Parts of an ancient wall were still intact around the ruin; the parts that had fallen over the course of time had been replaced, and the newer structures looked rather formidable. A bronze plaque hung near the wrought-iron gate, bearing the simple inscription of "Go away!"
But none of that compared to the dollar signs in Lina Inverse's eyes.
It did, however, bother Amelia wil Tesla Saillune. "Are you sure about this, Lina-san?" she whined.
"I want that treasure," the redheaded sorceress answered. "We've come too far to just go home."
That much, at least, Amelia decided, was true. They had come a long way to find this place, and all because Lina had overheard a couple of bandits mention a priceless treasure, in a ruin from the World Before, guarded by a vengeful spirit. Lina had heard the sounds of money, and so they had set out across the known world, across lands that hadn't been traveled in thousands of years, to find this place. It was. . . Well, it was rather creepy, to be honest.
"There was another note," Zelgadiss reported, landing beside them.
"It's just another warning. It says: 'If you really want the spirit's treasure, remember these things: first, don't make it angry. Second, any man who enters must be especially careful; it doesn't like men.'" He and Gourry exchanged a glance. "'And finally, and this is most important of all, don't ig-'"
"Why'd you stop, Zelgadiss-san?" Amelia asked.
"The paper is ripped there, so I can't read it."
"Well, we'll just have to push on anyway," Lina stated.
The gate creaked and made horrible noises as they stepped through it. "If this isn't the perfect set-up for a ghost story, I don't know what is," Zel groaned.
Inside the ruin, a long-dead figure stared at them from an upstairs window. If it was physical enough for facial expressions, its eyes would have narrowed in anger. People again, coming into this house, after so long. Hadn't they learned yet that this place was cursed?
"This place is really creepy," Amelia repeated yet again. It took a lot of effort, but Lina managed not to smack her. You'd think the two-year break from adventuring had ruined the girl; she almost wished she'd brought Filia instead.
But she did have to admit: it was kind of creepy. Pitch black darkness greeted them on the inside, without a candle or lantern in sight.
As if something had read her mind, the small lever beside the door clicked into an upright position and the room was flooded with light that seemed to originate from what looked like a lantern on the ceiling. "What the. . ." Lina began.
"Electricity," Zelgadiss answered. "If it's working in this room, it should work in the rest of the house."
"So we'll have light to look," finished Amelia. A book hit her in the back. "What?" she asked, turning to look behind her at Gourry and Lina.
Gourry stared at her with wide eyes. "We didn't do it. It just flew off the shelf on its own."
Amelia turned to Lina. "Did you do it, Lina-san?"
"Why would I throw a book at you, Amelia? I'm going to look around upstairs."
She'd hardly left the room when everything went crazy. Everything left whatever resting place it had previously possessed and threw itself at them.
The upstairs seemed rather unremarkable, as far as upstairs went. Bedroom followed bedroom followed bedroom, then came a room like nothing she'd ever seen before. Okay, she recognized the mirror and the larger basin seemed to be for bathing, but the rest of it was lost on her. For the moment at least, she decided to let that mystery lie and finish her exploring. There was one more door that she hadn't checked yet, and when she opened it, it led up a set of stairs.
She'd almost put one foot inside the door when it slammed closed. "Let me in!" she demanded. Silently it opened again, slowly, as if something, whatever was opening it, was reluctant to obey. "Thank you." She could have sworn she heard someone grumbling about it not being fair. She slowly ascended the stairs, wary of another of the spirit's temper tantrums.
It was another bedroom, done in colors that surely must have once been pinks and whites and other such pastels. A huge bloodstain - no, two of them - spread across the floor, turned black over time. A desk with a large mirror sat to one side of a large bed. Cracking posters covered the walls, most of them of odd contraptions that were vaguely box-shaped and of a dark blond-haired man in a sort of uniform which said "Formula One". At least she thought it was a man; it could have been a woman. The others were of three men with long hair, the "Three Lights," if the words were to be believed. On the bedside table was another picture of the blond man, this time looking a bit more feminine and standing beside a girl with long blonde hair. Behind it was another picture of the blonde girl, a bit younger and with a dark-haired man and the faintest image of a little girl with pink hair. The bed sheet was blue with moons and rabbits on it. The whole room was simply too cute for words.
So why didn't anyone clean up the blood? she wondered to herself, sitting down at the desk. The rest of the house was immaculate, the kind of perfectly clean that spoke of someone who had time to stay around the house all day to keep it clean. Why would someone keep such a perfect house, yet leave all that blood on the floor?
She turned on the seat and regarded herself in the mirror. Before her glass reflection sat a hair brush, long golden strands of hair still in it, the same shade of golden blonde as the young woman in the pictures. With a sigh, she pulled out the hair and started to brush out the tangles the long journey here had produced in her hair.
When she looked up a moment later, she froze, staring at the reflection she no longer had. Instead she was looking into an unfamiliar pair of blue eyes framed by blonde hair nearly double the length of her own. The young woman slowly brushed out her hair, a small smile on her face. There was a ringing sound behind her; she turned but saw nothing that could be making such a sound; looking back in the mirror, the girl had jumped up and crossed the room to pick up the small rectangle-shaped object on the bedside table beside the pictures and she appeared to be talking into it. With a nod, she out it back on its cradle and returned to the desk, sitting exactly where Lina was sitting herself. She sighed and rested her head on her hand, clearly upset about something.
Without warning, the blonde disappeared and Lina blinked in surprise to see herself again. What was that all about? "Oh, that's it," she realized aloud. "This is your house, isn't it? You're not a spirit; you're a ghost."
Around her, the room seemed to fairly hum with satisfaction.
"So why don't you want anyone to come here? I always heard ghosts appreciated the company after being alone." The sense of happiness fled, and it got very cold very quickly.
"Lina-san!" Amelia called out, bursting up the stairs. "Guess what we found!" Her enthusiasm faded in the chilliness of the room. "It's so cold in here!" Abruptly the temperature returned to normal as a breeze ruffled by Amelia's hair and down the stairs.
"What did you find? The treasure?" Lina asked eagerly.
"No, a book. I can't read it, but Zelgadiss-san says it looks like some sort of diary. It was written in something he called 'katakana.' Do you think it could have a clue to the treasure, Lina-san?"
"It could. We may as well stay here the night; it's almost dark outside and it's a two-hour walk to the nearest town."
"But . . . here? In this house? With the spirit?"
Lina cracked a small smile. "It's not a spirit. It's a ghost."
"A ghost?" Amelia repeated. "But I thought ghosts couldn't move things."
"How many ghosts have you known, Amelia?" The girl shrugged. "When should Silphiel be here?"
"As soon as it's dark. I'll go tell the guys we're staying here then." Amelia went down the stairs. After a few moments, Lina followed her, but only as far as the odd room. She stepped in it and shut the door. Almost immediately the handles over the larger basin began to turn themselves and water came out of the faucet and began to fill it.
"What? Do I stink or something?" There was a faint giggle. A cabinet beneath the smaller basin opened, and a towel came floating out to sit on the odd-shaped contraption beside the water-filled vessel. "Well, I guess we're both girls here." She stripped quickly and got in the water. "Gods, this is perfect," she whispered, sinking down deeper.
"I'm glad you like it," an unfamiliar woman's voice answered, and Lina bolted upright.
"You can hear me?" the voice shrieked. "You can really hear me?"
"Of course I can hear you. Why wouldn't I be able to hear you?"
"You'll talk to me?" She sounded sad now. "Everyone who has ever come here has always ignored me." Hence the note, Lina thought. She must not like to be ignored. Who could blame her, if she's been here since before Ceiphied and Ruby-Eye went to war? "What's your name?"
