CHAPTER THIRTEEN- In Sleep, Warm and Charmed

VULCAVINI watched from afar as the starships departed. He had vowed his entire life to the Koujin, to join them until the very end. And now, he sat on a chair, rocking near a quaint, barren land, a metallic dome behind him. I must atone, he thought to himself. This is what I deserve for putting the kingdom at risk by letting the Qivin princess reside amongst them. He shut his eyes. He prayed that she would be alright. But the truth betrayed his thoughts. The Koujin were on orders to kill both of the princesses.

THE spiralling, staggering chains of machines roared through the blazing red sky, like dragons guarding the throngs of their home. Starships swept through them, but the Leviathans crunched down on them, as enormous, blue whale-like ships blasted them with pulses of energy.

On the ground, Qivin civilians screamed in terror, running from their homes. Koujin soldiers had just broken through the capital's defenses, and now, they were charging straight towards the palace walls. Amothian warriors sprinted towards the invaders and clashed their blades down. Golems picked up Koujin knights and hurled them across the cobblestone paths and into the power plant towers, leaving a path of destroyed restaurants, stores and cafes in their wake. Together, a band of Koujin reached out and brought a Golem down with their Wraithen Energies, breaking their metal shells into lifeless chunks. It was a massacre like none had ever seen.

Tiera was sprinting over the Qivin wilderness, her red, green and gold loose regal dress flowing past her as she ran. She had just gotten back from a pilgrimage, one that demanded its pilgrims dress in formal, ritualistic attire, and she did not have to lift her blade a single time; it was the most tranquil one she had ever been on. Now, panic snaked through her very being as she rushed to her kingdom. She thought to herself: I have to save them. I have to!

But when she stood before the capital's gates, her legs quivered, and her knees bent inwards. Her thoughts raced: What the hell is happening to me?

It was the Koujin.

She never had to encounter a single one. Though she had devoted her life to the Qivin, and believed she had finally crossed over, the conflict within her heart was finally beginning to surface again.

Victor.

Tiera ran into the city, her scivitar sheated in her belt. She watched as Koujin knights slew her Amothian brothers and sisters, and was torn within. Who would she help? Tiera ran on. There was only one person she could talk to. She had to find him before it was too late.

It was there, on a crimson balcony, standing tall and alone and overseeing his army, that she found him. Somehow, he had anticipated this moment. She took careful steps forward. But he sensed her too.

"Tiera," Victor whispered, and turned around. He was fitted with titanium silver battle armor, with sangria lining its exteriors. It was built for a king.

"Victor," Tiera demanded, "You can't do this! These are my people now; take your army and leave!"

"And the Nobilis are mine," Victor countered, "I'm ending this war. We have slaughtered one another for far too long."

Something in his voice did not sit well with Tiera. It was different than anything she had known about him. Where was his carefree demeanor? His smirk, his free flowing spirit? It was all gone, replaced with an authoritarian rule.

"Victor..." Tiera could hardly stand to look at him now. "What have they done to you?"

Victor did not immediately reply. Then, he answered, "I have been thinking to myself, for a long time, about what I did wrong. About why you ran away. And now I finally understand."

"You... you do?" Tiera said, taken aback, her eyes wide. She was in disbelief.

"I know you don't trust me," Victor continued, "But I feel it in you. You miss your home. Not here, but your real one."

It was true. He had sensed what she had buried deep inside. Tiera tried to protest, and said, "I just need more time to adjust."

But Victor could sense the lie that Tiera was trying to conceal. He wouldn't fall for it.

"I was the one who pushed you away," Victor insisted, "But you were right this whole time."

Tiera perked up. Could he have really done it? Could he have changed? But the words he said next were not what she had expected to hear. Victor revealed his true intentions:

"Fate made our love happen. It wants us to join houses, so you can bring the Amoth away from the Qivin. Together, we will put an end to these monsters."

Dread flowed through Tiera, dripping into hopeless puddles beneath. He had made his choice. He had taken the risk to let her inside his heart. But he still could not let go of that which kept them apart.

"Not like this," Tiera pleaded, "Victor, you have to tell them to give the Qivin a chance."

"You don't really want to be with the Qivin!" Victor shouted back, with a fervor in his eyes, "Your oath as a knight was what was suffocating you. You just wanted a release! And I wasn't strong enough to give you one. I made you turn to the Qivin. But Tiera, I feel that I'm ready to change."

