Choices

 

SHIRYU

 

The streets were quiet as I drifted through them. There were no signs of monsters anywhere, or of anything uncommon. The day being Saturday, there were less people and traffic. The temperature had dropped another few degrees.

A young man about my own age, his hair dyed dark brown, was strolling from the opposite direction. I sensed a throb of power as he passed me by, but it was gone the next second. I looked over my shoulder at him, but he did not even slow down. He went on, noticed a stereo set on a store window, and stopped. He was just an ordinary young man. That must have been my imagination.

Being left behind like this annoyed me. It made me feel I was idling while my brothers were fighting a battle. But I knew someone had to keep an eye on Tokyo, which might not be safe yet from monsters, and protect Athena. It happened to be me. Still, that helped little to ease my uneasiness, the notion that I was being cheated out of an honest confrontation.

"Okay, so monsters arenít exactly hot stuff," Seiya had said this morning, before he and the others set out. "But we canít let them run amok either. Donít worry about us, Shiryu. Weíll return. We always do."

Yes, we always did return from battles, however battered and scarred we might be. We defied the maw of death, nearly at the cost of our beloved brother. There would never be an exception to the rule Ė as long as we remained true to ourselves and to Athena.

I had not been walking very far when a hush fell all around me. The street was empty, the vehicles as good as gone. I came to a halt. The monsters had found me out. They were going to pounce, and I was prepared for them.

Footfalls were approaching from behind. I turned in time to see a paw swishing at my head. Ducking, I leaped backward. The creature was almost human, and from a certain distance he would resemble a man with sores erupting all over his skin. His beady eyes surveyed me calmly. Compared to the one I had seen a couple of days ago, he appeared to possess more intelligence.

As he lunged at me with surprising nimbleness, I stepped aside a little to grab at his arm. His skin was hot against mine. A grunt escaped him as I stooped, pulling him with me over my head, and threw him onto the sidewalk, judo-fashion. He hit the concrete with a thud at the same time I dropped to my knee and delivered a stunning blow to his neck. He shuddered once, then stayed inert. Exhaling, I got to my feet.

This had been my original plan. Cosmos could not prevail against the monsters, so I might as well engage them in a hand-to-hand combat. That would be exhausting, I could tell, especially if there were a lot of monsters at large. But I did not see any other way.

The question was now, what to do with this now defeated thing? Should I kill him? I certainly could not leave him lying here.

"Donít bother, heíll die eventually. These creatures donít live for long."

My head snapped up, but I was alone on the street. The voice had come from someplace high. "Who is it?" I called out.

"Just look at it if you donít believe me."

I looked. The creature was already shrinking, his skin wrinkled. He was indeed dying. Assuming I could leave him here until his lifespan reached its end, I summoned my Cosmos. Possibly because there was no monster to block it, my Cosmos ignited quickly.

"Come on out," I said. "If youíre not an enemy, why hide yourself?"

"For various reasons. Surely you can guess that, someone as astute as you?" There was no mockery in the voice. It was a male voice, young and rather deep. "Well, much as I love to chat with you, Iím going. Thereís a new movie at the cinema just around the corner. Go there if you like. Who knows, we may even meet." The voice was fading, and the last sentence was carried away by the cold wind.

People were filling the street as I listened, and cars reemerged on the road. The creature was thawing into a mound of char, which I doubted anyone could see. I sank my hands into my pockets, thinking.

The cinema around the corner, was it? Well, I would go there and see if I could meet the owner of the mysterious voice. No one could keep his power below the surface for very long. With luck, I might even locate him.

 

 

The end credits were rolling, and the audience was streaming toward the exit door. I remained in my seat, however. All through the movie I had not sensed the faintest flicker of energy. Either the unknown person was excellent at hiding his power or he was not here at all.

He was not an enemy, nor was he a Saint. All the same, he was someone to be reckoned with. I could at the very least talk to him, see what he was like.