"Lina Inverse. What about you?"
"Tsukino? What an odd name."
"Tsukino's my family name. Everyone called me Usagi or Usagi-chan. I'm pleased to meet you - Do I call you Inverse or Lina?"
"Inverse is my family name." She paused, looked down, and blushed. "Could we continue this conversation some time when I'm not naked?"
"Gomen nasai, Lina. I'm used to not having a body now; I forgot about that. I'll go."
"It's okay, I guess. Could you slide that towel a little closer over here?"
Usagi laughed. "Sure." As if on its own, the soft piece of cloth floated over to the edge of the -
"What do you call this thing anyway?" she asked, gesturing to the basin in which she lay.
"A bath tub." She laughed. "One of the first groups of people to come here were a bunch of scholars. One of them almost died of fright when I cut the water on. I guess things like this aren't in the world anymore."
"How long have you been here?"
She sighed. "It seems like forever. Since. . ."
The temperature in the room dropped radically. Lina shivered and slipped as far down in the water as she could. "Usagi?"
"I can't stay here any longer," the ghost whispered. "He's coming, and I'd hate for him to find out there are living people here. I'll be seeing you, Lina."
"Who's coming?" She was met by dead silence. "Usagi?"
"Don't you dare try to warn them away."
"Don't go near them."
"You've warned away every human that has come here in the past. I want something to toy with again."
"Like you did that poor scholar? No way. I'm not going to let you. Besides, it was so hard to make myself material enough to cut him down."
The third entity nodded silently, and Usagi patted him softly as best she could. He had hardly spoken a word when he was alive; he was too silent now, even for a ghost. He and his group of fellow scholars had thought they were prepared to enter this cursed house. She supposed it was only sheer luck that only one of them had died here.
"I'm going to have some fun with our guests whether you like it or not, Usagi. It's up to you, though, which ones I play with."
"I won't let you do this."
"They're just after the treasure anyway. Doesn't that make them worthy of punishment?"
With that, the evil one faded away. She paced back and forth across the bedroom floor, her transparent feet never really touching. "We can't let him do this, you know," she said to her companion. He nodded back at her. Even to her, a fellow ghost, he was barely visible; he had exhausted a great deal of what little energy he had trying to scare off Lina's friends downstairs. "We have to stop him. It's obvious Lina and her friends won't leave, at least not tonight." Her frown deepened, and her speed increased. "We'll just have to keep an eye on them."
He looked up at her, apparently worried, and held up two fingers.
"What? Oh. Well, there are four of them, so maybe they'll break off into two groups. That way, we'll be able to -"
She froze and ceased speaking as her latest lap brought her up to the window. Her companion slid up closer to her and glanced over her shoulder. He tapped her shoulder urgently and held up five fingers.
"I know, I know. Five of them, two of us. We have trouble."
"Glad you finally decided to show up, Silphiel," Lina dryly commented as the young shrine maiden stepped inside the house. A long-forgotten stick of metal tossed itself at her idly before Gourry batted it away.
"Lina-san," the dark-haired woman stated warmly, "it's so good to see you again."
She nodded. "Well, I'm going on to bed, you guys. I'll see you in the morning."
Amelia waited until the redheaded sorceress was out of the room and most of the way up the stairs before she turned to the others and asked, "Does it seem like Lina-san's acting strange to anyone but me?"
Lina sighed and stretched and collapsed on the bed - then coughed at the wave of dust that action had produced. From across the room, she heard a faint giggle. "Usagi? Is that you?"
"Hai, Lina, it's me." She paused, whispering as though she were conversing with someone else. "It's us."
"Us?" There was more than one spirit here?
"Well, yeah. I don't know my friend's name, but he was a scholar in life."
"So there are two ghosts in this house?"
"I . . . guess you could say that." Usagi sounded evasive.
The ghost chuckled. "There are two ghosts here: myself and my friend here. He was the one who was throwing things at your friends, you see. Then there's the spirit of the house."
"So there is a spirit here?"
Usagi sighed. "Yes, a very evil one. He drove my friend here to kill himself. I don't even remember a time when he wasn't here to torment me. He's tried his utmost to kill everyone who has ever entered this house, and since this time of the year is peak for him and me, he usually succeeds in driving them mad." She paused for no reason Lina could detect. "Okay, you go do that. I'll be here."
Lina faintly saw a breeze moving the hair ribbons that hung from the guardrails to the steps. "Where's he going?"
"To keep an eye on your friends." Alarm shot through Lina, and she bolted upright. "Don't worry. He won't hurt them or anything. He only threw things at them to try to scare them away, but since that didn't work, he'll protect them now. He's freer to move about the house than I am anyway."
"Well, our tormenter has made a game of this. I'm safe from him, so long as I stay on the top two levels of the house."
"But, Usagi, you're a ghost. He can't hurt you."
"That's not entirely true. A human can't hurt a ghost, true enough, but ghosts and spirits are made out of the same material and we're real enough to each other, unless we use up a lot of our energy. I've been at his mercies before. I have no wish to be there again. You're the only one on the upper levels, so I'll stay with you. Besides," she could almost sense the ghost winking at her, "you'll talk to me."
That was a cue if she'd ever heard one. "So what do you want to talk about?"
"I . . . want to know what the world is like outside the house. I barely remember what my own world was like; I want to know all about this new one."
And she'd been hoping to find out about the World Before too. Damn, Lina sourly thought to herself. With an internal shrug, she started talking. She never even noticed herself getting sleepy until she heard faint shifting sounds. "What are you doing, Usagi?" she asked.
"I thought you might like a nightgown, unless you want to sleep in your clothes."
She glanced down at herself. "I never even thought about that."
"Well, for one who has weathered the things you have, sleeping in your clothes is probably a very trivial thing." A pair of blue pajamas floated up out of a drawer and over to the bed.
"You know, Usagi, that's really kind of unnerving. Is there any way you can make yourself, you know, visible?"
"I would, Lina, but it takes a lot of effort just grasping things. Ghosts are not made for moving things about, you know. It takes a lot of energy, and we ghosts have only so much to spare."
"Then why do you keep using yours to help me out?"
"From what I can remember, I've always been this way. I like to help people, especially friends. And since you're the first person in over a thousand years who has wanted to talk to me, I think you're a friend, don't you?" She didn't even give Lina a chance to answer before she continued. "Okay. Stand up, Lina. Pajamas, bed. You look exhausted. It must have been quite a long journey here from wherever you came from."
"You always seem to be trying to get my clothes off me," she idly complained. Usagi burst out laughing. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing, nothing, just the idea of me trying to get someone's clothes off them. I don't even remember how clothes work or what the real purpose of them was."
As soon as Lina set her cape on the bed, it was picked up and swished around an invisible body. As it settled down, a faint outline of a human-like form took shape. Damn, Lina thought again, even dead women have better bodies than me. "I don't think it's your color, Usagi."
"You think?" As if on its own the cape twisted back and forth before the larger mirror that stood on its own beside the bed. "Yeah, you may be right, Lina. But it would be nice to be able to feel cloth again." She sighed, taking the cape off and folding it neatly, placing it on the desk seat, as she continued to do for every item Lina took off. "You know, Lina, sometimes I almost think I remember how things smelled, how food tasted, but then it fades, and all I can remember is this dark death." Abruptly she changed the subject. "You and your friends should leave here tomorrow, Lina. It won't be safe after then."
She pulled on the pajamas and slipped into the bed. "Why not?"
"He'll be stronger tomorrow, strong enough to physically hurt someone. He gets stronger every year at this time. Sometimes I worry that he's going to become strong enough to break through the barrier."
"Barrier? What barrier?"
