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Liberation II: Immortality 

Sorceress Fantasia


Prologue: Eye of the Storm

"Why the surprised faces? Donít wanna see me?" A dark figure inquired, amazed as she pouted slightly. It was a big blow to her ego that her friends didnít want to see her. She sat cross-legged on a desk, back facing the now opened window. A gust of ghastly wind pulsated in, blowing the curtains upwards. The only source of light in the dusky room was the glimmer of moonlight seeping through the window.

The two backed away, partly in shock, and partly in horror. Their eyes widened, and took in a ragged breath. They almost sank to the ground as their legs went soft.

"Now Iím surprised. You two are actually scared?" The dark figure asked, rather amused. She had never in her life, expected Shinigami and Yume, two of the most powerful dark deities in Utopia to feel actually fear. Moreover, it was her, one of the less talented deities! The girl would have laughed out loud if not for the fact that she fathomed that she could very well be skewed for gloating at the two. Even so, her lips twitched significantly. Apparently, this was a very capricious occurrence and was too hard for her to contain her laughter.

Duo Maxwell, also known as Shinigami, gritted his teeth in frustration. Slapping his head, he spoke. "Will someone tell me why does this scene look so familiar? I hate this dťjŗ vu." Somewhere inside his mind, he vaguely remembered the same setting, the same words and the same mysterious woman sitting on his desk.

His sister, Vespera, also known as Yume, hissed exasperatedly, "Does my name mean anything to you?" What a scatterbrain her oniisan was. Aw hell, she should know better than that. What could she expect from the guy who couldnít even remember the test of love, which was supposedly one of the most important things in their lives back then?

"Oh yeahÖ" He muttered in defeat. The braided boy let out a huff of exasperation, his jagged bangs fluttering up. "I hate late night encounters! Nothing good comes out of it! Itís like the last time I met Ves!"

Vespera frowned and sat down on the bed. Nodding in agreement, she sulked, "I donít care what it is this time, but Iím *not* going back! Címon! I just came back Utopia last night! I donít know about you, but I need my sleep!" Seeing her friend still sitting on the table, she sighed exaggeratedly. "I know Iím good, I know Iím powerful, I know you guys need my help desperately. But I am *not* superwoman. I need my rest like any living thing!" Tiredly, she plopped onto the bed with her hands spread to get her point across.

On second thoughts, she pushed herself off the warm comforts and yanked her black headband off, throwing it onto a nearby table. Lying down again, she was thankful for the fact that her hair was already down. Ever since she had opted to stay behind in the human world almost seven months ago, she had freed her hair from their usual confining plaits, instead letting them stay free, cascading down to her waist in all glory. It was a sign to show that she was leading a new life, and partly to keep the othersí suspicion at bay. Her clothing already bore a close resemblance to her brother, something that they decided to be discreet about. That was certainly the reason why she had to do without her usual plaits she liked so much. However, she felt kind of naked without anything on her hair, so Duo had suggested a headband and she heeded the advice, of course, in their favourite shade yet again. That went without saying. In addition, she changed her dress code too. She now wore a hooded jacket that was made from velvet with white furry edges, a mini-skirt that reached half-way down her thighs, and plain leather boots that came up to her knees. Of course, everything was black, with only a few patches of white.

The girl, Chandra, jumped down from the table she was sitting on, and landed lightly on her feet. She ignored Vesperaís unruly comment and answered solemnly, "Something serious is going on."

Duo rolled his eyes. "How serious can it get, if you can come down here to talk?" He rebuked, then turned away and flopped down on his bed. It had been slightly more than half a year since that ordeal with Vespera. After so many months of peace, at least mentally, he had naively thought that he was indeed safe from his past duties as Shinigami and that he would finally be able to truly enjoy his life in the human world, a treat which his sister wasnít given. From time to time, she would be called back to help in some insignificant things. Both of them knew better though. It was just an excuse their father used to see her, for neither of them would go back willingly. Somehow, tonight was proving him wrong. So very wrong. ĎI donít appreciate your weird sense of humour, Unmei.í He mused bitterly.

To their utter surprise, the girl clenched her fists, tight enough to draw blood. She forced through gritted teeth, "Iím not kidding! And neither am I here to talk! Thereís really something bad going on in Utopia!"

"So what is it?" Vespera asked finally, sensing the desperateness in her friendís otherwise sweet voice.

"ItísÖ" She wavered for a moment, thinking what was the best way to break the horrifying news to her would-be comrades. Heart attacks were not needed and wanted, but time was an important factor.

Shinigami and Yume held their breaths in anticipation. Whatever it was, as long as it made their usually over-vivacious friend speak so gravely, it had to be really severe or sinister, even. And it didnít help when torrents of apprehension were washing over them.

