Fanfiction: Wraith of Gaia 6
Chaine Admiros scrutinized the men he had called for the emergency war council. To his immediate right was Goran Menos, the captain of Choras City's militia. Goran was an imposing figure, over two meters tall and weighing over 120 kilograms, necessary for keeping noncommissioned soldiers in line. To Chaine's left was Niran Menos, the commander of Choras' standing army and head of intelligence. Unlike Goran, Niran cut a short, unthreatening figure, relying instead on his shrewd tactical skills to inspire trust in Choras' legions of commissioned soldiers.
The table at which they were sitting had two more chairs opposite Chaine. One of which was never filled; it was reserved for the ambassador from the Mystic League, Slash VII, a man who insisted on always standing, ready for battle at a moment's notice. Slash looked like an old, but fit, human soldier decked out in light, silver armor, but, as a mystic, his appearance told nothing of his actual age or abilities. He was, in actuality, less than twenty years old, and already the best swordsman in the Mystic League -- not a major accomplishment given the mystics' preference for magic over martial arts.
The other chair was never filled at the time a meeting was scheduled to start. Its occupant, Dakris Encephos, was the head of Choras' Department of Magical and Scientific Research. He made a point of never stopping in the middle of an experiment, and this, combined with his claims to always be doing one experiment or another, gave him his tendency to be irritatingly late to any official meeting. His exploits in new technology kept him just on the good side of Chaine, so this fault was often overlooked.
As soon as Dakris walked through the door, Chaine went ahead with the agenda. "Alright, men. The situation is getting dire; this is the second consecutive night we've been assaulted by zombies. Goran, status of your troops?"
"None," Goran growled.
"What do you mean, 'None'?" Chaine snapped.
"There are no troops!" Goran shot back. "They all died defending the city last night."
"If all the troops are dead, how the hell did we win?" Chaine demanded.
"I took out the last zombie at the south gate personally," Goran said. "I have no idea how the east gate was held."
"I can field that one, sir," Niran cut in. "Witnesses report something of a-- uh-- 'miracle,' sir. Apparently, Maria Angelus returned and did battle with a demon by the east gate. In the wake of the battle, the zombies were wiped out."
"What!?" Dakris interjected. "That's impossible! There's no way Maria Angelus could return!"
"That's why they're calling it a 'miracle,'" Niran said in a patronizing tone. "They're saying she descended from heaven to save us in our time of need -- as the story goes at least, I have doubts myself."
"No, no!" Dakris volleyed. "You're missing the point. She can't return from heaven be-"
"Dakris!" Chaine snapped, cutting him off with a furious glare. "Niran, what happened to the demon?"
"No one stayed around long enough to find out, sir," Niran said. "I have received reports, however, that a recently captured mugger claims to have seen a demon matching these reports a few hours before the attack. He said that the demon had taken human form and provided us with a description of it."
"Alright then," Chaine said. "Alert your men to the possibility of a demon loose in the city and give them the description."
"Already done, sir," Niran replied.
"Good," Chaine said. "But, this still leaves us with the problem of the zombies. We have no reason to believe they won't be coming back tonight." He turned to Slash. "Slash, can we expect any help from the Mystic League?"
"The Mystic League has our own problems," Slash replied haughtily. "We're facing natural disasters and a wave of disappearances. We'd be asking you for help if you weren't even worse off."
Chaine sighed. "It would seem we have no choice but use the Soul Cannon. Niran, have you determined the zombies' point of origin?"
"Yes," Niran answered. Chaine noted Niran's disapproving gaze. Niran had made no effort to hide his disdain for the Soul Cannon. "As suspected, it's the Northern Ruins."
"Good. Dakris, what's the status on the Soul Cannon?"
"It's only at 25% power," Dakris replied. "Which, I must point out, is significantly better than we expected. After our shot at Truce Base last week, we'd expected it would take another year to charge it up fully, but we've been rather fortunate."
"Fortunate!?" Niran challenged. "That's thirteen extractions in one week!"
"So?" Dakris retorted. "They were all judged unredeemable."
"Aren't you getting suspicious, though, that every criminal that came in during the last week was unredeemable?"
"That just means your troops are doing the job right! You should be proud!"
"Enough!" Chaine cut in. "Dakris, what will it take to charge it by tonight?"
"We could empty the prisons," Dakris said with a shrug.
"But, they've all either been judged redeemable or are in for petty crimes," Niran pointed out.
"So?" Dakris said. "We judge 'em again. People have been known to change. Besides, if our track record keeps up, we'll have no problem."
"No," Chaine said before the shocked Niran could reply. "Our policy is clear: We judge them once, and go by that result unless they commit a second offense after release. What else can we do?"
"If Niran's troops can manage to capture it," Dakris said, "the demon could provide us with a tremendous amount of soul energy."
"And what if it isn't around anymore?" said Chaine.
The room was quiet until Slash cleared his throat, "If you'll allow me--"
"Yes, go ahead,"
"The Mystic League has long used an alternative source of soul energy. It's not quite as potent as human, but it's much more abundant. In fact, I'm surprised you didn't try this first."
- * *
Rianna took a deep breath, steeling herself. She'd calmed down since her first talk with Steena, but the situation was still wearing on her. Even if, as Steena had just explained to her, this man wasn't really Torin, he still looked exactly like him, and Rianna was still unsettled by the reminder.
As soon as she caught a glimpse of him through the doorway, she lost her nerve. She turned back to the bartender -- a voluptuous woman who made every effort to advertise the fact in hopes of drawing in male customers -- and ordered another beer. You're just making excuses not to look at him, Rianna admonished herself. You'll have to eventually.
