White Swan, Black Raven

© 2000 by Torquemada

This page was last modified: 2000/11/22


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Dark black raven,
Why are you circling in the sky above my head?

(Russian folk song)

I notice him first as he is still far away. Thus I get some time to fight my feelings and to be prepared, but he has no time for that, and my unexpected appearance comes as a shock to him, and it is so interesting to see all his emotions changing each other: how the shocking surprise changes to disbelief, that to relief and finally -- the happiness.

"Isaac? Is it really you?"

"Really me. Long time no see, Hyoga." Hyoga wears the Cygnus Cloth. So... he did it. That's better, it means he must be much stronger now and an easier target for me. It would be difficult to attack him if he had been the same I used to know.

"Gods, I am so happy. You cannot even imagine how much." He might not say it; that am I still able to see. As much as I know Hyoga, he surely blamed himself for my death.

Do you feel your prey in me?

The expression on his face changes again. It certainly means that Hyoga is back from the past to reality, and in this reality we must fight. Two best friends -- in the past; and now -- who are we for each other?

No, black raven.
I'm not yours.

"So I understand it is you the defender of the Arctic pillar?" Hyoga obviously tries to win some time, not wanting to fight me. My intentions are different, though. The sooner it will be over, the better it will be -- for both of us.

"I am. Now, fight me." I take the battle stance.

"Wait..." He doesn't want to let go, his eyes scan the environment desperately. I can understand him; under different circumstances, I would want to know how he was doing all the time, what happened in these years, too. But now, what's the use?

"When did you loose your eye?" he finally chooses.

Wrong choice, Hyoga.

"Then." And I see him sagging under the weight of this single word. He understood.

Fly, black raven, to my homeland,
To my mother I love so much

"You know... my mother lies down there. Under the ice, in the deep... where it is so dark." Hyoga lies on the ice that covers the sea, and looks down, like he wants to pierce the eternal layer of it with his bare look.

"Sorry." What else can I say? I don't remember my parents, and I don't miss them, of course. How can I miss something I don't know?

"One day I will break this ice, Isaac. And I will reach her. She won't have to be alone in the dark anymore."

"What?!" I am frankly horrified. If the sea became his mother's grave, that must be left like that. "Hyoga, do you actually understand what you are talking about? It's a sacrilege to disturb the peace of the dead! It's like digging down someone's grave!"

"No!" Hyoga denies, hotly. "She is the best thing of my past, like you are the best of my present. I can have you everyday, right? Then why I can't have her?"

Because it is the past, I think. Personally, my opinion is that both the obsession with the past and the future is a worthless waste of time. You cannot change your past, you cannot know your future. Then why torment yourself?

But I don't try to convince Hyoga. He has a different set of the mind, and I like him as he is.

"Aren't memories enough?" I ask.

"Memories? Do you know what my last memory of my mother is?" Hyoga smiles bitterly. "I still see her standing on the deck of that sinking ship, she is there all alone... and there is absolutely nothing I can do, being carried away -- neither could I save her, nor die together with her... no, Isaac. I don't want my last memory of her to be like that."

Again I think that this may be much better than seeing a corpse which has been in the water for years. And again, I have no intention to tell my friend he is wrong.

"Come on, Hyoga. Let's go -- old Semionych said his cat, Mashka, is going to bring kittens today, let's go and see. Besides, Crystal said it is not healthy to lie on the ice for a long time."

"Really? Why?"

"Don't know. Maybe your blood freezes, or something like that."

"Admit it, Isaac, it's not Mashka you are interested in, but it is Marja you want to see again!"

"Nonsense!"

"Liar, liar! Isaac is a friend of girls!"

"Tambov's wolf is your friend of girls!"

"Isaac? How is Mashka going to get these kittens? I mean, where will she bring them from, when there is only ice and snow around -- nothing where kittens can hide or grow onto? Does Mashka search for them, or dig them up?"

"I don't know. That's why I want to see it."

* * *

By the year when Hyoga finally fulfilled his mad idea, we knew already how kittens came into this world, along with many things of bigger importance.

