35: Peace on Earth
Evangeline McDowell started unburying the rubble as soon as the earth stopped shaking; she desperately flung aside chunks of stone, plaster, brick, and even steel in her attempt to dig Isana out. People surrounded the ruined building like ants chewing away at a giant morsel, gradually chipping away the debris, praying that the brave woman was still alive. Suddenly, they were shadowed as a large mechanical creature loomed overhead, quietly dipping its arms down to aid them.
"The Gigantes are operational," Selena stated delicately. "Apparently their functions returned once the frequency emitted by the Argo ceased function. What number of people remains?"
"Two, I think," Evangeline answered, looking up only briefly before resuming her work. Another Gigantes lumbered over after a few minutes and started clearing the wreckage away, and eventually, their efforts were rewarded as Evangeline spotted a familiar silver-haired woman lying on the ground, her arms clutching a small bundle. Both of her legs had been smashed below the knee by a fallen slab. Evangeline didn't know whether Isana was dead or alive; she called out to her loudly.
"ISANA!!!" She rushed over and felt sudden relief wash over her body as a quiet groan rose up. Isana wriggled to life, lifted her dirt-caked face, and coughed. She was very pale and weak, but still managed to smile and release her bundle. It was a small boy, terrified but in good condition.
"Are you all right?" she whispered. The boy nodded, hiccupped, and wailed as he threw himself into the arms of his overjoyed mother. Isana, meanwhile, was shivering with shock and pain; she reached for her friend and found warm, strong arms embracing her. She knew that the only way to escape her predicament would be to cut her legs off, and wept as a flood of emotions overcame her.
"Oh, Eva," she whimpered, "please don't ever leave me, Eva. Please don't leave me again. Don't go."
"What are you talking about?" Eva said, smiling sadly. "I'm not going to leave you ever again. I'm going to take care of you from now on."
"You will?" Eva's smile warmed, and she kissed Isana as a rescue team came to free her.
"Of course. I am your best friend." Isana glowed with perfect happiness, and held on tight to her cherished angel.
Aoi Yuuka and everyone that could be spared rushed to the earthbound Dreadnought, hoping passionately that Kella had survived. When they came to the wreckage, however, Aoi froze, drew her hands to her mouth, and wept quietly: there was nothing left but two sizzling mechanical arms on the ground, and the shredded remains of a hairbow. She fell into the sympathetic arms of a nearby witness, and everyone paused to mourn the loss of a true noblewoman. Kella could truly be at peace now; she was reunited with her family and her loved ones, forevermore.
Meanwhile, in the ruins of another Dreadnought, two women came bursting out of the emergency exit, coughing and sputtering as they crawled out, shocked at their own incredible luck. Samantha Greenwood and Nobuo Yomigaeri clung to each other as they emerged into the outside world, proving once and for all that any wreck one can come away from is a good wreck. However, as the events that led prior to this collapse returned to Nobuo's mind, she stared at Samantha queerly, wondering just HOW significant that kiss really was. It was hours—most of them spent in a hospital—before she could draw out an answer.
Minerva was helping Sienna down from the statue of Mimir just as the Allied Capitol Defense Force was gathering together to assemble a final report. The Gigantes were functioning once again (except for those controlled by the enemy), the city was safe (except for one building) and its citizens were well, and Empress Claire Asgard Mimir was dead—Sienna and several ground-level eyewitnesses confirmed it. She still laid on the steps of the Capitol, her face twisted with emotion, her eyes wide open, her cheeks wet—whether with tears or the coming rain, nobody could tell.
Sienna was thrust underneath an umbrella as she met with Imperials and Blue Flowers and Neutrals. Minerva also put a blanket over her shoulders; she was shivering from fear and regret and the oncoming cold, and for once her eyes did not burn in ire. She was as meek as a lamb now, but her footsteps were still as powerful as a lion's, her jaw was still firm, and when she could speak, her voice was calm, though a little shaky. She had been forced to commit a terrible sin for the greater good, and it would be some time before she really recovered.
