26. The Destroyer Returns
The hulking abomination rose from its wake of destruction, a glaring ruby visor piercing through the falling debris. It shone directly at Dorobou, whose scrawny frame trembled visibly, and its fangs anxiously chattered together. The alien creature stared back with its eyeless lump of flesh, the sight of the terrible giant causing its mouth to part in a mixture of reverence and hunger.
"At last," Dorobou hissed, "I've waited for so long..."
A cluster of limbs, like spider-legs, uncurled from the cloud of dust, stretching themselves uncomfortably. They suddenly sprang open, a thick violet membrane spread between to form a pair of hideously deformed wings. Their sudden movement blew away the surrounding dust, exposing the monstrosity suspended in air.
It resembled the form of Alpha, except the sleek elegance was replaced by bulky and rigid black armor. The Symbion no longer stood tall and proud, but hunched over with hanging arms, as if it were burdened by its own immense power. Red steam pumped from its segmented shell, surrounding it in a crimson aura.
As the creature tried to straighten itself as best it could, this aura began to draw back inwards, collecting into the center of the Symbion's chest. The armor cracked and spread outwards as a yellow eye burst open from the middle of the breastplate, bloodshot and wild. It darted around frantically, as if unsure of where it was; it caught sight of the floating alien before it, and dilated rapidly in recognition. The arms suddenly snapped up, each hand reshaping itself into a twisted blade.
"You're finally through playing games, I see," Dorobou cackled as the monster began to charge.
The Symbion swung one of its swords far from Dorobou, and the blade extended itself rapidly, speeding out to strike at its target in mid-swing. The alien teleported an instant before it struck, reappearing to the side with a devious grin. It had barely reformed itself before it burst into dust again, the black blades striking at him simultaneously.
As the mushroom-headed creature returned, the Symbion was already hovering above its head, thrusting violently. The weapon split in two, and sharp teeth burst from either side, facing inwards as they slashed down on Dorobou's neck. They clamped together as the creature faded, but the disfigured giant was already soaring somewhere else. It followed the sense of Dorobou's particles, tracking them with merciless intent; it swung again and again, keeping the alien on the run.
One of the swords drew blood, moving too quickly for even Dorobou. The creature rematerialized without a single scratch, but its smile had begun to fade. Already the murderous giant was attacking again; the Symbion lashed out viciously as the sword became a wicked axe, but once again missed its target. It turned to where it knew the creature would return; an arm rose, and reshaped itself into a stout cannon. The gaping barrel began to glow with a burning light, and as Dorobou's particles began to collect, the Symbion fired.
There was a flash of red, and a single ball of energy erupted forward. Dorobou noticed the flaming orb racing at its head while it was half-materialized; it couldn't teleport quickly enough, and drastically threw itself to the side as the ball of energy sped by, racing through the atmosphere and into space. It soared out of control towards an orbiting moon, eventually disappearing against the satellite's surface.
After a couple moments, a miniscule light ignited where the orb had struck. It began as a brief flicker, but gradually intensified as cracks spread like ripples across the surface of the moon. Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash from the web of flames, followed shortly by the shattering of the satellite's entire body. The rocky sphere crumbled to pieces as it burst outwards, the cataclysmic explosion sending landmasses careening through space at incredible speed.
The Symbion lowered its arm, watching the moon's demise coldly. It tilted its burning visor, as if intrigued by its own devastating power. Dorobou emerged beside the enthralled beast, looking much less excited; its grin was gone, and it studied the Symbion with cautious reserve.
"You remember, don't you?" it hissed, though it knew the monster could no longer understand, much less care, about its words. "You remember what it's like to be free from innocence, to accept your guilt, and indulge it. You, old friend... you were never innocent."
The shadowy Symbion finally turned from the annihilated moon, as if remembering Dorobou's presence. Without a word, it rushed headfirst towards its nemesis, even as flaming chunks of moonstone hurtled towards the barren planet.
"STOP, TREY! DON'T GIVE UP!"
The entire structure of the Kon-Rensa shuddered incessantly as all of its energy was funneled directly into the engines. The rockets roared as they were pushed to their limit, barely keeping ahead of their pursuers. The Da-Ku fighter vessels zoomed after the speeding starship, pummeling their hull over and over again with rockets and lasers. The larger cruisers were still too far behind, but even they were beginning to reach firing range.
It was all the crew could do to ignore the various warnings of overheating engines and system collapse; Kaze was doing her best to comfort the android, as she peered into the window on the metallic egg. The feminine machine thrashed about in her misty bed, as if caught in some terrible nightmare.
"HE NEEDS ME! HE NEEDS ME NOW, AND I'M NOT THERE FOR HIM! I HAVE TO HELP HIM!"
"We'll make it Aiya!" the Syretta cried out. Even though she wasn't fully aware of the problem, hearing the stoic android screaming in turmoil shattered her own self-control. "Whatever is wrong with Trey, we can beat it! We've come this far together, and we'll make it through this, together!"
