by Mark Andron and Time Lady
Several hours later, Keisai finds himself and Toran summoned to the shrine of Bastet by the high priestess. Toran is still asleep, so Keisai does not wake him. He goes to the shrine, where he finds Ayla, King Adama, Queen Girene, and the high priestess. “Thank you for coming. I wish we could be together under more favorable circumstances...,” says the high priestess.
Meanwhile, Toran awakes in his room.... “Where...” He looks around. “Oh. They must have brought me here.” Toran reaches to pick up his sword, and then draws it out of his sheath. “Now... now I intend to keep my vows, Taygana, not like before.”
At the shrine of Bastet the high priestess speaks: “When I first saw Taygana upon her arrival at the temple, I felt something was wrong. I spoke with her, then offered prayers to Bastet....”
Elsewhere... Toran checks his armor. Although banged up, it is still intact. After tightening the fittings of his armor, he straps his scabbard onto his waist. He picks up his sword and checks its edge. He decides that for its purposes that it will do for now. He sheathes his sword, then reaches to grasp his locket. Upon taking empty space into his hand, he remembers, he gave it to Taygana. He looks outside his room, and stealthily walks along the hallways.
The high priestess continues. “The goddess herself revealed the following to me in a dream,” begins the high priestess. Smoke forms above the brazier in front of the high priestess. Images appear in the smoke. “In the days before cat-kind was created by the great mother Bastet, our ancestral cats resided within the ancient temples of Bastet in Egypt.” A hazy image forms of two cats, one large and white, the other small and black. “Two of their number attracted Bastet’s attention. These two became inseparable mates, even after death. Their spirits were joined within the spiritual realm, where those spirits who travel the ninefold path await rebirth.” Another image appears, this one of two misty, indistinct figures. “They were separated, the female to be born to a queen, the male to a human woman seduced by a cat man. The male was abandoned on the steps of the temple of Pharangese. The female was born with a twin. Each was predestined to a certain role. Yet an inattentive nurse and a harried midwife mixed up the girls.”
“You mean...” begins Queen Girene in astonishment.
“Taygana should have been entered into service at the temple of Bastet, while Kiyomi would have been betrothed to Prince Zaden. Toran would have been summoned to escort Princess Kiyomi to Fan-ro. He would have met Taygana. When their services to their respective temples ended, Toran and Taygana would have done all they could to be united,” explains the high priestess.
“But the switch changed all that...” says the king.
“The Goddess planned to rectify it,” continues the high priestess. The image shifts again, following the high priestess’ words. The high priestess outlines what had been Toran’s plan. King Adama watches, unsure of how to react. Though amazed at how thoroughly the high priestess knows the details of the plan, Keisai fidgets uncomfortably. The high priestess glances at him from time to time knowingly, yet nothing of his planned part appears in the revelations. He breathes a silent prayer of thanks as the high priestess continues. “In the end, all would have met the goddess’ designs.”
“Then how does the goddess account for Verlayne’s attack?” inquires Ayla. The image shifts to a scene recognized by Keisai... that of an elder in service of the temple of Pharangese. The elder’s face is unclear.
“Some have been seduced by dark forces... those forces would see the end of cat-kind,” says the high priestess.
Keisai mutters in a shocked whisper: “It can not be...”
“The offer of power corrupts many,” says Ayla.
Finally the smoke dissipates. All who have listened sit with heavy hearts. The high priestess notices Toran’s absence. “Where is Toran?” she asks. “He should have been here to hear this.”
“He was still distraught at the princess’ death. He refused to leave the side of her casket. I cast a sleep spell upon him. Toran should be waking around now,” says Ayla.
“He blames himself for the loss of the princess,” adds Keisai.
“Toran is blameless. He followed his heart, which was guided by Bastet, Misra, and Pharangese. The blame lies with the one who betrayed the plans to Verlayne.” The high priestess looks pointedly at the king and Ayla. “The blame also resides in the two people who would force Princess Taygana into this marriage.”
“WHAT?!?” exclaims Ayla.
King Adama is outraged. “How dare you?!?”
“Did you even bother to allow Princes Taygana and Prince Zaden to meet face to face prior to their betrothal?” the high priestess asks sharply. “A period of courtship might have avoided much heartbreak, as the two involved would have known that their destined unions lay elsewhere.” Her eyes narrow. “If you have noticed, since Prince Zaden arrived to pay his respects, he has been spending most of his time in the company of Princess Kiyomi.”
