Kuroki Tsubasa no Moto ni
or, Auprès des Ailes Noires
(Beneath Wings of Black)

by Midori Kusanada

cover and book illustrations: Junko Taguchi
cover and book design: Satoshi Yamaguchi (Happy Valley)

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.
The language of Ka-Fai's home planet is apparently based on Chinese but uses some sounds that don't exist in the actual language. I don't speak Chinese myself and apologize if I've missed any references in the transliterating the proper names.
Finally: A link to the cover and the opening character profiles.
Translation by R. Capowski, 5/25/13. I can be contacted through the usual channels.

Table of Contents

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
5. Battleground
6. Shiva
7. The Holy Boy
8. A Shadow Clad in Black
9. Blossoming

Book 2: Silver and Gold
1. A Story That Begins with Death
2. A Chance Encounter
3. Truth
4. Night

Book 3: The Flowers That Bloomed in the Desert
1. Last Chance
2. Violet Blaze
3. A Passing Shower
4. Beyond Night

Book 4: A Dream Before the Dawn (2)
1. Sea of Life
1. A Crimson Hell
3. Eye of the Wolf
4. The Second Calamity
5. The Blue of the Straits
6. Kaliari
7. Machinations
8. Demon Mist
9. Confrontation
10. The Rightful Heir
Afterword: A Call from a Distant World

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...


Book 1
A Dream Before the Dawn (1)


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 -



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 understand."


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.

"Let's go."

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."

"A nobleman..."

"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?"

"That's right."

"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?"

"Oh, naturally!"

"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."

"Thank you."

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.


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?"

"Of course."

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?

...Was mine?

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.

Book 2
Silver and Gold

A Story That Begins with Death

The house of Ragna was all abuzz that morning.

One of the young maidservants had died, they said.

The girl's name was Elis.

"Did you know her, Master?" Thirteen-year-old Selena had broached the topic in an attempt to dodge her studies.

"No. I didn't." The neat trim of Cain's shoulder-length hair shook as he gave a curt shake of his head. He was only six years older than his pupil, so she regarded him as little more than another playmate. He had to attempt to uphold at least some degree of professionalism while on the job.

"Elis was chosen to be the Emperor's consort, but she just couldn't bear the thought, and so she flung herself from the west tower last night! They say she had a lover - a 'Lord Leviath'! It's sooooo tragic!!" Selena opened her blue eyes wide, the very picture of brattiness, as she mimicked her mother's relay of the events. Her father was captain of the Emperor's personal guard, so any news from the family was highly credible.

Cain's face darkened. This was a distasteful story, he thought - one he had heard somewhere before. No - one he had heard everywhere before. The poor woman would be the talk of the palace gossips for a while, and then be completely forgotten. But he could sympathize with this Leviath, having once been in similar circumstances himself.

He had been invited to this palace to be Selena's tutor only very recently - the great royal city where the royal houses large and small and the privileged classes lived, with the Emperor's palace at its core. The royal family's palaces stood clustered in a secluded corner of the city surrounded by forest, seemingly looking down on all the rest. He took no interest in the high nobility who lived there, so he knew little about their business.

He resolved to put his professional reserve on the back burner for the time being. With the time for studying they had left, he received a breathless lecture from his pupil on the whole sad tale.


This "Leviath" was high royalty - the Emperor's nephew. He'd be eighteen this year, they said. Despite his parentage, he was not in line for the throne - he was a dispossessed prince. Or, rather, his father was.

While his father was still crown prince, however, he had compounded an unforgivable error he had previously committed on Armis, home to the Imperial capital, and its outlying colonies. As a result, the Emperor himself removed the prince from the line of succession and forbade him from ever taking the throne - a decision with which the royalty and residents of the imperial city were all in full agreement. The current Emperor's ascension to the throne was received with great rejoicing, and his pitiful brother was relegated to his younger brother's shadow.

This much, Cain knew on his own.

The dispossessed elder brother - and the wife and child he took - were, however, permitted to remain on the palace grounds. It was perhaps the easiest and safest option available to the Emperor - to keep his incompetent brother close at hand, under his watchful eye, as a sort of pet. And so this was the brother's only child - this Leviath Ragna Alviss. According to Selena, of course.

Lord Leviath had been frequenting bars in the cities underground to drown his resentment of his miserable lot, getting into brawls and coming home soused. He was no better than a small-time hoodlum, with no friends save for his father, the gossips said. Even when his dear lover Elis had died, they claimed, his expression changed not a bit, and he had staggered off that very morning to his usual drunken pastimes. The girl, Elis, had been a lowly maid, so what would he care if the Emperor stole her away - what would he care even if she killed herself for his sake? The ladies of the court were taken aback by his faithlessness.

Cain's breathing grew labored, as if something had taken hold of his heart. He excused himself from Selena's study and went outside, heading for a small, removed summer villa that was deserted this time of year. He stopped for a while outside its elegant white face and leaned against the cold stone railing, looking out at a dead winter landscape shrouded in grey.


No matter how much time passed, her face never faded from his mind.

Her breast as it shuddered; her blood as it gushed from her heart...

How long had it been since he had been able to get back on his feet? Nominally, he had recovered from his heartbreak, but in truth, he was just going through the motions - like a lifeless automaton, hollow inside.


"Lord Leviath!"

Cain turned around with a start at the voice behind him. From a small path that wended its way around the back of the villa came a tall, slender young man with black hair. He wore a brown cape and leather boots atop a simple but well-tailored outfit the color of dry grass. The young man stopped still; from behind, a short and stout middle-aged man ran up to him.

"Whew...there you are, Lord Leviath!!" cried the man in a raspy voice, his face beaded with sweat. He heaved an exaggerated sigh.

"Leviath"......then this man is the dispossessed prince......!

Surprised, Cain regarded the man anew. He had imagined the young man to be haggard and wan, conjuring the image of a caged bird with faded plumage.

But was he really? Another look, and Cain saw the man instead as a honed blade. His toned limbs were more befitting a young military officer than a nobleman, and he bore his handsome features with the dignity of royalty - but the depth and gravity of his expression beyond a doubt spoke of a young man wise beyond his years.

The older man with the dark brown hair sidled next to the silent Leviath. "I had heard that you'd been sneaking out of town, but here you are! right in the royal house. Chalk one up for my intuition, hmmm? Well, whatever are you doing in a place like this?!"

The young man returned his intrusive questions with a stony glare. "Nothing," replied a voice that was cold and dead. But the older man didn't seem to care; he pressed on, the smile thick upon his face. From his unsavory character and gaudy dress, Cain guessed him to be a palace merchant.

"I heard the news about Miss Elis, and I couldn't be more heartbroken! I haven't a clue why the Emperor would engage in such outrageous behavior... I mean, Miss Elis was such a nice girl - it's such a waste!......" The man's gaze flitted about his listener's face to take stock of how his words were received, and he changed his tone accordingly.

"Well, you know good old Marouk, Lord Leviath - I've always been on your side! We can't let this stand, can we?!" The young man was silent; taking this as assent, the older man continued. "After all, you are the rightful heir to the throne. It is only natural that you should want to regain your place. Of course...you're going to need help..."

But the man stopped speaking suddenly; he had noticed that his listener's gaze was fixed upon something just beyond him. In his sights was Cain.


The moment Cain's eyes met Leviath's, Cain was mesmerized. His right eye was gold, the mark of the royal house. His left eye, however, was of the most brilliant emerald green - a reminder of the circumstances of his unfortunate existence. Both seemed to glow from within with the lustre of exquisitely crafted glass orbs. What emotions stirred beneath their depths? Stare into them long enough, and it seemed you could go blind from the light within.

Cain felt dizzy; he swooned, feeling as if were going to faint. Chills and illusions, light and darkness all seemed to tear apart his heart at once. That's right - he remembered this feeling--


"YOU THERE!! WHO ARE YOU?!--" A high-pitched shriek of rage snapped Cain back to reality. The man named Marouk was threatening him from the safety of the prince's shadow. "Just how long have you been listening to us, hmmm??

Surrendering himself, Cain moved closer to the two men and bowed. "We haven't met. I work as a private tutor for General Konrad's daughter."

"Konrad!!" Upon hearing the name of the head of the Imperial Guard, Maruch's eyes bulged from their sockets. Leviath's own mismatched eyes narrowed.

"What's your name?"


"...Strange eyes you have. They're too still for somebody living, with a look too distant for somebody dead." Leviath's tone was that of someone at the brink of the abyss, perched on the knife's edge between life and death. Cain knew firsthand what it was like to be trapped in such a deep well of despair.

"Lord Leviath--" Cain couldn't stop himself from speaking. "--Don't become like me. Find a reason to live."

Leviath, as expected, did not respond. But his eyes - which shone more and more like jewels the closer he got - fixed themselves ever more tightly on Cain.

"Hmph - what babble. Say a word about this, and in an instant, I'll have your head!!" Marouk barked, his eyes wild.

"One more thing..." said Cain, turning away from the other two. "You'd be better served without men like that at your side. ...Excuse me."

And he left, to the sound of the older man's incensed shrieks. "You--you--I'LL KILL YOU!! I'll KILL you before you even get the chance to squeal!! Leave him to me, Lord L--L--L--Leviath--*gasp*--*gasp*--*gasp*--" Sweat rolled down the man's face in fat drops as he screamed.

"He has the most magnificent golden aura."

"Huh?" Marouk looked up and noticed that a smile had flickered across Leviath's face. Words failed him in his shock.

"A man's real worth truly does lie beneath. ...He's beautiful." His gaze still followed Cain, who was receding ever farther away.

But his smile was not one of joy. It was instead at a sense of a change in the air, like a lone bud emerging from a season sunken in grey haze - a summer breeze that wrapped Leviath in warmth.

A Chance Encounter

Cain returned to the manor just in time for his midday meal. Afterward, he left for the library inside the Imperial palace. Its grand halls were covered with giant maps and canvases.


He stopped still at the sudden sound of his name. From behind a brilliant red curtain gracefully emerged a tall young man. He was stylishly attired in a tailored dark green suit, and the loose curls of his dark blond hair were tied behind him with black ribbon. He had a doll's skin, glassy and white, and a doll's visage, delicate and masklike.

The young man proceeded toward Cain, flashing his teeth with a grin. But there was no mirth there in the cold glint of his eyes. ...This man is dangerous, thought Cain, every sense sounding an alarm.

The young man made no attempt to hide the cruelty and sadism in his face. He did, however, seem to take note of the wariness in Cain's expression, and put on a cheerful affect.

He danced nearer Cain and murmured in a lilting voice: "I've learned so much about you...at Lord Leviath's request, of course! You seem quite the capable man - a man of talent."

Another one? thought Cain. What was it about Prince Leviath that drew such poisonous characters to him? He wanted to hold his head in his hands.

The young man sidled closer and smiled, though the smile did not reach his eyes. He looked upward so their eyes would meet; Cain was half a head taller than he was. "Lord Leviath has taken an interest in you...but ours is no business for a fine, upstanding gentleman like yourself. Go! Run! Right now - and I won't say a word."

Cain almost shot back a retort but recovered himself. "Don't worry. I have no intention of coming close to Lord Leviath." The young man certainly possessed a strange magnetism about him, but whoever he was, Cain had no intention of being drawn in - by him or anyone else.

But the young man glanced downward with the strangest look on his face and snickered to himself - as if in disbelief of his listener's ignorance. If it were a performance, it was a brilliant one.

"You don't understand. There's a carriage with the Imperial crest headed for General Konrad's manor as we speak."

"What?" For the first time, Cain lost his composure.

"...You'll fetch quite a high price, I think." As he registered Cain's blanched complexion, he laughed all the more gaily to himself.

Just then, a figure appeared in one of the plazas connected to the corridor. Another young man, this time in a mustard-colored outfit, but with the same blond hair.

"There you are, Kiefar!" The new presence put one hand on the snickering man's shoulder; in build, in height, in features - they were mirror images of each other.

"We have to get back; we're going to be late!" The second boy threw Kiefar a gentle smile. They were clearly twins, yet a mere glance at the newcomer's expression - so friendly and full of vibrant charm - called the entire idea into question.

"Then go for all I care!! I'm not coming." Kiefar's thin eyebrows knit, and he knocked his brother's hand away.

"But why, Kiefar?!......"

"I'm going to amuse myself at Lord Leviath's estate. I'm not a palace-dweller like you. If I so much as show my face over there, they'll kill me where I stand."

"But Mother will be heartbroken!"

"Mother will be just fine with you there. Go on. Your inbred royalty's that way." Kiefar pointed back toward the exit. The twins were as different as night and day - as golden sun and silvery moon.

Day slumped his shoulders in sad resignation and departed, looking back several times over his shoulder at his brother. But there was nothing but despise in Kiefar's face. His house must have been a living hell just by virtue of his brother's presence. Everyone has a right to happiness; those who have had that right stolen by cruel fate lose their faith forever - become demons themselves. Cain understood why Kiefar would choose to follow Leviath.

When the boy disappeared completely from view, the masklike smile returned to Kiefar's face. "Well, I must be going. I've warned you as best I can; farewell!"

"Wait a moment...'Kiefar,' is it?"

"Hmmm?...What is it?" Kiefar's chestnut eyes met Cain's steel-grey ones.

"I'd like to meet with Lord Leviath. Will you take me to him?"

Cain's expression mixed animosity with shock. He shrugged his shoulders: "Well, I don't know; this is no business of mine."

"I won't pose any problems for you. I take full responsibility for my own actions."

With a condescending smirk, the young man gestured for Cain to follow.


Leviath and his parents lived in an old, gloomy keep surrounded by black forest that loomed high above its surroundings. Kiefar had hired a coachman from the city center, tipping the driver generously. He claimed he was seventeen, but he seemed to know already how to make his way in the world, well-accustomed to the workings of the Imperial capital.

Kiefar stormed into the castle with nary a word from the gatekeeper. He blithely asked a passing maid: "Hey, lamb chop, is Lord Leviath back yet?"

"No, not yet. He left for town this morning," the servant girl answered quickly, then at once disappeared.

Kiefar laughed to himself. "Girl's probably upset that Lord Leviath's not in sackcloth and ashes over that Elis," he chattered, showing himself up the stairs. Cain followed silently.

"...Women. One peasant wench dies, and they think the man's world should stop turning. ...Well, here we are."

Kiefar flung open the door to what seemed like a spare room, furnished only with a table and two chairs built into the wall. The two men entered.

A filmy curtain hung before a large window on the outer wall, through which one could see the forest and the sheer cliffs below; beyond lay a ravine that glistened like silver. Cain would have never guessed that within the royal city lay hidden such a place.

A swiftly setting sun cast a bright pallor on the sky above and trees below.

"So you believed what I said?" From behind Cain came Kiefar's voice, stifling a snicker.


"What I said before. About you being sold into slavery."

"...That was a lie?"

"Of course! And you're supposed to be smart!!" Kiefar nearly fell over laughing at the table, the very picture of a demon. All Cain could do was to keep his composure so as not to give Kiefar any further satisfaction. He clenched his fist; his nails drew blood.

"...But it's true that Lord Leviath has taken an interest in you." The man stopped laughing; a mask of jealousy slipped over his features. "He's never done this before...shown interest in anyone else, that is. I don't understand what makes you so special."

Cain was confused. "Wait. You said that Lord Leviath wanted me...for what?"

"For his revolution, of course!" Kiefar stood up and spread his arms wide as wings. "He was born to rule the universe. He is its rightful lord...the rightful heir to the Emperor's throne!......" The young man's face was flushed - his voice rose in his fervor.

"He wants revenge - revenge against all those who attempted to extinguish his bright promise! His incompetent father, his blood-sucking mother, all those who whispered behind his back that he wasn't pure royalty because he didn't have two golden eyes, the ignorant masses who failed to respect the true royal bloodline...and, above all, that lazy, arrogant usurper of an Emperor!! And once he has his vengeance against them all, Lord Leviath will reclaim his rightful place - the throne to which he was born...!"

"--Stop!!..." Cain wanted to stop his ears. Yet again, he was snared in a spider's web. If he heard another word, he'd never be able to escape - would be trapped forever in the dark world of Lord Leviath and this boy...!

Suddenly, a realization came to Cain.

"...Wait. Kiefar, what draws you so to Lord Leviath?"

"'What'?...Everything. From the very moment I saw him, his overwhelming might - the blinding light he veritably radiates from every pore...I saw that he wasn't a man. He was a god. Before such power, I can only bow."

Upon hearing Kiefar's words, Cain rested both hands on his shoulders to steady him and looked him in the eye.

"Kiefar, no...that was magecraft that you felt."


"I can sense it, just as you. I happened to meet a traveling mage once who informed me of the fact. Lord Leviath...has probably harbored great natural affinity for the art since he was born."

"But...then that means...!"

"You did indeed feel that 'masterful' air coming from Lord Leviath - but it resides in his flesh, not his soul. He's not this perfect god who can blithely orchestrate this bloodthirsty revenge you want! You have to understand that!!"

Kiefar's eyes glazed over, any thought behind them absent. "Lord Leviath...told me to wait here...I wonder what could be keeping him?"

"It's getting dark. I hope nothing's happened..." Cain's own face darkened. Magecraft or not, he couldn't let himself lose himself in those eyes of Leviath's.

The sky outside had faded to pale violet. A lone breeze caught the curtain, which rustled in the breeze. The two men's eyes met, then flew back to the window.

"Where is...Lord Leviath--!!"

"Over there - the cliff!!" Kiefar pointed to the wall of rock far below. Lord Leviath had climbed down its face, a large bundle wrapped in cloth in his hand.

"What...what is he doing?!"

"I don't know. But we have to go after him!" As fast as their legs could take them, the two men raced from the room.



Drops of water trickled down from the black roof of rock above.


This was the cave where Leviath used to come to cry as a little boy. Here now - here with Elis's body - he couldn't even do that.

He'd crept into the church to steal her away. The act had pushed him to the limit, and he finally couldn't bear it any longer.


He gently unwrapped the shroud around her cold corpse. Her face emerged, so peaceful he'd have thought she was just sleeping.


The drops of water from above dampened the silent face...and rained down upon Leviath as well.


I love you, Leviath....I'll love you forever and ever...!


