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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 Two

An El Hazard story
By Aaron Bergman

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


"Is it not strange, the places in which old friends meet?"
-Largo

"There aren't any bodies!" Karylis shouted, but I wasn't paying attention. I stirred the ash of a once-beautiful building with one foot, trying not to remember, trying to keep myself here. It was too much for me, however, too overwhelming, too familiar…

…I stirred the ash of the ruined tower with one foot, trying to figure out…

"No!" I gritted out, and Karylis looked at me in surprise. I was straining with the effort it took for even such a minor victory  over myself and it must have shown on my face, for she took a step towards me.

"Are you okay?"

I shook my head quickly, even the slightest motion sending nausea through my body. Unaccustomed to such agonies, I put one hand to my head. "No, I'm not. Is there somewhere…"

…how and why the Bugrom hive where Jinnai had made his home had been…

"NO!" This time I screamed, and Karylis jumped back, a frightened look on her face. I continued as though there had been no interruption. "Somewhere we could hide until I recover?"

"Uh, er…" she stammered for a moment, then said, "There's some caves maybe two or three miles that way." She pointed to the hills I had flown over not ten minutes ago. I took a halting step towards them and almost collapsed, thrusting the Power Key Staff into the ground to support myself. Now, those hills may as well be on the other side of the planet, for all I could do to reach them.

"Carry me…" I said, then the memory took me…


Karylis jumped forward and caught Ifurita just as she started falling. She weighed quite a bit, probably because she was so… top-heavy. "Huh," she said to the comatose demon god as she shifted her burden to a more comfortable position. "I'll bet the people who designed you were lonely, lonely men."

It wasn't easy putting on her Earthshaker Gauntlet with one hand, but she managed. Carefully, she lowered both their respective weights with it. Not too much, it wouldn't do to be bouncing off the ground, but enough to make walking much easier.

She looked one last time around the ruined grounds that had held so much of her youth. For just a moment, she saw the Elmesi Academies as they once had been, but the vision of children playing on the fields and people bustling to their next class faded, leaving only dust and charcoal in its place. "I will rebuild you," she said softly. "No matter what it takes."

Karylis hefted Ifurita over one shoulder, grabbed the Power Key Staff when it threatened to slip from the Guardian's fingers, and set off for the dubious safety of the caverns.


I stirred the ash of the ruined tower with one foot, trying to figure out how and why the Bugrom hive where Jinnai had made his home had been destroyed.

It just didn't make sense. The Bugrom, for some incomprehensible reason, loved Jinnai, but every sign pointed to the Bugrom themselves having attacked. A civil war, perhaps? Was such a thing even possible with the Bugrom?

I heard a footstep in the darkness behind me. Whirling around, I leveled the Power Key Staff at a Bugrom drone that showed remarkably good sense. It froze.

"What happened here?" I demanded. The Bugrom responded.

"Jinnai went crazy?" The Bugrom hastily added something, and I clarified with, "Well, crazier?" It nodded and spoke for about a minute. Then, it turned and flew away, leaving me more enlightened but no less confused.

Jinnai had, according to the drone, suddenly started giving insane and contradictory orders, which the Bugrom had faithfully followed, destroying most of their hive in the process, then fled. To where? The drone hadn't known. Why? The drone hadn't known either. Only one thing was certain.

I would not have to ask permission to visit the library.

I rose off the ground and continued on my way, frantically aware that seconds might matter.


Karylis hadn't been to the caverns since childhood, but she was pleased that she still remembered the way to her favorite cave. Wide, with a high ceiling (though lower than she'd remembered), it had cushions scattered about its sandy floor that showed the room was still a favorite location of people liking a quiet place to study. Light sources hung from the ceiling, providing a near-perfect level of illumination for almost any activity.

As Karylis glanced around, though, her heart fell. While walking here, she'd managed to convince herself that any survivors from the Academies would almost certainly have made their way here. Wherever they were, though, it wasn't here.

Karylis lowered her burden to the ground and sat down beside the demon god. She sighed.

"Who's there?"

She leapt to her feet, hope suddenly infusing her. "It's Karylis, one of the Elmesi Warriors!" she called out.

Oh, really? It's too bad you weren't-" the unseen speaker started hacking and coughing in a way that made Karylis nervous. After the coughing died down, the speaker continued. "Weren't here two days ago."