Only Hyoga and me were left from all the pupils of Crystal. The others had withdrawn... at least I preferred to think such way. And Hyoga, who always lived in his world of illusions, this time he appeared to be more attuned to reality than I was. That knowledge of reality oppressed him, he became more closed and reticent with every day -- and I could not help him, no matter how much I wanted to. The reason was that Crystal apparently has chosen me as the potential winner of the Cygnus Cloth, and I was forced to spend more and more time training, thus less time with Hyoga.

Yet I always knew where to find him when Crystal let me go.

On the ice above his mother's grave.

That day I expected to find him here, as always. I rushed with my exercises, receiving lots of unpleasant remarks from Crystal because of that, but Hyoga acted especially strange few past days, and I was determined to find out why -- and do it immediately.

I found out the reason by not finding Hyoga in his usual place. There was just a big irregular gap in the ice; water was visible down there, still and dark.

Idiot, what an idiot... he did it!

The surface of the gap was already covered with a thin ice layer -- too thin to be there for a long time, and that meant I still had a chance. I broke the ice easily, and dived.

It was a dreadful and unexpected feeling -- to find such an angry and stormy sea under the stiff thickness of the ice. As if the sea was saying, 'I am not going to tolerate intruders in my kingdom, and you will pay for it!" But I didn't care at all -- my only friend was down there, caught by the sea, in the ship that had become his mother's place of rest and now wanted to get him, too.

The ship's dark outline was looming under me, the reflections of the sun on the ice provided some light and I dived down towards it. I was not going to give Hyoga away.

There I found him -- he was holding onto some ropes of the ship wreckage's remains, hesitant to let go, still waiting for a miracle, but there couldn't be any miracles -- only the wrath of the dead.

I grabbed his weak body. Together we were heavier and stronger, yet not strong enough to resist the power of the current and it pulled us in, dragging us away from the gap that was our only way to get out. The sea did not want to give up so easy.

Neither did I.

Crystal claimed I was the strongest and that was not just an empty compliment. I was the strongest -- and now I concentrated all my strength, felt my Cosmo burning in cold determination, and struck the ice above my head with full force.

Despite the serious lack of air, I knew I did it -- the savior sun reached us through the clear water right above. I had created an exit.

The remaining strength of mine was enough to throw Hyoga into safety up onto the ice; but now I was not just lighter, but totally exhausted in addition -- helpless under the power of the evil-happy current.

Why do you spread your wings, black raven,
Do you feel my death already?

This time I didn't make it.

Weak like a newborn puppy, I surrendered to the sea; probably I had doubled its anger by taking away its rightful prey -- and to the daggers in my lungs added an unbelievable pain in my eye, where a sharp piece of ice hit me.

When it will be over? Please, Sea, let it all finish, please...

No, black raven.
I'm not yours.

* * *

I feel I am still alive. I am surprised and disappointed -- why is it still not the end, what else has fate prepared for me? My eye hurts no more, probably because of the cold... But suddenly I discover I'm not freezing anymore, nor suffocating. Something warm and soft is underneath me, and I feel I am moved somewhere, but I don't really care, too tired to be interested. I feel good, and let it continue, no matter what the reason is.

Later, there comes an undefined time when I drift somewhere on the edge between life and death; and when I finally decide I still want to live, the first thing I see is a man sitting patiently near my bed. He's young and beautiful -- far too beautiful to be a common human being. I've never seen anyone like him before, and that aura of his... no, he can't be human.

Nor was he.

"I couldn't do anything about your eye," are his first words. "You shall learn to live with it."

Thus I have met Poseidon, the God of the Sea, the same sea that for some reason decided to release me with a minor -- in it's way -- punishment. He was right, of course: I've managed to live with it.

"Where are you from?" Poseidon asks me. I owe him a lot, including the truth; so I tell my story, hiding nothing -- not even that I intended to be a warrior of Athena, his rival, though my heart beats uneasily during my tale. But Poseidon does not pay even the slightest attention to that fact. There is something else that interests him -- and I am quite curious what exactly it is.

"And so... The Cygnus Cloth is back. Well, well... Who would expect it would happen so soon? But it explains everything." Poseidon looks at me, and I see in his eyes -- sympathy? -- such a human feeling?

