Disclaimer: it is highly recommended that you read up on the previous chapters prior to reaching this point, or you will find yourself lost in the narrative. They are posted below for your convenience.
The capital of Hyoga was tranquil this time of year. Everyone waited out these remaining few weeks before the first snow. Winter was the most active time of the year for the Land of Glaciers, and the first snowfall heralded the changing of the seasons.
On the western portion of the capital, in the residential districts, there stood a lovely mansion which could easily be spotted from anywhere in the district. Other than the architecture heavily contrasting that of Hyogan make, it was teal. From chimney to foundation, every brick and shingle was the same color. Within this monocolor abode was a theater, which was empty save for one woman, who was enjoying a pleasant dessert beverage over a movie, seemingly about a special girl who could harness the powers of the rainbow. Her hair was wrapped in a towel and wore a bathrobe – all of which was teal. She sighed with content as she watched, almost as if she was reminiscing over days long past.
Just as the movie was seeming to get interesting, the picture was beginning to distort. The woman ceased the enjoyment of her beverage and stood up, watching as the screen was beginning to shift into an image of a white-haired maid in blue-and-white, who greeted her with a smile. Knowing her as Sakuya, the woman robed in teal sat back down and put her drink aside…
Sakuya: Madam Shuji. Sorry to have interrupted that grand movie; it was getting to the best part.
Nora: It’s no problem, Queen Mikazuki! If you’re here, then somethin’ big must be goin’ down!
Sakuya: Have you been made aware of your pupil’s recent excursions?
Nora: Who, Thiji? I heard somethin’ about him fightin’ a bunch of ice people lately. Why, may I ask?
Sakuya: Is your estate empty?
Nora: Yup! All my appointments and meetings have been taken care of for the day!
Ripples began forming on the screen as the Eternal Human then walked through it as if it were a portal, appearing before Nora in person as the movie resumed behind her.
Sakuya: Then I can speak to you about this personally. But first, let’s finish this film, yes?
Nora nodded in agreement, and the two ladies watched the rest of the movie to its end, conversing and laughing all the while. They regaled each other over the days when Thiji, Koyuki, and the others were yet young and full of creative energy. Once the movie ended, they relocated to Nora’s office (take a guess at what color it was). Nora shut the blinders and Sakuya closed the door to maintain privacy, during which time she would give her pitch to the Teal Quaintrelle…
Nora: Wait a minute… He’s doin’ what?! How was I, Elementa’s #1 socialite, not made aware of this?!
Sakuya: That’s partially my fault, Madam Shuji.
Nora: Please, Your Majesty! Just “Nora” will do for you!
Sakuya: I’ve only been sharing this information with the Handmaidens of Peace so far, but Thiji has accelerated through the Trials much faster tha new anticipated, which can only mean that he is as anxious to become a God as are my sisters. But if you can get the word out on this, it would mean a lot to me. Not to mention it could bring untold amounts of publicity to Shuji Studios.
Nora: As temptin’ as that already sounds, I’d have done this without such delicious bait! To think that the boy I tutored so long ago became an Emperor of an entire continent, and now he’s gonna become a bona-fide God of Winter! You don’t need to ask twice, My Queen – I’ll happily tell the world! And it’s gonna go down here, before the First Snow! They’ll be callin’ it the “Winds o’ Destiny” once this whole thing blows over!
Sakuya, chuckling: I’m glad you saw things my way, Nora. Just a reminder that you cannot disclose the full details of this event until the moment it starts. If too much information gets out, it’d spark a lot of undue tension throughout Elementa.
Nora: As if I need to be reminded o’ that! Gimme a week and the Borealis Stadium will be so filled to capacity that there won’t even be room for SRO! Let this be known as Shuji’s Finest Hour!
Sakuya: Thank you again, Nora. I’ll be looking forward to your report.
Nora: Oh, one more thing! I’m gonna need footage o’ Thiji kickin’ ass across the multiverse! I know you have some holo-footage lyin’ around somewhere!
Sakuya: Anything you need to get the word out, Nora. I got you covered. I must attend to our Eternal-to-be.
Nora: Then you’ve got yourself a signal-boostin’ deal!
After they shook hands, Sakuya’s form began to fade out of the material plane, leaving behind a small orb in the palm of Nora’s hand. This was no doubt the recorded footage of Thiji’s recent accomplishments.
Nora searched for her hyperdimensional purse and whistled a special tune. Out from within jumped a fully-equipped stage crew, complete with cameramen, stylists, clothiers, and every other possible accoutrement. They all seemed eager and raring to go, for they have not been called by their mistress in what felt like ages.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been one hell of a ride with y’all so far,” Nora told them, “but we’ve got the biggest scoop to have ever graced Elementa, and we’ve only got a week to get the word out, so let’s get to work, because once this is all over, even unborn children will know of the Shuji name!”
https://youtu.be/EuKGNGZjUJI?t=11437 (3:10:36 - 3:16:14)
Everyone cheered and scrambled throughout the estate, setting themselves up for the biggest report ever. Meanwhile, within the Spiral of Time, Thiji had just returned from his final leg of the Trials of Winter. He had contended with other god-like beings that commanded a great deal of winter’s might, and has learned (and re-learned) just about everything there is to know about ice and its many facets. The sheer amount of knowledge he had unearthed intrigued him, and that alone motivated him to learn all he could about winter so that he would be that much better off for his ascent.
