Avalon:Volume 0 Chapter 15
Chapter 15 - The Path of Resolution
"Isn't this too weird?" Kannon asked as she mentally switched the AR display panel from one channel to another and then another. "Entertainment shows or technical difficulties, all of them! Not a single detailed report!"
"In war, truth is the first casualty," Kayeten shrugged as he leaned back against the wall. "I forgot who said that; some Greek writer I think. The 1st District is likely still trying to figure which media station they could rely on to spin things their way. They could transmit broadcasts from Avalon, but they probably knocked out all of the main network's relays to disrupt communications. Either way, we do know what happened, both on ground and in orbit, and nobody will grasp the full extent of the damage or casualty counts until things start settling down -- at least on this planet."
Kannon had passed out for a few hours before they had revitalized her, and in that short window of time what little balance the new world retained had collapsed. The 2nd District fleet was in tatters, its command structure destroyed and its planet invaded. Nuclear strikes had been launched against ground-side targets that the initial detonations failed to destroy, including -- an attack on the battle at Château de Falaise.
Fortunately, Shirayuki's Thermonuclear Suppression aura was able to nullify the attack. That gave her lieutenant Midori enough time to teleport all the 3rd District, Seventh Cross, and Moonlit Eclipse members out to another safehouse on Brocéliande before 1st District ground troops could arrive. The 2nd District soldiers, being a liability, were ordered to disperse and seek refuge on their own.
Unfortunately, this old place lacked a teleportation beacon to guide 3rd District's few interplanetary teleportation experts. It was also magically warded to scramble targeting from those unfamiliar to the location. As such, everyone could only wait for Midori to recover from her magical exhaustion before she could take some of them to Kunlun, the main planet of the 3rd District.
"How's your arm, Princess?" Kayeten inquired with sincere worry.
The healers from the Moonlit Eclipse had mended Kannon's shattered arm, then applied bone and tissue regeneration spells even before she awoke. But they had her arm wrapped in special bandages and in a sling while her body's natural healing caught up with the spells' progress. It made her current injury look far worse than it felt.
"Numb. Stings a little, but otherwise fine. Thanks..."
Kannon's puzzled stare was transfixed on Kayeten, yet her voice was almost absentminded. His words had drawn her attention from her fruitless search for updates, but not because of the question itself. It was the way he said it, the tone, the expression, the concerned light from the eyes, everything... all exactly the same as Captain Arkadi.
In hindsight, this wasn't the first time Kayeten seemed like Arkadi. But it was the first time she wasn't preoccupied enough to fully recognized it.
Kannon faltered for a few seconds, unsure. But then, she had to ask.
He has a right to know...
"You, uh... sometimes you sound just like the way Arkadi talks."
Kayeten threw Kannon a bewildered yet intrigued, inviting look.
"Enjoys over-flattery, prefers praises using etymology, has a flair of dramatic seriousness, mostly professional on the job yet teasingly informal during downtime, all that."
The confusion within his disbelieving eyes only grew worse:
Kannon nodded, and Kayeten thought it over for a few seconds...
"Well, honestly... I feel like he's copying me--"
Air rushed out from his nose in a half-hearted snort as a faint, lopsided grin tugged at the edge of his lips.
"--Sheesh, I knew he was jealous of my social popularity back then but, really!? Still, I have some trouble thinking that frustratingly serious mule-headed stubborn jerk could..."
His half-nostalgic half-exasperated voice trailed off in an instant, looking alarmed and uncomfortable as he returned to the realm of unpleasant realities.
Unsure of what to say, Kannon returned her focus back to searching for information.
"Still... I'm kinda glad," Kayeten turned towards her again with an approving voice. "I'd been worried that you'd be one of those in denial of unpleasant facts like our casualty figures--"
Kannon cringed as her eye slowly turned back towards Kayeten. It was the first thing she asked for after waking up -- a list of every known death from the last battle so she could carve every name into memory. It was her duty. It was the least she could do.
"I... I probably, I know I still suffer it at times. But by and large, I'd pick information over nothing any day... Do I come off otherwise?"
A calculating grin crept up the corner of his mouth.
"Well, Shirayuki mentioned that you were Arkadi's Tactical; so mother wondered if you were Speer to Arkadi's Hitler persona."
Kayeten took a few seconds, concentrating on retrieving the words from his implants, before he began to recite in quote:
"My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts, helped to sway the balance. In this I did not differ from millions of others. After years of frustrated efforts I was wild to accomplish things. For the commission to do a great building, I would have sold my soul like Faust. Now I had found my Mephistopheles. He seemed no less engaging than Goethe's -- by Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and Minister of Armaments for the Third Reich."
