CHAPTER 34

Armageddon

            Nataki's eyes slowly opened, taking in her dark surroundings.  The only light in the room came from the glass window, which was partially covered to keep the sun from waking her.  She didn't really care, however.  She was still tired.

            She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, her long red hair cascading over her shoulders.  She would have to remember to bind it again later.  Instead, she stood up and stretched, straightening out her clothing.  She turned to the door, deciding to head on out.

            She was instantly met with the faces of her comrades.  They didn't appear to be too happy.  In fact, most had their attention turned to the ground.

"Good morning," greeted Nataki, a smile on her face.  The others turned to her, but not one returned her smile.  She was sure that at least one would.  "What's wrong?" she asked them, looking around the group of people.  It didn't take her long to realize that someone was missing.  "Where's Dimero?" she asked.  No one answered her at first, until Kay stood up.

"Dimero left for a while," he answered, watching as her eyes widened.  "There was a fortune teller in the town, and she told him that he only had a few days left…so he left to see if he could save himself."

"Why didn't he come back then?  We could have gone with him," she insisted.

"He wants us to keep going.  He said he'd try to meet us in the next town."  Nataki just lowered her head, turning her attention to the ground.

"I understand," she whispered, surprising some of them.  For once she wasn't pressing the argument.  She was going to just let Dimero go this time.

"Very well," said Aira as she turned to the nearby forest to the east.  "We should get going.  We still have a lot of ground to cover."  They all nodded in agreement as they began to head towards the forest.  Nataki just stood there for a little while, staring off into the distance.  She wasn't sure if she would get to see Dimero again.  It was a long shot.  He only had a few days.

            Something soon rose in the back of her mind.  It was something he had told her a while ago.  He had promised that he would always come back…unless he said goodbye.  He hadn't said it.  He hadn't told her goodbye.  It was proof enough for her that he would return.  However, his promise didn't quell the tears building in her eyes.  Her throat felt dry and it was hard to keep the lump out of it.

            She finally decided that it was time to get going.  The others were steadily walking away from her.  However, she felt like something was missing.  She lifted her head and looked out across Ray.

"Jau nai…Dimero," she whispered before turning around and walking off after her comrades.

******

They had been walking in silence for hours.  Things just didn't feel right without Dimero.  There was no one for Nataki to argue with, or someone to strike up a conversation, or even to trip over his own two feet in order to draw out a laugh from them.  It was just silent.

"Where do you think Keytako is?" asked Taiyo, trying to start a conversation.

"Hopefully she's this way," answered Glen.  "The sooner we find her, the sooner we can get rid of her."  Everyone agreed to that statement.

            Nataki walked in back of everyone, her head down, her long, still unbound hair gently flowing in the breeze.  Usually she would walk with Dimero, but now she was alone.  There was no one by her side.

            The wind rustling the trees suddenly shifted, causing them all to stop dead in their tracks.  A shift in the wind was never a good sign.

"Something's coming," whispered Fiori, her pointed ears twitching as she strained them to hear what was out there.

            A tree in the distance suddenly collapsed, drawing their attention.  Another followed it, then another and another.  The sound was getting closer.  The trees in front of them soon exploded, sending pieces of wood flying everywhere.  They all used their arms to shield their faces, doing their best to stand against the strong winds.

            When it all cleared, their eyes fell on an army of monsters, led by none other than Koreko.  There was a small smirk on her face, but her usual air of pride and arrogance was gone.

"Hello," she greeted indifferently.

"Damn it Koreko," said Nataki.  "What do you want now?"  The general didn't answer her question.  Instead, she drew her sword.

"My battle isn't with you this time, Nataki," she stated.  "Someone else has reserved that right."

"What?" questioned Nataki.  From a nearby tree, a man emerged.  His smirking green eyes played off of his arrogant presence.  Nataki's eyes widened.

"Jason…" she whispered.  Their last encounter was still fresh in her mind, despite the months that had gone by.

"Hello Nataki," he said slyly.  "I see that your bodyguard is absent today."

"Bodyguard?" she questioned, but it quickly hit her.  Her eyes narrowed dangerously as she pieced this all together.  Apparently, she wasn't the only one who had noticed.

"Damn you," cursed Kay.  "This was all a trick.  You sent Dimero away on purpose."  Koreko had to smirk at that.

"Exactly," she stated.  "Without that sorcerer, we can easily finish you off."

"Kotsurai," growled Nataki, her eyes on Koreko.  "How could you?!  You were just playing with his emotions, playing with what he's the most afraid of!  That's low, even for you!"

"Just shut up," said Koreko.  "All that maters is that he's not here, so what are you going to do about it?"  Koreko raised her sword and then brought it down.  The monsters took off towards them, completely passing Nataki.  Jason took the opportunity to move towards her.

"Shall we continue?" he asked her with a smirk.  Nataki glared at him and then tried to lash out with a kick.  He dodged her, twisting out of the way.  In the process, he took a step back, drawing her into the forest slowly.

"You can't beat me," stated Nataki as she dodged one of his punches.  "I was trained by two of the best martial arts masters as well as Keytako."

"I'm aware of that, but you've forgotten something," he said as he caught her arm in his, drawing her closer.  "Keytako trained me as well."  He took the opportunity to lift her and slam her against a tree.  She cried out as she hit the hard trunk and then fell to the ground.  She slowly got up and realized that Jason was slowly backing up.  However, she was too distracted by the need to beat him, and before she knew it, her friends were no longer in sight.

"Come on Nataki," he coaxed.  "You can do better than that."  Nataki ran at him, lashing out with her fists.  However, she missed him both times.  He then turned and ran, and she followed him.

"What's wrong?" she questioned.  "Are you running away after all that boasting?"  Jason didn't reply.  A small laugh was his only reaction.