"Why? What happened two days ago?" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Karylis knew how stupid they were. Only one thing could've happened two days ago…

"They attacked. Don't bother asking who attacked either. What, you think the Bugrom crossed the River of God?" The speaker chuckled, a sound that degenerated into another bout of coughing that racked his lungs. A robed shape staggered from one of the openings leading into the cavern system that ranged all under the hills.

"No, I doubt they did," Karylis said coolly. "Who are you?"

The robed man chuckled again. "A dead man. Who else?" He pulled back the hood, and Karylis jerked backwards before she managed to control herself. His face was a mass of raw flesh, as though he'd been burned all over. Every breath he took hissed in and out of his mouth, as though each were a new agony that he inflicted on himself.

"I was one of the few left in the Academies." He paused for a moment as he pulled the hood back over his face. "We'd been evacuating all day, but I still had some filing left to do…. Filing! As though it were important!" Then, the man peered blinked what was left of his eyelids. "Do I know you?" He rubbed two ruined fingers together absently. "Yes, you're the one that Professor Teslas chose to go with him. Where did you go?"

After glancing down at the woman lying beside Karylis, he gasped. "You didn't! You awoke the Guardian?"

"That was what Teslas was supposed to do. But he… died along the way." Karylis looked down at her feet. I failed. My first mission, and I failed.

The man, his grievous wounds apparently forgotten in his excitement, knelt beside Ifurita. Running his ruined fingers over her face, he laughed softly. "Ah, if only I could talk to her…"

"You were one of Professor Teslas's students?"

The man looked up at Karylis as though he'd forgotten she was there. "I was his mentor." He ran his eyes up and down the warrior. "I see his taste in women didn't falter before his death."

Unsure whether to be embarrassed, angry, or sad, Karylis flushed. "You seem awfully calm about the fact that your student is dead!"

The man shrugged as he turned his attention back to the slumbering demon god. "I'll see him soon enough. Why concern myself? There are riddles to be solved." The man muttered to himself as Karylis watched, befuddled.


The city was underground, just as I'd expected. It was also in ruins, just as I'd left it.

Flying along close to the ground, I quickly reoriented myself and found where the library was. It was a surprisingly small building, but inside its walls rested many secrets on both life and death.

About the only thing that startled me was the small group of Bugrom waiting outside the door. I landed, and they scattered. Apparently, they still remembered what happened the last time Jinnai and I had a… disagreement.

I stepped through the door, and Jinnai looked up at me, haggard face illuminated by monitors floating around him. "Good, you're here," he said with his customary arrogance. "You can help me search for a solution."

"A solution to…" A thought clicked, and I stepped forward. "You mean, you're losing your power too?"

Jinnai nodded, and said, "To a large degree, yes. I haven't lost it all yet. I assume your presence means both Fujisawa and Mizuhara are suffering from this malady as well?"

"Makoto…" Somehow, the thought hadn't occurred to me. Perhaps I'd refused to admit the possibility to myself. But now, looking at Jinnai, thinking about Fujisawa, I knew that what was happening to them would happen to my love.

I almost left then, flying back to Floristica and Makoto. But… but… I couldn't give up on the possibility of a cure being here. I couldn't give up on Masamichi.

Most of all, I couldn't give up on Makoto. I sat down at a terminal near Jinnai's and brought it online. I was shocked to find that the interfaces that would have allowed me to give commands directly to the computer, bypassing the slower methods, were damaged. And damaged in a way that, without a computer facility dating back to the days of my birth, I could not repair.

Jinnai nodded again. "Yes, no shortcuts today. Or tomorrow. Somehow, the jacks were destroyed, and the only way to search this thing is by hand."

I stared at the screens around me, dismayed. Just a moment ago, I'd known that it would only take me two days to look through the relevant areas of the database. Now, I had no idea how much time it would take to search, and the only person I had helping me was a madman.

But I wouldn't give up. Never.


The lieutenant was nervous every time he had to make a report to his master. She was renowned for having a… fickle temper, to put it politely, and age hadn't sweetened her in the slightest. Being what amounted to the feudal lord of the world's largest empire, an empire whose tentacles twined deep in both the shadow and corporate worlds, only gave her an attitude that whatever she wanted done, could and should be done now.

He was confident she would be satisfied with the results so far. That didn't take away his fear, however; it just put a thin veneer of self-assurance over it. He could barely remember a time without that fear.

"Yes?" Her voice quavered with age, but already it sounded firmer than it had a week ago. The lieutenant swallowed. My God! Even if she was right about the effects of this world, how could it set to work so quickly?

