"A Death For Salvation"
[SPOILER WARNING!!!! Lots and lots of spoilers. If you haven't played up to Disk 2's J-Base, then you may not want to read the story. If you're asking, "What's J-Base?" then DO stay away!]
[Author's Note: It started off simplistic, but after a few comments from kristen, I added a lot to the story to make it something I can be happy with. I'd like to thank her for her criticism and for being the first reader of my Grandia fanfictions! You made this fanfiction become what it looks like now.]
[Author's Note 2: I don't remember the name of Herr Mullen's airship. It starts with an 'L', ends in a 't',has a 'y' in the middle, and consists of three syllables. As a result, I called it "Lancelot", after the Knight of the Round Table. Tis' a fitting name.]
"The Well-Trod Path"
And upon Lieutenant Leen's death, Colonel Herr Mullen was devastated. After a moment of silence - dead, utter silence - did he act, silently leaving the Command Centre. No one knew what to think of the Colonel. He had led a mutiny against his own father, General Baal. He had bravely coordinated the operation to destroy Gaia. But now, all he could do was weep, unable to keep up with the world rushing around him.
--Sue, From the Chronicle of Justin the Adventurer
Colonel Herr Mullen sat in his room, head buried in his hands. Classical music played eerily in the background, the slow movements of the trumpets and light, staccato violin notes echoing his shattered pieces of his ego. He lifted his head, and his long, wavy blonde hair fell in front of his face, blocking his vision. What had gone wrong? Why did it happen this way? She was dead. The entire reason he lived was dead.
"Leen..." he whispered. Why had he treated her like such a child? Why didn't he realise it all until now? Why had he constantly forced her into doing what he wanted? He would give an order to her: "Lieutenant Leen... I have a mission for you."
And she would salute back, her sky-blue eyes never revealing one trace of emotion, and say, in her soft, timid voice, "Yes, Herr Mullen," with no questions asked.
Until yesterday. Yesterday, she asked him, "Is there another way?"
Why was he so foolish? Why did he say no? Did he want her to die? He had given her the order to retrieve Feena and have her assemble at the base to prepare for the final strike against Gaia. She told him that Feena's powers were different than her own, and asked if there was a way that wouldn't involve both of their deaths. But he insisted.
And, like a good aide-de-camp, she obeyed. Mullen gripped his hands into fists. Those were his very own words... "That's a good aide-de-camp." He refused to listen, and complimented her when she submitted, almost like a master complimenting his dog when she learned a new trick.
Herr Mullen looked up into the ceiling of his room. For his entire life, he had braced himself for the sacrifice of the two Icarians twins, Feena and Leen. Only their sacrifice could save the world. It was the only way, and no one could tell him otherwise. His mother told him the stories. He researched all remaining records. There was no way to destroy Gaia, the leech of spirits, except with the sacrifice of Icarian Twins.
He didn't know where the empty ache came from. Was it because Leen's sacrifice was in vain, because she made it impossible for the Icarian twins to destroy Gaia?
Or was it just because Leen wasn't here anymore?
He rubbed his eyes. He could see it now. If the pale-haired, svelte Lieutenant Leen was here right now, and saw him like this, she would approach him, timidly, and ask in her quiet voice, "Herr Mullen? Is... is anything the matter?"
"No, Leen, nothing's wrong. I'm just thinking. Come in, Leen. Let me tell you something," he would reply.
A voice interrupted his thoughts. "Colonel Mullen? Excuse me?"
Mullen blinked and rose, throwing aside his cape in a dramatic, intimidating gesture and hoping that sadness could not been seen on his face. "Sergeant Saki!" he roared. "I thought I told you not to come in!"
The pale-violet haired young woman winced at the sound of his biting comment, and saluted, her eyes weary. "Colonel... I thought I heard you call someone..."
Mullen clenched his teeth, holding in his tears and a biting remark. He must've spoken aloud. Was he so reduced to shards over Leen's death? "No. Sergeant, you're dismissed. Please leave me." He glared at her, trying to keep his emotions under control.
Much to his surprise, she took a step forward. At the same time, the daring action commanded his respect. "Colonel... we all feel your loss."
"No you don't!" he snapped, tossing any notion of retaining his composure in front of Saki out of the window. "You don't know what Leen meant to me! You don't know how much I..."
Sergeant Saki lowered her eyes, her pale violet hair shimmering in the dim lights. "Colonel... it was apparent... in the way you talked to her, in the way you looked at her... what you felt for Lieutenant Leen."