The forest soon ended, leaving them in the middle of a field.  Jason ran out a distance before stopping.  Nataki charged him, punching out at him, but he dodged and countered, kicking her in the side.  He knocked her over, but she quickly got back up and charged again.  Jason grabbed her arm and threw her back, guaranteeing that she wouldn't be able to throw herself back.  She slammed into a tree, a sickening crack following.  She slumped to the ground, barely able to keep her eyes open.  Jason was slowly approaching her.  Unwillingly, tears began to flood to her eyes.  She could feel herself slipping into unconsciousness, the pain in her head becoming unbearable.

            The destiny symbol appeared on her forehead, but it was very faint.  She wasn't even aware of it happening.  Only one word managed to escape her lips as she fell into the darkness.  Dimero.

******

Dimero was walking through a clearing in a small forest, shuffling his feet along.  He didn't have the energy or the life to do anything else.  His head was down, and he was currently feeling very alone.  He hated not having any companions.  He had no one to talk to, no one to argue with, and no one to just walk next to.

            He stopped suddenly when he felt something warm spread across his chest.  He looked down and saw his pendant, the stone currently lit with red light.

"What's going on?" he asked, not expecting an answer.

            In the distance, a roar rang out, seeming to shake the ground.  Dimero could make out a large figure in the distance.  As it got closer, he could see that it was a massive red dragon.

"Ryuune," he whispered to himself.  The dragon was continuing towards him.  "Why is he here?"  It didn't take him long to draw a conclusion, and it was most unnerving.  His eyes widened.  Could it be…that the others are…?

            Ryuune was flying over him, not seeming to care that he was standing there.  However, Dimero quickly spun around, determined to catch the dragon's attention.

"Ryuune!" he yelled to the dragon, causing it to stop and look down at the sorcerer.  Ryuune's bright eyes stared right into Dimero's.  The boy had a serious expression on his face, a look of determination flaring in his eyes.

            Ryuune began to descend slightly, still holding Dimero's eyes.  His large wings beat against the sky as he stopped.

"Ryuune," began Dimero, "please take me with."  Ryuune's eyes narrowed in confusion.  He knew the boy quite well, and knew that he was deathly afraid of flying.  So then why was he asking to go with?

            Ryuune shook his head and descended the rest of the way into the clearing.  Dimero quickly got on, leaving his current mission behind.  He had something more important to take care of.  His friends needed him.  Nataki needed him.

            Ryuune took off into the sky, and was surprised when Dimero didn't even flinch.  Instead, the boy was standing, his blue eyes completely focused on the task at hand.  Therefore, Ryuune sped up, determined to reach his master before something horrible happened.

******

Kay swung his sword at Koreko, but missed the general once again.  On the next swing, he met her sword with his.  She broke the clash, shoving him back a little.  However, that small moment was all she needed to get close enough.  However, Ren quickly used her gun to shoot at Koreko.  The general quickly jumped back, shooting a glare at the other agent.  Kay began attacking her again, determined to finish the battle.

"This is endless," said Aira as she watched their battle plus took care of her own.  They were fighting with the monsters Koreko had brought with her.

"Hey," said Taiyo, drawing everyone's attention.  She was currently looking around.  "Where's Nataki?"  Everyone else glanced around and soon noticed that the summoner was gone.

"I don't see that man either," noticed Glen.  Neither Nataki nor Jason was present right now.

            Kay swung his sword again and then kicked out at the general.  The move surprised her, causing her to lose her footing.  She caught herself, but there wasn't time to dodge the next attack.  Kay caught her across her stomach, leaving a deep cut there.  Koreko didn't even cry out as his sword left her flesh.  She just backed up, still clutching her sword.

"Damn you," she cursed angrily.  Those who had just watched what had happened were confused.  The gash was deep, but not a drop of blood fell from the wound.

"She…she doesn't bleed?" questioned Kyusai, staying close to Aira.  She was good at healing, but not at fighting.

"How is that possible?" questioned Fiori.  "All humans bleed."  Just then, the monster army began to attack more forcefully.  Some also went after Kay, keeping him from their general.  Some of the monsters managed to knock them to the forest floor.  This was starting to look bad for them.  Koreko just smirked, happy that the battle was going her way now.

            The sound of a dragon's roar soon echoed through the forest, but not many paid it any mind.  However, what followed it couldn't be ignored.  A fireball fell from the sky, landing near Koreko.  This drew everyone's attention.  They looked to the sky and saw Ryuune there.

"Ryuune?" questioned Taro.  Suddenly, from the sky came ten white lightning bolts.  Each one hit one of the monsters, and one came really close to hitting Koreko.  The others were indeed surprised at the turn of events.

"That…that was…the Raidachi," said Aira in shock.  Something jumped from Ryuune, coming down towards them.  It didn't take long for them to realize that it was Dimero.  He quickly landed on a high branch of a tree and proceeded to jump the branches, making his way down.  He finally landed on the ground, having to go down on one knee.  He didn't say a word as he slowly arose, a glare on his face.  He was directing it at Koreko.

"Dimero," said Glen happily.  "Thank God you're here."  Before he could respond, a roar from Ryuune got his attention.  The massive dragon was being swarmed by hyros.  Dimero cursed under his breath and turned his eyes back to the general.

"Dimero," began Kyusai.  "It was a trick."  This caught his attention.  "She lied to you in order to get you to leave us."  Dimero's glare intensified as his eyes shifted back to Koreko, whose eyes were just as angered.

            Dimero extended his hand, calling forth his life magic.  White lightning began raining down around the clearing, hitting the monsters.  Koreko managed to dodge every single one that was directed at her.  The attack stopped, but there were still a few monsters left.  Koreko, however, had disappeared during the flashes of light from the Raidachi.  She was nowhere to be seen.