"HE'S ALL ALONE!" Aiya continued to rave, barely noticing Kaze's attempt at comfort, or the numerous attacks against the ship. "I CAN FEEL HIS TERROR, HIS PAIN! HE CAN'T CONTROL HIMSELF, HE NEEDS ME THERE WITH HIM! I HAVE TO REACH HIM OR ELSE DELTA WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING!"
Gama and Tanshin turned as one to the egg; they shared an ominous look over her choice of words. "Delta?" the captain spoke in a hushed tone. "What in the stars has Trey become?"
"Something we should have expected," Tanshin replied gruffly, though he bowed his head in regret. "I can only suspect that the rumors were true... all of them..."
Ryu did his best to ignore the pandemonium around him. He kept his eyes forward, towards where he knew Trey had to be. He clenched his weapon tightly, causing even the veins in his neck to bulge, wanting more than anything to get out there and fight. He wanted to stop feeling so useless. However, they just kept flying, death following close on their tail.
"I WON'T FAIL YOU NOW, TREY!" Aiya screamed into the stars. "I WILL SAVE YOU!"
Dorobou disintegrated as the sword sped towards its lumpy skull. The blade stopped short as it missed its target, then retracted over hundreds of feet almost instantly. The hand returned to normal even as the Symbion formed the other into a long and narrow spike. It pointed in a seemingly random direction, and shot the weapon from its arm at incredible speed.
As Dorobou was reforming, it gasped in surprise as the projectile lanced it through the shoulder, passing through completely. Dark green blood sprayed through the air even while the creature returned to dust, barely avoiding three more spikes that shot by in succession.
The Symbion Delta eyed the trail of dispersed energy, never letting the creature out of its sight. Even when a meteorite from the shattered moon struck the earth only a couple hundred feet away, the black beast stayed focus. It ignored the shockwave that decimated the surrounding area, and remained poised in the air while the ground beneath it collapsed into a crater.
It extended its arms to either side, both hands becoming swords, then turned them inwards as they melded together. The twin blades twisted around each other, forming into a dark sphere before the shadowy beast. When Dorobou's particles finally stopped and began to reform, the shifting orb burst with a cluster of black icicles, each shard pointed towards the alien. They began to fire at a rapid rate, filling the sky with volleys of rigid spears.
When Dorobou reappeared, it found itself facing a hailstorm of projectiles. The creature couldn't even think of dodging; it frantically thrust its fingers forward, and beams of light rained from their tips. The bright energy clashed with the black spikes, creating a wall of explosions that lit the sky. The tiny bolts homed in on the Symbion's weapons, managing to destroy every one before they touched Dorobou. The alien felt nothing over the small victory; it should never have let itself be caught off-guard that way. Delta was catching on to its techniques.
Even as the thought entered its mind, an axe tore through Dorobou's scrawny neck. The fang-filled jaw went slack in surprise as the mushroom-head shot into the air, spraying sticky green blood everywhere. The Symbion quickly reshaped the axe into a spear and launched it at the severed head, but it burst into pieces before the attack could connect. The body too fell away before Delta, leaving the monster heaving in frustration.
It sensed the particles return into being behind it. Dorobou, of course, was whole once again.
"You can't defeat me," the creature breathed heavily, beginning to show signs of exhaustion. The Symbion showed none. "There is only one way this can end… you don't want to admit it, but deep down you know it. I am everything you fear, everything you cannot control... and in the end, I will devour you."
Delta's spider-legged wings sprung open as it soared in for another attack. It had not moved more than a dozen yards before a meteor crashed down upon it. The burning piece of land plummeted to the desert below, tearing up the layers of dirt and stone around it.
Dorobou smirked at the monster's single-mindedness. "You are so focused, you are ignoring everything else around you. You do not consider anything except what's right in front of your face."
The meteor burst apart as a crimson orb exploded through its middle; Dorobou vanished as the attack rocketed by, continuing out into the depths of space. The Symbion was already moving to where it knew Dorobou would return, and soared in between the massive meteorites cascading around them.
It caught a glimpse of the creature trying to materialize using one of the moonstone trails as cover; the beast rushed headfirst through the flaming debris, stabbing blindly towards its target. The blade connected, but Dorobou had reappeared upside-down; the strike that should've hit its head was running him through the stomach, instead. Unphased, Dorobou reached out a hand and touched the monster's chest, with its palm resting over the glaring yellow eye in the center. The pupil retracted instinctively, right before five beams of light ripped out of the Symbion's back.
The hulking Delta form fell out of the sky like a stone, its bloodshot eye rolled up into the obsidian armor. Dorobou took the opportunity to disperse itself and move far up into the atmosphere, where it would at last be able to perform its final attack. The spindly alien reformed with a devious grin, quickly scanning the planet's surface for the fallen behemoth.
