Xenogears: Prelude to Destruction
Chapter 26: Wages of War
A dead soldier is a remarkable thing.
Its corpse calls out to an onlooker on so many levels. It can be a herald of war, trumpeting a glory that its eyes shall never gaze upon. It can be a warning, ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO COME HERE. It can be a martyr, something to stir the blood in those who see it, something to grant hope to the hopeless.
Or, as was the case with the corpse of the Shi Kari Death Squad Hunter, it could be an example. The man had been, for lack of a better word, smashed. His arms and legs had been beaten into bloody meat, and his head was in little better shape. In fact, if not for the fact that the only onlookers here had seen the man before his death, they likely would've been unable to tell that he had been human.
Mathiu Racnarth, his still-bloody mace having long ago dropped from nerveless fingers, wasn't actually certain that the man had been human to begin with. He held in his arms a girl subdued, a girl he would have but minutes before called a woman... she was in pieces, mentally. Her clothing was ripped in several places, and she bled from several nasty-looking cuts, cuts that Matt's healing spells had only partially restored.
The young man could tell that Kayla was in a state of shock, and he wasn't sure what the hell he could do about it.
He softly whispered to her repeatedly, telling her it was alright, that no one could hurt her anymore, that nothing could happen to her now. It did no good. Kayla had used all of her powerful mental abilities in a way that frustrated and frightened Matt; she had locked herself into her own mind.
The first few minutes after Matt had found her... had found that - his hands shook in rage and his vision blurred - that BASTARD with his hands all over Kayla, hitting her, raping her... GOD DAMN HIM!!! The Hunter had barely had time to react. The first second, he saw Racnarth come into the room, the next, he was being thrown across the room by a simple spell, then hit over and over and over again... it had taken several minutes before Matt realized that he'd killed the man. It hadn't taken several minutes to kill the man.
It hadn't been supposed to go like this. He'd expected some resistance, to be certain... but this hell was not what war was, was it? He was used to war, fire-cold war against the farilii, against the Shi Kari. It was simple. You killed the Shi Kari, or they killed you. There was no middle ground... there was none of this, this degradation, this pride-destroying, this... lust in that warfare. Hatred burned red-hot on the human side, and that hatred was simply ignored on the other. Here... God, what had Mathiu done? This was all his fault... all his fault.
And as he cried bitterly, embracing a woman that was not truly there closely - as though, somehow, he might hold on to some part of her that way - he forgot entirely that he had others to be concerned about.
The Wages of War is Death.
Killing Farilii was nearly as entertaining as killing lavoids, Id had decided.
Darrell Shanning’s red-haired darker side had been spreading chaos through the Black Tower, through that bastion of Chaos, for hours now, and he was loving every minute of it. The blue-skinned beings were panicked, confused; somehow the vision they’d all witnessed through Taloncreed had severed their connection with the Hive Mind. They had no idea how to live without its constant instruction.
However – Id noted as he used his dagger to completely decapitate one who had had the misfortune of walking down the wrong hallway – they certainly knew how to die.
It was delectable. He could taste their terror, feel their pain with every stroke of the Ilinumbar. It was sweet revenge. Revenge for what had happened to his home on Zion. Revenge for the fate his parents had met there. Revenge for what had befallen his birthplace here. And moreover it was death death sweet death and it was beautiful and it was chilling and it was the most incredible thing Id had ever-ever felt.
He laughed gleefully as he broke into a sprint down the mostly-empty hallways, making for the place that had helped bring him back to consciousness after being subdued by the Eternal. The Hive Mind would die die die die and then this whole fucking tower will die with it!
Id’s good mood but improved when he reached the doors that led to the chamber. About five Farilii, apparently still possessed of some small amount of sense, were guarding it. Their flame blades were held at the ready and even from where he stood, easily 20 yards away, he could feel them drawing on Black magic.
“You want to play with me, little killers?” he asked, managing with no small amount of difficulty not to laugh.
“Y…you stay back, Human.” One of the farilii – an older-looking one that was apparently in command – said shakily.
“You speak the name as though it were an insult.” Id grinned ferociously. “It is not, for those of us who have learned how to untap our potential.”
“You are an anomaly.” The elder farilii seemed to gain resolve with every word, and he held his flame blade at the ready. “You are not like other humans; you are dangerous. You will be purged.”
Id really couldn’t help himself, then. He had been trying so hard to look like he was having a serious discussion with this blue-skinned coward, but that comment just went too far. The red-haired being laughed long and loud, shaking his head in disbelief. “A ‘purge,’ is it? Are you suggesting that fire would be a good choice of weapon for this battle?”
The farilii opted to reply to that with action. “Firaga!” flames leapt from his left hand, eagerly biting into Id.
…Or rather, they would have if the red-haired persona had still been standing there. The magical fire spent itself in relatively short order, leaving them too look around in terror for this thing that could vanish in a wide open room.