            Dimero dropped his arm and looked to the others.  They were taking care of the few monsters that remained.

"Where's Nataki?" he demanded.

"She went off into the forest," explained Ren.  "She was chasing after someone…a boy with brown hair and green eyes.  I think she called him Jason."  Dimero's eyes widened.  Jason was the man who had attacked Nataki at the temple.  Anger began to flare up in Dimero at the memory of what the man had tried to do to Nataki.

"Which way?" he asked.  Taiyo pointed towards the right, and he took off.  He had to find Nataki, but he wasn't sure if he'd get lucky this time.  Jason had protection against magic.  He hadn't died during their last encounter, even though Dimero's life magic had clearly hit him.

            Dimero was soon out of the forest and in a clearing.  He kept running, looking for any sign of Nataki or Jason.  It wasn't until a few minutes later that he saw them.  Jason was walking slowly away, taking his sweet time.  In his arms he held Nataki.

"Jason!" shouted Dimero, catching the boy's attention.  He turned around curiously to face Dimero.

"So you did come," he said with a small smirk.  Dimero paid his comment no mind.  His eyes were on Nataki, who had clearly taken a beating.  She was out cold.

"What did you do to her?!" asked Dimero harshly.  Jason just smirked as his eyes drifted behind Dimero where Koreko stood.

"The same thing she's going to do to you," answered Jason.

"What?" asked Dimero.  The next thing he felt was an unbearable pain in the back of his head.  He lost consciousness before he even hit the ground.

******

"What now?" asked Taro, but his question went without a response.  They were all sitting in a dark room, divided by prison cells.  He was currently with Kay and Ren.  Taiyo, Aira, and Glen made up one while Kyusai and Fiori sat in another.  They had lost the battle when reinforcements had shown up.  They had been taken across a field and towards a beautiful building, made of white marble stones and pillars.  It resembled the ancient city estates from long ago.  There were fountains set in beautiful gardens and flowers that lined each area.  No one would have guessed that it housed a demon.

"Look on the bright side," said Ren.  "At least we found Keytako."

"True, but we've lost both Nataki and Dimero," said Glen as she slumped further to the floor.

"Do you think," began Taiyo, "that they might be…"

"Don't even think that," scolded Aira.  "We can't give up."

"I'm sure they're both fine," said Kay as he turned his attention to the ceiling.  "Let's focus on finding a way out of here.  We already know that magic doesn't work in this room, so let's try something else."  They all sat in silence again, trying to think of something, but it would take awhile.  It wasn't easy to escape from a magic proof prison.

            None of them were aware that up above them, two people were in similar positions.  The room was beautiful.  The walls gave off a soft golden glow from the chandeliers that hung from the incredibly high ceiling.  The room was large and very empty.  The few pillars against the walls were the only real decorations.

            Against the far wall, there was a pair of shackles.  Each one was connected to the wrist of a boy, keeping him in place.  His turquoise hair was covering his eyes, his head down from the lack of consciousness.  He was on his knees, the shackles being the only things keeping him up.  Their chains gave him some distance and mobility, but not much.

            He moaned as his eyes slowly opened, a throbbing pain still in the back of his head.  He looked up and across the room, his eyes instantly landing on a certain young woman.  She was lying on the tiled floor, still unconscious.

"Nataki," he whispered out, his pain forgotten.  He tried to move, to get to his feet, but the chains didn't extend that far.  He tugged at the shackles, determined to rip them from the walls, but he didn't have the strength.

"Give up," said an arrogant voice, drawing his immediate attention.  Jason was coming down the stairs in the next room, a smirk on his face.  He crossed through the doorway and walked across the room, heading over to Nataki.

"Damn you," growled Dimero hatefully.  He clenched his fists and tried to pull the shackles again, but he failed to get free.

"I thought I said give up," said Jason as he stopped near Nataki.  "You'll never get out of there.  We made sure to drain your life force before we bound your arms."

"What do you want?" asked Dimero, his eyes narrow and cold.

"What I've always wanted," he responded as he looked down at Nataki, a sick smile on his face.

"Don't touch her!" shouted Dimero, drawing Jason's attention.

"Be quiet," he said.  "I must, however, thank you Dimero.  It's because I was able to bring you back that Keytako gave me Nataki."  His sick smile returned, his eyes gleaming.  "After I'm through with her, I'll make sure to kill you.  Until then you can watch as I take what you'll never have."

"What?" he asked angrily.  Jason got down near Nataki and just looked her over.

"She really is lovely, don't you agree?" he said.  "It's a shame that she'll never be awake to experience this."  He reached out to touch her face.

"I said don't touch her!" shouted Dimero.

"I don't think you're in any position to give me commands.  Besides, she's no longer useful to you."

"What do you mean?"  Jason looked to Dimero.

"Keytako was sick of her interfering.  She was too headstrong, so Keytako killed her will."

"Her…will?"  Jason smirked.

"Keytako destroyed her conscious self.  Nataki is dead to you."  Dimero's eyes widened in disbelief and despair.

"I-impossible," he whispered in shock.

"Not at all," responded Jason.  "All Keytako wants is her body, so she kept it alive.  Nataki is still breathing, but she's basically lifeless.  Her mind, her very mentality is gone.  She's dead."  Dimero felt his heart twist, threatening to burst.

"No…" he whispered in despair as his eyes rested on Nataki, her still form being the only thing he could see.  "She…she can't be…"  Jason just smirked as he slowly bent down and lifted her upper body in his arms.  He stroked her cheek, a smirk on his face.

"It's too bad that she can't be awake for this," he said as he bent down towards her.

"Don't!" growled Dimero as Jason continued.

"She's still so warm," he whispered as he brushed his hand over her cheek.  He then pressed his lips to hers.