When it finally sensed the monster, Dorobou realized that it was just a few feet above, its broad cannon aimed at its umbrella-like dome.
Dorobou gaped up at it in surprise as Delta released another burning sphere. The creature had barely disintegrated as the blast barreled through its cloud of particles, rocketing to the planet below. It struck the surface and melted through the earth instantly, never slowing its acceleration. While the alien was caught in its semi-materialized state, the burning hole began to crack open; giant fissures split the ground, and a searing light burst from underneath. Spouts of lava gushed into the sky as the ground heaved upwards, and the atmosphere itself was torn to shreds.
A deafening noise filled the dying air as the entire planet eruptef into chaotically spinning masses. Pieces of incinerated earth rushed up to meet the Symbion, enveloping everything in an unreal illumination. The liquid insides of the planet spilled out, bleeding across the black fabric of emptiness. Soon, there was little left remaining of it, and the last few pieces spiraled out of control, lost to the universe.
Eventually, something began to fill in the void left behind by the obliterated body. A pair of feet and arms began to collect, soon becoming legs and arms, and finally a body. They grew slowly, as if it were a struggle to combine at all. Dorobou finally became whole again, and the creature drifted in shock for a moment, trying to regain some feeling in its limbs.
It turned its head as if the mushroom suddenly weighed a ton, even in the weightless space; it could sense the Symbion not far from it, still alive as well. It too was simply floating, though it had more than enough energy to continue fighting. Dorobou grimaced, remembering the past times they had encountered each other.
"It never ceases to amaze even yourself, does it?" the creature whispered. "The devastation you can reap, the pure, unchecked energy that you wield. You cannot help but marvel at the sight of it, to bask in the revelation of your infinite power. You can't help it... you never could."
Unknown to Dorobou, and despite all the knowledge it had acquired on the Symbion, it was actually wrong. The shadowy bulk of Delta hovered before the sudden emptiness it had created, the absence of matter that had once held an entire ecosystem. The beast was not captivated by the sight of its destruction, though; its trance-like state had nothing to do with seeing at all.
The Symbion and its Master were both frozen by the sudden flood of voices it heard, cries from the billions of lives that had been lost in the sudden cataclysm. They resounded through the galaxy, their energy scattered violently and prematurely; Delta could hear every last one, every miniscule life form that had been denied a chance to exist, screaming as it was cast into the abyss. Its senses were overloaded, unable to comprehend what it was hearing, so it continued to float there, drowning in the sea of death it had wrought.
Dorobou flexed its lithe limbs, and tilted its head back in a cocky manner. "Unfortunately, you won't allow me another opportunity like this one. Guess it's time to end our little game again… A short but sweet victory, old friend."
The alien continued to lean backwards, until its spine was arching and every muscle in its scrawny body was tense. Something on its mushroom-head began to bulge, and the wet skin split open in the middle. The creature stretched its jaw wide, pieces of saliva floating up from the rows of fangs, and suddenly whipped its head forward, gazing upon the Symbion Delta with a single massive eye. On the front slope of its conical head, a bulging iris had burst through, and glared thirstily at the suspended monster.
"Now, eternal one, I will consume you!" Dorobou screamed as its pupil began to shake uncontrollably, and a brilliant light exploded from its porous eye. The Symbion sensed the shifting energy, and spun around in sudden alarm; it remembered its battle, and rushed towards the tensed creature. It aimed its cannon at Dorobou, and fired another pulsating ball of energy.
As the orb raced towards it, the alien's eye lit up in a brilliant gleam, and a single ray raced in the direction of its gaze. It fell upon the fiery sphere, and gently extinguished it, as if the compact mass of energy had never existed. It continued past without pause, racing towards the Symbion Delta at light's speed; the blackened beast was caught by the beam, and it jerked in surprise as it was enveloped completely. It rolled its head back and forth, as if struggling to break free, but unable to control its own shape anymore.
Then, the Symbion felt it - the depleting energy it contained, its very life gushing from him as if someone had severed a part of its soul. It poured out in torrents, escaping into the emptiness around it; Delta suddenly realized it was traveling up the tunnel of light, making its way towards Dorobou. The creature was channeling the bleeding power into itself.
The Symbion tried to change its hand into a blade, axe, spear, anything- its body would not respond to its will, though. It could do nothing as it felt its life fleeing rapidly, unable to command the energy anymore.
Dorobou cackled in delight as the first wave of siphoned energy rushed into the alien. It burned through its withered body like a liquid flame, filling it with ecstasy. "Yes, YES!" it screamed, while the Symbion spasmed helplessly. "So long it has been, so many times I have yearned for this sensation! This… this immortality! It is mine once more, all MINE!"
"NO! STOP IT, STOP HURTING HIM!"
Aiya had ceased her thrashing, but was now completely rigid in her bed, slightly leaning forward as if she could actually reach the Symbion faster that way. Her face was wrinkled with worry, straining parts of her head she didn't know she was built with. She ignored the overwhelming amount of anomalies in her system, though, and kept her mind on the quickly approaching destination - Trey.
