Gwen (Head Soldier of Giant House) trespasses on Faerie territory for her experiments when Talia (Adviser of Faerie House) catches her in the act.
Gwen had really done it now.
In just a matter of minutes, she had added a whole slew of new crimes to her track record: Having Xanthe ravage a part of the mountainside so she could climb up to the Faerie House more easily, espionage, trespassing, and flat out stealing a couple Faerie tokens for an experiment. All in the name of science and discovery, she thought.
Now she was deemed enough of a threat (or maybe just enough of a nuisance) to be taken care of by the Faerie House's adviser, a teenager who she heard was fanatically devoted to her House. Gwen stepped back when she saw the adviser. Suddenly, she felt a tinge of claustrophobia from being in such an enclosed space, as if the cave's walls were closing in on her. A bit nervously, she said, "Listen, I know I'm not exactly in a good position right now to appeal or anything, but I swear there is a good reason for my actions if you're willing to hear me out."
Talia clenched her teeth so hard she thought they were going to break. Her eye began twitching as she glared down at the Giant House head soldier.
The girl said that she had a reasonable explanation for her trespassing and Talia scoffed, "Listen here you little punk, you wanna explain yourself? Go ahead, you've got 30 seconds." She pulled out her token and the gem twinkled. She felt Onna's presence behind her and heard the faint giggling of her spirit.
A sly smile slipped it's way across Talia's face. Facing a head soldier was always interesting. They always put up a great fight. Still, she was looking forward to crushing this little brat, "You're on the clock, sweetheart. I'd hurry if I were you."
"Alright, thirty seconds. Got it." Gwen took in a deep breath. "Well basically, I'm doing an experiment to test a theory that no matter what object the token is, it's its environment that primarily affects how the spirit within it turns out. An example is the Siren leader's flower eyepatch thingy... or that atrociously ugly wooden figurine you're holding threateningly right now. Typically one would associate both those objects with earth, but instead they created a water and air spirit respectively. So I'm doing a little experiment to see if this theory proves valid." Gwen panted. That was thirty seconds, give or take, right? She held out her finger to give herself a more seconds to speak. "Also, don't ever call me 'sweetheart', lady."
Gwen put her hands in pockets. She had a feeling the girl was looking for a fight, so she grasped her token, a fountain pen, in her pocket. The environment they were in could either work out in Xanthe's favor from being surrounded by rock, or could be disastrous for the entire Fairy House. Guess I may be able to add another act of vandalism to that track record, Gwen thought.
A growled ripped itself from Onna's throat as she fully appeared, and Talia glared at the girl, "First of all, don't call me lady, secondly, I will call you whatever I want to call you, and third. Don't you ever. EVER. Call my token ugly again, or I swear I will fall upon you and your house like a tornado." She clenched her token in her fist, "I let you give me a reason as a nicety, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let you off."
She took a step forward, "Now, let's see. Not only did I catch you trespassing on Faerie territory, but you took it upon yourself to insult me as well. I think those offenses alone are punishable by death..." She paused for a moment then sighed, "But I guess the laws aren't as extreme as I am, so I guess I'm going to have to hurt your spirit instead."
Talia felt her gut wrench with terror and excitement the way it always did when she was about to fight. She knew Onna would fight until her last breath for her. There was no referee around to spot the fight, so Talia was expecting to get her hands dirty.
She looked outside and quickly surveyed the surrounding area for advantages. She was already well aware of the landscape, so there was that. When she caught a glimpse of the sky from the entrance of the cave, her brow furrowed. It was cloudy out, and looked as if it was going to rain. Great, she was going to get another outfit dirty. As long as she wiped the mountainside with this Giant and her spirit, it would be totally worth it.
Gwen stepped back when the adviser's spirit appeared before her. So much for playing nice, she thought. Luckily it didn't seem to have much going for it in terms of defense, but she figured it would probably be very fast and evasive since it was a faerie spirit. In that case, Xanthe would have to get up close and personal before it could take flight.