With his final battle in the Trial thus settled, the Proofs all gathered, circling around Thiji as the latent energies reacted with his body, instilling their knowledge and memories into him. All he could do from that point was heave a great sigh of relief and fell backwards, landing on his back.
After a few long moments of rest, he rose to a sitting position and noticed a familiar figure walking out of a portal, greeting him with applause.
“Congratulations, Thiji,” spoke Sakuya, “the Trials of Winter have been conquered, and you are now one step closer to achieving your destiny. How do you feel?”
“As if a two-ton weight was placed upon my shoulders…” Thiji groaned as he struggled to stand, the adrenaline in his body finally giving way to massive fatigue.
“You worked tirelessly to make it this far, and it shows,” Sakuya stated. “Now it is time for you to rest; your final Trial is near. Within one week’s time, when the first snows fall upon Hyoga, your penultimate task will begin. Until then, you may find solace in my domain, and recuperate unperturbed. Remember your training; trust your instincts, and ready yourself in mind, body, and soul. This last trial will undoubtedly be your most daunting.”
The Eternal Human waved her hand and placed her nephew in a stasis field, rendering his body motionless. The Emperor wasted no time in surrendering to the sweet embrace of slumber, his body drifting through the limitless expanse that was the Spiral of Time. Meanwhile, Nora was already hard at work getting everything set up for the big broadcast. She spent the entire week signal boosting and utilizing her various media techniques to inform not only Elementa, but to their allies from other realms as well. When it came to the power of media, Nora Chelsea-Izumi Shuji could command the attention of even Gods! Her face was seen on every poster and every television; her voice was heard on every radio and podcast. There was nothing stopping Shuji Studios from seizing the radio waves.
“Goood mornin’, Elementa and beyond! This is Nora Shuji here live in the Borealis Tundra to give you what is perhaps the most special report ever! If you’ve been livin’ under a rock, in a cave, or under the sea all your life, then fear not! I’m here to enlighten ya! Our lovable Emperor of Hyoga, Lord Thiji Higuri, has been undergoin’ some grueling trainin’ recently to be bestowed the rarest of honors: ascension to godhood! He’s been goin’ across the mysterious multiverse and kickin’ the cans of all the guys, gals, and creatures that consider themselves to be masters of winter! But he’s beaten every single one of ‘em, and now the time has come for him to face his final test against an unknown adversary! Is it a person from Thiji’s past? Or a long-lost rival lookin’ to settle a score? The only way you’ll find out for sure is if you head on over to Hyoga yourself to witness this monumental event! Tickets are on sale now, and you’ve got only one week before showtime! But even if you can’t make it, Shuji Studios has you covered: we’ll be takin’ control of the radio waves so that everyone in Elementa can watch the spectacle from the comfort of their own homes! Are you lookin’ to see what a real battle of ice and snow looks like? Then you’d better tune in, because this is a once-in-a-hundred-lifetimes chance! The Borealis Stadium is expected to be filled to capacity, so you’d better act fast and start makin’ your travel arrangements! This has been Nora Shuji reportin’ to you from the icy bosom of the Land of Glaciers, and remember: If It Ain’t Shuji, It Ain’t Worth Jack!”
From the subaquatic city of Arazsha, to the capitals of all thirteen continents and even the Soramori, news of Thiji’s ascension spread like wildfire. People from all around the globe began to flock towards the Land of Glaciers, where the greatest moment in Elementa’s history would unfold.
A week’s time had passed, and it was a peaceful, sunny morning in Hyoga. Atop the glistening walls of Yukiga-To’s outer gates, the leader of the Brides of Winter, Confessor Sylla, sat upon the parapet. Two more individuals approached her, meeting her gaze toward the horizon. They were Celuwen, the Virtuemother and Shijima Yukino, the Voice of Winter, and together with the First Bride, they were the highest-ranking individuals of the Handmaidens of Peace. They watched as the Hyogan skies were dotted by airships and various flying creatures eager to witness the spectacle – one of which was a large airship bearing the image of a multicolored, exploding star upon its sails. This was the War Star, the airship belonging to the Battle Vixens guild, with the entire crew on deck with their warrior elite: Lupi Flametress, the hot-blooded Knight; Aege Stonemantle, the steadfast Whitesmith; Elua Windgaze, the free-spirited Sniper, and Heal-Do, the calm yet fierce Assassin Cross.
Approaching the Frozen Shore were seafaring vessels and seaborne fauna who have befriended the people of Hyoga – the most important of whom being the Glacierfin Naga, led by Queen Mizu and her council. Accompanying her was the Mist Queen, Shiro Reina, Mizu’s old friend and former master.
“I knew that man was something else,” Shiro stated, “but never in my life did I imagine him joining Elementa’s pantheon… I’d like a few words with him when this is over before he parts.”