Mullen turned around, his beige cape catching the air dramatically, but in truth, he didn't want Saki to see him cry. "It was that obvious."
Saki nodded timidly, but Herr Mullen couldn't see her, so she said softly, "Yes, yes it was."
"I could have told her," Mullen started. "I could have just told her. But she was my aide-de-camp. I couldn't show any emotion for her." He turned toward Saki. "It wouldn't look good on my image if someone went around starting a rumour that I was in love with my subordinate... But... I was." He shook his head, wondering, briefly, why he had said so much to Sergeant Saki. "Saki..." Mullen started. "I'd like you to give the order in the Garyle Forces... tell them to go home."
"You heard me, Sergeant," Mullen repeated, turning around now that he felt himself regaining his composure. "Order the forces to go home. Cancel the operation. Let them spent time with their family..."
Before the world ends, he thought.
"But Colonel... we, the Garyle Forces are prepared to fight Gaia!" Saki voiced. "Colonel, are you telling me that you're going to gi..."
"I gave you an order, Sergeant! Escort the units back to the main base." He took a deep breath. "Go home. See your parents. Visit your family..."
"Y... yes, Colonel Mullen," she said with a slight flush.
"That is all."
Saki saluted, and silently turned, leaving the Colonel in his misery once more.
"There's nothing I can do. We need two Icarians. There's nothing we can do." Mullen looked up, glancing out of the window and at the grey, husked form of Gaia, frozen to stone from Leen's influence.
And he lowered his head into his hands, shaking his head and feeling numb, once more.
I love you.
Herr Mullen rolled over in bed, feeling his eyes open. The clock by his bedside read early morning.
He thought he heard her voice again. Somehow, last night, he fell asleep... he had no recollection of when, but he fell asleep.
His depression sickened him. He was usually a man of action. He criticized his father for being a man waiting for things to happen, rather than being an active part of fate. He had often berated soldiers for not acting when they had complaints, or carrying orders, or asking questions when necessary.
And now, here he was, suffering the same fate. In all of the myths, the civilization fell... but the world had survived. The great Angelou of old fell, but the world lived. Gaia was destroyed, and the world was saved. Humans were certainly doomed to repeat its failures of the past, but that was inevitable.
He had a part to play. If he didn't act, then the world will die, and no cycle would continue.
He may as well let the world die off. What was the world without his Leen?
Buy you time...
What was left?
Hear me out....
You never spoke.
I love you.
"Leen... I love you too." And he felt another wave of sadness cross over him, flooding him from inside, piercing his heart and his mind, making them numb and prickly with nervousness. He never had a chance to tell her. She was honest enough with him.
He loved her! Why didn't he realise until NOW? Until it was too late? Until...
He glanced out of the window, where Gaia, frozen in stone, stood, like a gaping shadow threatening its prey... the earth.
He wouldn't let the monster win. It ate his love. And she died to give him a chance to kill it. "GAIA!" Mullen roared toward the darkness outside the window. "You'll pay for this! Leen, I will avenge you... LEEN!!!"
Feena refused to see anyone. She locked herself in her tent, staying silent, not willing to discuss her predicament. That morning, when Justin barged in to talk to her, Herr Mullen was there, too. He expressed the fact that there was only one way to do things: that an Icarian was needed to die to save the world. Feena did not want to die to save the world. But Herr Mullen was not so easily stopped.
--Sue, from the Chronicle of Justin the Adventurer
Herr Mullen watched as the young boy Justin and his friends ran father inside the ruined city of Zil Padon, perhaps seeking some answer to his challenge. Justin had no idea what was required to destroy Gaia. He was seeking the answers, but there was no time. Leen bought them time... bought HIM time. He knew the answer already. It was the only way.
Mullen charged into Feena's tent again, where she was still sitting on her stool, crying.
"Feena..." he started in a low voice.
There was no response.
"Feena. You, as the only Icarian left in the world... you need to save us all."
Still no response.
Mullen stepped closer to her, looking into her sobbing face. He reached forward with a gentle hand, gripping her arm. She looked up at him, her aqua-green hair dull and frayed from exhaustion. He drew in a sharp breath. It never ceased to amaze him how much Feena looked like Leen.
His reaction must have been more obvious than he had expected, because Feena began to speak, and Mullen cursed himself for letting his emotions come out so openly. "You... you almost look surprised to see me, Mullen," she said, almost coyly.
