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Amidst the thousand legends of El-Hazard, the tale of the Sleeping Guardian is often recounted; not on its own, but as an ending to a long epic of love and hatred, retribution and redemption. The Sleeping Guardian exists, forever unchanging, reminding all of heroes long dead and places that are dust.

The Sleeping Guardian waits, ready to battle any threat to all El-Hazard. Anyone, from venerable king to peasant child, can Awaken the Guardian, but only at a terrible risk. Of the five times the Guardian has been Awakened, twice has the Guardian destroyed those foolish enough to call without sufficient reason. This ensures that the Guardian is approached only in truly dire peril, which is what she prefers.

You see, she would much rather live in her dreams, her memories, and the world she has created within them, than deal with the pain of the present…


World of Endings Promised
Chapter One

An El Hazard story
By Aaron Bergman

Disclaimer: El Hazard and all characters and images thereof belong to AIC/Pioneer LDC.


"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."
-Harriet Beecher Stowe

"Grandmother?"

Something, some note, some quaver in my adoptive granddaughter's voice tells me the dream I am in now. I struggle, writhe, fight my hardest to get free, but to no avail: Like all my true memories that come when I'm dreaming, I am constrained to live it as it happened. And this is the one memory that I refuse to remove, no matter how horrible it is.

Already I feel the memory taking over, dragging me along…

"Yes?" I said cheerily. Distracted by the final stages of planning for tonight's state dinner, I didn't look up from my list of names and place settings until Maki sat down in the chair next to mine.

When I did look up, I saw the tears streaking down her face. I reached out and took her in my arms. "What's wrong?"

Maki wrapped her arms around me, and for one uncomfortable second I was reminded of Alliele, her genetic grandmother. That comparison washed away in the wake of her words. "It's Fujisawa-sensei, Grandmother. He's come back. And he's dying."

For a second I sat, unbelieving, then my tears mingled with hers.


The young woman stood outside the entrance to the cave, slowly working up the courage to enter. She had no doubt that the Sleeping Guardian would think the invasion a threat to all El-Hazard, and yet…

The Safiry Dragon had been the reason for her last Awakening. After taking one look, the Guardian had destroyed her Awakener and said four words: "Not worth my time." The Guardian had gone back to sleep, and the Dragon had gone on to ravage a whole province before being killed.

The second time she'd been Awakened, she'd killed a king and all his advisors for daring to bring her into a war between two states. Her words then were: "I care not for anything but all El-Hazard."

The young woman tried to remember the details of the three times that the Guardian had saved El-Hazard - when the Phantom Tribe had tried to conquer the surface world and almost succeeded, when Tritoch, the being for which the Guardian was only a prototype, had appeared, and when the Worldeaters had come - but somehow, looking into the mouth of a cave where Death slept, it was hard to remember that without Death there could be no life.

The young woman shook her head. "I've come this far," she declared, "I'm not gonna back down now." With that, she pulled on her Earthshaker Gauntlet (she knew it wouldn't do her a lick of good if the Guardian so much as got cranky, much less tried to kill her, but Elmesi warriors never die without a fight) and resolutely strode into the cavern.

After a few steps, her eyes adapted to the luminescence shed by the wall carvings. It was all done in the true ancient style, as befitted the Guardian's origins, but somehow she'd been expecting the walls to be decorated in the Old Floristican style, because that was when so many of the Guardian's tales took place.

As the carvings picked up her body heat, they began to glow brighter, until the young woman could actually read what was written on the walls. After glancing over a few words, she shrugged. It was only a retelling of the Wanderer's Tale, but probably more accurate than any version she'd heard. She was a historian only by hobby, though, so she stopped reading reluctantly and continued on.

After wandering through the geometric corridors for perhaps half an hour, she came to a simple door set into the wall. The young woman read the inscription on it aloud while tracing it with one finger. "Behind this door sleeps the Demon God Ifurita. Open at your own risk."

Swallowing one final time, she reached out one hand to the door. This is it. The door swung silently open at her prompt.

The room behind it smelled of the century that had passed since the door had last been opened. The circular floor swelled upward in the center, rising in a slight slope that made the room look somehow… organic, as though it were a womb. The spider-like etchings all over the wall only added to that, giving an alien cast to the room.

 The young woman stepped through, walking up the slight rise until she reached the top of the rounded floor. Despite expecting it, she still almost fell into the hole at the very top. She looked down as she caught herself and gasped. There lay the Guardian.