“To ssee a sshorewalker grace the very heavenss would be a sssight for any Naga to behold,” commented Z’hira. “Let uss make hasste to the sstadium!”
It was truly a sight to behold from the city proper: people from all corners of Elementa and beyond, flocking to one singular location, the stadium slowly filling in its seats. The Borealis Stadium itself was impressive, to say the least, easily accommodating at least half a million people, including exclusive club seating, skyboxes, and luxury suites – one of which housed the Eternals themselves, and even Nora. The Teal Quaintrelle wasted no expense in having as many people filling the stadium as possible, and to attract such a crowd could only be possible for a media mogul like her.
And on the far side of the fields stood a solitary ice block, the man of the hour himself within. Thiji awaited the coming battle, taking this time in solitude to gather himself and focus his power. It appeared to have been under control - no paling skin or abnormal protrusions from his body.
“Looks like it’ll be a full house, sisters!” Raiko excitedly pointed out. “This stadium is freakin’ huge! It should be a landmark!”
“It is,” Homura and Sakuya said simultaneously.
“Where the heck’s Mizore? She should be watching her son’s finest hour!” the Eternal Succubus asked as she took a big gulp of her drink.
“She’s got her reasons for being tardy,” Sakuya calmly replied. “For now, let’s get comfy. Thiji’s battle will be approaching soon.”
In the premium club seats were Princess Seraphina and her entourage: her cousins Kasui & Kasho, along with the Generals of the Tundra Force. She was excited to see her father’s final performance, along with Queen Shiro and the others – everyone of Hyoga’s Finest had arrived to bear witness to this occasion. Turning to her immediate left, she would find herself being greeted by a beautiful silver-white fox with nine tails, swinging them eagerly.
“I know he’ll succeed – I will see him in the heavens!” she thought aloud. This was Da Ji, Purity’s Envoy, and Guardian deity of Amatsu. A close friend of Thiji’s, she was more eager than anyone to watch Thiji’s performance.
With everyone in place, the time had come to commence the event. A large teal dirigible flew over the stadium, and titantrons began activating along the outer edges of the stadium, allowing comfortable viewing access from any and all angles. The Glacierfin Council “seated” beside Shiro and Mizu gazed in awe at the enlarged visage of Nora, and the technology she boasted.
“Thiss woman iss… eccentric,” Zhira commented, “but her pressentation iss not wanting! Thiss is the marvel of sshorewalker technology!”
“And she’s a fierce fighter besides,” Shiro commented. “In fact, she taught Thiji martial arts, among other things.”
“PEOPLE OF ELEMENTA AND BEYOND! ARE YOU READY?!” cried Nora from the airship. The crowd let out a jubilant uproar of cheers and applause in response. “To all tunin’ in today, you’re in for the more delectable treat in Elementa’s history: the hour of Thiji’s ascension! The Emperor of Hyoga himself, Thiji Higuri, has been rampagin’ all over the multiverse to beat all contenders who would get in his way of bein’ Lord of Winter, and now he’s back in the world of Elementa to face his final trial – and you’re all invited to witness it! Any moment now, his final opponent will make their appearance, and the most epic battle of your lives will commence! Now let’s hear it for our lovable ice man, the Emperor himself: Thiji Sorin Higuri!”
The ice block shattered and the man of the hour rose to his feet, gazing upon the countless masses applauding him. He could make out familiar voices cheering him on: his daughter; his niece; Da Ji, and even Shiro. He couldn’t help but smile at all the people whose lives he touched and changed motivating him one last time as a mortal. Because after today, he would become a God.
As the hour of judgment drew closer, the Handmaidens’ leadership began to make their way towards the stadium. However, they would only be able to take a few steps before Confessor Sylla felt a wave of dread wash over her. She frowned as she laid a hand upon her heart, giving her sisters cause for concern.
https://youtu.be/EuKGNGZjUJI?t=6329 (1:45:29 - 1:47:37)
“Confessor?” spoke Celuwen.
“This pang upon my breast…” she whispered. “Is this truly Winter’s will…?”
“What did you see?” Shijima inquired. Sylla remained silent, only pointing towards the heavens above the Borealis Stadium. The clouds were beginning to part as a single pillar of amethyst-colored light shone through – it was finally time. Thiji readied himself as a lotus flower fell from above. Its descent was blindingly swift, and as it touched down, a storm of petals danced throughout the stadium, wowing the audience. The flower itself grew in size until it was tall enough to fit an adult male, and once the petals parted to reveal its passenger… the world stopped.
Everyone – from the spectators in the stadium, to the people watching from all corners of the realm, to even Thiji himself – was utterly frozen. Not a single breeze blew through the arctic. All was still; all was silent.
“Psst. Hey, Sakuya,” Raiko whispered. “I know this is for dramatic effect and all, but we kinda need time to move again.”
“This isn’t me, sister,” the Eternal Human defended. “Even the families of Heaven of Hell are aware of this moment; all of Elementa is still.”
Out from the flower strode a maiden in a violet qipao, her hair and skin flawless. Angel wings were seen protruding from her back and in front of her ears. In her right hand she gripped a decorative jian, an oriental broadsword, and flowers began to blossom through the snow upon which she stood. Her face was tense – not with anger, but with determination, as she glared daggers at Thiji.