"I.. I just had no idea how much you... you looked like your sister."
Feena, for what was probably the first time in days, smiled softly. "My mother told me, many times... how much I resembled my sister Leen."
It was Mullen's turn to smile. "You and Leen do look a lot like each other."
She turned to face him, but she spoke with her eyes diverted toward the ground. "Colonel... why...? Why did you let her die like that? Leen was convinced there was a better way to fight. Not by sacrificing and letting people die. And even as she... as she believed it, she made herself a sacrifice."
Mullen grimaced and turned his face away from Feena. "I... I didn't let her die. I didn't force her into anything. She did it all entirely on her own... she chose to die! To buy us more time, Feena! To give us the time we need so we can save the world!"
"Mullen, I don't want to die! Mullen!!!" Feena rose off of her stool, grabbing Herr Mullen's uniform-front and shaking him. "Don't kill me, Mullen! I don't want to go! Please!!"
"Feena. Feena, stop it. FEENA! Listen to me! Calm down!" He gripped her wrists tightly and puled them from his shirt front. "Look. Leen sacrificed herself so she could buy us time to defeat Gaia. Only the sacrifice of an Icarian can destroy it. Leen's done her part. It's your turn. You were born to do this, Feena. You were born... because your death will save the world."
"Mullen... why should I go with you?"
Mullen blinked as he thought about Leen, and the memories began to thunder in his head. "I made a promise to Leen! That I would protect her, that I would get rid of her wings. Now that she's gone... we need to honour her sacrifice, and..."
Feena rose and lifted her fists at Herr Mullen. "You knew she was going to die! From the moment you knew she was an Icarian, you had intentions of her dying! Why should I trust you? You killed my sister! You KILLED my sister!!" She began to strike Mullen with her strong arms, but underneath his stately Garyle Uniform, he wore light plate mail that only ended up hurting Feena's clenched hands.
"Feena! Stop it! I didn't kill Leen! She chose to sacrifice herself to buy us time! Feena! Do you think I'm not upset about this too? Leen LOVED me! And... and I loved her too." He blinked and turned away, feeling tears come to his eyes. "I never said it to her. I never even really knew it myself... until she was gone." He cursed, and struck himself over the head with his hand. "I didn't realise until she was gone! And she's gone now, Feena! I know that! But I didn't kill her!"
Feena stared at Mullen with a disbelieving glare, but did not say anything, and slipped back onto her stool.
"Feena... this is what Gaia's done to our lives. It's taken away a loved one of ours. Already, in the world, many loved ones were taken away by Gaia. I didn't open my eyes until someone I loved was taken away too! Feena, we have to stop this destruction! We have to stop this madness! We can't let any more loved ones die! We've already lost Leen! How many more must die before someone will act? How many more of our loved ones will need to die...?"
"...Justin..." Feena breathed, shuddering momentarily.
"I want to save the world," Mullen continued. "We may think of Leen's loss as a tragedy... but we have to consider the whole picture... the sacrifice of a few for the many, Feena. The world.. the world won't understand our sacrifice, but they will benefit from it. Regretfully, Feena, I'll benefit too. But there isn't another way. I don't know of any way."
"Justin'll find another way..."
Mullen nodded, slowly. "Perhaps he will. But do we have the time for him to search for the new path? We don't have much time before Gaia will resume its metamorphosis. Will Justin be able to find the path in time?"
"If Justin says he can do something... then he'll do it! He will succeed! I've never heard of Justin failing! If you'd even suggest something like that to him, he'll smile in that little cocky way of his and quip, 'Adventurers Never Give Up!'" Feena beamed at the mention of his name, and she wiped away a tear.
Mullen smiled along with Feena, but in an instant, his face became hard once again. "But Feena, this isn't some sort of game anymore. I'm not sure if Justin truly realises it... but the whole world is at stake. He keeps speaking of a better way... another path, but will he be able to find the path before it's too late?"
"Leen said my powers were different from hers... that Justin and I together have..."
Mullen nodded. "Leen is probably right. You have distinct powers from her, and that may mean that you can stop Gaia alone. Traditionally, there have been two Icarians who have died to stop Gaia. It's a sad, deadly cycle. But I am unable to break the chains of fate. Feena... I don't know how to. But all that I know is that if we don't act, the whole world will die. Is that what we want, Feena? We can break the cycle of sacrifices... but at the cost of the world."