"Mistress, we have razed the base of the only organization to give us any serious opposition thus far. Though prisoners interrogated have indicated that much of the people on that base escaped before we reached it, the specialists believe that this is simply bravado, a smokescreen to hide their numbers."

One hand adorned with many rings gave an idle wave. "Very well. Rest assured, however, that these people will attack until they are annihilated. As for the other matter I am interested in..?"

The lieutenant nodded and pulled a list from his back pocket. Perusing through it, he said, "So far nearly one hundred and forty people have shown some ability. Of those, perhaps sixty are related to combat. Just as you predicted, Mistress."

"Sixty, eh…" The lieutenant's master appeared to consider that for a moment. Then, having come to a decision, she said, "That will be enough. Send all the rest back through the Ring."

"What?" That could take days!

She snapped, "You heard what I said! Do I have to repeat myself?"

The lieutenant went to one knee. "Of course not! But…"

"Yes?"

He gathered in a deep breath, then said, "I have not yet shown an ability. Does this mean that I should return as well?" He carefully kept any note of what he hoped for out of his voice.

His master chuckled again. Her good humor restored, she said, "Of course not. I have special plans for you, in case she shows up." The simple pronoun was filled with such hate that it should have burned out the lieutenant's ears simply for bearing witness to its utterance. It should have destroyed his mind from the sheer evil encased in its pronunciation.    

The fact that it didn't gave no comfort to the lieutenant as he stared into the madness-twisted face of his master.


We searched for five days.

In that time, I actually started to… respect… Jinnai. I still didn't like him and could never like him, but the emotion I felt for him was no longer hate.

He had changed too much for that.

For example, the first hour we spent together I asked him, "Why did you order the Bugrom to destroy themselves?"

He'd looked surprised for a moment, then laughed. "Because I'd almost reached the point where I could conquer almost all of El-Hazard, minus a token kingdom where Mizuhara could live in peace with you. I'd spent so many years building to that point, and then to start dying…" He had stopped typing and stared down at his hands. "It made me realize that I am, in fact, a very selfish person. If I'm not going to conquer El-Hazard, then by God no one is going to use my works as a pedestal to do what I could not." He added, casually, "Deva was just collateral damage."

He had turned back to his typing then, and ignored me for the next four hours.

Towards the end of the third day, he'd started hacking blood all over the console. I stood up and moved over to him, but he'd waved me off.

"I'm dying," he said. "At least I can do something to help someone else. You know, I don't think I ever did anything for anyone else in my entire life. It feels… good… I guess."

He died the fifth day, perhaps an hour before I found what we'd been looking for. I didn't even notice until I tried to wake him up by shaking his shoulder, and he'd simply slumped to the floor.

I didn't cry, which wasn't too surprising. I say again, I could never have liked him, but I did respect him. That's why I picked up his body, which was much lighter than it should have been, and carried it out to where his faithful followers awaited him. "See that he is buried properly," I said, then I flew as fast as I could away from that mausoleum.

One of the things I do every time I am Awoken is visit Jinnai's Tomb. It is a surprisingly modest structure for a man with the ambition and the ability to conquer a world, with only one inscription, placed on the tomb's door in a hundred languages: "Until I return…"


"Does…"

Both Karylis and the unnamed professor gave a start as Ifurita, until this moment motionless, spoke. Karylis was the first to respond. "Yes?"

She sat up slowly, shaking her head. "Does Jinnai's Tomb still stand?"

Both Karylis and the professor exchanged glances, and he gave a weak cough before replying, "Yes, of course." His breath rattled in and out of his lungs now, echoing in the underground chamber.

"Good." Now, the Guardian stood. Looking down at the man wrapped in tattered robes, she said, "Who are you?"

"No one of-" he broke into a hacking fit. "…consequence, I assure you, madam. A dying man."

"At least you know it," Ifurita murmured.

Karylis stood up herself. "What do we do now?" She'd only staved off a sinking feeling of hopelessness through extended conversation with this still nameless man, who'd shown intelligence and wit. She wondered, absently, who he was, but it no longer mattered.

The Guardian shrugged. "What I do best. Fly in, kill everything, go back to sleep."

The dying man looked alarmed at this. "I believe they have several hundred people held prisoner there." He paused a moment, gasping in pain, then continued. "Perhaps, you could settle it with less than mass destruction?"

Ifurita looked down at him. "Saving people is not… what I usually do." Karylis had the impression that she was about to say something else, but had changed her mind at the last moment.

The man coughed again. "Please?"

