Saints at Heart
Desmo, Magaski and Kelsey walked us to the junkyard. We had called our Cloths and were wearing them. Saori hadn’t showed up, and Kelsey said that when she woke up Saori was still curled up in bed. Indulging a snit, I thought, then shook my head mentally. I could try to sweet-talk her after we returned, though I guessed I was not good at sweet-talking anyone. No matter, she would see that I had been right when I insisted that she stay behind.
The junkyard was as I remembered it: deserted, metallic, barren. We picked our way carefully to the very spot where we had landed two nights ago.
"Bring Gilland back safely," Kelsey said, shoving aside a piece of rod with the side of her shoe.
"What, not wishing these gentlemen a successful campaign first?" asked Magaski, no hint of sarcasm in his tone.
"Well, of course I want them to win, but I also want Gilland back," she retorted self-defensively. "Don’t you?"
Shiryu said, "We will do everything we can to return him to you." He was so composed and reassuring that Kelsey flashed him a grateful smile. I was suddenly reminded that I’d never seen her fight. Not that I was dying to see her fighting ability, but it still intrigued me that here was a maskless female Saint, who didn’t even know that female Saints were obliged to wear masks. And she carried herself with ease, not a bit reserved or cautious with the others, who were all men and older than her. That meant she was considered as being in the same level as they.
Once we got to the middle of the junkyard, we stopped and looked about. There was no sign of anybody else other than the eight of us, nor was there the smallest spurt of Cosmos. Minutes ticked by. I tapped my foot, beginning to be impatient. Was Kronos not keeping his promise? Or was this a ruse to lure us away from Saori, who might after all be an easier prey?
"Kronos isn’t punctual, it appears," Magaski stated, folding his arms across his chest.
Desmo was frowning a little, blue eyes scanning the surroundings. There was a short strong gust of wind, ruffling his amber robe momentarily. "I think he might be here already, spying on us and waiting for the best opportunity to pounce. He doesn’t plan all this only to be late himself."
"But where is he?" said Ikki.
Shun glimpsed down at his chains, which lay glittering on the ground. "My chains can’t detect a thing either." I saw Desmo staring at those chains as if fascinated. Shun caught his gaze and looked away, seemingly embarrassed. He was probably reminded of our discussion last night about the absence of armors on our fellow Saints.
Hyoga climbed atop a pile of iron rubbish, squinting every which way. He never put on his glasses again ever since Cimmeria, maybe deeming it demeaning for a Saint to wear one. "This can be a trap. I see no one for miles." That was when a distant roar began to reach our ears.
We listened. The roar eventually grew louder. Shun’s chains jingled and stirred. I hunched my shoulders, prepared for anything. Our twenty-second century counterparts were glowing within their own Cosmos. Seeing a shadowy blue-green dragon rear up near Kelsey distracted me a bit; I never thought to see that image rising from anybody other than Shiryu.
The pile of trash around us seemed to vibrate a little. And abruptly a column of colorful Cosmos exploded into dazzling life before us. My own Cosmos intensified alarmingly, eager to be unleashed and strike at this threat. Then the column swept down on us – Shiryu, Hyoga, Shun, Ikki and myself – wrapping us within a giant cyclone of Cosmos. I saw astonishment and surprise on Desmo, Magaski and Kelsey’s faces before I was sucked down into a bottomless black void.
Legend had it that Pegasus Seiya had a will nearly nothing could subdue, not even the death of body and soul. It was the remembrance of this that had prompted me to find out a way to escape, and fast. I couldn’t wait here to be rescued. It would soil my honor as a Saint, and probably Seiya’s too. For I was a Saint, imperfect lungs and all. Fate or whoever had seen me suitable of the name, and there had to be a good reason for that. Besides, I’d been here for too long. It was time to make a break.
I considered shattering my prison with a Cosmos-charged attack, then saw unpleasant possibilities. What if this prison was built to endure onslaughts of Cosmos? My attack would backlash. And if I did manage to shatter it, what then? I was many kilometers above Earth. If I should drop from this height, they would have to scrape me up with a spoon.
Perhaps I could slow down or reduce the impact of the fall with the selfsame Cosmos? Hope rekindled; my Cosmos could serve as a cushion, and I wouldn’t have to fall to my death. First things first, however. I summoned every tiny spark of Cosmos within me. Its power surged along my limbs, made my skin tingle as I concentrated on nothing else but my Cosmos. Then I released it. "Pegasus Star Shower!"
Crackling white energy slammed against the inside of the dome, making it tremble. To my delight, the ceilings were sporting cracks. Some of the moving colors halted, blurred, became bewildered at this intrusion. I gathered my Cosmos and ejected the second attack.
This time the dome positively shook. The cracks were growing in numbers, more visible. Encouraged by this evidence that my jailer wasn’t around to supervise me, I didn’t hesitate in launching the third attack.
Shards of glass fell onto the floor from the ceiling. A moment later the ceiling caved in on me, the glass falling like a rain of bright, sharp chips. My Cosmos flared out to shield me; I had no intention of being cut all over. As I looked up to see the full damage my attack had inflicted upon the ceiling, the floor broke into a thousand pieces.
The freezing shock only lasted two seconds, no more; as soon as I found myself plunging down like a misfired rocket, I called on my Cosmos for the fourth time. It burst out of me, rolling and twisting about me. I was pivoting around with it, the speed of my fall much lessened. I forced myself not to look down and focused on the flow of Cosmos. If I was to die, I wanted to die knowing I had done all I could.