The last people to get out were a couple. The big screen was already blank. Then I saw him.

As I had predicted, he was no older than twenty. He was sitting in a leisurely manner, savoring a bar of chocolate. I moved toward him. He did not spare me a glance. When I was near enough to see him clearly, I saw, with little astonishment, that it was the brown-haired young man I had noticed earlier.

He crumpled the chocolate wrapper into a tight little ball and stuffed it into his breast pocket. "Hey, youíre a persistent guy. I didnít think youíd really come here. Was the movie neat or what?"

"You know who I am, but I donít know you. Would you please introduce yourself?"

"Come on out and Iíll tell you." He rose and cantered toward the exit door. I followed from behind.

When I got out, he had vanished. Berating myself for my lack of perceptiveness, I began to search for him, but in vain. He was truly gone.

Was he not an enemy, as he had said? I supposed so. Or he could be playing with me. I knew now, however, that even in Tokyo we could not feel completely safe, for there was another, unknown party. The young man was an indication of that. Until we learned who he was or what he was doing here, I would not dismiss him from my mind.

The noises around me receded abruptly. I was the only one standing on the street. Here we go again, I thought, readying myself.

 

 

SEIYA

 

Within one minute of arriving, Sloa had managed to push Ann into the white nothingness, leaving me on my own. That might have been his intention all along. Even if it was not, I had no other choice than fight him. That was good. He needed a lesson or two.

He was contemplating me with hard eyes. "You are a Saint, am I right?" he said. "And how is Athena these days? I was expecting that old whore had more sense than keep reincarnating every two hundred years. But no, she has to protect the earth and be revered."

Fury whipped through me as my Cosmos burst. "Donít you call her names," I said warningly, my fists bunched.

"Iíll say anything I damn well please," he flared back. "Youíre a chosen Saint, so you think the world of her. Letís see what you would think if she casts you out like a cur."

My mind raced in spite of my consuming anger. So these people were Saints that Athena had disowned? "Sheíd have good reasons to cast out Saints. You must have done wrong Ė "

His lip curled. "Me? Iíve never even laid eyes on her, and I donít wish to. No, itís my grandfather she threw away. Kicked him out of Earth to Flathinnis." His words were tumbling out, as though he had been preparing this narrative for years and couldnít wait to get it out. "Lucky for him the kingís sister saved him when he was ailing. They fell in love and got married, for which my grandmother was cast out by her brother in her turn. But she forgave him. As my grandfather forgave Athena. But Iíll never forgive her!"

This passionate statement left me somewhat bewildered. "Why, how does it affect you? You werenít even born when your grandfather Ė "

"Itís not that!" He was near shouting now, not letting me get a word in. "My grandfather thought it was his fault Ė but that was because he was a nice man! Athena accused him of going over to Poseidon. But he didnít! He was loyal to that undeserving bitch. Someone whispered nasty rumors about him, and Athena believed them. Now tell me, is that the sort of person youíd worship?"

Speaking in a rush as he did, I could only catch the gist of what he was saying. I couldnít retort in defense of Athena, though. That must have been a different Athena, not Kido Saori, so I was in no position to judge. Maybe when I get home I can ask Saori, see if the Athena side of her remembered. In the meantime, I had Sloa to deal with.

"You seem to bear a lot of grudges," I told him. "Both against Flathinnis and now, it turns out, against Athena as well." Unexpectedly, I felt a pang of compassion; his life could not have been very pleasant, having so many scores to settle. "Now Iím here, and I guess my brothers are now somewhere with your friends. Which one do you want to take down first Ė us Saints, or Ann and Fenris? Take your pick."

He advanced on me, and so minatory was his expression that I pulled back a bit involuntarily. He looked almost mad with a rage that seemed to permeate his entire being. "You think itís funny, donít you?"

"No," I said sharply. "I only think you choose the wrong targets for your revenge. My brothers and I know zip about what Athena did to your grandfather. And I just bet Ann and Fenris couldnít tell why youíre so incensed at Flathinnis."