Ifurita sighed. "Very well, I shall attempt to rescue any prisoners."

He nodded. "Thank you, madam. Before you leave, though, could you tell me something?"

"What is that?"

"What did you see in the Eye of God? What did you see in the Vortex of Worlds? I've wondered what that place is like for nearly a generation, but never have I thought that I might have the question answered by one such as you."

Ifurita smiled. "Very well." She leaned down and whispered for a short time in his ear. After she was done, he leaned against a nearby wall and smiled.

"Thank you for satisfying my curiosity."

He watched as they left, leaving him with only the whispers of the past for company.


The first knowledge the invaders had of my presence was the fireball I tossed into a group gathered around a campfire, waiting for their meal to finish roasting. The next was myself, moving among them as an angel of death, slaying them singly or in groups, living up to the name given to me so long ago: Demon God Ifurita.

They were armed and armored much as the file I'd accessed had said; however, several of them showed unusual powers, powers that tickled something in the back of my mind…

I was distracted from that thought when a sudden surge in nearby gravity almost drew me into a literal ball of men, compressed beyond even the limits of steel. Mere flesh could not stand against such force. I compensated and looked over to where Karylis was fighting, lips drawn back from her teeth in a parody of a grin. It was an emotion I could understand if not experience myself. I have rarely felt any emotion other than boredom in combat.

That is why, when I felt more than saw someone that wished to challenge me to single combat, I stopped slaughtering and started looking. If someone wished to speed their own demise, I had no qualms about satisfying that wish.

He was of average height, wearing a suit of armor cunningly fashioned to resemble a raging demon. Both of his gauntleted hands were wrapped around a single-edged longsword that curved slightly towards the end. He bowed to me in an odd but formal manner and came to a ready stance, sword held nearly parallel to the ground. I swept the Power Key Staff up in a salute and gripped it in a suitable manner for close combat. And we charged.

He was incredibly skilled. He was unbelievably fast. The suit he was wearing lent him awesome strength. It was enough to let him stand against me for seventeen seconds.

His blade lying ten feet away, himself on his knees before me, he still looked up at me with defiance showing in the very lines of his body. Wishing to know what kind of man this was, who would show such courage even to his death, I raised my staff and carefully smashed his helmet into shards.

And Makoto's eyes looked up at me…

I stared for a moment in shock, knowing only that I had almost killed my only love, screaming because the then and the now were suddenly, painfully thrust upon me in a mélange of horrifying images, mingling brutally in a way that I was just not designed to handle. Then the next part of that terrible week seized me again. I spiraled away into that maelstrom…


The lieutenant looked down at the woman with platinum hair, then around the once-peaceful campsite that had held people waiting to transfer through the Ring. Blood and limbs lay scattered about the grass in a haphazard fashion. There were few wounded people still moaning, though; the woman had been thorough as well as lethal.

He touched his face with his gauntleted fingers, feeling the hard ceramite press into features that were not his own. He looked at the pale woman again and shuddered, remembering her face, remorseless, implacable, coming for him…

"Sir!"

The lieutenant turned and saw one of the people that had developed a power. For one moment, he couldn't for the life of him remember the man's name, then recalled that the man was called Jacob by most. "Yes?"

"The girl with her, the one with tanned skin, got away."

The lieutenant shrugged. "That doesn't matter. What could one woman do?" Unless she has platinum curls… He shook his head sharply, then said, "What's the estimated butcher's bill?"

Jacob ran a practiced eye over the battlefield, than said, "Maybe three hundred?"

"Three hundred." Nearly all of the people left that had been awaiting transit back to their homes. Three hundred letters he would have to write to families; wives, mothers, children. Three hundred interments he would attend, for duty demanded that he honor those under his command. He nudged the woman lying at his feet with one toe. "I hope she was worth this."

Jacob nodded. "Sir, I have her powers contained. I couldn't have done it if she was still awake, though. She's extremely powerful, I warn you."

The lieutenant walked over to where his family's sword had fallen and picked it up. He pointed it at Jacob. "It's your job to see that she doesn't escape. The boss would be very, very angry if she did."

Jacob shrugged and said, almost insolently, "What would she do? If this little lady got free of my power, we'd all be dead. I wouldn't worry too much about my pay being docked if I'm in the grave."

The lieutenant found that to be too close to the truth for his comfort.


The air turned to a vacuum behind me, such was my speed returning to Makoto. I wasn't certain what effects it might have on the weather around my flight path, but I didn't care: I had a solution! I had a cure! I had been too late for Jinnai, which I would shed no tears over; but I could still save Fujisawa.

