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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 Three

An El Hazard story
By Aaron Bergman

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


"…I wish it didn't have to end like that."
"It always ends. That's what gives it value."
 -Death

"Hello, Nanami."

The lieutenant had often wondered why his master was filled with such venomous hatred, a hate that had driven her to become one of the most powerful people in the world. It was disgustingly fascinating, like a gangrenous wound. It was compellingly horrible, like studying serial killers. Often, he had thought about doing what he knew to be right, but somehow he could never have done it until he knew, really knew, why she hated.

Staring at the hazy image coming through the bug he'd placed in his master's interrogation room, he felt as though he were on the verge of understanding everything. And he had a name to put to her evil: Nanami.

"Ah, Ifurita, I see that you haven't forgotten me." Her voice was filled with a sick joviality, a gloating humor that he had never, not in his twelve years of service, ever heard from her lips.

"How could I forget? How could I ever forget? It was you…"

Nanami shook her head and chuckled. "It isn't like you to spread blame. All I did was choose to live my life as I wanted."

The platinum hair woman - Ifurita, that was her name - swung on her restraints in a vain effort to somehow strike Nanami. "You said you'd never return!"

Nanami shrugged. "I lied."

"DAMN YOU!!"

She laughed again. "Too late."

The lieutenant reached out and touched the staff that he'd taken from the woman. Perhaps, this would be the only opportunity he would ever have. After what he had done last night…

Decision made, he seized the staff and left the room. Thus, he never heard his master say, "I damned myself the moment I left Floristica, all those years ago…"


Karylis was conscious of the dirt, blood, and filth mingled together on her once-clean uniform as she was escorted to the Commander by the seven ceremonial guards, but she was determined to hold to what shreds of dignity she still had left, determined not to let any of the doubt that gripped her soul show. She walked with a bearing that had been the envy of every one of her classmates.

All around the camp, refugees looked at her, wondering what she might have done to warrant such an escort. It gave her hope, knowing that most of the people had, indeed, escaped, but she still didn't understand why they had fled in the first place!

The man in the lead stepped to the door of the small house the Commander had converted into the center of operations and opened it. With no ceremony, they ushered Karylis in. The interior gave off a bustling air, despite the fact that there were only ten people inside, all of them poring over a small map laid on the table in the center of the room. A harried-looking woman was serving tea, but no one seemed to have any interest in her drinks.

Her arrival caused no stir for a moment, but one person looked up, noticed her standing there, and nudged the person next to him. Soon all but the Commander were staring at her until one of the adjutants cleared his throat. "Commander Yolin."

Commander Yolin looked up. His weather-beaten face creased into a slight frown that cleared up a moment later as he recognized her. "Uh… you're the young Warrior I sent out to escort Professor Teslas at his request, aren't you?" After receiving a slight nod, he continued, "report."

Karylis tried to keep her report brief and to the point, but the Commander kept picking at her brain, asking questions about things that she hadn't thought about. After spending nearly half an hour grilling her, Commander Yolin leaned back and chuckled. "I see that you've done the best you could in a bad situation. I rather doubt that I could have done anything else. Good job, Karylis. Report to the baths and then climb into an empty rack for six or so hours of sleep. We'll need you tonight." He turned away, but Karylis stood there for a moment before speaking.

"How can you be so casual, sir? We've done nothing to fight back against these invaders since the first battles, we've let them destroy the Academies, and now the Guardian has fallen! What are we going to do, sir?"

The various people scattered around the room gasped at her petulant tone, but the Commander acted as though what she had said was a serious question he was required to answer and not a breach of all protocol. He turned around and nodded slowly. "Indeed, you have raised some troubling points." He looked almost frightened for one brief moment. "The Guardian…. But now," he shook himself and swung one hand to indicate the map, "it doesn't matter.  The prisoners in their hands escaped due to a traitor in their midst, so there is nothing holding us back. Tonight, we will strike. And we will strike hard."


I stared at Nanami, startled that she would admit to such a thing. In my amazement, I almost didn't listen as she continued, "To be honest, I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't left that day. Would I have been happy? Someday? I doubt it. Not if I'd've had to watch the two of you…"

I asked, softly, "What was so bad about what we had, Nanami? Why did you hate it so much?"