“That wasn’t very nice of you.” Id said, his voice impossible to track to a location. “But that really wasn’t much of a fire spell. Let me show you how it’s done.”
With that, Id reappeared right in front of their eyes with both hands held in front of him, the residue of a vanish spell trailing him. “VICE FLARE!”
The spell didn’t look so impressive at first. A slightly larger version of the flare arrow spell that farilii themselves used, it really looked like it wouldn’t be anything they couldn’t handle with ease.
But when it hurtled into the lead farilii, who was feeling quite confident about his chances to experience no adverse effects from it, it exploded and covered the entire area with a flame that seemed as hot as a star.
Id himself had to back up several yards into the narrow hallway as the backlash from the incredibly potent spell struck him with an intense, burning pain, but he laughed even as he winced.
“The atheist’s version of telling someone to go to Hell.” Id remarked to no one in particular as he looked out with satisfaction into the white-hot flames.
When the spell finished, all that was left of the farilii were fire-scorched bones. The red-haired man noted as he walked past them towards the double doors that marked the lair of the Hive Mind that he had to be the first person in history to kill lavoid energy beings with fire. How funny.
The Wages of War Is Insanity.
Shards of ice glittered like daggers as they flitted across the prison block of Terisiare, lit even in the dimness as though the energy of a fire had been taken and reversed to frozen death. The Seeker Cynewulf reacted with a demeanor every bit as frigid as the rime. With but a simple hand motion, he cast up a wall of flame that melted every fragment within its hungry reach. Even before the magical fire had a chance to die, Cynewulf had moved so that the five clawlike fingers on his robotic arm were pointed straight at the ground beneath Shiva.
The summoned monster wasn’t even granted the kindness of a word of warning before the power of an Explosion Array spell cast her hard into the metallic ceiling of the hall. It shattered even the sturdy steel, twisting it and cutting into her almost ethereal form as she was pushed up into the solid rock that was just above. The dust and shrapnel spread by her impact caused Meryl to avert her eyes, and even Cynewulf had to blink back tears from his one human eye to avoid the stinging rain of rock dust.
And then… stillness. Confused that the fight should have ended so easily, Cynewulf paced carefully over to the spot where Shiva had stood, and looked up into the dust cloud that still permeated much of the room.
It was a mistake that probably would have proven fatal to a normal human. Almost exactly as the burly cyborg’s gaze shifted upward, a reddish-blue blur came into view moving straight towards him from out of the dust cloud. Not even a split-second later, Cynewulf’s senses exploded in white-hot pain as he found himself driven off of his feet by a rather enraged Shiva.
His head struck the ground with a resounding crack, and he thought he heard Meryl scream loudly. …Or perhaps he himself had cried out. Conscious thoughts fled as he felt the first icy-cold sharpness slide between his ribs, and all that was left was the single command: LIVE.
Meryl had screamed when she saw Shiva drive her friend to the ground, and had again when she saw the summoned being drive a magically-formed dagger of ice into his side. She had to help him somehow, stop her somehow, but god oh god she was just so helpless no magic no weapons no power no power no power what the hell can I do? Please god please ANYTHING I’ve got to stop this I can’t let him die oh my god oh my god oh my god
And then, as her green eyes frantically scanned the area about her, the answer presented itself. Its metal surface glimmered faintly in the dim light just on the edge of her vision. She knew what it was even before she ran over to it and curled her hands around its stock and placed one finger lightly on its trigger.
It was the Railgun the Mediator had been using.
Struggling greatly to fight the trembling that seemed to overcome her entire body, she tried to take what passed for careful aim on the raging monster that continued to attack Cynewulf. With great difficulty, after a few seconds that felt like hours too long, she managed to more or less train it on the foul thing’s head. Without even a second, she pulled the trigger…
..And was greeted with the dual cries of the screaming projectile of the weapon and the screams of Shiva as she was thrown back several yards from her prey, a piece of sharpened metal having driven itself through her shoulder.
The summoned monster’s blood ran like quicksilver from the wound, trickling down onto the floor and almost immediately freezing as it did. The look in Shiva’s eyes, though, was far from cold and calm. Her eyes veritably glowed with burning anger, as she dropped one of the icy daggers that had formed in her hands to clutch at her wound.
So Meryl fired again. This time, the shard of fast-moving metal embedded itself in Shiva’s torso; it proved no less effective than the first blast at knocking the beast from her feet.
This time, she didn’t get up, though the strange metallic blood certainly continued to move as it flowed out of her. After waiting several seconds, Meryl sighed in relief and rushed over to Cynewulf’s side, casting the Railgun gently aside as she reached his fallen form.
