[[Soul Calibur III and all characters © Namco. Story © me. Hmm... yes, that should do it.
There's a lot of AU and unwritten backstory stuff going on here, so if there's something weird you don't remember happening... that would be why (lol). It's my first SC fic, I've been playing far too much of it over the past two weeks. Basically, it picks up from an AU version of Tira's ending. Enjoy at your own risk?]]
Tira was happy. She could not remember feeling passion burn within her heart this strongly, nor having ever before tasted the dark energies flow through and around her in such a delicious way. The Azure Knight had Soul Edge, and all was as it should be.
How had this come to pass? Simply enough; she did her master's bidding. Warrior after skilled warrior had fallen by her beloved Aiselne Drossel, including the delusional, unworthy man with the scythe who dared think he deserved to host her master. His demands were often great, but it was his right, because he was right, always - and she was his right-hand woman, and she relished it. Being his pawn gave her what she needed to survive, what she longed for secretly, and fulfilled her deepest, most desperate desires of which even she remained unaware.
"They come again."
"Yes, master," she whispered, licking her lips. Blood would wet them again soon. In the dark days after retrieving souls to feed Soul Edge and hunting for its new host, her bloodlust had waned; the battles were all satisfactory, but enjoyment eluded her. This had confused her for some time afterward, but no matter. Reunited with the one who sated her thirst sent her soaring through skies of ecstasy. Gore dripped from her arms and blade in an unceasing flow, and she allowed herself to be lost in the smell and sensations only mayhem and destruction could grant.
"I alone, master?" There were other minions, many, dozens...
She suppressed a gleeful cackle. "As you wish."
Aiselne Drossel lay casually draped over her shoulder as Tira perched atop the archway over the ruined cathedral's entrance. Her master's senses far outstripped those of a mere mortal such as her; only now did she sense their coming. Rustling in the breeze, spoor on the air, shadows flickering that did not match the patterns of leaves and brush in the distance. Two - no, three. All she had formerly faced. She would not need her ravens for this.
Two of them were relatively unfamiliar, yes. That did not concern her; they would be easy prey. The third, however, was someone she had hoped never to lay eyes on again. The one whom had bested her every time but one, confused her bloodlust; distracted her from the glorious crusade of carnage. Anger and frustration coursed through her body by way of the same waves pleasure had so recently undulated upon.
But what would Master say? She could not return to tell him this would be a difficult opponent for her; he would surely end her life for such a personal failure. No, she must master her misgivings and face her past. His favourite, his strongest...
Over the ridge they came, faces set and weapons drawn. Two shields glinted in the setting sun, and their bright clothing betrayed their positions. Blue, white, blue again. Who were the other two? She knew them, but at this distance... alas, SHE was coming. The grip on her ring blade became stronger as she shrank behind the moulding, listening carefully for a telling sign, a hint of what she might expect.
"...stop to this once and for all." The voice was unfamiliar, thick with an accent from the Far East. "I hope both of you know what you are doing."
"Don't be so condescending; what are we, infants?" Her.
"You are unprofessional, noisy, and crass. Travelling with you has alerted the Azure Knight to our presence already. This was a mistake."
"He can't know." This voice rang more familiar, though the speaker's identity continued to elude her. "We've only just arrived, there's no way he knew!"
"His eyes are everywhere," said the unfamiliar voice. "My training may have been for naught; in that time, he has become too powerful, gained too much control."
"Don't be so hard on yourself." Why did SHE have to come at all? Forever standing in the way of true paradise for her and her master, nothing but an obstruction. "Obviously we were beaten like dogs last time, so what good would it do to attack again if we weren't any stronger?"
"And are we stronger? What have you done to better yourselves? More training, as I have done. It is pathetic in the face of this evil."
"Daily training, thank you very much," she replied in a wounded tone. "Rigorous training! And Rothion hammered me up a new sword, I'm dying to try it out."
"Both of us," added the third of their party. "Hephaestus saw fit to grant us strong weapons on this eve of destruction."
"Well, the time to test your metal has come. We are watched even now."
Sharp eyes behind a shock of straight black hair pierced upward and into her hiding place. It was bound to happen; this woman was obviously as learned and aware as the Bird of Passage members had been, and had their roles been reversed, Tira would have spotted her watching just as quickly. Smirking to herself, she rolled forward and dropped to the ground, blocking their path inside.
"Hello, hello, hello," she sang. "What have we here?"
"Gods!" shouted the intruder dressed in a white toga, dropping back into a defensive stance and raising her shield to guard her torso. It was the mother; the accidental vessel. Soul Edge had found its way into her instead of her children, and in the interim before it could be purged and given true form... but those were dark days along a dark road, and she turned away from such avenues of preoccupation. Swords had been drawn. "Where did she-?"
