border. We were far from my home of Metamoria - we had reached the faraway neighboring country of Shiva. We were ordered to make camp and await further instructions while Lord Leviath and his two staff officers were in negotiations with our next employer.
They returned after a week had passed. After another nighttime upheaval, we finally straggled across the border to an abandoned fort deep within the mountains. Enclosed by high ramparts and surrounded on all sides but the south by high cliffs, it was clearly built with defense in mind. We wiped off the dust and opened the shutters to let in some fresh air, boarded up the gaps in the stonework, and somehow, a castle that was nothing more than a ruin became livable.
I passed the time in intensive instruction with Cain. I knew it wouldn't be long until our next battle. This time, we would be aiding resistance fighters who were revolting against the misrule of their sovereign. I'd heard that Lord Leviath usually supported antiestablishment forces, minorities, revolutionaries - those who fought against those in power. A great many of his soldiers believed that they were part of a force for justice, but I found that to be a simple misperception. There is no right or wrong in war. There is only death - like an antlion's pit.
Anyhow, I had no objection to my studies of the art of war; I viewed them as a challenging intellectual exercise. I was sufficiently motivated that I think I was able to put Cain's mind more or less at ease over the one-month deadline that so troubled him.
As for the other Knight Captains, Gerhard and Giovanni conducted military exercises in the mountains, drowning themselves in liquor and amusing themselves with their card games between occasional arguments. Nothing ever changed with them. Kiefar and Eugene rarely left their rooms; I often wondered just what they were doing in there. They really didn't seem to have much in common, but I'd occasionally spot them having tea together on the balcony.
The mysteries surrounding Lord Leviath only deepened. No one knew his movements; thanks to his teleportation skill, he could be anywhere. There was, however, one incident I witnessed late one night.
I was up reading a book by lamplight - I hadn't been able to sleep - when I heard the sound of an carriage pulling up to the front garden. Through the window, I saw a man in a cloak descend from the coach. I could tell it was Kiefar from the stiff way he carried his tall frame and the blond hair that shone in the moonlight. He held something large at his side.
It moved. It was a person - a young girl. Her hands were bound, her mouth gagged. Kiefar dragged her into the castle, easily overcoming what little resistance she was able to offer.
I've seen something I wasn't meant to, I thought to myself.
Judging from his character, I wouldn't think it above Kiefar to kidnap a girl from the nearby village and do unspeakable things to her. The man exuded a certain charm that was difficult to resist.
I wanted to watch. I wanted to see what kind of death this girl would meet.
Before I knew it, I was opening the door to my room and finding my way in my nightclothes to the dark, cold corridor outside. I fumbled my way down the hall, following the sound of Kiefar's footsteps. His even gait failed to stop at the entryway to his own room.
He rounded the corner and climbed a half-flight of stairs. His destination...was the solitary chamber reserved for the lord of the manor. Lord Leviath's room.
Kiefar gave a cautious knock. "I have her."
After a bit, the door opened a hair. Orange lamplight shone through the crack. Still holding the girl, Kiefar entered. I held my breath and hid behind a large candelabra.
As soon as the door closed, the girl unleashed a muffled scream, but only briefly - it cut off abruptly, and an inky black silence settled over the environs.
I remember that a long, long time passed to my mind.
I then heard a sound from within, and the door slowly opened.
"Lord Leviath!" Kiefar appeared, almost scampering out.
"You saw it yourself - a complete failure! Take the girl with you and get out!" Lord Leviath's voice came low from within; the irritation and bitterness in his voice was palpable. The girl's limp form was thrown into Kiefar's arms with a thud. Kiefar himself was sheet white.
"My deepest apologies......I should have known that no peasant girl's blood could revive Lady Elis. But next time...next time...!"
"Spare me your excuses. Bring the girl back to her home while it's still dark."
"Of course; this is no time for idle prattle. I'll clean up after the matter - see to the girl."
"You'll kill her, you mean......you intend to disobey my orders, Kiefar?"
"N, never!" Kiefar knelt to affirm his loyalty, but the door slammed square in his face.
Kiefar took the girl in his arms and left. I remained behind, frozen in place.
Girl's blood...Lady Elis...revive...failure.