Seconds passed – how far from the ground was I now? I risked a peek, and choked back a gasp. I was heading right at the roof of a building, and if I didn’t reduce my speed by at least three quarters or change direction, I would crash into it. But there was no time to do so – the roof was only twenty miles away – eighteen, sixteen…I shut my eyes, resigning myself to the inevitable.
A throb of Cosmos reached out to me and I opened my eyes. Gold-orange flames swept past me, making me dizzy for a while. Then my sight cleared as my heart leaped with joy. My mouth formed the name of my friend as he shot out Cosmos at me, adding it to mine. He drifted closer to me, strong arms gripped at my elbows and I was carried off course. Away from the roof, at any rate.
Edan settled me down gently before his wings thawed into tiny embers that evaporated in the wind. I recognized this place as the town limit, nearer to the big junkyard than the town, actually. Looking at Edan now, I wanted to embrace him, my relief too great for words. "Thank you so much, Edan. How did you know…?"
A crooked smile curved his lips. "Well, I was out this morning to take a stroll around the block when I sensed your Cosmos and saw you dropping from the sky like a sack of stones. So I thought I’d better lend you a hand so you could make a nice landing." There was a pallor about him I didn’t like, but he went on cheerfully, banishing my apprehension, "Where has Kronos been keeping you, in the clouds?"
"Kronos? Is that his name?"
"That’s what we’ve been told, yes. Are you all right?"
My smile was heartfelt. "Very much so. Fill me in with the details of what’s been going on while I was away…"
Suddenly he doubled over and coughed, hand over his mouth. I could only watch, alarm skimming up my spine. As he straightened up, the alarm turned into active fear: his palm was slick with blood. The pallor I had noticed was now more pronounced.
"Edan?" I grabbed his shoulder. "Edan, what is it? Where are the others?"
He stared into my eyes and started to answer when his knees failed him and he fell on them, then crumpled forward.
Utter silence greeted me when I awoke that I knew something must be wrong, but my sleep-dulled senses couldn’t automatically make it out yet. Then I sat bolt upright, heart thudding; everyone had left! And here I was, sleeping like a log, while I should be with them! Why didn’t Kelsey wake me up? I flung the blanket aside and stumbled out of the room, ignoring my bare feet and that my slip was half showing beneath Kelsey’s old nightdress.
The house was empty. I stood stock-still for a moment, various emotions chasing one another inside me. Then I bolted back into the room to change clothes, almost forgetting to shut the door.
I ran out into the street, and some people threw me a startled glance. Paying no attention to them, I kept running to the town limit toward the junkyard. I was in time to see a column of Cosmos soaring to the sky, which stopped me in my tracks. The column grew so intensely brilliant that I had to turn away. When the light diminished, I looked again. The column was spinning away into nothingness, until all that was left of it was a spattering of twinkles.
I swung around, anxiety receding before happiness. "Gilland!" Then I saw Edan, and the happiness was snuffed out. "What’s going on?" I went to them, my brain numbed by so much inexplicability.
"That’s what I don’t know," he replied, kneeling and supporting Edan by encircling his arms around the latter’s waist. Edan was unconscious, his head lolling to one side, and very white. Gilland continued, "Where are the others?" This seemed to be what was bothering him most.
We both looked over our shoulders. Kelsey was racing over to us, her face alight. Desmo and Magaski weren’t far behind. When she was near enough, she dropped to her knees and threw her arms around Gilland. I blinked, then understanding dawned. Smiling to myself, I got to my feet.
"Hey, Kelsey," said Gilland calmly, unruffled by her demonstrative greeting.
She let him go and Desmo nodded at Gilland. "You’re here now and that’s what matters."
"Can someone tell me what happened to Edan?"
Magaski bent down and hauled Edan up. "Woe betides patients who leave their beds," he announced.
Desmo told Gilland what had happened during the time he had been kept prisoner. Gilland listened seriously. When Desmo had finished, he said, "So Seiya and the others are now fighting Kronos?"
Kelsey nodded, not taking her shining eyes off him. I felt a stir of annoyance as I recalled that I had, on purpose it appeared, been left out of the action. My voice cold, I said, "Why didn’t anyone wake me up this morning? I thought I was part of this. Or don’t you think so?"
Magaski, having propped Edan against him, glanced at me, but didn’t offer a word. Kelsey blushed slightly. "I, uh, I thought you’d like to sleep some more."
"Sleep some more!" So even to Desmo and the others I was something to be put on a plinth and guarded against any potential conflict. Acid words almost rolled off my tongue, and I restrained myself with some effort. There was no use now in being a spitting cat. I blew through my nostrils. "All right, let’s return to the house and see to it that Edan is properly tended to." I heard the sound of my own words and wanted to wince. They smacked of an order given by Saori, who was used to have people running at her beck and call. I was definitely beginning the day badly.
"Yes, my Lady," said Magaski, and I wondered if it was meant as subtle sarcasm. He hoisted Edan onto one shoulder. "Come on."
The light of day vanished so abruptly that we all gazed skyward, frozen. Black clouds stretched on as far as the eye could see. A tremendous Cosmos, originating from those clouds, was growing, and the hair on my nape stood on end. The sheer amount of that Cosmos was terrifying; it almost equaled Hades’ black energy. Dust swirled about our ankles, then rose to meet the clouds. The wind picked up a notch, beginning to whir savagely.