She didn't answer my question immediately. Instead, she tilted her head and asked, "Do you remember what I said when you came to me, pleading for Makoto's life all those years ago? Do you?"

I sighed in bitter sorrow as I said, "Of course I do. I remember what you said very clearly. You said that you… enjoyed… watching me cry. You said that I had hurt you so much that you wanted to see me in pain. And you said that you hated that part of yourself." I let that sit between us for a moment, then added, "Why did you let that part become the only thing left in you?"

Once again, she ignored my question. Instead, she said, almost to herself, "Did I say that? I must have. And yet…. Actually," she said, turning her attention back to me, "I was thinking of something else that I said that day. Something it took me ten years of living in El-Hazard, watching everyone around me, to realize. It was about power. You had everything you could want. So did Makoto. So did Fujisawa-sensei. Even my brother had a power he could use! All I had was a stupid ability suited only to sidekicks and comic relief!"

Nanami stopped for a moment, rage creasing her face, then stormed, "I refuse to be a second-rate character in someone else's story. I have more pride than that. I'd rather be a villain, and create my own story!" Now it was her turn to let a thought sit between us. "That was why I left. As long as I was there, I was nothing. Now, though, I am one of the most powerful people in this world and my own!" She held out her open hand to me, then clutched it into a fist. "And I hold the secret to immortality in my fist, thanks to you and this ring you made for me, 'in case I ever wanted to come back.'"

I stared at the ring I had, indeed, given to her so long ago. It was slightly more tarnished than the rest of the jewelry decorating her fingers, not as ornate, but worth more than any of the more gaudy baubles around it. I looked away from the ring and into her eyes as I asked, "How did you get the ring to take so many people from your world? I never…"

She laughed carelessly as she moved the ring away from my eyes. "You wrought better than you imagined, Ifurita. My scientists worked for decades to unravel the secrets of this ring, and failed."

She scowled at the memory. "However, they did manage to figure out how to stretch the field. And that is how. Why? Because I intend to conquer this world, using the powers granted to anyone from Earth, and rule both worlds from this one as I live forever!"

Then, she stopped laughing and assumed a very quizzical expression. "Well, my brother is proven right once more. Telling your helpless enemy all your plans before killing her is more fun than just killing her outright! Perhaps I should have done this with my last partner…"

I snarled and reached for the power to crush this hideous visage from my past, knowing that all my efforts were in vain, and that my long life was about to end. And I wondered… why I cared so much. Would it be so bad to die, after all this time? And I answered my question quickly. I would not let myself die at this madwoman's hands, no matter how tired I was of this… existence. Nanami watched and laughed cruelly as I struggled to reach her.

The man who had been standing off to the side, holding me from the start, went to his knees and clutched his head, groaning, as I battered at the barrier he kept between me and my powers. Nanami stopped laughing, but still didn't look too concerned. "I suppose that now is the time to destroy you."

Then, the room shook with a violent concussion. The man was thrown against a wall. I felt all my power rushing back into me, like blood into an arm long since fallen asleep.

The first thing I did was tear asunder the steel ropes that held my arms. The next was turn a gout of plasma-hot flame against the man who had held me captive, melting his outline into the deep carpet. Then, I turned my attention to Nanami, who was still looking at me with that expression of unconcern.

I threw a simple wave of pure energy against her, more than enough to cut her in half. She deserved a lingering death a thousand times over, but I just wanted it over.

The energy passed right through her, and slammed into the wall behind her! She flickered, like a bad camera image, then threw her head back and laughed madly. "You don't think I was stupid enough to come in person, did you?! I took a page from an old book, the book of that ridiculous Phantom Tribe, and set up a room where I could use a hologram to deceive you. It's too bad I killed my brother, there are times when I think he could appreciate my genius…"

I lost control. Throwing a wave of sheer kinetic force outwards from my body in all directions, I wrecked everything that could have possibly been a projector. Nanami's image shimmered and died, leaving me alone.

I ignored the only door out of the room, because it was probably a trap. Instead, I simply tore my way through a wall, and was very surprised to see Makoto waiting there for me, holding the Power Key Staff.