Once the perception of time went back to normal, Thiji’s focus shattered. He beheld his final opponent, his penultimate obstacle standing in the way of his rightful ascension:
The Snow Flower herself, Koyuki Kazahana, was his final opponent.
“Hello, my lord,” Koyuki greeted firmly. “It is finally time for you to embrace your destiny.”
“The High Empress…?!” gasped Celuwen and Shijima.
“That I did not foresee this until now…What is Winter plotting…?” Sylla asked herself aloud.
“I am certain we will find the answers we seek once we make it to the stadium. Come, sisters!” Celuwen ordered, and with a strum of her oud, she brought the winds of the north to heel as they swirled around herself and the others, carrying them to the Borealis Stadium.
“My mother… She was an Angel all this time?” Seraphina inquired.
“Always has been, Princess Seraphina,” Shiro replied. “In fact, she is a Seraph, an Angel raised and trained for battle. Note the two pairs of wings.”
“Just like my name! It makes so much sense now!” the Princess giggled.
“That she is a Seraph can only mean that she went to the Dawn Academy at some point… which implies that our Empress is a lot older than she seems!” Hira deducted.
“Preposterous!” scoffed Chui, General of the Wavemenders. “That’d mean she’d be half a century old at the least!”
“Normally you’d be correct, Wavecaller,” coolly spoke Galetracker Yori Honshou, General of the Hailvolleys, “but if there’s one thing I know about the Kazahana Clan, it’s that they hold a lot of skeletons in their closet - the Pure Branch, especially!”
“You’re not just saying that because your bow was blessed by them, are you…?” the Spring Elf Arasil questioned, rolling her eyes.
“He has a point, though,” Hira followed. “The Kazahana Clan are the most powerful and prominent family in Elementa for a reason. Some even say that their capabilities border on the unnatural.”
The others shrugged off the notion and fell silent, refocusing on center field.
“Koyuki, my flower, what are you doing…?” Thiji questioned. He took a step forward, but would be met with only a blade pointed toward him. He looked upon his wife and immediately took notice of her demeanor: she wasn’t the cheerful and demure lady by which she was so known and loved. No, this Koyuki was far different – eyes burning with fervent determination, a fury quelled by the serenity her very presence brings. He had surmised that she has awakened the Kazahana blood within her, turning the Snow Flower into a weapon of war.
“Doing what must be done, my lord,” she replied. “You have completed the Trials of Winter, and now your final test is upon you. Did you think you were the only one training, my Emperor? I, too, have been honing my skills, preparing myself for this fateful day where we would meet each other – as opponents. And as many are wont to say: the more beautiful the flower, the deadlier its thorns, and I have been touted as the most beautiful in all of Elementa.”
“But I’ve sworn an oath to defend and uphold your purity!” Thiji interjected, taking a stance. “Laying a hand on you in aggression is sacrilege of the highest order; the Kazahana Clan is the most powerful in all of Elementa, and drawing their blood is original sin – especially the blood of a Pure Branch member – most of all its head!”
“You’re right: you are still oathbound to protect me, my lord,” Koyuki pondered, “which is why I declare upon this day that you, Thiji Sorin Higuri, shall protect me no longer. I deem you freed from the manacles by which this oath has bound you, sworn no longer to safeguard my purity!”
The entire stadium gasped; some of the Handmaidens were so taken aback that they began fainting on the spot. As for Thiji, he was crushed by this so that he collapsed, falling to his knees. The Eternals watched silently from their box with anticipation, counting on the Snow Flower to carry out their mission. Thiji wanted to feel utter sorrow, but his heart was not as affected by this as he had thought. In fact, he was not even brought to tears. But the same sadness lingered as he rose his head to the heavens, wondering what cruel hand fate had dealt him to come to this occasion. After loving, serving, and protect his beloved Snow Flower – his destined, star-crossed wife – she casts his oath aside like an old toy.
His head felt heavy now. The weight became too much to bear that he would once again lower it to the ground, seemingly losing all energy to move. He was still, as the first snow had finally begun to fall upon Hyoga. Thiji had shut his eyes, hoping that it was all a nightmare. But a voice broke through the silence.
“Thiji. Draw your sword. If you are to claim your destiny, then you must strike me down.”
https://youtu.be/EuKGNGZjUJI?t=11775 (3:16:14 - 3:19:26)
These words came from Koyuki’s lips. But it only hurt him further. Again, the emotional blow was softened by some unknown force. No response from the Emperor of Hyoga. Koyuki pressed the matter once more.
“Raise your head, Thiji. Draw your sword and meet me in battle.”
“What madnesss is thiss?!” Z’hira gasped.
“What corruption has befouled the High Empress?!” Deshir followed.
“Koyuki is incorruptible,” Queen Mizu said telepathically. “She’s plotting something, but it involves battle. I know Lady Shiro and Lady Koyuki well; they wouldn’t do things without some ultimate goal in mind.”
