Act 01: The Gang’s All Here
Trying to organize a group of people as large as they were wasn’t a simple task, nor was finding a place big enough to hold them all without drawing unwanted attention to themselves. As such, it was a few weeks after they’d defeated Draco and had their encounter with the red-haired sehashi that they all found a free evening that coincided with a time that they could meet in the basement of Dionne’s house without her parents walking in on them.
This time, Dionne didn’t bother with organizing snack food as she had the last time there had been a sehashi meeting at her place. Her lips twitched, remembering that her brother Allan had walked in on that one before she knew that he was the sehashi warrior known as Joker and before he knew that she and her school friends were sometimes known as Archer, Pyre, Shield, and Fate.
Since then, their circle of friends and associates had grown a lot with the addition of Corentin, Hyun, Jin, and Dumia who were also known as Storm, Typhoon, Silence, and Vega. During the last battle against Draco and Monoceros yet another sehashi had joined them, a boy who’d identified himself as Knight. They’d later learned was another one of Dionne’s schoolmates, Kousei Prince. He claimed to have two other teammates, but he’d remained tight-lipped about their identities since that day, stating only that they would come to the meetup but weren’t sure about revealing themselves.
It was something Dionne could almost understand as Jin’s team had felt the same way about revealing their identities. She was looking forward to seeing who these two people were.
She glanced up at the clock hanging on the living room wall. It wasn’t quite time yet for even the habitually early Cory Davis to be arriving, likely with her best friend and sehashi partner Hatemi Summers in tow. She could count on her own partner, Hana Dawson, to arrive a little later than the others. As to Jin’s team, she had no idea what to expect. Kousei would probably be punctual, though.
They’ll get here when they get here, the familiar voice of Laira, her spirit guardian, scolded her. There’s no sense fussing about it.
“I can’t help it,” Dionne admitted. “I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks now.”
As have we all. Fussing won’t get them here any sooner.
The sound of the front door opening interrupted Dionne’s reply. She got up to see who it was to find her brother coming in and taking off his snow-covered boots. “Man, it’s gross out there,” he complained.
“It’s March,” Dionne reminded him. “It’s going to be gross for at least another month. Then it’ll be worse while it all thaws when, if I remember right, you’ll complain about your snow mould allergies.”
Allan glared at her. “Bad enough that mom gets on my case about that every year. I don’t need you doing it, too.”
“So stop complaining about things that won’t change and we won’t have to. Either that or move to a warmer climate.”
Allan snorted. “Warmer climate usually means the coast or the states, neither of which are too appealing to me.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I hear Victoria is lovely this time of year.”
“So’s Australia. I’d rather live where the air hurts my face than where the wildlife is out to kill me.”
Is that true? Laira asked.
“What, about Australia?” Allan asked. “A slight exaggeration but only slight.”
Your world is strange.
“I bet we’d find your home planet to be equally weird,” Dionne said.
Perhaps that’s true, Laira admitted.
Eventually, the others showed up, taking off their heavy coats and slush covered boots, and picking a place to sit. Dionne was still getting used to knowing that Typhoon and her teammates were students from Elysium Valley High’s rival school, Khun-Lun High. That fact was illustrated quite plainly when Kousei showed up. She barely had time to register the fact that he had Yan and Teir in tow before Kousei and Corentin locked eyes.
“Prince,” Corentin said stiffly.
“Blair,” Kousei replied with an equal amount of barely constrained hostility.
Cory, seated not too far from Corentin, rolled her eyes. “Look, I know you two jocks have some kind of stupid court rivalry going on, but would you mind keeping that separate from this?”
Hyun nodded. “I’m sure that Dionne would like to not be cleaning blood out of her carpets.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Dionne commented. “They would be. On their hands and knees. If I’m feeling generous, I might even consider giving them each a toothbrush to do it with.”
“Oy, vicious much?” Yan asked, sitting down.
“So you two must be the teammates that Kousei mentioned,” Jin said, getting straight down to business.
Teir nodded. “I’m Teir Whitmore. My sehashi name is Balance. Blondie here is Yan Diamono. He’s known as Phantom.”
“See, I don’t get that,” Hatemi said. “For as long as I can remember, you’ve called him that, but his hair is as dark as Hana’s.”
Yan rolled his eyes as Teir and Kousei smirked. “It’s…kind of an inside joke. You’ll find out soon enough,” Teir explained.
Now that we know who we all are, we can get down to it, Laira said, startling the three newcomers.
“Sorry, we forgot to mention our spirit guardians,” Dionne said. “That was Laira. Peltoren and Teerla are also here.”
Hello, Peltoren said helpfully.
Yan and Kousei exchanged a look. “We’ve heard about those, but we’d never actually seen one.”
“Or known anyone who had one,” Teir added.
“To have three in one place is more than a little strange,” Hyun commented. “But then, from what I know of how sehashi are supposed to function, to have so many of us in one town is more than a little odd.”
“This does seem like overkill,” Kousei commented.
“It’s not just us, either,” Allan said. “I used to have a team before they and our spirit guardian were killed.”