"Itís Andariel." Her voice was strangled, fraught with dismay and trepidation.

Horror pulsed through their bodies, as sheer realisation hit them cruelly. Darkness engulfed them, eating at them from their very souls. Tsunamis of unadulterated hatred and fear crushed into them, almost drowning them. At that moment, they both knew.

Things would never be the same again.

Sorceress Fantasia @ August 2000

Last revised 16th October 2001

Authorís notes: Yeah, I know this came out very late. I finished this last year, but I wanted to make it a one-shot. However, the fact that Iíll be getting extremely busy came to me and I decided to make it into chapters instead so I could post them sooner. Iíll take a long time to finish the entire fanfic though. Gomen to anyone who is reading this!

 

Liberation II: Immortality

Chapter 1: Tough Decisions

By Sorceress Fantasia

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Standard Disclaimers: All characters, except Vespera and the other deities, do not belong to me. They belong to blah, blah, blah. You know who. The song belongs to whoever wrote it and is sung by Celine Dion.

Warnings: A little OOC and maybe sapÖ anou, scratch that. Itís definitely sappy. Angst heavy. Original characters.

"Blah" denotes speech.

ĎBlahí denotes thoughts.

(Blah) denotes the mind talking to the charas.

Note: This fanfic might have a few battle scenes, and they will be mostly magical based. As my muses are out of commission, I will be using the type of magic used in the RPGs that I play. For instance, the Final Fantasy series. The names of weapons and magic may be copied from the games. They do not belong to me. Gomen for any confusion caused.

Achieves: Here and anyone else who wants my fic! Just give me a call ok? ^o^

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

"What do you mean by that!? One week to settle everything!? Thereís absolutely no way Iím leaving here!" He pounded his fist on the wooden table to emphasize his point. The unfortunate piece of furniture shook awfully, its legs almost giving way.

Vespera shook her head, sighing. "The table didnít offend you." She reprimanded her brother gently. She understood her brotherís anger, and therefore didnít have the heart to act too harsh with him. But everyone had their limits. And Duo was close to reaching hers.

"Ya freakiní right! It didnít bloody offend me, *you* did!" Duo spat. His diamond hard gaze almost turned Vesperaís warm blood into shards of ice. He leapt off his chair acrimoniously, finding it hard to sit still while his blood was boiling with absolute rage. He was positive that if anger were truly the fire people described it to be, the entire colony would ceased to exist, for it would have burst into flames immediately. Even so, he felt his wrath was even more than just that. After all, he was Shinigami, a god who brought death to thousands, millions even. And it never was a very clever idea to irate the god of death himself.

"So what do you want me to say?!" Vespera finally erupted like a dormant volcano, after tolerating Duoís ridiculous nonsense and emotional outburst for the last fifteen minutes. "That we donít care cause weíre no longer part of Utopia!? We were, and always will be deities! This is something that we cannot change no matter what the circumstances! We were born there! We were raised there! We grew up there! We gained our outstanding and extraordinary powers there! And now Utopia is in danger, you wanna back out of it!? Duo Maxwell, what kind of man are you!?"

 

"I donít care what happens! Iím not leaving this place even if Utopia goes to pot!"

"Duo! Listen to me!" The girl tried again.

"No! *You* listen to me! I donít give a damn to what happens to Utopia! Heero needs me, and Iím not gonna abandon him! Thereís no way in hell youíre making me leave!!"

"Duo!"

"NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!"

"Duo, stop screaming blue murder!!"

"Which part of the word Ďnoí donít you understand!!! Do you need a dictionary!?"

"Youíre getting unreasonable!!"

"Oh yeah! Well then, donít talk to me if you canít stand me! Itís not as if I give a damn!"

"Confound it all! I donít care how Iím gonna do it, but Iím getting the piece of information into your damn thick skull by hook or by crook!" Vespera shrieked in frustration. Her line of sanity was about to snap at the bad news, and Duo wasnít doing much to help.

"NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! Iím not leaving even if it costs me my wretched life!" Duo snarled, hands clasped at the sides of his head, shaking it violently. He willed his ears to not hear what Vespera said.

"ENOUGH OF THIS CHARADE!!!" Vespera yelled, enraged.

SLAP!

Duo looked up incredulously from the floor, violet irises widened at the sudden violence. He felt his cheek swell up at the sheer force, and the temperature rose. Vespera wore the most appalling expression he had ever seen.

"What do you take this as? A game? A joke?" She hissed venomously. Although she wasnít Death, she showed the same prowess and invoked just as much fear in her enemies. "This is *not* a joke." She said vehemently, spitting out word by word. "There is *nothing* such as a reset button that will allow you to start afresh. We canít undo any mistakes. We have one chance, and *only* one chance of getting everything right. One wrong move can lead to the universeís ultimate demise. One small mistake can cause the lives of millions of innocent. And that includes Heero."