She nodded, slowly, seeming to comprehend. "Leen..."
"She died so we could act..."
"Leen... she would understand." Feena rose off of her stool, but lowered her head, tears streaming down her face. "What... what about Justin? He's almost certainly trying to find a way to save my life. I don't want anything to happen to him..."
"He will be safe, Feena, because you will rescue him."
"Justin..." Feena whispered. So many times, he had come to her rescue. He had come to save her when she was helpless, and to protect her from harm. Together, they had went into danger, and always, together, they had come out. He had done so much for her. "It's my turn... great adventurer Justin. Let me save you for once."
"Feena... let's go. You need to save the world. I will escort you to the depths of Gaia, where we can defeat it forever."
Feena looked up. "Do I have to do this alone?"
Mullen shook his head. "I'll be with you, Feena."
The adventurer looked down at her armband, the sparking armband she had received in Gumbo. "Justin... rest a bit. It's my turn." She slipped the armband off, placing it gingerly on the chair. "Colonel... let's go...."
Mullen let out a deep breath, and smiled at Feena, extending a hand to her. Under his breath, he whispered, "Leen.... your sacrifice won't be in vain. I will avenge you..."
But Herr Mullen... what will Justin do if Feena is...
Together, they left for the J-Base, intent on stopping Gaia using the powers of the Icarians, and repeating the mistakes of the past. They were bound in the threads of fate, traveling the simple road, unwilling to forge a new way for humanity...
--Sue, From the Chronicle of Justin the Adventurer
Justin had caught up to Feena just in time to speak with her, but she smiled and resolutely stated her resolve to save the world. Justin had no response to her words, and Feena, alongside Herr Mullen, boarded the airship Lancelot, leaving Justin alone outside.
--Sue, from The Chronicles of Justin the Adventurer
Feena sat in her lavishly furnished room aboard the airship Lancelot, playing around with the folds of her skirt and staring into her hands. Why had she chosen to go with Mullen? She felt so sure of herself when he spoke with her in Zil Padon. But now, when she thought about it, she didn't know if she could ever understand what Colonel Herr Mullen wanted.
Her sister Leen was dead. In all of the legends and myths, according to Mullen, there were two Icarian twins required for the sacrifice. But now, she was the only one.
Feena found herself unconsciously looking over her shoulder, touching the place between her shoulder-blades where the green wings had once sprouted to destroy the Gaia Battlers that threatened the ancient city of Zil Padon.
There was a soft knock on the door.
"Who is it?" Feena called clearly.
The deep voice of Mullen replied. "It's me, Herr Mullen."
She looked up and wiped off any trace of discontent or sadness from her face, then rose to get the door. "Hello, Herr Mullen," she said with an artificial perkiness. "What brings you here today?"
Herr Mullen's face was grave and neutral, as always. His wavy blonde hair framed his face, and his tall muscular form towered nearly one whole head over her. Feena couldn't recall a moment when Herr Mullen truly revealed what he was feeling on his face... except for the moment earlier that morning, when there were tears at the mention of Leen. "Feena... please. Don't try so hard. I know how tough it is to leave... leave the ones you care about."
In an instant, it dawned on her why Leen fell in love with this large, seemingly emotionless man. "He... he came for me, but..."
Mullen reached forward with a gloved hand and placed it on Feena's shoulder. "Feena. If you cared for him that much, you should have asked him to come along."
Feena shook her head. "No, no, it won't be right if he comes along. We had to... break off there. If he was there when I have to make my sacrifice.. well... I don't think I'd be able to do it, with him standing there... just looking at his face would tell me that he would be upset if I died, even if I had to save the world." She looked up at Mullen. "It will be easier this way."
Mullen nodded slowly. "All right, Feena. If you say so." He turned around, removing his hand from Feena's shoulder, but, much to his surprise, she gripped his hand, pulled him toward her, and began to cry onto his shoulder.
Awkwardly, Mullen wrapped his arms around the slender girl as she let out all of her worries.
Mullen... please, don't do this... I died because...
Mullen was in his room, staring at the wall distantly. He wondered if it would be appropriate to frame a picture of Leen and put it on his wall. But he also wondered if it would bring up too many memories of what could have been.
"Leen," he mumbled, wringing his hands. "I... if..."
There was a loud chime, which was the signal of a message for him.
Mullen sat up. "Yes. What is it? Please come in."