Gwen glared at the girl. She wasn't going to let her get the best of her. She pulled a fake smile. "Oh don't worry, your token is the least of your problems," Gwen replied. "Your spirit itself leaves much to be desired. But I see where it gets its looks from." Gwen laughed. "Are you serious, death threats? Please, I've been receiving death threats since elementary school. You have to do a bit better than that." She let out a sigh. "You don't seem to realize that we're equals, except I'm not afraid to get myself dirty. Nor do I spend half my time preaching how my House is superior, and the other half filling in my eyebrows... But words alone are meaningless. I'll just have to show you."
Gwen quickly pulled out her token. Her heart was pounding and her normally carefree facade had vanished. She had been itching for a battle for a while, but she didn't quite envision it to be under these circumstances. The blue gem on the base of the pen glowed for a second, and in a wave of red Gwen's spirit emerged beside her. "Xanthe, care to do the honors?"
Xanthe pointed his blade at the adviser's spirit. "My pleasure," he said.
Something snapped inside Talia. A rage boiled at the pit of her stomach, and she kind of felt like she was going to throw up, "You prick! I'll have you know my eyebrows are completely natural!"
Talia stepped to the side and Onna rushed forward on a wind towards the other spirit emitting a high pitched screech.
Both of them knew this was going to be interesting. Onna was very quick, but the other spirit looked strong. Onna was good at dodging during close combat, but if any blows hit her, she'd take a lot of damage from that giant blade. During ranged combat she could use her wind powers to deflect things, but only if she was paying attention. Onna had a tendency to get a little full of herself ( the same way Talia did ) which had led to disastrous duels in the past. But Onna and Talia wouldn't let themselves get beaten by a sharp tongued little brat...
At least they would try not to.
Gwen flinched when the adviser snapped at her. Suddenly, she heard a high pitched screech. Grunting, Gwen quickly covered her ears. From the corner of her eye, she could see the pink creature rushing towards her and her spirit. In a panic, Gwen ran to the side of the cave to get out of the way.
As the other spirit charged at him, Xanthe put his blade in front of him into a blocking position in an attempt to shield himself. "Damn it Gwen, nice going! You do realize that the more pissed you make them, the more I have to deal with, right?" he shouted so his host could hear it beyond the other spirit's screech.
Gwen looked up at him and scoffed. "Now's not exactly the time for this, Xanthe!" This time, she wasn't battling some level 2 host for training. Without a referee, she bet that the other pair wouldn't have a qualm about tearing her spirit apart. Even if Xanthe was powerful, he was slower than the other spirit. And if he risked sending out some shockwaves, there was the possibility of a cave-in. Gwen looked to see what the other spirit would do next.
Onna raced towards Xanthe with the intent to tackle. She called a gust of wind to back her up. If all went well, she would duck and roll at the last second, and they would roll out of the cave together in a blur. Hopefully Onna could get some swipes in to weaken the armor. Onna would get hurt to, but anything to get them out of this enclosed space would be worth it.
As the other spirit came towards him, Xanthe stood his ground. He was waiting for just the right moment to strike... Now's my chance, he thought. Lifting his blade back as she approached, he attempted to swing at his opponent with one wide sweeping motion. His main priority was not letting her out of the cave, for it would be far easier to take her out on the ground than at range.
Onna ducked low to dodge the swing, but Xanthe nicked the top of her ear, slicing it clean off. She screeched again in pain and fury as she tackled him.
Talia ran after Onna, her heart thumping. She ignored the other host, and ran towards the entrance of the cave.
The other spirit's psychotic scream of pain made Xanthe lose his focus, causing him to be sent back by her tackle. Finding himself on the ground at the entrance of the cave, he began tearing chunks of stone out of the floor. The rocks floated aimlessly just above the two of them. If he could just launch them at her, he could hopefully send her back and get back on his feet.
Onna roared and swiped at Xanthe's armor a few times before realizing there was no point. Her wings beat fast and she kicked up a small wind before tensing up and shooting out into the sky. She turned back and waited to see what would the other spirit would do.
Gwen noticed the adviser run towards the battle. Funny how she seemed to act completely beyond other people, but cared so much for her spirit. Gwen stepped forward. "Listen to me, my research is for the greater good. If we can unlock the secrets behind the spirits, imagine what all the Houses could achieve..." She paused for a moment, choosing her words carefully. "You care for her a lot don't you? Just imagine, in the future we may even be able to figure out how to keep our memories, our spirits, past eighteen years old."