And Makoto would be in no danger.

The secret lay in their home dimension, Earth, in their connection with their homeland…

I sighted Floristica in the distance and did something that I hadn't believed possible: I redoubled my speed. It was an effort to slow down, but before I collided with one of the delicate towers I came to an almost complete halt, looking for which window was Fujisawa's. There!

I swooped down to the ornate glass worked in a spiral pattern and carefully opened it with a quick telekinetic tug. I flew in, expecting to see a crowd clustered around Fujisawa's bed.

The bed was empty save for a man sitting with his back to me, clutching his head in both hands, shoulders shaking from the force of his sobs. For a moment, I didn't know who it was, then I recognized Makoto. But, there was something different…

"My love?" I asked cautiously. He turned around, looking at me from across the bed, and I gasped, for he had changed.

His face had filled out, loosing some of its beauty. His eyes had sunken in slightly and were red from tears. A slight stubble had sprouted all over his cheeks and upper lip, making him look as though he were a bandit that hadn't shaved for several days.

My heart ached, for grief and sudden maturity had only added to his beauty, making him handsome rather than merely pretty. Then, I realized what his looks meant. "You're…" I started, but couldn't finish.

Makoto looked down at the empty bed. Rather than answer my unspoken question, he said softly, "Two days ago, he started getting a lot worse very suddenly. We tried everything that we could think of, but he died yesterday. He said for me to tell you that he… didn't blame you… because he… didn't want you think that…" He broke down again, and I moved forward, catching him and easing him to the bed.

A book that Makoto had brought from Earth said there's only one way to really comfort a widow. I know that it isn't true, being a widow myself, but what we did in the bed Fujisawa had died in, filled with our grief, aching to be comforted…

Perhaps I should be ashamed. I never was. It was the last time I ever made love to him.


Karylis ran through the night, hot tears of hate blinding her. She hated the invaders, for destroying everything she'd loved. She hated the so-called Guardian, for fainting almost once an hour and during a battle! She hated her dead lover, Teslas, for dragging her along on a quest that ended in his death and her failure.

Failure.

Most of all, she hated herself for failing. It beat in her brain. Failure. Failure. Failure. You could never succeed at anything. Not a thing. Couldn't please your parents. Couldn't be the best in your class. Couldn't keep your fiancé alive.

Save the world? Restore Elmesi? Yeah, right! She could barely manage to help herself…

She was running so fast that the first net of scouts, watching for a huge force, didn't even notice her. The only reason the second net of scouts caught her was because she had stopped running and started screaming, hammering her gauntleted fist into the ground over and over.

The two scouts nearest her didn't dare approach until she'd spent her rage and had curled up into a fetal position in the crater she'd created.


"What did you find?"

Maki, the doctor, Makoto, and I were seated in the gardens next to one of the intricate fountains, this one made up to resemble Fujisawa hefting a boulder over his head. I wondered for a moment if Maki had chosen this place as a subtle rebuke; after all, she had always admired Fujisawa. But after a moment I discarded that notion.

I sighed. My spirits had lowered so much that now, even my sure solution seemed pathetic, a shard of nothing. "A slim hope at best. The text I discovered had only a little on the subject, and it was all theories, but it was the only thing I could find."

The doctor waved one hand impatiently. "Yes, yes, of course it would only be theories, but we've already run out of time in two cases" I had told them of Jinnai's fate "and we're running out of time in the third. Spit it out, young woman!"

Even in the nadir of my despair, I almost laughed at how the doctor still treated me as though I were a real person, of the age I was created at so long ago. "The book put it in very strange, almost metaphysical language, but this is what it condenses to." I motioned to Makoto.

"His life-force doesn't come from this world. Instead, there's something like an umbilical connecting him to Earth, where his life-force comes from. In the in-between regions of the dimensions, the Vortex of Worlds, which this umbilical has to pass through, energies influence his umbilical cord, causing reactions in it. When he draws life-force from the umbilical, he also gets some of the energy that passes through the Vortex of Worlds. That is what gives him his powers."

The doctor looked alarmed, but Maki spoke first. "But if it's this energy that's making him get older, how do we stop it?"

"It isn't the energy he's getting from the Vortex that's making him get older. If it was, then he'd've started dying a long time ago." I stopped and sighed. "Instead, his connection to Earth must be pinched off somehow. There's only two places that it could be removed, here" I placed one finger in the center of Makoto's chest "and back on Earth."