"Who's hurting Trey!?" Kaze cried back. "Tell us! Come back to us Aiya, we'll help you!"
"It's no use, she's gone haywire!" Ryu finally shouted, sick of everyone talking, but unable to do anything. "We just have to be ready for anything, because when we reach him, I'm sure as shit gonna be out there swingin'! There's no way I'll let..."
A sudden rushing noise sounded from the egg, and Kaze jumped back in shock. "She... she just..." The technician struggled to find her voice, as she turned to the crew in unbridled alarm. "Aiya just ejected herself..."
As the Da-Ku cruisers continued to close in on the starship, the heaving engines began to die down, and the remaining defense turrets made their way back to their docks shamefully. The crew watched in a solemn silence as the power lighting the command bridge shut down, leaving them in almost pure darkness. A moment later, the artificial gravity also abandoned them; they let themselves drift uselessly, still struggling to accept the turn of events.
The Kon-Rensa had entirely shut down; they were helpless.
The Symbion had ceased to struggle against its shining prison, and hung limply in the tunnel of light. It had surrendered to the inevitable; the invincible giant had been defeated, and it could do nothing but watch itself die. No one was there to assist it, it was all alone- something its Master had wished for many times in the past. He had finally got what he wanted, and now they both would pay the consequences.
The ray of pure light was slowly becoming stained with a dark-red energy. It flowed up the tunnel, away from the Symbion; on the other end, Dorobou was speechless, while its body literally inflated with power. The long and lanky limbs began to throb, their muscles contracting and expanding at the same time. Its scrawny neck began to thicken, and veins burst from his slimy skin. Both shoulder and back muscles heaved upward, pressing against the mushroom-dome on top; the alien grew outward at an unnatural rate, quickly overcoming even Delta's monstrous form.
"Ach! Yesshh!" it finally spat out, struggling to speak through its rapidly elongating fangs. "This… This is the ultimate power! The very essence of life, coursing through my every pore! Give me more… more! I want MORE!"
The blackened armor cracked in various places, its pieces floating solemnly up the inverted stream of energy. The crimson rage that had fueled the giant poured from the holes and fissures, draining the Symbion of its will to fight. The bulging eye had glazed over, and stared into space with an almost sorrowful expression. Delta's head hung backwards, the ruby visor drained of light.
"How far even a being such as yourself can fall," Dorobou smirked as the dark monster crumbled apart before its eye. "You, the immortal life-form, the paradigm organism… You are at the peak of all evolution, and yet I, Dorobou, can best you! I am the most powerful creature in this universe! I am the only thing that can face this monster born of eternity and retain my existence… I am the only one that can drink from your bottomless well of power without drowning! I AM FOREVER!
"You will never rid of me, no matter where you disappear to, no matter where you go to hide- you will have to return, as you have time and time before. And I… I shall be here, ready to reap your energy for myself. There is no escape, there is no way to end the cycle! We have battled for eons, and will continue for all time! There is no end! You are destined to fall to me, to fuel my everlasting existence! I will never..."
The stream of energy suddenly ended, and Dorobou's boasting stopped short. Both were cut off as Aiya's small fist tore through the center of the alien's eye.
There was a strange moment of peace, as the brilliant light blinked out of existence, and Dorobou's broadened jaw went slack with confusion. Everything seemed to remain still; only the android's amber hair proved that time was still moving, as it floated weightlessly about her fierce composition.
Then, Dorobou shattered the still space with a scream, one that echoed with the disappointment of thousands of years. The creature that had tasted of immortality lost everything in a single moment.
The dark-red energy was also suspended in space, but immediately began to reverse its direction. The Symbion's power rushed from the punctured eyeball, flooding back into Delta all at once, igniting it with an overabundance of power. The beast flared back into life- its eye spun wildly, and its visor shot a beacon of bloody light forth. The monster stretched every limb as it let out a deafening sound, like its form was ready to burst with the amount of energy filling it. Pieces of its armor continued to break away in chunks, the energy eating through it mindlessly.
Aiya let Dorobou's lifeless shape fall from her arm, and she stared in horror at the crumbling giant. "No!." she moaned in distress. "No, you can't lose control again! Not now!" She struggled to reach the Symbion as the cloud of energy continued to collapse into it, forcing it into a fetal position. "Trey, listen to me! You have to remember who you are! Think! Remember everything you've done, all the memories you hold dear! You have to remember yourself, please! Remember me!"
Before she could reach him, the last of the violent energy escaped into the Symbion's armor; the monster curled into itself for a brief second, then there was a blinding flash. The android held up her hands as the force of the sudden light sent her careening her into the vacuum of space. Her systems were overloaded with the amount of power being put out, and she couldn't make sense of anything for a while. Even as her technology struggled to recuperate from the sudden anomaly, deep down, she already knew what had happened. She had felt this blinding power before, but refused to admit it had happened again.
