Starting Over

"Shut yer trap, Brick!" Doc Mizumi snapped from behind his welding mask as sparks flew from his precision cutting torch.

Brick, who was undergoing a popular surgical modification - being retrofitted for construction, grimaced and bit down hard on a chunk of leather. Since the Defense of Stardown there had been a disastrous shortage of medical supplies like anaesthesia. For that matter there had been a shortage of everything. A shortage of food. A shortage of water. A shortage of workers for the work of rebuilding... Many, like Brick, had opted to get the necessary implants without the pain meds.

And boy did it hurt having skeletal welds undone.

But squinting through the pain and the sparks, Brick could look out of Mizumi's reclaimed downtown surgery onto the central plaza of the ruins of Geneva Prime and it almost made him smile. There, a team of Biomade electrical engineers working with their Mechified partners were putting the finishing touches on the new memorial. Where the statue of the idealized Cheldrun had previously stood on the nose of an ancient spaceship, there now towered an unparraleled work of art in bronze and coursing energy. A Sygola tree. Hammered and welded from the rusted metal remains (what little the moths had left behind) of the former Goshi Tower, the trunk twisted high into the sky, splaying it's branches over the opening of the defunct blackrock mine and for several city blocks in every direction. Pulsating beams of light danced in mesmerizing patterns along the limbs of the tree and from each twig hung dozens of crystalline leaves - the shards of glass that were ubiquitous around the city. When the wind blew, they played a musical tune, and if you examined them up close you would see each one contained a name, laser-cut into the glass, of a victim of the war.

A sudden jolt of agony brought him back to himself and he shot a dirty look at Doc Mizumi, who was unsympathetic and shouted at him to stay still.

The Doc was doing good business these days. His shop was littered with old Bullet-Spitter parts, discarded in favor of more utilitarian implants. In what Brick thought of as a defining metaphor, he could even see an old gun-arm half disassembled on a nearby table - its parts being scavenged to make a scoop.

As part of the rebuilding effort, Doc Mizumi refused to accept any payment but food and spare parts, and from friends like Brick, the Doc wouldn't even take those things. So Brick tried hard not to take the pain personally, and he focused his thoughts on that memorial tree...

Up in the highest branches of the tree, Karak was attaching glass leaves to their respective twigs. He paused for each one and read the name it contained aloud. He'd kept a special handful of leaves aside, sorted them from the millions of shards to be the very last ones hung on the tree. No one but him would know he had done this, and he wasn't sure anyone but him would have cared. He heated each setting with his finger torch and carefully slotted each leaf into its place.

Terry the Canary.
Mickey the Mixer.
The Surgeon.
Acetylene Sue.


From her chair in the tower of the Choir of the Sky Elder Moon could hear the sounds of fosterlings at play outside. She had a momentary urge to get up and go to the window to watch, but the aches in her joints persuaded her otherwise. Without a hint of regret she admitted to herself that she was getting old. Not for her a centuries-spanning existence like the life of Elder Winter. She couldn't bear the absence of Mokuzai so long in any case.

Across the room, dappled by the rainbow light bouncing off the ubiquitous Nevergems, her son Hiro sat, looking serious like men his age often do.

"You'll enjoy being a grandfather, Hiro," she said with a concealed smile.

He seemed startled that she had interrupted the silence. "Yes, of course I will, but..." he frowned.

Moon drank her tea and patiently waited for him to work his emotions out. His youngest daughter, Lyre, was about to give birth to her first litter and something about the event was troubling him. As for Moon, she could hardly wait to meet the new kits.

"Mother, you know I'm happy for her, but she's so far away. Away from the safety of the Chantry or the companionship of her Choir. I just wish..." Hiro left the words hanging, and to her surprise his eyes began to swell with tears. Among the Prill emotions are usually expressed through song in a highly ritualized fashion. She supposed she had no one to blame but herself that her own family was so unconventional.

"Hiro, my son, you mustn't wish something different for Lyre. She chose to stay in the sanctuary cities. She is happy there. Those cities represent our hope for a lasting peace, it is good that so many like my granddaughter have the courage to make a life in common with the Children of Steel..." she was prepared to launch into quite a moving piece of oratory on this subject, but Hiro cut her off.

"You've misunderstood. I don't wish anything different for Lyre - it is for me. I spoke last night with Twilight. He has had a vision. You were right about the Riddle of Peace. You were right about all of that. That's the point. Twilight says our vow to Karia has been fulfilled. The forests are safe - and that this next generation will be the first to receive their vulpine forms back. We will be fox-children again!" He paused for breath, before continuing in a rush, "My grandchildren will live a life none of us has known for generations and I will miss so much of it. I wish Lyre was closer so that I could enjoy this."

Midway through his speech Elder Moon had begun crying her own tears, and by the end she was laughing and crying at the same time as the joy in her soul erupted.

"Oh Hiro! Every grandparent that has ever lived has wished their grandchildren were closer to home. You are not alone..."

She got up then, aching joints be damned, and crossed the room to hug her son. Neither of them said anything for a long time, but they clung to each other and looked out the window at a miraculous sky.

Episode 38, Part II: The Last Day

A moment comes when I suddenly stop.

There are blackened corpses everywhere - I'm huge, and they're piled almost thigh-deep in places. They are all cooking and blackening as I stand there. My chest is heaving - I realize I'm trying to suck in more air, can't through the mask - I drop it, and immediately have to choke down puke.

The stench is too much. What do a million smoldering dead bodies smell like? I'll never have to ask. I'm an expert now on smoldering dead bodies. Come to me for all your smoldering dead-body needs. A laugh sneaks out and thickens into a sob. I take a last big gulp of air - the Eyeless are swarming over the latest line of their own mangled dead - or re-dead - and I come forward.

They've already overrun this position, and the one behind. I hear they're at the command center, then the radios went static-y so I only hear pieces of shouts or screams.

They've overrun the position, but not me.


I'm back on the Sennin, trying to scrape the charred flesh from my armor. I notice that the others hardly notice the smell anymore. I don't really either. A lot of it sloughed off when I shrunk back down, raining back down on the Eyeless and terror-stricken Goshi idiots screaming and running among them, panicked, crying blood. At the back are First Minds now. The Spaghetti Guy. That's when I decided I was actually going to leave. I know there isn't much I can do against Spaghetti Guy.

I also saw something that can't possibly be right. I thought - now Moses, that was a long time ago, that isn't now. That was when we first got the Sennin, when Trencher and Julian were...before you...before Katashi Blade...before all of that. When you went to the fire. When we met the Dusk Sages. That was the green-island-story. Now you're in the killed-by-eyeless-story.

But now they're the same story. "Did you see it?" Rei asks.

I'm kind of at a loss.


We meet back at the big machine. The God - no, the Artifact - has bonded to Sousa-whoever's machine, like it bonded to me. There are six conduits. I can't help but think legs, arms, heart, head - where they came out of me, when I got what's by far my biggest scar. They're talking and then Zipporah is there. She whispers something about our baby moving, quickening. I stop paying attention and start thinking of names - something like Goshi? To remind us? Goshen? Midian? That's a cool name. But what about a girl. Miriam? A family name.

Jin-Kalys is gesturing, then flaring his big flaps of colored skin, they're all talking to each other...I don't need to know what they're saying. The island is coming, flying through the fucking sky, and we have to bring it down. Jin points and I look up - there is a small orange mote nearing the top of the sky.

Before that mote gets to the top of the sky, over the city.

I find myself thinking...its just an island. Someone put it up there, and so we beat that person up and it comes down. Simple.

Rei says a name she keeps saying, but I finally hear her. Nero.


I remember my promise. When we met Nero. Arrogant son of a bitch, full of threats and dressed like a pansy. I wondered if I could shove him through that vent into the lava. Rei warned me against it. But I promised him. You get in our way again and I'll kill you. I'd never forgotten the promise, because I'd never said anything like that before. It just came out of me.


Tanuki is going ape-shit. He wants out so bad. It makes me happy, as it always has, to not give him what he wants. We're long past the point where we could have a good working relationship. Fuck you, big-balls. And, if I get my way, goodbye.

Rei is arguing with "Ama-chan" again. And she has a plan. I hope we're talking to Rei this time, and I hope, without even knowing what it is, that her plan fails. There's only one plan, and its where we die and the Enemy dies with us.


We land on the island, now barren of anything but sick plants and Kyo-tee-shee, and Kyoshi does...something...and I forget the promise. Light flares out of him, starts coming out of his mouth. The island wavers and drops a few hundred feet. I'm still on the Sennin. They're talking to Nero, but I can barely hear - their voices are so thick and slow. "'re still alive!..."


"...end malice..."

I'm looking at a schematic for a spaceship, listening to someone talking about our history, the history of the Cheldrun. We...we filled the stars, once. We flew between points of light that even light had to wait until it reached. We had worlds and worlds, moons, metal worlds that we built circling planets.

And the First Minds...were like the Dusk Sages. Some rebelled, and they became the Enemy, that chased us here, that is over our heads right now, driving their army forward. I look down at my hands, and light spills out...we could fly. I'm on the island now, and the fight is on.

All eyes turn to HighDive. I fill with every image of every frustrating damn thing she's ever done, my fists clench, but I know this is just a Kata - and then she's completely covered in knives. They rush past me and I feel the wind when they do like shots from a tank that barely miss, like artillery hitting the building next door. Everything slows down.

She's spinning in the middle of them, a tiny fucking squirrel hardly bigger than one of the knives, and she's just poking them with her paws and feet and grinning to herself. She's never there to hit...and as they miss her, the over-shoot, and go whirling back at Nero. I watch and grin and gape as fifty knives slash him and slam into his body, tearing up his stupid clothes.