Having only seen ancient pictures and artist's renditions, the young woman was unprepared for the Guardian's porcelain beauty. Gray curls lay in disarray across a face the young woman thought could easily belong to a Demon God; it was cold and dispassionate, a face that could kill humans with no more qualms than stomping ants.

The young woman pledged to herself that she'd never stomp an ant again.

The Guardian held her legendary staff in a loose grip. The young woman was about to reach down and pull it forth, to begin the ritual, when movement drew her eyes back to that face. It was scrunching up, giving the Guardian a pained expression, and… tears were trickling down her cheeks?

The young woman's heart went out to the Guardian for the first time. Not all the legends about the Guardian's origins, not all the illustrations of her tragic fate, could convey the grief that watching someone cry in their sleep could.

Moving quickly, the young woman removed the staff gently from the Guardian's hands and inserted it into the socket at the head of the Guardian's resting place. She wound it three times, just as the ritual proscribed. Each time, the Key turned with greater and greater difficulty. Finally, after the third turn, the key almost sprang from her hands and the entire room came alive, the air crackling with energy.

The young jumped back as the Guardian levitated from horizontal to vertical. As her feet touched the ground, her eyes opened and she staggered slightly. The young woman looked into the Guardian's eyes and was shocked to see recognition in them. The Guardian stepped forward and said softly, "Shayla-Shayla?"

The young woman was careful to move slowly as she pointed to herself. "My name is Karylis, Ifurita." Again making no sudden movements, Karylis offered the Key. "Do you wish to have your staff?"

Ifurita, after staring at it for a moment, stretched out her hand and grasped the offered weapon. Electricity leapt one final time around the contact point and in the globes of the staff, then died down. She nodded. "What have I been awakened for?"

"Guardian," Karylis intoned formally, "El-Hazard has need of you."


Looking at this child, this physical reincarnation of my old friend, I almost wept again. My memories, they hurt so much while I'm awake…

Instead, I leveled the staff at the girl. Though the Power Key Staff was no longer necessary to utilize my full power, it was… comfortable. "Explain this threat to me." I knew I sounded cold and compassionless, because the girl's… Karylis's… face paled beneath her tan. That didn't stop her from sounding calm and professional as she spoke.

"An army from another dimension has invaded El-Hazard. Though their weapons are, in some ways, inferior to ours, they come at us in such numbers that it wouldn't matter if all they were armed with was pointed sticks." This last was spoken with such bitter sarcasm that it convinced me she was related to Shayla somehow. "Also, many of their warriors are augmented with machines implanted into their bodies."

She rummaged in a pouch for a moment, then produced a simple datachip. "I don't know if this is advanced enough for you to interface with, but…"

I returned the staff to a ready position and took the chip from between her fingers. Reaching into it, I…

…held on like a drowning person to my grandchild as sobs wracked my body. "Are you sure he's dying?" I asked when we'd both calmed down enough to talk. Even mentioning his possible fate threatened to send me into a fresh spate of tears.

"That's what the Doctor said."

I stood up and wiped my eyes hastily. "Where is he?"

Maki looked up at me and sniffed. "I-in his usual room. But…"

Ignoring whatever she was going to say, I moved quickly, nearly ripping the door from the frame in my haste. Running through the halls with such speed that I frightened many of the servants, I skidded to a halt nearly seventeen seconds later in front of a rather plain door, for Floristica at any rate. Fujisawa had insisted on only a simple room after the Queen had granted him a residence in perpetuity.

There were only three people in the room: the Doctor, my husband Makoto, and Fujisawa himself, lying on his bed. Makoto and the Doctor both looked up as I entered the room, and Fujisawa tried to sit up in his bed, collapsing backwards.

I ran to his bedside, using a technique gained ages ago to seemingly disappear from where I was and appear next to him. He smiled up at me weakly, and I was shocked to see how suddenly he'd changed since last year.

His face had gone from that of a fit, tanned man in his mid-forties to that of an invalid in his eighties. His hair had silvered and thinned, to the point where I could see his scalp through it. His arms had grown thinner, almost collapsing around his bones.

"How ya doin', girl?"

I couldn't muster even the ghost of a smile as I said, "Not so good, Masamichi. Not so good."

Makoto grabbed my arm and dragged me slightly away from the bed. The Doctor followed close behind, a small tablet clutched in one hand. After we'd both gotten some distance from the bed, my husband released me and said softly, "Is it as bad as we've feared?"