“I think this will be enough for now. I wish to be alone.” The king stands and stiffly walks out of the room. He goes to the hall where Taygana’s body lies in state. A piece of glass allows viewing of her face. A tear rolls down the king’s cheek as he looks at her. “My child... what have I done...?” he murmurs weakly.
Back in the room, Queen Girene says “Forgive us, your worship. When Taygana protested, I should have supported her.”
“What’s done is done. Right now, you have another daughter to attend to,” replies the high priestess.
“Yes...,” says the queen. “I should talk with Kiyomi. Thank you, your worship.”
Queen Girene leaves in search of her eldest surviving daughter. The high priestess turns to Ayla. “How much longer will Toran sleep?” inquires the high priestess.
“The spell should have worn off by now. He may or may not be awake.”
“Keisai, could you please see if Toran is awake? I would like to speak with him,” says the high priestess.
“Yes, your worship.” His heart heavy in lieu of the high priestess’ revelations, Keisai goes to the room where Toran was sleeping. He knocks. The door swings open. “Toran?” Keisai opens the door. Toran is gone. So is his armor, sword, and packs. “No... he can not have....” Running, Keisai returns to Ayla and the high priestess. “Toran is missing! I fear he has gone after Verlayne!”
“Are you certain?” asks the high priestess.
“His weapons are gone,” replies Keisai.
“The *fool*...,” Ayla thunders angrily. “We must go after him!”
“I will inform the king and queen of your departure,” offers the high priestess.
Ayla turns to Keisai. “Come, we must waste no time!” Practically at a run, Keisai and Ayla go to the stables. A human is grooming a horse. “You! Has the warrior Toran taken a horse?”
The groom bows nervously. “Yes, my lady.”
“How long ago?” asks Keisai.
“Nearly three hours, sir.”
“He is very strong willed, for the sleep spell to have worn of so early...,” mutters Ayla. She turns to the groom. “Saddle up two of the swiftest steeds!” Then she says to Keisai. “We must go after Toran at once! He stands little chance on his own against Verlayne.”
“What about the spells you used to speed up the horses before?” inquires Keisai.
“With the lead Toran has, we may not overtake him. We can only hope to meet up with him.”
Hours later, in Verlayne’s keep. Certain he knows his evil spell by heart, Verlayne summons his cloak. Magically the cloak floats off a hook and fastens around his neck. “There are plenty of strong spirited humans in the Amazon village. It should take little time to find a suitable... subject.” One of his demonic creatures runs in. It chatters frantically. “What?!?”
Verlayne goes to an elaborate mirror hanging on his wall. He murmurs an incantation while sketching arcane symbols on the mirror’s surface. A picture appears. Verlayne sees Toran, stealthily creeping down a corridor. “How convenient... I need not travel after all...” Unaware that Toran is a half breed, Verlayne observes him carefully. “Yes... very fitting that one of the ones responsible for the destruction of my crystal should become the essence of a new, more powerful crystal...” Verlayne speaks to the creature. “Let him come. Tell your brethren to keep of out the warrior’s way. I will deal with him personally.” The creature runs off. Verlayne starts preparing for Toran’s arrival.
Toran can feel the sword tremble in his hand as he walks down the dark hallways of Verlayne’s keep. He feels evil here, an evil the chills the depths of his soul. His free hand touches the wall off to his side as he walks onward, unsure of where he is going, but sure of what he is to do. Verlayne watches Toran’s progress in his mirror. From time to time, one of his creatures skitters through the hall, attracting Toran in that direction.
“This is wrong,” Toran thinks. “Where are the legions of hellspawn?” It finally hits him. “He wants me to go to him.” He adjusts the grip on his sword. “Very well. I will oblige him.”
Eyes glowing, Verlayne watches. “Soon,” he whispers. “Very soon.”
A slight glow catches Toran’s sight. He slowly approaches it, but it moves away from him, but not out of eyesight. “His invitation.” He thinks. His eyes narrows as he raises his sword. “I accept.”
“The warrior’s aura is strong,” thinks Verlayne. “His soul will create a powerful replacement for my power crystal.”
Slowly, Toran plays catch up with the moving light, making sure that he is not ambushed. The glimmer from the light reflects of his sword and onto the walls. Finally, the light stops moving as he approaches. He grasps the empty space where his pendant once hung, and then steps forward. Verlayne waits. One more floor, and Toran will be in Verlayne’s study. He does not wait long. Toran quickly arrives at the entrance to the study, sword in ready position, and vengeance in his eyes.