Makoto looked confused. "But that's not possible. I still love Japan! Heck, we went there only what, a year ago?"

I nodded. "So it must be pinched off on Earth."

He brightened for a moment, then looked as though he were about to weep again. "Such a simple solution. If we'd brought Fujisawa-sensei back to Japan…"

I shook my head. "No! That would only have killed him more quickly."

Now my poor husband looked truly lost, and the others in our small circle had nearly the same expressions. I said, "When you go into the Vortex of Worlds, it's your connection to your own world that keeps you from getting lost in there. It's like… being tossed into a rough, stormy sea with a lifeline. If the lifeline is frayed somewhere, it could break very easily, and you'll slip away into the sea and be lost. Forever."

"So what will you do?"

I stood up slowly, not answering my granddaughter's question for a moment, then said, "I'm going to Earth. The umbilical cord that they talk about comes from a connection to other people: parents, friends, relatives…. That's why you're living for so long, because the time flows so much more quickly in El-Hazard. For your connection to be fading this way, then someone who knows all of you are still alive must not care anymore. That someone could only be…"

Makoto spoke at the same time as I. "Nanami."


The lieutenant had seen his master in more moods than he cared to think of, but he'd only seen her jubilant once before: right after having one of her ex-business partners and once-close friend killed. It was enough to make him wish that he could use the Ring to return, to get away from this blasted place with too many plants and people with seemingly magical powers, some of them people he'd commanded back home…

Once, they'd listened to his every order, simply because the only relationship they understood was strong and weak, and he was stronger than they. Now, they knew that they were stronger than he, could probably kill him, and the only reason that they didn't do so was because his master was their only way home. Many of them had muttered about going native, though…

"Are the mercenaries restless?"

The lieutenant gave a start. Once again, his master's startling abilities of perception had amazed him. "Uh, yes, Mistress."

She chuckled lightly. "One of the problems with hiring scum is that they like to do scummy things. Very well, allow them access to the female prisoners. All except for her."

The lieutenant was no lily-white virgin, but he knew what some of the people under his command would do to those women, and he instinctively shied away from it. "Mistress, I can't allow that! It would be…"

"Wrong?" She looked at him with a curious expression. "Explain yourself. We're conquering this world, not moving in like good neighbors. It's traditional for conquerors to do whatever they want with the people who lose out, even if it isn't always right. The only right thing to do would have been to stay behind, and I assure you that I would never have done that!"

The lieutenant put one fist to his heart. "Very well, Mistress." He had no intention of passing on the order, and somehow, he knew that she knew it. She sometimes allowed him minor rebellions, though, and he could only hope that this would be one of those times.

"Bring her to me."

"What?"

His master smashed her fist against a table, causing all the small blown-glass animals on it to jump around. Some of them fell to the carpet, unnoticed. "Bring her to me! I want to look at her face again, to tell her that I will be the one to conquer her precious El-Hazard!"

The lieutenant left hurriedly, not wanting to find out what might happen if he were slow. She shook her head and chuckled softly. "Once, he told me that gloating was the best part. I didn't believe him… then."


I came to quickly, for I felt cables binding my arms together over my head, leaving me hanging by my wrists. If I had been human, no doubt it would have been uncomfortable, but I felt no discomfort. Instead, I called forth a basic technique I'd learned from an improvised plasma-blaster that would melt away whatever these cables were made out of…

And nothing happened.

I could feel the knowledge of how to do it, but somehow I was cut off from the actual power!

I strained and screamed, but to no avail. The bonds holding my power were far, far tighter than the ones holding my wrists.

"Well, now that that little demonstration's over, maybe I can get around to business."

The man that came into my view was short and somewhat weasely, with a slight odor that reminded me of battlefields too innumerable to count. He smiled, revealing bad teeth. "I'm Jacob, missy. And I hold your power tight. Don't try struggling, it won't do much good other than give me a coupla minutes of cheap entertainment."

I felt for how he did it, and in a moment had the technique compiled. It made me want to laugh at the bitter irony. I knew how he held my power away from me and could copy the technique at any time, but as long as he held me I'd never be able to use it!

"There's someone who's been waiting a long to see you again, missy." He stepped aside, revealing a figure that was all too familiar to me. She was older than I'd remembered, of course, and dressed far more elaborately, but there was no way I could ever forget that face.

The face of the one that had killed my Makoto with negligence.

I said, the chill of frozen northlands in my voice, "Nanami…"

 

To be continued.

Chapter 3
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