Fall and Rise
“Something bothering you?” Aros, Riza, Saia, and Cera were out assessing the damage done to a town that was recently attacked, most like by one of Yugito’s Dark Warriors. It was very much like the destruction on Marua two years prior – burned beyond recognized. Although, unlike the incident at Marua, there were no survivors here.
“Huh?” Cera looked up. Her mind had been in a bit of a haze for most of their time there so far. Sometimes it just helped not to think too much about how or who destroyed the town. She shook her head slightly to regain some focus. “I’m fine. This just reminds me a bit of what happened to Marua. That’s all.” She tried not to sound worried, but something felt off.
Riza had just taken a quick survey of the area from above. She wasn’t much for fighting and she wasn’t a strategic genius, but she had a great eye for detail and was great at scouting ahead and spying on the enemy. “Definitely done by a Dark Warrior.” She spoke as she swooped down to report her findings.
“Kura?” Cera looked at the Eagle. Each Dark Warrior seemed to have his or her own pattern of destroying towns. Kura’s happened to be with fire.
“No.” The others looked in surprise at this. “Kura is far more sloppy than this when it comes to burning towns.” She perched on a nearby pile of rubble.
“What do you mean?” Aros looked at the smaller bird. There were no other Dark Warriors known to simply burn down the town.
“Last time I checked, Kura doesn’t go out of his way to make a perfect circle and destroy everything within it.” Aros spread his wings and took to the air to confirm what the Golden Eagle had reported. To his surprise, Riza’s description was spot on- there was a perfect circle of destruction.
None of the Dark Warriors that they knew of did this. This would mean another powerful foe to fight against, and the rebels had more than enough problems to deal with already. The odds didn’t appear to be in the favor of those trying to fight against Yugito.
“Riza is right. This wasn’t Kura’s doing, unless he’s changed his tactics.” The Phoenix landed gently next to Saia.
“Do you think it’s the other Dark Warrior that was reported to be seen with Kura further south?” Riza looked at the older Nekomata.
“The Nekomata?” Saia thought for a few moments, considering all of the possibilities. “It’s possible. We haven’t really seen her on her own before, so she’s a newer member amongst the Dark Warriors. We’ve yet to gauge her capabilities.”
Cera began to feel slightly dizzy. “Are you sure you’re alright?” Aros looked at the Nekomata who was now sitting rigidly a few feet away.
“That Nekomata…” The twin-tailed cat hesitated. “What does she look like?” Cera had heard very little of this particular Dark Warrior, and was afraid of what she would hear.
“From the reports I’ve gotten so far, the new Dark Warrior has short grey tabby fur, is of average size, and has green eyes.” Riza gave a quick description.
Cera dug her claws into the scorched earth. “Did I say something?” The Eagle nearly lost her balance as Cera suddenly ran past her.
Aros lifted his fiery wings to follow in pursuit, but the ancient Nekomata signaled for him to stop. “Give her time, Aros. Something tells me we’ll figure out what’s going on soon enough.”
To no surprise, Saia was correct. About half an hour later the Light Nekomata had come back, looking a bit troubled. “Feeling better?” Aros studied the expression on Cera’s face. He could see the anxiety written all over it. “Well?”
“Sorry.” She muttered. The young Nekomata sighed and say down. Running wouldn’t solve anything. “I guess I should explain what really happened in Marua.” Up until this point, Cera, Glade, Clear, had never spoken the full story of what had really happened in Marua two years ago. The story they had given did not include the Dragon taking away Cera’s sister.
Cera gave a quick run down of the events of Marua, this time, without leaving out any important details. “So you think your sister is amongst the Dark Warriors?” Aros spoke calmly. This was probably something that should have been out in the open a long while back.
“Yes… no.” Cera shook her head. “I’m not entirely sure. I know that she wouldn’t do this.” She wanted to believe so at least.
“It is very likely she did.” Saia looked at the young Nekomata and was met with a glare. “The Dark Warriors are known to have taken young creatures in the past. When those that are kidnapped were later identified as Dark Warriors themselves, we learned that not a single one of them had any memories of their past.”
“So she doesn’t remember anything?”
“It is very likely that this happened to her as well.” Cera’s hopes began to fall.
“Is there anyway to make her remember? Anything we can do?” She pleaded desperately for a positive response.
“Maybe, but getting her memories back could cause more harm than help.” Why did Saia have to find a negative possibility in almost every situation?
