Brave New World
Chapter XXVIII: Endgame
Anna didn't know whether to feel excited, terrified, or curious as she snuck her way through the war-torn capital city with her team. It was already clear that the battle was lost, but if her team could confront Elias Xanos and destroy him, then the Chrysos Federation's war machine would crumble, and all of Elias' psychic minions would be freed. But Anna was sure that this mission would be dangerous. How many minions would Elias place between himself and the invaders in the city hall?
"Probably not too many," Hera said confidently. "Elias' plan was perfect. He has every reason to feel completely safe, and I'll bet that he has, at most, a token guard force in the city hall."
"We can take them," Phillip added.
Anna swallowed tightly but didn't respond. Living on board the Waveskimmer and joining the Akti Union army taught her that few things were as easy as one expected. But this time, Anna knew that she couldn't afford to give in to despair. This was her one chance to free Chara, and she'd face it with all the strength she could muster.
The sounds of battle grew distant as Anna and the others approached the city hall. By now, the roads were definitely on a slope, leading up the hill that the city hall was perched on. From up there, one could survey the entire city.
"Soldiers!" Hera hissed. Up ahead, six Federation troops marched down the empty street, clearly surveying the place for any stragglers. The soldiers spotted Anna's team and raised their muskets to fire without a word.
"I've got it," Leon growled. He reached out his left hand and clenched a fist. Ethereal white sorcery bled from between his fingers, and at once the soldiers turned on each other and fired. Five of them crumpled to the stone-cobbled street, and a shot from one of Nick's pistols took down the last soldier.
"Good. Let's move," Hera muttered.
Fortunately, no more soldiers interfered with the squad's progress to the city hall. Like Hera had predicted, Elias had clearly devoted all his forces to the battle, sure of his victory. Still, Anna tensed herself for combat as she and the others broke a window on the city hall's ground floor and broke in.
Anna had been to other city halls, but this one was definitely the biggest and wealthiest. Expensive art, both from local artisans and relics from the old world, sat on pedestals and hung on the walls. Tall windows let in the morning light and the whole place felt spacious and welcoming. Anna didn't let the place lure her into a false sense of security, though.
The team made its way up stone staircases and closer to the top floor. According to Hera, Elias Xanos was definitely holed up in the mayor's office, but when she reached the third floor, she also sensed bodyguards. Sorcerers.
Finally, Nick threw open a pair of doors on the top floor and three sorcerers were standing there, ready to receive the intruders. One of them was a burly, dark-skinned man with ice coated on his fists. The second was a dark-haired woman with no visible powers but a determined expression on her face. The third was Chara.
"That's your sister, right?" Nick murmured in Anna's ear.
Anna nodded. Now, right in front of her, was her whole reason for joining the Akti Union army and fighting the Chrysos Federation. Ironically, that reason would fight hard to oppose her. Maybe Hera could do something about that?
"This is what we're prepared for," Hera said tensely. "Anna, all three of us psychics are ready to die to break Elias' psychic hold on the Federation. Cover us, and we'll get started."
Anna clenched her fists and conjured her lightning. "Right."
"Not a chance," the large sorcerer boomed, overhearing the conversation. He drew back a fist, tensed his muscles, and threw a mid-air punch that unleashed a torrent of thick icicles.
Nick sprang into action; he twisted, ducked, and scrambled out of harm's way, but he couldn't stop a few stray icicles from grazing his arms and legs. Blood trickled from his wounds.
Anna blocked icicles with a web of lightning that melted any nearby projectiles, but the woman sorcerer now took her turn and she used an element Anna rarely saw in sorcery: strength. The woman punched the floor and a rolling shock wave of power threw Anna off her feet like a tidal wave. Chunks of tiles and wood flew into the air and Anna heard the floor creaking.
"Just hang on!" Hera shouted as she, Phillip, and Leon formed a humming web of psychic power. "Give us a few minutes!"
