"Do you think we’ll ever retire, Shun?" Seiya twisted the tuning button this way and that in vain search of something even slightly reminiscent of heavy metal. Finally giving it up as a lost cause, he settled for a song by Hamada Mari and flopped back onto the bed.
I was frowning at my computer screen. My finger hovered over the delete key, touched it, retreated and clicked down at it. "You mean as Saints?"
"Yeah." Seiya reached out for the tuning button again. "We can’t be fighting forever. One day some new people will come along and they’re going to deserve our armors better than we ever do."
We were in my room. Niisan was out to I didn’t know where. I had been trying to outline the latest idea for my short story when Seiya showed up. He said being in the mansion alone was unbelievably boring – there was no one to chat with, and he couldn’t very well spend all his time exercising or, heaven forbid, accompanying Saori on a shopping spree or a social occasion. So here he was, hunting for some hardcore music while I struggled to put my vague inspiration into coherent words.
Somewhere deep inside, this made me glad. We were behaving like normal teenage boys, had been for the past several months or so. I could almost let myself think that the battles and injuries of the past were just that, the past. From now on we would be living happily – meaning peacefully – ever after.
His question brought me up short, though. Peace was only the time between wars. We still possessed our Cosmos, and that could only mean that another battle was in the near future, an invisible time bomb. I suppressed a sigh, refusing to have a pity party. "Yes, Seiya, I suppose so. But I don’t want to think about it just now. My biggest problem at present is how to write something that publishers won’t toss at the wastebasket at first sight."
"Persistence, Shun-kun." The Hamada Mari song was ending and Seiya waited eagerly for the next one. He waited in vain; it was yet another pop tune, this time by Eguchi Yosuke. "Persistence is what brought us to where we are. Otherwise we’d rot away in our training places."
"Hmm." I rubbed at my temple, assaulted by a sudden urge to just clear the screen and start anew. "Seiya…if we weren’t Saints, if we were just ordinary boys…do you think we’d live differently? You know, school, going to college, get a job and have a family?"
He sat up to face me. I already knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. "We are Saints and there is no use hoping for the other path."
"I’m not hoping to be normal. I was curious, that’s all." I shut down the computer, stretched and smiled. "But I love this peace. I don’t exactly like having to beat people up. You understand that, don’t you, Seiya?"
His answering smile made his face warm and boyish. I’d always forgot what a pleasant sight his smile was. "Well, Shun, it’s not my favorite activity either, but if I don’t do that they won’t move out of my way."
We laughed a little. It felt good; it felt refreshing. Maybe some divine power had arranged this peace – short-lived though it might be – for us, so that we could unwind a bit, be boys and not Saints. "Hey, your birthday is coming soon. What are you planning to do?"
He was somewhat startled. "My birthday? Yeah, I…it kinda slipped my mind. We don’t celebrate birthdays often. But I bet you remember all of ours, Shun."
"You win the bet." I clapped my hands. "If no enemy intrudes till then, why don’t we have a picnic? Call Shiryu and Hyoga first, though. We’ll drive to the mountains and have a real shenanigan. Won’t it be great?"
Seiya stuck out his hand. "It’s a deal."
I never did like downtown Tokyo – it was too crowded, too noisy sometimes, and during rush hours the traffic jam was annoying even for those not trapped in it. Today, however, it was quieter than usual. Colder, too. Hyoga would like it; he thrived in the cold. As for me, fire was the word. Fire was what fueled life and kept us going.
Idle days like this had been ample lately – much too ample, in fact. It was as though after all those megalomaniac deities there was no one left. Of course, our Cimmerian adventure and encounter with Aislinn didn’t count. We hadn’t seen much real action there. If Seiya didn’t get thrashed about at least ten times, then we weren’t up against a true enemy.
A woman was half-running toward me, looking distraught. She looked somehow familiar. I stared at her, trying to remember. Then it clicked into place: she was Seika, Seiya’s sister.
She spotted me and halted. "Oh, Ikki! I’m glad to see you!"
"Seika-neesan." I nodded.
"Have you seen Seiya?"