Sloa drew a breath, which, while it helped to curb him, didnít decrease his anger one iota. "We were Ė my brother, my sister and I Ė accepted by the Flathinnis king a long while ago. At first he was very kind, and I suspect my sister was besotted with that old bastard. Then she found out that he had murdered his wife Ė his sonsí mothers. He liked to fool around and her wife had been in the way. Thankfully my sister hadnít gone very far with him."

His eyes had gone soft as he spoke of his brother and sister, but the next minute the softness evaporated. "He trapped us in a barn and set fire to it. My brother and I managed to get out safely, but my sister Ė she Ė " His voice was husky with emotion. "Anyway the king caught us and defeated us. Before we could tell anyone what heíd done to his wife, heíd had us imprisoned in a place, as good as dead, our way out barred with the Flathinnis seal. Itís a seal only a Flathinnis ruler can use. So we slept."

"I donít think the Pegasus Saint wants to hear that ancient history, Sloa."

A man was floating down to land next to Sloa, black wings flapping a little. He was looking at Sloa sadly, his mouth pursed. This must be Aleron.

"We broke free because within us reside the latent power of a Saint," he continued, his subdued tone a relief after his brotherís fiery one. "That was our grandfatherís inheritance to us. Also we have our grandmotherís power Ė she was of the royal Flathinnis family, which has always been a powerful household. So they passed their powers down to us. Combined, those two powers were of a considerable amount."

"Thatís right." Tendrils of silver energy were curling outward from Sloaís body. "Iíd like to contend with Saint Pegasus to see just how considerable it really is."

"Sloa Ė " Aleron began.

"Be quiet! We can talk later. Saint Pegasus, come!"

What the heck Ė Iíd try clearing up all this after I beat him. It shouldnít take long. "Ready when you are."

 

 

FENRIS

 

When the ground first became uneven, I had thought there was going to be an earthquake. Earthquakes occurred every now and then in Flathinnis; I could still remember a severe one when I was small. There had been a landslide and fires spreading throughout my village. This one, however, was no earthquake.

Solidity melted away, and I felt myself falling into a large body of water. Instinct of survival reacting before my brain did, I swam upward and broke the surface. The Saints were already afloat, the current buoying them up and down. I was surprised they could float at all, regarding those heavy armors. Then my heart skipped a beat.

"Whereís Ann?" I shouted.

The blond Saint, Hyoga, stared at me in surprise, before diving in. I waited anxiously, while Ikki remained impassive and Shun looked around, seemingly still uncomprehending why land had given way to water. I must say I shared his confusion.

Hyoga came up, a gasping and shivering Ann clinging to him. "You canít swim, Ann?" I said.

She glowered at me, her fright subsiding. "And I suppose that amuses you? I can swim, but not well."

"All right, all right. And donít clutch at Hyoga so, heís burdened enough as it is with his armor. Why not go over here. At least Iím familiar."

"Huh," she said, but obligingly released Hyoga. She reached me in several hasty strokes, then held on to me almost grimly, as though she wasnít actually willing to be in my debt. She whispered, "Hyoga located me in no time flat. I bet that guyís used to searching for, er, drowning people."

Shun was saying, "I donít understand it. Someone must have been here all along, but my chains donít even twitch. How is that possible?"

Ann was recovering. "It isnít Aleron or Sloa," she declared positively. "They donít deal with water. This has got to be someone else. Which means I havenít met all of Aleronís minions."

We didnít speak for some time. I noticed that the water wasnít salty, as seawater ought to be. I had only seen the sea once in my whole life, but it was enough to impress upon me that its water differed from ordinary water. This water we were wallowing in tasted and smelled the same as, say, that of a pond. Which meant wherever we were, we werenít in the sea. Not that it answered much.

"What does whoever it is here expect by doing this?" Ikkiís dry voice broke into my thoughts. "Tire or starve us to death?"