If I have any to give, Anna thought as the woman swung her fists through the air. Desperate, Anna scrambled out of the way and watched as the woman punched holes in the floor with her bare fists. Meanwhile, the ice sorcerer's fists traded blows with Nick's sword. Nick clearly had to use every once of his combat training just to keep pace, and he lacked any sorcery to fight back with.
"Aaaaargh!" Anna felt the woman's knuckles graze her shoulder, and she felt herself spun around and thrown back as though hit by a charging bull. Pain throbbed in her shoulder and Anna was worried that the woman had broken something.
"Die, little girl," the dark-haired woman leered. She drew back her fist to deliver a killing blow.
Anna felt adrenaline surge through her body, and her lightning power followed suit. Although lying on her back, she felt far from defenseless. She kicked out a foot and blasted the strong woman with a blinding web of electricity, throwing the woman back. The foul smell of burnt flesh filled Anna's nostrils.
"Bitch!" The strong woman stumbled back and raised her arms in front of her face. For a few seconds, she trembled as she endued the lightning blast. Then, with surprising speed, she leaped forth and landed her knuckles on Anna's chest.
This time Anna was sure that something had broken. She clenched her teeth to keep herself from crying out and giving her opponent the satisfaction, but still, she felt herself once again thrown to the floor. Pain flared in her chest every time she took a breath and she felt her lightning power falter.
"Ugh!" The strong woman suddenly jerked back as though slapped, and she seized her head frantically as wisps of psychic power surrounded her. Anna slowly looked over and saw that Hera, Phillip, and Leon had conjured a veritable psychic storm, and now the ice sorcerer felt the effects too. Not a moment too soon; Nick was covered in bruises and cuts, but he looked relieved as the ice sorcerer felt the psychic effects.
Slowly, painfully, Anna staggered to her feet and warily watched the two sorcerers struggle against the psychic storm. The psychic power won out; Elias' two minions fell to their knees and gurgled as though being strangled, then went limp and collapsed.
But there was one more.
While Hera and the others were concentrating, Chara bounded across the hallway, and with a flash of silver, slashed Leon's throat. Blood seeped over Leon's neck and he gasped, clutching the wound. It was no good; Chara drove her knife into his chest and threw him aside. Leon was helpless as he bled to death, and in seconds, he went still.
"L-look at that, Chara," Anna coughed. "You just avenged our dad."
Chara looked over at her big sister defiantly, but then a familiar gleam flashed across her eyes. She slumped her shoulders and lowered her knife. "Anna," she grunted, as though in pain. "I-I can't fight it... Elias is too st-strong!" She slowly raised her knife again.
"Get away from her!" Anna warned Hera and Phillip. The two psychic sorcerers complied, but they didn't take their eyes off the younger Manikas. Meanwhile, Anna pleaded, "Chara, fight harder. You have to! You're still in there, aren't you? Fight!"
"I-I'm trying," Chara wheezed. Her chest rose and fell as she fought the forces in her mind. "I broke free earlier, but E-Elias got me back. He wants me to kill you!"
Anna dredged up her lightning power slowly, carefully. She couldn't tax her body too much. "Then I'll have to fight you, won't I?" she said.
While Hera and Phillip worked to keep their psychic power steady, the two sisters slowly and warily approached each other. They circled each other like wolves, knife against lightning, minion against intruder. For a moment Anna just watched her sister. Then she attacked.
No longer did Anna hold back; she knew that Chara could endure any bodily harm that she could inflict. The trick was to deal enough damage at once in order to incapacitate Chara. So, Anna swept her hands through the air and flung two lashes of lightning at her sister and hoped for the best.
Chara demonstrated her acrobatic skill and easily leaped over the lightning waves. She zig-zagged her way across the hall and slashed her knife at her sister, and Anna barely had time to avoid it. She felt the weapon's cold, sharp edge graze her arm. A droplet of blood leaked from the tiny cut.