Kyoshi attacks, slashing. Una shrieks and tears into him as she flies past. I throw myself into the column of energy that's holding him up and as I sail past, I hit him with an earthquake that sends shards of green gem slashing past us both and I go sailing up into the air.

As I fall and spin I watch another storm of knives miss HighDive entirely and slash into Nero instead, this time hitting harder than tank shells. He's staggered and the island falls a bit. We attack again, but the most dangerous thing to him are his own knives.

The next attack comes at us all. He's done with HighDive kicking his ass - everyone gives up at stopping her at some point. I throw up a dome to protect who I can ...and see Una fall and Kyoshi torn apart. Then High Dive circles the world in green fire, and winds us back to the moment before Kyoshi collapses. I use all of my energy, throw up two domes - "this is easier if you stick together" and let the knives hit me. I remember the tank shells from the battle of Stardown. They ping off of me, slowed by Rei's shield, and I feel energy flow into me.

I land, and Una is using her power again

I feel a heartbeat in my chest that isn't mine, echoing, I feel it through my feet, the whole world pulsing

You are mine.

The world is speaking to us. I feel like I burst out of my skin, filled with...something I can't even describe. Too much me. Too much Karia.

And suddenly the island is falling through the sky.

Nero is a...teenager? Standing there, touching the green NeverGem beneath his feet. "What was that? What was that voice?"

That was Karia, Nero. He yells at us to get off the falling island. Aimi is landing the Sennin. We're really, really doomed if we stay.

My promise. I remember the six conduits. I surprise myself.

"No. We need you with us." He argues for a second, the sky is falling away and I know the ground is rushing up toward us. "This is how we end malice." I grab him and brush past a surprised Rei into the Sennin and deposit him inside as we all scramble in, just in time.

Millions of kilos of green NeverGem island slam into the mountain range encircling Stardown, heaving the first few mountains aside, throwing up a cloud of green gem that blots out the sun and chokes everything in fine green dust. It grinds longer than I'd think, visibly shaking the ground, collapsing buildings in Stardown that are still standing, putting huge cracks in the ice that the refugees are fleeing across, until there is a rolling wave of chunks of NeverGem, some crashing down into the valley of Stardown, before it clatters to as stop.

Everything has stopped to watch. I can see that the Goshi soldiers have turned and are all fighting the Eyeless now. They must feel what I feel, what Rei and Kyoshi feel...what Nero felt.


Nero is just a kid. We explain to him what has to happen. That he's been chosen by Karia to save the world.

I think of Mokuzai. He's got Mokuzai's Kyo-tee-shee in there. I saw it when we fought him on the flying island. Mokuzai was chosen to save the world. Mokuzai, not you you sniveling monster. You're a kid and I wish things had been different for you, but you've killed more than enough to make you all grown up in my book. Old enough to fight, to change you mind...old enough to die.

And he seems to want to. He makes sure that the machine will kill him before he agrees. I save feeling bad about this for later.

For now, I'm making sure my promise is kept, by the machine if not by me. We can't feel bad for every twisted bastard child who tries to kill millions of people, who clearly killed the last of the Dusk Sages so that he could have more power. There's so much to feel bad for at this point that this little broken kid is just a drop in a big, big bucket.


We land, and we're ready. I get to see Zipporah one last time. One last time. What do you say? They're talking and I'm not listening. She's clinging to me and we're crying.

I can't help thinking about the future. I forget about the past. I think about...the world without us, without the Oni, without the renegade First Minds or the greedy, stupid Kyo-tee-shee. Will she name him Moses, if he's a boy? Will he grow up Prill or Cheldrun? Or will it be a girl? Do Karians know that kind of thing?

Its time. The end is here. Kyoshi goes onto the say goodbye. Goodbye.

As I gently stand up and sidle toward the Sennin, I practice saying it. My mind can't wrap around the word.

I set Zipporah on the ramp up into the Sennin. I try to say goodbye but what comes out is "I'll see you again, one way or another. But you can't be here when this happens."

Real romantic. Will they put that on your tombstone?

Will there be anybody to carve a tombstone?

We just look at each other as the Sennin lifts off. I keep looking long after its too small to see clearly, faded into the green dust still raining down on us. I just...ran out of things to say.

I walk back to the machine, walk over to HighDive. I've been saving a surprise for this moment, once I learned what had to happen with the machine. I stand over her, point to the armored plate on my chest.


Her eyes light up. She straightens, reverently. I can see her little heart pounding through the fur of her chest. She scampers up, puts a pay on one of the bolts holding the armor in place.

I've loosened it. Her eyes go wide. Wicky-wicky. Wickywickywicky...and the bolt falls away, clattering to the floor.

The moment is interrupted.

Jin-Kalys says the Oni need to be lured here. I grimace at HighDive - sorry - and tighten the bolt back down.

I've got a little mana left. I run for the stairs, swelling so that I can just step past them. I leap over the battling Laughers, trailing cinders, and land amongst the Eyeless, shield up and batting them aside. And that's it. I'm all out.


I met Suraisu-Oni and snapped off one of his drill-arms, tossed him into the air, shot him, so that he was visible from a long way off, and then ran back to the chamber.

I leap inside, shrinking, and see the other Oni have found us already. Kyoshi is saying something -

"We've come here to fulfill our purpose. In the name of justice, we will create balance. We will find the power to forgive, and will bring our people freedom. And there will be peace."

I grit my teeth and jam the cable into my chest, having knocked the plate protecting it free. We all do the same, Nero last (I think of jamming the thing in his chest if he hesitates too long, but I don't have to). The Oni come down into the chamber. Chunks of us are teleported away. HighDive withers and dies of old age in a sea of sludge. Una is incinerated. And - just as Rei, dying, gestures and the cable slips out of my chest - Suraisu-Oni's drill bit erupts from my body.

I grab for the cable, but my hands are covered with this slippery rainbow stuff. Then I think I'm dreaming because Zipporah is here, puts a hand on my arm, looks at me and then slides the cable back in. Its a happy dream, this dying-dream. I reach back, find Suraisu's head, think of Mokuzai a last time, grab his head and twist until I hear the squeal of machinery tearing.

"My child will live in a world without you."


The rainbow stuff falls out of all of us, is devoured by the Oni, who shovel it into their mouths, slurping it up, down to the last drop -

But the last drop catches, won't come out. I feel Tanuki laugh. This isn't funny, Tanuki.

Yes it is, little-balls.


Everything goes backwards, fast, faster, rainbow goop rushing into us, the Oni deflating and becoming like ghosts, then being sucked in, and it all flows through us into the machine. There is swirling light everywhere - all of the Kyo-tee-shee, swirling madly like stars - and they're all sucked in, and there is a burst of light, and the Wandering Star is torn from the sky, breaking apart, chunks trailing fire like burning hail...


The tubes slide from our chests easily. It is entirely quiet. The green dust has settled onto everything, like we've been lying here like this for years, undisturbed. Jin-Kalys is crumpled in a corner, in a kind of lizardly shock. Zipporah is sprawled out on the ground in front of me.

The wound in my chest is gone. I pick up Zipporah, and in a daze, climb the stairs.

The city is...a mess. The Eyeless are all gone. There is gore and charred remains of buildings everywhere.

From the park nearby, where the Anakarix were draping their wounded in the trees, Boristakan, looks around, looks at me.

We start laughing.


Back inside, HighDive has found her battered, pitted, scarred pot, filled with the names of the dead inside. She turns it right-side-up, rubs out the names written there, fills it with water, and starts making pasta.

Prelude to the End

Kindaichi of the Topaz Gull Clan, formerly 7th Dan of Washi San Academy, in disgrace, had never in her life been so exhausted. Resting against a blood and oil-smeared boulder, inside her mecha, she sobbed, but so dehydrated was she that no tears came. She no longer even had the energy to marvel at the depth of her new bond with her mecha. She could feel the stone she was leaning upon as though it were flesh and not metal which touched it. Hours ago that sensation had been magnificent. Now it was just another factor contributing to her exhaustion.

Eyeless hordes swarmed over the rise barreling her over with their numbers. Their tentacles latched onto her limbs trying to restrain her. In her weakened state, they might have succeeded, but some impossible reserve of determination made her bring her Mochi-Yari to bear. Lancing dead Cheldrun in half, she forced herself to rise out of the mass.

To her left and right other mecha labored, wading through tides of the Enemy, as exhausted as she, perhaps even more bereft of hope and yet they were carried by iron discipline, and absolute confidence in the rightness of their cause. Since this morning dozens of her colleagues had fallen. She watched as Ishikawa of the Jade Falcon Clan was liquefied by some horrible beam from Karaku Oni. The molten ring through the torso of his mecha glowed orange as he fell in a heap and was buried under the advancing army. He fired his bow twice more, annihilating several eyeless with each shot, before dying.

Kindaichi would give no less. At this very moment refugees were fleeing for safety. There was no hope of ultimate victory, but each second she bought would be one more second for the refugees to flee. She told herself this because she could see no redemption for herself in this situation. Every ounce of her body screamed in agony with each movement. Soon, she knew, nothing would keep her in motion and then she would be at the mercy of the eyeless... or she would pass out and her mecha would be dismissed... or an Oni would return... or all of the Oni...

An eyeless was flying through the air, toward her helmet. She recognized him, even without his eyes. It was a high-ranking Hei Shi named Arrow, one who had brought Goshi Directives to Washi San Academy upon occasion. Her Mochi-Yari took his head off in one blow.

Not yet. She would not die, yet.


At best the infirmary could be called an endless triage clinic. Nothing approaching actual medicine was being performed here any longer, the Surgeon lamented. It was impossible to even attempt it with the thousands of casualties being rushed through the doors every minute. The injured and dying spilled out of the walls into the fields beyond, laying on tarps and in the grass, not neatly, but piled up. Those who could pull themselves out of the pile to find a wall to lean against were probably those with the best chance of survival, Surgeon concentrated on them. The rest just moaned and wailed for relief, but there was none to give.

