771: Moonwalkers (Part 9: Wings and Agreements)
Istanbul got onto his knees before the magnificent horse. The matriarch had only just arrived, her hooves hitting the stone walkways of the Shainingu Tokai, when Istanbul saw her rainbow trail in the sky. Worried that she might take offense at his lateness, he rushed down the steps of his tower and out into the streets. It looked quite ridiculous and unbecoming of a Commander, but he couldn't risk offending the Queen of All Horses.
She didn't seem ruffled by his lateness. Her small band of personal guards – two pegasi and two unicorns – was just catching up to her. They were all that the incredibly lovely horse needed to protect herself. It was very hard to read what was happening in her lovely prism-like eyes.
"Apologies," Istanbul huffed. "I wasn't aware of the time."
The Queen of All Horses shook her lovely mane and told him, her voice reaching into his thoughts, "My friend Elf; worry not for you lateness. You were busy, and I did not expect for you to ignore your duties to await my arrival."
Istanbul nodded his head and said with gratitude, "Thank you." He didn't want to think of what would happen if he were to upset the Queen of All Horses.
"I was worried we might be late," the Queen admitted. "For we ran into a Leviathan on the mountain pass and had to deal with it. We lost one graceful flyer, but that was the only casualty."
"I apologize for your loss," Istanbul offered. "May their spirit fly to the stars."
The Queen of All Horses seemed to chuckle at the awkward salutation. She told him, "I have no walked amongst Elves for what feels like eons. You are not the Commander that led when I last flew and fought with your kind. Tell me your name, good Commander, so that I might remember it for a long time."
"I am Istanbul Kitsuho," Istanbul answered graciously.
"Ah," the matriarch breathed. "Istanbul. I see. Very well then, Istanbul; I know why it is that you have called upon me – you wish for my aid in fighting the oncoming shadows that seek to pierce our peoples and tear our land asunder."
"Yes, Your Grace," Istanbul agreed.
The matriarch stomped a hoof and then said, "I can feel it growing ever closer… but there is a ray of hope in this dark time. I have sensed it."
"Will that ray be able to help us?"
"That, I have not foreseen," the Queen of All Horses said quietly. She turned to her guard and nodded her head to them. She then turned to Istanbul and said, "Take me to your Elders, Istanbul; I would like to speak with the one called Bateau."
"Do you know him?" Istanbul wondered, standing up. He did not dare touch her, nor did he offer to ride her. As far as he knew, the Queen of All Horses bore no mount that was unworthy of her, or one that she did not choose. He wasn't aware of any Elf who had even ridden her before. He was sure that if anyone had, they must have been a person of great worth and importance to the universe.
"I knew of him as a babe," the Queen of All Horses replied. "Now I know of him as your Eldest Elder. My wings and magicks are yours to command, Istanbul; but we must discuss a plan first."
"Of course," Istanbul agreed. He did not want to waste the Queen's time… or her precious subjects. Though he was sure she knew the way, he offered, "Follow me," and began leading her towards the Elders.
Tojario tapped his desk, feeling impatient. The grace period week that Cody had told them they had was almost up. Only a few more days, and then whatever was going to happen was going to happen, for better or for worse. He didn't like any of what was happening. What was he supposed to do, field an army of some kind? They sure as hell wouldn't follow a Werewolf's orders, let alone his own – he wasn't exactly their favorite ruler at the moment. The van Helsings were holding up their end of the bargain in not harming any Vampires, but he was worried that something was going to happen to cross a line.
Whatever happens, he thought, the Vampires will protect Paris, and all of France if they must. This city is their safe haven. At least they were united on that idea. Paris was theirs, and no one would take that from them. They couldn't afford to pick their race up and move somewhere else, and they weren't going back to the Lands of Eternal Night in the other world. The Vampires of the other world weren't so… civilized.
He looked up to see someone he hadn't expected standing before him. Darius van Helsing smiled crookedly and leisurely sat down in a chair. He settled himself in, his arms resting on the arms of the chair, though he did not take off his hat.
"How long have you been here?" Tojario asked.
"Long enough," Darius replied. "What's eating at your mind, Lord Dracula?"
"What will it take for people to stop calling me that?" Tojario wondered.
"A lot more than tearing out their tongues," Darious countered. "Mutes can still speak, though no words come out of their mouths. The fact that they have no tongues in the first place sends a message, and it encourages others to risk the same thing just to see if they can get away with it."
"So you're a philosopher now, are you?" Tojario decided, sighing. "Spare me."
Darius shrugged and then said, "Something evil's coming; and for once it has nothing to do with your kind. It's making my people restless. We can sense it."
"My daughter told me much the same thing," Tojario admitted. "It's hard to sense danger afoot when you're in a position to always be in danger. Either that, or I'm losing my edge."
"You're going to fight it?"
"Of course," Tojario huffed. "What kind of leader would I be if I didn't find some way to rally my people together to protect what's theirs?"
Darius chuckled and answered, "A pretty poor one, I'll admit. But you seem to be doing better than you're giving yourself credit for, Lord Dracula; you're still alive, after all."
"Such a cynical view of things!" Darius gasped with disappointment. "Come on now, Lord Dracula; keep your chin up! Be positive. You'll make it through this."
"What the hell are you here for anyway?" Tojario demanded, getting flustered by Darius' attitude. "If you're going to try and murder me or give me bad news, you're doing it all the wrong way."