The door slid open, and a private stood at attention, saluting smartly. "Colonel Mullen, the Lancelot is about to arrive at J-Base. ETA is ten minutes."
"Acknowledged. I'll be at the Bridge."
To his surprise, when he arrived at the bridge, Feena was there. She was speaking amiably with the few officers left on board, exchanging stories casually.
"Colonel Mullen on the bridge," one officer reported, and all the soldiers, including Corporal Feena, stood at attention and saluted.
"At ease, gentlemen," Mullen stated. "Ensign, what's our position?"
"We're closing in on Gaia. There seems to be no activity at this moment."
Mullen nodded, stepping closer to the windows that overlooked the ground. "Land at the predetermined destination. Feena and I will get off there. The rest of you are ordered to retreat. Do not wait for us."
"Sir, are you sure about..."
Mullen snapped. "Yes, I'm sure about my course of action! We will follow our scheduled plan."
Feena stood, silent, staring out of the window wordlessly. "I wonder what Justin's doing right now..." she whispered to herself.
Feena and Herr Mullen landed on the top of J-base. Gaia was wrapped intricately around the ancient Icarian Ruins, but its lifeless form revealed no threat. It remained still, frozen in time since Leen's death stopped its evolution to give them more time. Herr Mullen and Feena entered the ruins from the top levels, hoping to find a path inside Gaia through the intricate passages, intent on destroying the creature, but at the cost of Feena's life.
--Sue, From The Chronicles of Justin the Adventurer
Mullen finished the work with his pickaxe and slung it over his back, clearing away the sharper rocks and lowering a rope through the hole into the depths below. He hung a lantern from his backpack as he secured the rope to a nearby post and swung himself down into the depths below, hand over hand. He stopped to wait for Feena, but she wordlessly gripped the rope and slid down, being quite used to these sorts of exercises.
The room they entered was large and deep. It was circular in shape. Although the room was wide all around, she had enough light to see the murals that were painted on the wall. They were simple at first, but as they went deeper and deeper, the murals became more intricate, colourful, and eerie. One picture was of a single-eyed creatures with long reaching tentacles. Another mural was one of a four-winged creature, towering over the shadowy world.
The smell in the circular cavern was absolutely disgusting. It was because the air in the ruins was dank and dusty for being undisturbed for so many years, but Feena had gotten used to adjusting to that smell when she explored ruins with Justin. It was also because something else struck her nose, tickling her senses in a disturbing way she couldn't quite put a finger on. It was as if something in the air was trying to bend the very atmosphere to its will.
As if reading her thoughts, Mullen lifted his voice, the reverberations echoing eerily off of the walls. "You can smell it too? That's the smell of Gaia's spores attempting to leech off of bacteria in the air. It tries to steal energy even where no life thrives."
"Spooky..." Feena uttered, sliding down the rope with one hand expertly. She stopped herself when she realised that Mullen was right below her, lowering himself hand over hand.
"It is quite spooky. The very presence of Gaia can turn men into stone, as you have undoubtedly seen."
"So why are we still alive? We used to think it was Justin's spirit stone, but we don't have it with us."
Mullen didn't reply to her initially, so she repeated her question. He finally said, "I don't know, Feena. I can only presume that you as an Icarian have some immunity to Gaia's power."
"But what about..." she started, but Mullen stopped at the bottom of the rope and disembarked. He lifted his lantern high into the air, scanning the chamber they landed in. From below, a faint thumping sound could be heard, so faint that Feena thought it was only the sound of her own heartbeat.
Mullen stepped around the circular platform, withdrawing a torch from his backpack and touching it to his small lantern. In an instant, the torch lit up in flame, and he stuck it in a scone that was located on one of the pillars. "Do you hear that sound, Feena? It's the sound of Gaia's heartbeat." He walked around the platform, inserting torches in the rest of the scones to properly illuminate the room.
Feena took another moment to inspect the large wall paintings, and gasped as she pointed to one picture. An Icarian stood on a platform, wings protruding from her back. The top of her head was coloured a light sky blue, blocking off one of her eyes. Across from the Icarian was a large monstrous creature, painted only in black. There was one outstanding feature, and that was the mouth, outlined in a dark reds and oranges.
Feena tugged on Mullen's cloak. "That mural... Mullen! Look!"
Mullen turned, about to give an annoyed remark when the wall painting caught his eye. He stared at it for a moment. "That's... do you mean to say that..."