Talia turned on the girl and stormed towards her. Talia was much taller, and she loomed over the other girl as she raised her voice, "Are you insane?! That's impossible! You know we can't keep our spirits or our memories! We help children in need until we aren't children anymore! It's as simple as that and there's no way around it!"
She took a step back, "I wouldn't want adults keeping their tokens anyway..." She paused and got quieter, "They're corrupt, and they don't understand what it's like to be a child once they're not one. There's a reason we're not allowed to let them in on this, on anything."
Talia knew how terrible adults could be. She never wanted to be one. Becoming an adult was something she didn't look forward to. She didn't like to think about growing up and leaving Onna behind. She turned away as she choked back tears and ran out of the cave to follow Onna.
There was no way people could keep their tokens. It was a matter of losing touch with the spirit world, and that was something you couldn't avoid. Talia refused to listen to any more of that nonsense, and she distracted herself with the battle.
Xanthe got up to his feet, still a bit dazed from the other spirit's screech. As she swooped up into the air. he pursued her to the outside of the cave. The overcast sky had begun pouring rain, and would hinder his vision further. Tearing off his mask and throwing it on the ground, he launched the floating rocks at her at high speeds, aiming for her wings in hope of taking her out of the sky. "You coward! You'll have to get down, sometime!" he shouted.
A few of the rocks hit Onna in various places on her body, but her wings were moving too fast to be hit. She growled in frustration as she felt bruises forming, "Not a coward, am I, are you?" She spat, "We both, us two, can play this game of names!" Winds swirled around her and Onna clumsily flung the rocks back down towards Xanthe.
Gwen walked out of the cave to see the battle. What's wrong with me? she thought. Whatever happened to keeping those dangerous thoughts to herself? "How ironic that you say that the adults have no idea what it's like to be a child, and yet here you are, growing up and thinking you're superior to all the other kids," Gwen said bitterly, clenching her fists. "Anyway, just an example of what we could accomplish. Obviously, a feat like that would cause an uproar with the other kids. But we've all witnessed the immense power of the spirit world. Who's to say it's impossible, if we can tap into that power?" She tilted her head downward. "We're only children for so long, and all of us will grow to become adults, the people we hate. Then we condemn our spirits to die alongside our childhoods. As time goes on, we all forget that we were ever hosts, the protectors of the children here. It's seemingly unavoidable."
Gwen continued. "But as a result, if the Houses were to ever die off for a time due to some catastrophe, our actions, the spirit world and its mysteries would be forgotten without a trace. Despite the years we spent fighting to protect the city, we would have no legacy. It's not as if anyone has bothered to record anything that happens involving the Houses and spirits either up until now, as far as I know. That's partially why I'm studying their kind and recording my findings, for the long term stability of the Houses. Because if my search for insight into the spirits only ends up getting lost with time, then it's all pointless... Besides, I would need the cooperation of all the Houses to make any groundbreaking discoveries."
Talia turned on the girl again, "You really are insane! What you’re suggesting is impossible! No matter how in touch you think you are with your spirits, no matter how much time and research you put into this, you can't stop people from growing up! It’s as simple as that!"
This wasn't about Gwen trespassing anymore. It was the reason she was trespassing. Talia knew every house member had these thoughts of ‘what if’ but she could never imagine someone acting out something like this. Especially not with the permission of other houses.
She was practically fuming now, "It's not about tapping into the energy of the spirit world! We've gotten that far! If we hadn't we wouldn't be able to conjure spirits now! It's..." Talia faltered, "It's all in the way we lose touch with ourselves, all in the way we grow up. I believe when people grow up, something inside of them changes. You can't stop this change, no matter how hard you try... No matter how much you despise adults, or what they are, you’re destined to become one of them. It’s a cold hard fact, and the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can devote your childhood to your house and stop thinking about this idiotic plan!”
“You know, things that matter to you now won't matter as much in the future, especially not when you’re one of them. The reason for the Houses is so we can help children before we're no longer a child ourselves. We dedicate our childhoods to saving this town, and when we grow up, we lose our spirit and our memories. People have tried to keep their tokens before, and you know what happens to them? They die. Their spirits die, and we don’t talk about them. That is the coveted, golden rule. No one stays after their an adult, no matter what. Not even if the Houses are in ruins, and they need all the help they can get..” Talia clenched her teeth, and it hurt her to even start speaking, “If the Houses die off, and no longer exist, I can, one hundred percent, guarantee you -- that we won't be around to see it."