"I'm not here to kill you," Darius assured him. "And I have no real bad news for you. I just wanted to come and see how you were doing, preparing for this upcoming crisis, that's all. I wondered if you might need any help defending France."
"How dumb do you think I am?" Tojario growled. "Accepting help from you, after agreeing to that ludicrous peace treaty of yours, will literally be my death. No one will be able to stand me as leader after that. I'll have assassins in my rafters and twice as much poison in my drink! Do you know how many tasters I've gone through in this past month alone?"
Darius found it all amusing. He leaned forward on his elbows and said, "No good leader has ever had an easy time of things. It's all part of the experience, Lord Dracula. You need to rein your people in tightly and make sure they behave… or this little crisis could be the undoing of our peace."
Tojario shook his head and growled, "Get the hell out of my office, Darius."
"No," Darius replied stonily.
"I said get out."
"I said no."
"Are you deaf?"
"No; but I'm not leaving," Darius declared. "Not until we can work something out."
"You're very determined about this," Tojario surmised. He leaned back into his chair and thought, Well damn. Caught between a rock and a hard place. If I don't accept Darius' help, there's a chance that we could be overrun and killed. If I do, there's a chance we could be double-crossed and killed. I'm leaning more towards the latter, to be honest. Negotiations couldn't be that bad, though, could they? If his wife were here, she'd probably tell him to go through with the negotiations. If Yaweh were here, he'd probably tell him to do through with the negotiations and then kill Darius. If only Loki were here… at least he'd be able to tell me if Darius is false.
But no one else was here to help him. It was all Tojario's own decision.
"Fine," he said, "what did you have in mind?"
"Almost there," Amaterasu promised. "Just a little more."
"Alright," Naota told her. "I think we can go on without you. "
Amaterasu looked back at him and said, "Stop worrying; I can go a little further…"
"Ya look like yer 'bout ta collapse," Izumi stated frankly. "Sit yer arse down."
"Do not think you can command me so rudely!" Amaterasu growled, lashing her tail weakly. But she sat down anyway, her body shaking and her head drooped. She was panting quickly and without cease. "Perhaps… perhaps this is as far as I can go…"
"This is as far as I'm letting you go," Naota commented. "You're staying here. We'll go on. You said it wasn't too much further. I think we can find our way without you."
"If he's going to be a problem, then we'll figure it out ourselves," Naota told her. "You're in no condition to be fooling around with him."
Amaterasu looked up at Naota, her golden eyes filled with anger and exhaustion. Then, they softened, and she said, "Fine. Go on without me."
Naota looked to Izumi and asked, "Is there anything you can do for her?"
Izumi frowned. Then, she walked up to Amaterasu and knelt down beside her. She placed her left hand on the brow of the Goddess and said, "I kin try ta give 'er some'a the warmth I'm feelin' comin' offa the sun… but I canna gi'e 'er the sun itself."
The beautiful she-wolf began to glow bright. Her legs stopped shaking and her panting slowed, but she was still drooped and weakened by the lack of sunlight. Izumi stepped away when she had done all she could do. Amaterasu curled up on the sandy ground and murmured to them, "Please… listen… if Tsukuyomi gives you any trouble… remind him of why he is on the moon… Good luck… and hurry…"
Naota nodded and took Izumi's left hand in his. It was still warm from touching the fur of the sun Goddess. The two of them took off, the Earth fading completely behind them.
Kidd sighed and shook his head. " 'Ow much longer do ya think she's gonna be like 'is, Old Man?" he asked.
"The Balance Scale says that she's nearing her destination," Yuugata replied, concern in his voice. "Whatever it means by that."
"You don't know?" Solidad wondered.
Yuugata shook his head and said, "The Balance Scale doesn't tell me everything, Solidad. Only what it feels I need to know. I know that the little one is safe, and that she'll be coming back to us soon. That is all. It might not be what you all want to hear – it certainly isn't what I want to hear – but that's what the Balance Scale does. How's AA doing?"
"Nikolai's been looking after him," Solidad replied. "Apparently they got into a scrape in the city, but they're both all right. AA seems to be enjoying having a body, at least."
"I'm sure 'e is," Kidd grunted. "Las' time 'e 'ad a body'a 'is own, 'at was two 'undred years ago."
"Do you think there's any danger of him… not wanting to give up the control?" Solidad wondered, her tone wary.
Kidd shook his head. "No' at all," he told her. "He ain' tha' sort'a guy. He know he's gotta go back when she's done. Ain't no other alternative."
"Well, that's good, at least…" Solidad breathed.
Kidd put a large hand on her shoulder and sighed. She was worried; he sensed that. They were all worried. But Kidd couldn't help but think of Nemo and how they had said that only one person could stop the Fates and end all of this suffering and fighting.
He was beginning to have a feeling that he knew who that one person was. He didn't want to think of what might happen to them afterward.
Coyote paced and paced. He looked up at the sky, lashing his tail. He frowned and thought, Hurry up, Ammy; time is running out! If we don't get something that can stop Orochi soon… Oh, why did I have to get us all into this mess?
He sat on his haunches and curled his fluffy tail around his paws. Thief was resting comfortably inside of his own body, not seeming to care that a God had been controlling him for so long. Coyote wondered if having this body for so long might have some sort of negative affect on the Tanuki. He shook his head of it – now wasn't the time.
"Hurry," he said aloud. "Please, hurry…"