He had several nasty-looking gashes down his sides; however, though they certainly bled freely, they didn’t look as though they would be fatal so long as he received some sort of medical attention soon. Overall, his robotic arm seemed to have taken the brunt of the damage. He almost certainly had held it up to guard himself, and it was apparent from the number of slashes and gouges in it that it had done that. It hung dead and lifeless at the Seeker’s side, more than likely irreparably damaged.
“M…Meryl…” Cynewulf managed to say, his voice guttural and rasping. With his good arm, he reached up and grasped her shoulder with a strength that probably shouldn’t have been at his disposal. “Shiva… is the body… still there?”
Meryl blinked at the rather strange question, but looked up slowly as she realized the gravity of what it meant. Indeed, Shiva still lay in a huddle bleeding on the floor. She gave a breathless nod as she realized that their problems were not yet over.
“God… Meryl, get the gun. Get the gun now, Meryl.” Meryl slowly pulled herself up and inched backwards towards the weapon. “Meryl, to hell with the slow and easy bit, she still knows we’re here… Meryl, get the gun, my god, Meryl-!” Cynewulf’s desperate words were immediately cut off from Meryl’s ears as, with a roar fitting of a lavoid, Shiva picked herself up and flew at the young Seeker woman.
There was no telling how far she’d been thrown. It had felt like hundreds of feet, though the journey had only lasted a moment before she hit the wall and felt something crack. She had the time to but half-form a thought that surely this couldn’t be happening, and then everything was black.
“How dare you defy me, you foolish mongrel.” The words echoed out, harsh and heated, over the stones and walls of the Terisiare Council Chambers.
“On the contrary, Mediator. How dare you presume to be capable of leading us.” Frozen was the tone of the response, calm in sharp contrast to the Mediator’s ire.
In the center of the Council Chambers, four men stood alone in the flickering light. The Mediator and the Hunter Sien Taggart on one side, and on the other two councilors who, despite their age, were still fairly hale and hearty. Both wore swords along with their ceremonial robes, in sharp contrast to the Mediator, who had been unarmed since he’d dropped his railgun in order to make haste back here.
“By the One, Kinnison, Maddox, we’re supposed to be friends here! Each of us against the younger fools and traitors, and of course the Shi Kari.”
Ray Kinnison, the taller of the two middle-aged men, actually allowed himself a chuckle of derision. “You are no friend to the Hunters, Mediator. You never were. You allowed what should have been a fairly routine killing turn into something that may well bring all of Terisiare down if it is not stopped immediately.”
Terrence Maddox shook his head, and sneered at the Mediator. “We should really thank you, though, Mediator, for being such a poor leader. We’ve been waiting for this chance for ages. Now…” he fingered the hilt of his sword lightly, his mocking smile growing ever wider, “we can kill you, and the rest of the Council will thank us. Really, this isn’t something we could have planned ourselves. Bravo, Mediator, bravo.”
The Mediator spluttered, so complete was his shock and outrage. As he struggled to find the words to form a response, Kinnison took a glance back at Sien, who had stood silent – seemingly non-plussed – the entire time. “And what of you, Taggart? For whom do you stand? Surely you’re tired of hiding beneath the dirt with this fool, this…… coward.”
Within the space it would have taken for the traitorous Councilman to blink, Sien’s foil was out and pressed tip first against his throat. The motion had been so fluid that it was almost impossible to tell the old Hunter had moved at all. “There are two answers to that question, Councilor Kinnison. On the one hand, certainly my blade thirsts for blood from time to time, and certainly I would tired of cowering in terror in this… hole.” He paused for a moment, obviously enjoying the discomfort he was bringing the older man. “On the other, you are suggesting that my blade needs farilii blood to sate that need. But on the contrary, Adept, a sword does not discriminate… and neither do I.”
Maddox cried out in shock and leaped back several steps as Taggart’s slender blade penetrated Kinnison’s throat and pushed out the back of his neck. The few seconds that Ray was alive after that were spent gagging and coughing up what blood had been caught above the deadly foil after the thrust. And then Sien had pulled the blade out harshly, quickly, and he was falling, falling… into darkness eternal.
The Mediator smiled at Maddox as Sien wiped his blade off on a simple black cloth and looked over on the remaining traitor with a sardonic grin. “Something to remember in whatever future the One keeps for you, Maddox.” The old man said simply. “The only things to ever defeat me were the Lavoids… and you are only human.” He smiled as the councilor ripped his own sword from its sheath and held it up in a meager defense that seemed almost comical before the absolute calm of Sien Taggart.
He was back on Karonne, and a child again. Even at 15, he’d been huge, perhaps lacking some of the muscle mass that would later accompany his height, but not scrawny by any stretch of the imagination.