"Victor, why won't you listen to me? No matter what they told you, no matter what you're imagining, I love the Qivin. I need them. They're my people!"

"Tiera..."

When he looked at her, Tiera wanted to cry inside. Where had he gone? Where was her prince? Who was standing before her?

The truth was that Victor had changed. He had finally grasped what that story, of the prince, princess, and the beast, had meant this whole time. Victor saw Tiera differently now. Not as a knight, but as a Princess. It was his destiny to rescue her from the Beast.

Tiera stared behind him, below at the fires consuming her city. She forced her hands to move, slowly towards her belt. They nearly grasped the scivitar. But they couldn't.

The prince was walking towards her. When he approached, she could just sense the embers of his conviction burn the surface of her skin. She shut her eyes. Victor was now behind her, and their backs were turned towards one another.

"When I see you again," Victor said, "The war will be over. And you will be free."

Tiera could not say a word back. Soon, Victor was gone.

RUI hid in the shadows of the streets. Her black robes masked her in the darkness. She could hear the metallic clinking of the Koujin soldier armors. She counted the seconds passing. When they had gone, she swiftly snuck past. As she ran, Rui thought to herself, her eyes shut tight: Why is this happening?

She wondered if Tiera was safe. She hoped all the townspeople got away before the Koujin invaded, and that the bloodshed woulds stop soon. But it was a wish that could never come true. Rui saw a boy in the distance, no older than eleven, wearing light Koujin armor and lying with his back against a shop's corner. He was injured, his chest bleeding, and crying for help on the ground.

"MAMA!" the boy begged.

Rui knew that there were children who lied about their age and were conscripted into the army. The children often did so because they were orphans, and sought revenge upon the Qivin. Sympathy poured into Rui's heart as she watched the boy, and she was overcome with an unstoppable desire to find a way to get him back, away from the Amothian warriors. But just then, she felt the pangs in her neck reach out and claw at her.

Her thoughts raced: No, not now!

Rui had been starving herself, hoping to grow used to not needing to feed on souls so often. But her endeavor did not succeed. Now, it was keeping her from helping the child.

I have to resist, Rui thought to herself. Just long enough to save him.

She ran as fast she could towards him, but just as she was near, an aura began to glow around the boy. His head titled upwards, and saw that someone was reaching their hand out and healing him. His savior stepped out from behind the corner of the shop, and Rui gasped. It was Victor.

She could not contain the joy bubbling up inside. "Victor!" she called out towards the prince. At long last, she thought to herself, he had come back. Just as he said he would.

But he did not answer. He did not want to even look at her. Instead, a darkness descended upon his face. He only gave one reply:

"I couldn't let you do it again."

"Victor?" Rui whispered, her voice hurt and lingering. Suddenly, she realized what he meant.

"Victor, you misunderstand!" Rui protested, "I was just trying to help him!"

At last, he turned towards her. "Then why do I sense the Qivin's hunger in you?"

"I was trying to not to give in!"

"Could you really? You're a Qivin."

"Victor, what are you saying?" Rui pleaded. Her worst fears were beginning to be realized. "You know I don't want to harm anyone. I just want to leave this life behind. Ever since we parted, every day, I wished for a way out." Tears dripped from the corner of her eyes. "So if we don't give up, I know we can find one."

Victor stared straight at her. There was something inside that wanted to reach out and embrace her in his arms again. But he did not allow himself to give in. "I'm sorry, Rui. I wished for a way to help you. But life isn't a fairy tale."

"But Victor, you promised!"

Victor turned his head away from her, and picked up the injured boy in his arms. For a moment, he hesitated. It was the Koujin's orders. They told him she had to end. But he shut those thoughts out. Without saying another word goodbye, he began to leave.

Rui thought to herself, anguish gripping throughout her whole body: This whole time, the whole reason he hadn't responded. It was because he saw me. I wish I never had to show you who I truly was.

She turned from him and ran, running as fast as she could, hoping that she could leave this dreaded world and return to the holograms she once knew. But just then, a fiery explosion rained down from the sky, and a gigantic mechanical contraption slammed into the ground before her. Rui looked up and saw that the Qivin machines were being overwhelmed by the Nobilis aerial reinforcements. She was forced to flee somewhere else.

The Leviathans are losing, she thought to herself. No... Father...

