Reverie's End: Blades of Malice
Day: 8/29/991; Time: 15th hour
Gin had been awake for a few days now; his injuries were deep and took a while to heal. However, he still did not understand how it was that he survived Ryu's attack. A few children said they saw his body floating away and that after a few minutes of flight, he landed in a nearby ditch. A boy named Lio and some of his friends rescued him, and took him to see Sid, a local healer. It was thanks to Sid and the children that Gin was still alive.
The situation in the city had changed drastically. When he awoke, he was greeted by heaps of rubble throughout the city. It was mostly the nobles that suffered, but the commoners streets were reached by the floods as well. The estimated death toll from the quake, tidal waves, and the battle afterwards was 15,000. If the evacuation order had not been given, then the dead may have numbered several times greater. Few battles in Ethos' long history reached this magnitude of carnage.
Jill and her Blades of Malice had succeeded in humbling the people; no one dared to oppose her now. With just an army of 5,000 she had conquered the city. Her current goal was to maintain her power. It was only a matter of time before word got out and reinforcements started coming from other parts of the country. Not everyone in East Valis was pleased to have a new queen in power. The capital was theirs, but subduing the entire kingdom would take some time.
Some were zealous enough to oppose her, but many were fleeing the country. Those that evacuated early by ship had already reached Brywood, where the refugees quickly overcrowded the small fishing town. Others fled to the northwest across the Sea of Traitors and tried to settle on the largely uninhabited Granos Island. Unfortunately, many were captured by pirates before they got there.
The once-glimmering and bustling city was now bleak and quiet. Few had returned to their homes since the conclusion of the battle, and many no longer had a place to call home.
Despite his past failures in stopping Jill, Gin was determined to keep fighting. He had been speaking in detail about his miraculous recovery with Lio and Doctor Sid. He decided to go meet with them in person one more time to clarify everything.
"So, you are telling me that you saw Kami glow green and enter my body, and I flew away to safety," asked Gin.
"Yes, that bird was controlling you! It was weird," replied the brown-haired Lio, who was dressed in ragged clothes.
"The two of you merged together… I have never seen anything quite like it," said Sid, the black-haired and middle-aged doctor.
"I and Kami were one? It's strange… I don't remember Kami ever using such a power before. He can relay everything that he sees back to me through images in my mind, but that is the only connection that we share," Gin said this as he looked up at the hawk flying nearby.
"But can Kami show these images to anyone… or is just you that can see them?" inquired the doctor.
Gin had never considered this before. He called Kami, and asked him to give it a try. "I don't feel anything," said Lio.
Sid nodded in agreement, and responded, "It seems that you share a special bond with this hawk... I noticed it earlier when I examined you… your soul is not whole. There is something missing within you."
Gin fell silent, and replied after a few seconds, "I have never told this to anyone, but there was a time, many years ago, when I lost some of my memories. I don't know who took them or why they did… but I have never felt the same ever since that day. Something was missing."
"Perhaps you are on the verge of unraveling this mystery now. I am afraid I cannot offer any advice on the matter. I am only a simple healer," said Sid.
"You have been most helpful, Doctor. I will figure something out on my own," said Gin as he stood up. He thanked him, bowed, and left the room.
Gin had a plan, but he was running out of time. The Blades of Malice owned the entire town, and it was only a matter of time before he was found. Jill had instructed her men to be on the lookout for a "a giant man walking around with a hawk."
He went underground, and found a safe spot to sit. He waited for Kami to get closer, and then he started to meditate. Gin could feel the earth mana all around him, and he could sense Kami, but no connection was forming between the two. Kami's green-hued mana was rejecting him. "Perhaps it is only in times of peril that Kami can intervene?" he thought to himself. "But that avails me little. I need to have full control of this power," he said. Kami only looked at him with curiosity during Gin's many failed attempts. Eventually, he quit the futile exercise.