"Between death and life, of course. He wants to be alive again." She chuckled mirthlessly. "All ghosts do."
"I can imagine. Why would he be stronger?"
"Because the day after tomorrow marks the day he and I began our struggle. Both of our powers will be at their peak for the next three days after then."
"Because the day after tomorrow will mark the anniversary of him putting a knife through my chest. My father retaliated and almost killed him though. We both lingered on the edge of death for three days. After the first night, strange earthquakes started, and I vaguely remember hearing people talking about great beasts fighting in the skies far away. And on the third day, I woke up and dragged myself all the way to the door of this house, with that bastard right on my heels, when a weird blast of radiant light cut through us." She chuckled again. "And we both died. If we'd gotten to the house, we would have been safe, I think."
Great beasts fighting in the skies . . . That would have to be Ceiphied and Ruby-Eye. Gods . . . Then that means she died right as their battle finished. "Usagi. . ."
"But I think you need sleep more than you need to hear my tale of woe, so good night, Lina."
The minute Usagi extinguished the light, she could feel her eyes drooping shut. Within moments, she was asleep.
The ghost of a long-dead young woman stared down at the person in her bed, wishing she could hate her for being there, for invading her house, her routine, for being here at a time when he was at his worst, when she'd have to keep her in her sight. But she couldn't. She smiled to herself. Yes. This she remembered. This was what it was like to have a friend. She balanced her less-than-material body just right and lay down beside Lina on the bed. And, because ghosts had no need for sleep, she watched her all night.
It was confirmable. He was bored. Why did he have to end up with this guy to watch? Because all the others went outside, except him, this woman, and the woman upstairs with Usagi, he answered his own question.
He could just imagine it now. This guy (the woman cooking had called him "Gourry") was going to choke on a bone or something, die, and end up haunting this place too. Then he would be pestering him and Usagi with these pointless questions instead of this poor Silphiel woman. "What do you think Lina's up to up there anyway?"
Finally something somewhat intelligent out of his mouth. Simply miraculous.
He could almost feel sorry for this Lina person. She had to be the woman with Usagi - and the only unattached member of their group. This Gourry and this Silphiel were a couple, and those Zelgadiss and Amelia people were another, but Lina was the apparent leader of the group and alone.
"I guess she's already asleep, Gourry-sama. She wouldn't be missing dinner otherwise."
Well, maybe she'll stay upstairs where Usagi can watch her, and the other two will stay outside out of all our reaches, and I'll just have to stick on the idiot for the rest of the night. Oh gods, it's going to be a long night. . .
The faint light of early dawn woke her up. She stretched just slightly, and her hand passed through something cold as ice, as cold as. . .
"Ohayoo gozaimasu, Lina," Usagi greeted. She was apparently right beside her, laying on the bed too. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yeah, better than I have in a while. Thank you. You were here all night?"
The bedclothes moved faintly as if the ghost had shrugged. "Ghosts don't need sleep."
"You know, I can almost see you today, Usagi." The extra pillow on the bed hit her in the face. "Hey! What was that for?"
"For the sake of I wanted to. You and your friends should start getting out of here."
"We're not leaving yet."
Usagi sighed. The bed shifted as she got up; when she spoke again, her voice was no longer so close. "Not until you get this house's treasure, right?"
"That's why we came here, but how did you know?"
"I have my ways. Everyone who has ever come to this house was ultimately after the treasure. Scholars, sorcerers, mercenaries, bandits; every one of them was after it, and none of them ever got it. I died to keep it safe, and I'll keep on protecting it until I have no energy left to do so."
"So the treasure is yours?" Lina whispered; Usagi didn't answer. "You keep on mentioning this energy, about how ghosts only have so much of it. What is it? And what happens when you run out of it?"
"Energy is all that is left of our mortal bodies. It's what gives us what little form and powers we have as spirits, but when we use it all up, we cease to exist and we - Lina! Look out!"
The light from the window behind her died, and the entire room was suddenly plunged into total darkness. She looked behind her slowly. A huge dark shape blocked the window, bleak, dark, and opaque. It raised a hand, claw-tipped fingers aimed at her heart, and plunged it down. A cold, cold arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her backwards, off the bed. Before she even realized what she was doing, she lifted both hands before her and called out, "Elmekia Lance!" The white light cut through the darkness, and it screamed in pain before vanishing through the floor.
A familiar voice chuckled. "I wasn't expecting you to be a sorceress, Lina. Maybe you don't need my help after all." She slowly released Lina's waist and let her settle to the floor.
She reached up and wrapped her fingers around the faint image of the blonde ghost, pulling her back down to the floor beside her. "You knew it was coming. You saved my life." Usagi shrugged. "Tell me the whole truth now, Usagi. What is that thing? What does it want?"
Usagi tried to pull her arm back, but she wouldn't release it. Wearily she answered, "It was human once. I know. It - he was my ex-boyfriend. He got upset when I dumped him for someone else, someone who was nicer to me and who treated me a thousand times better, and he killed me. For the first thousand years or so, he was content to just torment me, then other people started showing up, and he came to see it as a challenge, a way to break me by breaking others. So, you asked what he wants. He wants to either kill you or torture you until you kill yourself, got it?"
"So you, a ghost, are protecting me? And your companion is protecting my friends? Why?"
"'Why'?" the spirit shrieked back. Her form hovered a little closer to material in her anger, and the room's temperature dropped a few degrees. "Do you have any idea what it's like to be dead? It's horrible: cold, lonely, and boring! I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, let alone a friend! And like it or not, I consider you my friend now, Lina, and we'll find a way to drive you out of this house before tonight!"
The redhead, Lina, was downstairs, and Usagi was nowhere to be found. Even that unique energy pattern she wore like a badge was gone. The whole house was a little colder, even to his almost nonexistent senses. Their opponent, demon that he was, was almost sulking, probably because of Usagi's disappearance.
"It's no fun playing with them when Usagi doesn't get all flustered and protective," it complained as it floated above Gourry and Silphiel on the sofa.
He shrugged. She's upset about something. It didn't try something on Lina or her upstairs, did it? He glanced toward the kitchen, where the redhead was gobbling down food.
"Don't you be getting ideas about protecting them, scholar, especially that one. They're mine to play with." It rubbed the soft of its shoulder. "Besides, she's a sorceress; she doesn't need the help of a spirit."
"We have to get them out of the house," Usagi's voice floated down from the top of the stairs.
"What?" the demon demanded.
"This is still my house, and I want them out of it now!" He gestured frantically; somehow she saw it. "Yes, we need to boot them out, scholar. Literally, if needs be."
"What do you mean? Why?"
"They're different from the others. They're dangerous, more dangerous than anyone who has ever come here."
The demon smiled, or its approximate thereof. "All the more reason to keep them here. That very strength will make breaking them will be a challenge."
"I won't forgive you for this, you bastard."
Those two are impossible, he admitted, shaking his head. That same movement brought something interesting to his eyes. Masaka. . .
The demon cackled, hopping down from his perch. "Your chosen one is brave, Usagi."
"Leave Lina out of this," she ordered.
"Lina? So it's just the woman you're worried about? Then I'll be extra sure to keep an eye on her."
"I mean it: leave her alone."
The redhead marched right past them all, coming so close to the demon that the cape she wore brushed along it, briefly showing its sharp features to the other humans. "Come on, guys," she stated. "We're leaving."
"B-but," Gourry began. Lina silenced him with one severe look. The others merely shrugged and followed her out of the house.
Usagi sighed in relief, stood, and went back up to the window in her bedroom to watch them leave. And try to pretend that the house didn't seem a bit lonelier.
"Okay, Lina, what's the deal?" Zelgadiss demanded. "You would never give up on the treasure that easily."