Rui felt a danger creep up inside. She sprinted towards the palace, and faced a legion of Koujin soldiers. Rui unsheated her scivitar as they charged her, and she cut through them all like a wasp stinging its prey, but she made sure not to kill them- they were poisoned, and disarmed, but did not die. She thought to herself: This has to stop. I can't let anyone else die.

She snuck in through a hidden passageway, and eventually, she reached the throne room. The hums of its towering, red laser walls filled its vast silence. There was no one inside; the guards had been dispatched to the entrance of the palace. Rui ran towards the obsidian throne, standing in front of the red walls, where her father was very still, in a deep, meditative trance, his whole being like an unmoving stone. All of his energy was being focused on infusing the machine army with dark energies, and controlling the Leviathans. But Rui sensed something was wrong.

"Father," she whispered, "Are you hurt?"

The Kurahlara remained motionless, but a part of his consciousness emerged back in the real world. He replied, "They have stormed the sacred temples and killed all the Leviathan generals. I am the only one left controlling these beasts."

"Father..." Rui said, praying for the carnage to end. Then, there was a sudden shift in the atmosphere of the room. A sinking void.

"Rui," the Kurahlara said, his voice becoming more commanding and austere, "You have brought outsider into the palace."

"I... I couldn't have..."

But from the shadows, Rui sensed what he felt, too. She faced them, and saw a faint, pale glimmer of titanium silver. The prince emerged. He faced the Kurahlara, and shouted, "What have you done to her?"

The Kurahlara spoke back in a dark and solemn tone: "I have given her what she has always wanted."

It was not what Victor wanted to hear. "Once our forces defeats yours, and demolish your kingdom once and for all, whatever spell you have cast over Tiera will be broken. I will save her."

Rui clutched her heart with her hand. She thought to herself: Tiera? Why did Victor want to save her? Why did a prince need to save his knight?

The Kurahlara met him with an ominous laugh. "Save her? From whom?"

"From the Beast."

When Rui heard the prince's brusque reply, her imagination bound her and took her by its reins. She looked for her dream, but when she shut her eyes, she realized it was already gone. Tiera had not told her what she really felt about Victor. Rui was never the Princess; it was whom Tiera wanted to be. But then, just who was the Beast?

The prince walked up to the nearest red wall, and peered through it. "At any moment now, our droids will have disabled your shields. Kurahlara, I will kill you."

"Victor!" Rui cried out, "We have to stop fighting! My city's been covered in blood; why do we have to let more people die?"

Victor was standing a few feet before her. They were both in front of the layers of red walls, the only shields separating them from the Kurahlara. Victor looked Rui in the eyes, and said, "The Qivin killed my mother and my father. And now, they killed my grandmother, too. All because of him."

"But he's my father! And I... I don't want to..." Rui tried to make herself say it, but she couldn't. Something was holding her back.

"He's a murderer and a traitor." Victor turned to gaze at the foreboding tyrant. "And before he dies, he will answer my last request."

The Kurahlara remained motionless, focused. Just then, the enormous palace doors started to rumble, and from them, a girl in a flowing royal dress ran in.

"Rui!" Tiera cried out in worry.

"Tiera?" Rui said, surprised.

"I felt you running in. You sensed it too? Father is fading!"

Before she could reach her sister, Tiera stopped dead in her tracks. She saw who was next to her, only a few feet away.

"What are you doing here?" Tiera shouted at Victor.

"I'm here to make your father pay for his crimes! And I will ask him the question I've always been seeking. The one the Koujin have told me never to look for!"

Tiera clenched her fists. "Victor... you can't ask it. The masters forbade you."

"You don't care what they say. You left the Koujin. So you can't stop me; I will not make the same mistakes as Bronson did." The prince turned to the Kurahlara, vengeance now sewn into his conviction. "My father, the Knight of Thorns. And my mother, the Knight of the Ocean. Do you remember betraying them?"

Seconds passed. Finally, there was an answer: "Yes. Those invaders of Qivin land. They did all they could to raze it."

"They were trying to protect our people!" Victor yelled back in anger. "They were killed by Qivin! And not just any Qivin, but elite Amothian warriors! So I want to know... which one of your soldiers slew them in cold blood?"

The Kurahlara's spirit became enshrouded in an ominous ambience. Rui shivered as its cold air touched her bones. Tiera felt it, too. Their father spoke: "It is not wise to ask such a question."

"Don't tell me what to do, dark lord."

"Then you shall suffer."

"I am prepared! The murderer. It was a Qivin, wasn't it?"