Seraphina only watched on in silence, unable to say a single word from the sheer emotion wrought by this moment. Thiji, again, did not speak or budge. Thus did Koyuki resort to more direct measures. With a beat of her wings, she took the the skies, grasping her blade as gravity gave way.
As she descended, memories of Thiji’s past surged through his mind – all of which involved Koyuki. His most cherished moment, when they were mere children, replaying over and over in his mind. How tenderly he held her that cold day… how icy wet his face was from the tears he shed for her… and the words he spoke to her:
“Please, Koyuki… don’t go. I need you.”
He kept that memory closest to his heart all his life, and now it seemed to have been for naught. Of all the opponents he could have faced, he never once dreamed of raising a blade against Koyuki. But just like the other assaults upon his heart, yet again, the blow was mitigated. Why did not feel so crushed as he originally anticipated? Was his warrior’s spirit taking over? Whatever the cause may be, he found the strength to rise back to his feet, conjuring a katana of ice just in time to clash blades with Koyuki, a loud ring heard throughout the stadium. The resulting force sent the falling snow blowing in all directions, pelting the crowd in a flurry of frost and angel down.
“Good, my lord,” she congratulated as she stared her husband down, that same determination in her eyes. His eyes, however, were filled with something else – cold yet raging. He did not question why he acted in such a way, only that it felt right. “For the glory of Hyoga, unleash your soul and face me!”
And thus the battle had begun.
“Game on, sisters…” Sakuya declared, reclining in her seat. The two concluded their deadlock and forced each other back to opposite ends of the arena. Thiji made the first move and sent blades of ice toward the Snow Flower, who answered with graceful dodges to the left and right. She performed another wingbeat, sending flower petals forward and strewing them about the arena.
Thiji rose his katana and charged, watching the petals explode in a small radius as he came close. She had set a floral minefield to deter Thiji. Stepping directly atop a petal, he was sent flying upwards, throwing him off balance. Koyuki took the skies to meet him, ready to greet Thiji with a series of blade attacks. He was able to recover from the explosion he triggered to meet Koyuki in a clash of blades once more, parrying her blows with his katana. Seeing an opening, Koyuki performed a lunge with her sword, aimed at Thiji’s chest. The Emperor was able to spin in midair to avoid it, sheathing his blade for a brief moment before unleashing stored energy to perform a blinding iai slash at the Empress’ midsection. The attack hit its mark, but Koyuki’s form vanished into flower petals.
“A flower clone…” he thought to himself. He made a quick 180-degree turn as soon as he felt Koyuki’s presence, though try as he did to react, the Snow Flower had already grabbed him by the arm, whirled him around, and threw him straight downward.
Utilizing his newfound strength, Thiji turned to face the ground, clenching his free hand into a fist and slammed the ground with all his might, upheaving the floral minefield and detonating all the petals in a beautiful display of flower and snow. The audience could not help but cheer at the spectacle, scattered cheering for either side to win. Everyone was beginning to get into the fighting spirit, it seemed.
“You’re gettin’ all this, right, boys?!” Nora shouted to her crew, who all gave a thumbs-up. “Good! Ain’t nobody’s takin’ this moment away from us!”
“Thiji… One way or another, I will help make you see,” Koyuki thought as she looked down at Thiji. She began her descent, seeking to meet Thiji head-on once more. As they clashed blades once more, she stared once more into his icy-cold eyes. “Dance with me, my lord,” she invited aloud. “Bring me the beauty and grace of battle that only you can provide me!” Her husband pushed her away, and she performed a somersault before sticking the landing, sliding several meters back along the snow.
“Then I shall lead…” he coolly replied before wreathing his katana in frost energy. She did the same for her blade, enveloping it in a violet aura of floral energy, and their dance began: a graceful and frenetic flurry of steel, as gusts of snow and flowers whirled around the stadium. The crowd cheered them on as their dance went on, with either side showing little sign of letting up. For Seraphina, however, the residual energies they were giving off reacted with her own body – so much so that it was beginning to feel as though they had counted on this to happen.
The Alabaster Rose hugged herself, unsure of what was going on with her body…
“Cousin! Are you well?!” Kasui said as she hurried to her side. She would then be pushed back as the halo which levitated behind her illuminated, and focused her energies into the heavens, drastically altering the scenery. Kasho caught Kasui, after which they would look up to notice that the clouds had parted, revealing a sunless sky, with the glorious light of Tsukuyomi illuminating the area. Once this atmospheric phenomenon occurred, all jubilation ceased, and only silence followed. All were entranced by the dazzling display.
“What… What is this…?” General Hiro gasped.
“In all my battles, I’ve seen nothing like this before…” Snowmistress Hira stated.
Everyone turned toward the source of the voice: the newly-ordained Duchess of Yukiga-To, Masao Inkina Muyo. “A rarity unlike any other: a joining only made possible through the Higuri Clan and the Kazahana Pure Branch; a vibrant and mystical dance of twirling petals and snowy zephyrs beneath the silvery gaze of the moon: the Beauty of the Four Seasons: the Setsugekka no Utsukushi-sa.”
“How do you know of this, Duchess?” inquired Mikomi Toushou, Nomad of Hope, who sat right beside Su Da Ji.