A young man, too young to have any right to be participating in the fighting, sat by himself in a rare clear spot on the ground. Both arms were gone from the shoulders. He rocked back and forth slightly, dizzy from blood loss. He would be dead in moments. The Surgeon laid him back on the ground, whispering in his ear though he doubted anything he said would penetrate the shock. Suddenly the man was quite lucid and he looked the Surgeon in the eyes as he spoke.

"They're coming. More are coming. It's not over."

The Surgeon thought he meant the Goshi army, but moments after he left the man's side to attend the next victim he noticed corpses twitching, going into paroxysms, their limbs quaking. It was happening everywhere. Terry the Canary, covered head to toe in viscera, came running toward him, shouting incomprehensibly through her sobs. The corpses were rising. Coming to their feet, without eyes in their heads, they began to consume the wounded and the dying.

Terry embraced him and he thought he heard her say "we tried," and "die together." He would have shaken her out of her hysteria in different circumstances, but he found he could do nothing but hold her tightly to himself and nod and weep. She was always a flighty little girl. Too fragile for times like these. Everyone is too fragile for times like these. Suffering like this was never meant to be inflicted on any man.

He barely realized it when a barbed tentacle burst through Terry's rib cage. She was quiet now, but he kept holding her. He whispered that it would be okay, though he knew it could never be.

He didn't see or feel the blow that felled him.


Perched on a branch, Sings-Like-Frog, looked out over the frozen surface of Stardown Lake at the stream of refugees running for their lives. In the distance the mountains were on fire. Smoke poured into the air making midday seem gray and dingy like dusk. Only the sun and the fire of the Wandering Star pierced the gloom above. The Star was almost at its peak and it filled the aging Zipsum's heart with forboding.

Below him, interspersed through the trees were the assembled choirs of the Prill. The greatest massed choir in generations. Even in the midst of the devastation it made him glow with pride to have spent his life among the fox-children. In his warbly croaking voice he sang along with a number of the songs which were familiar to him. No mystical power filled him when he did so. He could not so much as turn one drop of water to ice, but he felt as if he were part of something tremendous, something worth doing.

The terror of the refugees who were arriving on the south and eastern shores of the lake was palpable, but there was an undercurrent of gratitude as well. They were rushed under the canopy of the forest and away to safety where whole cities had been sung into existence for them. Most had no way of comprehending what was happening. They had never before seen a Prill or heard of their wonder-working powers. They stumbled, dumb-founded, between paralyzing fear and disbelief.

In time, they would remember this as the beginning of a lasting peace. That was Elder Moon's hope. Saving millions of Cheldrun from destruction would be the seeds of unity for Karians and Cheldrun. These refugee cities will last. They will flourish and they will remind the children of steel of the debt they owe. Sings-Like-Frog was no diplomat, but he believed her when she spoke about it. She was passionate, and convicted. She persuaded every Karian who heard her and they willingly lent their help to the cause. Something good must come from this travesty.

From where Sings-Like-Frog was perched he could count tens of millions of good things running across the ice.


Fighting alongside the Zipsum was good. Fighting with the strength of Karia was even better. Edana Griolsa ripped the tentacles off an eyeless before her and kicked it so hard the rib cage collapsed. Before it hit the ground two Zipsum warriors were on it, plunging poisoned knives over and over again into the flesh. Everywhere she turned her blows were followed by Zipsum knives and arrows. She set them up, and the Zipsum cut them down. It was beautiful to watch.

Overhead a tank whistled through the air. When it plowed into the ranks of the enemy it sent a shockwave of flesh rippling for dozens of meters in every direction. She charged up to it and ripped the cannon free from its moorings. She swung it around her in a great arc, clearing a circle of the dead, breaking backs, crushing skulls. One ducked under her swing and plowed into her at the waist trying to knock her off her feet. She neither braced herself nor avoided the attack. The eyeless merely bounced off her like a granite column. The Zipsum knives silenced him before he could get up.

Deep in her breast a proud Gogajin heart was beating. Decades of rage at the suffering of her people combined with the unbelievable hope that the unification of the clans provided made her and every other Gogajin unstoppable. They would neither tire, nor weaken. They would not surrender or retreat. They would hound the foe across every centimeter and kilometer of the continent if need be. They were Gogajin. Their enemies would die in despair, but they would die with a loud and raucous laugh.


Aimi could get used to this feeling - the feeling of rushing through the clouds at the helm of an airship. For most of her life she never questioned the Cheldrun prohibition against taking to the sky, but now that she knew how seductive it was she began to understand it better. Not as good as sex, but not completely dissimilar.

The one thing she did not like about flying the Sennin is how conspicuous it was. Used to arriving unannounced with a surprise knife to the back, it was against her nature to be so exposed to every eye as she whistled through the air. There was no longer any meaningful surface-to-air threat from the Goshi army... was it really Goshi anymore? But it kept her on edge every second. An Oni, she knew, could obliterate the Sennin without effort. She dare not relax her guard.

To make matters worse, Kiyoshi and Rei and friends were always insisting on being deposited as close to the damn Oni as possible. Not only did she object to exposing herself and the Sennin to such danger, she in no way approved of Kiyoshi's reckless behavior. She had a feeling that her approval meant about as much to him as the opinion of a rock. Then reflecting on the awe these people seemed to have of Karia - even believing that Karia was alive and influencing them by giving them their remarkable powers, she glumly noted that her opinion might matter less than that of a rock.

He'd better survive long enough for me to punish him, she thought to herself.


Zipporah felt something like butterfly wings fluttering in her uterus. Her eyes widened and she clutched her stomach. It was the first sensation of the life within her and she was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. There was a spark of joy, yes, but it seemed so fragile in comparison with the host of fears that pressed in around her. The meaning of this child was yet to be determined. Everything that it could be could so easily be destroyed by the war... by the enemy... if she lost Moses...

Over and over again lately she had forced herself to contemplate his death. It was the last thing she wanted, and yet every second it was a terrible possibility. Now it seemed a near certainty since the hopes of so many were depending on him... depending on his willingness to sacrifice himself.

He would do it, she knew. She couldn't be angry about it either. She would do the same in his place, but knowing this in no way reduced the enormity of her grief. Instead she was angry at the Dusk Sages. Angry at Karia. Angry at the All. It was not right, not fair, not in any sense good or just that so many should have to suffer for others to live. Perhaps, she reflected bitterly, the Question was nothing but a cosmic wager. A callous game of chance with the lives of, well everything, at stake.

Including the life in her uterus. That above all is why she knew she would lose Moses. If he could do something to ensure that life... anything. Could she bear to see this child grow and live, but never rest in Moses' embrace again?


This command center was really no such thing. It was a lost cause. His officers were dead or dying or rising as eyeless. His soldiers were fleeing or cowering or nonresponsive to his commands in any case. The few mecha he still had fighting were beyond his reach and there were no more tanks or artillery and even if there were they wouldn't be of much use. Daitokuji Ichirou, patriarch of the Silver Phoenix Clan and general of the Stardown Defense Force was grudgingly forced to admit that they had indeed arrived at the end of the road.

Despite the unbelievable efforts of the Heroes of Karia Vitalus, there was no stopping this swarm of eyeless which had enveloped them. He urged everyone to standfast, knowing it was pointless. Those who would fight would fight. The rest were already rushing after the refugees for the frozen lake. Dimly he hoped that his wife and child were safe among those escaping. There was nothing he could do about it either way.

Having given his final orders, and knowing there was nothing left that any general could do to reverse this tide, he calmly walked from the bunker into the open. Bullets ricocheted off the cement around him. He ignored their dangerous buzz, and turned to face the oncoming rush of the Enemy. Countless millions had been killed or destroyed, yet millions more were coming. Among them the cruel, but vibrant First Minds walked, propelling the demonic army by their twisted power. They had overcome every obstacle the SDF placed in their way. They were almost through the pass, to pour on the unprotected refugees below.

One obstacle still remained for them to overcome, however. Daitokuji Ichirou, 12th Dan of Washi San Academy, the greatest mecha pilot who ever lived. He crossed his arms in front of him and silver light rippled over the field.


Heaving tanks through the air is hard work. Even Balder had to admit that the Cheldrun know how to make some heavy shit. The heaviest thing in a Gogajin village is a slab of stone, or a plowshare. Nowhere near as heavy as a tank. Not that he was counting, but he was pretty sure he'd hurled about 43 of them so far, and now they were staying away from him or driving for the hills, or unoccupied and lifeless. That was the thing about tanks, without their crew they're just a hunk of metal.

There were less tanks about now, and less artillery, and less Cheldrun actually. The enemies he was wading through now were eyeless, every one of them. The living children of steel had turned on their own army, shooting the eyeless rather than running alongside them. It was one hell of a clusterfuck, because the Goshi soldiers didn't know which side they were on. They were shit-scared of the eyeless, but the Gogajin weren't their friends either. Balder decided to let them shoot first to see if they were an enemy. If they fired on him (to little effect since Karia was blessing him with her strength), then he gave them the tank treatment. If they screamed and ran he let them go.

Over the sounds of the battle he could hear little, but from time to time he heard a Gogajin clan crying their motto and regardless of which clan it was he would shout it along with them and charge with renewed vigor. They were united now, the Gogajin. And Grim, Grim of all fucking people was their leader! Their High-fucking-King! He was doing a good job making a show of it too. He had charged to the top of a rise, near the middle of the enemy army, and planted his standard, waving it for all to see. He taunted the foe to take the hill from him and for hours none had been able to displace him.