But he came back the next day, and tried again. After a few hours, he realized something. "The type of mana… maybe if I utilized it at the correct time, then I can see some results," said Gin, talking to himself. He could see the amber mana around him when he focused, but it was not what he needed. Gin quit for the day, and said, "Tomorrow... It will definitely work tomorrow."
The next day started the 9th month; the season of the forest was now over. The season of wind had begun. Today the winds were weak, but they would continue to grow in strength for the next 60 days. The earth mana's presence began to weaken, and the wind mana grew in power. It was an important transition that took place every two months. The seasons dictated many things in Ethos, especially how battles were fought. Proper timing was essential.
Gin went to his usual spot, and began to meditate. This time, the mana was green. He looked over at Kami, and could sense his pulsating green aura. Unlike the previous two days, Gin could feel a swell of energy growing within him. The hawk flew straight at him and went through his body. At least, that is what it felt like to Gin. Their two auras had merged together and became as one. The experiment was a success.
Many images came flooding through Gin's mind. Some of his lost memories started to return and he felt electricity running through his body. He remembered who he was before the incident that occurred 76 years ago. He was Ginkami, the Thunder Hawk. His true identity was split into two halves, resulting in his loss of memory and powers.
Ginkami's short spiky white hair had grown in length, and stood straight up. His muscles bulged even more than usual. Most importantly, Ginkami felt much more powerful, and could conjure lightning. Someone had sealed away these powers from Ginkami. He tried hard, but could not remember who it was. These vital memories were not returning to him.
He hovered off the ground, and flew around a little. Then he tried a few punches, kicks, and small lightning bolts. Ginkami could only do so much training in a cramped area, but it was enough for him to get a feel for his new body. However, the power did not last forever. Ginkami's transformation came undone after only eight brief minutes.
"In time I can extend it, but for now this will suffice," said Gin, pleased with his progress. He and Kami returned to Doctor Sid, and brought him the good news.
"That is marvelous! I have never seen anything like it!," exclaimed Sid.
"Yes. But, we need to act quick. Jill needs to be stopped, before she gets more men… We can still reclaim the city," said Gin calmly. He had regained his confidence and remembered his duty towards the land of Ethos. "I need you to spread the word among the Golden Knights that are still loyal to the King. We strike tomorrow! " he announced boldly.
"I will notify General Marko; he will listen to an old friend," replied Doctor Sid.
Gin left him and went back to rest for the night. He stayed up late thinking about the battle tomorrow, and of Ranos' whereabouts. He had asked around, but nobody could tell him anything useful. Gin feared that his friend was no longer among the living.
In the morning, Gin got up, and started to quietly move towards the ruined castle. Hiding his large frame from the red-cloaked guards was not easy, but he had learned how to be stealthy over the years.
As he walked through the city, he noticed over 100 stone statues of knights, in various battle poses, most of them with faces expressing horror. Some had been damaged or turned into rubble. Gin breathed a sigh of relief when he did not find Ranos among them.
Gin reached the castle and observed it intently. The old throne room was now a ruinous heap, as were many parts of the castle. He went inside and began searching for Jill. There were no guards posted; it was as if Jill didn't care about her safety. No one was brave enough to come for her head anyway. However, there were always exceptions to rules. After a minute of wandering around the limited number of hallways that still remained, Gin overheard a conversation between Jill and her subordinate.
"We're running out of time, Jill… they'll be here soon," said a blonde-haired woman.
"Don't worry, Naki. We've already accomplished our goal. Let's just make the most of our time while it lasts. Maybe our reinforcements will make it here on time. It won't be easy for them to retake the city," answered Jill confidently.
"There won't be any reinforcements… most of the forces are being redirected towards Gamma," said Naki in a grave tone of voice.
Jill was in deep thought for a few seconds, and then she replied, "If they conquer Charon, no one else would ever dare oppose us. The Great Commander wants to make this a quick war. Conquering the Golden City was only a diversion. I guess we were just pawns."