"I guess you've still got it, Chara," Anna commented. She took a few steps back and let loose with another lightning blast, this time in a wider area. Chara winced as the electricity roasted her flesh, but only seconds after the lightning died down, her burns started to smooth over and fade away. Not a mark was left to show that Chara had ever been hurt.
To think she got that power because of an accident, Anna thought. Not everything was destiny or fate; sometimes, the most mundane things could set bigger events into motion. Chara's accident at a farm town had forced her to accept the power of healing sorcery, and that in turn had prompted Elias' minions to conscript her into the Chrysos Federation army.
Time to reverse that.
Again the sisters exchanged blows, and again Chara's inner power erased her burns. Chara moved like an acrobat, forcing Anna to use every ounce of her dwindling sorcery and strength. Anna felt herself slowed by her injuries, and she did her best to ignore the searing pain of her broken ribs as she fought. This was not the time for weakness or self-pity; this was her only chance to get Chara back.
A particularly vicious blast of lightning fried Chara's body from head to toe, and for a moment Anna thought she had won. But she was wrong; Chara pushed through the lightning and swung her knife in a desperate move. Anna felt the blade slice her chest and warm blood seeped into her Union uniform.
"D-damn... it..." Anna doubled over and took a few steps back. She clapped a hand to her wound but the blood loss was serious. She couldn't keep up with Chara for much longer, and Chara was now advancing on her big sister with her knife poised for the kill.
Before Chara could land another blow, she cried out and clutched at her head as though suffering a massive headache. Her knife dropped to the floor and she fell to her knees, teeth bared.
"I've got her!" Hera gasped. Clearly, the enhanced psychic sorcery was taking a toll on her. She too had fallen to her knees and she shook from head to toe, but her face was set and her psychic power was still holding. "Anna, knock her out."
Reluctant to harm her sister, Anna threw a punch that collided with Chara's temple and knocked her over. The younger Manikas sprawled on the floor, inert.
"So that's how it is," a voice commented. Anna looked over her shoulder: a man in his mid-thirties had exited the mayor's office, wearing a dark outfit and a grim expression. He surveyed the scene. "My minions fell? Guess I'll have to do this myself."
He reached out with his gloved hands and Anna felt a mental spike spear its way through her brain. Half-blinded, Anna fell to her knees like Chara had, hands clapped to her temples. She could tell that Hera and Phillip suffered the same.
"Weaklings," the man sneered. "There's no room for the weak or stupid in this new colony land. Only the strong will rule, and that's me. The game's up. I've won."
No. You haven't! Anna protested in her mind, but there was nothing she could do. This man, Elias Xanos, had paralyzed her body. His psychic sorcery commanded every fiber of Anna's body.
"Maybe I should make you all slit your own throats," Elias pondered. "Or strangle each other, or throw yourselves out the window. The fall would be fatal. What should I do?"
"A-Anna," Hera gasped. "I can feel him... the real Elias is trapped in his own m-mind! This is just... a psychic entity speaking! S-something evil!"
Anna only numbly registered Hera's words. "What?"
"Elias' psychic sorcery comes f-from an artificial man. He's controlling Elias' body. I can feel it!" Hera grunted as Elias' psychic web intensified.
"What good does that do?" Anna sputtered. She wasn't the psychic expert here!
"Y-you can break the entity's hold on him," Hera explained. "Find a way!"
Elias took a few steps closer with a malicious expression on his face. "You know what, I'll make you guys slit each other's throats. Lightning girl, why don't you go first?"
Against her will, Anna felt herself climbing to her feet. She drew the combat knife in her belt and walked toward Hera with the blade poised. Frantically, Anna tried to stop, but her body inexorably moved closer. Phillip was helpless too; he just knelt, his whole body shaking and his face in his hands.
"Good. Now kill her," Elias sneered.