Balder made his way that direction, cutting through swaths of eyeless with a torn sheet of metal. From behind Grim he could see a small, unassuming man approaching. Balder recognized him as a First Mind, and he shouted to warn Grim, but his voice was drowned out by the roar of an artillery shell exploding nearby. Rainbow rays burst from the First Mind's fingertips obliterating several of the Gogajin in Grim's entourage. Grim turned around to face his new opponent and Balder could tell he didn't recognize the danger. Grim threw his arms wide, taunting the First Mind, exposing himself. The First Mind smirked and raised his hands...

Then Balder was on him. He had a hand in the First Mind's mouth, and an arm around his chest. Some dark energy tore at Balder, turning his flesh to spaghetti, unraveling him like a wool jumper. It hurt more than Balder cared to admit. He squeezed the First Mind with all of his might, but for his unassuming appearance he was unbelievable strong. The dark energy continued to shred Balder like so much confetti. He lost his balance and tumbled to the ground with the First Mind still in his grasp.

Balder's legs began dissolving. A metal plate burst free from his shoulder when the screws could no longer find purchase in bones quickly turning to gelatin. Balder screamed for Grim to run. Run for his fucking life, but he couldn't see or tell whether Grim had listened. The First Mind continued struggling in his grasp and Balder forced his hand further into its mouth as his vision became blurry, and the world started to fade.

The blackness claimed Balder, but not before he ripped the First Mind's skull, without the jaw, from its moorings and tossed it into the fray.


At the eye of the storm Jin Kalys labored, obsessively, over his newest equations. They made no sense, even to him. Frankly he had given up certainty some time ago. He understood the exigencies of the circumstances. He had no more time to make them right. No more time to be certain, and the math... his dreams weren't coming as they usually did when the equations were close. His subconscious assimilation of nine branch formal logic must not have been as thorough as he'd once imagined, because now... when he most need to be sure.

Some luxuries life does not afford us. This solution would have to do.

The new inertial dampener/difference engine combination artifact was bulky, intricate, and Jin would even venture, aesthetically pleasing. In other times he would have joyfully joined Sousauryoku in an thorough study of the device. It made him feel amateurish to be so hasty with his preparations, but at this very moment the Eyeless were pushing into the streets of Stardown and the Wandering Star was nearly at it's apex. In less than an hour the fate of life would be decided and in some small way he would take part in that decision. Of any debate he had ever waged he most hoped to earn a piercing for this one.

Sousauryoku leaned over his shoulder to read the last page of notation. For once he didn't make a snide comment, but merely gave a weary look that said "I hope you're right."

"There is no other choice," Jin Kalys assured him.


From her birth in fiery glory Karia had been a witness. Only in these last hours was she also an actor. It gave her indescribable pleasure, but also debilitating anxiety to at last be involved in the cosmic drama. For a child whose lifespan is measured in billions of revolutions the span of an hour is the blinking of an eye. She watched, unblinking, as that last hour unfolded and she admitted to herself at last, what she had denied for billions of years - that she was not neutral in this conflict, that her heart sang to her of the beauty of life and could not abide the thought of an eternity without the living. She watched, but not as an enraptured audience, she watched as one who stood much to lose. The living were making their choices. The meaning was being played out. The Question would at last be answered.


Episode 38, Part I: The Last Day


Always the Oni, pressing our defensive lines. I can feel the after-echoes of a thousand panicked soldiers. Moses's thoughts shine like a beacon, and Kiyoshi's are, as ever, veiled behind the void.

The Oni are attacking en masse.

We have no choice but to face them. We're the only ones who can.

We go.

There they are, striding across the battlefield like demons. Karaku-Oni lays a dozen bunkers to waste with molten light. Asamu-Oni flows over a division and it ages to death even as it fights. Suraisu-Oni sends piledriver after piledriver blow towards a mecha edged in silver flames, and I realize at once that this is Ichirou, fighting at the side of his men. Before we move, I drape a telepathic sensory net around the minds of each of my companions, and a window-within-window field of their own perceptions snaps into being in my sight.

We are as prepared as we will ever be.

We leap from the Sennin and descend on the battle, katas whirling. I get a brief glimpse of Suraisu-Oni sending a bludgeon my way. Then something hits me, and my thoughts are scattered. I land on my feet, barely. There is heat, and a bright light, and I look up just in time to see Karaku-Oni's molten beams converging on... me.

There is heat, and pain, and a bright green light, and then darkness for the instant between the destruction of my optic nerves and the cooking of my brain inside my skull. ... For an instant, it seems to take forever. I have time. Time to realize that I'm about to die. Time to realize that I've failed. Time to feel the heat searing through my face and my body. Time ... reverses.

There is pain, and then a glorious burst of vision, and I can see the world again. Karaku-Oni's beams flow back into his wingtips, and I ascend. The damage caused by Suraisu-Oni is undone, and I ascend. Back... back... back into the Sennin, and suddenly we are not yet upon the battle, and High Dive is panting for breath.

I stare.

"High Dive," I manage after a moment. "... Thank you."

The others are determined to stop the Oni, and I cannot let them go alone, but I will not suffer the same fate again. I refuse to die such a meaningless death.

We leap from the Sennin, and I head straight for Suraisu-Oni. With one hand I call up a hundred black tentacles, each one seeking out a target in the horde of eyeless below, each one sustaining me, filling me with power. My mind expands, and I focus it all into my right hand. My psychic knife crackles with energy as I descend towards Suraisu-Oni, and all at once I see Mokuzai, mangled and dead, beneath those pistons, and my vision goes red.

I plant the blade in the Oni's chest and hiss, "This is for Mokuzai, you bastard," releasing a massive pulse of psychic energy directly into whatever it is that passes for the creature's nervous system.

It looks down at the blade for a moment, almost nonplussed, and then falls over, paralyzed.

I feel... satisfaction.

I have no time to dwell on the minor victory. Kiyoshi, Una, and the others are already in motion. High Dive dashes to the front of the battle and does... something. There is a green pulse of light, and every Oni and every Eyeless on the battlefield immediately turns its attention to her.

In an instant, she's gone, dashing off towards the horizon with the Oni and the Eyeless army in pursuit.

Moses and I exchange incredulous looks. Then he and Ichirou pin the paralyzed Suraisu-Oni and lop off his head with Ichirou's mecha-sized katana.

I watch for a long moment as my friends rush into battle. Moses striding forward, glowing like a coal, Kiyoshi carried in Una's talons as she carries him from location to location, High Dive leading the entire enemy army by the nose, and I'm at a loss.

What can I do to help here? Even with my katas, I'm not much of a fighter. There's nothing I can do here that will equal their efforts.

The whispers of a thousand panicked thoughts catch my attention, and I realize abruptly that there is something I can do after all. I sit atop the bunker even as Ichirou descends to direct his army, and I reach out with my mind, brimming with power.

I am Ichirou.
I am Lightning.
I am Matthew.
I am a soldier drowning in his own blood.
I am an artillery operator, determined to do her job.
I am an officer, frantically directing his men and hoping desperately that they don't realize how fucking terrified I am.
I am a Heishi, watching the battle with jaw dropped open and horrified beyond all measure.
My mind expands. More. More. More.
This soldier. That soldier. A dozen over here. Fifty officers across the battlefield. Sixty artillery operators. More.
I am Allskin, Biomade, Mechified all united within one mind:
I am Cheldrun. A thousand minds united, until 'I' is a term which scarcely holds meaning.

I see the battle from a thousand viewpoints at once, and the intensity of the experience nearly overwhelms me.

Then I begin to exert my will. To direct myself, and through me, our army.

Moses grapples with Asamu-Oni. Una and High Dive do battle with the great rotting beast. High Dive flashes across my perceptions in the blink of an eye.

The battle rages, and my joy is infectious.

I can see. Everything.

All one and one all. Kiyoshi and Una have destroyed the great beast and seek out their next target. I spare a moment's attention to telekinetically extract Moses from Asamu-Oni's body, and another to send a blast of black energy into the horde of Eyeless that had surrounded High Dive at last.

I gesture, and she floats towards me.

Una snatches her up a moment later, and I release her, returning my attention to... everything.
A moment later, she deposits High-Dive in my lap. I absently rub the Zipsum's belly as we wait for her to recover from having exerted herself far too much.

Kiyoshi can't get close to the thing that had been Katashi Blade. I send out the telepathic call: "Concentrate all artillery fire on this point." This point? The Oni.

He ignores the first volley, his shield absorbing the majority of it.

... He is not so lucky with the second. The Oni vanishes in a storm of smoke and flame.

The battle rages on. High Dive returns to the fight, and brings death everywhere she goes. Asamu-Oni is dead: Moses killed him. Garandu-Oni is dispatched a moment later, and then all at once, it is only Karaku-Oni who remains.

Una fights him like a mad thing, and I do not understand her actions: she is nearly killed, but she does allow Kiyoshi and High Dive the time they need to close.

Karaku-Oni sees me. Rei-me. I am almost unaware of the danger. What does it matter if a part of me falls away? What is one part next to this... this... magnificence?

A molten beam strikes me in the chest, and I know pain, fear, and darkness. The gestalt shatters, and I am only Rei again. Minds whip about every which way for an instant... and then I come back to my senses, staring up at the figures of Kiyoshi and High Dive and Una as they tear Karaku-Oni to pieces.

It is done. The battle is over. I look down at my chest and see the flesh knitting over the exposed bone, pain receding, muscle and tissue actively regenerating.

Una's influence.

As soon as my lungs are functional again, I let out a long, slow breath.

We've won. For now. And yet I can't shake the feeling that something is about to change. ... I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. As Una helps me to my feet, I briefly wonder where Nero is in all this.


Elder Moon wants to speak with us: we return to Jin-Kalys' sanctum, and we there hear her make her case.

She thinks he knows how to solve the riddle of peace. I am ready to dismiss her at once, but something stops me. A feeling. A strange thought, bubbling up from my memories of the gestalt, and for a moment I'm not sure if I'm Rei, Ichirou, Matthew, or something else entirely.