The doctor shook his head, and hope leapt into my heart for a moment. "Worse." My heart shattered as the doctor continued. "As we've discussed before, the agency which grants each of you immortality is a mystery. My personal theory is that it stems from the same source as your powers." He sighed. "I hate to be proved right in this manner, but it seems that Fujisawa-sensei has had his powers… revoked… and lost his immortality at the same time."

We were interrupted by a rather loud shout from the bed. "No need to leave me outta this discussion, Doc. I know what's happenin' to me as well as anyone else in this room."

We all looked at each other, then moved back towards Fujisawa's bedside. He coughed and said weakly, "It's not like this happened to me suddenly, y'know. I first started feelin' older about two weeks ago. That's how long it took me ta get here."

Makoto assumed that serious look he only had whenever something important was at stake. "About how long do you think he has left, Doctor?"

The doctor shrugged. "If it took him two weeks to get this old, perhaps another week? There's no way to judge if the aging is linear or exponential. My personal feeling is that it's exponential, but that may just be my pessimism speaking."

Now I spoke. "I think… I may be able to find a solution."

Makoto and the doctor both looked at me in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"There was a library that contained all the information ever discovered or created on medicine in my time. I never knew what was in it, but once I was called to defend it. It was one of the few times that my masters allowed me to use any means necessary to defeat my foes." I stayed silent for a moment, then continued. "Early on in my life, they were afraid that if I used my full powers I would find some way to break free. I don't know if there's anything useful in the library's computer, and I doubt that it's still intact, but it may be his only hope."

"Where is this library?"

I sighed. "To the best of my recollection, near the center of where Jinnai holds power over the Bugrom. I suppose I will have to visit him and request permission to look for it." I still hated Jinnai for being my last master, but the force of it had mellowed over the years, making it at least possible to speak to him civilly.

Makoto smiled warmly at me, and that made me feel that talking to Jinnai would be worth it. That smile still had the power to melt me, even after over fifty years of marriage. "Thank you for considering Jinnai's feelings, Ifurita."

Fujisawa shook his head. "Kids these days…"


Karylis felt a tingle start at her fingertips as the Guardian took the chip. Fearing a backlash of some kind, she snatched her hand away and started waiting.

And waiting.

She squeezed in a bit more waiting after that.

Having nothing better to do, she waited a bit more.

Finally, sick of waiting, she decided to practice for a bit.

Elmesi warriors train constantly, not only with their bodies, minds, and conventional weapons, but with a special item given to each warrior at his or her graduation. The design for each one dates back to antiquity, and are not, for the most part, fully understood, so each warrior finds their own method of getting the most out of their weapons.

Karylis had chosen a rarely used weapon at her own graduation. The Earthshaker Gauntlet could generate or disperse gravity fields around the user while leaving that user unaffected… if she wished it. While this could have simple, quite brutal applications (a 50-g jab to the jaw, for example) mastering it took nearly twice as long as any other weapon used by the Elmesi. Which was why she'd chosen it, naturally.

Right now, she was trying to figure out how to create such an intense area of gravity that it would draw everything nearby into a super-dense ball. It was hard keeping control of the field, though. Feed it too little energy, and it would barely nudge anyone nearby. If she gave too much energy, though, it could start feeding itself in a never-ending chain reaction. Theoretically. It probably wouldn't destroy more than a few square miles…

It was all starting to drive her nuts, but she hadn't graduated third in her class because she quit when it got hard. She'd graduated third because one of the people ranked behind her at the time had tripped her in a foot race, breaking her ankle, and…

Karylis dismissed her memories of the past with a swift shake of her head before it broke her concentration. She focused, and the gravity field formed perhaps ten feet above the floor. The air shimmered, and light itself was drawn in, swirling and wavering like golden hair spreading in a calm pool. She felt a wave of exultation threaten her focus as she kept the field from disturbing a single tile on the floor.

"An interesting technique."

As her concentration broke, Karylis watched in horror as the field spread, then, she gathered her focus and dispelled it. Glaring over at the Guardian, forgetting for the moment that she had enough power to outfight every Elmesi warrior at once while yawning in boredom, Karylis shouted, "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to do that?!"

The Guardian had no expression, but Karylis had the nagging feeling that there was a half-smile lurking somewhere under the surface. "Of course, but you are doing it the hard way." She assumed a cold, almost robot-like expression and said, "I have assimilated the data, and my preliminary judgment is that this is serious enough to warrant my presence. I reserve full judgment until we are actually in the field."

Indignity forgotten, Karylis practically sprang for the door. "Really? Then we'd better go, right away! I'll take you to the Elmesi headquarters."