"Is this a sky of happiness or regret?" she asked rhetorically as she joined the allies. "Does God look down upon us with sorrow, weeping with frustration, wondering why it has taken us so long to come to this point? Or are we being blessed with tears of joy, that we finally have a chance to make things right? So, everyone, we are here to state the obvious. Our ruler is dead and the Empire needs a pillar to support it. Blue Flower has been our partner, our friend, and even our savior in spite of everything that has happened. I don't care where or how this started, or who began it, but I do know how it will end. Miss Beaufort."
"In the absence of my father and an Empress, I assume temporary control of this government, and I order every Imperial officer and citizen to stand down and stop fighting. This is not a command for peace, but a request. There will be no retaliation for those who break this wish of mine. There will only be peace. Please order all your agents to stand down as well, Miss Beaufort. We will discuss the terms of this armistice in better quarters. Minerva."
"Contact the Rogue's Gallery. I want to get this right."
And so the century-long war between rebel forces and the Mimirian Empire came to a conclusion at long last. The end was not marked by bloodshed or explosions; not by the sword nor the spear nor the roar of gunfire; not by armies, or generals, or weapons, but by the pen, as three people and six witnesses signed a document declaring an end of all conflict. Abel Caine and Nina Beaufort represented their respective organizations, and Sienna Alarys represented the Empire, though she had no intention of ruling over half the world like a goddess. As a matter of fact, one of the amendments she put into effect for the treaty was "an abolition of all Empresses, biological successors to the High Chair, celestial rulers, etc, and all decrees made by them that are 'considered inflexible law'."
She also gave Blue Flower their unconditional independence, provided that they "care for and maintain their affairs effectively and prudently, requesting assistance, when needed, from Neutral areas, which must never show favoritism." They were, however, encouraged to "continue healthy relations with Imperial factions, officers, allies, friends, relatives, loved ones, and all citizens, for as long as the government lasts", and in fact this was cemented much later by the marriage between Dominga Espino and Nina Beaufort, both ladies of inestimable character and valor. Once the document was signed and sealed with their blood, each organization was given a copy and was expected to give it a place of prominence in their prime headquarters.
Nobody thought it would be so easy—but they were all willing to work for it, and that is what mattered the most.
Elayna and Hera quickly became diplomats between Mimirian and Floral countries, working together to improve relations as the fledgling coexistence hobbled along. There were still considerable pockets of resistance, mainly from those whom Elayna's father was forced to betray and the remnants of Hera's 73rd division, but nothing that's won easily is worth fighting for, and those two women continued to fight, and work, and love each other, even as they mended their personal and familial relationships. Hera still had a family to search for and Elayna wanted to connect with her remaining relatives; they would do this together as well.
Nina and Dominga moved closer to the Rogue's Gallery so the Beaufort sisters could be together—however, Avaline was usually more occupied with Kayley, who became a permanent resident of the Rogue's Gallery even while she contributed her services to the Empire. The Rogues themselves—Teagan, Virgilia, and Abel—resumed business as usual and quickly became the focal point for diplomacy between the two great world powers. For the record, Abel went on a long-overdue vacation once the fighting ended, but faithfully returned in time to complain about how nobody appreciated his work.
Anima Devaraja joyously threw herself into her work, obsessively "cleaning" the weapons out of the Gigantes system. Those who knew her were frightened to see this slipshod woman toiling like an ant, but for those who knew her best, this didn't come as a surprise at all. Anima was a pacifist at heart: she refused to create weapons of war but enthusiastically applied herself if it meant disarmament. She never stayed in one place very long—the blessing and the curse of one forever dedicating herself to her work—but she was always with friends, whether it be Avaline in the Rogue's Gallery, Chastity at the Schwarzburg Manor, Minerva in the Capitol, or her companions in Blue Flower.