The few lines of words struck Kannon like hammers, knocking the wind out of her lungs as she forgot to breathe for several seconds.
"Relieved... about unpleasant facts": all the time.
"Frustrated efforts", I can't deny.
"Commission" -- the ever-sought recognition.
"Sold my soul": perhaps if Shirayuki hadn't taken me, that was my inevitable path.
"There's... I wouldn't have..." mingled words and half-completed retorts filled Kannon's mind in an instant. Then: "I tried to persuade him out of it."
"I have no doubt." Kayeten's earnest reply contained not a hint of disbelief or mockery. "Although whether you would have succeeded was debatable. What would you have done if he kept pressing his ambition?"
The first answer that surfaced into her mind was kicked aside instantly.
"Relieved of having to think..."
Kannon dragged the thought back and re-examine it, not once, not twice, but five times around her cognitive circuits before she realized she could not dodge the truth.
I would have followed.
Survival needs aside, it was because her only motivation so far had been to prove herself to others, rather than deciding for herself.
"All right pretty-boy, save the rest for later," came Shirayuki's voice as she stepped through the door, her white shrine maiden outfit adorned once again with a challenging stare directed towards the Colonel.
Kayeten shrugged with a sparking white grin:
"Sorry; carried away. I have a habit of quoting the movers of history, hoping their experienced wisdom may wear off on me."
"I know for a fact you don't read much history; you're just trying to impress girls with the quotes Sidika teaches you," Shirayuki countered before her unimpressed expression turned grim. "Anyhow, there's something I need to tell both of you. I had to wait until now to wrap my own thoughts back together, which had to wait until the immediate coordination issues were dealt with, which had to... anyway, I was busy."
Shirayuki gave the slightest bow as a passing apology before gesturing towards Captain Arkadi, still unconscious in the bed at the room's center:
"Kayeten, remember how me and Aurora had to slap a row of Disjunction spells on this idiot because he had too many ongoing spell auras and we couldn't confirm none of them included a tracker?"
"Well, this stupid, retarded, half-witted, cabbage-minded, brain-deficient, imbecile... had over two dozen layers of spell auras covering his inner self. They were almost all enchantment-compulsion types--"
Both repugnance and hope grew in Kayeten's eyes as he spoke: "he was being controlled?"
"--And they were all his own magic. The aura signatures were exactly the same, even if the deepest layers carried far less residue taint from the soul."
Kannon was getting used to seeing Kayeten's shocked expression.
"His affinity is in enchantment, even back when he was a kid, but... that's...!"
"Pretty liberal use, that's for sure," Shirayuki finished for Kayeten with a knowing look.
"Maybe someone dominated him to dominate himself..."
"Stop kidding yourself; who in their right mind will go through that much trouble when direct control is far more potent?"
"Is it? Makes sense for the consciousness to struggle a lot more against foreign magic intrusion than against magic generated by one's own soul."
"Okay, okay, you may be right," Shirayuki admitted, annoyed yet not backing down. "But you know better that you're just looking for an excuse to convince yourself this isn't all his fault now. Well, it is!"
"And how can you be so sure?" Kayeten challenged as if his personal honor was on the line.
"...Because," Kannon wore a confused and uncertain look as Kayeten's sharpened glare followed Shirayuki's gaze towards the younger girl. "Because Marshal Kernow offered him a choice back in the day. He clearly only wanted those willing to follow him in exchange for personal goals, not merely those forced to... at least, for his successor candidates."
For a second Kayeten was about to retort, then defeat and loss overwhelmed his expression as he collapsed into a nearby chair, the last traces of hopeful light faded from his disillusioned eyes.
"I still don't get it..." Kannon muttered.
...Or perhaps I just don't want to acknowledge it.
"It means," Shirayuki explained in a more consoling tone but with equally blunt words, "that the entire personality you knew of Arkadi was a fake, woven by layers upon layers of enchantment magic that buried his ego and supernaturated his mind with charms, suggestions, compulsions, manipulations, etcetera etcetera, all wholly created by him to enforce his every thought towards accomplish his goals."
Time slowed down as Kannon replayed the moments aboard the Somerset: of the fatigued Captain taking everything upon himself, of his friendly interactions at dinner, of his encouraging words yet downtrodden world views in the crystals' light... Was everything a lie?
No, not everything.