When her sensors finally returned to normal, and she could view the universe around her once more, Aiya turned reluctantly towards where the Symbion had been, afraid for what she knew she would see.
The distant lights of stars and solar systems were being blanketed by a massive black hole, swirling menacingly where the planet had been before. Aiya could see Dorobou's corpse as it was gradually pulled in by the overbearing force; Delta, however, was nowhere to be seen.
"No..." she whispered again, feeling as if her mechanical insides had suddenly vanished. "No, it... it wasn't supposed to happen again... I stopped him! I killed him! I was supposed to save you, Trey!"
From the shredded fabric of space came a single light, effortlessly making its way away from the gravity well. It was a ki prism, just like the one they had encountered so long ago. The small crystalline structure floated out of the black hole, a slight balance to the otherwise chaotic disturbance. It was not consoling to Kaiya in the least; it was only a confirmation of what she knew to be true.
"No... Trey, you can't be gone... you can't be..."
Aiya repeated the words to herself over and over, as if they would somehow prove themselves true. She made no movement; she could no longer feel her electric synapses responding. She just drifted there, staring hopelessly at where Trey had been.
Far behind her, the Kon-Rensa also drifted hopelessly, its crew contemplating their bleak situation; all around them, the Da-Ku cruisers circled in, weapons carefully aimed at the inoperative starship.
As the Emperor's flagship approached the aftermath, Gotoutenrin surveyed the strange scene before him. Though the cruisers could not approach the black hole, he could sense enough to understand. Dorobou, you kept your word after all, the grave figure observed. Though things certainly did not work out as you had planned. Regardless, we achieved what we came here for.
The Emperor switched his focus to the powerless starship; the officers nearby were watching him expectantly, ready to commence with whatever orders they were given. Gotoutenrin stroked his beard thoughtfully before muttering, "Destroy it."
The highest-ranking officer nodded with a knowing grin; none of them had expected anything less. "Open a channel to the fleet," the man ordered one of the communication workers. "Give them the signal to open fire on my mark."
While one of the workers quickly sent out the command, another stood up hastily. "Emperor!" he shouted nervously. "Lord Henjyou urgently wishes to speak with you. He requests you do not destroy the ship."
Gotoutenrin stared the man down for a moment, causing the blood to drain from his face. "Put him through," he sighed with a wave of his bony hand.
In an instant, Henjyou was before his brother on a floating projection screen. "My Emperor," the ancient scientist bowed deeply. "Forgive me for going against you order, but I felt it was my duty to remind you that we need live specimens for our Mo'Guai. These pirates have proven themselves to be quite the nuisance, but this means they must also wield a considerable amount of sji. I humbly request that we capture them and their vessel, to be used for further scientific use."
Gotoutenrin nodded stoically. "Very well, if that's what you feel is best. The Mo'Guai are your specialty, after all." The Emperor turned to the officer again. "Retract my previous order. The pirates are to be taken alive and put in the holding cells. Have one of the cruisers tow their ship as well." The officer nodded and carried out the peculiar request. He realized that, in all his days of serving the Empire, he had never heard of a Da-Ku Lord taking prisoners.
"Uh, Emperor?" another communications officer spoke up meagerly. Gotoutenrin turned to him stiff as a board; the coldness emanating from him made the man forget why he had approached him for a moment. "Sorry... sorry to bother you, but you are receiving another urgent transmission."
"What is it now?"
"It's Lord Toshiou. He says he must speak with you immediately. It's about your brother, Lord Byodou... He has finally returned."
The Emperor's beard moved in a strange way; it was impossible to tell, but his mouth had parted in slight disbelief. "Byodou has returned? Did Toshiou mention anything else in his transmission?"
The officer nodded. "He said the mission was a success. Lord Byodou has retrieved the Source."
The Emperor forgot to dismiss the man as he returned to his throne in a daze. He seated himself as he contemplated this news. The Source... it's returned. The origin, the birth of the Da-Ku... it has come back to us, at long last. This cannot be coincidence. It is a sign. The Symbion has been vanquished, and Agal'amam has come home.
It is a sign. It is time to remind the galaxy who their true masters are.
The heavily-armored Taizan floated cautiously before the black hole; he could approach it more closely than the cruisers, but even he could slip and fall in with one false move. The juggernaut stared at the swirling abyss in wonder; What a battle this must have been. It is unfortunate I was not a part of it.
The Da-Ku Lord searched around for the device it was looking for; moments before his prey had shut down most disappointingly, he had noticed something eject from the starship. He knew, without a doubt, that it was the reason for the ship's unparalleled precision and performance. It was his true opponent, the ship was merely an extension of whatever had been operating it; the device it had released was the secret of its strength. Taizan refused to leave without coming face to face with his most challenging foe yet.
