Part Twelve

Joining the dance of the stars
Falling in trance
My mind reels of the sight
We become
Paralysed mesmerised hypnotized
Analyzing it all

    The stage was quiet when the three arrived. Aya was the first one up, using a nearby tree to get up the tall side. He drew his sword slowly, eyes taking in the sight before him as the other two joined him. Fire flickered here and there and the overwhelming stench of charred flesh swept over him.

    Through the fading glow from the sun he could see bodies, dozens of them, stretched out on the stone. He lifted his fingers to his face, pressing the back of a gloved hand to his mouth in an attempt to filter out some of the sickening smell. He could feel his stomach twisting in protest at the way it invaded his senses.

    "Looks like someone had a barbecue," Schuldich spoke up, his annoying nasal voice distantly amused. The German moved past him, sauntering ahead with his hands shoved in his pockets. Black smoke, swirling about them with the breeze, tugged at his wild hair. The man paused by one of the bodies, using a shoe to roll her over. Aya flicked his eyes across her ruined features before looking away, somewhat nauseated by the way her skin had been twisted and melted.

    As the three neared the first coils of symbols, Schuldich paused. Aya was put on his guard by the German's sudden hesitance and stopped, grip tightening on the sword as he cast his eyes about for signs of trouble. Crawford drew even with him, gaze on Schuldich.

    "Danger?" Aya asked when his eyes did not reveal anyone waiting to attack them. He turned his attention on Schuldich.

    The German glanced back at them, the smirk on his face seeming a bit off. "Impatient, are you?" he asked carelessly. "You're a little too eager for things to go wrong."

    Aya replied with a cold glare. The German's smirk solidified and the older man turned forward, starting off again. The two followed, but it was not long before Schuldich stopped again. This time he turned to look at Crawford, mouth twitching in the beginnings of a frown that was distinctly uncomfortable. "Mir ist übel."

    Aya glanced at Crawford to see if he understood. The other man did and replied in the same foreign tongue. "Was ist los?"

    "Hier spukt es," Schuldich said, a flat edge to his voice.

    Crawford flicked a calm glance around. "You are mistaken," was all he said before moving forward, passing Schuldich as he continued onward. Schuldich hesitated before following, and Aya fell in line beside him. A new wariness lashed about within the Weiß assassin. It was clear that something about this stage was not sitting well with the telepath. Anything that bothered one of Schwarz could not be good.

    He half-expected a reply from the other man to that, but there was nothing.


    All three spun to see a woman standing just a few feet behind them. Aya's death grip on his katana's handle loosened when he saw who it was. "Birman," he acknowledged, aware of the way Schuldich tensed beside him. He thought he saw the German glance at Crawford, but as his eyes were on Birman, he was not positive that the man had done so. "What are you doing here?"

    She offered a faint shrug, folding her arms over her chest. "I was sent here by my superiors." Her eyes locked with his, an intensity he had not seen before twisting beneath her gaze. "I must say that your choice in travelling partners is a surprise, if not completely unwelcome. What are _you_ doing here, Abyssinian?"

    Her remark on Schwarz did not make sense to him, but he chose not to comment on it, letting her words twist themselves about in his mind to try and figure out what she meant. "We followed the two cults here."

    Something about her was...wrong. He could feel it.

    Her gaze shifted from him to Schwarz and he had the fleeting sensation that she was dismissing him for something more interesting and important. "How delightful," she mused, lips quirking into a dark smirk. "It is nice to have my own private suspicions about you set to rest."

    "Oh?" Schuldich asked, one eyebrow lifting in a derisive gesture.

    "When we first started dealing with Estet, I could not help but wonder about the people they were bringing in to train." She moved towards them, tilting her head back slightly as her smile mocked them. It was a gesture Aya had seen before in Schuldich, and the mental comparison was not one that he could swallow easily. "They searched the world for those with paranormal powers or exceptional gifts and had a talent for finding them. I wondered how much you all were tied into the decayed old world."

    Uneasiness filtered through Aya's mind as he watched her approach. What did she know about this?