"I haven't given up on it at all, but we're going to need some more help."
"Who do you have in mind?"
"I think we could really use Filia."
"Filia-san?" Amelia repeated.
"And then we're going back tomorrow."
"Lina-san," Silphiel began, her voice rather hesitant, "what's wrong with you? You've been acting strangely ever since we got here."
She looked at them, the two sets of couples, and pasted a grin on her face that she did not feel. "I'm fine, guys. Really, I am. There's no sense wasting time now. Let's go."
They'd never understand, she thought to herself. Zel might have, once, but not now, not anymore. Against her will, she found herself stopping and turning around to face the house. But I bet Usagi would understand. . . Understand what it means to be alone.
"Oh, Megami-sama," Usagi complained, "was the house always so empty?" He shrugged his answer, and she went right back to moping. She'd been doing that since the humans left the day before. He tapped her shoulder gently, and she glanced back over at him; once he had her attention, he pointed at the object on the wall she had once called a clock. "You're right, my friend; it's almost that time again." He sent her a very obviously concerned look. "I'm all right. I'm dead, after all, so it doesn't really -"
The door downstairs burst open, and loud, startlingly familiar voices drifted up to them. " -took you long enough to get here, Filia!"
"I'm sorry, Lina-san, but. . ."
But Usagi clearly wasn't listening to the golden-haired woman below. She stood up and walked right up to the top of the stairs, the closest he'd ever seen her come to going downstairs in all the time he'd been with her, and whispered somewhere between happily and angrily, "She came back. She came back." She sighed, her face settling into a blank expression. "Why did she have to come back now?"
"Usagi," the demon whispered in her ear, "it seems your champion has returned to you."
"Don't hurt her." She turned and stared up into his cold, ruthless blue eyes. "I'm begging. Please. I haven't begged for anything in the whole time we've been imprisoned here, but I'm begging now. Please don't hurt her."
"As tempting as it is, especially hearing you beg me for something, now I can't leave her alone."
"Why?" she demanded, her voice rising and the whole house's temperature dropping.
"Because, since that little sorceress came here, you haven't mentioned Haruka once. Not once. And while I am not abject to a break from hearing about the woman you left me for, it certainly seems. . . curious."
"Lina's my friend, nothing else."
"You said that about Haruka once too, remember? It doesn't exactly reassure me."
"At the time, that was all we were. Please don't hurt Lina."
It smiled grimly. "Of course I will." It flitted up through the ceiling toward her attic bedroom.
"What're we gonna do?" Usagi thought aloud. "We couldn't run them out when we had days to do it; there's no way we could get it done in fifteen minutes now."
"Absolutely not a chance," Lina answered. Usagi whirled to see Lina leaning against the wall. "We're not leaving again this time."
"Demo. . . Lina. . .," Usagi nervously began, glancing over her shoulder.
"No 'buts,' Usagi." She caught Usagi's arm and turned her back to face her. "I'm going to find a way to save you."
Usagi smiled sadly, touching Lina's face very hesitantly; the sorceress visibly had to fight down a shiver from the cold touch. "I'm dead, Lina-chan. I've been dead longer than your world has existed. There is no reason for you to try to save me." She bit her lip in frustration. "If you want the treasure that badly, I'll -"
"This isn't about the treasure, all right?" Lina all but screamed. "For once in my life, it's about something other than fame or gold. I just -" She broke off for a moment, apparently losing some of her steam. When she spoke again, her voice was quieter. "I just want to help you, Usagi."
"You want to help? Then get out of here while you still can."
Usagi looked up at the clock then back at Lina. "It's too late anyway." Downstairs, the door leading outside slammed shut and locked itself. The ghost cast desperate eyes on the human and whispered almost too softly to be heard, "Just please don't go upstairs, Lina-chan."
Lina didn't get to finish her question before an unseen force yanked Usagi from her grasp and pulled her up though the ceiling.
"What was that, Lina-san?" the golden-haired woman asked, slowly coming up the stairs. "Was that your ghost?"
"So you could see Usagi?"
"Just barely, just the faintest image of her. I could see her talking, but I couldn't hear her, just a buzzing in my head."
"She's sad," Val put in. Lina glanced down at the small ancient dragon. Reborn after the Dark Star incident two years ago, the boy that had once been among their worst enemies, Valgaav, looked perhaps four or five, though he seemed far more intelligent than his age gave him reason to be. "She was sad because she's dead, but now she's even sadder that you came back, Lina-san."
"That I came back?"
"Because now you'll be in danger."
Even he couldn't help staring down at the boy in awe. He'd read Usagi perfectly in a matter of seconds.
A scream echoed through the house, and he started, so caught up was he in the boy's insightful thoughts. Damn, Usagi still screams loud enough to wake the dead, even after going through this every year in all this time.
"Usagi!" Lina called, rushing towards the stairs at the end of the hall. He tried to stop her, but his hand passed right through her.
Just as Lina reached the steps and was about to start up them, a small explosion was heard in the room above her; it sounded very similar to one of Jilas's guns.
If she'd gone up the stairs any faster, she would have flown. On the floor, each lying in one of the bloodstains, seemingly unconscious, were Usagi and the dark-haired man from the picture. They look so solid, so real, that they almost looked completely human again.
The man climbed to his feet first, his already dark shirt stained darker with blood that did not flow, and turned to face her. His blue eyes were like ice, as cold as a Mazoku's eyes. "So, you're Usagi's new companion." His voice was colder than his eyes. Moving quicker than any mortal could, he darted forward and caught her chin in an iron grip; unlike the rest of him, his hand was warm. "I'll be seeing you around." He planted a quick wet kiss on her lips and then completely vanished from sight, and before she could fire another Elmekia Lance at him too.
Grimacing and wiping her mouth fervently, she moved over to check on Usagi. As she knelt beside her, the small blonde stirred and sat up in a daze. "Lina-chan?" she asked.
At the top of the stairs, Filia gasped, touching her own ears lightly. This time, she'd been able to hear her.
"Usagi?" Lina reached out and brushed her fingers against the blonde's face; Usagi smiled and leaned into the touch. Her skin was warm now. "Are you alive now?"
"Iie, I'm just less dead now than before. For the next three days, the demon and I will both be like this, and all three of those days will be pure hell on hearth. Hey!" she called over to Filia. "Hold onto something, okay?"
"What. . ." Around them, the entire house began to shake. It lasted only around five minutes though. A bit shaken, Filia climbed to her feet and asked, "What was that?"
"The first of many earthquakes you'll experience over the next three days, and it was the smallest and shortest of them all. You see, this is the curse of a ghost's existence, having to relive their death on its anniversary every year." She glanced out the window. "You won't be able to see the great beasts fighting in the sky, but this is exactly what happened when I died."
"Great beasts?" Filia repeated.
"Ceiphied and Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu," answered Lina.
"You've been a ghost that long, Usagi-san?"
"Umm. . . hai, though I'm not entirely certain who they are. All the sorcerers and scholars who came here knew them though. Lina-chan, who are they?"
"A long story."
"Why don't we explain it to you and you tell us about your world? We can go downstairs where it's -"
"Iie!" Usagi shrieked, scooting backwards across the floor.
"She can't go below the second floor," continued Lina. "I'll meet you downstairs in a little bit, all right, Filia?" Nodding, the golden dragon left the room. "Are you okay, Usagi?"
"Hai, hai, Lina-chan. I'm dead, after -"
"Will you quit saying that?!?" Lina yelled. Usagi retreated a little further, understandably concerned in the face of an angry Lina Inverse. "I hate the self-sacrificing heroine type!"
"Gomen nasai, Lina-chan."
She slid across the floor to the other girl. "Usagi?"