“Welcome warrior. I admire your bravery. Few would dare to approach me on their own.” Toran simply glares at him as he lowers the tip of his sword to point at him. “Did you want to chat, or should we get right down to business?” asks the wizard in a mocking tone. Toran takes one step forward. “Very well,” says Verlayne. “Though it is so rare I have someone to talk to. My... pets... are rather poor conversationalists.” Toran closes his eyes. He remembers Taygana one more time, thinking that if she cannot live, then neither shall the one responsible for her death. Smiling malevolently, Verlayne begins his incantation.
Quickly, Toran’s eyes flash open as he lunges forward, swinging his sword. Verlayne gestures, immobilizing Toran. “You fool,” sneers Verlayne. “You helped my bitch sister destroy my crystal... so your soul shall replace it.” Verlayne laughs maniacally.
An animal growl escape Toran’s lips. “I ... will not ... rest ...” He strains, trying to move his arms. “...until... your soul ... rots upon....” He feels them move slightly. “my .... SWORD!!” he cries out in agony as he feels them move, as he feels like he is ripping his arms out of his sockets. Verlayne ignores Toran as he begins casting his spell. Toran still cannot move his legs. “Honorless bastard.” he mutters.
Outside, Ayla and Keisai arrive at the keep. They cautiously enter and find Verlayne’s creatures still under orders to stay out of the way. “A trap?” whispers Keisai.
“Most likely for Toran. Come, we must not lose time,” returns Ayla. “I can sense my bastard brother casting something powerful.” A minor spell creates a path towards Verlayne.
Meanwhile, Verlayne’s spell begins to draw Toran towards him. “You want to know why I am here, you bastard?” Toran tries to hold back the pain of moving his arms, trying to bring his sword into an attack position.
Keisai and Ayla rush towards their position while Verlayne continues his incantation. More than the pain of attempting to move his arms, Toran begins to experience a strange agony ripping into his very soul.
“I ... will tell you....” He fights to keep himself from screaming in sheer agony with the ripping of his soul. . “You ... killed the one ... I .... I .....love....” Heedless of Toran’s words, Verlayne continues. Toran’s words are meaningless as the wizard continues his demonic spell. “You .... killed Taygana.... and I swear... I will ..... kill you!” The twisting pain his soul feels forces him to cry out, louder than ever before
“That sound... Toran!” says Keisai. “We must hurry,” returns Ayla. They continue down the hall.
Toran feels his physical body begin to be dragged towards Verlayne. He tries to move his legs again but finds they are still immobilized. He cries out in pain again as he ready his sword, pointing it at Verlayne. It is the only thing he can do. Verlayne is so embroiled in casting his spell that he does not notice Toran’s drawn sword.
“Damn it Toran, why the hell did you do this,” mutters Keisai, but his words seem to echo throughout the halls.
Toran feels another wave of excruciating pain, this time starting at the base of his legs. Looking down, he sees crystal forming around his legs. It feels as cold as death. He steadies his sword. “Taygana... when I die, know that I will see you again... and that I love you.” He closes his eyes as the crystal continues its upward crawl up his body.
Ayla’s eyes widen. “Forbidden... the bastard is using a forbidden spell!” she exclaims. Keisai suddenly finds it difficult to catch up with her.
“Damn it woman, don’t rush in! It may be a trap!” Keisai struggles to ready his bow while trying to catch up to Ayla.
“He will not detect us... all of his attention is on Toran!”
“Pharangese protect him then....”
As they draw closer, Ayla feels a chill at the sound of Verlayne’s incantation.
The crystal growth around Toran stops around his waist, and he stops being dragged towards Verlayne. The crystal then forms branches, creating a small platform between Toran and Verlayne, upon which materializes another crystal. Another crystal like the ones in Verlayne’s headband. he looks at the new crystal before he feels his soul being ripped at again. Again the halls ring out with pure agony. A small grin forms on Verlayne’s lips.
“...Klaatu...” Toran can sense it. The Mother had told him of the sensations of one’s impending death. “...Barrada....”
He made a promise to Taygana, and he failed to keep it. He then made another promise. He intends to keep it. He pulls his sword arm back. “I go to Pharangese. You go to hell, bastard.” With his last erg, he hurls his sword straight at Verlayne. “...Nicto.”