"Stand up for the sake of our beliefs and ourselves..."
To be kind and gentle one moment, yet callous and cruel the next. To kill a trusted comrade without blinking, yet push himself to exhaustion for the sake of those who remain. The inconsistencies within Arkadi's personality were obvious, even if the means were not. It may have been a fake, but the one who decided how to shape that mask was still him.
It was also why Kannon always felt sincerity in him. Why he rarely 'lied'. Because his enchanted self, possibly even selves, truly believed in his ways and his cause.
"I will seize the throne of the demon king and bring holocaust upon this irreparable system! I will use every medium of power to prove just how intolerable this structure is! I will give them a thousand years of notoriety, to ensure responsibility by fear, to force the return of true representatives that shall stand for the masses, as our parents once did!"
These compulsion spells had been the ultimate declaration of Arkadi's conviction: to deny his very own self, to kill his very own being, all for the sake of his sense of righteousness, as twisted by hatred and the thirst for revenge as it was.
"In the end, the source of all his evil was just one big lie to himself, huh? Talk about the danger of escapism."
Kayeten spoke flatly, his voice composed again, almost unnervingly calm. Yet simmering, near boiling anger laid beneath the surface as his eyes swept over the Captain's unconscious body once more.
"Well... it sounds more like 'Confirmation Bias', I think?" Kannon turned towards a nodding Shirayuki. "Once someone firmly believes something, they start to acknowledge only the information they want to see."
"But normally, we still worry that we might be wrong -- humans fear because fear is precisely what keeps us from doing stupid things." Shirayuki followed with a head tilt towards Arkadi's unconscious form: "this is what happens when one thinks they're too good to be afraid, shedding all hesitation instead of simply learning to control them."
"Yeah, but to take history as foul as Evian and the Holocaust and uphold it as excuse and justification rather than tragedy?" Kayeten questioned, more to himself than anyone else. "Is there anything in that shell of a person that still resembled the justice we once spoke of?"
Neither Kannon or Shirayuki spoke. Neither of them could answer such a question.
"Well you already Disjunctioned him right?"
"Seven times. Completely. Every unnatural aura trace wiped out."
"Then let's be done with it," Kayeten continued in an executioner's tone as he turned his back on the room. "On this day Arkadi Kernow, the Black Prince, has died of his crimes."
With those parting words, the Colonel turned and strode straight out the door.
----- * * * -----
Sitting within a sterile-white room where she was the only conscious occupant, Kannon finally found the event that Kayeten referenced with only a single word:
[ The Evian Conference: Convened from July 8th to 13th, 1938 A.D., when representatives from thirty-two countries met in Evian-les-Bains, France, to discuss the issue of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Hitler responded to news of the conference by essentially claiming that if the other nations agreed to take the Jews, he would help them leave. However, with both the United States and Britain, the major democratic powers of its time, refusing to take in any substantial number, the conference was a failure, leaving the Jews no escape and ultimately subjected to what was known as Hitler's Final Solution... ]
The greatest tragedy of the Industrial Age could have been prevented merely by saying 'yes'.
It wasn't that different from many of the problems in this world: No, one shouldn't view Arvitors as mere tools; they're also humans, also people. No, one shouldn't support representatives who failed to prove themselves against the pressures of tyranny...
No, I have my own will in this world.
Kannon leaned back in her chair and pondered over the quote found in the article:
"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing -- Albert Einstein."
To act without her own purpose was little more than nothing.
Nothing brought decline, brought ruin.
To cease positive action was to falter into stagnation, decline, and ultimately destruction. Kannon knew this as the basics of any business -- life and society were no different.
But then... that's why the Captain chose his path...
He saw a world in stagnation and decline, a world where people were satisfied to do nothing. He wanted a historically-proven catalyst that will propel them to action, however horrible the process may be. He wanted a lasting effect on humanity, and choose the literal application of the ancient proverb a thousand years of fame, ten thousand years of infamy -- notoriety persisted even if renown could not.
There's no way I can consent to that...
But Kannon could agree with Arkadi about one thing:
"One must stand up not for the righteousness of our ideals, but for the sake of our beliefs and ourselves."
It was not about proving her opinions to others. It had never been. It was about earning a place for herself and her beliefs in the world, through her own hands -- a place where she could stride in confidence, freed from the fear of being scorned, of being oppressed.
It didn't matter if Captain Arkadi's pessimism might be more realistic.
It didn't matter if history might prove Marshal Sidika's wish for reformation as idealistic.
