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Chapter 8

"A hurricane triggered by butterflies' wings"

-Machines of loving grace


The waves rippled endlessly through the emerald ocean,underneath the ever-stretching sky,ablaze with stagnant stormclouds and smog.
At times,Rowen actually found it easy to believe that the neverending field of wind-swept grass was actually an ocean;the crests of the waves gleaming silver against the radient emerald.The only proof of the actuality of this pseudo-reality were the occasional trees,stripped bare of all foliage,and the rolling hills that appeared to be miniature tsunamis..............
Along the rather redundant stretch of scenery he would also occasionally come across pale stone structures erected in the swaying grass,such as obelisks and other simple objects.
The effect was strangely ominous.
He walked steady,rapid and nervous.He was starting to feel rather fatigued from running. He had been running from what pursued him.
He had also been running so fervently in hopes of reaching his destination.He could see it.Always there on the horizon,but much to his discouragement,it would never get any closer as he approached.It was the Dynasty which he pursued.He could see the tops of the towering pagodas;tiny in the distance.
Behind him on the opposite horizon spread a massive industrial complex,its towering smoke stacks spewing endless billows of gray and rust colored pollution into the stagnant clouds above.Every so often he would glance back over his shoulder to peer at the lurid scene on the horizon,hoping that he had shed the ominous sight.But just as how the Dynasty in front of him never got any closer,it never seemed to get any further away.
Rowen found the eerie calm and silence of the landscape even more disturbing than the chaos that had been caused by his demonic pursuer not long ago.Could he really have lost it that quickly and easily?
He remembered the eerie tone of her mellifluous yet menacing voice,flowing forth from her large stature,as thick and intoxicating as poisoned molassas.It was one of Azrael's warriors............the one called Indra.
Their battle,which he had a feeling was not yet concluded,had been a fierce one.He had spent a majority of the time evading the blows from her plethora of bizarre metal weapons,all which she wielded with frightening ease.Also to contend with was the demon's apparent ability to become invisible.He recalled the way she seemed to melt into the empty air;the only clues to her whereabouts were the spontaneously exploding(and at times imploding) trees and other such obstacles,bursting in a show of magnificent decimation.Her form would only become partially visible for no more than a fraction of a second to lash out with her brutal weaponry.
He glanced at his armor where scars had been cleaved in the metal,remembering the metallic crack of the razor whip.
He had been permitted to see her expression of placid confidence,for her silver helmet only concealed the top part of her cream colored countenance,also allowing the two long ends of her purple hair to flow free in the breeze in front of her like writhing insect antenna.
the creature was truly unlike anything he had ever encountered in the Dynasty.She had a certain unreal quality about her............all of the demons did.You were compelled to fear their existance without really knowing why.They were creatures that came from a form of existance far different than anything within the Dynasty-Human world link. To Rowen,just having the knowledge that worlds such as theirs existed was reason enough to be afraid.
Just when he thought he would collapse in despair,he spotted an intriguing cluster of trees atop the furthest hill..........more abundant than he had been encountering.Their spindly,white branches were rattling and shaking in the gusts of wind like monsterous skeletal hands clawing at the sky.
Near the spot of trees there was also what appeared to be a group of small stone structures,ominously reminiscent of a graveyard.
He broke into a run across the rippling green,towards the intriguing spot.He prayed that he wasn't only falsely getting his hopes up.
As he approached the curious scene,he detected a subtle yet foreboding shift in the bitter air,causing his heart to freeze in his chest before starting again with a renewed intensity.
Gulping in the frigid gusts of air,he scaled the last curving hill with an even more rampant desperation.
After what seemed like an eternity,he found himself out of breath and standing between two pale,dead trees atop the sprawling hill.He realized he was gasping for breath because his armor was no longer protecting him.Something in this wicked place was dampening his power bit by bit.He knew what it was.He was beginning to feel the subtle,almost subliminal forces mingling chaotically in the dense atmosphere with almost malignant play,overpowering one another and at times canceling each other out.These forces were so strange and the essences of a million other dimensions waging war with one another.