Verlayne opens his eyes in time to see the bright flash of light reflecting off a moving sword. He then feels the cold embrace of steel as it pierces his flesh, travels through him. and protrudes out the other side. “Impaled ... by a kinsman by nature.... at least my half sister is not here to see it,” he thinks.
“By Bastet!” exclaims Ayla as she and Keisai arrive. Verlayne curses her presence, then realizes he has one last chance and two choices... use his remaining energy to create a blast to destroy Ayla and the surrounding area... or use the energy to absorb his soul into his circlet... he has seconds to decide...
“Pharangese preserve us!” Keisai exclaims upon seeing Toran’s lifeless body. “What happened here.”
Verlayne finally decides. “There will always be time,” he thinks.
“Verlayne invoked a.... forbidden spell.” She picks up a small crystal and cradles it in her hands. The sorceress concentrates a moment. “It is as I thought. Verlayne was trying to create a new power crystal... using a human soul. Toran...” A tear rolls down her cheek.
“Goddess.... Such knowledge....” Keisai looks over at the body of Verlayne, and sees Toran’s sword buried to the hilt in his body. “Is he...?”
Ayla nods. “Not even a third level sorcerer, even one versed in the dark arts, can survive cold steel to the heart.” Her attention remains on the crystal. “The bastard imprisoned Toran’s soul within this gem,” she says in a low voice. Keisai closes his eyes and droops his head. Silence pervades the room for a moment. “Since the knowledge of these spells is forbidden... I do not know if there is a way to release him.” She glances distastefully at her half-brother’s body. Dismissively she gestures at it. The body disintegrates into dust. Verlayne’s circlet rolls off under a table. Without it’s owner, the circlet is useless. Ayla leaves it where it is. “I must research at the great archives to see if there is a way to release Toran’s soul.”
Keisai opens his eyes and turn to face her. “No.”
“What do you mean?”
“I will not allow you to do it.”
“Would you doom his soul to be trapped within this crystal for all eternity? Never to be rejoined with the spirit of Princess Taygana?”
“And what do you care of his soul? Or of Taygana’s? No, you only care about yourself, and you wish to make yourself feel better by torturing his soul with your infernal magicks. I will not let you abuse his soul that way.” He goes over to pick up Toran’s sword.
“What do you propose then?”
He starts to hack away at the crystal enveloping Toran’s body. “I will return him to the one place where he truly knew peace. I will return him to his room at the temple.”
Ayla knows that while the crystal is protected, she will still research a way to release Toran’s soul. For now it is probably best to let Keisai have his way. “Do not forget Janos’ betrayal.”
“I will not. And I will not forget Adama’s and your betrayal to Taygana.” He stops his hacking for a moment to rip the pendant off his neck. He tosses it at Ayla’s feet. “This is a reminder for you and Adama. A reminder of the cruelty of your hearts. A reminder that because of you and him, Taygana and Toran are dead, that I will never forgive the both of you for that.” He returns to hacking away at the crystal.
Forcing back an ache unlike any she has known in her 1500 years of life, Ayla sends a simple pulse of energy that shatters the crystal around Toran’s body. Keisai says nothing. He returns the sword to Toran’s sheath before he picks up the body in his arms. Again he faces Ayla. “If you wish to look at your handiwork, you know where he will rest.”
Biting back words of anger, Ayla reaches into cat space and pulls out a small, silk lined box. She places the crystal with Toran’s spirit into the box. “Then you should take this with you,” she says, handing the box to Keisai.
He takes the box and starts to walk away. “Tell Adama I do not recognize him as my king. Show him my former pendant, and tell him all I have told you.” He adjusts his arms to hold Toran easier.
--- a day later, back at the castle ---
“And that was what Keisai said, your majesty,” says Ayla. She looks at King Adama, who stares off into space.
Adama’s fingers roll Keisai’s pendant back and forth. “He did not say... if he would come for me?”
“No, your majesty.” She looks at the king, who’s noble face has become worn and haggard over the last few days. In the back of her mind, she remembers a sight she saw less than an hour ago. Prince Zaden, who had come to pay his respects for his late fiancee, had been spending a lot of time with Princess Kiyomi. The look in the princess’ eyes when she glanced at the prince reminded Ayla of the way Taygana looked at Toran.
Adama’s fist clenches around the pendant. “I ... see.” He rubs his eyes. “This is all I have left of her, Ayla. This pendant is the only thing to remind me of he--- what I did to her.” He hands it to Ayla. “See that ... it is not lost.”