“I’ve served the Royal Family long enough to learn of the unique bond shared between the Higuri Clan and the Kazahana Pure Branch,” she explained. “With Great Empress Kaiyuki’s blessing, I was the one who oversaw a young Lord Thiji’s rise to Prime Minister of Yukiga-To before his 15th birthday. The Higuri have always been the most loyal retainers to them, and of the many bonds that form between Clans, theirs is the most graceful and beautiful in all of Elementa. The Great Empress told me this secret, and I’ve kept it well-guarded until the time was right. Their very powers alter the world around them: Lord Thiji, of the snow; Lady Koyuki, of the flower… and Princess Seraphina, of the moon. Together, they complete this rarest of dances…”
A singular tear fell from her face, compared to the countless others who also shed tears from the serene beauty of the sight – even the Glacierfin Naga cried, never witnessing a more beautiful spectacle since the coming of their Queen. And up above, Nora and her crew were practically bawling.
“D-Don’t stop filmin’ this, gentlemen – no matter how w-watery your eyes get…!” Nora ordered, choking back tears with little success. The Eternals, too, were moved by this sight, though Homura was trying her hardest not to show her tears.
“Man… I oughta slap the white off of Mizore for not witnessing her own flesh and blood doing this!” Homura grumbled.
On the eastern section of the stadium, the Handmaidens leadership arrived just in time to witness the show with Nisou and the others. The Handmaidens either fainted from the overwhelming beauty or were praying in reverence to Winter; Sylla felt utter bliss, hurrying to her nieces’ side to watch with them; Celuwen and Shijima were simply stunned.
The length of their dance was reaching its end; the Borealis Stadium and surrounding area darkening as a sign, until the moonlight was focused only on the circumference of the arena. The two warriors disengaged to focus all their respective energy into their weapons again, before zooming towards center field to meet one another in one final clash beneath the lunar spotlight. The ground then began to shake as the residual energies focused onto a singular area – the stadium itself. A raging blizzard of snow and blossom petals filled the area, contained in a transparent veil of moonlight which protected the audience. The storm rose to the very heavens, until the barrier would finally break from the resulting explosion, releasing a flash of light which temporarily blinded all who gazed upon it.
Once the light had faded and the skies returned to normal, the crowd beheld the last vestiges of the dancing iceflowers, as both contestants laid on the ground.
“Did… Did he win…? Is it over…?” Da Ji asked hopefully. Thiji and Koyuki slowly rose to their feet after recovering from the shock of the explosion, barely a scratch on them, save for a small cut on their cheek.
“Well done, Thiji…” Koyuki said in her mind. “All under Heaven and above the Underworld will remember this day. And with this dance concluded, you’re one step closer… But still you must see. You must further be catalyzed. Only then will the truth be revealed. Jenivieve… Liliana… Dr. Rieleigh… everyone… after all we’ve done for him… I pray that you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.”
Grasping her blade, she took to a piercing stance, wings outstretched. Taking this moment in her hands, she charged at Thiji with all her might, her blade aiming straight for his heart.
“MY LORD, TAKE CARE!!” shouted Da Ji, reaching out to the man she loves. Try as he could, he was unable to react, his body feeling… cold. Rigid, even. He only watched as his beloved wife came toward him at full speed, bracing himself for the inevitable blow…
… But destiny had other plans.
A loud clang resounded throughout the stadium, which such force that the wind generated from it blew everyone off of their seats (figuratively, of course). Thiji slowly opened his eyes, gasping at what he beheld: his heart was untouched, a strange barrier holding Koyuki’s blade a meter from it! He rose his head to meet Koyuki’s gaze, who shut her own eyes in response. And in the midst of it all, Thiji could not help but think that Koyuki felt… relieved by this.
Setting the notion aside, he released his pent-up energy in a radial wave of force which knocked the Snow Flower back towards her end of the arena. Koyuki caught herself, getting to her knees as she watched Thiji’s body… changing.
“It’s done…” Koyuki quietly cheered under her breath. The Emperor’s eyes shut as he winced in pain, clutching his chest as he saw his body crystallizing!
“She did it!” Sakuya cheered with a fist pump. “It’s all on her now.”
“I-Is this a result of the dance, Duchess Muyo?!” Mikomi asked.
“Non,” she answered. “This is something entirely different; a first-time occurrence for us all.”
As Thiji fought his hardest to stop this process, he dropped to his knees, clutching his chest desperately to stem the pain. It was then that he heard a voice in his head:
“Thiji… do not fight it.”
His eyes opened, scanning the area for the source, but he saw only Koyuki, and the masses who gathered today to watch him. The voice called to him again:
“Give in to it. This is your destiny. Your time has finally come.”
“I know that voice…” he whispered…
“Come to me… and all will be made clear.”
A protective dome of permafrost formed around Thiji, leaving everyone stupefied.
“The plot glaciates…!” Nora exclaimed.
