(A/N: Okay, I know you hate me. But keep on reading please. It's been an entire month since I last updated, and I know I haven't been that diligent in the last few updates, but I have a lot of things going on. But rest assured, I will not be dropping TR, and as proof of that here's Act 13, the year-ender special of Tsubasa Reverse. Read and review please!)


TSUBASA REVERSE

Act 13 – Lament of Blood


The gate guard scratched coal on Nive's forehead. "Be welcome to Far's Cairn," he said as the wooden gates of the village swung open. Above and behind the settlement the cobalt peaks of the Blue Fangs reared high and forbidding, forever wreathed in clouds and its shoulders shining from layers of snow.

Nive nodded and led Liera, who was hunched as if a crone and wearing a cowl over her head, and they passed uneventfully to the only passage through the Blue Fangs for a hundred miles, the small mining community of Far's Cairn. Liera told him that the town was once a major site of nithecite crystals, which were traded to the Elven kingdoms to find their uses as power sources of their ingenious machines. The nithecite deposit of this area had long since dried up, though, which explained the dead 'outer town' fringing the small village itself. The gate guards said it was called Near's Cairn, a remnant of the time when both Cairns were one entire city enjoying a progress they had thought to be eternal. Now, nothing remained of Near's Cairn except for abandoned, dilapidated homes, buried under decades of snow.

Nive had been interested in nithecite, but even Liera herself didn't know all its applications. All she knew was that nithecite, or "snow diamond" as it was commonly known, powered those crawling Ironclads they've caught a glimpse of at Moorstone. She said that most of the nithecite mines of the Outer Kingdoms had already been depleted, but it was rumored that Harmonia's were still turning up thousands of stones a year. Recently though, Liera discovered that the current governor of this town had hired Deimos slaves from Nevertine City's slave pens, and set them to work without pay and without hope underneath the town, among the scorching forges and molten iron and dark labyrinths.

He fingered the coal impression on his forehead. "Very peculiar practice," he remarked in a low voice.

Liera only shrugged. She had explained that marking a visitor with coal on the forehead was a precaution against the Deimos, who had horns on theirs. Liera possessed one, so she masqueraded as a bent, old woman, who in Far's Cairn were either thought to be quite harmless or completely ignored.

"So where to?" Nive asked as they passed children chasing one another, weaving through the throng of people haggling, buying, talking, and walking. Their carefree, small voices brought welcome to his heart more than the perfunctory speech of the gate guard behind them. Their attitudes permeated the snowy gloom of the city like a ray of light in a dungeon.

"Look for the Black Diamond Inn," she replied. "I know someone there."

Nive nodded, and held Liera's hand as they paced through the crowd. They were walking along the main street, and shops and stalls of every imaginable size and variety lined the sidewalks. Nive passed a cobbler, a blacksmith idling by his forge for lack of custom, a tailor's shop, a chandler with a run-down store, and even two priests who went in on a small chapel beside a glass-blower's shop. He saw a lice-ridden beggar was huddling under his tattered cloak, near a bridge spanning a river of waste, its waters green and black from the refuse of the mining area, while a baker's apprentice was shouting in front of a bakery, holding samples of pastries from his master but finding none that took interest.

Nive's stomach growled, and he remembered that he hadn't eaten since his battle with Fyreon at the Crystal Sea. Liera darted a look of pure hate at him. "I'm hungry," he said simply.

"You've gotten by two days without eating," Liera pointed out. "What are a few more hours to you?"

Nive only shrugged and led her towards the baker boy, who spotted them instantly. His eyes immediately registered a look of hope that even Liera's heart softened, seeing that the boy looked to be famished; stick-thin arms came out of the ragged sleeves, and straw-brittle hair peeked out of his hood.

"What are you offering?" Nive inquired, glancing over the frosted glass window of the baker. He couldn't see any sign of activity inside, although there was a sign hung on the door, indicating that the shop was open for business.

"Are you going to buy?" The boy's pointed question startled Nive.

"I asked, didn't I?" Nive reached for an inside pocket sewn behind his coat, and producing a small pouch that tinkled as he shook it. "Fat coppers and some silvers. We're starving."

The boy glared at him before continuing, swatting his arm away. "We… we have barley bread," he begun. "Oatcakes, nut bread, honey bread and—"

Before Nive had known it the boy had disappeared right in front of him, and his mouth hung open at the child's vanishing. "Where the—"

He felt something go past, like the wake of a released arrow, and the pouch fled from his hand as if borne by an invisible wind. The baffled former Judge could only gape as their only remaining coin floated and sped away. Thus it was a shock when Liera tugged at him, urging him to go and pursue the thief before he was lost in the crowd forever.

"I can see him," Liera hissed as they ran, weaving through the multitude like a needle on a tapestry. "Follow me!"