A blast of Cosmos hit us, and my body reverberated from head to toe. When we looked, a figure in hooded robe was standing a few meters apart. Its head was low and we couldn’t see its face. The wind was still shrieking, the dust flying crazily about us.
"Athena," the figure said in a raspy voice, "I’m glad to finally meet you."
It was seven forty-five, fifteen minutes away from bedtime, but in my opinion that was a bedtime for babies. I was nine and could go to bed anytime I wanted, thank you very much. Besides, Shun was still poring over a book and asking me questions, for once looking very happy.
I was glad to see him happy. Ever since we were dragged into this mansion, he rarely even smiled. Most of the time he did as he was told, mainly doing exercises, but he wasn’t good at that. Some kid would pick on him, and I couldn’t let that. No one messed with Shun.
Shun hated this house. I didn’t blame him. This was a stupid, hard place where all you could do was exercise all day long and have little fun at the end of it. Before we came here we lived in an orphanage. Shun spent his time there playing football and learning to read. It was sort of fun to be there, although the place was very cold in the winter.
Then one day a man in black suit came to the orphanage and asked to see me. He didn’t tell me his name, but he explained that he was sent by a "foundation" to fetch me. I would be sent to another country to train as a Saint, he said, but before that I was to be put into seclusion along with almost a hundred other kids. The country I’d be going to was yet unknown. I told him Shun would have to come also, because I wasn’t going to leave my brother behind. The man hesitated, then agreed. That was how we ended up at this mansion.
It might not be cold here in the winter, but it was a most unpleasant place to be. Here we were made to do what the old man who owned this house wanted us to. He was horrible, but that bald monster who was his right hand was worse. The other day I was caught wrestling with a stuck-up kid called Jabu. Tatsumi caned both of us, since we weren’t allowed to fight among ourselves in earnest. After the caning I threw a stone at Tatsumi. He strung me up with a rope and caned me some more but that was okay. The stone had hit him in the forehead and the sound it made as it bounced off made up for my aching body.
The old man Kido had a granddaughter, Saori, who was a real pain. She thought we were among the servants here. Only Jabu obeyed her. Another kid called Seiya – pig-headed and brash – always refused to do her orders, no matter what she said or did. Though I didn’t like Seiya, his stubbornness was – I read this word in a book once – phenomenal and that was a good point. Most of the time, anyway.
But tonight everything was calm and I could forget our awful lives for a while. Shun was excited with the book and asking me to explain things in it, which pleased me. I liked playing big brother.
"Niisan, is this the moon?" He was pointing at a white, pockmarked disk on the page.
"Yes. Looks different from the one we see every night, doesn’t it?"
He nodded. "Does anybody live there, do you think?"
"They say it’s barren and cold. Barren, it means nothing grows there."
"Uh-huh." His eyes were dreamy. "But maybe a long time ago, when there were no people on earth, there were some on the moon…"
I laughed. "Would you rather be on the moon than here?"
"Oh, no! I like it here." He was flipping through the pages, then stopped at a picture of Earth. "It’s so blue and pretty. I can’t…" There was bewilderment in his tone. I looked up sharply. "Niisan, if Earth should be – barren, like the moon – how do people live then?"
"What makes you say that?"
He bent his head down, frowning. His voice was detached, somewhat adult, and the words made my hackles rise. "Earth is the only planet we have. That’s why people defend it, even after it’s ruined…even when it’s their own souls at risk…that’s why they have been chosen."
Blinking, Shun met my eyes and was Shun once more. "Sorry, Niisan, my mind was somewhere else, I guess." He made a face and motioned at mine. "Does that hurt a lot?"
This afternoon I’d had another tanning from Tatsumi. Saori complained that I was being rude to her, and I refused to give her an apology. I didn’t think she deserved any. A welt across my cheek was the least of the result. I touched it with a finger. "Not that much. I hate Saori and I don’t want to apologize to her, ever. You stay out of her way, Shun."
Abruptly a very strange image rose before me: a woman was standing in some kind of a platform, wearing a white gown. I knew it was Saori – maybe Saori ten years from now? – from the lavender hair and eyes. Blood spread around her feet, blood from a gaping wound in her neck, flowing in rivers down her body. Yet she was smiling, and that smile wrenched my heart, although this was a gory sight. I sucked in my breath.
She isn’t a selfish little girl. She’s a woman who’s ready to lay down her own life for you…for many others.
"Niisan?" Shun’s voice, a little worried.
"Sorry." What was that? Where did that – vision? thought? – come from? I smiled at Shun to ease his worry. "Maybe I’m just sleepy."
His white brow furrowed. "Are you okay, Niisan?"
"I’m okay. Are you going to bed now, Shun?"
"Can we stay here a bit longer? This book is really good."
My smile widened. "Then let’s read it together."
I saw Shun skip near, and called him. "Hey, Shun! Want to play football with us?" His brother was sitting not far away, watching. I didn’t care; Shun was nice, and I never made him cry. There were other kids who seemed to like asking for trouble from Ikki, but they weren’t around today.
We usually played in the mansion’s front lawn. It was very big, and unless you intended to, you couldn’t smash a window by accident. The other day while we were playing, that snotty Saori went past. I kicked the ball in her direction, just to see what was going to happen. It missed her entirely, but she was furious and Tatsumi had caned me some. It was worth the surprised anger in Saori’s face.