            Dimero had had about all he could take.  Even if Nataki was gone, he wasn't about to let Jason have her.  Just as the older boy kissed Nataki, Dimero snapped.  The skin on his palms broke as his nails dug into them.  He gritted his teeth, his head hanging low.  His body began to give off a white light as he tugged against the shackles again.  When he couldn't pull them from the wall, he became enraged.  His aura exploded, the light spreading through the room.  An explosion followed, seeming to shake the very foundation of the palace.

"What?" questioned Jason in disbelief as he shielded his eyes from the light.  When it cleared, there was a cloud of dust and smoke.  A decent chunk was missing from the wall where Dimero's shackles had been.

            The sorcerer stood up, a look full of hate on his young face.  Jason stood up as well, astounded and afraid of what he had just witnessed.

"How?  We drained your magic," he stated.

"You forgot that I'm different," stated Dimero as his body began to glow again.  "All it takes is a few minutes for me to have enough to cast the Raidachi.  You've given me plenty of time."  He extended his arm, positioning it properly so that it faced Jason.  Dimero was no longer in control.  He was overwhelmed with anger.  He wasn't about to show mercy.  His eyes were proof of that.  They were cold and as unforgiving as steel.  It was like staring into the eyes of a devil.

            A ball of white light began to form in his palm.  Jason was frozen from fear.  He couldn't think straight, and before he knew what was happening, the sphere broke into a wave of life magic.  It came at him faster than he could comprehend.  There wasn't time to move, scream, or think.  The wave of light engulfed his body, and he was gone.  There wasn't a single remain left in the light, not a scream of pain to echo off the walls.  He was just gone.

            After the spell ended, Dimero dropped his arm back to his side, his eyes losing their icy exterior.  They were now full of despair and deep worry as they landed on Nataki.  He ran to her still form, falling to his knees next to her.  She was still breathing, but he already knew that it didn't matter.  She was dead to him now.  Her mind was gone.  However, he had to try.  He reached out and picked her up, cradling her upper body in his arms.

"Nataki," he called out, but there was no reaction.  "Nataki, wake up.  Please wake up."  There was still nothing.  He swallowed hard, placing a hand against her cheek.  "No…no, this…this can't happen."  He stroked her soft skin, his hand trembling.  Gently, he set her down and fell to both his hands and knees in despair.  He could feel tears building behind his eyes.  His body began to tremble as he realized that what Jason had said was true.  Her mind was gone.  Everything that was her was now nothing but a memory, a human shell being all that was left of her former self.

            He wasn't allowed to cry.  It wasn't heard of.  Not once had he cried.  He hadn't cried for his mother, his father, his hometown, or even for his best friend.  Not once had he shed tears, so why now?  He fought them back, but the more he thought about the redhead, the faster they built and the harder they pushed.

            A lone tear escaped him, dripping to the floor.  More followed it, some clinging to his face and others following the first.  He couldn't take this.  The one girl he loved was gone.  She'd never smile, never speak, and he would no longer feel her arms around him.  She was gone, and there was nothing he could do about it.

******

"Got it!" exclaimed Taro as the lock on his cell broke.  He held a dagger in his hand, which he had managed to use to unlock the cell.  "It's a good thing they didn't do a thorough weapons check."  He put the dagger back in his boot, hidden like a few of his other ones.

            Kay and Ren walked out and went to the corner of the room to get their weapons.  After equipping them properly, they went to the other cells.  Ren used her gun to blast apart the locks on the other cells.  Everyone was soon free from the prison.

"What now?" asked Kyusai.

"It's simple," answered Kay.  "We find a way out."

"There's a passage over there," said Aira, pointing to the far wall.

"Then let's get going," said Ren as she began to walk to it.  The others followed suit.  They needed to get out and find their two missing friends.

******

Nataki sat by herself, surrounded by darkness.  She was sitting with her legs drawn up against herself, her head down.

"Nataki," called out an angelic voice.  Nataki slowly lifted her head, her eyes dull and half closed.  That voice had caught her ear.  It was somewhat familiar.  "Nataki," it called again, and she snapped to attention.

"Who's there?" she asked as she looked around.  There was no response.  However, she could feel something brush along her skin.  It was like a chill, but there was a certain comfort about it.  She turned around and looked up, her eyes meeting a familiar pair of crystal ones.  The woman was dressed in white, her long golden hair flowing gently behind her.

            Nataki slowly stood up, her eyes never leaving the woman.  She gave Nataki a smile, but the summoner didn't return it.

"Celestia," whispered Nataki.  "What are…you doing here?"

"Nataki, do you know where you are?" asked Celestia.

"What do you mean?"

"This place…do you know where it is?"  Nataki took a good look around, but she found only darkness in every direction.

"No," she answered as her eyes went back to Celestia.  However, her former best friend vanished in front of her very eyes.  "Wait, Celes!"  There was no response.  Nataki cursed herself for speaking her friend's name.  She had to remember that Celes was gone.  She was nothing but an inter-dimensional being now.  She couldn't even exist in reality.  So then where was Nataki?  If Celestia was here, then this couldn't be reality.

            She began to run to her right, looking around for something, anything, but the darkness remained dominant.  There was nothing else.

"Celestia!" she called out.

"Where are you going?" questioned Celestia, her voice echoing in the darkness.  Nataki just kept running.  "Or more importantly, where do you want to go?"

"Back!" she answered.

"Back where?"

"To my friends!"

"Are you sure?"

"Yes!  I'm sick of being away.  I want to see them again, I want…"  In her mind, she pictured Dimero, a smile on his face, his eyes shining.  "I want to be back with them again…with Dimero.  I want to see them."  A bright light soon flashed in the darkness, and up above she could see a hand extending to her.  She smiled and quickly grabbed hold of it as whoever it was began to pull her out of the darkness.