Everything would be all right...just so long as Elis was here. ...Nothing else mattered.

He wanted to stay here...just the two of them, forever and ever.


Several sodden splashes above echoed throughout the cave. Leviath looked up; he saw the light of two lamps, bobbing up and down, coming closer.

"You--!!" His golden eye shone in the dim. He sensed the two young men's presence - not with sight, but with his inner eye. Cain and Kiefar, on the other hand, were relieved to find Leviath safe and sound.

"You'll catch cold here, sire. We came to bring you back." Cain, the one with the golden aura, held out his hand.

"Savages!!...Can't you allow a man to say his goodbyes!?"

"Forgive us!" squawked Kiefar, the one with the silver aura.

Leviath took the shrouded body in his arms and stood.

"Lord Leviath, where are we going?"

"To bury her. I won't let them have her... I'll lay Elis to rest in a field of flowers she loved."


The three left the cave. Night was swiftly falling; countless stars twinkled silently above.

After the arduous climb up the steep canyon walls, they emerged in a wide, flat meadow that suddenly opened upon the landscape like an empty stage. The scene in winter was cold and hard, but come spring, it would explode in a million brilliant blossoms in countless colors.

The men dug a grave with sticks and stones, laid the body within, and covered it with earth. A long time passed in their labor, during which no one said a word, conducting their somber ceremony in silence. After the last handful of earth was replaced, Leviath finally spoke.

"I'm leaving the palace tonight." The solemn pronouncement seemed to echo across the night beneath the stars. "When I have power enough - when I have gathered an army - then I will return...to vanquish the Emperor and take my rightful place." So said he before the grave of the woman he loved, as if to swear an oath to himself.

"I will follow you anywhere!" Kiefar stepped forward. "I've already received my due payment for forfeiting my right of inheritance - in preparation for when this day would come. I have no pleasure greater than service to you." Kiefar bowed deeply. Leviath gave a simple nod in reply.

"And what about you, Cain? Are you coming with us or staying?"

"I will follow you." Cain's heart was made up the moment he saw Leviath in the cave. Leviath would probably have never left that place had not Kiefar and Cain come to retrieve him. That fact shook Cain's heart like none other.

"Please hear me out, Lord Leviath. Like yours, my fiancee was desired by our lord and died a wretched death at her own hand. My heart died that day...but I want yours to live. I know helping it to do so is my purpose. Please, take me with you...be it to the ends of the earth."


And so the three returned to Leviath's castle, made preparations for their journey, and left its walls forever.

It happened when they set foot in the plaza in the city center.

"Hey, it's rude to leave without saying goodbye, Lord Leviath!" An ear-splitting yawp stopped the group in their tracks. Marouk's round face emerged with a smirk from the darkness between the pillars. "Heyyy, take me with you! Those two've no currency with the world, but the great merchant Marouk - his name opens doors everywhere!"

"What help could you possibly be to Lord Leviath?" But Leviath held Kiefar back and stepped forward.

"Marouk, you knew we were coming here, didn't you. Merchants' intuition?"

"Heh...heh heh. You could say that!"

Cain felt a sense of unease flood his heart. From where had this man come during the daytime? He'd found Leviath immediately at the villa, and now here...it couldn't be mere chance. He couldn't be...was there someone watching Lord Leviath...? A feeling of dread had steadily crept over him ever since he had entered the plaza, and this only confirmed his suspicions.

"Kiefar." He called the blond over in a whisper and saw even in the dim night that his face was ghastly white.

"Cain, I don't feel well..."

"Kiefar, you're more sensitive than I am. From where do you feel the magecraft coming?" Kiefar held out a shaking hand from beneath his cloak and pointed to a building in the plaza's southeast corner. On the second-story balcony appeared a solid shadow in black.

"Lord Leviath, the building next to the church - watch out!!" cried Cain. Leviath's eyes darted in its direction.

"Damn!...Marouk, have you been brokering information to the Emperor's mages!?"

"Hm? Well, commerce comes second nature to a merchant..."

"Lord Leviath, LOOK OUT!!" Kiefar screamed.

Cain was overcome with chills; his skin turned to goose flesh. He frantically grabbed Kiefar and dove for cover.

Bright flame wreathed the plaza like a great crimson flower blooming in the dark. Leviath's black cape danced high behind him in silhouette.

Marouk, left behind, took the full brunt of the attack, and he fell in an instant wrapped in flame.

"HYAAAAA--!!" His scream was all that was left of him.

Leviath, who had vacated the space in the nick of time, dashed toward from where the attack had come. "I know your weakness - you're defenseless until you've finished chanting!!" He threw the scabbard of his dagger aside and hurled it above as he ran. The figure in black above writhed with a strangled scream, and disappeared into the darkness, as if swallowed by the building.


Magecraft fire still flickered and burned throughout the plaza.

Upon his return, Leviath took his scabbard and the contents of his pack and scattered them around Marouk's charred body. If he could confuse his pursuers somewhat, perhaps he could gain some time.

Cain and Kiefar ran up to him. "Lord Leviath, are you hurt?"

"No, not seriously. I brought down one, but the rest got away." Leviath spoke waveringly, but Cain heaved an inward sigh of relief at the sight of him safe.

"So that is magecraft...such a frightful art," Kiefar muttered as he surveyed the scene, wrinkling his nose at the burning smell.

Cain steeled himself and decided to speak. "Lord Leviath, were you aware...that you yourself have great natural potential for magecraft?"

His words elicited a rare flicker of shock across Leviath's face. "Me? Magecraft? ...Are you serious?"

"Yes. Once we leave the city, I think it would be a good idea for you to develop that talent."

"I see. For survival...I agree."

People had begun filtering into the plaza. Noticing this, Kiefar cut in: "Talk later. We have to hurry. There's a manor I own on the outskirts of town - we can lie low there."

"All right. We can use the commotion to escape through the southwest gate." Leviath nodded and pointed the way. He ripped a strip off his cloak and tied it around his head to cover up his right, golden eye. "I have to hide my heritage from now on...until the day I return." Kiefar and Cain nodded in firm agreement.

Just then, the palace ablaze before their eyes seemed a magnificent vision of catastrophe that seemed to draw them in, throbbing like a storm - a dream made reality before their eyes.

"Let's go," growled Leviath, and the three young men turned to leave. They melted into the night and soon disappeared from sight.

Book 3
The Flowers That Bloomed in the Desert

The one for whom I've been waiting has finally arrived.
Tonight's the night, it seems.
He tastes both despair and joy at once,
and even though he knows he's dreaming,
he lets out a scream like a death cry...
Tears in his eyes, he awakens.

Last Chance

The bar was dim during the daytime. The air reeked of bodies crammed into close quarters - patrons who weren't exactly what you'd call hygienic in the first place. At the table and its endless hands of cards, even time itself seemed to drift off into a dream.

The major planet of Nog. Long under the Emperor's control, it had thrived as a hub for interstellar travel. Its Eurinia district was a small kingdom, but it was situated at the crossroads of the planet's major thoroughfares, and its capital of Galatea was usually bustling with a host of varied people, wares, and information.

In cities like these, there were always a few undesirable neighborhoods that would crop up off the beaten path. Anyone could stay at the inns these slums housed - if they had the gold, that is - but there was no guarantee that their luggage or lives would survive the night. These establishments as a rule ran bars and gambling dens in their basements, and this one was no exception.

At the corner of the bar - his back turned to the patrons milling about the gambling table - was seated a young man, drinking all alone. He was tall, dressed all in black, with black hair. The figure he cut from the back seemed to exude a dark aura that warned the other patrons away.

But now, there was a young girl flitting about him. She moved like a cat, making not a sound. She was dressed in the style of the tropical folk, a brilliantly-colored stole covering her head, tons of gaudy ornaments jangling about her slim wrists and waist.

"Don't like what you're drinking?" With a smile, the girl pulled up a chair next to the stranger. She was beautiful. Her dewy wide eyes twinkled as if with a sparkling secret; her cheeks were as crimson as ripe fruit. Any ordinary man would be captivated by a mere smile from this creature - but the young man gave her not a glance, simply bringing the dark liquid in his glass to his lips again in silence.

The girl stared at his handsome profile and gave another smile. "Heyy...how about treating me to a drink?"

The man finally, slowly turned his head. When he did, she saw that his right eye was covered with an black eyepatch. The man's gaze was cold as ice, as if to give an unspoken, unmistakable refusal to the girl's overtures.

But the girl didn't budge. She continued staring at his face as if enrapt.

"All right," at last responded the man in a deep voice, his lone emerald eye gleaming with sharp light. The girl merrily ordered sake, strong, straight up, and drank it down in one gulp. She continued her attempts to sweet-talk the young man, undaunted by his lack of response. A scene you'd see often in any bar in the world - but this instance was a little different.

For some reason, the woman wanted the young man to gamble with her. "You've been sitting here drinking by yourself for a while, haven't you? How about picking your spirits up - having some fun? What's the matter - don't you like cards? If you don't know the rules, I can teach them to you."

After a while, the couple moved to the table and took the next hand.


"Hold on...w-wait, no, I...I don't believe it!!"

The exclamation came from the girl. Her confidence had seemed unshakable - but she now leapt back from the table, her wide eyes opened even wider. Whispers spread among the gathering crowd like wildfire.

The young man's expression was unchanged; he stayed seated, emotionless as ever. But his left eye glimmered like a jewel in this dim den so hungry for light.

The girl suddenly rose from her seat, as if she had just rememberedsomething. "Oh, forgive me. I was just surprised - you're just so good. I don't have my money on me...would you mind if I went upstairs to get it?"

Her words were so sweet they were naturally a lie. The girl had intended to make her way up to the front desk above and slip out the back door there. And she'd thought the new face would be such an easy mark... Her tricks hadn't failed her one time in 10,000...so how did he manage to win?

She still couldn't wrap her head around it. She'd take a moment to mull it over back at her lodgings.

The dry jangle of her ornaments as she walked was a sudden spike into her consciousness.

She ran into two young men who were standing before the front desk - blocking the way. She stopped in her tracks, held her breath, and watched them leave - flooded with the most pervasive premonition of dread as she did so.

When she retraced her steps back to the bar, just as she feared, she found they flanked the man from before.

Both men were tall and slender, the same age as the young man - about in their mid-twenties, perhaps. One had short, dark blond hair smoothly slicked back, a cruel smile ever-present on his lips. The other had long hair of platinum that hung down in back; he seemed the intellectual sort but had a hollow look in his eyes.

The black-haired man seemed to sense the young woman's return and turned around to meet her gaze. That lone emerald eye that seemed to see through everything was filled with scorn and disdain - so it seemed, at least, to the woman.

He stepped forward, and his companions followed - as if planning to walk right past the girl and leave the establishment.

The woman almost threw herself onto his arm in her bid for his attention. "Hey, let's...let's continue our game tomorrow. I'll be waiting right here - please, I promise!" Her voice was shrill, and her eyes wild. But the black-haired man took no heed. He simply looked at her and cracked his first slight smile.


The next day, the woman stared dumbfounded at the cards that had been thrown in front of her. There were more people in the gallery than yesterday, and a hush had fallen over the spectators.

The black-haired man gave a strange, cold smile and stood. "It's been a pleasure seeing your skills in action. Take back what you've bet. I'll consider it my price of admission."

The woman's face was sheet white. "How generous! Why don't you buy me a summer home in Metamoria while you're at it!?"

Ignoring the snide remark, the young man left the bar.

Violet Blaze

He stopped in his tracks in the fourth floor corridor, just in front of his room.

Sure enough, there was the girl. Somehow, she had gotten there before him. Her face was pale, yet ablaze with new rage and agitation; she'd never looked so beautiful.

"I found out in what room you were staying after yesterday!"

The young man didn't answer.

"You're leaving tonight, aren't you!? Don't think I'm going to let you cut and run!!" She wasn't speaking in the voice she'd used before. She threw off her stole and vestments, revealing...the body of a man.

The soft chestnut hair hung disheveled around his forehead; his amber eyes glittered violet-red in his indignant rage. "I'm Giovanni. My name's rather well-known around here. You'd do well to remember it."

He bowed with an exaggerated air of importance. The young man cracked a smirk. "Persistent little thing, aren't you. Upset I didn't buy you your summer home?"

"Hmph! You'd need to buy more than that at this point." He slipped a long, thin dagger out of the sleeve of his white blouse. "You played right along with my tricks, just so you could get to the table and win it all. That's not normal, not possible...not without magic or something, anyway. So who are you...what are you?!"

"No one...not yet," shot back the black-haired man.

"I'll be the judge of that!!" No sooner had Giovanni spoken than he had struck, stabbing with his dagger. His skillful moves belied his delicate appearance.

But he couldn't touch a hair on the young man's head.

"What...?" Giovanni was breathless. He'd never experienced anything like this before. He leapt back, stabbed, swiped, attacked from every angle - but the black figure flitted away them all, as weightless as a shadow.

Finally, Giovanni tripped and tumbled to the floor. "Ahhhh, CURSE YOU!! How can this be......aagh..."

But just then, a dramatic change came over Giovanni. As he caught his breath, his disheveled appearance became cold and calm - and he suddenly burst out in laughter.

"Ha...what am I getting so upset about?" He stopped to clear his throat, but was overcome with gales of laughter. "Ha ha ha ha ha!...Funny, isn't it?!...ha ha...ha ha ha ha ha!" He doubled over, braying like a madman.

And then Giovanni remembered - that this was the first time in a long while that he'd laughed like this. First time he'd been so angry, too - first time in forever, in fact, that he'd felt any real emotion.

He reached out with his long, slender fingers to touch the man's boot...and then latched onto him with both arms in a death grip. He looked up at the young man, no longer laughing.

"I finally found you! And now I'll never let you go!..."

"...What?" Scowling, the black-haired man glared at Giovanni in response. Seeing his confused reaction, however, just made Giovanni shriek with laughter once more.

"Ohhh, I'm so happy! I couldn't be more thrilled!...At your side, I'll never know boredom again!"

The door behind them opened; the two men inside emerged to see what all the commotion was about. They reacted with shock when they saw Giovanni on the floor.

He giggled and shot them a wink. "Oh, come on. Don't gawk at me like that. I know what it looks like, but if I let go, he'll get away!" The blond man knit his eyebrows, as if he'd walked in on something indecent.

The man with the silver hair, meanwhile, looked to the one with the black, as if beseeching a decision. "Lord Leviath..." The name didn't escape Giovanni's ears.

"'Leviath,' hmmm? So that's your name! Sounds lovely. And these two young men are?..." He shot them an blissful smile. "I'm Giovanni. Pleased to meet you."


When he entered the room the men had rented, Giovanni's eyes flitted hither and yon in deep interest. "Hmmm. The marks on this pillar here are from when Berta's husband was chasing her around that time. And they say that bathroom was where the owner's best friend killed himself after a battle with a long and painful illness. The blood's still there, isn't it? Yeah, this's a nice room. It's got atmosphere."

Giovanni threw himself down on a bed and helped himself to the fruit piled in a nearby ceramic platter, chattering all the while. The room's current tenants, meanwhile, remained stone silent.

At length, the man with the silver hair - Cain - spoke. "...Please go back. This isn't the place for you."

"Hmmm, and why not?"

"It would be best for all parties if we did not get involved with each other."

Giovanni merely gave a cheerful smile at this halting explanation. "That's what you say. But we're already involved with each other. And I've made up my mind - we've leaving together!"

"You've decided?!" The blond man's words were thick with sarcasm.

"It's not like you have a say. How about it, Leviath? I can be a biiiiig help to you!" Giovanni wasted his breath on no one but the man in charge.

Leviath nodded. "All right."

"Hooray! Wait right here; let me get my luggage!" Giovanni flew from the room in utter glee. Leviath's two advisors, meanwhile, could summon no words to respond to this unexpected development.


"What is the meaning of this, Lord Leviath?" Cain at last turned to the man once the door had closed and he was assured that Leviath's magic barrier had been reformed. "Bringing someone like that along with us will only hinder our plans."

Leviath crossed his arms and stepped to the window. "You think so, Cain?"

"Yes. It's been six years now since we left the house of Ragna. Your devotion to your studies has brought you great accomplishment in magecraft and swordsmanship, and Kiefar and I have gathered considerable funds and manpower for your cause. Is our time not finally at hand?! The time for which we all have long awaited..."

"That man had formidable skill with the blade. If our ranks grow further...it will be difficult for you two alone to command them all. ...Do you not think he would be useful in that respect?"

Cain's eyes widened. "...Is that your objective in this, Lord Leviath?"

The Leviath that faced him in this city was a different man from the one he'd met years before. He'd apprenticed himself to the great sage Vahn several years ago and spent the time perfecting his powers in magecraft; later, he'd spent some time wandering from place to place to hone his skills with the sword. And it paid off, perhaps, for those eyes that saw through everything now shone ever brighter - saw the truth ever clearer. He now blossomed, Cain felt, with the makings of a general.

"And he might indeed be of help in another sense." Kiefar, who had so far been silent on the matter, had opened his mouth. "He's pretending to be common rabble, but he bears himself like nothing less than royalty. It might not be a bad idea to have him at our side - at least until we take Eurinia."

Cain scowled slightly at this. He'd never been able to adjust to Kiefar's willingness to use people and then cast them aside without compunction. Kiefar gave a soft chuckle to himself when he saw Cain's reaction.

Cain turned away - and then realized that Leviath was staring at the door. Leviath crept toward it - and suddenly flung it open.

Giovanni was standing on the other side. He flashed a grin at the dumbstruck Cain. "I'm back! I thought it over, and I realized - I don't have any luggage! So I came back - just now."

Leviath had a strong barrier in place, so even with his ear to the door, there was no danger of Giovanni having heard what was being discussed. Even so...Cain knew in his heart that this young man was an inveterate liar. He observed Leviath wordlessly to attempt to gauge his reaction, but the cheerful face gazing blithely out the window gave no answer.


Events failed to proceed in a manner that made Kiefar happy.

Giovanni in tow, the men left the inn and headed for a village just beyond the city limits, where about two hundred mercenaries were waiting for them.

"Ohhhh, so you head a mercenary squad. Can't judge by appearances, I suppose!" Giovanni cracked, sauntering over to the encampment. He seemed to shout something at the men, and soon a wall of would-be assailants accosted him.