She heard someone sitting down beside her as she took her beer. Neither said anything as she took a gulp. This is getting ridiculous! At least say something to him. She strained to come up with a joke to cover her discomfort, but all she managed was a weak "Hi."
As she turned even further away to hide her blush, she heard the man -- Steena had called him "Backer" -- say to her, "Hello, Rianna. Is there any way I can make this easier for you?"
Rianna dropped her head to the bar and said with a sigh, "No, I have to face this myself. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to look at you, even if you do look like my dead fiancÃ©. I'm just being childish. I want to get over this stupid hang-up."
"Well, if you want to get over it, just do it. You won't end up regretting it. Stop obsessing over it." His voice was like Torin's, but the inflections were different. His enunciation was more precise, and his voice had a soothing quality that Torin's had lacked.
Before she could convince herself otherwise, Rianna twirled around to confront the man's visage. The structure of his face was identical to Torin's, but his expression was entirely different from any she had ever seen Torin wear. His eyes lacked the twinkle that had characterized Torin and appeared deeper, with wisdom and gentle understanding for her plight. Torin had always worn a boyish or impish grin, while this man -- Backer. His name's Backer. He's not Torin -- wore a solemn expression, as if silently mourning for something.
He gave a slight smile as she turned to him -- Torin would have grinned wildly -- and said, "Good. That feels better, now, doesn't it?"
"Yeah," Rianna said with relief. "Thank you. I just had to face it. You've got Torin's body, but you're not him; I can tell." He gave a small nod at this. "I know Steena told us about each other, but I still feel we should introduce ourselves." She held out her hand to him. "My name's Rianna."
He took her hand and said, "You can call me Backer. I don't know if that's my real name, but it somehow seems like the right thing to call myself." He took a deep breath and said, "I should apologize for what happened in the cave. I wasn't in a sane state of mind; I acted like a cornered beast."
"No," Rianna replied. "I can't blame you for that. You were just defending yourself. Perhaps a bit too viciously, but we should have expected that from a dragon. Well, even though you weren't-- er, aren't really a dragon, but we didn't know that. I guess I should apologize to you in turn. I'm sorry."
"Thank you," he said. "Let's just put that behind us, alright?"
"That sounds good," Rianna said. "Here, have a beer, on me. To show there are no hard feelings."
She snapped her fingers to get the attention of the bartender, who promptly delivered a beer to Backer.
"Besides, you didn't kill me." She paused for a moment. "What stopped you, if I may ask?"
His eyes caught hers for a moment, and he quickly looked away.
"What?" Rianna said, chuckling. "Now you can't look at me?"
"It's not that," Backer replied. "It's just-- well, first, could you tell me what happened to Torin? Before I came, I mean."
"The other dragon hit him with its breath attack. It probably should have killed him, if it weren't for-- whatever happened with you."
"Alright, then. Rianna, I have to tell you this. Try not to take it the wrong way. Torin's not completely gone. When I inherited his body, one aspect of him stayed: His love for you."
Rianna's eyes widened at this. "You mean--?"
"Yes, I have those feelings, too. When I flinched there, it was because-- I just realized how beautiful you are."
"Thank you," Rianna said, blushing, but holding his gaze. "But--"
"I know," he said, cutting her off. "It's not exactly appropriate. I hardly know you, and vice-versa. I'll just put those feelings aside for now."
Rianna turned back towards the bar at this, trying to decipher the situation and her own feelings towards it. "I-- I--"
"I'm sorry," Backer said. "I understand how this can be confusing for you."
"It's alright," she replied. "I'm still recovering from losing Torin, and-- well, I'm not even sure if I ever loved him. I need time to sort out my feelings."
"And I just made it even more confusing for you," Backer said with a touch of irony. "I'm sorry. I guess we should both take some time to decide how we feel."
"You're right," Rianna replied, turning back to him. She noticed that he'd barely touched his beer, probably no more than a sip or two. "So, what should we do, now?"
"'We'?" Backer said. "You mean you want to continue a relationship with me?"
"Well, not a romantic relationship," Rianna said. "At least, not yet. I mean, there are always possibilities. Not that I'm committing to anything." She cut herself off, took a breath, and continued. "But, there's something going wrong in the world, and something tells me that you're here to help, and I'm not going to let you save the world yourself."
He gave her a questioning look at this, then suddenly winced in pain. "What did you say this drink was?"
"It's just beer," Rianna told him. "You've never had any before?"
"Not that I can remember," he said. "What's in it?"
"Well, alcohol," Rianna said. Backer had started swaying as if drunk. "It acts as a depressant, but only in high doses. It should have no effect from a few sips."
The doors to the bar slammed open as a pair of soldiers rushed in with a civilian in tow. The civilian pointed to Backer and said, "That's him! That's the demon!" The soldiers started making their way over to where Rianna and Backer were sitting.
"What!? No!" Rianna shouted. By this point, Backer had slumped forward onto the bar. Rianna wondered what could have happened; the timing was too coincidental. Has he been poisoned? "Backer! Backer! Get up! Damnit!"
One of the soldiers shoved her away from Backer and said, "Don't interfere with us, miss. This man has been identified as being a demon in disguise. We'll be taking him into custody, now."
Rianna protested, "Wait, no! You don't understand!" but the soldiers paid her no attention as they hauled away Backer's limp form. Rianna briefly considered stopping them by force, but that would have been suicide. Even if she'd succeeded, the rest of Choras' police force would have gone after her.
She watched silently as they carried him out the door. There was only one place they'd take him: the Great Court, the headquarters of Choras' military and also where criminals were taken for "Judgment." As a member of Larin's militia, she might be able to get in, and then break him out. Unless he's extracted first-- No! He'll have to be redeemable. There's no way he's evil.