"And you're okay with being a pawn?" asked Naki.
"That's the kind of job we signed up for. All of this is for the sake of a new world, Naki," replied Jill. "However, that doesn't mean that we have to die. We might just survive this ordeal and I'll get to live on as queen," she was waving her arms around, and giggling.
"You can conquer a city, but what do you know about ruling? Have you thought any of this through? Do any of our advisors have plans for a new form of government? Why have we not been instructed on what to do next?" asked Naki. She had plenty of questions about the Blades' haphazard approach to conquest. Unlike many of her comrades, she was not afraid to voice her concerns.
"There are no future plans… we can do whatever we want. There are no rules… I can burn the city to the ground or I can choose to rebuild it. The new world can be anything we want it to be. The "vision" of the Blades of Malice was never anything complicated or grand. We are the beginning of something new," said Jill. She said these words casually, as if they were mundane and obvious.
Naki was speechless for a few moments; she had not expected such a turn of events. "What if the new is worse than the old? Is it worth the risk?" she asked.
"Good question, my dear Naki. Yes… Ethos might end up worse than before. But now that we have uprooted the evil, we can allow for something new to grow," replied Jill.
Naki was starting to look desperate, and looked at Jill with pleading eyes. "What do we do? Please tell me that you have at least a few ideas in that head of yours?" said Naki angrily.
Jill smiled, and replied, "Hmmm… How about "redistributing the wealth"? That sounds like a good idea. Make everyone happy by giving the aristocrats' gold to everyone else. Nobody likes those guys anyway! Happy people means less problems for me!"
"Is… that all? How about rebuilding the city and maintaining public order? Electing officials to serve on your council? Freeing the oppressed masses from all across East Valis?" asked Naki. She hit Jill with many more of her inquiries.
"Nope… sounds like too much work. I'll worry about it later… Actually, I have a great idea! Naki, I choose you!" exclaimed Jill.
"Choose me… for what?" asked the puzzled Naki.
"I choose you to be "Hand of the Queen"! You can be my advisor and do all that boring stuff… like sitting at council meetings and dealing with infra… struc... ture. I think that's what they call it," responded the gleeful Jill.
Naki sighed and put her hand on her face; she had feared that it would come to this.
Gin had grown tired of listening to this conversation. His patience had reached its limit. He punched a nearby wall in anger; the sound reverberated across the room, and alerted Jill and Naki to his presence.
He walked into the room and stared at the two women with his fierce green eyes. Naki was taken aback, but Jill did not look surprised at all. It was as if she had been expecting him. Naki drew her katana, and began chanting. The blade was now emitting a black light. Jill only smiled back at Gin and did nothing to indicate hostility.
Gin looked around the room and examined the stone statues that decorated it. There were 10 in total, split into two columns of five. They were all different, and captured knights, maids, scholars, and others in various states of despair. However, there was one that stood out among them. To the very far right of the room, behind Jill, was the statue of Gin's friend. Ranos stood there, immortalized, for all eternity. Unlike the others, his face showed no signs of fear. "I will avenge you, my friend," Gin thought to himself.
"So, you finally decided to show up, big guy? I have been expecting you... Are you a masochist? What makes you think round three is going to be any different when you're outnumbered? That hawk isn't going to be of much use." Jill mocked.
Kami, who was perched on a nearby pillar, squawked at Jill angrily.
Gin looked around the room once more; he did not sense Ryu's presence anywhere. It was just the two girls in front of him that he needed to deal with. He did not have a lot of time; the fight needed to end quickly.
Jill walked over to her left and grabbed a nearby object. It was Gin's hammer, "Lawbreaker", only now it was petrified. She looked back at him, and said, "I found your toy… How are you going to fight without it?"
Gin had tried to search for his weapon after the battle, but he was unable to find it. Lawbreaker's location had been revealed, but it didn't matter anymore.
