The Other Side of Tomorrow
I was on my own in the mansion, incurably bored and running out of pastime activities. Saori was out and the others were back to their respective places: Shiryu to Mount Rozan, Hyoga to Siberia, Shun and Ikki to their small house in the suburbs. Neesan, visiting the orphanage, would not be back until this evening. I would have gone with her had it not been for Miho.
Ever since the Hades episode, she had been distant and aloof to me. My best guess was she did not like my being a Saint, convinced that it was a highway to death. I was sad to lose my childhood friend, but if it was a price to pay for my Sainthood, so be it. In Cimmeria I had had a taste of having my Sainthood removed, and as a result I would risk anything to keep it.
I tried reading, but written words had never held much, if any, appeal to me. I turned on the television, and, having found no attractive program, switched it off again. If only Shiryu were here. We could have a talk, or maybe do some exercise together. As it was, even the servants seemed to vanish. Midday naps were not my style: why sleep in broad daylight when you could use your time doing something else?
The immense front lawn was silent when I strolled through it, eyes idly resting on the rows of flowers planted on either side of my path. Today's weather was brisk and sunny, and I wondered if I would spend the rest of the day roaming aimlessly around the place. I thought sourly that at this point even Ikki would make good company. We never got along well, but anyone was better than no one at all.
I was nearing the gate when I heard voices raised in argument. Curious, I went to look. The two security guards posted at the gate were talking heatedly with one another, complete with animated gestures. They stopped when they saw me.
"What is it?" I asked. Then I noticed something I hadn't previously: an inert figure on its stomach was lying near the guards' feet, clad in a dirty white robe caked with dust. "Who's that?"
"Master Seiya, this man showed up from nowhere and demanded to see Mistress Kido or you. When we asked him what he wanted, he just gibbered something we couldn't quite catch. Then he fainted dead away."
Frowning, I strode closer and squatted down next to the unconscious man. Tousled beige hair covered one side of his face. When I pushed the hair away, I saw that his face was alarmingly white. I got to my feet.
"Take him inside," I told the guards.
They exchanged hesitant looks. "But we don't know who he may be..."
"I'll answer for it. Meanwhile, I want him to come to so that he can explain."
The guards shrugged, then began to lift the man off the ground. One thing I hadn't said to them: the beige-haired man interested me because he exuded Cosmos. It was barely perceptible, but it must be caused by his weak state. And it was shockingly similar to mine.
When I entered the room, the man was sitting on the bed, propped up by pillows. One of the maids had attended to him and just told me he had awakened. His eyes - large and silver gray - followed me as I took a stool and sat at a safe distance. I was rather surprised at his age. I had estimated him to be in the league of the Gold Saints, yet he was no older than I was. He was sort of good-looking, too. Cleaned of dirt and blood, his face was young yet grave.
"First things first," I told him. "What's your name?"
He assessed me with his eyes for so long that I was growing uncomfortable. I was about to repeat the question when he said, "Saint Pegasus Seiya, is it not?" His voice was an unexpected husky baritone.
"Yes, I am," I replied, immediately on my guard. Meeting a stranger who knew your name while you didn't know a scrap about him was bound to make you wary.
He nodded, which I took as a substitute for a proper bow. "I'm also a Pegasus Saint," he said. "My name is Gilland."
If his knowing my name was a jolt, this was a thunderclap. I leaped off the stool, knocking it down. "What?" I shouted.
"Hold it, hold it." He smiled a little, then grimaced. Apparently some injury was making its presence felt. "I know you think I lie and what gives me the right to say so, but it is true. I am Saint Pegasus Gilland." The grimace deepened and he clutched at the front of his clothes. "Athena, that hurts."
I waited until the pain subsided. "What the hell do you mean?"
The young man calling himself Gilland raised his head. "This is a long story."
"I have time."
At that moment screams rang in the corridor, and the door burst open. A creature out of children's nightmare stood in the doorway, its face split in a savage grin. It was roughly seven feet tall, slime green and scaly, with a protruding horn at the back of its head. Its one reddish eye, located right above the mouth, glared at Gilland.
The creature started to move toward Gilland. I gathered my Cosmos as fast as I could - I certainly didn't want Gilland to die before I could interview him - but he was faster. I heard him murmur, "Pegasus Star Shower," and a blinding release of Cosmos filled the room like a soundless explosion. The creature emitted a shrill howl, then was shredded into pieces. The pieces dropped onto the floor, smoking and thawing. All this happened in mere three seconds.
Gilland collapsed into the pillows, his shoulders hunched and his face twisted. Tearing my gaze off the floor, I hurried over to him, but it was too late. He had passed out again. The attack had been too much for him. I could only look down at the pale, strained face, my mind in turmoil.
Who was Gilland - and for that matter, what was that thing that he had just blown to kingdom come? I picked up the fallen stool, re-seated myself, and concentrated. I was calling the others to me through the telepathic bond we as blood brothers shared.