"How… What…"

"That boy is a Deimos, like me," she replied, taking care not to raise her voice even if she was frustrated at Nive's ignorance. "He's a Magister-type Deimos, someone who can use Azoth. What he demonstrated before you is the Azoth of Transparency."

"What?" Nive was astounded.

"The Azoth of Transparency enables him to vanish from the sight and hand of a person whom he had touched, which means you can't see or touch him," she explained. "You remember, didn't you, when he pushed your arm away?"

Nive cursed. "Why didn't you tell me that earlier before I approached the boy?"

"I can't see Azoth abilities," Liera admitted. "Only Magisters can do that."

Nive cursed again. "Whatever. I need that purse back."

The boy looked behind him and registered a look of terror, and scrambled right to an alleyway filled with crates and broken pottery, smashing more and more things in his flight. Passersby ogled at the sudden confusion, and Liera whirled Nive about. "I'll go around and catch him ahead, you stay here!"

Nive nodded. "Make it quick, I'm hungry."

Liera bounded inside the alley, which was so narrow it was always in the shadow of the two buildings shouldering it, a barber's shop and a brothel. He saw Liera leap to the roof of the latter, then sprinted ahead so fast her cloak rippled behind her like a flag against a gale. He approached the alleyway and was about to lean on the wall when two men in what looked like uniforms of the town watch tapped his shoulder.

"Trouble?" asked one.

Nive shrugged. "Someone stole my money."

The other guffawed, but Nive was past caring. "Was it a boy of this height?" The officer gestured to just below his chest.

"Just about." Nive cocked his thumb to the narrow lane. "He went there. If you can give me back my cash, I'd see that you're well compensated."

The officer stared at him for a while, and finally spoke. "We will catch the Black Demon, you stay here."

Nive shrugged, wondering if the child was a thief of well-known ill repute. "Suit yourselves."

As the watchmen hurried away he sighed. Indeed, it did not occur to me that you could be hoodwinked by a mere child, the voice inside him said, amused.

"Shut up," he said. An onlooker glanced at him oddly.

A few minutes later, when he had grown too impatient to wait, Nive began to follow Liera when he heard a commotion just up ahead, behind the tunnel-like alleyway, with rags hanging from clotheslines and ruined, wooden balconies that once peered out of shuttered windows. He ran when he heard the uproar, his feet splashing through slush of melted snow and mud, and cursed when droplets sprayed on his white coat.

He was surprised when Liera, still wearing that travel-stained cloak, returned scurrying towards the mouth of the alleyway, panting and her breath misting up in front of her face. Her entire head remained hidden inside her cowl, but Nive sensed great anger and urgency in her as she ran for him.

"Liera, what's—"

He was cut off when she grasped his wrist and led him away, her grip hard that it almost hurt. "I can't get the purse back."

"What the hell? How are we going to eat?" Nive asked her incredulously as he let himself be led through the dark alley.

"The watch took him before I could get to him," she replied. "They'd know I'm a Deimos too if I insist on apprehending the boy."

"I'm hungry, you know. What are we going to fill our bellies with?"

Liera paused and faced him. "I know a way. The Deimos here are persecuted; this boy they call the Black Demon will be detained in a cell to await execution tonight."

"I don't care. I just need the purse."

"You don't understand," Liera insisted. "Our chance is while he's being imprisoned. We can sneak past the guards—their guards here are anything but diligent—take him, and free him or kill him as you see fit."

Nive took his arm away from her. "Are you condoning the murder of a child?"

Liera smiled tiredly at him. "And yet you said you don't care if he's executed."

"I don't want to soil my hands." He heaved a sigh and looked out the alley. "How sure are we that these watchmen didn't just take the money?"

Liera shook her head. "The only way to make certain is to free the boy. We can't find anything out by standing here."

He shot a dubious look at her, but finally nodded. "I suppose so."

It was thankfully just a few hours to sunset then, and they were able to find the Black Diamond Inn in the space of half an hour. Liera paid for it with being known—or rather, Nive thought, coercion—and the sweating innkeeper gave them a room with a single bed. Liera was adamant that men sleep on the floor, while Nive maintained that they could share the mattress as he wouldn't do anything to stain her chastity.

"Men are such beasts," she had remarked. In the end, much to their chagrin, they ended up placing the mattress on the floor, which Liera instructed Nive to dust bed lice from. Nive complained that the bed was there for the taking, but the female Deimos banned any of them from taking advantage of the empty bed.

Italso did not occur to me that you would be ordered around by a woman, the voice resonated inside him again. The voice sounded like laughing.

Nive ignored it this time.