"There isnít any land for miles," Shun put in. "It wonít be very convenient to fight on waterÖOr maybe thatís it."

"What?" said Hyoga.

"Maybe thatís why my chains canít detect our mysterious host. He doesnít want us to kill us, just disable us. And I say heís done well." Shun raised one end of his chains, dripping, from the water. It hung limply from his grip. "The question is, how long does he intend to keep us like this?"

Ikki was shimmering in orange and scarlet. Ann watched. "If Iím not mistaken, a phoenixís going to soar from him any minute now," she said to me in a low tone. Ikkiís figure rose from the water until he hung above it, the center of a dazzling light. Hyoga and Shun were following suit, Hyoga glowing in white, Shun in green and pink, his chains branching out in wave-like motions.

"Now why canít I do that?" I mused aloud.

Ann was letting go of my shoulder. She too was ascending, mauve rays sparkling all over her, until she stood on the same level as the Saints. With a grin she stooped and pulled me out of the water. "Weíre impasse now."

The five of us hovered above the water, our soles barely touching it. Ann and I were holding hands like children lost in a forest. I didnít have enough power to stay afloat, and she was lending some of hers to me.

Shun was gazing at his chains with concentration. I supposed he was willing them to indicate where our opponent could be.

"We can try to lure him out," I suggested.

Hyoga seemed interested at this. "How?"

I pointed at the rippling water beneath. "If we stir the water up proper, do you suppose our opponent will be irritated and show himself?"

"I have another idea." Hyoga started to move his arms in strange but graceful curves. "Diamond Dust!"

Snowstorm whirled into life around him and he slammed it into the water. From blue the water froze to white. The ice hardened and expanded as Hyoga stopped his attack. Abruptly one of Shunís chains jingled and snaked to the right.

Before we could follow it, cracks were crisscrossing all across the ice. I narrowed my eyes. The ice shattered loudly, and the pieces drifted erratically about to yield to water. Whoever was here didnít like our tactic.

Shunís chain was pointing at a column of water springing a few paces away. I noticed that the chain was not straining to drag Shun with him, merely showing him which way to look. Did it usually do that, or was it a sign that our opponent wasnít particularly keen on a battle? I couldnít tell.

The column was transforming into a womanís shape, someone with long flowing hair and billowing skirts. All we could see of the face, however, was a small bump where the nose commonly was. The rest was a smooth blank.

"Holy moly," Ann said reverently. "Right out of Terminator 2." She sometimes made such incomprehensible remarks. I guessed they referred to things she had known in her previous world.

The shape carved in water glided nearer. We all tensed, but Shunís chain had once more dropped. Was this a water spirit disguised as a woman? Where was her place in the scheme of things? Iíd never heard of either Aleron or Sloa having a female accomplice.

"So you are those named Saints of Athena?" An alto voice spoke from the direction of the shape. She Ė if it was indeed a woman Ė was addressing the Saints. A new idea came to me; supposing she had nothing to do with Aleron, and we just happened to wander into her territory? No, that was inconceivable Ė she and Aleron were somehow connected. Otherwise why did all of us end up here?

Shun said, "Yes. And who are you?"

The water-woman didnít reply for a while. I suddenly realized she was studying the Saintsí Cloths. "Is that your reward for serving Athena?" she said finally. "Those grand looking armors? Iíd say thatís insufficient. Being a Saint of Athena is cruel business."

"Letís cut the crap," Ikki interrupted. "Is it us youíre looking for, or is it them?" He jerked his chin at Ann and me.

"Iím not looking for anybody." She drew back, droplets of water sprinkling the air as she moved. I was uneasily wondering whether we were talking to some sort of an apparition, so rudimentary was her form Ė outlines of a head, hair, arms, torso and skirts were all we could see of her. "In fact, Iím not challenging you, if thatís what you have in mind. Iím simply here. Let us not disturb one another."