A sullen white sun shone sluggishly in the sky overhead. The ground I stood on was like a giant junkyard, littered with all sorts of metal rubbish. It was a dead, cheerless place, and I wondered where this could be.
Somewhere at the back of my mind I knew this was no other than a dream. Maybe it was simply because the surroundings were too alien for it to be anything else, or because I knew this was something out of a sci-fi writer's imagination: an Earth where nothing green flourished and most of civilization as we understood it lay in tatters. All the same, this dream had a morbidly fascinating vividness to it. I could see the sun wink off a jutting plate of steel, hear a low mewling sound that gave me an idea of how the wind would sound in a Gothic horror novel, and smell the stink of rotting materials.
Four white silhouettes shimmered in the distant horizon. I raised my eyes to look at them, holding my breath. Those four silhouettes were framed within four Cosmos, and I recognized them as belonging to Phoenix, Andromeda, Dragon and Cygnus. Where was Pegasus, though? Why wasn't it here?
The dream vibrated, the junkyard blurring fast before me. Yet those silhouettes stood out as clearly as before.
"Shun? Shun, wake up!"
Then they too vanished, and I found myself staring at my Niisan's dark blue eyes. I rubbed my own, blinking and trying to push the dream out. "Sorry, Niisan, did I fall asleep?"
Seiya had called all of us because he said some young man claiming to be Saint Pegasus had popped out of nowhere. Ever since then Niisan, Shiryu, Hyoga and myself had been in the mansion, waiting for the latest development. The man, whom Seiya said called himself Gilland, hadn't come out of his semi-coma yet. This was the third day since we received the news.
Saori was adamant about us questioning Gilland personally. "Whether he's an enemy or otherwise, he's got an important message for us, and we should hear it."
"What if this is a trap?" Niisan had suggested.
"Let's take that risk."
The Foundation's doctors had examined Gilland, and told Saori that he wasn't a very healthy man. One of his lungs was in no condition to function properly, a defect from birth, which probably counted for his passing out for so many days. A Saint with impaired health? This was beginning to provoke more than curiosity.
Niisan watched me as I swung my legs off the couch. "Tired?"
"No. I had no idea that I was sleeping until I was dreaming." I was about to describe the dream, then didn't. Niisan was mostly a practical man, and not a believer in dreams as omens of future tidings. Besides, my dream hadn't been that interesting.
There was a discreet knock on the door. A maid peered in. "Excuse me, Ikki-sama, Shun-sama, the man Gilland is awake and asking to see you all."
Gilland, or whatever his name was, was leaning against pillows when Shun and I entered. Seiya, Shiryu, Hyoga and Saori were already there. Gilland's cheeks were stained with pink and his eyes were calm. He looked very much recovered. I went to a far corner and proceeded to listen from there. Shun stood next to Shiryu.
"Begin," said Seiya, the word unmistakably a command.
A rueful smile curved Gilland's mouth. "What I'm going to tell you is hard to believe."
"We've seen a lot of unbelievable things," Seiya replied firmly. "Well?"
"First of all - none of you seems to believe that I'm Saint Pegasus."
Seiya looked mulish at this. "Then what do you think I am, an impostor?" Obviously the fact that a stranger announcing himself to be Saint Pegasus didn't appeal much to him. I could understand that.
"But you can feel my Cosmos, can't you?"
"Cosmos can be faked," Hyoga spoke up.
Saori interposed, "Why don't you choose a different opening for your story, then."
"Yes, my Lady." I lifted an eyebrow at Gilland calling her that. Gilland went on, "You do know that Athena is reborn every two hundred years?"
A collective, if suspicious, nod.
"She has been born during this century, and she will be reborn again every two centuries. That is where I come from - the twenty-second century. Athena and her most faithful Saints live again then and we Saints do what our predecessors have done: protect Athena and Earth to the utmost of our ability."
The silence that followed was tense, yet Shiryu broke it in a neutral voice that did not grate on our already taut nerves. "What you are saying is that in the future there will be five other Saints whose powers are similar to us, and you are one of them."
Gilland flashed him a grateful glance. "Precisely."
"Go on," said Seiya tersely. He didn't believe Gilland, not yet, and for once I agreed with him.
"We have a little snag though - we haven't found who is the reincarnation of Athena in our time. But that doesn't make us believe less in our Sainthood, and in her existence. She must have been reborn, as someone. All we have to do is find her. That is when the enemy strikes. We don't know who they are exactly but one thing we do know: as Saints we will defend Earth to the last drop of blood."
"An arousing speech, fellow," I said flatly. "How do you prove you're not making it all up?"
He gave a little smile. "I knew Saint Phoenix will be quick to suspect me."
"How come you know so much about us anyway?" asked Hyoga.