Finally, he found it. The massive suit of armor approached the small figure carefully, ready for any surprise attack; to further his disappointment, there was none. The Da-Ku Lord reached out and turned the android over; when he saw her face, he moved back in surprise.
"This… this was what offered me such a battle? This… little girl?"
Aiya offered no reply. Her body was stiff, and her face expressionless. Even the small gears behind her irises had stopped moving. Taizan reached out and moved her again, expecting her defense systems to activate and assault him. It was obvious that whatever had fueled her was gone, though.
The Da-Ku extended a metallic hand to her face, taking her fragile chin between his massive fingers in a strangely delicate manner. He studied her design, speechless for a moment, then took her under his arm and returned to the fleet. It was a suitable trophy for their victory.
The billions of tiny black fibers slid delicately under Shishei's fingers, as she ran them methodically across her wide loom. Her eyes were shut; the Empress was once again humming her haunting melody, swaying with the soothing rhythm. She was unaware of anything around her, instead focusing on the pattern before her, studying how each strand interacted and, more importantly, when. Although it had been a fruitless task recently, Shishei knew this moment would be vital. She would not miss any crucial change; her husband, no doubt, would want to know exactly what effect his actions had in the grand scheme.
Suddenly, it happened. Shishei's eyes flew open in shock as one of the strands jumped, moving ever so slightly to the side. She removed her hand, looking over the loom to see what the simple adjustment had resulted in; not a single stitch ever moved without changed the entire picture.
Her eyes followed the single weave, noticing a conjunction she hadn't seen before; then, she saw another. Two weaves wound tightly into each other, pulling another one out of place. That one in turn shook another loose, and soon the entire loom was readjusting itself. Shishei felt her jaw go slack, and she watched the rippling change in wonder. The loom had always changed slightly with any new factor; it had never, in Shishei's long life, morphed so drastically and completely.
Slowly, she began to realize what it meant. The wonder in her eyes changed to excitement, and then to glee, as the loom settled itself back into place. She could feel it again- certainty, absolute control over the design once more. Shishei shivered as she realized how much she had missed her foresight.
Oh, my Emperor, you have done it! she celebrated silently. You fixed it! Everything's back to normal, and that means I can keep watch again...
She immediately began searching for the one strand most important to her. Her eyes darted over the sea of black threads, until her fingers suddenly darted out and snatched one. Her features went soft, and her grip relaxed; she gently ran the tip of her nail down it, feeling the small indentations in it, sensing things no one else could. She followed its path upward, seeing beyond the weave as it traveled through time; Shishei's expression grew darker as she realized where it was headed.
No, Enma... The black thread had intertwined with another at an important juncture, and from there they stayed closely wound. You are going to her... you're going back to her!?
Hidden deep within her palace, in the bedroom she used to share with her late husband, Datsueba felt the cold dread of certainty creep over her. Everyone in the galaxy must have felt that, she shivered in worry. Great and small alike… Such an imbalance of energy, nothing can escape a catastrophe of that magnitude.
Her bony hands gripped her shoulders, until the knuckles seemed as if they would split right out of her frail, ancient skin. She didn't want to admit to herself what the sudden anomaly meant, even though it could only be one thing. If it truly was that… All my plans, all my actions, were for nothing. If… if he is really gone, then we are all doomed. The Emperor can bide his time all he wants, eventually he will strike… and there will be no one to stop him now. No one…
Trey, you fool... Why didn't you listen to me?
Datsueba sensed someone materialize behind her; even before he stepped into the room, she knew who it was. She turned to Prince Enma, wearing her calm mask again and showing no signs of her distress. She raised an eyebrow at him curiously as he stepped from the shadows.
"It must be wonderful to walk through shadows, to show up wherever you please, without being invited. Especially into a woman's private bedchamber." Prince Enma returned her stare without hostility; his eyes were flat and emotionless, and the lack of interest she saw aggravated the elderly woman slightly. "Of course, since you are back, it must have meant I was correct. Your little family reunion didn't go as planned, I presume?"
Enma's eye twitched slightly; he took a breath, and replied, "No. You were right, Datsueba. The Emperor's vision has blinded everyone else's; they will not listen to reason anymore."
The crone chuckled victoriously. "Of course they won't; they stopped listening to reason ages ago. The Da-Ku have fallen from what they once were, a mighty empire that had rule over most of the known universe. Now… now, we are a broken family, our numbers slowly fading, while the Emperor sits and watches his civilization crumble into ruin."
Datsueba's expression lost its calmness; her mask cracked as she began to lose herself. "I tried to warn the others, but did anyone listen to me? Of course not! What made youthink they'd treat you any differently? You're the Prince, sure, but it makes no difference to the Emperor. He would banish his own son as quickly as a common soldier!"