A storm of unsheathed blades glinted and danced in the sun, and shouts/the cries of the combatants and the sound of clashing steel filled the air. But soon - in the time it would take to down a cup of hot tea - Giovanni had the crowd completely subdued.

The young man flitted back to Leviath and the others like a beautiful butterfly. "You weren't thinking of taking them on your mission, were you?! It'll never work!! You need to ditch them and get a better class of troop."

Kiefar huffed: "And you think you can provide them!?"

Giovanni cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. "For the right price. I could find all you need in the bars of Galatea."

Kiefar's gaze was nothing less than murderous.

"But, you knowww..." Giovanni put his hand on his hip and looked again toward the encampment. "The problem is, you can't house this many troops here - they're going to draw attention. I know a better place; I could take you there. It's an abandoned castle - old, falling down - but you won't have to worry about anyone coming around there." And, with perfect dramatic timing, he turned around and said: "Oh, didn't I tell you? My uncle's the lord of Eurinia. My father disinherited me."

Through the trees came a breeze that was invigorating and sweet.

"...I'll do whatever I can to help you. I know...that this is my last chance - to escape from a wretched, joyless existence. ...But I also know that you'll bring me somewhere I can lead a full life. ...Isn't that right?"

A Passing Shower

Follow the highway all the way south from Eurinia, and you'd find yourself in the seaside Gaia district. Gaia was widely considered to be a promised land where the ancient Emperors had worked many miracles; it attracted countless pilgrims from far-off star systems. "God's Country," they called it.

According to the plan Cain had masterminded for Leviath, until they had enough troops to oppose the Emperor, their forces would strike economic and military blows in the Emperor's important possessions. Since the planet of Nog was home to many of the sites crucial to the Emperor's reign - the transportation hub of Eurinia; Gaia, heart of the Imperial faith; its manufacturing stronghold of Metamoria - it was chosen as their first target. With the unexpected acquisition of Giovanni, their objectives were accomplished in short order: the routes that would be used to supply the enemy come wartime were cut off, and great and meticulous pains were taken and arrangements made to ensure that their own troops could swiftly establish authority once the time came. Next was Gaia...where Leviath brought under his influence an Imperial lord come archbishop and obtained his promise that he would be upheld as the rightful Emperor when the time came.

He left the training of his troops to his lieutenants and departed on foot alone for the lord's keep - where, as the stars would have it, yet another fateful encounter awaited him.


For her eighteenth birthday, Amelia received a flowershop's worth of bouquets, a shawl of handmade lace, a tea set of the purest ivory, two books of poetry - and a sparkling platinum engagement ring.

Everyone congratulated her, and Amelia was beside herself with joy.

Her fiance, Eugene, was a childhood friend - a year younger than herself. He had lost his parents in a carriage accident when he was little; the children's fathers had been good friends, and so Amelia's parents took him in and raised him as family. The marriage had been arranged, but Amelia had always adored her darling, beautiful Eugene - and Eugene loved her.

Perhaps a momentary sadness would cloud his face from time to time, and that bothered Amelia - but that was only to be expected, wasn't it, given his tragic past - bereft of family, alone in the world? And he seemed happy enough now, seated beside her at their simple engagement ceremony, smiling with seeming contentment.

Yes, she was satisfied. Their future together gave every indication of being filled with endless hope and promise - of being a neverending sweet dream.

Amelia let out a blissful sigh. She wouldn't be sleeping tonight.


The moment he closed the door, the fatigue crashed down upon his shoulders like a ton of bricks.

It was exhausting, the mask of the good son he habitually wore in public - and every time he took it off now, the face beneath found itself ever more grotesquely expressionless.

His pale blue eyes stared out the window unfocused. Beyond the balcony lay a gently sloping hill, grassy and sparsely dotted with trees. Against a twilit horizon of fading crimson came into view a mirage - a shadow in black.

...--God, the feeling!! It was like a thunderbolt had rent his body asunder.

Eugene threw open the window and ran outside.

He was here. He'd finally come.

The one he'd been waiting for.

The one he feared.

...He was here!

Eugene no longer felt bound to reality. It was as though his spirit had strayed into a dream.

Over the hill, through the trees, he ran to the lake beyond - a lake whose surface glimmered dull as lead. The temperature had dropped so quickly...

Ahead, a black cape thrashed in a fickle wind.

The black hair, the emerald eye - it was he. He stood still by the lakeside - as if he had been waiting for Eugene. The man was so close Eugene could touch him - but not a word could be mustered from Eugene's lips. He could only crumble before the masterful air the man's whole frame exuded, and there was no escaping that bewitching eye. No, there would be no running - never again, not as long as he lived.

Even though he learned afterward that this sensation was merely an effect of magecraft.

At last, Eugene ground out: "I...I know you. I have for a long, long time."

A smile slowly cut into the shadowed man's cheek.

"And I know you. I've heard you calling ever since I set foot on Nog."

"Really?!" A feeling of awestruck reverence welled up within Eugene that he'd never before felt toward anyone - not even God. It was like a rain falling in a parched desert.

"I...I've been......" Waiting for you, Eugene tried to say, but his throat froze. To do so would mean throwing away the only world he'd ever known and placing his heart at the feet of another master.

He faltered, felt lost, ripped apart with anguish.


Amelia's voice returned him to his senses. She was running for him as if her life depended on it. Breathlessly, she clamped onto his arm.

Of course, he remembered. This was his family - the family that had taken him in without complaint and brought him up with his darling, sweet Amelia. Her father had great holdings of land; his power was superseded only by that of the Imperial lord. If Eugene succeeded him, everyone would be happy; no one would be upset.

All he'd have to do was to live a lie, bury his soul, and condemn himself to a half-existence as the walking dead...

Timidly, Eugene turned away.

"Amelia." He mustered all the affection he could in calling her name. A pair of spotless cerulean eyes answered in response. But their sweet blue would never have the effect on his heart of that sharp emerald gleam.

Eugene's heart despaired. He could never love Amelia.

"What's wrong, Eugene!?...I'm scared."

"Ahhh...it's nothing." And, as he had since childhood, he gave the same practiced smile that had always put her at ease.

"But...weren't you talking with someone before?"

Eugene turned back to look for him, but the young man with the black hair was nowhere to be found.

"No, no one..." Eugene mouthed the words, but he knew Amelia had her doubts. She was jealous; her fiance was her property, after all.

Eugene felt ill inside.


From that night forward, Eugene's dreams began to assume a clear running theme: of him breaking free of Amelia, cheating his family - by some means running away.

Always toward the man in black.

And he would say to him: "Right now, you're a man with half a soul. But I have the other half right here with me--"


He finally made up his mind on the third night - to leave in pursuit of his soul and stray from the path set before him.

But once it's found water, a desert cannot bear to be dry again. It cannot deny its miracle - to allow the flowers that have blossomed there in its miracle to wilt.

Moved by the voice within him, he opened the door.

Beyond Night

Leviath already knew Eugene was coming. He had thoroughly investigated the heir to the great landlord Dalton; the man was young but well known among the locals. He waited at the entrance to the forest that lay a short distance from the manor.

"So, Lord Leviath...you're saying we can leave the matter of the landlord completely in this man's hands?" Kiefar echoed Leviath's earlier words in a deeply cynical tone.

"I've had no reason to doubt your judgment regarding our allies, Lord Leviath...but we have no guarantee of success in this matter, do we not?" Cain, naturally, had his doubts as well.

Leviath responded haltingly: "Of course, we have no guarantee. If he succeeds, we will welcome him as one of us. If he fails, it simply means he was unqualified for the position." The two men grasped their master's cruel intentions and both stayed silent.

"Hey, here he comes, here he comes!! That's him, isn't it!?" Only Giovanni remained untroubled, his voice raised in unbridled glee. Eugene had finally left the manor and was heading straight for Leviath. He didn't even have to call the man; Eugene seemed extraordinarily sensitive to the presence of magecraft. The man walked blindly toward Leviath as if sleepwalking.

"Eugene, are you coming with us?"

"Yes." Eugene nodded, his gaze hollow. The night breeze tousled his hair. His eyes were deeply sad, as if pleading for salvation from the dark depths of loneliness.

Of course someone with such a look would be seduced by Leviath. ...Someone such as himself, he now realized.

"My, my, my!" Giovanni at once assumed a playful tone, his expression that of a child. "How adorable - someone's got a crush on Lord Leviath!"

You've never called him "Lord" before, Cain thought dourly to himself.

Amused by his own joke, Giovanni made to fling his arm around Leviath's neck - but Leviath grabbed his wrist and, annoyed, pulled him off. The look of silent rage upon Eugene's face was satisfaction enough, though, and so Giovanni clapped his hands and burst out in screeching laughter.

"Some days, I don't know..." Kiefar half-sighed under his breath.

"C'mon, it was a joke! ...Hm?" Giovanni stopped laughing as he peered into the darkness. "...I think we have a visitor."

All eyes turned to the newcomer. It was Amelia.

"Eugene! Where are you going with these people?" She was wrapped in her lace shawl, but beneath, she was still in her nightclothes. She seemed to have an instinctive sense of trouble on her property.

"The landlord's daughter...this is no good." Kiefar muttered, his hand ghosting over the silver point of his sword.

Leviath held out a dagger to Eugene. "Can you sever your ties?" he asked quietly.

Eugene slowly nodded. A spark of life - of joy - heretofore unknown to the man was kindled in his eyes. "I no longer have a past. Allow me to demonstrate that to you." Clasping the dagger, Eugene turned toward his approaching fiancee.

"Do...do you think he'll do it?" Cain ground out.

"I think he'll make a splendid comrade." Kiefar smirked, watching events unfold with interest.

Leviath stood an inhuman graven statue that blended into the dark of night. Only the burning blaze of his left eye remained.

Giovanni shrugged his shoulders. "Brrr! Such scary people!...But, hey, I'm having fun. After all, the night is young!"

They looked up and saw no stars, no moon - only blackness.

The bloody dawn that awaited them lay still far ahead.

Book 4
A Dream Before the Dawn (2)

Sea of Life

Beyond the glass lay a sea of black.

If you strained your eyes, you could make out a blanket of gold and silver grains - the light of the stars beyond.

Or you would have, had not the glow of the lamps illuminating the dining hall not outshone them. Instead, there was merely a thick darkness. The faint orange lamps swung to and fro, back and forth incessantly as Gerhard spoke. The big man threw his arms wide like a bear in his grand, wild gestures.


...So at the time, my crew was busy hunting sea serpents.

What? You don't know about sea serpents!? I'll bet there're about 5, 600 of 'em sittin' coiled at the bottom of the sea between Metamoria 'n' Gaia right now!! Their bodies are thick like THIS, and just one of 'em could wind around this room twice! An' they got three heads!! They fix those six beady little red eyes on you, and any ordinary man'd be cryin' for his mama! It's left head goes for the enemy on its left; the right one goes for the enemy on its right; and the middle one strikes dead center! But if you're strong enough...

Huh? But what about the enemies in back?

Mmm, that's a good question, Renaud! When the middle head senses something back there, it can throw itself backwards like THIS an'...HEY!! What're you laughin' at, Eugene!? You think this is a joke?! ..."You're not laughin'," you LIAR!!

OK, back to the story.

So, that mornin', I had a fleet a hundred ships strong that was crossin' the ocean three at a time. 'Cause each ship could only fit one head, right?! We had to use horses for bait - throw 'em over the prow and just go real, reeeeeeal slooooooow......


And then suddenly, three heads would jump up outta the water to take the bait! What, that scare ya? Well, me too, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

So then, the hunt was on. First, we'd lop off the tail - WHAP!! It's poisonous, you know. So whew, that's one worry down - but ya can't rest yet!! You gotta hold your scimitar level like this, and go *chopchopchopchopchopchopchopchop* to cut up the trunk. The important thing is that you gotta do all this before the sea serpent realizes what's happenin'. So you have your shipmates on deck sing real loud while it's all goin' on - dance, beat a drum, all that. No flutes, though - the serpents'll wanna sing along, and that makes 'em drop their bait.

Anyhow, you gotta chop until the three heads are almost off and the thing can't get its breath. And it won't have its heart anymore, of course. After that, all you gotta do is chop off the heads, fit 'em up one to a boat, and ship 'em across the sea! Why just the heads? Well, the fangs go for a real lot - people like 'em for crafts. And as soon as we got a hit, I'd send out another three boats, and they'd find another one'd waitin' for bait! Sometimes, we'd even kill 'em before they even managed to swallow!

But we'd caught...ummmm, at least thirteen or fourteen that day when I decided to call it quits. Wanna know why? Because we found even bigger game!! A sturdy freighter, lotsa guards aboard. And where there's lotsa guards...that means there's somethin' worth guardin', get my drift?

So my men surrounded the vessel - but I didn't have 'em strike yet. Face to face, one on one - that's the man's way to fight!! So my own ship sidled up to the belly of the freighter - and I reeled in my catch to bring us eye to eye. And my first mate Roran, he said: "Captain Gerhard of the pirate band Leviathan, terror of Nog's nine seas, calls ya out! Is there no one aboard with the guts ta face 'im?! Or y'could all jes' surrender quietly, and we could feed ya to the waves! Ya could escape with your lives, if the sea serpents don't get ya!"

...But no one answered.

Well, you know me, I'm a patient man, so I waited. Maybe there were extenuatin' circumstances, you know. I figured that some big shots were havin' it out in that tiny li'l cabin, screamin' their lily-livered faces off over who to throw out there. So, like I said, we waited, but there was still no sign - no "WAIT!", no "HAVE MERCY!", nothin'. I was about to drift off, what with the hot day and the sun beatin' down above us - when suddenly, they made their move!!

And what the hell - in front of me was this puffed-up peacock, this little slip of a brat with flouncy brown hair that I couldn't tell from a woman! I mean, I learned afterward that he was two years older than me, but still.

You guessed it - they sent out Giovanni! No matter who you're facin', though, there's no place for mercy on the battlefield. So I hopped over to their deck, and our duel began!

Well, as you yourself know, Renaud, that guy's a force to be reckoned with, no matter what he looks like! I'd lunge forward, and he'd dance away; he'd attack, and I'd knock away the blow - and this continued for quite some time, our one-on-one. We were fightin', and in the spare moments, I was able to finish down a sandwich for lunch and a three-cheese pie snack with my other hand! Swear to God, we had time enough for that!

But finally, I got my sword 'round his rapier and sent it flyin' up into the sunset! I got 'im by wrists and pinned 'im to the mast with two swords against 'is neck. And when I did, he started blubberin' and said: "I hate to admit it, but you thrashed me fair 'n' square. I'll play by the rules of combat; from now on, I'll call you 'boss'..."

"--I never said that, I NEVER SAID THAT!!" The present Giovanni kicked the door down to the dining hall. I felt the air crackle with electricity as I turned to look at him. "If you're looking for an easy joke, Gerhard, you couldn't find any better than that one you call a face." He was smiling, but his voice wasn't in on the jest.

"You too, Eugene. If you can sit there and listen, you could at least try to bring this a little closer to the truth!!"

Eugene sat cross-legged in a nearby wooden chair, looking up at Giovanni and snickering. "And who am I to put a damper on this grand adventure? It's not as if I'm in a position to separate fact from fiction."

"WAH HA HA!!" Gerhard burst out laughing. Only Renaud's attention was unshaken. Seated next to me, he remained a rapt listener, his eyes wide open.

"We just wouldn't dream of imposing on you to ask for the truth..." Eugene's pale stare was empty, but his smirk grew ever wider.

Giovanni only raised an eyebrow in response. "Well, it's true that Gerhard and I had quite the scuffle the first time we met."


"But I wasn't the one who surrendered; he was! While we were fighting, Cain took the opportunity to sneak over to his ship and take Maria hostage. And it worked splendidly, didn't it?!" If that were the truth, it wasn't really something of which to be as proud as Giovanni was.

But Gerhard wouldn't back down. He laughed and said: "Ahhh. Well, I'm prepared to lay down my life for my crew. But Boss cut the rope back to my ship and asked us to join him - me, my sister, our crew, everyone! He'd take care of us all, he said - and he didn't lie. My battlefield wouldn't be the bounding main anymore, though - I'd be a land lubber; but I got no regrets! Leviathan's unsinkable!! OI!" On a strange high, Gerhard started in on another of his tall tales.

Being on board a ship of sorts probably brought back memories for him. Even Giovanni settled down and started laughing at his jokes, adding his own reminisces and interjections.

I turned once again away from everyone to look at the world of black outside - the sea of stars I was traversing for the first time. After the war in Shiva ended, we crossed over to Giovanni's homeland of Eurinia to obtain a ship and left our mother planet of Nog. We were currently on a voyage to another star system - to the planet of Fei Lei. The massive ship of wood and steel that carried us, our troops, our weapons, and our supplies slipped silently through space, as if it weighed nothing at all.

Its power source was a single sample of magestone stored in the hold. Magestone is a ore found on rare occasion in volcanic regions. It was light and milky white and, by itself, held no special power. But a master of magecraft could seal his own power within the stone, so that anyone - even someone with no talent in the craft at all - could access it and use magecraft themselves, making it an extremely precious resource. The larger the stone, the stronger its power, and to move a ship of this size would take a very large stone indeed. The sample I saw in the engine room was about the size of an infant's head.

For Gerhard, Eugene, and most of the troops - and for Renaud and me, certainly - this was the first time we had left the planet on which we were born. On liftoff, there were screams of terror - some people fainted. We'd been traveling for a while by now, though, so most of us had settled down.

Lord Leviath, Cain, and Kiefar were utterly composed - they were used to all this by now. I wondered how many star systems they'd visited - how far they'd traveled. I couldn't even begin to fathom it. Giovanni, who seemed to have come from wealth, was already an experienced interstellar traveler; he was very busy during the voyage, showing people around the ship, dashing to and fro to tend to the little problems that popped up during our journey.

The other Knight Captains soon became inured to the once-in-a-lifetime novelty of the voyage and began playing cards and drinking in their rooms and in the dining hall to kill time. I myself stared out into space every chance I got. The utter emptiness of the void - bereft of everything, even the smallest speck of life - held a strange power over me. Even though my body was born of my mother, my soul, so to speak, was perhaps the product of a place like this.