This time Gilland's smile widened, became somewhat wistful. "Somebody carved the story of each of you in five slabs of rock, and put your Cloths atop each slab. They were in Sanctuary, near the giant statue of Athena. Somehow that part of Sanctuary stayed intact after two hundred years."
We digested this in silence. So after we died someone decided to immortalize us and put up monuments for us. That didn't sound too bad. In fact, that sounded great. If what Gilland said had a grain of truth in it. I cast him a wary glance. "You were saying about the enemy?" I wasn't about to allow him into thinking that he'd won our trust by telling nice stories about flattering epitaphs.
"The enemy is too strong for us. That is why we seek help from you. We know you five have attained the highest level possible for a Saint." Gilland drew a deep breath. "Compared to you five, I suppose we're a bunch of sissies. We didn't have to go through years of severe training or get pitted against deities and their array of soldiers. This enemy is actually the first one that comes our way."
"Sissies all right," I said. "One enemy and you scram to the past looking for help."
I thought that would put him on the defense, but that smile only resurfaced. "It was my idea. My logic says, why not be humble if that means Earth will be saved? Desmo - that's Saint Andromeda - is very much against it. He says we're a disgrace to our namesakes if we have to get help from you five. But I don't care. If crawling to you means saving Earth, so be it."
Shun looked a trifle uncomfortable. "I don't think you're crawling to us for help. What you did needs some courage, especially as, er, you're not, uh, in perfect shape." He blushed slightly, fearing to offend Gilland, I guessed.
Gilland didn't seem to take offense. Man, the guy was patient, no pun intended. "Since the idea was mine, I'm the one who must carry it out."
"How did you achieve your Sainthood, if not through training?" said Shiryu.
"It's a long story, and can wait. Meanwhile, would you come with me now, to the future? I can't afford to linger here a minute longer." He spoke with a simple dignity with no hint of servility or begging. I was beginning to revise my opinion of him: he wasn't a coward. Maybe too practical for his own good, but no coward.
Seiya gave a curt nod. "Fine, just tell us how we get there."
I was reminded of Cimmeria. "We won't lose our Cosmos and Cloths once we arrive to wherever it is you're planning to take us, will we?"
Gilland showed mild surprise. "Of course not."
"That's good." I read open relief in Seiya's face.
Saori, who had been silent during this conversation, said, "I'm coming with you," in a tone which brooked no argument. I threw her a glance, wondering if the temper of a rich, spoiled young lady would break out if we refused. Gilland would surely revise his opinion of her then.
Seiya was inevitably quick to say no. "It'll be very dangerous."
"Haven't I been through more dangers?" There was almost no emotion in the way she spoke. "Athena and her Saints must fight side by side. You think I want to sit idly by while you go off somewhere to face enemies in my name?" Whether it was her self as Athena or a slice of her spoiled brat's temper which prompted her to say that I wasn't certain.
Seiya muttered a reluctant assent.
"Then let's leave," said Hyoga crisply. He looked at Gilland. "How do we get there?"
Gilland held out both hands. "Hold my hands."
After a second's hesitation Seiya clasped Gilland's right wrist. Shun put his hand on top of Seiya's as Shiryu gripped Gilland's other hand. Hyoga piled his hand atop Shiryu's and Saori closed her hand over his. I sighed inwardly. What the hell, it couldn't be worse than Hades. I held Shun's wrist. He smiled at me, probably knowing what I was thinking. I shrugged.
Drawing a deep breath, Gilland murmured in a low, reverent tone, "Thank you. On behalf of my fellow Saints I give you my sincerest thanks."
I was going to tell him to get on with it when a sudden burst of light filled the inside of my head, and for one frightening moment I lost all senses.
Mesmerizing though Gilland's account had been, I was skeptical about it. To my way of thinking, Saints in the future were supposed to be more powerful than the previous ones. Then again, we hadn't heard the complete story. All we could do now was to go along with him and hope he didn't mean us harm. My instinct informed me that Gilland genuinely believed in what he said, but that was no indication that what he said was true.
Frissons of Cosmos danced up my arm when my skin contacted with his. There was no mistaking it - Gilland had the Pegasus Cosmos, although not as much as Seiya. And did he have much choice, considering his lungs? I asked myself. What sort of world was the twenty-second century, which permitted a sick man into becoming its protector? I would soon find out.
An enormous amount of light robbed me temporarily of sight and sound, throwing me totally off-balance. The next second it was as if we were trapped in a gale. My feet left solid ground, thundering noises hammered against my eardrums, and there was nothing to see but all-pervading blackness. I shut my eyes, grimly holding on to Gilland's hand, feeling Hyoga clutch at my own. Wherever it was we were heading for I would not reach it alone.
As abruptly as it had begun, the din stopped. I waited cautiously, Hyoga's hand a reassuring pressure on mine. Then Seiya's awed voice whispered, "Hot damn."