    "Magic is so hard to find these days, is it not?" she asked, finally coming to rest a mere foot away. The air suddenly seemed hot against Aya's skin; he could feel it vibrating and crackling against him. Only sheer stubborn will kept him from retreating to where the air would not eat at him so painfully. "Those able to wield it were the ones that suffered the most when the empires caved in. It was the ones who existed by fighting with their fists and wits that managed to survive the crumble and years of despair and death, the ones that finally managed to start the civilizations our world is now built upon. Their beliefs in the supernatural races is evident in their art and old religions. While the old knowledge and even the belief has faded through time, people still find themselves gazing upwards to the stars in awe. The soul of man cannot forget the power of the heavens."

    "What are you talking about?" Aya demanded, voice low, fingers once more tightening on the hilt of his sword.

    "It seems Schwarz is more than they appeared to be, perhaps more than they suspected themselves to be." Her eyes remained on Schuldich. "I can feel the way this stage is affecting you. Only one who has an old line of magic in his veins can feel the pulse within this marble. You two, feared by many to be freaks of nature, are merely magic's way of clinging to life and generating itself over and over. Somewhere along the line one of your ancestors coupled with a wielder and let magic into the blood that would lie dormant for many generations before rising unexpectedly and disappearing again." She exhaled slowly, letting her breath hiss softly through her teeth. "You are from the Chosen Ones, perhaps even from Cadaring's line, and although your blood is so diluted that you are left only with the gifts of telepathy and speed- a poor excuse of teleportation- you are bonded to Sainan. Can't you see?"

    There was a long, tense silence following her words before Schuldich uttered a soft laugh that twisted mockingly in the air. "My, my," he drawled lazily, jade eyes cold as he studied her. "All my life I have had people question my sanity- even I have. After listening to this garbage, however, I may rest more peacefully knowing I'm not the worst off."

    Her lips pulled into a scowl at his sarcastically adoring tone. "You mock me."

    "It's very easy. Shall I continue?"

    "You have no respect for a race that is so obviously your betters," Birman retorted angrily, crossing her arms over her chest indignantly.

    Aya was not following what was going on completely, but he could make some educated guesses. He knew enough to be sure that this woman before him, long trusted as an ally, was no longer a certainty. "Whose side are you on, Birman?" he demanded. If she had switched sides, there was no other choice but to take her out immediately- after finding out if she knew where the hostages had been taken.

    "I cannot stand to be called the name of a mere cat's breed anymore," she said, disgust plain on her face. She lifted her chin with a haughty jerk, scorn replaced with a cold smile. "My name is Mie, and I am on the side of Lord Niko."

    "And Kritiker?" Birman was corrupted; how much of Kritiker was? Were they all on the side of this maniac cult? Was Manx? Had she given them this mission with the intent to discover who the two chosen boys were?

    Birman gave a careless shrug of her shoulders, the smug expression returning to her face. He had never before seen her with such a look, and he decided it was not one that he wished to see. She had always struck him as a more gentle type of woman. It seemed no one was what they appeared to be anymore. "I was ordered to find a way into Kritiker in hopes of getting more information on Estet. We were close, very close, when they made their first attempt at a wakening ritual, but that chance was blown because of you four." Now the look she raked him with was scornful.

    Wakening ritual?...


    His mind flew to the time Estet had kidnapped Aya-chan and had tried to have an elaborate ritual with her. Then that...Estet had known all along that his sister was that woman?

    No! His sister was no ancient goddess. She was a normal girl.

    His eyes went to Crawford in a look that was almost accusing. The older man returned his gaze calmly. Schwarz had known about his sister all along, then? But how could they have? Schuldich himself had sounded surprised- if amused- at the Myrr's interest in Aya-chan.

    And yet...Schuldich had known who Ara'miza was. How much did Schwarz know?

    Aya turned back on Birman. "You knew about Aya-chan?"

    "I knew Estet was interested in her, but I didn't know what for. If I'd known that she was their reborn goddess, I would have killed her long ago."