Duo looked away, ashamed and contrite of his previous outrage. He fathomed the gravity of the matter, and the urgent need for his interference. However, he had let his selfishness get the better of him and not heed his sisterís advice to cool down. He understood clearly that it was his duty and responsibility. Yet, he had pushed it away. Suddenly, he felt mortified to face his sister, who was younger but yet, more responsible and understanding than himself. If it were possible, he wanted a hole to materialize beneath him and swallow him up, anything to let him get away from Yume, even for a while.

Vespera knew what was racing through his mind, and decided to switch tactics. Her violet irises fluttered shut, and when they opened again, they were flickering in a shade of scarlet red. A gentle swirl of wind gathered at her feet, and whirled around her slender form. Her chestnut tresses floated up with the breeze, defying gravity. She held out an outspread palm in front of her, and with a soft breathe, she blew a gentle puff of air across her palm. Suddenly, a crystal chess set materialized between them, hovering in midair. The beautiful chess set glowed a radiant white, in all its holiness. The board was a mirror by itself, surface glossy, stained only at alternate spots to differentiate the ranks and files from one another. The chess pieces were constructed from the most mesmerizing material. One set made of pure, glittery crystal. The other was black, shimmering. The game seemed to be halfway through, the counters positioned in such a way that the black piecesí side was at the winning edge.

Immediately, Duo understood what the chess set meant. He knew his sister too well. The white crystal symbolized the gods and goddesses of Utopia, while the black ones represented Andariel and her troops.

Vesperaís usually bright and glimmering irises were glazed and clouded as she stepped forward and gingerly took the black queen in her long, slender fingers. The bright light shined onto her, and at that moment, she resembled an epitome of darkness. Wordlessly, she lifted the piece gently, maneuvering it across the chessboard. Elegantly, she knocked down a white knight with the edge of her black queen, and the knight ceased to exist, disappearing into thin air.

"Checkmate." She said simply. Then, Vespera gestured for her brother to continue. "Your turn."

Duoís violet orbs narrowed suspiciously. He knew what the game represented, but what was she trying to show him? With his knowledge on chess and his keen observation skills, Duo couldnít see a chance for counterattack. Nevertheless, he tried his best and moved his bishop in front of his king. But then, he knew that it was a futile attempt, and his sisterís rook could easily capture his king from its side.

And that was exactly what she proceeded to do. As the white king fell, Duo felt his eyes go wide open at what he saw. The almighty and powerful king of Utopia was superimposed over the fallen king. Lying still, the piece glowed a bright scarlet, and ignited. The fire was strong, but kept only to the fallen king. As if on cue, the rest of the white set started to glow as well, then burst into flames, scorched by the fiery inferno of hell.

"NaÖ Nani?" Duo stammered.

As though to answer his query, images of deities suffering endlessly materialized above the chessboard. They were beaten, whipped, lashed, burnt, ripped apart, tortured by devils. Duo could hear their painful cries of anguish and agony, could almost feel the pain inflicted onto their bodies and souls. Then, the images slowly transformed to the human world, where the humans were also tortured mercilessly and cruelly by those same heartless creatures. One face shocked him immensely. The face which he now recognized better than his own.

"Heero!?" Duo exclaimed.

The Japanese pilot was severely injured, cuts and bruises graced his body. All of a sudden, his image crumpled into dust.

"Heero!" He took in a sharp intake of air, snapping his head up to look at his sister, eyes demanding an explanation.

Vespera met his eyes, face devoid of all emotions. "If Utopia loses, the humans will be doomed in a living hell for all eternity. The devils will rule the land, afflicting suffering enough to break the will of the toughest man. No human can pull through that. Of course, that includes Heero and all our other friends here. As for us, the deities, we will be bound to a fate of endless sorrow and tribulation, as will the humans. No one will be able to break through the vicious cycle of life. Is that what you wish for? Are you really that selfish?"

Duo looked away, eyes downcast. Pondering over what she had just said, he felt a stab of pain spear through his heart. ĎI just wanna be with Heero, forever. In a place where we can live peacefully. Thatís why both of us are fighting so hard to put down the war here. ButÖí

"But there wonít be a forever if the world is destroyed. There wonít be peace anywhere. There wonít be a future for you two, or for anyone else for that matter." Vespera beseeched. Even though Eden had reincarnated, their mind-link was still intact and as strong as it was in the past. Getting only silence in response, she sighed inwardly. She knew that her brotherís mind was in a huge jumble, torn between his lover and the world.