"Yes... a Qivin killed your mother."

There was a long, terrifying pause.

"Who? Tell me who that bastard is, and I'll cut him down!"

"She is here no more. But her child lives on."

The girl in black robes shuddered, and suddenly, felt the greatest urge to hide. She had to get away. She looked all around her for an escape, but she was trapped. Rui looked at her sister, but she was frozen, lost. She then turned to the tyrant on the obsidian throne, and pleaded, "Father, it can't be!" But the Kurahlara did not retract his answer.

Victor was in disbelief. He looked at Rui, at the sweet girl he had swore to protect, and for a moment, the image he had concocted of the Beast was gone. But he knew that it still lingered. "No... that can't be," he whispered. Yet, by unbreakable chains, he was bound to his anger. He shouted at the Kurahlara: "And what of my father? Did she kill him too?"

The Kurahlara roared back: "Foolish prince. I killed your father!"

The prince clenched his fist, right next to his scivitar. He was so blinded by his wrath that he couldn't see what was around him anymore. Rui wasn't there. Not even Tiera. All he saw was the one he had longed to kill, sitting defenseless right in front of him.

"No..." Tiera whispered. She did not move.

"Father, why?" Rui cried out. She wanted to run towards him, to hold his hands in her own and tell her it wasn't true. But they were separated by guards of sinister red walls. All she could do was stay near the vengeful prince.

It was then that Victor noticed her pleas. He turned to Rui, and told her, with a shred of warmth in his voice, "You heard the truth. And you still call out for him?"

Rui begged him, "Please, you can't! I'll do whatever you want to end this war! Just don't do it!"

Victor glared at her. With the coldest of tones, he told her, "If you really wanted to help, you would help me kill your father."

His words pierced Rui like a sharp, iced sword. Her hands trembled near the crimson scivitar. For a moment, she thought about it. She wanted for nothing more but the war to end. She had been ashamed of the Qivin her whole life- they had given her nothing but a curse. If she did it now, and shed one last drop of blood, the carnage would be over. But suddenly, she remembered the white light, and the meadows, that she had shared with him. She shut her eyes, and hesitated. Her thoughts held her in place: I can't. He's still my father.

Victor watched as Rui tore herself apart. He could feel her pain, and did all he could to stop himself from pitying her. But no matter how hard he tried, his thoughts did not go away: 'I can't stand to see her like this.' From the Wraithen Energies, he felt her starvation. He remembered all their faces: Elyn, his grandmother, Ben. How could he let her be like this any longer? Her mother's curse, the blood of his own mother's murderer, ran through her veins. He wished she could just go away; he wished, before she lost control again, that she could be free her from her pain. It all accumulated inside, and he shouted at Rui:

"For once in your damn life, make up your mind!" But Rui only shook her head back.

He was angry at her for not having the same resolve, the same pressure that had been dealt to him, that told him he needed to sacrifice herself. Why did he have to endure all this when she didn't? It enraged him deep inside.

You can't give in. She's not real.

It was the beast inside of her. She was possessed by its evil. He had to end her suffering. He had to save Tiera.

His hand gripped his scivitar. But he thought to himself: What am I doing? How could I do this?

He still cared for her. But it was this very selfish desire that was threatening his kingdom. Could he live with himself if he brought death to trillions of innocents? Could he let her take his Princess away? For one last time, he told it to himself, finally sealing it forever within:

She's not real. She never was.

"I'm sorry, Rui. This is the only way."

The broken girl cried out, her last hope forever gone, as she wraithen-pulled her dark crimson scivitar into her hands, and shielded her neck from the neon blue light slashing down upon her. Victor sent an vibrating wave of illumination through the air, and Rui reached out to suffocate it in place. But then, he continue to rain down blows of his scivitar upon her. They fought with the truest of their shared emotions, the illusions of the holograms finally shattered. The edge of Rui's blade found its way through Victor's defenses, and for a sharp second, it cut his forearm. Victor's scivitar immediately countered and bit straight through Rui's collarbone. The blood drawn from their bodies conjured the closest sensations that they had ever felt together.

"VICTOR! RUI!" Tiera shouted. There was nothing she could do; she could only watch her two beloved fight before her eyes.

Suddenly, a voice spoke to her from within. However, it was unlike any she had heard before. It came from her father.

"Tiera, my soul must be entwined with the Leviathans. You are the only one who can save her."