"Leave this place," the masked woman in blue growled, dropping into a crouch and holding an empty hand before her. A true master of her art; every pore exuded strength and betrayed no overconfidence. Her thin, polished blade hovered behind her neck in preparation for a quick thrust.
"Can't do that," Tira giggled nastily. "Master's orders are to meet you, and so I shall. How do you do? I'll be your guide down the River Styx this evening."
"Cassandra, heed not her words," the one in white hissed. "Don't let yourself be shaken so!"
"It shall not be I who meets Death this day," the one in blue snapped, ignoring her companions entirely.
Only then did she falter. It was an impressive length of time in her opinion; she'd been resisting the urge to acknowledge the severe discomfort that plagued her since before she leapt to earth. Quickly, she rearranged her features into one of mocking surprise. "You know me? From whence? Do tell, do tell!"
Watery green eyes looked up at her indignantly, full of shame and sorrow. "You know when."
"What is this?" her sister demanded. That's right; inspecting her this closely, there was no mistaking the resemblance, and had Tira's memory been more prone to retain unimportant details and less distracted by her mere presence, she'd have recalled in an instant. "Have you been cavorting with demons?"
"Stay out of it," she whispered.
"Are we going to talk or fight?" Tira asked lightly, spinning her blade around her wrist and hoping to distract them from this discussion. "I wasn't sent out here to chat you up."
"I'm sorry, Tira, I... I haven't done as you asked, because I'm talking to you now, but... but I never meant to break my vow! How could I know you'd be here?"
"And why are you here?" she demanded smugly, pacing back and forth, rolling her ringblade along the ground before her as if a pet that needed walking. Did she have to doggedly expose the skeletons in her closet? The master's favourite found her more meddlesome than before. "Trying to bring about peace, end the ways of wickedness? Please. Go read through smelly tomes of your myths and your gods if you want that kind of nonsense."
"Tira, please, you have to hear me out!" Cassandra implored her, lip trembling like a child. Such a weakling. "Can't we put it all behind-"
"SHUT UP!" she barked. The other two were staring between her and Cassandra with that maddening look of sudden mental clarity creeping into their features, as if they truly understood. How could they? No one could fathom precisely what they had gone through, regardless of whether or not they heard the full account - as Tira suspected they were about to if left undeterred. That could be corrected. "Can't you all just shut up?!"
Aiselne Drossel found its mark in Cassandra's sister's leg, cutting a thick gash along the calf. All at once, a cry went up from her three opponents, and Tira gave herself over to the melee, slashing and ripping and suffering pain and bruisings. Sinew twisted, flesh tore, arteries opened and leaked forth their dark cordial. Joy beat within her breast, even as she felt the balance of power shifting away from her and to the intruders. To fight was to live, no matter if it were the last moments of one's life.
Crimson ichor lay splattered across the field of battle when it was over, and Tira lay atop it, dripping and soaked. Her ring blade had been knocked away, and since then it had been harrowing to survive every stab and swipe, every crushing blow. The tip of a sword was at her throat, and she laughed.
"What are you waiting for, hmm? Lop off my head. See how much good it will do you! My master has legions at his disposal, thousands of loyal servants; one of them will get you. If they don't, he will, he is far too powerful to be bested by the likes of-"
"I told you long ago my first priority was to Sophitia," Cassandra choked out, eyes streaming. It was evident in her stance and the rhythm of her breathing that she could scarcely stand, having sustained nearly as many injuries as the rest of them. "You couldn't respect that single wish, could you?"
"You broke your own terms," Tira hissed in spite of herself. She should not be engaging in this discussion at all. "I told you to disappear, didn't I? Why are you trying to turn it around on me?"
"If you had attacked me and me alone, I'd have thrown down my sword and allowed you to hack my limbs off one by one," she whispered. Tira spared a glance around at the remnants of their fellows; the outlander in blue was cut in so many places she would need weeks of recuperation, and Sophitia was lying farther away, motionless. "But Sophitia... I pledged my loyalty to her first. You knew that, and still you attacked her! My sister is dead because of you!"
The temptation to slip beneath the surface of emotion grew more overpowering; she needed to break through to the heart of the matter quickly before her resolve broke. "My orders were to slice up all three interlopers. Nothing personal. The Knight doesn't like it when I arbitrarily change his orders to suit the needs of his enemies, you know."
"No, I get it. We're on different sides of this conflict. I've never been able to forget."
For a moment, Tira stared up into that blood-flecked, fair-skinned face and wanted to forget. Forget everything, disappear into the darkest forests in Europe and be removed from the complexity of this situation. Other longings rushed through her veins, filling her with a din that threatened to overtake her mind before she silenced it through sheer determination. "Neither have I. Now, get on with it, or stand down so I can kill you instead. Up to you."