Wringing her hands, she threw a look over her shoulder. "Back there I saw someone – it was horrible! I was walking along, then there was this man lying on the sidewalk, bleeding – and his face…" She frowned up at me in plain distress. "His face – it was – blank."
For a moment I wasn’t sure if I’d heard her right. "Blank?"
"Yes! I know how crazy it sounds, but…" She drew a deep breath. "Blank as in there’s nothing in it. No eyes, no nose, no mouth – nothing. Just a smooth, empty surface. I called the ambulance from a telephone booth, then left. Didn’t even tell them my name. The ambulance should’ve got to the poor man by now."
This was too extraordinary, but why would she lie to me? "Can you show me where you found him?" I asked. New enemy or not, this might be an interesting diversion. Seika’s description made me think that this was a case better suited for the Ghostbusters, but a Saint of Athena might suffice for now.
"Come with me," she said, turning around. And stood rooted to the spot.
The street we were on was suddenly deserted. There was nobody else but the two of us. A creature the like of which I’d never seen before was stooping several meters away. It looked like a hideous cross between a crocodile and a man. A mouthful of crooked fangs gaped at us. It began to move forward, dragging a long tail behind him.
Seika gasped and almost swayed, but managed to keep herself upright. I called my Cosmos swiftly – it shouldn’t take much to blow away a thing like this. Reminded of Ghostbusters again, I summoned my flames and felt heat course throughout me. Seika stepped aside.
"Hou Yoku Ten Shou!" I released my power at the creature. It was gaining on us and collided with my attack. Roaring, it fell back, but to my utter astonishment my attack evaporated in the blink of an eye. The creature narrowed protruding black eyes at me and started to lunge.
A flash of red leaped out of nowhere and landed on the creature’s back. It roared once more, trying to shake itself free but to no avail – the newcomer clung to it like a leech. I watched, stunned: the flash of red was a wolf, a normal looking one but was completely red from the tips of its ears down to its swishing tail. As I tried to make sense of all this, the wolf sank its fangs into the creature’s neck and slimy bluish blood spurted out. The creature dropped to its knees, the wolf’s teeth still fastened on it. Beside me, Seika gave a tremulous cry. The wolf jumped to the ground and the creature slumped down, either unconscious or dead.
There was a low whistle. A man, his hair nearly the same shade as the wolf’s, emerged from around the corner. He was clad in a sweater, a faded denim jacket and a pair of jeans. The wolf flew through the air to perch at his shoulder, then vanished in a cloud of red vapor. The man threw me a glance, then strode off.
"Wait!" Finally finding my voice, I went after him, but Seika grabbed at my arm.
"Don’t, Ikki," she said, more commanding than pleading. "I don’t know what this is all about, and neither do you, but I do know it’s not something you can handle on your own…much as you may think otherwise." I almost glared at her before I realized she was right. "Let’s go home and discuss this with Seiya and Shun."
"But, Seika-neesan…" I started to argue, then didn’t. I remembered that Seiya’s first meeting with Gilland also had a monster element in it. Could this be another challenge for the Saints? At any rate, it couldn’t hurt to tell the others first. I still smarted, though; I hadn’t forgot how my attack hadn’t injured the creature in the slightest, while the mysterious wolf had had more success.
Monsters, wolf-men, blank-faced victims – this was not at all like our previous battles. I had a feeling that two sides or more were having a fight, and, though we weren’t involved in it, we got to see glimpses. Would that mean we would be involved too, eventually? I didn’t know, couldn’t guess.
I’d just arrived this morning at the mansion, and Ikki had given everyone a briefing on what had happened. If this was another enemy, all we needed was a challenge or a warning. Neither had come, however. The monster aside, Tokyo was living its ordinary busy life. There was still a possibility that more monsters were abroad, though – and struck down by the wolf-man without our knowledge.
From my room the view was extensive. I could see the front gate and the front yard without any obstacle. It was rather dreary, the season being winter. To me none could compare to the beauty of the Siberian landscape, where ice and snow were an integral part of the entire vista. Here things simply looked bare.