Deep sorcery was being conducted in that room, I could tell. Lord Leviath had some sort of unspoken objective. Was it connected to his wanderings with a mercenary army?
I never told anyone what I saw that night. Not even Cain. I'd glimpsed an even deeper well of death than I could ever see through one mere murder. Here was the air of a deep secret - the scent of midnight, ever potent no matter how much time passed.
The Holy Boy
About a month passed of the most splendid weather.
One day, Gerhard offered to teach me a few of his pirate knife tricks, so he, Cain, and I - plus Giovanni, who wanted to watch - headed out to the front courtyard.
"OK, now watch me," he said, giving me an unusually sharp glance, and brandished a smallish knife before his eyes.
"Keep your eyes on your prey and swing your hand straight down. The knife'll fly by its own weight." Gerhard demonstrated, and the knife hit a makeshift target on a nearby log with a thunk. "You try!"
I took the knife and did as instructed.
"......Ah--" The knife stuck in the ground, not having made it even halfway to its target.
Gerhard gave a laugh that showed his white teeth, as if to tell me not to worry about it. "You need more strength in that arm of yours! You just practice, and it'll fly farther..."
Just then, the castle's front gate was drawn open, and a carriage entered. Eugene had returned after several days from a rare visit to the city at the foot of the mountain.
And then I heard a voice: "Oh..."
At the graceful man's side stood a little boy - one who looked more a puppy than a person. Straight, short hair, moist, round eyes, pouting lips. He clung tightly to Eugene's sleeve as if in fear - or anticipation.
"What's this!? When did we start running a daycare!?" exclaimed Giovanni, his eyes darting between the boy and me.
"Eugene...who is this child?" Cain asked in a low voice, fixing the boy with a sharp stare.
"Ha ha......" Those dreamlike pale blue eyes twinkled with unknown emotion. "I've done nothing that you yourself have not. This is Renaud...I believe he will be of great help to Lord Leviath."
"The hell!?!?" Gerhard yiped. "Another boy genius?! I keep tellin' you - it's muscles you need on the battlefield, not brains!!"
"Gerhard, you always go too far, even when you're talking... So, Eugene, you really think this child will be of use to us?" Giovanni smirked, edging ever closer. Renaud watched him, blinking like a fish. Then, suddenly, he cried out:
"O...of course!! This is Heaven!!"
We all were dumbfounded by the boy's innocent exclamation.
Eugene looked downward to face the boy. "Heaven?"
"W...well, yes! Y, you see...when I met you in the church, Eugene, I, I thought you were an angel! And then you brought me to this castle so high up above the earth, to meet so many b-beautiful people?? Oh - I see! They must be your angel friends!!"
"Angels - pretty people?? You mean him?!?!" Gerhard gestured with his jaw at Giovanni in utter disgust.
"Shut it, Gerhard!! We don't want to hurt the little darling's feelings, now." Giovanni beamed with self-satisfied pride.
"Oh...are you Heaven's general - the one who protects the gods?"
"Wha--wha--me??" Gerhard looked around in shock to make sure no one else was around him.
"Yes!! I, I mean - you look so strong and all!" Renaud said bashfully, his face beaming. He was very cute when he smiled. He's the one who was sent from Heaven, I thought.
Next, the boy ran up to me. "*Oh*......you're one too, aren't you? There's a picture of you in church......up in the clouds with a sword, vanquishing evil spirits! You look so pretty shining with light...with your golden hair and violet eyes...!"
"I am not an angel. I have nothing to do with that picture you saw." I couldn't stand him looking at me with those questioning eyes, so pure and innocent. What answers could I possibly have for him? I simply stated the truth as plainly and succinctly as I could.
"O-oh......really? I......I see." Their owner puzzled, the boy's eyes returned to wandering about the fort. I had to wonder if he was mentally disturbed.
"Eugene, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!"
The cry came from Kiefar, who seemed to have just come from the fort. "HOW many times do I have to tell you - WE CANNOT HAVE THAT BRAT IN HERE!!" Kiefar despised children; he thought they only got in his way.
"What's wrong with you, Kiefar?" Eugene shot back with a smirk. "You've seen the boy's power with your own eyes; you should know Renaud's worth. Isn't that right, Lord Leviath?"