"I have to say that you were lucky to escape so easily." Poseidon continues absent-mindedly; he seems to be thinking deeply about something I yet fail to understand.

"What do you mean?" Personally I don't agree that a lost eye is the proof of an easy escape.

"Of course you cannot understand." Poseidon notices I'm utterly at a loss. "Look. I will show you."

He extends his finger, touching the air -- some invisible spots on it. The tip of his finger causes tiny dots of light to flare. One, two, three... thirteen.

"This is the constellation of Cygnus, as humans see it." Now I recognize it.

"Here," Poseidon points at one of the lights, brighter than the others, "is Deneb, Alpha Cygni. The brightest star in the constellation, and one of the brightest in the whole sky."

Suddenly Poseidon's voice changes, making me shiver in surprise. Now it sounds dark, menacing. Frightening.

"But it has a neighbour, Isaac. Ae neighbour which belongs to the constellation, yet you cannot see it. Nor can any human."

"Too small?" My guess is logical, yet for some reason it seems wrong and funny even to myself.

"No." Poseidon flashes me a brief smile, but it fades away so fast I'm not sure it was there at all, before he creates another dot in the air.

A black one.

"It shines black light, that's why. Or, to be more exact, it does not let any light escape. The human race calls these stars black holes, and one of them rules the Cygnus constellation. Deneb means nothing, Isaac. Because every black hole always takes control over everything it can reach."

I have heard about this amazingly strange type of sky objects; yet I cannot understand, why Poseidon speaks about it so cautiously and sadly, so... scared? Him? The God?

I look at the tiny black dot. A simple dot; from closer distance, the blackness of it begins to seem weird, somehow irrational -- not like a dot anymore, but like a small evil window into something beyond reality -- alien, void... merciless. And this emptiness starts to call on me, dragging me towards it... inviting, promising. Ordering. I jump back as far as possible. Never before in my life I had been so scared.

"That's how it works," Poseidon nods. I see the compassion and pity in his eyes. "The Black Star does not obey nature's laws. Moreover, it distorts them, as it distorts logic and any other law. Not just distorts... it can bend them to its own purposes. Itself, the Black Star is unpredictable and beyond understanding. This is what makes the Cygnus Cloth so powerful -- the most powerful Cloth of them all."

What a fantastic story, but where's the evidence?

"My God, but I have never heard anything like that about the Cygnus Cloth; and I was trained for it," I try to object.

"What do you know about the Cygnus Cloth anyway? Do you know its previous wearer? How did it appear in your camp?"

And suddenly I realize I know nothing. Neither do I know the Cloth's origin nor the previous owner. The Cloth just was there, in the glacier; Crystal gave us the task to win it -- and then I did not care about it at all. But I never give up arguing that easily, even in the face of a God himself.

"Well, it is imprisoned in the glacier, the Cygnus Cloth. Nobody was able to break the ice by now, and my teacher used to say that only the right wearer would be able to do it. That's exactly how the Cloth should be won -- the one who can break the ice will have it."

"And this is not true." Still, the same distant concern in Poseidon's eyes.

"My teacher would never lie to me!"

"He didn't... Calm down, Isaac. He did not know himself."

"What?" Poseidon gives me a very serious look.

"It is not the human who wins the Cygnus Cloth. Cygnus itself chooses whom to wield." What a crazy idea, and I am already tired of all these mysteries Poseidon is putting in front of me.

"My God, even if Cygnus really chooses its wearer, I still cannot understand what's so special about it? People say that every Cloth has its own secrets and powers, why can't Cygnus have this particular one? And if it was really so powerful and special, people would of course have discovered it earlier, wouldn't they?"

"Like I just said, Isaac -- have you ever heard of the previous wearer of Cygnus? By the way, you may not bother, for I know the answer, and the answer is 'No'. And do you know why, Isaac? Because he died centuries ago."

Centuries?

"He buried the Cygnus Cloth as safely as he was able to imagine," Poseidon proceeds. "Yet, when Cygnus decided the time came for it to be back -- it immediately was, and here we have it again. Trying to, heh, win..."

"Buried? I am sorry, my God, but why bury such a powerful Cloth? Why should the wearer want to get rid of such a perfect protection and weapon? You said yourself it is the strongest, didn't you?"