Ann put a hand on her hip. "Easy for you to say, sister. We donít want to be here. Kindly return us to where Aleron and Sloa are so we can kick their sorry rears."

"Iím sorry, I canít."

"Does that mean you donít want to return us there, or you donít have the ability to?" asked Hyoga.

Before the water-woman could answer, there was a loud splash behind us.

 

 

SLOA

 

"You are not in love with him," I stated. "You just think you are. What do you know about love anyway?"

Bassanya pouted. "You really are a spoilsport."

"Compliment accepted. But Aleron would say the same thing. Stay away from the King, do you hear?"

"I can take care of myself." She stuck out her tongue and made for the door.

"Where are you going?"

"Well, heís going to take an afternoon walk, and I know where heís going. Iíll follow him, then intercept him and say, ĎWhy, His Highness, what a nice surprise! I wasnít expecting to meet you here.í Then we can have a private talk."

I rolled my eyes. "See, that shows youíre not in love with him. Thatís just silly infatuation. Real, adult love wouldnít incite you to act so foolishly. Why donít you spend the afternoon with Aleron and me. You can play the lute and we can listen and talk."

She was wavering, I could tell. I rarely asked her to play the lute for us. Most of the time she played in private, and having an opportunity to perform before an audience would be delightful for her. But now sheíd had it fixed in her mind that she must try her ploy, and that another chance like this might never come again.

"Perhaps tomorrow," she decided, and left the room.

All through the afternoon I sensed that people were behaving oddly. Conversations died down whenever I entered a room, and I could sense covert glances behind my back. I concluded that my sisterís feelings for the King were being known, and probably sneered at. When she got back, I would order her to forget it altogether. She should be made to see it just wasnít going to work.

She didnít return until dinner. When I asked the King if he had met her on his walk, he replied, no, he hadnít met anyone. I feared Bassanya might get lost. Aleron was worried too, but he hid it.

Later a servant came to me. "The Lady Bassanya is waiting for you in the barn." He bowed slightly to Aleron who was also with me. "Both of you."

"Whatís the matter?" Aleron exclaimed, his worry lessening but not quite allayed.

"She didnít say."

So we went to the barn. The horses were nowhere in sight, which was very strange; werenít horses supposed to be in a barn? But Aleron and I thought of it as a minor detail as we rushed inside, calling for Bassanya.

"Bassanya!" I yelled, lifting my lantern higher. "Where are you?"

There was an audible gasp from Aleron. "Sloa, here!"

I hastened over and my heart stopped for a second. She was sprawled on the floor, unconscious. Drying blood coagulated in a wound in her forehead. Somebody must have knocked her out before leaving her here. Aleron was kneeling beside her. Putting my lantern on the ground, I reached out a hand to shake her.

"Donít!" Aleron slapped my hand away. His rudeness belied his fear. "First weíll check out if sheís got any internal damage Ė "

That was when the barn turned into an inferno, the flames bursting in from the closed door and consuming the entire place in less than a minute.

 

 

How we escaped from the furnace I could never recall. Once we got out, however, we were far too weak to put up any real resistance to the King. He detained us with the seal of Flathinnis. We had been blessed to receive a Saintís power and a Flathinnis royalís. We accumulated our strength and, by some miracle, we managed to break free from the seal.

But years Ė perhaps decades Ė had passed. Flathinnis had a new ruler now, and probably no one ever heard of us. I was furious, more so when the Four Corners pushed us out of Flathinnis and into this other sphere. Through a stroke of good luck, our powers seemed to flourish here. And what was more, Athena was here also.

Which meant after I dealt with Ann and Fenris, I could go for her.

The Pegasus Saint was watching me, his Cosmos pulsing out from him. This was no light opponent, but I wasnít giving up. Not even if it were Athena herself.

"Why donít we forget all this?" Aleron was murmuring.