Horrified, Anna watched as Elias raised her knife arm, and the other arm pulled back Hera's head to expose her neck. Then, Anna slowly moved the sharp edge closer...
A flash of pain jolted Anna's mind. She looked down and saw that Chara had crawled over and grazed her knife against Anna's leg. Then, Anna realized that she had moved her head on her own accord.
"Damn it," Elias muttered. He moved his arms in a complex pattern, but Anna felt her body starting to respond to her brain. Jerkily, clumsily, Anna backed up from Hera and lowered her knife. Her whole mind seemed to come back into focus, as though waking up from a bad dream.
"His mind is overloaded," Chara panted from the floor. "That's how I broke free to start with, Anna! Get him, before he gets control back!"
Anna suddenly grinned. So everyone has their limits. With Hera, Chara, Phillip, and Nick watching, Anna whirled around and extended a hand to zap Elias from head to toe.
A surge of mental power forced Anna back to her knees, her lightning powers receding.
"Too slow," Elias taunted her. "I'll make you slit your own throat before you resist me again."
Now Anna raised her knife to her own throat and pressed the sharp edge against her skin. She felt the cold steel start to cut into her flesh and she realized that she was seconds away from death. Chara, Mwibu, Hera... I'll never see any of you again. I couldn't do it. Elias is too strong.
Then, again, Anna felt Elias' power slip.
"No! So close..." Elias cursed. His pearly white power flickered and dimmed and Anna felt herself regain control of her body. Sluggishly, she forced her body back into form and she hurled one last lightning bolt at Elias.
The crackling bolt shuddered Elias' whole body and he collapsed. He groaned, stirred a little, then raised his head. Horror flooded his eyes. "Th-thank you," he wheezed. "You freed me from him. The vision-man. That jolt broke his hold on me. Just what I needed."
Anna blinked. "Who's the vision-man?"
"He came into my head when I was bitten by an emerald viper," Elias went on. "He encouraged me to control the Federation and unite the world so I could become a great leader. But he was wrong! I became a monster. I'm.. I'm so sorry."
Anna could tell he meant it. "Then what should we do with you? That vision-man, or whatever, might come back. And how do I know that you're not playing me?"
"It's not a trick!" Elias snapped. "All I want is for this to end. No more war, no conquest. Just peace. And I know how to get it." He sprang to his feet and approached one of the windows.
Alarm flared in Anna's mind. "Wait. What are you doing?"
Elias kicked out the window and stared out at Passeleus. "I thought I'd rule the world from here," he commented. "But actually, I'll free the world from myself here instead. Thank you, Anna, for freeing me. Now I can destroy the vision-man the only way I know how."
"Don't!" Anna scrambled over, but she was, again, too slow. Elias poised himself in the windowsill, then let himself fall to the street far below. By the time Anna reached the windowsill, she saw Elias' prone form sprawled on the stone-cobble street five stories below her. She stared in horror. Elias had been a vessel of the wicked vision-man, a victim like everyone else. And now he was dead by his own hand. Feeling distinctly sick, Anna withdrew from the window.
The distant sound of gunfire receded and Anna realized that Elias' hold on the Federation and Combine armies was fading. No doubt that the war was already over, what with the vision-man gone and all. Either way, Anna had done it, but she didn't feel very triumphant. Instead, she settled onto the floor and tried not to pass out from blood loss.
"Anna! You okay?" Nick hurried over and tore off his shirt to make bandages with. "You're bleeding badly..."
"I think I'll survive," Anna murmured. "Hey. We won, didn't we?"
Nick hesitated, then started treating Anna's wounds. "We did. Now shut up before you aggravate these wounds any more. I won't have anyone else die here today."
Not for the first time, Anna found herself waking up in a hospital room. She had a small but comfortable room to herself, complete with a bedside table and a vase of flowers. Sunlight poured from the window.
This time was a little different, though. Anna felt a distinct sense of content and relaxation as she sat up in her hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown over her bandaged body. She felt distinctly hungry and rang a bell for service.