Poseidon hesitates for a moment.

"All Cloths are special. They give power to their wearers, but in a change they require a lot from them, too. Something is given, something is gained -- equally, because the balance of the power must not be broken. The energy should go in a circle, the perfect symbol of balance. But Cygnus is ruled by a Black Star, Isaac, remember? Balance of power, circle of energy -- it means nothing, when a Black Star is involved. This Black Star, with its ability to ignore and bend the laws, taints everything it is able to touch. It gives an irresistible power to the Cygnus Cloth, that's true; but what it takes, Isaac... even we, the Gods, do not really know -- but we feel it is too much. There is no balance for a Black Star. Sooner or later, every Cygnus Saint discovered that the Cloth was slowly killing him. And he tried to get rid of this Cloth, using all of his power, the power granted by the Black Star itself. It's no surprise they never completely succeeded. All they were able to do was to protect the world by hiding the Cloth for some -- shorter or longer -- period of time."

My mind cannnot resist anymore, and my heart has known from the beginning that the God has told but the truth. But I have at least to try to deny his words... I would lose all respect for myself if I would accept such a sick thing by the first word. And it seems the God understands this. He never loses his patience while explaining all of this to me.

Now, that I finally begin to believe his words, I regain my ability to think rational.

"Does Athena know about it?" She cannot, I think. She is the Goddess of Justice, she can't allow this monster to serve her.

"She is one of us, she must know. But the problem with all War Gods is that they imagine they can control everything. Remember Ares." Poseidon's words are like a cold shower to me -- but unlike the cold water, it leaves me dirty, disgusted, defiled. Athena... so-called Goddess of Justice, she knows about the unfair power of the Cygnus Cloth, and cynically lets her protectors to put themselves into such danger. But why am I so surprised? Athena is a Goddess, and since when did Gods care about humans? The human race was always a curious toy or an experimental clay for them. Nothing more. Nothing to be pitied. Poseidon at least does not pretend that his feelings are human, or that he cares about the human race, and that I am of any importance -- yet, he cured me, he told me the truth, and he even felt something about it.

Poseidon sees my feelings, yet he proceeds with his questioning, only that it takes a slightly different direction now. I am answering obediently, too shocked to think about my answers more carefully.

"So, when you saved your friend, the current caught you and carried you away immediately? It politely waited while you dragged him out of the water, and only then acted...? Well, who could imagine the currents were so intelligent nowadays." The God is bitterly sarcastic.

"What do you mean, my God?"

"I am not sure; maybe I should call this an intuition, but I think you were standing somehow in the way of Cygnus Black Star. It got impatient and tried to get rid of you in the simplest way. If not the Kraken..." Poseidon fails to finish, but it's not necessary. I understand it myself.

And these days of our lives... When I remember them now, they seem too peaceful and untainted. Hyoga and me, we were practicing our skills, although we knew that only one of us could win the Cloth -- but somehow we successfully ignored this fact, because it didn't fit in our little peaceful world that we had created only for ourselves. There we were no rivals, but friends; even if Crystal was incontent, he never showed any sign of the displeasure. Probably that friendship, so strange and unexpected in the trainee camp, amused him.

Could it be possible that the Cygnus Cloth got tired of waiting until someone 'won' it and decided to hurry up events in the most effective way?

"It seems that this friend of yours was the target of the Cygnus Cloth, Isaac, not you. Then it will be him who will have to carry this burden. But you were touched, too." Poseidon turns to go away, finally done with the questioning. I manage to hear him whispering "I wish I could take the spell away from you..." -- but I am too exhausted to ask anything.

Poseidon has never returned to this subject. Neither have I. And now I see the Cygnus Cloth in front of me -- pure white, beautiful, brilliant. On my best friend.

Find, black raven, my beloved,
Tell her that I set her free

"Then the fight will not be fair." Hyoga says, with his usual passion on the justice. I know it is not fair -- mono-vision is a real nuisance in battle, distorting perspectives, angles and distances. But life itself is not fair.

"What are you suggesting then? Maybe I should poke you into your eye? Then our chances will be equal," I ask tauntingly.

"This sounds like an idea." In firm steps Hyoga advances, pulling his hair away from his face.