******

Nataki's eyes slowly opened, but she saw nothing but distorted and blurry colors.  Her head was swimming as she tried to figure out just what had happened to her.  She tried to move, but her muscles hurt.  She let out a small moan as the pain shot through her back.  However, she had caught someone's attention with that.

            Dimero's eyes snapped open, and he looked to Nataki.  Her eyes were half open, but she didn't look like she knew quite where she was.  However, it didn't matter.  She was awake, and that was all he cared about.

"Nataki," he said in slight disbelief.  She looked to him, her eyes now fully open, her vision clear.

"Dimero?" she questioned as she sat up, going slowly to avoid the pain.  She was currently studying Dimero's face.  His eyes were wet, and there were water trails down his cheeks.  In the corners of his eyes sat small crystalline drops of liquid.  Nataki seemed confused at this.  He…he was crying…

"Nataki, I…" began Dimero.  "I…I thought you were…he said you were dead."  Nataki just stared at him, confused.  She didn't respond to that, but it did solve the mystery of his tears.  He was crying…for me?  The very thought somehow gave her a warm feeling.  Not once had she seen him cry, but here he was, the wet trails present on his cheeks.  No one has ever…cried for me before.

            Nataki lifted her hand and reached out to him, placing it against his face.  She had to make sure that she wasn't seeing things, that he really did have tears in his eyes.  She wanted to know if he cared enough to cry over her.

            Her thumb was met with a single tear drop as she brushed along the corner of his eye.  She could feel the wet trail down his face.  He really had been crying.  She dropped her hand and just stared at him in astonishment.

"Nataki," he said breathlessly.  He leaned over slowly, placing a hand on her shoulder.  He then used both of his arms to pull her against him.  He held her tightly, still unsure if this was real or just a dream.  He wanted it to be real.  He wanted her to stay there.

            Something was wrong.  His mind kept repeating this.  Something was missing, something that always happened whenever he did this to her.  He slowly pulled away, looking down into her eyes.

"Nataki?" he questioned.

"What?" she asked.

"You…you didn't tense up," he told her, sounding astonished.  Nataki appeared to be a little confused.  She hadn't tensed up.  This was the first time in years that she had allowed a man to touch her without reacting like that.  She felt comfortable for the first time in the arms of a boy, in the arms of Dimero.

"I…I guess I didn't," she said with a small smile, which the sorcerer returned.  They both stood up, and Nataki looked around the huge room.  "Where are we?" she asked.

"In Keytako's fortress," he answered.  "The others should be around here somewhere."

"What happened exactly?  The last thing I remember, I was fighting with Jason."  Dimero's eyes widened slightly as he turned his attention to the tiled floor.  Jason.  He had been so angry at the man for what he had done to Nataki.  He had lost control on his temper, and the last thing he remembered of Jason was watching him die in the wave of magic.  His magic.

"Oh God…" whispered Dimero in despair as the weight of his actions fell onto his shoulders.

"What's wrong?" asked Nataki.

"It's…it's Jason," he responded.

"What about Jason?  What happened to him?" she asked, curious.

"I…I killed him."  Nataki's eyes widened in alarm.  Had she heard right?  Did Dimero say that he had killed Jason?  A life sorcerer wasn't allowed to kill people, to soil their hands with human blood.  However, Dimero had been protecting her, but nonetheless, he obviously felt horrible about it.  He had tried so hard to live without killing another human, and because of her, he had gotten his hands stained with blood.

"Dimero, it's…it's alright," she told him softly.  He had only been protecting her, so he shouldn't have to feel so awful.  "You did what you had to do."  Dimero nodded sadly, not seeming convinced with her response.  "Come on," she told him.  "Let's get going.  We need to find the others."

******

Nataki and Dimero ran down the long halls, trying to find out where Keytako was.  They were also looking for their friends, who were somewhere in the large palace.

            They were passing an intersection in the hallway, and something ran into them.  Both parties stumbled back slightly.

"Watch where you're going!" yelled Nataki.

"Nataki?" questioned the other person.  Both Dimero and Nataki looked over the other group of people.  Smiles soon spread across their faces.

"Hey guys," said Dimero.  Aira gave a sigh of relief, a smile on her face and the faces of her companions.

"Thank God you're both alright," said Fiori.  "We were worried."

"Same here," said Nataki.

"Just where are you guys going?" asked Glen.

"We're looking for Keytako of course," answered Dimero.  "Where else would we be going?"

"Do you think…this will be it?" asked Taiyo.  "Will this really be the end?"

"I hope so," said Nataki as she looked down the dimly lit hallway.

"Come on," said Kay.  "Let's get going.  We still have a lot of ground to cover."  They all nodded and continued on their way.

            It didn't take them long to reach the huge double doors at the end of the hallway.  Without hesitation, they shoved right through them, ending up in a beautiful marble room, designed like all her other rooms.  There were beautiful pillars, stained glass windows, and a raised area where Keytako sat in her throne.  She appeared to be bored, but she soon looked to them with a smirk.

"Welcome," she said.  "It's nice to see you again."  They couldn't say the same.  Her eyes went to Nataki, and she looked disappointed.  "Nataki, I see you're still alive."  She shot a quick glare at Dimero, knowing full well that it was his fault.

            Koreko stood off to the side of Keytako, her proud air completely gone from her.  If anything, she looked confused.  The gash across her chest was gone, but she kept rubbing over the area anyway, deep in thought.  She was apparently very distracted, because she didn't even look up at her enemies.

"It's good of you all to come," continued Keytako as she stood up.  She walked further into the light, and both Kyusai and Fiori gasped.  This was their first time seeing the demon, her cold red eyes being the most terrifying feature about her.

"She really is a demon," whispered Kyusai, drawing Keytako's attention.