Shun ran near, smiling at me. He was a funny and friendly kid if he wasn’t in the middle of crying, which he did quite a lot. I wondered why they picked such a baby to be a Saint, as I heard they called it. Or maybe it was Ikki who insisted that Shun come with him. Ikki could be so violent that even adults had to give in. Well, I could do that too.
"Hi, Seiya! Who’s playing today?" Shun said.
I saw Hyoga looking at us from the edge of the lawn. He was mostly quiet and didn’t talk much. He was a lousy goalkeeper but as a striker – awesome. So I waved at him. "What about joining us?"
He walked near. "Only the three of us? Where are the others anyway?"
That made me frown. This was odd. Only a moment ago I saw at least several other kids going past. Now there was no one in this lawn but myself, Shun Hyoga, and Ikki in the distance. "You’re right. Hey, Ikki, you want to join in?" I yelled at Ikki. I wasn’t very eager to team up with him, but we couldn’t play with only the three of us.
Another kid showed up. It was Shiryu, even quieter than Hyoga and a real bookworm. He read day in and day out, and was always sober. He stopped next to Ikki, who was getting up from where he was sitting. I thought of inviting him. He might rather be reading, but what the heck, an offer couldn’t hurt. So I nodded at him too. He just stared back at me. I shrugged. If he didn’t want to play, that was okay with me. Ikki was already walking up to Shun.
I tossed the ball at Hyoga, who caught it neatly. "Right, so there are only the four of us. Hyoga, who are you with?"
He jerked his chin at Shun. "Him."
Ikki was my teammate? Great. I suppressed a sigh. "Fine. Let’s begin."
"You all haven’t realized, have you?"
We all looked at Shiryu, who’d just spoken. His dark eyes were calm and patient. "Realize what?" Ikki asked, flashing blue eyes querulous. This was interesting. No one ever felt offended by Shiryu before. I wanted to know if he fought as well as he read.
Shiryu remained where he was. "You mean you don’t remember?" he said, and without knowing why a chill slid into my heart. He was so grave. "Please, try – Athena and her Saints? The twenty-second century?"
"What are you talking about?" Shun cried out, sounding fretful. Ikki shifted to stand in front of him.
"You are Saints of Athena and she is now in danger. Kronos has lured us away from her so that he can get her alone. He knows that Desmo and his friends are inadequate protection against him. Don’t you remember any of it? The fight in Sanctuary, Poseidon, Hades…and more besides. The oath we took to defend Athena unto death, even beyond."
At his last words my heart beat fast, then faster. The enormous front lawn blurred rapidly as recollections and fear exploded inside me. I did remember! I was no little boy, I was Pegasus, Saint of Athena, and I was…damn it! I remembered it all now!
A hurricane of gold aura sizzled all around us. Life coursed through my every fiber as I gathered my Cosmos into me, feeling the familiar slight gut pain this process entailed. Above us the blue sky melted away, rapidly replaced by a heaven so black that no celestial object was visible, but for now I didn’t want to think of it just yet. I wanted to relish this moment when once again Saint Pegasus Seiya returned to existence. My Holy Armor materialized, covering me from head to toe, the wings spreading open. I was vaguely aware that the others were undergoing a similar transformation.
We were, I discovered, in a place where light was as good as absent. The sky was black, the air bitingly cold. Craggy rocks protruded everywhere we turned, and the ground beneath was pebble-dappled.
"Where the hell is this?" I heard Ikki mutter.
"What’s going on?" from Shun. "The junkyard was the last thing…"
"We were swept away to the past," said Shiryu, unperturbed. "Kronos seemed to be an expert in time travel. He sent Gilland back two hundred years, and he could do the same thing to us."
Hyoga said slowly, "But you didn’t forget."
"I did, for a while. Possibly I have a longer memory."
There wasn’t an alien Cosmos yet. But I was at the ready, seething at my own stupidity. Why couldn’t I know that my childhood was gone, that I must have been caught in some misleading illusion? I was too busy being a kid and loving it. How could I let Athena slip my mind? "Kronos, come out, you coward!" I shouted, to give some vent to my irritation if nothing else.
"Kronos isn’t here."
We all swung around. A figure was perched atop a knoll, long hair and cloak flowing in the wind. I recognized her instantly despite the darkness. "Aislinn?"
"At your service." She leaped up into the air, did a neat forward flip and landed several feet away from us. There was nothing of the seductress about her now. She was businesslike and deadly. Her Cosmos glowed like a beacon, a blue light seemingly with a life of its own.
I looked quickly to the right and to the left. She’d brought no companion with her. Were we to fight her, five against one? I didn’t like the prospect.
"Where’s Gilland?" Shun was saying.
"Oh, don’t worry about him. I think he’s returned to his friends and they’re having a party with Kronos."
"Who are you, Aislinn?" Shiryu said quietly.
The blue Cosmos expanded. A smile that was extraordinarily beautiful curved her lips. "Dragon, your power of memory is astonishing. You remembered while the others didn’t. Do you have any idea why that was?"
"Let’s cut this prattle and get on with it," Ikki said curtly.
Aislinn didn’t even spare him a glance. "Well, do you?"
"Luck, perhaps?" Shiryu shrugged. The subject didn’t seem to interest him much. Like Ikki – and the rest of us, I guessed – he wanted this fight to be over and done with so we could return to Athena.