"Do it." I see a calm determination in his eyes and initially I do not understand what does he want. And when I do...

Is he going crazy or is he going mad? It's not a duel, it is a bloody war between our Gods, and we are just pawns in this big game of theirs. Any means are good for a victory.

Any means...

His stupidity wakes a blind anger in me. Last thing I want is him to be chivalrous. One movement, quick as lightning, and Hyoga gasps, his hands shoot out to cover his eye.

"Happy, now?"

I just put out my best friend's eye. Gods, what is happening to me?

"It wasn't too bad." The blood is running through Hyoga's fingers, yet he tries to smile.

"Now, would you mind to begin the battle? Or there will be another quest for me to perform and start you, finally?"

"If you insist." Hyoga still tries to joke, despite the pain, so clearly visible in his remainng eye, and staggers a few steps back.

I watch him prepare to perform Diamond Dust, Crystal's attack. I'm too well familiar with it, and my Aurora Borealis sweeps him away together with his puny attack.

For some time I keep looking at him, sprawled on the ground. He is unconscious and wounded, yet alive.

"Hyoga, I brought the Libra Cloth! Now you can destroy... aaah!" The childish voice distracts me. I look in the direction the voice comes from and meet the gaze of a small kid, carrying a golden box four times his size. Fortunately, right now Hyoga cannot destroy anything, and the kid can carry this box where he took it from. And it would be good if Hyoga was carried away, too. The other Shoguns have no reason at all to leave him alive. I walk towards the kid, but he jumps forward, blocking my way to the box.

"No! You won't get it!" He starts screaming like a piglet, leaving me no space to interrupt and explain that I don't need his box. For what sake I could want the Libra Cloth? My Kraken Scale just proved it's good enough for me.

"Will you shut up, little monster!" I grab the kid and give him a good shake, desperately hoping he'll stop screaming. No way -- he struggles, tries to kick me and produces even more horrible noises. Was I the same when I was a kid?

No, black raven.
I'm not yours.

"Let Kiki go, Isaac."

I turn around slowly, flinging the brat away. Hyoga? How did he manage to recover so fast?

"You haven't finished me yet. Your attack was not deadly."

"Oh? Thank you for turning my attention to this amazing fact. Myself, I would in no way have noticed it."

"I might add you haven't meant it to be deadly," Hyoga proceeds, ignoring my sarcasm.

Actually he is right, my blow wasn't deadly on purpose indeed. But that does not mean I could not fight to the death. If he thinks so -- well, soon I'll prove him very wrong.

"I am so sorry, please let me fix this mistake of mine. And by the way -- your own attack is no good either."

"Because it was not performed with full force, like yours," Hyoga says, and his words infuriate me to the boiling point. How dare he have mercy on me?

"Fight! Now." I take my position, feeling how my anger adds to my power.

Hyoga takes a battle stance again, but this time it is different. It seems vaguely familiar to me, but when I finally recognize it, it is already too late.

Aurora Execution, the most powerful attack of the Water, the traditional weapon of the Aquarius Saints? How did Hyoga manage to attain this? What kind of power does this fragile looking friend of mine wield?

Naturally, I fail against this attack.

I was married by the arrow
To this deadly battlefield

When I regain my consciousness, very surprised that I'm still alive, I see Hyoga searching through the golden box. It's not the end yet, it seems -- and I feel helpless and week as baby, my body is all frozen. I admit my defeat with a half-growl, half-moan, which I just can't stop in time.

Hyoga hears it, stops rumbling through the box and looks at me. All I can do is just glare daggers back at him -- this time I'm unable even to stand up. How shameful it is -- to be finished like an ill, old dog...

"You are defeated, admit it."

What can I say?

"Now you cannot resist me, and I fulfill my duty to the Goddess. And you fulfilled yours to Poseidon, though I defeated you -- but you did everything that was in your power, and there's nothing you can do anymore. Hence your God can't blame you for anything."

I don't manage to find curses obscene enough, so I still say nothing. And Hyoga continues to search the box, still talking.