I hear her speaking as if from far away, but much closer is the old, familiar whisper of Inase Spark, drowning out even Amaterasu's insistence that I must not do whatever it is that Elder Moon is suggesting.

Thoughts of fear. Thoughts of relief.
I rise to my feet.

Moses can sense Zippora's pain and horror, and I wonder how that's possible: he's no telepath. Aimi knows. She can sense it immediately, even on the other side of Stardown. Kiyoshi hasn't given enough thought to the psychic consequences of having been intimate with a telepath. She knows.

Elder Moon is speaking, and I'm trying to think of a way to overcome the Oni by force of arms, and all I hear is my father's voice.

"Obsessed with death, with pain, with suffering. If death is all you can see, then death is all you deserve."

I look up, startled.

There he is, with the void all around. There he is, looking older now, as he did when I saw him in the wreck of the Bosphorous.

Inase Spark.

"I don't want to die," I say.

"Is that really true?" he asks.

... No. No, it's not. You can't feel the joy of battle and not wish to taste it.

"You're not alone, Mikomi," he says. "You have long held things worth fighting for. Do you have anything worth dying for?"

I stare at him for a long moment.

All at once, I'm standing with the others in Jin Kalys' sanctum, and Elder Moon is echoing my own words back to me even as Amaterasu shrieks to drown her out: "We must be willing to sacrifice ourselves by the thousands - by the millions - for one another. Wasn't it you who said that, Rei?"


She wants us to use the machine. The machine and Moses's machine combined. Sacrifice.


I nod. I understand. Amaterasu disagrees, but for once, I ignore her.

I think I finally understand Purpose.

And that's when everything goes to hell.

Kijuuki's New Master

Feeling as though the world were strangely distant, Kiko reflected.

In the two months since the Sennin had left the Emerald Isle Kiko had learned more about life and the universe than in all the years preceding. Studying at the feet of the Dusk Sages was an incomparable feeling of exhilaration. They had the gift of literally putting the knowledge directly into her mind with a touch, and so she learned at an unprecedented rate. She supposed the only reason that they worked as they did in stages is to prevent her from going mad, or cracking in half with the strain of a rapidly expanding world view. Even so, each new discovery was such a revolution for her she began to suspect that it must require immense patience on their part to accept her ignorance.

She learned, for example, that Karia was speaking more than ever these days and what she whispered was somehow comforting to the Dusk Sages. Though she never heard the planet speak, she learned to tell instantly when a Dusk Sage was hearing her voice. They became serene, beatific even, and afterward they thrummed with happy energy. It made her wonder if her admiration of the Dusk Sages was similar to their feelings for Karia.

She looked beside her. The dictionary of Cheldrun that Kiyoshi had made for her lay open on the ground. She reached for it, but it was too far away. Still, it was a welcome reminder of all that had transpired. Everything she had seen.

It seemed too immense that one little Prill like her should come to see and know so much, and the more the Dusk Sages taught her the more she realized that it was a tiny fraction of the wonders of the All. It is a shame, she thought, that we all unravel. There is no way to see it all, know it all.

Kiko was relatively certain that she would never know who the man with oily hair and lace cuffs was, nor why he behaved as he did. He was a child of Steel, with eyes like Rei's, but he had arrived on the Emerald Isle without a boat or any other means of transport. The Dusk Sages observed him from a distance without saying anything. They revealed no emotion, but Kiko felt apprehension on their behalf. For a while she told herself that he would want to be a disciple like Kiko, Ramora, and Maruko, but if he had come to study, then he chose the wrong masters. A week after his arrival he was spotted in the company of resisters.

In the mornings Maruko had taken to singing, from memory, all the Prill lore that she could dredge up. Kiko tried to sing along, but Maruko had a better memory and Ramora had a better voice, she felt ashamed. The Dusk Sages genuinely delighted in the company of their creations, though all of their interactions were colored with melancholy. The creations on the island were sick, Kiko knew, and the health of the Prill was a sad reminder for them of the tragedy of their exile. Mostly it was better to sing and learn and observe than the alternative, even if the unraveling is true.


Sadly, Kiko knew that the unraveling was not only true, but inevitable. She looked down at her chest, pierced by two daggers. Another in her thigh was embedded so deep it pinned her to the ground.

The man with the red eyes had come at sunrise to the Flame of Dawning where all the living Dusk Sages were gathered. He greeted them with flowery language (most of which Kiko understood) and argued at length for something so abhorrent that Kiko thought she must have misunderstood. He wanted the Dusk Sages to reclaim their creations, to use them for mana in order to control the Kyo Tee Shee and then to return in power to the continent of their children. He called them 'Initiators' and 'Gods' and said that it was their responsibility to cleanse Karia of the Cheldrun who he called 'Malice'.

The Dusk Sages listened, tolerantly, over a long period as he explained the story of the Cheldrun, and pleaded with them. The Dusk Sages simply shook their heads, with tear filled eyes, but said nothing. He behaved petulantly, like a child who is used to getting his way. He shouted and cursed. He whimpered and cried. He accused them of negligence, of hating their own children, and denying their own responsibility. Kiko could see that his words were wounding them and she tried to intervene, to calm him down.

That is when he exploded. A storm of knives rushed from his coat impaling her and anyone who came close. He rose into the sky, glowing with purple light, and began hurling wave after wave of sharpened blades and incinerating energy upon the gathered Dusk Sages. Kiko shouted for them to flee, to fight back, to do anything, but they just stood there, weeping.

Resisters crawled up the mountainside and began attacking the gathered Sages from the outside, as the man continued to pulse with malevolent power and to rend the ones he had called Gods just moments before. From his hand he unleashed a purple crane, which swelled to enormous size and swooped down on the dying Dusk Sages, greedily dipping its beak in the rainbow fluid which washed in waves over the field. Kijuuki, Mokuzai's Kyo Tee-Shee. As Kiko watched, the crane consumed every Sage there, becoming bloated with mana. The crane gave a piercing shriek which caused the Flame of Dawning to split in half and fall, before returning to its meal.

The resisters were just as voracious, and most horrifying of all, as they ran out of Dusk Sages to consume they fell on one another in their frenzied state. They wrenched masks off of one another's faces, and sucked mana out of one another's eye sockets. The red-eyed man did not cease his slaughter either, but turned his fury on the resisters as well. Rays of purple light from his hands incinerated his targets, and as Kijuuki fed he only grew more powerful, until his blasts were breaking apart trees, then boulders, then mountains, then sundering the island itself.

Kiko couldn't think of anything to do then, but to sing. She looked around, but Maruko and Ramora were lying in heaps, dead. So she let her trembling voice ring out with the Song of Sending, the funeral song of the Prill. It was perhaps the worst rendition of the song ever performed, but The-One-Who-Opens-Doors smiled and nodded at her as he died. The look on his face was one of pride.

From the corpses of the resisters new Kyo Tee-Shee sprang. They joined the feeding frenzy, as the ground trembled and Kiko, who was on the point of passing out but kept singing all the same, wondered if the island were lifting out of the ocean into the sky. She could not hear herself over the roar, but she pressed on approaching the climax. The red-eyed man was completely obscured in a field of purple light now. She no longer cared who he was, it was beyond her.

When her breath was expended, she fell back and looked at that dictionary laying on the ground beside her. Its pages were spattered with rainbow colored blood. The wind took it and blew it out of sight. She imagined the wind was blowing it like a message to the All. We are unraveling as you decreed. Is it what you you hoped?

Episode 37: Oni Unleashed

Time... reversed. That is the only way to describe it. One moment I am dodging out of the room as a giant explosion rocks it and watching in horror as the shrapnel rips Una apart and the flames incinerate Rei and the next... everything stops, then reverses. The next thing I know we are standing in front of the First Mind again and he is saying something about not having to track us down. We all seem stunned except High Dive. Somehow she is behind this, but... how? Rei decides not to wait around for a repeat performance and teleports us away. For a moment I am tempted to remain behind to cover their retreat but I realize that there is always the chance that it would simply ignore me and go after the others anyway so I allow myself to be taken away with the rest.

We arrive in the middle of a battlefield. Gogajin are striding about like invincible titans smashing tanks, soldiers, and Hei Shi alike. It is a slaughter and for once our side has the advantage. Then, predictably, the First Mind catches up with us. Una was waiting for it however and it is immediately greeted by a giant blast of destructive energy that sends it flying back into the building from whence it came. That was not enough to finish it of course and a hard fight ensued. Rei finished things off by doing her eclipse-causing super telekinesis thing again, this time combining both the building smashing and the waves of fire. It was true catastrophe; for the other side of course. The First Mind was defeated (though strangely we heard no announcement of a new Oni at its death) and the Goshi army as far as we could see was destroyed.

No sooner had the smoke cleared than we received reports that the Enemy had routed our forces in Starbreeze Canyon with the help of a giant Oni. That the enemy dead were raising as Eyeless and overrunning the front lines. And that the forces advancing from the former location were threatening to cut off the retreat of the latter. No rest for the wicked it seems; we called the Sennin in and hastily made our way to Starbreeze Canyon to give our main forces enough time to retreat from the relentless onslaught. Balder chose to remain behind with his fellow Gogajin, something for which I cannot blame him.

It was fully night by the time we reached the canyon and there before us was the most massive Oni we had encountered yet. It was easily three hundred meters long, two hundred meters tall, and one hundred meters wide. It strode through and over the canyon on six giant segmented legs with two enormous pincers before it. Goshi troops swarmed before, under, and behind it and both they and the very face of Karia showed signs of the proximity: festering boils and cancerous growths seemed to bloom up from the ground where the Oni stepped and magically, sickeningly, grow from the bodies of the nearby soldiers. We knew what we had to do: we swooped down to introduce ourselves.