Enma's jaw clenched slightly, as his gaze focused far away. Datsueba couldn't resist; her own failure fueled her desire to make Enma realize his. She needed him to feel as worthless as she did, and she knew it; that knowledge didn't give her enough reason to stop, though. "And you thought you could make a difference… bah! You went in there with nothing, and now you've come running back to me still empty-handed. I offered you a chance, but you refused it. Do you think you can simply reclaim it, now that you have nowhere else to turn to?" She waited for some response, but Enma remained silent, his eyes swirling with countless emotions.
"You realize it now, don't you? You have no family, anymore. You have been exiled, like me. They do not want you anymore. I am the only family you have now."
After a moment of silence, Enma finally raised his head, meeting Datsueba's burning gaze. He studied her for a moment, then finally answered, "You would have made a great mother, you know that?"
The old woman's mouth fell open; she made a sound, but nothing else came out. She stared at Enma in blatant shock, and for the first time in her ancient existence, Datsueba was speechless.
Enma did not gloat over the small victory; instead, he sighed and lowered his gaze. "You were right about a lot of things. Indeed, I do not have a family. Indeed, I have no one else to help me, except you. However, I am not a fool. I realize you need me as much as I need you, and therefore, I demand that you treat me with a little more respect. If you lose me, you will have nothing left."
Datsueba felt cold grip her dying insides; Enma didn't realize how truthful he had spoken, now that Trey was dead.
"Also," the Prince continued, "If we are truly going to be working together, you should learn to hold your tongue a little better. You may be right often, but it doesn't mean you will always be."
Datsueba felt the small jab shock her back to reality, and she opened her mouth to protest. Before she could get a word out, Enma held up his hand, giving her an expectant stare. "Will you prove me right with another sharp response, without hearing me out first?" Datsueba's mouth worked, but he had her cornered. She closed her lips with visible annoyance, and waited for the Prince to continue.
"You were right that I had not accomplished my goal. My talk with my father was useless, and I achieved nothing. However, I did not come running back to you empty-handed. I have not come crawling on my belly to plead for your forgiveness. I came here, because I think that we have something to offer each other."
Datsueba tried to hold on to her outrage at the Prince, but his words drew out her curiosity. He watched her calmly, confidently, and eventually she couldn't resist. "What do you mean?" she finally responded in a harsh whisper.
Enma smiled, and reached for something behind his back. "As you said yourself, it is wonderful to walk through shadows, to show up wherever you please, uninvited. It opens up many opportunities to be taken advantage of. I may not have achieved my goal at the Palace, but I gained something else… something unexpected I found there."
As the Prince brought his hand before him, Datsueba's eyes were inexplicably drawn to the object he held, shining and golden. Its twisted design swirled along its cylindrical shape, diminishing until it ended in a sharp needle. Inside, dark shapes swirled and fought with each other endlessly. The old woman felt a horrible force emanating from it, yet it was also familiar. For a second, she swore she could feel her brother in the room with them - the long-dead Emperor Asura - and a shiver ran through her withered spine.
"What is that?" she rasped, her throat barely working through the sudden terror.
Enma regarded the object casually, feeling its energy pulsate in his palm. "A creation of Henjyou's technology, under my father's supervision... I believe they call it the Genesis Key."
In the elegant white halls of their serene home, the Regent Takashi and his wife were having an uncomfortably quiet dinner. Neither spoke a word, and navigated through the assorted pieces of food as if a single sound would bring the entire palace crashing down around them. They were seated at opposite ends of the vast table, an elaborate feast covering almost every inch of its surface. Yumiko did not marvel at it; she stared vacantly into the white tablecloth and raised food to her lips constantly, even though she tasted none of it. It was simply an excuse to avoid conversation.
Takashi, on the other hand, stared intently at his wife, suspicion and paranoia flooding his features. He knew she believed the rumors that had spread amongst the citizens of Sancturnym Seven, the ones that proposed the military had framed the ex-general Demetri. Of course, they were correct, but all they could do was theorize; the military was beyond society's control, and no one was foolish enough to think anything could be done about the situation. They whispered behind closed doors, patronizing and debasing the government they had helped create, but once they were in public, they shut their mouths and put on their dutiful masks.
Yumiko was not all that different- she sat there obediently and acted her part, except she was no ordinary citizen. The Regent knew he couldn't risk having her entertaining ideas of a rebellion; she could potentially unite all those disbelievers, and undermine everything he had built.
It was just one problem that plagued his thoughts. Every night, Takashi broke into a cold sweat as he wondered what the Da-Ku were doing, why Datsueba hadn't visited him since the mutiny; he was suddenly blind to the enemy, left alone in his shining kingdom, where his own people had begun to despise him. He felt as if everything were falling apart around him; he had to fix this crisis. He had to start somewhere.
"Are you feeling well, my dear?" he asked his wife, unable to stand the tension any longer. "Your maids tell me you haven't been eating well since..."
As her husband trailed off insecurely, Yumiko let the silence linger for a moment. "Since when?" she pressed him in barely a whisper. "Since you ordered the execution of your own son?"