And if that were true, then wouldn't my soul return here after death? ...With all my heart, I hoped so. Eternal existence in the bonds of life would be a source of nothing but endless terror and pain. When my body finally rotted away, I could sleep in peace. If God did exist, that would be the only favor I would ask of him.


Behind me, Giovanni rose and said that he was going back to his room to get some shut-eye. "After all, in half a day's time, we should be at our destination!" As if on cue, the scenery out the window twisted with a vrrr. We must have put on speed for the homestretch. A cold wind suddenly crossed my sheek, and involuntarily a shiver went down my spine.

A Crimson Hell

The planet of Fei Lei was huge, of a size to rival Nog. It held only one-fifth Nog's population, however, and was a planet of neverending red wilderness. Merely due to the mineral composition of the soil, I knew, but to my eyes, so accustomed to abundant green, it still came as a shock.

Our shuttle touched down in the planet's largest city, Shan Su. The few wretched buildings present bent to their sides, as if to lean on each other for support; it was an extremely small city. The thick cloud cover over the low copper sky insulated the ground to produce a warm climate, but due to the low humidity, it wasn't stifling. As I cast my eyes over the dusty, rusting skyline, Cain put a hand on my shoulder.

He whispered to me: "Are you surprised? Most of the planets in our universe are like this. Our Nog is an exception. But within this red soil lies this planet's only resource. The struggle for the vast ore deposits is neverending, and the soil is stained red with the blood of its people..."

I craned my neck to take a look at his face. I desperately wanted to see it.

His sleek silver hair was cool against my cheek. He returned my gaze...with all the emotion of a steel plank.

That was all I needed to know.

Little by little, the truth revealed itself to me.

There was a constant struggle on this planet to obtain hegemony over its abundant resources - and that struggle was why we - why Lord Leviath - had claimed to come here. Under our mercenary guise, he would lead his troops in a bid to lay claim to all this planet had to offer. Before long, a storm of destruction - us - would descend upon this crimson star.

...I, at the very least, had come here to kill.

Suddenly, I came back to my senses, and I began to look about for Lord Leviath. His black-clad shadow, however, was nowhere to be found.

"Sionna! Hey, l...let's go to the marketplace!" Renaud was running toward me with flushed cheeks; he latched onto my sleeve.

"Yes, let's!" called Giovanni with a smile. "It'll be a bit before the carriages are ready; we have a little time on our hands. Why don't we all have a look at the city?"

I looked up to Cain again. His expression having regained its habitual kindness, he gave a single nod.


Eventually, our cargo was loaded, and we boarded the carriages. A crimson wasteland extended before us in all directions. Lord Leviath himself, however, was still nowhere to be seen. Cain and Kiefar had spent a long while before our departure huddled together in conference, so Lord Leviath was probably off elsewhere engaged in some manner of negotiations. Arranging for the migration and lodgings of the sizable crowds under our command was a task usually handled by the two staff officers alone. Matters had always gone off without a hitch, though, so no one hesitated to leave things in their hands.

We were now headed to Yah Ma territory in the continent's interior, purported home of the war's fiercest fighting. This conflict here was a popular uprising - revolt against the rule of colonial lords who had come from a neighboring world, a planet called Charax. As the war dragged on, however, the resistance had resorted to bald terrorism. The cycle of destruction and bloodshed was neverending, it seemed.

This time, as a rarity, we had been called in by the colonial overlords. Ostensibly, we would be fighting to restore the battered government. Yes - there would be a great deal of death necessary to accomplish this objective.

This tumultuous earth of crimson, littered with stone, undulated before our vision, gashed with the traces of now-waterless canals. Not a single settlement greeted our eyes, not even a lone tree - nothing but the desolate earth, reclaimed by primal nature, as our caravan traveled in a single, lonely file over the dust.

It was the first time I truly realized that I was on a planet far from my own.

I felt a pain in my chest at this thought. I wouldn't call it sentimentality...perhaps more the vacant realization that humanity was like a cotton hat borne away by the wind, scattered hither and yon throughout the universe without care or regard to the places where they would live out their lives...their empty, meaningless lives.

Are humans comdemned to this petty existence from the moment of their birth? I wanted to find a means of escape - find a way to slip the bonds of life yet remain alive.


We arrived at the center of Yah Ma province on the sixth night. Our lodgings this time were a mansion that had been prepared for us by the provincial lords, one that sat on a nearby plain that was, as expected, within easy reach of the city. The building seemed to have been an art museum or something similar in a previous life - it had been renovated and was now the soul of comfort.

I'd become mostly accustomed to our long journeys, but Renaud was still young, and they seemed to wear hard on him. He took ill with a fever that very night and fell into a deep sleep. Eugene nursed him day and night, refusing to leave his side, so I decided to check in on him quietly just once a day.

My thoughts had become largely consumed with that large sample of magestone I'd seen aboard the ship.

The stone installed there fed the power it emitted into the ship by way of the propulsion circuits. If you think about the nature of magecraft itself, there had to be other ways of accomplishing that - better, more effective ways. I wanted more detailed information on the practical fundamentals, on how the energy was converted.

I asked Cain if it was all right if I went to the city's library. He gave his permission, but only at a designated time, and only with an escort. And so, surrounded by several imposing guards headed by Gaillard, I made a outing to the local library.

Despite the dangers, I wandered the city's bookstores, collecting the few meager volumes they had on the underexamined subject. On one such afternoon, I found a beautiful picture book that I thought might cheer Renaud. I bought it for him and visited the room where he was whiling away the hours during his recovery.

I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. I entered. Renaud lay asleep in the huge bed that dominated the middle of the room, seemingly buried in its covers. Eugene stood with his back to the doorway at the side of the bed, face cast downward. The chair in which he usually was seated had been abandoned.

I started to say something, but I hesitated. Eugene noticed me first in the interim.

"Sionna. Welcome back."

Eugene's expression was placid as always, but...for some reason, I sensed a profound anxiety behind it. I found myself unable to answer him.

Jut then, Renaud shifted sleepily beneath the covers and opened his eyes. "Oh! Sionna!" He regarded me happily and tried to rise. He seemed to be much improved.

"No, no!" Eugene yelped, pushing him back down upon the bed. But Renaud resisted, ever eager to fly off and explore our new territory. Perhaps the small fragment I had brought of the outside world could pacify him?

Hopefully, I held out the picture book with both hands.


"Looks like they've got some real live ones on their hands."

So spoke Giovanni at the dinner table that night. He always had an ear to the ground and picked up quickly on the latest news.

"Heard they lured the poor dears into a ravine and wiped out an entire unit the other day. A pity for them."

Kiefar laughed through his nose as he deftly boned the meat in front of him with his knife. Gerhard, too, gave a weird hee hee hee. The troops the resistance had decimated were private troops owned by the local lords, not our own, so no one was particularly put out.

"Their leader, Sai Yu - they call him the Iron Master. They say he has no qualms about sacrificing any of his followers to achieve his objectives. Strap 'em up with gunpowder and throw them into the enemy, burn up every man, woman, and child in a village..."

"Holy hell!" Gerhard gnawed the bone in his bare hands, his tongue protruding from a blood-red mouth. "...Ain't that a big waste a' yer men, though?" Gerhard's eyes suddenly went narrow as he took a huge slug of wine.

"Indeed. It's monstrously inefficient," said Giovanni, leaning cheek in hand, swirling the liquor in his glass with an absent-minded expression.

"An extended occupation like this warps the mind - makes the peasants bent on revenge. It's a far from uncommon storyline," Kiefar spat contemptuously. Cain, who had so far been silent for this discussion, opened his mouth to speak.

"And we'll be the next recipients of their attention."

"That goes without saying. We'll simply have to use our heads a bit, won't we?"

"...Our heads?..." Gerhard made a face as if he had swallowed the large bone in his hand. Giovanni reacted with glee. But I knew - once Gerhard set foot upon the battlefield, he'd use his head in his own way and take full command of the magnificent leadership skills of a former pirate lord.

Those sitting here were men of no mean nerve and battle talent. Even I had grown accustomed to using troops as if they were extensions of my own arms and legs. Even the youngest of us was...

"How's Renaud doing?" Cain asked Eugene, as if reading my own thoughts.

"All better, almost. He'll be able to fight if he calls." Gaze averted, Eugene spoke quickly, as if desperate to evade something. To him, losing Lord Leviath's confidence was probably a prospect more terrifying than the end of the world itself.

"Really. Keep watch over him, then." Hearing the indifference in Cain's voice, I rose from the table to leave.

"Hey, Sionna, y'haven't eaten anythin' yet!!"

"Ahhh~~, he never eats anything, that child."

There was no need to send such words after me. I didn't need loving, supportive comrades. I didn't want to kill anyone else.

I surely seemed a melancholy, sullen child, staring in silence without a reply.

"It's all right. Return to your room, Sionna."

I was grateful that Cain wasn't the type to try to close the distance between us. I could feel myself slipping into the smallest of smiles.


Lord Leviath returned - a black shadow stalking the hallways once more before we knew it. But his presence pervaded our very souls...and we grew ever more on edge as the time of battle drew nigh.

I suspended my research into magestone; Gerhard began tending to his knives. Renaud was given permission to go outside, and he bounded out front like a puppy.

"Ahh~~!" he cried, stopping short once he saw the sky above. A dry wind cut across his rosy cheeks.

Crimson sky. Crimson mountains. Crimson earth.

All melted into one great copper blur, and from a landscape both twisted and immutable rose the smell of rusted iron. Or perhaps it was the smell of blood that clung to this planet's core - permeating its very heart.

Eye of the Wolf

Our job was to combat the resistance that had made the crags of northern Yah Ma its stronghold. The landlords never expected us to crush the rebellion completely. The rebels, after all, were scattered all over the planet. For our employers, if we could restore order and exterminate the rebels in their own province, that would be enough.

Our indefatigable opponents were led by a man known as Sui Yun. Almost all of his followers came from the impoverished laborer classes; they shared a fierce sense of solidarity, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves knew no bounds.

Cain and Kiefar's plan was first to surround the fortress that lay on the southern tip of resistance territory on three sides and then force them out onto level ground, where we would wipe them out all in one blow. Gerhard's unit - mountain bandits now, instead of bandits of the sea - took a particularly active role, hunting the resistance troops Renaud's unit would chase from the fortress with magecraft.

The resistance did not in any way consist of disciplined troops. Once scattered, they were helpless - easy prey. Giovanni's cavalry fell upon them like wild beasts, and my arrows found their marks with ease. All too easily, it seemed, the southern fortress was destroyed. Lord Leviath remained seated for the entire battle, accompanied by his two staff officers.

When we returned to the manor, our colonial hosts were convinced beyond doubt of our worth; they met us with glee, with wine in hand. A banquet was held to commemorate our victory in the opening battle. Among the throng of red-faced, swaggering lords, however, only Lord Leviath, silently bringing his wine to his lips, seemed true royalty. There was no comparing these money-drunk pretenders to him. Even in a palace gathering of titled nobility, he seemed, as always, the lord of all.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Kiefar take a tipsy nobleman who was spoiling for a fight by the arm and pluck him from the main hall with skillful sweet talk. If anyone made the slightest move on Lord Leviath, there'd be a carnival of blood in the blink of an eye. With the sort of solidarity we had among us on that front, there was no way we would lose to the resistance.

Next to me, I heard gentle breathing - the sound of Renaud in a deep sleep.


The first to realize what was happening was one of Giovanni's troops.

The rank-and-file soldiers were having their own banquet around a bonfire out front. When this member of Kirin headed back to his tent to get his belongings, however, he spotted a dark figure near the wall surrounding the mansion.

"You there - who are you!?"

But he failed to alert his comrades immediately - a mistake that proved fatal.

It was but a narrow space that separated the tent from the weapons depot.

It was there that his corpse was discovered, a sharp blade protruding from its chest.


But before the first victim was discovered, the intruder breached the fence and killed the two guards patrolling the perimeter. He then entered the interior of the compound through the back entrance.

It happened just when the banquet was almost over. The lords had begun to rise from their seats and filter out of the hall, heading for the front gate - when...

A shadow leapt forward like a lithe, black beast.

His windpipe slashed, one of the lords tried to cry out, but his throat managed only a wheeze in response. Gouts of scarlet spurted everywhere as he struggled and reeled, then fell.

The figure never stopped moving.

Quicker than the eye could register, it turned in search of fresh prey--

when a slender rapier, twinkling, met the blade. It wrapped around the knife and sent it flying.

"I've no particular obligation to these people, buuuut..." Giovanni, dressed in an outfit of his favorite deep violet, stood in the shadow's path. The lord in the intruder's sights stood rooted to the ground, his eyes wide with fear. The guards around him, too, could only gawk, dazed and utterly frozen.

Crimson lips spread into a cheerful smile. "These gentlemen are my employers for the time being, and we therefore are their guests. It would be remiss of me to permit such uncouth behavior in their presence."

As for the shadow...he merely gritted his teeth in response. The interruption seemed to prove quite vexing to him.

He was a slender man. His frame was sheathed in a crisp, dark-green combat uniform, and his deep indigo hair hung down his back bound in a single neat train. His hollow cheeks, his sharp nose, his skin ablaze with the setting sun - his crimson eyes that shone like fire; his looked like some kind of terrible wild beast. He brought to mind the feral wolves I had seen in the mountains in Shiva.

He moved his right hand - only a little.

But the con man was not about to be conned. With a single swipe of his rapier, he knocked away the knife the man drew from his left sleeve and flung.

Until moments ago, Giovanni had been drinking so much you'd think he were bathing in wine, but he betrayed no hesitation in his movements now. On the contrary, he even seemed amused by this sudden intruder.

"You...you were at the battle today...!" growled the man in a low voice.

"Indeed! *I* am one of the knights who have been hired to come and kill allll your little friends! Pleased to meet you," Giovanni replied, puffing out his chest and accentuating his point with a sharp click of his boots' high heels.

The man's killer instinct surged. He let out a cry and flung himself at Giovanni. Giovanni's expression suddenly turned serious, and he dodged just barely in time. In response, the man aimed his recovered blade at Giovanni's back - but Giovanni swiftly rallied, and then not just he, but also Gerhard and Eugene lunged forward with their own blades in hand.

"What are you doing?"

Lord Leviath's powerful voice echoed down the corridor. Startled, the man withdrew slightly; his eyes darted about, searching for the source of the voice.

With his black garb and golden sword, his charcoal hair, and his single emerald eye, Lord Leviath was the king of night. "Who are you?" asked his deep voice quietly.

The beastly man took a moment to steel himself. "I am Ka-Fai. ...On the next battlefield...we will rend you limb from limb."

Lord Leviath allowed himself a rare self-satisfied laugh. "I'll be looking forward to it."

As if he had been waiting for a reply, the man then turned and ran away. No one followed.

Finally, one of the colonial lords seemed to regain consciousness. He called out from behind a pillar: "H, he's Sui Yun's dog! A professional terrorist and a killer! Aren't you going to do something? He killed Tenga!! Aren't you supposed to protect us!?"

He was in a complete panic. The other lords also suddenly began to lose their heads, as if they had finally realized the danger that surrounded them.

Gerhard wrinkled his nose - a sign that he sensed a threat. Cain stepped swiftly forward from Lord Leviath's side. "We failed you tonight. We apologize, and we pledge our utmost efforts to dealing with those who would do you harm."

"What?" The idea of apologizing made Gerhard furious.

"However..." Cain's steel-grey eyes turned hard as he turned again to the colonial lords. "You must take due caution. We cannot protect you when you return to your manors and we are not present. It is the guards at your sides to whom you noble sirs must entrust your valuable lives."

A hush swiftly descended upon the room. The imperial lords and the bodyguards in their employ exchanged dark glances filled with terror and doubt - and quickly turned tail and ran.

"Ahh - good riddance." Giovanni took a luxuriant stretch. Animal vegetable, or mineral, he couldn't abide the presence of anything displeasing to the eye.

"Bravo, Cain!"

"Indeed. Bold words, coming from you." Cain stared flustered at Kiefar and Giovanni's glib praise.

Just then, we received an urgent message that three bodies had been found. Giovanni blanched before our eyes as he heard the courier's words. "So then...I'll see myself repaid eightfold!!" One would have never thought that the loss of a single underling would have enraged the hedonistic and casually cruel young man so. Perhaps it was a matter of his pride as a Knight Captain.

"So they're going to hand us a grisly death when next we meet? ...That's my line!" he suddenly spat down the empty hallway, clenching his fist.


But he didn't get another chance to meet the man named Ka-Fai. We were ordered to capture the eastern mountains...which were in the exact opposite direction of where the main army of his master Sui Yun was hiding. We'd take a large force into a steep mountains, fight, and then advance - over and over. We'd heard rumors of the activities of the main body of resistance troops led by Ka-Fai from time to time. He seemed to be quite busy - launching attacks on the occupying military and chasing its troops into a ravine; capturing a lord's summer home and executing every member of his family. Giovanni would relay each of these pieces of news with irritation.

Finally, he broke down and wailed: "How long is Lord Leviath going to have us stuck in these godforsaken mountains, anyway?"

"You must have patience. He has a plan." So Eugene said, but the fortresses of the eastern resistance, despite their great number, were small potatoes, and their forces were no match for us in battle. Compared to them, the western, main forces were clearly more organized, and the colonial lords' private armies and formal military had but a slim hope of victory - if they were not crushed outright. However you looked at it, the field was unbalanced.

I asked Cain about the matter numerous times. "Lord Leviath is away;" he answered, "without instructions from him, there's nothing we can do." But he seemed frustrated as well. Since our advance, Lord Leviath had left alone for the western realm. He'd come back from time to time and have brief chats with his staff officers, but would disappear again soon afterward. No one knew what was happening or what he was doing in the western theater.

Giovanni and Gerhard were gradually losing their fighting spirit. They would drink with their soldiers from the morning onward and go into battle drunk. They won anyhow.

Before, when we were in the jaws of death, we were bursting with life..... It seems strange to say, but now, without the tension of battle and our bond with Lord Leviath, there was nothing, perhaps, left to us.