"Of course I am," stated Keytako proudly as she raised her arm, flexing her palm.  In it appeared a ball of black magic.  Everyone got ready for the attack.  Keytako only smirked as more black balls began to appear around her.

            Dimero, Aira, Taiyo, and Fiori all got ready to cast their spells.  Without a word, Keytako let loose the orbs, sending them right at the group.  Dimero quickly used the Raidachi, striking the orbs before they got anywhere near them.  Aira managed to destroy a few while Taiyo and Fiori continuously used their magic to fend them off.  This was up to them, since physical attacks wouldn't work against the magic.

            When they were all gone, Keytako took the opportunity to launch the one she still had in her hand.  It was heading towards Nataki.

"Look out!" shouted Taro, but Nataki wasn't paying attention.  It was all happening too fast.  The sphere was too big.

            From her side came Taiyo, who quickly threw herself at Nataki, tackling her to the ground.  The sphere passed right over them, hitting the far wall.

            When Taiyo hit the ground, the pouch at her side opened, and the Nazonium crystal fell out of it.  Keytako's eyes quickly went to it, widening at the sight of the gem.  It was what she had been searching so desperately for, the one thing that her all seeing eyes couldn't locate.

"The Nazonium crystal…" she whispered in astonishment and praise.  However, Taiyo quickly grabbed it and put it back in its pouch, making sure to tie it off tightly.

            Before any of them could react, Keytako prepared another ball of black magic, aiming it towards them.  She was determined to end both their lives.  Nataki was just getting to her hands and knees while Taiyo was sitting next to her.

            Before Keytako launched it, Dimero got in front of them.  He extended his arm, channeling his life force.  He was running low on his magic, but he was determined to cast one more spell.

"Please be enough," he prayed as he launched his own spell just as Keytako launched hers.  The two powers collided, mixing in a bright light.  Both sides just watched, waiting to see the outcome.

            From Dimero's side, he could see a black light against his white one.  Before he knew it, his light was gone, and Keytako's spell was still heading towards him.  His eyes widened in disbelief.  He couldn't counter it.

            Right before it reached him, another ball of black magic came, hitting Keytako's.  The two attacks canceled out.  Keytako quickly snapped her head towards Koreko, who stood with her arm extended, her head down.  Everyone's eyes were soon on the general, all of them confused by her actions.  Keytako was enraged with her subordinate.

"Koreko, explain yourself," she demanded.  Koreko lowered her arm, lifting her head to meet Keytako's eyes.

"Lady Keytako, please tell me," she began, her childlike eyes swimming with questions, suffering from an internal dilemma.  "Were you…were you really going to save me…after you destroyed the world?"  Keytako just smirked at the question.

"Humans are disgusting creatures, and they all must be destroyed," she responded.  "In my world, there will be no place for humans.  And you, Koreko.  You're worse than they are.  You're nothing but a shell with a fake soul."  Koreko lowered her head again, gritting her teeth.  She lifted her head and extended her arm, getting ready to launch another spell, but Keytako was ready.  Before Koreko could react, Keytako shot a beam of white light at the general, piercing her right through the stomach.

            Koreko's eyes widened as pain shot through her body.  She wanted to scream, but a strangled sounding gasp was all that emitted from her.  She was thrown off her feet, falling back to the hard ground.

            The others watched in shock at what was happening.  Keytako had just tried to kill her most loyal follower, her only follower.  The demon had to be stopped.  Despite everything Koreko had done, this just wasn't right.  She hadn't deserved that.  She had just been another normal person, tricked by Keytako.

            Nataki slowly stood up, clenching her fists.  This was it.  She was sick of all of this.  Keytako didn't deserve to treat anybody like that.

"Kyusai," whispered Nataki, catching her attention.  "I want you to go over and see if you can save Koreko."  Everyone snapped their attention to Nataki.  All of them were wondering if she had lost it.

"You want to help her?" questioned Aira.

"Yes," she responded.

"But why?" asked Taro.  "She's killed hundreds, maybe even thousands.  She burnt your town, killed your sister, and nearly killed you."

"You're wrong!" shouted Nataki.  "It was Keytako.  She killed those people, not Koreko.  Even though it was by Koreko's hands, it was by Keytako's will.  Which is more important?  Keytako is the master…while Koreko was nothing more than the puppet."  Not a single one of them said anything, but Dimero knew where this was coming from.  He knew Nataki had just as much blood on her hands as Koreko did, if not more.  She had been manipulated by the demon, just as Koreko had been.  Despite everything the general had put her through, Nataki sympathized with her.

"Do it," commanded Dimero, drawing Kyusai's attention.  "Go save her.  She may not last long.  She doesn't bleed, so it should only be a simple flesh wound."  Kyusai nodded and quickly ran over to the general.

"Cover her," said Nataki, looking to Aira and Fiori.  They both nodded and followed the healer.  Glen appeared to be disappointed.  Her magic was best for covering and healing, but now she was useless, needing the protection of the others.  Because of her magic loss, Nataki couldn't use the stone to summon Zettos.  It just wasn't fair.

"Glen," said Nataki, catching her attention.  "Don't feel bad.  You'll get your magic back eventually.  Until then, just let us protect you."  Glen nodded, but she didn't feel any better.

            Keytako glared at Kyusai, Fiori, and Aira, but she turned her attention to the others.  She had more important things to worry about, plus a few questions to ask the summoner.

"Nataki," she said, catching the attention of her former student.  "How is it that you're still alive?  I made sure to seal your mind."  Nataki just smirked.  She got a certain satisfaction out of confusing the empress.

"It's all thanks to Celes," she said, earning her a few confused looks.  "Even though she's not here, she'll never leave.  She's still watching out for me."  Keytako looked to Dimero.