Tiera shut her eyes, and channeled her thoughts back to her father: "But it's still there. The conflict in my heart. The one that you wouldn't let near the Koujin!"

"Now is the time for you to change, to prove yourself. I sense it. Your resolve. You are realizing your final destiny!"

"I... I can sense it..." Her throat tightened. "But the Koujin voices speak to me too..."

"Vulcavini was the one who threw those shackles over you, holding you in bondage! He killed your mother. Do not let him do the same to your sister!"

Tiera swiftly opened her eyes, and saw Victor relentlessly hunting Rui down, his scivitar pounding mercilessly against her, and finally, she lost her grip on her metallic blade. Suddenly, she cried out in pain as Victor's blue shards cut against her hand; her scivitar fell to the floor, and she tried to wraiten-push her assailant away, but could only only thrust him backwards a few feet. Victor had disarmed her. Knowing the battle was over, he readied himself for the finishing blow.

Victor glared at the broken girl; she was hunched over and panting, her eyes fierce as she did all she could to cling onto the last threads of her life. Blood dripped from her face. Her dark, bewitching purple eyes were narrowing into him, telling him to stay as far away as possible. But inside, she was giving up. She could did not want to fight any longer.

Just then, the dark purple irises disappeared, covered by light lilac. Tiera had stepped in between, and was facing her former lover, their eyes fiercely locked together.

"Victor..." Tiera said, her voice firm and angry, "You can't do this."

"I have to let go," Victor said, breathing heavily.

He gripped his bloodied weapon tightly with both of his hands. There was nothing on his mind but his knightly oath; he swore to be the protector of quintillions who lay defenseless in the galaxy. But now, she was right there: his Princess. She was not behind the Beast, but in front of it. He remembered his grandfather's words: that it did not matter what he felt inside. To save his kingdom, he had to sacrifice even the one he loved the most.

His own selfish desire stood before of him, and was holding all those innocent lives in its dangerous grasp. Victor did not relent. He did not turn away. This was the ultimate decision that his whole life had led up to.

Tiera leapt towards him and swung her scivitar down, but Victor parried. Their blades clashed downwards, forcing the two to push in close to one another.

And then, before Tiera could react, Victor grabbed Tiera's waist with one hand, leaning in with his one-handed sword now pressing even closer to her own, his passion unwavering and bloodlusted. Tiera could just anticipate what Victor was about to do. She had studied his movements every waking moment- his strikes, his jabs, his parries. Tiera impelled his relentless stroke upwards and, sensing Victor's next move, she countered one step ahead, her scivitar plunging forwards in a single thrust.

A silence. A solitary beat of a heart.

Rui was trembling, hugging her arms close to her body. The sight was too much for her to bear.

Tiera realized what she had done. Her hands slowly loosened from their grip. Her scivitar had buried itself into Victor's heart.

Victor fell onto his knees, but Tiera caught him, his heavy body weighing her down into a kneeling position. She withdrew her scivitar from his chest. Blood dripped from the corners of his lips, and all Tiera could do was wrap her arms around her prince's waist, his bleeding heart pressed against hers. She held him closer to her than she had ever done before.

"Tiera..." Victor whispered, his voice fading.

She felt an unstoppable hole digging deep into her own heart, too. There was nothing she could do to keep it from killing her inside. But she could not cry. Her mind was in shock at what she had just done.

Victor's eyes met with Tiera's, and he saw their pale violet light yearning, wanting to hide. Suddenly, all at once, the voices bounding him into sacrifice, into the greater good, vanished into nothingness.

He always knew that there may have been a day where he would die on the battlefield. Perhaps to a Qivin, killing him on a lonely plain where no one would see. But he never expected he would die to her. There was no need to hold onto the duties his kingdom imposed onto him any longer. Tiera's familiar, loving gaze was all he wanted to see before he was gone; he just wanted to take a look into her eyes one last time. Victor gave her a serene, reassuring smile, one that she had not seen since they last parted ways. It told her: Please, don't be afraid.

Tiera knew what he was trying to tell her. But it was not enough. She thought to herself: I need him to stay. I have to say it.

"Victor... I loved you."

She wished he could hear what he had always yearned for. She couldn't live with herself if he didn't.

Tiera waited. She was met with silence.

"Victor?" she whispered. The knight tried to look into her prince's eyes once more. But he was already gone.

"Tiera?" Rui whispered to her sister, tears trickling down her cheeks.

The knight could not cry. She was in shock over what she had just done.