This must be a dream. It had been some time since she had one that didn't involve serving her master, but they did occasionally present unexplainable circumstances and happenings to the dreamer, did they not? Neither of them moved for a long, tense moment, studying carefully the gaze and motions of the other unblinkingly in the waning sunlight. Then, unfathomably, she said, "Now it's up to you."
The little girl's sword was in her hands. Fantastic! It was not her weapon, her beloved Aiselne Drossel, that lay much further away in a direction she could not see, but it was finely-crafted, beautiful, and - best of all - coated with the lifesblood of herself and her compatriots. Tira licked along its edge, revelling in the weight of it on her tongue and pretending not to notice Cassandra's cringe.
"Then only one question remains," she muttered. "Quick and horrifying... or slow and agonising?"
"Do it," Cassandra whispered, dropping to her knees and trembling all over, colour having drained from her features. Under different circumstances, Tira may have checked for a fever. "If that's what I have to do to erase my debt, I... I present my life as payment."
It was the most ill-fitting sensation in the world, and here again she had brought it about. How could the bloodlust be pulled so easily out from beneath her, like a Persian rug? Had she no control over her own emotions? But she could still act - don't think, don't feel, just plunge the point deep into her heart! Drawing a raking, settling breath, she closed her eyes and reached out with the blade.
Why were her arms vibrating? Perhaps the sword had bounced off her opponent's sparse armour. Another attempt would bring halt to this insanity and reunite her with her master and their serene rule.
"Stop moving!" she commanded her victim, voice quavering despite her best efforts to keep it level.
"I'm not! You aren't watching your swordstrokes! How can you expect to-"
No pleasure came to Tira from this kill; only hollow hatred and a vague sense of loss. The lights faded from her clear green eyes as she slowly fell backward, honey-hued strands spilling outward along the stained ground from where her head came to rest. Shaking like a leaf on the wind, she fell to her knees, watching the rivulets flow from the abdomen of her foe.
"No... this... this shouldn't feel so awful. Why, Master? Why do I care about such a vapid little bitch?"
She no longer knew what she did or why she did it. A section of her own tunic was torn away to clean the girl's blade. The masterless sword lay draped across the body, its partnered shield placed over her heart, and it occurred to Tira that people truly are most beautiful when they die. Glancing over at where the rival assassin was beginning to stir, she bent low over Cassandra's clammy forehead and whispered words that held such little meaning to her, that sounded foreign and despicably cruel in the face of where and how they were.
"I love you."
Her reaction was far too slow; part of her subconscious thought she'd neglected her senses intentionally. A thin, highly-polished blade pierced her shoulder, and as it withdrew another, shorter blade found her gut.
"You won't be able to move for a while... try not to struggle."
Tira's body felt so cold. Funny how thousands of minor cuts and contusions could spread warmth through her, yet these two mortal wounds brought a deep chill, one no blanket or hearth could cure. Her obscured vision began to blur further, the soil rose to meet her. Ravens came to circle above them as the world spun faster on its axis, and the darkening red sky began to get darker, and darker, and darker still...
- - - - -
Cassandra stirred in her soft bed, eyes glazed over from sleep. What place was this? Everything seemed to be brilliant and white, and stabbed at her eyes callously. Too much wine the previous night?
"Cassandra! Are you awake?"
Rothion? Surely he had not entered her personal chambers - that would be completely inappropriate! Gasping, she pushed to a sitting position, drawing the sheets close to her chin. She instantly regretted this action.
"Sit back!" Rothion commanded hastily, firm hands pressing her shoulders back down into the bed. "You'll reopen the wound!"
"Ooh... Rothion, what's going on? Where's-" Her words caught in her throat, and crushing dread swept over her. "Where's Sophitia?"
"She is also resting," he breathed, a deep sorrow in his angular features as he spoke. "Pyrrha and Patroklos are sitting with her now. Sophitia's wounds are far more serious than your own, I fear. I am praying the gods grant her more time with us."
The dread relaxed its grip on her heart by the slightest margin. "Oh... the battle. Nightmare!" She made to sit up once more, but he held her down. "What-"
"Nightmare has been defeated." A true grin threatened to overtake his mouth. "That extremely dour companion of yours proceeded forward and ended him, destroying Soul Edge with one of my swords. She looks much the worse for her efforts, but we have bestowed upon her honours befitting a heroine of her ability, as I'm sure they will when she returns home to the East."
"Taki... is she still here, may I speak with her?"
"Of course. I shall show her in, but... promise me you will rest soon?"
Rothion took his duties as brother-in-law far too seriously. "Very. Thanks."
Minutes passed. It took Cassandra a while to notice a pitcher of water and goblet beside her bed; the coolness it granted her parched throat eased some of her discomfort and lessened the veil of sleep. As her stomach began to ache for nourishment, the door opened and Taki appeared, maskless and wearing a long, hooded robe over her assassin garb. Bandages stretched up her neck and covered one of her cheeks, and her head bore a wound dressing, as well.