Everyone held their breath. Just behind Kiefar, in Eugene's sights, stood Lord Leviath, who had just descended the front steps to the castle. He glanced at Renaud and gave a silent nod of acknowledgment. "This child indeed possesses preternatural innate talent for magecraft... Well done, Eugene."
"Thank you!" Eugene seemed overcome with joy at Lord Leviath's words. At the same time, however, Renaud started acting strangely.
"...!......ah!......" His eyes were wide as saucers. "B...brother......! Of course!...I knew you'd be here......in Heaven...!"
Fat tears ran down his cheeks. Renaud flung his arms open and made to run for Leviath, but Eugene held him tightly back. "Big brother! I just knew I'd see you again!......Brother! Brother!!"
"Renaud, this is not your brother. This is our master, Lord Leviath," Eugene murmured softly and slowly in the sobbing boy's ear.
"Your brother is dead. If you see him again, it won't be in this world. But Lord Leviath is here. He is alive. Would you like to serve him, be of use to him?"
"'Serve' him?...B, b, be together with him forever?"
Renaud stopped crying; his expression turned serious. "Y......yes. ......Yes, I would! Please, please let me stay here! I-I'll do anything......please!!"
"Anything". What a horrible promise. I averted my eyes, unable to watch anymore.
Eugene was shamelessly exploiting this boy's grief. He'd stuff his guiltless mind full of magecraft and set him loose on the battlefield.
"How about it, Lord Leviath?"
"Yes......I'll leave him in your care." Lord Leviath turned away and headed with Kiefar toward the stables.
"Thank you!" Eugene gave a reverent word of thanks and embraced Renaud, gently petting his hair. "I'm so glad. This way, we'll always be together."
"Yes. No matter what happens, I'll never let you go."
Renaud's smile lit up the room like the sun. If one's happiness or unhappiness was not a product of one's environment but instead of personal determination...then perhaps he could at least find happiness here.
Is it that way for everyone? Was his joining this corps inevitable - fated?
A Shadow Clad in Black
The other Captains took to sweet, lovable Renaud in no time. Gerhard and Giovanni quickly became his constant playmates. I would not have thought Eugene capable of showing affection for anyone but Lord Leviath, but Renaud brought out a genuinely tender side to him; he doted on the boy as he would his own brother. Cain himself began hinting that it might be a good idea for me to train Renaud as a Knight Captain as he had trained me.
Lord Leviath even took it upon himself to give Renaud personal lessons in the fundamentals of magecraft. His demeanor was cold as ever even with a child as his student, but even the most halting exchange of words made Renaud happy.
As you can imagine, I spent long hours alone. That was to be expected; anyone would prefer to fuss over darling little Renaud to the company of a strangely sullen, unsociable child like myself. And so I discovered an emotion I had never before felt - of which I had never believed myself capable. I was greatly disturbed when I realized it.
I was jealous of Renaud. And deep inside, I wished just a little that I could be like him.
Renaud, ever oblivious, looked up to me.
"You're only two years old than me, Sionna, but you're so mature! You're smart, and you look just like an angel, and you're so strong... I wish I were like you, Sionna!..."
I'm not strong. And I'm not pretty. I forsook all that long ago. On top of it all, I have this petty jealousy toward you. I know you're far more beautiful than I am...
Renaud was assigned a room in the southwest corner, next to my own, and so he would take his pillow and come and sleep in mine.
I thought of Kelly. Suspecting nothing, sound asleep on a bed of straw...
I held my breath and watched his face, so sweet and innocent in its peaceful slumber.
Poor little Renaud. Before long, I'll want to kill you, too.
And so I had to tell him - tell him that it bothered me have him come in my room at night. Tell him that he had to sleep alone. It was an effort, but it was for his own good.
"B, but, we can still play together when it's daylight, can't we? O, or would that not be OK?"
I couldn't say no to his pleading eyes. I had to distance myself from him - but, in the end, I didn't have the heart.
"All right...when we both have time after our studies." It was difficult even for me to be alone for so long - even though I didn't realize this until long after.