"Sorcerer, I was sure I had drained your life force."  Her eyes narrowed.  "But I suppose that with a weak soul comes a high supply of magic."  Dimero just smirked.  Keytako extended her arm.  "But I can fix that.  I'll take every last drop this time."  A yellow, whip like beam came from her hand, going faster than they could see.  Before any of them knew it, the beam had wrapped itself around Dimero's throat.  His eyes widened as an invisible shock ran through him.  He reached up and tried to pry the magic beam from his neck, but he couldn't do it.  He fell to his knees as he felt his strength leaving him.  The beam was draining his life force.  White electrical shocks began to surge through him.

"Dimero!" shouted Taiyo, the others all having expressions of pure horror on their faces.  At this rate, Keytako would start draining his spirit energy as well.

"Dimero!" cried Nataki as the destiny symbol flared brightly on her forehead.  From across the room, a light came from Fiori.  All eyes went to her as she reached to her pocket and drew out a chain with a purple stone attached to it.  The stone was shining with a dark violet light.

            In the center of the room, a purple ball appeared, but it soon exploded, sending off a torrent of wind and light in every direction.  Keytako was beginning to lose control of her spell.

            When the smoke cleared and the light died, a figure stood in the center of the room.  She had dirty mahogany hair, hanging halfway down her back.  Like most of the guardians, the top half of her face was covered in a mask, which was part of a horned helmet.  Her upper body was made of a brown scaled armor with sharp white spikes near her shoulders.  Her legs were covered in green scales, her feet looking like those of a raptor.  She had sharp claws at the ends of her talons and her hands.  A green, slim tail extended from her back, swaying in the air back and forth as she stood there, her cold silver eyes gleaming through the holes in her mask.

"W-what is that?" asked Ren, her voice shaking.

"Ultirai…" whispered Aira, her answer reaching only the ears of Kyusai and Fiori, who was currently looking down at her stone.

            Ultirai flexed her nails and turned to lash out at the beam of light that was connected to Dimero.  It was cut in two, both sides dissipating into nothing.  Dimero fell to his hands and knees, using one hand to grab at his throat.  He was breathing deep, trying to calm his raging pulse.  Any more and Keytako would have been taking his spirit energy.  He couldn't afford to lose anymore.

            All eyes shifted from Ultirai to Keytako, who appeared to be a little afraid.  No one could blame her.  This was one of the most powerful guardians there was, if not the absolute guardian.  She gave the empress a toothy smirk before extending her arm, preparing a sphere made of blue and yellow light.  Keytako quickly set up her barrier.

            Ultirai launched the spell, but it cracked into the barrier, disappearing on impact.  However, Keytako knew that with repeated use, she wouldn't be able to keep the barrier up.  She had to think of a way out of it, but it was hard even for a demon to go up against a guardian.  She had to take out the source.  Her eyes shifted to Nataki, who was currently helping Dimero to his feet with a little help from Kay.

            Keytako smirked and extended her arm, preparing her attack.  She looked around at the group of people, picking the four that were currently standing together.  She increased the size of the ball and sent it towards the four members.  It sped right past Ultirai and towards Glen, Taiyo, Taro, and Ren.  Ren tried to shoot at it while Taiyo tried her magic, but the huge sphere just blew right through them, continuing on its course.

"Get out of the way!" shouted Fiori from the other side of the room.

"No," whispered Dimero as he turned and extended his arm.  He quickly fired off a ball of magic, large enough to cancel out Keytako's, and lucky for them, it worked.  However, his legs gave out, and he nearly fell back to the floor.

"I'll take care of him," said Kay.  "Go protect the others."  Nataki nodded and ran to her friends who were more or less defenseless right now.

            Ultirai took the opportunity to send off another spell, and before Keytako could close her barrier back up, it hit her, pushing her back a little.  Her top armor plate was now cracked.  She growled lowly and turned her attention to Ultirai.  The guardian didn't seem afraid at all.  However, Keytako's eyes began to glow a blood red, and the air in the room suddenly went dead.  The lights faded, and the wind picked up, emanating from Keytako.

"What's going on?" asked Kyusai as she continued to heal Koreko.  Ultirai backed away as Keytako's power surged.  However, as she backed away, Nataki moved forwards.  She was walking slowly, a blank expression on her face.

"Nataki?" questioned Ren, her eyes following the summoner.  However, Nataki didn't acknowledge her at all.  She just kept walking, going slowly forward.

"That's right Nataki," said Keytako, a smirk on her demonic face.  "Come to your master."  Ultirai quickly got behind Nataki and grabbed her, holding her in place.  Even for the guardian, it was difficult.  The force drawing the summoner was too powerful. 

"Guardian, do not interfere!"  Keytako's eyes flashed red, and Nataki cried out in pain.  She slipped from Ultirai's grasp and fell to the floor, holding her head.

"No more," she whispered.  "Get out of my head!"  In an instant, white light surged from Nataki, going in every direction.  It was coming from the destiny symbol.  The rays of light began to tear into the walls and the ceiling.  Everyone had to dodge them when they got too close.

            Nataki's eyes snapped wide open, their pupils gone.  All she saw was Keytako's cold red eyes.  There was darkness everywhere else.

"Nataki," said Keytako.  "Just give in."

"Never!" she shouted, or at least she thought she had.  No sound came from her mouth.  Keytako seemed to hear her anyway.

"It will be less painful, I promise.  Unlike Koreko, I will save you if you cooperate.  This is your last chance, summoner.  If you refuse me this time, I will have no choice but to kill you.  Is that what you want?"

"I don't care," she responded, her voice still not coming out.

"I will make you change your mind.  I'll kill them all, starting with the little Castrian girl."

"Leave Taiyo alone!  She's done nothing!"  Keytako's dark red eyes narrowed.

"She possesses the Nazonium crystal," she told Nataki.  "I must have it."