After Isana's operation and wedding, she teamed up with Selena, Chastity, and Sandra to begin the first Unified Defense Force, which would integrate the best soldiers from the three major powers into one free unit, devoting themselves to protecting the peace. Though most Gigantes were disarmed and reintroduced as machines of heavy labor, maintenance, and research, a few kept their weapons and were used extensively by the UDF. In addition to their tasks as maintainers of the peace, Sandra began erecting fencing schools for young people, Selena became a renowned instructor in the first Blue Flower academy, Chastity became Intern Administrator of United Affairs (lending her skills to whomever needed them), and Isana settled into semi-retirement, devoting more of her time to her family and country.
Evangeline stayed by Isana's side, just as she promised, but was given leave to visit the Goldsmith estate and thank Gwenivere in person. She was the one to first propose reconstructing the building that was destroyed in the battle against the Argo, but she wanted it to be a memorial to all those who struggled, died, and proved themselves in the war. That the memorial was on Imperial ground didn't seem to matter: hundreds flocked for the groundbreaking ceremony, many paying their respects. To commence the ceremonies, Sienna Alarys announced that she would be stepping down from the position of steward, but did not nominate anyone to accept the role as leader of the Mimirian people—at least, not publicly.
And somewhere in the world, two figures basked by the glow of a television set watched as history was made once again…
Aoi Yuuka was crying as she laid flowers on Kella's grave, but she was no longer so distraught. She had come to terms with the young woman's passing, and would, from that moment on, speak proudly of how brave she had been in those final hours. Of the ribbon, she tied the remains around the grave, clasping her hands as she sobbed quietly, praying for her love's soul. She also paid reverence to Bradamante, and to her sister Ayaka; Dmitri Lukanov mourned beside her, for he had loved Kella immensely, though they had been strangers. Also praying was Elayna, for Marcus's and Van's souls; Sandra, for Joruri's; and several people for Freyja Mortius, Lonfanette Blackmoon, Philip Azure, and even Miranda Rishkella. Religious people tried to argue that machines do not have souls, and it would be silly to erect a memorial for one (particularly because no remains had ever been found), but those present at the battle with Orochi thought otherwise, and won the debate and the rights to pray for Rishkella, and her creator, and all those lost along the way.
Hera Oskyra, who traveled with her beloved, kneeled down with some effort, grunted, and clasped her hands together. She was not particularly religious, but she did want to believe that the soul went to a better place, and all of these brave people had earned their eternal reward. Her main reason for coming was obviously to act as a support for Elayna, but she also wanted to say a few words to her deceased friends and lovers in the Heavy Assault Division—including her commanding officer, Jillian Torkinski.
"I know you all can hear me," she whispered in conclusion, "so watch out for each other and enjoy Heaven, or wherever you are. The war is over, your deaths have been avenged, and I feel happy for the first time in a very long while. I am genuinely happy, and grateful to you all. Oh!" A familiar visitor knelt down next to her, struggling a bit since she still wasn't accustomed to her prosthetics. Hera smiled at her and waved.
"Hello there, Mrs. Konoe-Schwarzburg! You're looking good, considering your recent initiation into the club."
"The club?" she asked. Hera pulled up her slacks, revealing her own mechanical leg. Isana smiled beautifully and nodded. "Why thank you, Miss Oskyra. I'm delighted to be a member."
"Yes," she sighed, "but I can overcome them. I have no regrets at all. If I knew I would lose my legs when I ran for that child, I would still do it all over again." Hera smiled, and satisfied herself by watching Isana praying over the memorials. On the other side of her, she noticed a tall, muscular, pretty woman muttering a chant that sounded Indian or Tibetan in origin. Elayna scooted over, admiring this lady's faith, and extended her hand.
"You must be very devoted. Thank you for coming here."
"My pleasure," she replied, then added with a giggle, "I really didn't have much choice! My sweetheart left me to go visit her family, so I have nothing else to do. You're, um…Miss Eisenstein, right?"