The Guardian nodded. "Of course."

As they left, the Guardian cast a wistful glance back at her bed. Karylis watched her with compassion in her eyes. Was it really so bad? she wanted to ask, but didn't know how her new companion would respond.


I stared into the dancing flames, thinking. No doubt the girl (Karylis, that was her name) wondered not only why I had insisted we stop for the night, but why I'd bothered lighting a fire on this warm spring night. The truth was, I needed to do some thinking, and fires are wonderful things to think about. Helpful tool and uncontrollable weapon, fire embodied almost everything created by man, myself included. The first way humanity had of throwing back the darkness, man still used it millennia after safer ways of cooking food, lighting homes, and warming oneself were developed.

Perhaps, fire embodied man's obsession with destroying himself.

I had never really thought anything about fire except as a terror weapon, until I'd taken a camping trip with Makoto on our twentieth anniversary and had a conversation while staring up at the stars…

I shook myself mentally. I needed to figure out why interfacing with that datachip had thrown me back into the dream I'd been having before I was disturbed. The other times I'd been awakened, I'd had dreams interrupted, but of course they'd never been this one. Perhaps because it was this one?

Even now, I could feel it clawing at my consciousness, trying to drag me back. I took a stronger hold on my self-control, lest I…

…lest I drag Makoto into the bedroom and say goodbye to him there. As much as I wanted to, I knew we didn't have time for that.

Fujisawa didn't have time for that.

Instead, I kissed him chastely on the cheek. Even that brief contact was enough to send a blizzard of impressions from his mind to mine. I whispered in his ear, "Please be here when I come back."

Makoto smiled indulgently. "Of course I will. What, do you think I'm going on a fishing trip?"

"I just have this feeling…"

He pinched my bottom, making me jump. "Women's intuition?"

I glared at him and said mock-angrily, "Just because I was made instead of born doesn't make me any less female."

He just grinned and said, "I think I just proved that." Then, his face grew solemn. "Go, quickly, and return to me, my love."

"As if I were the wind, my dear Makoto." I leapt out the window and sped away.

I knew the main problem would not be getting to where the library once was, and I had few doubts about its survival. The problem would be the sheer volume of information contained in the archives.

If I had to search it all, it would take me at least six days.

Fortunately, though, I had parameters to my search that would narrow the time to just one or two days. That meant I would have plenty of time to find anything that might be able to help Masamichi.

What could possibly go wrong?


"I don't feel very comfortable…"

Karylis had wanted to fly for as long as she could remember. Having no affinity for manipulating Air, however, meant that she'd had to make do with pale substitutes until the moment that the Guardian had looked back at her and said, "We will fly." The Guardian had grabbed her hand and started flying before they were even out of the cave.

One thing that Karylis hadn't included in her dreams of soaring effortlessly through the air was getting sick doing it. She only kept her breakfast through grim determination and iron will.

"If it is where you told me, than we are almost there."

Discomfort forgotten in wonder, Karylis looked down at the ground. What took me two weeks to skim, she flew over in less than two days…

"One thing I do not understand is…"

"Yes?" Karylis turned her attention back to the Guardian.

"Why did they send you out alone? All of the previous petitioners were accompanied by entourages."

Karylis felt tears threaten at this sudden reminder. She scrubbed at her eyes with the hand that wasn't holding onto the Guardian's. Never show weakness! "I… I wasn't alone."

"Oh." The Guardian seemed to consider that for a moment, then offered, "I'm sorry."

Somehow, having the sympathies of a being that had so much power and yet suffered so much made Karylis feel better. She said, "Don't be sorry. After all, it isn't anything like what you've been through."

Suddenly, the Guardian halted, and Karylis's temporarily forgotten stomach caught up with a vengeance. "What makes your tragedy any less than mine?" Then, she continued on.

As they moved closer and closer to the Elmesi Academies, Karylis's vague feeling of unease grew. She put it down to motion sickness, until they came within sight of the Academies…

Karylis gasped.

The buildings where she'd learned, destroyed. The trees under which she'd studied, charcoal skeletons. The green fields she'd played and practiced on, razed. The walkways, once busy with people, empty, the stones themselves torn from the ground and strewn carelessly about.

The Guardian landed gently, but Karylis didn't stay on her feet for long. After falling to her knees, she looked around in shock. "What happened…"

Ifurita leaned wearily on her Power Key Staff and said grimly,

"It seems I was called too late…"

Around them, ash stirred and danced in the stiff morning breeze.

 

To be continued.

Chapter 2
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