I opened my eyes. The seven of us were standing under a vast dark sky littered with cold stars. They were different than the stars I used to gaze at - in my own time? Was this the twenty-second century, as promised? I saw my own incredulity mirrored in the others, whereas Gilland was expressionless. Shun turned his head to the right and to the left, seemingly in search of something. Hyoga was contemplating a heap of waste near his feet, while Saori simply seemed pensive. Ikki moved nearer to Shun.
"This is where I come from," Gilland said. "Not a very fine neighborhood, wouldn't you say?"
"You bet." Seiya took a step forward and a shard of glass cracked under his feet. He started a bit guiltily. "There sure is a lot of junk here." Shun blinked rapidly, looking startled.
Gilland's smile was tinged with bitterness. "Folks in your century created deadly weapons the likes of which had never been seen before. There's been at least one World War since then, not counting numerous clashes between some countries. This is what we've inherited." The bitterness faded, but infinitesimally. "I'm sorry, do I sound over-melodramatic?"
I was still trying to take in this unfriendly environment, too much like a nightmare to be accepted as real. The soil beneath us was parched and dry, even in this darkness. Surrounding us like a gigantic palisade was garbage of all shape and size, dead discarded things which, to my feeling, stared at us in mute accusation. Mild stench caused by years of decay was drifting in the wind. The heavens wasn't a spirit-lifting sight either. Gilland and his fellow Saints actually lived here?
"Where are your friends?" Seiya asked Gilland. Now that the shock of landing in this empty, gloomy world had lessened, he was understandably curious to meet what I thought of as our other selves.
Before Gilland could answer, a high-pitched quake pierced the air. Saori gasped, and the rest of us stared up. A bird as big as a jet plane was circling above, talons hooked, wings flapping madly, still screaming. I had never seen a creature like that, and fleetingly wondered if it was some sort of a mutant. With almost unbelievable speed it struck down, seemingly straight at Saori.
Even as my mind coped with this unexpected development, my Cosmos came into life, surging like wildfire from head to toe. I sensed rather than saw the ancient Dragon flare around me before it reared up to meet the bird headlong and I shouted out the name of my attack.
Another shriek rang as the bird was shredded into pieces, which dropped on the ground. We retreated away from the bird's head, which rolled toward us. I thought: if this were all that our future counterparts had to handle, why would they need our help? Were they so weak that they couldn't defeat several monsters by themselves?
The bird's head suddenly bounced back up, its beaks parting. My blood froze: there was something so incongruous in a lone head without a body attached to it hanging in the air. Saori, to her credit, didn't utter a sound, though the head's astonishing return to life must have rocked her greatly. The head moved back, prepared to hurl itself at us.
Before I could re-summon my Cosmos, someone said in a clear courtroom voice which carried without being conspicuously raised, "Andromeda Nebula Coil."
A fusion of black and red energy bore down on the bird's head from a source yet unknown. The head fell back on the ground, shattered like dropped china, and turned to cinder in less than half a second. The other parts of the creature's body, which were strewn every which way, underwent the same fate. There was no trace of the bird now but for a few wisps of smoke.
"Gilland, are you all right?"
We all turned to the direction of the voice. A lanky man in his twenties was hurrying at Gilland. He wore a flowing amber robe identical to Gilland's, which hid him from the neck down. Closer inspection revealed a pair of kindly blue eyes which contrasted oddly with a scar running from left temple down to chin. He hugged Gilland unabashedly, though not ostentatiously.
"How's everyone?" asked Gilland after the man released him.
"We were thinking the worse. You were missing for days. We feared you didn't make it there." The concern which the newcomer showed touched me.
"I did make it. Here they are, Athena and her Saints." Gilland indicated us with a sweeping gesture.
The man's eyes roamed across us, stopped at Saori. Without the slightest hesitation he went down on one knee. "Athena," he said, dipping his head like a knight waiting to be dubbed.
Saori was clearly flustered. "Get up, do," she said, blushing. The man obeyed. His eyes flicked over to Seiya.
"Saint Pegasus Seiya?" he asked with a courteous incline of the head.
Seiya could only nod back. The rest of us introduced ourselves, Ikki somewhat brusquely, but the man didn't seem to notice, or to care. In fact, he seemed pleased.
"I'm Desmo, Saint Andromeda," he said, smiling at Shun. "Nice to meet you. I've been hearing all sorts of things about you." To which Shun murmured inarticulately. Desmo squared his shoulders. "After we meet the other Saints, we will tell you anything you'd like to know about our present situation."
Seiya, still wary, said, "Where are they?"
We followed Desmo, threading our way carefully among the rubbish. None of us spoke much, but Desmo was asking Gilland repeatedly if he was truly fine, did he meet many obstacles, did any of the monsters track him down, and so forth. Gilland answered him succinctly, and Desmo, taking the hint, at last fell silent.