After a moment of sudden happiness, a burst of warmth that defied all logic, I knew that it wasn't my Makoto. Only a fake, created by Nanami to distract me. He looked at me and said in an offhanded manner, "Don't kill me, Ifurita. I still have promises to keep."

Creator, he even sounded like Makoto. Not noticing the sorrow wavering in my eyes, he said, "The forces of this planet are attacking. No doubt my men will beat them back soon, but I've found that I don't care anymore. Here." He tossed the Power Key Staff to me, and I caught it reflexively. "Leave. I'll kill my master myself. It will be… my final duty."

I looked at him, almost lost myself in Makoto's liquid eyes, almost succumbed to a desire within me, a desire to ask this doppelganger to come with me. I wondered absently if this is how men feel when they look at pornography. They have to know that the woman they are looking at is fake, only doing it for money, and that the images are 'touched up' to make the women more beautiful, and yet… they still desire those images. That was how I felt about this man.

Perhaps I am almost that shallow. But not quite. I simply nodded and said two words that I had never used before meeting Makoto. "Thank you."

He waved one hand in a casual gesture, and any illusions I held about this man shattered in that one motion that Makoto never would have made. "De nada, chica. But get gone." He was slipping into an unfamiliar accent now. I nodded and left, walking away slowly.


The lieutenant watched Ifurita's retreating backside appreciatively, knowing that it was going to be the last time he ever got the chance to look at a beautiful woman. He reached down to his holster and unsnapped it, drawing out an ancient weapon handed down for as long as the sword he had used in the battle outside. He held up the pearl-handled Colt Peacemaker and said grimly, "If my sword is my honor, then you are my conscience." He smiled again, very sadly. "It seems you were right, Toni. This really was a fool's mission…" He reholstered his weapon and started off for the place he knew his master would be.


Nanami watched the battle rage around the base through a thousand eyes. Linked to technology in a way that she had long since forgotten had once seemed unnatural to her, she saw one of her men, who had been gifted with incredible strength, literally rip apart six or seven of the attackers before being burnt to a cinder. She glimpsed the Commander of the Elmesi, whom her informants had said was named Yolin, as he waded into the battle himself, hoping to turn the tide.

But there was no hope for that, now. No doubt he had been expecting a defense that used the same strategies as her initial offensive: Numbers but little else. The natives had not been expecting a one-for-one match, so they had already lost, no matter how hard they fought. The powers that had been granted to her men were far more than a match for whatever weapons the natives possessed, even if those weapons had been created by a technology so powerful it may as well have been magic.

She set six of her men upon Commander Yolin, and he went down under their pack like a wolf beset by dogs. Feeling a sudden surge of pleasure that threatened to break the delicate concentration needed to maintain her link, she forced her mind out into the meat world for a moment and wrenched her hand out from between her legs, glaring at it angrily. Of course, it showed not an ounce of guilt. This youthening body had… urges… whose strength she had forgotten.

One incredible thing, however, was that just when she had thought that she couldn't hate any more, her hate had redoubled. She hated with the fiery passion of youth, hated with the withered strength of old age. Her hate had kept her alive when even the foremost doctors had said she was dead, and now that she was young again, it gave her the strength to shatter mountains. And she wanted nothing more than to feel a pale white throat in her hands as she crushed the life out of Ifurita.

Knowing that the battle had been won, she didn't bother to relink. She reached out her traitor hand to caress a cylinder that never left her side. Even if she couldn't kill Ifurita with her bare hands (she was a realist in many ways), Nanami knew from experience that death could come from other angles…

A door slid open behind her, hissing slightly, but Nanami didn't turn around to see who it was. She had known this day would come from the moment she'd hired the young man who had shown such talent in so many ways. So many of the young men that day had shown talent, but none had born a slight, almost coincidental resemblance, to a long-dead fool.

"I've been waiting for this day, Madam. Or should I say, Nanami?"

Now she did swivel in her chair, and she saw her lieutenant's eyes widen as he saw the young woman she had become. "I've been waiting for this day too, my Right Hand. And it matters little to me what you call me."

He raised the ancient pistol that dwarfed his right hand. "I've come to kill you."

Nanami laughed throatily. "I've been wondering how long it would take you to decide to do that. I've kept you out of… amusement, I would say, the same way someone else might keep a coral snake and not have the fangs removed. It's so exciting to play with death."