We fought several small recurring skirmishes in Shiva. They were all guerrilla raids, surprise attacks by several squadrons at night that swept in and out like the wind. It was a good opportunity for me to put what Cain had been teaching me into practice: to position the troops was to position life and death themselves. The outcomes of our battles did not always correspond with the numbers of the dead, however, so I placed an emphasis on balance in my tactics. As bait for victory, I calculated the appropriate number of deaths for each battle and threw them into the maw of the beast of war. Timing - when to reel in the line - was also of utmost importance.
And my methods seemed to pay off. Before I realized it, Cain's squadron of archers was mine alone to command - given the name of "Fallen Angels" by an unknown source. Like angels descended from heaven in armor of shining white, drawing their bows to bring certain death upon the enemy...something like that, supposedly. But I knew "Fallen Angel" was a nickname the other soldiers had given me behind my back.
Cain retained a handpicked few of his old troops, who became his new unit - "Darkcrown." Like Kiefar's Iceblade, it was an emergency unit under the staff officer's personal command. Eugene, meanwhile, had pulled himself away from Lord Leviath's side to form a new unit for Renaud; its nature was as of yet undetermined but seemed to be shaping up as a unit of talented mages. Renaud still struggled with taking lives, even on the battlefield, but he soldiered on, determined to do his very best for Lord Leviath, and Eugene supported him with the utmost compassion.
Neither Renaud nor I were thrown out, which I took to mean that we were being permitted to remain on as Knight Captains on a provisional basis - until the time came to prove ourselves, that is.
The incident occurred about six weeks after we had moved into the old fortress.
Cain and I were poring over maps together in the first-floor study on the west wing, reviewing a battle that had taken place several days prior, when suddenly a giant "BOOM" shook the ground beneath our feet.
Deep aftershocks continued to rock the earth from the rubble toppling from the walls into piles upon the floor. Cain dove over me to protect me, his long silver hair against my cheeks; it was the first time anyone had ever put himself at risk for my sake. It was a strange feeling.
Nearby soldiers flew in to give us status reports. Cain left me in their care and departed.
We appeared to be under a surprise attack. From the monarchists we were opposing, it seemed - though these weren't their usual tactics: the east wing of the castle had been demolished by a long-range flame-based magecraft attack. Fortunately, it had been midday, so hardly anyone had been inside; the damage had been held to a minimum.
Gerhard's troops flooded the area for the relief and repair effort; they were dependable in times of crisis. As a precaution, the Knight Captains were split up and evacuated to scattered posts in the mountains behind the fort. But there was no follow-up attack. We returned come nightfall.
But who was responsible, and what were their goals...?
If they had wanted to hamper our effectiveness as a fighting unit, wouldn't it make more sense to aim several high-level magecraft attacks at the barracks? And how were they able to pinpoint Lord Leviath's location so precisely?
Lord Leviath was supposed to have erected a powerful magic barrier to protect against detection by magecraft... Did it fail? Or were our lodgings discovered by other methods? The event was unprecedented, at any rate.
The staff officers could only exchange snatches of words in hushed tones with blanched faces. Fear crept among us like an inky stain.
"I'm so glad that the chapel's all right!!"
I had accompanied Renaud to the chapel inside the castle walls. It had grown blackened and reeked of mildew, as the castle itself had been abandoned for a long time before our presence. Nevertheless, Renaud knelt before the statue on the altar and began earnestly reciting his prayers.
Renaud loved church. He told me that even when he lived in town, he would make the trek to the village church regularly to pray to meet his dead brother again - to pray for God to bring his brother back to life, and to take his own life for his. He was probably giving thanks at that very moment to God for leading him to Lord Leviath... I stood behind him, looking at the filthy ceiling and sculpted pillars, the little windows high above us through which light from outside streamed down from above.
If the chapel was left intact, that meant that Lord Leviath's chamber directly opposite - the chamber where I witnessed that dreadful secret of which I dared not speak - was untouched as well. A strange sense of relief washed over me at the thought. Needless to say, Lord Leviath was indispensible to the army - without him, it would not exist. And without the army, I myself would have no reason to exist - no desire even to see the end of the day. At least while here, as per my promise to Cain, I had to keep myself busy and productive to earn my keep.
"Hey.....Sionna? What...what's this picture of?"
His prayers finished, Renaud pointed to a dingy mural on the wall.