Suddenly, the white set of chess reappeared at their original positions that they were at before they disappeared. Vespera reached out again, this time taking the white queen. Without hesitation, she placed it down. To Duoís utter surprise, it captured the black king. It was only then did he notice the cleverly positioned chess pieces right in the beginning. With the black rook that managed to capture the white king gone from its previous position, it freed the white queenís way to the black king.

Once again, images materialized above the chessboard. This time, however, the images were the exact opposite from the earlier ones. It showed a paradise filled with vast fields of flowers, butterflies frolicking about natureís wonder. A waterfall clashed down onto the plunge pool below, the sonorous sound adorned by the cool whispers of breezes and melodious chirps of birds nearby. In the clear blue skies, a rainbow streaked across it like a loversí bridge. The rainbow touched down gently on the ground, where pots of gold and happiness would surely be found. In the middle of this paradise was a little cottage. The wooden door opened abruptly, and a happy Duo bounced out, his arms hooked around his loverís. Smiles graced their lips as they enjoyed themselves under the bright sunshine.

"My brother, do you see? Right now our side is at the losing edge, and have lost many of our people. Thatís why we have to help. If we donít, this world and ours will crumple to dust in no time flat. No matter how much we donít want to, we *have* to go back. We are *needed* to fight in thisÖ massacre, thisÖ carnage. Many of our generals in the war have been seriously wounded. The troops are quickly losing hope, something we cannot afford now. We, although we may refuse to admit it, are some of the younger leaders of our world. If we offer our help, the troops may regain their faith and confidence because someone is willing to lead them to victory. The process is tedious and dangerous, and we may lose someone important along the way, but at the very least we may have a chance to win. This is *our* responsibility now. We canít skirt away from it." She explained patiently. Placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, she added, "I know that you canít bear to leave Heero, but we have to help. If we donít, how can you two get married? Once we win, Duo, we will truly be freed from Utopia and you can start your new life with Heero. Isnít that what youíve always been dreaming of?" With a wave of her arm, the chess set disappeared.

"But Ves, the war can jolly well take up to years! And you *know* the time difference between Utopia and the ningenkai! Itís one to fifteen! If I leave, I may never get to see Heero again!"

The black clad girl frowned. She was afraid of that as well. But they were left with no other options. They had to give up some things. In Duoís case, Heero could be one of those. With a sigh, she exhorted, "Wait for him. Look for his reincarnation."

"Itís easier said than done. Itís a new life, Ves. He wouldnít be Heero anymore. He wouldnít remember who I am or who I was to him." Duo forced out, swallowing the huge lump in his throat. He tried to ignore the stinging sensation in his eyes.

Vespera nodded her head sadly. "I know that. Every reincarnation brings about a new set of memories and emotions. He wouldnít resembled Heero in any way, much less remember anything about his past life or past love. But know this well, Duo. We are fighting, not only for the world, but also but him, and all of our other friends. If Utopia loses the war, there probably wouldnít be a Heero to fight for anymore. Theyíll all leave, die. We *are* the only ones who can do this now. Please understand." She pleaded mournfully. "I am prepared to leave Wufei as well. Onegai, niisan? " Vespera clasped her brotherís icy hands in her, and gave them a firm squeeze. "Onegai."

Duo wavered for a moment. He knew how far the goddess of dreams had gone to get him to understand the situation. He had never ever seen her beg for anything. He thought the words didnít even exist in her vocabulary! But the sake of something important, she had swallowed her pride. Readily. Even so, the braided boy still felt some resistance left in him. "But Wufei isnít your lover. You donít understand how I feel." Shinigami accused softly.

His sisterís posture turned rigid, then slump almost immediately, as though her previous stiffness was only his imagination. Looking away, her eyes fluttered close and slowly opened with a faraway expression. Duo worried that he had unwittingly hit a sensitive subject. His query was answered when she sighed, looking down at the white tiled floor. Dejectedly, she shook her head slightly.

"Youíre right. Heís not my lover, or anything for that matter. I donít think he even takes me for a friend or comrade. But the passion I feel for himÖ itís the same passion you hold for Heero. He may not love me, but that does not make *my* love for him any lesser. I feel the pain of leaving a loved one as well. So how can you say I donít understand?" She whispered hoarsely.

"IÖ IÖ" Duo stuttered. He was at a loss as to how to apologize for his carelessness. How could he think so little of his sisterís feelings? His guilt deepened as he noticed crystallized drops of gems were splashing onto the ground.