My curiosity regarding the other three Saints was bordering on anxiety - what if we couldn't get along, how would they accept us and we them? - but I kept my peace. There was no use in worrying myself unduly. At least we got a cordial welcome. The greetings we received in Cimmeria hadn't been half as warm.
Once we got out of the junkyard, the view was arguably better. There was no waste, but neither was it a much more pleasant place. Sticklike trees grew on either side of our path, and stalks of brown grass sprouted randomly near the roots. No insect chirped, no bird - a normal one - flew. Far ahead houses made of concrete and steel jostled cheek by jowl. They looked cold, impersonal, built merely to give shelter, not to make the dwellers feel belong. Not a living soul was seen.
Desmo said by way of explanation, "The others are in our house. Monsters are unusually lacking today. The one that attacked you was the only one so far."
"You have monsters raining down on you every single day?" from Hyoga.
"We'll tell you about it later."
These Saints seemed to be a closely knit, cohesive unity, the fact of which had been first punctuated by Desmo's welcome of Gilland. For some reason that gladdened me. So even in the future Saints were brothers. And they hadn't even seen Athena yet.
Gilland was saying, "Desmo, you shouldn't have mentioned today's lack of monster out loud. Because here's a legion of them." There were rumbles of approaching vehicles from the north.
We all looked. Bulky figures on motorbikes rose over the skyline, approximately twenty or thirty of them. The front lights of the motorbikes blazed like dots of light, illuminating each rider, who wore a cowled robe which quite effectively concealed appearance. They were accelerating, closing the distance.
Ever since I had damaged my glasses during the last part of the Cimmerian episode, I rarely touched the thing anymore. I got along well without it anyway. Now, however, I wished I had it with me. The others were narrowing their eyes while I simply squinted. From the look of it, the twenty-second century version of Hell's Angels were gaining on us.
The sound of flapping wings made me lift my head, expecting to see the companions of the late unlamented bird Desmo had brought down in the junkyard. Instead I saw two people zooming down at the motorcyclists like avenging angels. My jaw dropped and I snapped it shut. Either my sight was degenerating beyond repair, the night was too dark, or I was actually seeing two people with wings growing out of their backs, about to clash with the motorbikes. One of them had wings which resembled sheets of fire and the other's were graceful and white.
"Phoenix Eternal Naphtha!"
The one whose wings were fiery red swept down on the motorcyclists, and before they knew what hit them they were enveloped within a burst of flames so high that it completely hid them from our view. When the flame dwindled away, I saw - distinctly this time - that they had been thrown off their seats, and were sprawled on the dusty ground, dazed.
A hurricane swirled forward from the other winged person and crashed down hard upon the still disoriented motorcyclists. "Silver Cleansing!" They were whisked off bodily, thrust several feet into the air, and fell down like dolls devoid of stuffing. Like the giant bird in the junkyard, they too became smoke.
Both attackers touched down beside Gilland, their wings dissolving into mist. "Everything's okay?" asked the one whose wings had been fire. Gilland smiled.
Desmo stepped to the fore and motioned at them. "Athena - Saint Phoenix Edan and Saint Cygnus Magaski."
Before any of us realized his intention, Edan strode over to Saori. He took her hand and planted a gallant kiss on it. "Lady Athena, the pleasure is all ours." He was strikingly handsome - like a movie star girls moaned over, I thought, maybe unfairly - with wavy black hair that grew down to the collar of his ivory upper shirt. His dark eyes were merry and flashing as Saori replied in a confused mutter. He had long legs snugly encased in loose maroon trousers. Seeing this man, his bearing so dissimilar with that of Ikki, being called Saint Phoenix gave the whole thing a cast of unreality.
"You haven't changed, Edan," said Gilland.
"What, you were gone four days and hope I'd changed for the better? Not on your life, my friend." Edan turned his full charm on the still bewildered Saori. "We are deeply sorry that your arrival has been met with such disagreeable circumstances. Then again, the circumstances is the very reason why we require your Saints' presence here."
"Not that we can't manage on our own," said Magaski under his breath.
I stole a sidelong glance at my Saintly twin, who was at least five years my senior. He had a square face and a permanent five o'clock shadow darkening his lower face, with shrewd violet eyes that missed nothing and reflected intelligence. His long bluish hair was tied back and cascaded down his back. Under his outer dark orange overcoat, which reached all the way to his shins, he wore a plain white tunic and white boots.
We were introduced to one another. Shiryu was controlled enough not to ask direct questions, but Seiya had less restraint. "Where is Saint Dragon?" he said.
Gilland turned an inquiring look at Edan, who said, "Maybe off somewhere battling with more monsters. It won't take long. Meanwhile, let us go to our house and then we can talk." He glimpsed at Desmo for confirmation. It was apparent that Desmo was the leader figure among them.