"G, Giovanni and everyone always smell like wine! Don't they!?" Renaud was afraid of the wild lifestyle into which the adults had sunk; he would not go near them. Even I began butting heads more with Cain and Kiefar. I couldn't call our circumstances comfortable.

Only Eugene's placid countenance remained largely unchanged. He seemed to harbor internal doubts as well, but he instead seemed to have become more removed from the situation, in contrast to everyone else.


At length, we arrived at the largest body of resistance forces in the east.

"Once these guys go down, we'll be out of a job." Amidst these and other snide remarks, we crushed the fort in two days.

Truth be told, as long as we had Renaud's Acolytes of Death, no fortress could stand in our way. Even when the adults were half-joking, he was never less than deadly earnest. He would expend too much of his power and then collapse. It hurt to see Renaud in such a state.

After the forces left to escort prisoners of war into the city, Renaud and I sat on the rubble-strewn remains of a stone wall, watching the clouds that flowed red across the sky.

I would never cut corners, but I wouldn't waste my efforts needlessly, either. I always fought by the numbers; lived apart from emotion. The mere passage of time would not change me.

But Renaud was growing. He would continue growing. Today. And tomorrow.


Renaud turned his big blue eyes toward me in response to my verbal slip.

"...Huhhh? ...What did you say, Sionna?"

"...Nothing. Sorry."


No. I can't kill you.

I can't think about having you all to myself.

But I can't have you grow up...

I can't just leave you like this...


That was all I thought about. That was the kind of person I was.

The light suddenly began to fade.

I looked up. And my breath stopped.

There stood Ka-Fai.

He was wearing a uniform covered in mud. And he was staring at us.

I couldn't make a single sound in my shock.

"...Who are you?" An innocent voice rangs hollowly through my mind. That's right; Renaud didn't know. He'd been asleep at the time.

No - get away from him. He's a coldblooded killer...!

"Is Leviath here, boy?" Hearing such unexpected words from Ka-Fai's mouth was a further shock.

"L, Lord Leviath isn't here. H-He...he was going to the western mountains, he said..."

"He was supposed to be here."

"He's not." The words finally came to my lips. "W, we haven't seen him for a long time either. Really!"

"H, Honest!"

Ka-Fai stared intently at our faces. Suddenly, however, his expression lapsed into fatigue. He seemed far more haggard and gaunt than when we'd last seen him. He was supposed to have been with the main forces in the west; it must have taken all of his strength and will to make it here.

"You don't seem to be lying," he muttered haltingly.

"They're not." A familiar voice suddenly met our ears. At the same time, the hair on the back of my ears seemed to stand on end, and a strange sensation enveloped me.

Lord Leviath was standing right behind Renaud. Had he...had he just arrived via teleportation?

"LORD LEVIATH--!" shouted Renaud at the top of his lungs.

"These children were not lying. I was merely detained." Lord Leviath's mouth curled into a small smile, and he put a hand on Renaud's shoulder.

"You were honored for your distinguished service and prowess in battle, weren't you? You were on your way up in the ranks. What are you doing here?" The gentler Lord Leviath tried to sound, the more sarcastic he came across.

Ka-Fai fixed Lord Leviath with a glare of garnet - with eyes the same color as this planet's sky and soil. "Why am I here, you ask? It's because of you," he spat, as if he had to tear off his sentences word by word. "But you know the story, don't you? I met betrayal at the hands of my comrades and was captured. I had resigned myself to death. But you saved me...no - more than that...you supported all I did from the shadows and enabled my success.

I never knew - that all the time he was in the west, Lord Leviath was there to give support to this man who was our enemy.

But Ka-Fai's expression was bitter. "General Sui Yun, he praised me! He promoted me to colonel, granted me land and territories. But it was there that I realized - that even if the general and our forces stole the governors' land, another governor would merely take their place. The penury in which the peasant classes live would never change... You made me realize that."

Lord Leviath listened in silence. Little by little, Ka-Fai's face began to betray emotion.

"Tell me...what do I do now? I can't support the general anymore - but I can't abandon my homeland! I don't want to create any more people like me...!" Ka-Fai's lips were drawn and quivering.

Lord Leviath grinned. It was a terrible grin - a grin with the charm of the devil.

"Then come to me. Allow me to grant your wish."

For an instant, Ka-Fai's face went blank. Then, he gave a curt and sudden nod.

"Lord Leviath......?" A voice came from beyond the stone wall. Eugene had appeared. He was out of breath; he had probably sensed his lord's presence and come running. When he saw Ka-Fai, he cried out loud.

"Lord Leviath, that man is--!"

"Ka-Fai is my guest. But never mind that. Eugene..."

Lord Leviath's emerald eye had Eugene in its thrall before he could say another word.

"Y, yes?"

"Mobilize our forces. We're heading for the western front. Tell the others."


Eugene drew a single breath and nodded, then turned on his heels.

"You boys as well. Prepare your troops." Lord Leviath thumped Renaud and I lightly on the back, urging us forward.

I took Renaud and headed for my troops. Just then, Giovanni appeared as we rounded the corner of the stone wall.

"Lord Leviath! What on earth are you..."

He stopped dead in his tracks as he stood face to face with Ka-Fai.

"So we meet again."

Ka-Fai's crimson eyes narrowed.

"Well. You have a debt to repay. You killed one of my men." Giovanni looked as if a wish of his had been granted.

"Really." Ka-Fai bared teeth white as a wolf's. "And how many of my comrades did you kill?"

Giovanni gave a satisfied smile. "Twenty...seven, I think?"

"Good job." The men seemed to recognize that they were two of a kind. The crackling tension faded.

We heard a clamor of footsteps.

"Heyyy, Boss!"

"Lord Leviath, please explain this...!"

Gerhard, Cain, and Kiefar, huffing and puffing, all ran in so quickly that Renaud and I could do nothing but blink blankly.

"Enough of this. Are you three ready to depart?"

Lord Leviath shot them a cold glance - cold enough, indeed, to freeze all three in place.


Our forces headed from the eastern mountains to the plains by the shortest route, then began to climb again into the western mountains. The path was horribly steep, but we made it through, thanks to Ka-Fai's meticulous directions that led us every step of the way.

"So, we're finally gonna get to meet this San Shi guy!" Gerhard was in high spirits from beginning to end of the journey, finally back in his element.

"Gerhard, Gerhard, you're getting way too carried away with yourself!" Maria gave her brother a kick to the back from the luggage rack on top of the carriage. But she seemed happy, too.

"It's Sui Yun, Gerhard. You can't get people's names wrong. It's rude." So corrected Giovanni coolly. He was outwardly composed, but he hated to lose; perhaps he was thinking that he'd get his showdown with Ka-Fai one way or another.

Ka-Fai himself kept his distance from the group, always alone. He probably had always been like that. It was very rare to see emotion cross his fearless face as it did before; one could imagine that many thoughts churned beneath the stolid mask. Yes - just as only the hardiest plants and animals thrived beneath the red-brown crags. He was very much like this planet.


Once we reached the main forces of the enemy in the west, we launched a relentless assault against the resistance. At the same time, Ka-Fai vanished from sight - and then, one after another, his followers, who must themselves have been in hiding, emerged to join us. Deprived of their efforts, the resistance was fragile - almost shockingly so. They proved all the more fragile when Ka-Fai himself joined in the battle when so inclined, ruthlessly cutting down his former comrades with his blade. "War is nothing more than a kind of game. If your position changes, it is only natural that your actions should change as well." Ka-Fai's soft-spoken words appeared to put at ease the minds of the colonial lords who at first had their doubts about them - they seemed to prove his change of heart.

It was not half a month before the resistance was destroyed. Sui Yun himself was captured; he took poison in his cell. Gerhard was particularly chagrined, having lost his chance at a showdown with the enemy general.

And so it all ended. The colonial lords who controlled Yah Ma's industry, transportation, and military were secretly rendered mere figureheads. The mechanisms were in place to transfer the real power to Lord Leviath's hands; in time, the true nature of the arrangement would show itself.

But those who now realized that numbered very few.

"What will you do now?" called Ka-Fai to Lord Leviath's back that day we left Yah Ma.

Without turning around, Lord Leviath responded: "Yah Ma is yours if you want it. In return, you become mine." Ka-Fai wasn't surprised. Had he already made up his mind?

"I don't need it. Even if I had the power, I'd never wield it well."

"A wise decision," Cain cut in. "You desire more than such petty things, I imagine. I think you could find what you seek at Lord Leviath's side. ...How about it? Will you join us?"

"You'll forgive me if I'm done with being used by others," Ka-Fai replied instantly. He then slowly lowered his head. "I'm coming with you of my own free will. I'll be bringing my comrades. Are we agreed?" The dazzling sunlight brought out the deep red of his eyes even more.

"Very well," was Lord Leviath's short reply, and that was that.

I knew. Lord Leviath intended to have Ka-Fai serve him from the very first time they met. His subordinate's betrayal was only part of that plan. He was toying with Ka-Fai, as he fell into his hands - just as Yah Ma fell into his hands. I think Ka-Fai himself realized this now.

"The start of a new game. ...I'm looking forward to it." And so he took the first step in leaving his blazing red homeland behind him.


And, just then, the sound of a giant explosion shook the earth and rocked the sky.

The Second Calamity

The manor where we had lived until this morning had been destroyed. The fall of the great building and its chapel had come at an attack that resembled lightning.

But no lightning bolt was that convenient. That bolt was magecraft. We knew this better than anyone.

Since the hostilities in Yah Ma had already concluded, an attack from another region was suspected. An investigation was immediately launched, but neither the perpetrators nor their motive were to be found.

Cain and Kiefar were clearly shaken. This was the second time that a magecraft attack had hit us out of nowhere. This was just like the incident at the mountain fort in Shiva.

But who was responsible? And why?

I by accident once happened to catch a furtive conference between the two staff officers.

"That black shadow Sionna saw..."

"No; this attack was..."

This was no ordinary conversation; its tone was deadly serious. There was a secret at the heart of Lord Leviath's mercenary army - I was sure of it.


We finally left Yah Ma with our questions unresolved. We returned to Shan Su and there boarded a new ship.

This ship was even bigger and more impressive than the last. Until now, the army had chartered a new ship for every interstellar voyage, but this one apparently had been newly purchased.

No one was more thrilled with our magnificent ship than Gerhard. He christened it the Spring, after the pirate ship he himself had once commanded. Bubbling springs were considered good luck among pirates, Maria told us.

Myself, I was preoccupied with the issue of magestone. A ship this huge would unquestionably require an equally huge amount of propulsion.

I wanted to know how magestone was created, how it was used - everything about it, right away.

"Lord Leviath." I called to him in the dining hall, mustering my courage. "Please tell me about magestone. I'd like to know what it is, actually - how it stores and releases its power."

"Why?" Lord Leviath stared at me with his green eye. It unnerved me, like it always did. I couldn't calm myself; it was like he could see right through me. I would venture that I was not alone in my reaction.

"U, um...I was wondering if there might not be a more efficient way of using it."

Lord Leviath nodded deeply. "Very well. This should bring interesting results, knowing you."

"Thank you very much," I said, and quickly fled.

Cain, who had been watching from a distance, approached me. "That's good! Now you can study to your heart's content."

He smiled. My heart leapt, and I couldn't say anything - only nod. It had been a long time since I had been this excited.


Before the day was out, a messenger arrived from Lord Leviath. I was sent to one of the rooms in our lodgings and was upon arrival immediately confronted by about a dozen of our finest mages, with Renaud at their head. When he saw me, Renaud lit up with a smile, but he didn't approach me. He seemed to be waiting for something.

Lord Leviath beckoned me to the middle of the room and pointed to a giant sample of magestone jutting boldly from the center of the table. "This is a sample of ore excavated from the volcanic regions of Armis. I usually infuse stones with power by myself, but considering its size...we will all perform the process together."

Everyone nodded gravely. For someone who was not a mage to witness the cultivation process was an unparalleled honor.

First, Lord Leviath stood in front of the stone, holding up his hands and gathering his spiritual energy. An enormous amount of magic power filled the room, and my skin tingled with the sensation.

Lord Leviath let out his breath with a huff. I heard the bang of a shockwave as something shot from his fingertips toward the stone. Magic energy, it must have been.

Lord Leviath stepped away. Renaud took his place and performed the same procedure. I sensed that the strength of his power was somehow different, but I suppose it didn't matter. Many infused the stone with their power in this manner, returning the stone to Lord Leviath when they had finished. Sometime in the course of the process, I had grown ill from the sensation of magic power; just when I thought I would have to take an early leave, however, the magestone began to crackle with light like fireworks.

Lord Leviath raised one hand; was the stone completely filled with power? The stone was placed in a gold box and carried away by soldiers.

"You understand, then?" Lord Leviath asked, looming before me.

"I understand," I choked out.

"I'm entrusting this to you. It is infused with my power." What he held out in his hand was a sliver of magestone about the size of the tip of his thumb. The samples of magestone one usually encountered were generally far smaller than this.

"Th...thank you." I took the faintly-glowing sample in my hand and unconsciously managed a smile. When I did so, Lord Leviath gave a gentle smile in return.

It took a while before I could move from the shock.

"Sionna! You got a piece of magestone; that's great!" Renaud peered in, eyes shining. But he could use magic power on his own; he had no need of magestone. He was just unaccustomed to seeing such pretty stones, it seemed.

"If you use up its power, don't worry - I'll concentrate for you!"

"Thank you, Renaud."

I found a smile came easily to my lips today - because I was truly happy. I didn't have to force it - I knew it came to me naturally, truly of its own accord.


We lifted off from Shan Su and put the red planet of Fei Lei behind us. Our next destination was yet another star. A long voyage, we were told - long enough to put our previous excursion to shame.

I suppose it was for that purpose, then, that we had prepared for us a new starship. On board was a bar, a recreation area, a gym, and even a theater. The soldiers who had talent in singing and playing musical instruments formed a band and regaled us with their performances during morning and night at mealtime.

Giovanni was skilled at playing musical instruments as well. His fingers and mind were nimble, and every instrument came naturally to him. Eugene was adept at the transverse flute, but he rarely let us hear him play. Kiefar had a taste for stringed instruments. (To a certain extent, in his own words.) The Knight Captains who came from the common classes, myself included, were utterly hopeless musically.

It was at that time that Ka-Fai was assigned to lead a new knight corps devoted to recfonnaissance and covert operations, composed mainly of his former subordinates. He named it Liu Ying, the Flowing Shadow.

I left my cabin only when necessary, immersed in the study of magestone. Renaud would come and ask me to play, but I had no time to spend with him. He soon stopped coming to ask; I suppose he gave up.

My sleeping and eating habits became erratic, and I had barely time to spare for anyone else. Yet I was experiencing a joy I had never before known in my life. Research really seemed to agree with me.

I wanted to analyze the nature of the stone's power - to to put it to a variety of uses, like the mages did. And I didn't want just to harvest the emitted power - I wanted to use the power more efficiently. To do that, I thought, I'd need a control device.

In the center of the shelf that held my materials, the sample of magestone glowed pale white in its glass case.

The Blue of the Straits

After making a stopover for supplies along the way, we landed on the planet of Dune. Our journey took over two months. When we stepped off the ship, our eyes shot shut in the glare of a brilliant sun.

In contrast to Fei Lei, Dune was a jewel of natural beauty, overflowing with water and vegetation. Salandon, its largest city, was known as a playground for the nobility. After several days' rest there, we crossed the sea - and even though it wasn't the same kind of vessel, none of us were enthused at the prospect of being aboard a ship again. No one except Gerhard's group, who were all abuzz.

But it was certainly an agreeable journey, making our way between clear blue waters and a beautiful cloudless sky.

After several days, we arrived at the town of Siesta, located on the straits. We docked and disembarked, then unloaded our cargo. We absent-mindedly watched the unloading process while our lodgings were being prepared.

Renaud slept in the shade of a large tree; tired again, I suppose, from the long journey?

Beyond the wharf, I caught sight of a black shadow. It grew larger and larger as I stared at it, revealing itself to be a group of over twenty people.

"Let's do this, boys!!"

A strong young man's voice carried across the distance over to us, and the others responded with whoops of joy. One might call them young men, but they were naught but children; they had clubs and knives in their hands.

Do what? I wondered - and at just that moment, they flew toward our ship, toward the cargo we had thrown overboard.

The soldiers carrying the goods were caught unaware and ran about trying to escape. "The hell you DOIN'!?!?" Gerhard bolted to his feet, infuriated at the cowardice of the soldiers at the cargo being attacked.

"HEY!! You friggin' brats try layin' a FINGER on this cargo, and I'll break your NECKS!!" His booming voice thundered with menace as Gerhard stormed closer and closer. He grabbed a nearby boy by the collar and tossed him into the sea. In a moment, he had dealt with several of the boys in the same manner.

The soldiers finally regained their composure, and they, too, seized the rampaging boys and forced them down on the pavement. Among them, only a black-haired boy, seemingly their leader, remained to dart about nimbly and agilely, bursting with spirit.

"Hell!......Are you their boss?!" The boy stood all alone before Gerhard; he had some guts.

"Course not!! Our boss ain't got time to waste on little punks like you! You should be grateful his right-hand man's makin' time for ya!" Gerhard gave a hearty laugh, as if he had made a joke, that seemed to suit this place all too well.

"Who's his right-hand man!?"

"Talk is cheap, Gerhard."

While I hadn't been looking, Kiefar and Giovanni had retired to a prime vantage point nearby to take in the scene. The other Knight Captains began to gather around as well, and if Cain hadn't appeared, there would've been no one to quell the clamor.

The boy looked around. Almost all of his underlings had been subdued.

It was then that he pinned all his hope on one last desperate gambit.


He brandished a knife with a huge blade in front of his chest, and stabbed. "Who the hell..." With an agility you'd never have expected from his massive body, Gerhard seized the boy's arm and swiftly grabbed his blade, nimbly plucking it from his hand. He then twisted the boy's arm behind his back with all his might.

"Gyaaaah - owowOW!!"

"...do you take me for?! You stand before the famous Captain Gerhard, notorious throughout Nog's nine seas!!" he spat his favorite catchphrase, full of pride and determination as his eyes turned sharply toward the skies. In the next moment, he turned the knife around in his hand and grazed the boy's nose, plunging the blade into the ground just shy of its tip. "This is how you use a knife, boy!"