    Icy hate hit Aya in a blow to the stomach that took his breath away. He inhaled sharply, unable to control his reaction to her careless words. This woman that he and his team had trusted and depended on was nothing more than a cold-blooded monster, the same as Schwarz. What would have happened if she had found out about Aya-chan sooner? She would have killed her, and Aya would have never seen it coming. He would have been unable to prevent it. He would have been unable to protect her.


    He had not realized that he had lifted his sword to take a swing at her until two hands closed on his wrists in a death grip, keeping him from making his move. He shot a quick look to the one that had stopped him, trying to wrest away. Schuldich moved with him, giving him a small shove so that Aya stumbled with he was released. The German's smirk was no longer amused. It was menacing.

    "Where is Farfarello?" he asked, nasal words hanging in the air with just enough lilt to be a threat. "Where is Nagi?"

    ~Just take it!~ Aya sent at the telepath's mind, angry. ~Take it from her thoughts with that damned gift of yours!~

    There was no answer, and Schuldich made no move to show he'd even received the thought. The German reached up with a hand, raking some loose bangs out of his face, waiting for Birman's answer. Aya tightened his grip on his katana's handle, looking from one man to the next. Why weren't Schuldich and Crawford attacking her?

    "We have no use for Farfarello," Birman said, reaching out to touch Schuldich. The man sidestepped her touch easily and her smile turned crafty, her eyes mocking him as if she knew something he did not. "He was taken by the Myrr when they suspected he might be Lord Sainan. If he's still alive, we don't care what happens to him. He has no powers to interest us; he is merely a delusional heathen of this wasted world."

    "What is that saying again about the pot and the kettle?" Schuldich asked, words edged.

    She smiled faintly. "You are amusing when you are not a threat to me," she told him. "I much prefer it this way, instead of playing the role of the weak human to fit in."

    What was wrong with them? Why were they just standing around chatting like idiots?!

    "Where is Aya-chan?" Aya demanded flatly, moving forward again to shove past Schuldich. Birman's unconcerned gaze fell on him. "Where is Ken? Where are Omi and Yohji?"

    She lifted one shoulder in that careless shrug again that made him want to strike her. "Omi's body is with Nagi's, waiting for the ceremony that will resurrect Lord Niko and Lord Sainan. Your other teammates are with Farfarello, awaiting judgement by the twin stars. Your sister is being kept as a sacrifice." She smiled widely in a darkly satisfied sort of anticipation. "This time the tables are turned," she whispered heatedly, excitement glittering in her eyes. "This time it will be Ara'miza who dies on Lord Niko's blade."

    This time not even Schuldich could not move fast enough to stop Aya's strike. She would let his sister die-!

    His sword connected with something before it could reach her flesh, something that lit up blinding white and burned at his flesh, eating its way through to vibrate against his bones. The force of it sent him crashing backwards to fall against the surface of the stone, choking for air against the blood in his mouth. His sword- where was it? He could no longer feel it in his grasp. He managed to roll over, though it felt like the most difficult thing he'd ever attempted in his life, and coughed harshly, hacking the blood out of his throat to spatter against the ground.

    "That was not the most intelligent thing to do," Birman observed calmly. "You have no more purpose, Abyssinian-Ran. We do not need you for anything. If you were ever good for anything, you helped keep the Myrr and Estet from claiming Aya-chan on most of their subtle attempts when we did not know who she really was. Now that we have her, you are no longer worth the oxygen you breathe. Fuumi will decide whether or not you are even valuable enough to be a sacrifice. As for you two," and she turned her attention back on Schwarz, "take your pick. You may be an audience or a sacrifice. Watch and learn; watch and see the past unfold in a glorious new future for this planet."

    Aya spat to get the last traces of blood from his mouth, trying to ignore the bitter taste it left on his tongue. His bangs had fallen against his face untidily and he raked them out of the way impatiently, glaring at Birman acidly. She ignored the attention, waiting for Schwarz's reply. He switched his gaze to them in time to see Crawford remove his glasses. The American polished them on the front of his jacket, the corner of his mouth twitching into the faintest of smirks.