Jill picked up the heavy hammer with both arms, although it was a struggle. She then threw it at the wall, shattering it into little fragments.
"I don't need it anymore," said Gin with a smile. This was not a common facial expression for him.
He began to focus on the wind mana in his midst, and summoned Kami towards him. Within a few seconds, he was transformed into Ginkami.
Jill and Naki could not believe what they just saw. "I have seen a lot of weird stuff in my life… but what was that?!" exclaimed Jill.
"Nothing… I only reclaimed my true form," replied Ginkami, as he prepared to leap forward, and start his assault.
"Well, Naki. I guess the time for talking is over," said Jill, with a smirk on her face.
Naki had already lunged forward while Jill was speaking. Her blade was aimed at Ginkami's chest. He blocked the blade with his left fist, which under normal circumstances was crazy. But Ginkami's body, coated in electricity, acted as a natural shield. However, he did not manage to ward her off for very long. The blade's black flames began to singe his body. He jumped back to safety to avoid Naki's shadow katana.
Naki did not let him rest and continued to strike relentlessly. Ginkami dodged her thrusts, and quickly learned her attack patterns. The katana was deadly, but that didn't matter if she kept missing. Naki was agile, but Ginkami surpassed her in both speed and brute strength. The fight did not last very long. Naki missed yet again, and was quickly kneed in the stomach by him. A few punches and kicks, followed by an electrical kick that slammed her into the wall, was enough to render her immobile for a while.
Jill was busy watching the fight, and was so impressed with Ginkami, that she forgot to help out her friend. She licked her lips, and said, "I see that you have picked up a few new tricks. Finally, I can have a real challenge!" She unsheathed her ornate sword and pointed it towards Ginkami.
He took a deep breath, and prepared for the boss fight. Ginkami did not have much time to recover; Jill was launching petrification waves with blazing speed. He dodged all of them and rushed at her with his right fist ready to strike.
She swung her blade and blocked his blow. Jill cackled, "Now you can join your friend!" Her joy turned into dismay when she realized that Ginkami was unharmed. The electricity surrounding his body was repelling the stoning effects. It was crumbling the stone before it ever reached him.
He smirked, and said, "The seasons have changed, woman. The advantage is now mine." Ginkami got ready to punch her with his left arm. She narrowly dodged and then continued to angrily attack with her blade. No matter how hard she swung, the blade could not penetrate Ginkami's aura. Finally, he grabbed the golden blade with his right hand, ripped it out of her tiny hands, and tossed it aside.
Jill was furious. "No one has ever disarmed me before!" she yelled, as her body ignited with an amber flame. She pulled out both arms and aimed them at his chest, hoping for a more direct approach. He easily stopped her by grabbing her hands with his. She pushed at him with all her might, but was unsuccessful, in petrifying, or even moving him slightly. It was like watching a little girl wrestle with a bear.
Ginkami grew bored and kicked her back a good distance, causing her to hit a wooden chair, and lose the golden crown on her head. She gasped for air and moaned, but got up. Jill had hatred in her eyes; she was no longer her usual playful self. "If I can't make you into a work of art, then I'll just have to kill you. Turning people into Stone isn't the only thing I know how to do!" she declared proudly. Despite Jill's injuries, her countenance showed her determination.
Ginkami was late in noticing the vines at his legs. They quickly began to constrict them. It was a struggle, but he managed to break his legs free. Jill continued to conjure vines, and Ginkami continued to sidestep them and dodge out of the way.
Jill stomped her right foot and threw a temper tantrum. "Why do you fight against us? We just want to rid Ethos of the evil that has taken root within it. Several centuries of inequity needs to be undone!" Jill spoke in a tone more eloquent than usual.
"The monarchs may be corrupt, but their systems do not threaten the balance of Ethos. That stone that you use so recklessly drains the world of its life; it causes wanton destruction everywhere. Such power is not meant for humans… I am Ginkami, a guardian of Ethos, and it is my duty to restore balance to the world," he declared, as he got ready to attack Jill.