Desmo led us to one of the houses, an unpretentious two-storied dwelling with minimum furniture and no decorations. No knickknacks or sentimental photographs adorned the walls. Inside it was soothingly cool, and, as we would in a Japanese house, we sat down on a mat around a low wooden table. Desmo cleared his throat, looking at each of us in turn.
"How much has Gilland told you?" he began.
"Not much," I said. "Perhaps you'd care to fill in the gaps. He said you weren't trained to be Saints - how did you achieve Sainthood then?"
Seiya nodded eagerly. Discussing this issue obviously held more appeal to him than learning who the enemies were.
"May I answer that?" said Magaski. "All right. When the five of us were children - I include Saint Dragon, who I believe will arrive shortly - we quickly realized we had powers, special ones. Those powers would cause other folks to accept us as freaks, so we wisely hid them. Then we met. We compared notes and Desmo here went to Sanctuary to read the inscriptions about Saints engraved on the monuments there. We also discovered that Athena's supposed to be reborn in this century, but so far we've still no inkling who or where she is. Almost as soon as we gathered, the enemy struck. Until now. Next thing we knew Gilland wanted to do some time-traveling." His eyes moved from Saori to Ikki, who between them flanked the rest of us. "Naturally I don't think it's an excellent idea. We may not be able to crush them in one blow but we're certainly managing." There was a note of disgust in his words, whether at his comrade's supposed dastardliness or at our unseemly interference I didn't know.
Gilland snorted with suppressed laughter. "Phoenix Ikki said so too, only in more direct terms. He confirmed that we are a bunch of sissies."
Ikki, who didn't look chagrined in the least, shrugged.
"So that's how you acquired your Sainthood, given to you at birth?" Shun asked.
"Doesn't sound right to me," Ikki stated. "Maybe that accounts for their lack of Cosmos."
Everybody stiffened, but Desmo said, "I admit we don't even have Cloths, but as for our resolve to preserve Earth - there is no question about that."
"And you haven't even seen Athena," Shiryu contributed.
"No, we haven't. But does that matter now? As long as Earth is safe, Athena needs not make her appearance. Besides, isn't she here now?" Desmo did a respectful little bow at Saori.
An uneasy silence fell. "What do you know about the enemy?" said Seiya.
"Nothing worth telling, except that they come from some other place than Earth," answered Gilland. "They started shelling us with every creature possible, from giant birds to misshapen monsters. All we could do is mow them down. We've never seen anyone with an important position - the archenemy's right hand, say, let alone the archenemy himself."
"Maybe the archenemy is planning to wear us down with his batch of monsters," Edan mused. "After we're too sick of them to put up a resistance, he'll attack. Otherwise, I see no point in not challenging us face to face."
"That's deplorable," said Shiryu.
Desmo grinned without mirth. "Trust me, we agree with you. However, since we don't have the vaguest idea where the brain behind all this is stationed, we can't make the first move. All we can do, and have done, is keep the monsters away from people."
I was going to ask if they thought the twentieth century Saints would have more luck in locating the 'archenemy', as he put it, when the door burst open. A girl scuttled in breathlessly, profusely apologizing to Desmo for being so late. She was clad in some kind of a jacket, pale apricot in color, with black trousers and black boots. A black bandanna was tied around her head to keep her shoulder-length mint green hair, faintly resembling Pisces Aphrodite's, from falling into her sparkling green eyes.
"Where have you been?" asked Magaski in dry resignation.
"There was this huge bird twice the size of this house and I had a hard time driving it off." Noticing Gilland, she went a little red, though her delight was evident. "Hey, you're here already! Super!"
"Saints," Desmo's calm voice override her bubbly one, "meet Saint Dragon Kelsey."
We all started: Saint Dragon was a girl? I glanced at Shiryu and saw that he was somewhat flustered, but succeeded in not showing it. Instead he bowed gravely to Kelsey, who was staring at him, fascinated. "I am Saint Dragon Shiryu."
"Hi!" she exclaimed.
"Kelsey, sit down," ordered Magaski, and she happily took her seat next to him.
Seiya, I noticed, was still recovering. "But mustn't female Saints wear masks..." He trailed off, looking helpless. Shun was studying Kelsey intently.
"Masks? Should they? Why?" Kelsey said without pausing for breath.
"Well, because only men are supposed to defend Athena, and a woman should wear a mask so as not to reveal she's female." You could count on Ikki for a precise explanation not blunted by consideration for the recipient's feelings.
"But that's silly!" Kelsey said, green eyes indignant. "If she wears a mask, won't that even draw more attention to her being a woman?"
"That's enough," Magaski cut in decisively. "We are here to discuss our present situation, not to quarrel."
Kelsey rolled her eyes but did as she was told.
"How long has this been going on, exactly?" I asked.