When the sun had set Nive rose and stretched, feeling awfully wretched, and walked to the window. He stared out of the gathering darkness, looking out to the east, where in the distance he could imagine the Crystal Sea shimmering and glittering like a carpet of diamonds. He was disturbed from his reverie when Liera came in through the door.

She sighed. "Change of plans."

Nive's jaw dropped as he whirled about. "What? I thought we were going to—"

"We will." She sat on the bed. "We're going to stop the execution."

He just stared at her, dumbstruck.

"I'm a Deimos, Nive. I can't just stand around and do nothing while my fellowmen are being butchered like pigs for wrongs that humans do naturally as breathing."

"I can understand that the execution for thievery is a little… inappropriate, but we can't do anything about it," Nive said. "It's this town's tradition. It's like what you said, scratching coal on our forehead—"

"Their tradition was made solely for men," she interrupted. "Deimos are nothing but insects to them. The Deimos here don't have rights; they're more like furniture to be destroyed at will. For them, a chair that hurts a person gets broken down."

"I want no part of this." He waved her away and went to the window. "If you want to play the hero, go ahead and die by yourself. I have a mission and I cannot die before I fulfill it."

"Are you just going to leave a child to be killed because of a misguided—"

"It's the law here," he said. "If by execution their peace is maintained, then we do not have any right to intrude on whatever they do."

"Then you believe that cruelty and injustice gives peace?"

He shrugged. "Sometimes intimidation has its uses."

"Intimidation is a cheap method to gain a people's allegiance quickly," she said, her voice rising. "Do you really believe that by keeping the public in fear you would gain their trust and loyalty?"

"It is beside the point, Liera." Nive faced her. "We cannot destroy an existing societal structure just because it is convenient for us, or that it conflicts against our moral upbringing, because it would shatter everything these people believed in." He sighed and looked away. "Do you think I was exiled for nothing…?"

Liera just stared at him. "Whatever. I'll go. I'll rescue the child, or die trying."

He turned his back to her and waved her away. "You're out of your mind. Go."

Liera tightened her fists and clenched her jaw, keeping her temper in check. "I can't believe it."

He was silent.

"Then find whatever it is that you seek alone." With that she walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her. As the sound of her footsteps receded Nive whispered something as he faced the darkness, and shook his head.


The execution was to take place at the Crow's Gibbet, a section of the town dominated by six phallic-shaped stones rising as high as a building, surrounding a roughly circular pit bored into the ground. When Liera arrived a fair-sized crowd was already milling around the area, seemingly bored with their lives and looking for entertainment to pass the night.

She looked up. The Crow's Gibbet fronted the bleak Far's Prison, where offenders mostly of Deimos blood were kept until their execution. A platform was built atop and between the spiked merlons that crowned the building, where now two guards held the manacled young Deimos between them. The flag of the town hung limp from their staves, and she felt heat rising inside her, but resolved to act at the last minute. She moved closer, and saw that the pit was an opening to the molten iron forge underneath the city, where a number of Deimos slaves toiled to their deaths without hope of redemption.

Liera noticed that the crowd was becoming denser, and she had to shoulder through a press of people trying to get the best view of their sport. They were also becoming more and more unruly as well; people were beginning to demand the start of the execution, while others laughed, chortled, boasted. From the snippets of conversation she heard as she traversed the deepening sea of people of all sizes and stench, the child they caught was the Black Demon, the infamous thief of Far's Cairn that nobody had been able to capture until now. Liera almost thrashed out when she heard that the execution involved dropping the child through that pit straight to the river of fire below, but acting too soon may prove to be disadvantageous for both her and the child.

Liera huddled inside her cloak again and surveyed everything from the ground up.

"Ma', I'm afraid," a little girl beside her told her stooped mother.

"You silly girl," the mother reprimanded her daughter. "Do you see those cairns? They prevent that filthy half-breed scum from using his tricks."

The girl sniffled, while Liera looked over the stones the human had referred to, inclined slightly together. Runes of an alphabet she couldn't recognize were engraved on them. She felt her palms getting sweaty. I have to, she thought as she surveyed the area again, but immediately a part of her regretted ever coming here.

He stole our last money, a part of her said. Coin that would have filled our bellies and ensured us a way through this hell.

She was beginning to think Nive was probably right when a whistle sounded high and shrill, cutting through the still, frigid air. The boy's face contorted to pure terror, and struggled in his chains, clinking and clanging, but his captors held him fast. A man in the crowd laughed. The Black Demon wailed.

"MOTHER! HELP ME!"

Liera bowed her head and raised her fists before her. She was shaking uncontrollably.

Turn back now, a side of her advocated. To do so is neither cruelty nor injustice, but you have to live.

The child Deimos cried, his anguish constricting her heart like a crown of thorns.

"MOTHER…. Motherrr…. Uwaaaa…."