"Whoooaa, big bro!"

"Get 'em, boss!--"

His pirate gang's cheers sounded as if they were near tears.

"Is it that impressive?"

"Shameful. An allegedly grown man, taking a child as his opponent..."

I heard Ka-Fai and Eugene whispering behind me. Their opinions were quite sensible, I thought.

Gerhard now sat astride the boy, who was groaning in surrender. ".....goddammit! Friggin' hell!"

"Holy...the hell you buncha useless punks think you were gonna do? Get yer act together before you......huh?" Gerhard peered at the boy. His head was down, and he was visibly quaking.

"You all right?" Gerhard asked, on his guard to make sure that he wouldn't strike back, when suddenly--


A primal howl like that of a wild beast ripped from the boy's throat, and Gerhard was thrown to the ground.


"I'm not...I'm not...I'M NOT USELESS!!"

"Th, the hell you talkin' about?"

"I can do it. I can do it!! So don't hit me...no--no, DON'T!! But I can't stand the cold, so just break it and go...just break it!!"

The words he was muttering seemed to make no sense.

"Break it... break it, BREAK IT!!! AAAAYAAA!!!!" The boy took a nearby wooden box filled with weapons, rolled it around and hoisted it up, and then flung it at some nearby soldiers. It splintered to bits. There were screams, and luggage and drops of blood flew everywhere.

"AAAA-- BREAK IT! GET OUT!! LEAVE ME ALONE!! I'LL KILL YOU!! BREAK IT!!" The boy was rampaging like a demon. It was then for the first time that his followers began to recover themselves, and made their escape en masse. They left no time to ask them what was going on. The boy flung those who tried to contain him with frightful strength; he laid waste to anything his hands could find, inanimate or not. Gerhard reached for him, but the boy bit into his flesh as if ripping meat off a bone. Gerhard screamed and withdrew.

"What's going on down there?"

"Looks like trouble!"

Everyone stood speechless, able only to gawk.

"...It's a soul sickness, I believe." This was Cain's voice, so I turned around - and when I did so, I found Lord Leviath standing with him as well.

"Shall I take care of it?" Ka-Fai brandished a throwing knife and shot a glance at his black-clad master.

Lord Leviath silently turned away from him and stood. I could see only the side with the eyepatch, so I didn't know how much his lone green eye had caught.

As if possessed, the boy with black hair spat curses and smashed everything he touched, a berserker running amok.

"Don't interfere." With that, Lord Leviath walked silently away from his retinue.

It took only a moment. Lord Leviath approached the boy, now rampaging on all fours, and executed a swift chop to the back of his neck. The boy crumpled to the ground like a broken doll.

A quick blow to the vitals, with not a wasted movement. Everyone watching gasped, and a strange silence descended upon the midmorning harbor.

"Oh, God!" It was Gerhard's exclamation that broke the silence. "I'm sorry! Put the kid somewhere where he can rest for me! My arm's screwed up!" When we looked, blood was spurting from Gerhard's right arm, stopped by his left hand. Maria and the other pirates flew to him and gathered around. "No! Him before me!"

Gerhard was worried about the boy. I'm sure that he probably felt some responsibility for him, as it was his own words that had induced his strange condition.

The boy was brought to our lodgings along the wharf.


"Did...did I do it again?" Those were his very first words upon awakening.

The boy said his name was Walter. He was seventeen years old. He was beaten by his father, a fisherman in this port town, as he grew up. About his family, he would speak no further.

At the time, he was the leader of the local juvenile delinquents. They would rob the travelers who got off the ships in gangs and split their ill-gotten gains. His comrades were in it merely for the fun, but he was secretly saving up - his dream, he said, was to someday buy a ship of his own and leave this town.

I couldn't understand why he was so desperate to leave his hometown. But no matter how much family you had, I suppose, there was still a cold, uncrossable abyss between ourselves and others, where we all remained eternal strangers.

The last image of my hometown that remained my in my mind's eye was that of the drawn curtain of the second-story window. I could never see them again - my mother...my father...Kelly, who lived within me.

"I'm sorry," Gerhard meekly said. He had stayed by the head of Walter's bed the entire time. "It was me sayin' that stupid crap that made ya go...like that, wasn't it? I'll be more careful from now on!"

In reality, Gerhard had been given detailed instructions from Lord Leviath and Cain. It was thought that the boy had been incited by his careless words and lost all reason. It could never happen again, they said.

"OK, now. Go on home." Gerhard stood up. The carriages were ready, and we were headed to our next battleground.

"Wait!" Walter suddenly rose with a start. "I dunno where you're going, but anywhere's gotta better than this! Take me with you! I smashed your guys' luggage; I gotta work off what I owe, right? I'll do anything - I mean it!"

Walter's black eyes were earnest. Gerhard, though, suddenly brought his face closer and dropped his voice: "Boy. We're headed for hell right now."

Cain, Giovanni, and I all had the same expression on our faces right then, I'd imagine.

Walter took a look around, then looked back at Gerhard.

"...Hell sounds good to me!" he declared.

Gerhard let out a sigh. He had no defense against those shining eyes; he was a kind man at heart. "Well...lemme speak to the boss." It was rare to hear such equivocation coming from him.

We'd never say no to another soldier, and if he really wanted to join us, there'd be no problem, but...that outburst before. If he had a psychogenic disorder, then there were doubts as to whether we could allow such a dangerous young man to come with us.

"Whoa, thanks! I want you to teach me your knife tricks too, OK!?"

"Whoa, whoa! I told ya, we ain't decided nothin' yet!""

Walter was cheerful, always whipping his head around brightly. It felt good, I suppose, to have a boy like him among our number. In spite of what had happened, we all began to take a liking to Walter. The boy had a strange charm.


Surprisingly, Lord Leviath acted as if he were already planning to take the boy along with us.

"He'll be of use to us. Gerhard, you will train him in preparation for becoming a Knight Captain," he said offhandedly.

"Wait, please. The boy's destructive power is indeed impressive, but if he can't control it, then wouldn't he give us more trouble than the enemy?!" Kiefar had chimed in with his official opinion.

"Sure you aren't just concerned about Gerhard scoring a few brownie points?" Giovanni flashed a malicious smile. Kiefar blanched with rage at being insulted in front of Lord Leviath.

"Ohhhh, did I strike a nerve?! My apologies!" Giovanni cackled.


"--Tend to your personal disputes later. Lord Leviath!" Cain wasted no time taking the situation in hand. "We will of course follow your orders. We merely ask that you give careful deliberation as to whether the boy will be more of a help or a hindrance in times forthcoming."

Lord Leviath seemed to smile, but just a bit. "He could pose no greater danger or threat of calamity in my journey at this late date than what already exists. He comes with us."

"Understood." Cain once again left Walter in Gerhard's hands and gave the order for our forces to move out. We left the inn where we had been resting and headed for out respective squadrons.

At the exit, Kiefar slid up alongside Giovanni. "That'll cost you." He smiled, but only with the corners of his lips.

"Cost me what, I wonder?" Giovanni gave a insouciant flip of his hand and left.

A bleary Renaud wandered by, led by the hand by one of our aides-de-camp.

Lord Leviath made his way through a camp suddenly ablaze with activity and the lines of carriages. Eugene's eyes followed his black-clad figure, his expression full of dread.


Our carriages continued their sojourn over the picturesque rural vistas of the planet of Dune.

The fields of grain were lush and green; the pure white flowers of the orchards were in full bloom. Our road finally met a wide stream whose banks were lined with rows of tall trees, little sandbars brimming with waterfowl...you could gaze at it for hours without ever getting tired.

It was like my homeland of Metamoria, sweet and warm: a pastiche of brilliant colors, of trees and villages and light. Renaud said it looked to him just like Shiva. It reminded him of the mother he had left behind there, and he broke down crying.

One could hardly believe that there could ever be war on a star so beautiful and tranquil as this. But the seed would take root so long as there were people to sow it. One unlucky rain, and it would sprout - and flourish into a great, repulsive tree.

This planet's culture was still young; its government, the source of its problems, consisted of a fractious collection of tiny city-states. We were headed to the Kaliari region, where over forty small such states had loosely formed three major alliances; the standoff between them had lasted several years now. The interim had been an endless succession of unions and dissolutions. The reason why they couldn't form one big state, I imagine, was basically because the land was too bountiful - the armies had too many natural resources to sustain them. The ruling lords would flee their castles once they saw they had no path to victory, then bide their time and raise another army once they had amassed enough power.

"It's like children playing war," said Cain with a bitter smile. "This really is an innocent world." But who had called us here to Kaliari? In truth, no one seemed to know.


The quiet had all the more impact once you remembered that the storm of war in Kaliari lay ahead.

We joined the other parties stationed at the no man's land along the border. The mercenary forces encamped there had ballooned in number, and their tents and makeshift barracks seemed to blot out the underlying countryside.

We were then instructed to conduct troop exercises, still ignorant of when or why we were going to war. Still, the complete details of the plans behind our other campaigns had up till now been kept between Lord Leviath and his staff officers, so there was no cause for alarm, we thought. We made preparations for battle on a nearby hill, developing more effective weapons and whatnot.

This was an ideal opportunity, I thought, so I decided to announce to everyone the results of the research I had conducted on our interstellar voyage. It was a bright, clear afternoon, and the sun beat down overhead as if to draw sweat from our brows. Lord Leviath, the Knight Captains, and all the aides-de-camp had been assembled. I stepped forward into the wild prairie wind with the control device in my hand.

The control device was an opaque metal rod designed to intercept magic power. The circuits within it converted magic power internally; the sample of magestone Lord Leviath had given me was wedged into it. With the added bulk of the rock, the control device fit snugly into my hand.

"So, what did you want to show us? Out with it, Sionna." Giovanni urged, crossing his arms and apparently impatient to know what was going on.

Magestone has a limited range of applications, such as powering ships and large machinery or imparting curses through long-term wear. It would spontaneously discharge its power in certain cases, but no one, it was said, could control its power willfully. That was the province of mages.

Everyone fixed me with a gimlet stare, as if in disbelief at what use I, who lacked the abilities of a mage, had for this magestone.

"......First, a surge of electric energy..." I flipped the switch and held up the control device. I then aimed it at a large stump that lay a short distance away.

There was a huge, dull boom as the stump was split in two and began to burn.

Behind me, my audience was in an uproar.

"There's a little more..." I turned around to announce. "We can also use its power for teleportation."

Everyone fell dead silent.

"Ridiculous!" exploded Kiefar in a rare loss of composure. "That's a difficult trick even for a mage to pull off - and you're saying that YOU've mastered it with a snap of your fingers?"

"Well, we won't know 'til he shows us, will we? Proof's in seein' it, ain't it?" Walter, at Gerhard's side, enthused.

"That's right! Show us, boy!" Gerhard grinned broadly and shot me one of the sharp-eyed glances he occasionally betrayed.

"As I believe you all know, you can teleport only to a place you've visited before." So far as I knew, there was only one mage alive who would teleport at will, without limitations. That was Lord Leviath, and he sat in his usual silence, buffered by the wind. It rustled his coal-black hair slightly, and I averted my eyes to refocus from the distraction.

"......Therefore, I will return to my tent." I concentrated and released the magestone's power.

I felt a peculiar sensation as if my entire body were suddenly fading away. In the next instant, I recognized the familiar sight of the inside of my tent - or gradually came to recognize, as I had arrived so quickly that my eyes needed time to adjust.

I sat down on my bed to wait, and it wasn't long before I heard a clamor of footsteps like an earthquake. Everyone came flying into my tent.

"Wow......you really are in your tent!!"

"Whoa, Sionna! I've ain't ever seen anything like that before!"

"Huh--?? Is he there?!? Ah--!!"

First to arrive were the fleet-footed Giovanni and Walter. Right behind them was Gerhard. Everyone was floored, and there was a regular tumult inside the narrow tent.

"I'm impressed, Sionna. Your research will be of considerable help to us!" Kiefar approached me with an actual full-fledged smile on his face - a complete inversion of his usual self. I turned my eyes from his to the entrance of the tent, just in time to see Eugene and Renaud come in.

Renaud ran up to me with a beaming face and gasping breath. "Wow, Sionna! I, I've never teleported b-before!"

"I know!"

"U-um, Sionna...do you think I...I might be able one day to do what you did?"

"Yes, you will! I know you will!" I cried. Renaud's power was a thousand times - ten thousand times stronger than this rock. He would become only more and more powerful as he matured, and wield ever more marvelous abilities.

"Hey - the stone's power is all used up." I removed the control device from the magestone, now just a unremarkable white lump I rolled in my hand.

"Really? ...Th-then, here - let me charge it up again for you!" Renaud grasped the stone tightly in his soft hands and flashed a brilliant smile.

"Can you do it?" I asked in a small voice.

"Yes! I've done it plenty of times with Lord Leviath and made lots of HUGE rocks!"

"No, no - not here, Renaud." Eugene stooped down and spoke softly, so the others wouldn't hear him. He was concerned that if my equipment combined with Renaud's power, the resultant overflow would run amok.

But it was too late. I had already demonstrated its power in front of too many people. It was clear that ever greater force would be put to ever greater applications - meaning, more efficient methods of destruction and murder.

Outside the tent, Lord Leviath and Cain stood side by side, bathed in golden light. They said nothing and remained expressionless, watching me. We had an unspoken understanding right from the start: I could do anything I wished, so long as I remained useful to Lord Leviath. Just like Renaud - poor, sweet Renaud, who had to shoulder such a burden due to the great innate power with which he was born. I could at least share a little of the load.

"I know that, Eugene!!" Renaud whispered as if it were a joke.

I added: "It's all right, Eugene. He'll be safe. ......We'll watch out for him - I promise."

Eugene fixed me with a look of pure shock.


We'd been playing host to some strange visitors as of late. They came in several different groups, not all at once. One day, one group would come; the next, another...coming and going, one after another, restless and uneasy as they crossed enemy lines.

They would meet with Lord Leviath in his tent and then return. Cain and Kiefar would be present for these meetings as well.

On close inspection, one could tell that the rank of the visitors from day to day grew higher and higher - their clothing grew more high-class, their bearing ever more refined, the number of retainers accompanying them increasing.

One day, I was called to Cain's tent to exchange ideas on possible uses for magestone. With the use of a control device, we could infuse even weapons and armor with its energy. They could augment the abilities of whoever possessed them, allowing anyone easy access to their power. "Take Gerhard's scimitar, for example. With magestone, he could..."

"Wait." Cain stopped me and rose to his feet. "Who's there? Please, come in," he called to the entrance of his tent, drawing his sword with one hand. Underneath the desk, I, too, readied the control device to my magestone.

"F...forgive me!" All but prostrate as he entered, a man came forward, clad in the dress customary to this planet.

"Ah, was it you, Sir Hughes? You're a bit early for our meeting. And this is my tent, not..."

"Ohhh, I know! I, I beg you to forgive my impertinence. I just came to have a talk with you, Sir Cain."

"With me?" Cain stared at the man with his eyes of molten silver, his expression betraying no emotion.

The man called Hughes was middle-aged, with deeply tanned skin, a moustache adorning a gentle face. His expression, though, was marred by some sort of apparent internal distress. "To speak frankly...if you would be so kind as to give us insight into the inclinations of your esteemed chieftain...no, into how you yourself feel, there would be no bounds to my gratitude...!"

"Despite what you may believe, I cannot read my master's mind." Cain betrayed a very slight smile. "Whichever prince or lord has struck a chord with him in the past; with whom he shall continue negotiations in the future...I know only that there is not necessarily one path he may take...."

"I, Indeed! Of course - if it were not so, I'd be in quite the bind! But if you could give your assistance to our Lord Cassalo - if your lord by some inconceivable incident should meet with Lord Kenneth or those beasts of Sion, if you yourself could put a few words in your lord's ear..."

"I understand well what you wish to say, Lord Hughes." Cain raised a hand to halt the man's fevered pleas. "Please communicate those sentiments at the bargaining table. Do so, and your determination shall surely convince our lord."


"Now, please, to your feet. Go, quickly, before anyone sees you." Cain helped the man to his feet and took him outside the tent. He kept the entrance slightly open and continued watching for a while; once, I suppose, he could see the man no more, he tore his eyes away and closed the curtain.

"......So that's it," I said in a small voice. Cain's sharp ears caught my comment, and his piercing eyes trained on me.

"Yes. That is it."


"You understand well."

"It seems like something he'd pull."

Cain broke out into laughter at hearing the idea so plainly stated. Rare, for him. "You could say that. ...But I will serve Lord Leviath to the bitter end."

Cain at length stopped laughing. leant on his desk with his elbow and brushed his silver hair back. "He is truly a magnificent man. And his strategy will lead him to victory, in the end." Words of praise, but they were at the same time an admission of fearsome emotion. Even someone like Cain served Lord Leviath just like the rest of us, with the same deference and awe we all had. There was another side to the cool-headed staff officer he never let show.

And it was rare, indeed, for him to open his heart to me.

By finally revealing to me the truth behind this campaign, did this mean that his inclinations toward me were more warm than ill? Thinking back on it, he was the very first person to ever understand me, in my loneliness.

"It's working. I see it just by that man's reaction just now," I said, lifitng my face to meet Cain's eyes. "We'll be moving out any time now, won't we?"

He returned my stare. "Indeed." His silver eyes sparkled with a wistful touch of blue.


As predicted, in three days' time, it was all settled.

"So our employer was Alder, hmm?" Giovanni whirled about, a long-stemmed glass in his hand.

"Well, they coulda jes' said so," Walter said, alternately drawing cards and immediately throwing each one back in the pile.

"Heh, don't make no difference! It's the way things always go! Now, let's go get ready to move out!" Gerhard stood up, already rolling up his sleeves. The three got along swimmingly and as of late often acted in concert.

Finally, the battle had begun. The news spread through our camp like wildfire.

We had spent the last two months traveling amidst the most beautiful scenery. The change of seasons was now upon us, and the temperature had fallen considerably. The trees were laden with fruit, and flocks of birds flew across a clear sky.