In her beliefs, the correct path was obvious.
Tragedy didn't have to repeat. The Holocaust wasn't the only way to change.
They still had the chance to say 'no' to evil, to right everything. If the process had to start anywhere, then it must be from the Arvitors, as well as the others being threatened and deprived by the existing system.
But I'm a normal person...
For the first time, Kannon realized that her fears weren't just denial and cowardice, but also hypocrisy. Were the Arvitors not normal people? Did Shirayuki and her companions not smile and laugh and dream and live like everyone else in human civilization?
Furthermore, just as Shirayuki said:
"Only those without true goals, true meaning in their lives, would seek mediocrity and normality."
Kannon finally understood: what she sought was never normality; what she sought was acceptance -- not merely the acceptance of others, but also from herself. It was the reason why her mother never allowed her to change her hair or eyes, and for once Kannon felt thankful for it.
But now, there was a goal for her own sake, and at the same time it was also a push for this world.
That goal, that motivation was obvious.
It was also shared by countless others: some like Sidika with the power to influence, others without but still trying.
A pang of guilt went through Kannon as Korey's words repeated themselves:
"Mediocrity and powerlessness is the worst frustration one could feel, and I've cursed my birth far more than I could count for not being born elite, with the opportunity to do something about it all"
Here she was, with the unique opportunity that thousands dreamed and craved of. There wasn't a shred of excuse for continued whining and complaining and denial.
Then... if maybe, just maybe, I really, truly, is the Eternal Chronicle, then...
Kannon felt her body shiver, her heartbeat increase. Years of unyielding belief that melded itself into the foundation of her being didn't just step aside in minutes. But... she still managed to take her first step.
"Your heart alone holds the key to your life, your universe... as long as your heart is set, you can accomplish anything."
Kannon nodded to her mother's resonating words. It was time to accomplish that anything.
I'll also be protecting Arkadi's dream, but in my own way...
After all, there was still faith in this world, belief that mankind will return to a better path. There was still light in the darkness, guiding everyone to an Avalon beyond the eclipse.
Kannon stood up from her chair, resolution shining within her single eye. It was time to talk to Marshal Sidika, to Miko-Hime Shirayuki, to confirm that she was not merely a participating ally, that they shared a common goal and dream.
If this world is my origin, then I'll help rebuild its Avalonian dream.
"Now that's the look I want to see."
Kannon found herself face-to-face with a satified Shirayuki the moment she stepped out. Her brows raised in wonder as Shirayuki announced over the command channel:
"She's got it Sidika; under four hours too -- looks like I win."
"Yeah yeah, you beat me at what I preach, give yourself a pat on the back. I'll hold to my end of the bargain of course; we can sign the re-draft tonight."
Kannon's confusion only grew worse for several moments, then:
"...How did you two know that I was going to come to some deciding moment of revelation?"
"Didn't I tell you? I know you. In fact, I know you even better now that I understand the real you and not just your template."
Shirayuki paused for just long enough to let Kannon digest her words. But she left no time for the focused younger girl to respond before moving on, as the gentle smile of an older sister spread across her expression:
"Sidika told me what she had Kayeten pass along, and I had faith that you'd arrive at the correct answer. You're an open-minded and introspective person by nature. Combined with the traits inherent to your lineage, there's no way you will stay off the right path."
Once upon a time, Kannon might have felt offended by those words. It tore at her unique sense of identity, as though her very being was predestined beyond her personal control. But then, human nature was full of unpleasant, predetermined traits that most individuals never managed to break free from. Only an immature fool would complain about starting from a higher ground.
"...And, what traits are those?"
"You didn't think our eyes and hair came purely by coincidence did you? House Sylvestris -- the founders of the Imperium Project -- was a bit obsessed over gemstones; although that's not surprising since their gem magic led to the development of crystal cartridges and crystal ether-rods. We Arvitors tend to have colors based on our souls' radiance, and no surprise, Sylvestris engineered our aura's brilliance based on gems."
"Your right eye carries the blue clarity of lapis lazuli, the gem of all-seeing truth, clear intuition, and royal integrity. Your unopened left eye will bring the purple wisdom of amethyst, the balancer of emotional maturity and purifier of spiritual taint."
"...What about the hair then?" Kannon asked with bashful intrigue, and the warm pride Shirayuki radiated blossomed into a glowing smile of maternal joy.
"Isn't it obvious? Rose Quartz -- the stone of universal love ~ the world may not always favor you, but in the end, you'll always love it back."
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