"Leave me alone." She scooted a little closer, and Usagi jerked away from her, apparently pouting. "I mean it! Leave me alone!"
"You know I'm not going to."
"Why not?" As odd as it seemed, the ghost appeared to be pouting.
"Maybe because you're my friend too." It was amazing how those few words automatically brought a smile to Usagi's face. Cautiously she cupped her hand against the blonde's cheek; again she leaned into the touch. "And maybe because I like you a lot?" she even more cautiously added.
"I really like you too, Lina." She smiled, really smiled this time, and it could have lit up the room.
Lina again glanced at the blonde-haired girl patiently sitting at the top of the stairs, as if to make sure the version of what of Usagi's story she knew and was telling was all right by the ghost, who merely smiled back. Finally the sorceress broke off with the (rather dangerous) declaration, "Saa, I'm hungry!"
"I think I am too," came from the top of the stairs. It was immediately followed by a familiar growling noise.
"I'd say you are," Silphiel laughed. "I'll make something and bring it up to you."
She bowed. "Doomo arigatoo, Silphiel-san." The archaic gesture seemed automatic, but it was something they had rarely seen. "I'll be waiting right here."
"Your ghost is a very nice person," Silphiel stated as Lina hungrily watched her cook a few minutes later. Large red eyes turned to watch Silphiel's face.
"You think so?" Lina asked softly.
The redhead smiled faintly. "So do I."
"I feel sorry for her, stuck in this house for so long, especially with that horrible demon. And -" She broke off and smiled again. "It seems the two of you are becoming rather close friends, Lina-san."
Silphiel smiled. "Yes, I do." Suddenly she frowned. "I wish there was a way to take her out of here, before she is destroyed by that demon."
"We were talking about it earlier," Filia broke in. "I heard once of a demon spirit that was able to become a full Mazoku by absorbing ghosts and evil humans."
"It sounds like that's what the spirit is trying to do here," finished Silphiel.
"Is it ready yet, Silphiel-san?" Usagi called down.
"It will be in a moment!" the black-haired priestess returned. She glanced over at the petite sorceress beside her. "Lina-san..."
"I'm not going to let him hurt her again."
Silphiel glanced back at her sharply. "You like her this much?"
"Spirits like this are tricky creatures that are nearly impossible to destroy. You could be..."
"Right now, I really don't care. I'll be upstairs with Usagi if you need me for anything."
"Picnic!" Usagi happily declared when Lina came up the stairs into her room. She'd spread the blanket from off her bed on the floor, so that it covered the bloodstains. Lina just had to stop at the top of the stairs and stare at the blonde for several long minutes.
She seemed so totally... normal right now. So happy and so very innocent. But how could that be, in a person who had been dead over five thousand years, who didn't even really remember her own life? She had to wonder, had Usagi been like this in life too?
"Lina? Are you okay?"
She grinned. "Of course I am, Usagi." She placed the food on the blanket. "Silphiel made us quite a feast!"
"Great! I'm starving!" With a speed that surprised even Lina, she started grabbing at food and shoving it in her mouth. She had to smile; somehow she'd known Usagi would eat like this - and manage to look cute while doing it.
But while she was admiring Usagi, the blonde was eating all their food. She had to rush to keep up, even though one of Silphiel's meals was not normally something to be rushed through.
Without warning, the earth (or the house) began to shake violently. Totally unprepared, Lina pitched forward. She was completely unsurprised when Usagi broke her fall with her own body - and for the feelings that girl's body pressed so tightly against hers produced.
"Daijoubu?" Usagi's voice whispered into her ear, her breath tickling the sensitive skin.
She raised her body a bit, so that they were face to face, noses practically touching. From this close, there was no disputing the beauty and the hard-kept innocence in her friend's eyes. "Hai," she breathed.
Faintly she felt Usagi's arms slip around her waist beneath her cape. "That's good," she answered softly. She could see a ghost of a smile building on Usagi's face before she pulled Lina's body down, their lips pressing together. It couldn't even really be called a kiss, but when it broke, Lina could feel heat flooding her face. Usagi, on the other hand, only looked embarrassed. "Gomen ne, Lina," she whispered.
Big, blue eyes blinked in apparent disbelief. "You... didn't... you don't mind?"
"Why should I mind?" She lightly brushed their lips together again. "I never said I didn't like it, did I?"
She smiled, and Lina felt herself responding in kind. "That's good to know. Well then, I guess I'd better get it right this time then."
Lina's eyes slipped shut as Usagi really kissed her this time. She was aware of the other girl's hands skimming up her body and unhooking her cape, tossing it to the edge of the blanket, then moving slowly back down to the small of her back. Despite the layer of cloth between their skins, the warmth she could feel from Usagi sent delightful tingles along every nerve in her body.
Below her, Usagi shivered, never breaking the kiss though. Maybe this is affecting her as much as it is me, Lina thought to herself for a split second -
- then Usagi vanished. And Lina found herself dropping a few inches and her nose colliding with an old blanket and the hard wood floor beneath it..
"Damn it..." she muttered to herself.
"Damn it!" Usagi screamed her frustration. Of all the times for her energy to run low... why did it have to be right then? She screamed her indignation to anyone who could hear it.
"Difficulties?" the demon who had once been her boyfriend purred.
"Leave me alone!" she returned harshly.
"Tell me: is this more difficult than it was with Haruka?"
For a moment, she paused, trying to puzzle out what he meant. She was still having difficulties remembering the past. Then it came to her. "Yes, much more." She smiled faintly at the returning memories. "After all, I'd known Ruka-chan for years and we were both Sailor Senshi?"
"Would you like it if the two of you were together forever?"
Suspicion ran through her like a bullet. "What are you saying?"
It shrugged. "Nothing important. Do you think you and the redhead have a chance in Hades?"
She sat down on the floor, apparently putting some serious thought into this. "I... don't know. She's this powerful, charismatic..."
"Completely mortal sorceress."
"A incorporeal, house-locked corpse."
She scowled. "You needn't put it quite that way. I'll find a way to make it work somehow. Does that answer your question?"
It shook its head resignedly, making rather obvious tsk-ing noises, a habit he'd picked up in America. "Yet another tragic love affair for you, ne?"
"Oh shut up."
He stood and stepped away from her. "Maybe I'll arrange it so that you two can be together the only way possible now: in death." It vanished.
"Matte!" she called, even reaching out a hand after it. "Please... don't hurt Lina!"
Bored again, he complained in his own mind. All they've done in the last hour is work on that journal. He glanced over Silphiel's shoulder. Looks cute enough to belong to Usagi.
He glanced up and found himself eye-to-eye with the blonde woman. He moved, her eyes followed him. There was no doubt she could, if not actually see him, then at least sense his presence.
A moment of staring later, the redhead came downstairs without her cape and with a red, somewhat squished-looking nose. "Hi, guys." It sounded almost like a complaint.
That seemed odd. While she may not have been the most chipper the other morning, the sorceress was acting like Usagi when she woke up. Looking at her again as she sat down between Silphiel and Zelgadiss, he gasped, almost aloud. A faint silver sparkle surrounded her, one that he'd only seen on other place before. Usagi... He glanced around desperately, but no one seemed to notice it except him... and the kid. That same kid that had seen into and right through Usagi before.
"They did," the demon stated. Based on the fact no one looked up when he came in the room, except the kid again, he assumed it was invisible. "Come with me. There's something I think you should know."
He nodded and followed the dark-haired demon into the living room. It was silent for a long moment. Finally, impatient, he gestured wildly. Well, what do you want?!?
"I know how you feel about Usagi, scholar. It's no big secret; you do a very poor job of hiding it. You know she doesn't love you back, don't you?" He nodded. "She's fallen for that sorceress, that human."