"You look well for someone who's narrowly escaped an early grave," she remarked.
"You look terrible," Cassandra replied honestly, and Taki stifled a snort. "Rothion tells me you won, you destroyed Soul Edge!"
"Rothion does not lie. I have scattered it to the four winds, and the Azure Knight will wield neither it nor any other blade again. Rest easy and recover."
"Shouldn't you be doing the same?"
The warrior woman shook her head. "Soon I must depart for my homeland; my clan will be expecting me. You and your family are safe, as is the rest of the world. However, you may want to keep an eye out for any lingering followers of his who may get ideas of reincarnation; I certainly will be."
"That's a nice thought," she muttered. But Taki was hesitating; it was nearly imperceptible. "Uh... was there something else?"
"About our earlier attacker, the one who dispatched your sister... Tira, did you say her name was?"
"Yes," she said, sitting up slightly in spite of the throbbing pain in her abdomen. "What of her?"
"I was able to subdue her with a surprise attack soon after she attempted to murder you, and I left the body very near yours... but when I came back to see to you and Sophitia after the Knight was no more, her corpse had vanished."
Cassandra's eyes popped. "Vanished?!" Taki merely nodded. "But... but how?"
"I thought her to be a demon, perhaps. Either way, she left behind her clothing, which makes me think it unlikely she survived and fled."
With no forewarning, she found herself holding a cloth sack in her lap. Hardly daring peek at its contents, she saw just enough of brilliant green fabric to know it to be true. "No, but- but that's impossible, sh- she couldn't have been a demon, could she?"
"If she were, she is unlike any I have ever faced." Again, hesitation.
"What is it, Taki? What aren't you telling me?"
Her cold, calculating eyes pierced into Cassandra's, displaying for her an internal struggle of wills. "In the moments before I struck, she... seemed to be in mourning."
"She was? For who?"
"For you, you imbecile!" A calming sigh. "Your sword and shield had been lain across your chest, and her head was bent nearly double over yours. Had she not caused the damage herself, I may have hesitated in my actions. She... died with tears in her eyes."
A trembling hand raised to Cassandra's lips as the other pressed against her wound. "Tira..."
"This is, of course, none of my concern," said Taki hurriedly as if nothing would be worse than for Cassandra to misunderstand. "But it seemed noteworthy."
"It is," she gasped. "Th- thank you."
Minutes passed, and Taki mentioned other things. They washed over Cassandra, whom had learned enough since awakening to fill an epic poem and could take in nothing more, and she scarcely noted when the assassin took her leave. Tira had cared after all. In spite of all her insistence, of the circumstances under which they met, parted company and reunited, of all the lines in the sand and regrettable paths taken... Tira had not let it all pass her by without being touched in some small way. It was a sort of forlorn comfort, and tears deluged down upon the bag of remnants in her lap, soaking all she had left of the woman with the ring blade.
Some time later, a servant stopped as he passed by her room, listening. An old funeral song was being sung within. He knew not why it was being sung, nor who was singing it, but the words were all too familiar to the boy; feeling a detached sense of empathy for the lamenting woman, he gave his voice to the same words as he went about his duties, reflecting on those who had been lost to him and wondering who else in their world was feeling the pains of loss at that moment. It lent him a bittersweet sense of unity with the human race that was not easily shaken.
- - - - -
"We take the King's gold only along this road."
"I have naught but drachmas," the young woman told the guard.
"Then I am sorry, but you shall have to run along home," the other guard laughed.
"Of course," said the first in oily tones, "there may be something you can do to compensate..."
The question had to be asked of them, no matter if the answer was painfully obvious. "Meaning... what?"
"Meaning guarding this toll bridge is a lonely task," jeered the second of them. "You could perhaps provide us with a night of company in exchange for passage?"
"This body's not for sale," she snapped. "It has been spoken for."
"We don't want to keep it," the first insisted. "Only... borrow it a while."
As they both laughed, a wicked smile spread across her lips. "Dirty, dirty boys, you are. Very well, then, I'll keep you company... until you're destroyed!"
Twenty minutes later, a heavy sack of gold weighed down the back of the woman as she made her way between trees and brush, hands and circular blade dripping with the fluids of men. Victories were sullied by conscience now, and her heart was not in it. She had become a wanderer again, a killer with no home and no allegiance, with none but the ravens for companionship. The loneliness embraced her like an old friend, and though she could not forgive the assassin for slaying her master, this delivered the escape she had ached for so often. Sweet solitude.
But a single memory haunted her, and she found she did not loathe its presence: a beautiful song carried on a beautiful voice, harkened when passing by a shrine in Greece. A song about a bloodthirsty wretch and a demigoddess's sister. A song of ill-fated souls who passed in the night, never to meet again.
Though she did not understand it herself, Tira was happy.
- THE END -