I had to squint to see more clearly – gosh, I hated how I depended on glasses. But I wasn’t going to touch them anymore. I had to live with this sight and glasses could – go to Hades.
A knock on the door lifted me out of my contemplations. "It’s not locked."
The door clicked open to reveal Shun’s face. "Hyoga, Seiya and I are going to town, since he’s convinced he’ll find more clues there. Are you coming with us?"
I nodded. "Why not? I surely won’t get anywhere just sitting here. Are Shiryu and Ikki coming too?"
"Shiryu is. I don’t know about Niisan. He’s been off earlier. Probably wants to do his own searching."
"We should keep our Cloths within yelling distance while we’re out there. These creatures seem to be tough."
He smiled. "That doesn’t deter Seiya." Then, hesitatingly, "Can I ask you something?"
His smile turned to one of shyness. "This is a really silly question, but I was wondering…if you’re going to ditch your glasses? You know, for good? You’ve never worn them again and I don’t suppose you’ll ever wear them in a battle." When I stared, he hastily added, "Skip it, I’m being nosy."
"Shun?" He stopped. "You are right. You’re absolutely right. In fact, I’ll ditch them right this minute." I went to the desk and slid open the bottom drawer, where I’d been keeping my glasses after we returned from Cimmeria. I snatched it up and it flew at the wastebasket. "Better?"
This time his smile was bright. "Much. We’ll wait for you downstairs."
So much for the birthday trip to the mountain, I thought as the four of us strolled along the street, keeping our Cosmos sensor at the ready. Not that I was particularly looking forward to that trip, but I had a sneaky feeling that the present enemy waited until it was my turn to have a birthday before striking. Why didn’t it disturb Ikki’s birthday, for instance? I bet he didn’t even remember when his birthday was, let alone ever celebrated it.
No monster of red wolf was visible so far. We walked on, conscious of the occasional glance some passersby gave us. Hyoga was dressed in his usual sleeveless shirt and black leggings, oblivious to the cold. He refused to wear a coat only for the sake of appearance. In my Cloth I wouldn’t be so susceptible to the ten below zero temperature, but I didn’t fancy roaming the streets of Tokyo in a Cloth. So, except Hyoga, we were clad in jumpers which, while not too thick, not thin enough to invite curiosity either.
The man with the wolf – now who was he? If he should turn out to be an enemy, he was en enemy worth fighting. Was he the main enemy, or just a minion? If the latter, who did he serve? First things first: we had to locate him and pin him down for questioning, then we could be sure.
As though reading my mind, Shun said, "The red-haired man Niisan saw – do you think he’s still in this city, or has he gone someplace else?"
"If there are still monsters, he won’t be going anywhere," Shiryu said calmly.
"So he’s some sort of a monster-exterminator." Out of the tail of my eye I noticed a girl about to cross the street, but hampered by the furious flow of traffic. Both Ikki and Neesan had mentioned that when they came across the blank-faced man and the monster, the street was empty all of a sudden. Would we find what we were looking for in a less busy section of the city?
Shiryu came to a halt, brows drawn down in concentration. "Listen."
We listened. Sounds were abating rapidly around us and passersby were thinning out fast. Soon we were the only people left here. Or were we? I looked back at the girl who was about to cross the street. She was still there, but vehicles were no longer thronging the road. I was wondering why she hadn’t vanished along with the others when Hyoga shouted, "There!"
My head jerked up. Standing against the winter sky was some winged creature, poised over the rooftop of a now abandoned café. It swooped down on us, ragged wings spread out. In looks he didn’t differ much from Ikki’s description of the monster attacking him.
"Watch out!" We dived in unison as the thing swept past us, flattening ourselves to the ground. Cosmos ignited inside me and I summoned my Cloth voicelessly. I could feel my brothers doing likewise. The creature was hovering above us like some malevolent shadow as we leaped to our feet.
Before our Cloths could reach us, there was a highballing shot of lilac light which pirouetted and slammed into the creature – all that happening in no more than a second. It uttered a piercing scream and dropped limply on the pavement, unmoving. I swung around in time to see the girl, hand extended forward. Swirls of lilac danced about her wrist. She caught my eye, then dashed off.