"Truth is, I hurt more than you. I love someone who wonít ever return the gift. I canít even spend my last few days here with him. You," She laughed bitterly, "on the other hand, have Heero-who-loves-you-more-than-himself-Yuy to comfort you. You can always go to him to seek shelter when youíve hurt. You can always go to him when youíre tired. But what of me? Where do I go? Who do I look for? Nowhere. No one. I donít have anywhere to go. I donít have anybody to listen to me. I have nobody to comfort me. Do you know what it feels like?"

Duo swallowed the huge lump in his throat, guilt evident in his frown. "ButÖ you still have meÖ and Heero. You can alwaysÖ look for us if you need help. You know it."

She bit her lips. "Right, I know that. But when I see you two so involved with each other when weíre in the same room, I just canít open my mouth. How can I tell someone who has their love fulfilled my problems? It feels like Iím trying to unload my burdens on someone who shouldnít get involved."

Shinigami suddenly found interest in the stained floor as he looked down at his feet in shame. Was this really how she felt? Perhaps he had been too involved with Heero to notice. What could he do to soothe Vesperaís already bruised pride?

Taking in a couple of deep breaths and a careless swipe at her eyes, she swiftly regained her composure. As emotionally hurt she was, she knew it wasnít the time to sort this out.

"I canít promise you that we will come back alive, but we have to try. At least, we can be sure thereís a chance of survival. After the war, we can come back and you will be able to be with Heero again. Maybe heíll be a couple years older than you, but we havenít got a choice." Yume sighed, "First off, we will have to wipe out the memories of us in this world to avoid any problems that might arise. Our friends will forget our existence, but I will return them the memories when we get back. AndÖ well, we still have a week to settle everything. Spend this last week with him, Duo." She paused, not knowing how to continue. "Enjoy yourself, for there might not be a second chance toÖ I know Iím being a big-mouth, but Iím also being honest. We both know itís the truth." She faltered. Finally, she added in a crestfallen tone. "Forget about your missions for now, Iíll take care of them."

Duo nodded, and slumped down into his chair. His head hung low, eyes spoke of unshed tears.

Vespera sighed for what seemed the umpteenth time as she stared at his frazzled state. Would they pull through this ordeal like the last? She didnít know. The only thing she was sure of was that chances of survival were slim. The fight would surely be bloody and grueling. Coming back alive was a difficult task by itself. Perhaps, one of them would die in the fight and never return.

If one of them would die, she silently prayed that it was going to be her. After all, she was the odd one out. She wasnít needed. Everyone had someone. But not her. Duo and Heero had just found love in one another; it wasnít fair for them to give it up so soon. Sure, they would grieve, and even be devastated. Most probably theyíd cry for some time, but they had each other to help them pull through. Trowa, the cold and silent one. Maybe heíd shed a few silent tears, but that would be all. No point wasting precious tears on someone he barely knew. Besides, he would be only crying for the loss of a fellow pilot, not a friend. And the blonde pilot, ah, the ever kind one. Quatre would weep, that was for sure. But the sadness would not linger for long, either. He had Trowa, and Trowa had him. As for WufeiÖ What would his reaction be like? Nothing. Why would he cry over the loss of another stupid onna? Besides, he had Sally, didnít he?

ĎWufeiÖí Vespera stared out into the night sky.

Chapter 1: Tough Decisions

"What do you mean by that!? One week to settle everything!? Thereís absolutely no way Iím leaving here!" He pounded his fist on the wooden table to emphasize his point. The unfortunate piece of furniture shook awfully, its legs almost giving way.

Vespera shook her head, sighing. "The table didnít offend you." She reprimanded her brother gently. She understood her brotherís anger, and therefore didnít have the heart to act too harsh with him. But everyone had their limits. And Duo was close to reaching hers.

"Ya freakiní right! It didnít bloody offend me, *you* did!" Duo spat. His diamond hard gaze almost turned Vesperaís warm blood into shards of ice. He leapt off his chair acrimoniously, finding it hard to sit still while his blood was boiling with absolute rage. He was positive that if anger were truly the fire people described it to be, the entire colony would ceased to exist, for it would have burst into flames immediately. Even so, he felt his wrath was even more than just that. After all, he was Shinigami, a god who brought death to thousands, millions even. And it never was a very clever idea to irate the god of death himself.

"So what do you want me to say?!" Vespera finally erupted like a dormant volcano, after tolerating Duoís ridiculous nonsense and emotional outburst for the last fifteen minutes. "That we donít care cause weíre no longer part of Utopia!? We were, and always will be deities! This is something that we cannot change no matter what the circumstances! We were born there! We were raised there! We grew up there! We gained our outstanding and extraordinary powers there! And now Utopia is in danger, you wanna back out of it!? Duo Maxwell, what kind of man are you!?"

 

"I donít care what happens! Iím not leaving this place even if Utopia goes to pot!"