Talia scoffed and took on a more sarcastic tone, "I guess if you can figure out a way to stop people from aging, then I think you're onto something," She laughed, mostly at herself, "But until then I think you-" There was a loud thumping sound, and Talia froze. Breathing became difficult as her throat closed and she choked out a whimper. Pain shot from her skull down to every extremity.
With shaking hands, Talia slowly reached behind her head and applied pressure to the back of her her skull. Another flare of pain. Flinching, she quickly pulled her hand away to see blood dripping down her fingers. Before she even had time to move, Onna was on top of her, checking the wound, but not touching. She was talking so quickly Talia couldn't understand a thing she said.
With a soft grunt, Talia fell to her knees, distraught. After a few seconds, she slowly looked up at Gwen. Her expression showed no pain. No fear. She could control her face, but she couldn’t control her body. She’d suppressed pain before, but still, she visibly shook, "I guess, you could also look into a way to make us -- less human... Less vulnerable, less weak.” She looked down at the blood on her hands and she sounded far away, as if she were speaking to herself instead, “If we could merge with the spirits, we'd never have to grow up..."
Dizziness wrapped it's hungry claws around her head, and she wanted nothing more than to go home. She didn't care about this little rat anymore. Nor her spirit nor her insane ideas.
Onna finally slowed down enough that Talia could make out her tumbling words, "Miss I am sorry, I am! I did not mean, I mean, I could not aim, the rocks, you see, I could not aim... With the wind and rain, the rocks I could not see, too many to see, you see in the wind and clouds... Please I do not want trouble, it was, you see, an accident, no trouble, I cause, I... I am sorry..." Tears escaped Onna's eyes, and Talia knew it hurt her more to know she inflicted pain upon Talia than the pain searing the back of her head. It's what kept her from bursting out into tears and running home to her mother.
Talia shook her head in response. She knew that spirits weren't allowed to harm hosts, but this was her own spirit, and it was an accident. Exceptions could be made. No one else would get hurt, as long as she had anything to say about it.
Talia's legs shook with pain, but with Onna's help she was able to stand. She looked at Gwen and narrowed her eyes, "I suggest you leave." She paused, and with what she said next, she didn’t dare look Gwen in the eyes, "Most of Faerie House isn't here at night, if that..." Another pause. Talia furrowed her brows together and closed her eyes. The wrong word choice now would ruin her, "If... If that fact hinders us from keeping you out of our territory for your experimentation, then so be it." Talia had no idea what she was saying, but she said it anyways. Am I really telling this brat that security is low at night so she can sneak onto our territory? ... It must be the injury. This isn’t me...
It was probably one of the nicest things Talia had ever done for a member of another house, let alone someone she disliked as much as Gwen.
The stones flew right back towards Xanthe, not giving him a chance to defend himself. The sharp rocks barraged him, some of them putting major dents into his armor. Suddenly one of them flew right for his head, causing him to falter and fall down to his knees. Without his mask to protect his face, it left a dark bruise where it landed.
"Xanthe!" Gwen yelled out.
The spirit stood right back up despite the throbbing pain in his head, not wanting to seem like he was surrendering just yet. "I'm fine! Just stay out of the way, Gwendolyn!" he shouted back. Xanthe put his blade in front of him to shield himself from the onslaught.
Gwen breathed in, trying to calm herself as her spirit was being bombarded and Talia berated her. She let out a small laugh, going back to her normal, cheery self for just a moment. "You're thinking too narrowly, at one extreme. Practical immortality is just one answer, and although it's interesting to think about, it's ridiculous even from my point of view. My first thoughts were archiving knowledge about the spirits and Houses, or maybe finding a way to allow spirits to keep some of their memories to learn from in their next incarnation." She sighed. "Oh course, perhaps that would mean a spirit would be less willing to become loyal to a new host. I almost want to call that 'human nature'..."