"Wait!" I cried, running after her. "Hey, you! Wait!" A pattering of footfalls in my wake told me the others were joining the chase. I wasn’t going to lose her like Ikki lost the red-haired man – besides, I thought I could outrun her if I really wanted to. Another exterminator she might be, but her speed was that of an ordinary person. If she didn’t zap up to light speed, I could catch up with her, and so could the others.
I wasn’t wrong; in about a hundred meters or so I managed to block her. She stopped and gazed at me warily. Shiryu, Hyoga and Shun were forming a half-circle behind her. I noticed again that the street was still uncannily deserted.
"Hey, guys," the girl said. She spoke English with an American accent – in fact, she looked totally American, with dark blond hair growing past her shoulders, leaf green cardigan, denims and a pair of Keds. "Four against one – that’s not what I call a fair match."
"We’re not going to gang up on you," Shun said. The girl looked at him, brown eyes wide. "We just want to ask a couple of questions."
"Okay, what questions?" She was still cautious, but at least she wasn’t hostile.
"Who are you, for a start?" Hyoga spoke up.
She crossed her arms on her chest, chin raised defiantly. "That depends. Why do you need to know? You think I’m going to wreck Tokyo or something? Well, I’m not. I’m just here to take care of a private business, then I’ll be off. Now, who are you?" She wasn’t daunted at all, which indicated she found us no direct threat. Not yet, at least.
"We are Saints of Athena," said Shiryu.
"Saints, huh?" She blinked and studied us with more interest. "What does a Saint do? I mean, you don’t look much like saints in a church."
"A Saint," I said with exaggerated patience, "is a protector of Athena."
"Athena? That Grecian tomboy?"
Hearing Saori thus referred to made me want to grin, but didn’t. The girl was amiable and easygoing, but we still didn’t know who she really was. It wouldn’t be wise to lower our guard. "Athena protects Earth, and we protect her. Now it’s your turn, smartmouth – what are you doing in Tokyo, and where the hell do those monsters come from?" I wasn’t going to cut her any slack.
Her eyes scoured us pensively. "So you’re protectors. Hmm." She wrinkled up her nose and I suddenly saw how very young she was. Maybe even younger than me. "Well, I’m a protector too, but it’s not Earth I have to tend to. And these monsters escaped here, so I’ve got to hunt them. Sorry to cause you inconvenience. I’ll mow ‘em down pronto and leave you in peace. Bye."
"Just a minute." She glanced at Shiryu. Shiryu wasn’t smiling but his tone was pacifying. "We’d like to assist you, if we may. After all, this is our city and we too are responsible for it. Would you mind if we cooperate? That way, you can do your work faster and we may be allies, if not friends."
She appeared to think this over. "I don’t know…maybe. Where do you guys live?"
"Ask for the Kido mansion."
"Kido mansion. Got it. I’ll be there first thing tomorrow." She nodded at us and left. As she disappeared around a corner, the hum of vehicles filled the chilly air once more. People began to drift by, some leisurely, some hurriedly.
This was too much. "Come on, let’s go home," I said, and marched off without waiting for a reply.
For me, there had never been a more breathtaking sight than a canopy of stars in a clear night. Stars were one of my childhood memories, and simply staring at them was enough to help me attain calm. I tried it again tonight, sitting on my balcony with a cup of hot chrysanthemum tea on the table to stargaze. It was working: I could feel my tension recede to give way to logic. I sipped at the tea. My lips were nearly scalded, so I put the cup away. I wondered idly who prepared it – certainly not Tatsumi.
So other protectors – two, at least – were coming here. This had never happened before. Enemies usually wanted to challenge us in any place other than the streets of Tokyo. From one point of view, it was rather advantageous, since we’d be fighting in our own territory. On the other hand, Tokyo streets weren’t exactly my idea of a proper battle scene. Innocent people could get hurt, and we wouldn’t be moving as freely.
A movement behind my chair made me twist slightly to see who it was. "Am I disturbing you?" Hyoga said.
"No." I couldn’t offer him a seat, since mine was the only one here. He solved my dilemma by going over to the railing and sitting there. For a while neither of us spoke.