She loves Lina? raced his mind. But they're both girls...
"The Haruka she left me for all those years ago was a girl too. That seems to be her preference." He looked smug. "So, you see, you never stood a chance. Neither of us did."
He shrugged, trying for nonchalant. And your point is?
"The reason Usagi's aura is on the redhead is because she kissed her," the demon stated. Alarm shot through him. "A good bit of her energy is in her."
Is she crazy? he thought to himself. She knows the risks. Why would she risk herself like that? I should go check up on her, make sure she's okay and all.
He was so consumed in his thoughts that he didn't even notice the demon approaching him.
But someone else did.
Usagi grimaced as she tried again to balance herself on her bed - and again fell through it. "Damn it," she repeated yet again, pulling herself back up to her feet. "This is just not working right."
The faint sound of flying footsteps was her only clue of approaching company before the door was flung open and a small boy raced up the last set of stairs into her room. "Usagi-san!"
"I'm right here," she answered, extricating herself from the bed and instead sitting on the floor before him. The worry in his large amber eyes filled her with an unexpected dread. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "There isn't any time! You've got to come with me!" He reached out and unerringly grabbed her hand - and she felt herself solidify again.
How can such a small child have so much energy within him? she thought to herself.
Then she pushed thought aside, jumped to her feet, never releasing his hand, and stated, "Lead the way."
As they descended to the second level of the house, the boy began to explain, speaking very quickly. "The demon, it ate up your friend, and now he's gone."
"No!" She put on an extra burst of speed and moved ahead as they reached the second floor landing. She hesitated there for a brief second then rushed on.
Six steps from the bottom, it felt like she ran into a wall and bounced off, actually rolling back up the stairs with the force of it. "What the -"
"It looks like a seal made from Mazoku power." She glanced up, and for a moment, the boy was replaced by a slightly older man with shoulder-length sea green-colored hair and... a horn? Not the time to ask, she decided.
"So, why can't I get past?"
"It's sealed against -"
"- the powers of the gods," the demon finished. She sprang back to her feet as he appeared at the bottom of the stairs. "And it took me forever to build."
"Build?" the boy and she repeated in one voice.
"Did you really think I let all those intruders get away? They were sacrificed one by one to build this shield for this moment, when I could finally break your power."
Would you like it if the two of you were together forever? ... Maybe I'll arrange it so that you two can be together the only way possible now: in death.
A man appeared before Ruka-chan and me today, a strange man with purple hair, claiming to be a monk or a priest. He warned us of a new enemy approaching. Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu was its name. The priest said it was sealed within a person on this planet, hiding itself until the time is right for it to emerge.
This sounds like our worst enemy yet, worse than even Chaos. If this priest, this Rezo, is right, this could be the end of our world.
What I can't figure out is why Ruby-Eye would be interested in the Ginzuishou, if indeed it is. Ruka-chan thinks it isn't the Ginzuishou it's after at all; she thinks it wants me.
What's so special about me? All I've ever wanted to be is normal. Is that so much to ask of the gods? But... if I was normal, I would never have met Ruka-chan or the other Senshi. These days I have to always balance the good against the bad in my life.
And my love is definitely part of the good. I suppose I'd better quit writing now; the light's keeping Ruka-chan awake.
"So," Amelia began, "how old would this make Rezo?"
"Surely he died and was reborn," Zelgadiss argued.
"Who was Rezo again?" asked Gourry before Lina hit him.
"I bet Shabranigdu arranged to be reborn inside Rezo's eyes to get revenge for warning them," Silphiel whispered. "I could almost feel sorry for him now." She paused. "Almost."
"Anyway," continued Filia," there's only one more entry. It may tell what happened."
Lina bit her lip then whispered, "I hope so."
It's - It's all gone to Hell. Everything.
Ruka-chan and I are the last Senshi left alive. Pluto gave her life to keep us alive, but...
I think this is only a temporarily pardon Shinigami-sama has granted us.
These Mazoku who serve Shabranigdu, they're so powerful. A thousand times more powerful than any bakemono or youma we've ever face. Mistress Nine, Pharaoh 90, Galaxia, Metallia - nothing could have prepared us for this. They even killed Hotaru. The Senshi of Death, and she's gone. I can't believe she's - they're all dead.
How can these creatures be destroying us so quickly and easily?
We are were all trained fighters, all of us; even Ami... was. And now -----
That sound... That tight clenching in my chest...
I'm finishing this entry. I don't know why. It's killing me to write these words.
I'm the only one left, the only one alive. They killed Ruka-chan.
And to make matters worse, Mamoru - yeah, the bastard who cheated on me - is back from America. To be honest, he's been back in Japan for a few weeks...
And these Mazoku first started showing up a few weeks ago. Could... No way! Mamoru's a bastard, but he's not a Mazoku! Right? Right?!? He's amoral, yes, of course, but he'd never sell out the human race, right?
I'm just further convincing myself of a connection. He's involved somehow. How though?
Mamoru couldn't be the human that Shabranigdu is seal in.
Rezo said there was another human, this one with a being called Ceiphied locked within him. Rezo failed to say what Ceiphied is though. All he said was Ceiphied is Shabranigdu's eternal enemy, its polar opposite.
So if Shabranigdu is a demon, then is Ceiphied a god?
So many "ifs" and not enough answers. I do know this: before Rei died, she said that the Ginzuishou was part of the puzzle. I know these Mazoku dislike even its presence.
So is the Ginzuishou related to the Ceiphied mystery? Yet another answered-less question.
What if Ruka-chan was right? What if they don't want the Ginzuishou after all? What if all they want is me?
I remember, in the battle for Galaxia's soul, when I gave myself over to the Ginzuishou to heal her, I felt something stir. I wasn't sure if it was me or Galaxia, the Ginzuishou or Chaos, so I ignored it. But what if the Ginzuishou was trying to tell me something? Or warn me of something? And I ignored it like the baka I am. And now everyone is dead, and it's all my fault.
I'm going against the Mazoku. I can't let my Senshi be alone; I can't let Ruka be alone. Please, if I die and anyone reads this later, find Ceiphied and use it to destroy Shabranigdu. That's all I ask.
Destroy Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu for me for us.
For Ami, the genius who go us out of so many pinches. For Rei, who was always there for me when I needed her, like a best friend should be. For Mako-chan, who always protected me and stood up for me, right up to the end. For Minako, whose cheerful and silly demeanor masked the strong leader who kept us from falling apart.
For Setsuna, who gave her life for me and Ruka and who always stood in the shadows watching over us. For Hotaru, who never really had the chance to live. For Michiru, who only wanted to love Ruka and me.
For the woman who joined our fight for no reason other than we needed help but gave us no name, save Galaxia. For Seiya, Star Fighter, who stood by me, even when I chose Ruka instead. For Taiki, Star Maker, who died for Ami. For Yaten, Star Healer, who fought so valiantly and died so bravely.
For Ruka, the woman I loved, who held me tenderly and helped me forget the past, who taught me how much I was worth, who loved me for and in spite of who I am.
And for me, baka Usagi, Sailormoon, Princess Serenity, age nineteen, and all alone.
And maybe Mamoru will help me in this fight...
"So who was Ceiphied?" Amelia blurted out. "And was that Mamoru guy really Shabranigdu?"
"Lina-san, didn't you say -" Silphiel began.
"Mamoru was the one who killed Usagi," the redhead finished, a very angry glower on her face. "And he is the spirit who keeps making everything hell for her. He could very well be Shabranigdu, even now."
Filia's eyes widened, and she glanced around wildly. "Where's Val?"