Thiji reopened his eyes and found himself in a different realm – far from the Borealis Stadium – far from Hyoga – and far from Elementa. A vast forest blessed by eternal winter; trees turned white and blue by snow and frost; arctic fauna both normal and magical roaming the land. Light snowfall persisted no matter where one went in the forest, and the wind was calm and serene. Thiji was beyond awestruck at the stark beauty of this land. His reverence would be cut short, however, as a snowy owl landed before him, staring at him expectantly. It lifted a wing and pointed it to the path behind it, gesturing him to follow.
Thiji threw caution to the wind and proceeded down the path, until he would eventually come to a glade of pristine snow and ice. Waiting for him in the center sat a lone woman robe in an ornate white-and-blue kimono. Her waist-length hair and skin were as white as the very snow, and icicles decorated her form – from hair ties with red ribbons to lining her obi in a manner akin to strings of charms.
The owl perched itself on a nearby nest, alerting the woman to Thiji’s presence – though she already knew he had come. She rose from her seat and turned slowly to gaze at Thiji, greeting him with a smile warm enough to melt the snow around her.
“My son – my sweet Yukinko…” she greeted with the most gentle of voices.
“Mother…” Thiji replied under his breath. He broke into a sprint towards his beloved parent, and memories flashed back in both their minds, to a time when Thiji was a mere child. This mother of the Emperor of Hyoga was none other than Mizore, the Eternal Yuki-Onna of Ice, and by proxy, Empress Dowager of Hyoga. He embraced his mother tenderly, for he had missed her so, just as she missed him. “Where am I, Mother…? What is going on?”
“Be still, sweetest son,” she replied. “I will explain. Firstly, this is my – and soon to be, your – domain: the Antarctic Glade. I summoned you here personally to help you on your final step towards your ascension. First, I would ask of you to create a reflection.”
“Yes, Mother,” he immediately acknowledged. Mizore then used her powers to conjure a large slab of ice before them, while Thiji utilized the powers of the Glacial Guardian to project his memories onto the ice, replaying them as though it were a television.
“Thiji,” Mizore began, “do you recall a certain crucial moment in time where you changed drastically in demeanor? I will give you a hint: it was during your burgeoning adult years.”
Thiji thought for a moment, which caused the ice to react. The reflections began replaying a younger Thiji with Koyuki, whom he was on the verge of proposing to, and the actual wedding. Then it replayed a moment in time with Thiji and Koyuki again, a few years older, but with a third familiar face: flowing, platinum-blonde hair; stunning violet eyes…
These particular moments kept playing over and over as Mizore continued her explanation…
“Your destiny was delayed due the love you shared with the Snow Flower and the Dragon Empress. Though they may have given you power through love, they had, unbeknownst to them, been holding you back. This was not your fault, nor theirs, for your love was star-crossed. However, you have learned all you could, and now you are at the crux of your power; the zenith of your potential.”
“So Koyuki and Liliana… them changing my heart affected me so?” Thiji asked. Mizore responded with a nod.
“Love is powerful, Thiji,” she said. “so powerful that it can soften one’s resolve. Elementa is in need of new protectors, and it is unanimous that none are a better candidate than you to ascend to godhood. But in order for this to occur, you had to undergo the Trials of Winter – they served as a means of reminding you of your roots as a child born of Winter. You bear it in all forms: its savagery; its ferocity; its serenity; its beauty. Your heart needed to be re-hardened, and you have done just that in record time. To ascend to godhood, you needed to become the undisputed mortal ruler over all things cold and frigid. This… is the Diamond Prophecy. You passed yourself off as the Diamond Emperor, but now you can truly be the Diamond Emperor. This will be your first – and final – transformation.”
“That is why my body was crystallizing!” Thiji realized. “It was a diamond cocoon!”
“Precisely!” his mother affirmed. “Koyuki knew of this, and now she stands between you and your ascension. Though you are among the incredibly rare few to have multiple true loves, you must learn to let them go. Koyuki wanted you to see that; in time, I am sure Liliana will understand as well. We are living forces of nature; the limits of our strength far surpass even that which love can bring. So I ask you, Thiji: will you strike down the Snow Flower – your greatest love – to ascend?”
“I will,” he immediately stated, his expression turning cold. “I must.” Mizore took note of this, smiling in approval – not a single bit of doubt or remorse present on his face.
“Then I have done my duty. Now I’ll just need to give you a little jump-start!”
She lifted her index finger, and condensed the glade’s latent glacial energy into a small orb, resting on its tip. As it drew closer to his heart, Mizore gave her parting words to her son:
“When next I see you, Thiji, you will be a God. For now, I think it’s time you left; you have one last show to put on!”
As soon as she touched his heart, the energy discharged and quickly enveloped his body, consuming him in a white light that transported him out of the glade and back to Hyoga. Everyone watched with bated breath over the glacial dome that has now been hardened into diamond.
“What could be goin’ on inside that dome?!” Nora shouted. “If you’re still holdin’ your breath, then you’ve got the lung capacity of an Olympic gold medalist!”
“Think she did it?” Homura asked Sakuya.
“For sure. Look at the dome,” she replied. The dragoness looked back, noticing that cracks were forming along the dome. The crowd gasped as the cracks began splitting, growing in length and width. Light broke through the fractures, which made everyone grow concerned.