"Ahh - that's a mural praising God for his great works and miracles. It's of our god Rygius in his earthly form as our First Emperor and Subjugator of the Universe, causing a great volcanic eruption with his magecraft...so it says."
"I, I know that story! Mother told it to me when I was little."
"Here are depicted the Emperor's five sons."
"The current Emperor is said to be the descendant of Rygius's fourth son. It's a legend at best - probably not fact."
"So this person here...is the son of God...and his descendant is our Emperor?"
"So the Emperor's a god...a descendant of God?"
"So they say."
"They're wrong." A voice like a curse came from a black shadow behind us. He stabbed the mural with his sheathed sword, eyes on Renaud all the while.
"Aah! L...Lord Leviath......?"
The point of his scabbard pierced the face of the first Emperor's fourth son, cracking the plaster and sending it fluttering to the floor. Leviath's face darkened; I had never seen him so angry.
"The Emperor a god - what a joke. He's nothing more than human. And that fourth son stole his position from his elder brothers. They're nothing but a gang of usurpers...!!"
Such violent rage and hate - what compelled him to stab the image? I could only stare, dumbfounded.
Suddenly, Renaud began crying. "Lord Leviath...Lord Leviath, your eye - your other eye...it's glowing...I'm scared!!"
With a gasp, Lord Leviath snapped back to reality, touching his face beneath his eyepatch.
"L...Lord Leviath...your...your eye--it's go--"
"Not a word." Out came a voice that sounded like it was booming from the depths of hell. His green eye shone hard as steel. "Not a word, or I'll kill you."
A chill went up my spine. This was no joke.
Lord Leviath...kill Renaud...?
Renaud was shaking - so badly that he couldn't make another sound. Lord Leviath turned and left for the hall that led to his chamber.
Renaud wouldn't stop crying. He was beside himself, but not at the thought of death - at the thought that Lord Leviath hated him. Eugene refused to leave his side, and with his comforting presence, he eventually calmed.
That night, I couldn't sleep. The day's events wouldn't leave my mind. The shutters on my window rattled in the strong wind. A strange restlessness in my heart, I walked to the window.
The shutters opened with a squeak - and I couldn't believe my eyes. In the corner of the castle - in front of the room where Renaud slept, upon the weathered carving that jutted out beneath his window - stood a figure. A tall man, clad entirely in black. The wind whipped at his dark cape, but he looked up at the night sky utterly unconcerned - as if he were utterly weightless. Dark curls of hair beneath an equally dark wide-brimmed hat danced disheveled in the wind - and beneath, two eyes ablaze with light fixed themselves upon me - and I could swear he laughed!
With a grin, the man leapt off his perch - and was swallowed up by the yawning abyss below.
Why.........? He had no hope for survival at that height.
I stared for a while at the pitch blackness below, and then I saw again that the shutters to the window of the nearby room were half-open. For the first time, I thought of Renaud.
"Renaud--!!" Sheet white, I ran from my room and flew into Renaud's.
Renaud lay in his own bed, sound asleep. Wind blew in from the open shutters; I could make out the starry vault of the night sky between them. It was a peaceful sight.
Drained, I sat down on the edge of the bed. And hoped from the bottom of my heart that what I had just seen was a bad dream...
I immediately reported the figure I had seen to both staff officers the next morning. As I expected, Kiefar dismissed my concerns with a haughty sneer: "You're sure you weren't dreaming?" Cain, at least, took me seriously at first, offering to "call the guards together and ask them." Not one of the soldiers assigned to the night watch, however, had seen anyone suspicious.
Security around the castle had intensified since the attack - so to claim I had seen someone throw himself from the window to beyond the palace walls, witnessed by no one but myself...
Yes - he threw himself from the window. His left just as he appeared - with no route in or back, no possible destination, his visit less an intrusion than a riddle. Neither myself nor anyone around me could do anything to solve it.
Not long after, we came to the final battle of this campaign. It was vital to move on to a new battleground before the castle was targeted again, so we undertook the all-out assault far earlier than planned. Our target was the opposition lord's keep.
The blue and violet troops leading the charge had breached the gates barring the way to the keep during the night and led the main body of the resistance inside. By the time the rear guard and Lord Leviath's personal guard arrived just before dawn, the palace was already - for the time being - surrounded.
