Episode 20: Stranger

Beka watched as Rhade, Yuki, and Kasei rode out of sight. She turned around and went back into the palace to see what the others were up to. She found them out in the garden. Trance was examining some of the plants with Okami explaining about each one. Dylan was sitting on a bench near the fish pond talking with Tenshi. Harper was playing some kind of game with a girl she'd never seen before. Yumeko was playing with a weird two tailed creature. She looked up as Beka approached.

"So they're gone now?"

Beka nodded. "Any idea how long they'll be gone?"

"They won’t get to the Senshino Garan until tomorrow. It could take a day or two for Kasei to do what she needs to do, and then another day of traveling for them to get back."

"So at least three or four days."

"Or longer. Kasei is dangerously out of balance. In a worst case scenario, the damage is beyond repair. If that's the case, then she'll spiral into madness, eventually going rogue on us, which means that if we'll have to take her out. We're all hoping that it's not as bad as we fear."

Beka nodded sympathetically. "I don't like her much, but she's your friend and Yuki's sister, so I hope for the same thing." She pointed to the strange dark haired girl playing what looked like chess with Harper. "Who's that?"

"Trance says her name is Aries. They seem to know each other. I'm not entirely sure who she is, but she's spent the last couple hours talking to the queens. From what I've heard, she came to Nomaie with them from Kinshei. She seems nice, if very shy."

The girl, Aries, was wearing a dark blue tank top and a pair of black pants belted at the waist. Her arms were covered by long wide sleeves that were tied to her upper arms and extended almost to her fingertips. Her chocolate brown eyes were focused on the board in front of her, trying to decide her next move. Beka frowned. There was something very familiar about the way the girl looked, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She said as much to Yumeko, who laughed.

"It's silly, isn't it? We've been thinking the same thing. Trance knows, but isn't telling. Whenever we press her about it, she does that mysterious thing."

"Trying to get a straight answer out of her is nearly impossible some days."

Aries looked up from the game. Seeing Beka, she turned back to Harper and excused herself, standing up and walking towards her. "You must be Beka Valentine, captain of the Eureka Maru. It's a pleasure to meet you," she said, extending a hand.

Unsure of what to make of this, Beka shook her hand. "Nice to meet you, too."

"My apologies. My name is Aries."

"Just Aries?"

"Trance says that it would be a bad idea to say anything more of who I really am to too many people." She looked around. "I thought Kasei, Yuki, and Rhade were with you."

"They went to some place out in the desert."

"Oh." She looked disappointed. "I guess I'll have to wait to meet them."

A guard entered the garden and bowed politely. "My apologies, but the council of the Queens has requested the presence of Princess Tenshi and the Lady Aries."

Tenshi looked up from her conversation with Dylan. "Did they say why?"

"I was not informed of their reasons, Princess. Please, come with me." Tenshi and Aries followed the guard out while the others watched, puzzled.

"I wonder what this is all about," Okami said while Trance just gave them a knowing look.

Okami and Yumeko caught up with Tenshi in her rooms that evening. She was sitting in her favorite chair staring out the window. The other two Guardians exchanged a look. Tenshi's eyes were blank. Her posture made one think that she was watching the sunset, but the lack of expression on her ace coupled with the blank eyes made them worry.

Yumeko walked up to her friend and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Tenshi? Is everything ok?"

Tenshi looked up her, her eyes regaining their focus. "Hmm? Oh, Yumeko." She turned to look back at the setting sun. "To be honest, I'm not sure. I'll have to wait for Kasei to return before I can be certain of that, certain of anything."

"What did our mothers want with you and that strange girl?" Okami asked. "Who is she?"

"She is Aries. She won't say anything much about herself to me. The queens know more than they're letting on. Even my own mother won't tell me anything that would help."

"That's odd," Yumeko observed.

"At any rate, the queens have decided that this Aries is now a guest here and is to be treated as such. They're still quibbling on some things that were only hinted at. Hibashira in particular doesn't want this girl around. She seemed almost afraid of her."

"Nomaiens don't scare easily, especially not that one."

"This is why I'd rather wait for Kasei to return before I make any further judgments on this girl and the entire situation."

"Situation?" Okami repeated. "What situation? Tenshi, could you stop with the cryptic for once?"

Tenshi stood and looked at her friends. "I don't know who she is or where she's from, but she has the aura of a senshi."

"You know I'm glad to see you, Aries, but why are you here? You could be jeopardizing the future I've worked so hard to fix."