I didn’t remember ever having a private conversation with any of my Saints. Usually we talked or argued about oncoming enemies, how to deal with them, and so on. Never did we chat like…well, like friends. Were we friends? I knew we were supposed to be brothers and sister, but did brothers and sister usually chat about inconsequential, personal stuff? Having been an only child for my whole life, I couldn’t say.
"So, this girl said she was coming tomorrow?" I said, trying to make small talk, then wished I’d shut up. Hyoga might want peace and quiet here.
"Yes. She looks all right to me, but we’ve only heard one side of the story, and it’s incomplete too. From her attitude I gather that all she wants is kill all the monsters and return to her own world…There are so many different worlds out there, Saori-san. She talks like an American but she doesn’t seem to have come from America – not America as we know it anyway. Can there be another Earth somewhere with different history and people?"
"There may be." I cleared my throat diffidently. "Hyoga – may I ask you something?"
He gave a snort. "You’re the second person who says so to me today. What is it?"
"Siberia." At that he turned to me, crystal blue eyes gone triangular. "Do you…mind being away from it and having to stay here, do your job as a Saint? I know you’d much rather be there."
"Saori-san, that’s a weird question. I’m a Saint and I have to do what a Saint has to do. If not, where would we be?" He peered at me. "Anyway why are you so interested? You never seemed to care what we felt before. All that mattered is that we got home from battles with as little damage as possible."
I blushed; I’d forgot Hyoga could be as bluntly straightforward as Ikki. "Well, aren’t we defending the earth together?" I said, a bit on the defensive. "Or do you think you’re defending Athena only?"
One corner of his mouth lifted minutely. "Can I be frank?"
I dreaded what would come next, but I said, "Yes."
He leaned backward, and the night wind stirred his blond hair. "Seiya used to think of you as a spoiled brat."
"That’s nothing new to me," I riposted immediately, and was annoyed to hear the tartness in my tone.
"But he doesn’t now, not as fervently at least," he continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. "To him you are Athena, and he will transcend even death for your sake. As for the rest of us…well, for myself I can tell you that I never did think much of you. But you were willing to sacrifice yourself for us, and we’d do the same for you. So we’re even. We defend Athena – you, that is – but you will also stand by us. And that’s all there is to it. Isn’t it?"
"But I asked you whether you miss Siberia."
"I do. But my duty as a Saint is more important. My mother would understand that. She’d want to see me live up to my Sainthood." Hyoga slid off the railing. "If there’s nothing else, I’m going to bed. Good evening, Saori-san."
After taking a shower, I went to the dining room. Everyone was already there – Seiya, Shiryu, Hyoga, and Shun – with the servants moving about to serve breakfast. I took the chair at the head of the table.
"Where’s Seika-neesan?" I asked.
"Since I’m staying here, she offers to stay in my house, and keep it clean," said Shun. "You’ve got the most wonderful sister, Seiya."
"Don’t I know that." Seiya was buttering his toast – today’s breakfast was an English one. I could tell that Shiryu wasn’t too keen on European menu, but was too well-mannered to even hint at it. "Do you suppose she’ll show up – the girl?"
"I believe she will," Hyoga said. "If appearances are anything to go by, she’s an honest person."
"Whatever else she may be we’ll still have to be careful." Seiya bit off half the toast. "She could bring down a monster in a single blow while we didn’t even dent its hide."
"Or maybe it’s because we weren’t wearing our Cloths," Shun supplied.
"Maybe." This didn’t seem to appeal much to Seiya. Obviously he was still certain Cloths had nothing to do with their inability to defeat the monster.
Tatsumi appeared and bowed at me. "Excuse me, Saori-sama, two people wish to see you."
All our attention zeroed in on him. "What people?" Only two of them? Then the girl and the red-haired man were our only guests.
"A young lady and a gentleman. They said they are here to meet the Saints and Athena."
We had no more doubts. "Please show them in, Tatsumi."
"Very well, Saori-sama." Tatsumi bowed himself out.