Feena's hand went to the painting just below it. "What about that one? It looks as if the Icarian is floating down from the sky, ready to meet someone."
Mullen nodded, slowly.
"And below it. There aren't any more pictures. As if they ran out of ideas..."
"Or time," Mullen said. "You can see a slight trace of blue there, as if they were going to start, but then decided not to. You can also see faint outlines if you look closely."
Feena peered up at the wall, but only nodded her agreement even though she could not see where Mullen was pointing. "What do you suppose it means?"
Mullen stared at the picture of the light-blue haired Icarian. "It's strange... I've rarely seen that shade of blue in the Angelou murals... that shade of blue is the same colour as..." He drifted off and blinked, turning toward Feena.
Either Feena knew what he was getting at, or she chose to ignore him. "What does the mural below mean?"
Mullen glanced up at the top mural, then at the bottom one. "It looks like she's alive in this one..."
Feena was silent. "Maybe... maybe that's me, refusing to die.."
Mullen shakes his head. "That can't be right... if that's true, then the blank spots below may mean that..."
He didn't have a chance to complete his sentence. The platform shook violently. Behind him, a tentacle trust through the floor, wrapping itself around a pillar. Feena fell off her feet, and Mullen dashed over to her quickly, using his body to shield her from any falling debris. After a moment, the rumbling stopped, and he looked up.
"The rope... it fell," Feena pointed.
Mullen cursed. "Quickly. Toward the stairway there... Aaarrgh!"
The platform leaned dangerously to one side and broke from its supports as large, purple tentacles thrust through the circular disk that made up the floor of the room. As it tilted and started to fall, it jammed itself into the wall and righted itself once more, but it was impossible to know how long it would stay.
"Gaia's awakening!" Mullen shouted. He drew his blade and dropped his backpack, digging into it for the grappling hook he had stocked. Feena stood next to him watching as another tentacle forced itself around the platform, coming to rest next to her foot. She kicked the loathsome thing away, but as she did, a protrusion started to grow on the tentacle's end. "Mullen... it's starting to!"
Mullen turned around, grappling hook in hand, but upon seeing the tentacle, he cursed and pushed Feena to one side. He drew a blade and slashed at the large tentacle, but his sword merely bounced off of it, as if the flesh was made of stone.
In a moment, the bulb broke off from the end of the tentacle and began to change. The metamorphosis was disgusting and eerie to watch as it bulged in many places, then suddenly sprung to life. Two legs grew from it, and in its chest opened into a circular opening lined with teeth that could be called a mouth, with saliva dripping on the ground. A green and purple mucus-like substance lined its entire body. It lifted one arm, which ended in green, slimy tentacles and lashed out at Feena, throwing her against the wall. She nearly slid off of the platform, but managed to grip onto the ledge with her hands just before tumbling into the unknown depths below.
"FEENA!" Mullen shouted. He lifted his hand, letting loose a fireball before dashing to the platform to rescue the Icarian. He laid down on his stomach, gripped her arm and pulled, his muscles bulging as he lifted her up to safety. Feena managed to lift her leg onto the platform just as she noticed the Gaia Battler sneaking up on Mullen from behind.
"No!!" she screamed. "Stay away!" In a flash, she started to rise into the air, and a green light enveloped her. Green wings, transparent and faerie-like, began to extend from her back. The green light grew in a hemisphere around her, enveloping the Gaia Battler and freezing it into stone. An instant later, it crumbled to dust.
Mullen stared at awe at this demonstration in power, but he had no time to revel in the victory as another of Gaia's spawn began to form from another tentacle. He drew his weapon and prepared to do battle.
Feena... that's not your true power...
The battle was becoming exhausting.
"Mul... Mullen!" Feena gasped, trying to keep control of the protective shield around her. The shield had instantly destroyed the first two battlers, but at this point, Feena started to pant, and the shield could only protect the pair from the approaching beings. Mullen gripped his sword in his hand, slashing down at the next battler that came into his range. The sharp sword point traced its crimson pattern in the battler's chest, marring the torso, the hideous mouth, and the stomach. The creature fell to the ground on top of its sibling that had perished only a moment before to Feena's Icarian power.
"Feena... just you hold on! I'll save you...!"
"I can't... do it! I...!"