"Duo! Listen to me!" The girl tried again.

"No! *You* listen to me! I donít give a damn to what happens to Utopia! Heero needs me, and Iím not gonna abandon him! Thereís no way in hell youíre making me leave!!"

"Duo!"

"NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!"

"Duo, stop screaming blue murder!!"

"Which part of the word Ďnoí donít you understand!!! Do you need a dictionary!?"

"Youíre getting unreasonable!!"

"Oh yeah! Well then, donít talk to me if you canít stand me! Itís not as if I give a damn!"

"Confound it all! I donít care how Iím gonna do it, but Iím getting the piece of information into your damn thick skull by hook or by crook!" Vespera shrieked in frustration. Her line of sanity was about to snap at the bad news, and Duo wasnít doing much to help.

"NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! Iím not leaving even if it costs me my wretched life!" Duo snarled, hands clasped at the sides of his head, shaking it violently. He willed his ears to not hear what Vespera said.

"ENOUGH OF THIS CHARADE!!!" Vespera yelled, enraged.

SLAP!

Duo looked up incredulously from the floor, violet irises widened at the sudden violence. He felt his cheek swell up at the sheer force, and the temperature rose. Vespera wore the most appalling expression he had ever seen.

"What do you take this as? A game? A joke?" She hissed venomously. Although she wasnít Death, she showed the same prowess and invoked just as much fear in her enemies. "This is *not* a joke." She said vehemently, spitting out word by word. "There is *nothing* such as a reset button that will allow you to start afresh. We canít undo any mistakes. We have one chance, and *only* one chance of getting everything right. One wrong move can lead to the universeís ultimate demise. One small mistake can cause the lives of millions of innocent. And that includes Heero."

Duo looked away, ashamed and contrite of his previous outrage. He fathomed the gravity of the matter, and the urgent need for his interference. However, he had let his selfishness get the better of him and not heed his sisterís advice to cool down. He understood clearly that it was his duty and responsibility. Yet, he had pushed it away. Suddenly, he felt mortified to face his sister, who was younger but yet, more responsible and understanding than himself. If it were possible, he wanted a hole to materialize beneath him and swallow him up, anything to let him get away from Yume, even for a while.

Vespera knew what was racing through his mind, and decided to switch tactics. Her violet irises fluttered shut, and when they opened again, they were flickering in a shade of scarlet red. A gentle swirl of wind gathered at her feet, and whirled around her slender form. Her chestnut tresses floated up with the breeze, defying gravity. She held out an outspread palm in front of her, and with a soft breathe, she blew a gentle puff of air across her palm. Suddenly, a crystal chess set materialized between them, hovering in midair. The beautiful chess set glowed a radiant white, in all its holiness. The board was a mirror by itself, surface glossy, stained only at alternate spots to differentiate the ranks and files from one another. The chess pieces were constructed from the most mesmerizing material. One set made of pure, glittery crystal. The other was black, shimmering. The game seemed to be halfway through, the counters positioned in such a way that the black piecesí side was at the winning edge.

Immediately, Duo understood what the chess set meant. He knew his sister too well. The white crystal symbolized the gods and goddesses of Utopia, while the black ones represented Andariel and her troops.

Vesperaís usually bright and glimmering irises were glazed and clouded as she stepped forward and gingerly took the black queen in her long, slender fingers. The bright light shined onto her, and at that moment, she resembled an epitome of darkness. Wordlessly, she lifted the piece gently, maneuvering it across the chessboard. Elegantly, she knocked down a white knight with the edge of her black queen, and the knight ceased to exist, disappearing into thin air.

"Checkmate." She said simply. Then, Vespera gestured for her brother to continue. "Your turn."

Duoís violet orbs narrowed suspiciously. He knew what the game represented, but what was she trying to show him? With his knowledge on chess and his keen observation skills, Duo couldnít see a chance for counterattack. Nevertheless, he tried his best and moved his bishop in front of his king. But then, he knew that it was a futile attempt, and his sisterís rook could easily capture his king from its side.

And that was exactly what she proceeded to do. As the white king fell, Duo felt his eyes go wide open at what he saw. The almighty and powerful king of Utopia was superimposed over the fallen king. Lying still, the piece glowed a bright scarlet, and ignited. The fire was strong, but kept only to the fallen king. As if on cue, the rest of the white set started to glow as well, then burst into flames, scorched by the fiery inferno of hell.

"NaÖ Nani?" Duo stammered.

As though to answer his query, images of deities suffering endlessly materialized above the chessboard. They were beaten, whipped, lashed, burnt, ripped apart, tortured by devils. Duo could hear their painful cries of anguish and agony, could almost feel the pain inflicted onto their bodies and souls. Then, the images slowly transformed to the human world, where the humans were also tortured mercilessly and cruelly by those same heartless creatures. One face shocked him immensely. The face which he now recognized better than his own.