“That dome’s about to burst! Watch out, everyone!!” Nora warned. The crowd did not have much time to react until the dome burst, sending shards of diamond out in all directions. The audience and Nora and her crew did their best to shield themselves from horrible lacerations and puncture wounds, only to find that the shards have been trapped in stasis before it would strike anyone. They looked around and beheld nothing but a glistening stadium of diamond, as Thiji emerged from his cocoon, completely transformed: his normal garb has been replaced with regal clothing; it along with his hair took on an ice blue-to-white gradient; his skin, pallid and pure white, like the snow. Upon his head was a crown made of pure diamonds, with the shards of the selfsame mineral dancing about him. Koyuki smiled at the sight of her lord – remade whole once more – his former self, restored.
“Is… Is that Lord Thiji?!” Nora gasped. “Ladies and gentlemen and everybody tuned in: the unthinkable has happened! In the heat of battle, the master of ice himself has undergone a PHENOMENAL change, and has stilled the power of winter itself with a mere glare! This can only mean one thing: we’re witnessin’ the first – and last – transformation of Thiji Higuri, the Diamond Emperor!!”
The crowd cheered loudly once more, chanting “Diamond! Emperor! Diamond! Emperor!” Regaining her composure, Koyuki picked up her blade and assumed her best fighting stance.
“Are you prepared, my lord…?” Koyuki called out. He rose his head and slowly opened his eyes, revealing cold orbs of ice blue to match his emotionless countenance.
“Time to find out…” he answered lowly.
With a few slashes of her jian, she called forth miniature petals which gleamed in the light, as though they were tiny blades in disguise. She sent them forth to assail Thiji, who responded with a mere tilt of his head, forming a barricade from the diamond shards. The sound of numerous tiny blades clashing against rock was heard as Koyuki’s attack was nullified.
however, was merely a distraction. Koyuki flew forward at full speeds,
drifting around the barricade and kicking up snow as she did to strike
at Thiji’s blindside, using her deceptive combat style to find a hole in
his defenses. Fortunately, he was very focused on the battle,
effortlessly deflecting her attacks with his katana, now made from
diamond. Koyuki then wheeled around and swung her blade in a clockwise
arc, but Thiji easily no selled her attack by planting his blade in the
ground. With his free hand, he made a swiping motion with his index
and middle finger, shaving off some of the barricade to send a cloud of
diamond towards Koyuki, who had to fly to evade.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this side of Father before,” an awestruck Seraphina mused.
“He was… a different man back then, Princess,” Shiro followed. “He was far more cold and calculating in his ways before he was reunited with your mother. Thiji was well on his way to becoming one of - if not, the most - powerful practitioner of ice in Elementa. But now, it looks like he’s done just that.”
“How poetic - Elementa’s progenitor of winter, he must first rule it as a mortal,” Sylla thought aloud. “A pity we will only see this once in our lifetime.”
Thiji then retrieved his sword and slashed it behind him, sending a wave of frost in an arc towards the Snow Flower, who barely rose a floral shield to fend it off, an ice shard or two cutting her face. Koyuki then planted more lotus flowers on the ground, sprouting into man-sized plants into which she would enter. As she did, that flower shrunk into the ground, effectively teleporting her to another one nearby, utilizing this tactic to get the element of surprise on Thiji. Again, it seemed to provide little effect, as he reacted quickly to where she would appear, clashing swords with and forcing her away as she fell into flower after flower to repeat the same tactic. Another clash, and Thiji pushed Koyuki high into the air with his newfound might, using this time to disable her means of teleportation by shredding each and every flower with his diamond shards.
Running thin on options, Koyuki called upon the heavenly host to fill her with light, swooping down to meet Thiji once more in a deadlock, the resulting force causing another shockwave of ice and flowers to spread, though they were contained by the diamonds which formed a barrier around the arena. Thiji slid his blade toward the guard of her sword, using his leverage to pull her down to the earth in a kneeling position. She gazed into Thiji’s eyes as their blades remained deadlocked, and she felt her very soul running cold. They were devoid of feeling – empty save for the unforgiving chill that his very presence brought.
The Snow Flower stilled the quickness of her heart, keeping her gaze fixed on the only man she ever loved. She was completely helpless; if she lost this deadlock, this battle was his. But she saw no point in reasoning with him now, for she had already gone too far – which is what she had wanted all along. She braced herself for what was to follow.
“I’m ready, Thiji…” she said in her mind. Everyone watching stood up from their seats, some even on the verge of falling over the arena. Seraphina couldn’t bear to watch and shielded her eyes. Mizu and the other ladies covered their mouths in shock at what was going to happen.
“Sh-Should we keep filming, ma’am?” asked the cameraman.
“YES! No matter what!” Nora immediately replied. Thiji sent the diamond cloud into the blade, fusing with and hardening its surface, thus increasing its strength. So much so that he applied just a bit more pressure, causing her sword to split in two… The memories of their teary farewell surged into her mind. She remembered it all: the words he said to her; the way he held her; the countless tears he wept for her…
… Then, time stood still once more, as the only sound that followed… was steel piercing flesh.