He shuddered.It was fantastic,yet at the same time made him and all that he stood for seem incredibly insignificant.
He surveyed the scene in front of him.To his shock,he found that the collection of stone structures he had seen indeed was a graveyard.Most of the headstones were identical pale arcs,some tilting at angles and others standing spotless and erect.Some of the older looking ones were overgrown with velvety moss.Other graves were marked by small obelisks and amazing statues of otherworldly demon creatures,carved from silky gray marble.
Pale and leafless trees encompassed the eerie resting place of whatever abominations might be laying deep within the soil.
Cautiously,he skirted the edge of the mysterious graveyard with ambivalent feelings.This newness was a sign of hope;although,a strange one.But of course,was anything too lovely and innocent to be expected in such a place?
The wind had subsided to a breeze that could now do no more than lightly tousle his hair.He thought he heard a sound as vague as the wind itself,like words being whispered in the distance and traveling to him by way of the passing breeze.He shook his head with the odd idea that subliminal messages of sinister origin where seeping into his mind,uninvited.
Taking tentative steps,he weaved his way through the eerie headstones,trying to bury the fear of unhuman claws suddenly bursting forth from the ground to tear apart his body and drag him under to forever rest in his own cold and hellish grave.
Most of the stones had inscriptions etched meticulously into them and he paused occasionally to study these.However,his perusing came to no avail for each inscription seemed to be in some unique language,each one completely alien to him.
The unusual but intriguing symbols only left him wondering what sort of creatures lay below him.
And then;there,amongst the sea of graves,he saw it,demanding his attention.
His heart stopped.
Emotions overwhelmed him.Hope and resentment.Relief and despair.For there,chisled upon a nearby stone was an inscription so crystal clear to him that it came as a bit of a shock.Indeed,it was the most real and comprehensible thing he had encountered thus far.
Etched into the stone were the jagged slashes representing the kanji of strength and below it,the name Kento.
No.You cant be dead.I know you cant be dead.
This isn't fair.
Rowen silently held back a choking onslaught of grief and rage as he knelt beside the headstone.He contemplated what he could possibly do next.All was silent............things were present,but left all undisturbed.
They teased him with Kento's grave.The demons teased him as if he was a plaything.At least that was what Rowen supposed.He knew so little about this place.This 'game'.These opponents.The reappearance of Talpa.It made no sense to him.
This was their game.They called the shots.They ran this machine of manipulation.But,Rowen realized,when skilled minds clash,there are no winners in the game of manipulation.There is always a way to further twist the situation in your favor...........if you know how.
This was a world,or state of reality,that was governed by the fantasia of magical manipulation.There existed no laws and no logic.None that Rowen knew of anyway.
One thing that he was sure of was that there was no truer proverb than mind over matter.The mind contained your entire perception of reality.And it held the power to believe that there didn't even exist an objective reality;that what you believed to be real was all that was real.
He stood over the lonely,gray headstone,staring at the patch of earth that was overgrown with lush,emerald blades.His state of intense desperation gave way to a deep consentration.He didn't know exactly what it was that he consentrated on.In general,it was his grief for Kento and Ryo..........and all the others,whose fates he did not know.He consentrated on the absolute hopelessness of the situation,and the desperate need to conquer this force. This pure darkness. This pure evil.
His consentration was desperate and intent.His body frozen in time,his mind searched for sweet escape;a solution;any small key to victory.
Now,more than ever,he was aware of all that surrounded him:the stillness of the landscape,the dewey chill of the air on his skin,the weight of his bow in his right hand..........
No.It wasnt his bow.
He looked down.It was a shovel.
He blinked several times in dull surprise,wondering for a moment if his mind decieved him.
The blade of the shovel gleamed over the patch of dirt that was the grave of Kento.Rowen didn't question it's existance.All that he was aware of was its purpose.
It was all that he had,and at the moment,his only hope.He plunged the blade of the shovel into the earth in front of the gravestone and listened to the wet shplock of the dense ground being sliced.