"About a week," said Gilland. "Although those monsters haven't actually destroyed Earth, they did a few serious damages. Fires, for one. Some of the houses in this pocket of settlement caught fire just before I left to, um, fetch you."
Was time-travel in this age as easy as visiting your neighbor? I wondered. "Is it difficult? Transferring yourself to the twentieth century, that is?"
Our future counterparts, excepting mine, looked startled. "Difficult? Of course it is. Two hundred years hasn't done that much to technology," said Magaski, allowing the right amount of contempt to show. "Gilland had to focus all his energy and I bet he arrived there a bit battered. Didn't you, Gilland?"
"Nothing worth mentioning," Gilland shrugged carelessly, as though passing out for three days was quite normal. Or was it, for him? I thought, reminded of the doctor's assessment of his lungs.
Desmo got to his feet. "It's getting very late now, and we should all get some rest. Fellow Saints, you can share our rooms, and Lady Athena can share Kelsey's. Have a nice sleep. Tomorrow we shall talk more." He was definitely used to being listened to.
As it turned out, the house had five bedrooms for each of its occupant. Since Kelsey would have to share hers with Saori, there was no room to spare for Shiryu. He said the living room would do him nicely. We said good night, and I followed Magaski into his room, my feeling of unreality lingering. In all our previous battles, I never recalled having been a guest in somebody's resident before facing the enemy.
Magaski took off his boots, untied his hair and got into bed without a glance at me. When I stood still in the middle of the room, he lifted those keen violet eyes to half glare at me. "Well, come on! I'm not going to molest you if that's what you're worried about! Or do you need to hear a lullaby first before going to sleep?"
"I'm not used to it, that's all."
"Feel free to join your friend in the living room, then."
After a few minutes of inward debating, I slipped under the blanket at the other side of the bed as far away as possible from him. Magaski didn't even react. Scant moments later he began to snore softly. I spent an hour staring at the ceiling before finally drowsiness won.
At the outset, sleep was elusive: Kelsey was determined to have a bedtime chat. She opened by lending me an old nightdress and explaining its history.
"I used to wear it in bed but later I tend to fall asleep with whatever I have on. That'll suit you, though. And don't worry, it's freshly washed. I just brought it this morning to the laundromat down the street. By the way, your hair is very nice."
"Thank you. Yours isn't too bad either."
"Oh, this?" She wrinkled up her nose, and picked at a few strands of her own hair. "I'm never crazy about it, but thanks anyway. I heard that in the twentieth century people didn't have much choice when it came to hair color, but there's your hair, and Saint Andromeda and Phoenix...sorry, what are their names, I forget?"
"Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki."
"Right. Well, sometime during the last century they invented this technology that enabled parents to choose what their kids were going to look like. That included hair color. I hate mine, though. Gives the impression that I'm weird, or have treated it wrongly. And every time I dyed it, it never came out right. I'm doomed to have this hair forever."
I could only nod at intervals before this avalanche.
"All your five Saints are Japanese, right? Maybe except Cygnus Hyoga - half Russian? I think I like Shun best, so far. He seems a very nice person. His brother Ikki is rather scary, but from what I heard, he's had a nasty past so that must be it. Shiryu looks like a bookworm. He and Gilland will make a cute pair."
I asked as tactfully as I could, "Gilland isn't very well, is he?"
Kelsey sighed. "He's never been very well. We were afraid when he wanted to go to the past and call you and your Saints. When I saw him in the living room, hale and breathing, I was so relieved I felt like hugging him. Magaski wouldn't like that, though. He often says - with good reason, I guess - that I gush like a spring and he often wishes he could put a stopper on me to shut me up proper. Back to Gilland. He makes up what his stamina lacks with a sound brain - he's the cleverest among us - and a steely will. He said he wouldn't quit until he could bring you and your Saints here. Speaking of which, is it true what the monuments in Sanctuary say?"
"What do they say?" I murmured, growing sleepy.
"Your Saints' statistics, resume, and personalities. Plus there are a few documents containing the information on whom you've battled against. Someone must have been diligent enough, or extremely fond of you, to honor you with posthumous tokens of appreciation like that. Or maybe it's just a miracle that all those data survived for two centuries."
"Um," I said, my eyes weighted down with sleep.
"Your Saints really do have armors like the one worn by yourself? They had to wear those armors all the time? Aren't they heavy?"
"Why not ask them tomorrow morning?"
"I will, make no mistake." She chattered on brightly for some more seconds, then stopped. "We are weak compared to your Saints."
This jolted me enough to banish sleep temporarily. "Well, I've seen your friends fight, and I don't think they do very badly."
"But we are," she insisted. "We didn't go through very hard training. We don't own armors. We never get pitted against Poseidon and Hades."