"Yes, but I can't say I remember you." Virgilia introduced herself and the two became fast friends. Virgilia belonged to the Hare Krishna faith (she didn't call it a cult) and said that every day, she prayed for the living and the deceased, even those who set themselves up as her enemies.
"A wonderful woman saw past the darkness in my soul and pulled me up to the light," she said bashfully. "The least I can do is keep everyone in my thoughts and devotions. Every day, we must come to terms with who we are, what we have done, and what we are going to do. We will never be perfect, but in my opinion, humans do not need perfection. What would the point of living be if we didn't need anything?" Elayna agreed, and resumed her prayers, making sure not to cry too much.
As the faithful moved on, placing decorations, trinkets, and flowers upon each memorial, they came to a triumvirate of peculiar tombs, and the two women keeping a quiet vigil before them. In spite of popular opinion and outrage, Sienna Alarys had erected graves for the Empress Mimir, her father Lord Alarys, and even her unfortunate half-sister Claire.
"I never really knew my family," she said to her companion. Sienna laid a bouquet on every memorial, pausing to reflect as Minerva watched quietly. "My parents divorced when I was a child, and my father was always so distant and demanding. He molded me into something abominable. I had forgotten about compassion until I was forced to see its sinister opposite. Malice tore my past apart; it sucked away everything stable and secure in my world, and brought nothing but tragedy. But even then, I truly wanted to save Claire, if only from herself. I will have to live with this for the rest of my life, Minerva. Did I do the right thing? Could I have done more? Was I too late? It really doesn't matter anymore, though, does it?"
"No," she replied, smiling gently. "But I'm glad you're coming to terms with it."
"My sister," Sienna sighed, caressing the stone slab. "She was in love with me, you know, recklessly and mindlessly. It was the most destructive relationship I've ever been in. She…she killed Freyja, you know, the one piece of stability I had left. Dear Freyja gave up her former life and devoted herself to living for a dream. Minerva, I want Freyja's dream to be my own now. I've been given a lot of power—I always hungered for it—but I rarely used it for the right reasons. I don't deserve any of it…but I will use what I have left to make this world a good place." She stood up and wiped the dust from her slacks. She turned around, looked Baysell in the eye, felt unconditional love flowing from her, and attempted to smile.
"This world no longer needs Empires," she stated. "I am going to declare the Mimirian territories a Republic from this day forth—and I want you to lead it, Minerva."
"Me?!" she blurted, turning red very quickly. "Uh…are you sure? I mean, I've never been the most steadfast woman around…"
"I know what I'm doing, old friend," she answered, smiling warmly for the first time since losing Freyja. "You would lead this government better than anyone I know. Gather trustworthy allies under your wing. Gather Isana, Kayley, and Dominga. Gather Dmitri, Sonki, Nobuo, and Samantha. Erect a parliament. You can listen as well as you lead, and that is rare, even in the best of us. I have faith."
"If you insist," Minerva stuttered, still very flustered. "But what will you do? You didn't include yourself in that list."
"That's because I'm retiring from all this. I want to go away, Minerva; I don't deserve to be here with these heroic people. I…I want to find my mother, if she's still alive, and spend some time with her. I want to do that at least." Minerva's face glowed, and she embraced Sienna with all the love in her huge, indomitable heart. Sienna stiffened and did her best to reciprocate.
"Go, then, and do what you must. I just want you to know that you'll always be welcome back."
"Hmm. I'll think about it. Do me one more favor, will you?"
"Sure, what?" Their eyes met and Sienna bent down to kiss Minerva's forehead.
"Don't tell anyone where I went. Farewell for now, Baysell. The world is in your hands now. Keep it safe." Minerva stood there silently as she watched Sienna slip away from the crowd, and felt her heart well up from all the emotion. No doubt that even Anima Devaraja would be stumped by this one.
"Goodbye, my friend," she whispered. "Until we meet again."