“It helps that Jin’s team only arrived here recently, chasing Draco,” Dionne said.
“But why were we all drawn here?” Yan asked.
Part of it has something to do with the Ssu-Ling, Laira said. The Talismans are linked to sehashi, and my thinking is that the easiest way to get access to those is to get a lot of sehashi in one place.
It’s also possible that you were all pulled here by the energy of the Ssu-Ling, Teerla said. I know you yourselves had little influence over the decisions your parents made to come here, but something about this place would have been made very appealing to them and thus you would have been brought here.
“That’s an interesting theory,” Teir said. “If you don’t mind my asking, what is the normal distribution of sehashi for a town this size?”
If something this size had a team of two or three along with a spirit guardian, it would be considered overkill, Peltoren said. Generally, something this small isn’t worth bothering with. It’s usually only the big cities that get hit with trouble.
“So you’d say it’s strange to see the Lords of Chaos here.”
Yes, but now that we know that the Ssu-Ling are here, it makes complete sense that they would have had a team here. Vulturia’s defeat is most likely what drew Draco here and with them Typhoon’s team.
“Now we have that strange red headed sehashi to deal with,” Hana grumbled, folding her arms.
“Here’s hoping that she’s not possessing some poor sap the way Draco was,” Cory said. “It’s bad enough that Danika, Melanthe, and Eglantine were messed up by this. No one else needs to get hurt.”
“How are they, by the way?” Dionne asked.
Jin shrugged. “I’ve been monitoring Melanthe since we freed her from Ophiuchus, but she doesn’t seem any different than she did before we knew the truth. A bit better adjusted, but no major differences. She and Eglantine don’t seem to know if they should stay away from each other or bonding over their mutual trauma.”
“Danika started coming back to school last week,” Kousei said. “She won’t talk to any of us. Not that I can blame her.”
“She was more aware of what was going on than the others, I think,” Cory said. “She called me out on who I was before changing into Draco.”
“It makes one wonder if Melanthe and Eglantine were pretending to not have been aware of what was happening to them,” Hana said.
Hatemi shot her a dirty look. “Anyone who’d see Melanthe after we freed her from Ophiuchus wouldn’t say that. You can’t fake a reaction like that. Draco was the strongest of the three. Maybe that affected Danika somehow.”
“It’s a plausible theory,” Hyun admitted. “There’s a lot we still don’t know about them and how they could possess those poor girls in the first place.”
It’s not likely that we ever will, Peltoren said. I shudder to think what kind of power it would take to stick the essence of one being into the body of another and having the two people essentially coexist.
“Do you three have any thoughts about that red haired woman?” Corentin asked. “It won’t be long before we’ll be hearing from her again, and I’d rather not be caught with my proverbial pants down.”
There’s not much we can offer on that score, Teerla admitted. We’ve been trying to figure out who she could be but we’ve come up with nothing.
No, not nothing, Laira corrected. At the very least, we’re quite sure that she wasn’t responsible for putting Draco’s team into those girls. Her power just felt…wrong for that.
“You could tell that from our brief encounter with her?” Kousei asked, sounding impressed.
When you’ve been around as long as I have, you learn to get a quick read on other sehashi. Her power felt wrong for that. More destructive in nature. I can’t be more specific than that, though.
The bad news is this tells us that there’s someone else out there who did this and whoever that is could work with the redhead, Teerla said.
“Well, that’s lovely, but at least we know there’s a chance we could expect more than one of these people to pop up,” Dumia grumped.
Also given her connection to Draco and Draco’s connection to Vulturia, I think it’s safe to say that our new enemy is also a Lord of Chaos, one powerful enough to be manipulating our previous enemy, Peltoren put in.
“Excuse me, Lord of Chaos?” Teir asked.
Sorry, I forget that the three of you haven’t been fighting with us, she apologized. The Lords of Chaos are a group of people who are followers of a group of ancient sehashi known as the Ssu-Ling.
“I know that word,” Teir said. “Those are the four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations. What? I did a report on it in junior high as part of our astronomy unit.”
In reality, the Ssu-Ling are a set of five sehashi from that part of the world. As I told the others before I can’t quite recall what their individual names were. Somewhere along the line they went rogue. Those who follow them, civilian and sehashi alike, are known as the Lords of Chaos. It took a group of five uncorrupted sehashi to seal them away, ending the Great War. Our last battle with Draco brought together the five Talismans that had been used to lock their prison and if we can believe the redhead, they’re now free.
“And you don’t think we’ll be hearing from these Ssu-Ling?” Yan asked doubtfully.
Imagine that you’ve been locked away in a cage for many thousands of years and have just been released. You don’t have the first clue where you are, what language the people around you are speaking, or even what something as simple as a pen is, let alone something as potentially terrifying as a car.
Those still get me, Peltoren admitted.
Yes, well, we know what your world was like, Laira said, her tone one of teasing. No concept of technology whatsoever.
“Focus, people,” Allan growled.