The first mound of earth he shoveled aside revealed rich,moist,dark brown soil underneath the carpet of emerald.After closer inspection he also noticed that there were worms and other small,insect-like organisms in the earth as well.They were squirming frantically through the upturned earth of their invaded home.He also realized that these were not at all regular insects and earthworms.Some of the worms were of a more pink and fleshy hue and others possessed red,vein-like stripes running through them.
He took a deep breath and continued to shovel through the unsettling earth.
To his dismay,with the next stab of the shovel he managed to slice one of the worms clean in half.It was a pale one,with those red,veiny streaks.The half-worm curled and writhed frantically,thrashing in the dark soil.Rowen watched it helplessly twist as it attempted to cling to life.he felt a horrified nausea rising within him.He swallowed hard,gritted his teeth and closed his eyes to the vile sight.
This dosn't have to be real.
He found it in himself to plung the shovel into the earth once more,keeping his eyes shut this time.
As he continued his dig he made a point to pay little attention to what he so frantically shoveled aside.And,in an almost trance-like state,as if driven by some primal will,he continued to unearth the soil in blind,desperate hope of exhuming the grave of his dear friend.
And then,finally,the blade struck something startlingly hard.
Thoroughly excited,he began to frantically clear the soil away from the object he had come in contact with.
As he suspected,it was a coffin.It appeared to be made of some type of stone that was smooth and black and gleamed in the paultry light of his surroundings.
The lid of the coffin was quite heavy,but after preparing himself for what he might see,Rowen was able to pry it open and toss it aside.
He lay there in the rumpled,red,velvet lining,so peaceful and so still.And so dead.His eyes were shut and his arms were crossed over his chest,his spear laying by his side.There was not a mark upon his pallid flesh.No indication that he had ever been harmed.
"Kento!!" Rowen yelled in a rush of hapiness and sorrow.
He knelt beside him and lifted his inert form from the coffin,holding him in his arms."Kento?!" He cried again,yet he knew it was utterly fruitless to call his name.He could feel that the figure that lay before him possessed no soul whatsoever.There wasn't even the slightest flicker of buried consciousness.He held mearly a shell of his comrade and friend.
"Kento........" He whispered,this time to no one and nothing in particular.
Rowen knelt there for many seconds which seemed like eternities,gazing down upon his fallen friend in despair.
And then,in one spontaneous moment,it happened.
He felt something odd begin to happen.It was an immense rush of energy that enveloped them both.He immediately knew what it was.It was the returning soul of Kento,seeping back into existance from a place beyond the reaches of any world.It was the very essence of his friend,and the sudden onslaught of emotion brought a single tear of joy to Rowen's eye.A small part of Rowen that had been missing for who knows how long had suddenly been born again.He could feel the vital flame rekindle within the motionless shell.
Kento had returned to them.
Kento's eyelids fluttered and opened completely,and he gazed directly up into the anxious,blue eyes of Rowen.
"Kento?!" Rowen exclaimed,this time both puzzled and ecstatic
Kento's expression was somewhere between bewilderment and relief."Oh.........Rowen.........I just had the worst...." His words abruptly cut off as he took in the local milieu.His sparkling,brown eyes grew larger and his expression turned to one of horrified enlightenment."........nightmare." He finished in a whisper.
Rowen shook his head sadly,suddenly feeling very sorry for his friend."I'm afraid it was no dream,but your alive,and that's all that matters!" he said,his voice brimming with joy."Tell me where you've been.What happened to you?!"
Kento sat up,surveying the landscape with hungry eyes so large they threatened to pop right out of his head."I.........i'm not exactly sure.It all started when I went to the kitchen to grab a midnight snack..........There was this monster.It looked like Talpa,but more whacked,y'know?" He began,all the while his eyes darting about in puzzled fascination."I remember being attacked.I was sure I was a goner..............I dont exactly remember much.A lot of it is pretty hazy.I remember torture...........pain that wasn't quite physical...........It's hard to explain.I was in this possitively freakish place." At this point Kento positioned his eyes directly at Rowen."Rowen,this place couldn't have been real!There were all these godawful in particular.It was huge.............I mean huge,and it was so dark.........that's the only way I can describe it......dark.......kinda like if there was a way to solidify and condense darkness..........i'm pretty sure it was the one causing the pain........."