"I've told you before, I had to! He..." Takashi took a deep breath to calm himself down. "He was aiding the enemy. He turned on our own people... I couldn't turn a blind eye to it! I had to do what I did, for the greater good." He prayed his words would finally have some effect on her; Yumiko only continued to stare off blankly, however, and the Regent continued the verbal struggle. "It wasn't easy making the decision, believe me… it hurts me as much as it hurts you. It pained me for so long, agonizing over the choice I knew I had to make..."
"How long had you known?" Yumiko cut in quietly, pushing a bloody piece of meat from her plate in disinterest.
Takashi blinked, startled by the question. "Well, for a while... Since the Yismanna incident. Demetri was actually the very cause of it. It... it's why I didn't want you to get involved. I didn't want you to find out, and get hurt..."
Yumiko's eyes finally rose, her luminous blue irises brimming with tears. "You knew, for that long... You contemplated murdering Demetri for that long, and yet you remained so calm, so practical. How could you?"
The blame that spilled from his wife's eyes froze Takashi's bones, and his jaw clenched itself in place firmly even as numerous excuses arose in his mind. Fortunately, he was saved from his disgrace as the intercom suddenly sounded; General Isamu was requesting the Regent's presence to discuss some important military matter. Takashi hastily excused himself and made his way away from the dinner table and the overwhelming pressure that filled the room.
As the door closed behind him, Yumiko's fork fell to the table, shattering the crystalline silence. She pushed her plate away with her elbows as she covered her face with her hands, and did her best to retain her dignity. As the tears trickled down regardless, she prayed that, somehow, there was still hope for all of them.
"Keep up the pace, tough guy!" the Da-Ku soldier roared, jabbing an electric rod into Ryu's thigh. "This ain't a fuckin' tour!"
The dignified warrior refused to cry out as the muscles in his leg twitched with the intense shock. He grit his teeth and continued to follow the crew; in front of him, Kaze moved like a zombie, and Ryu was relieved that they hadn't chosen to shock her instead. Gama followed behind, his head bowed, while Tanshin took the lead. They were each bound to one another with strong tethers, being led through the underbelly of one of the Da-Ku's enormous cruisers.
"You think they'd show some more gratitude, ya know?" another guard called back to his comrades. "I can't remember the last time we were ordered to take prisoners. I still don't see why we can't just kill them off."
"Don't question orders," another reminded him solemnly. "I heard Lord Henjyou requested them alive, and that's enough for me. I'd rather not know what he's going to use them for, anyways."
The younger Da-Ku shrugged carelessly. "Sounds interesting to me. I could give a shit less what we do with them, though. Except for this one..." The guard put an arm around Kaze's shoulders, leaning into her uncomfortably. "I wouldn't mind taking her prisoner for a few nights, am I right boys?"
The Syretta squirmed under his forceful embrace, though she knew she was helpless. Behind her, Ryu's muscles were so tight against his restraints that he began to bleed.
"Don't worry though, darlin'," the Da-Ku breathed heavily over her. "I wouldn't want Lord Henjyou to find out we defiled his test subjects. Besides, you'll have plenty of company with our other lucky catch."
The elder guard suddenly spit loudly. "Now there's something I can't understand," he muttered in disgust. "Why the fuck would we take in a Solari floater? We should have tortured him to death on the spot, the bastard!"
"Hey, hey! What was all that about not questioning orders, old timer?"
"Just shut up and keep them moving."
The crew continued to suffer through the guards' small talk and degrading gestures, as they were led deep down into the holding cells. The Da-Ku shoved them roughly into separate rooms and activated the force fields. "Enjoy your stay, bitches," the young guard sneered before abandoning them to their fate.
After a moment, Kaze whispered, "Ryu? Are you okay?"
"Yea," the warrior lied. "It was nothing. Barely felt it. How are you doin'?"
There was a pause, then a short gasp from the cell next to him. "I… I can't believe it. Gama, are you certain of what you felt? Is Trey..."
"Please," the captain rasped, sounding as if his throat were collapsing. "Don't mention it… I can't… I just can't..."
The defeat in his voice was enough to send Kaze over. Her muffled sobs echoed through the empty halls, causing Ryu to finally give in as well. He bowed his head and desperately fought to summon up some kind of frustration or anger, but in reality he only felt empty. "Trey," he whispered hoarsely. "It's not fair... it's just not... Why'd you have to die? Why?"
As each of the crewmembers ultimately surrendered to the despairing truth, and gave in to the sorrow eating its way through them, the silent Tanshin was preoccupied with something else. The stoic wolfman had been more upset by anyone at the loss of their friend, and had painfully mourned his death deep down, but something in the adjacent cell had caught his attention. The cyborg stared with his good eye in disbelief, trying to rationalize how in the stars their paths could have crossed again, and under such circumstances.
Lying unconscious in the cell across from him was Demetri, former prince of the Solari.