"Heero!?" Duo exclaimed.

The Japanese pilot was severely injured, cuts and bruises graced his body. All of a sudden, his image crumpled into dust.

"Heero!" He took in a sharp intake of air, snapping his head up to look at his sister, eyes demanding an explanation.

Vespera met his eyes, face devoid of all emotions. "If Utopia loses, the humans will be doomed in a living hell for all eternity. The devils will rule the land, afflicting suffering enough to break the will of the toughest man. No human can pull through that. Of course, that includes Heero and all our other friends here. As for us, the deities, we will be bound to a fate of endless sorrow and tribulation, as will the humans. No one will be able to break through the vicious cycle of life. Is that what you wish for? Are you really that selfish?"

Duo looked away, eyes downcast. Pondering over what she had just said, he felt a stab of pain spear through his heart. ĎI just wanna be with Heero, forever. In a place where we can live peacefully. Thatís why both of us are fighting so hard to put down the war here. ButÖí

"But there wonít be a forever if the world is destroyed. There wonít be peace anywhere. There wonít be a future for you two, or for anyone else for that matter." Vespera beseeched. Even though Eden had reincarnated, their mind-link was still intact and as strong as it was in the past. Getting only silence in response, she sighed inwardly. She knew that her brotherís mind was in a huge jumble, torn between his lover and the world.

Suddenly, the white set of chess reappeared at their original positions that they were at before they disappeared. Vespera reached out again, this time taking the white queen. Without hesitation, she placed it down. To Duoís utter surprise, it captured the black king. It was only then did he notice the cleverly positioned chess pieces right in the beginning. With the black rook that managed to capture the white king gone from its previous position, it freed the white queenís way to the black king.

Once again, images materialized above the chessboard. This time, however, the images were the exact opposite from the earlier ones. It showed a paradise filled with vast fields of flowers, butterflies frolicking about natureís wonder. A waterfall clashed down onto the plunge pool below, the sonorous sound adorned by the cool whispers of breezes and melodious chirps of birds nearby. In the clear blue skies, a rainbow streaked across it like a loversí bridge. The rainbow touched down gently on the ground, where pots of gold and happiness would surely be found. In the middle of this paradise was a little cottage. The wooden door opened abruptly, and a happy Duo bounced out, his arms hooked around his loverís. Smiles graced their lips as they enjoyed themselves under the bright sunshine.

"My brother, do you see? Right now our side is at the losing edge, and have lost many of our people. Thatís why we have to help. If we donít, this world and ours will crumple to dust in no time flat. No matter how much we donít want to, we *have* to go back. We are *needed* to fight in thisÖ massacre, thisÖ carnage. Many of our generals in the war have been seriously wounded. The troops are quickly losing hope, something we cannot afford now. We, although we may refuse to admit it, are some of the younger leaders of our world. If we offer our help, the troops may regain their faith and confidence because someone is willing to lead them to victory. The process is tedious and dangerous, and we may lose someone important along the way, but at the very least we may have a chance to win. This is *our* responsibility now. We canít skirt away from it." She explained patiently. Placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, she added, "I know that you canít bear to leave Heero, but we have to help. If we donít, how can you two get married? Once we win, Duo, we will truly be freed from Utopia and you can start your new life with Heero. Isnít that what youíve always been dreaming of?" With a wave of her arm, the chess set disappeared.

"But Ves, the war can jolly well take up to years! And you *know* the time difference between Utopia and the ningenkai! Itís one to fifteen! If I leave, I may never get to see Heero again!"

The black clad girl frowned. She was afraid of that as well. But they were left with no other options. They had to give up some things. In Duoís case, Heero could be one of those. With a sigh, she exhorted, "Wait for him. Look for his reincarnation."

"Itís easier said than done. Itís a new life, Ves. He wouldnít be Heero anymore. He wouldnít remember who I am or who I was to him." Duo forced out, swallowing the huge lump in his throat. He tried to ignore the stinging sensation in his eyes.

Vespera nodded her head sadly. "I know that. Every reincarnation brings about a new set of memories and emotions. He wouldnít resembled Heero in any way, much less remember anything about his past life or past love. But know this well, Duo. We are fighting, not only for the world, but also but him, and all of our other friends. If Utopia loses the war, there probably wouldnít be a Heero to fight for anymore. Theyíll all leave, die. We *are* the only ones who can do this now. Please understand." She pleaded mournfully. "I am prepared to leave Wufei as well. Onegai, niisan? " Vespera clasped her brotherís icy hands in her, and gave them a firm squeeze. "Onegai."