"You are, however, absolutely willing to defend Earth in Athena's name, even though you've never met her, don't even know if she exists. I will be proud to call you my warriors." I shifted a bit so that I could give her a smile. She was gazing at me solemnly, like a child about to be given administrations. "And I believe my ten Saints are going to work side by side to defeat the present enemy."
Kelsey beamed, good humor restored. "Lady Athena, you are the greatest woman I have ever met."
My smile became wry as I said, "Go to sleep, now. Tomorrow will be a busy day."
Shun excused himself, saying he wasn't sleepy yet and would see if Shiryu would be up for a conversation. I asked, would he mind if I joined them? There was a flash of reluctance which disappeared the next second; he gave me a sweet smile and said, he didn't see why not. My liking to my alter ego was increasing in leaps and bounds. He was such a kind individual one could not help but like him.
Shiryu sat near the door, eyes shut, feet folded, hands on his lap. He was surprised when Shun and I accosted him. "I thought everyone was asleep," he said, moving to one side to make room for us.
There was an awkward pause, which I tried to break. "Our world is very much different from yours, isn't it?"
"It sure is," Shun said. "We thought there'd be vehicles flying in the air, or an hourly flight to Jupiter, something like that. At least, that's what I counted for. I hadn't expected such a, well..."
"A barren landscape?" I emitted a laugh which suspiciously resembled a bleat. "Yes, I suppose it is."
"What happened, Desmo?" asked Shiryu. "What was it that turned Earth into such a desolate place?"
I leaned back, supported by both hands. "Someone triggered a nuclear war in the mid-twenty-first century. The biggest holocaust in the history of mankind. More than half of the earth's population perished, and the Polar Ice damn near drowned the survivors. People had to begin practically all over again. Compared to the situation then, we're actually faring a little better. But Earth isn't as crowded as it used to be either. There were pockets of settlements rather than countries scattered all over the planet, like this one. For convenience's sake we usually call it a town."
Shun and Shiryu digested this in silence. "Your fellow Saints," Shun said, probably trying to find a safer, less painful ground, "can you tell us more about them?"
"Starting from whom?"
"From you. If that's all right."
"Magaski would have said that no one could resist talking about himself." I snorted, but fondly. "If he's sometimes sarcastic, don't take it too hard on him. His parents got divorced when he was small. He lived with his father, who one day got killed by a band of burglars, and he saw it. Had to move from charity home to charity home most of his childhood. That's why he's glad to be a Saint, though he wouldn't in a million years admit it. That gives him an opportunity to prove that he's any good. Childhood scars never do die."
Shun was pensive. "That reminds me of my own Niisan."
"I read about it. His woman's death affected him cruelly, didn't it?"
"The monuments are thorough," Shiryu commented. "How much do they reveal about us anyhow?"
I shrugged. "A lot. Who'd you like to hear about next?"
"Ah, there's a subject dear to my heart." I chuckled. "But, for fear of boring you, I'll only say some things. My mother gave me up for adoption to an orphanage, but I stayed there until I was fourteen. After that, the road to Sainthood started. A thorny one, but worth it. Next topic?"
"Gilland," said Shun. "He isn't, pardon me, a very healthy man, but why did you let him go to our time? Seiya said not long after he arrived, he had to strike down a monster, which had probably been trailing him from this century, and fainted dead away for three days."
That astounded me. "Three days? That must've been bad." Gilland didn't say a word about it. If that wasn't typical. "He kept insisting you were the only ones who could well and truly rid Earth of this enemy once and for all. I employed every trick in the book to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't back down. Finally I let him leave."
"How did he do it? Go to the twentieth century, I mean?" Shun asked enthusiastically. Shiryu's eyes were also gleaming.
"You've got to ask Gilland. Because I'd had no idea either he could do that."
"I would," Shun promised himself solemnly. "What about Edan?"
I smiled. "Don't be fooled by his ladykiller appearance. It was a rare person who could survive his Phoenix Eternal Naphtha, as your brother's Phoenix Genma Ken almost always hit the mark. But he is an adorer of woman, who, he announces, is the most divine of creations. Lady Athena must have been a feast for his sight." Shun looked surprised, then giggled a little. Shiryu merely stared at me with sober black eyes.
"I never dreamed I'd ever see a female Saint Dragon," he said.
"She enjoys being a Saint, looks to me. How do you find her, Shiryu?"
"Full of spirit."
"With a heart to match," added Shun helpfully.
I glanced at the window above Shiryu. A cheesy moon hung wraithlike in the sky. "It's getting late, I'm going to bed. Good night. Shun, are you going to sleep here?" I sensed that Shun was not wholly willing to sleep in the same bed with someone he just met a couple of hours ago, even if - or especially that - it was a man.
"I think you're very hospitable to offer us beds," Shun said, and I knew he'd suppress whatever misgivings he had in the effort of being a good guest, and spend the night in my room.
"Thank you, Saint Andromeda."
Continued to When Shadows Hover