Kaliari was divided between three great military powers: Alder, Norma, and Sion. Our destination was Alder, which lay to the east. But on our march, we were besieged by incessant visits from messengers, and Lord Leviath did not refuse them an audience. As if to flaunt our strength, we passed through Sion and Norma, taking a leisurely path to our destination of Talissa, Alder's capital.

Our old Hughes was waiting for us. This was the domain of the Lord Cassalo whom he served. Hughes greeted us with deference and beckoned us to the inner sanctum of the keep. There we found a lord and vassals with a good humor similar to their familiar retainer; they welcomed us with a feast that lasted for several days.

"I have known no greater joy than the honor of your presence in our keep. Please, grace us with the benefit of your strength." The aged lord repeated this as a mantra to Lord Leviath, never leaving his side.

Hughes's profile in the court clearly seemed to have increased considerably for his role in the negotiations. He appeared quite pleased with himself.

Our liquor-loving comrades were ecstatic at our welcome, but Eugene, Renaud, and I sat apart from the festivities. Ka-Fai sat even further away, as if completely to reject his present company. Having grown up in extreme poverty, he made no attempt to disguise his disgust at such extravagance.

Eugene seemed lost in thought for a long time. When Kiefar passed by, he grabbed him by the sleeve and whispered someting in his ear. Kiefar chuckled deep in his throat and responded, "......Try to keep quiet, if you can. The real show begins now."

After casting a fleeting baleful glance at Kiefar, Eugene averted his gaze and said nothing.

"Hmmm, the boy looks like he's fallen asleep. Always sleeping, that one." Kiefar nervously pointed at Renaud with one of his long fingers and left.

Renaud had fallen fast asleep on the table. "He really does sleep a lot." I moved the serving dishes that seemed to be in the way of his arms. Renaud grew weak at night, and lately he truly had been sleeping a great deal - frequently falling asleep at the dinner table. There was nothing we could do - he was a child, after all; so I wanted to say, but I had been a night owl since I was little, so it was hard for me to judge.

Eugene gave a start at the sound of my voice and looked at Renaud. "Then, let's let put him to bed." He smiled just a little bit, then called a soldier over and told him to carry Renaud to his room.

Eugene then got up and walked away. Something certainly seemed to be on his mind. He, too, seemed to realize that something was up.

No one had called Lord Leviath to this planet. Not at the start. We had simply marshalled our forces at the outskirts of the territory. Started our drills. As if we wanted to be seen.

And when they did notice us, the lords were shocked. Our presence had them jumping at shadows; they were falling all over themselves with plans to make this great army of mercenaries their own, prompted by nothing more than their own imaginations. They had to win our favor - not only to increase their own military might, but to prevent their rivals from increasing theirs.

And the result was as we saw - emissaries to our camp day and night. Leviath and his two staff officers never divulged who had hired us, doing all they could to mislead without actually misleading, putting forth their best efforts to sow anxiety and unease, to inflate our worth.

And here we were now.

As he said before, Kiefar thought that our true challenge now lay before us.

We probably had this planet in our sights even before we left. We had a definite objective, it seemed - but in order to accomplish it, we needed something more.


But there was just one thing that remained unclear.

Lord Leviath had gathered us together...fought through planet after planet...expanded his shadowy influence like bonds drawing ever tighter.

Why? For what purpose? Was his ambition to become the ruler of a domain that spanned our universe?

That would indeed be a grand objective. But it didn't seem to suit Lord Leviath. His quiet eye - that eye of emerald that held immeasurable light and darkness within its depths - had something else in its sights.

I - we - could do nothing but watch.

Demon Mist

Lord Cassalo had prepared for us a great manor house in the capital of Talissa. We even had chefs and gardeners.

"They have passable taste for a little kingdom in the sticks," said Kiefar, who seemed exceptionally pleased with his new lodgings. Someone like myself, on the other hand, felt exceptionally ill at ease in such a beautifully-furnished room. Walter himself found his bed too soft, and joked that the first night, he'd slept on the floor.

After several days, though, a person grows accustomed to his surroundings. We seemed to sense that such a long and comfortable stay would be paid for with commensurate hardship later on.

The manor was a two-story building with high ceilings, a chapel with a clock tower attached, and several outbuildings where the servants slept. The soldiers' tents had been pitched inside the grounds. Tall mountains thick with green framed the manor in back, and one could make out farm settlements scattered here and there near its foot. It was a deeply calming scene, typical of this planet.

I liked the scent of harvest time that was newly in the air, the muted brightness of the turn of season, and from time to time, I took a stroll around the manor. I encountered many birds and insects, but I now had no desire to take their lives. Was it, perhaps, because I had found to some degree a sense of purpose through joining these mercenaries? As Cain promised, I had seen the death I wanted - and yet, no matter how much of it I witnessed, I still could not find a sense of fulfillment or joy in this thing called life. Perhaps I would remain emotionally incomplete for the rest of my days.

Renaud grew restless when he heard the bells of the clock tower ring; the boy pulled me along with him, and my feet found their way to the chapel constantly. The chapel interior was simple and graceful, a charcoal wooden framework with walls painted ivory. There were many pews and a great altar constructed of the same wood. It had no icons or murals depicting the miracles of the gods, which came as a bit of a relief to me. The display of anger from Lord Leviath in the chapel in Shiva was terrible to behold - and as of yet unrepeated.

Happily, Renaud seemed to have forgotten all about that time. He would go the very first row, kneel, and offer words of prayer to his brother in heaven.

And I knew that after he killed a great many people, he offered prayers for their souls, too. His tears were beautiful - nothing that I could ever offer or approach.


Eventually, we received news that Sion's army had begun to move, and we were issued orders to move out. Cain seemed to consider this first battle to be a proving ground for our new units: Ka-Fai's Liu Ying, composed mainly of light infantry, and the provisional unit Walter had assembled from younger cavalry soldiers chosen from Gerhard and Giovanni's corps. These two units led the charge, and the other knight captains' corps followed. At the very back of the army sat Lord Leviath and his very own personal unit, clad in gold.

The two armies faced each other from across a river. The soldiers across from us bounded into the water, and the battle was joined.

But Ka-Fai's troops had already pulled out many a hard-fought victory in battles far more bitter than this; they more than rose to the challenge. The enemy was relying on sheer numbers, but they never stood a chance. In the blink of an eye, the lines of battle were broken, and Walter's subsequent charge was really just a rout. Some of our foes fell into the river with their armor on; they simply drowned where they fell.

Sion's army had no resistance to running from the outset. They turned tail and fled instantly.

"Ohhhh - goin' home already?!" a beaming Walter shouted at the retreating foe, who had already put a good distance between them and us.

"Tuh - you fight a worthless enemy like that, it's bad for your morale!" Gerhard hadn't even gotten a chance to go out on the battlefield; he vented his frustration on a nearby tree, punching it untill it fell. The soldiers who had been standing where it landed scurried away in fright.

Amidst it all, I caught a sudden glimpse of Lord Leviath. He was staring at a forest to his left; following his gaze, I spotted Eugene standing at its border.

He nodded silently.

Eugene's unit was small in number and always hidden away in an inconspicuous place, biding their time in their simple uniforms of blue-grey. So it was here as well; if you strained your eyes, you could make out a few dark shapes lurking in the forest.

Eugene moved nothing but his head, turning to utter a few words to his subordinates. The black shadows then noiselessly disappeared - all, to Eugene, apparently according to plan. He resumed his previous stance, as if nothing had happened at all.

I had always understood that Eugene's unit acted upon covert orders, but...the sight I happened to glimpse that day lingered in my heart and impressed upon it a certain sense of dread.


The rumors that confronted us when we returned to the manor should have been incredible.

Sion's defeated army, we heard, had reentered Alder territory and burned a village to the ground. The inhabitants had all been killed. Lord Cassalo was enraged and announced an invasion of Sion.

This was clearly strange. Sion's army had no reason to exact such revenge. The evidence amounted to some weapons and personal belongings from Sion troops left behind at the scene, but such items could easily be found after a battle, scattered about the battleground.

...Our battleground.

I quietly watched Eugene, who stood silently staring out the window.

The weather, I'd thought, had been getting steadily worse since morning, and before midday, a white mist had descended from the mountainside, covering everything in a thick, ashen blanket.

"This fog is trouble," muttered Cain, gazing at it through the window.

"But it could also be used to one's advantage," replied Eugene. Indeed, to the members of his Moonlight, who crept like shadows to snipe their targets, a thick fog would be their ally. The pale figure Eugene presented was itself kindred to the elusive mist.

"I hate this fog," growled Ka-Fai. Glinting with fierce red light, his almond eyes narrowed into a hard, cautious stare, and he peered into the mist ahead. He looked behind him - his sharp sixth sense, perhaps? For indeed, soon enough, from within the mist would emerge a new threat.


"Heyyy--! I saw somethin' weird out there just now!" cried Walter's voice as the boy ducked into the salon. Giovanni and Gerhard were there, where amusing themselves after dinner with a game of cards; Walter himself had been present until just a few minutes ago, when he'd left for his room. "There was some guy all in black with a hat on in the courtyard!"

I had been reading, but my head shot up with a gasp at this news.

"How much did you drink, boy!?" Giovanni laughed.

A now-irritated Walter insisted: "He was there! I saw him! If you think I'm lying, come see for yourself!"

"All right, all right, I'm coming. Now, what do I stand to win if I'm right?" With lithe movements, Giovanni rose from the couch and followed the black-haired boy out the doorway.

A little time passed.

I sat at the table in a daze. My eyes happened to meet those of Gerhard, whose rough hands had been fidgeting with the cards.

"W......what's wrong, boy?" I could see there was sweat on Gerhard's brow, too.

"I saw him." The words finally came out. "I saw the man in black.......Before, in Shiva, at midnight.....around the time that the manor was attacked." We both stood up as I spoke; the others had been gone a long time - too long. Why hadn't they come back yet?

I followed Gerhard out into the courtyard. The white mist lingered even at midnight, flowing like a thick liquid.

Walter's body was splayed across the cobblestone. "Walter! Hey--wake up!" Gerhard propped the boy up in his arms. He opened his eyes a little.

"Owowow--" Walter held his head.

Gerhard snapped: "What the hell happened?!"

"Gerhard...don't move him. Instead..." Just then, I spotted Giovanni's body in the center of the courtyard. I went to his side and tried shaking his shoulders. He gave a great cough, and his body jolted into consciousness.

"Wha--Giovanni?! Now what the hell happened to you?!" Gerhard ran to us.

"He's been strangled."


"I should know; I've done it enough myself. Turn him over and help him up so he can get some air in his windpipe."

"Eh?.......Ahhhh!" Gerhard turned Giovanni face up, supporting his slender back and neck.

"Uhhhh......!" Giovanni revived, albeit wracked by fierce coughs, . "He......he did it...!" He raised his left arm and pointed toward the roof of one of the buildings lining the courtyard. "......over there......"

"He flew up on the roof?" Giovanni nodded in response to Gerhard's query.

Walter ran up to us in a half-stumble. The boy had remarkable powers of recuperation. "Dammit! He must've gotten Giovanni after he smacked me! Rotten mother--just he wait!!"

"What's all this?" Kiefar had emerged from the door opposite the dining hall. Ka-Fai, too, showed himself a little while afterward.

"He got his neck wrung by some guy in black!" Gerhard answered for Giovanni, who appeared to be still in pain.

"Ohhh...fancy someone hating you that much!" Kiefar snickered.

"....Someone like you, I imagine!" Giovanni gave a terrific glare. "You've had it in for me ever since what happened in Siesta!"

"Since what happened?" Kiefar played the perfect angel. But it wasn't in his nature to overlook being disrespected in front of Lord Leviath.

Ka-Fai began to make a search of the ground nearby.

"Finding anything?" Kiefar approached with a lordly gait. Ka-Fai silently pointed to the trunk of a huge tree in full leaf. "Ahhh, I see. So he climbed that to get up on the roof..."

"The man couldn't have weighed much."

"Like you?"

"What are trying to say?" This time, it was Ka-Fai and Kiefar glaring at one another.

In the meantime, Eugene and Cain had arrived from the dining hall side. "What in God's name happened here?" Cain asked Giovanni, kneeling on the ground.

"That's what I'd like to know," he managed in a hoarse voice, holding his neck.

"A guy dressed all in black attacked us and ran up on the roof!" Walter pointed to the mist-shrouded sky. He had already regained much of his energy.

"A man in black...?" Cain looked at Kiefar. Their eyes met, then shot to me at the same time.

"I didn't see him tonight!" I replied, turning away from the many stares I suddenly felt on me.

"Then, our enemy might be once again be upon us, hm?" Eugene offered a cold opinion.

"That's right; alert the troops!" The two staff officers stood up, and everyone returned to the dining hall.

I approached Eugene. "Is Renaud still sleeping?"

"Yes." Eugene nodded.

"Hasn't he been sleeping a lot lately?"

"Mages expend a great deal of spiritual energy. They have to sleep more than others."


"Really." Eugene left, but I mulled over his words. If what he said were true, then what about Lord Leviath? My conversations with him had been limited in the times he'd been with us, but I'd gotten the impression that he barely slept at all. The lights were always on in his room, and I could see a tall figure constantly pacing throughout the night through the curtain on his window.

I looked up through the mist to the window of Lord Leviath's second-story chamber. There was a light on there tonight as well, and I could dimly make out Lord Leviath's figure through the haze. The sight put my mind at ease somewhat.

But in the next instant--


The room went up in flame with a bang, as if a huge amount of gunpowder had been detonated.

The shock wave blew me back. Some time passed before I could open my eyes.

The white mist had disappeared. The portion of the manor where the room had been was gone - gouged out - and covered with thick smoke.

My ears were ringing, and my field of vision gradually drowned in pitch black.

And then......I lost consciousness.


When I came to, my eyes met a ceiling covered in faint darkness.

Was it day or night? Probably twilight, as the midday warmth still lingered.

"Sionna! ......H, his eyes are open, Eugene!"

"Shhh...quiet, now."

At the head of my bed here Renaud and Eugene...no, not just them. There were several people peering at me from my bedside. I was a little shocked.

"Sionna, you gotta be hungry. I brought 'cha some fruit; want some?"

"Walter, the boy hardly eats. Stop pushin' fruit on 'im."

"'Don't do this,' 'don't do that' - you sound like a nurse!"

"I'm the nurse?! You're the mother hen, with all your fussin' over 'im!"

"Ha ha ha! That's a laugh, Gerhard--!"

"The hell you sayin'?!" And in the next instant, there was a huge fight.

Then the door opened, and someone walked in. From the footsteps, I recognized him as Cain.

"Sionna, are you awake?" It was indeed Cain. He looked down at my face with what appeared to be a bit of concern.

"Cain......what happened to Lord Leviath?"

Cain stared at me. From his lips came an unbelievable response. "The entire room was blown apart. There would be no body. Sion and Norma are attacking; they know our leader is gone. In a little while, we're going to have to make preparations to fight."

"Impossible...!" I stared at Cain's cold expression. No emotion appeared there.

"H, he's right!" Renaud took my left hand in his two warm ones. "Until the battle's over, it's true - that Lord Leviath's gone, I mean."

I covered my face with my right hand. "What...how...?!"

"Are, are you shocked, Sionna?"

"Yes, I'm shocked! I thought I was going to pass out again!" I thought everyone was going to laugh, but they didn't.

"You made the same face I did, Sionna, when I heard the news! Gets me right here, I gotta say. Dunno why!" Walter said. The look on his face made it plain that he was not joking. The others also regarded me with expressions that were deadly serious.

Did I look that shaken? When I first heard of Lord Leviath's feigned death, I thought I myself would die - not of grief, but of despair. Even now when I thought of it, there was a pain in my chest as if I were being strangled - even though no previous death had inspired in me such a feeling. Was some sort of change taking place inside me?

"I'm sorry, Sionna. I didn't mean to frighten you," Cain said in his usual soft voice.

I paused briefly and then asked: "Who was in Lord Leviath's room?"

"A body double. Kiefar and I both have given a great deal of thought to the situation since the attack in Shiva. And this makes the third... The time for us to sit idly by and be played for fools has passed."

Shiva and Yah Ma, and now Kaliari...our unknown foe had found out our location every time. Lord Leviath and his staff officers were attempting to counter him, it seemed.

"It's the man in black, isn't it?"

"Yes. I cannot say he is unconnected."

I thought back to the figure I saw, standing with its hair and cape fluttering in the wind. Diving off that precipice into the depths below...what had been his objective? I couldn't fathom why he had been there then...what he meant to accomplish there.

Was...was he our true enemy?


With the onset of the cold season, Kaliari's three great powers clashed on the fields of Alder.

Kiefar's original plan was probably to take more time, play the armies against each other, and wear them down gradually. Being Kiefar, though, he was naturally able to turn the unexpected development of the attack on Lord Leviath to his advantage. Secret messengers had been coming and going from the manor constantly, and we had promised both Norma and Sion that we would switch allegiances once the battle began.

We stared at the battle from our appointed positions on the field. With Lord Leviath's position vacant, we had only Kiefar and Cain left - and no one had been told where they had gone.

"Hey, you think...you think the boss is really all right?" Gerhard muttered with a rare lack of confidence.

"What're you sayin', Gerhard?" Walter's voice seemed to wither as he spoke.

Giovanni put the nail in the coffin. "Well...you never know, with Kiefar. He wouldn't think twice about pulling the wool over our eyes."

"Lord Leviath's just fine!" Everyone turned around at this pronouncement. "It's clear to us." Eugene put his hand on Renaud's back and nodded.

"W, whaddaya mean?"

"Guess you didn't know, did ya, Walter? Eugene and Renaud can tell when there's magecraft around - sense its presence. ...Hey, come to think of it - you can't tell where Lord Leviath is, can ya?"

"He usually dampens his aura, so we can't quite ascertain his exact whereabouts."

"Whaat? Some good you are, then!" Walter snapped, whipping his head away. But his expression held a hint of joy.

"Well, they said he's all right, so what's there to worry about!?" Gerhard bared his white teeth.

Just then, we heard the cries of battle from the front lines.


Our task was simple. One by one, each unit would disperse to various points on the battlefield...and do nothing.