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it for a moment.” Saia laid down on the ground, his old bones getting weary from the long day of traveling. “Making her remember what she’s forgotten doesn’t automatically return her to how she was before she lost them. She will still remember everything after getting her memory wiped.”
“In the slight chance that she ever does leave Yugito and the Dark Warriors, her paws will be forever stained with the blood of many innocents. She won’t be trusted. She’ll be treated like an outcast as well as be hunted by Yugito. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that she would even consider leaving the life she’s known for the last two years.”
“And she does return to her old self?”
“Cera, what you are suggesting is unrealistic, but should that actually happen, she would have to live the rest of her life with the guilt of the crimes she has committed.” Saia didn’t particularly enjoy having to tell Cera that her sister, if she was in fact a Dark Warrior, might be lost forever to Yugito’s rule.
“But she’s being forced to kill. Yugito is controlling her.” Saia sighed and looked Cera in the eyes.
“I understand this is difficult.” The old Nekomata spoke steadily. “But you must realize that none of the Dark Warriors are forced to do what they do. All Yugito did was wipe their memory and train them to kill. They are raised to kill. They do it willingly because it is all that they were taught. They think for themselves.”
“How do you know?” Cera didn’t want to listen to anymore of this. Saia just had to be wrong… but he normally wasn’t.
“Trust me, Cera, I know what mind control looks like.” Saia got up and stretched, sensing that the conversation would soon end.
“Enough, Cera.” Aros finally cut in. He couldn’t help but to look at the young Nekomata. He knew better. Her head was low with her ears flat against her head. Her eyes displayed nothing less than the most devastated expression. Cera looked absolutely pitiful, like she was a kit again. Only the most heartless creatures could look at her and still be able to argue with her. “Fine.” Aros gave in before the argument could even begin. “Saia, is there anything you can do?”
“Perhaps.” He muttered, knowing where this would go. “It wouldn’t be easy, and could have highly unpredictable results.” Cera was still looking absolutely pitiful. “Cera, I promise that I’ll do what I can to help, but understand things may not go as you would like.”
“Good!” The Light Nekomata immediately perked up. “I guess we should head back to Kurori now?” The turned and began to walk away. Riza shrugged and took off after her.
Saia and Aros stared in bewilderment as Cera trotted away with Riza right overhead. “Did she just trick us?”
“Yup.” Aros sighed. “How many times has she pulled that look to get away with things?” Cera was very good at bending over Saia and Aros to whatever cause she was after. “What did we just get ourselves into? We can’t possibly get a Dark Warrior to join up on our side?” Cera and Riza were out of sight.
“Who knows, but it’s best we proceed with caution or we may-“ A large crash came from the direction where the other two had headed. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up.” Saia rasped knowing that Cera and Riza might be in trouble and letting Aros keep his pace would delay them by a good amount of time. “I’ll be fine.” Aros nodded and raced to find where Cera and Riza had gone.
They were not very far ahead, but finding them was difficult because the blast had caused the ash to rise in a large cloud over the area. Despite this, Aros was able to locate the attacker. He tucked his wings to his sides and began a dive bomb towards his target- Zera.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” A cruel smile crossed her face. When the ash finally began to settle down again, Aros was able to make out the entire scene below him. Instantly he opened up his wings to break his fall. The Shadow Nekomata had Cera pinned to the ground. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it Aros?”
“Zera, let her go.” He attempted to remain calm. Had Aros continued his attack, he could have injured Cera in the process.
“Don’t worry, I’m not here to kill her.” Zera’s yellow eyes were fixed on the Phoenix. “I’m sure you are well aware of that though. Am I correct?” He knew what the most feared Dark Warrior had come for. He knew only to well.
“Aros!” Cera was struggling to shake Zera off, but with no success. “Help.” The Light Nekomata was beginning to panic.
The Dark Warrior extended her claws over Cera’s throat. “Stop whining, or you’ll end up like your little friend over there, or worse.” It was then that Aros noticed Riza lying on the ground, unconscious. She didn’t look badly injured, but she was definitely out cold.
Enough toying around, Zera.” Aros was furious. “If you’ve come here to kill me, I’m right here. Leave her be so that you can get back to your real goal.”
Zera laughed. “Very well then.” She released Cera from her grip. “I’d hate to keep Yugito waiting.” She took a few steps towards the Phoenix and paused.