Undaunted, he snapped, "I know why you've kept me! It was part of your 'plan' against that woman with the platinum hair…"

"Her name is Ifurita."

"So?" He eased the hammer back, and Nanami knew that she could no longer afford to play around. Linking back up quickly, she sent a command via radio that she'd memorized long ago. A wet 'pop' sounded, and her lieutenant's eyes suddenly rolled back in his head. He collapsed, and Nanami stood up and removed the pistol from his limp hand.

"And, knowing that your sense of 'honor' would compel you to bite me someday, I placed a contingency in your cybernetics. A small bomb in your spinal cord, not of any material that would show up on a scan, but big enough to disable you permanently. Now, I hope that you'll stay alive long enough to watch Ifurita die when she returns to me." She sat back down, holding the pistol in one hand and caressing the cylinder in the other, watching her lieutenant die.


It was… hard… staying on my feet through the smoke- filled corridors, but I grimly kept at it, fighting back the memories with a strength borne of terror. I needed to escape before I fell victim to my dreams again.

Reaching a dead-end tunnel that I could feel would lead outside, I channeled enough of my power to blast the barrier to smithereens. When the smoke cleared, I saw a familiar face.

"Karylis?"

She looked at me with a mixture of furious hatred and grim determination. "You useless wind-up toy. I hope that you're satisfied."

"What?" I almost fell, and only prevented it by leaning heavily on the Power Key Staff.

"You heard me. Thanks to you and your 'fainting spells', the entire Elmesi military force is devastated, the survivors are running for their lives, and Commander Yolin is killed! Everything's gone! If only… if you only had been…" Her face distorted, and I realized that she was holding back tears only by grim force of will.

But now I was angry too. "Do you think I want to go through this? Do you think I enjoy the suffering that simply being awake inflicts upon me? Do you want to see what I've been suffering?"

Without waiting for a response, I did something very rash, something I hadn't done for longer than I could remember. I ripped one glove off, touched Karylis's bare cheek, and interfaced. It was a skill Makoto had tought me long ago, and it seemed… fitting… to use it and share the final part of my worst nightmare. How my love's life ended.


I flew through the Vortex of Worlds, maintaining my balance and my sanity almost without conscious thought. It was good that I could do so, because my mind was whirling in a way that made the Vortex look like a tame children's pool.

My love was doomed. His parents were dead (the result of an accident), he'd never been close to any of his other relatives, and Nanami…

I pushed her to the back of my mind. I couldn't afford to think of Nanami, lest I fly back and tear her head from her body.

Maybe… there was some hope. Maybe someone still had a connection to him back on his planet. Maybe…

But I didn't think so. And, knowing that hurt more than anything else I could imagine.

I reached El-Hazard, and appeared right above Floristica.

Not wanting to waste whatever time I might have left with Makoto, I flew straight to his window and tore through it, making a mess for the maids to clean up another time.

Makoto looked at me from the bed. He had aged well, much better than even I could imagine, but he no longer looked like my love. He tried to talk, and failed.

"It's been a month."

I turned at the sound of Maki's voice. She was sitting in a shadowed corner. "Maki, is he… is he…"

"What took you so long?"

I shook my head. "I didn't know it would be so long."

"He's almost dead." Maki stood up. "I want to blame you. I wish I could. It would make me feel a lot better. But I can't." She walked out, leaving me alone with Makoto.

I reached out and took his hand in mine. Our minds brushed each other, at first tentatively, then in a heartfelt embrace. We felt each other, as extensions of our own bodies, and my mind ached at the pain pulsing in his body. He showed none of it, though, and said to me, I love you. I can't do anything but love you. I wish that the words to say 'I love you' took longer, because that's all that's been keeping me alive. I couldn't leave you, not without saying that.

I replied, I know you love me. I feel the pain eating you, I wish you hadn't had to suffer that, and I can't let you do it any more, no matter how much my selfish wish is to keep you with me forever. Please, don't do it any more.

Makoto smiled, and I felt the flesh tearing from the effort of that simple gesture. I have one last thing to do, before I die…

Yes?

And he was in my mind, more than ever he had been, his mind, his soul, transferring into my own brain through our interface. He touched me from the inside, and everything I had ever, ever experienced paled, was nothing, nothing compared to this! He said, I will be by your side forev…

And he died.