"The other ghost isn't here either," Zel stated. A certain chill that always seemed to mark a ghost's presence was missing. All in all, the entire house was too quiet.
As if on cue, a room away, a deep voice spoke. "The powers of the gods. And it took me forever to build." It was silent for a second, as if listening to a brief response then continued. "Did you really think I let all those intruders get away? They were sacrificed one by one to build this shield for this moment, when I could finally break your power."
"Lina!" another voice screamed, one that was somewhat more familiar to them.
"Usagi!" The sorceress bolted out of her chair and ran out of the kitchen.
Usagi's heart sank as Lina appeared out of the kitchen. She didn't have long to dwell on it though. Around her, she could see and feel the texture of the house changing. The walls on either side of her vanished, and the barrier before her was visibly strengthened; she could see it. It cast its own perceptions on the floor below; while she could still see Lina, the colors were muted and paled; her hair seemed almost pink, along with the outfit she knew to be red.
The golden-haired woman from earlier, Filia, burst out after Lina - and skidded to a quick stop before she ran into her. "Val?" she called.
"I'm right here," the boy behind her answered calmly.
"So your name's Val, eh?" she asked without turning, a small smile on her face.
"So the gods dare send two of their own into this place?" the demon asked, breaking the tableau. "With the power I'd gain from sacrificing of two dragons, I could completely destroy Ceiphied at last."
"A lot has changed since you've been imprisoned here, Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu." Lina sounded angry, and that sounded dangerous.
"Am I supposed to be afraid of you, little human? The world hasn't changed that much."
Any other time it might have been at least amusing to see Lina bristling up in anger like that. That one must have hit her pride hard, to make her react like this. "You bastard! Elmekia Flame!"
The demon vanished before it could hit, and the white light kept going until it hit the barrier.
The Elmekia Flame hit an invisible wall and seemingly was absorbed by it. For a split second when it hit, she could see Usagi and Val on the other side, then the vision disappeared again, and she let out the vilest stream of curses she could think of.
Filia, though, cut her off by asking, "Where are the others?"
"They were of no use to me," the creature spoke up, now by the door leading outside, "so I created another barrier to seal humans." It smiled wickedly. "I'll let them out later to hunt down and kill, of course."
"Of course," Lina echoed.
"The only reason you're out here, human," it sneered, "is because your death will hurt her a great deal. I've waited so long for her to fall in love with another human. Haruka died before I could awaken, but I think you'll do just splendidly, Lina Inverse."
At the top of the stairs, the barrier shuttered just slightly. "What the--?" she whispered, mostly to herself.
"They can see you down here, even if you cannot see them. They can hear you too..."
"Usagi?" she called out.
"... But you can't hear their replies," he finished, heedless of the glares he received. "Now, let me see: which dragon will be easiest to kill? The golden dragon or the ancient dragon?"
"Leave Val alone. He's not a part of this," Filia stated, somewhere between pleading and threatening.
"He's a dragon, and dragons are subjects of Ceiphied. The only way for me to leave this place is to absorb Ceiphied, and I need the power that sacrificing dragons would give me to do that." He smirked lightly. "It's nothing personal, golden dragon, except that I want to kill your boss."
"Ceiphied again," Usagi whispered, listening intently to the conversation going on below them. And then -
The demon vanished.
"No!" Filia screamed, and she felt all her senses go on alert.
"Val?" she called out softly, keeping her eyes on the barrier and her target beyond it.
What kind of a world was it out there that such a small child could sound so calm when his life was threatened? "We're going through the barrier."
That got his attention. "But it's sealed against the powers of the gods," he argued.
"Lina's spell weakened it. I think - I know we can make it through now." She paused. "If you trust me."
She sensed, rather than saw, him come to stand behind her. "I don't have much choice except to trust you, Usagi-san."
She turned - and could only stare for a long, long moment. Dark feathered wings, too large for his small body, held her gaze. "Dark angel..."
"What's an angel?" He didn't dispute the "dark" part though.
"Never mind. Hold onto me."
Inside her, for the first time in hundreds of thousands of years, she felt something stir again.
The barrier shuttered once more then began to stretch obscenely. With each inch outward it moved, the easier it was to see two figures on the opposite side of it.
Then with a loud popping noise, it broke, and Usagi and Val came tumbling down the stairs, the ghost protecting him with her suddenly very alive-looking body, stopping them after only falling a few steps.
"Damn it!" the creature screamed, reappearing. "Quit interfering!"
Electricity flew out its hand at the pair on the stairs, and again Usagi protected Val, pulling him up against her, even doing her best to hold his wings in. The light blue top she always wore burned away quickly under the intense heat.
"Usagi!" Lina felt slip from her lips. "Elmekia Flame!" It stumbled against the white light, but that was all. It was similarly affected by Filia's holy magic.
Beyond the demon, she heard a strange sound, like giant wings unfurling. But Val's wings are already out, and Filia doesn't have wings in her human form, only a tail.
"Shit," the demon stated briefly, falling back a step. And now she could see the source of the sound and the demon's discomfort.
"That's one way to put it," Usagi answered. Only it wasn't really Usagi, was it? Was Usagi supposed to have wings? Was she supposed to look so... so... much more perfect, beautiful, radiant than she usually did?
Filia answered her unspoken questions for her, dropping to one knee and reverently whispering, "Ceiphied-sama..."
And for a long, less-than-reverent moment, she stared at the winged woman in the flowing white and gold dress, who stood between Val and Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu, and all she could think was, So Usagi was Ceiphied? Of course! And when they were at the point of death, it freed Ceiphied and Ruby-Eye to begin their battle for real. But why are they both here now? And... why would Usagi - no! Ceiphied - be interested in... me? Then dark blue eyes met red ones, and the formerly golden haired being smiled, and it was the same smile she'd gotten used to seeing from Usagi already. So she was both then? Both Usagi and Ceiphied?
"Are you all right, Lina?" When she spoke this time, Lina could hear two voices: the echoing intense voice of Ceiphied and the light silvery one that belonged to Usagi.
"Don't concern yourself with me," she answered. "Worry about Ruby-Eye."
I can't cast a Dragon Slave against Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu; likewise using any spells invoking lower Mazoku's powers would be pointless, Lina thought to herself. Even if we could get Zel or Amelia out here, a Ra Tilt wouldn't work, especially if Filia's Holy Magic didn't. Ra Tilts didn't work against a small piece of it anyway; what chance would that spell stand against the main body? We don't even have the Hikari no Ken anymore. Damn it! All that leaves is Chaos Magic or sitting back and watching. "Hells, no," she muttered aloud. But I have to them carefully or Usagi - Ceiphied, whoever it is now - will be hurt. L-sama! Just this once more: help me.
"Don't you think it's time we ended this?" Usagi/Ceiphied asked, casually casting a holy spell.
"Careful, you idiot!" the demon scolded. "Don't you see what your little human is doing?"
Blue eyes flashed dark with anger. The winged figure moved forward quicker than anyone's eyes could follow, and her hand cracked against his cheek as she yelled, "Leave Lina out of this!"
And in the instant that their skins touched, everything was flooded into darkness.
Usagi opened her eyes, closed them, and then opened them again. Everything was still an endless black nothingness, an unending sea of... darkness as far - or was it as close? - as the eye could see.
I've seen this place before, her mind whispered.
"Yes, you have, Usagi."
The faintest image of a reddish dragon appeared before her; it was small enough for her to hold in her cupped hands. "This place is part of the Sea of Chaos, Usagi. You know it because for the last five millennia, your house has been the replacement scenery for this."
"Who are you?"
"Flare Dragon Ceiphied. In a way, I'm your guardian, as Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu is Mamoru's. And the two of you have been our guardians."