Cera scrambled to her paws as soon as Zera released her. Her breaths were very rapid and her heart was beating like never before. “Aros! Be careful! She can!”
“I wouldn’t worry about him if I were you. He’s aware of what I’m capable of. I’d start running if I were you. I’d hate for a pathetic fighter like you to get in the crossfire of this fight.” Zera laughed.
The Light Nekomata looked up at Aros. “Listen to her, Cera. Get Riza to safety and find Saia. Just get away from here. I’ll meet up with you later.” Cera nodded and raced to the injured Eagle’s aid. Within moments she was running out of sight with the unconscious bird on her back.
Zera laughed once again. “This is too amusing.” She sat down and yawned. “Shall we begin now?” The rebel leader looked at the Dark Warrior for several moments. What was she waiting for? Neither of the two moved. Either she was waiting for him to make the first move, or she was merely playing with him to make him lower his guard.
Finally, the Phoenix decided that the fight would not start unless he struck first. He would rather not have a fight, but there was a high risk of one of the others being hurt should he try to flee. His fiery wings lifted him up into the air for his first strike. Flames began to spark more rapidly around his body as he swooped towards the Shadow Nekomata.
Just as the first of the flames hit their target, Zera vanished. An illusion? Within moments a burning pain shot through his left wing as a blast of dark energy hit him, sending him crashing to the ground. Damn it.
Another ball of dark energy was headed his way, but the Phoenix managed to quickly roll out of the attack’s path of travel.
“Hiding in the shadows.” He muttered as he rose back to his feet. “What else has changed since the last time we fought?” He gingerly stretched his left wing. It hurt, but he decided that he would still be able to fly for at least a while longer. Hopefully, he would be able to manage.
He began to light anything and everything around him on fire. The area was already scorched beyond recognition, so more fire would do no further harm. The light coming the flames eventually destroyed most of the shadows in the area. “No where to hide, Zera.”
With no more shadows to conceal herself in, the Shadow Nekomata was forced into the open. “It’s actually quite entertaining to see how many fools think they can beat me with tactics like this.” Her striking yellow eyes were easily the feature that attracted the most attention. They held a unique icy look that could have paralyzed most with fear.
Aros was aware of this ability, so for that reason he avoid direct eye contact with the Nekomata. He had heard many stories about Zera’s wide range of abilities, and had seen many for himself. Rending one of her strengths useless didn’t make her any less dangerous. The only plus side was that he would be able to find her more easily.
Once again, Aros took to the air, ignoring the protests of pain from his left wing. Zera laughed with sheer amusement. Illusion after illusion began to appear until there were at least a dozen different images of Zera, only one of which was real. Any one that he destroyed was replaced within moments.
Another one of Zera’s shadow-like balls of energy shot past him, barely missing his other wing. Wasting no time, he turned to the direction that the attack had come from and shot a steady stream of flames from his beak. Another miss. How much longer can I keep this up?
Aros was getting tired rather quickly. If he didn’t finish this soon, Zera would.
“Aros!” The Phoenix froze when he heard Cera’s panicked voice. What was she still doing here? He had told her to run!
He flew rapidly to the source of the sound. “I told you to leave her alone.”
“Oh, but I did!” More tricks? He could feel claws rake his back and the sudden weight of the Nekomata jumping on top of him. He thrashed about in the air, trying to throw off his foe, but Zera held on tight. Not even his flaming body was capable of fending off his attacker. “You idiots all have the same weakness. All I have to do is threaten one of your friends, or make you think that I am, and you lose all focus and die trying to protect them. This is why you and the other rebels are doomed to failure.”
The area was once again lit ablaze. Cera could only assume that Aros had created the fire in order to fight Zera, but the flames were making it more difficult to find Saia. The old Nekomata was no where in sight, but she was sure that he had to be somewhere nearby. After all, how far could an old Nekomata like him go?
She navigated carefully through the rubble and flames so that Riza, who was resting on her back, would not fall off or get burned. The Eagle wasn’t badly injured, to Cera’s relief, but it didn’t seem like she was going to wake up anytime soon.
“Cera!” Her ears tilted to locate where Saia had called from. Thankfully, he managed to find her first and was completely unscathed, despite the flames. “Where’s Aros?”
“Over there, fighting with…” She knew that Saia’s reaction wouldn’t be positive. “Zera.”