"Rui," Tiera whispered back, and turned to face her sister. Her eyes were empty, in pain, but showing no emotion.

"Why did you do it?"

"I did it to save you!" Tiera shouted, her eyes now filling with the shreds of her tattered soul, "To save us! I sacrificed the one I loved the most for our kingdom!"

"Tiera, you shouldn't have. Not for me," Rui quietly replied, her voice cracking.

"I had to. The quarrel that lay inside me. It's gone."

Rui looked into Tiera's eyes. Their shades of purple met, in an understanding unlike any other. Rui knew what Tiera was truly feeling. Her heart had not crossed over. But she could not admit it hadn't.

"I wanted him to understand," Tiera said, with a suffocating voice, "But I knew that no matter what I did, he never could."

Rui reached deeper in their shared bond, praying to find a way to help her sister. It was then that she found the answer to her wish: Tiera wanted Rui to tell her that she had done the right thing. She needed Rui to comfort her.

Slowly, Rui walked over to the fallen knight. She stepped in close to her chest, and embraced her arms around Tiera. Then, her twin embraced her, too.

"Our kingdom is safe," Tiera whispered, "We saved the Qivin."

But the only thoughts that ran through Rui were those that she could not bear. The sacrifices. The isolation. Tiera's hopeless face, one that was so far gone, and could never smile again. She tried to smoulder them away with her dream, and lost herself one last time in that faded world, the one she lived in with Victor. She remembered the creatures and pets they showed one another, the happiness they shared together. It was just enough to hide the pain that would come from what she was about to do.

"It's going to be alright," Rui whispered back, "I'm here for you."

A crimson red blade shot through the air and, from below, it pierced straight into Tiera's back. The girl with the crystal white hair gasped, and her twin held her still.

"I'm sorry, Tiera."

Immediately, Rui let go and wrapped both of her hands around her twin's neck. The Qivin's eyes began to glow.

"RUI!" their father roared out in fury. At once, the barriers of light before him were shaking, and the metallic exteriors holding them in place were being crushed one by one. He had relinquished control of the Leviathans. It did not matter to him now how they fared in the war.

Rui saw her sister's life disappearing before her, and felt her hands shaking as she knew what was about to come. She couldn't end others' pain like her sister could. Now, she finally had a way.

Tiera choked, coughing, her eyes betrayed for a few moments. But not for long.

"Rui... I'll kill you..."

It was the last act of mercy Rui could give her. Before she died, Tiera wouldn't have to feel the pain of being killed by a loved one. She would die fighting with a warrior's heart.

The red walls exploded, and finally, they were no more. The Kurahlara rose from his obsidian throne, and bellowed out a mighty yell:

"Your own sister! What have you done?"

Rui shut her eyes. Tiera, she thought to herself. You're no longer suffering.

The girl faced her father. Now that she had been gifted her sister's powers, they nearly stood on equal grounds. Her eyes were primed with a bloodthirsty orange.

"I've felt it every moment since I was born. Why couldn't you feel it too? All the pain you caused me?"

The Kurahlara answered with subdued anger, "I made you stronger. Nothing from the outside world could hurt you."

"I would rather be hurt by the outside than be shunned by it. I was nothing more but a monster. You did this to me!"

"You fell to the Koujin! You were poisoned by that prince and his abhorrent ideals!"

Rui seethed at her father through her fanged teeth. "All we've ever done is hurt others. We're all just abominations. Not a single one of us deserves to live."

Then, she thrust her hand out towards the dark tyrant, and a low rumbling was heard.

"Rui, stop this at once!" the Kurahlara roared, "You know nothing of what will happen once you unleash that power!"

A finale of darkness descended upon the father and his daughter. From the obsidian throne, the King levitated towards the high, luminous ceiling, with golden rays gleaming through the enormous windows behind him. He was channeling all the power he had into his very being. The mechanical contraptions broke free from the archictures holding them in place. Ropes snapped and pulleys fell. All at once, the myriad of gears whirled and burst from their frames, and pipes shot hot steam through the air. The golden palace was demolished into its last moments of existence.

It was a clashing of two powers that rivaled that of a supernova. Rui screamed as she gathered all the strength within herself to fight her own father. Then, there was an explosion of the brightest white light.

BRONSON stood in the meadow, facing a young child, his sturdy right hand holding his daughter's left. Her elbow was bruised, and she was weeping.

"If you knew how strong you were," the tall father said, "You wouldn't cry."