Right, sorry. So, not only are they likely to be extremely weak from their time locked away, but they need time to adjust to how things are now. Aside from the Lords of Chaos, no one is going to fall down on their knees to worship them like they did in the past.
“Sehashi were worshipped?” Allan asked.
You all have as much power as you do and the potential for even more still and you can ask that question? Teerla asked, incredulous. Primitive societies such as early humans weren’t known for their intelligence. What they don’t understand, they fear or worship. Considering the alternative, worship usually seems like a good idea. Until it goes wrong, though it rarely goes wrong on a scale such as the Ssu-Ling.
“They can’t have been the only ones to have been so corrupt,” Cory said.
No, they weren’t, but the resulting war was the worst and its effects are still being felt. Before them, there was a group called the Andulai from a world called Yenus Prime that was almost as bad.
I know that place, Laira said. Or, rather, what’s left of it. My lifegiver used to tell stories about it. They say it was a paradise before the Andulai became corrupt. One of the sehashi I fought beside in the Great War was from Yenus Prime. It’s a harsh place now. He fought harder than most to take down the Ssu-Ling, though he didn’t live to see it happen.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Laira,” Dionne said.
Why? I didn’t know him that well, and it was a very long time ago.
Yan rubbed his head. “While this is all fascinating, we’re not getting anywhere. Yeah, great, we’ve met you all and learned some things, but I feel that this is as far as we’re going to get until the enemy makes a move.”
“At least we’ll be ready for it this time,” Allan said. “We know she’s coming. It’s something we’ve never had before.”
“That’s all well and good, but our three new allies won’t be all that much help,” said Corentin, folding his arms.
“Hey!” Kousei sounded hurt.
“He’s not wrong,” Teir pointed out. “We’ve known about our sehashi selves for how long, and we aren’t much stronger than we were when we found out about it. Frankly, I’m amazed that Kousei manifested one of those Talismans at all.”
Those have more to do with strong personality traits than power, Peltoren commented. Knight’s is the Talisman of strength.
“So, he’s just a strong person, is that it?” Corentin asked.
Possibly. Who knows how those things actually work?
Kousei shrugged. “All I know is I’ve had that stupid thing for years, but in the last year it changed shape to look like that double ended dagger.”
As to your powers and relative strength, if I could see what you’re capable of, then perhaps I could offer you some advice on how to grow, Teerla offered. All three of us could.
“That’s very nice of you,” Teir started.
I imagine Kousei would be more comfortable taking advice from us than he would from Corentin or Hyun, who would also be more than capable of doing so.
“As much as I don’t like dealing with these disembodied voices, I have to agree with them,” Kousei said slowly. “If we’re going to be of any use, we need help.”
“I take it, then, that you think we need them,” Dumia said.
Undoubtedly, Laira said firmly. It was the five Talisman that sealed the Ssu-Ling away in the first place. If we’re to have any chance at repeating the process, we need to get Kousei up to speed. If we’re going to train Kousei, we may as well bring Yan and Teir along for the ride. Going up against the Ssu-Ling, even as weak as they are, won’t be a simple task and the more help we have against them, the better.
Kousei looked at Yan and Teir. “Are you two ok with this?”
Yan frowned. “Do we have a choice?”
You always have a choice, Teerla said. No one will fault you for not wanting to get involved. Many sehashi didn’t want to involve themselves in the Great War as it meant fighting against people just like them. Even corrupted, they were still sehashi, and it’s hard.
“I’m in,” Teir said. At Yan’s startled look, he continued. “What? If I don’t help, Kousei is likely to get his stupid self killed. At least one of us has to be there to watch his back.”
Yan rolled his eyes. “I hate it when you make sense.”
“You’re both in?” Kousei asked hopefully.
Yan waved one hand, irritated. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t expect me to like it, though.”
Hatemi punched him lightly in the shoulder. “That’s the spirit, Yan!”
He glared at her. “Just don’t make me work with that one and we’re fine. Cool?”
I think that can be managed, Laira said.
“Oy!” Hatemi exclaimed, pouting.
“Alright, alright, look, I’ve got to go,” Corentin said, getting up. “I’ve got a test tomorrow that I need to do well on if I’m going to keep my grades up.”
“Basketball season is basically done with,” Kousei said.
“Well, yeah, but I still like to keep my grades up. Now that it looks like we’re staying in Elysium Valley, we need to think about our futures. That means decent grades.”
Jin eyed him. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Yeah, fine, why?”
“It’s just that you’ve never shown concern about school before.”
“What was the point when Draco or her teammates could have wiped us out at any time? Now that it’s not the case, I can relax a little, maybe be a regular boy with some regular boy worries.”
“I’ve got early class tomorrow, so this seems like a good point to break things up,” Allan offered. “Yan, Teir, Kousei, it was nice meeting you three.”
“Likewise,” Teir said politely as Allan left the room.
Soon after, everyone was getting up to get their jackets and boots back on to head out into the slushy streets of the Arcadia housing district. Once she was alone again in her house, Dionne sunk down onto a couch, staring blankly at the wall.
This is going to be a rough one.