Fascinated,Rowen listened to Kento's frantic raving with a growing dread.This place that he spoke of..........could it be where Ryo was this very second?
"Oh man,it was pretty hellish............but now it just seems kinda hazy and dreamlike.............just what the heck is happening anyway?" Kento frantically demanded.
Rowen sighed deeply before beginning."Well,I cant say what's been happening to you,but I can tell you that the first part was a dream.But some how they were still able to get to you..........they killed you Kento.Your soul was detached from your body."
"And you may not like hearing this,but Talpa has returned,and this time he's brought some friends with him...........we're currently in the Dynasty..........I guess." Rowen shook his head and sighed,the immense horror of their situation suddenly closing in on him."I'm afraid we're in a real mess Kento."
Kento stared back at him,obviously dismayed,his mouth hanging open just a bit,his mind trying to comprehend too many things at once."Oh man...........i'm not sure I understand completely,but this does not sound where are the others.are they okay?"
"I don't know,but....."
"Is Cye okay?"
"I'm sure Cye is fine,but Ryo............they killed Ryo.But if you can come back then so can he."
Kento leaned back and let out an exasperated sigh."Geez.......this isn't good." He said distantly.
Rowen bowed his head and nodded slightly in agreement.
"You still haven't explained to me what's going on.How the hell did Talpa manage to come back?!" Kento questioned.
Rowen opened his mouth to respond,but something abruptly halted him.It was a a sound,he realized.It was more like a distant pulsing sensation.It was an energy presence that he could feel throbbing in the atmosphere.It was incredibly deep and foreboding,yet very subtle.
Apparently,Kento had sensed it as well.He immediately appeared more vigilant."Um.........Rowen,what was that?" He asked with noticeable apprehension.
"I dont know........." Rowen knew that his response was partially a lie.He knew what the unearthly pulse meant.And even if he had no idea what it was,the message it sent was perfectly clear:RUN! "..........but I say we get out of here,now!" He demanded,half dragging Kento out of the shallow grave.
Rowen's heart was sent drumming against his chest and he felt himself break into a cold sweat.His only solace was the apparent strengthening in his armors power.He now felt confident that it would function properly;and God knows he would need it! He could feel the pulsing sensation escalate in intensity untill it was something that could almost be heard.It seemed to be getting closer.
"What!What!What's going on?!" Kento insisted,understandibly in complete panic.
"Just come on." Rowen urged through clenched teeth.
He was a bit startled to find his bow,gleaming golden in the mound of dirt where he had discarded the shovel.Although,at the moment he didn't exactly have the proper motivation to ponder why it was there.
He hurridly snatched up his precious weapon and,with his hand clasped tight around Kento's wrist,he began to run,streaming down..........down,through the waves of endless emerald,with the pulsing beat of the wicked heart of a world not his own cascading through his body.
But before they had an opportunity to flee very far,the climactic chaos of the rythmic energy pulse halted them both dead in their tracks.
It began with an immense shockwave of destructive energy,striking them both.The intangible presence tore through them,sending suffocating spasms through every inch of their bodies,jarring them to the spot.Rowen knew that if the magical abilities of their armor had not been protecting them,they wouldn't have stood a chance against the juggernaut of energy.They would have been as vulnerable as dead leaves in a hurricane,unable to withstand the raw power of destruction.
The shockwave was accompanied by a massive and fiery explosion of light.It was intense and hot,and surrounded them in every direction,providing no means of escape.
Through the explosion of noise,Rowen could hear Kento scream beside him.
He managed to turn his head back to the hilltop graveyard.The scenery there was flooded with an amazing,orangish-red light,and for but a moment Rowen fancied he saw a figure atop the hill,surrounded by the claw-like trees.It was a twisted,dark silhouette against the ethereal glow,and it remained utterly motionless amongst the chaos..........and then it was gone.
Destruction is beauty.
That's what the demon had told him.
Destruction is beauty.
Abruptly,the noise and the light began to fade untill it was no more.Yet Rowen and Kento did not move.Shock held them captive.