I felt a twinge of guilt. Saori had wanted to come along, and I didn’t allow her to. Probably I should listen to her sometimes, for a change. I prayed that Desmo and his friends were strong enough, if not to repel Kronos, then to hold him at bay until we got back…This thought stung me. I was thinking of our future fellow Saints deprecatingly. Who knew they might have Cosmos greater than we’d suspected?
"Luck? No, it’s somewhat more than that." Aislinn took a step nearer and we all bristled. Shun’s chains rattled a bit. Aislinn halted. "You drew your energy, your life force, from an ancient power, the Dragon of China. That gives you a clearer mind and stronger memory. But mine, Dragon Shiryu, is even an older power than yours."
"We shall see that," Ikki cut in. "Hou Yoku Ten Shou!"
A firebird sailed up from behind him and flew straight at Aislinn. She flung her own Cosmos forward and it formed a protective shield, into which the firebird crashed. There was a glare of orange and blue, then the firebird dissolved into smoke. Ikki stared unbelievingly at Aislinn, who had stepped back, catlike eyes fixed on us.
"The other Phoenix Saint tried that," she mused. "It didn’t work very well. Though I’ve got to admit that your attack is much more powerful. You are worthy opponents for Aislinn."
"And who is Aislinn, exactly?" Hyoga said.
She laughed, a sound that scratched at my already strung nerves. "That was a good question – not that I could give you a good answer. I didn’t know for certain where I came from, or why I was put on this miserable part of the universe. But I do know that I was here long before Kronos, and I have seen centuries peak into majesty only to come to an end like sandcastles on the seashore washed away by high tide. Men thought themselves great, only to discover that when their time arrived they couldn’t not surrender to Death." The Cosmos rose and rose until a blaze of electric blue energy towered over her. It was a frightful power, too reminiscent of Hades’. "The reason why I allied myself to a sickly fool like Kronos is that here at last I saw the chance to be the greatest power on Earth. I can get rid of Athena and her Saints all in one blow."
Gosh, that Cosmos! It thumped against me like invisible hammers, making my head ache. I drew a breath. "Then why didn’t you do it back in the twentieth century? Why wait until now?"
"Because, Pegasus, I was asleep then. Put to sleep by Athena millennia ago." Rage crossed her face, then was gone. "She was a true Protectress in those days, unlike she is now – a mere teenage girl, who couldn’t even stand the cold of Asegard. She’s gullible too – a little boy was enough to get her sympathy."
Shiryu nodded. "Spiro. It was a trick, wasn’t it? There never was a boy called Spiro."
"That was astute, Dragon." She sounded mildly surprised, as though she didn’t credit either him or us with much intelligence, I thought resentfully.
"Then who was that boy?" Hyoga said. "Kronos himself?"
Aislinn shrugged. "As a boy he wouldn’t attract much attention when he prowled around town. Easier to catch his victims unaware, too."
"If you despise him so, why do you help him?" This was from Ikki.
"Kronos awakened me sometime during the nuclear blast in the last century, and for that I owe him some assistance. But he will also have to go." Her words were now coming out in a tumble of syllables. "And if Athena and her Saints should perish here and now, why – who’s there to stop me?" She gave a small, hard smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
"Where’s the pride of owning a dying planet?" Shun countered. "You are not an honorable fighter, Aislinn."
"Enough of this. Come, Saints. Let’s not waste my time and yours by attacking me one at a time. I’d dearly love to know the power of Love Athena extols so of mortals, the power that tore down Hades himself." She brought her hands together, probably to set her own strike in motion.
"Fine," I said through my teeth. So what if she was female? This was one woman we couldn’t afford to let live. Damn, I never thought to say that of any woman. "We first, then."
Desmo advanced to the front of Lady Athena, as did Gilland and Kelsey. I dropped to my knees – Edan was so heavy, had he gotten fatter or something? – and put him on the ground, near Lady Athena. "Please take care of him," I said.
She nodded, her expression unreadable. "I will."
"Saints, if such you merit to be called," Kronos said, still not lifting his face, "this has nothing to do with you. Be gone and leave me with Athena."
"We’re doing nothing of the sort," Kelsey announced.
I took my place, and between Gilland and me we were flanking her. Desmo said, "You have to get past us first." There wasn’t the slightest tremor in his voice, in spite of the gigantic Cosmos we had previously sensed.
Kronos – if that was who the figure was – didn’t budge. I was beginning to suspect that something was amiss. "What’s the matter, Kronos?" I said, hoping to taunt him into getting closer. "Afraid of a couple of mere Saints? Or is something lacking in your knickers?"
There was a muted gasp from Lady Athena, and Kelsey was going pinkish. If all my little speech did was upset the ladies, then I was afraid I’d have to upset them some more. Kronos had to be baited here and not the other way around. I didn’t want us to rush at him only to find that he had some nasty trick up his sleeve. The others appeared to be thinking along the same line, for they too stayed still. My Cosmos spread throughout me. Let Kronos made one wrong move and I’d release it.
Kronos extended one arm and a ring of energy fused with white lightning whooshed out of him and straight at us. My Cosmos sang within me, running with the flow of blood. "Silver Cleansing!" I was dimly aware that wings were unfolding from my back.
Whirls of black and red spiraled outward from Desmo. "Andromeda Nebula Coil," he said in that never-needed-to-be-raised voice of his.
"Midnight Dragon!" Blue-streaked-with-pink energy, entwined with a tall dragon, shot forth from Kelsey.
Dots of sparkling light fell around Gilland and were turned into a rain of meteors. "Pegasus Star Shower!"