Duo wavered for a moment. He knew how far the goddess of dreams had gone to get him to understand the situation. He had never ever seen her beg for anything. He thought the words didnít even exist in her vocabulary! But the sake of something important, she had swallowed her pride. Readily. Even so, the braided boy still felt some resistance left in him. "But Wufei isnít your lover. You donít understand how I feel." Shinigami accused softly.

His sisterís posture turned rigid, then slump almost immediately, as though her previous stiffness was only his imagination. Looking away, her eyes fluttered close and slowly opened with a faraway expression. Duo worried that he had unwittingly hit a sensitive subject. His query was answered when she sighed, looking down at the white tiled floor. Dejectedly, she shook her head slightly.

"Youíre right. Heís not my lover, or anything for that matter. I donít think he even takes me for a friend or comrade. But the passion I feel for himÖ itís the same passion you hold for Heero. He may not love me, but that does not make *my* love for him any lesser. I feel the pain of leaving a loved one as well. So how can you say I donít understand?" She whispered hoarsely.

"IÖ IÖ" Duo stuttered. He was at a loss as to how to apologize for his carelessness. How could he think so little of his sisterís feelings? His guilt deepened as he noticed crystallized drops of gems were splashing onto the ground.

"Truth is, I hurt more than you. I love someone who wonít ever return the gift. I canít even spend my last few days here with him. You," She laughed bitterly, "on the other hand, have Heero-who-loves-you-more-than-himself-Yuy to comfort you. You can always go to him to seek shelter when youíve hurt. You can always go to him when youíre tired. But what of me? Where do I go? Who do I look for? Nowhere. No one. I donít have anywhere to go. I donít have anybody to listen to me. I have nobody to comfort me. Do you know what it feels like?"

Duo swallowed the huge lump in his throat, guilt evident in his frown. "ButÖ you still have meÖ and Heero. You can alwaysÖ look for us if you need help. You know it."

She bit her lips. "Right, I know that. But when I see you two so involved with each other when weíre in the same room, I just canít open my mouth. How can I tell someone who has their love fulfilled my problems? It feels like Iím trying to unload my burdens on someone who shouldnít get involved."

Shinigami suddenly found interest in the stained floor as he looked down at his feet in shame. Was this really how she felt? Perhaps he had been too involved with Heero to notice. What could he do to soothe Vesperaís already bruised pride?

Taking in a couple of deep breaths and a careless swipe at her eyes, she swiftly regained her composure. As emotionally hurt she was, she knew it wasnít the time to sort this out.

"I canít promise you that we will come back alive, but we have to try. At least, we can be sure thereís a chance of survival. After the war, we can come back and you will be able to be with Heero again. Maybe heíll be a couple years older than you, but we havenít got a choice." Yume sighed, "First off, we will have to wipe out the memories of us in this world to avoid any problems that might arise. Our friends will forget our existence, but I will return them the memories when we get back. AndÖ well, we still have a week to settle everything. Spend this last week with him, Duo." She paused, not knowing how to continue. "Enjoy yourself, for there might not be a second chance toÖ I know Iím being a big-mouth, but Iím also being honest. We both know itís the truth." She faltered. Finally, she added in a crestfallen tone. "Forget about your missions for now, Iíll take care of them."

Duo nodded, and slumped down into his chair. His head hung low, eyes spoke of unshed tears.

Vespera sighed for what seemed the umpteenth time as she stared at his frazzled state. Would they pull through this ordeal like the last? She didnít know. The only thing she was sure of was that chances of survival were slim. The fight would surely be bloody and grueling. Coming back alive was a difficult task by itself. Perhaps, one of them would die in the fight and never return.

If one of them would die, she silently prayed that it was going to be her. After all, she was the odd one out. She wasnít needed. Everyone had someone. But not her. Duo and Heero had just found love in one another; it wasnít fair for them to give it up so soon. Sure, they would grieve, and even be devastated. Most probably theyíd cry for some time, but they had each other to help them pull through. Trowa, the cold and silent one. Maybe heíd shed a few silent tears, but that would be all. No point wasting precious tears on someone he barely knew. Besides, he would be only crying for the loss of a fellow pilot, not a friend. And the blonde pilot, ah, the ever kind one. Quatre would weep, that was for sure. But the sadness would not linger for long, either. He had Trowa, and Trowa had him. As for WufeiÖ What would his reaction be like? Nothing. Why would he cry over the loss of another stupid onna? Besides, he had Sally, didnít he?

ĎWufeiÖí Vespera stared out into the night sky.

Sorceress Fantasia @ August 2000

Last revised 18th October 2001

 

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