So as not to arouse suspicions, we took up only positions that were difficult to defend. Since we had communicated our intentions to both of the invading armies beforehand, they didn't even attack us. Our mercenaries were completely transparent in our movements.

Of course, attacked from both sides, the Alder army was torn to pieces, but Ka-Fai's unit rescued Lord Cassalo just before his fortress fell and facilitated his escape. Cain and Kiefar immediately headed with the defeated generals for Talissa's castle. And so Alder fell into our hands. It was only a matter of time before all of Kaliari did as well.


By the time we had gotten back to the manor and finished dinner, night had already fallen.

I thought Gerhard and his crew would go crazy with not having fought, but they were quiet tonight. Since his experience in Yah Ma, I suppose they now understood that they'd get to go on a rampage sooner or later.

Renaud and Eugene retired to their rooms. I myself left the dining hall for a while as well, but the clamor of the daytime battle still rang in my mind, and I couldn't sleep. I took the book I was reading and left my room, taking a seat by a window that looked out upon the courtyard. The light, I noted, was better in the dining hall than it was in my own room. A servant brought me tea, and I spent a while immersed in my book.

I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I looked up.

I was just in time to catch the sight of a black cape fluttering softly to the ground.

Without thinking, I snapped to my feet and cried out. Perhaps noticing from the shifting of the light, the shadow wreathed in black turned around. Disheveled long, black hair peeked from beneath his wide-brimmed hat, and his eyes glinted like a cat's in the darkness.

Just then, as if to block my view, another shadow dropped down from above. His body crouched low as he touched down, and righted itself as smoothly as silk.

It was Ka-Fai. From behind, I saw him run for the door opposite the dining hall. The man in black had bolted; Ka-Fai followed him and disappeared behind the door as well.

I called to the three figures hunched around the card table. "It's the man in black!...Ka-Fai's chasing him!" Everyone tensed and shot to their feet at once, their chairs clattering to the floor.


"That way!" I pointed, and Gerhard burst out of the dining-hall door with all of his considerable might.


At either end of the corridor beyond the door lay two rooms that usually went unused. If you turned left, you would eventually reach a staircase that led up to our rooms. When we arrived, we saw a pale-haired young man leaning against the railing.

"Eugene! Which way'd he go!?"

"...upstairs!" Had the man in black attacked him? He was sheet white and could say no more. The three men ran up the staircase, and I followed.

Counting from the front, the upstairs rooms had been assigned to Renaud, Eugene, Cain, and Kiefar, with Lord Leviath's half-ruined room at the very end. There, the moonlight shone through the crumbled walls, casting the shadow of a human figure against the opposite end of the corridor. We ran up to the room's entrance and stood stunned in the doorway.

Ka-Fai, knife in hand, was facing off against the man in black. The obsidian figure stood out against the pale moonlight like the darkness itself. The confrontation was eerie and noiseless - an unreal sight.

Ka-Fai closed the difference between his opponent slowly, looking for an opening.

He slashed with his sharp knife. The figure flickered and returned in kind. It was as if he weighed nothing at all.

There was a breathless exchange of blows - but then the shade glided noiselessly forward and grabbed Ka-Fai's arm.

"Uh--!" Ka-Fai dropped his knife; he was thrown to the floor. As possessed by an unseen force, his right arm began to convulse.

Still watching his opponent, the man in black slowly began to back away. But there was nothing behind him.

He fell. Just like before.

We approached the edge of the floor, but looking down from our vantage point, we saw nothing among the shrubbery and cobblestone below. ...Had he vanished?

"Hey, you okay?" Gerhard held out his hand, but Ka-Fai said nothing and stood silently on his own. He grimaced as he held his right arm.

"Gotta be pretty stiff competition to give you a hard time," Giovanni said, a smirk on his face. Saying nothing in response, Ka-Fai walked to toward the corridor. He passed by Eugene, who had caught up with us. The two exchanged glances for but a moment. Then Ka-Fai disappeared.

"Just who is he, that man in black?" Giovanni picked Ka-Fai's knife up off the floor, toying with it in his hand.

"H--hey!! We gotta get after 'im!" Walter shouted, having snapped back to reality.

"No use if no one can catch him, hmm?" For some reason, Giovanni directed his reply at Eugene. Eugene lifted his head and was about to speak, when--


A stream of fire erupted from the dining hall below.


The blast from the explosion battered the unadorned walls and threw everyone to the rubble-strewn floor. In a split second, Gerhard was upon me, covering me with his own body. The spot where I had been standing was consumed by roaring flame.

This was no ordinary fire. ...This was a magecraft attack.

"Dammit! He already got us!" Giovanni's sharp gaze and pale face were tinged orange in the light of the blaze.

"Hurry up 'n' put it out!! Can you stand, boy?!"

"Yes...thank you."

Gerhard patted me on the head and rushed away. Walter and Giovanni both followed him. Only a dazed-looking Eugene and I were left behind.

The pillar of flame billowed up behind us. "Eugene, we have to get out of here!" I went up to him, and he looked at me with hollow eyes. "The fire's coming this way..." I took him by the sleeve and shook him.

Eugene suddenly came to. He turned around. "...Renaud!" He rushed straight for Renaud's room and flung open the door.

Little Renaud should have been sound asleep in bed. But there was no one there. The room was lightless and still as death. Eugene stood stunned for a moment, then slowly sunk to the floor.

The Rightful Heir

Renaud had disappeared.

Our troops, led by Leviathan's gang of former pirates, had somehow managed to put out the fire by the time half the manor had burned. Once the casualties had been accounted, the search began for the missing...namely, Renaud.

We scoured every corner of the manor and its grounds, but no trace of him could be found. Widening our search would have to wait till dawn. The possibility that he had been consumed by the fire was on everyone's minds, but no one gave it voice.

Before we realized it, Eugene had also disappeared.

With Lord Leviath's whereabouts unknown and the two staff officers away, issuing orders to our entire body of troops proved difficult, but Gerhard and Giovanni joined forces to rise to the task.

Night was already falling when we gathered in one of the rooms on the first floor of our half-burned manor to hear the situation reports from our subordinates. Everyone, as expected, looked drained.

"...And here I thought he was Eugene." Giovanni suddenly spoke, and we all were confused.

"Huh? Who was, Giovanni?"

"That man in black! The one who choked me." He put a hand to his neck, as if it still pained him. "Just a feeling I had. Guess it was far off the mark."

Ka-Fai, who had been leaning against the wall with his eyes closed, slowly lifted his lids to reveal a glint of crimson beneath. "Not that far," he stated in an emotionless voice.

"What do you mean?"

"When I was chasing him before, I had already made a search of the first floor. No burglar willingly flees to higher ground. While I was doing so, Eugene came down the staircase. He said he'd run into the man upstairs. That's when I saw him."

"You're sayin' he had time to change places with 'im?" Walter was quick to catch on.

"Wait...change places with who?" Ka-Fai fixed Gerhard with a hard stare in response to his question.

"Someone whose skills were on par with your own." Giovanni's expression was now deadly serious.

"Yes." Ka-Fai nodded, and no one had anything more to say. The revelation hit us all - but no one understood what was going on. No, not even me. There was no reason for any of us to cause each other harm.


It was almost dawn, but we decided to rest for a bit to prepare ourselves for the upcoming day. We still had a war on our hands, after all.

My room was in shambles through its baptism in flame, so I had moved to another room that had been prepared for me. I lay down on a brand-new bed, and my thoughts turned to Renaud - and Eugene's lifeless eyes.


I had been right there - and yet I understood nothing. I could do nothing.

Even though I probably couldn't have saved him at any rate.

But it was my fault - for not taking an interest in anyone else.

I didn't try to see anything. And I realized nothing.

I regretted it. But it was too late.


I put my hand in my pocket and took out the magestone control device. Renaud had divided his power and shared it with me - out of concern for me. To help me. I closed my hand tightly around the device.

I pushed the button and released its power. "Please...take me to Renaud...!"


I had never wished for anything so badly in my entire life.

A teardrop fell on the back of my clenched fist.

The magestone would work only as well as I concentrated, so...


My knees ran cold beneath me, and I came to with a gasp.

It seemed as if I were kneeling on a dark stone floor. I looked up and saw a ceiling of thick, interlocked logs and wooden beams.

It was the chapel. The pews were all in their proper rows before my eyes. I had teleported behind a pillar near the entrance.

There was a light on the altar. The interior of the chapel was faintly illuminated by candlelight.

I noiselessly stood and peered out from the spot I occupied behind the pillar. What I saw took my breath away.

Renaud was lying face up on the altar. Behind it stood Lord Leviath - a coal-black figure, a ragged shred of darkness. And before the altar, kneeling and head bowed, I saw Eugene.


"Forgive me - forgive me, Lord Leviath..." His voice was trembling, and he was crying. "You knew everything...but said nothing. I took advantage of your silence and thus placed you in danger many times. I cannot atone for this crime, even with my death."

Lord Leviath stood noiselessly, as if even his breathing had stopped.

"I wanted only to save Renaud. I tried all possible means, but in the end...there was nothing I could do." Eugene raised his head, as if to shake off his confusion. "I do not know your great ambition, but I know that we are a hindrance to it. I will end my life along with Renaud's. You will see this done...!"

Lord Leviath stared hard at him. His lips parted, and from within issued one word. "No."

Eugene was beside himself with panic. "Why...why?! Then Renaud will...you will...!"

"I will not permit my followers' lives to be stolen from me so easily." He walked around the altar and, passing by Eugene, intoned: "We are bringing Renaud with us. Understood?"

Eugene hung his head in supplication. "......Yes!"


The door flung open before Lord Leviath could reach the entrance.

"Lord Leviath!" Cain and Kiefar came rushing in.

Lord Leviath's eye narrowed as he regarded the two; its emerald light shone brilliantly even in the darkness. "So Kiefar found me, did he?...Yes, I remember the cave from nine years ago."

The two staff officers exchanged glances. They then caught sight of Eugene and Renaud in the chapel. Their faces stiffened.

Cain held out a hand and pointed to the altar. "Renaud - is he...?"

Lord Leviath gave a chuckle deep in his throat. "Don't worry - he's not dead. He's simply in a deep sleep. He's be back to normal once the effects wear off."

"What are you saying?! Please explain yourself, Lord Leviath!"

"Is it true that Eugene there was the man in black?" The staff officers bombarded Lord Leviath with questions.

Lord Leviath was dispassionate as always. "...It was a simple matter. Renaud's magic power is too strong, and would on occasion shatter my force fields. This would in turn alert the emperor's mages to our location from time to time."

"What!?" Kiefar shouted. His face was white.

"So then, the previous attacks indeed have been the work of the emperor?" Cain, too, was shaken.

Myself, I didn't understand what they were saying. The Emperor's mages? Even if they did know our location, why would they attack Lord Leviath?

Heedless of these questions, Lord Leviath continued his explanation unconcerned. "Renaud's magic power was at its strongest at night, when he would sleepwalk. He would regularly walk to the chapel, disperse his magic power there, and then collapse. Eugene knew this and took on the guise of the man in black to cover up his movements, and gave him sleeping medicine in an attempt to contain his power. ...As you see, it was not successful."

The staff officers were silent.

At last, Cain knelt before Lord Leviath and bowed his head. "I beg of you...please, find a way to spare Eugene and Renaud."

Upon hearing this, Kiefar lifted his eyes. "What are you saying, Cain? These are dangerous individuals! We have no option but submit them to military discipline and punishment!"

"If we do so, then Sionna will be gravely hurt. I myself am incapable of demonstrating my love for that child. I cannot bear for him to lose his beloved friend as well...!"

My heart tore in two at his words.

He was wrong. I had always felt Cain's love. I simply had never been alive enough to understand the debt I owed him! I felt a desperate urge to cling to him and beg his forgiveness.

Kiefar laughed through his nose and sneered. "Well, isn't this special! You're disqualifying yourself, then, from your position as staff officer?"

"I know we cannot take them with us, but at least spare their lives...!"

"They're coming with us. Both of them." So Lord Leviath declared.

It was the staff officers' turn to be speechless.

"My decision is final!" With a flap of his cape, Lord Leviath left the chapel.

"Please, wait!"

"Lord Leviath!" They both ran after him in a fluster.

Eugene, too, stood once more and began to make for the exit.

His legs looked as if they would give way beneath him. I came out and lent my support to his sagging frame.

"Sionna." Eugene looked back at me with a haggard face. His eyes looked as always like two cold moons, but they were wet with tears. "I was lying to you all this time. Please forgive me."

I gave a firm nod of my head. "I'm the one who should apologize. I pretended to be your friend, but I didn't really act that way to you or Renaud..." As we staggered to the door, I gave voice to words even I myself couldn't believe I was saying. "...and so, from now on, I'm going to be a real friend to you both. I'll protect Renaud, too. I won't ever let him be killed!"

"...Thank you, Sionna." Eugene placed a hand on my shoulder, and I felt the warmth emanating from him. I still didn't understand the meaning of life. I probably never would. But here, we were all like little ships launched into a mighty river, carried along with the current. No one knew where we were or where we were going. We just knew that we never wanted our voyage to stop. And right now, I just wanted to float along together with everyone...


The night sky loomed indigo above the chapel. A full complement of stars swathed the heavens above.

Cain and Kiefar were on the staircase near the chapel entrance, looking up at the skies. Lord Leviath was there, too, in the front garden.

They were all gazing at the stars together. What was in their minds? I wondered.

I suddenly saw the other Knight Captains running up to us. Giovanni was in the lead, then came Walter, Gerhard, and Ka-Fai.

"Lord Leviath! Where've you been all this time?!"

"Good to see you're OK, boss!"

Everyone was chattering and happy at their reunion with Lord Leviath. He looked at them each in turn, then turned to Cain and the rest of us behind him. He then laughed.

"It's just like that night. I should renew my vow."

Cain gasped, and his face went white. "Lord Leviath, you can't.....!"

But Lord Leviath took no heed. His fingers went to the band of cloth that covered one eye and ripped it off.

Giovanni and the others who stood before him yelped in alarm.

Lord Leviath slowly turned his gaze back toward us...and...

We saw an eye of gold. It shone even more brilliantly than his green one, with an even greater bewitching charm.

But no one had eyes that color but...!

"My name is Leviath Ragna Alviss. The very Leviath who is the rightful heir to the Emperor's throne.

I had a reason for hiding from you until now my true name and the proof of my royal heritage. Though I was born the true heir to the throne, all was stolen from me, and I left the court. In those long years since, I've been laying the groundwork for a revolution to take back all that I had lost. To reclaim what is rightfully mine - to reclaim this very universe...!"

No one could grasp what he was saying. It was beyond our wildest imaginations. But Lord Leviath's innate royal bearing cast any doubts aside.

"And I have chosen you. You have been deemed worthy to share my fate. No matter what happens, you have my confidence until the day comes that we storm the palace gates." Lord Leviath's vow soared to the night sky.

"Never will we know defeat! Not now - not ever!"

Gerhard and Ka-Fai threw their fists in the air and cheered.

Eugene leant against the chapel door. His tears fell silently.

I felt my own heart surge with warmth. I had another revelation - that Lord Leviath's great and limber wings of black would always be over us, protecting us.

For the first time in my life, I really felt the strong ties that bind us together, one to another.

I drew near to Cain, felt for his fingers, and gave his hand a firm squeeze.

Cain's silver eyes were filled with a great, gentle light. He gave my hand a squeeze in return.

That's right. We would never know defeat.

I would never forget this night.

The night we were assembled together beneath wings of black, united as one until the end of our long battle.


Afterword: A Call from a Distant World

The first time I saw them, they held nearly no special attraction for me at all.

They were enemies in an RPG, midbosses. On the outside - but only on the outside - they had assumed the forms of the Guardians. They were a little scary, but they were meant as mere obstacles to your progress - just bumps in the road.

...Meant to be, anyhow, but their words and deeds revealed clear glimpses of character, and, like many players, I couldn't help but to take to them. And above all, what kind of person was this self-proclaimed Emperor Leviath who had assembled a band of such fervent followers...what had happened in this war that took place in his home universe? These questions floated through my mind; I just had to know the answers. An idea came into my mind for a gaiden novel.

In a snap, it was decided that I myself would write it, and my plans were made reality. To be honest, though, I didn't yet completely understand Leviath and his nine subordinates. With the game's settei collection in hand and the deadline closing in, I began my writing with an AAAAAAH!, and then it hit me. You could say my own journey began the moment I decided to open the story through Sionna's eyes. The moment they called, from the past - called me to another world.

Until now, the world of Angelique had depicted only pure and noble characters. But born in a universe without a queen, wouldn't they lead a somewhat more lowly, imperfect existence, more down-in-the-dirt and uncertain? When I looked at them, I saw a bit of myself, and a bit of the world I inhabit. And so, hoping that the readers would feel the same way, I little by little continued to write.

Even so, the theme of the novel remained the same as that of traditional Angelique...paradoxical though it may be here, if everyone could leave within them just a little bit of courage and hope, if we could keep alive just a glimmer of faith within ourselves, how wonderful it would be. Just as with my other characters past and present, the inhabitants of this story have become like my own little darling children to me. I was writing the story for the gaiden CDs Sankuchuari no Kagami [Mirror of the Sanctuary, Gaiden 3] at almost the same time, and I think that if you listen to all four chapters of that as well, you'll get to have a deeper understanding of these characters (a little advertisement there).

Finally, on a personal note, this is my first commercially-published novel. I know I've been a bother to many people due to my inexperience. To my editors - and to Ms. Junko Taguchi, who drew deeply beautiful illustrations that far outstripped my work - I am truly grateful. And to everyone who bought this work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I'll be looking forward to the day we can meet again - in the world of Angelique, or in their world.

- Midori Kusanada

Midori Kusanada
As an employee of Koei, scriptwriter for many of the scenarios of the Angelique drama CDs and scenario writer for the radio program Angelique Kiss Kiss Paradise. This is her debut as a novelist.

Junko Taguchi
Illustrator active in game character design. Known for her gorgeous illustrations for the covers of the quarterly magazine Duelist Japan (Hobby Japan) and Megami no Fuuin [Seal of the Goddess] (Satomi Kikawa/Chuokoron-Shinsha), among others.