Aries sighed. "Trance, you're a great person and all, but there are things that you just wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

"Things in the future are starting to fall apart. Mother is in a coma and Father is understandably distracted. I don't even think he knows I've left."

Trance frowned. "This sounds bad."

"The Council is of the opinion that it can all be fixed in this time period."

"How?"

"I'm not sure. I need to find the younger version of my parents. Strangely, this is a time period we don't know a lot about. Things are happening around me that I don't remember learning about in school, so something must be altering the timeline."

"The Abyss." "Possibly. My theory is that the Abyss somehow learned of future events and enlisted a new and powerful ally." Aries shrugged. "It's just a theory."

"This worries me."

"I was sent here because of my connection to the future and my senshi nature. I apologize, but by necessity I have to keep that a secret from the others for as long as possible. They can know I'm a senshi. That's unavoidable as Princess Tenshi already knows, but my realms of influence and senshi name must remain a secret. It won't do to give them too much knowledge of how things should turn out."

"They won't find out from me. They're used to me being secretive."

She breathed a huge sigh of relief. "I was counting on that."

Trance gave her a hug. "It's so nice to have someone familiar to talk to."

Shortly before the sun began to peek over the horizon, Yuki was up preparing a brief breakfast. Kasei wanted to get going before the sun rose, so they ate hastily. Rhade took down the shelter he'd shared with Yuki while Kasei took hers down and Yuki cleaned up and packed his bags. They mounted their Sandrunners and headed off as the sky began to lighten. Rhade rubbed his eyes, yawning. He hadn't slept very well the night before as his dreams had been haunted by a pair of endless black eyes and pale skin that felt like silk. He hoped that Nomaiens didn't have noses sensitive enough to smell arousal. That had the potential to be very embarrassing. He was also glad that he and Kasei had been in different shelters. Seeing Kasei yawn, he figured that she hadn't slept very well either. Yuki appeared to be the only one who was at all well rested.

They rode all morning and for part of the afternoon before they came upon a large cluster of tall, intertwined rocks shaped like thorns. Kasei dismounted and knelt a few paces in front of them. "We seek entrance," she said loudly, standing. "We have not been invited, but we require aid in the hallowed halls of Senshino Garan."

A fuzzy shape walked out of the rocks and towards them, gaining more detail as it approached. It was a tall man in a loose grey robe, belted at the waist with a braided cord of red, gold, and blue. He looked to be about middle aged with black hair graying at the temples. His skin was pitch black. "You say you seek entrance," he said, eyeing each in turn. "You would bring an outsider into our hallowed halls? I see that he is a senshi, so he shall be permitted, but I must question your judgment, Princess."

"If it were not for the life debt I owe him, he would not be here."

He nodded sagely. "I have seen your coming for many nights now. You are always welcome here. It has been far too long since I have seen either of you."

Yuki smiled ruefully. "It has been many years since we have been home."

The man gestured and a black archway appeared behind him. "You may enter," he said, vanishing.

Kasei turned to Rhade. "You must dismount. The Sandrunners don't like the portals and there aren't any facilities for them inside anyways. They'll be fine out here."

Yuki and Rhade dismounted and followed Kasei into the portal. On the other side was a massive building. There were more people dressed like the black man milling about. They stopped and stared as they came through. The building itself was made of pure white stone. The roof was domed and held up with ornately decorated pillars. At the tops of the pillars were statues of men and women in different senshi uniforms, holding the done up with their hands. The dome was capped with a massive bird statue, like the ones at the Nomaien palace.

One of the women stepped forward, bowing. "Welcome, Princess, to Senshino Garan. To what do we owe this pleasure?"

"I'm afraid that I'm not here for a visit, but because I seek help in regaining my center. Tenshi tried by retraining me, and Yuki brought me a piece of the Core, but both measures will fail soon if I don't get proper help."

The woman frowned. "Saishi Chiryo foresaw this. Please, come with me, Princess. Others will see to the needs of your brother and guest."

Rhade looked like he was going to protest, but Yuki stopped him by placing a hand on his arm and shaking his head. The woman led Kasei into the building while two men stepped forward and took them over to a small garden.

"Please remain here for a time," the taller of the two men said. "We will keep you appraised of the Princess's situation."

Yuki sat down on a bench. "Well, let's hope that they can help."

"Could you explain some about this place?"

"The closest word I can think of in your language is a temple, but it's more than that. It's a place where senshi come to learn, to meditate in peace. The people you see around us are like monks. They're the caretakers and keepers of senshi lore. They are teachers and philosophers. Nomaien senshi come here to commune with the spirit of Nomaie Herself." Yuki shrugged. "It's really hard to explain this place in terms you'll understand. Your language doesn't have all the right words."