I say "for the time being" because the resistance troops themselves were decidedly few, and the cordon therefore thinly populated; with reinforcements, the enemy could easily break through. It was vital that the castle fall quickly.
But the monarchists were entrenched; they had been fighting the resistance for years, after all. Defenses were tight, and the archery and artillery fire from the castle walls was fierce. I inched my archers as close as I possibly dared and ordered them to aim for the soldiers lining the castle walls, but it didn't have the results I'd hoped. The other troops missed the opportunity to move in.
The battle dragged on to midday. There was no time left to lose. Lord Leviath himself rose from his post.
"Please, wait!" called a thin, delicate voice at his side. Eugene appeared, clad in a silver katabira tinged with turquoise - both hands resting on the shoulders of Renaud, who stood before him; Eugene seemed to be pushing him forward. "Let us pierce the enemy defenses for you, Lord Leviath. You can do it, can't you, Renaud?"
Lord Leviath's green eye regarded him coldly. Renaud nodded frantically, desperate to please. "Wi, with the lightning attack y, you taught me, Lord Leviath, the, the gates will......will......" Renaud averted his eyes from Lord Leviath's gaze, unable to say any more.
In response, Lord Leviath redirected his gaze to the impenetrable fortress that loomed above, taunting us.
"Show me," was all he said.
"Thank you!" Eugene took Renaud's hand and rejoined the unit that had been held back at the very rear of the army.
The magecraft unit wore black. So did Renaud - a pale amber vestment spangled with decorative tassels atop a long, black robe.
"Now is the time to demonstrate the true power of our magecraft. Lend your strength to Renaud!" Eugene's voice trembled slightly, be it from excitement or stress. Over thirty magicians entered into meditation in their own way - clasping hands, closing their eyes.
For some reason, a horrible fear welled up inside me - I felt as if I was going to unravel. I began trembling violently, almost collapsing - until someone steadied me from behind. I turned around, and there was Cain.
"Do you feel it as well? The power of magecraft in the air..." Though stolid, Cain seemed somewhat pale.
"I wouldn't say that I feel it...... I'm just slightly unwell..."
"I feel it. But I don't wield the power - fortunately."
Why "fortunately"? Magecraft was power. In the hands of someone like Cain, it could grant his every wish. But I had no time to ponder the mystery, as my attention was drawn to Renaud.
He stood alone in front of the magecraft unit, eyes closed, arms opened wide. He was shaking violently, but he didn't dare cry. I understand, Renaud. You want to earn Lord Leviath's trust, to have him smile and say "well done" - you're doing this all just for that.
Poor, poor Renaud. I'd kill myself before I fell so low - before I'd allow myself to put someone else's welfare above my own...
Renaud began to chant in a clear, high voice. The sky abruptly clouded over as he finished. An illusion of a thunderhead rolled across the sky like a thin shade; a bolt of lightning extended from the cloud like a branch from its trunk. A great power swelled up from behind me; the sensation gave me goosebumps.
A thick pillar of light descended directly upon the castle.
There was a giant BANG, and a bright light, and for a moment, all was white......!
When I opened my eyes, the castle was shrouded in white smoke.
Gradually, the smoke parted, and the dark cloud thinned.
There was a huge crack in the center of the castle keep; it was half-destroyed. The palace walls on our side were near-completely demolished on our side. Everyone stood gaping, struck dumb at the devastation. Only Leviath retained his senses; he turned around, expressionless, to face Renaud.
Renaud had slumped to the ground, but his face flooded with tears, and he looked up to Lord Leviath as if he were a god. His face looked as if he were trying to smile but was too overcome.
Lord Leviath left him and turned back to the castle. "Commence the assault."
"Yes, sir!" Kiefar responded. Cain returned to his post.
The vanguard of our allies had already begun to swarm the castle. The tumult of war began anew.
"What are you waiting for? Go!"
Startled, I looked up. Lord Leviath was looking directly at me, a steely glint in his eye.
"Go forth and kill in my name."
In Lord Leviath's name. The words reignited the long-smouldering fire that consumed my heart. It was for his sake that I lived, and for his sake that I would offer up the many lives I would steal that day.
I gave him a firm nod. I raised my arm high, pointed to the castle, and charged off on my horse - to find my new home.