"How long have I been out?" Anna asked when a male nurse came in, carrying a breakfast tray.
"About a week," the man said simply. He sat the tray on Anna's bedside table. "Feeling any better?"
"A week?" Anna repeated, shocked. So much must have happened in that time. The collapse of the Federation's war machine, Chara returning to her usual self, peace talks and negotiation between the Federation and Union...
"You were kept out for a week at the request of your friend," the nurse explained. "She thought it best."
"She..." Anna worked her brain. "Hera? Blonde sorcerer?"
The nurse nodded. "Right. Her. She barely made it as it was, but she was more concerned about getting you, that sword guy, and the redheaded girl out alive."
So they're all okay! "Can I see them?"
"I'll bring them in," the nurse promised. "For now, eat something. You need the energy." He turned on his heel and exited the room without another word.
Anna nibbled on her breakfast. She suddenly didn't feel as hungry anymore. All she could think about was seeing the others and hearing the news from them. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Anna ate her breakfast alone.
Finally, the door opened and three people came in: Hera, Nick, and Chara. "Hey. Good to see you up," Hera said brightly. She and Nick both wore hospital gowns.
"Glad you made it out of there," Anna said frankly. "After the psychic strain that root put on you... I was worried."
Hera smiled. "Thanks. I guess I was lucky." Her smile faded. "But not Phillip. He didn't make it."
"Oh." Anna bowed her head in respect for Phillip. Along with Mwibu and Elias, he was another person who gave his life to bring peace back to the colony lands. She looked over to Nick. "How about you?"
Nick winced. "Still aching, but I'll get over it." He smiled. "But I think you'd rather see Chara here."
"Anna..." Chara, wearing everyday clothes, cautiously made her way to her big sister's bed. Her lower lip trembled and her eyes looked bright. "I..."
"You're back with me, and that's what matters," Anna said firmly. "You're free."
"Yeah." Without warning, Chara burst into tears and knelt by Chara's bed. "Oh my gods... I tried to kill you so many times..."
"Only twice," Anna said, half-joking, but she wrapped her arms around her little sister and hugged her tight. She rested her head on Chara's shoulder. "None of it was your fault. Blame the vision-man. He's the one who did this. Even Elias Xanos was a victim."
"Y-yeah, I guess," Chara sobbed. She returned Anna's embrace. "I thought I'd never see you again. And I was thinking, back when we were together on the Waveskimmer, I was so ungrateful for everything you did for me. I just wanted to run around free, but you were trying to protect me."
Anna shook her head. "I've changed my mind about that," she said, letting her sister go. "Our lives shouldn't be about running away and avoiding risks. We should just live and accept the risks deal with the consequences as they come. That's what everyone else does. Why can't we?"
Chara opened her mouth to respond but closed it again. She thought about it. "Well... okay." She forced a watery smile.
"There we go," Anna smiled. Something occurred to her. "So, where do you want to live, then? Pick a place. Anywhere."
"Not another fruit orchard town," Chara joked.
"How about with me?" Nick offered. Everyone turned to look at him.
"That's pretty bold, lover boy," Hera smirked.
Nick recoiled. "Y-you know about that?" He flushed.
Hera tapped her temple. "Psychic."
"Oh." Nick swallowed and set his face. "What do you think, Anna? I mean, you don't have to decide now, but I wanted to put it out there."
"Don't worry," Anna assured him. "I think that'll work out great. I could do with having a normal domestic life. So could Chara, I think."
"Yeah," Chara nodded eagerly.
"It's not normal as long as my siblings are there," Nick grinned. "But still, I think this'll work out great."
Anna looked at Chara, then to Hera, who nodded, then back to Nick. "Yeah. Definitely."
A/N: Thank you, everyone, who read, reviewed, and favorited this story. Your support is appreciated! Especially Tomoyuki Tanaka :)