It was Christmas Eve again, the night of the Christmas Ball, and as usual, Cyne was in attendance in full regalia. Pressed suit, slacks, starched shirt and tie…. Just like always. But this year.. ah, this year was different. This year, he’d finally managed to ask to escort Meryl Sara. She was a nice girl, and the only child of his father’s best friend… and recently, he’d noticed how beautiful she was. Her hair, an almost otherworldly shade of silver… and a man – or a boy who thought himself nearly a man – could lose himself in those deep green eyes…
Just a dead dream let it go let it go Cynewulf. The dreamtime is over the nightmare is here.
We danced that night. …We danced a lot that night. But that one song… the slow piece. Oh, god, the slow piece. The orchestra had opted to pull up an old instrumental version of ‘O Holy Night’… god, it was beautiful. And the lights in the city all dimmed to our simulated nighttime, with the streetlamps lit on every corner…
I remember it all, even now. The smell of her hair, the feel of her in my arms… the way we danced…
Let the dream go, Cynewulf let it go forever and ever let it die or you will die with it. The dreamtime is over the nightmare is here.
Something went wrong, though… something always went wrong for me. I kissed her, there under the lamplight as the band’s violins sang a song of stars I’d never seen brightly shining… and she pulled away.
God, she pulled away, and she ran off. For awhile, we didn’t talk. Then, after a few months, she came back… and she acted like nothing had ever happened. Like the kiss had never happened, like we had never happened.
WAKE UP CYNEWULF WAKE UP WAKE UP. The dreamtime is OVER the nightmare is HERE!
Perhaps she forgot it… it has been so many years. But I never forgot it. I never forgot how I feel about her. …But I pulled away from her. Have I changed that much? Did I not want it? …Or did I just not want her to know my secrets? My nightmare secrets, my nightmares that have invaded the life I live.
It’s over it’s over it’s over the nightmare is here nightmares the end of all dreams forever and always and there can be nothing more unless you END IT. Leave the dreamtime now or you will never have it back there will never be another opportunity.
Meryl. Not Meryl the child, but Meryl the Seeker, the Illustrious Meryl Sara, trader by trade. Not the Meryl he’d fallen in love with, but the Meryl he’d pulled away from. …But she was still his Meryl… it was his Meryl lying broken on the ground, back in Terisiare. It was his Meryl that was hurting.
And it was a monster that stood over her fallen form. …And that thing was going to pay.
Cynewulf gasped in pain as he tried to push himself to his feet with one arm. His robotic arm was as good as ruined; several major circuits had been slashed completely in two, and absolutely no power ran from the elbow down.
The gashes in his torso didn’t help matters any, though thankfully none of the cuts were so deep that he was worried about vital organs spilling out in the near future. He couldn’t allow himself to think about the burning pain in his body anyway, not now, not now.
With a moan of pain, he gave a final push and managed to stand… and almost immediately fell back down again as he realized just how quickly the world was spinning. With no small amount of struggle, he kept his feet, and focused his robotic eye on Shiva, who was slowly – oh, how slow she seemed to be moving in Cyne’s perception – turning towards his stumbling form. He had to act fast.
For a moment, all words, all thoughts, failed him, and he was left scared and wondering what in the world he could do. It took but a single glance at Meryl to give him both the knowledge of what must be done, and the strength to do it.
“Source of all souls which dwell in eternal and infinite!” He began the chant. Oh, time seemed to move so slowly now, as the summoned beast turned to set her murderous gaze upon him. He had no time, and yet he had all the time in all the universe. He kept his calm. “Everlasting flame of blue, let the power hidden in my soul be called forth from the Infinite...” he put out his good, human hand, pointing the fingers at Shiva, whose eyes were just now becoming visible from Cyne’s vantage point. He smirked darkly at them, and finished the chant. “RA-TILT!"
Blue-white light burst from his fingertips with all the intensity of a supernova and embraced Shiva as though she was a long-lost lover. It was no friendly hold, though; Shiva cried out as though in great pain before the light crackled electrically over her and silenced her cries.
A second later, all was dim again in the halls beneath Terisiare. There was absolutely nothing left of Shiva. Meryl still lay prostrate against a wall left dented behind her, Cynewulf noted, but something somehow struck him as more peaceful about her rest now.
The next thing that struck him was a hollow feeling inside him, as though some vast amount of… something had been removed forcibly from his body. A moment later, a surge of energy rushed to fill the empty well within him, almost painful in its intensity. He lost his footing in the sheer overwhelming sensations, and soon after lost his consciousness as he fell hard and hit his head on the floor.
The Wages of War is the Coming of the Nightmare.
“With this bullet I thee wed...” – Trigger, DK.
Author’s Note: Good LORD this one was a long time in coming, and I can but apologize for that. I’m also well-aware it’s not one of my longest chapters ever… but did you notice the entire thing is essentially a fight? ……Anyway, I hope to get 27 to you fine people soon; this is a pretty good sign that I’m back on track, I think.
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