Mullen grit his teeth and charged toward the second battler that tried, in vain, to strike through the green luminous shield that Feena had erected. However, every strike on her barrier reflected on Feena's face as cruel, torturous pain. Herr Mullen lowered his sword point, striking forward at the battler's mouth with it. As soon as the guardian fell on his sword, ichor began to drip between its teeth. Green and red fluids ran from the creature's mouth and onto Mullen's blade, past the hilt, and over his gauntlets. He drew the weapon up, cleaving the creature into two whole pieces. He stepped back beside Feena, where the green light of her wings was beginning to waver dangerously.
"I... I can't hold out... Mullen, please, Mullen...!"
She's hurting, Herr Mullen!
"There are only three left!" Mullen shouted. "Just three more!"
"I'm feeling pain...!"
The shield began to shake and flicker dangerously and blow after blow was delivered. Mullen charged forward with his sword at one battler, but succeeded only at a glancing blow on its arm. He prepared for another slash when the green light suddenly gave way and Feena collapsed in a heap in the middle of the platform.
Mullen! Feena! Let me...
Herr Mullen fell back beside Feena, holding her close as he knelt on the ground. He held his sword out, glaring back at the faceless Gaia Battlers, almost daring them to approach him. His teeth were clenched, and sweat ran down his face.
Above him, there was a faint glimmer of light, almost like a firefly, dancing in the dark chamber.
One of the battlers lifted its arm. Another opened up its chest to strike with its potent magic. Feena screamed. Mullen huddled Feena close to him, as if his body could protect her from harm.
"...eena........ Feena................. F......... E.......... E.......... N..... A!!!!"
She looked up for a split second, but could not call out before Justin lifted his blade and struck the ground with it. Small lights circled around the sword, then leaped into the ground, tracing it with intricate patterns. The light then shot up vertically in a luminous blinding flash, enveloping the Gaia Battlers. The light grew to such intensity that Feena thought she had gone blind, but when it subsided, she glanced around in a frenzied state, almost expecting to be dead.
There were no Gaia Battlers left.
Justin ran toward Feena, gripping her hand and pulling her away from Herr Mullen, totally unastonished by what had just happened. "Feena! I know the way! We can't defeat Gaia alone! We must go together, and ask the help from the spirits!"
"Justin? How did you... do you mean the Spirits did that?"
Mullen rose wearily to his feet, only half-aware of what was happening. "Spirits? Justin??"
"The spirits chose me, Feena! They gave me this sword! Together, we have to go defeat Gaia! We cannot do it alone! All we have to do is ask for their help!"
Mullen widened his stance and shook his head. "What is this, Justin? Humans, asking for help from the spirits? What nonsense is this! We're not good enough! The only way to defeat Gaia is through the sacrifice of an Icarian!"
"You're wrong, Mullen! All this time, the spirits have been waiting... it wasn't them who abandoned us, it was us who refused them!"
Mullen shook his head and glared at the adventurer. "NO! It can't be! How can we be worthy of the spirit's help? How can they forgive us our sins? Justin, SHOW me that you're the chosen one! Show me, with your sword!"
Justin lifted his blade. "Mullen... we don't have time for this! We have to..."
"Fight, Justin! And prove, to me, that the Spirits chose you!!"
Justin took a deep breath. "All right, Mullen!"
Feena let out astonished gasp. Beside Justin, Rapp let out a loud cheer, and Liete watched on, wordless, as the two talented swordsmen circled each other warily, waiting for the other to make the first move. Mullen gripped his sword in his right hand and pointed it forward, watching Justin carefully.
No... it can't end this way..!
Mullen made the first strike, leaping forward and thrusting swiftly, but Justin sidestepped left, avoiding the strike, and slashed in retaliation. The older man, predicting this from the boy, quickly stepped backwards from Justin's attempt, and they were circling once again.
"Not bad, Justin, but is that all you can do?" Mullen sneered as they stared each other down over their blades. In the background, he could hear yelling. From Feena, from the pointy-eared boy, and from the elegantly-dressed woman, but he also thought he heard Leen's voice.
Sucked in by Mullen's taunts, Justin stepped forward in a swift motion, slicing back and forth, back and forth, and Mullen had to lift his sword suddenly to parry the maneuvers. He admitted that the speed of the attack had surprised him, but he held back the blows as sparks glanced off of his blade. Mullen kicked out with his foot, catching Justin in the stomach and throwing in backwards. He collapsed on the ground, losing the grip on his sword, and the steel weapon clattered carelessly on the platform.