Nodding, Ayla takes the pendant. Bowing to the king, she leaves. Ayla carries the pendant to the royal treasury. As she sets it in a silk-lined box, a tear rolls down her cheek. “How could I have been so blind?” she thinks. “Never again.”
“Never again, Janos!” Keisai’s warcry echoes throughout the halls of the temple of the Pharangese as storms toward Janos’ chambers, slicing anyone who stands in his way. He faces little resistance, as the Days of the Misra are upon the temple. Once at the entrance, he rams the door open and rushes in. There, Janos is busy reveling in the holiday, entertaining three concubines on piles of pillows.
One of the women screams. Janos glances upward at the interruption. “How dare you enter like this!”
“Your duplicity with that bastard Verlayne has been revealed, Janos, but it cost Toran his life in the process.” He tears his shirt far enough to reveal that his pendant is missing.
“A small price,” snorts Janos.
“Because you have not yet paid it.” Keisai points the sword at Janos, whom recognizes it as Toran’s. “Toran followed Pharangese’s way better than you ever could. And because he did, he gave up his vows to....” He pauses.
“You do not know how long I have waited to rid myself of him,” says Janos. “Now all I have to do is get rid of you, and my accession is complete.”
“No, my once and former elder. Today, Pharangese has decreed for you to begin your descension ... into hell itself!” In one swift stroke, the edge of Toran’s sword cuts through the air, and through Janos’ flesh. The concubines cry out again, but this time they run out of the room, leaving Keisai alone with Janos ... and the head that has fallen onto a silver platter filled with fresh fruit. “Toran, Taygana, its finally over. Never again will it happen... never again.” And Keisai weeps.
Suddenly, the images begin to speed by in their minds... more like a slide show rather than a movie. Images of...
... Ellen Dawson, after a long and difficult labor, holds her newborn daughter in her arms while her husband Tom looks on...
...the raking of white tiger’s left foreleg by another tiger, and causing a primal scream to be heard throughout the wilds...
... Twelve year old Tegan begs her parents to send her to private school. They finally agree...
...a white tiger held down on a altar is forced to hear the ritual chanting by strange men in hooded black robes, and a sudden soul-wrenching pain when suddenly one voice inside the tiger’s head becomes two and then becomes one again...
... Tegan is on her own as a Watcher for the first time. Her immortal is locked in combat with another immortal. Tegan witnesses her first quickening as her immortal manages to triumph over his opponent...
.... Tora comes out of a strange pool of water, a man speaking to him and he can’t understand. And then he sees that he is not a tiger anymore...
... For the second time in her career as a Watcher, Tegan sees the immortal she is assigned cut down by another immortal...
.... Tora finds himself connected to a strange machine, and then new thoughts fill his head. And what frightens him most is that he soon understands them....
... In search of her new immortal, Tegan goes to the cursed springs of Jusenkyo. On her way to investigate the pool he supposedly fell in, Tegan slips and falls in one of the springs, emerging as a cat woman...
... In the wilds of Asia, Tora witness the first poaching he has ever seen. And then he snaps. Seconds later, he finds several bodies laying unconscious around him, and the guns they used broken....
... Tegan responds to a sign posted asking for a roommate. The next thing she knows she is trapped by Madame WWW and her army of mutant creatures. To have a chance of escape, she and her friends accept an order of servitude from Gaeld. They escape, returning with a group that defeats Madame WWW. Tegan opens a chest and finds the deed that signs Mystic Manor over to her...
... Tora comes into Nerima not knowing what to expect. And he runs into a Jusenkyo panda named Genma, a crazed red-headed girl with a sword, a lion man by the name of Leo, and Tegan...
... Nervously Tegan prepares for her first date while trying to dissuade her roommate from chaperoning...
... Tora presents a special locket as a gift, a memento of their first date with one another. A locket he found near one of the pools of Jusenkyo. He puts it on her for her....
... And when it is time for Tora to leave, he takes one last chance and kisses Tegan outside her apartment door....
... The first kiss of it’s kind for both of them. The first of many...
... the images speed up faster after that, becoming a blur that soon takes the shape of their present surroundings.
Tegan blinks and looks around. She is sitting in the meadow with Tora. The strange cat woman, Ayla, sits across from them, staring at them intently. Tegan looks at Tora, her eyes wide with astonishment at what she has just experienced. Tora also blinks for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to reality. He turns to look at Tegan and finds her looking back at him.