All four attacks, merged into a unity, zoomed and clashed with Kronos’. The collision was so great that the earth shuddered. Then our powers scattered and dissipated, barring Kronos’ onslaught no longer. I had a faint sensation of being thrown off my feet and a glimpse at an upside-down sky. I landed on my side, almost spraining my elbow. Somewhere to the left Kelsey cried out in mingled pain and surprise.
There were a few seconds of luxury where I could wallow in my own pain before Kronos spoke, his voice closer now, "Athena, now it is just ourselves."
"Wait!" shouted Gilland. From the tail of my eye I caught him struggling to climb to his feet. His breathing was alarmingly whistly but a stubborn look was creeping across his features. "We haven’t finished yet."
By this time I’d managed to sit up, feeling bruised in a dozen different places. Kronos, only several steps away from us, was still bending his head. He must be ugly beyond imagination, to be so reluctant to let people see his face. "That was just a warning, Saints," he said. "If you don’t desist now you are going to be more seriously injured."
"Is that so?" I sneered. "Or maybe that was all you could do, Kronos. Don’t be shy, we’re all agog to see what you can actually do."
We were standing again now, sore all over but determined. Kronos wasn’t going to go past us as if we didn’t exist.
There was a movement behind us. Lady Athena was walking to meet Kronos. "I appreciate your efforts," she said to Desmo. "But he was right, you shouldn’t have done this."
"No!" protested Kelsey. "Don’t you feel his Cosmos? It’s huge!"
"It isn’t his."
This was new. "It isn’t?" I echoed.
"No. Whoever it belongs to, it’s not him. Kronos doesn’t own so much power." Her lavender eyes clouded, then hardened. "Probably the greater enemy is now up against Seiya and the others. Kronos here is just a decoy." She gazed at Kronos, who didn’t bother to react.
Desmo shook his head. "Aislinn."
"All very well, Lady Athena," Gilland said. "But we are still Saints, although we’ve no armors and our powers may not amount to one tenth of what Seiya and his brothers have. Besides, if we don’t keep scum like him away from Earth, who will? Don’t worry too much about us." He smiled at her, and seeing that smile Kelsey drew in her breath sharply. My heart plummeted; I recognized the self-commitment hinted in the smile.
"You’re taking me lightly." For the first time there was underlying anger in Kronos’ voice.
"Yes, we are," I replied easily. "You have any problem with that?"
Desmo leaped to the fore, releasing another attack. It was stronger than his previous one. Kronos, seeing it too late, ducked, but the wind of the blow caught at his robe and it slipped off him. The robe fluttered away, leaving him exposed. Kelsey’s hand flew to her mouth.
Hitherto concealed by the robe was a man in a short brown robe, but so shrunken and fleshless he seemed skeletal. Muscles and tendons stood out along his arms from beneath yellowing skin, while tufts of hair grew randomly on his pate. I couldn’t help shivering. No wonder Kronos was eager to suck on others’ lives. His wasn’t much to start with.
Kronos howled in pure fury. A pillar of crimson materialized and surrounded him. We winced away from the power of that pillar. Lady Athena stepped back, looking stunned, her skirts rippling. Then the pillars transformed into tentacles of light, red as new blood, and struck out at us.
"Look out!" Gilland cried, and we all instinctively blasted off our Cosmos. But the tentacles of red light evaded our attacks nimbly. Before we know what was going on, they had reached us and wound themselves around our necks. A wave of dizziness hit me as I felt my feet left the ground.
"Stop!" I heard Lady Athena cry.
My vision was dimming as my brain started losing its air supply. Then something bright and fiery crossed the air above. Abruptly the pressure on my larynx was gone. I dropped down, coughing.
"I can’t let you do that to my friends, Kronos."
We all turned to see who it was. "Edan!" Kelsey beamed, her fingers slipping from her neck.
Edan was swaying on his feet but didn’t fall. It was he who had compelled Kronos with his attack to let go of us. He was a little off-color and I suspected was on his feet at all through sheer will. A rivulet of sweat was trickling down his cheek. When he looked as if he would collapse, we ran to him and Gilland put an arm across his back. Edan sagged against him, closing his eyes.
Lady Athena was advancing on Kronos. "Only the two of us, Kronos."
Kronos contemplated her coldly. "Can you, Athena? After losing some of your power to save one of your Saints’ life in Elysion? They are not worth your sacrifice, these mortals. You have saved them in the twentieth century and see what thanks they gave you. They destroyed the very Earth you have fought for."
"And they are making up for it," countered Lady Athena. "My Saints are fighting for Earth, even when they had no Athena by their side. They believe, and they hope, and that is why what they dream of will come to pass."
Kronos narrowed his sunken, bloodshot eyes. "And I suppose now that Athena is here, she will fight me myself. Of what use are these Saints now?"
Desmo spoke up, "You’re wrong. This is our battle, Kronos. We are sworn defenders of Athena and Earth, and it’s with us you have to deal." He strode forward, we following in his tow with Gilland still supporting Edan, until the five of us stood between Lady Athena and Kronos. Edan was still pallid but perfectly conscious.
Let’s all protect Lady Athena. We shall not shame Seiya and the others. We shall be true to the Sainthood we have been entrusted upon.