"No," I said without looking at him. "You see what that fire did to our sister." I wasnít going to discuss the details in front of Pegasus; how most of Bassanyaís face, shoulders and upper arms were burned. We might never look at her face again. She was now just a freak, a figure of water. Aleron could argue it was her shield and all that, but what I saw was a girl deformed for life. It was too painful even to remember, and I loved Bassanya too much to flaunt her scars about.

Pegasusí energy was building. He released his attack. "Pegasus Ryuseiken!"

I retaliated with whipping up a wall of glass. Pegasusí blast hit it, stopped, then was reflected back. He still could evade in time, although it had been a close one. I had to give credit to his reflex.

He was keeping himself at a distance, waiting. "Is that all you can do?" he taunted me. "Hiding behind a mirror? Letís see what youíve really got, Sloa."

"Do you mean it, Pegasus? I can dish up some nasty surprises if you like."

There was an abrupt spiraling red-streaked-with-green ray shooting forth from Aleron, belting straight at Pegasus and me. Caught off balance, both of us tottered, reeled, and fell headlong into the white nothingness where Bassanyaís domain began.

 

 

HYOGA

 

"Seiya!" cried Shun as Seiyaís head popped up from the water. A man we didnít know surfaced next to him. From the way he and Seiya were looking daggers at each other, I suspected him to be either Aleron or Sloa.

Both Seiya and the man came out of the water and rose to drift above it. Seiya drew closer to us while the man moved several paces away.

"Everyone, please listen to me."

We raised our heads. Suspended high in the air was another man, his expression serene and grave. He had wide wings which were now quite still, reminding me of birds which sometimes didnít have to move their wings when they flew high because the wind was already carrying them along. The beginning of a powerful Cosmos radiated from him. I had the oddest sensation that I had encountered that Cosmos before; it was like a memory submerged which was almost but not quite touching the conscious mind.

Ikkiís own defense was up as recognition sparked in his eyes. "You Ė "

"Yes." Seiya fixed his eyes at the man with the wings. "Thatís Aleron. He and that guy there Ė " he cocked a thumb at the man who had fallen into the water with him " Ė were brothers. They confessed to be grandsons of a Saint of Athena. Can you guess which one?"

"A Saintís grandsons?" I had never thought of Saints having a family, grandchildren even. It was quite a novel concept to me. I looked at the two strangers, wondering if a Saintís power was hereditary. From the look of things, it should be.

Aleron was repeating in a calm voice, "Everyone, please listen. Iíll try to be precise and clear."

"About what?" Ikki said coldly. Seiya too was staring at Aleron with unconcealed suspicion.

"First, may we introduce ourselves? We are brothers and sister Ė myself, Sloa, and Bassanya." I looked over my shoulder but the water-girl Ė presumably Bassanya Ė was nowhere to be seen. "I am Aleron, the eldest. Sloa comes second, and Bassanya is the youngest. We are grandchildren of a man who, once in his life, was Saint Aquarius."

I jerked up; so that was why his Cosmos wasnít an alien one! If his story was true, his grandfather must have been a Saint Aquarius who had lived centuries ago. But how could a Saint of Athena end up siring people who, according to Ann, were trying to disrupt her adopted country for no apparent reason?

Aleron was looking down at Sloa. Grief was in his eyes but not in his tone. "Our grandfather had been falsely charged with the crime of betraying Athena. That was not so. Someone set him up. We only have his word, but we believe him. He had always been an honest man. So he was cast away to Flathinnis. But he never did forget Athena. He was still faithful to her, even after she disowned him."

Sloa snorted. "Blind loyalty. If I were Grandfather Iíd demand that Athena restore my honor."

"But itís now far too late, isnít it? The present Athena might not even know about Grandfather." Aleron took a deep breath. "We have been living in pursuit of revenge. Revenge against the King of Flathinnis who had mistreated us Ė revenge against Athena. Yet I have been having second thoughts."

From Sloaís change of expression it was clear he didnít like where his brother was going.