When we got close we heard the characteristic partially-internal voice of an Oni. It boomed, "I am Kyansu Oni the One Who Corrupts." Oh. Fun. I also noticed the feeling of absolute wrongness as we approached and activated one of my Katas that protects my purity of body. A good thing too because I then saw everyone else start to grow the horrific tumors and boils that were affecting the troops below.

I shouted at Moses that I was the only one who could approach it safely so I should be dropped onto its back alone while the rest of them dealt with saving the last remnants of our forces fleeing before the vile horde. He ignored me of course. Logic does not count for much when it means leaving your friends in danger; I would have done the same. Thankfully Una activated a Kata that healed the corruption as fast as it spread. Barely.

The crew was scared so I yelled a bit and whipped them into shape. I may not be a soldier but I know a good deal about getting reluctant underlings to do their job. I commanded them to drop us off on the back of the beast and get out of its range. That they did and we dropped one by one onto the massive bulk. Just before we jumped I told Moses "Dig me a way to its heart." I am not sure if he heard me or not but when he landed he actually punched through its hide and ichor started spurting out. So I aimed for that area and when I landed I unleashed all of my hatred and revulsion for the Enemy into it. I guess I overdid it somewhat because the next thing I knew I was coming out the other side with nothing but air between me and a horde of Goshi soldiers a hundred meters below. Thankfully Keibatsu had drank deeply and I was easily able to survive the fall.

The Oni was slain and now all we had to deal with was a couple million Goshi soldiers. Things were frantic for a short time and then Rei cut off part of the battlefield by lacing one of her walls of fiery death across the width of the canyon. It was almost comical watching the soldiers pushed through by their comrades behind to heap up in front of the thing. We quickly dispatched the rest of the soldiers on our side and met up with our own troops. They were being commanded by Matthew, the giant Mechified we had met back in the Griolsa village. All of them were heavily wounded, exhausted, dispirited. And who could blame them? Rei tried her own strange version of cheering them up and I promptly took over before she said something that had them committing suicide. Then Moses decided he had not had enough and he showed us what a giant Mechified really looks like. Striding forth he casually walked through Rei's wall that had caused the deaths of so many Goshi soldiers and we heard the sounds of death and destruction from the other side. After a few minutes he came back and shrank back to his normal, albeit still rather large, size. The wall flickered and went away. And as far as the eye could see down Starbreeze Canyon there were dead Goshi soldiers and smashed tanks. It was about this time that things went bad.

The Goshi dead started to rise, their eyeballs bursting in the sockets. And we heard voices and saw towering forms rise up above them a few hundred yards away. "I am Suraisu Oni the One Who Tears" and "I am Rensu Oni the One Who Binds". Hurriedly I told Matthew to get his men and flee as far and as fast as they could. They needed little encouragement. As the Eyeless horde rushed us Moses encompassed us in another of his impenetrable domes. I looked around at the state of my companions. Moses was hurt a little, High Dive seemed tired, Rei was fine as far as I could tell, and Una was unconscious, probably from over-exertion as I saw no visible wounds on her. I told Moses to call the Sennin back and use it to get everyone out of here. I told him that I would hold back the Eyeless so that our troops had the chance to get away. I could do it. Keibatsu hungered.

He partially listened to me. He lowered the dome when we heard Aimi chime in that she was hovering over us and High Dive snatched up Una and hopped aboard. Moses said he was staying with me and so did Rei. I told her that if she was going to stay I needed her to deal with the Eyeless who had passed us by when we were holed up, the ones who were even now running down our fleeing men. She nodded and started after them. I did not have time to muse over the fact that I had just sent a teenage girl alone after a few hundred Eyeless. Instead I rushed forward as fast as I could, calling on the power of my Kata and Keibatsu to clear the way. Hundreds of Eyeless fell like grain before the scythe and in moments we had reached the pair of Oni. I immediately launched an all-out attack upon Rensu Oni and Moses tackled Suraisu Oni.

The fighting was fast and hectic. I am not entirely sure what happened, but suddenly my arm, along with Keibatsu, simply was no longer there. My mouth opened in a silent scream of horror as I fell to my knees in shock, blood pumping unabated from my shoulder. "So easily unmanned?" the Oni mocked me. "We are coming for you. Tomorrow we will bombard you and wipe your pitiful race from the face of the planet." Before it could finish me off High Dive appeared and attacked viciously. I grabbed a nearby discarded rifle and fired wildly at the thing, missing completely. Then High Dive cried out. Her legs had been removed at the knees. Dropping the useless gun I stepped over her, guarding her tiny, whimpering form with my own as best I could. And I did the only thing I could think of: I reached my remaining arm out and I fell as deeply into the Void as I could. I concentrated. I meditated on Keibatsu and our oneness. Wherever the Oni had sent it I called it back to me. Nothing happened.

I distantly heard a scream and a raptor's cry then I felt myself being lifted by a grip around my waist. It did not last long and I vaguely noted Una crashing to the ground missing a wing. She and High Dive lay bleeding in a heap. I glanced over to see Rei laying on the ground a ways away convulsing uncontrollably. A landslide on the side of the canyon marked where Moses and Suraisu Oni were presumably now buried. Rensu Oni laughed. "And so it ends." I knew that I was our last hope. It was my duty to save us, all of us. And Keibatsu came. Silver light and runes raced up my left arm as the blade that was part of me sprang forth once more. The Oni seemed mildly surprised and said "That will not help you." Then I attacked. With everything I had, my most powerful forms with no thought, only one purpose: cut. Do not give the enemy a chance to breathe, to think: cut. Do not hesitate, do not allow weakness to creep in: cut. Cut them down utterly, cut where they are weakest, cut finally, and decisively, and without mercy. I owed it to the rest of them. Cut.

The howls of rage faded as Rensu Oni disappeared. I breathed. "Wanna bet?"

* * *

We recovered the next day as best we could. The front lines had all been overrun. The refugee camps were being shelled by Goshi artillery. Eyeless were everywhere and the Oni made regular forays, presumably to lure us out. We had all survived though, if barely. Una had been able to restore our missing limbs with her miraculous healing. Jin Kalys still insisted that a greater sacrifice was needed and several ideas were put forth. Moses had the Surgeon cut out what he called the Machine God: a First Mind artifact that had been fused to his body all this time, that had given him much of his power it seemed. They cut it out and Jin Kalys studied it to see if it would be a proper sacrifice. Moses looked somehow... diminished... without it.

I could see that we were losing. We needed something, something big, some master stroke or this war would end with our inevitable defeat. It was just like a game of Go. Our opponents had us where they wanted us and were simply going through the motions until they finished us. Who knew when the bombardment would begin? We needed a gambit. Something on which we could stake everything; our last chance. If Jin Kalys' calculations could not do it then I had an idea: attack the Wandering Star. Foolish, yes, but maybe our last hope.

Then the radio blared. The Oni were attacking the last lines of defense. All of them. We left to face our salvation or our doom.

Banishing Shadows

Life is fundamentally about incongruity. That is what distinguishes the living from the non-living: unpredictability, mutation, humor. Ugliness and madness are virtues to be extolled for exemplifying that which is most alive, the true nonconformist. True noncomformists inspire discomfort through their asymmetry discharged in laughter. Laughter is the quintessential expression of the path of wisdom. Especially loud, lengthy laughter at inappropriate times.

Followers of the great sage Wastoraskalix, students of the School of the Wisdom of Untimely Humor, erroneously called Laughers by other Anakarix, are widely ridiculed - just as they intend. Not only ridiculed, but also shunned, because the Laughers tend to do what is least expected. They are unpredictable, rude, downright offensive even, and they laugh in the faces of those who get flustered by their antics.

Which is precisely what was happening to Shadowfang.

Starting even before the battle with Goshi something had been making the refugees and soldiers uneasy. Nightmares were increasing in frequency. People sleeping in their tents awoke in the dark screaming, and the SDF continued receiving reports of missing individuals. The idea of looking for a lone missing person in a crowd of 100 million on the eve of the most important battle ever fought was ludicrous. It didn't end with missing persons, though. The nightmares grew worse.

On the first night of the fight the soldiers wept and prayed to the First Minds because every time they closed their eyes they were haunted by visions of their own death. For some that death came on the battlefield, but others never made it through the night. Bodies were found eviscerated in bunkers, spread over 20 meters of tunnel, and bleeding out under their blankets. Some died of lacerations, others from high-powered bullets, others were crushed. There were no patterns except that no one described the killer the same way. Rumors began to spread that the camps had been infiltrated by dozens or hundreds of Goshi assassins.

The panic was the worst part. Among the refugees intense distrust and even violence flared up. The stress of the war compounded by the fear of shadows made people go mad. With every soldier tied up on the front lines, all anyone could do was pray that riots did not break out.

Disdaining participation in the conflict with Goshi, and offering only hearty chuckles for explanations, the Laughers followed the stories of Shadowfang with interest. Through means no one had time to understand the Laughers tracked this silent disturber of the peace. They tracked him, and they pulled his tail.

Up in the forested mountains around Stardown just before dawn, while the whole world flamed furiously with war, a merry game was being played. The Laughers danced, acrobatically around the most imposing Jevumm ever seen, tugging and tweaking his tails, his whiskers, his ears. A flurry of claws and a terrifying roar followed each such taunt. With terrible elegance the cat sliced through lizard scales spraying blood into the air, but the Laughers only giggled louder each time. The wounded party would scamper up a tree out of reach as others took his place. Perched in the branches of the tree his wounds would begin to close of their own accord.

There are nearly 300 students in the School of the Wisdom of Untimely Humor. Every single one of them pinched and prodded and ridiculed Shadowfang mercilessly throughout the night driving him farther and farther into a berserk fury. The roaring of the tiger was drowned out by incessant, maddening, crazy-making laughter. And as Shadowfang grew wearier, the sun was rising and the Laughers were only beginning to wake up.