"Let’s go!" Seiya jumped up, causing his chair to lean back alarmingly.
"Later, Seiya," I said sternly. "Finish your meal first."
It was clear from Seiya’s expression that he considered I was losing my marbles, but he wasn’t in an argumentative mood. "Yes, Mother," he grumbled and sat down again reluctantly. I caught Shun trying to hide a smile and felt my own tug at my mouth.
"We’re here to see the Saints – and Athena, if she is available."
The tall bald man nodded with the bland courtesy peculiar to butlers. "Who shall I say come calling?"
Agent Mulder and Scully from the FBI, I was tempted to retort. "They’re expecting us," I said, not wanting to volunteer untimely information. "Just tell them we’re here."
He returned a few minutes later, and ushered us in. After making sure we were seated, he left. We sat a little uncomfortably, and could only nod when a maid sailed in with a tray of hot tea. I was acutely aware that this house, besides being huge, was also tastefully and richly furnished. So this was what Saints earned for protecting Earth.
The two guards at the front gate had apparently been informed about us, because they just waved us through. Walking across the enormous garden to the front door, I was struck by the wealth on display here. Being Saints seemed to be a lucrative business.
After several moments, there were approaching footsteps and somebody entered. It was a young woman, with long purple hair and the biggest pair of breasts I had ever seen on a girl that age. I could almost hear my companion’s eyeballs pop out of his sockets. I didn’t blame him; I was sort of agog myself. The young woman bowed at us, Japanese-fashion, and we, feeling like brutes, hastily rose to bow back.
"I’m Athena," she said. "May I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance?"
The four men I’d met yesterday filed in. They introduced themselves: the brown-haired one was Seiya, the Chinese-looking one was Shiryu, the Brad Pitt type was Hyoga, and the green-haired one, whom I’d thought of as a girl, was called Shun. Athena here went by the name of Saori.
"My name is Ann Lavesque," I said – I could never resist telling my surname. It was my heritage. "And my friend is Fenris."
They seemed startled. "Fenris?" Shiryu eyed Fenris sharply.
"Yes. Why?" Fenris looked back unblinkingly.
"Nothing." Shiryu took a deep breath. "I once fought with someone called Fenrir, and I suppose Fenris is a variation of Fenrir. You are able to summon wolves too, I daresay?"
"Only one." Fenris wasn’t about to be offended. "And I don’t think I’ll ever fight you."
"Okay," Seiya cut in. This guy was the most impatient of the lot, and I guessed the rashest as well. "Who are you two, what do you want here, and where have all those monsters come from?"
"Um. Well." I felt like scratching my head. "It’s a long story. But in a nutshell, it’s like this. We’re from this country, Flathinnis. It’s on another sphere, so don’t bother looking it up in a map. Er…am I making sense?"
There was a collective nod. At least I wouldn’t have to explain about another worlds.
"Yeah, okay, there’s this person called Aleron. He tried to take over Flathinnis, sort of, but didn’t make it. So he scooted off to Earth, and as you’ve seen for yourselves, he’s making a mess here."
Seiya was about to interrupt, but Shiryu got there first. "When the monsters appear, the street is suddenly empty. And Seiya’s sister saw a man with a blank face a couple of days ago."
I frowned. The second part was new to me. "Blank?"
"So you don’t know about that?" Shun asked. His voice was gentle, but not effeminate. Thank goodness for small mercies. I hated effeminate men. "But the monsters are Aleron’s soldiers?"
"Yup. They listen to him, anyway. And every time a monster is going to corner a victim, it creates some kind of a…I call it the invisible boundary. It means that the monster and the victim are separated from the rest of its surroundings in an area where only the two of them exist. Other people can pass them by without knowing they’re there. Can you follow me? I’m not very good at explaining things."
The Saints and Athena voiced an affirmative. "But why can’t we even graze it, and you can beat them in one stroke?" said Hyoga.
"Hmm…that one’s a little harder." I pondered on this. "Maybe because an invisible boundary is like a black hole, it sucks everything that contains matter. Something like that. But somehow my power and Fenris’ defy that black hole. Don’t ask me why. Chances are, it’s because we and the monsters come from a world other than this one, and only things from other worlds survive that black hole. That’s the most I can come up with."