    "It will be interesting to see the one Estet always whispered about in their prayers," was his answer.

    She smiled back, but there was a warning in her eyes. "You will be judged," she told him, gaze flicking briefly to Schuldich before returning to lock with Crawford's honey-brown eyes. "If you are found trustworthy, you will be honored with places in Lord Sainan's court, where you can watch and aid in our reconstruction of the world. If you are found to be nothing more than tricksters, Fuumi will be more than happy to take you out."

    The two did not reply, but from Crawford's calm expression, he did not feel threatened by her words.

    Birman half-turned to go, then remembered Aya and looked back at him. "Bring him," she said, flicking her fingers in his direction. "He will be placed with the rest."

    Schuldich reached down, taking Aya by the shoulder. Aya tensed, about to react by attacking, until he felt a brush of crackling heat across his skin- a warning from Birman. He allowed himself to be yanked upwards and flicked an acid glare in Schuldich's direction as he jerked free. Schuldich let him go, returning the glare with a lazy smirk. Birman was watching Aya closely. He glanced at her and could see the unspoken warning flickering in her eyes. It was obvious what would happen if he tried to attack or get away.

    She saw his understanding and half-turned away, motioning for him to lead. He hesitated for only the slightest of moments before starting off. She followed, letting Schwarz take up the rear. Aya thought it was careless of her to turn her back on them, yet they did not seem interested in attacking her.

    A cold breeze washed across the top of the stage, followed by soft hoots. It was an eerie sound, dark and haunted. Aya did not pause but glanced to his left to try and see where it was coming from. He did not see anyone.

    "It's just the symbols," Birman said behind him. "Ignore it."

    They reached the edge of the stage and Aya could see a handful of people gathered down there. They were split into two groups of four. The three were sitting off to one side. A white ball was between them, giving off a glow that lit the nearer group easily. Two were girls and were standing, talking quietly. The other two were lying on the ground, side by side.

    Aya's eyes fell on one of those that was lying down. Omi.

    "Fuumi," Birman spoke up, catching the attention of the girls.

    Surprise pierced through Aya when he saw their faces. It was them- the girls Yohji and Ken had gone out with. Fuumi smiled widely as she gazed up at him, lifting a hand in welcome.

    "I expected you would be along," she told him, amusement rippling in her voice. "I knew we'd meet again the moment we kidnapped Ken." He offered her an icy glare. Birman turned an interested look on him, a look he ignored. Fuumi beckoned in invitation. "Come, join us. There's not much longer, you know. The ceremony is so long we'll have to start soon. I'm sure you'll enjoy watching it."

    "You think he's even worth letting live that long?" Birman asked, looking back at Fuumi.

    Fuumi turned a condescending look on Birman that reminded Aya of Schuldich. "Are you questioning me?" she asked, voice almost mockingly pleasant.

    "No, I'm-"

    "I didn't think so. Now then, who are these others that you've brought along?"

    There was a brief struggle as Birman controlled her anger before she turned, introducing each man behind Aya to the girls. Aya didn't look at them. He wasn't sure whether they had switched sides or were just waiting for an opportunity to strike. One could never tell with Schwarz. Either way, he knew that he couldn't count on them as allies. He knew that even their truce- which could have only been called by them out of amusement or to bring him along as an extra fighter and body bag- held no weight. They were not in this to make sure they all got out alive. They would protect their own only. Or if it came down to it, would they just concentrate on self and forget their team? Bastards, all of them.

    "Aya, wasn't it?" Fuumi asked, turning her attention back on him. "Come on down."

    He glanced towards the three beside him. Birman gave him an impatient look, irritated by Fuumi's words to her. "Either jump or be shoved," she snapped.

    Aya crouched and let himself drop off the side, landing quietly in the thick grass and weeds that were there. Schuldich joined him next, then Crawford and Birman. Fuumi studied them for a moment, then gestured to the group that was back from the light. "You three will stay there until the ceremony begins."