"A champion of Justice? How adorable," she said, with disgust. Jill raised her arms into the air and cast another spell. This time, earthen spikes fell from the sky. Ginkami nimbly dodged them, but he was starting to slow down. One of them pierced his right leg, and drew blood.
Jill squealed; Ginkami was not invincible. He stumbled, but regained his balance, after dodging the remaining spikes. The aura around him was beginning to flicker; his time was running out. He needed to close the distance between the two and end the fight.
Ginkami dashed towards Jill, and began to throw punches, and kicks. Jill could not dodge for very long, and was hit by a punch to the jaw and a kick to the leg, which almost broke it. Her fragile body could not handle such brutality. She struggled to get up, and clutched a nearby pillar for support.
"You are… not very… gentlemanly," she said as she gasped for air. "Didn't your mother teach you not to hit girls?" Jill said as she pointed her finger at Ginkami.
"I have no mother. I am a guardian of Ethos, and I have lived for over 200 years. Gender means nothing to me; I am equal to all and my fist serves justice to all. I exist to punish evil and restore balance," answered Ginkami.
"I guess I picked a fight with a real monster this time," said Jill, chuckling. She looked over to her right and smiled. She conjured a whip made of vines, and ran towards the statue of Ranos.
So far, they had managed to avoid making any statue a casualty of their battle, despite Jill's reckless attacks. But she was now trying to provoke Ginkami into action. It was an obvious trap.
Jill underestimated Ginkami and his stoicism; he did not budge. He was too far away to physically stop her, but he had other methods of attack. He lifted up his right hand and shot electricity from his index finger. This blast caught her unaware and knocked her down.
He slowly walked over towards her. Ginkami had used up most of his power and fatigue was starting to set in. Jill got up as well and clutched her whip. She threw the whip, aiming for Ginkami's neck. He grabbed it with his left hand and ran electricity through it, shocking the petite Jill. The whip's poison was burning his hand, but he ignored the pain. She screamed and let go of the whip and stumbled away. There was fear in her eyes that was not there before.
"I have lived many years and have seen many tyrants; few were as depraved as you. There are men and women in this world… but you are neither. In the past you were a girl, but now you are a devil, and devils must be exorcised," said Ginkami. He lifted up the helpless girl by the neck and held her in the air with his left arm. She gasped and squirmed, but could not break free. He gathered electricity with his right fist and punched her through the gut. She screamed in agony for a few seconds and then coughed up blood. Ginkami set her lifeless corpse on the ground.
"I do not know what may have happened in your past, but you are now free, child," said Ginkami in a somber voice. He put his hands together and bowed before her. Ginkami did not hold personal grudges; he only meted out justice.
He was exhausted and his transformation could be undone at any moment, but it did not matter because he had won. Ginkami began walking towards the door, stumbling along the way. He then heard a loud hissing sound behind him; it was Ryu. He was peering at Ginkami through a hole in the ceiling. The sky was shining brightly that day and it illuminated the battlefield upon which Jill and Ginkami had just fought.
The green serpent began to thrash around and destroy objects in the room, three of which were stone statues, never to be recovered again. Ranos' statue fell over from all of the shaking, but did not shatter. Ryu stopped after a while, and stared at Ginkami intently with his yellow eyes.
It was Ginkami's fortune that Ryu was slithering about the city looking for enough food to satiate his voracious appetite during the battle. But he had now returned; Ginkami did not have enough strength left for another fight; he was prepared to die. He knew the truth: Ryu was actually more powerful than his master. Ginkami did not understand why he had been following Jill's orders.
Ryu looked about the room and saw Naki, who was now starting to wake up. He then looked straight across at the battered Ginkami. Finally, he saw Jill's body at the other end of the room. He gazed at his dead master's body.