Mullen didn't hesitate and stepped forward, his sword readied for a killing blow. However, Justin rolled twice, out of Mullen's way and toward his sword, and stood. When Justin noticed Mullen's surprise at his rolling techniques, he stepped forward swiftly with a thrust at Mullen's right side.
The strike rang true. The Spirit Sword pierced the armour as if it were nothing and embedded itself into Mullen's side. Mullen looked over his shoulder in surprise, his face not registering the pain. Justin drew the sword out of the wound. Mullen gripped his side, his steps beginning to stagger. "No... Justin...!" He winced loudly, and then brought his sword around in a surprise attack. Justin, not expecting the retaliation attack, managed to turn around, but he was too late and the sword chopped into his shoulder-plate. The force was so strong that he was knocked over, and he hit the ground roughly.
Mullen approached Justin, his face in pain, sword extended toward his neck. "Do you... do you yield?"
Justin brought his sword up and swung Mullen's blade away from his neck, rolling away and standing up. As Mullen attempted another slash, he parried the sword, letting it slide until Mullen's sword hit the crosspiece of the Spirit Sword. He kicked Mullen's arm away, then stepped behind Mullen and swept his leg while pushing across his neck at the same time.
The Colonel landed on the ground with a gigantic bang, the plate mail striking the ground loudly. Justin stepped over to Mullen's sword and kicked it from the Colonel's weak grip.
"Do you yield?"
"Damn... you... if you.... you're going to have to kill me, Justin!!"
Justin's brows narrowed, but he shook his head, stepping backwards.
"Stop it, both of you!"
Justin glanced up. Feena ran over to Mullen and put her hands on his face. They began to glow green, the same green colour as her Icarian wings. Mullen stared, blankly, at Feena as she wove a healing spell, but his lifeblood kept on flowing through his side wound. Justin stared at the ground, the blood of the Colonel dripping from his blade.
"Cleaves through armour..." Mullen started. "But how do I know it's not just a tempered sword?" He stared at his side, which was still bleeding, despite Feena's attempt to heal.
Oh, let his wounds be healed...
Justin wordlessly tossed the bloodied blade onto the platform, and flecks of crimson dotted the ground. He stared at the sword for a moment, and it began to shift, entirely on its own. Yellow sparkling lights began to form around it, first surrounding the sword, but then travelling toward Mullen's wound, dancing around it. In the blink of an eye, the healing process was accelerated as the bleeding stopped, the flesh grew back into itself, and the skin covered the wound without even so much as a scar.
When Mullen registered what was going on, he stared back at the Spirit Sword, which was no longer stained with life's blood. Justin picked up the blade, and reverently slid it back into its sheath.
"So... it's true... spirits have come to help mankind...."
"Mullen... that's right. All we had to do was ask for their help. And together, with man, and spirits, we can go defeat Gaia."
Mullen got up on one knee, placing a hand on his side, still surprised that the wound had healed so quickly. Yet, he felt weary, and had to lean on Feena for support. "But... what about the sacrifice... her sacrifice..."
Justin's face was resolute and strict. "Come with us, Mullen."
"Come... with you?"
"We'll fight Gaia. Together."
"The spirits told me that we have to go together, Mullen. Let's go. We'll strike down Gaia together. Put everything else aside. We're not here to prove who's right and who's wrong. You want the same thing I do..."
"I want to protect the world.... and I want to..." His voice faded, and he completed the thoughts in his head. Leen... your death will not be in vain. Without meaning to, he whispered the word. "Leen..."
Feena, kneeling next to Mullen, heard his word, and squeezed his arm, smiling softly, tears coming to her eyes. "Let's go... Herr Mullen... my sister won't be forgotten."
Mullen shut his eyes, feeling tears reaching them. He had never cried in front of so many people before. He had resolved not to cry ever since his mother died so long ago. He tried not to cry when he learned of Leen's sacrifice. But now, he could no longer shield his emotions. "Leen... how could I not understand... I'm sorry... Leen, Feena..."
Feena found herself hugging the large man now, and he was the one who was crying into her shoulder. "Leen... did it so we would find the true way. So we would realise this path and go together..."
Mullen's shoulders shook, and his sadness came out in a large outburst, after being held in for such a long time. All he was conscious of was Feena, cradling him like a mother would a child.
But, somehow, he could also feel her watching over him too.
Mullen... it'll be okay... I promise...
By Irwin Kwan
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