That is when Boristakan, the Ridiculer, twice ranked Philosopher Degenerate, winner of forty-three debates, the first disciple of Samaranthine the Grotesque, and master of the esoteric art of Qibui dropped into the clearing. Shadowfang wheeled, and recognizing him as the leader hunched in preparation for a leap. Boristakan clacked his lizard tongue against the roof of his mouth in a mocking noise and bobbed his head like a bird. In one breath the Jevumm crossed the intervening space, flying through the air, but Kufu's howl of rage became a whimper of despair.

In Boristakan's hands purple flames sprung to life, doing a merry dance that was reflected in his eyes. Too late to change his direction, Kufu bowled into the chortling Anakarix, feeling indescribable pain as the fire singed his face and neck. Then the whole School was upon him, fists alight with fire, scourging the fur from his body. He twisted and heaved. With Gogajin strength he threw his assailants aside. With Biomade dexterity he sprung through gaps and tried to escape. With Zipsum speed he burst free of that throng and fled squealing across the horizon with his tail on fire.

The members of the School of the Wisdom of Untimely Humor collected themselves. They climbed to the tops of the trees to heal their wounds and greet the rising sun. And they laughed, and laughed, and laughed.


I'm falling. Falling towards the massive Oni. The stench is everywhere, and I can feel my flesh writhing beneath its influence. Una's power fights its influence, but only just.

It's different this time.

Black tentacles pulse from the bodies of a hundred twisted, bloated, cancerous Goshi soldiers, drawing... something out of them. I devour their minds. Their psychic potential gutters out like a candle in a hurricane, and my mind expands. Power rushes through me, and the hunger that's been my companion ever since I first used this power is sated. For the moment.

It feels different. Channels of power. Before, I'd had all this power in me but no way to use it. Now...

My mind expands. First Minds, but it expands. The walls come down, and I can feel them all. So many minds. So very many minds. This Goshi soldier, that Goshi soldier, Ichirou, Kiyoshi, Moses, the half-Cheldrun child within Zippora, Aimi, this refugee, that refugee, Biomades, Allskins, Mechified, on and on and on, a flood of sensation both familiar and utterly alien that defies description.

I lose myself in the flood. I is no longer a relevant term. Over a thousand minds are united in this body, and for one glorious moment, I am.

... I come back to awareness. I'm not sure how much time has passed, but I know that I am Rei, and the sense of individual identity seems like a loss. They're still there, the minds of a thousand others, but I'm filtering the sensations more... efficiently.

I'm still falling. The entire experience took but a few seconds.

The Oni is dead. Cut down by Kiyoshi, Una, Moses, and High Dive. It's exploded into slime, and raining down on the battlefield. We're two hundred meters up.

Kiyoshi is falling.
Moses is falling.

Normally, I'd reach for Kiyoshi, but it feels different this time.
I feel... powerful.

I reach out with my mind, and Moses, weighing half a ton as he does, floats to the ground as gently as a feather.

I put him on the foremost tank in the column.

Shuddering and filled with power, I descend. And below me, Kiyoshi, Una, and High Dive slice their way through an entire Goshi division like the gods they are.

Starbreeze Canyon

Bullets rained from the sky without ceasing.

A more reflective person might have marveled that there was enough lead in the world to make that much ammunition, but it never occurred to Matthew. Matthew was too busy keeping his soldiers alive to ask abstract questions. Ducking from bunker to bunker he cheered the troops in person. He showed green recruits how to aim their rifles. He helped technicians fix a machine gun that was jammed. He made promises he had no idea how to keep, like - "we'll get out of this alive!" and "just a few more hours and they'll back off." No one believed him for a minute, not even himself, but it still felt like he had to say it.

He'd been given charge of the smallest force of soldiers. Small. Heh. Just over half a million infantry and a dozen pieces of artillery were assigned to the defense of Starbreeze Canyon. Even though he tried, he couldn't possibly cheer on that many soldiers face to face. So he used his radio. Frequently news reached him too late for anything to be done about it. His inexperience in military engagements showed through at times. He regretted accepting the commission, but no one else had stepped forward and General Daitokuji seemed to trust him. Embarrassingly, his soldiers seemed to trust him too. Perhaps they knew how unfit he was for leadership, but given the circumstances...

Our only choice is trust in times like these.

His only victory had been when the eyeless Zipsum started sabotaging the artillery. He saw one speeding by. He saw its bloody eye sockets. It's just like Ben Hamor, he thought. He remembered that battle. He remembered being inspired by Moses then. More importantly he realized what they were and the kind of threat they posed. So he unhesitatingly had everyone direct their fire at the Zipsum until they stopped coming. "Even when they fall down, keep shooting until they are bloody smears, or they'll get back up." When reports came through that both General Sousauryuko's artillery and General Daitokuji's artillery had been decimated by the Zipsum attacks there were plenty of congratulations heaped on his shoulders, but it was short lived.

Goshi's army came by the millions. 120 divisions, he was told fell on his position. It hardly mattered what the number was. It was effectively infinite. The artillery fired every shell they had to fire and when nothing was left they started firing shrapnel and stones. The bunkers collapsed under armored onslaught like so much cardboard. The soldiers Matthew had been rallying that morning were dead by evening. Still the enemy pressed on.

Matthew rallied the survivors around his command center in the rearmost bunkers on this front. They fought hard, Karia bless them. His own arm gave out mechanical squeals of protest from constantly throwing grenades. They fought like the fate of the world depended on them, even while Matthew desperately hoped it did not.

Tanks were soon rolling over their position, the 53rd Armored Division "The Steel Pigs". Climbing out of foxholes demolition specialists got under the tanks and attached charges. It was a sight of rare beauty to watch a tank liftoff like a hippopotamus trying to catch the moon. But there would never be enough charges to take care of all the tanks. A nearby whistle and a thunderous crack told Matthew that another bunker had collapsed, likely killing all the soldiers inside.

Night falling was a welcome advantage for the defenders. Though the fighting never ceased, it nevertheless became harder for the foe to pick out targets. Matthew had his teams clearing rubble filled tunnels and putting them to good use, changing positions to confuse the enemy, desperately striving to hold their toenails on that last inch of ground, to keep Goshi out of the canyon. That was the mission. Keep them out. As long as possible. If Goshi got into Starbreeze Canyon they could cut off the retreat of the main Stardown Defense Force. It would mean a rout and that would mean artillery bombarding the refugees sooner rather than later.

A division of infantry charged his position. Many of them were cut down by the machine guns, but soon enough they were forcing their way into the bunker. Muzzle flashes illumined the fight like thousands of strobe lights. Matthew buried his fist in an armored rib cage, blades twisting out of spring loaded compartments in his forearm. He didn't watch his opponent die, he moved to the next. He felt a sting in his neck as a bullet grazed him. The head of a man he'd met this morning exploded in gore behind him. That man had children in the refugee camps.

Who can say how long he waged that fight? It seemed as if they would never cease pouring into the bunkers. Matthew lost the use of his left arm from some explosion, but he was killing well enough with only the right. Everywhere he turned there were more of them, and every time he turned there were fewer of his own men fighting with him. In the smoke and blood he began to wonder if he was killing the same men over and over, so indistinguishable were they. A tracer round flashed past his nostrils just as he crushed the throat of another invader and in the light he saw the man for what he was. An Eyeless. Around him the dead were standing up and rejoining the fight.

Finally a voice called him out of his shock. "Retreat!" it said, "We must retreat commander, to the Canyon..."

Matthew knew he was right. He scrambled for the radio, drilling an Eyeless in his way. He screamed the retreat into the receiver like a frightened child and followed his men out of the bunker into the night.

Flares were being launched into the air to light up the sky so the artillery could continue their bombardment. The battlefield was a sea of writhing dead, and from their grasp a handful a terrified and wounded veterans sprinted toward the canyon. Matthew watched his troops, this bedragled and shit-scared group of survivors flee carelessly ahead of him. He watched in sorrow and empathy as they wailed and pissed themselves, firing blindly behind them to discourage pursuit. Then he watched with awe and pride as they came to their senses and remembered to follow a path that would avoid the mines they had placed. He called after them encouragingly, not sure where he found the strength inside himself, as they formed up in ranks at the canyon entrance. They remembered their duty. They remembered what was at stake, and Matthew remembered too. They must try, somehow, to find the strength...

As Matthew screamed these words of courage to the troops and allowed the fragile spark of hope to glow in his chest he was interrupted by the looks of shock on their faces. They pointed back to the battlefield, and he turned to look.

In the center of the field something enormous had risen. Rough hewn, like it had wrenched itself out of the stony ground, it easily spanned two hundred meters and stretched half that height toward the stars. It walked on six armored legs and swept the earth before it with enormous pincers. Where it went the ground trembled and all life was corrupted and died. Tumors spread along the surface of Karia herself and the spark of hope was extinguished.

Weeping, Matthew sent word to General Daitokuji that Starbreeze Canyon was lost.

Elder Moon Goes To War

The dome of the Grand Chantry Council Chambers glistened in the sunlight. Within, the council deliberated Elder Moon's proposal.

"Her plan would constitute a violation of our oath to defend the forests! How can we protect this old growth if we are decimated by a foolish quest?" Elder Suburi of the Choir of the Flora spewed his words with vehemence.

"I assiduously disagree, with Elder Suburi," the voice of Elder Mandrake of the Choir of the Earth came from the opposite side of the chamber. "Defending the forests by his definition means endlessly tending this garden and avoiding any conflict. I say Elder Moon has finally hit upon the right idea here. The Cheldrun are a grave threat to the survival of all Karians. If there is a war to be fought against them, I say we fight!"