Ginkami looked over at him and noticed a deep sadness and pain. But it was not the sadness of losing a loved one or a master; it was mingled with hatred and loathing. Suddenly, Ginkami remembered his long forgotten ability of communication with beasts. He knew how to speak all the languages of men, but his bestial side had been locked away with Kami. Under the present conditions, he could now speak with and understand Ryu.
"Release me!" hissed the green serpent. His voice reverberated in Ginkami's mind.
Ginkami walked over to Ryu slowly and said, "Do not fear me, friend. How can I release you from your suffering?" He put his hand on Ryu's scaly body.
"Release me before they reclaim the bracelet. Jill has it… take it from her," said Ryu.
Ginkami walked over to Jill's body, and saw a green bracelet around her wrist. He removed it and held it in his hand. The script engraved into it was in Old Siril. In the past, Ginkami may have been able to read it, but he could not do it at the present moment. As he was about to leave, he noticed a tiny stone that had fallen out of Jill's pocket. It was the Topaz; the stone had developed a crack from the previous time it was used. Ginkami hoped that it was now useless, but took it with him anyway for safekeeping.
He held the green bracelet in the air for Ryu too see. The serpent looked at Ginkami, and said, "Put it on; the wearer becomes my new master. I would rather have it be you, than to be brought into subjection by the Blades of Malice again."
Ginkami answered, "No, my friend. Do not bind yourself under another oath… be free. Let no one hinder you." He held the bracelet in his right hand, and pulverized it with electricity. In that moment, a dark spirit left the body of Ryu, freeing him from the shackles that he was in.
Ryu had a look of surprise on his face; he had not expected such kindness. "I have not been free in many years… thank you, Ginkami, Guardian of Ethos," replied the serpent, with gratitude in his voice.
"You know of me?" asked the puzzled Ginkami.
"Of course… many of my kind know the names of the spirits that guide our world. We wish for the same as you: Order and balance on Ethos' soil." answered Ryu. He continued to speak, "If you are able to… please free my friends. Each of the commanders has a bracelet that binds one of them. It was Commander Dios, who created them. He is a master of manipulation and can control the mind. Avoid direct confrontation with him if you ever see him." The serpent had become quite chatty and was speaking to Ginkami as if they had been friends for many years.
"Dios… I feel like I remember that name," thought Ginkami to himself. After a brief pause, he promised, "You have my word, Ryu. If it is within my power, I will rescue your friends. Any ally of Ethos is a friend of mine."
Ryu replied, "Thank you, Ginkami, Guardian of Ethos. I will now return to my home in Lake Balassar. If you are ever in need, I will come to your aid. Farewell."
Ginkami bowed and bid Ryu a safe trip back home. The green serpent bowed back to Ginkami and slithered away.
The Guardian of Ethos had maintained his transformation for longer than he thought was possible. But he could no longer hold it up and it came undone. Gin had fought as Ginkami for 15 full minutes.
Gin started to approach the exit once more, but could feel yet another sinister presence approaching him. He looked over to his left, and could see an injured Naki, standing up with her katana clutched with both hands.
"You killed Jill! You bastard!" she yelled, as she ran towards him with the black-flamed katana.
Gin sighed. It just wasn't his day today. He did not see any viable solution this time. However, Kami was not about to quit. He blasted Naki with a full-powered wind attack; the hawk was not pulling any punches. Naki was slammed into the wall and did not try getting up afterwards. Kami squawked with glee.
Gin looked amused and fist-bumped his partner. It would seem that he would live another day. Yet again, he proceeded towards the exit, hoping that nothing impeded his progress this time.
He made it out of the castle ruins, and saw a battle going on outside. The leader had been killed, but the city still needed to be reclaimed. Gin found a safe hiding spot, sat down, and waited to recover his strength. But he was far too spent and slumber came upon him. By the time he awoke, General Marko had already taken back the city. Queen Jill's short, but historically significant, 21-day reign had come to an end.