"All the time, being a Saint, I killed, killed, killed. I learned some powerful attacks that were even more efficient in killing -- and I never had any doubt whether I was right, because I served my Goddess, and all these people wanted to kill me -- it was them or I. But you didn't want to kill me -- and please don't deny it! I know it. Whatever you may say, we're still friends. In fact, you are my only friend ever, so how could you wish my death? The same is it with me, I cannot kill you." Hyoga finds some think looking like a weapon in the box and seems to be content with it, then he looks back at me -- his face is bright and full of some soft happiness -- as if he just discovered something very pure and clear. "And the most important thing, Isaac, is that -- I realized I know how *not* to kill."

This contagious happiness of him begins to affect me against my will.

"See? I defeated you, and you are still alive. I killed too many people in my life. I did it with much reluctance and it gave me such pain you cannot imagine -- all this is not an excuse, of course. But now it's all over. My life was too intense all this time -- there are so many things I want to tell you, and I will, later -- one way or the other, our Gods will deal with that conflict of theirs, and after that I am going to have some rest. I believe I earned it. Too much death has surrounded me all that time." Hyoga turns his gaze away from me, to aim his weapon at the Arctic Pillar -- my pillar! -- but I'm too confused by his words to pay attention to this fact.

"I have no more longing for dead people, by the way." Hyoga turns to me again -- his look is warm, happy -- together with a coy smile.

Did I hear Hyoga joke on the subject of his mother? I wouldn't be more astonished if I heard Sea Dragon Shogun say "I adore Athena!".

Suddenly I feel how the last nail which braces a tight cold ring around my heart gives up.

You are... incurable," I finally manage to articulate.

"Of course I am." Hyoga nods, his smile widening, and I can't help but smile back at him. We keep smiling at each other in this obscure place -- two eternal friends. As we always were.

His fellow Saints, my Marinas -- they were our brothers in arms; working as a team, we had to get along with each other and develop a certain degree of friendship, because it would be too hard to be all alone in such circumstances. But Hyoga and me were different. We became friends despite all expectations and environment -- we simply succeeded in ignoring it. Like we ignored the entire hostile world around us, creating our personal one -- just for him and me. We did it a long time ago, so maybe he was right assuming this little world of us could be rebuilt? Here, looking at Hyoga, I begin to believe that anything is possible.

This moment the Black Star of Cygnus decides to show me, that, even though I have forgotten about it, it has never forgotten me.

There is no possible way the shards of the falling pillar will fall over to my side. All the laws of physics are against such possibility, but there are no laws for a Black Star, Poseidon once said. I see a shadow looming over me, and then the shards fall -- slowly, unreally. Hyoga notices it, too, but he's too far away, and I'm too weak.

See my death is here already

Hyoga's scream dies in my ears. Am I already losing my sense of hearing? No, because I hear Hyoga coming closer, in an unsteady, swaying gait. He appears in my sight and begins to frantically work on the shards I'm buried under. So strong is he... so unexpectedly strong.

"Just hang on for a moment, Isaac," Hyoga lifts the next shard and pushes it away. "Don't you dare give up now, when I have just found you again... You proved you are a survivor once, remember? And now everything will be alright, too." Another shard is moved away. "You've been through worse, yet got away... My Goddess can heal, she will take care of you. And Ikki, he can heal too... Where is Ikki always when I need him?"

Why does he keep uttering such nonsense? He must see even better than I do that there's not the slightest chance for me now.

Hyoga finally frees me of the last shard. I feel nothing at all, and see him bending over me.

The sad, hollow knowledge on his face probably reflects my own -- there's nothing to do about it.

Hyoga falls on his knees, touches my face -- cautiously, trying not to kill the last spark of life in me, but it's just a question of time. Two narrow rivers rush down his face -- one's crystal clear, another's red. Why are you so crushed, I want to ask, but somehow I can't say any word; that's strange, for I feel no pain at all.

Why such a look? I am only dying, after all. It is you who have to be pitied, it is you who are condemned to live under control of the ill Black Star. And I cannot even warn you...

...the only thing I really regret now, is that I won't see how Hyoga, with all the power of his soul, will manage to bury this doomed Cloth, when he will finally discover its real self. I just hope he will be luckier in it than his predecessors were.

Come, black raven.
I'm all yours.

The End


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