The girl wiped her tears with her hand, and smiled. But she still harbored a bittersweet sadness within her. "They're all gone," the young girl said. "Father," she looked up and asked, "Will you leave me too?"

"I'll never leave. I'll always be there to protect you."

The girl reached out her right hand and wrapped both of her hands around her father's right. Bronson wanted his words to be true. But it had always been inevitable that one day, she would realize that he could not keep his promise.

RUI was kneeling down, holding her father's body in her arms, her hands cradling his bleeding palm. His mask had cracked, and his machine-like body was torn apart. The man's life was fading away, and into her own. Slowly, she felt herself being filled with an unimaginable energy. And finally, her father succumbed into the darkness forever.

It was all over. She knew it was the only way. And now, the Qivin would not curse them anymore.

Rui cried out in pain, her screams reaching every corner of the room's metal walls. The floors of the palace shook, and the pillars broke into millions of pieces. Qivin soldiers and royals frantically scrambled to find the cause of this destruction. They ran into the throne room, and saw Rui covered in blood, kneeling down with their Chieftan lying dead in her arms. Golden sparks and stones fell from the ceilings in avalanches, crushing the helpless royals.

From outside the palace, the guards gaped at the crumbling sight. And then, there was a gigantic gash in the ground- an earthquake had shattered the land in two.

From all across the city, Qivin screamed for help. Their entire home was being devoured. Every house, every tower, gone.

When the quake stopped, only ruins lay in the aftermath. The broken parlor signs resting in the ground. The shattered fountains, never to have vermillion waters flow through them again. Next to corpses of soldiers lay the remains of Golems and Leviathans. The restaurants, the lanterns, the musicians stalls- all gone. The cafes, the bronze lights. They were all gone, too.

At long last, the bloodshed had ceased.

"THE war is over. The Kurahlara and his kingdom have fallen. Nobilis has won!"

Cheers rang out in the capital's streets. When he left his metallic home to observe the commotion, Vulcavini saw parades celebrating in the distance. He had listened to the reports on his hologram. Though Nobilis was reigning with joy and jubliation, all the reports could only leave him with was a forlorning that he could not describe.

A hand patted the old master's shoulder.

"Vulcavini," a Koujin knight greeted him.

"A Koujin?" Vulcavini said, astounded. He had been shunned by the order. Why were they visiting him now?

The knight continued, "The war is over, so there is no need for further animosity. It is not the right time for that."

Vulcavini nodded gently. Then the knight clasped his hands onto Vulcavini's, and told him, "Prince Victor gave his life for the kingdom. He will forever be remembered as a hero."

Vulcavini nodded again. After the old master shook the knight's hand too, he slowly let go, and said goodbye, thanking him for his visit. He sat down, opened a cabinet, and retrieved a sapphire necklace. He isolated himself in his thoughts.

Vulcavini missed her. He remembered her curious questions, her warm smile. The sapphire necklace shone faintly through his fingers, his lips hardly parted as he tried to remember how she wore it everywhere she went. And now, she was gone forever.

He remembered his old friend's words: War is inevitable. But for as long as I can breath, I will never stop fighting for what I believe in. This is the gift that every soul has been given. Don't take it away.

Vulcavini looked outside from his windows, and saw a horrific sight.

Thousands of Koujin starships descended from the skies. When they landed, Qivin, shackled in plasma chains, were being herded by soldiers. Vulcavini could only watch as the Koujin brutally pushed them all along like cattle- old or young, fit or disabled, it did not matter to the wardens. He knew where they were being transported to: the prisons, where they would be forcibly sterilized. It was the inevitable outcome of the war.

Just then, there was a knock on his door. Vulcavini immediatly jumped up and opened it, and at the entrance, he saw a young Qivin girl. From the distance, he heard a woman scream.

The Koujin had separated the mother from her child, but the girl had escaped. Now, she looked for someone to help her.

"Please, mister," she pleaded, "I don't want them to take me!"

The child reached her hands out to Vulcavini. But he did not reach back. He did not dare.

Below the somber fall of the sun, admist the ashen Nobilis sky, Vulcavini shut his eyes in mourning as he pressed his master's sapphire necklace against his lips.

"What have I done?"

EXEUNT

Cradle for the child

Taken from the nest

The bird searches in vain

Her fledglings wilt away

Child tries to fly

Into Mother's arms

Her wings are just a dream

In sleep, warm and charmed.