"What good will a revenge be? Will we live happily after we wreck havoc upon Flathinnis? Will we be satisfied if we can defeat Athena? Flathinnis is, whether we like it or not, our land also. We have lived there; we are its people. And Athenaís disowning Grandfather might have been a blessing in disguise. Had she not done so, he would not have gone to Flathinnis and given us his gift: his power."

Ikki was rudely making faint yawning noises. I had to agree with him Ė this narrative was a bit on the boring side. Nevertheless, if peace was what Aleron wanted, I supposed that was a term we could accept.

"So you propose we just forget all this?" Sloa asked, theatrically incredulous. "Forget that Bassanya can never even show her true looks ever? Forget that we donít belong anywhere now, that wherever we go we will always be outsiders? Your memory is amazingly short, Aleron."

Aleron returned Sloaís hot stare tiredly. "I donít want a fight, Sloa. Neither does Bassanya, I presume. She has accepted her lot with good grace. It was an agony, but she rose over it. Why canít you?"

"So now what, do we just shake hands and go our separate ways?" Sloa was flushing with mounting anger.

"That might not be the case." We all turned to Shun, startled. He went on firmly, "Athena has made a mistake in the past, but she didnít even know that. And the present Athena will be willing to make amends. You can be her Saints."

Aleron was going to answer but Sloa was faster. "Iíll never serve her!" he snapped, rounding on Ann and Fenris. "Nor will I live in Flathinnis!"

"I donít remember inviting you," Ann muttered, but she sounded more playful than malicious. Aloud she said, "Aleronís got a point, you know. All that obsession can roll you up before youíre forty. Letís just be friends, okay? On behalf of Flathinnis I apologize for all the wrong that has ever been done to you. Please?" she offered tentatively, still wary of Sloaís seemingly unquenchable grudge.

"And I, on behalf of Athena," I said, "apologize too. If you canít be our allies, at least donít be our foes."

This was uncommon. We had never appealed to an enemy to bury the hatchets and make peace before. Then again, these people werenít exactly enemies. They were just wounded people, confusing revenge with healing. That was especially true of Sloa. They had to see that healing could be achieved through forgiving Ė and forgetting. Shun would agree with me, I supposed.

And I found it hard to feel real resentment toward them, despite Sloaís declaration that he wanted to challenge Athena. Was it their sorrow-filled past, or was it Aleronís good intentions? I couldnít tell yet. All I could tell was that if we could make amends, then we would. Hatred was not a sweet fruit.

Sloa, however, was paying little attention to us. He had not shifted his eyes off Aleron. "You may be able to forget what Bassanya has become but not me. If you donít want to avenge her I will."

"Avenge her against who?" Aleron said in a subdued voice. "The King has been dead for many years. Ann and Fenris werenít even born then. And we Ė we have to live on."

I could see that Shun was hoping this would turn out all right, that we wouldnít have to fight. The only thing to do now was to convince Sloa that his revenge quest was just not worth it. Yet Bassanya, the sister, wasnít even present. That was curious; wouldnít she want to have a word? It was her side Sloa was taking. Or was it that she couldnít care less what the outcome of all this was going to be?

Tragedy could affect people in so many different ways, I reflected. Look at these three siblings and how they behaved in the wake of one. I wasnít certain what some former Flathinnis ruler had put them through, but it must have been terrible. And I found myself wondering at their differences of attitude.

"If thatís what you want," Sloa snapped, and enormous power built up with shocking suddenness around him. "But Iím not letting them get off so easily!"

Seiya was the first to react Ė he had probably anticipated this. As soon as Sloa unleashed his power Seiya countered with his own. They gained on each other swiftly to clash in a blast of silent explosion. Sloa jumped back, unhurt and obviously not backing down. Similar determination shone in Seiyaís face.

"Bassanya!" Aleron called out, surprising us. "Bassanya, we should stop this, shouldnít we?"