"Only the Dark Golden Lord, the Lord of Nightmares, knows that. All I know is we remained sealed in your bodies till you were on the point of death, then we were released to begin our war."
"If you left, then why did we die?"
"We're bonded together, Usagi, whether you like it or not. When Ruby-Eye and I first injured each other, it killed the two of you. I don't even know how long we battled, several thousands of years at least, before we reached a... conclusion five thousand years ago."
"I split Ruby-Eye into seven parts, hiding the biggest and main part in the Sea of Chaos, before I split myself into four parts and followed Ruby-Eye into the Sea of Chaos. And so you and Mamoru were brought back while we recovered."
"So you just bring us back whenever it's convenient for you?"
"In a nutshell, yes."
"So why am I here now, separate from you?"
She could have sworn the dragon looked nervous. "Because L-sama was summoned."
"L-sama...? The Dark Golden Lord?" It nodded gravely. "But how? Why? By whom? Who would have the power and knowledge to summon her?"
"What do you know about L-sama?"
"We were bonded. I know what you know. So who, why, and how?"
"Your girlfriend did it," a deep voice answered. She turned as best she could without a ground beneath her and found herself staring at her ex-boyfriend. In his hands, he held a red creature; it could only be Ruby-Eye Shabranigdu. In response, she clutched Ceiphied a bit closer to herself.
"What do you mean, Lina did this?"
"Not denying the girlfriend bit, eh, Usako?" She shot him a very cold and dirty look. "She called up the Lord of Nightmare's, L-sama's, power, and you touching me completed the spell."
"Darkness and light aren't ever supposed to meet," the red creature stated.
"We came so close to finally defeating you, especially after Hellmaster Fibrizo's god-sealing barrier weakened the Water Dragon Lord a thousand years ago," Mamoru continued. "It gave me what I needed to convince you to stay upstairs while I started a barrier of my own."
"I'm not interested in the history lesson at all right now, Mamoru. Where's Lina? I swear, if you've hurt her..."
He laughed shortly. "In this place? Here, I couldn't hurt her, no matter how much I want to. She's going to be the one in control here, over all of us."
"Good of you to notice," a powerful version of Lina's voice rang out, echoing just slightly.
"Lina?" Usagi called, looking around wildly for the voice's owner.
"Here, Usagi." The blonde woman turned in the direction the words came from and stared in blatant shock at the woman before her. Or, more specifically, at the golden aura surrounding her.
"Lina?" she whispered, nearly letting the small dragon fall from her fingers. "Is that really you, Lina?"
"That's the Dark Golden Lord."
"The Lord of Nightmares, you idiot lizard."
"Then where's Lina? Let her go! Please don't take her!"
L-sama smiled. "I'm not going to try keeping her. I just need to borrow her body and voice. And she did call me, you know." She turned her attention to the two small beings. "Because of the two of you, this world gives me more trouble than the other three put together."
"Gomen ne, L-sama," Ceiphied stated. It was the only one of the two that looked contrite as well.
"I want you to release your holds on these humans and let them go however they will. And try sticking to fighting your own battles from now on."
"I would release my human, L-sama, but Ceiphied here bound it to me and me to it. Without me, it will die, and vice versa."
Usagi could have sworn the dragon winked at her. "Just a precaution against that human hurting Usagi again."
"I have no interest in living in that world anyway," Mamoru stated plainly, "not when I'd be powerless after having had Ruby-Eye's power for so long."
"So then you will let Shabranigdu devour you?" He shrugged. "Your choice. Both of you should offer a boon to them as well for all the trouble you've caused them."
"A favor, a wish."
"I can do that." The dragon's voice got quieter. "What do you want, Usagi? Name it, and it's yours."
"All I want is to spend the rest of my life with Lina as a mortal."
A few feet away, Ruby-Eye finished a small spell to keep others from hearing the wish. "So what do you want, human?"
"That's simple. I want Usagi and Lina's time together to be very short."
"How short? Less than ten years?"
"If even that much."
"Considering the wording of her wish to Ceiphied, we can do it."
"So both of your wishes are decided and Lina will be saving hers, so..."
"Lina?" a deep voice echoed on the edges of her senses, strange yet familiar at once. Fingers snapped before her face several times. "Lina?"
That voice she recognized, and she correspondingly reacted in what seemed the most appropriate manner: "Fireball!"
And Amelia was two years out of practice dodging. Needless to say what the result was: one toasty and well-done Saillune princess.
"That was so mean, Lina-san!" Amelia complained, latching onto her significant other in a rather leech-like fashion. Gourry didn't look too pleased to be between Amelia and Lina Inverse. "I was just trying to wake you up! There was no reason for you to just Fireball m-"
"Do you see Usagi?" Lina interrupted, whipping around wildly.
"You were the only one who came out of there, Lina-san," Silphiel answered slowly, glancing back at Zelgadiss for confirmation.
Amelia stared at Lina as the redhead ate the local tavern out of every bite of food the poor owners possessed, and she pitied hers and Filia's money pouches; they were going to be so empty after this...
"Excuse me?" She lifted her head to see their overworked waiter standing behind Gourry, looking down at a still-gobbling Lina. "Would you happen to be Lina Inverse by any chance?"
The fact that Lina willingly set her food down to study the man before her showed just how little attention she was paying to her meal. "Who wants to know?"
"Look, some shrine maiden told me to keep my eye out for a redheaded sorceress who was traveling with a large group. Said it was real important that she talk to you."
"Was that you?" Lina asked Silphiel.
"No, I went straight out to the house."
"She left the message earlier today." He glanced behind him then back at Lina. "She's at the bar now, if you want to see her."
The sorceress shrugged, stood, and followed him to the bar. Sure enough, a young woman in a blue cape and a miko's - a shrine maiden's - clothes with waist-length blonde hair sat at the bar.
She stopped behind her and opened her mouth to speak when the shrine maiden beat her to it. "So is blue my color then, Lina?" Her eyes grew wide as the woman turned around, a sparkling pair of blue eyes raising to meet her own red ones. "Well?"
Lina just shook herself for a moment before breaking from her shock. "Usagi?"
The blonde smiled softly. "Lina... look." She grabbed Lina's hand in her own and rubbed her cheek against it for a moment. "I'm alive again," she whispered so softly that only the other girl could hear it.
Lina let her fingers brush against Usagi's cheek and allowed an almost timid smile to come to her cheek "How?"
Usagi shook her head. "It's not important. Lina?"
"Can I... can I spend the rest of my life with you?"
Lina stared at her for a moment, not trusting herself to speak. "You want the rest of your life with me?" she repeated, confused, a faint blush rising up to stain her cheeks.
Usagi nodded. "Hai. Only if you want me to..."
Lina smiled and put one arm around Usagi in a loose hug. "Of course I want you to. Demo, I don't see why you would want to be with me..."
The blonde smiled and leaned against the other girl. "I was thinking something a lot like that myself, Lina, demo... ai shiteru."
"So that's the infamous Usagi?" Zelgadiss asked, sipping his tea, obviously not really expecting an answer.
"She's cute," Silphiel answered, cuddling up to his side.
"I'm glad Lina-san's finally going to be happy," Filia stated, "aren't you, Val?"
"Hai," he absently answered, a faint frown in his eyes. A dark cloud hung over the happily and obliviously kissing couple. He blinked sharply, and it vanished. He smiled and went back to eating.
Surely he'd just imagined it.
28 April 2001
^_~ So... did I end it evilly enough? Be sure to review it (if you're at FanFiction.net) or, if you're reading this at DarkMagick.net or anywhere else it may end up archived (though I seriously doubt it), e-mail me!!!
I am open to doing a sequel, but there has be sufficient interest.