Construction on the Memorial began two days later, but instead of a hired crew, those who were involved with the war volunteered to create the building from the ground up. The work was tiring but very rewarding: it bound together the heroes and heroines who had sacrificed their blood, sweat, tears, and lives so that the universal dream of peace on Earth could at last come true. Everyone labored hard to erect this monument to sacrifice and patriotism; some even broke out into song. One of the most beautiful was a simple pastoral about harvesting, an oddly apropos choice for the occasion:
When the cherry blossoms bloom, the greens of the seeds grow out from their seedbeds. (Ai-yee-ya-ah-yee-yah!) Once the tilling is done, the water is brought in. (Ai-yee-ya-ah-yee-yah!) Come, come, we're planting rice, sowing the seedlings. O great sun, who blesses our fields, accept these seedlings into your arms.
An elderly man, bending over from strain, muttered the song through his lips even while he struggled. A pair of young, strong arms grabbed his load, and a beautiful face smiled back at him.
"Let me handle this for awhile, grandfather," she chirped. "Please go eat something. We can't work together if we can't work well."
"Thank you," he wheezed, "you're very kind." As he sauntered away, the woman looked up to the sky, sunshine laughing in her eyes, and joined the chorus with a joyful noise. Those around her were glad to see Aoi so cheerful once again.
Grab it by the stalk and place it in line. (Ai-yee-ya-ah-yee-yah!) Nurture it until it grows into rice. (Ai-yee-ya-ah-yee-yah!) Day and night, as always, weed them, give them water, drive away the birds, and after much loving care, the rice will be sweet.
As the song resumed its verses and the workers continued their happy toil, a news van rolled up in the distance, and out of it stepped a young blonde and a single cameraman. Madison McCullen paused to observe the beautiful scene before her—Mimirians, Blue Flowers, and Neutrals all working together to honor the fallen—and wiped a tear from her face. She didn't bother to primp or preen herself this time: she wanted to address her viewers honestly. Any attempt at subterfuge would shame the valiant heroes before her.
"Are you ready?" she asked her faithful cameraman. He smiled and put her and the construction into focus, silently alerting her when recording began. "Good afternoon. This is Madison McCullen, reporting live near the border of the Imperial Capitol, where a team consisting of people from all nationalities and factions have come together to create a shrine dedicated to those who gave the last measure of their devotion to the cause of peace. For all the souls lost—for those still living on this Earth—and for those yet to be born, they work and sing so that all generations may never forget what happened here.
"We have seen the depths of human depravity in this terrible conflict. We have seen good people die and wicked people live; we have seen friends become enemies and enemies become friends; we have plumbed the depth of the human spirit; we have stood watching the greatest tragicomedy of this century play out; we have watched powers rise and fall, gods emerge and perish, Kings turned into wretches and wretches into Kings; we have seen, as Dickens said, 'the best of times and the worst of times'; we have even seen what happens when humanity is offered a chance to start over, and what spoils and triumphs may come of it. Now, at long last, it seems, we have finally seen a conclusion.
"But to paraphrase the poet T. S. Eliot, 'in my end is my beginning', and truly, as one chapter of a great story comes to a close, a new beginning will come of it. What conflicts might we expect down this road? What sort of suffering, sacrifice, and satisfaction will we be witness to? How long will this peace last? What enemies will arrive, and what heroes will rise to fight against the darkness? No one can say what the future may bring, but perhaps the wise King Solomon said it best, when he decreed there was a time, in this world, for everything.
"'A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to rebuild, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.'
"With this in mind—"
The television set was quickly turned off, thanks in no small part to the disgust of the viewer. Jinko Nanako, brooding deeply and darkly, folded and unfolded his hands as he considered the events of the past week. Things had certainly not gone according to plan, and he wondered who he had to thank the most for that: Charlene, his secret partner, or himself? Maybe all three were to blame.
"What's the matter?" Jinko's partner said lucidly. "I think that report was quite invigorating. It's just what the world needs after such a calamity."
"Our plan was torn to pieces, Jinman," Nanako grumbled. "Everything went sour. We accomplished nothing."