This was a thought reaching out to us from Desmo. I heard it, more with my mind than with my ears, and wondered. Was this the telepathic bond all Saints shared? So such a thing did exist. My, what an epiphany that was for a skeptic like me. I snorted inwardly and gripped Desmo with one hand and Kelsey with the other. She took Edan’s hand while he took Gilland’s. Gilland completed the circle by joining hands with Desmo. We were now forming a fence around Lady Athena.
Warmth coursed through me, and I sensed the others calling their Cosmos into full life. Colorful Cosmos surrounded us. Kronos bunched one skinny fist – I just realized he looked more like a scrawny, diseased chicken than a skeleton – and slammed it at our direction. A wave of energy hit our defense. We staggered, but that was nothing serious. We could still stand and Kronos wasn’t going to get the better of us.
Was this all he could do? It must have been Aislinn all along! We would win, we had enough to crush him! Keeping this in mind, I let loose my entire power as a blossoming sense of triumph swelled within me.
Our Cosmos were once again braided into one and surged toward Kronos.
"Thunder Wave!" My chains unfurled, darting straight at Aislinn, crackling with the Cosmos of Andromeda. There was a fleeting second where I thought of Desmo – how would he fight if he didn’t even have chains? Then Aislinn repelled my chains with an outstretched hand, sending them back at me at full speed. The impact flung me off my feet and I hit the ground.
"Shun!" I heard Niisan’s voice, then, "Hou’ou Genma Ken!"
"Rozan Sho Ryuu Ha!" Green dragon soared from Shiryu. Together with the firebird it closed in on Aislinn. As I sat up, I saw her expressionless face. She didn’t even bat an eyelid as she crossed her wrists, palms outward, her Cosmos slamming against Niisan and Shiryu’s. Both firebird and dragon were instantly vaporized. Niisan breathed a curse, while Shiryu’s gray-black eyes slitted.
Hyoga didn’t give Aislinn a moment of respite. "Aurora Execution!" The image of Aquarius loomed above him and glaring light poured out of the Aquarian jug, closing the distance between him and Aislinn. She made a slashing movement with the side of her hand. Hyoga’s attack shattered into thousands of glittering crystals.
"I said you must unite your power." She folded her arms, her yellowish gaze scouring us. "This way we do nothing but waste our time. Saints, you aren’t taking me seriously. I’m disappointed." A lopsided grin played across her face. "Or is it because I differ physically from any of you? No woman is supposed to challenge Saints of Athena?" The grin was feral, chilling.
"I don’t care about that," blazed Niisan. "If there’s anyone here not being serious it’s you."
"Show us what you can do, Aislinn," Seiya said, more exasperated than angry, it sounded to me. "Don’t just stand there and make fun of us. Show us you’re as great as you like to believe."
She was unperturbed by this. "That’s how you want it? All right. On the defense, Saints. I’m going for you in earnest now."
An explosion of Cosmos from her made us wince, so horrendous was it. Her cloak billowed backward violently, revealing a knee-length cyan tunic under it. She thrust out both hands and a javelin-like object took shape on her open palms. Gripping the javelin with one hand, she bounded toward us.
Seiya, being the first one on her way, dodged. He directed a swinging kick at her hand, meaning to knock the javelin from her grasp, but Aislinn was more agile. In the blink of an eye she was already striking at Shiryu. Unlike Seiya, he met the assault head-on, raising an arm to check the blow. Aislinn muttered as her javelin connected squarely with the gauntlet of Shiryu’s Cloth. She leaped aside, now aiming for Hyoga. Ice and snow smashed into the javelin. Aislinn’s grip didn’t even slacken, although the tips of the weapon turned whitish. The sheer speed of her movements made her attacks rather difficult to estimate.
I lashed out my chains at her. It looped around the javelin, and this stopped her. She tugged at her javelin but I held on. Then I saw a bolt of electricity travel from her shoulder to javelin. The next second that end of my chains fell clinking to the ground in small pieces.
Niisan spread out his hands, gold-orange sheets of flame flying at Aislinn. She didn’t even use the javelin this time; she simply raised her Cosmos as a mirror. Niisan’s attack was thrown back at him and he had the time to evade it.
"As one, Saints," Aislinn reminded. "You must fight me as one. That usually worked, didn’t it?"
Seiya was angered enough by this jibe to accept. "Fine!" he barked. "Come on, everyone, join power and let’s see if she’s as good as she thinks!" His own Cosmos of Pegasus was already coming out in bursts of white steams.
I and Niisan ranged ourselves in front of Seiya, Shiryu and Hyoga. We were putting our bet on this one attack. If we failed this one…
But there were always second chances. I remembered how hope had seemed so distant back in Elysion. We had lost our armors and not even the Gold Saints’ could help us. Athena’s blood blended with our own spirit had revived our strength and faith. I remembered also how even Cimmeria couldn’t rob us of our Cosmos. We could overcome barriers because we were Saints.
Our five Cosmos were rising, rising, and every inch of me glowed from within, was unbelievably alive. Five shafts of pure energy detonated and headed straight at Aislinn.
Kronos was driven a few feet off his previous spot, his heels digging two parallel tracks on the soil. He nearly stumbled, regained balance and glared at us. Another wave of Cosmos heaved at our direction – steered toward Edan, the weakest link.
I didn’t think, I simply acted. Rings of black swirled out of me to slow the progress of Kronos’ power. Thank goodness he was only using some of his power and not all of it! Edan paled a bit but held his ground. I noticed Gilland and Kelsey tightening their grasp on his hands.