Elder Jethro registered his agreement, "My daughter is very likely in the midst of that war, I cannot abide those who would tell me to sit back and do nothing."

Elders Haku and Mora of the Choirs of Fire and Fauna respectively snorted in disgust. "You call the work of our people, the labor of uncovering the lore of the Dusk Sages, the sacred duty of our guardians, our oath to the forests and everything that has mattered to every Prill for the past two centuries nothing?! You have contracted the same madness as Elder Moon here," they gestured to Moon who had remained kneeling in the center of the chamber, head bowed this entire time.

Before she could respond Elder Suburi was upon her chastising her with harsh language that raised her hackles. "It is indeed a madness that has afflicted our sister Moon. Everyone witnessed her decline, and her irrational behavior at the death of Mokuzai. Flaunting our customs, after many weeks since Mokuzai was reunited with the forest, she continues to wear her mourning gown and to ignore her responsibilities as an Elder. Were it not for the respect she is owed for her years of service, the Choir of the Sky would long ago have stripped her of her tails and sent her into retirement. She is past all usefulness as a leader, and now she comes in here with this proposal that would destroy our peace..."

Elder Moon gave Elder Suburi a look that caused him to stop short, sputtering and unable to speak. Slowly she rose to her feet, and in a voice like gravel she said, "There is no peace." Her words echoed around the chamber, and no one dared break the silence that followed.

Elder Moon looked around at her peers, eyes brimming with tears, and began to sing. It was a song all of them knew. A song about young lovers. A song written by a great Prill composer so many centuries ago that he was more myth than history. A song which every Prill agreed defined them, and defined love. A true song.

In the song a pair of fosterlings fall in love. They love each other with such a passion that even when they are subsequently fostered out to separate choirs they cannot think of anything else. They sing for one another across the distance, a sad song of loneliness. The two grow up and though their love for one another never wanes they discover different talents in themselves. They end up committing to separate choirs. The young man is gifted with a talent for Dusk Sage lore and he commits himself to uncovering a secret never imagined by any choir. Unfortunately an envious rival kills him before he ever finds what he was seeking. The young woman, stricken by her loss defies the conventions of her people. She abandons her choir and journeys to the place where the young man lived. While the guardians of tradition try to prevent her she takes up his work. Both choirs, offended by her disregard for custom, trap her in her den without food. Ignoring her hunger she works day and night on the lore her lover left behind and just before she starves to death, she succeeds. She comes out of the den and confronts her opponents. She has composed a new song. As she dies she sings it to them. It is the song of love.

Silence reigned for several minutes after Elder Moon finished singing.

Then, tears streaming down her face, she said, "Mokuzai never solved the Riddle of Peace. I mean to finish his work for him."

Elder Suburi, his face flushed, fell to his knees, "And we will follow you until you have."

Episode 36: The Foe from Beyond the Stars

I see light flashing through my closed green green greengreengreen... ...and this is what I remember, before it all goes backwards.

The day is bright and clear, and we can all see the Varan getting larger and larger, trailing smoke and flames that blot out the sun, a huge burning hulk falling out of the sky. People shout that Una is falling too. Kiyoshi runs forward to help people out of the forward bunker. I run after him when I get my feet moving again - they're rooted there while I gape up at the Varan like an idiot. Its like a moon crash-landing on a city. It boggles the mind, is bigger than words. As it falls, it pushes air out of the way and there is a sound like a tornado coming closer.

Then it lands. Before I can even think about it, a steel dome erupts out of my back, extending up and around Kiyoshi and me. The sounds of the crash, and a wave of heat, crash around us, and then we're inside a vast steel bell, ringing and ringing as tons of burning slag hit it...and then the heat bombs start going off...

I realize that we'll have to dig out, or else we'll be buried under the burning wreckage of an airship the size of a few city blocks. I hope...I hope Una is alive.

Kiyoshi and I don't talk about it.

We hear the sounds of artillery above us, and then the rumbling of tanks from a distance, shaking the walls of the tunnel I'm digging to get us out. I hope I'm going the right way. If not...we'll come up in the middle of what sounds like a tromping mob of Goshi soldiers. Not talking about Una makes me think about her. I can't believe she brought down an airship. Well, no, I can, now that I think of it. And now we have the only airship that we know of. Vorax 1, Varan 0. Game point.

I dig up carefully, listening, having Kiyoshi listen because I miss a lot of things. Then we come up and look - we can see the edge of an army that covers everything to the horizon. In the other direction, we see our own bunkers. We make a break for it.

Everyone thought we were dead - and we will be unless we do something about those soldiers.

As they come in, I block off a passage with some soldiers behind me. We've set up some barriers to hide behind, but I'm bulletproof, and all they brought to this fight were bullets. That was a bad move.

Things turn against us until Rei...I panic for a second, thinking that she's going to become an Oni, that someone's killed her. I am Rei-Oni, the One Who Listens to My Kyo-Tee-Shee Too Damn Much. But no. The tentacles are hundreds of meters of fire, and she incinerates (a new word I learned) the entire forward force of Goshi's soldiers, leaving behind glass - how did the glass get there? Oh, right, the heat - and piles of ashes.

Goshi stops the push. Maybe they're starting to re-think things.

Una and Rei end up in the infirmary again. I wish Zipporah would rest, but I know that's not going to happen. Una mentions having been shot by tanks twice so far today. It's the kind of thing we don't blink at much, but others in the infirmary just stare. Its still weird to be stared at like that.

As the second surge is coming, it comes through the lines, there are Zipsum attacking our artillery. I can't believe it. They are still going to try to kill us. And HighDive...I dunno. We're arguing, and then the bombardment of our bunker starts.

I'm wiping grime off myself and getting ready to fight again when a young Mechified says something over the din of artillery as he passes us with a crate of fresh rounds. About how it's good that there are people like us, that it gives him hope. He looks familiar, but we've all got so much more to think about...

Shortly afterwards there's a bang, and a crate bounces past us trailing smoke. Cog! Cog? Could it have been?...Rei summons a wall of burning darkness, and the army halts in front of it. They try to march through and soon realize that they just burn when they do, so some try to go around. We just shower them with bullets through the barrier, and focus our defense on the flanks. They pile up and get confused, the march stopping at the front but it takes a long time to get orders all the way back. They're packed in, milling around, taking cover...and then the order comes to show Goshi my little surprise. Charges in the bunkers and tunnels beneath the burned glass that Goshi's lines are marching over just that moment go off, exploding and tearing through their soldiers and tanks with waves of glass and stone and dirt. Then we all come up, charging when the wall falls, and tear into them. Rei rips up the brains of the tank operators. The fight goes on, once its won. Goshi retreats again, but not far enough.

A Zipsum messenger comes to the command center. He reports - the High King of the Gogajin - Grim! - is charging the center of Goshi's army with a Gogajin army. He calls on all brave hearts to join the battle, and to meet him in the middle.

Finally, some sensible damn Karians.

I push. I feel it tipping. We need to go now. We have the Sennin. Una destroyed the Varan, the only thing keeping us grounded and pinned down. We need to go now! I call for command to pack the Sennin as full of tough bastards as they can. We pack into the ship. As we're getting ready, I see Zipporah restocking the supplies of the Sennin's infirmary...and my heart stops. I take a deep breath, walk into the infirmary, and close the door.

It's not for me, or for you, but for the one who's coming soon now. I know, I know you would. Yes, I'll see you soon...I lie. I guess she knows, but she doesn't say much more after that. What do you say, standing in an infirmary that still has blood stains from our friends, still smells like burned flesh; outside you can hear soldiers climbing aboard and joking to calm themselves down, getting quiet when Varissa joins them, purring in a scary way.

You say...goodbye for now.

Aimi flies us out to the center of the Goshi line - just outside the barrier-dome. We come in hot, skimming over the army, dodging bursts of deadly smoke and shrapnel. Una has another gift - she closes her eyes, and the entire army of the Gogajin begins shining. I also see, from the blue light, small, darting figures moving through the opposite side of the Goshi army - Zipsum! Ha! It worked! They bloody listened! It's a miracle that's on par with Rei destroying a whole town. Una, Sloan, HighDive, Varissa - the Karians all seem to be glowing, fierce, larger than life.

We have to jump out because we can't land. I want to make a good first impression, so I jump out a little early, try to time it right, and shatter the wall of one of the compounds, shaking it so that it splinters apart, killing whoever is inside, cracking the ground, collapsing tunnels beneath. I let the ground shake until the others start landing in a far courtyard. We are Heroes of Karia, and we are coming for you.

We take the courtyard easily. The Hei-Shi try to ambush us, but they're as useless as the bullets were. You're running out of ways to stop us. We go down, following Kiyoshi, to the control center for the whole army - there are four dead bodies - one of them is Rain. Yes, miss Executor, you were wrong the whole time, and now you'll never get the chance to be wrong again. Everything is cut up, and I think of Nero and his knives. Then the room starts coming apart, and we have to get out of there fast. We come up, and almost bump into someone who seems familiar for the second I have to think. He's dressed like a scientist, and has these eyes...he says:

"Ah, good, you're all here. That will save having to hunt you down."

Get in line, whoever you are.

Everything goes insane. I grab him, and I'm on fire, and burning him, but not enough. Una is shouting for me to get out of the way. Kiyoshi attacks, and slams us through wall after wall as he cuts into the Scientist. I can barely hold on. He unravels me, my Kata taking some of it, some of it I can shrug off, but not enough for another one. Kiyoshi attacks again. I squirm out of the way of the unraveling. Again. Then he catches me, and I feel myself coming apart like I'm an uncoiling spring. There's more shouting, then a huge explosion and a rush of wind escaping the chamber, which might be part of the dream I'm having...

I see light flashing through my closed green green greengreengreen... ...and this is what I remember, before it all goes backwards...