I wept there, shedding tears over his dried, brittle body.

For the next ten years, I tried to awaken the shard of Makoto that rested in my mind. Nothing I did ever so much as stirred him. I couldn't end my life, not as long as part of him was with me, but I couldn't bear to feel him there, like a fire through a window, like a tingle just before a shock, so… I constructed a bed and went to sleep, hoping that I could find him that way.

It was the closest I ever came to him. Or maybe I was just deceiving myself. Nevertheless, it stopped the torment, living in memories of the past or entirely new dreams of a life with all of us, still alive, still happy…

Just in case the people Makoto had so whole-heartedly adopted needed me again, I placed protocols on reawakening me in several locations. I begrudged every moment awake, though, because I was so much more aware of hismind within mine when I wasn't sleeping. And it hurt, more than anything else I could imagine. Hell is being alone, but knowing what it is to be surrounded by people who love you. That was worse than anything, living life as I had once, long ago, and knowing that there was something else, something better.

And then, I was Awakened by a young woman who looked much like an old friend…


Ifurita broke the contact, and Karylis fell to her knees, this time weeping openly, unashamed. She heard the demon god say, softly, "It seems that my love was right, all those years ago. Pain shared is pain lessoned…"

Karylis looked up just as Ifurita whirled around. "Wha…. Where are you going?"

Ifurita looked over her shoulder and smiled sadly. "To end it all. Isn't that the way every legend should end? I'd run away, far away, if I were you." Then, she stepped back into the cave, and Karylis took her advice, running as fast as anyone ever had.


I killed, but only as I had to, when fools that should know Death when they see Her tried to stop me in my hunt. My hunt for the center, where Nanami would be perched like a spider waiting for prey. It wasn't hard to find.

I knocked the door down, not wanting to waste time. I was not surprised to see the body of the young man who looked so much like Makoto lying on the floor between Nanami and I. Nanami chuckled and spoke. "I've been waiting for you, old friend. I wondered how long it would take you to get here."

I leveled the Power Key Staff. "I will kill you now."

"Will you?" Then, she faded and vanished, and I knew that she'd readied her ring as soon as she'd heard me coming. I spotted the cylinder lying on the table beside the chair she had been, and I knew her plan.

I grabbed the cylinder and quickly neutralized the weapon inside. Then, I gathered the energies to travel the Vortex of Worlds myself, and stepped into there in pursuit of my foe.

The tempests were stronger this time, much stronger then I remembered them. Perhaps they had felt the chaos inflicted on two of the worlds and were reacting? I steeled myself to them and looked for Nanami. I didn't have to look far.

She hadn't been expecting the strength of the Vortex either.

Nanami looked at me with bared teeth, and her eyes barely widened when she saw the cylinder. I reached out with one hand and grabbed the front of her shirt. I dragged her back to El-Hazard.

Throwing her to the ground in front of me, I held the cylinder in one hand. Crushing it, I said coldly, the coldest I have ever said anything, "Plasma-neuronic weapon. Capable of killing all life in a forty-kilometer radius and vaporizing everything within two hundred meters of the actual detonation." I let a slight smile touch my lips as I added, "A child's toy. Let me show you how it's done."

And I gave myself to Holocaust…


The Elmesi Academies were rebuilt, and in the coming centuries grew to a point that made the Academies as they were before Ifurita's Last Battle seem insignificant. Many advances were made, and a peaceful age that would, seemingly, last forever, followed. However, like all things, this age came to an end as well.

But that is another story.

The buildings were more elaborate then ever, the sidewalks more ornate, and the women and men more beautiful, but the first thing every newcomer to the Academies saw was a simple statue, placed in front of the headquarters of the Elmesi Warriors. It was obviously carved by someone with more determination than skill, though that wasn't saying it was carved badly. It was of a woman slumping heavily on a staff, every line of her body expressing a weariness that makes a person looking at it for the first time wonder how she still stayed on her feet.

Looking more closely at her face, however, they see that the woman is looking far away, a slight smile on her face, as though she has finally reached the end of an endless journey, finally walked the last few steps to an ending long promised.

To be continued.

Epilogue
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