Seiya grunted, no doubt finding my explanation unsatisfactory. I didn’t find it satisfactory either.
"This Aleron," Shiryu was saying, "is he from Flathinnis, or from another place?"
"From another place," I replied. "Never saw him in Flathinnis before, at any rate."
Athena got up. "Well, since we are allies, why don’t you stay here and let us help you? More hands make light the work."
I thought of Fenris’ and my present accommodation, a fifth-class motel where water was a luxury. "Thank you."
Seiya was protesting, "We don’t know whether they’re telling the truth…" The boy must learn to be subtler.
"They are," Hyoga said.
"How can you tell?" Seiya demanded.
"Gut feeling," answered Hyoga calmly. "Or are you thinking they’re on the same team as the monsters and playing spies now?"
"Hey, that’s a slur," I said. "We are not spies."
"I’m sure you’re not," Athena said. "I’ll have the servants prepare for your rooms." She got to her feet. "Since you’ll be spending your time here, why don’t we go to my study? I’ll fill you in about the Saints."
"You believe them?" Seiya asked, somewhat incredulously. "To me it’s like our confrontation with Kronos – someone comes along and gives a story that sounds solid but actually got holes in it. No, these people have things up their sleeves."
I looked at him, mildly exasperated. "Seiya, doesn’t it occur to you that there are people who tell the truth?"
Ann and Fenris were in Saori’s study, where she was presumably giving them a verbal sketch about Athena and her Saints. Seiya had asked the rest of us to his room to discuss this development.
"Why would they lie to us, Seiya?" asked Shun.
"To learn of our weakness, for one thing. For another, those monsters might be their own. They use them as a ruse to win our trust."
"Saint Seiya is getting paranoid." Hyoga leaned back in his chair. "It’s not like you to be so suspicious."
It was Seiya’s turn to look exasperated. "Well, I’m sorry, but we’ve been duped before. That ought to teach us something. And I’m not taking chances, especially since we are here and not in some far-flung world. Look at that girl Ann, for example. She claims she and Fenris are from this world called Flathinnis. But she looks American, dressed like an American…"
"Which is what she should do," I said. "If she dresses like a native of Flathinnis – whose apparel differs from us, I gather – she will attract a crowd."
"It’s not her clothes so much as her attitude that gnaws at me. She doesn’t look like a person of another world trying to blend in with this one. She looks perfectly at ease with her appearance – your regular American girl. But she’s not supposed to, is she, if she comes from, as she terms it, another sphere?"
The others digested this. "I’m sure there’s a logical explanation," Shun said at length.
"Shun, I wish you wouldn’t believe the best of everybody all the time."
He shook his head. "I’m not being gullible or naïve, Seiya. I’m simply listening to my instinct. And my instinct tells me these people aren’t lying."
"Yeah, well." Seiya heaved a sigh. "Maybe it’s those monsters bugging me the most. You know that the only ones who can strike them down are those two. Who’s going to guarantee they’re not going to create an invisible boundary where we can’t use our Cosmos? We’ll be easy preys then."
I put a hand on his shoulder. "Would you give them a chance – wait for a day or two and see what will turn up next?"
Seiya considered this. "Okay. But I hope we’ll get to see this person they call Aleron in the flesh. Just to make sure they’re not making it all up."
If breakfast had been filled with anticipation, dinner was somewhat strained. For us Saints, at least – Ann was seemingly oblivious to the unnaturally quiet atmosphere. She ate cheerfully and enthusiastically, as if it were her first decent meal in years. Fenris was no less self-possessed. Seiya kept watching them secretly, but if they noticed, they didn’t show it.
After dinner I thought I would like to choose a book to skim through before going to bed. Shun and Hyoga had gone to watch television, and I guessed Seiya must be practicing on his guitar. I wondered briefly if Ann and Fenris stayed in the same room. They did not even remotely look like lovers, but that did not mean they weren’t.