"Once more!" I said, and our combined Cosmos swelled like a torrent. This time the effect was more telling: Kronos actually crashed onto a heap of discarded metal. Taking heart from this, I encouraged the others to go on and cut him no slack. I was vaguely aware of sweat crawling down my sides and midriff.
Suddenly Lady Athena broke free from our protective circle. Aghast, I tried to stop her, but it was too late. She went to Kronos, who was half-sprawled on the ground. When he saw her coming, his lips were peeled back from his teeth and he summoned his Cosmos.
"Lady Athena, look out!" Kelsey yelled.
Lady Athena bent down. There was serenity on her face so profound it was breathtaking. I was going to run to her, stop a direct confrontation between her and Kronos, when she reached out a hand and touched Kronos’ brow. The flesh glistened under her fingers and Kronos shrank away from her. What was she doing? Then I heard her words, soft but distinct.
"Ancient one," she said, "let me give you the sleep you deserve."
What followed was nothing short of amazing. The luminescence that began on his brow was lighting up Kronos’ entire body. We saw his eyelids flutter, then close. His body fell with a thud. Lady Athena retrieved her hand. Kronos was bathed in an aura less blinding than his Cosmos but more – I couldn’t find the right description, but the closest word I could find was peaceful. There was no relentlessness about him now, only peace both of mind and body. Even his skin wasn’t so tinged with yellow.
My knees shook so badly that they spilled me, panting, onto the ground. The others toppled down as well. We hadn’t realized releasing so much of our Cosmos could be so exhausting.
"Poor thing," Lady Athena murmured.
I scrambled up to my knees and looked. Kronos was no longer in sight. What was left of him was a charred spot, nothing more. "Where is he?" I asked.
Lady Athena turned lovely lavender eyes at me. "He shouldn’t have been resurrected. His life force could no longer support millennia of living. I wonder who woke him up – could it be Spiro? And where might the boy be? Wherever he is, I pray he is all right…" A frown marred her features. I knew she was thinking of Seiya and the others.
Rumbles reverberated in the sky, and we all raised our eyes. The black clouds were breaking into smaller clods, letting through a beam of golden Cosmos. It brushed against Lady Athena, then shone even more radiantly. We had to turn away from that brilliance. When we looked again, the golden Cosmos was gone. As was Lady Athena.
Slowly we rose, still digesting this. Gilland mused, "It was like a dream…tell me it wasn’t."
"Check your breathing and Cosmos supply to find out," was Magaski’s suggestion.
Kelsey peered at Edan. "How are you doing, good-looking?"
He began to laugh, then hissed in restrained pain. "I’ll manage. How do you think Seiya and the others are faring? I can’t imagine they put Aislinn to sleep like Lady Athena did to Kronos."
"Where did she go?" I muttered. "Lady Athena, that is, not Aislinn."
"Back to the twentieth century is my best guess." Magaski tucked a wayward strand of short hair behind his ear. "Leaving us with no Athena of our own."
I thought it over. "Maybe Athena isn’t even reborn in this century."
"That doesn’t deter me," Kelsey announced, almost happily. I happened to see that her arm had stolen across Gilland’s back. He either didn’t notice or didn’t have the heart to shrug it off. Ah, well, I supposed this was one area I’d be better off not entering.
"That goes for the rest of us." I inhaled deeply, glad to be with my friends, glad to be so tired, since it meant we had some Cosmos worth using. Then I smiled. "Our fellow Saints…they are an exceptional lot. Truly the Saints of Athena. Beside them, we’re just blurred copies."
"Better than no copy at all." Magaski jerked his chin at Gilland and Edan. "Come on, let’s bring our patients home."
Their power was incredible, and for the first time I experienced a twitch of doubt. Mortals weren’t supposed to attain this level of power. Why, it was almost like facing Athena herself! But what was it that I feared, honestly? They might flatter themselves of being near-immortals, but they weren’t immortals yet. They could die. And I would be the one who would kill them.
The collision when it happened was like a bombshell dropped onto my head. This wasn’t the kind of power to which mortals gained access normally! This was a power specked with something much greater. I recalled that Athena had given her blood to these wretched people’s Armors. Was that the deciding factor?
I thought no further; their hateful Cosmos bashed against me so levelly that I tottered back two paces. My javelin slipped from my hand. My heartbeat accelerated, while perspiration broke out on my forehead. It couldn’t be! They were defeating Aislinn – those despicable human beings! I drew in a ragged breath, astonishment yielding to an all-consuming fury.
Seiya shouted, "She’s down! One more go, everyone!"
Another hit, this one catching me when my shield of energy had not yet been erected. I felt singed all over, and fell in an ungainly sprawl. The fury made me tremble: how dare they do this to me, humiliate and abase me? The insolent Saints!
No! They would not see me humbled! I gathered every scrap of strength I got and focused.
A gap immediately opened before them on the ground, growing ever larger. I saw them halt, caution written in their faces. I gave a mental snap and the edge of the gap curved out so fast that the Saints didn’t have the opportunity to step back. They fell through the gap, and it closed over them.
For a while there was silence. I listened, but they were really no longer here. Those Saints! Curse them, who would have thought they had the power to do this to me?
Well, they were gone now. There were still the twenty-second century Saints, but they were a puny bunch. I could finish them off with one sweep of the hand. That would have to wait, though; I knew that I had sustained an injury and needed some recuperating. After that…we shall see.
A slow smile warmed up my face.
It was time to start healing.
Continued to Aftermath