From somewhere beneath the blue water came a muffled reply, "I canít tell either you or Sloa what to think."

"But they are fighting for your sake!" Shun protested.

The reply was succinct, "Itís their own choice."

Would we ever be like this? I thought to myself. Should a tragedy befall Seiya, Shiryu, Ikki, Shun and me, would we be choosing our own paths and caring little what our brothers might do? No, we wouldnít. Iíd see to it. Weíd see to it.

Swirls of red currents burst into life above us. Aleron was at the center of it, and he increased his Cosmos until we were practically surrounded by it. Sloa halted in his tracks, gazing up unbelievingly at his brother. Aleron didnít look at him. "Stop this, I say. Please." Although he didnít sound pleading, there was a desperate thread in his voice. He didnít want a battle, but it appeared he was going to get one anyhow.

"Aleron!" Fury trembled in Sloaís shout. "If you want to be a coward, donít expect me to do the same!" He swung his focus back to Seiya.

The Cosmos of Pegasus detonated from Seiya as Sloa sprang at him. I noticed that Seiya wasnít using a third of his power; he wanted to hold Sloa at bay without harming him. Sloa vaulted away, his agility almost beautiful, at the same time firing hails of Cosmos Ė I was beginning to accept the idea that these people possessed a Saintís Cosmos Ė at Seiya. The hails seemed comprised of glittering shurikens, those star-shaped traditional Japanese weapons. Seiya ducked with little effort.

I stole a glance at Ann and Fenris, who were standing to one side. Ikki would have said they were like extras in a play, and that could even be an appropriate comparison. Yet although they were outwardly passive, I wasnít so sure that was how they felt inside.

There was a flap of large wings and Aleron was between Sloa and us, barring his brotherís attack. Sloa blinked, looking almost comical. "Aleron, stay out."

"But I canít. I have to make you see that we canít go on hating people and wanting to vindicate ourselves for something that was long ago."

Sloa uttered a laugh which was anything but merry. "You truly believe that?"

"Yes."

"Fine. Say they," he made a sweeping gesture at us, the Saints, in general, "welcome you and Athena take you back. I suppose you will leave Bassanya and me behind, if we donít agree with you?"

"I donít want to leave you behind. I want us to be together. Always."

"You canít have everything." Sloaís form was rapidly turning into a sepia photograph, then a shadow. His voice grew tiny. "Join Athena if you wish, Aleron. So long." He evaporated as he spoke, and when his sentence ended he had entirely vanished.

The ensuing silence was heavy. Aleron dropped his gaze to the vast water. "Bassanya?"

"I donít fancy showing my face," answered a disembodied voice from somewhere underneath us, "to Athena or anyone."

Aleron nodded. He addressed Seiya, "Iím sorry for all the trouble we have caused. There will be no more monsters in your city. Perhaps one day I shall go to Athena and pay my respect." He bobbed his head, took a backward step, and vanished in a shower of sparkling stars.

Bassanyaís voice said, "Just go straight ahead and youíll see the end of the water. From that point you can returnÖhome." There was a catch in that last word which might or might not be the beginning of tears. "Farewell."

Ann, who had hitherto been silent, tugged at Fenrisí hand. "You heard the lady. Come on, Fenris. We have nothing else to do here." She said to us, "Youíre one cool bunch, Saints. Maybe we can meet again?"

Shun was smiling. "Under better circumstances, I should hope." He was still trying to take in what had happened, but it didnít change his natural affability. "See you."

"Yeah. I might drop by to borrow a book or two." She sketched a salute at Seiya. "Bye." She hurried on, nearly pulling Fenris with her. He winked soberly at us and followed her.

"What are we hanging here for?" Ikki said briskly. "Letís get moving."

He was right. We would have more than enough time to think this over once we got back. And I didnít want to linger here; the water, such a big lake, suddenly reminded me of a girl standing in the middle of a desert.

 

Continued to Finale