"Why?" questioned Nataki curiously.

"To finish what I started so long ago…to create a future that one woman deprived me of."  Keytako smirked, but it went unseen in the darkness.  "After the Castrian, I'll kill that sorcerer.  Without his life force, he has no defense.  I'll take the rest of it…no…you'll take the rest of it."  Nataki's eyes widened, and before she knew it, everything came back into view, but it was all different.  Apparently, her body was acting without her consent, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.  She was now holding Dimero by the throat, and he was struggling against her tight grip.

            She had done quite a bit of damage without even knowing it.  She had shoved Ultirai away, who was now lying on the floor, unconscious.  She had also knocked out Kay, a large bruise forming on the side of his head.  Ren, Taro, Glen, and Taiyo were at his side, since getting close to Nataki was out of the question.

"Nataki…" choked out Dimero as he struggled against her grip.  She was holding him above the floor, her arm not straining at all from his weight.  Her cold, callous eyes were staring into his half closed ones.  Her aura soon flared, flowing into him.  It was a familiar feeling on his part.  However, he didn't have the protection of his life force this time.  He cried out as the white light flowed into him.

"Nataki, stop it!" shouted Aira as she spread her wings and took off towards the summoner.  However, when she got within a foot of her, Nataki's aura exploded, sending light backwards towards Aira.  The Arialite was thrown back across the room.  She hit a wall and slumped to the floor, barely able to stay conscious.

"Please stop!" begged Glen, her eyes full of fear.  "You'll kill him!  Don't let Keytako win!  You're stronger than that!"

            Ultirai stood up at last, her body looking slightly damaged.  Her eyes flashed silver before she gave off her own light.  From across the room, Keytako glared at the guardian.

"Master," spoke Ultirai, her voice directed at Nataki.  "Stop this.  You cannot kill that boy."

"Silence!" demanded Keytako.  "Nataki belongs to me."  Ultirai looked to Keytako and extended her arm.  She gathered a large amount of magic and then launched it at the demon.  It pierced through Keytako's aura and slammed into her chest, shoving her back into her throne.  The empress cried out in pain, a feeling that was still new to her.

            Nataki's eyes snapped wide open, a look of shock playing on her face.  She had yet to release Dimero, who was still struggling against her tight hold.

"Please Nataki," he pleaded softly.  "Let me go."

"Nataki," spoke a voice from the other side of the room.  Koreko was now on her feet, finally awake.  Fiori was supporting her as they slowly made their way back to the others.  Kyusai followed her, helping Aira walk back over.

"Keep out of this Koreko!" shouted Keytako angrily.  "I gave you life, and I can take it away."  She was hit again with a magic blast from Ultirai.

"Don't let Keytako win," the general told Nataki.  "She won't keep her promise."  Her persuasions didn't seem to be helping.  Nataki was still draining the life from Dimero.

"Nataki, please don't," pleaded Taiyo.

"Do you plan to kill him?" asked Koreko.  "Are you really going to kill Dimero?  He's your protector.  Is this how you're going to repay him; by killing him?"  Nataki's eyes widened as her pupils slowly began to come back.  Was that what she was doing?  Was she really killing him?

"Dimero…" she whispered as she released his neck, dropping him back to the ground.  He inhaled deeply, his body trembling from all it had gone through.

            Nataki was slowly backing up, seeming horrified with what she had nearly done.  She was just so sick of it.  She was sick of everything.  She wanted it all to end.  She clutched at her head as pain began to split it.

"No more," she said.  "No more!"  The destiny symbol exploded with light, and Ultirai vanished, fading from view.  The rays from the destiny symbol began to tear apart the room.  The whole area shook as pieces of the ceiling began to rain down on them.

            Everyone was standing near the door.  Everyone but Nataki.  She was in the center of the room, trying to get her highly destructive power under control.  She fell to the ground in pain, just lying there.  She still held her head in her hands.

            With one final explosion of light, it was all over.  Her pain ended.  She was breathing deeply, trying to calm her raging pulse.  What she didn't know was that Keytako had gotten back up and was now at the edge of her raised area.

"I gave you a chance," she told Nataki, "but I can see that you'd rather die a human than live as a God."  Nataki slowly got to her hands and knees as Keytako raised her arm, pointing her finger at Nataki.  A small point of light appeared there, but it soon grew.

"Get up!" shouted Taro, and Nataki tried her best to comply.  She glanced back at Keytako to see what was happening, and her eyes widened.

"Nataki!" shouted Taiyo, snapping her from her shock.  Everything seemed to move so slowly as she got to her feet and began to run towards them.  There was urgency in her eyes, because she knew very well what Keytako was capable of.  Frightened cries came from her friends, but they were nothing but whispers to her.  The steady pound of her heart was all that filled her senses.  It beat loudly in her ears, speeding up as she ran.

            A single beam of light shot off from Keytako's pointer finger.  It was about the width of an orange, made of golden light.  She had a very stoic expression on her face, her blood red eyes never leaving the summoner.

            Nataki kept running, not wanting to look back, not daring to stop her steady pace.  She kept her friends in her eyes, wanting to reach them, to leave the palace before it collapsed.

            Her eyes soon shot fully open as she unwillingly arched her back.  Her pace was halted as time itself seemed to stop.  Pain shot through her stomach, starting in her back and working its way forwards.  It was so intense that she couldn't even cry out.

            Keytako's beam passed all the way through Nataki, leaving a hole in her stomach.  It disintegrated not long after leaving her.  Nataki was thrown off her feet, her arched pose making her look very graceful.  However, she soon began to fall forwards.  She lost consciousness as she hit the ground.  She was lying on her side, her hair falling around her.  From her chest came a river of crimson, also flowing from her back.  It showed no sign of stopping.

"Nataki!!"