She then looked her straight in the eyes, repeatedly clenching and unclenching her fists after her nails started digging into her palms for too long. "How do you know for sure that we've uncovered everything there is to know about their world? Sure, our ability to summon them is a feat in and of itself. But by assuming there isn't anything more to them, that's like assuming when we look out at the night sky and don't see anything, that there's nothing out there. In reality, there are stars and planets and galaxies far out in the depths of space. Logically, there has to be more to the spirits. There has to be!" Gwen paused for a moment. "...But there's only so much time to study them," She muttered to herself. When the adviser mentioned how neither of them would be around to see the end of the Houses anyway, Gwen was sent into a rage. "If you really cared about the other House members, you would care about the Houses' future children too! They matter just as much as the present hosts!"
Gwen tried desperately to calm down, but there was still spite in her voice. "You and your willingness to stick with the status quo, your compliance, and your completely lack of even an ounce of curiosity disgusts me!"
Suddenly, she found herself recoiling when the other host fell to her knees. What just happened? Did she snap? she thought. In a matter of seconds, she had been taken out of her verbal battle with the other girl. "Xanthe, stop!" she commanded her spirit. "It's over..." Her mind started racing.
Did Xanthe just... No, he's more honorable than that. What's going on? When she saw the girl's spirit flying towards her, frantically apologizing as she checked her host's wound, Gwen was relieved to hear that it was an accident. But even so, her throat seemed to close up from guilt. Why was she feeling this way? Before their encounter, she only knew of her from rumors spread by the other kids. What was the adviser's name, again?
It was Talia.
Gwen wanted to do something more than just sit there. "Talia, I...I'm..." The words wouldn't come out of her mouth. Strange how she could talk endlessly any other time, but as soon as she needed to apologize to someone, she would just freeze. When Gwen reached out to put her hand on Talia's shoulder, she immediately pulled her hand away as she was taken aback from the expression on her face. Or lack thereof, more accurately. Suddenly the girl seemed distant, as if Gwen, Xanthe and even her own spirit weren't there. As Talia pondered to herself the idea of becoming less human to avoid pain, Gwen burst into tears. Damn it, Gwen, shut up. It's not your fault. It's not your fault! Her body betrayed her mind, as the tears wouldn't stop. "...But then we would lose who we are in the process. Our faults, our vulnerabilities... what makes us human."
Gwen stood up when Talia brought herself back up with the help of her spirit. Shuffling through her pockets, she found the tokens she had stolen earlier and put them on the ground. Gwen sniffed to compose herself. "This isn't how I want to win. Not like this," she said. Without another word she walked to Xanthe, putting a hand on the bruise. Finally they could look each other in the eyes. Had they finally found their equals? Gwen picked up her spirit's mask from the ground and tenderly put it on his face. She had fantasized finding someone of equal strength to be more of a joyful moment.
Gwen didn't stop at all during her descent down the mountain, even after scraping her hands and knees from tripping on some of the larger boulders. "Take it easy," Xanthe said in her mind, but his host wouldn't listen. In the process of moralizing her ideals and ambitions, she had dared to forget who she was most of all: a host, a hero, and a protector.
"Sometimes being human hurts more than the would be consequence of destroying our vulnerabilities..." Talia didn't know who she was talking to anymore. Gwen, herself, Onna, no one... Talia watched Gwen pull the tokens from her pocket, and rage ran through her body once more, but she didn't dare move. She stood still and didn't say a word. She didn't even move until Gwen was out of sight.
Talia looked down at the tokens Gwen had laid on the ground. As Gwen retreated, her words echoed through Talia's mind.
I'm not a coward.. I'm not afraid of this... I'm not narrow minded... Am I?
Talia scoffed her herself and shook her head. The other girl had called her disgusting for being so willing to conform with the minds of the others. That was stupid.
You fight criminals, save the city, and help children. That's all there was to this. There couldn't be more. The Houses were secret for a reason, and exposing them to long term experimentation like this might draw the attention of adults.... Or would it?
A sharp twinge of pain caught Talia off guard and she choked out a cry. She doubled over and pressed her hand to the back of her head, "Onna, take me back to camp... I think I need a doctor..."
A wave of concern washed over Onna's face and she nodded somberly. She leaned down and gently picked Talia up. The wind swirled around them both as Onna flapped her wings and flew Talia into the cave.
The last thing Talia saw before she passed out was Conan and one of the house doctors leaning over her, telling her to stick with them a little longer.