The mansion had an enormous library, housing a vast collection of books. Seiya didn’t like the library, saying that simply seeing so many books all in one place smothered him. As for me, it was the only room that I liked in the entire mansion. The doors were thick and solid, preventing too much sound from the outside from penetrating, and the lamps were more than adequate.
To my surprise, Ann was already there when I entered. She was drifting around, sparkling eyes scanning the book spines.
"Athena says I can have a look," she said as I closed the door behind me. "Gosh, these books! They’ll last me a lifetime. If only I could carry them back with me to Flathinnis! Do you think books will survive interdimensional trips?"
"You like to read?" I said, going over to the history section.
"Oh, yeah! Would you believe it, I sometimes even read those Victorian guys, you know, Dickens, the Brontë sisters. Of course I usually go for a more modern stuff. I kind of like Tom Wolfe. John Irving is sometimes disturbing but he’s good."
I left the history section to stand in front of her. She stared inquiringly back at me. "Those writers’ works are also available in Flathinnis?" I asked.
I had expected her to be flustered, upset even. Instead, she grinned. "Tell you what, I didn’t originally come from Flathinnis. Before I got there, I lived right here on planet earth. I was snatched off to Flathinnis – on my sixteenth birthday, in 1997 that was, or will be, since this isn’t 1997 yet – and told I was chosen to be a protector there. So that’s what I’ve been doing. You have no idea how I miss earthly books."
"Really?" That explained her American accent and looks. "You must be missing your family."
"Hmm. My parents died when I was small and I lived with my uncle. Sometimes I think about him and my cousins, Thomas and Dee. I wonder how they’re doing."
So in a way she had lost a family too, and that might be harder for her than for us. At least we had never had a family, therefore we couldn’t tell the difference. "How long have you lived in Flathinnis?" I did not mean to pry, but it was better to know the two strangers better.
"A couple of months. Not so long anyway." She pulled out a book at random and flipped through it. Her voice had become quieter. "Sometimes I ask myself if it’s worth it. From what Athena told us, you Saints got a really rough life. But you never regret it. I wish I could be like that. I miss my previous life – damn it, I even miss school…" She snapped the book shut. "And I want to go to college and major in intercultural studies, something like that. But I don’t think it’s possible now." Then she brightened up visibly. "Hey, forget it. I was just feeling sorry for myself. So, who are your favorite authors?"
"Ancient ones. You wouldn’t be interested."
She giggled. "Socrates, guys like that? Brr. Plutarch is tolerable, but those Greeks…of course, you are Grecian Saints so you may feel some kinship with them."
"What is Flathinnis like? As an ex-earthling, you may have your own point of view."
"It’s, well, it’s like a storybook really. You know, a bit like the Middle Age, where magic works. At first I thought it was awesome, but novelties wear off." She returned the book to the shelf.
"We Saints protect Athena. Who are you protecting?"
"The land itself. At least, we’re supposed to hold it in top priority. Fenris and I aren’t the only protectors – there should be five of us, called the Five Corners – I know it sounds silly, but it won’t after you get used to it – but there are only four left, so Four Corners it is now. The other two are in Flathinnis – who knows, something else may happen other than Aleron – and they’re brothers. The older one is like you. He’s a Dragon, too. A very nice guy."
I executed a bow. "I take it as a compliment. There are supposed to be five Saints here, as well. But the fifth Saint likes to be on his own. He’s not very gregarious. What about the Flathinnis ruler – there must be a king or some sort?"
Ann suddenly diverted her eyes. "We have a ruler, yeah."
I translated her reluctance as a sign that she wasn’t too fond of the ruler, or simply was in no mood to discuss him. "So, how does it feel, being back to Earth?"
The cloud across her expression blew away. "Fantastic! Of course, if it was 1997 now it’d be much better, but I’m not complaining. I miss American TV, despite what people say about them, and I don’t dig Japanese TV too much." A small frown creased her brow. "It’s funny about you Saints – I don’t recall ever having heard of you."
"Probably this is a slightly different Earth from the one you used to inhabit."
"That’s possible. Hey, since you’re here, why don’t we discuss books? Would you mind? You do read other works than Socrates, right?"
Continued to Trust