"Don't let remorse cloud your judgment, my dear friend." Alain sat down beside him, smiled icily, and rested his hand atop Jinko's shoulder. "It's true that our plan didn't go as expected, but it still produced very favorable results. The Empire has lost a great deal of power. Many of its greatest soldiers are either dead, or they have given up the will to fight. The Gigantes Disarmament Pact is in full swing; this is by itself a fantastic accomplishment. Blue Flower is weakened; it's been quarantined, my friend, no longer dependant on outside sources for its strength. Their greatest wish has been their undoing. Sienna Alarys has retired, and most importantly, the young Empress is dead. We did not even anticipate that, and look what opportunities came from this serendipitous turn of events! Yes, we have lost much ourselves, but we anticipated losses and prepared for them. Orochi was just a stepping-stone. Rishkella played her part. Even the Admiral became disposable after a fashion. The Capitol was not destroyed, true, but the pillars that held up the throne have been shaken, and all we need to do—after a few more months of patience, of course—is tip them over and stand back."
"And then our goal will be realized." Nanako took a sharp breath and rubbed his face. He had nearly forgotten their true objective. Jinman was right: losing his only daughter had caused him to neglect his duties. He was expected to mourn, yes, but he was also expected to perform according to the plan. They had all spent too many years designing and perfecting their desires, and they couldn't afford to stumble, not now, not now.
"Forgive me, Alain. I apologize."
"There is nothing to apologize for. I only regret that I shall never know the joy of…offspring. This design of ours takes up far too much time."
"Indeed," he replied, his voice sonorous with meaning. "A war to end all wars for good… A war to unite the world under a single banner. No more countries. No more regions. No more organizations, or rebels, or neutrals, or empires. Only singularity shall rule the Earth forever—or so we hope. But we—you, I, and our master—we can do much more than hope. We can act. We can influence. We can guide the course of history in the correct direction."
"Very soon," Jinman murmured, "once the Master gets here. The next phase of our operation should be ready. Even I am getting anxious just thinking about it." The door to their lair opened, and a shadowy figure emerged to blot out the streaming light.
"Speaking of which, there she is," Jinko whispered. He and Alain stood to greet their visitor, and as she extended her hands, they knelt down to kiss them.
"Welcome back, Master Yasen," they said. "What will you ask of us now?"
Quietly, as she beheld her loyal subjects, Teagan grinned craftily…
"With this in mind," Madison continued, "we must not expect the peace to last forever. Even if humanity were to unite under a single banner, there is no doubt that time will not allow this unity to last for long. Perhaps even now, forces of unimaginable evil are marching on our borders, and while the world may rest today, there is no telling what tomorrow will bring. The battles we have seen up until now may in fact pale in comparison to the possibilities waiting in the shadowy future.
"But I will always have faith in heroes and humanity—faith that, although the brightest light may cast the darkest shadow, the greatest darkness can be repulsed by the smallest light, and that, if a great war to end all wars ever arises from this darkness, it will be fought by brave heroes always willing to stand up to insurmountable odds: in fact, the greatest heroes of this age or any other age, now and forevermore!!
"I, for one, can hardly wait to see the result."
THE END of "WALPURGIS NIGHTS"
THE BATTLE CONTINUES!!!
Thanks to the animes Giant Robo, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Samurai 7, Hakkenden (Dog Warriors), and Gundam Wing for inspiring parts of the story.
Thanks to The Water Margin (Genso Suikoden) for inspiring the 108 Warriors.
Thanks to Dante's Inferno, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Patrick Drazen's Anime Explosion, 1000 Years 1000 People, Mythology for Dummies, Kurosawa's Kagemusha, Voltaire's Candide, and (last but not least) Altered Beast for names, themes, and various ideas.
Thanks to IzanagiMikoto for providing additional battle names and ideas when my own lists ran out.
This story is dedicated to all those who have known suffering, and are stronger for it.
And of course, to fans of mecha and shoujo-ai in general. The world is a better place thanks to you.