    Aya looked in that direction. He could see two people rising, too dimly lit to be recognizable. The third shifted, uttering a soft hiss. Schuldich brushed past Aya, hands shoved in his pockets as he sauntered towards the other group. As he neared, the air around him sparkled. He paused to watch them before glancing back at Crawford. Aya frowned. What was there? Was it some type of magic?

    Someone shoved him from behind. He stumbled a few steps before catching his balance and looking back. It was Birman. "Get over there." The expression on her face was almost a sneer. "Go make sure your precious sister is still breathing. There isn't much time left before she isn't, after all."

    A hand closed on his upper arm before he could take a step forward, before he even knew he was going to move. Hate washed through him in a dark, fiery hot wave, almost so strong that he could not get any words out.

    "When you die," he told her, tone dead calm and quiet, "it will be at my blade."

    She laughed- just once- a sharp bark that mocked him, then turned away. Aya felt himself behind pulled and let himself be brought towards the other group, unable to tear his eyes away from Birman's back until hands grabbed at his shirt and a familiar voice pierced through the red haze before his eyes. His anger was drawn back and neatly tucked aside for later. For now, he allowed himself to be turned and found himself face to face with Ken.

    "Aya!" Ken searched his eyes, then did a quick scan of him as if checking to see if anything was wrong. "You're all right," he said, voice colored with relief as he looked back up to meet Aya's gaze.

    Aya could not say the same about Ken. The boy had obviously experienced some roughhousing. His clothes were torn in places and blood was showing in some. His hair was unruly and face smudged with dirt. There were bruises and scratches on his face. Yohji was standing behind him, hands on Ken's arms. Aya's first thought was that Yohji was keeping Ken between the two of them in case the redhead carried through on his earlier threat to kill Yohji. Then he realized Yohji was supporting the younger boy, who, on a more careful glance, was unsteady on his feet.

    "What happened?" Aya asked, directing the question at Yohji.

    "We found a symbol at a sight. Ken recognized it from Fuumi's necklace." Yohji tilted his head in the direction of the three women, who were talking quietly. "When we approached them, we were attacked." Yohji's voice was grim. "They have some kind of power- stronger than Schwarz." At those words, Yohji cast a sideways glance at the three men standing a short distance away. "We lost, but switched hands when the Myrr drove these ones away. Just a few hours ago the two sides clashed again."

    "The Myrr are all dead," Ken spoke up, and Aya looked back at him. "It was a horrible fight. The Stars had the element of surprise, though, and won just barely. Only those three are left."

    Just three.

    Aya looked over his shoulder, studying the three. They easily outnumbered the women, but how could one fight magic?

    "You've stepped into a shield," Yohji said. "We can enter it, but we can't leave it." He gave a helpless shrug. "We've been trying to think of plans, but we haven't come up with anything yet. The only thing we can do is wait and see what happens."

    Aya studied his teammates for a long time in silence, mentally debating whether or not to accept that plan. He did not like the idea of submitting and sitting tight until an opportunity for escape or victory arose, but there was nothing else they could do. He had to be patient, but patience was hard when time was running out.

    The decision was taken out of his hands by Ken, who beckoned to Yohji. The man helped ease him to the ground, and Aya could see past them to a young girl lying on a board behind them. Aya-chan.

    Aya passed them to sit beside her, checking her pulse and her face for any signs of mishandling. There didn't appear to be any harm; whoever had been transporting her had been especially careful. He allowed himself a silent sigh of relief, twining his fingers through hers and comforting himself with the feel of her soft skin against his. Somehow, he would protect her. He would not fail her again. He would die before he let those women hurt her.

    Almost as if in response to his thoughts, her fingers tightened on his.

"Mir ist übel." - I feel ill.
"Was ist los?" - What is the matter?
"Hier spukt es." - This place is haunted.
I do not speak German (unfortunately T_T), so the translations might be off a bit, but you get the general idea...^^;;;;

Part 13