"So Kasei came here to talk to Nomaie?"

"I'm not sure what she's doing," Yuki admitted. "I know her purpose, but there are any number of things she could be doing in order to accomplish it and an equal number of people, both living and not, that she could speak to. It's anyone's guess as to what she's doing right now."

Rhade nodded. "That's ok. I wasn't really expecting much."

After sitting in the garden for three hours, Yuki stood up and walked over to the two men standing nearby and spoke with them in hushed tones. His words became more and more anxious as he spoke with the two men. Finally, he said something that sounded like a command. The two men blanched, bowed, and left. Rhade, curious, got up and joined him.

"What was that all about?"

"I asked them about Kasei and her progress. The taller one, Sakyuu, says that she's still not done. Sunayama, the shorter one, thinks that she may have gone into the Senbotsusha Senshino Kinenkan, the Hall of the Fallen Senshi."

"This is bad?"

"It can be, but it can also be a good thing. In this case, I'm not sure it is a good thing."

"What's in there?"

"Statues of senshi that have fallen in battle, mostly. I've never had much cause to go in there until this moment."

"You're going in there?"

"No, we're going in there. The way Sunayama said it, it sounded as if there was something wrong. They were refusing to let me go in. They forgot that they can't actually deny me entrance to anywhere here. Come on. I really hope nothing bad has happened to her. I don't know if I could deal with that."

As they headed towards the domed building, Rhade couldn't help but wonder how he'd handle it himself.

They entered the building. It was cool inside. It was undecorated and as pure white on the inside as it was on the outside. There was no one in sight. Yuki led him to the back of the room and through a doorway leading into a long hall. He ignored the two doors in the middle, one on each side, and headed for the one at the end. It led to a circular room with doors all around its circumference. He chose the third one on the right. Behind it was a long, wide rectangular hallway. In small alcoves lining the wall were statues of men and women in senshi uniforms, each staring at them as they passed. Some held weapons in their stony hands: staves, swords, and scepters among others. A few of those were real and not merely carved representations of them. Yuki pointed those ones out to Rhade as being statues of the Nomaien senshi of the past.

They walked for what felt like an hour until they saw Kasei standing at the end of the hall. Yuki gestured for Rhade to slow his pace. She appeared to be talking to someone. She took a few steps to one side, showing them who she was speaking to. The person’s form was transparent and it shimmered and rippled, making identification difficult. Whoever it was, their conversation was quite animated. Yuki and Rhade snuck closer and ducked into an alcove to listen. To Rhade’s surprise, the two weren’t speaking Nomaien but Common.

“I figured that she’d be speaking in Nomaien,” Rhade whispered.

“That means that whoever she’s talking to doesn’t speak Nomaien,” Yuki replied. “This means that he’s from one of the other worlds in our system.”

“He?”

“It can’t be a woman. The figure is all wrong. I’ve seen some effeminate men in my time, and he’s certainly slim enough, but there aren’t enough curves there. I wonder…”

“Kasei?” the transparent man asked, trying to put a hand on her shoulder. After the third time his hand passed through her, he gave up. “Look, Kasei, I know it hurts, but I’m glad you’re still alive.”

“If I’d died, I could have been with you again.”

“Very briefly. A starseed as powerful as yours would have been reborn very quickly.”

“You don’t know that!” she shouted, rounding on him. “Maybe I would finally be allowed to stay dead.”

He shook his head sadly. “Kasei, aishen, you know I love you and always will, but as long as your starseed remains intact, you’ll never be able to do more than visit once in a while.” His hands twitched like he wanted to try and touch her again. “My starseed is gone. It’s just fortunate that Himitsu was able to trap me in this star system.”

Yuki gasped. “Rhade, I know who that is. This is bad. Very bad.”

“Why? Who is that?”

“How much do you know about Kasei’s past? The time she went to Earth for the first time?”

“Not much. I heard something about a guy named Seiya and that she was mourning a guy who looked like him that had died recently.”

“Well, that man didn’t really die. Well, he did, but his starseed was damaged, preventing his rebirth. Kage Neko trapped him in her palace after his death. When he was freed, we learned shortly after returning home that he could never return to a physical form. If Himitsu hadn’t bound what was left of his essence to this star system, he would have faded into nothingness.”

Rhade watched Kasei’s face. All the anger and bitterness was gone, replaced by the most profound sadness he’d ever seen. There were tears in her eyes.

“Rhade, that man is Akai Seikou, Kasei’s one and only love dead these eight thousand years.”