And then,no more than a second later,one by one the pale,spindly trees that surrounded the graveyard exploded in rapid succession,bursting to a flurry of bone shrapnel confetti.
They both gasped and jumped,startled by the unearthly display of decimation.
They stood frozen in awe for several moments,watching the shards of dead tree matter settle across the landscape before Rowen finally came back to his senses.
He turned his head back to the distant image of the Dynasty.How heavenly it was.How odd to fathom that he had once considered such a place so blissfully ordinary to be a vision of hell itself.
He began to tug Kento in the direction of the Dynasty."Come on.We have to get out of here," He said in a voice that tryed to be calm but ended up incredibly shaky with definate tension.
At first,all Kento could manage was a small sound that seemed to convey many things.He stumbled backwards after Rowen,unable to tear his eyes from the ruined graveyard atop the emerald peak."Uh..........yeah.Lets split," He agreed in a tone that almost managed to make Rowen smile.
What an act of foolishness,to attempt to reach the Dynasty when it had previously been so unreachable.Rowen was aware of this.He knew it was only high hopes.He only partially expected the distant peaks of the Dynasty fortresses to come any closer.
And then,a noise.It was an erratic crackle;a brief,staticy buzz in the air around them.
They both heard the sound but Kento was the first to notice the intruder.He abruptly swung his arm in front of Rowen,halting him.He tensed and stepped back."Look!" He said through a gasp.
Rowen didn't need to see it to know what it was.He could feel its sinister air which it brought forth on wings of chaos.He had felt that same forebodence not long ago.
But he found himself looking up anyway.He knew this was inevitable.What a hopeless venture to consider even a minute chance of escape.
From the shadowy heavens he saw the demon descend,melting out of the nothingness above them into a partial,translucent form.The partial invisibility made the curling whip it held mearly a shimmering filament of metal that glinted like a floating strand of tinsel.
The demon's arms were outstretched,letting the colorful material of its silver suit of armor splay out like the warning wings of some venomous butterfly.
Silently it decended;a fragmented,translucent figure,like a dying hologram.As it landed it began to solidify and become opaque,letting the colors of its armor gleam in all their vibrance.
As the demon struck the ground in front of the two samurai,the ground underneath them seemed to tremble for a moment.The blades of grass surrounding the spot where it landed quivered and bent away from the ominously stunning figure as if desperate to escape the towering predator.
Indra,'Warlord of Destruction'.She stood much taller than both of them and glared down upon them with a small,angry sneer upon her burgundy lips.
Rowen recalled the demons' introductions in the throne room of the Dynasty citadel and noticed how she stayed quite true to her facade as a mock warlord,including her correspondence to the animal she claimed to be linked to.She had rather resembled a stylized,mutant butterfly,delicately descending with a certain sense of menacing grace about her.
"You run," she stated with mellifluous animosity.Her voice took on a strange androgyny and harbored a subtle growl of incredible depth,telltale of her true demonic essence.
As Rowen gazed upon the ethereal creature he realized she was quite magnificent and surreal in her twisted elegance.Ostensibly the creature was female.............but only ostensibly he reminded himself.
In a fraction of a second Rowen had a golden arrow poised tense on his bow,prepared to strike.He felt a bead of cold sweat trickle down his clamy flesh and a horrible,persistant throbbing pounded hard against his skull.He prayed his nervousness wasn't as apparent as it felt.
Beside him,he could hear Kento whispering small,tense words of encouragement.
"Come on,we can do this......." over and over again.
Narrowing his eyes,Rowen gathered his courage and confidence and answered to the demons words."No.We fight untill you die," he said,managing to match her animosity.
Indra tilted her head and bestowed upon them a delicate smirk.
The razor whip curled,snakelike,around her body as if alive.
She said not a word,allowing a horrid silence to coagulate in the atmosphere.And silence was all there was as she blinked out of existance..............and back again.
In a suspended moment in time,one of those rare moments when seconds turn to eternities,the two samurai saw the demon reappear above them in a deadly flash of metal.
They immediately allowed their minds to switch off and their bodies to take control as they found themselves spontaneously and forcefully engaged in the brutal dance of death.
Two against one.It couldn't be that hard,could it?