“Zera?” The older Nekomata began to look very worried. “We need to go help him.” He rasped. Despite his age, he showed no fear of facing the Shadow Nekomata.
“But he ordered me to find you and get away from here.” Even so, what help could she and Saia offer? It had taken Zera less than a minute to knock Riza out and pin her down.
“Exactly. He doesn’t want us to get involved.” Saia began to head to where the fighting was taking place. “Which means he’s already predicted the outcome of this. We need to get to him before it’s too late.” The urgency in his voice was enough to convince Cera to disobey Aros’ order.
When the two Nekomata finally found Aros, the battle was over. There was no sign of Zera, and Aros was lying on the ground in a motionless heap of feathers and miniscule flames. Saia approached the Phoenix silently, ignoring the heat against his paws.
“Aros, are you awake?” The old Nekomata asked the Phoenix, whose shallow breaths and flickering flames were the only signs that he was still alive. Cera felt a strong feeling of dread when she saw the state he was in. He’s alive, but for how much longer?
“I told Cera to get you and run.” Aros whispered with a weak voice.
“You know that we wouldn’t just leave you here. We would never leave a friend in trouble behind.” Saia sighed. Aros simply grinned.
The Phoenix did not reply, though the slight rise and fall of his chest showed that he was still breathing. “Aros?” Cera began to think that he had lost consciousness. “Saia, we need to get him help.” The old Nekomata simply shook his head.
“It’s too late for that, Cera.”
“Don’t say that.” The young Nekomata knew that Saia was right. He normally was.
“Cera.” Her golden eyes turned to look at Aros again. “Take my place.” What? “Lead the forces against Yugito. You must stop her before she releases the spirits of the orbs.” She stared at the Phoenix in astonishment.
“Why me?” Cera couldn’t fathom why he was telling her to take his role as leader. There were surely many others that were more deserving and capable of being Aros’ successor, not to mention more powerful than she was.
“Because,” Aros rasped. “Light will pierce through the Darkness.” What did her element have anything to do with this? “Cera, you are the last known living being who has the abilities of pure light.” The Phoenix closed his eyes. “Protect this world from the disaster that Yugito wishes to unleash.”
“Disaster? What do you mean?” She waited for a response. Nothing. “Aros! Wake up! Please… don’t go.” The last of the flames flickered away in the wing. This was the first time Cera had seen her mentor without his fiery plumage. His feathers were a deep reddish brown with flecks of orange, yellow, and black.
“He’s dead, Cera.” Saia looked at her sympathetically. “And he chose you as his successor.”
“But I don’t want to take his place. I can’t!” She tried not to cry. “Isn’t there anyway to bring him back? There are stories about Phoenixes being able to-“
“Pure myth. Once something dies, it cannot be brought back to life.” Saia began to walk away. “Cera.”
“Hm?” Cera was still looking at Aros. Why, of everyone in this world, did those with hearts as kind as his have to suffer and die while Yugito and the Dark Warriors ruled with no consequence to their cruelty.
“Whatever happens, you won’t be alone.”
Cera resumed control of the rebel groups with the supervision and advice of Saia. It took a long while for the young Nekomata to accept her role, but after a while, she eventually got used to it. The size of the rebel forces grew vastly under her, much to Yugito’s frustration.
Yugito had made two inaccurate assumptions prior to Aros’ death. The first was that all of the Light Elementals were dead. When Cera took over lead of the rebels, the Dark Nekomata found out very quickly of Cera’s true element. The second was that the rebellion would be put down for good should their leader be killed. This also proved false, for the rise of a Light Elemental as their leader only strengthened the hopes and determination of the rebels.
Cera felt great satisfaction in this. Ruining the Dark Ruler’s plans was plenty to celebrate and made for a good, although dangerous, hobby to pursue. Yugito would never admit it to any of the Dark Warriors, not even the Shadow Nekomata, but Cera had become an irritating thorn in Yugito’s side.
While it had felt like ages since Aros had been killed, it had only been one trialing year. Saia had kept his promise, despite his doubts, to help find Neko and get her away from the Dark Warriors. Finally, on the road leading to Orre, Cera got to see her sister for the first time in three years. She followed and watched as Neko wreaked havoc in Orre and Kalm. Cera longed to intervene, but Saia had told her to wait.
Soon enough, though, the plans she had devised with Saia would commence. On the day the real war starts, she would make a massive gamble. It will either save, or doom, them all. Just a little bit longer.