"Stop… stop it," she whispered.

"Wha—" a man beside her began, but cut off what he was about to say when she cast off her cloak. As the fabric sailed in the air and everyone's eyes followed it, she stood alone, an island in the midst of a hostile sea, and her hand gripped the hilt of the short blade stashed horizontally behind her waist.

"Stop it," she said, more forcefully this time. "STOP IT."

The humans scrambled away from her in panic, seeing the glowing horn on her forehead and her dusky skin, red veins pulsing like lights around her body. Her blue, cat-like eyes burned like ice, and the sea, for a while, parted from her.

There was silence before a woman screamed—the same woman who was paralyzed in front of her, the humpbacked old mother with her daughter frozen as she looked up at an abomination of mixed human and Elder blood.

"DEIMOS! FILTH! DEVIL!"

As thousand voices took up the call and the more valiant and brave fronted the swelling tide of men, Liera drew her sword and raised it above her head. Her features were so frightening in rage that even with such a mob the crowd was stunned to silence, and the last of the calls died down she spoke in her loudest voice. "Stop this execution now, you children of Eve. What right have you to judge a child with your twisted sense of justice? Don't you see that he's a mere child?"

"Deimos!" someone called. Everybody took the chant. People picked nearby tools as weapons. The humans advanced on her.

Liera had no choice. With one smooth motion she used her impressive leg power to catapult herself to the air, drawing the blade stored on her back as she sailed through the air. The guards holding the captive had no chance to react with her speed; before they knew it the whip-like quality of Liera's blade had crashed through the helm and face of the leftmost guard. The wake of the blade took on the trait of a wave that could shred flesh as if it was a sword, and as the guard collapsed in a fountain of blood she landed on the platform. The Black Demon was still mesmerized by what had suddenly transpired in front of him, just like the other guard, and without missing a breath and the wakes not yet returning to the blade she brandished it over the child's head. A curtain of silvery light followed the transit of her sword, and it cut through the remaining guard's neck again in a spout of warm man-blood.

But the other guards were not so slow. In moments the crowd, screaming in the extreme violence of it all, dispersed and the town watch, wielding yew bows, took positions across the plaza grounds, all aiming at her and the child. Liera had no time to defend and free the child; and in an instant the shafts were loosed from the bows, ripping through air as fast as lightning. Liera could only see as the half-dozen arrows came for her, and the last thought she had was that of Nive.

"Do you think I was exiled for nothing…?"

And then there exploded a mist, so thick it choked and blinded the eyes, and so sudden it was as if it had been there all along, and was just released.


Liera could only quail in fear as screams of men, women and children filled that gray, swirling void, which had a substance as if it was a thing alive. She felt panic and terror so tangible she could taste it, and even her hand holding her weapon was trembling. She couldn't see a thing, even with her heightened eyesight; Far's Cairn had been enveloped in a blanket of endless fog, so heavy even shadows were indiscernible.

People knocked and crashed against one another, and what were once just cries of help and fear became rampant and riotous. The townsfolk, believing that they were blinded, ran to every direction, screaming and pleading, punctuated by men tussling blindly or lost children whimpering.

She tried to grope for the child's shackles as the young Deimos whimpered and pleaded to the formless entity, becoming fainter and fainter as moments passed. She despaired even more when she couldn't touch him and the voices stopped, and she knew that one wrong move and she'd be toppling to the river of fire below. With as much caution she could muster in her blindness she reached around her, trying to touch anything solid, anything to get her bearings, hoping that the child had not been foolish enough to fall.

And she touched something. It was warm.

"Someone asked me once," the voice from that fog said, "if fear could gain one's trust and loyalty."

Her mouth dried.

"Fear could not." His face swam out of the bleak grey world, a welcome sight in that otherwise dead existence. "But neither could haste. You should have trusted me."

"You… you're late," she muttered.

"No. I'm never late." She looked behind him and was surprised when she saw the child Deimos, free at last from his bonds, clasping Nive's hand. "This mist won't last forever, and it'd be such a waste of time."

"How…?"

He shrugged. "The Citadel knows a few tricks, including this cloud of mist. But we'll talk later. We must escape first." Nive looked down on the child. "He knows the way out. The Black Demon must see his son again, or this town is doomed."

"I thought… he is the Black Demon…"

"No." Nive took her shoulder. "I was a Judge once, among other things… But this town shall be destroyed utterly if he is not pacified."

"What?"

"I was not certain it was him, but when I saw the mark on his horn, I knew it for a fact." Nive sighed, shook his head, and looked around the mist. It was still impenetrable and dark, but they all knew that it was fading.

"He is the son of Astaroth." Nive drew his bastard sword from his waist and held it fast across the child's neck. "And he is my hostage."


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